Architecture Myths #11: Lowly Building Types
Peter Behrens supposedly had the idea first – take a lowly building type and “elevate” it to Architecture.
1909 hmm. I’m surprised it wasn’t earlier. By 1909, wealthy landowners had all but died out, or were soon about to. The smart money would have been on wealthy industrialists – especially ones who produced light bulbs, motors and generators. Oh, and turbines.
Let’s have a look at that roof.
The basic structure is a hinged portal frame structure with a parallel structure for the gantry crane. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the sides of the roof are composed of two trusses set at an angle to approximate a circle – unless the plan was to avoid a gable end that looks a bit too much like a pediment.
That contrived non-structural pediment screams Acropolis anyway and that’s probably all it took to “elevate” this building to “Architecture”. Like many monuments the AEG’s famed monumentality comes from disguised scale – there are no human-sized doors or windows so it’s difficult to tell how large it really is.
This elevating of lowly building types is a pretty shallow business but, all in all, it was a GOOD CALL once you learn that Behrens was also artistic consultant and corporate brand engineer for AEG.
There’s more to Behrens than we’ve been led to believe. He’s supposed to have been the engineer whose office gave Gropius, Mies and Le Corbusier their early training. But in what? Perhaps we should credit Behrens with making those three alert to brand engineering. Anyway, Behrens brought new architectural clients to the party.
Fagus Factory 1911, Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer
In 1928, Gropius had been lurking around Albert Kahn’s Ford factory in the US but we don’t know what he thought of it. Given the above two earlier buildings, I expect he thought it wasn’t pretentious enough and that the Americans hadn’t yet discovered that industrial buildings could be made into Architecture.
Kahn’s 1924 factory had various assembly lines and various functions yet is basically a shed whereas Gropius’s 1925 Dessau Bauhaus has people doing various things in various spaces in highly articulated volumes.
Once the Eurostarchitects fled Europe, factories and worker housing disappeared as architectural subjects and the history books jumped to office buildings and California houses. We know the rest. But what other subjects for Architecture did America have to offer? Petrol stations never really took off, perhaps because they were simply too small. It wasn’t for lack of trying.
Being basically amorphous, buildings providing office space did and continue to supply ample scope for whatever it is architecture does.
Frank Gehry also once designed a shopping mall.
So did ZHA.
So far, architects have shied away from data centres despite them being a far greater part of contemporary life than any of the above building types. Sure, with Galaxy Soho, ZHA claims to have given representation to the fluid connectivity of contemporary life but this merely misrepresents predetermined point-of-purchase options as free choice.
THE CONNECTIVITY THAT SEEMS TO CONNECT US ALL IN WAYS THAT ARE NO LESS REAL FOR BEING NON-VISIBLE, GOES UNREPRESENTED.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Architecture tends to represent only what it can represent and, tellingly, what it is asked to represent. Data centres have so far proved Architecture-resistant on both counts. This says more about Architecture than it does about data centres.