Tag Archives: architecture as the articulation of money or property or power


Beaches, ponds and zero-entry swimming pools are all bodies of water without inconvenient level differences at their edges. Zero-entry swimming pools are sometimes called “beach-entry” pools.

When we arrive at a crowded beach, we begin to look for a spot long before we reach the water, especially if the beach is accessed by stairs or ramps leading down from a seawall or dunes. As we progress towards the water, we weigh alternatives and keep altering our route until we settle upon a spot. It’s usually not too close to other people and most likely to be as close to the water as possible and with a direct view of it.

People sometimes need to get to rivers for different reasons but rivers often run through built-up areas without the land for zero-entry. Parts of the The Ganges have stepped banks called ghat that allow people to access the river and bathe in the holy waters whatever the water level. As with a beach, people can begin to look for a suitable spot while coming down the stairs but the situation is more critical because bathing requires an empty spot at the waterline.

Underground water is generally further down and there is less space to access it whether to bathe in it or to fetch it for cooking and drinking. Stepwells are basically holes in the ground accessed by steps. A temple pond is used for ritual bathing and can be a well or a cistern filled by aqueducts. Either way, the problem is one of accessing the waterline. If space is unlimited and the water not that far down, the easiest way is to create a ghat on all four sides as a kind of inverted stepped pyramid void. This creates an infinite number of possible routes to whatever length of waterline there is.

Stepwell at Bhoga Nandeeshwara Temple, Chikkaballapur, Karnataka, India. circa. 810 [by Bikashrd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51371474]

This stepwell has irregular steps around three sides and an access ramp on the fourth. The maximum length of waterline can be accessed as if it were a river. There’s no need for a complex solution if a simple one will do.

Stepwell serving Nahargarh Fort (circa 1730), Rajasthan, India

This next temple pond has only the one access. Its steep sides are stepped for structural reasons rather than access. I say this because what look like paths along the sides will not always be a convenient height relative to the water and there’s no reason people should choose them if they have to access them from the main steps. And even if they did, they could only ever be used by one person at a time as they’re too narrow for people to pass each other, and they can’t step up or down as with the stepwell above.

Stepwell at Mahadeva Temple, Itigi, Karnataka, India, circa 1112

This next stepwell is the same typology and has the same limitations. Stepping the walls helps prevent them from buckling. After all, wells are built to access water that’s close to the surface because of sandy soil or soft rock and, wells being wells, both sides of their walls are subject to hydrological pressure. That so many stepwells survive is testimony to their builders’ understanding of hydrology and soil engineering.

Stepwell in Prakasam, Andhra Pradesh, India, circa. 1700

This next temple pond has gentle steps at one end, and sides that offer multiple but vastly less convenient positions. The main staircase is a miniature ghat that allows the water to be accessed. The side flights of steps may be ornamental but offer some structural advantage in addition to a backup functional one. People aren’t keen to use them.

This is the Adalaj Stepwell in the village of Adalaj, close to Ahmedabad city in the Indian state of Gujarat. It’s five storeys deep with stairs leading down to the water. It’s accessed by a single flight of steps and its galleries provide places for people to meet and appreciate the lower temperature. Circa 1490.

This next temple pond at Hampi Pushkarini, Hampi, Karnataka, India is a reconstruction from fragments, possibly circa 1200. It’s not particularly deep and this configuration gets people to the waterline in as little area as possible. It also allows them to plan their route so they arrive at an unoccupied position or, if they feel like a chat, to make their way to or near to an occupied position. Either way, a person can easily change their route should a better position become or look like becoming available. It’s an inverted pyramid void and steps of unequal treads create landings and three-sided flights that encourage movement around the well rather than movement forward and down.

This temple pond is a variation.

Temple pond at The Sun Temple, Modhera, 1026

A thousand years ago it was already understood how to integrate structure and function in a way that was ornamental only incidentally. A stepwell such as this next one offers maximum alternatives but for only three sides. The flights function as buttresses and as access, and their regularity and symmetry enhances both. This one is from the sixteenth century.

Stepwell at Panna Meena ka Kund, Amer, India

This next is another example of a three-sided stepwell. I don’t know when from. From this angle it’s somewhat terrifying but it illustrates all the principles.

Nagar Kund Baori, Bundi, Rajasthan, India

This next stepwell, Chand Bouri, dates from the 18th century but some parts are as old as the 8th. It’s another three-sided stepwell and a steep one. It wouldn’t be necessary to have so many stairs in such a confined space if the water weren’t so far down and there was more space to reach it.

Stepwell of Chand Baori, Jaipur, Rajasthan

More extreme solutions are called for when the water is lower down and there’s less space to access it. This one at Champaner in Gujarat, India has a 1.2m-wide staircase spiralling down the wall. It’s from the 16th century but is still the same typology as the ones above.

•  •  • 

These days, we’re only grateful for stairs when there’s a fire or emergency or the elevators aren’t working. We design buildings and other structures in which stairs aren’t even a design element. This footbridge has elevators that are part of the design and stairs that aren’t.

In these next images, stairs are design objects whose only function is to be design objects. And what would be the function of a design object?

The designer of The Vessel is reported as having visited Chand Bouri stepwell and saying he noticed people observing each other, but doesn’t seem to have bothered asking why that might be. The problem he corrected was insufficient objectless due to there not being stairs on all sides. The other problem he corrected was not being able to see the stairs from both sides. (The ones at Chand Bouri are only visible from the inside, having to hold the soil back as they do.) From this I conclude that contemporary design culture still takes its cues from function, but the game is now to see who can trivialize and diminish it in our eyes the most.

Corporate-funded art is corporate-approved art. Its triviality is not benign. The postmodern juggernaut rolls on, continuing Venturi’s and Jencks’ groundbreaking work in de-meaning meaning.

A December 23 report on Architect states that The Vessel will become ADA compliant with the fitting of a “one of a kind platform lift mechanism on the upper levels … to increase the Vessel’s accessibility for individuals with disabilities [. …] The platform will ensure that people with disabilities can move around the upper level perimeter of the Vessel in order to enjoy the Vessel’s 360-degree views over Hudson Yards, the Hudson River, and New Jersey.”  A single elevator and a set of inclined platform lifts on the uppermost level is going to be all it takes to make the structure ADA compliant but, to do this, the essential experience of the structure has had to be defined as accessing and enjoying those 360° views. The function of a stepwell is to allow people to access water and the essential experience is to allow them to do that without unnecessary delay. Accessing a view is not the same. For one, there’s no urgency. Granted, the view may be unique but every point on the planet has a unique 360° view. The view accessed from the particular set of viewpoints called The Vessel is special only because it can be accessed by a multitude of staircase and route options that allow people to a) enjoy arriving at some arbitrary position on the uppermost level b) if they wish, and c) for whatever reason. The essential experience of the design remains inaccessible to persons with disabilities and, even if every set of steps were equipped with an inclined platform lift, it still would be as it wouldn’t be much fun.

The Chand Bouri stepwell is known for its size, its depth, its geometry and its repetition. This next still from a 2006 movie, The Fall, highlights all these features. It illustrates part of a dark story told by a man in hospital, newly paralyzed because of the eponymous fall.



Luxury motor launches (aka. motor “yachts”) are a new, rich and utterly predictable field of architect endeavour. Once again, Philippe Starck was there first. Honestly, the guy’s a genius. Here’s his M/Y “A” (Motor Yacht “A”).


M/Y “A” is a luxury motor yacht designed by Philippe Starck and Martin Francis,[6][7][8] and constructed by Blohm + Voss at the HDW shipyard in Kiel, Germany.[5][9] It was commissioned in November 2004, and delivered in 2008 at a rumoured cost of US$300 million.[10][11] With a length of 119 metres (390 ft) and displacing almost 6,000 tonnes, it is one of the largest motor yachts in the world.[9][12]



“I have to say I was impressed. It’s a very exciting boat to watch. It’s simply unlike anything that’s ever been done before.”

Jonathan Beckett, chief executive, Burgess yacht brokers [check them out!]


Never seen that before but blue LEDs are so 2005.

“…the most extraordinary yacht launched in recent memory. It is stunning.”

David Pelly of Boat International

A 1

“even more desirable than its larger sisters by virtue of lines reminiscent of a nuclear submarine”

Nazanin Lankarini, New York Times2011

Comparisons were made with the Zumwalt-class destroyer.


Others just called it

“bold and eccentric”

The Superyachts, 2011

Opinions were divided, and not just on the aesthetics of it.

sigma starck

“I’m all for innovation—as I’ve said before, the rich are free to spend their money as they like, including by building ugly boats that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But seeing pictures of Sigma [“A”‘s other name] almost makes Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon look like an act of restraint and good taste. Now that’s a nautical achievement.”

Robert Frank, The Wall Street Journal, January 23, 2008.

[FYI, here’s Tom Perkins’ Maltese Falcon

“overall it doesn’t float my boat (sorry, kids, couldn’t resist), but I do quite like the inverted bow design”

Power & Motoryacht magazine columnist Diane Byrne

“[A] …is aggressive, like a giant finger pointing at you. It seems to have nothing to do with the whole idea of yachting, which is about cruising around at a leisurely pace, and enjoying your friends and the sea”

Donald Starkey, British yacht designer

“one of the most hideous vessels ever to sail the seas”

Maritime commentator Peter Mello

“one of the ghastliest megayachts ever created” and “more like a cruiser for Darth Vader‘s navy than a family pleasure boat for the Mediterranean” (January 2008)

“I’ve gained a bit more respect for it. Technically, it’s impressive: Because of its ‘ax-bow’, the boat barely makes a splash in the front when it’s speeding along at 24 knots. And it’s different in a way few yachts are… So even though I still think it’s a monster, A gets a tip of the hat for taking a risk and being different”. (July 2008)

Robert Frank, Wall Street Journal

Next up, in our consciousness, was Foster+Partners’ 2009 Ocean Emerald which was one of four boats for rental. (I think it’s called charter when you rent the captain as well.) Here’s Ocean Emerald with the great man himself.


Here’s some more and better images.

At the time, it was mentioned that the design of Ocean Emerald resembled the design of a 1951 motor launch, Scherezade. This comment was dutifully noted and respectfully buried.

great minds
yacht design database

Here’s three of Foster’s boats (Ocean Emerald, Ocean Sapphire, Ocean Pearl, etc.) off-duty in Monaco.


Post 2009 has been a magical period of anything-goes motor yacht design. This is what a Post-Modern motor yacht looks like.


Alternatively, if you want to send a clear and irony-free message to pesky pirates then this muscular bad boy is what you need.


Back in Dezeen-land, next up in October 2012 was this baby – Venus by (hello again!) Phillipe Starck, for the late Steve Jobs.


The yacht was impounded on 21 December 2012 at the Port of Amsterdam following a dispute over payment. The designer, Philippe Starck, claims that Jobs’ heirs owe him €3 million of his €9 million fee for the project.[5]

The yacht was freed from its Amsterdam dock on 24 December 2012 after his estate paid off the last of its bills.[6]

Last to the party, whether fashionably or embarassingly so, is ZHA with its five different contributions to global madness. What we see next is


The point of departure for developing a unique circle of five exclusive 90m yacht designs

Asymmetry is suddenly a bold new design statement.

Zha, Jazz

Costs aren’t announced and interiors are to be designed to suit intended purchasers. It’s all no-risk publicity for the price of a few renders to test the water. One of Five is the 90-metre Jazz genetically linked, no less, to the mothership yet suddenly symmetrical all the same.

zaha hadid jazz

Let’s have some perspective here.

Sigma (M/Y “A”): US$300 mil.
Ocean Emerald: US$10 mil.
Venus: US$100 mil.
ZHA yacht range: TBA

This next is the largest yacht in the world, the Azzam, probably designed and built for Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi.


His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. He is one of the world’s wealthiest monarchs, with a net worth of USD 15 billion. At an estimated cost of $605 mil., Azzam is 17.3m longer and more than twice as expensive as the world’s second largest motor yacht, the Eclipse (owned by Roman Abramovich).

With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches. Adam Smith

Thus, a $650 mil. boat has to look like a $650 mil. boat. ZHA don’t have a track record of creating the simply communicable value that high net-worth individuals prefer. Hence Round Two: the downmarket 2012 Z-boat ($457,000).


The asymmetrical design is sculptural in appearance while practically affording more seating accommodations. In a sense, the bespoke boat is as much a work of art as a Cisitalia sports car in the permanent collection of the museum of modern art in New York.

The idea is to think of vessels and vehicles as highly individualistic expressions of art, architecture and design reflecting the edge of what is possible using the most advanced means, including materials, software systems and methods of fabrication.

Design statement from Zaha Hadid Architects

[FYI: a Cisitalia cisitalia ]

In 2006 ZHA announced the Z-car, but the plans stalled and the plans never actually made it into production. Now here’s a strange turn of phrase. It seems to mean the project lost momentum until we read it was the plans that never made it into production. I suspect the client hated the design and decided the easiest way to kill the project was to cry financial circumstances. Suicide for ZHA’s PR to say that outright.

Image converted using ifftoany

Philippe Stark has had better luck with his Volteis.


He seems to know when not to design and that’s a valuable skill.



Architectural Myths #12: The Daring Cantilever

Cantilevers have little practical use apart from facilitating the construction of bridges.

sydney harbour bridge under construction

or allowing a bit more floor space past the last row of columns.


As a general rule, it’s easier and less expensive to use columns to support a structure rather than cantilever it over nothing like, for example, this.


With cantilevers, we notice there aren’t any columns. How much we notice that absence depends upon how much simpler and easier it would have been to use them. This is the beautiful and powerful simplicity of the cantilever.

Cantilevers are the original “look at me!” architecture.

Their apparent independence of gravity makes them thrilling to look at but, as it happens, also makes them an effective indicator of not having to do things the simplest and most inexpensive way. Cantilevers are a highly visible way of sucking up excess money. In other words, they are beautiful.

We’re seeing a lot more cantilevers these days. Their visual thrill photographs well and is just what the age of internet architecture wants, but let’s come back to that after a brief (visual) history of cantelevers.

1890: The Forth Bridge
1890: The Forth Bridge (I love these guys – they’re internet naturals!)
1910: The roof of the Robie House
1910: The roof of the Robie House
1923: El Lissitzky's Wolkenbuegel (Cloud Iron)
1923: El Lissitzky’s Wolkenbuegel (Cloud Iron)

This recent building – The Eaton Residence by E Cobb Architects – has more than a touch of Wolkenbugel about it (in a nice way).

eaton residence e cobb architects

The cantilever gained some artistic cred at the Bauhaus thanks to Lazlo Moholy-Nagy (or possibly Albers – it matters little which). One of them correctly noted that materials were more visually exciting when their physical properties were pushed to almost the point of failure.

1923: Photograph of a study in balance

Ever since, cantilevers have been seen as daring and a sign of wild unconventionality, of a distaste for doing things the easy, simple and inexpensive way. This has its price, and flaunting that price is of course the point of the modern cantilever.

1937: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater – “Uncomfortable with what he saw as Wright’s insufficient experience using reinforced concrete, Kaufmann had the architect’s daring cantilever design reviewed by a firm of consulting engineers. Upon receiving their report, Wright took offense and immediately requested Kaufmann to return his drawings and indicated he was withdrawing from the project. Kaufmann relented to Wright’s gambit and the engineer’s report was subsequently buried within a stone wall of the house.
“For the cantilevered floors, Wright and his team used upside down T-shaped beams integrated into a monolithic concrete slab which both formed the ceiling of the space below and provided resistance against compression. The contractor, Walter Hall, also an engineer, produced independent computations and argued for increasing the reinforcing steel in the first floor’s slab. Wright refused the suggestion. While some sources state that it was the contractor who quietly doubled the amount of reinforcement, according to others, it was at Kaufmann’s request that his consulting engineers redrew Wright’s reinforcing drawings and doubled the amount of steel specified by Wright.” (W)

Moholy-Nagy was right about the materials failure thing.

1937: Guiseppe Pettazzi's Fiat Tagliero in Eritrea
1937: Guiseppe Pettazzi’s Fiat Tagliero in Eritrea – The tower supports a pair of 15m cantilevered wings, which are built in reinforced concrete and are structurally unsupported. Although this was Petazzi’s original design, local authorities at the time insisted that each wing should be supported by pillars. This was believed to be a local myth, until proved when the original plans were found in 2001. Another urban legend states that Pettazzi settled the argument by holding a revolver to the main builder’s head, threatened to kill him if they did not remove the supports. In the end the supports were removed and the wings held, just as they do today. (W)

Here’s a wild one by Sergio Bernardes – that other Brazilian architect.

1970: Sergio Bernardes' Palácio da Abolição, Ceará, Brazil
1970: Sergio Bernardes’ Palácio da Abolição, Ceará, Brazil

The Palácio da Abolição ushers in the era of the contemporary cantilever where we notice the absence of columns more because there’s no apparent reason for the columns to be absent in the first place. Don’t be fooled by the pool – I don’t think it’s that deep.

1997: MVRDV's Wozoco Housing
1997: MVRDV’s Wozoco Housing  – The story goes that municipality regulations dictated the height and the footprint. If the municipality allowed a building owner to circumvent their regulations so easily and maximise floor area, then it’s a very different municipality from any I’ve ever had dealings with.
1999: Jean Nouvel’s Lucerne Cultural Centre doesn’t count – it’s only a roof.
2000: MVRDV's balancing barn
2010: The very same MVRDV’s vile balancing barn
shenzen stock exchange
2013: OMA’s heavyhanded Shenzen Stock Exchange – doing the criss-crossy thing again

This next cantilever though, is the essence of cheeky contemporary cantilevery. We have Eduardo Souto de Moura to thank – you’ll remember of course that he won the 2011 Pritzker Prize. And not for nothing he did! By creating something so expensively pointless and pointlessly expensive, he’s communicating with the very soul of architecture. Look and learn my friends!


The flaunting of money has never looked so humble – a true master. This is not a shed.

Souto Moura Valença (2)

* * * 

Here’s some out-takes that didn’t make the final edit.


The Maximum Dwelling: RESPECT

The Maximum Dwelling showed some of the ways newly rich Victorian-era industrialists and entrepreneurs spent their new money on building supersized houses to announce their arrival in society.

No surprise there. Architecture is often how rich people do this. The world’s moved on though. Today, big and expensive buildings are how newly-rich countries present themselves to global society. It’s obvious these people and countries have money, but do they have ‘taste’? The mere display of enormous amounts of money was and still is regarded as ‘vulgar’.

(This attitude is nothing new. It pervades much of whatever conventional architectural criticism there is left in the world. Old city good, new city bad, etc. This is not a useful attitude, given that the world’s supply of charming old cities is limited. Most of the world’s population is going to have no choice but to live in ‘ghastly’ new ones. Fact.)

These newly rich Victorians didn’t want to be seen as newcomers to society but as long-standing members of it – of having had land and money for much longer than was actually the case. This, and the RESPECT that supposedly came with it could not be bought. Instead, they had their houses create the impression of them having been with land for longer. Architects, of course, stepped up to the plate.

Fake pedigree: George Devey was the master of a technique whereby a house was organised into different wings to give the impression the house at that point in time was the result of a series of additions and extensions over decades, if not centuries. Here’s his Betteshanger, built around 1861.

George Devey – Betteshanger

He provided the house with a complete and entirely bogus pedigree which ran somewhat as follows. All that remained of the medieval house was a curious old tower, which had been re-windowed and repaired with different materials over the centuries.

Untitlbetteshanger detail 1
“A low rambling wing had been added in Elizabethan times, entered by a quaint Renaissance porch with a carved oriel window over its archway.”
UntUntitlbetteshanger detail 12jpg
“A grander rebuilding or additions of a bout 1630 produced a bay-windowed block of higher rooms with the shaped Flemish gables typical of the neighbourhood: it was built of brick, with panels and diapers of flint here and there; a new window in the side of the porch, with a gable above it, introduced a patch of brickwork into the stone and flint of the original structure. Early in the eighteenth century a wrought iron balustrade had been placed across the arch of the porch, and a Georgian wooden staircase inserted in the middle of the Jacobean state rooms.”

Illogical design: Illogical is inaccurate for, strictly speaking, the intention was to create the impression that such a long time had passed since the ‘original’ part of the house was built, the design logic and rationale was either forgotten or no longer relevant. The result was wings and towers of wildly different periods being juxtaposed, or even hidden by supposedly later features. This is Robert Kerr’s Bear Wood (1865-1874). Notice how the stair tower partially obliterates one of the gables and the symmetry of the main block.

Bear Wood
“The favourite Victorian game of near-symmetry is played with abandon. If one starts from the right-hand gable the design is a straightforward symmetrical one, until the left-hand gable crashes head-on into the great tower; one is half-buried in the other, and a little staircase turret has got involved in the collision.”

Stylistic Camouflage: This next house is Wightwick, by Edward Ould. The left half of the house is the 1870 design in typical Victorian Tudor revival style yet the right half of the house is an 1893 addition in a coherent 16th century Tudor style and which, if one is prepared to overlook its improbably good state of repair, could be mistaken for the original house. 

Wightwick 1870

Ould favoured Tudor because it was an excuse to use timber visibly and in large amounts.

No style of building will harmonise so quickly and so completely with its surroundings and so soon pass through the crude and brand-new field.

Ould wasn’t stupid. It’s easy to see why socially aspirational clients would find this an attractive proposition. This is the front of the same house. It had the look.


Juxtaposition of types of construction: A different type of construction could be combined with illogical design to also create the appearance of additions over time. This is Adcote, designed by Norman Shaw and built in 1876. Note the ‘new’ and ‘old’ wings of different construction and joined by a valley gutter. In fairness though, Shaw was more interested in sequential growth as a method of composition rather than as a means of fooling people. 

Norman Shaw Adcote

Fake castles: What better way than to create the impression of owning land and money for a long time than to build a castle? Stone mellows quickly and well and after a decade or two it’s easy to think it’s been there for longer than it really has. This is Wray Castle, built in 1840 for a retired Liverpool surgeon, Dr. James Dawson, who built it along with the neighboring Wray Church using his wife’s fortune. Sounds like a story there. Battlements, arrowslits, and turrets galore but alas no moat or drawbridge.


Although there were many extensions to castles throughout the course of the Victorian era, there weren’t that many new ones built. This one’s the exception – Balmoral Castle, completed in 1856 for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The pair could hardly be called social wannabe arrivistes but, just like anyone else, did not want to seem newcomers to the area. In any case and as a general rule, royalty does nothing to discourage the continuity of pointless traditions.


The architect Anthony Salvin (1799-1881) restored many castles but he also designed this new one, Peckforton Castle (completed 1850). It has the look.

Peckforton Castle
Peckforton Castle plan

Again, the plan and massing show apparently haphazard additions over time.

Ruins: Finally, we have the fake ruin. These were usually positioned to be seen from the driveway by approaching visitors. (Otherwise, what was the point?) The conceit is that the owners have owned the property for so long that entire generations of forefathers have come and gone. Instead of being mere picturesque follies, faux ruins are probably the purest example of how Victorian architecture covertly facilitated social climbing.

fake ruin

The French Style

Finally finally. The easiest way to make oneself feel big and important was (and still is) to diss/vilify/slag off someone else. If respect due to having been ‘in society’ for longer is the name of the game, then people newer than oneself (and their ghastly new styles) become the new target of ridicule by people who hadn’t been around for all that much longer themselves.

The new rich who bought country estates were usually anxious to be accepted by their neighbours, and built their houses in the same manner, even if sometimes distinguishable by a touch of ineptness or ostentation in their design. But the 1870s saw a shift in the social balance that was much commented on the time, usually unfavourably. The previously exclusive preserves of London society became more quickly and easily accessible to self-made millionaires. […] The resulting growth in prestige and self-confidence led to a specifically nouveau riche style. It flourished in defiance of the Victorian doctrine that a gentleman’s house should be marked by ‘elegance and importance without ostentation’. It was imported FROM FRANCE, from the second-Empire world of new families and new and sometimes shady fortunes.

The appeal of these French houses was an obvious one. The Victorians had become increasingly conscious of skyline, and attracted by buildings with a lively silhouette.

French roofs, with their pointed turrets, mansard roofs, bulbous roofs and cast-iron palisade decorations were just the thing. This is Normanhurst, by Habershon, Brock and Webb in 1867.


Halton House was built between 1882 and 1888 for Alfred de Rothschild, a cousin of Baron Ferdinand of the Austrian branch of the Rothschilds.

At Halton Alfred de Rothschild lived a bachelor life of magnificence in much the same style as his cousin at Waddeston but with an extra touch of millionaire eccentricity. He used to conduct his own band in the winter garden, or, fitted out with a white overcoat, whip and gloves, to direct his troupe of circus ponies and dogs; he had his own private team of firemen, with a special uniform, and a team of zebras to pull his pony cart.

Halton House

Obviously the new rich had grown tired of wanting to be accepted, and learned how to make their own fun. To finish, nobody says it better than Girouard.

Halton was the last of the big French country houses. This is not the place to describe the style’s development in civic and urban architecture, or its adventures in America, where it had its greatest successes and was most fully absorbed into the vernacular.

Thanks richie @ http://richieabroad.wordpress.com/ for the header image.

The Money Shot

“Originally, in general film-making usage, the “money shot” was simply the scene that cost the most money to produce. In general, a money shot is a provocative, sensational, or memorable sequence in a film, on which the film’s commercial performance is perceived to depend.”

We arrive at a much the same truth if we substitute the word “building” for “film”. Before film and before photography, the rich owners of country houses could only have pictures painted of their houses and those paintings were the money shots of their time. They were the views the building was designed for people to remember. English artists of the 15th–19th centuries looked at their landscape through the eyes of the landowner first, and the eyes of an artist second. The following example of Malvern Hall in Warwickshire, by Constable, is better than most. However, if it was an architectural rendering, I’d want the shadows cast by the building to match those cast by the trees – and oh! the position of the sun for that matter. Oh, and lose the cheesy birds.

A beautiful picture was a memorable image for observers such as visitors and other guests and of something the landowner could be proud of (subtext: being rich enough to own). If we cut out all the middlemen such as artists, architects and builders, beauty was property value.  In his famous book The Wealth of Nations, social philosopher and economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) wrote that “With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches.” Basically, he was saying that rich people like to show off how rich they are. So if some rich guy wants a painting of his land and his house then so be it – an artist’s gotta make money too! My only problem with this is that beauty (which is a vague concept at the best of times) becomes linked to articulating the possession of money and property.

This next image is from a textbook on country estate design. Notice how the driveway approaches the house at a changing angle so the perspective shifts to create in visitors a sense of excitement and the expectation of a decent weekend.

 Over at Chatsworth House the same trick is used.

Here’s what happens. We get views like this.

And this.

At this point, I had planned to use this next image to make a point about driveways and how architects became much more skilled at composing picturesque views that articulate the possession of money and property (a.k.a. “nature”).

But actually, driveways have nothing to do with it for the driveway doesn’t enter the site where I thought it did. This is the first view of the house.

The bridge on the right will take you to the front door just after that slender replacement tree on the left, below.

And then the driveway snakes up like this …

… so your driver can park your car here.

So how do we get to the famous view that Mr. Kaufmann imagined he would be seeing from his house?

Well, as far as I can make out, there must be a path from the back driveway, coming down the hill to cross the stream and get to that well-sat–upon rock, before going around the front of the house to link up with the driveway again. And here it is.

So why did FLW put the house where he did? There were a few factors operating.

  1. By the mid-1930’s, he needed something to restore his reputation. He hadn’t had any major buildings since the Ennis House (1924) in Los Angeles. This was in his pseudo-Mayan style that wasn’t really catching on. There had been the Tokyo Imperial Hotel (1923) that was severely damaged (but at least still standing) after the Great Kanto Earthquake. And that was it. By 1935 he was basically seen as an Edwardian Architect, past his peak and a bit “washed up”.
  2. There was The Great Depression going on. There wasn’t that many clients around anyway.
  3. He needed some money. In addition to business going badly, he was going through a rather expensive divorce.
  4. He needed a marketing opportunity. “When Kaufmann showed Wright his favorite spot, the waterfall, Wright decided to cantilever the house over the falls. Although Kaufmann imagined a house with a view of the falls, Wright envisioned the Kaufmanns living with the falls. Wright [as legend has it] explained, “I want you to live with the waterfall, not just to look at it, but for it to become an integral part of your lives.” (link) When Mr. Kaufmann sat him down on that rock, FLW saw the mother of all photo opportunities, the possibility to create an image that would tell the world how great he was. To FLW, the image of the house and its site was more important than the house itself.
  5. And, as Mr. Kaufmann did not object, it must have been to him as well. FLW knew that rich people like showing off what they have.

 And so “The sound of falling water filled the house”, as did humidity. Because the house is directly over running water, it had problems with mold. The owner nicknamed the house “Rising Mildew”. The sound of dripping water also filled the house for Mr. Kaufmann also called Fallingwater ‘a seven-bucket building’ for its leaks. Condensation under roofing membranes was an issue because of the lack of damp proofing and thermal breaks (duh!) but let’s not focus on that eh?

Instead, the new webcam at www.fallingwater.org repackages the famous view yet again!

The classic view of Fallingwater is the subject of photos, paintings, drawings and videos that have been viewed around the world.  Now you have the opportunity to see this view live 24/7 from the comfort of your own home.