Tag Archives: misfits’ musings

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.

Not these sounds (again) !


Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was scored for a small orchestra (two of each in the wind family) whereas large orchestras (having four of each) were more to people’s taste in the late 19th century as audiences then, liked the volume turned up. The mid-20thC trend was for smaller orchestras and authentic instruments. The style was called HIP – for historically informed performance. It got mixed reviews.

51GqBUd5cBL._SX300_Harnoncourt, of course, made his name as one of the bright lights of historically-informed performance (HIP). He constantly pushed the limits of expression and took huge chances in his interpretations, which, more often than not, paid off in revelatory readings. This set, however, is not HIP. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe plays, for the most part, modern instruments in the modern way. Harnoncourt does make use of the valveless natural trumpet (for a very interesting reason; read the interview in the liner notes) and what sounds to me like natural-skin timpani. In short, the performance falls into the category of “modern, with slightly reduced forces.” 

The same phenomenon exists in architecture. Old favourites are continually re-photographed. I can think of several reasons.

  1. As with music, to suit the style of the times. Sometimes the difference is only slight but sometimes the change is huge.
  2. To obtain new, uncopyrighted phtographs. Later building activity has meant the old views can’t be replicated anymore anyway.
  3. To make them seem new again. Sometimes, the old photographs are just too old. They remind us that the building is slipping into history. I suspect this refreshing of imagery has something to do with rebooting our perceptions and stopping us from losing interest, of keeping the buildings and their myths alive.

New photographs for these three reasons all have the same function in that they are used to create a new media product in the case of books, or used as content on which to hang advertising in the case of magazines and, to an increasing extent, the internet. As a content provider of sorts myself, I’m not going to think about it too much – it’s the world we live in. It’s the world much architecture inhabits.


Tastes in photography swing between the contrivedly dramatic and the apparently uncontrived – and then drift back again. Even buildings with a set money-shot can be photographed in a multitude of ways to freshen them up and make us look at them anew, even if only for a click.


We should be thankful for photo-sharing sites such as flickr. Architects and photographers no longer have absolute control of what images of their buildings are published and circulated. The stage-managed money-shot is soon found out now we have a wider range of visual evidence on which to form our own visual aesthetic opinions. I say visual aesthetic opinions because photographs convey the warmth of timber or the coolness of marble, the aroma of timber, or the sound of a space. (I can’t think of an example where our sense of taste comes into play. This says as much about the essential nature of humans, as it does of buildings.)

Of the four sets of examples below, three are of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and one is of a Le Corbusier building. I’ll order them chronologically.

The Robie House

The Kaufmann House

The Villa Savoye

The New York Guggenheim Museum

With music, and especially with pieces of music such as Beethoven’s 9th, some people know an awful lot about them even though it might sound incredibly pretentious. These days, in addition to scholarly essays and knowledgeable opinion, there are also applications such as this one.

9thBeethoven’s 9th Symphony for iPad presents four of Deutsche Grammophon’s legendary recordings of this iconic work, with the amazing ability to switch instantly between each performance at any point in the piece. As you listen, you can watch the synchronized musical score, be guided by expert commentary, follow Beethoven’s 1825 manuscript or immerse yourself in the hypnotic graphical BeatMap of the orchestra, precisely highlighting every note. The app also includes a treasure-trove of specially filmed video interviews with musicians, writers and great conductors discussing Beethoven and his masterwork.  

Bethoven Autograph of Sym. 9

Will this result in an understanding greater than a lifetime chasing orchestras between concert halls? Or will it perhaps result in a different understanding or perhaps more applicable insights into the process of creating symphonies? I don’t know. I shall find out.

But what would be an equivalent app for architecture?

It’s easy to imagine a virtual model of any building, and for that to be bundled into an app with a set of drawings and a walkthrough with ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPHS and VARIOUS COMMENTARIES by VARIOUS COMMENTATORS. But what new knowledge would this produce, given that we can’t be the original users and have the experience that was theirs alone? (And why should we? They paid for it – we didn’t.)

Such applications exist. 


Just as talking about something endlessly is easier than actually understanding it, collections of the same old visual and audio information re-marketed as ‘interactive’ because it’s on an iPad or something do not represent new understanding. Seeing something from a different angle or on a different device is not the same as seeing something in a new way.

It could of course be that we’re seeing more than there actually is to see. It could just be that the imagined timelessness in these buildings lies in their ability to act as a subject for new people to generate new content on which to hang new advertising. If learning how FLW did it was ever the objective, then we would have more FLW looky-likey buildings as subsequent architects tried and failed, or perhaps bettered the guy. We don’t. People learning how to replicate a real or imagined architectural magic is the last thing an architect’s PR machine wants to see. Especially a posthumous one.

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.


COR-TEN® Steel

The first known use of COR-TEN® steel in the architectural world was the John Deere World Headquarters in Moline, Illinois. Completed in 1964, it was designed by Eero Saarinen. 

The habitation innately preferred by people has had a significant effect upon landscape architecture. believed by many researchers to have originated during prehuman evolution in the African savanna forest, the predilection includes dwelling on a height that is near a body of water and looks down on fruitful parkland (with large animals in sight, even if only represented by sculpture).

The habitation innately preferred by people has had a significant effect upon landscape architecture. believed by many researchers to have originated during prehuman evolution in the African savanna forest, the predilection includes dwelling on a height that is near a body of water and looks down on fruitful parkland (with large animals in sight, even if only represented by sculpture).

Hmm, yes, that’d be the same John Deere building mentioned in the WE ♥ PLANTS post, only now it’s not the neo-savanna landscape we’re looking contentedly at.


Media Assassin! Thanks for pointing me to the fab pic.

The John Deere building is the first use of Cor-Ten® steel in the architectural world, but it’s also one of the first uses of post-modern colour in the architectural world although, as with much of post-modernism, nobody knew it at the time. I contend the first use of post-modern colour was the Seagram Building, completed in 1958. “How so?,” you ask?

seagram-building-exterior Post-modern use of colour: A clue. FLW used to refer to this building as Mies’ “whisky building”. The famously and expensively contrived colour of the steel could, if one were so inclined, cause one to think of the colour a whisky bottle – especially upon seeing its amber-tinted contents through the glass. If the unique colour of the building evokes the idea of whisky, that idea acts in three different ways that, together, reference something. The building is an advertisement, after all. 

  1. The colour of the building looks different from that of any building around it. 
    1. The colour of the building evokes a notion of being different from that of any building known (to architectural cognoscenti) to have ever existed. It is novel, in other words.
    2. The colour of the building evokes an affinity with its location – 1960’s New York, perhaps as a sophisticated whisky-drinking city. 
    3. The colour of the building evokes a notion of the colour of something not a building – in this case, the colour of whisky.  

After this building, colour came to “mean stuff” and it was all downhill from there, (especially once shape came to the party). But it’s amazing how CEOs could almost instantly see what Mies was doing, yet architectural historians still can’t. History is silent on whether the whisky colour was Mies’ idea or that of the CEO’s daughter, Phyllis Lambert, who “was influential in bringing Mies onto the project” [W] but given M’s reputation as Mr. Less-is-More, the wilful addition of bronze as a colour was either corporate brown-nosing if his idea, or corporate kow-towing if hers. Possibly a bit of both as the CEO liked bronze as a colour, if not its cost. 

And so with Deere, it’s unclear whether the use of COR-TEN® steel was Saarinen’s idea, or that of William Hewitt, the president of Deere & Company. Hewitt definitely wanted his headquarters to have an “earthy” look. John Deere is a very earthy company.


Committed to those linked to the land

Over the past 175 years, John Deere has seen a great many changes in its business, its products, its services. Change always comes with opportunity. And Deere has always been ready and willing to embrace it. Yet, through it all, John Deere is still dedicated to those who are linked to the land – farmers and ranchers, landowners, builders.

Before going any further, I should mention that COR-TEN® steel is steel that, because of its chemical composition, forms a protective  layer of rust prevents it from rusting further and thereby eliminating the need for other coatings such as paint. This is a good thing. Q: Imagine if the Farnsworth House had been built of COR-TEN® steel – how would we then think of it? A: We would think of it as earthy and natural instead of pure and pristine. (WARNING: Don’t try this at home! When COR-TEN® steel is welded, it’s difficult to get the welds to weather at the same rate.)

The fact that COR-TEN® steel looks earthy and old instead of pure and pristine is seen as a positive quality – as if steel has suddenly become like trees, only better. Did you know that in Denmark all masts for supporting the catenary on electrified railways are made of COR-TEN® steel for aesthetic reasons? It’s true – here’s a pic!

Railway-electrification COR-TEN® steel has been around for years now so although it’s not novel anymore, you can still build something strong, quick and brown – which, aesthetically, is almost as good as green, it seems.

But buildings also exist in the dimension of Time and this is where COR-TEN® steel gets interesting. Normal steel will rust over time if left exposed and unprotected. The charm of COR-TEN® steel for architects is that it can provide the appearance of age in a relatively new building. corten colour True, this appearance of age doesn’t happen overnight but, since it’s artificially accelerated, it soon becomes an example of colour and pattern not looking new (WAS NOW), and giving the impression that the building is older than it really is (an idea of NOT NOW). I call this combination of reality and idea DISGUISE because the building’s place in time is disguised – at least as far as colour and pattern are concerned.

The charm of this next building, Rick Joy’s Desert Nomad House is largely due to the physical properties of COR-TEN® steel making it ASSOCIATE with its landscape via the artificially natural colour and pattern of the staining. Time-wise, the building appears to have been there for longer than it actually has. It has “settled in” in time.

There are historic precedents for this. The best example I can think of is in The Victorian Country House by Mark Girouard (1979) – I’ve rarely been without a copy.

4380810ae7a00e6add023210.L._SY300_[I’ve ordered another copy and will add this information later, but] an architect was extending a mock-Tudor mansion by using an earlier and heavily half-timbered version of Tudor because (I paraphrase) “Tudor so quickly passes from the new to the old”. Tudor came into and out of fashion several times, and always because of the accelerated weathering of its timbers. In this next example, the real Tudor building is Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge (1542) on the right. In the middle is a Victorian addition circa 1850 and to the left is the 1912 replacement of a pub that burned down. QUEEN ELIZABETH'S HUNTING LODGEThe Tudor Revival for the 20th century, COR-TEN® steel, gives buildings a gravitas through the appearance of having stood some test of time. Like the Rick Joy house, this next building by Simon Ungers uses the physical colour and pattern of COR-TEN® steel to evoke notions of “natural” which are strongly contradicted by the very unconventional shape. (“Is it a house?”)

124276865_bd897da1eaThis next image features the same combination of natural colour and unnatural shape, in a natural landscape

ballale-betty-frontand, to a lesser extent, the Danish railway structures do too. It’s a desirable effect – it softens and validates shapes, excuses them. This third example is Jean Nouvel’s Swiss Pavillion for Expo 2002. Like the Ungers house above, it’s an example of a future artefact – both new and old at the same time. Again, colour and pattern may have weathered, but shape shows none of these ravages of time. (This “temporal signature” has nothing to do with its monumentality – that’s a physical phenomena resulting from the contrived absence of scale indicators such as doors and windows.)


This very same quality of accelerated ageing is also what makes COR-TEN® steel a popular choice of material for sculpture, both urban and otherwise. I googled CORTEN SCULPTURE so now you won’t have to. You knew what to expect anyway.

Untitled COR-TEN® steel is not only the material of choice for public art, but also for more private artworks. Zen Metal Art, for example, has a range of metal artworks that will enhance your landscape or garden.


Corten steel art is also referred to as rusted steel art or weathered steel art. The colours generated by the ageing steel blend beautifully with foliage colour and provide an organic, “rustic” element within the Landscape.

As does CDS Architectural Metalwork.


Unfortunately, the temporal associations of COR-TEN® steel have become associated with a pointless gravitas in much the same way as Barber’s Adagio for Strings has become shorthand for “feel sad now”.


We can’t rule out a COR-TEN® steel revival sometime in the future but,
for now, best give it a rest, until 
Nature finishes, the job man started, and COR-TEN® steel, rusts away for real.

• • •

The United States Steel Corporation (USS) holds the registered trademark on the name COR-TEN even though it sold its plate business in 2003 to the International Steel Group which was created after the turnaround fund, WL Ross & Co. LLC, purchased LTV (Ling-Temco-Vought) Steel in February 2002 and merged its assets with those of Weirton Steel. In 2005, the International Steel Group was acquired by Mittal Steel which, in 2006, merged with Arcelor to become the world’s largest steel company, ArcelorMittal. 

No COR-TEN® steel was used in the construction of the ArcelorMittal Orbit


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’.


How Architecture Works

This post has remained in the drafts folder for quite some time. It describes workings that must be acknowledged even though they may not be noble. Some of its points have been made or hinted at in past posts. And some will almost certainly be backgrounding, if not repeated, in other posts yet to come. It can be endlessly expanded upon.

Building upon land is a fundamental political act by which people indicate the ownership of that land. It happens and has been happening for a long time. Enclosing land is another – and that still happens too. Cultivating land is often a political act that indicates the ownership of land, and that still happens too. Exploiting land for timber, animals, minerals, petroleum or any other resource is yet another way of indicating ownership of land, or at least of the rights to exploit that land. Just because these are all political acts that have been happening for a long time, doesn’t mean we’re not doing them anymore. If none of us are farmers anymore, then gardening can still be a political act that shows people what you can do with your land, whether it’s a productive allotment, a polite front garden or the Charles Jencks brand of landscape defacing.

track House129261810901093750_06_FieldandSnail

Don’t try this at home.

If you’ve been following this blog you should have a certain idea of what kind of buildings us misfits would like to see more of. Here’s how it all fits into the history of everything that has ever been built.

The Misfits way of understanding Architecture is simple. Like Zaera Polo, we accept that building is a political act. Even if the main purpose of a building isn’t to indicate the ownership of land or (inasmuch as it is separable) money, a building will do this anyway. This should not come as a surprise because, just as fire needs oxygen, fuel and a source of heat in order to exist,  buildings need 1) clients who want to make a political statement, and 2) the money and 3) the land to realize it. This goes back a long way.

In medieval Europe, castles indicated land ownership. They had a defensible location and shape, and a construction that withstood attacks by other people wanting to own and control that land. Here’s Harlech Castle, built in the late 13th century.

Harlech Castle - A general view of the castle

Later, when Europe – or Italy at least – calmed down a bit, land ownership was indicated by less defensible buildings prominently sited, and by neoclassical styles that symbolized a more enlightened society. These new buildings were called villas. They weren’t for kings anymore, but for people kings had given land as reward for services rendered.


The stylistic inspiration was this Greek temple. Notice how the villa is also built on a high piece of land so that others can “look up to it”. 


Inigo Jones (1573 – 1652) saw these new villas and thought the wealthy landowners in England might like them too. He was right. Here’s Chiswick House (1729), built by the third Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) on land purchased by his grandfather. 



A bit later, more rich people needed to live in the city closer to the dockyards that were the source of the new wealth. There wasn’t space for every rich person to have much land, so architects joined the houses together to make terraced houses that looked like one large mansion/villa, and with the individual dwellings overlooking a communal garden that only the owners could overlook and use. Here’s John Nash’s Cumberland House (1826) overlooking Regent’s Park in London.



Before this, only poor people lived in “joined-up” houses. Joining houses together was a useful idea because it saved materials and, although they didn’t worry too much about it at the time, it must have also saved energy. Here, we won’t worry too much about the buildings of people who had less money, but ideas from low-cost housing will find their way into expensive housing later on.

The idea of a single house on a single piece of land is a primitive but popular one. Here’s a building that flaunts its owner’s possession of an enviable piece of property.



It does this, first of all, by being there – for buildings built on other people’s land don’t tend to stay around for very long. It also makes many other connections with the landscape, most famously through the horizontal cantilevered elements supposedly “echoing” the shape of the rock ledges. There’s also a rotational symmetry that unifies building and landscape into a single composition. And there’s also the “calm” horizontal lines and the “dynamic” vertical lines – as they’re usually called in art and architecture schools – mirroring the horizontal and calm pools, and the vertical and dynamic falling water. Clever.

This house is frequently praised using words such as “is an extension of Nature”, “looks like it is growing out of the ground” etc. and this is all well and good for (from this angle) it is a masterful composition. It’s America’s most famous house and its most photographed one. The image we see above has been designed to travel. It panders not only to the American myth of the pioneering house in raw nature, but also to the rich man’s desire to show off the land he owns.

There are probably many spectacular pieces of land in the world. They are just not where we want them to be. There are many other ways of giving a physical shape to money and decadence of fabrication is one of them. (Refer to The Fabergé Egg.)

Adam Smith wrote

“With the greater part of rich people, the chief enjoyment of riches consists in the parade of riches, which in their eye is never so complete as when they appear to possess those decisive marks of opulence which nobody can possess but themselves.”

You can rely on this. You will find many houses praised for looking and feeling larger than they really are or for visually owning a picturesque view of unowned landscape or cityscape. You will not find many houses that look and feel smaller than they really are, or ignoring a view of anything that adds value. This is what people look for when buying a house. Some people call this beauty. Others call it simple application of architectural skill to articulate the possession of land. New ways of doing it (big windows, pilotis, etc.) are called progress. Buildings that are outside this paradigm are called ugly. The documentation of new ways of architecturally indicating the possession of land is a study in itself.

Another interesting study is ways of misrepresenting the amount of money possessed. You will find many houses praised for using less expensive materials to look like expensive materials. This was generally frowned upon and regarded as dishonest, and then it became referential or ironic and thus okay. As a general rule, there are no buildings in which expensive materials are made to look like cheap materials. Why? Because the job of architects is to add value to real estate. This in turn, adds status to a person or a company. You don’t believe me?


Its $6.7 million total cost for its replacement represents a cost of $67,000 per sq.m, making it the most expensive “building” in the world on a per-square-metre basis. Trying to make a building look as if it is barely there is a very expensive business.


Antilia, you’ll remember, comes in next at approximately $53,000 per sqm that makes it more than four times the cost/sq.m of Yankee Stadium ($12,230 sqm) and more than ten times more expensive per square meter than Burj Khalifa ($4,847 per sqm). And all this for a building that says little more than that one has 100 sqm worth of rights to surface access an underground space on Fifth Avenue. Does it advance the cause of architecture? The answer depends on how honest we are about what that cause really is. We strive to compress the technologies at hand into much less land.

I’ll embroider this theory in further posts and show how it accommodates notions of technological progress, beauty, status, progress, evolution and social utility. It’s not rocket science. We strive to compress the technologies at hand onto far less land. And so we progress the drivers of yesterday some fancy new way.

The Things Architects Do #4: Reuse, Recycle, Reprise

Frank Lloyd Wright

elizabeth noble apartments












flower house


熊本駅東口広場西沢立衛 / Ryue Nishizawa2011



















library _of_childrens_literature_11



death star




Arata Isozaki



qatar national library


If you post a comment with your suggestions for further additions to this post, I’ll search them out and add them. I’ve only just scratched the surface here. I’m particularly interested in those ideas that architects recycle and reuse until they either succeed with it or die trying. The unbuilt works of Frank Lloyd Wright are rich in examples of this type. Also welcome are examples of architects continually reprising their greatest hits (e.g. SANAA, FLW again) – until they descend into self-parody (e.g. Daniel Libeskind).