Historical Exploration of Wotton’s Structure (1 of 5)


“In providing support for other building systems and our activities, a structural system enables the shape and form of a building and its spaces, similar to the way in which our skeletal system gives shape and form to our body and support to its organs and tissues. So when we speak of architectural structures, we refer to those that unite with form and space in a coherent manner.

(...) It is not simply the task of balancing and resolving forces. Rather, it requires that we consider the manner in which the overall configuration and scale of structural elements, assemblies, and connections encapsulate an architectural idea, reinforce the architectural form and spatial composition of a design proposal, and enable its constructibility. This then requires an awareness of structure as a system of interconnected and interrelated parts, an understanding of the generic types of structural systems, as well as an appreciation for the capabilities of certain types of structural elements and assemblies.”

-Francis Ching, Building Structures Illustrated

Introduction:

Henry Wotton stated the three conditions of well-built Architecture, as first outlined by Vitruvius, in “The Elements of Architecture” as “Commoditie, Firmenes, and Delight.” [1] The book, published in 1624, was intended to serve as an educational tool for the common English public and was written in an accessible format for those who were not close followers of architecture. Wotton’s three conditions can be translated to mean something closer to structure, function, and beauty. This essay will focus on “Commoditie” (Structure) to explore the definition of architectural structure and how it has evolved with our understanding of Architecture. 

The three dictums of Architecture are irrevocably linked. As David Smith Capon explains, “the three terms would appear to need little further elaboration. A building should work, it should stand up, and, especially if it is to be considered as architecture, it should be pleasing.” [2] These architectural keystones have persisted to be the modus operandi behind all architectural structures, yet “Wotton gives no clear answers to these questions, nor does he define the terms he uses.” [3] Commodity, in Wotton’s writing, is referenced perhaps twice, and one of those times is the usage of ‘incommodity.’ Incommodity provides more of a reference point to the idea of ‘commodity,’ as it shows us all that commodity isn’t. Wotton uses an example of a building that warmed by fire. If one doesn’t consider the wind that will blow through the building and thus blow the smoke from those fires throughout the building, one will “feare the incommodity of Smoake.” [4] And such a structure’s error is “not in the Disposition but in the Structure it selfe.” [5]  Here, it seems, the argument for what a structure is, is the physical construction of the building, but this is complicated by the usage of the word 'feare.' If the incommodity of a structure is something to be feared and unwelcomed, then its antithesis, commodity, must then include an element of perception in its definition. Francis Ching also defines structure as “The organization of elements or parts in a complex system as dominated by the general character of the whole.” [6]  Again, the usage of the word character should make us consider that structure is not merely the physical construction but the character generated by the physical structure, a character that might even exist in the space prior to building and then it is ‘captured’ by way of the structure.  

Consider the countless variety of spaces that ‘structure’ can refer to. An exterior facade, such as a building, and/or the interior of a structure. Wotton writes “All Studies and Libraries, be towards the East: For the Morning is a friend to the Muses. All Offices that require heat (...) Meridionall. All that need a coole and fresh temper, as Cellers, Pantries, Butteries, Granaries, to the North.” [7] So, the preferred orientation of each space contributes to the structure, which contributes to the user engagement of that space. (This is even furthered by the beauty of a space/structure, reliant on a combination of (a)symmetry and harmony amidst its individual pieces). 

To reflect on the typologies and topologies that present themselves later in this essay; simply put, structure and its ornaments when taken as an individual, a whole being, is an example of a type. Apartment buildings and warehouses, for example, have traditionalist ‘types’ that a viewer has come to readily interpret as one of those buildings. A type, however, is not a list with boxes to be checked when building an apartment or warehouse. It is rather a “particular set of characteristics of a building, and it helps identifying and categorizing buildings into different groups of forms.” [8] We might take brutalism as an example of this, a minimalistic style which emphasized the usage of bare concrete and ‘necessary’ functionality to determine its structure. What makes a brutalist building obvious - regardless of the buildings ‘function’ (think house, store, gym, etc) - is the usage of concrete, the angular lines, etc. But not every brutalist building is identical. And we see this also with the cave, tent, and the hut, belonging to farmers, shephards, and hunters, which Quatremère de Quincy, the largely accepted originator of the theory of typology explores. [9] 

The word ‘type’ represents not so much the image of a thing to be copied or perfectly imitated as the idea of an element that must itself serve as a rule for the model... The model, understood in terms of the practical execution of art, is an object that must be repeated such as it is; type, on the contrary, is an object according to which one can conceive works that do not resemble on another at all. Everything is precise and given in the model; everything is more or less vague in the type. [10] 

The general characteristics aforementioned, the merging of physical structure and the meaning then derived from that structure- a building's functionality, if you will - must afford us the conclusion that typology exists between the realms of structure and function. 

If typology regards the architectural structure as a solitary organism and explores only within the volume of that structure, topology is how the structure engages with its spatial surroundings and the structures in such a space.

Topology tends to be systemic; all parts tend to affect all parts. Topology, says the classical definition, refers to spatial properties that are unaffected by changes of shape and size. Topology so implies fractality; similar spatial relationships happen at different scales or still, the same spatial relationships are found in different forms or shapes. An enlargement of the concept may regard topology as the study of spatial configuration in general or still, the study of spatial relationships. Spatial forms, both at the architectural and at the urban scale, are so essentially topological. This topological essence makes spatial configuration - the mode of arrangement of things – naturally determinant in people’s spatial behavior. That is to say, and this is central in all that follows, the performance of buildings and urban settings is a consequence of topological features. Performance in the current context means the way buildings work in relation to people’s spatial needs. So, it may be said from the point of view of people, or from the perspective of the body, the management of space is essentially topological. This is where the architectural plan enters as a central description of human spatial behavior. The plan contains the movement of the bodies and such movement happens according to topological relations. [11] 

Thus we can choose to treat structure as a volumized ‘wrapper’. By doing so, we can begin to construct a spatial environment out of many of these wrappers and explore the meaning derived from spatial movement within these spaces. This essay is not focused on the topology of spaces, rather, the interest is in the typologies. What specific characteristics distinguish one style from the next and how that helps a space participant navigate the ‘thesis’ of the building is what this explores, but the distinction is important and necessary. As many typologies in one space, can create a topology in the same. Function and Structure can grow near interchangeable in these discussions. 

In returning to focus on individual buildings and their characteristics, the usage of materials also affects the perception of a space. Natural light “can help hospital patients to recover and school pupils perform better” because “[r]esearch has shown that visible light helps (...) helps to regulate our body clock, affecting sleep patterns and digestion. Visible light also helps to stimulate the body's production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can reduce the symptoms of depression.” [12] Materials like glass, wood, cork help muffle sound and increase natural light, and were used in building Halden Prison in Norway, a space considered to be the most humane prison in the world. [13] It was found that the usage of these materials, as compared to most prisons in the US, which use steel, concrete, and linoleum as building materials reflect noise incredibly easily and block light. [14]  Having access to natural light and windows, thus being able to see the seasons change allows inmates to track the passage of time and has been shown to have a positive psychological influence. [15]  Perhaps the discussion of building materials is more suited to discussions about architectural function and beauty, but it is worth mentioning this here because none of these dictums are separate, all are at least partially contingent on each other, and belong to ‘structure’.

In asking why these spaces are relevant - and not just studies or libraries, all spaces - what makes a space appealing to visit? Is it a structural component or is it the aura that a space contains? One argument is that the “most basic motivation for people to visit a building, is that the building contains something that the individual finds important.” [16]  We can put contemporary psychology studies aside and instead trace the different architectural styles through history to understand how structure (forms!) were influenced by the ideologies and emerging ideas of the times. For example, “Renaissance and Enlightenment travelers, who visited jails and factories to see the application of new ideas, or contemporary travelers who visit museums,” while on the surface, people might be visiting to experience new ideas, they are still visiting spaces that are physical structures of ideologies, serving the idea that structures serve to enhance an idea or potentially represent an idea. [17] 

We can trace different architectural styles through history to trace how the ideas behind structure have physically changed and therefore manifest different ideas and ideologies that groups wish to enforce. Of the architectural styles discussed below, we come to realize that they were reflections of the modern psychological and technological advancements of their time, and not solely technological. Psychology influenced design and what people should have experienced when entering a building, technology evolving in tandem with that psychology to become more successful at portraying those ideologies. 

Classical (Greek and Roman): (8th Century BCE - 393 CE)

Greek temples were constructed on the basis of the beliefs in the ‘divine proportions’ of man, a belief that clearly manifested itself in the architecture of the spaces. 

Vitruvius writes in regard to the Temple overall:

The design of a temple depends on symmetry, the principles of which must be most carefully observed by the architect. They are due to proportion (...) proportion is a correspondence among the measures of an entire work, and of the whole to a certain part (...) From this result the principles of symmetry. Without symmetry and proportion there can be no principles in the design of any temple; that is, if there is no precise relation between its members, as in the case of those of a well shaped man. (...) For the human body is so designed by nature that the face, from the chin to the top of the forehead and the lowest roots of the hair, is a tenth part of the whole height (...) The other members, too, have their own symmetrical proportions, and it was by employing them that the famous painters and sculptors of antiquity attained to great and endless renown. Similarly, in the members of a temple there ought to be the greatest harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the general magnitude of the whole. (...) Therefore, since nature has designed the human body so that its members are duly proportioned to the frame as a whole, it appears that the ancients had good reason for their rule, that in perfect buildings the different members must be in exact symmetrical relations to the whole general scheme (...) they were particularly careful to do so in the case of temples of the gods, buildings in which merits and faults usually last forever. [18]

[19]

Greek architecture originated “architectural orders,” the style of building, which could be determined from the order of the column supporting the building, either Doric, Ionic,or the Corinthian order. [20] The Doric order is “the simplest and shortest, with no decorative foot, vertical fluting, and a flared capital. Ionic columns are taller and thinner, with a decorative foot and scroll-shaped volutes on the capital. The most complex order is the Corinthian order, which is tall and thin and features a decorative foot, volutes and acanthus leaves on the capital.” [21]

Vitruvius explores the origins of the 3 column orders, linking their names to the pioneers and explorers which established colonies and residences and the building styles that emerged from them. 

Dorus, son of Hellen and nymph Phthia: whose namesake are the Doric columns, named as such by the Ionians after the columns part of the temples seen in the Doric lands. [22] The Ionians, 

wishing to set up columns in that temple, but not having rules for their symmetry (...) they measured the imprint of a man’s foot and compared this with his height. On finding that, in a man, the foot was one sixth of the height, they applied the same principle to the column, and reared the shaft, including the capital, to a height six times its thickness at its base. Thus the Doric column, as used in buildings, began to exhibit the proportions, strength, and beauty of the body of a man. [23]

The Doric column’s entablature “includes a frieze composed of triglyphs(...) and metopes (...).” [24]

The Ionians wanted to construct a “temple to Diana in a new style of beauty, they translated these footprints [of the Doric column] into terms characteristic of the slenderness of women, and thus first made a column the thickness of which was only one eighth of its height, so that it might have a taller look.” [25] In the Doric and Ionic columns, they had “borrowed manly beauty, naked and unadorned, for the one, and for the other delicacy, adornment, and proportions characteristic of women.” [26]

The Corinthian column “is an imitation of the slenderness of a maiden,” the ornate design of the columns coming from the story that a maiden of Corinth passed away and a basket of her things, covered with a roof tile, was placed above the root of an acanthus. In spring, the stalks and roots covered the basket and pressed the corners of the tile, forcing it “to bend into volutes at the outer edges.” [27] Then, Callimachus, passed by the maiden’s tomb and saw the basket with leaves growing around it. “Delighted with the novel style and form, he built some columns after that pattern for the Corinthians, determined their symmetrical proportions, and established from that time forth the rules to be followed in finished works of the Corinthian order.” [28]

[29]

Gothic (1120-1400, revived in mid 1700’s):

Gothic architecture style evolved from Romanesque art and architecture and has 5 major attributes: stained glass windows, pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, and ornate decoration. [30]

The term Gothic was applied during the Renaissance by Italian writers when architecture, art, design, shifted back to the classical style. “Gothic” was used after the Goths, a barbaric tribe who once held power and had destroyed the Classical culture of the Roman/Greek eras. [31] Gothic architecture has nothing to do with the Goth tribe, it was used as a slighting term during the Renaissance because its ornate structures were considered ugly compared to the clean geometries of the Classical style. [32]

John Ruskin, in “The Nature of Gothic,” attributes Gothic’s religiousness not in its monolithic verticality but in the ornament detail. “In contrast to ancient Greek architecture, where standardized ornamentation evinces the subservience of worker to master designer, Gothic architecture expresses the imaginations of individual, rough-and-ready artisans.” [33] The Medieval man “considered himself an imperfect reflection of the divine light of God, and Gothic architecture was the ideal expression of this view.” [34]

Ruskin writes “[I]t is, perhaps, the principal admirableness of the Gothic schools of architecture that they thus receive the results of the labour of inferior minds; and out of fragments full of imperfection, and betraying that imperfection in every touch, indulgently raise up a stately and unaccusable whole.” [35] The idea of ‘rude craftsmanship’, as Joseph Murphy notes, is reflected in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles,

[S]ince every created substance must fall short of the perfection of divine goodness, in order that the likeness of divine goodness might be more perfectly communicated to things, it was necessary for there to be a diversity of things, so that what could not be perfectly represented by one thing might be, in more perfect fashion, represented by a variety of things in different ways. [36]

The elements of Gothic architecture, most specifically the pointed arch, lent towards the development of the ribbed vault, flying buttresses, and which allowed for artistry to (literally) shine through the stained glass displayed in the high arches. 

These building techniques permitted buildings to soar to amazing new heights, dwarfing anyone who stepped inside. Moreover, the concept of divine light was suggested by the airy quality of Gothic interiors illuminated by walls of stained glass windows. The complicated simplicity of ribbed vaulting added another Gothic detail to the engineering and artistic mix. The overall effect is that Gothic structures are much lighter in structure and spirit than sacred places built in the earlier Romanesque style.[37]

[38]

Using spaces to create a sense of awe in the space participant by their sheer grandiosity, the usage of light to enforce the idea of spiritual presence further expanded with the openness of the cathedral ceiling, the symbolic sky-scraping height of these cathedrals- all contributed to the notion that God was the master architect.

During the Gothic revival of the 19th and 20th centuries, however, “Gothic architecture shed its morbid associations and was admired both for its aesthetic form and for the integral relationship of that form to a theological vision.” [39] An excellent example of this is Antoni Gaudí and his vision for La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí, a strict Catholic, and fervent nature-lover, believed that nature’s organic structure were perfect, further evidence of God’s ideal architecture. Inspired by nature and God, Gaudí set out to create the cathedral. He “would never allow the building to outshine God’s creations however, so he set a limit on how tall the church would ever get. La Sagrada Família would be one meter (or about 3 feet) shorter than Mount Montjuïc in Barcelona. Just to keep it humble.” [40]

[41]

The pointed arch relieved “the stress on other structural elements” which made it “possible to reduce the size of the columns or piers that supported the arch.” [42] Thus, the new columns were much slimmer, as compared to earlier Romanesque churches. This motif was “repeated in the upper levels of the nave, so that the gallery and clerestory would not seem to overpower the lower arcade,” the columns continued to the roof and “became part of the vault.” [43] The pointed arch allowed for ribbed vaulting (as compared to Romanesque barrel vaulting), which used the columns to support the weight and allowed for the walls to become thinner - having the effect of opening the space up even more and that “gave a sense of unity to the structure.” [44] Ribbed vaulting “became more complicated and was crossed with lierne ribs into complex webs, or the addition of cross ribs, called tierceron. (...) Fan vaulting decorated half-conoid shapes extending from the tops of the columnar ribs.” [45] To prevent the arches from collapsing outwards, “Gothic architects began using a revolutionary flying buttress system (...) freestanding brick or stone supports attached to the exterior walls by an arch or a half-arch, giving the buildings an impression of potential winged flight in addition to a vital source of support.” [46]

Ribbed Vault [47]

Flying Buttress' [48]

Thinner/lighter systems allowed for larger windows, which allowed for more light and for more and more fantastic ornamental systems to develop through stained glass, tracery, carvings, creating a “dizzying display of decoration that one encounters in a Gothic church. In late Gothic buildings, almost every surface is decorated. Although such a building as a whole is ordered and coherent, the profusion of shapes and patterns can make a sense of order difficult to discern at first glance.” [49]

Gothic ornament stands out in prickly independence, . . . here starting up into a monster, there germinating into a blossom; anon knitting itself into a branch, alternately thorny, bossy, and bristly, or writhed into every form of nervous entanglement (...) the cathedral front [is] at last lost in the tapestry of its traceries, like a rock among the thickets and herbage of spring. [50]

The ‘ornament,’ while on its own (or lack of) is decoration and then perhaps more suited to discussions of ‘beauty’ but when applied to a structure, ornament contributes to the structure perception of the space participant and thus should be considered as part of structure. 

[51]

Baroque (1584 - 1723):

Baroque style is thought to have developed with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation movements of Catholicism when Protestants began attracting larger and larger numbers of Christians away from Catholicism and the church, after the Council of Trent  “launched an overtly emotional and sensory” propaganda campaign to “appeal to the faithful through art and architecture” to win back those that had converted to Protestantism. [52] Baroque’s attributes are “grandeur, sensuous richness, drama, vitality, movement, tension, emotional exuberance, and a tendency to blur distinctions between the various arts.” [53]

The Three Tendencies of Baroque Style:

  • (...) the emergence of the Counter-Reformation and the expansion of its domain, both territoriality and intellectually. (...) To counter the inroads made by the Reformation, (...) adopted a propagandistic stance in which art was to serve as a means of extending and stimulating the public’s faith in the church. To this end the church adopted a conscious artistic program whose art products would make an overtly emotional and sensory appeal to the faithful. The Baroque style that evolved from this program was paradoxically both sensuous and spiritual; while a naturalistic treatment rendered the religious image more accessible to the average churchgoer, dramatic and illusory effects were used to stimulate piety and devotion and convey an impression of the splendour of the divine. Baroque church ceilings thus dissolved in painted scenes that presented vivid views of the infinite to the observer and directed the senses toward heavenly concerns.

  • (...) consolidation of absolute monarchies, accompanied by a simultaneous crystallization of a prominent and powerful middle class, which now came to play a role in art patronage. Baroque palaces were built on an expanded and monumental scale in order to display the power and grandeur of the centralized state, a phenomenon best displayed in the royal palace and gardens at Versailles.

  • (...) new interest in nature and a general broadening of human intellectual horizons, spurred by developments in science and by explorations of the globe. These simultaneously produced a new sense both of human insignificance (...) and of the unsuspected complexity and infinitude of the natural world. [54]

To simplify:

1. Usage of drama and illusion in art and architecture to appeal to the average faithful individual to create a heightened sense of awe for the divine as a result of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, the response to the Reformation.

[55]

2. Grander and larger buildings made to represent the power of consolidated monarchies.

[56]

3. New developments in science and exploration that reinforced the sense of human insignificance in relation to the rest of the world. 

[57]

Neoclassical (1750-1850):

Classical Architecture by the Greeks/Romans saw a resurgence in the 18th and 19th centuries. “Neo,” meaning new, and classical - meaning “new classical” was just that. [58] Neoclassical was a response (much like Baroque style was a response to the more stripped Renaissance style) to the excessiveness of the Rococo style which emerged from and had many characteristics of the Baroque style. [59] Neoclassical characteristics, similar to classical architecture, include, large scale with symmetrical floor plans, columns, geometric forms, domed roofs. [60]

The phase of Neoclassicism (roughly 1780-1950) contained within: “Federal style” (after the US government), Neoclassical, Greek Revival, and Neoclassical revival. [61] The movement shifted from traditional European interpretations of Classic, focusing more on ‘traditional’ orders of proportions, to an emphasis on the “more austere Greek Doric over the Roman,” which theoretically was truer to the notion of ‘Classic’, and then back to Neoclassical, albeit the “modernist’s interpretation” of it. [62]

[63]

Neoclassicism corresponded with the early Age of Enlightenment in Europe, otherwise known as the Age of Reason, “[f]or Enlightenment thinkers themselves, however, the Enlightenment is not an historical period, but a process of social, psychological or spiritual development, unbound to time or place.” [64] The Enlightenment supported thinkers that, 

questioned traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. The Enlightenment produced numerous books, essays, inventions, scientific discoveries, laws, wars and revolutions. The American and French Revolutions were directly inspired by Enlightenment ideals and respectively marked the peak of its influence and the beginning of its decline. [65]

In 1753, a Marc Antoine Laugier published “Essai sur l’Architecture,” (essay on architecture), holding a pro-Greek view as reaction against Baroque/Rococo excessiveness, the treatise helped establish an argument for future movements (like the Neoclassical) and the desire of man for simplicity. [66] Laugier’s “Primitive Hut,” otherwise known as the “Vitruvian Hut” because of his influence by Vitruvius, explores the origins of Architecture: 

In the De Architectura (Ten Books of Architecture), Vitruvius describes the origin of the dwelling house that was derived from discovery of fire that gave rise to ancient men to social intercourse around it. As they kept coming together, their number increased. As a consequence of this, a necessity of gathering under a covered place occurred. Neither caves nor woods and groves fulfilled their needs. Finally their ability to use their hands and reasoning the surrounding environment helped them to construct by themselves. Since they were born in the wild, the search for a place to sit comfortably close to fire and being protected at the same time resulted in shelter with improving standards. That was such an improvement that it helped the man to move from “barbarism” to “civilization” (Vitruvius, 1960: 38, 41). [67]

Laugier’s notion of simplicity and pro-Greek classicism is echoed in his description of the primitive hut: 

Architecture owes all that is perfect to the Greeks, a nation privileged to have known everything regarding science and to have invented everything connected with the arts (...) They gave up the absurd fancy ornaments of the Gothic and Arabesque styles and put in their place the virile and elegant adornment of the Doric, Ionic, and the Corinthian. (...) It is the same in architecture as in all other arts: its principles are founded on simple nature, and nature’s process clearly indicates its rules. (...) He wants to make himself a dwelling that protects but does not bury him. Some fallen branches in the forest are the right material for his purpose; he chooses four of the strongest, raises them upright and arranges them in a square; across their top he lays four other branches; on these he hoists from two sides yet another row of branches which, inclining towards each other, meet at their highest point. He then covers this kind of roof with leaves so closely packed that neither sun nor rain can penetrate. Thus, man is housed. (...) All the splendors of architecture ever conceived have been modeled on the little rustic hut I have just described. It is by approaching the simplicity of this first model that fundamental mistakes are avoided and true perfection is achieved. The pieces of wood set upright have given us the idea of the column, the pieces placed horizontally on top of them the idea of the entablature, the inclidining pieces forming the roof the idea of the pediment. (...) From now on it is easy to distinguish between the parts which are essential to the composition of an architectural Order and those which have been introduced by necessity or have been added by caprice. [68]

This cabin, he maintains, is the origin of architectural structure. The most simple, the origin- but from which all other architectural styles extend from, echoing the return of ideas to the new classical period. 

[69]

Art Deco (1900-1945):

The term “Art Deco” originated from the “Exposition internationale des Arts Décoratifs et industriels modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts), held in Paris in 1925.” [70] The exhibit, first intended to be held in 1914 was the product of a group of “French artistic innovators [who] formed an organization called the Societé des Artistes Décorateurs” who were sponsored by the French state and supported the “desire to move into the new century in step with innovation rather than being held back by nostalgia.” [71] The group intended to “challenge the hierarchical structure of the visual arts that relegated decorative artists to a lesser status than the more classical painting and sculpting media.” [72] In Europe, Art Deco was a response to Art Nouveau style which “began to fall out of fashion during WWI as many critics felt the elaborate detail, delicate designs, often expensive materials and production methods of the style were ill-suited to a challenging, unsettled, and increasingly more mechanized modern world.” [73]

The Art Deco movement in the United States developed at a later time, with the start of the Great Depression (1929). American designers and architects did not exhibit their work at the Exposition Internationale because Herbert Hoover believed that the country hadn’t developed a “distinctly American style of art that was satisfactorily "new enough." [74] As an alternative, he sent a delegation to France to assess the offerings at the Exposition; and then to apply what they saw to a contemporary American artistic and architectural style,” which inspired a fast spread of artistic style. [75]

Austerity, in fact, might be the core aesthetic for both pragmatic and conceptual reasons for this second development of Art Deco. Whereas Art Deco architecture, for instance, had been vertically oriented with skyscrapers climbing to lofty heights, the later Art Deco buildings with their mostly unornamented exteriors, graceful curves, and horizontal emphases symbolized sturdiness, quiet dignity, and resilience. During the worst years of economic disaster, from 1929 to 1931, American Art Deco transitioned from following trends to setting them. [76]

American Art Deco was more toned down than that of European Art Deco, incorporating “chevron, sunburst, fountain, and arc motifs, endless varieties of geometric patterns, and, in later instances especially, cubic and machine-like forms,” Art Deco, while an adverse reaction to Art Nouveau and the Beaux-Art styles which had represented imagery to do with nature, Art Deco rather “synthesized and abstracted earlier motifs and patterns to create a decorative layer on buildings laid out in otherwise conventional ways.” [77]

[78]

International/Modernism (1850-1970):

“Architecture is no longer conceived as the making of a formal “container,” as it developed over centuries of stylistic evolution. Modernism “broke the box,’ piercing the walls and moving the volumes about; the new work explodes the last restrictive formal geometry. Architects today think first in terms of interior space and how it works, and second in terms of enclosure; they begin by studying a building’s component parts for a searching analysis of their rationale. Functions are not merely assigned to certain spaces; they are given conceptual and visual identity and shaped freely and imaginatively, with often striking results.” 

-Ada Louise Huxtable, The Unreal America Architecture and Illusion

International style was a phrase coined in 1932 by Philip Johnson and Henry Russell Hitchcock in their catalogue The International Style for MoMa’s first exhibit on architecture,  Modern Architecture: International Exhibition. [79]

In their own words: 

There is now a single body of discipline, fixed enough to integrate contemporary style as a reality and yet elastic enough to permit individual interpretation and to encourage general growth:

(...)

The principles are few and broad. They are not mere formulas of proportion such as distinguish the Doric from the Ionic order; they are fundamental, like the organic verticality of the Gothic or the rhythmical symmetry of the Baroque. 

There is, first, a new conception of architecture as volume rather than as mass. Secondly, regularity rather than axial symmetry serves as the chief means of ordering design. 

These two principles, with a third proscribing arbitrary applied decoration, mark the productions of the international style. 

This new style is not international in the sense that the production of one country is just like that of another. Nor is it so rigid that the work of various leaders is not clearly distinguishable. The international style has become evident and definable only gradually. [80]

Truly, the International style, was the one of the first styles to become globally popularized, as it lacked the “high-minded European idealism of the Bauhaus in this exhibition,”which assisted it because “without any clear ideological baggage, architects from Tel Aviv to Rotterdam, Brasilia to Caracas could draw from the movement, without fear of persecution.” [81] This made the style a “symbol of modernity both before and after World War II, especially in Latin America and Asia, where nations felt a keen desire to industrialize and compete politically and economically with traditional powers in Europe and North America.” [82]

International style was typically devoid of ornament, focusing on clean lines and showcasing the materials created by industrialization such as steel, glass, and concrete that were used to create the buildings, same as the ‘Modern’ style. [83] Bare reinforced concrete was usually used (brise soleil), (Brutalism, (beton brut), was a subset of this style), and the famous dictum from Louis Sullivan, “form forever follows function” (1896) was a shared principle among International, Modern, and Brutalist styles. [84] Frustration with the increasingly stylistic buildings that Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts had encompassed had little to do with the buildings functions, the rapidly industrializing society with which came new building technologies, 

dictated the search for an honest, economical, and utilitarian architecture that would both use the new materials and satisfy society’s new building needs while still appealing to aesthetic taste (...) modern buildings’ form and appearance should naturally grow out of and express the potentialities of their materials and structural engineering. A harmony between artistic expression, function, and technology would thus be established in an austere and disciplined new architecture. [85]

[86]

Postmodernism (1950s - 1990s):

The typical image of modern European architecture of the twenties- that is, the textureless container of simple shape as the membrane-thin envelope for extravagantly open interiors- has today become the butt of negative commentary among architects, critics, and historians.

-William Jordy, “Symbolic Essence” And Other Writings on Modern Architecture and American Culture

It is easier to define postmodernism as what it is in opposition to, as opposed to itself. Lacking definite parameters, postmodernism can be “better understood instead as a set of styles and attitudes that were affiliated in their reaction against modernism,” characterized by “broad skepticism, subjectivism, or relativism; a general suspicion of reason; and an acute sensitivity to the role of ideology in asserting and maintaining political and economic power.” [87] Rejecting the idea of traditional and total theory, and the notion that there was one meaning determined by the artist, postmodernism destroyed the gap between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, working to make art accessible and universal; operating on the notion that all visual symbolism and representation was valid. [88] Postmodernism also rejected “the idea of artistic development as goal-oriented, the notion that only men are artistic geniuses, and the colonialist assumption that non-white races are inferior. Thus, Feminist art and minority art that challenged canonical ways of thinking are often included under the rubric of postmodernism or seen as representations of it.” [89]

[90]

Postmodernism brought back some of the ornamentation modernism had been opposed to and the lines between buildings and decoration were starting to become blurred. In Learning From Las Vegas, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown outline the ever famous “Duck and Shed” which serves the previous characteristic:

 Duck: Where the architectural systems of space, structure, and program are submerged and distorted by an overall symbolic form. 

(Form follows function in a more literal, absurdist, sense).

 Shed: Where systems of space and structure are directly at the service of program, and ornament is applied independently. [91]

(Think: gas station, any retail building with a sign on it denoting its products/services).

While these definitions remain contested by many academics, the postmodern notion and attitudes that rejected the total/authoritarian idea of traditional buildings/art is certainly illustrated in the absurdist and ‘single-use’ duck and the easily universal decorated shed. 

[92]

Conclusion:

Buildings have ceased to be boxes with membranes defining indoor and outdoor domains. their spaces are no longer conceived as static, finite enclosures but as serial and open-ended.  The significance of this approach is that the building’s elements can be redesigned and reassembled in a variety of unconventional configurations, with a greater consciousness-and, sometimes, radical interpretation-of the relationship of use and form.

-Ada Louise Huxtable

All buildings are reflections of their times and their histories, many created as adverse reactions to the popular belief of the previous time period. Each building style, emerging from novel physical structures that were possible by technological advances, were chosen to be created as reflections of the contemporary societal ideas and sects that either funded the buildings or were in the dominant culture at the time. Religion, nature, industrialization and geometric shapes have all been recurring design influences through time as different movements and ideologies took dominance, groups were persecuted, and academic debates continued. Even still, what is admittedly even more fascinating is the notion of architectural structure and how it has evolved physically, but its spirit of 4 columns, a roof, and perhaps some walls, is what forms the basis of nearly all structures. Each architectural style merely takes this hut and twists it into a new form, maybe it adds a dome or a larger addition, sometimes ornament. But the alterations on the hut are all done to enhance the perception of the viewer, to use illusion to make the viewer support and participate in the ideology of the building - which is transitively the ideology of its fabricator - and these ideologies, as we have seen, are vast. They range from wanting austere simplicity to grand and excess religious imagery to dwarf the space participant. However, in order for the illusion to be successful, the space must act as a cohesive whole and not the sum of 5 different theories. Even postmodernism in its rejection of totality still, per artwork, supports the ‘anarchist’ mindset which is a general characteristic of itself. Psychological and technological consistency between architectural movements is what creates successful illusions for space participants and what makes the transmission of thoughts and ideas through physical structure - no matter how simple or complex - the ulterior motive of all spaces. 

 

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Others:

Ching, F. D. K., Onouye, B.,  Zuberbuhler, D. (2014). Building Structures Illustrated. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. (pp. 14).

Huxtable, A. L. (1999). Unreal America: Architecture and Illusion. NEW YORK: W.W. NORTON. (pp.176). 

Jordy, W. H., Bacon, M. (2005). ‘Symbolic Essence’ and Other Writings on Modern Architecture and American Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press. (pp. 135). 

 

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