Category Archives: Architecture Misfits

people whose contribution to better performing buildings has not been fully appreciated

Architecture Misfit #28: Harold Krantz

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Abraham Harold Krantz
[1906 – 1999]

  • 1906: Born in Adelaide, Australia, to Russian Jewish parents
  • 1926: Qualified as an architect and worked for Woods, Bagot, Jory & Laybourne-Smith
  • 1927: Moved to Perth to work for Oldham, Boas & Ednie-Brown
  • 1929: Registered as an architect

1929 was not a great year to start a career. It was the beginning of The Great Depression that was to last until 1939. For the first two years Krantz ran a poster studio with John Oldham, son of his earlier boss John Oldham Snr. He and Oldham were able to make a living producing lino cut poster prints, many for the Australian Communist Party of which Oldham was a member. Krantz was to later recall how running this business made him look for ways of getting the cost down without spoiling the quality.  Krantz’s first designs for buildings were simple ones aiming at cost efficiency. They had to be if they were to have any chance of being built.

“It had to be as functional as possible with no frills, no decoration, the use of colour and materials, good planning, no waste of space, no passages and no breaks and funny shapes. The objective was to study every element in the building from the skirting, from the foundations, up to the top of the roof. Is there a better way of doing it for the same money, or a better job for less, or just as good a job for less money?”

Even as a reminiscence, this is amazing for the late thirties. These next two projects from 1936 are catalogued by Australian National University as Oldham’s but signed by Krantz. The automobiles won’t have been realistic for mid-Depression Australia so these are probably speculative designs, or possibly the research that architects typically turn to in lean times. For Australia, these buildings proposed a new way of living. They weren’t trying to be houses. In the one on the left, the grade is being used for car parking and the absence of gardens compensated for by the roof terrace.

The hope for better times isn’t being displayed as architectural excess. The symmetry about the entrance suggests minimal internal circulation with two apartments per landing. Even when times were better, Krantz was still never one to waste building volume.

It’s not surprising that some of Krantz’s first built projects were for small multiple-occupation dwellings in the wealthier parts of Perth towards the end of The Depression.

‘Melleray’ Flats, 1938
Corner Winthrop Ave and Hardy Road, Hollywood, Perth

“Coronel’ Flats, Harold Krantz, 1938
Corner Fairway and Clark Street, Nedlands 

The four flats give the illusion of a large house by the asymmetrical front elevation and by having the entrances on the sides. [It’s odd to think that between 1974 and 1978 I spent most of my daylight hours and a fair share of the nightime ones within 200 metres of this building.]

These apartment blocks must date from not too long after as the same principles are used in larger blocks, and repeated. Amazingly, some still remain.

These are the 1938 Riviera flats. There’s no hint of the jazz, cocktails and fast cars of the 1936 proposals, but the fact they were built in 1938 proves the concept was timely and achievable. Once again there are two flats per landing.

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Arbordale, Perth and Greenways, Adelaide, 1939

Nedlands Tennis Club, Harold Krantz, 1939

Krantz was a member of the Nedlands Tennis Club and designed its new clubhouse. With tenders advertised in January 1938 for AUS£1,600 including some restrained Art-Deco trim, this was a major project signalling the end of the building downturn.

Nedlands Tennis Club

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Krantz’s approach to architecture was thus well established by 1939 when Robert Schläflik arrived from Europe and began working for him. Schläflik registered as an architect in 1946, changed his surname to Sheldon, and the firm of Krantz & Sheldon began.

Building flats allowed Krantz the opportunity to more fully develop and apply the principles he had already established in his work on houses, that being an

  1. emphasis on reducing each dwelling unit to a minimum, achieved by tight planning rather than smaller spaces;
  2. conventional construction combined with rigorous detailing to maximise structural strength of building materials and minimise waste; and
  3. the bulk ordering of standard building materials, fixtures and fittings to achieve economies of scale. [architecture.com.au]

This is all brilliant in itself but another innovation was the system for funding some of the earlier buildings. “He organised friends, family and business colleagues into syndicates who would pool their resources to finance new building projects, particularly flats. These syndicates allowed small investors direct access to property investment. Significantly, as the syndicates were primarily for investment, Krantz and Sheldon was able to pursue design ideas without the restrictions of individual preferences.” [ibid] Those design ideas weren’t design ideas as we may understand the term today but ways of constructing accommodation more efficiently.

People in Perth did not take quickly to the idea of living in apartments. Newspapers were critical of flats as the “the slums of tomorrow’. In 1941 Krantz defended the building of flats in an article for The Architect magazine. He claimed ‘slums are low return propositions; whether small cottages, large luxury residences or flats of any kind’. This is a valid statement if the apartments are for sale and not for rent. 

In 1953, the Western Australian State Housing Commission commissioned Krantz & Sheldon to design the Wandana housing project in Subiaco. It included ten-storey block containing 242 apartments. Upon its completion in 1956 Krantz once again had to defend apartment living. 

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Wandana Housing, Krantz & Sheldon, 1956
93 Thomas Street, Subiaco

Krantz & Sheldon remained the predominant designers of flats in Perth through to the 1970s, with some estimates suggesting the firm designed as much as 90% of Perth’s flats up to this time. In response to limits on building materials, and to keep maintenance to a minimum, their designs pursued functionalism and included features such as minimal decoration, unpainted timbers, face brickwork, cream painted finishes.

Here’s their Caringal Apartments. The effect is like Danish Modernism but achieved with materials having a high cost-performance. I say that because parquet flooring would not have been the least expensive option and because Krantz knew the physical properties of linoleum.

Playhouse Theatre, Harold Krantz, 1956
[demolished but formerly in Pier Street, Perth]

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Many Krantz & Sheldon buildings had face brickwork and it has been their fate to be painted. This happened with Hillside Gardens and even more recently with the partial painting of Fremantle’s Johnson Court that featured in The Homestead Myth.

Hillside Gardens, Krantz & Sheldon, 1963
59-65 Malcolm Street, West Perth

This real estate listing will hopefully still take you around the interior of an apartment at Hillside Gardens. 

In Australia, internal face brickwork elicits the same reaction as raw concrete does in the UK and for the same reason – class prejudice. Beauty = Expensive therefore Inexpensive = Ugly. Internal face brickwork was never intended as a fashion statement so it’s impossible for it to have gone out of fashion. If we don’t see so much of it today it’s not that we grew out of the look but because we like to think we can afford “better”. The same prejudice lives on. This is ironic because we can’t afford better. Over time, the quality of workmanship declined to the extent it became cheaper to build sloppily using second-rate materials and then cover it all up after with plaster and paint. “Architectural aesthetics is a smokescreen for economic exploitation.” Discuss. There’s no architectural aesthetics on display in this next photograph. Instead, the good life is depicted by the television, flowers, the palm tree and the dinner party about to happen with three courses, chargers, napkins, and the promise of wine.

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Interior makeovers have occurred at Johnson Court and many other Krantz & Sheldon apartment buildings but the bathrooms remain next to the kitchen for simplified plumbing, easier maintenance and natural ventilation. Some things resist being changed because there’s no way they can be improved upon.

The 1950s and 1960s were the golden years of flat building in Perth and nobody made a greater contribution to it than Krantz & Sheldon. Their apartments were of many types and sizes, and for budgets and sites of all sizes. All share the same pragmatic planning, construction, and servicing. All of the photographs you see here are used with the permission of the State Library of Western Australia.

There were also commissions for hotels.

Riverside Lodge is the most central of these. I include it here to show what building visualizations once looked like. It’s still there, and Mt. Eliza Apartments can still be seen in the background.

Riverside Lodge, Krantz & Sheldon
Mounts Bay Road, Perth

• • •

This links to a site that remembers Krantz’s actress wife Dororthy (and hence the connection with the Playhouse Theatre). There, it states that the 1964 Mount Eliza Apartments effectively marked the change in generation from Harold Krantz to son David. 

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Windsor Towers, which also featured in Misfits’ Guide to Perth, is from 1966.

Sheldon died in 1968 and Krantz retired in 1972. Krantz’s son David continued the practice with other partners Robin Arndt, John Silbert, George Sheldon (who I imagine is Robert Sheldon’s son) and Lourens West. The firm traded as Arndt, Silbert and West (KSASW) and later as Team Architects Australia. I believe it was later absorbed into Oldham Boas Ednie Brown and, if that’s so, is a case of the firm ending back where it began. Oldham Boas Ednie Brown now trades as The Buchan Group which is one of those global architectural consortiums that claim “a track record of excellence of service and design” or what passes for it these days. 

• • •

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Abraham Harold Krantz!

For developing a viable new housing product at the end of the Great Depression,

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for preparing the ground for an efficient new housing type of “minimum” flats in Perth,

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for your ceaseless efforts to make apartment buildings acceptable and affordable,

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for promoting a housing type, a construction system to build it,
developing a philosophy for its design and construction,
and for succeeding in rolling it out across Perth,
with various adaptions for site, orientation and budget.

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misfits’ salutes you!

Harold Krantz: Architecture Misfit #28

• • •

The Western Australia Apartment Advocacy (http://www.waaa.net.au) is continuing the work Harold Krantz began and works to promote apartment living in Perth and raise awareness of its advantages.

It was in 1941 when Harold Krantz first had to defend apartment living against a hostile public. Ninety years on, the WA Apartment Advocacy still has their work cut out for them

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• • •

Architecture Misfit #25: Ernst May

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Ernst May
[July 1886 — September 1970]

New Frankfurt [in German, Neues Frankfurt] was an affordable public housing program in Frankfurt started in 1925 and completed in 1930. The mayor of Frankfurt hired Ernst May as general manager of the project to bring together architects to work on it. The goal was housing that could be rented for no more than 25% of a person’s monthly income.

May’s developments were remarkable for their time for being compact. The 60 sq.m. area of a typical three-room apartment was fifteen sq.m. less than the standard for the time. Economic pressures led to two-room apartments for four people having an area of 40  sq.m. These were known as transitional minimum subsistence dwellings. The plan was to later combine them into larger units.

The housing units were semi-independent, well-equipped with community elements like playgrounds, schools, theatres, and common washing areas. This is admirable.

May used simplified, prefabricated forms for the sake of economy and construction speed. This shows a comprehension of the scale and urgency of the problem.

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The settlements were planned to have new ideals such as equal access to sunlight, air, and common areas. This was most progressive.

The settlement layouts and the dwellings and their spaces were highly functional. This was not the pursuit of functionalism as a style, but a means of not wasting space and the building materials to enclose it.

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The development of the Frankfurt Kitchen in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky was one of the offshoots of their joint research. It was the first unit kitchen.

May was responsible for the production of approximately 15,000 housing units between 1925 and 1932. This is a huge achievement for any person in any country in any era, but was in Germany during a period of INCREASING POLITICAL TURMOIL – a period that, as it happened, coincided with the heyday of the Bauhaus.

Here’s what happened.

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Estate Höhenblick, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927

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Estate Bruchfeldstraße (Zickzackhausen), Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927

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Estate Praunheim, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1928

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Estate Römerstadt, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1928

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Estate Bornheimer Hang, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1930

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Estate Heimatsiedlung, Frankfurt am Main, 1927–1934

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Estate Westhausen, Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1931

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Estate Westhausen, Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1931

Johnson & Hitchcock have nothing to say about May, save for this parenthesised reference on p233 of The International Style. 

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Others however noticed. May achievements were recognised at the 1929 CIAM conference. This brought him to the attention of the Soviet Union.

In 1930 May took virtually his entire New Frankfurt-team to Russia. … The promise of the “Socialist paradise” was still fresh, and May’s Brigade and other groups of western planners had the hope of constructing entire cities. The first was to be Magnitogorsk. Although May’s group is indeed credited with building 20 cities in three years, the reality was that May found Magnitogorsk already under construction and the town site dominated by the mine. Officials were indecisive, then distrustful, corruption and delay frustrated their efforts, and May himself made misjudgements about the climate. May’s contract expired in 1933, and he left for Kenya (then British East Africa).

May’s reputation thus went the same way as Architecture Misfit #1: Hannes Meyer and Architecture Misfit #23: André LurçatMay is not mentioned much in the history of modern architecture. It’s not just because he went to the Soviet Union when other German architects were busy brushing up their English. May was a professional who, when given the problem of providing housing for the country’s population, didn’t see his role as developing prototypes for mass production, but to actually make it happen. And he did. 15,000 of them. And they’re still lived in.

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Despite existing from 1919–1932, the Bauhaus contributed little to solving Germany’s housing problem. Gropius’ Dessau-Törten Estate of 1926–1928 provided 317 dwellings with areas of 57–75 sqm but it was a job on the side, independent of his 1919–1928 stint as Bauhaus director. Gropius put the experience to good use and, immediately upon leaving the Bauhaus in 1928, won a competition for the design of Dammerstock Colony. In 1934 he was to leave Germany and its mass housing problems behind him forever.

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For the period 1926–1928 at the very least, Gropius was involved with both architectural education and the solving of real-world housing problems but, for a person renowned as an educator, the thought that education might be about training people to solve real-world problems never seems to have crossed his mind. He kept education and real-world problems very separate. It didn’t do his career any harm but, if we were to ask when the rot set in, it would be here. I use the term architectural education loosely, as Gropius must have on his CV, for it was Hannes Meyer who added architecture to the Bauhaus curriculum. And it was Meyer who connected architecture with the solving of real-world problems, only for Mies to separate it again. What happened afterwards – and, unfortunately for us –  is not history.

It’s often said Hitler’s preference for pitched roofs was responsible for the dissolution of the Bauhaus. Perhaps it was, but Ernst May still managed to get 15,000 flat-roofed housey things built before leaving Germany in 1930, four years before Gropius and eight years before Mies. May’s leaving was the greater loss for Germany. In 1954 he was invited back and began work at the planning department of the City of Hamburg.

• • •

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Ernst May!

for knowing what had to be done in order to deliver,
and doing it.

misfits salutes you!

Architecture Misfit #23: André Lurçat

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André Lurçat
[1894 – 1970]

André Lurçat was born three years after Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris and died five years after Le Corbusier’s final swim. Lurçat was not only a French modernist architect active over the same period, but also a landscape architect, furniture designer, urban planner and founding member of CIAM. His and Le Corbusier’s careers were mostly parallel until the late 1920s when they diverged as much as it is possible for the careers of two architects to diverge.

Lurçat was born in Bruyères, studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, and worked in the office of Robert Mallet-StevensIn the twenties, Lurçat was in the loop and counted amongst the movers and shakers. His architectural ideas were very much a product of that time and that means they were generally pretty good. Here’s his 1925 Maison pour M. Bomsel in Versailles. It still exists.

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[1920’s Versailles was a bit of an architectural hotspot. Here’s Auguste Perret’s 1924 Maison Cassandre. It still exists.]

 

 

 

This is Lurçat’s 1926 Casa Guggenbuhl in Paris,

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his 1926-7 Casa Froriep de Salis in Boulogne,

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and a Parisian double house with the two names of Maison Double de Frank Townshend and Villa Seurat, on Villa Seurat, after the painter.

Villa Seurat

Adrian Yekkes’ blog tells us Lurçat was responsible for nos. 3 and 4 Villa Seurat which were his own home, as well as 5, 8, 9 and 11. [Auguste Perret and Ze’ev Rechter did 7a. No. 6 is also interesting.] Let’s take a walk. It’s quite the enclave. No. 3 is Lurçat’s house with the bowed facade and his office must have been 4 across the road with the plants. Here we also see no. 5. 

3,4,5 Villa Seurat

No. 11 is the one with the sun reflecting.

No. 11 Villa Seurat

Of the same period was Lurçat’s Housing in Villeneuve-Saint-George. This was featured in the Russian Constructivist journal SA issue 6 in 1927. The plans show a concern for housing many people with dignity and without wasted resources.

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In 1929, André Lurçat was one of the three architects Charles de Beistégui asked for a proposal to remodel his apartment on the Champs-Elysées. Never knew that.

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Lurçat’s 1929 Hotel Nord-Sud in Calvi, Corsica is relatively well known as it was included in Johnson and Hitchcock’s 1932 book The International Style which, as we know, was a hit and miss affair. The hotel is very much the artificial object juxtaposed with Nature which, depending on what you want to believe, is either some contrived Modernist aesthetic or precisely what to expect when you build an artificial object on a piece of rugged landscape.

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Note how the dining room offers a different experience by not facing the water. The library has little daylighting or views, presumably for the same reason.

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It’s still a hotel.

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Here’s Lurçat’s 1930 proposal for a vertical city, six years after LC’s La Ville Radieuse, but the solar orientation makes it very much in line with the theme of the 1930 CIAM conference which was rational lot development (in terms of sunlight penetration and health).

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This next project is the Karl-Marx Middle School, in Villejuif from 1931-1933. Not enclosing the ground level [a.k.a. “raising the building”] is normally an expensive way to shelter and entrance but, with school buildings, the additional covered outdoor space at ground level makes sense since open area isn’t sacrificed to create sheltered area.  

The building is still there, and still a middle school.

Along with Adolf Loos, Richard Neutra, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and others, he demonstrated a family residence at the Vienna Werkbund exhibition of 1932,

That’s not a very accurate description – it’s aims were somewhat greater.

produced his best-known Villa Hefferlin at Ville-d’Avray,

This looks rather lovely and a nice residential solution to a narrow plot, and a very elegant French take on Rationalism. Check out the plan. Those are nice rooms.

Lurçat was always on the edge of greater recognition. His buildings aimed higher than most and some are rather good solutions to the problems he set out to solve. What happened? Why we don’t know more about André Lurçat?

then went to Moscow to work for the Soviet government from 1934 to 1937.

That’ll be it then. We should have guessed from the plan of Hotel Nord-Sud. Now we look at it closely, is not unlike a communal house in that it lacks a living room, and has a communal dining room and bathrooms. The memory and reputation of André Lurçat then, went much the same way as Hannes Meyer’s did in 1933. Lurçat left the Soviet Union in 1937, the same year Frank Lloyd Wright addressed the First Soviet Council of Architects at the height of  Stalin’s Great Terror.

Lurçat is known for advancing the cause of modernism in landscape architecture; he took a position, contrary to the proponents of Existenzminimum, that all social housing must include gardens.

In retrospect, we can see this interest in the 1925 Maison pour M. Bomsel. The garden is carefully laid out, as if it wanted to be a vegetable garden.

He is also known for his planned postwar reconstruction of the French city of Maubeuge [just north of Paris]. He was a professor at the École nationale supérieure des Arts Décoratifs and the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1945 to 1947, and a member of the board of architecture of the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development.

There’s an unsurprising gap between 1937 when Lurçat returned from the Soviet Union and the 1945 masterplan. Lurçat did no work for the 1940-1944 Vichy government. Lurçat’s appointment to the Ministry of Reconstruction and Urban Development shows a desire to be of use.

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There are many other photos of the reconstructed Maubeuge on the town’s tourism website. It’s the type of low-rise, high-density housing Europe needed.

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Lurçat’s next known work is a house for himself in 1948 in Sceaux, about midway between Paris and Orly.

It’s adjacent to one he designed for a neighbour, Jules Leduc. Lurçat never let go of the importance of gardens.

I’m reminded of Cesare Cattaneo’s 1939 Casa d’affitto a Cernobbio. It makes me think Lurçat, like the Italians, found no reason to abandon Rationalism as a way of building. 

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Here’s his 1958 L’église st Pierre st Paul in Maubeuge.

• • •

There’s more to André Lurçat than I’ve been able to mention. A full chronology is here, listed by location and date and with links. I’ve recompiled it below. Between the masterplan work which continued at least until 1958, and 1970 when he died, Lurçat’s prodigious output is mostly municipal, comprising schools, social centres, municipal gymnasiums, sports stadiums and social housing. At least ten projects were completed posthumously.

  • If he is remembered at all, Lurçat is usually remembered for that part of his career that parallelled Le Corbusier’s, even though the buildings aren’t indicative of his long-term concerns or even his output as a whole.
  • Everything Lurçat did after 1932 was, and continues to be, redacted according to the socially-cleansed architectural criteria put forth by Johnson and Hitchcock.

It’s clear to me now. What Lurçat and all the other misfit architects identified on this blog have in common are 1) a sense of social responsibility coupled with 2) a professional and personal integrity. No – I don’t believe these qualities make Lurçat or any of the others all that exceptional but, when compared with those architects around whom the history and mythology of architecture are constructed, yes – they do.

A few years before Lurçat died, the Greek junta (1967-1974) banned him, along with civil liberties, political parties, strikes, labor unions, the music of composer Mikas Theodorakis, long hair on men, mini-skirts, the peace symbol, The Beatles, Sophocles, Tolstoy, Aeschylus, Socrates, Eugene Lonesco, Sartre, Chekhov, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, free press, new math and the letter Z. All in all, it’s not bad company.

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A school in Maubeuge is named after Lurçat. I’m glad.

• • •

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André Lurçat

for believing that being an architect
meant doing the right thing
for the people of your country

misfits’ salutes you!

• • •

CHRONOLOGIQUE CHRONOLOGY

Architecture Misfits #22: H Arquitectes

For too long, Lacaton & Vassal have been the only living architecture misfits, consistently producing buildings of high utility, great economy and stark beauty. H Arquitectes readily admit to being influenced by Lacaton & Vassal and their readiness to acknowledge it immediately marks them as different. Their Casa Gualba appeared in the Dec. 2012 post The New Architecture of Austerity.

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It’s time for a better look at what H Arquitectes are about. I half expect there to be no more or less than what we see. If so, they would be the second living misfits and the second known instance of Post-Media Architects designing buildings to be buildings and not as vehicles for fame.

Website: http://www.harquitectes.com

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The buildings described on their website say it better than I might say here, and this too is a positive. H Arquitectes aren’t designing buildings for others to write things such as I’m about to.

At first glance H Arquitectes’ website appears constructed for looks rather than convenience because projects are accessed by icons scattered across the screen. This was mildly exasperating to begin with but, after a while, I realised it was telling me to slow down and take some time to explore. It worked.

The rewards are immediate. Clicking an icon loads a slideshow that, in some cases, shows stages of construction and how the thing gets built. Fancy that!

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Photographs of construction are there because somebody thought they were important and we might like to know. I can present them to you because all images are downloadable. I like these people. The forward > button can be difficult to find at times but, after viewing a few projects, you’ll get a feel for where it is and you won’t mind.

I haven’t trawled the internet to gauge their media presence but, from what I’ve seen, H Arquitectes prefer to let their projects speak for themselves. H Arquitectes buildings may sometimes look similar but even the ones that don’t, share a similarity of approach. An approach is not a look or a style. I want to highlight this consistency of approach because if they can use it to make buildings that aren’t copies of themselves, then so too can everybody else.

1. Simple planning integrated with structure

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  • Casa Gualba, above, I’ve mentioned before. It’s self-stabilising layout produces six peripheral acute angles, three of which dissolve into windows and the other three of which lead to them. The central corridor is space that makes the entire plan work. There is no hallway. The kitchen is where people arrive and are met.
  • Casa Barcelona may remind you of Peso von Ellrichshausen’s Casa Meri but is less forced. Different things such as a garage and a machine room accessed externally, and an outdoor area are allowed to happen within the volume of the building.1219-harquitectes-casa-barcelona-21-2[for comparison, PvE’s Casa Meri]Meri-house-by-Pezo-von-Ellrichshausen_dezeen_4

Casa Escala has a plan and structure that couldn’t be more integrated, but the same could be said of all their other projects.

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2. Simple construction integrated with materials

Many of H Arquitectes’ buildings make the same points. This is a corner of Casa Gualba. This is not some cheap trick. To save yourself some time and labour cutting bricks, you have to make sure the same thing will happen at the other end of the wall as well. All three sides/runs need to be carefully dimensioned.

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Window openings all fall on half bricks, as they should.

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3. Integrated construction and building science

The website text for Casa Costa Brava includes words such as sun protection in summer • sun’s radiation in the winter • mosquito net • thermal bridge • double glass • ventilated façade • • full construction opening • interior bearing wall • insulation • thermal inertia • air tightness • condensation • cracking • reduced weight • self-supporting main beams • lack of formwork. These are all things H Arquitectes thought were important and thought we should know about. They are. We should.

4. The absence of the concept of ‘interior’

When construction is integrated with materials and executed with care, the result is beautiful. This photograph is the interior of Casa Barcelona. It’s obvious that what the architects have done is provide a shell for living without making any demands for how that living should take place. This approach is shared with Lacaton & Vassal and it’s a useful and liberating one for both buildings and their inhabitants.

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5. Economy of resources 1

When a practice completes such a thoughtful body of work in their first sixteen years, it’s always a worry that larger commissions and bigger budgets will kill off the drive to innovate and invent. Fortunately, how to build intelligently with a minium of resources is one bigger issue that remains relevant at any scale. Their Centre Civic Cristalerias Planell in Barcelona.

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It is being constructed within a existing shell.

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Aspects of its planning will seem familiar by now,

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but the integration of an environmental strategy is something new. We don’t see diagrams like these next as often as we used to but it’s not because what they indicate has become accepted best practice.

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6. Economy of resources 2

An ability to see and maximise the potential of existing structures is evident in the above project and also in this one for the refurbishment and extension of a school.

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The approach to the extension you will recognise from Lacaton & Vassal’s Transformation de la Tour Bois le Prêtre. The providing of additional space is what extensions are about.

7. Economy of resources 3

H Arquitectes seem to have no preferred material but whatever they use seems to be like it was always meant to be used that way. Here’s Casa Escala again. It’s forthrightness is shocking. It is what it is – a column and slab structure such as you’re likely to see dotted around the Iberian Peninsula in varying stages of construction.  

8. An approach for our times

In 2012 I wrote about The New Architecture of Austerity. Austerity hasn’t gone away. H Arquitectes have mainly designed and built houses but notable amongst their other projects are two extensions to schools and a municipal gymnasium. Municipal facilities, even in Barcelona, have been hard hit by ailing economies and H Arquuitects have been able to devise a credible approach to how to design and build to maximise limited budgets. This approach has elements of environmental sustainability but stronger still is how it seems to have arisen from a desire to be economically viable and with no loss of humaneness.

9. Neither art nor artifice

It’s difficult to even write the word ‘materiality’ without sounding pretentious but I can’t think of a better way to describe this attitude where materials are allowed to be what they are. This is not a Barcelona Pavilion display of expensive and rare materials veiled as an aesthetic. Often, an abundance of different materials is allowed to coexist, each doing what they do.  This attitude extends to fittings such as the light fitting and conduits.

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The same sensibility can be seen in Casa Sant Cugat del Vales.

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or the fittings in Casa Parets del Valles 

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or the cladding fixing on Casa Vacarisses. It’s the application of thought and care that transforms these simple things into objects of beauty.

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As extension of this attitude is the use of trellised plants as an active building component, notably Casa Barcelona, but here at the Council Gymnasium for Barberà del Vallès

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and again, the Student Housing for the University of Sant Cugat.

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We’re not unfamiliar with this kind of sensibility to materials and construction but it’s not a contrived ad-hocness, a precious high-tech statement, or a vapid expressionism. Everything is the right material for what it has to do and is allowed to happen naturally.

Plans however, can’t be just allowed to happen. Designing a plan to make everything fit a volume without excess space means an excess of materials and budget won’t needed to enclose that space. Not wasting space means no space not working to make the building perform better. The entrance courtyard to Centre Civic Cristalerias Planell isn’t rentable space but is entrance, lightwell and environmental strategy all in one.

 

• • •

What’s not to like? 

Very very little. Out of 23 projects, the only thing I’m still wondering about are the intersecting walls in the Centre Civic Cristalerias Planell project. With Casa Gualba the walls were intersected in the simplest possible way and, if it represented anything, it represented nothing more than that. Upscaling the idea still says the same simple thing but, because the bricks aren’t proportionally bigger, is no longer that simple to build. An authentic simplicity is still there but harder to find. At the same time, the representation of simplicity becomes easier to see. I can’t tell if it’s more important or not and I’m disturbed it’s such a close call.

The other thing I’m still pondering are the ornamental gestures on their Granollers Housing.

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Since Architecture Misfit #20: Togo Murano I’ve been more accepting towards aesthetic gestures that resist rationalization. HA’s website text says

Besides, print inscriptions and ornamental recessed caps remind us of a tattoo that reinforces the perception of skin and gives a personal and human touch to the building.

This is true but though tattoos may draw attention to the skin they rarely improve it or our appreciation of it. Having said that, the two most successful tattoos I’ve ever seen were in Barcelona so maybe I need to get out more.

But where’s the “Design”?

It’s all design. Nothing is allowed to happen by chance. I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s sonnets, each one different and posing a new problem to be solved as effortlessly as possible – or at least they do if you agree with Helen Vendler’s formalist analysis of them. People who disagree (and many do) say ‘even if all that is true, the art of Shakespeare’s sonnets is so much more’. The same question now needs to be asked of H Arquitectes.

Heading this blog for a while now has been the new misfits’ tagline without art or artifice.

  1. Both of these are very much present in the buildings of H Arquitectes but
  2. the architectural design process can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) begin with the intent to display artifice or create art – it should begin with a problem to be solved.
  3. Solving that problem requires the application of skill and intelligence and this means  that artifice is present from beginning to end.

So much of what’s presented to us as art and architecture these days is flawed from the beginning because it attempts to forcibly create art and directs all artifice to that one end. (The absurd but all too real extreme is that for something to be art, the only artifice thats needed is for its creator to say it is art. We’ve come to accept this and don’t ask too many questions out of fear we’re being had.)

H Arquitectes’ artifice is mostly invisible and the results apparently effortless. This allows the classic Formalist position whereby Art is admitted as a concept to explain artifice we don’t register or, even if we did, are happy to not comprehend. There’s nothing wrong with this and it’s not a contradiction. An identity as Art at the end of a process simply means the artifice is perfect. This is how I view H Arquitectes’ buildings.

Finally, we come to my tenth point and that was probably the most important one anyway,

10. The joy of making things

• • •

H Arquitectes!

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for letting things happen,
for caring about how to make things,
for using budget and environment as drivers,
for being sensitive to materials whatever their cost or quality,
for showing us how a humane architecture can be derived from these but,
most of all, for giving us hope this current dark age of architecture might finally be ending

misfits’ salutes you!

 

 

Architecture Misfit #21: 村野藤吾

Some of Tōgō Murano’s work is incomprehensible and indescribably beautiful at the same time. It makes me want to believe in architecture as Art. My personal cynic tells me that positing the existence of a higher logic is primitive human response to anything resisting easy comprehension, but still …

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Some of Togo Murano’s designs resist not only easy comprehension but sustained rational analysis as well. In the end, no framework for understanding presents itself other than one person’s will for it to be like that. I’m used to saying that in a bad way for things I dislike, but I’m not accustomed to saying it for things I’m drawn to.

Murano’s aesthetic sensibility is connected his mastery of Japanese architecture’s sukiya style. We can think of sukiya as classical Japanese architecture that’s been loosened-up to admit idiosyncrasies.

桂離宮 – the very same Katsura Imperial Villa that impressed both Wright and Gropius alike is of this style. Example. Look at the path in the image above. There’s a bit of fancy stonework and some irregular stones laid irregularly but also three square ones and an oddly shaped fourth one with corners touching in checkerboard fashion. What’s going on? I have no idea. There is no explanation other than somebody decided to make it like that. And it’s fine.

Think of sukiya as a Japanese Louis XVI but one for which Louis XV never happened. It’s not about the forms but the attitude to them. It’s the combination of refinement and simplicity that Pawson’s and Ando’s minimalism lacks and it‘s this very combination that places it very squarely in the realm of art. Sukiya allows the superfluous and the flawed if they heighten awareness of the overall perfection – it’s the geisha’s single hair contrivedly yet perfectly out of place. It’s a hard act to pull off but Murano does, mostly.

Murano’s buildings are about buildings but his most valuable contribution is this unique combination of art and artifice. As such, it would normally preclude him being considered an architecture misfit but what makes him one is his attitude. I will set out my evidence.

1) There is no Murano style.

He had no theory or ideology but he wrote two books, the first in 1919. Its title, 様式の上にあれ [Yoshiki no Ueniare, Staying Above Style], says it all. 775 There are about 300 built Murano projects and few are alike. His career spanned seven decades but his approach never differed even as his stylistic and technical resources increased. He embraced new materials and new technologies but never as one-liner showpieces as a Jean Nouvel or a Herzog de Meuron might. In place of consistent style or materials, Murano relied on his sense for what he felt the brief demanded. He wasn’t afraid to design a traditional building if the brief suggested it. Here’s his New Osaka Kabuki Theatre from 1958. He didn’t see why a traditional art form needed a modernistic building.

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Murano did not treat every commission as an opportunity to further his personal brand. Hero.

2) Murano believed buildings should be true to the present, not the past or a future. 

His first building is from 1918 but one of his more famous early ones is the 1936 SOGO Department Store in Osaka.

In 1936 Japan as well as most other places in the world, this building was as modern as modern could be. The logic is easy to see: department stores were a new building typology and suggested this style that represented newness.

3) Murano admitted the role of the client. 

Murano said the client was responsible for designing 98% of a project and that the 2% remaining was sufficient to make any building into one of his. This is interesting. What if this were true of all architects? If we assume that, then the situation we have today is one where that 2% gets presented and evaluated as 100% of the building and, what’s more, that 2% gets designed before the other 98%. Our idea of architecture as art has little in common with Murano’s.  

4) Murano had no craving for international fame

Until the end of his life Murano made it a point to take time off every year and travel to look at buildings. Despite this interest in what others were doing, he did not court international media attention like the boyband Metabolists. He wasn’t interested in visionary proposals, had no wish to design everything everywhere, and no appetite for being internationally understood or appreciated. He did not expand into global masterplanning like Tange, or hawk his back catalogue around the Middle East like Isozaki is still doing.

Prior to the opening of Expo ’70, Kenzo Tange was asked for His Thoughts and said something like “the only pavilion that really angers me is the Matsushita Pavilion” [that’s it in the middle]. He continued, “Tradition is like a millstone around our necks. Our job is to smash it and reassemble it …” etc. etc. In 1969 I admired this but, in retrospect, he sounds like someone who’s used to being listened to… who speaks in quotes – which, before soundbites, was all there was.

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There are no Murano buildings outside Japan. It was never Murano’s intention to 1) update Japanese architecture, 2) create a modernist Japanese architecture, or 3) synthesise east and west or propagate any of those usual narratives that play so well in the west. For not putting himself in a position for us to discover him as one of us, Murano is little known or appreciated outside Japan. 

5) Murano never went along with theories of the moment

Murano believed buildings should be of the present but his view of the present involves more than whatever new technologies or ideologies were around at the time. Despite living through both the birth and death of modernism, Murano never went in for that modern affectation of inside and outside being one and the same thing called space. The contrast between the insides and the outsides of his buildings is striking.

Nissei Theatre, Tokyo, 1963

Notice how there is no attempt to design or otherwise hide light fittings, air conditioning outlets, lighting rigs and all the other necessities? See how ventilation outlets have their own pattern superimposed in a pattern and onto another pattern? It’s exciting and not overcooked. Sukiya’s acceptance of the artful anomaly makes it a very useful aesthetic for accommodating different logics. It’s the exact opposite of the total design. Wright and Gropius may have thought sukiya important and reference-worthy, but they never understood it.

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And yes, that’s inlaid mother-of-pearl on the ceiling. A difference between an inside and an outside is perhaps understandable in a theatre but the outside of Nissei Theater doesn’t suggest a theatre within. The lobby is something else again.

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Murano’s refusal to see the inside and outside as the same thing is eminently sensible. If you want to be outside you go outside and sit on a seat and enjoy being outside. And when you’re tired of that you go inside or – if you wish – gaze outside through a window.

Hakone Prince Hotel, Hakone, Japan 1978

The weather on Lake Ashinoko is very changeable and nearly always chillier than you expected when you boarded that train from Shinjuku.

The message is: When the weather is fine, enjoy the weather being fine. The question is: why should there be a distinction between inside and outside? Nobody has ever told us why that should be a good thing. OK but what’s with the extruded volutes? The petalled roof? The steel columns supporting inverted brick buttresses? We fixate on the outdoor furniture because it’s the only thing we can form an opinion on. The rest is unknowable and disturbing.

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One lingering question is where did our fixation on this inside-outside merge thing come from? IT’S NOT JAPAN. Sure, the walls can slide away and all that but you’re still on the inside looking out. Fresh air and light enter as physical sensations. Space stays firmly put.

Hakone Jumokuen Rest Pavilion, Kanazawa Prefecture, Japan 1971

The relaxation that comes from inside being inside and outside being outside is evident in this pavilion amidst a very walkable forest. Stylistically, it’s what you’d hope to encounter when you realise you’ve forgotten your umbrella or feel like a sit-down.

Inside is a different world. This is not some Thoreau cabin in the woods.

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6) Idiosyncrasy

I’ve mentioned the stone paving as an example of the idiosyncrasy sukiya admits and the lighting fixture above is another example. The branching lamp with its petalled shades is Calder and cherry blossom combined, and meant to be appreciated for what it is. Murano paid special attention to the design of light fittings. Here’s two more examples from the Hakone Prince Hotel.

Those horses have been disturbing me for decades but I can’t think of anything else I would rather see tied together garlanding that ceiling.

Of all the Murano buildings I know, I thought Takarazuka Catholic Church perhaps my least favourite for the wilful expressiveness of its shape

until I saw this photograph.

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I mentioned the geisha’s one hair out of place drawing attention to the perfection. Here’s Murano’s Japan Lutheran Theological Seminary from 1969. Check that detail.

Is it unnecessary? Is it borderline kitsch? I don’t know, but other architects’ attempts are heavy-handed by comparison.

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I do believe such a thing as a Japanese design sensibility exists and I do believe it derives from sukiya sensibility. You can see it here in this image of the hydraulic dampers on the roof of Tange’s 1964 Tokyo Olympic Stadium Complex.

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We can see the red as proto–High Tech but we do Tange an injustice and overrate the High-Tecchies when we do. The logic behind the shape of that hole is inaccessible to us. It’s unresolvable yet perfect and, as such, expressive of nothing else but someone’s desire to make it so. Whilst never forgetting that Japan is also the country that gave us Hello Kitty, for something to be expressive of nothing else but someone’s desire to make it so is a very sophisticated and dangerous aesthetic concept. I wouldn’t trust it in the hands of any architect who wasn’t Tange or Shinohara or Murano and, even then, not all the time.

Even though he had no personal style or styles, Murano’s attitude towards design was the most consistent of the three. He let Modernism and Post-Modernism run their courses without becoming enamoured of structural or construction expressionism yet, on the other hand, some of his buildings are about just that. This is Tanimura Art Museum of 1983.

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It’s easy to appreciate the structural and construction logic of posts and beams but Murano coaxes a moody materiality out of sprayed concrete. He had an instinct for materials and how to use them. 

1946: World Peace Memorial Temple

Here, 37 years earlier, we have structure expressed yet unexpressive, and materials with an immaterial materiality. I’ll try to explain.

The brick relief pattern I understand a little. In the world of graphic and textile design it’s called a step-and-repeat when identical motifs form a larger pattern and, with this building, a greater pattern of diagonals floats across the facade and the concrete frame. What I find difficult to imagine is 1) conceiving it and 2) detailing it. The brick relief and the windows are the main external decorative inputs and both have no meaning other than somebody wanted them to be that way. As for what it all means as a whole, this building is in Hiroshima and its construction began within a year of August 6, 1946. That is meaning enough.

Hiroshima has no need for buildings laden with meaning, least of all churchy ones with stained glass. By comparison, Tange’s 1955 Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is a blank slate

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and probably better for it as the international face of a national grief. People invest it  with 100% of whatever meaning they want and completely on their terms. It’s easy to like. Murano’s World Peace Memorial Cathedral is a more private affair. It’s a church for remembrance and make you remember it does.

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And there’s no doubt about what. It’s easier to focus on the dappled golden light rather than on that intensely disturbing slash of gold mosaic displacing, distorting and disfiguring the icon in the apse. The stability of those red and blue stained glass windows is very comforting and life-affirming. 

• • •

This site (in Japanese) has the most complete list of works I could find. There are many buildings I haven’t mentioned here but there is much more to discover. For example, Murano had a special gift for staircases.

Of Murano’s three hundred buildings, I selected the ones I did because they best illustrated the things I wanted to draw attention to but [confession time] I’d never known until last week that he was also the architect of the Industrial Bank of Japan – a building I’ve admired for decades. This building was an existence I just accepted – it never occurred to me someone might have designed it. 

Here’s an idea! We currently have a big problem with media management and too much information about too many buildings. This makes us unable to determine what is of any worth, let alone art. So how about we have some standards, reset the bar high and narrow the field by only considering buildings that have an existence independent of their creator? If you need to know who designed it before you have an opinion about it, forget it.

1974: Industrial Bank Of Japan (now Mizuho Headquarters)

All mechanical spaces are in that portion cantilevered over a reflecting pool (now replaced by planting). The pool, which you can see here,

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originally had a whirlpool in the far corner. It was eerily and profoundly impressive. It had depth. The entire building has gravity. See how the building meets the ground with that fillet of polished granite?

The sidewalk was paved in the same stone, unpolished. It’s an astounding level of thought and care. I’m as impressed now as I was in 1974.

• • •

Togo Murano

村野藤吾
1891 – 1984

for solving the same problem three hundred times

misfits’ salutes you!

• • •

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Architecture Misfit #20: Edward T. Potter

Another New York post. We can call this one Serious New York, or perhaps New York in the Time of Cholera. The link between poor housing and diseases such as yellow fever and cholera was established in 1820 by a Dr. Richard Pennell but squalid conditions in tenements continued to result in major outbreaks in 1822, 1823, 1832 and 1834 and even larger ones in 1849 and 1866. Gotham Court was a target for early housing reforms. It was nasty.

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Gotham Court

[I have Richard Plunz’s excellent book A History of Housing in New York City to thank for most of the information and all the plans in this post.]

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Only around 1850 did there even begin to be a desire to improve things.

1850 reforms

The first results were the Workingmens’ Buildings of 1865. They featured a ventilated access corridor and privy [a room or building with one or more toilets].

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It still had windowless rooms – a situation that was to become more common until the first tenement housing legislation of 1879.

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Lack of legislation led to developments such as The Rookery in 1865. It had three parallel lines of development across five small lots – a denser kind of nasty.

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Even so, it wasn’t uncommon elsewhere for rooms to have windows facing walls a foot away.

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The first ‘improved’ tenements saw the addition of airshafts giving the appearance of the opportunity of ventilation to inner rooms. Note the diamond-shaped shaft in the example on the left.

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• • •

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Edward Tuckerman Potter 
1831–1904

In 1874 Edward Tuckerman Potter completed his house for Mark Twain that he is best remembered for, mostly because it was for Mark Twain rather than its Victorian Gothic design that, although lovely, was unremarkable for the time.

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Mark Twain House was the exception for Potter was essentially a church architect. Sixty-six of his seventy-nine known buildings are churches.

The most famous is Nott Memorial Hall at the Union College campus in Schenectady NY (1858-1879).

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Nott Hall and Mark Twain House are both National Historic Landmarks but many of Potter’s other buildings are on registers of historic buildings. Potter was comfortable with the styles of the day and had the sense to restrain his taste for Gothic and polychromy to suit the budgets and sensibilities of his client parishes. He had a good career and retired in 1877 at the age of 46.

• • •

In 1879 a new magazine called Plumbing and Sanitary Engineer ran a competition calling for the design of improved tenement housing. The competition brief was to provide better ventilation, sanitation and fireproofing yet at the same time provide sufficient accommodation to make building the design economically viable as an investment. This was the winning entry by James E. Ware.

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Ware’s proposal wasn’t particularly innovative but it did imply that the size of the airshafts could be doubled by building identical buildings adjacent. Other entries took this as a premise. This next scheme by George Da Cunha was designed to be built in pairs with open galleries around an airshaft which for the first time seems like it could also function as a light well.

George Da Cuhna

It’s probably unfair to remember James E. Ware only as the inventor of the ‘dumbell apartment’ for he did submit another scheme proposing an idea similar to Da Cunha’s but more elegantly solved. It placed ninth.

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This next scheme by Robert G. Kennedy connects the lightwell to the street to make it into an alleyway. This increases the volume of air that can move, particularly if the proposal is built in pairs along and across the block.

Robert G. Kennedy

Nevertheless, the competition and Ware’s winning entry came in for some well-deserved criticism.

Ware criticism

This must have stung, for Ware modified his winning entry to provide the internal room with a window. He would have known he was increasing the external surface area of the building and making it less profitable for developers.

Ware revision

What we can learn from this is that it took some timely criticism articulating the changing public mood to remind developers and their architects of their duty to society. Enough was enough. Over the next several years, Potter was to give some thought to how to improve tenement housing. This is what he came up with.

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  • His most radical suggestion was to increase the lot to 37.5′ from the 25′ that was the norm. To compensate, there are now six apartments rather than Ware’s four on a 25′ lot, producing no net change in density.
  • Two of those apartments are now large four-room apartments while the others remain three-room. This is a net space gain.
  • As in the Kennedy proposal, the light wells are now access alleyways with space for planting on the sides of the paths. Integrating the lightwell and access route means no internal area needed to be constructed to access stairwells. It also means all apartments can be accessed from stair landings.
  • All rooms have windows.
  • All apartments have not only ventilation but cross ventilation.
  • Walls angle windows towards the street increasing views and lessening angles of overlooking across the alleyway.
  • Stairwells are naturally lit and ventilated.

This is what it looked like. The year was 1888.

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  • The building was made completely made of masonry, steel, and glass.
  • The stairs were roofed in glass.
  • Some windows had translucent louvres for privacy and others had sun shading devices.
  • Roofs had gardens [!]
  • Each apartment would receive one hour of direct sunlight daily. This would be determined by the width of the alleyways and must be what led Potter to propose increasing the lot width. It would also be why the building tapers towards the front.
  • Today, we would comprehend this building as ‘functionalist’ in terms of style but functionalism hadn’t been invented yet as a way to design buildings, let alone labelled a style. (The perforated balustrades are intriguing, using less material to make void into ornament as they do.)

Ensuring adequate sunlight and ventilation was one of Potter’s preoccupations but not only for tenement buildings. This next image is from a study, published in 1887, showing how to achieve maximum light and ventilation for the new high-rise buildings. These principles first appeared in New York City building legislation in 1916, more fully in 1929.

Potter 3

In 1897 Potter attended the International Congress on Low Cost Housing in Brussels and presented his designs and the model pictured above. It’d be wonderful to know who else attended this Congress. J P Oud probably didn’t as he was seven and the Swiss boy who was to become Le Corbusier was ten. But if, for example, Henry van de Velde attended the Congress prior to his move to Weimar two years later, that would link Potter with European Functionalism and the European Modernism that was to be imported back to the United States thirty years later minus European ideas of social utility, let alone the original American ones.

• • •

Edward Tuckerman Potter died on December 21, 1904. An obituary in The American Architect reports that Potter, ‘possessing independent means,’ was able to retire early and devote himself to ‘travel, the study of music and philanthropy.’ Potter worked in his later years to devise “ways and means of securing to tenement houses and their inmates not only economical and convenient planning, but the best of natural ventilation and lighting. In all tenement and prison reform movements he took an active part, so that, quite apart from his architectural work, he led a satisfying and useful life, to which further grace was added by his musical successes as a composer of sacred and even operatic scores.”

We don’t know what Potter thought of his church buildings but his work to improve tenements showed he viewed philanthropy and social utility as something separate from architecture. It’s still common to think so, even today. By applauding anything we can call ‘humanitarian’ if it happens in some other country, we like to think architecture and humanitarianism are merging. They’re not. The two will remain firmly separate until we develop a concept of what a humanitarian architecture is in our own country. Until that time, we’re just outsourcing gratification as our capacity to produce it hollows out.

Unlike us, Potter’s concerns were not separated across countries but across time. He had to retire from architecture before turning his attention to humanitarian concerns such as improving tenement housing. But at least he did! His interest may have been humanitarian rather than architectural but, once he put his architectural mind to it, he solved the problem quickly and he solved it well. He’s not a hero. He merely freed himself from the professional conventions and stylizations of his time to do what he felt he had to do. As most architects devote much of their energies to aligning themselves with the conventions and stylizations of their times, perhaps he’s a hero after all. Either way,

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Edward Tuckerman Potter 
1831–1904

for becoming an architect after having left architecture,

misfits’ salutes you!

Architecture Misfit #19: Illarion Ivanov-Schitz

Since 2010, misfits’ architecture has identified eighteen architecture misfits who seem to have little in common. Not all are or were architects. No.16: Douglas Haskell, had a life in architecture, but mostly as journalist and commentator. No.5: The Futurists, had little interest in architecture but nevertheless managed to greatly influence it. No.1: Hannes Meyer, No.2: Irving Gill, No.8: Hassan Fathy, and No.12: Nader Khalili, No.14: Eladio Dieste, No.15: Knud Peter Harboe, and No.17: Moisei Ginzburg all had an intimate knowledge of building construction. No. 4: SUPERSTUDIO and No.9: Karel Teige gave us new thoughts about how architecture should relate to society.

All these people had a curiosity about how to make buildings better. For No.2: Irving Gill, No.6: George Fred Keck and No.12: Nader Khalili, this resulted in the development and refinement of a particular system of construction. Others such as No.10: Colin Lucas and No.17: Moisei Ginzburg focussed on improving the internal planning of buildings for the efficient use of space and, because of that, the more efficient use of the construction materials that enclose it.

Their fields of interest and activity are different but all of these architecture misfits have in common a passionate interest in some aspect of the craft of designing and making buildings.

With No.3: Eileen Gray and No.18: Ignazio Gardella, this seems to have been a personal endeavour and something done for their own satisfaction and love of the art rather than for personal glory.

None were interested in creating a media presence and this is one reason why, on the whole, they remain relatively unknown. Having said that, architecture misfits No.9: Karel Teige, No.16: Douglas Haskell and No.17: Moisei Ginzburg were all comfortable with and competent in engaging with architectural media society in their respective eras. What they didn’t do was use it as a vehicle for fame in the way Frank Lloyd Wright invented and Le Corbusier perfected. The buildings came first. In a world where it’s easy to think architects are driven by nothing but media impact and commercial success, this has become increasingly difficult for us to imagine.

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Illarion Ivanov-Schitz
(March 28, 1865 – December 7, 1937)

The fact most people will not have heard of Illarion Ivanov-Schitz is alone insufficient evidence to consider him an architecture misfit. Most people have not heard of most architects. But is it possible for an architect whose uniqueness lay in “developing a unique personal style” (w) to even qualify as one? Many architects develop a unique personal style but it’s also true that many do so in order to merely have something that differentiates them in the market – a USP.

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The situation we have now is one where a Unique Selling Point is generated, presented, and unquestioningly accepted, as a Unique Personal Style. The two have become interchangeable to the extent their meanings have now completely overlapped. Be that as it may. If however, an architect develops a unique personal style as part of an ongoing quest for a particular kind of architectural truth, then they most definitely qualify as an architectural misfit. Ivanov-Schitz was most active in the years 1900–1910. We’ll have to move now to William Craft Brumfield’s book “The Origins of Modernism in Russian Architecture” to better understand what was going on at the time.

ECLECTICISM:

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“Every major architecture style was imitated or paraphrased on the facades of commercial and housing structures in [St.] Petersburg during the late nineteenth century: neo-Renaissance, neobaroque, neo-Greek, Louis XVI, Russian Revival, and Moorish. Mixed or unrecognizable styles, however, may in fact have predominated. 

A good example might be Fedor Shekhtel’s Vikula Morozov house of 1895,

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the same year as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Nathan Moore House.

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British people would understand both as late-Victorian eclecticism.

BRICK: As well as all this, there was a growing appreciation for unadorned brick, initiated by Webb and Morris’s Red House from 1859.

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One of the best examples of the non-historicist use of brick is Viktor Shreter’s 1872 apartment building in St. Petersburg.

  • ft1g5004bj_00016Shreter advocated brick without stucco for its “durability, originality, and rationality”. It was also economical and relatively easy to maintain.
  • In “Brick Architecture,” published in Zodchii in 1872, Leronim Kitner joined Shreter in advocating a brick style, saying “A facade of brick facing is incomparably more rational than one of stucco. In our climate a structure with brick facing has greater durability and can be erected in a much shorter period.”
  • The architect-critic V. Kuroedov predicted a great future for brick because of its structural qualities rather than its decorative uses.
  • Both Kuroedov and Kitner were disciples of Apollinarii Krasovskii (1816–1875), the leader in Russian architectural education during the nineteenth century. The following is an excerpt from Krasovskii’s 1851 textbook Civil Architecture: Architecture should not tend exclusively toward either the useful or the beautiful; its basic rule is the transformation of the one into the other. . . .  Tectonics or construction is the main source of architectural forms. The role of art in the composition consists only in conveying artistic finish to the crude forms of tectonics. . . . The property of a material and the best possible means of applying it determine the means of construction, and construction itself determines the external form of both parts and buildings.”

THE SHINGLE STYLE: America’s Shingle Style was well known through the work of Henry Hobson Richardson—one of the few American architects whose work appeared frequently in Russian journals. His Watts Sherman House is from 1874.

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ART NOUVEAU: In one of the October 1899 issues of Nedelia stroitelia there was a brief unsigned article describing two Petersburg apartment buildings with art nouveau affectations. “Decadence in architecture is beginning to appear also among us. . . . The striving for new forms, for a rejection of the cliché, should of course yield quite varied results, some more or less successful. Having created an entire range of new architectural goals, life persistently demands new forms for their expression.” In the March 1900 issue of Zodchii, V. Shmor raised the question of “style or fashion?” and criticized the eager imitation of foreign design in the name of progress and questioned the durability of the new style, “which seems . . . at present . . . only the unsubstantial blending of various fashions.”

VERNACULAR: The turn of the century saw a global drift away from eclecticism and the exploration of less expensive vernacular materials and methods. The shift towards unpretentious structures with simple logic owes much to the thinking embodied in vernacular architecture whatever the country. Greene and Greene’s Gamble House was 1908.

Gamble House

V.A. Simov and Leonid Vesnin’s Nosikov Dacha was 1909. It’s not worlds apart.

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MODERNISED NEOCLASSICISM (aka “THE GERMAN STYLE”): This is Peter Behrens’ 1911-12 German embassy in St. Petersburg. “The residents of Saint Petersburg didn’t take kindly to the new building – the German style was quite alien to the rest of Saint Petersburg.”

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STYLE MODERNE: Other articles of the time reported on the competition to design the new campus at the University of California. There was also a survey of the English vernacular revival  with mention of Charles Voysey and M. H. Baillie Scott. In 1901 there was a report of Joseph Olbrich’s 1897-98 Secession House in Vienna as well as detailed reports of the 1900 Paris Exhibition. On the whole, everyone was pretty well connected, considering. There was also a flourishing system of international architectural competitions. One of the first modernist buildings in Moscow was the 1898–1905 Hotel Metropole by British architect William Walcott.

Hotel Metropole

In the February 1902 issues of Zodchii, Pavel Makarov defined the new style as having “Freshness, simplicity, lack of pretension, and a complete rejection of old form…” His first article focussed on  England and the Arts and Crafts designers. The second was on Belgium and Henry van de Velde, and the third was on Austria and the Vienna Secession, giving priority to Otto Wagner. Makarov issued the challenge of a socially responsible architecture ennobling and beautifying life for the poor as well as the rich.

NEOCLASSICAL REVIVAL: A tussle began – one of those cyclic competitions to lay claim to the soul of architecture. Some interpreted a neo-classical revival in Petersburg as a rejection of the moderne. Evgenii Baumgarten raised the stakes in 1902 in his review of Otto Wagner’s recently published Moderne Architecture, taking issue with Wagner’s statement that “Nothing impractical can be beautiful.” 

“Although Professor Wagner’s instructions are practical, we are compelled to take a negative view of this theoretical argument. In leaning toward the utilitarian, he falls into an obvious absurdity. Proposing that the contemporary architect “come to terms” with the statement nothing that is not practical can be beautiful, he lowers the architectural art, praised with such feeling, to the level of an applied craft. With such criteria for appraising the beautiful, there is nothing left to say about original artistic creativity. … Of course it is necessary to build houses solidly, cheaply, quickly, and conveniently, but the beauty of a house has no relation to the technique of construction. The human soul requires architectonic beauty just as human vision requires good illumination.”

We’re still arguing over this a century later. Back then it was still early days. Baumgarten wouldn’t have liked Wagner’s 1904 Postparkasse (Austrian Postal Savings Bank) of 1904

© Bwag/Commons

© Bwag/Commons

or the Otto Wagner Spital from 1907. Otto_wagner_spital

and definitely not Adolf Loos’ Goldman & Salatsch Building from 1910. Even the Viennese found it difficult to accept the starkness of this building. I like to believe the story the window boxes were a last-minute compromise to gain planning approval.
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The most famous Russian architects of 1900-1910 worked in ALL these styles, often at the same time, sometimes in the same building. 

Fyodor Schechtel began Gothic-Romantic but during the 1890s oscillated between Gothic and Russian Revival, turned to art nouveau at the beginning of the century, and chose between art nouveau and neoclassical revival for the rest of the decade, with random dalliances with style moderne inbetween.

Ivan Fomin, similarly, was initially enthusiastic about art nouveau but switched to neoclassical and later, in turn, Soviet neoclassical, Stalinist neoclassical, plus something known at the time with, in hindsight, scary prescience, as Postconstructivism.

Illarion Ivanov-Schitz was not architecturally promiscuous like superstars Schechtel and Fomin. True, he did eclectic buildings in the 1890s but, in fairness, Eclecticism was the style of the 1890s. 

Devichye Pole Orphanage, Moscow, 1892

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This building is now the Embassy of Vietnam. It is the only Ivanov-Schitz’ building of the 1900s that has a different use today.

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6, Kuznetky Most Street, Moscow, 1898

This was originally the Muir and Mirillies department store. It is now the Khomyakov Trading House.

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From about this time, Ivanov-Schitz began to develop his distinctive style that has been said to use a modernised form of classical tectonics. Others simply called it “A Greek sort of Wagner”.

Offices of the State Savings Banks, Moscow, 1898 

This was Ivanov-Schitz’ first major post-eclectic building. Despite the Ionic columns it was regarded as unusually modern. Here it is under construction.

The building of the Office of the state savings banks, erected in 1914-1920 under the project of IA Ivanov-Shicai

The corner of Kuznetsky Most and Petrovka Street is in the historic centre of Moscow,

and is a painter’s favourite.

It is still a bank. Office space is currently renting.

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We get to see the rear of the building.

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And also get a sense for at least how the interior might once have been.

(Wagner’s Austrian Postal Savings Bank was 1904.)

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Moscow Savings Bank, Rakhmanovsky Lane, Moscow, 1903

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There are many excellent photographs to be found here.

1903-1906 Abrikosov’s Maternity Hospital in Miusskaya Square

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It’s still a maternity hospital, but now renamed the Nadezhda Krupskaya Maternity Hospital, after Lenin’s wife.

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Vvedensky People’s House, Vvedenskaya Square, Moscow, 1904. 

People’s houses were Soviet cultural centers (clubs) that were built in the early twentieth century on the outskirts of the city, in order to educate workers and poor and population. Cinematograph and library were open, free morning shows, musical evenings, variety of lectures conducted in the People’s House.

The building was rebuilt beyond recognition by architect BV Efimovich in 1947. Since then nothing reminds of a refined Viennese Secession. As a result there was a palace of the typical of the late- Stalinist architectural style. Some critics jokingly referred to this architectural style as ” the Elephant’s Empire” due to very large forms and details.

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The building was refurbished in 2008 to become the “Yauza Palace” concert venue it is today. This is the only example of an Ivanov-Schitz building being “modernised” but it’s easy to imagine this modernisation had more to do with updating the perception of government priorities. The building continues to exist as a concert hall and theatre.

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Morozov Hospital, Moscow, 1905. 

Moscow,_Morozov_Hospital,_I.A.Ivanov-Schitz,_1900-1905This is now Morozov Children’s Hospital.Morozov_Children_Hospital_in_Moscow

Merchants’ Club, Moscow 1907–1908

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The advanced style is even more evident inside, where decorative shapes—streamlined, abstract—resemble those of contemporary Viennese design and anticipate modern design in the West during the 1920s (Brumfield)

The building served as a hospital during WWI

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and is now the Lenkom Theatre. Moscow_Malaya_Dmitrovka_Street_6

“The recessed Ionic portico of his Merchants’ Club on the Dmitrovka is flanked by square towers with classical elements whose form owes much to the Vienna Secession.” (Brumfield)

[Maybe. With its focus on form, architectural history is always quick to talk of “influences” rather than “good and useful ideas that quickly found wider application”. Getting rid of ornament is always presented as local stylistic choices rather than universal economic imperative.]

Soldatenkovskaya Hospital, Moscow.

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It’s now the Hospital Botkin. Between 1908 and 1928, Ivanov-Schitz was officially employed as the architect of Botkin Hospital in Moscow.

Orlikov Lane Flophouse, Moscow, 1909

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According to one unconfirmed report, it is still standing and now known as the Bugrov Hostel.

Shanyavsky University, Miusskaya Square, Moscow, 1910-1912

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This is now part of the campus of Russian State University of the Humanities (RSUH).

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• • •

Over the period 1900-1910 Ivanov-Schitz used the same block-like massing with various degrees of relief and ornament on buildings having widely different briefs and budgets. Ivanov-Schitz’ combined the clarity and rationality of Wagner with the dignity of Greek classicism and  produced something that was at the same time modern and timeless. This understandably appealed to the financial institutions and charities who were his main clients. Just as it is difficult for us now to appreciate the simplicity of Georgian architecture unless we compare it to the excesses of the Victorian era, it is difficult for us now to appreciate the simplicity and the radicalness of Wagner. We find Loos easier to understand – and consequently dismiss – because of his famously noisy essay.

What’s remarkable about the output of Illarion Ivanov-Schitz is that so many of his buildings still exist, but also they are still being used and appreciated in much the same way they were meant to be used and appreciated. Apart from the orphanage now used as an embassy, a bank is still a bank, a hospital still a hospital, a university a university, a flophouse a hostel. Even Yauza Palace is still an active part of the city. In terms of whole life-cycle performance these buildings are doing amazingly well.

Illarion Ivanov-Schitz’ buildings are too easily dismissed as neoclassic or as ‘a Greek sort of Wagner’ but to see buildings in terms of arbitrary stylistic categories such as these misses the point of why buildings are built. There is something we can learn from this. If Ivanov-Schitz’ intention was to develop a durable aesthetic for buildings he could imagine being needed and used for a long time to come, then he did very well. 

• • •

Illarion Ivanov-Schitz

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For reminding us what it’s supposed to be about,

misfits salutes you!

• • •

A special thanks to Dmitry Panov for suggesting I write about Illarion Ivanov-Schitz and for his help along the way. The post began with a long-overdue clarification on what makes a misfit architect. I was open minded at the beginning, and it was only when I learned more about the riotously innovative first decade of the century (that was just as directionless as the previous) did I begin to appreciate how unique Ivanov-Schitz was. Much later I was surprised to learn most of his buildings were still being used as they were intended. I was then surprised I was surprised at that. Today, we accept a high churn ratio and have invented concepts like adaptive re-use to make ourselves feel better about buildings that become obsolete too soon. It would be better to design so adaptive re-use is never necessary. Realistically though, no building lasts forever. Renovations and restorations have been made to Ivanov-Schitz’ buildings over the years but nobody ever thought it would be better to knock them down and building something more functional or more fashionable. They still made sense. And they still do. This is timelessness at a level more profound than how we’ve come to use the word.