Cantilevers have little practical use apart from facilitating the construction of bridges.
or allowing a bit more floor space past the last row of columns.
As a general rule, it’s easier and less expensive to use columns to support a structure rather than cantilever it over nothing like, for example, this.
With cantilevers, we notice there aren’t any columns. How much we notice that absence depends upon how much simpler and easier it would have been to use them. This is the beautiful and powerful simplicity of the cantilever.
Cantilevers are the original “look at me!” architecture.
Their apparent independence of gravity makes them thrilling to look at but, as it happens, also makes them an effective indicator of not having to do things the simplest and most inexpensive way. Cantilevers are a highly visible way of sucking up excess money. In other words, they are beautiful.
We’re seeing a lot more cantilevers these days. Their visual thrill photographs well and is just what the age of internet architecture wants, but let’s come back to that after a brief (visual) history of cantelevers.
This recent building – The Eaton Residence by E Cobb Architects – has more than a touch of Wolkenbugel about it (in a nice way).
The cantilever gained some artistic cred at the Bauhaus thanks to Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (or possibly Albers – it matters little which). One of them correctly noted that materials were more visually exciting when their physical properties were pushed to almost the point of failure.
Ever since, cantilevers have been seen as daring and a sign of wild unconventionality, of a distaste for doing things the easy, simple and inexpensive way. This has its price, and flaunting that price is of course the point of the modern cantilever.
Moholy-Nagy was right about the materials failure thing.
Here’s a wild one by Sergio Bernardes – that other Brazilian architect.
The Palácio da Abolição ushers in the era of the contemporary cantilever where we notice the absence of columns more because there’s no apparent reason for the columns to be absent in the first place. Don’t be fooled by the pool – I don’t think it’s that deep.
This next cantilever though, is the essence of cheeky contemporary cantilevery. We have Eduardo Souto de Moura to thank – you’ll remember of course that he won the 2011 Pritzker Prize. And not for nothing he did! By creating something so expensively pointless and pointlessly expensive, he’s communicating with the very soul of architecture. Look and learn my friends!
The flaunting of money has never looked so humble – a true master. This is not a shed.
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Here’s some out-takes that didn’t make the final edit.
…And did they uncover said engineer’s report when they had to do all those remedial works at Fallingwater? (That would be funny.)
Nice article – had the same sort of scepticism back in 1st year when everyone was pinning up these wild schemes with massive projections. I asked whether cantilevers were a ‘pretentious’ thing; tutors told me to stop being silly, though they did concede that the cantilever is ‘an inherently heroic gesture’. “Gratuitous” is a good word.
BTW I had an idea for under the category of ‘things architects do” — any way I can send it to you?
Sure Koff, I’m interested to see what you have in mind.
you can send anything to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A structural engineer called Malcolm Millais sent me this link to an article written by the engineers who carried out the repairs. It makes interesting reading – especially the bit about the structural window mullions. No kidding. It appears the (already dodgy) bottom cantilever was supporting the one above.
Wright’s structural failure at Fallingwater is well-documented, but how about penning a column about his architectural failures there: 1) unimpressive dark rooms and 2) desecration of nature? (Take out a the gorgeous waterfall and you have just another a Prairie-style house.)
Graham McKay, you are my new hero. Like Tom Wolfe all those decades ago, you slay the sacred cows. And this piece on cantilevers does this succinctly.