Architecture Myths #15: Intellectual vs. Romantic
I glossed over the apparent dichotomy of “intellectual” and “romantic” in my previous post but Classical vs. Romantic and Intellectual vs. Artist would have done just as well.
Classical vs. Romantic can be applied to many things of which architecture is one, and we know Intellectual vs. Artist can be applied to many types of people. To divide architects and, by corollary, the works they produce into Intellectual vs. Romantic merely perpetuates this false division AS IF the only choices we have are to produce an architecture based on rules that can be clearly defined and expressed, or on feelings that can be defined and expressed only vaguely.
At first, it appears more accountable to say
“It’s like this because of A, B and C”
“In this work what I wanted to express was …”
With the first, it depends upon what the A, B and C are and, with the second, it depends upon the degree of legitimacy the perceiver grants the speaker. My Autopoiesis of Architecture posts are an attempt to determine what camp Parametricism really is in. My provisional conclusion is that Parametricism is Romanticism dressed up as Classicism.
- First there’s an artistic process of selecting variables to give a desired conclusion or conclusions.
- This is followed by an automated process of manipulating them and that’s presented as intellectual whereas it’s merely logical consequence in the very narrow computational sense.
- Lastly, there’s a second artistic process of knowing when to either halt that process and/or choose from its results.
The jury was right to question what the parametric inputs and geometric objectives were meant to show because those choices are design decisions that affect the output. They’re not called parameters for nothing! It was heartbreaking to read that although the form started optimising after 2,300 iterations, there still remained the challenge of “wrapping the design possibilities into a coherent narrative” regarding an airport in the completely insane site in Mumbai”. I hope the final went well.
But, 2,300 iterations! The human brain may be slower at generating iterations but it might be better at not generating iterations that clearly aren’t going to work. “Inspiration” could just be the experienced rejection of non-crucial parameters and their unconscious working through by the brain according to algorithms that aren’t explicitly defined. In this sense, experience is the result of neuroplasticity strengthening those parts of the brain given most exercise.
What we have is a situation where the Intellectuals deny their dependence upon artistic choice, and Artists deny that inspiration occurs without a synthesis of possibilities. This appears to be supported by the theory of Left Brain vs. Right Brain dominance where the right side of the brain is supposed to be best at expressive and creative tasks such as, recognizing faces, expressing emotions, music, reading emotions, color perception, images, intuition and creativity whilst the left-side of the brain is considered to be better at tasks that involve logic, language, critical thinking, numbers and reasoning.
Classicism was just one set of rules that seemed to work for certain people for a while. Everyone who claims their product is the result of working through a problem according to a set of rules is in a sense, a classicist.
Did I read that right? Architect, unused to rejection, leaves wife for woman 20 years younger? Scurrilous journalists! The word “Classical” has gone out of vogue these days. We prefer to use the word Intellectual or, if that still sounds pejorative, then Theoretical, Abstract, Architect’s Architect.
Have a look at this if you’d like to understand the process of House VI’s design.
If Eisenman placed himself on the intellectual side of the fence, then the names he gave his houses suggest otherwise. The supposedly uncompromising artists however, fared no better on the water front.
- At “Fallingwater”, Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t give waterproofing the attention it deserved. (How Mr. Kaufmann must have learned to hate that name.)
“Given the humid environment directly over running water, mold had proven to be a problem. The elder Kaufmann called Fallingwater “a seven-bucket building” for its leaks, and nicknamed it “Rising Mildew”. Condensation under roofing membranes was also an issue, due to the lack of damp proofing or thermal breaks.“
- At Villa Savoye, Mme Savoye thought Le Corbusier didn’t give it the attention it deserved.
- At the Farnsworth House, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe didn’t give it the attention it deserved.
- Of the more recent bunch, none play the artist card bigger and better than Gehry. Here’s a blog listing the more impermeability-challenged of his works.
• • •
With the workings of the human brain, there’s a lot more interplay between the two hemispheres than people like to accept. We prefer clear-cut divisions, even if they’re false. There’s essentially no difference between an architect who brands themselves as an “Intellectual informed by art” or one who brands themselves an “Artist informed by intellect”. They’re both content providers and media likes a bandwagon. The one thing an architect can’t do is say that they’re both at the same time.
Here I could mention the career of Frederick Keisler again, but I won’t. Consider this house – the Casa Sperimentale (1968–1971) – by Guiseppe Perugini. I hadn’t even heard of Perugini until yesterday.
There’s not much information available. The below text is googletranslated from the Italian.
“The tree house or experimental house designed by Giuseppe Perugini, Perugini and Raynaldo Uga De Plaisant is built in Fregene in the late 60s. This is an experimental project in both form and use of materials, which refer brutalist architecture characterized by the use of rough concrete façade. The building seems suspended between the tall trees that surround it, at the same time evoking the archetype of the “nest” as a safe place to hide, study, get your strength back. The building, in decided contrast to the traditional surrounding homes, impresses with its unique appearance, with the texture of the beams and columns to view supporting volumes prefabricated, the system does not adjust, as well as the concrete fence of the lot with embedded steel strips dyed red which follow the curved shape of the enclosure itself. Few materials are used for the construction: concrete, glass and steel. Perugini then rejects the traditional materials of construction and chooses the reinforced concrete, which is fulfilling the function to support / sustain the volumes that contain the various rooms of the house, arranged in an apparently random order. The main beams are placed side by side of the secondary beams positioned above and below the modules that support the weight of these elements through particular cruciform steel painted red. The main beams have variable heights and at some points the overhang of a beam is supported by a beam above with the hooks particular, also in steel. The windows, painted red like all the iron elements of the house, take up the overall composition of the house, repeating the pattern of the cube, is projecting outwards is coming back inside the house. The ladder / walkway, a detail of the composition indicated by the red color of the railings, to the entrance of the house and looks like a foreign element, added to the structure. It is conceived as a moving walkway that you can also turn up, completely isolating the inhabitants from the outside world. The facades of the volumes have also protrusions and recesses: in some cases contain fixtures, other elements are filled: cubic conglomerate that shape plastically outside housing accentuating the use of the chosen material. Characteristic façade elements are rounded, real containers of services that characterize the architecture softening its look “boxy”. The functions of the house are enclosed as mentioned in “shells” of concrete that are at different heights and provide steps to overcome the slight unevenness interior.Even the interior of the house does not conceal the spatial complexity that is perceived from the outside, with the open-plan living room with double height and articulation of the fixtures inside that accentuate their looks elaborate. Another staircase, spiral and anchored to the pillars, this time leads to the roof and part of the raised level of housing. Some environments are distributed in the park surrounding the house, such as the meditation room, characterized by a sphere of concrete, or the pool located under the house. In this work is the desire to create a contrast between the structure, with its pillars that rise into the sky, expressing the desire for freedom, the shells hanging that accentuate the idea of lightness of the composition and the raw material, concrete, which alludes to the heaviness. The house is meant to represent a synthesis of all the design intent of the family Perugini. As recalled by the son of Joseph, Raynaldo: “Since all three architects (also the mother Uga de Plaisant) was a little ‘toy of the family, in the moment of creation we each proposed solutions and discussions were born … was kind of a big laboratory … imagine a plastic scale! This was the home of Fregene, a plastic true where everyone put his. A sort of global workshop in which we worked all and for every problem there were an infinite number of possible solutions. In fact, the attention to detail and the development of all those solutions that led to the house as it is today were addressed in the implementation. The special design feature makes it a great game of buildings … .“
Here’s a vid
and some more recent photographs from an Italian blogger. Casa Sperimentale is a curious animal – a hybrid of equal parts art and intellect. It didn’t set the world on fire.
• • •
“Well hell man, buildings aren’t going to design themselves! What’s it to be?”
Classicism and Romanticism aren’t the only choices. During all the 19th century’s reported flip-flopping between classical architecture and romantic architecture as dominant styles, ordinary people were grubbing around in buildings like this
None of these are Classical or Romantic. They belong to the tradition of housing people in the best possible way using whatever land, materials and other resources are available. They are all examples of vernacular architecture as much as this
Other sets of rules exist and they are equally if not more valid than those heavyweight ones called Classical/Intellectual and those fluffy ones called Romantic/Artistic.
They’re not a middle ground or a compromise, but a completely different way of designing buildings. The intelligence these buildings embody is accumulated empirical knowledge. Vernacular approaches to building are scientific in the sense that innovation is incorporated into a continuous quest to make buildings better in the sense of using fewer resources for equal or better performance as far as constructing and using buildings is concerned. This is completely contrary to the intellectual approach or the artistic approach that have their own, self-referential agendas. So lets have a closer look at these other sets of rules and see what despicable agendas they perpetrate.
KEEPING THE OCCUPANTS DRY
Waterproofing is a fundamental requirement of Shelter. With House VI, it seems like some intellectual window and skylight details didn’t work.
GOING IN AND OUT
This is a shelter thing too in the sense that sometimes you need it and sometimes you don’t. It seems that someone who wasn’t the architect thought it might be nice to have a door to access the garden from the living room.
That door isn’t something that should have had to have been sacrificed because some complex system of rules didn’t allow for it. If a system of rules can allow for an upside-down staircase then it ought to have been able to contrive a second door somewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I like an abstract object floating in space as much as the next person but, with House X, it struck me as odd how there always managed to be a wall where a bathroom or closet was required. If the system can be selectively manipulated, then it’s art, not intellect.
KEEPING THE HEAT OUT (OR IN)
I could have chosen other examples, but here’s another one from Eisenman’s oeuvre. House III – The Miller House.
MAKING IT LAST
By 1995, House III (1971) was a ruin. Using plastic-coated timber was not a great idea. “Ahh but that could have happened to anyone!” you may say. But no. It couldn’t have.
House III for the hapless Millers was still standing in 2000. This article will tell you the story of the house. However, this link will take you to a Harvard Design Magazine article that intellectualises that story. It’s menacingly titled The Theory and Practice of Impermanence. The introduction is called The Illusion of Durability”. Unravelling this article is worth a post on its own but I don’t want to get too autopoietic about it. It’s Zennish point seems to be that everything is impermanent anyway. [Note: The famously-rebuilt-every-20-years Ise Shrine is invoked but Ise Shrine is Shinto not Buddhist.] Scarily, “If a house is a machine, then machines must be maintained accordingly” is written. This might induce rows of head-nodding assent in lecture halls even though machines aren’t generally made of stuccoed plywood. This cheap point is made by conflating an abstract idea of a machine with the physical expectations of one. They’re not the first to do so and won’t be the last so, if you’ll excuse me, I’d think I’d rather link to one of my own posts. Specifically, a previous post about architectural dogma – the rules we choose to follow.
- Intellectuals add false value in exactly the same way Artists do.
- We’re presented with a false choice between the products of intellectual inspiration and the products of artistic inspiration.
- The real opposition is between Inspiration and Intelligence.
ARTISTIC/INTELLECTUAL INSPIRATION vs. INTELLIGENCE
intangible vs. tangible
subjective vs. objective
complex vs. simple
unmeasurable vs. measurable
unique vs. reproducible
“perfection” vs. improvable
inflated value vs. real value
seen by the eye vs. experienced by the body
venerated by the mind vs. appreciated by the body
transitory vs. everlasting
If so, and I suspect this is true, intelligence isn’t necessary to be either an artist or an intellectual. This explains why the applications of intelligence (vernacular architecture, functionality, environmental performance, building science) have been and continue to be ignored and or derided by architects of arty and intellectual persuasions alike.