Category Archives: Architecture Misfits

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

Modern Vernacular

A vernacular of performance …

Microprocessor research and technological application is always concerned with the pursuit of higher performance for the same or lower energy input, manufacture using simpler and fewer mechanical and chemical processes, the discovery of processes having higher degrees of tolerance, the elimination of ecologically unsound and toxic processes, the search for elements and compounds which are less expensive either in themselves or to synthesize, three dimensional layout design to maximize compactness, increase speed of operation and minimize electron loss, and so on. In addition to all of these concerns, miniaturization and cost efficiency are also pursued in order to maximize applicability and marketability. Form is irrelevant. They are simple rectangular solids covered in resin to protect and insulate, and also to hide their workings from competitors. Rather than a beauty of form, there is a beauty of the synthesis of isolated, composite and integrated function, the exploration of materials with multiple properties, the processes of manufacture, and the economics and integration of it all. Most of this is pursued at the sub-electron level.

microprocessor.jpg

The result is a high-performance product with very specific and highly-defined functions. It has a form but that was not the goal. It carries no notions of status. Microprocessors and their manufacture are the product of continuing refinement towards more performance for less input, all the time shunning waste, excess, redun-dancy and design for the sake of it. The beauty of a microprocessor is not one of simple function, but an integrated performance of the whole and its parts in themselves and in the course of their manufacture. The pursuit of this is a commercial one for a market is assured. As there is for housing. However, in terms of its consequences for the production process, there is an important difference between a house as a machine for living in, and a house as a metaphor of a machine for living in.

car

… encompasses building materials, …

property

The vernacular use of local materials in rural areas is not intended to be quaint, rustic or to glorify the aesthetic qualities of natural materials. It is merely an obvious and expedient use of available materials, labour resources and techniques. Loadbearing walls support loads, provide thermal and acoustic insulation and provide spatial delimitors. They are also relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, instead of us seeing the beauty of the thought processes by which vernacular buildings came about, we more readily see their beauty in terms of the property they tend to be standing on, in much the same way as the “beauty” of ships and grain silos is dependent upon the vastness of the empty (but no less justifying) spaces around them. Selection and use of materials should be in terms of how many of their properties can be made use of to satisfy multiple functions. It would expedite the rational selection and use of building materials and methods today if a similar thought processes were applied.

murcutt

Glen Murcutt and Rem Koohaus have used corrugated iron for the inherent properties it has, and in doing so, have restored its place as a building mateial.  This is a step back towards a vernacular approach to materials and their use. Natural materials are already objects of status so unless we are to either import building materials or quarry every rock and fell every tree in the country, a modern vernacular will sooner or later have to use substitutes. A day will come when corrugated iron will be seen as decadent a building material as carved stone is now.  Sooner or later we will have to relearn.

… interior finishes, …

Internal finishes contribute significantly to the cost of a building. A modern vernacular building would be designed ot use inexpensive and multi-functional finishes were any to be used at all. The walls of log cabins and traditional Japanese rooms (and their houses, for the two were integral) did not have any applied finishes.

raw

Timber having become the commodity of status it is, building such a house is a statement of affluence in Japan today. We have to learn to appreciate the beauty that less expensive and status-laden materials also have in their raw state. This process can already be seen operating in the field of product design. Whereas most hi-fi components used to be housed in timber cabinets, only top-quality ones remain so today. Office furniture is being continually being redesigned to use less expensive materials. Over the past twelve months, the use of less-expensive transparent plastics has beome widespread, but marketed as an indicator of some new awareness. Validated by their use in the iMac, their use quickly spread to kitchen equipment such as electric kettles and toasters.

imac

… building components, …

If passed on, the cost benefits of mass production are more pronounced if products are standardized and their design and manufacture tailored for maximum cost efficiency. Countering this is the value-added component restored by offering a wide selection of products and marketing them with emphasis on ‘individuality’. Double-glazed windows and conservatories are two examples where this operates to negate consumer benefit. CD players used to be made with lasers having lenses of glass. The current use of plastic is the result of design for cost-efficient manufacture rather than audio considerations. Some designs are easier to produce than others. This is reflected in the cost of the final goods whether the means of production is a factory machine, skilled worker, unskilled worker or craftsman. What has to be remembered is that a building can use prefabricated and mass-produced products designed for ease of assembly, but if these are to produce a building having an aesthetic that is dependent upon the possession of property for its effect, then it will never be applicable to realistic housing needs .The desirability will be there because of reduced construction, but those benefits will be negated by the price of the property necessary to sustain the aesthetic.

case study

… methods of construction, …

Similarly, construction by highly skilled technicians, craftsmen or artisans was simple process involving available materials. It is not anymore. The use of highly skilled labour as a means of production continues to indicate status. That it produces goods of high quality is not disputed.

gothic

This is the same value and status investing process of art. Design for less-expensive methods of construction has to take into account the inherent imprecision of techniques requiring less skill. Modernism did not translate well when its construction techniques were applied to low-cost housing. Flat roofs were technically vulnerable to imprecise methods. A simple and available means of achieving something is preferable to a complex one. In addition, each component of the building should be designed to have more than one function, both when the building is complete and in the course of its construction.

… building fittings and services, …

Building fittings continue to be marketed as status-generating consumer items, particularly with regard to kitchens. In terms of aesthetics derived from function and status, a £3,500 stainless steel cooker is more beautiful than a £50 reconditioned gas cooker, but in terms of cost-effective performance, the opposite is true.

pawson

In general, be it a sofa or a cupboard, built-in furniture is a means of adding value to buildings. Justifying this in terms of saving space, returns the argument to one of property. Be this as it may,the process of building items in complicates and lengthens the building process. Concealing anything in a building costs money, whether it be hardware (structure, construction joints), firmware (conduits, services) or software (all furniture, light fittings, saucepans and all objects having an element of consumer choice). The evolution of techniques to incorporate hardware and firmware elements into a design should be encouraged.

sync.jpg

… the building type, …

If a vernacular aesthetic of performance is to be applicable to buildings, then a building itself must also satisfy as many functions as possible – a concept which runs counter to this century’s architectural thought. Last century’s gave us the notion of separating functions and classes in a city. This century’s gave it form, the initial applications of which were new towns and mass housing schemes separating residential and retail areas. Compare the cities of Europe where, during the 19th century, having shops at street level and apartments above become sufficiently well established as a pattern of high-density urban living to survive industrialization and Modernism separating them as they did in Britain.

shops.jpg

An equivalent building type still survives here but it dates from before the Industrial Revolution when this split occurred. It is the lower-class Georgian residential/retail building. Remaining largely on high streets, it is a building of four or five storeys providing mixed usage along streets which actually function as part of a city. The needs for shelter and food have not changed that much over the past couple of hundred years to warrant new types of structures built in totally different locations and dependent upon public or private transport to link them.

… and the city. 

Modern needs are not that modern. The public amenity of shopping is privatized and concentrated in shopping centres and malls which separate the retail function of the city. The price advantages of large chain stores is sufficient for us to accept the inconvenience of location, the neces-sity to drive or otherwise get there, and the dehumanization of the act of selling, the act of buying, and to a certain extent, the goods themselves. Catalogue shopping, home delivery services, television and online shopping and video deliveries are only manifestations of a modern life-style because our local access to them has been taken away. They are commercial responses to restoring something which our buildings don’t provide any more.

warehouse

The Georigan mixed use buildings are useful urban forms which should be regarded as a prototype, and like a microprocessor, have their design, structure and process subject to continual refinement in order to extract maximum performance from it. This is unlikely to happen while residual social prejudice remains in the form of separation of classes, and institutionalized architectural prejudice remains in the form of separation of functions. However, if a former Victorian sweatshop or mews building can be marketed as a desirable form of urban living, then so can living above a shop. In addition, if we are to avoid people being housed with no alternative but to look at each other, the only unexploited form of public property left for housing to overlook is the street, and it is in the interest of the entire city and society that streets remain interesting and active enough for people to not only use them to travel along and buy food, but also interact with them as a neighbourhood and derive sustenance from them. This form of urban use should also allow us to extract more performance from our streets than we are either currently receiving or are being led to expect in the future.

• • •

• • •

This post complements and concludes the previous Meta-Aesthetics post and is the third and final installment of misfits’ prehistory. Normal programming resumes next week.

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Architecture Misfit #29: Fernand Pouillon

fernand-pouillon

Fernand Pouillon
1912 – 1986

1912
Born May 14, in Cancon, France.

🎂

1934
Palais Albert 1er, (30 apartments, 2 commercial units), avenue Albert 1er, Aix-en-Provence, France, in collaboration with Henri Enjouvin.

Pouillon was 22.

1935
Palais Victor Hugo (28 apartments), avenue Victor Hugo, Aix-en-Provence, France

1936
Groupe Corderie 25 (40 apartments), 27 avenue de la Corse, Marseille, France

The fernandpouillon.com website lists the creation or extension of “co-operative cells” [caves coopèratives”] around this time, in the towns of Rosières, Lussas, Vinezac, Vogue, Lablachère, Senas, Graveson, Maillane, Eygalières, Mallemort, Saint-Andiol, Châteauneuf de Gadagne, Le Thor, La Tour d’Aygues, and Sablet. All were formed in association with Pouillon’s former mentor Henri Enjouvin. I imagine these to be something like architects of record on-call, and with some fee arrangement already in place for fast turnaround. It would have to be because, as you will see, the amount of work attributed to Pouillon is phenomenal. Pouillon was beyond prolific, he had a compulsion to design buildings and get them built.

1938
Mondovi Building (18 apartments), rue de Mondovi, Marseille, France


Villa for Doctor Bernard, quartier Saint-Julien Villa de M. Magallon, avenue Flotte, Marseille, France
Villa for M. Teissier, quartier Saint-Barnabé Villa de M. Terracole, au Roucas Blanc, Marseille, France
Villa for M. Falconetti, Cabriès, France

1939
Group “Résidence” quai de Rive-Neuve (36 apartments), Marseille, France

1940
A group of 70 apartments, Avignon, France

1942 was the end of Vichy Government rule in Algeria and the end of Le Corbusier’s speculative Plan Obus for Algiers. It was also the year Pouillon, now 30, became a registered architect. It had not been necessary to be one in order to build in

1943
Restoration of private mansion of M. Columeau, bd du Redon Immeuble 38 rue Longue des Capucins, Marseille, France

1944 was the liberation of France and the dissolution of the Vichy government.

1945
“Dames de France”, transformation of a store into offices for the American base
Grand Arénas, provisional accommodation for prisoners, deportees and refugees
Gendarmerie Augusto, Marseille, France

1946
The Regional Center for Physical Education and Sport, CREPS, chemin du Guiraudet Gardanne, Aix-en-Provence, France
Casablanca Garden City in Biver, 21 dwellings, Aix-en-Provence, France

1947
Deux écoles déclarées dans les “Mémoires d’un architecte”, Aix-en-Provence, France
Hotel in Cap Manuel, Dakar, Senegal
Stade municipal, avenue des Ecoles Militaires, Aix-en-Provence, France

Pouillon’s 1947 Aix-en-Provence City Stadium is often presented as the project in which his personal “style” began to emerge but (in perfect illustration of how words convert buildings into architecture) this turns out to be nothing more than perfectly normal things that everybody should be doing, like updating traditional construction processes and using several different materials so each does what they do best.

stadium 1946-50.jpeg

1948
Nestlé Factory, chocolate and soluble coffee factory, offices, common services and employee housing, Saint-Menet, France
Restoration of the Villa of Doctor Latil, Aix-en-Provence, France
Station sanitaire maritime, Avenue Vaudoyer, Marseille, France

0008

1949
Police Building, 2 rue Antoine Becker, Marseille, France
Canebière Building, boulevard de la Canebière, apartments, offices, retail units, Marseille, France
La Tourette, Protis Square, 260 dwellings, shops garages, Marseille, France 

The civic projects increased in scale and importance, leading to the 1948-1953 La Tourette housing complex in Marseille, just behind the Old Port. There’s a glowing description of La Tourette here, along with many fine photographs of it.

With La Tourette project, Pouillon refined his system of co-ordinating all the elements of a project – a system that came to be known as The Pouillon System. Details are sketchy, but it included artists and craftsmen such as cabinetmakers, locksmiths and stonecutters and the invention/use of construction processes intended to reduce the cost of material and labour. One of these was pierre banchée in which stone tiles are used as permanent shuttering.

LE+GENIE+DE+POUILLON+-+ECONOMIE+ET+QUALITE

Other innovations included a method of providing better soundproofing between apartments. A legend to the section above might be able to tell us more about this. In 1955, Pouillon created the CNL, the Comptoir National du Logement, which was a commercial and legal structure that would allow him to design thousands of housing units in Paris and to build them as a developer.

1950
Reconstruction of the Sablettes, seaside resort, 150 apartments, shops, a hotel, La Seyne-sur-Mer, France
Carrières de Fontvieille, La Seyne-sur-Mer, France
Offices, Garden Dwellings, Atelier, La Seyne-sur-Mer, France
Atelier for the painter, Marchutz, Aix-en-Provence, France
Villa for the mayor of d’Aix-en-Provence, Henri Mouret, Aix-en-Provence, France
Hôtel d’Espagnet, Cours Mirabeau, Headquarters of the University Rectorate plus official housing, Aix-en-Provence, France
Restoration of a listed monument, Aix-en-Provence, France
Saint-Charles University Library, Marseille, France
Library of the Faculty of Sciences, Centre for Administrative Studies, Marseille, France

1951
Building rue Méry, Reconstruction of the Vieux-Port quarter, housing, shops and bars, Marseille, France
Outer areas of the Old Port district, monument surroundings, roads and public spaces, Marseille, France
Shopping Cart District Urban Redevelopment, Marseille, France
Two hundred apartments, 1-6 room apartments for rent, Aix-en-Provence, France
Reconstruction of the Old Port, seafront 1200 m, 350 apartments and shops, Marseille, France

1952
Faculty of Law, resumption of the works for completion of University Library, Aix-en-Provence, France

Villa La Brillanne, residence of the family of Fernand Pouillon, Aix-en-Provence, France
Lycée Colbert, commercial and industrial learning center, Marseille, France

1953
Atelier for the painter André Masson, Aix-en-Provence, France

Administrative City, architectural and urban development program, Avignon, France
Terminal, offices, technical block, control tower, Cassis, Marignane, France
Villa Barthélemy and Villa X., seafront villas, Algiers, Algeria
Diar El Mahçoul, 1800 apartments, Algiers, Algeria

This last was Pouillon’s first project in Algeirs and the project he was invited there for. The hillside site required 100,000 of terracing and huge retaining walls. A main road divided the French side and Algerian side. Two thirds of the 1,454 housing units were on the French side of the road with views of the sea (and huge retaining walls).

The other third were on the Algerian side facing the valley and had small courtyards. We may think this discriminatory but we forget that “view” is a cultural invention (whereas houses in a Mediterranean fishing village, for example, might have a view of the sea for reasons connected with weather and fish). Another such difference showed in sanitation facilities and, again, we can’t say if this is cultural prejudice or cultural preference.

1953 (cont’d)
Diar Es Saada, 800 lodgings, Algiers, Algeria

Villa des Arcades, restaurant, and development of a swimming pool, residence and agency of F. Alger, Algerie
Residential building, regularization of the extension of the course Jean Jaurès in front of the administrative city, Avignon, France

1954
Diar El Mahçoul, Saint-Jean-Baptiste church Climat of France, 3500 dwellings, Algiers, Algiers

Pouillon’s 1954-1957 Climat de France project for Algiers has a touch of what two decades later would be called Post-Modern Classicism. We look at it and see Rossi, unfairly.

The Mayor of Algiers believed a properly housed population made for a happy population and Pouillon obliged by combining the social aspirations of Modernism giving residents something larger to feel a part of, and the proto Post-Modern idea of giving residents something grander to live up to.

Diar Es Saada, girls ‘and boys’ schools, Algiers, Algierie
El Karma, Valmy (near Oran), Agierie
City of 800 houses, Algiers, Algierie
Cité Lescure, Designed for a colleague, Oran, Algiers
Military city for 8000 inhabitants, Magharé, Iran
Military city for 8000 inhabitants, Shahabad, Iran
Iranian Empire Headquarters, Tehran, Iran
Geographical Institute, Tehran, Iran
Railway station, Machad, Iran

This was a project in collaboration with the Iranian architect, Heydar Ghiaï-Chamlou.

Railway station, Tabriz, Iran

As was this.

1955
Cité universitaire les Gazelles, 564 avenue Gaston Berger, 500 beds, Aix-en-Provence, France

La Montagnette social housing, rue Maurice Barrès, Vignon, France
Cité La Croix des Oiseaux, about 800 social housing units with much prefabrication, rue de la Croix des Oiseaux, Avignon, France
Villa for Admiral Jubelin, Sanary, France

1956
Development of the Old Port district, partially completed. Reconstruction of several Old Port buildings, reconstruction, Bastia, France

1957
Charzola Building, 58 rue Emile Zola, 93 dwellings, Paris, France

47 avenue de Friedland, apartment for Fernand Pouillon, Paris, France
Victor Hugo Residences, avenue Jean Lolive, 282 apartments and retail units, Pantin, France

Chalet, Val d’Isere, France
Municipal stadium, rue des Ecoles Militaires, awning above the stands (destroyed in the eighties), Aix-en-Provence, France
Résidence le Parc, 2,635 lodgings, shopping centers, Meudon-la-Forêt, France

Pouillon and the CNL’s first major successes were apartment developments of three hundred units in Pantin (1957) and five hundred units in Montrouge (1958). Despite the stone and marbile finishes, the apartments were affordable on a 25-year plan.

1958
Private apartment, Boulevard Suchet, Paris, France
Le Point du Jour, 2260 logements et équipements, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Peugeot-quai de Passy, projet d’extension du Point du Jour, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Résidence du Stade Buffalo, 466 logements et commerces, Montrouge, France

1959
Hôtel des Ursins, île de la Cité, résidence de F. Pouillon Appartement de M. Junot Iéna, Paris, France
Résidence Jules Ferry, 60 logements et garages au rez-de-chaussée, Montrouge, France
Résidence le Parc, 2,635 lodgings, shopping centers, Meudon-la-Forêt, France

Pouillon was to make himself many enemies when the 2,635 apartments of the Résidence du Parc in Meudon-la-Forêt (1959) came online at less than market prices.

1960
Résidence du Quai, 135 apartments and shopping mall, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Hôtel-restaurant Baumanière, la Cabro d’Or, Les Baux de Provence, France

1961
Hotel, Puerto-Rico

Pouillon’s unorthodox corporate arrangements encouraged financial impropriety and the CNL was unable to pay its contractors in 1959 and was wound up in 1961 and Pouillon charged, arrested, de-registered and jailed. Eighteen months later he escaped but ten months later gave himself up, only to be sentenced to another four years. This was later reduced to three and he was released in February 1964. Charges of breaching the laws of companies, of breaches of trust, fraud and concealment were dismissed but charges of the abuse of social assets, false declaration of release of shares and false notarial declaration remained. During his imprisonment, we was to write Les Pierres Sauvages published in 1964, and Memoirs of an Architect, published 1968.

1962
Domaine de Lanruen (detached houses), partially realized, construction site not monitored, Erquy, France

1964
Masterplan for the new town of Créteil, Créteil, France
La Vallée Moussue, restoration of a house, Saint-Léger-en-Yvelines, France.

1965
Hôtel du Port, for the company Bancaire, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France

 

The masterplan was to be Pouillon’s first major job after jail and, perhaps because of this, he received death threats urging him not to work in France. Jacques Chevallier suggested Pouiloon return to Algeria and he did. For the next twenty years Pouillon was to design hotels to improve the tourism infrastructure of Algeria, as well as many civic and educational buildings. His greatest regret was being being asked to design mass housing again, either in France or in Algeria.

1966
Algerian coastal tourism development plan (partially realized), Algiers, Algeria
Villa des Arcades, restoration and extension, Algiers, Algeria
Diar El Mahçoul, transformation of the church into a mosque, Algiers, Algeria
Hotel Le Caîd, 400 beds, Bou Saada, Algeria
Hotel Marhaba, 300 beds, Laghouat, Algeria
Hotel El Minzah, 300 beds, Moretti, Algeria
Spa and hotel with 200 beds, Saida, Algeria

1967
Pavillon de la Foire d’Alger
, Algiers, Algeria
The Calle (El Kala), Algiers, Algeria
Hotel El Manar, 300 beds, Algiers, Algeria
Tourist complex, 3,000 beds, Moretti, Algeria
Hotel El Mountazah (Ksar du Rocher), 300 beds, Seraïdi, Algeria
Tourist complex, 4,000 beds, Zeralda, Algeria

1968
Restaurant “Maxim’s, air conditioning and facilities, Paris, France
Caravanserai of 150 beds, Ain Sefr, Algeria
Hotel Plaza, 500 beds, Annaba, Algeria
Caravanserai the Rym, 150 beds, Beni-Abbes, Algeria
Hotel with 300 beds, Biskra, Algeria
Hotel school for 1,600 students, Biskra, Algeria
Caravanserai El Boustan, 200 beds Saharan dwellings (detached houses), Biskra, Algeria
Saharan homes (detached houses), Biskra, Algeria
New market and renovation of old market, cinema, theater, 15,000 m2, Biskra, Algeria
Abattoirs, Biskra, Ghardaïa, Algerie
Saharan homes (detached houses), Laghouat, Algeria
Caravanserai El Mehri, 200 beds, Ouargla, Algeria
Prefecture of the Oasis and Administrative City, 15 000 m2 Saharan dwellings (detached houses), Ouargla, Algeria
Tourist complex, 4,000 beds El Riadh Hotel, Sidi Ferruch, Algeria


Tourist complex, shopping center Hôtel les Hammadites, 350 beds, Tichy, Algerie
Caravanserai El Gourara, 150 beds, Timimoun, Algeria


Tourist complex, 2,000 beds, Tipasa Beach, Algeria


Tourist complex, 2,500 beds Arrangement of the harbor, village and barbecue, Tipasa Club, Algeria
Slaughterhouses, Touggourt, Algerie
Caravanserai L’Oasis, 200 beds, Touggourt, Algeria
Saharan homes (detached houses), Touggourt, Algeria
Hotel Les Sables d’Or, 600 beds, Zeralda, Algeria
Hotel with 300 beds, Tamanrasset, Algeria

1969
Prototype “metal house” at the edge of J. Chevallier
, El Ançor, Algeria
Andalusian tourist complex of 2,000 beds, Algiers, Algeria
Hotel with 600 beds, Tipasa Matarès, Algeria
Hotel school for 1600 students, Tizi Ouzou, Algeria

1970
La Breche aux Loups
, 444 detached houses, commercialization, Ozoir-la-Ferrière, France
27 post offices, sorting centers and telephone exchanges, 50,000 m2 realized since, Algeria
Hotel M’Zab (ex-Rostémides), 600 beds, Ghardaïa, Algerie


Several “metallic” houses, Ghazaouate, Algeria
Hotel Les Zianides, 300 beds, Tlemcem, Algeria
43 Villas from 1970 to 1984 in Algiers, Bir Mourad Raïs, Blida, Bouzareah, Draria (Algiers), El Achour, El Biar, Algiers, Kouba, Larbaa, Sahaoula, Sidi Aïch, Sidi Mohammed, Yakouren

1971
Furnishing of an apartment, place des Vosges
, Paris, France
Theater for 3,600, Sidi Ferruch (surroundings of Algiers), Algeria
Tipaza Club (Algiers area), Algeria
Tourist complex, extension and horse-riding center, (Algiers area), Algeria
Tipasa Matarès (near Algiers), Algeria
Tourist complex, extension, (Algiers area), Algeria
Hotel les Hammadites, extension, Tichy, Algeria
Caravanserai El Gourara, extension, Timimoun, Algeria

1972
Tourist complex, extension, Moretti, Algeria
Village artisanal Plage Ouest: 150 shops and workshops, Sidi Ferruch, Algerie
Resort complex, extension Hotel Mazafran, Zeralda, Algeria
Hotel with 300 beds, Saida, Algeria
Thermal Spa, Hammam Rabbi (Saïda), Algeria
City of 200 apartments, Staoueli (near Algiers), Algeria
Villa des Arcades, transformation of stables into living room and dining room, El Madania, Algiers, Algeria
Technical Unit of SONATOUR, Algiers, Algeria

1973
Prototype “metallic” house, on the property of the president of the PUM (Products of Metallurgical Factories), Sologne, France
Caravanserai The Rym, extension, Beni-Abbes, Algeria
Caravanserai El Mehri, extension, Ouargla, Algeria

1974
Furnishings for a small manor, Chennevières / Marne, France
House of M and Mme V., Gueux, France
Five “metallic” houses, Jonchery / Vesle, France
House-witness of the concept “HOME” (metal house), Val-de-Vesle-Thuisy, France
A “metallic” house, Saint-Brice-Courcelles, France
Residence Lion d’Or, place Drouet d’Erlon, housing, cinema, shopping mall, Reims, France
Galerie du Jardin de Flore, 24 place des Vosges, creation of a flower shop in art gallery, for the publishing company created by Fernand Pouillon, Paris, France
Apartment rue des Fontaines, Algiers, Algeria
Cabaret Dar El Alia, Bouzareah (Algiers), Algeria
Housing development of “metallic” houses, Cheraga, Algeria
Caravanserai El Boustan, extension, El Golea, Algeria
Caravanserai, extension, El Oued, Algeria
Hotel El Djanoub, 600 beds, Ghardaïa, Algeria
Villa Paradou for the Ministry of Higher Education, Hydra (Algiers), Algeria
Expansion and development of the port, 200 ships of 10 m, La Madrague (near Algiers), Algeria
Development of the port, 400 boats, Sidi Ferruch (Algiers area), Algeria
West Beach Hotel, Sidi Ferruch (surroundings of Algiers), Algeria
West Beach second hotel, in all 1500 beds, West Beach Civic Center of Animation, Sidi Ferruch (surroundings of Algiers), Algeria
Harbor development, 200 boats of 10 meters Hotel with 152 rooms, Skikda, Algeria

1975
Restoration of a house, Peyrusse-le-Roc, France
Offices of Technal International, Toulouse, France
Cité Universitaire for Young Girls, Ben Aknoun, Algeria
Horse-riding center, multi-purpose hall, Tipaza, Algeria
Shopping and leisure center, Tipaza Plage, Algeria
Amraoua Hotel, Tizi Ouzou, Algeria
Tourist complex, extension, multi-purpose hall and facilities, Zeralda, Algeria
Wilaya (prefecture), landscaping, Tlemcem, Albgerie
Château de Belcastel, restoration (from 1975 to 1983), Belcastel, France

Belcastel1

1976
Monastery for the sisters of Médéa
(Algeria) repatriated to Provence, Cotignac, France
Hotel Plaza, Annaba, Algeria

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Hotel Aurassi, furnishing and decoration, Oued Koreiche (Alger), Algeria
Villa Marguerite, Tlemcem, Algeria

1977
Aménagement du port et extension du centre ville, Saint-Tropez, France
Hôtel, Djemila, Algerie
Cité universitaire, Oran, Algerie

1977-1980
Port development and extension of the city center, Saint-Tropez, France
Hotel, Djemila, Algeria
Cité universitaire, Oran, Algeria

1978
Villas Rochmeboisson
, Ain Benian (Algiers), Algeria
Villa Citroën, Algiers, Algeria
University campus, extension, Ben Aknoun (Algiers), Algeria
Hotel, 600-bed hotel, Constantine, Algeria
Wilaya (prefecture), two projects, Tlemcem, Algeria
Wilaya (prefecture), 3rd project, Tlemcem, Algeria

1979
Cité Universitaire, Ain El Bey (Constantine), Algerie

1979-1982
Cité Universitaire, Ain El Bey (Constantine), Algerie
400 dwellings, Sétif, Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 3,000, Alger, Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 5,000, Bab Ezzouar (Alger), Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 2,000, Batna, Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 2,500, Constantine, Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 2,000, Mostaganem, Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 2,000, Oran, Algerie
Cité Universitaire for 2,000, Sidi Bel Abbès, Algerie

1980
House F, Belcastel, France
Map of the new town, competition, Saint-Quentin-en-Yveline, France
City of 400 dwellings, Boufarik, Algeria
Bus station 40,000 m2, Constantine, Algeria
Spa, extension, Hammam Rabbi (Saïda), Algeria
Post Office, Touggourt, Algerie

1981
Hotel El Djazaïr
(formerly Saint-Georges), resumption and continuation of works, Algiers, Algeria

1982
House extension project, Eschentzwiller, France
Hotel El Djazaïr (ex Saint-Georges), extension, Algiers, Algeria
City of 400 dwellings, Blida, Algeria
Boulevard belt interior, layout plan, Sidi Bel Abbès, Algerie

The Hotel El-Djazaïr was completed in record time to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of Algerian independence but the government never paid the fees, causing Pouillon to default on, in turn, social security contributions, taxes, and then wages. Pouillon abandoned Algeria and returned to France where he was reinstated to the Order of Architects but the tax debt of the CNL was still outstanding. President Mitterrand forgave Pouillon the CNL debt and made him an Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1984.

1984
Computing Center for the Ministry of Culture
, Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France

1985
Thirty detached houses on an air base
, Avord, France
Masterplan for 4,000 housing units, Créteil, France
Europarc activity zone plan, two buildings realized in collaboration with Schott firm), Créteil, France
Music Conservatory, rue Armand Carrel, 19th arrondissement
Social housing 172 avenue Jean-Jaurès, 19th arrondissement
Apartment rue de Bièvre, development and extension, 5th arrondissement
Apartment rue Boissy d’Anglas, development and extension, 8th arrondissement

Undated
Development of an abbey
in a secondary residence, Belhomert-Guehouville, Algerie
Building for SNECMA, Corbeil, France
A swimming pool in the rock by the sea for M and Mme B., Normandy, France
Avenue Montaigne, private apartment, Paris, France
Georges V, Georges V Avenue, after 1970 Private apartment, rue Surcouf, Paris, France
Restoration of
Manoir du Jonchet, Romilly / Aigre, France
Studies for an unidentified program, Monaco, France
Villas “Les Jardins Exotiques”, Monte-Carlo, France
Maxim’s Restaurant, Montreal, Canada
Maxim’s Restaurant, after 1965, Tokyo, Japan
Apartment rue Didouche Mourad, Algiers, Algeria
Hotel, Biskra, Algeria
New Hotel, 600 beds, Constantine, France
Hotel, 150 rooms, Djanet, Algeria
Bordj of the Chevalier family, extension, El Biar (Algiers), Algeria
Caravanserai, Hotel du Souf, El Oued, Algeria
Hotel El Mordjane, La Calle (El Kala), Algeria
Apartment hotel of 1,000 beds, La Calle (El Kala), Algeria
Depot garage, communal Market Cinema Theater, Laghouat, France
Caravanserai, Madakh, Algeria
Villas, Sahaoula, Algeria
La Grande Plage Resort (Sidi Begra), Seraïdi, Algeria
Hotel du Port, Seraïdi, Algeria
Hotel El Marsa Olympic Swimming Pool Quartier du Corsaire Restaurant, Seraïdi, Algeria

Sidi Fredj / Sidi-Ferruch – Alger wilaya – Algeria / AlgÈrie: Hotel El Marsa and Hotel El Manar | HÙtels El Marsa et El Manar – photo by M.Torres

Holiday village, Sidi Okba Oumache, Skikda Aïn Ben Noui, Algeria
Complex: theater, bungalows, restaurant, port, Tipaza La Corne d’Or, Algeria
Hotel Esmeralda, Tipaza Plage, Algeria
Cité Universitaire, Tlemcem, Algeria
Complex of Courbet Marine, Zemmouri, Algeria
Administrative Center One Hotel, Zeralda, Algeria
Hotel La Residence, Zeralda, Algeria
Villas in Ain El Hammam, Ain Taya, Draa Esmar, El Biar (Algiers), In Nadjah, Hydra (Algiers), Kraicia

Unrealized
Additionally, there are approx. 800 unrealized projects in France alone.

prolific!

• • •

Seven possible reasons why Fernand Pouillon is not better remembered than he is.

  1. His main period of activity as an architect was over the period 1932–1961 – a period corresponding to the heyday of Le Corbusier. Perhaps the world of architecture didn’t need another architect from France when they already had someone contributing so much to the mythology of architecture and architects.
  2. Reconstruction and rehabilitation are both good things but both only restore and improve upon what was already present. They don’t add to the mythology of architecture in such a way as did Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitations that put Marseille on the map
  3. Or perhaps the world of architecture did not need anything else from Algeria, since it already had Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus which is vastly over-remembered, especially when compared with his earlier proposal for Algiers.LC1
  4. The period 1956–1961 when the Algerian Uprising was changing into the Algerian War and Pouillon, like Chevalier, would have deen (rightly) suspected of having Algerian separatist sympathies. This period coincides with the time people would have been collecting evidence against Pouillon and making a case for his imprisonment.
  5. Not only that, Pouillon was a member of the communist party until about 1943. After that, he would have been remembered as having been a member of the communist party until about 1943. The period 1947–1956 coincided with United States’ doctrine of McCarthyism that persecuted persons suspected of being either communists or of having communist sympathies. Fernand Pouillon may thus have suffered the same fate as Hannes Meyer, Karel Teige and André Lurçat. Architecture prefers fascist governments and their rallying monuments to communist ones and their dreary obsession with mass housing.
  6. Pouillon was never stylistically experimental for the sake of it. If Brutalism had had construction advantages we would no doubt see more Pouillon buildings in concrete. He experimented with metallic housing and prefabrication in the seventies, long after it had been fashionable. His career also overlapped Post Modernism but he had no need for semiotics beyond indicating home and neighbourhood by conventional means. His sensibility towards reconstruction and restoration was also off-trend.
  7. Pouillon is responsible for the design of an enormous number of buildings, many of which are regarded as fine or outstanding. The sheer volume of his output shows he was extremely skilled at promoting his services but that he is not remembered has a lot to do with him being more interested in building than in designing his mythology – a trait he shares with many of the other misfit architects.

• • •

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Fernand Pouillon!

Your service to the community began long before your imprisonment
and continued long after.

misfits salutes you!

• • •

  • www.fernandpouillon.com is the most comprehensive resource there is. I’m indebted.
  • http://publishing.cdlib.org a substantial website on post-war housing in Algeria
  • http://www.jeanlucmichel.com is a blog (in French) with a fine collection of images of many otherwise unphotographed Fernand Pouillon buildings. The photographs are more photo-journalism than architectural photography and make you feel as if you had been there walking around looking at the buildings and taken the photographs yourself. The unstaged photographs are real and, because of that, informative and, because of that, refreshing.
  • http://www.bdonline.co.uk links to article about La Tourette inspiring the UK architect Adam Khan
  • Adam Caruso and Helen Thomas (Hg.): The Stones of Fernand Pouillon – An Alternative Modernism in French Architecture. gta Verlag, Zürich 2013, ISBN 978-3-85676-324-4.

 • • •

Pouillon’s infamous system for coordinating all construction activity may have had its flaws but it did produce high quality and affordable housing that, seventy years on, has aged well, is not dated, and is still eminently liveable. A system that could produce results of such high quality under budget and in record time goes is not a system geared towards stakeholders systematically milking the budget by inflating or falsifying invoices. It defies conventional thinking.

Exactly how Pouillon brought the 2,635 apartments of the 1959 Résidence du Parc in Meudon-la-Forêt (1959) online in record time and at less than market prices remains a mystery no-one seems to want to see solved.

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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. 

• • •

harold-krantz

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.

• • •

 

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. And what about the way the mortar is laid? What would somebody do that? We must not forget we are in Japan – this is not sloppiness. Someone, Murano, has decided this is how the joints must be formed. Why? I can only hazard a guess and say it’s as if the building bleeds, or perhaps weeps. It’s only my guess. Murano obviously made a decision to have the bricks laid with this kind of joint (which looks careless but can’t be easy to contrive) but what I admire about Murano is that he never made a point of saying why he wanted it this way. What I admire about the Japanese is that nobody ever asked. 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. 

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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, it’s not worth knowing.

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.

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Togo Murano

村野藤吾
1891 – 1984

for solving the same problem three hundred times

misfits’ salutes you!

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