Tag Archives: architectural fame

Career Case Study #2: Norman Jaffe

It’s hard to get a handle on 1970s architecture. SOM were on a roll as their John Hancock Centre in Chicago had completed in 1969.


Osaka’s Expo ’70 showed off a multiplicity of styles and approaches that, with the exception of inflatable structures, correctly predicted the riot of the following ten years. There were megastructures, the neo-historic, the nationalistic, metabolistic, the crassly symbolic, ducks galore and some tensile supported sheds decorated redwhite’n’blue. That’ll be Great Britain lower left then.

Expo '70, Osaka, Japan

Expo ’70, Osaka, Japan

The Nakagin Capsule Tower – Tokyo, 1972.


Over in the US, the New York Five were doing their respective things. Here’s Richard Meier’s Douglas House. 1973.



The World Trade Centre opened the same year.


Essentially a creature of the fifties, The Sydney Opera House opened October 1973.


Aldo Rossi was big in Europe in the seventies and Japan in the eighties.


The Pompidou Centre opened 1977

440px-Pompidou_centerclosely followed by The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts 1978.


Mies even der Rohe didn’t live to the 70’s but here’s his Kluczynski_Federal_Building designed 1960 but completed 1974 minus his vaunted sense of proportion.


Corporate buildings – or rather, corporate clients – were big. Here’s Roche-Dinkeloo‘s 1974 The Pyramids for the College Life Insurance Company of America Headquarters in Indianapolis.


In 1977 some guy called Frank Gehry did something weird to his house.

gehry house

  • Historians will remember the 1970s for Post-Modernism – mainly due to the never-ending efforts of Charles Jencks but, truth is, the seventies were everything and nothing. Big corporate architecture ruled and, though SOM were on trend, it would have been difficult to imagine the architecture of two, or even one, decade into the future. We, however, know what happened. Post-modernism overheated and made itself unpopular with clients with serious money – it’s flippancy appealing only to Disney.
  • Post-modern Classicism was the hasty adaption more suited to corporate and municipal images of themselves.
  • Simultaneously, High-tech was claiming to be a style for the future rather than the past. In the 1960’s prefabrication had been thought a bit iffy and downmarketish but High-Tech overcame this by prefabricating everything only once, thus making itself reassuringly expensive.
  • Nobody knew that the Sydney Opera House was an “iconic” building.

In all, it was a difficult decade in which to be an architect.

RULE #1: Choose your decade well. 

Norman Jaffe (1932–1993) did just that. Reimagining Wright is never a bad way to start a career. In the seventies at least, it combined a client-winning respect for the ‘old masters’ with a don’t-scare-the-horses progressiveness.


Wright was still well remembered and missed. The old boy had never been lacking in media-savvy but, as the century wore on, his media handling became increasingly out-of-touch.

Gropius, for example, had done the “smug architect in front of visionary design” thing way back in ’22.


What the decade needed was someone to update Wright and with a bit of flair. Norman Jaffe was probably that man.

Man with an Image: two-page spread from Men's Bazaar, 1967.

In all likelihood, Jaffe picked up a bit of media nous during the short time he worked in the office of Philip Johnson before starting his own Manhattan practice. Johnson later remembered Jaffe as “too talented to stay with him long“, inadvertently slighting all those who did.


Jaffe had begun visiting Long Island in the 1960s, and in 1973 he moved to Bridgehampton where he opened an architectural practice. He became the most prolific architect in the Hamptons at that time, designing more than 50 local houses, from small summer homes to large estates. 

The sentence

in 1973 he moved to Bridgehampton where he opened an architectural practice

doesn’t reveal much. People just don’t go places and open architectural practices. Between the 1960’s and 1973, Jaffe probably networked like hell, stashed away a bit of cash and, like any other architect starting out, as soon as he had one job on the go and the next one lined up, he made the move. The story goes that Jaffe didn’t want his young son to grow up in Manhattan and there’s probably some truth in that too since I hear that 1970s New York wasn’t such a great place. Although, to be fair, there’ll always be those who say New York lost its soul as soon as walking through Central Park after dark no longer meant certain death. In any case,

RULE #2: Choose your catchment area strategically. 

The Schulman House of 1968 was Jaffe’s first major project in The Hamptons.


Now the Hamptons isn’t a bad place to choose to open an architectural practice and get a reputation as a local architect. The summer there is pleasant, the pace no doubt relaxed, but more importantly it’s both remote from yet convenient to Manhattan and thus home-away-from-home for the rich and/or celebrated. It’s well moneyed.


By 1979 it was reported that Jaffe had become so popular and well known that he was able to choose what jobs he would take and was turning down nine out of 10 prospective clients attending his offices. There’s a full list of works here, on the site of the practice continued by aforementioned son Miles.


Jaffe also made Wright’s way with clients his own. Whether this reads as “uncompromising visionary” or “diva” depends on how many enemies one has. Jaffe made a few, notably actor Alan Alda whom you may remember from M*A*S*H (1972–1983), and his wife.


Five hundred letters regarding requested change orders were produced in court that had to judge upon matters such as whether the sound of a toilet flushing upstairs could be heard in the kitchen below. First world problems yes, but then The Hamptons is about as First World as it gets. [About this time, over in Palm Springs, John Lautner was having problems with a house for celebrity client Bob Hope and his wife.]


The Hope House was recently put on the market for US$50 mil. but, as of January 2014 there were still no takers at US$34 mil. 

RULE #3: Don’t sue celebrities. 

With the success of these early works came bigger commissions and even more spectacular projects. It was no longer the avant-garde who wanted Jaffe houses, it was those who wanted to be avant-garde. By the 1980’s much of the work became ostentatious (or as noted by Paul Goldberger in his book Houses of the Hamptons, ‘vulgar and bombastic’). Many of these projects were an exercise in ego, as much the client’s as the architect’s.

Hmm. I guessing this house might be one of them. “Priceupped”!? =(<<

meadow lane

Paul Goldberger wrote in Houses of the Hamptons, “He couldn’t reconcile anymore the millions of dollars spent on single-family dwellings used on weekends” but I don’t see why that should have been a problem for a neo-Wrightian.

Many architects do work of questionable quality for clients with too much money. In the seventies we used to call this “selling out”. These days we call it “success”.

RULE #4: Hold your nose.

The word ‘romantic’ is often used to describe Jaffe and his work. There’s a book, “The Romantic Modernist”.


‘Romantic’ in its architectural sense, is an adjective often applied to architects lacking a theory or rational explanation for why their buildings are the way they are. This went against the flow of 1970s. Intellectual, or pretending to be it, was in vogue. Post Modernism was intellectual. The NY5 were intellectual. Confession: In 1979, I thought Eisenman’s House X was the coolest thing – not that I could get my head around the plans or Eisenman’s concept – or at least the name – of “deep structure” appropriated from Chomsky.


With romantics, a roof might be flat because the architect feels a flat roof best “mediates” between the land and the sky. A roof might also be pitched for the same reason but the point is that architect knows best. It’s hard to know whether this attitude owes more to Frank Lloyd Wright, Howard Roark or, for all we know, Mike Brady (1969-1974).


Meier’s 1970s output might have looked a bit samey but Jaffe designed tens of houses for much the same people with much the same brief and on much the same sites in the same place. It’s easy to imagine that inspiration gets put under serious strain. How many ways can a roof mediate between the sky and whatever? If one doesn’t explore some kind of intellectual agenda then it becomes very difficult to be differently and convincingly romantic every time. The intellectual route may be bullshit but it is self-perpetuating and endless bullshit.

Ultimately, the New York Five and Venturi had more staying power. Eisenman, Gwathmey and, spectacularly, Graves, one by one gave up the white stuff and went with the flow. Meier kept going, presumably because he’d already consolidated a base of clients who liked to know what they’ll be getting. Here’s one of Meier’s recents.


From 1975 until he died in 2000 (cancer), the fifth New York Fiver, Hejduk, was more of an educator.

 RULE #5: Don’t swim against the current.

Jaffe drowned on August 19, 1993. The more I read about Jaffe the more I’m moved by the degree of personal interest and public speculation his death evoked. Neighbour and friend Tony Leichter said “He was an overconfident but poor swimmer.” There was speculation of suicide.

Other friends noted Jaffe’s late-life and sudden interest in Buddhism, Indian studies, the Cabala, whole-grain pancakes, miso soup, tofu, vegetarian hot dogs and lemon and mint tea and tried to find some sense out of that. I’m not so sure. It seems like Jaffe discovered the seventies in the nineties.

Media post-mortems speculated about whether Jaffe had been truly fulfilled. Charles Gwathmey is quoted as saying “I don’t think Norman thought he’d fulfilled either his potential or his subconscious aspirations, which I think is a terrible thing to confront in oneself. He was always conflicted about whether he was going to take the heavy jump and try to be a world-renowned architect as opposed to hanging out on the East End. Sometimes he liked the fact that he was regarded as the premier architect in a certain location. Other times he felt it that wasn’t enough.”

• • •

Nobody ever said of the man sometimes known as Le Corbusier that he was an overconfident but poor swimmer even though there’s no evidence LC died of a heart attack. Jaffe’s death was a very human one and it evoked some very human responses.

The world in 1993 already seems like a far nicer place. I know I know. Blame it on the internet! Take a look at our current crop of architects who have come of a certain age. And take a look at us. Do we wonder if Rem Koolhaas is personally fulfilled from what he does? Do we speculate whether Zaha Hadid is happy with her life? Do we lay awake wondering if Frank Gehry feels respect or contempt for his clients? No. We don’t. We don’t care who any of these people are or what they think or feel. The personas we see are media constructs and what we think we know is no more than what we’re told in order to keep their respective brands alive and relevant in our minds.

Brand founders are rarely in the office. Their inevitable deaths and subsequently permanent absence doesn’t mean the death of the brand. I predict posthumous buildings will be big this century.

Designer Bookbinding

The word “designer” before anything is never a good sign. Here’s what designer bookbinding looked like in the time of Alberti.


Folio, full blind-tooled brown calf, triple spine-straps, applied hand-painted panels and armorial escutcheons, leather clasps and iron catches, iron corner bosses. Housed in a custom clamshell box.

To be fair, most books also had designer pages. They weren’t for everybody. image2 Here’s a designer book that could easily have been on the shelves in a Palladian villa.


16th century Parisian morocco, lavishly decorated with gilt wreaths, small flowers and thistles.

Here’s an example of German bookbinding from the time of the early Bauhaus. EA_Enders-Jahrbuch_der_Einbandkunst Here’s an interesting article on Hitler’s bookbinder, Frieda Thiersch. hb138

“Probably no one up until now has dealt with the motif of the Swastika so naturally, completely, and thoroughly as Frieda Thiersch.”

Designer bookbinding is an emotive subject. Depending on how you look at it, it’s

  1. a waste of time and resources
  2. poor man’s Fabergé eggs
  3. a creative art continuing a long tradition
  4. an ancient way of separating value from content
  5. an ancient way of separating rich people from their money
  6. proof Adam Smith was right when he said “With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.”

Sounds familiar – let’s investigate! The idea is to take a book and give it a cover that’s a display of design and production skills and that, by the by, is a reflection of the contents. Regular designer bookbinding competitions are held to give bookbinders the opportunity to show their stuff. There is usually a set theme. Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a popular one. Here’s designer Richard Tuttle’s take on it.


As with all of Richard Tuttle’s pieces, this is a one of a kind binding that captures the spirit of the book and returns us to a time when books were beautiful to display as well as read. In a world of mediocrity and mass produced books, he believes important literary works are special and should be treasured and passed on to future generations. Richard Tuttle has rebound the book in a beautiful combination of lamb skiver and snake skin over sculpted boards. The book features raised spine hubs with titling between the hubs and hand-painted pastedowns and endpapers. Richard Tuttle’s symbol signature along with the binding date appear on the free endpaper next to the title page. The binding was done in 2013.

So’s Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Thus the brief is doctored to promote sensationalism justified by an obvious and shallow contextuality. “Concept” seems to count for a lot. Ovid-openDesigning covers for actual texts is the intellectual end of the scale. It’s not unusual for a theme to be a single evocative word with text(s) selected to suit.

Water is a book commissioned by Designer Bookbinders and printed by Incline Press for an international bookbinding competition set for June of 2009. A group of the books where sold unbound or “in sheets” to binders through out the world at a cost of 100 GBP (approx. $200). Then binders had about 10 months to complete the bindings and send them back to England for judging.  The text is made of short poems and prose with the theme of water giving a wide range for designing the binding. [!]

Check out the link for an insight into what it is a bookbinder thinks and does all day.

1 water

Here’s some more.

Winner: . Binding made out of pear wood covered with Karelian birch veneer. Inspired by the idea that ‘water comes to us from rocks, from mother earth, but also from clouds, sometimes from tears … just a few drops that come together to form streams and lakes’.

Winner: . Binding made out of pear wood covered with Karelian birch veneer. Inspired by the idea that ‘water comes to us from rocks, from mother earth, but also from clouds, sometimes from tears … just a few drops that come together to form streams and lakes’.

Brown Japanese paper spine textured with cactus thread. The cream Japanese paper boards with movable magnetic sculptured fish are covered in red boxcalf. The Japanese endpapers are dark blue and the flexible jacket is of varnished wood.

Brown Japanese paper spine textured with cactus thread. The cream Japanese paper boards with movable magnetic sculptured fish are covered in red boxcalf. The Japanese endpapers are dark blue and the flexible jacket is of varnished wood.

Runner-up: The pages have been divided into two bindings, ‘Water’ and ‘Waterborn’; both featuring machine-embroidered grey Dypion-style fabric and airbrushed endpapers. The sign was inspired by the light and shade created by sun and clouds on the surface of the sea, and echoes the marbling forms in the text.

Runner-up: The pages have been divided into two bindings, ‘Water’ and ‘Waterborn’; both featuring machine-embroidered grey Dypion-style fabric and airbrushed endpapers. The sign was inspired by the light and shade created by sun and clouds on the surface of the sea, and echoes the marbling forms in the text.

Bound in calf and various goatskins with palladium tooling, silver rhodium and gilded brass. Inspired by the idea of a drop of water landing on the dried mud and soaking through to the back cover, where dormant seeds spring to life.

Bound in calf and various goatskins with palladium tooling, silver rhodium and gilded brass. Inspired by the idea of a drop of water landing on the dried mud and soaking through to the back cover, where dormant seeds spring to life.

Mary Norwood has bound her book in black calf, with an arrangement of domestic water pipes (made from hand-dyed calf and goatskin) wound onto a framework of timber and clay and secured by leather straps. Brass labels are stamped with names of water sources, and laced-in linen tapes with illustrations have been sewn on.

Mary Norwood has bound her book in black calf, with an arrangement of domestic water pipes (made from hand-dyed calf and goatskin) wound onto a framework of timber and clay and secured by leather straps. Brass labels are stamped with names of water sources, and laced-in linen tapes with illustrations have been sewn on.

Polycarbonate covers varnished with car lacquer using airbrush techniques. Rotating sections of multicoloured airbrushed acetate are articulated within the front and back covers.

Polycarbonate covers varnished with car lacquer using airbrush techniques. Rotating sections of multicoloured airbrushed acetate are articulated within the front and back covers.

Some designers get very technical.


Peter Jones’s book has a spine and leather joints of scarfjointed blue and biscuit goatskin with blind tooling. The boards are constructed from alternating tapered strips of maplewood and clear acrylic sheet with leather inlays, threaded onto carbon fibre rods. Scarf-jointed and laminated Mingei endpapers with additional part-sheets interleaved with whites lead into the text.

There’s more examples here. You get the idea. Here’s a blank book with what’s known as coptic binding and finished with natural oak boards.

blank bookIf that was a John Pawson book, this one then would be a Peter Zumthor Book.

tumblr_li7t2jedyh1qbw8y4o1_500 This recycled ibook shows irony’s undead. Somebody put a stake through it. i-book1 I first thought this next example might also be ironic but it takes itself a bit seriously. It “speaks so much of its contents” it seems like it’s trying too hard to become them. Somehow sad.

Roberta Lavadour's binding of Fat Chance may raise an eyebrow or two among traditionalists, but it speaks directly to its subject: Found diet pamphlets sewn all along on handmade leather belts that run through the center of the boards, with painted text block edges and French double headbands. Covered in three-quarter leather (goat) with Fabriano Roma fore edge covers and found measuring tape. Belt closures have standard holes, as well as extra holes hand punched to accommodate the added girth of the book. Everything about the book is purposely overscaled. The resulting book speaks to the futility of the quick fix while allowing us to relate to the person who bought so many of these pamphlets, each one of which initially held great hope.

Roberta Lavadour’s binding of Fat Chance may raise an eyebrow or two among traditionalists, but it speaks directly to its subject:
Found diet pamphlets sewn all along on handmade leather belts that run through the center of the boards, with painted text block edges and French double headbands. Covered in three-quarter leather (goat) with Fabriano Roma fore edge covers and found measuring tape. Belt closures have standard holes, as well as extra holes hand punched to accommodate the added girth of the book. Everything about the book is purposely overscaled. The resulting book speaks to the futility of the quick fix while allowing us to relate to the person who bought so many of these pamphlets, each one of which initially held great hope.

There are of course, shapeist books, but there’s no need to go there. If The Duck was a book ….. I can imagine the contents of the heart-shaped book but I’m unsure about the pizza book. Or is it cake? The Japanese cranes on the cover don’t tell us.

The Japanese. They already had a long history of adding value to objects under the guise of design and craft so, in the 1970s, they understood immediately what bookbinding was all about and took to it in a big way, generally making rather beautiful things whilst aestheticising the hell out of it. OTMain

Bookbinder Ohie Toshio (b. 1949) is an exemplar of the long Japanese tradition of adopting and adapting foreign art forms. The practice of bookbinding was first introduced in Japan by Ohie in 1974 after studying the art in France. Through Ohie’s efforts patrons began to see their favorite works of literature as treasures to be enshrined in a splendid binding, enhanced by graphic design and materials developed to suit the writing, and with illustrations by esteemed artists. Decorative bookbinding had to first be brought in line with Japanese tastes before local audiences could appreciate it. Ohie’s patrons were convinced to appreciate leather-bound books through the introduction of deluxe Japanese papers, the use of leather onlays in Japanese color harmonies, and the incorporation of frontispiece illustrations by popular Japanese artists.

Copper plate etching, watercolor on paper, chine collé.

Copper plate etching, watercolor on paper, chine collé.

Hardcover book: blue calf leather cover with onlays of leathers, gold tooling, flyleafs of suede, endsheets of calf leather with onlays, pages gilded on three edges, collaged color woodblock printed frontispiece and black and white etchings by Karasawa Hitoshi.

Hardcover book: blue calf leather cover with onlays of leathers, gold tooling, flyleafs of suede, endsheets of calf leather with onlays, pages gilded on three edges, collaged color woodblock printed frontispiece and black and white etchings by Karasawa Hitoshi.

Hardcover book: blue calf leather cover with onlays of leathers, gold tooling, flyleafs of suede, endsheets of calf leather with onlays, pages gilded on three edges, collaged color woodblock printed frontispiece and black and white etchings by Karasawa Hitoshi.

Hardcover book: blue calf leather cover with onlays of leathers, gold tooling, flyleafs of suede, endsheets of calf leather with onlays, pages gilded on three edges, collaged color woodblock printed frontispiece and black and white etchings by Karasawa Hitoshi.

Putting the word “contemporary” in front of any noun also usually spells trouble. Here’s a selection of contemporary bookbindings. Guess the book!


Yes, it’s Gulliver’s Travels bound in black goat skin with inner covers lined with dyed reindeer parchment. And five strands of black and dyed tan leather cord couched (huh? “to fasten a thread with small stitches at regular intervals“) onto the covers and with cast pewter beads at their ends. There’s more here. Here’s an interesting one from the same book-artist.

main_JewelSonnets1 Ostensibly a book because it has some writing on it, the artist’s description makes for uncomfortable reading.

These sculptural book forms play with the notion of what can be considered a book. Some of them explore multicultural and ancient book structures. The array of materials used is without limits. When the book form meets artistic expression the results are visual stories what do not necessarily need words. They can be read from the interplay of materials,  textures and colours. 

:o= Here’s a clamshell book. Sigh.

0ad4f9247e4880569a5f48f586b3ca4f Here’s a fancier one. The spine is the tanned skin of a barramundi, a large fish found in river estuaries in Northern Australia. It’s stronger than the hide of land animals apparently. A strong spine is a good thing.

I imagine the appeal of clamshell books is they’re satisfying to hold open in the palms of one’s hands. If that’s how you like holding your books. They must be a genre because here’s a fake one. I’m trying hard to be outraged.


Our journey through this strange planet of designer bookbinding is almost over. I’ll leave you in the very strange world of avant garde book binding. Daniel Essig‘s books cross the line. He’s making objets d’art. The pages are there so it can be called a book. It makes no difference what the text is. Here’s his Book of Nails.

the book of nails

Most of what’s called Book Art riffs on the fact that books contain words that mean stuff. It’s not necessary to know what they are. Completely breaking orbit now, this last example is a statement about censorship and, although the artist has “bound” and nailed this book well closed, it’s in the name of art and has nothing to do with bookbinding.


* * *

A quote from designer bookbinder Faith Shannon.

“The book offers the perfect vehicle for the combination of a painter’s eye, a designer’s training, a craftsman’s skills, an artist’s imagination, a soul, a love of invention – and a sense of humour!”

* * *


Penguin Books was founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane,[2] It was his experience of the poor quality of reading material on offer at Exeter train station that inspired him to create cheap, well designed quality books for the mass market.[11] Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. From the outset, design was essential to the success of the Penguin brand. Eschewing the illustrated gaudiness of other paperback publishers, Penguin opted for the simple appearance of three horizontal bands, the upper and lower of which were colour-coded according to which series the title belonged to; this is sometimes referred to as the horizontal grid. In the central white panel, the author and title were printed in Gill Sans and in the upper band was a cartouche with the legend “Penguin Books”. The initial design was created by the then 21-year-old office junior Edward Young, who also drew the first version of the Penguin logo.

The Autopoiesis of Architecture: Vol.1 Chap. 3.6 – Styles

Out of over 65,000 search terms 60,000 people have used to find and view over 200,000 pages on this blog, NOT ONE OF THEM has been “the autopoiesis of architecture”. So who’s searching this term? And where do they get their information? I may be stuck in a filter bubble, but here’s what I see – misfits appears first on the second page.

autopoiesis of architecture

Here’s those top links.

  1. http://www.architectural-review.com/essays/the-autopoiesis-of-architecture-dissected-discussed-and-decoded/8612164.article (4 March 2011)
  2. http://www.amazon.com/The-Autopoiesis-Architecture-New-Framework/dp/0470772980 (as you’d expect, from any book)
  3. http://www.patrikschumacher.com/Texts/Parametricism%20and%20the%20Autopoiesis%20of%20Architecture.html (as you’d expect, from any author)
  4. http://www.patrikschumacher.com/Texts/Summary%20and%20List%20of%20Contents_The%20Autopoeisis%20of%20Architecture.html (ditto)
  5. http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0470772999.html (the author’s publisher. Don’t take this as an endorsement. Publishers publish books. If the editor-in-chief thinks they’ll get two hardback copies into every university library in the world, it’s a go-er as far as they’re concerned.)
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pqh77TnLoQ (Youtube?)
  7. http://marjan-colletti.blogspot.ae/2000/09/turbulences-ahead-book-review.html (An independent blogger – interesting! Here’s his CV and a bit of what he had to say, a lot of which I wish I’d said myself.

I think I’m right in assuming that AoA was mostly written on PS’s innumerable long haul flights and hotel rooms late at night. The super-structurisation of the book helps, but repetition (a considerable amount of it) still prevails. It sometimes feels tired and makes you feel tired. Sometimes this book felt jetlagged. This may sound harsh and my understanding of AoA as autobiographical thesis is perhaps incorrect, but it helped me to understand the existing preconceptions and ‘Naserümpfen’ [sniffy] reactions, which I think are superficial, especially if you have not read the book.

Well, after a year I’m still reading the book – Julie & Julia this is not – so it does seem a bit unfair to write that in April 2011, when TAoA was only published in November 2010. It ain’t no page-turner. I’ve been going at it on and off for over a year now and I’m really looking forward to the good bits. Chapter 3.6 – Styles – promised to be one of them, and it didn’t disappoint.

First you have to get past some repetition – the usual stuff. Page 241 gives a quick recap of where the author has been, is going, or wants to go.  Here’s a look.

thesisThe author feels something is needed to give some order to the problem of how to proceed. In the last sentence, the author states that architecture only progresses via a historical succession of styles. Styles then, seem to be a method of coping, of streamlining the design process. We are not told why. With no reason other than to increase throughput, what we have is a modern version of a conveyor belt and all that that tells about capitalism and production.

Instead, the narrative veers away from that and (after acknowledging The Renaissance as the first style), treats us to some definitions before giving us a summary of other Germans famous in Germany for their contributions to the concept of style: Heinrich Hubsch, Rudolf Weigmann, Eduard Metzger, Karl Bötticher and, finally, Gottfreid “In what style shall we build?” Semper. It all starts to get very Teutonic. Semper generally is a good guy, apart from the fact he failed to draw a distinction between passive, active and active-reflective styles. Reflexive, surely?


Anyway, from Semper it’s just a short step to Otto Wagner.

Wagner refers to Historicism and Eclecticism as failed attempts to cope with the initially overwhelming onset of the new tasks posed by the modern era, leading to the forceful demand that ‘modern art must offer us modern forms that are created by us and that represent our abilities and actions. p251

This all reads like some recycled dissertation but the quote above is the author’s basic argument. Complex world needs complex solutions that represent its very complex complexness. Oh, and our skill at representing it. I’ll come back to this bit.

From Otto Wagner it’s a short hop to the First World War, The Bauhaus and to what the author calls the first ‘epochal’ style of the century – Modernism. It’s also a short step to Philip Johnson who, although not German, was a Nazi empathiser during the thirties. I’m currently re-reading Dejan Sudjic’s The Edifice Complex – The Architecture of Power. On pages 102-121 you’ll find a description of Johnson’s political leanings at the time. It’s easy to conclude that Johnson’s objections to Hannes Meyer’s architecture were political as much as architectural. With all the smugness of a theist claiming atheism is a belief like any other, Johnson claimed the absence of a style was itself a style as much as any other. Equally threatened by the concept of stylistically-derived visual characteristics being irrelevant and wasteful, the author repeats this on page 262.

Untitled Don’t forget that Footnote 151!Untitled 2

And again on page 265.

hannes meyer discredit

The author seems to be giving a lot of credence to what a 25-year old dilletante had to say. What Johnson and the author have in common is that both want to be on the winning team. Sudjic mentions Speer and Hitler, Pagano and Mussolini, Stalin’s architects, Mao’s architects, Rem Koolhaas … He draws a strong correlation between the activities of architects and totalitarian regimes and the power to get things done. He notes Rem Koolhaas’ championing of China [p153 ibid.] although, to a lesser extent, the same can be said since of his activities in Singapore. Meanwhile, the business development directors of ZHA  are mining the lesser authoritarian regimes.


Annoyingly, just when it starts getting interesting, Chap 3.6 segues into yet another summary of what’s to come. On p254 the question is asked


Untitled 2 Here’s that buried footnote 142 and its cheeky “Incidentally …” beginning.Untitled 3

Since we’re unable to forget it’s impending arrival, this next table summarises how the author sees Parametricism and its place in things. It’s actually a fair enough classification.


I scribbled an alternative classification of Feudal styles, Elitist styles, Socialist styles (the first five Modernist subsidiaries) and finally, the Late Capitalist styles. I get the feeling an ‘epochal’ style is merely something that represents the dominant power structure of the time. Rather than ponder what Foucault would have said about that, it’s easier to think that architects merely follow the money. (I know I know – not all of them.)

On page 256, the author reverts to Luhmannspeak to explain why styles are necessary.

Within architecture[,] styles represent those necessary programmes that – at any instance – regulate the disposition over the two binary sets of values of the double code of architecture.  …

In other words,

Styles provide the guidelines and criteria that help us identify the beautiful and the useful.

Taken at face value, this means that style is all about representing beauty and usefulness rather than generating either or both. I don’t approve of this, but I can see some truth in it. Styles tell us what’s currently in vogue and what’s not. The link to usefulness is as tenuous as it is in the world of fashion. The probIem I see with talking about The Renaissance and Parametricism in the same book is that we falsely attribute them with similar levels of gravitas despite consumerism and mass media influencing and trivialising the concept of style since – oh, at least since Art & Crafts.

It’s not all a waste of time – there were a couple of genuinely interesting bits. The first was this.

Parametricism is looking for continuous programmatic variations rather than the repetition of strict funciton types. Instead of juxtaposing discrete functional domains this style prefers to offer all the in-between iterations that might be conceived between two function types, now considered as two extremes of a continuous spectrum of GRADUAL FUNCTIONAL MODULATION. Instead of accepting the need for separate programmatic zones the idea is that social boundaries and categorizations must be blurred. The style is looking for a density of connectivity and intense relatedness between programme components. p260


There you have it. This is what gives Parametricism its swooshiness. Instead of open space with, say, a room divider between the living and dining room, the roof swooshes down to modulate the infinite dining room-ness and living room-ness. Sounds expensive. But that, in a nutshell is how I heard the foyer of the Heydar Aliyev thingy described.

In my last post on this topic, I noted the facile point-of-purchase connectivity that Galaxy Soho supposedly makes a fetish of.

mega mall


But that still doesn’t explain the swooshiness of what are essentially single-function shells.

aggressive and banalhttp://www.bdonline.co.uk/aggressive-and-banal-zaha-hadids-serpentine-sackler-gallery/5061185.article

vag crit


I never got around to mentioning the other interesting thing in 3.6. Next time.

The Autopoiesis of Architecture: Vol.1 Pages 237~240

Before moving on to Section 3.6 and finding out why styles are essential if the very fabric of the architectural universe isn’t to be torn apart, I’d like to go back to these four pages. They seem important. They’re a partial summary of what’s gone before, but they also contain a rather dodgy justification for what’s to come – which, of course, is what the author really wants to trumpet – Parametricism. The One True Style. No Style but Parametricism. etc. 

Read this and see what you think.


I need some help here. Am I correct in understanding that the argument goes like this? (Dodgy statements in red.)

  1. Designing is difficult, there are many possibilities. We need a way to reduce the complexity/possibilities.
  2. We can’t do this by getting rid of the idea of beauty because what’s left is insufficient. (‘The reference to performance criteria simply cannot constrain the task sufficiently’.) 
  3. But the idea of beauty does however reduce complexity because we no longer have to make random choices every time. 
  4. Using criteria of both utility and beauty is ideal because, if a designer doesn’t know what to do, he can resort to functional criteria and, for those times when something has been engineered rather than designed, a designer can come along and add some design to it.

This argument is shameful – really shit, in fact. It’s no longer possible to take this book seriously. There’s more. Remember, the author is arguing for why a style is necessary to eliminate the need for time-consuming thought and application of skill and experience when designing. OK, OK, at least I know I’m prejudiced. Read this – the four reasons why we ‘need’ styles.

Untitled 2

1. The author seems to have a bee in his bonnet about random fiat. I wish he’d explain what the fuck it is as I’m having to guess here. I imagine he’s talking about unguided design decisions or, circularly, ‘formist’ [I’m refusing to use the word ‘formalist’ as it contains a shred of authority] design decisions not guided by a ‘formist’ style. This is a pathetic attempt to knit what’s to come with what went before for, back on page 199, 3.3.1 Design Decisions, first sentence – ‘The elemental operation of architecture is the design decision.’

2. Saying ‘And totally random design decisions may not be possible anyway.’ is probably true as it’s easy to imagine there is always some criteria, misguided or otherwise, for something being one way and not another. However, it’s still not a reason why a style is necessary to guide decisions that, unlike those decisions based on functional criteria, nobody would miss if they were not made.

3. But no, for beauty often has a functional and economic logic. I agree. Oh dear. Since the beauty word has been mentioned, ART can’t be far away.


Here’s some snippets I knew would come in handy sometime. This is as good a time as any.

In response to the question ‘Why is art so expensive?’ art dealer Ernst Beyeler reportedly replied, ‘If I can’t sell something, I just double the price.’ 


‘Some people actually prefer to pay more than makes sense’…’I think very often the price paid for a work is the trophy itself,’ says Arne Glimcher, art dealer…’The people who are spending record amounts on art buy more than just that glow of prosperity. They’ve purchased boasting rights.

arne glimcher

So yes, I agree that beauty does have a functional and economic logic. Check out footnote 101 on page 238.

However, these rationales are not manifest, not communicated. The formal principles remain independent from explicit functional criteria.

I’m not so sure. It seems pretty clear what the game is. If architecture is Art and has its own collectors wishing to purchase boasting rights, then formal principles that produce architecture that is A) expensive and B) difficult to replicate would be more desirable. The contorted structures of ZHA and the highly contrived structures of OMA are both examples of formal principles fulfilling the perverse social and economic logic of boasting rights.

4. Formist principles save time, enable rationalisation, benefit both the economy and the environment and also stop people from getting lost. This is getting crazy. Is white black? Functional or utilitarian principles do all this and without all the middlemen.

The problem of architectural design is to generate spatial forms that can fulfil desired functions and/or to propose appropriate functions to utilise any given spatial form.

Well, this makes sense, especially if form is just the manifestation of perverse function. Here, the author tries to throw us off the scent by advising us to appreciate ‘the co-creation and mutual dependency of form and function as correlates’ and explains that to not do that is ‘archaic’ and not in line with ‘current world society [that] operates on the basis of rather abstract criteria that, in their dialectic, potentially open up an infinite universe of possibilities.’ Check out page 239, paragraphs two and three.

I have a problem with the statement that functionality, like beauty, is historically and culturally relative. This is true, but doesn’t mean that, like beauty, it is subjective or arbitrary or, as the author says, abstract. In the last paragraph, choosing which functionality to focus on shouldn’t be that hard. Perhaps keep the rain out, maybe a certain level thermal comfort, not to difficult to move around in, etc. 

Untitled 3

Designing is like making mud pies, then. The last paragraph (the one spanning the page) introduces a new non-problem for which a non-solution will be forthcoming.  

Untitled 4Did you get that? It is up to the designer to pick’n’mix between the two codes of beauty and utility. Utility then, is the subject of a design decision and is thus made into the creature of beauty. (This explains a lot.)

But don’t worry, because

  1. everything that claims beauty and utility is a part of architecture.
  2. formal principles and general functional criteria [as opposed to the perverse ones?] are orienting guidelines that facilitate decision making within the design process. [didn’t I tell you? – functional criteria are mere guidelines for design to act upon. Haven’t we come a long way from the beginning where function was for losers?] 

Now you can start to worry again, because

  1. No explicit criteria and guidelines offer water-tight mechanisms that could guarantee strictly predictable procedures and results.
  2. There is no way to calculate solutions.
  3. The problematic [sic.] of the design decision should rather be theorized as the dilemma of having to decide in the absence of sufficient information. A decision has to be made somehow. [my bold] 


An orienting decision making programme is required to steer the design process between indecision and random wilfulness. Within architecture these necessary programmes are called styles. The next section will be treating styles as fundamental structures

(and, before we too almost forget,)

of the autopoiesis of architecture.

And that’s it! I think that’s all the justification we’re going to get. The author’s impatience to talk about why building surfaces should be curvy has given us this bit of literary stitching. Inadequate as it is, it still manages to reveal a lot about the author’s biases – I won’t say intentions or motivations for writing this book because they are still obscure. By this stage, we can say that the book isn’t written with a desire to inform or educate but it is wordy and weighty and heavy going and that’s probably all it needs to be seen to be.

The Autopoiesis of Architecture: Vol.1 Chaps. 3.3~3.4

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Chaps. 3.3~3.4 veer off into topics conventionally associated with architecture but, as it does so, becomes increasingly – and possibly strategically – vague about whose idea of architecture is being talked about. Chapter 3 is meant to be the meat in the sandwich so whatever is going to happen ought to have its basis here. This chapter can’t be dealt with sequentially as its various themes are too disordered so I’ll group my thoughts according to what I see as the main problems.


* * *

Whose architecture is it anyway?

I’ve already mentioned how I suspect Chapter 3 was written first and the preceding chapters later. There’s more evidence for this. Chapter 3 deals with questions such as beauty and utility and form vs. function that, like it or not, are a part of “everyday” architectural discourse. Every architect understands them in their own way as they go about their work. The ‘Architecture’ that Chapter 3 talks about, isn’t that different from the what you or I might imagine. This is a lot different from Chapter 1 where it was stated that the only buildings that can be considered Architecture are those informed by a “thorough” program of research and “solid” theory. Nothing else mattered. Nothing pre-Alberti [p82] and nothing of vernacular or conventional buildings with all their embodied intelligence. Nothing of the Gothic even (because nobody wrote about it). This definition occurred early in Chapter 1 as we were still settling into our chairs yet now, in Chapter 3, the ‘Architecture’ that’s being talked about is the one we’re know.

So let’s get this straight. Our architecture has concepts of beauty and utility and our architecture occupies itself with questions of form and function. If the author’s Architecture does not recognise functional or client constraints (except as “irritations” [p193-195]) then why is he discussing them at all?  Having buried these concepts in Chapter 1 as far as his definition of Architecture is concerned, why dig them up in Chapter 3? Using something one doesn’t believe in, to push the case for something one does, seems neither logical nor ethical. In the light of his earlier pronouncements re function is for losers, can one even trust what this person has to say about function and utility? I could be reading too much into this. Maybe the author just got his lecture notes in a muddle. Or simply forgot what he had written earlier. Or is hoping we have.

* * *

All Over The Place

Books are linear things. You start at the front, and the knowledge you pick up along the way builds into a coherent and convincing argument. However, with this one, constant forward references refer you ahead to knowledge to (presumabaly) better understand where you’re up to now. It’s a bit like trying to read Wikipedia by following each link as you come to it. I’ve mentioned this before, but it really starts to grate in the section on Design Decisions.

Architecture is a systematic communication process that communicates about design decisions. [p197]


The preferred medium in which design decisions are exercised and communicated is the medium of the drawing.

The drawing is advanced via a sequence of design decisions.

Design decisions build upon design decisions and require/provoke further design decisions.

THUS at the core of the autopoiesis of architecture we find self-referentially enclosed systems of design decisions prompting and constraining further design decisions. [p200]

Have you got that? By the way, in this post, I’m using magenta to denote sentences with particularly toxic logic. Interestingly,

the code of utility (functional vs. dysfunctional) and the code of beauty (formally resolved vs. formally unresolved)

have suddenly become Truth but footnote 41, p202 refers us forward to Chapter 3.5.2 Utility and Beauty as the Double Code of Architecture. In the same vein,

The progress of architecture proceeds as a procession of styles.

but if we want to find out if this means anything more than

Styles are principled systems of design. They involve both formal and functional design principles. New styles are new systems that re-order the way architecture handles the external societal demands that confront the discipline via the commissions and the briefs posed

then Footnote 43, p203 refers us forward to 3.6 Architectural Styles and 3.7 Styles as Research Programmes. Lastly, this next bit is cute. It’s an insight into the author’s way of writing. Any fact, whether contrary to the thrust of the argument or blindingly obvious, gets pulled into service. [p200] 

Untitled 2

Curiously, footnote 39 refers us forward to 3.9.2 The Difference between Themes and Projects but it’s unclear why we should want to go there at this stage. The difference between this and a dictionary is that with a dictionary you know where you are.

Dragging Everything Into Service

The quote above is also an example of how anything that can possibly be used to bolster the author’s argument, is. I suppose any theory of an Architectural Everything (however restricted that ‘Everything’ may be) should cover what are perceived to be the basics, but has anything actually been explained in that quote?

  1. Design decisions are premises for further design decisions. (Okay, true.)
  2. … self-referentially enclosed systems of design decisions prompting  and constrain further design decisions. (This is another way of saying it)

This is just restating a known fact in authorspeak without justification for linking the two with “Thus at the core of the autopoiesis of architecture….”  There is no logical link between something that is blindingly obvious, and the author’s restatement of it. It’s just word substitution.

Page 201 has a grander example. This time, the author drags (the recursive aspects inherent to) Christopher Alexander’s pattern language into service to bolster his argument, forgetting that he dissed it back on page 81 for relating too much to the intelligence of vernacular architecture and not enough to the kind of architecture he’s promoting.


Maybe one man’s dysfunction is another man’s modernity? It only matters if either of both are making a claim to The Soul of Architecture.

Let’s take a restful green break from Chapter 3 and meditate upon this. I’m happy with a functioning architecture being inherently well-adapted to the ways of an unselfconscious culture. Remember that book “Architecture Without Architects”? It seems a long way away now in time and space. The author’s stance couldn’t be more opposite. Not only is there no architecture without architects, but there is no architecture without Zaha Hadid Architects plus a few selected others. Of these others, the author consistently mentions Greg Lynn’s name as an(other) theory-driven avant-garde trailblazer. To add a bit of sparkle to this post, here’s some of Lynn’s  avant-garde trailblazing jewelry designs for Swarovski. 


But I wonder what this “take-off into modernity” could mean? Is it something we should want? Maybe it is a functioning architecture inherently well adapted to the ways of a selfconsious culture. One would have to go along with that. Whatever the product is that ZHA are delivering, it is well adapted and functioning on some level for the certain kind of selfconscious client that commissions them to produce it. Or the product of BIG. Whatever one may think of them, their product is well adapted and functioning on some level. It is not a product of an unselfconsious culture. If this is what we’ve come to, then we just have to accept it. But we should also ask, what is this “modernity” of which the author speaks? Given his past performance, I’d say he’s using the word as a synonym for “highly-evolved” – the pinnacle of human achievement at any given time, as part of an ongoing quest for perfection. I’m inclined to side with Alexander.

* * *

Contempt for Clients

I should say that nowhere does the author directly say he has contempt for clients, although you could have inferred it from his previously expressed disregard for program and function. This is essentially what’s being said (again) on page 201.

Untitled 2

One side-effect of all this talk of codes and flow of communications is to downplay, if not obscure, which way the money flows.


Untitled 8

Untitled 13

The rest of page 236 expands upon this, or at least uses more words to repeat it. But is it really okay to have such little respect for clients? Is it even professional according to the spirit, if not the letter of the RIBA, or even the ARB, Code of Conduct?

It’s true that all this might not have much bearing upon an architecture well adapted to times of economic boom but recent history (2009) has shown us that as soon as the well-heeled, high-roller clients start to get a bit thin on the ground, the buildings tend to sharpen up quick smart.


* * *

I’ll be interested to see if The Autopoiesis of Architecture will be translated into Chinese.


Or Russian?

russia house

I doubt it for this book is about building a reputation, not a business. It is linked to the getting of clients, but only those rich ones attracted by a reputation for imagery, not theory. To some extent, I can see why the author has such contempt for clients like that but, as we say in English, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you”.

The Lead Distinction 

If anyone has a copy of this book lying around unread, then Chapter 3.4 [p204] is a good place to start. Page 206. I summarise. Luhmann wrote that the great functions systems all have what he terms a “lead distinction”. In the legal system, for example, it is the distinction between norms and facts. In the science system, it is the distinction between theory and evidence. The author proposes that the equivalent lead distinction in architecture is between form and function. OK? Now, in the legal system, norms cannot be deduced from facts. In the science system, theory cannot be deduced from evidence. Therefore, the author (now) says, in architecture, forms cannot be deduced from functions. [page 206]

Untitled 2

Of course, this doesn’t square with all design decisions revolving around whether a certain form can fulfil a certain function, as mentioned above. The author surely can’t be drawing a distinction between architecture and design decisions for that would undermine his thesis. Perhaps, just perhaps, the premise was wrong and form and function are not the lead distinction in architecture? Pre-empting a ruckus, Footnote 51,p207 reminds us that

The lead-distinction concerns the conceptual constellation of form vs. function and thus does not hinge on the utilisation of the terms/words ‘form’ and ‘function’. The distinction within architecture is older than the establishment of this particular pair of terms as its primary verbal vehicle.

Ooo, touchy! It’s not the verbal vehicle I object to, but the driving and where it’s taking us. But meanwhile, in the front seat, there’s a reference to the endless “tug-of-war” between

the twin evils of a one-sided Formalism and a one-sided Functionalism … is itself the clearest evidence for the thesis proposed here that the distinction between form and function is the lead-distinction of architecture/design and thus a fundamental, permanent communication structure of architecture’s autopoiesis.

Now, did we not read that theory cannot be deduced from evidence? Or did that only apply to reasoning within the Science system? Is it possible to use a difference to prove a similarity? All these words, so little sense.

* * *

Form vs. Function

If you are just dipping in and out of this book for the ‘good bits’ then next stop is page 207. 

Untitled 2

Architectural discourse is organized around the lead-distinction of form versus function. [p207]

All design decisions, and only design decisions can be questioned and criticized with respect to their functional and formal consequences. [p208]

Try saying that backwards. The author does.

Form vs. function is the primary distinction of architecture. [p208]

But what follows is important as it at last offers some definitions. Full attention!

If all architectural communications [aka “design decisions”, remember?] have to respond to both concerns of form and concerns of function, it should not surprise that these are very broad general terms: ‘form’ has a wide domain of application; the term might refer to the overall layout (‘parti’) of a building, to its three-dimensional massing, to its stylistic articulation and manner of decoration, to a particular motif or to its overall expressive character etc. The term ‘function’ is equally wide and refers to the broad assignment of programmatic categories, to schedules of accommodation, accounts of the activities and the communication processes to be accommodated (for example, in terms of the need for separation/connection etc.), and finally performance specifications for the material building components.

And tellingly,

The term has also come to include the orienting and representational functions of architecture. 

I guess we have post-modernism to thank for that.

Thus, the total domain of architecture – the totality of its issues – is dissected by the distinction of form and function. All architectural aspects of a space or building refer either to a functional or a formal aspect of the space or building. The whole building has both a function and a form, and so has each space and each architectural component.

It’s easy to read one’s own meanings into these fairly large statements and mistakenly think one’s on the same wavelength as the author and that this book is actually talking to you. My biggest problem with all this form vs. function stuff is that I don’t believe the author believes it. I can’t reconcile any of these form vs. function statements with the buildings produced by the practice where his own functional differentiality is that of academic legitimiser. I’ll have more to say about this further on. In the meantime …

The idea that form and function are among the foundational concepts of architecture is hardly original.

dum de dum …

the form-function distinction is the constitutive, defining distinction of the discipline, in the sense that this distinction concerns all the design communications and only the design communications

la di da …

There can be no full-blown theory of architecture that refuses to address the question of how the promoted forms promote functions. [p204]

eh? Did you see what happened there? The problem is not what function can do for form but what form can do for function. This seems to be the popular judgment of the buildings produced by the functionally-differentiated practice the author is associated with. Two pages later however, the author is talking about our architecture again, holding up a mirror up to the reader’s expectations.


hmmm … Something’s gotten rotten. If all design decisions are architectural communications and if all architectural communications revolve around whether a certain form can fulfil a certain function, then all design decisions must revolve around whether a certain form can fulfil a certain function. Really? (Did no-one edit this book?)

Any pure theory of architectural form can only be considered a partial theory without the power to establish and defend a new style.

This is simply a statement. It’s impossible to even try to extract meaning from it without having to argue every word, possibly including ‘a’ and ‘the’.

 * * *

Self-Reference and World-Reference

This is kind of cute. The following diagram mercifully explains the analogy in a few words.


The idea of function is actually a crucial part of the author’s analogy. What was it again?

The term ‘function’ is equally wide and refers to the broad assignment of programmatic categories, to schedules of accommodation, accounts of the activities and the communication processes to be accommodated (for example, in terms of the need for separation/connection etc.), and finally performance specifications for the material building components.

Now let’s assume this is what it means to the author for, if we don’t, we can’t really proceed – although I don’t think we are talking about performance specifications for material building components here. Rather, when the author conclude that Architecture forms functions in the same way that Science theorises about evidence and the Economy prices values and Art renders subject matter, he seems to be talking about functions as a spatial program – something he has previously denied. What’s wrong with that? Well, suppose that architecture “forms” functions and suppose that a function is a performance specification for a material building component. We can’t say that architecture gives form to a performance specification for a material building component. The performance specification for a material building component does not require form to express it.


OK? Now consider this. Some president of some country with a name ending in “-stan” wants a building that conveys the image of “culture”, “modernity” and “prestige” that he wishes to be associated with himself and his country. This is the true function of the building. Its spatial program is irrelevant. The performance specifications of its materials building components are irrelevant. The enabled activities and the accommodated communication processes are irrelevant. However, architecture can come to the fore and give form to the true function of this building. As a word and as a concept, “function” is notoriously slippery. With high-end architecture, I just assume the primary function is “to articulate the possession of power, wealth and property”. Just to be on the safe side. So yes, in that sense, architecture forms functions (and spatial programs are for losers).

* * *

In the table, the qualifier “before 1900” has been added because modern art doesn’t actually need subject matter (a world reference). Previously, the author had gently chided Luhmann for thinking that architecture was a part of the Art system.  In its contempt for functional niceties, I’d say that Luhmann was right and that a certain type of architecture IS a part of the Art system. Or tries to be. In fairness, the author says as much.

Untitled 3

And has some damning things to say about its viability. But in that list above there is also mass media. Does Mass Media really report events? Isn’t it all just entertainment – even the news? This part of the book might have been a good place to talk about Architecture as infotainment.

The Poverty of The Language Used to Describe Architecture 

Untitled 4

I couldn’t agree more! It is a problem. But a larger part of that problem is the elitist nature of those communications.

Untitled 9

And the desire to keep those communications elitist. An enriched language for the creative advancement of form-function relationships is not going to do anybody much good if its use is limited to those permitted to participate in exclusive architectural discourse. 

Untitled 7

One gets the feeling that any enriched language that might be forthcoming, is not going to be an egalitarian one. Or maybe we’re expected to bemoan the lack of this language now so we can applaud its arrival later in Vol.2? Just a thought.

* * *

Novelty as an Essential Quality

The lengthy discussion on novelty made me think back to architecture as media event, entertainment, infortainment and news. We really need to talk about this.

Untitled 10

The author’s stance is that only starchitects can do novelty. They have a duty, a social oblication to keep coming up with the new goods, regardless of who the client is.

Untitled 11

Novelty has been around since 1960 the author states without much pause for reflecting upon whether the pursuit of novelty alone is a good thing for architecture – or for anyone really.

Untitled 12Also note that this idea of novelty has been conflated with the idea of innovation and the idea of evolution as if novelty is a force for the good. This conflation relies on the popular use of the term “evolution”. Going back to basic Darwin, random genetic mutations can prove beneficial for the adaption and subsequent survival of a species in a changing environment. For a species, there is no ultimate goal other than a never-ending process of adapting to survive. Not unlike some architects, really. Frank Lloyd Weight’s career can be viewed in terms of continual mutation and adaption in order to remain relevant. He remained relevant, the buildings less so.

* * *


irritation: something that attempts to draw your attention towards a problem that needs solving but, unless you can see something in it for you, you ignore it

verbal vehicle: the words used to express a meaning, aka “words”

abstraction and openness: Bugger it! Like the author, we have bigger fish to fry for, on the next page, is 3.6 Architectural Styles. and that’s really what the author wants to talk about. Meet you there next time!

Architecture Myths #7: Purity of Form

1976 was quite a year for houses in Japan. There was Toyo Ito’s White U which we’ve already seen. There was Kazuo Shinohara’s House in Uehara – a steady favourite of mine, for reasons I may one day post.

House in Uehara And there was Tadao Ando’s Sumiyoshi HouseThis next photo was quite popular at the time, although the purpose of those two boxes either side of the light well over the entrance remains a mystery to this day.

485f2ad68aeebe915ed49c499812d6bcb11f3898_m This black and white photo seemed to convey the required association with tradition more than the colour ones of the time did.

Azuma house 住吉 Tadao Ando 安藤忠雄 2 Of course, the area has changed a lot since 1976.

azuma-1 Streetmap tells us it looks like this in 2013.

streetview 1 sumiyoshi 2 That makes this next photograph all the more remarkable. (How did they do that?) Note the 50cm side boundary setback, the meter box.

6152852388_de08e363c6_b Here’s the location map on greatbuildings.com or, if you prefer, 34°36’37.93″N 135°29’32.39″E. It gets you to here. The name on the pin (Azuma-tei) translates as Azuma Residence – which what the house is known as in Japanese.

sumiyoshi house Zooming in now, have a look at the south-east corner (at the bottom right).

closeupOr, on GoogleMaps.


Yes, the Sumiyoshi House is not the shape we always thought it was. Never was, never has been. GoogleEarth service began 2005.



The reason for this missing corner could be the gas-fired boiler for the bath. When space is in such short supply, it’s a major decision to not gain that extra 8 cubic metres or an additional 5% of the total internal floor area. I suspect there’s a regulation for boiler venting at work. In 1980 in Tokyo, I lived in a ground-floor apartment with a similar heater inside the bathroom (but with an external flue) so there might have been some sudden – very sudden – tightening of regulations for the location of such boilers in new-build properties.

Or perhaps the land was never rectangular to start with? This might explain why the upper floor bedroom isn’t cantilevered over the boiler which does, after all, have a concrete roof directly above it anyway. In this next image, there slight kink in the concrete fence means it might be a minimum setback issue.


Or perhaps there was a covenant attached to the land, only discovered at the last minute? It’s been known to happen. Japan, like Britain still has many vestiges of a feudal system of land ownership.

Or perhaps the builders just read the drawing incorrectly and everyone decided to keep quiet about it. You know, like this.


More likely, someone thought “Who’ll ever care? It’s only a boiler! What’s that got to do with architecture?”

This next drawing is the closest to a construction drawing I’ve been able to find. (Thanks ideamsg.

row-house-in-sumiyoshi-7The much-publicised perspective cutaway section shows a complete rectangle. The plan for both levels shows a complete rectangle. The plan shows the boiler as internal, but at least it’s shown. This either implies a last-minute understanding of the regulations, a last-minute change to them, or an unsuccessful appeal if both. The rear bedroom is also rectangular. For the first time we learn that we can access the roof via that rear skylight. Behind/above the beds in the other bedroom are wardrobes – imagine! I feel really sorry for all those students who made physical models or CAD models of this house as part of their architecture course. There are some fine renders and models out there, all wrong.


This incorrect model found it’s way to the 2014 Venice Bienalle.


And I feel sorry for all those people who have redrawn those plans incorrectly for various publications. Forgive me for asking, but from where does misinformation like this spread?

602445_428065923920897_1019664922_n Azumahouse-drawing And I feel a bit sorry for the rest of us too having, since 1976, been led to believe this house was somehow purer than it really is. Part of the myth surrounding certain architects relies upon them being thought of as more exacting, more singleminded in their pursuit of some sort of purity of expression or form. Misguided though that belief may be, it was nice to believe in it and, regardless of Ando’s later work, it was nice to believe in this house. Because of this house, adjectives such as “strong”, “uncompromising” and “pure” became part of the myth of Ando. This doesn’t excuse the conscious deceit and the misconceptions the plans and elevations continue to propagate. Personally, I believe it’s better to know the facts than believe something that’s not true. Some people will want to continue believing the myth of purity, saying that it doesn’t matter since what the house represents is more important than what it is. For them, the fact that the plans don’t represent the reality IS PROOF OF THAT, despite the evidence suggesting a clumsy compromise resulting from a legal oversight.  It looks like Ando got away with it.

建築データ 住吉の長屋(東邸) 所在地/住所 大阪府大阪市住吉区 設計 安藤忠雄/貴志雅樹(安藤忠雄建築研究所) 設計期間 1975年1月-1975年8月 工事期間 1975年10月-1976年2月 – four month construction period! 施工 まこと建設(大阪市西区) 構造設計 アスコラル構造研究所 面積 敷地面積:57.3㎡ – site area 建築面積:33.7㎡ – building area 延床面積:64.7㎡(1階33.70㎡ 2階31.0㎡) – total floor area (I wonder what accounts for the upper floor area being 2.6m2 smaller than the lower?) 高さ/階高 5,800mm/2,250mm – this second value is hopefully floor-to-floor height 建物間口 3,450mm – building width 建物奥行き 14,250mm – building depth 規模/構造 地上2階/RC造 – 2 floors; above ground, reinforced concrete 備考 第31回日本建築学会賞(作品賞)受賞[1979年]



By way of postscript, http://yongoichi.exblog.jp/i4/ tells us that we can find the above image in this book. I doubt you’ll find it elsewhere.


Cultural Kowtow

The header painting, The Power of Blue, by the Russian artist George Pusenkoff caused a bit of a stir in 1995. It evokes a notion of Kazimir Malevich’s Red Square (less popularly known as Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions) from 1915, and it also evokes a bit more than a notion of Helmut Newton’s Miss Livingston I from 1981. Accordingly, Pusenkoff ran afoul of Helmut Newton’s legal team for the unauthorised use of a copyrighted image. In the ensuing brouhaha, the painting’s owner – another Russian – said he bought the painting because of the yellow square.


I only mention this to illustrate the fact that different things mean different things to different people. It’s called subjectivism, and it’s okay. There are arguments, such as this one for example, against beauty being totally subjective but, on the other hand, nobody these days believes that beauty exists inside something, like a spirit in a rock, after having been put there by an artist so that someone like a clever critic can identify it and tell us all about it.

One of the uglier sides of Post Modernism was the practice, trumpeted by Charles Jencks, of double-coding in which two supposedly fixed meanings were ’embedded’ and supposedly targeted at supposedly different populations. Aesthetic apartheid, if you will – one objective meaning for the smug cognoscenti and that was unintelligble to the hoi-polloi, and another popular or ironic (‘ironic’?) meaning for the masses. CJ thought this kind of cool. He was wrong to assume the meanings were fixed and their message controllable. But mostly they were.


Now that everyone’s supposed to be a critic, the way forward has been for buildings to come with press kits telling financiers, planners, judges, press and public what they represent. People are denied the opportunity to contemplate, say, Libeskind’s Imperial War Museum North and conclude that its three bits perhaps represent the air, land and sea theatres of war – or possibly even a world shattered by war. Whatever. If a building can’t resonate quietly, it’s merely soundbite symbolism.


A viewer may well conclude that the building has undergone some sort of design trauma but, in the absence of coercion, what that represents is, quite literally, anyone’s guess. Subjective pluralism may trump single-coded or doubly-coded objective fascism but, in general, a building will most likely evoke similar ideas in people sharing similar cultures and levels of education. This is subjective pluralism, but at the level of cultures and it gives us phenomena like Taipei 101.


Wikipedia has several paragraphs on the symbolism of this building, most of which will be lost on Western viewers and (in the modern spirit of cultural imperialism) thought a bit naff.

  • The building is a world center where earth and sky meet and the four compass directions join. Wikipedia rightly demands a citation for this. I second that.
  • The height of 101 floors commemorates the renewal of time: the new century that arrived as the tower was built (100+1) and all the new years that follow (January 1 = 1-01)
  • It symbolizes high ideals by going one better on 100, a traditional number of perfection. The number also evokes the binary numeral system used in digital technology.[12]
  • The main tower features a series of eight segments of eight floors each.
  • In Chinese-speaking cultures the number eight is associated with abundance, prosperity and good fortune. In cultures that observe a seven-day week the number eight symbolizes a renewal of time (7+1).
  • In digital technology the number eight is associated with the byte, being 8 bits. A bit is the basic (minimal) unit of information.
  • The repeated segments simultaneously recall the rhythms of an Asian pagoda (a tower linking earth and sky, also evoked in the Petronas Towers), a stalk of bamboo (an icon of learning and growth), and a stack of ancient Chinese ingots or money boxes (a symbol of abundance).
  • The four discs mounted on each face of the building where the pedestal meets the tower represent coins.
  • The emblem placed over entrances shows three gold coins of ancient design with central holes shaped to imply the Arabic numerals 1-0-1.[12]
  • The design has also been likened to a stack of oyster pails, the take-out boxes used forWestern-style Chinese food.
  • Ruyi (a ceremonial sceptre in Chinese Buddhism or a talisman symbolizing power and good fortune in Chinese folklore) over the entrance and throughout the structure as a design motif.
  • At night the bright yellow gleam from its pinnacle casts Taipei 101 in the role of a candle or torch upholding the ideals of liberty and welcome. From 6:00 to 10:00 each evening the tower’s lights display one of seven colours in the spectrum. The colors coincide with the days of the week.

Thanks Wikipedia – good job! It’s a wonder the building stands up at all, what with the weight of all that symbolism. Nevertheless, for a building that was the world’s tallest building between 2004 and 2010 nobody much cared about it outside Taiwan. Chinese and Chinese clients like their symbolism literal but the most the English-speaking press could comprehend/stomach was the bit about the bamboo evoking notions of strength and resilience. In fairness, these are good qualities for a tall building to have. When the Arabs had all the money we had buildings like Foster + Partners shameless gold sand dune UAE pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 expo. It will live on in F+P’s website with photographs such as this to tell rich Arab clients that they can speak their language. Is it good architecture? Does anyone know anymore?


When it looked like the Russians had all the money, F+P produced this beaut in 2008


This text comes from here (and, it seems, with no sense of irony!)

The 80,000sq m scheme for a contemporary art museum with commercial elements and housing is for development firm Inteco, which is owned by the wife of the city’s mayor.

The project is influenced by natural structures including that of the orange, a historic symbol of opulence in Russia.

The circular plan, with five segments rising to 15 storeys, is designed to protect against the cold winter climate while allowing light deep into the building through glazed slots in the elevation.

The orange concept, like Taipei 101’s mixed bag of symbolism, doesn’t really travel well. Best to keep it simple and universal like Zaha Hadid Architects.


The Guangzhou Music Hall represents, apparently, “two pebbles alongside a river”. Thinking of their rich tradition of art, the Chinese will feel special


but most people in most other countries will also have some sort of notion of rivers and pebbles. Here’s a stock photo of some pebbles alongside a river in some country that is not China.


Over in Japan, Toyo Ito is also keeping it simple. Here’s his Tod’s building. It’s a tree and they have trees in Japan. The rest of the world gets it, and doesn’t hate this building. 


No one trick pony, here’s Ito’s Ginza Mikimoto building. It’s kind of girly and pearly for the people who matter but, over here, we get a feeling of an oeuvre happening and we like that.


Here’s his Kaohsiung Stadium. In China, it’s known as the “dragon stadium”.

2927264214_52c88c187d_b In the English-speaking press (http://www.treehugger.com/about-treehugger/the-greenest-coolest-stadium-toyo-ito-on-his-sun-powered-stunner.html), it’s found fame and him fortune as the “solar stadium”. Resistant to the virtues of its dragon symbolism, we get given photographs like this.


And some scaly/solar shots like this. The guy’s good. Working it.


Where will it all end? It won’t. We now have double coding on the global cultural level. One meaning for the Western capitalist consumers of architectural imagery and another meaning for the Eastern capitalist clients. This is the legacy of Post Modernism. After all these years, it’s still being digested like the sheep swallowed by the snake, distorting everything until it turns to shit in the end.

the separation of form (the mediagenic bits of the building) from function (the other bits)

We’ve already witnessed the separation of form (the mediagenic bits of a building) from function (all the other bits). This phenomena of cultural kow-tow might one day become sanitised by some name such as cultural pluralism but it’s really just a new mutant hybrid of ‘following the money’ and ‘milking it both ways’.