Category Archives: Misfits’ on Misfits’

posts to do with the blog itself

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.


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.


… encompasses building materials, …


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.


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.


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.


… 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.


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.


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.


… 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.


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.


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.







This second installment of misfits’ prehistory builds upon some of the ideas in last week’s Property, Time & Architecture from 1999. I remastered the file from an InDesign package created February 2010. The original was probably made in Quark XPress a decade earlier because all images were .tif files. Bold headings summarize the text. Blockquotes are diversions and expansions.

In this essay, I use the word aesthetics in the usual sense and the term an aesthetic to denote a set of architectural devices united by an underlying philosophy and purpose. I only mention this because since this essay was written, the term has been largely supplanted by the word style even though (or, more likely, because) it makes us expect neither.

• • •

Aesthetics is the study of notions of beauty.
These notions change over time.
This essay is about architecture in general and architectural beauty in particular.
It identifies what successive notions of architectural beauty have had in common.
It identifies why certain aesthetics fall into and out of favour.
It provides a framework for understanding how aesthetics operate over time.
It is a meta-aesthetics.

• • •

Aesthetics give shape to our values and aspirations. This is not necessarily a good thing.

By 1850 in Britain, property and people had been divided into three classes. The upper class (still) had property in the country. The middle class had property subdivided in the form of townhouses and, later, as suburban houses. The working class had property stacked, as tenements. The middle classes overlooked communal property in the form of the squares or parks recreating country estates, and the more fortunate of the lower classes had communal property in the form of basic facilities provided by humanitarian industrialists.


The success or failure of any aesthetic is an expression of the values generating it.

19th and early 20th notions of an Ideal City separating the functions of the city also served to separate the classes for the two were the same. Over the course of the Industrial Revolution, the upper classes built townhouses but anchored themselves on their land. The middle classes were to build their townhouses in locations such as Belgravia, Paddington and Kensington, separating themselves and their new wealth from the docks, mills and railways that were the sources of it, as well as from where the workers lived. In a consistent expression of this attitude, convicts were separated as far away as Australia. The style of the 19th century urban townhouse was the Classicism of the country house and the square or park recreated the impression of property outside one’s window, even if it was communal.


The style was successively simplified for houses of the lower classes. Within the larger townhouses, there was a similar separation of function/class, with servants having their own working spaces, stairs and living quarters, within which, location and quantity of space established a similar separation amongst servant classes. The use of servants also enabled the functions within the building to be separated. Whereas the lower class could only bathe in a tub in front of the fire, servants duplicated the roles of pipes and conduits, transporting hot and cold water throughout the building, maintaining and lighting the lamps, and carrying away waste.


Servants also isolated the household as a class unit within society since they performed necessary tasks such as shopping by either going to the markets or dealing with cart vendors for milk, bread, vegetables, meat and fish. The physical and social separation of classes inside the house replicated the physical and social separation of the house from other classes in the city. Separation by function was separation by function in society. Status of the owners was denoted by the location and size of the house, the design of its facade, and the number and decoration of its major rooms.

Buildings require money and land to build. The history of architectural aesthetics is the history of articulating the ownership of wealth and property.

The use of decorative ornament in the 19th century indicated the rich man’s surplus and the poor man’s lack of it. In the 20th century, the architectural aesthetic of Modernism was to shun decorative ornament as bourgeois and attempt to generate form from the separation of physical functions. In patterns of living however, it maintained the class values inherent in the forms it replaced. The Georgian square miniaturized the pleasure of overlooking property. Although many of those townhouses were subdivided into flats in the 1920s and even today remain prime properties because it still possible to overlook the property of the square as if it were one’s own.


In 1922, Le Corbusier arrived at an identical form in his Immeuble Villa unit for the élite in his Ville Contemporaine, planned, ‘as a capitalist city of administration and control, with garden cities for the workers being sited, along with industry, beyond the ‘security zone’ of the green belt encompassing the city.’ Le Corbusier also designed 19th century notions of social segregation into both his urban plans and his private houses such as the Villa Stein (1926-7) and Villa Savoye (1928-9), two buildings commonly regarded as seminal works of the Modern movement.

An aesthetic loses its usefulness when its connotations of status are lost, and any process of refinement stops

Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitations of 1947-53 was never going to be a realistic prototype for low-cost, high density living. Needing to be surrounded by sufficient Nature/property, it was self-defeating in the city and absurd in the country. Despite its claimed advantages, shop space was not let immediately and few shop-owners were keen to relocate there. The fact that what was once the outskirts of Marseilles is now a popular address indicates that property prices in central Marseilles have risen in the meantime, and that a view of the ocean from there is better than none at all. It also means that instead of being located in “Nature” it is now located in a thriving suburb with sufficient population density to make stores within the building viable. If such buildings have large sites, then the cost-effectiveness of site use is less compromised by siting such buildings alongside virtual property such as public parks or bodies of water, but these sites are usually occupied by premium high-rise dwellings or hotels.


Having one’s own estate in the country downscaled to communally-owned squares in the city or smaller properties of the suburbs, with the virtual property of converted flats remaining preferable to that of purpose-built flats. Public property such as parks or bodies of water became virtual country estates, and views of one’s neighbours did not rank. Modernism presented light, space and a view of Nature as universal rights, but in reality, continued to treat them as commodities of status, their absence signalling poverty. Another problem had to do with materials. While concrete and prefabrication feature largely in the technical history of Modern architecture, it was not until Le Corbusier’s Maisons Jaoul of 1954 that concrete slabs were combined with bare load-bearing brick walls and presented as an aesthetic.


Despite Stirling’s use of this in the 1955~8 Ham Common flats and the attempts of the Brutalists to develop it, the sheer applicability of concrete slabs and load-bearing brick had sent them straight to low-cost housing worldwide, making Modernism the aesthetic of the poor. This fact did not pass unnoticed by the poor. Pruitt-Igoe. Built 1958. Dynamited 1972. The providers of public housing formed the last remaining market for Modernism. Any product becomes unmarketable when the market becomes disenchanted with the brand.


An aesthetic must continue to adapt in order to maintain status …

Internationalism was to escape being condemned along with Modernism because in the hands of Mies van der Rohe, it combined metal and other materials with a status-inducing Classicism such as in the German Pavilion at the Barcelona World Exhibition (1929) or the Tugendhat House (1930).


Purged of any ideological content it may have had in Europe, Modernism in the United States became the preferred institutional and corporate style. Curtain walls became a lattice of structure and window, effectively creating a visual barrier. Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1946-50) and Johnson’s Glass House (1949) were excellent solutions to this problem and restored the status of privately-owned Nature to the aesthetic.  Concern for privacy was for people with neighbours. Mies’ went for overkill, using expensive materials and methods. The steps, terrace and floor were faced in travertine, and welding joins were ground away before the steel was painted. Whereas the Farnsworth house stepped over Nature, Johnson’s house, the more spartan of the two, was the more decadent in that it sat on its lawn and indicated possession.

The near absence of house emphasized where the real status lay. The adjacent guest house had no windows for even visually possessing the estate at any time was the owner’s right alone. Modernist derivatives (Meier, Eisenman, Graves, etc.) restored status through similar means, but all have in common the necessity for big property.


… or another will quickly replace it.

If Modernism combined the human factor in terms of plan, with the built factor in terms of structural logic, then Post-Modernism combined the human factor of a populist vocabulary of building terms, and the built factor as a grammar of their usage. The result was something akin to a toff swearing in order to be popular at the pub – patronizing. From the start, the aesthetic was defined by generating and sustaining two aesthetics which, times being the times, were called levels of meaning. Its goal was never to bridge them for then it would cease to exist. Maintaining this aesthetic double standard was both its means and its end in public. In private however, the familiar indicators of status and wealth were to reassert themselves and by 1985, intoxicated with its imagined popularity, the aesthetic of Post-Modernism spoke only in double-entendres to itself. One of which was to take a material formerly regarded as unworthy for use in buildings of all but the most temporary and lowly nature, and to use it ‘out-of-context’ in a sophisticated manner, thus making a point about duality of meaning. Without exception, it was the materials such as concrete or Formica carrying the low and form the high. This led to High-Touch and Creative Salvage aesthetics of the late 80s, which found their beauty in the visual and tactile qualities present in any materials. The result was self-consciously designed, expensive one-off objects. This new materialism turned out to be not so new. Chicken wire, exposed 2 x 4s, and gypsum board have found little appeal, but polished concrete, terrazzo and Formica are being invested with status once again by finding their way into commercial interiors such as shops and restaurants en route to private residences.


Once connotations of negative status are lost or forgotten, a new value-adding aesthetic can be applied and marketed.

Property pressures and availability led to interior space making do for property in the 60s, and neglected building types being converted as a means of attaining more space than provided by contemporary building types. Former prejudice was disregarded and mews buildings, coach houses and warehouses were given a new lease of life as premium dwellings.


Being only a pre-existing building providing space, juxtaposed with a human factor of use, such buildings remained outside the realm of architecture. However, once possession and use began to carry notions of status such as more space and enlightened freedom from the tyranny of plan, it became possible to subdivide any large building and market it for more than a comparably sized flat. Interior partition walls then become a separately marketable commodity, as they had already become in office buildings.

all sold

Whilst an aesthetic of space and light is essentially one of property, aesthetics can also add value by how they enclose space.

Gideon saw modern architecture as an increasing perception of space as a quantity in itself. Whilst this is not untrue, it ignores the fact that that space must belong to somebody. In other words, it ignores the political dimension of space and property. Space, the stuff between the walls, and the space outside them as well, is a commodity of status because space is merely enclosed property. As the amount of property people can have has decreased, ways of creating the impression of having more have developed from closed plan to free plan, free plan to open plan, and finally open plan to no plan. A blurring of the distinction between inside and outside assumes that there is an outside of one’s own to blur. Large areas of glazing indicate no neighbours nearby.


Light is an indirect commodity of status because of its connection with property and density of land utilization but the conversion of warehouses has shown that people are prepared to sacrifice light and location for space. A building envelope enclosing a physically and visually finite space and with no plan would seem to be resistant to notions of status, but as long as there is an enclosing structure, an aesthetic can still operate through the use of materials and methods in new value-adding ways to indicate status.


High-tech is aesthetic which has little social mobility, thereby allowing it to remain an aesthetic of status.

The aesthetic of High-tech finds its purest expression in the spanning of large areas without internal supports, making it a horizontal Gothic exploting the tensile limits of steel.

h-t gothic.jpg

This makes it inherently suitable for buildings that are only perimeter walls within which either culture or machines set the spatial agenda.


When relatively mundane spaces for human activity are required to be housed, it resorts to vertical Gothic with full-height atrium spaces displaying engineering prowess being justified on the grounds of providing light.


The high levels of accuracy and craftsmanship involved render high-tech inapplicable to the relatively modest spatial and structural requirements of living. High-tech also has a large research and development component tailored to individual projects in the same way as in civil engineering structures. Its lavish and visible use of resources to achieve large, dubiously justified spaces, maintains its status as an aesthetic and consequently ensures its inapplicability to anything other than prestige projects.

Minimalism is another.

The Minimalist aesthetic is that of an en-closure creating the sensation of infinite space, a concept the Japanese found attractive even when both space and Nature were abundant. But feudalism in the past and overcrowding in the present have led to owning any space, let along property, being an object of status, and if space is a commodity, then appearing to have infinitely more is better even if it isn’t real.


In Minimalist buildings, windows overlook a courtyard or whatever property remains, and infinite property (“space”) is ‘seen’ in the walls. Light enters through slits to exaggerate its value. If it doesn’t use exquisitely executed concrete, the building process is denied through the expensive and contrived elimination or concealment of joins and lines.


Minimalism is much money being used to create the impression of having little except a sense of infinite space, a trompe l’oeil of nothing. It is an expensive aesthetic of denial of both the envelope and use, and an apparent denial of possession when linked to the concept of voluntary poverty. It is not an aesthetic for the actual poor.   

Successive aesthetics use progressively less expensive means to indicate wealth and property, but status-laden materials and processes then work to make them less accessible.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the buildings of the upper classes took the style sanctioned by the church or state while buildings of the lower classes were the result of the expedient use of available materials, techniques and labour. With middle-class country estates in the later 19th century, architects such as Shaw, Webb, Lutyens, Voysey and Wright were to use vernacular materials combined with their respective Post-Classic aesthetics to indicate wealth and property, thus furnishing the new suburbs with motifs.


Modernism took functional industrial forms and structures and used them to indicate wealth and property. Post-Modernism took its visual techniques from roadside cafés and other structures not in the realm of ‘high’ architecture, and did the same. As soon as the Case Study houses made a cheaper aesthetic available through the use of ready-made ‘industrial’ materials, Internationalism used expensive materials and the restoration of a Classical relationship to property to distance itself again. High-tech did the same through refined materials and technology. Its applicability to spanning large spaces assumes a large space to span. Minimalism takes the very idea of looking and one’s walls and living with very little and makes it into an aesthetic of wealth and property. Loft living takes a former worker’s reality and makes it into an aesthetic of space, but being ‘fitted to the highest standard’ maintains status. The attraction of each new aesthetic is that it uses a progressively less expensive means of indicating wealth and property, or the aspiration to it. This makes them inherently vulnerable to marketing in less expensive and accessible forms. As an aesthetic cascades through society in this way, status and corresponding aspiration are artificially maintained in a carrot-on-a-stick fashion by increasingly mannerist use of expensive materials, finishes and processes.


20th century aesthetics are irrelevant to future housing and even current housing problems.

The alleged virtues of Modernism disappeared when it was applied to less bourgeois housing problems in general, and to less property in particular. Its legacy was structural rationality and lack of decorative ornament, and (due to property pressures) a view of activities taking place in spaces rather than rooms.


Post-Modernism largely treated social identification at the public level rather than the individual. The Taller Bofill “Let them eat cake!” approach refers beyond even the public aspirations of the individual. Aesthetics as a palliative. Post Modernism’s twin legacies were to alter certain pre-conceptions about what buildings could look like and to pave the way for a re-evaluation of the fundmental properties of materials (once the status/historical meanings had been stripped away). Its major socially applicable benefit was a re-evaluation of materials which sooner or later would have occurred anyway (due to decreasing availability or affordability).


Metabolism correctly identified buildings as organisms in the city, but was content with expressing it at the metaphorical level. Brutalism supposedly made ordinary materials into an aesthetic which allowed materials and construction to be appreciated for what they were. This made it inherently inapplicable when lesser standards of materials and labour were used. Minimalism took the status aspects of appearing to have more space and owning less but relied for its effect on expensive materials contrasted with expensive effects achieved via contrived construction processes and finishes. In effect, it was a metaphor for the elleged virtues of historical examples of simplicity. High-tech isolated functions and satisfied them using expensive materials and processes and became in effect, a metaphor for the economies that mass-produced industrial components could theoretically offer.

It is necessary to have a way of seeing beauty which, for once, does not derive from wealth and property.


Consider Le Corbusier’s inspiration for the machine aesthetic – the ocean liner and the the grain silo. Both have in common a certain technical and functional sophistication, but they also have in common a necessary relationship with large amounts of open space. Although the visual implications were revolutionary for architecture, the relationship between those built objects to the spacesurrounding them continued to link beauty with the ownership of property. There is nothing inherently wrong with technical analogies since housing is the result of a production process.


Whereas ocean liners and grain silos taught us about function and form, other inherent (and these days, more useful) factors such as construction process, sourcing and design optimisation were ignored. Unsurprisingly, aesthetics derived from the display of the wealth or property associated with private houses on private land, prove inapplicable to low-cost housing using public money on public land.


Those 20th century aesthetics which have been applied to mass housing have had their deficiencies highlighted. This is not a problem of aesthetics per-se. It is a problem of where they come from and the criteria by which beauty is defined. The marketability of an aesthetic is related to the desirability of its product, which has changed very little. This means that low-cost housing, being neither an indicator of wealth or property, can never benefit from aesthetics. Ever.


However, if successive aesthetics are evolving from criteria which are less and less expensive to achieve, it ought to be possible to shortcut this process and determine a way of seeing beauty by concentrating attention and techniques on other articulating the possession of wealth or property,and thereby arrive more quickly at a modern vernacular aesthetic towards which we are moving anyway. This would be an aesthetic applicable to everyone, not just the providers and occupants of low-cost housing. Warehouse conversions have indicated that people are willing to sacrifice light and location for space. It is only a matter of time before other qualities that have been essential considerations in private housing so far will also come to be devalued. Location, quantities, materials, processes and contents will always remain indicators of whatever level of status people can afford to display or aspire to.

An architectural aesthetics independent of wealth and property will mean traditional displays of status will for once be explicit, not mistaken for beauty, and the aspiration to them will be less attractive to those who can ill afford to.

• • •

This essay will conclude next week with Part II, Modern Vernacular.

street language.jpeg


Misfits’ Guide to VENICE

First, make your way to Fondamenta Zattere and see Ignazio Gardella’s Casa alle Zattere built 1953–1958.

To say it pre-empted post modernism is to do it and Gardella a disservice for, with this building, Gardella did nothing more (or less) than respond to what was already there, continuing a tradition rather than proposing something new. Better than intellectual, it’s intelligent and caring.  

venice bus map.jpg

Then take the #8 from Spirito Santo to San Marco (S. Zaccarhia) and change to the #4.1 for Redentore. Look back cross the Giudecca Canal at where you just were and try to work out how he did it.

Casa alle Zattere.jpg

Proceed to the social housing designed by Aldo Rossi and Alvaro Siza.


The building by Siza was never completed, a third building by Rafael Moneo was never begun. If you go before November 27 you’ll see the Portuguese exhibit for the 15th Venice Biennale. Go on in.

The dual theme is social housing and housing refugees. The simple exhibition consists of four movies of Siza talking to residents of projects he designed. It’s moving. The installation has prompted the completion of Siza’s building. It’s an example of an architecture bienalle changing things. 

After that, walk west along Giudecca Island and you’ll eventually encounter this social housing project designed by Gino Valle. The walkway is a joy. The usual images you’ll find of this development don’t do it justice.

Giudecca has layers of housing, much of it social and none of it trivial. You’ll see some examples of prefabrication that I’m guessing are from the 1970s.


Next to them you’ll find later sophistications. 

You’ll see some old buildings that are solid and decent but were never grand.

Mixed in are some more recent buildings, all of them decent. 

All in all, Giudecca is a nice place. It has a nice feeling, people going about their lives, walking dogs that won’t fit into handbags. 


Despite its abundance of social housing, Giudecca Island is not down-at-heel. There’s a strong sense of community and the people who live and work there are proudly self-reliant. They appreciate the historic centre of Venice but don’t depend upon it. They have Palladio’s 1592 Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, Il Redentore which is magnificent. 

Il Redentore.jpg

The Cipriani Hotel and an outpost of Harry’s Bar are also rather classy.


Back across the canal now and in the Giardini bienalle exhibition grounds, you’ll see the German pavilion, originally built in 1909 but in 1938 remodelled into a piece of “Nazi architecture”. Over the years, it’s has various temporary alterations for different bienalli. In 2013, France and Germany actually swapped pavilions to show the idiocy of accommodating thoughts about art in pavilions identified by country. The same could be said of architecture in 2016 if it weren’t for Germany. Its exhibit, Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country is the definite result of national borders and a national government – specifically, the government’s 2015 decision to allow one million refugees into the country. The entire exhibit is available online, including a database of housing projects.

open pavilion.jpg

One unreported-from front is the battle to prevent architectural representation getting more attention than architectural reality. The organizers are doing their bit to help. They maintain that “the open pavilion is not the architectural equivalent of the goverment policy statement of winter 2015-16”. Unfortunately, architectural metaphor is irrepressible because, with buildings, there’s always something external to generate it. A few holes in some walls quickly become a “less formal” “opening out” “towards the south” “enabling the discovery of new qualities previously hidden”.  Well-placed and well-proportioned openings offering light and breeze and a lovely view through trees across water shouldn’t have to be anything more.

Outside the main exhibition space at Giardini there’s this quiet corner.

The day was warm, the plants lush, the fountains tinkling and the concrete a heavy presence with its wilful curves. I liked it, but only the day after did I find out it was by Carlo Scarpa, an architect I’ve never really known much about or whose work I’ve ever felt much drawn to. I’d always thought there was too much happening, and couldn’t see why every surface and every join needed to be celebrated. I still don’t, but I’m less resistant than I was. Scarpa also designed the Venezuelan pavilion at the Giardini venue.

This too, I’d walked through the day before, wondering why every surface had to be made into an event yet still not putting two and two together. Scarpa was starting to get under my skin.


In Piazza San Marco is Scarpa’s Negozio Olivetti (Olivetti Store) from 1957. I only got as far as the entrance as the girl at the desk didn’t have change for my €100 note. 

It was a stunning entrance floor though. It’s glass mosaic tiles have irregular shapes and sizes and are set in relaxed regularity. It’s beautiful. 

From what I could see, every other surface and junction was beautiful as well. Relentless taste. Aurisina marble, rosewood, African teak … It’s also very Venetian. It’s too well-mannered to be vulgar, but still it bludgeons you with design, materials and craftsmanship. By comparison, the Barcelona Pavilion is tawdry.


I remembered passing a poster for an exhibition of Scarpa drawings at the IuaV University of Venice so I made my way there.


I was intrigued by the sketches for the Masieri Memorial.

Agelo Masieri admired the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. He and his wife travelled to the US in 1952 to ask Wright to design a house for them on the Grand Canal. While there, Angelo was killed in a car accident and the project became one for a memorial. There was much resistance to having a ‘modern’ (as in ‘arrogant’?) architect like Wright design something for a site that’s not only on the Grand Canal but looks south along it from S.Toma to Accademia. Permission was refused, but the design has been imagined, vizualized and LEGO’d anyway.

Scarpa completed the project but, even then, the Palazzo Fondazione Masieri didn’t open until 1983, four years after Scarpa’s death.

I’d passed the building several times without noticing anything special. I later learned the City Council made Scarpa retain the original façade and exterior. It was closed when I visited but, apparently, the facade is detached from the floors and the interior completely gutted and new materials introduced. I believe it.  I couldn’t resist a quick google. I see what they mean by detached facade. 

Notice in this next image how the downpipe highlights the symmetrical part of the facade, suggesting we disregard the additional bit on the right? Even if there weren’t a conservation order imposed, I’d suspect this downpipe is original for where else could it go? The midpoint of the gutter is the most practical but least-wanted place for it’d visually split the building in two. The corners of the building aren’t great either for practical reasons of gutter slope. The downpipe is in the best place it can be even if it means the roof must extend so its gutter can bypass the chimneys. Personally, I think architecture has more serious things to concern itself with than asymmetries and inflections as visual entertainments, but I’m re-reading Complexity & Contradiction in Architecture anyway. If you’re Venturi, this minor functional element is doing something of crucial importance. I doubt its architect, whoever it was, gave its placement a second thought.


The building isn’t widely known, probably as punishment for having prevented there being one more Frank Lloyd Wright building in the world. We don’t know if Angelo Masieri’s house would have ever been approved and built. The redesigned proposal is known as the Masieri Memorial for that is what his widow asked it to be. The Scarpa remodelling is known as the Palazzo Fondazione Masieri for that is what it is. It’s site is still unique and the view from its windows still the same no matter who designed them and who didn’t. If the Olivetti Store is anything to go by, the interior is stunning and I’ll get around to seeing it someday. What I took away with me was a renewed awareness of the importance of safe driving.

• • •

A sweet little house close by. Its owners and architect would probably have preferred a symmetrical facade but quite liked how it turned out anyway. I do too.

Nice people, good music, de-lish fish.

• • •

Misfits’ Guide to New York

Here’s some different things to check out next time you’re in New York or, if for those not that different, maybe a new way of looking at them.

Cherokee Apartments


history cherokee

Cherokee 1

The building is organised as four courtyard blocks with stairwells naturally lit and ventilated. All apartments are double sided for better light and ventilation. All windows are large and have balconies, something still unusual for New York.


    Inside, floors are concrete to prevent permanent carpeting. Rugs had to be removable for cleaning. The concrete floors curved up to the wall to eliminate corners where dust could settle. Radiators were mounted on the walls, so a broom could pass easily underneath.

At 550 sq.ft (51 sq.m) these are one-bedroom flats and not microflats in any sense of the word.

625 West 57th Street



Yes, it’s taken shape. Definitely. Taken shape.

There’s no space left on site for materials storage. It looks like cladding and glazing panels get delivered to the elevator and stored on the staging platforms you can see below. Curiously, the tip of the building is still unclad and unglazed. Will cladding be installed from inside? Can it be? Or will gondolas be slung off the top? You have to admire the project managers on jobs like this.


What I find curious is how we’re told the building the logical result of crossing a European perimeter block and an American tower. This is one of those things that sounds true the first time you hear it but perimeter blocks have more history in New York than towers.

The Dakota is from 1884, Riverside Buildings is a perimeter block from 1890. Besides, is the perimeter block even European?

In Moneymaking Machines #2, I went on about how the site was assembled and how the permissible envelope is where a south-facing wedge intersects a north-facing one. This would produce a pyramid and it annoys Durst to hear you call it that. Sure a tetrahedron has a base and three sides but a pyramid four. But why so touchy?

My guess is BIG and Durst are trying to draw our attention away from that rounded fourth corner that rushes to meet the maxxed-out retail space on the W57th corner. It screams of contrivance, like somebody said “Yes is More!” Besides, who wants to have their building nicknamed “The Pyramid”? Especially when the apartments facing W58th look like they’re going to be rather tomb-like anyway in terms of space and light.

Hotel Shelton



The Shelton was planned as a “club hotel” – a residential hotel for men, with club features as a swimming pool, Turkish bath, billiard room, bowling alley, and, on the setbacks, rooftop gardens. The joys of living in such a hotel were detailed by a writer for Edison Monthly: “In a house of monumental beauty raised to the heights especially for you – if you are a bachelor – you will find all the comforts of a country home, and the luxuries and camaraderie of a university or great club always at your disposal and command.” The male athletes carved above the column capitals at the entrance symbolize this original use. This use as a residential hotel for men was not a success and soon after its completion the hotel became a more traditional residential and transient facility.

The hotel became a symbol of modernity as soon as it was completed, appearing in publications and inspiring people worldwide. Georgia O’Keefe was a fan. Between 1926 and 1928 she made several painting of it and views of New York from it.

Painter Hugh Ferris was inspired in 1922 before it was even completed.

In the late twenties, Czech architect Karel Teige understood its implications for new types of collective living, referring to it in his book The Minimum Dwelling.

hotel shelton

Let’s not forget the architect, Arthur Loomis Harmon. Harmon was based in Chicago but the huge success of the Hotel Shelton must have caused the New York firm of Shreve & Lamb to make him an offer for they were soon to become Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. If ever you’re asked who designed the Empire State Building, it was them.


Rem Koolhaas does not mention the Hotel Shelton in Delirious New York despite it sharing a parent with The Empire State Building and being a programmatic precursor to the Downtown Athletic Club that he devoted a chapter to.

Grand  Central Terminal



By the end of the 19th century, Grand Central Terminal had grown to be a large and lethal short-cut to pedestrian workers commuting east-west.


William J. Wilgus was the chief engineer for the New York Central Railroad. He proposed having two levels of tracks to increase capacity but his more important idea was to deck over the tracks (which would be electrified) and to sell the space above for building. This was the world’s first instance of air rights.


This next image shows why Park Avenue is unusually wide, and also the extent to which those air rights have been used. This required calculating the anticipated heights and weights of the buildings the piers would be expected to support. The construction of piers between functioning tracks to support new construction exceeding those predetermined limits is not something proposed or done lightly.


The terminal building contains the largest public space in the city. It has many features and quirks, some of which are explained in this overview of its design and construction.

ships' rat guards and mock rats as ornamenting the main entrance canopy supports

ships’ rat guards and mock rats as ornament on the main entrance canopy supports

the cornice next to Cancer wasn't completely cleaned of accumulated tobacco smoke

a spot on the cornice next to Cancer wasn’t completely cleaned of accumulated tobacco smoke

The northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Grabber Building has some lesser known ceiling art that's very Futurist. (thanks Self-Absorbed Boomer)

The northern edge of the main concourse and Lexington Avenue, adjacent to the Greybar Building has some lesser known ceiling art that’s very Futurist. [thanks Self-Absorbed Boomer]

Citicorp Buidling


Grand Central Terminal is popularly known as Grand Central Station as its proper name never stuck. The Pan Am Building successfully become the MetLife Building but it took twenty years. The British are more resistant. After twenty years, London’s Tower 42 is still known as Natwest Tower. The Citicorp Building is actually Citicorp Center but now wants to be known as 601 Lexington Avenue. New York buildings are lucky to have these default names.


  1. That brown building to the lower left is a church that didn’t want to relocate.
  2. The church allowed building in the air rights but didn’t want to be part of the new building or have its columns passing through it. The building is supported at the midpoints of its square floor plates so it can cantilever over the church. (Floorplates supported at the corners would have only half the area.)
  3. Structurally, it goes like this.


It gets interesting. The story continues crisis

There’s many articles now on this case frequently referred to in professional ethics classes. Kremer LeMessurier Citicorp should get you there.

ethical questions

Meanwhile, in some parallel universe, the church was keen to be part of the new development, a different building was designed and different stuff almost didn’t happen.

The roof of Citigroup Center slopes at a 45-degree angle because it was originally intended to contain solar panels to provide energy. However, this idea was eventually dropped because the positioning of the angled roof meant that the solar panels would not face the sun directly.

In another parallel universe, they received better advice. In yet another, they came up with a more convincing story. For New York, a solar panel inclination of 40.8° is optimum but the difference for ±5° is marginal.

Austrian Cultural Forum



Designed by Raymund Abraham and completed in 2002, the building has a lot of activities wedged into a site 7.2 metres wide. Abraham’s unconventional idea of placing the stairs at the rear of the building made for a building that works. There’s much to like about how this building is configured.

The angled facade is a unique way of responding to New York City’s complex setback requirements.


Beyond that, there’s also a lot of things happening aesthetically with big things on the front facade giving it a commanding monumentality despite its size.

Facade incident is symmetrical and stacked and suggest the presence of a profound symbolism from a culture we can’t decipher. The building is slightly disturbing for refusing to allow itself to be read, and I like it for that.

• • •

Cherokee Apartments:
New York Times article current listing two
Hotel Shelton: Historic Districts Council entry Wired New York article 1920s slideshow
Grand Central Terminal: New York Times article
Citicorp Building: solarnewyork

a good guide

a good guide

the best pizza

the best pizza

Misfits’ Guide to Moscow


Moscow is a big and mighty city made up of a few big roads and many little corners. The Moskva River winds its way across.


Moscow is not trying to look beautiful. Or even attractive, to tourists. I saw no Я♥Москву t-shirts or St. Basil’s fridge magnets. It’s a place people go to to live and work and get on with what they have to do. It’s always a good thing for a city to be full of people with a good reason to be there. It’s why the on-foot experience of Moscow is so variegated and intimate.

Tretyakovskaya Gallery of 20th Century Russian Art



An unassuming building alongside the river and, if you go in August, a pleasant park full of summery crowds eating ice creams and splashing in fountains. There’s an amazing collection of 20th century art inside and an equally amazing sculpture garden outside.

The Novodevichy Cemetery



This is Moscow’s premier cemetery next to the Novodevichy Convent which is Moscow’s third most popular tourist site. If you’ve heard of them, they’re buried here – Chekov, Prokofiev, Bulgakov, Chekhov, Gogol …  The tower was scaffolded in August, hence the Streetview.

MOGES Central Thermal Power Station

Chocolate Factory


On 7 November 1923, avant-garde composer Arseny Asraamov conducted the second performance of his Symphony of Factory Sirens from its rooftop.

Asraamov 2


Krasny Oktyabr (Red October) Chocolate Factory & Museum

The chocolate factory is next to the power station, at the fork of the river. You can’t miss it.


1928 RZSKT Commune Building


The RZSKT Commune building was the first application of the principles and apartments developed in The Types Study. The building was immediately home to many artists and architects including Ginzburg himself but the current plaque outside only commemorates Ivan Leonidov. Two additional storeys have been added in the manner of the original. Rather than being seen as “ruining the original intent of the architect”, I prefer to think this proves the continuing viability of its social intent. The earlier post, Architecture Misfit #17: Moisei Ginzburg contains some photographs of the apartments and their current interiors.

The large building to the south-east on the map is where the Palace of the Soviets was to have been built. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour that was demolished to make way for the Palace of the Soviets has since been rebuilt.


Gosstrakh Apartments 

Gosstrakt apartments

Moisei Ginzburg’s 1926 apartments were introduced in The Constructivists. They’re still there, with the original rooftop converted into apartments.

Nearby is the only remaining pond of Patriarshiye Ponds (Patriarch’s Ponds) where the beginning of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is set. You couldn’t find a more pleasant spot to read it.

The novel itself is wicked and no way seems like it was written between 1928 and 1940.

Central Tracking Substation T-3



Moscow Metro station platform halls are famous but couldn’t exist without substations, some of which were seen as significant buildings in their own right. This one’s by D.F. Friedmann, from 1935.

This building is extraordinary not only for its detail, but for the inventiveness of that detail. The window framing is oddly contemporary, the ornamental classicism stripped down to Art Deco. Columns were back in 1935 but acanthus leaves and entasis superfluous to requirements.


Atomic House

atomic house

atomic house

This building on Bolshaya Tulskaya is informally known as Atomic House as many of its original residents were employed in the nuclear industry. Legend has it the building is constructed from reactor-grade concrete and was fitted with 6mm glass. A beast of a building at first sight, it’s nine 16-storey buildings joined together with individual entrances at the rear. It’s a big brush making little strokes.


Ground level is retail, the next two floors commercial, and residential above. The nine entrances lead to elevator lobbies accessing corridors with single-aspect apartments along their length and larger, double-aspect apartments at their ends. Some apartments are advertised as short-term lets on Rooms are a decent size. Kitchens have windows, as is the Russian way.

If you were to give Superstudio‘s Megaton City a similar internal organisation, the problem of human habitation on this planet would be largely solved.

megaton city

Shukov Tower

shukov's tower

shukovs tower

An old favourite. A landmark when it was built in 1922 as a communications tower, it’s still a landmark and still a communications tower currently supporting a cluster of cellular network antennas.

Krymsky Bridge

Crimea Bridge

Krymsky Bridge was designed by engineer V. P. Konstantinov and architect A. V. Vlasov. It’s from 1938 and the only suspension bridge in Moscow. It’s slightly wasteful in terms of the amount of steel used to the square metreage of deck provided but this only goes to prove that even together, Konstantinov and Vlasov were not Shukov. The bridge nevertheless has a satisfying purposefulness about it, possibly due to it being the colour of metal – not a dull grey like the 1930 Sydney Harbour Bridge or orange like the 1933 Golden Gate Bridge.

Kremlin Petrol Station

kremlin gas

Not to be confused with Midway Station, 14413 N Highway 81, Kremlin, Oklahoma, USA. This petrol station is only for the use of cars from The Kremlin and is rumored to have been designed by the great Moscow Metro architect Alexey Dushkin.

The Narkomfin Building


It’s currently in a bad way, as misfits’ has mentioned before and countless others seem to enjoy photodocumenting. Sure, the building is an important part of Constructivist history and it was an attempt to come up with an architectural solution for housing in the new post-Revolution  society. Ironically, it’s buildings of this type that cities like London currently need right now – single- or double-occupancy 30 sq.m apartments with minimal kitchens. Street level dining rooms open to the public. Misfits has previously commented (c.f. Fun!tionalism) on how apartments with communal facilities have become a standard upmarket urban typology.

Narkomfin Building

I’m not going to argue for Narkomfin’s restoration and preservation. Its social aspirations are still relevant, if not more so but if they’re not going to be heeded then it doesn’t really matter if it’s demolished and forgotten, or restored and neutered as a shrine to a right idea at the right time that turned out to be the wrong time.

In Moscow, the preservation and restoration of buildings of historical interest is, as in many other cities, the domain where conflicting interests play themselves out. In the UK, Brutalist buildings get demolished to make it difficult for people to remember that things such as government housing and social agendas once existed. The other way to destroy the memory of an ‘inconvenient’ social agenda is to preserve the building to death. If Narkomfin were fully restored it would definitely not be as the low-cost housing solution it was intended to be. For a building to be judged “of historical interest” is another way to kill it. Like a Coliseum without gladiators, the building remains but only to make us feel smug about having moved on. The objectification of history is controlled forgetting just as destructive as demolition.


Here’s some people taking of a restored drugstore sign at the corner where the Gosstrakh apartments are.


There’s a statue of LC installed at Centrosoyuz as part of the street’s recent pedestrian conversion.

Narkomfin is a building that was ahead of its time. It’s still waiting for us to make up our minds if the potential for that time to come has gone forever, or if we’re still waiting for that time to come.

• • •


  1. Research. The Discover Moscow (architecture) website is good.
    There’s an app. APPLE  ANDROID  WINDOWS
  2. Sensible shoes.
  3. Learn the alphabet. Metro signage and guidance are in Russian only.


It’s not as difficult as you think. Here’s two to get you started.

P1040251 P1040334• • •


Misfits’ 2015 Midsummernights’ Quiz

Welcome to misfits’ 2015 Midsummernights’ Quiz! I know I know, there wasn’t one in 2014 but don’t worry – misfits haven’t gone all biennale on you. The quiz is only ever a compilation of oddities and curiosities that hadn’t yet found their way into a post. So go on – enjoy it for what it is!

Q1. First up, what’s this?


Q2. Who all-capped this on April 10?

all caps

Q3. One of the signs of a dysfunctional architecture is when buildings have active online lives but don’t know what to do outdoors. It’s increasingly common for a building to be more image that substance. Images however, are all image and no substance and this is why they have become the purest expressions of a dysfunctional architecture. Which of the following images is the odd one out?

Q4. We’re so used to looking back at images of buildings we’re becoming less and less curious about the intended user experience. Part of that experience was to appreciate a view of one’s expansive property or the views it affords. Here’s some views. Name the buildings.

Q5. Country and approximate date please.


Q6. What do you first think of when you see the following photographs?

Q7. What’s the significance of this next? 


Q8. What do you first think of when you see this image?

ALM_Museum (1)

  1. Total harmony with surroundings as strong verticals resonate with surrounding forest.
  2. Touches the ground lightly.
  3. Unapologetically industrial aesthetic.
  4. Looks a bit like the previous building.
  5. For such a simple building, it manages to look extremely pretentious.

Q9. Who lives here?


Q10. What do you notice about this washbasin? [Clue: washbasin]



kth_engQ1. It’s Arata Isozaki’s once-famous Marilyn Ruler derived from, one can all-too-easily imagine, a shot or shots from Playboy’s 1949 Marilyn Monroe “Red Velvet” photoshoots. In his early buildings, Isozaki claimed to use this ruler whenever he wanted a “sensuous” curve …… such as in the Kamioka Town Hall 1976-78. If you weren’t alive then, be glad – they were horrible times.

all capsQ2. An easy one! The answer’s Patrick Schumacher on Facebook. The most important thing I’ve learned from this man is to stay away from the keyboard if I’ve had a drink. 

AGAQ3. The correct answer is C. It has been built and is the Art Gallery of Alberta. When winter arrives I’ll no doubt agonise over the real-world function of architectural invention as we currently understand it but right now it’s summer so I’ll let it slide.


Regarding Fallingwater, has anyone ever seen a photograph of the eponymous falling water taken from the living room terrace? Do we care?


Not really. Ol’ Frankie wasn’t the first, and certainly not the last, architect to get a wealthy client to pay for their media content.


It would be an interesting exercise to design a house – in the style of Wright – for the spot Mr. Kaufmann originally envisioned his house would be.


F-R.van't Hoff, Villa Huis ter Heide, Netherlands 1915

F-R.van’t Hoff, Villa Huis ter Heide, Netherlands 1915

Q6. It’s not a Rorschach Test, but your answer may indicate you’ve had too much architecture this past year. For want of a correct answer, architectons is the correct answer.

The early career of Zaha Hadid and, for all we know, THE ENTIRE FUTURE OF 20TH CENTURY ARCHITECTURE might have taken a different turn had Kazimir Malevich used sand instead of plaster. The physical impermanence of sandcastles is something we learn at an early age as our parents tell us pick up our buckets and shovels and get a move on. These sandcastles use an inexpensive and impermanent medium to allow us to enjoy gratuitous form-making for the fun of it. This is vastly more responsible than using the medium of architecture. Take a bow, Calvin Seiberg.


Q7 It’s Le Corbusier’s Villa Harris. Designed in 1930 for a Swedish-American Marguerite Tjader Harris. (For some reason, she’s usually mentioned as the Swedish-American heiress Marguerite Tjader Harris.) It was never built. She divorced Overton Harris in 1933. Le Corbusier designed this house for her in 1930. When their long-term affair began is conjectural. According to kiss-and-tell Tjader Harris, he “was not a complicated man, not even an intellectual, in the narrow meaning of the word. He lived by his faith and emotions.”

ALM_Museum (1)Q8 The correct answer is 5) It manages to look extremely pretentious for such a simple building. It does this by using few resources and simple techniques to do something that, if it needed doing at all, could have been done much more easily – by simply building on the adjacent ledge, for example. If this building is a lookout of some kind, one would have been looking out from just as high. The project is a zinc mine museum in Allmannajuvet, Norway.

peter-zumthor-allmannajuvet-norway-zinc-mine-project-ryfylke-designboom-01Here’s another building from the same project. Take an unpretentious building and, rather than build it on the stone wall, hang it off the edge. Peter Zumthor’s genius is to give complex buildings a devious simplicity. We know we’re looking at “architecture” but we quite can’t pin down where the necessary wastage is.

Bill-Gates-House_1Q9 Bill & Melinda Gates. The most unusual thing about this house is how little we know about it. It breaks the historic pattern of using architecture to flaunt wealth. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t used to flaunt other things. At the time of its construction, the media was flooded with articles describing its technical “innovations” that, curiously, have not come to pass.

809432_809432_Abisko-WashbasinQ10 The problem of overflowing has been ingeniously solved by making it impossible for the basin to ever fill! The English word ‘basin’ does not do it justice.

Misfits’ Hit List

Yes, it’s that time of the year again for a quick roundup of who’s searching for what and see how it compares to misfits’ all-time hit list. We’ll never know if they found what they were looking for but there is data for where it got them. First of all, here’s the all- time list of popular search terms, unedited.

All Time

Search Views
ak 47 3,756
microprocessor 2,140
hannes meyer 941
sanaa 691
unite d’habitation 630
unite d’habitation plan 507
unitè d’habitation 491
villa savoye 419
ak-47 397
le corbusier unite d’habitation 393
unité d’habitation 314
tv tower 239
eileen gray 237
le corbusier unité d’habitation 214
le corbusier unitè d’habitation 205
unité d’habitation plan 199
unite d’habitation floor plan 197
jungfraujoch 172
antonio sant’elia 147
microprocessors 130
barajas airport 125
unite habitation 113
oil rig 112
villa savoye site plan 112
yakhchal 111
hannes meyer bauhaus 110
unite d’habitation plans 108
domino house 106
domino system 96
maison jaoul 93
irving gill 91
corbusier unite d’habitation 87
unité d’habitation le corbusier 79
villa savoye plan 76
portland building 76
auguste perret 75
le corbusier plan 75
tv towers 74
unité d’habitation berlin 74
steiner house 73
sanaa architecture 71
josefa moreu 71
unite d’habitation floor plans 71
unitè d’habitation le corbusier 70
dogma architecture 70
bauhaus 67
unite d’habitation le corbusier 67
prosopis cineraria 65
michael graves 63
al madina supermarket 61
misfitsarchitecture 61
madrid airport 60
michael graves portland building 58
le corbusier plans 58
misfits architecture 57
lincoln house mary otis stevens 57
big architects 57
superstudio 55
michael graves portland 55
melltorp 54
unite d habitation 54
le corbusier unite d’habitation plan 54
diagrid structure 51
halley iv 51
unitè d’habitation plan 50
unite le corbusier 50
sant’elia 50
wolkenbugel 50
unite d’habitation grundriss 49
unité d’habitation plans 48
mary otis stevens 48
weissenhofsiedlung 48
unite d’habitation section 47
diagrid 47
peter eisenman 46
maisons jaoul 45
tashkent tower 44
plan unité d’habitation 44
cctv structure 43
guangzhou opera house plans 42
chaparral 2j 42
villa savoye site 41
cctv building structure 40
guangzhou opera house 40
oil rigs 40
television tower 40
fair landscape 39
villa savoye orientation 39
le corbusier floor plans 39
beijing national stadium structure 38
unite d’habitation berlin 38
eileen gray architecture 38
space architecture 38
unite d’habitation marseille plan 37
brick country house 37
peter zumthor 2014 37
vernacular architecture 36
sanaa plan 36
pier luigi nervi 36
unite de habitation 35
eileen gray e1027 35
villa savoye dimensions 35
auguste perret rue franklin 35
microprocessor images 35
eileen gray house 34
valve to prevent water from gravity feeding 34
portland building michael graves 34
unité d’habitation 34
plan unité d’habitation le corbusier 34
villa savoye aerial view 34
madame savoye 34
ак 47 33
offshore rig 33
guild house venturi 32
unite d habitation plan 32
tashkent tv tower 32
diagrid detail 32
al noor mosque sharjah 32
corbusier unite d’habitation plan 32
cap martin 31
islamic architecture 31
paris opera house 30
corbusier unite 30
unité d’habitation marseille plan 30
niemeyer berlin 30
villa savoye plans 29
unite d’habitation marseille plans 29
lincoln house stevens 28
corbusier unité d’habitation 28
weissenhof 28
villa savoye location 28
unite corbusier 28
disguised mobile phone masts 28
basic design in architecture 27
paris opera house staircase 27
villa savoye inside 27
villa savoye floor plan 27
al noor mosque 27
villa savoye aerial 27
unité d’habitation le corbusier plan 26
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ikea melltorp 23
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peter eisenman house iii 23
mary otis stevens lincoln house 23
sanaa leaking architecture 23
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portland michael graves 22
unitè d’habitation berlino 22
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beijing national stadium structural plan 21
beehive 21
parametric architecture 20
offshore oil rig 20
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materials architecture antarctica 20
falconcity of wonders 20
farnsworth house plan 20
different types of palm trees diagram 20
depero 20
zaha hadid architecture 20
maison jaoul le corbusier 20
al madina supermarket dubai 19
villa savoye bad 19
karama metro station 19
maisons jaoul le corbusier 19
unité d’habitation grundriss 19
prosopis cineraria tree 19
unite d’ habitation plan 19
unité d’habitation floor plan 19
villa savoye bathroom 19
mukesh ambani car parking 18
cctv diagrid 18
unité d’habitation marseille 18
portland building graves 18
le corbusier unite 18
unite d’habitation marseilles 18
beijing stadium structure 18
corbusier table 18
frederick kiesler 18
brick house mies van der rohe 18
muslim mosque 17
tower tv 17
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shading devices 17
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perret rue franklin 17
sanaa diagram 17
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rokko housing 17
venus project 17
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shell structure 17
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riba pylon competition 17
patrik schumacher logo 16
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mukesh ambani house 16
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rigs 16
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plan sanaa 16
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mies van der rohe brick country house 15
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frank lloyd wright buildings 15
heating hannes meyer 15
diagrid cctv 15
brick country house mies van der rohe 15
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image of microprocessor 15
barmpton 15
images of microprocessor 15
unité d’habitation marseille grundriss 15
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unité d’habitation berlin grundriss 14
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small fiberglass pools 14
pier luigi nervi buildings 14
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paris opera house floor plan 14
picture of microprocessor 14
grundriss unite d’habitation 14
the villa savoye 14
george fred keck 14
steiner house adolf loos 14
mcnulty house lincoln ma 14
statue of liberty interior structure 14
chicago 1890 14
big architect 14
television towers 14
cctv section 14
al hamra palace spain 14
great towers 14
dymaxion house 14
casa de la rue franklin 14
what is the point of architecture 14
ak 47 type 2 14
fountain marcel duchamp 13
le corbusier unite plan 13
cumberland terrace 13
villa savoye construction details 13
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villa domino 13
thomas mcnulty architect 13
burj al arab 13
melltorp table 13
irving gill architecture 13
hannes meyer quotes 13
graves portland 13
le corbusier’s unite d’habitation 13
astana architecture 13
genpei akasegawa, shinbo minami, tetsuo matsuda, and joji hayashi 13
paris opera house section 13
habitation corbusier 13
eileen gray e1027 house 13
brise soleil marsiglia le corbusier 13
dodge house irving gill 13
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le corbusier berlin unite d’habitation 13
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villa e 1027 12
sanaa houses 12
interlocking apartment 12
sukhoi 12
su 37 12
irving gill dodge house 12
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the microprocessor 12
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le corbusier marseille plans 12
shell structure architecture 12
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sanaa architects 12
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madrid barajas airport 12
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venturi guild house 12
perret notre dame du raincy 12
adolf loos steiner house 12
bashar al shawa 12
wolkenbugel el lissitzky 12
tv tower tashkent 12
e1027 12
el lissitzky architecture 12
dubai opera house plan 12
dogma a simple heart 12
micro processor 12
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villa savoye concept 12
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scott base antarctica 12
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unité d’habitation corbusier 11
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architecture 11
e 1027 11
frank lloyd wright taliesin 11
fortunato depero 11
e-1027 house 11
site plan of villa savoye 11
cctv foundation 11
honey bee 11
perret casa in rue franklin 11
adalberto libera 11
though the great expanses of glass that he favors may occasionally turn his rooms into hothouses, his flat roofs may leak and his plans may be wasteful of space, it was architect le corbusier who in 1923 put the entire philosophy of modern architecture into a single sentence: “a house is a machine to live in 11
le corbusier maison jaoul 11
islamic mosque 11
beatriz colomina, eileen gray and le corbusier 11
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farnsworth house blueprints 11
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wolkenbugel by el lissitzky 1925 11
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qatar national convention centre in doha by arata isozaki sezione 10
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venturi antarctica 10
mary otis stevens and thomas mcnulty 10
fair store chicago 10
hannes mayer 10
almere sanaa 10
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the venus project 10
frederick kiesler + nesting table 10
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kiesler endless house 10
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e 1027 house eileen gray 10
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shukhov tower 3d model 10
richard+rogers+madrid 10
unite d habitation plans 10
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hannes meyer en la bauhaus 9
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ак-47 9
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le corbusier unité d’habitation marseille 9
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le corbusiers unité d’habitation plans 9
al hambra 9
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plan villa savoye 9
ancient muslim architecture 9
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richard rogers madrid 9
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villa savoye ground floor dimensions 9
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exposition crystal house by george keck 1934 9
Unknown search terms 26,683
AK-47 remains the top all time and yearly search term.
Here’s something you probably didn’t know. I didn’t, until just then.
The AK-47 was mentioned in an early post as an example of something that may not look that great as the M-16 or similar devices might, but it works. The magazine of the AK-47 is not curved because it looks good. I hope the people who searched AK-47 apply this thinking to the built environment where it can hopefully be put to better use.
The top ten architects searched were as follows. Again, I’ve linked back to the relevant posts.
  • I expect that Hannes Meyer, Mary Otis Stevens/Thomas McNulty, Irving Gill and Superstudio feature on this list because there isn’t much information newly available on the internet about them. You’re welcome. 
  • And I imagine that some people come to this blog after searching SANAA, Sant’Elia, Bauhaus and BIG because, with the number of students probably searching those terms, chances are they will.

The Top Ten searched buildings were …

unite ‘habitation plan 3920
villa savoye 1114
CCTV diagrid structure 366
E1027 eileen gray 310
Michael Graves Portland building 300
lincoln house mary otis stevens thomas mcnulty 215
jungfraujoch 172
unite d’habitation berlin 171
irving gill dodge house 149
yakhchal 107
Unité d’Habitation remains the clear winner. This probably reflects the number of architecture students in the world and how little the education of architects has progressed in the past 50 years. Kids, make sure you see how understand how crap the lower apartment is, OK?
Homework: Use the floor layout above, to calculate how many apartments can actually have the plan commonly presented as (and thus thought to be) typical.
Here’s a studio apartment. From the same floor layout plan above, estimate the minimum number of them.
Unité Marseilles 18th floor studio 2Unité Marseilles 18th floor studio

With all its search input variations, the Unité d’Habitations was remains the clear winner and, of those searches, the majority were for the section and/or the plan. At last – somebody’s drawn an new section! Here you go!


Villa Savoye info for student purposes is far more abundant elsewhere but, it’s It’s nice to see Eileen Gray’s E1027 and Irving Gill’s Dodge House make the list.

Eileen Gray E1027

Letting people know about these wonderful yet unpretentious houses is one of the main reasons this blog exists.
Irving Gill Dodge House

And for the Sphinx Observatory at Jungfraujoch as well – a personal favourite.


As is the Lincoln House – my adolescent shapeist infatuation. I’m well over it now of course, but the memory of that first crush remains. I’ll always think of this building fondly.

lincoln house aerial

The Stevens/McNnulty Lincoln House makes the list because there is very little about it on the internet. I speculate on why that is, here.
lincoln house front
The only vernacular building making the list was yachchal. There is also very little new information about these. Views of this post spike occasionally.
So, with all this searching, what did people find? As I mentioned, once people clicked on a page, it’s impossible to know if they read or learned anything or if they downloaded or copied anything. But, for what it’s worth, here’s where they went –

The All-Time Top Ten Misfits Posts

All Time

Title   Views
Home page / Archives   32,886
The Things Architects Do   12,010
The Microprocessor is Not Trying to Look Beautiful   8,900
The Things Architects Believe #1   5,223
The Things Architects Do #3: SANAA   4,374
The DARKER Side of Villa Savoye   3,036
Architecture Misfit #1: Hannes Meyer   2,463
The Things Architects Do #2: Ornament   2,248
The Television Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful   1,936
The New Architecture of Austerity   1,916
Architecture Misfit #3: Eileen Gray   1,542
The Dark Side of the Villa Savoye   1,344
Inspirations for Performance-Beauty Architecture   1,220

There’s actually thirteen there. The first doesn’t count since it’s the home page at any given time.

The Things Architects Do reflects the number of people searching for information on Le Corbusier, the Villa Savoye and the unités d’habitations.


The Microprocessor is Not Trying to Look Beautiful probably reflects the number of insurgents, freedom fighters, rebel forces and other interested parties looking for information on AK-47 assault rifles, not to mention government internet monitoring organisations wanting to find out information on people who want that information. I’d just like to mention that misfits’ architecture is only interested in the AK-47 as the inspiration for a new type of building aesthetic that is the result of designing something that works.


The Things Architects Believe #1 is a catch-all post that includes information on Le Corbusier and concrete (he didn’t really invent it), Auguste Perret (who didn’t either) and other facts it’s useful to remember.

The Things Architects Do #3: SANAA is probably a reflection of who’s hot right now, and who’s a student favourite or figure to aspire to. I’m no great fan of SANAA but am pleased to offer an alternative opinion from the general fawning puff pieces one reads these days.


The DARKER Side of Villa Savoye dares to suggest that Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye is something less than a shrine to all that is good in the world of architecture. Can you think of a movie star who was never really a good actor – or even popular – but, long after they stopped making movies, became famous for being famous? The Villa Savoye is a bit like that. Who would the Villa Savoye be? Email me suggestions.

the Villa Savoye being constructed

the Villa Savoye being constructed

Architecture Misfit #1: Hannes Meyer It is the misfits’ belief that if the principles Hannes Meyer was proposing back in the 1930 had been followed up and improved upon in the time since, we would have much better buildings today. Additionally, that humanity would do well to get back to that fork in the road and follow the other path.

Hannes Meyer, Access Balcony Housing, 1929

Hannes Meyer, Access Balcony Housing, 1929

The Things Architects Do #2: Ornament was a quick history of people using decoration and ornament to fool themselves into thinking that buildings are more than they are.


The Television Tower is Not Trying to Look Beautiful was just me using the example of another highly functional object to illustrate that ornament is not really necessary. This post is surprisingly popular. I don’t know why it should be more popular than any other post in the XXX is Not Trying to Look Beautiful series. Remember, the tree is not trying to look beautiful.  


The New Architecture of Austerity highlighted a few trends in what’s considered to be architecture these days. Most of these trends resulted from trying to make architecture using less effort or resources. It would be good if those efforts weren’t misdirected to the making of pretentious architecture of little or no use.

other stuff

Architecture Misfit #3: Eileen Gray is our only heroine so far. E1027 embodies much of what architecture is trying to be now. If anyone says that Modernism (as a philosophy, not a style) had no heart or soul, then they do not know of E1027. The world is about to rediscover Eileen Gray. Blame Le Corbusier for her being sidelined in the first place. Oh, and read the post.

Eileen Gray E1027

The Dark Side of the Villa Savoye is probably the first piece of Villa Savoye bashing that many people encounter. No building is perfect but it is a call for keeping it real, and admitting that VS had a few problems, some of which were construction related, some design-related, and some were just the prejudices of the times.

Inspirations for Performance-Beauty Architecture could just be more people searching for info on AK-47s but we like to think not. This post sets out the inspirations for an architecture where performance beauty replaces visual beauty as the only type of endeavour of relevance for architecture.

Sukhoi SU-37

This post was an early one and remains an ongoing theme of this blog. The flow of posts may drift from this theme occasionally, but will always return to it.