Thursday, December 9, 2010

iar 222. point : explorations.

The search for "modern" continues.

This search defines the final unit of our study: Explorations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, artists and designers alike were searching for a new style to characterize a new century. Art movements such as post-impressionism, fauvism, cubism, expressionism, and futurism provided ample inspiration for architects and designers. A short-lived design movement known as Art Nouveau emphasized curving lines, asymmetry, dynamism, and a break from historical precedents. Victor Horta's Hotel Tassel is regarded as the quintessential Art Nouveau interior. Art Deco developed in the "era of the automobile," a world where the ideas of motion and speed were valued. It also developed in response to the "glitz and glam" of the Hollywood scene.

Art Deco and Art Nouveau were new and edgy, but to certain designers of the early 20th century, they did not constitute good design. The Bauhaus School was created in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The goal was simple: form determined by function alone, and the elimination of all ornamentation and historical references. From the Bauhaus School, International Modernism (as it was called) developed with the same goals of design. Designer practitioners included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. From the beginning, this form of modernism was criticized for lacking warmth and consideration for human needs. Many of these structures failed to take context into consideration, and their large expanses of glass trapped heat from the sun, raising interior temperatures to an uncomfortable degree. Moreover, the idea of "good design for all" was not quite the case. The reality was closer to "good design for all … who could afford it."

Modernism developed a softer, more expressive side in the works of design practitioners such as Eero Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, Hans Scharoun, John Utzon, Bertrand Goldberg, and others.

Reactions and challenges to modernism were bound to follow. The vein of Historic Preservation busied itself with restoration projects on structures such as the Louvre in Paris and Monticello in Charlottesville, VA.

"High Tech" architecture is perhaps best represented by the Lloyd building in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. These structures are famous for having their "guts" displayed on the outside for all to see. Roth describes the Pompidou center as "an immense rectangular box of glass, with all of its hardware pulled to the exterior so that the interior could be a series of huge Miesian universal spaces." He continues, "The exterior, therefore, is a maze of color-coded air ducts, electrical conduits, and Plexiglas-enclosed escalators. It is an exoskeletal building, with the skeleton made up of exposed steel members … It is architecture-as-machine elevated to the most prestigious cultural level" (Roth, 574-577).

In contrast, Regionalism sought to reintroduce the importance of context into the design of structures, demonstrated by buildings such as Hassan Fathy's market building for a new agricultural settlement in Egypt (1967).

The reactions to modernism are many. Roth discusses a long list of late-twentieth-century architectural styles loosely described as "postmodern." To give an idea of its diversity, this list consists of Late Modernism, Sculpted (Shaped) Modernism, High Tech, Megastructures, Ironic Classicism, Populist Modernism, Latent Classicism, Fundamental or Essentialist Classicism, Canonic Classicism, Creative Postmodern Traditionalism, Neoexpressionism, Deconstructivism, Critical Regionalism, and Green or Sustainable Architecture.

It strikes me that in all our units of study, the theme of each phase of design history is essentially one of uncertainty, of searching for what is proper, true, and desirable. The Theories unit introduced the various ways in which the subject of design has been approached. In the Foundations unit, the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome all differed from one another in their outlook on life, which was reflected in the materialization of different design principles. Alternatives presented a struggle between classical and non-classical. The theme of "searching" is especially pronounced in the later units, namely Reflections and Explorations. The 19th century's numerous historical revivals juxtaposed with a proliferation of new building technologies created a dilemma of design. By the beginning of the 19th century, with the development of Art Nouveau, what can be called "modernism" had begun. Of course, modernism is a highly relative idea, a fact which entails a continual searching. This concept can be seen in M. C. Escher's 1953 lithograph print entitled "Relativity":

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 7.

For this final reading comprehension, my group was instructed to visit the Weatherspoon Art Museum and select a painting from the "abstraction : form + progress" section of the GREENSBORO COLLECTS show. Also, we were to include in our discussion a bit about another piece of artwork from the same theme. The first painting I chose was Dismembered Disk (1949) by American artist George L. K. Morris. The medium is oil on canvas. Here is the diagram I came up with for this piece:

The painting consists of many intersecting lines creating dynamic shapes, highlighted by a rich color palette of yellow, red, green, and blue, as well as black and white. It has a fractured and chaotic quality about it which creates a sense of movement. It almost looks like it is supposed to resemble something - perhaps a person. In the upper portion of the painting, there is a small black circle that seems to me like it should be an eye.

The second painting I chose was Harlequin (1947) by American artist Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974). The medium is oil on canvas mounted on a board. This painting is opposite from Dismembered Disk in that it appears rather static and grid-like. I chose to make a diagram for this piece as well, to demonstrate how it is different from the first piece of art.

Harlequin has a sense of orderliness in that everything seems to keep its place, without overlap. Within the grid-like structure are various abstract shapes. There appear to be a few abstracted human figures, as well as an eye, diamond shapes, triangles, circles, etc. The predominant color is a deep turquoise, supplemented by black, gold, and a hint of red.

Although these art pieces are quite different from one another, there are ways in which they are similar. Both are abstract, colorful, and were painted in the same medium around the same time by American artists. One would very likely refer to both of these paintings as works of "modern" art.

Indeed, these art pieces can be compared to the architectural modernism of the 20th century. Besides Harlequin's abstract allusion to a snippet of the medieval past, the two paintings are free of historical references. Harwood explains, "For the most part, Modernism strives to design for the present and eliminate most traditions, forms, and elements of the past" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 613).

The abstraction of shapes seen in these paintings is another aspect that connects them to the modern movement. Speaking of the design aesthetic of the Bauhaus school, Harwood says, "Parts are arranged in a series of geometric shapes and forms usually with linear elements" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 592). The International Style of modernism, spawned by the Bauhaus school, excelled in this clear abstraction of elements. Practitioners rejected ornamentation, insisting that function be the sole determinant of form. It is in this way that modern art differs sharply from the modernism of Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and others. The goal of paintings like Dismembered Disk and Harlequin is to express an idea or a feeling (although that idea or feeling is often up to interpretation). A complaint against International Modernism is that it ignores a human need for beauty and expression beyond that produced by function alone. Speaking of architectural critic Lewis Mumford, Roth says, "In his 1949 essay 'Monumentality, Symbolism, and Style,' he argued that is [sic] was not enough for a contemporary building simply 'to be something and do something; it must also say something'" (Roth, 539).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

iar 211. assignment 6.0 - communicating through photos + slides.

iar 211. assignment 5.0 - communicating through print.

For this group project, I worked with Corry, Cassie, Leslie, and Nikki to compile a booklet documenting our precedent studies. Below are some selected images of the book, courtesy of Cassie.

My section of the book:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 6.

1) Art Nouveau was a groundbreaking style at the turn of the century that looked forward rather than borrowing from the past. Most Art Nouveau interiors emphasize organic, curving lines that suggest energy and movement. These whiplash curves can be seen in the work of Art Nouveau designers such as Victor Horta, Hector Guimard, and August Endell.

Tassel House by Victor Horta : Brussels, Belgium

Entrance hall for the Castel Beranger apartments by Hector Guimard : Paris, France

Atelier Elvira by August Endell : Munich, Germany

A similar sense of energy and movement can be found in paintings of the early 20th century, particularly those of the art movements fauvism, cubism, expressionism, and futurism. Like Art Nouveau, these art movements were groundbreaking and controversial. Restless lines, organic curves, and a sense of emotion are present in works such as the following:


The Joy of Life by Henri Matisse


Les Demoiselles by Pablo Picasso


Yellow-Red-Blue by Wassily Kandinsky


Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash by Giacomo Balla


Nude Descending a Staircase by Marcel Duchamp

These interiors and paintings are evidence that designers and artists were seeking a new and fresh style to characterize the 20th century and set it apart from everything that had come before. The feelings provoked by these works were considered just as important as the works themselves.

2) Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye (1929-31) is a superb example of a "machine for living."

According to Roth, "The house is a square, lifted up on what Le Corbusier called pilotis … An elaborate retreat, it incorporated all of the five points that Le Corbusier had stipulated in an article published in 1926" (Roth, 532). The house's open plan is made possible by a structural frame of concrete rather than supporting walls. Roth explains that "the turning radius of an automobile determined the curvature of the glass wall of the ground floor, for there, under the shelter provided by the raised living level, is a covered driveway, a three-car garage, a reception area, and other auxiliary spaces" (Roth, 532). Like a machine, there is nothing superfluous about the building; there are no unnecessary elements, only whatever is functional and purposeful. Le Corbusier believed that because ornamentation served no true functional purpose, it had no place in design.

International modernism was controversial from its beginning. Not surprisingly, a common complaint was that it lacked warmth and feeling. Massey explains that, in response to Wells Coates's "Minimum Flat" at the 1933 Exhibition of the British Industrial Arts in Relation to the Home, "The response of critics and public alike was that the Flat showed that Modernism could be successful in the design of a kitchen or bathroom where efficiency was important, as well as for new types of interior such as Underground stations and broadcasting studios, but that it was not appropriate for the sanctuary of the British living room" (Massey, 90). But despite being viewed as "cold" by many throughout the 20th century, the International Style has continued to influence design to this present day. Many today seek clean, sleek, open, and sparse interiors such as this one by WHIM Architecture:

(absolutely beautiful, by the way)

3) Rendering of a modern interior:

Director's office, Bauhaus, Dessau, 1926.

Massey, Anne. Interior Design Since 1900, third edition, page 72. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2008.

When I first saw this interior in Judith's IAR 221 class, I was surprised by the colors and patterns used for a "cold" and "lifeless" interior. Despite being virtually free of ornamentation, the International Style uses form and color to create beauty.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

iar 222. point : reflections SUMMARY.

For the "reflections" point summary, I read the point essays of:


Dajana writes about the many revolutions of the 19th century and the struggle to find the nature of "true" design. The image she chose conveys the idea of "the wheels of progression" turning, and many different revolutions occurring at the same time. She also talks about the influence of eastern design on that of the west. She writes, "Although England was such an influential power throughout much of this period, there was another power that was gaining force in design and it was coming from the east. Places like India and China were forming major trade routes with Europe which in turn caused a fresh exchange of decorative systems, abstracted art, and exotic atmospheres."


Abigail touches on the idea of certain time periods being revolutionary and yet reflective at the very same time. Such is the case with design as it was taking shape in America. Classical design was chosen for the capitol building in Washington, DC as a way to demonstrate knowledge and power on behalf of the new nation. Despite the revolutionary nature of their split with England, Americans still reflected on the past in order to express themselves.

Abigail also talks about the implications of the Industrial Revolution: new building types, materials, and design languages. This part stuck out to me: "The problem with the period subsequent to the Industrial revolution was that too many design languages were competing for a voice in the world, and interiors were becoming cultured with items that all spoke a different language. Because of one revolution, there was a need for another." The image she chose (of the Crystal Palace in London) demonstrates this Victorian eclecticism.


Blakeni stresses the idea of reflections being distorted versions of what they are reflecting. The image she chose does a great job of conveying this idea. Underneath the image, she writes,"when things get reflected, sometimes the image that we see is what we think we see or what we want to see... we miss things, leave them out or change it to our desires just like design."

Blakeni also talks about the debate concerning handcrafted vs. machine-made goods. In her essay, she quotes Charles Ashbee: "We do not reject the machine. We welcome it. But we desire to see it mastered." This statement attests to the usefulness of the machine but recognizes the importance of a human element in design (although, of course, humans did design and build the machine, did they not?).

iar 222. point : alternatives SUMMARY.

For the "alternatives" point summary, I read the point essays of:


Justin writes about the idea of breaking boundaries, moving through time from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to the Baroque period. Each period, he seems to say, was revolutionary in its own way. He writes, "The Gothic style was itself a revolution initiated in the way people considered the earthly world to be mundane and the church reacted by created a architectural revolution based on a heaven bound focal point." In contrast, a strong belief in human potential drove the people of the Renaissance to strive for perfection. During the Baroque period, the breaking of boundaries can most clearly be seen.

Justin supplements the image he chose with the following very true statement: "This image clearly depicts the struggles of the alternatives unit to break free from the oppressive restrictions of our limited understanding of the world and the capacity to overcome boundaries that hold us back. It is human nature never to be content with the here and now but in the curiosity of the possible, of the dream, of the potential that has not yet been reached. Each design revolution brings about a temporary satisfaction until our restlessness sets in and once again we struggle to break the boundaries of the previous generation."


Anna writes about thinking outside of the box, an idea that is very effectively communicated by the image she chose. An interesting thing she mentions is the way simple elements can be combined to produce complexity. She says, "Basic shapes are extremely important in everything. They are so simplistic, but when they are played with and altered from the original form, can turn into something very interesting." As an example, she talks about the combination of different design styles in order to produce a unique statement.


Kelly also writes about breaking the rules as a way to strive for novelty and individuality. The image she chose conveys this idea well. She says, "Even in today’s modern world classical subjects such as the Madonna and child are being reinvented in unconventional ways. 'The Madonna of Port Lligat' by Salvador Dali is a perfect example of this classical subject reinvented. The figures are painted with rectangular holes in their torsos to represent their transcendent nature. Thus creating the art of alternatives."

Something else I appreciate about Kelly's essay is the following observation: "Most often successful innovation comes from trial and error. Despite it’s negative connotation, failure isn’t always a bad thing, it is how we learn from our past experiences." She mentions an example from history (the front fa├žade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti by Brunelleschi) and also complements her statement with an example from an experience she had while folding paper in studio. This idea of learning through failures is important to remember when projects or situations go awry.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

iar 222. point : reflections.

In the Reflections unit, we studied the architecture and ideologies of the 18th and 19th centuries, a time period encompassing many revolutions as well as revivals.
The so-called Modern era had its beginnings in the Age of Enlightenment, which followed a series of revolutions - including a population explosion - and lasted roughly from 1720-1790. Beginning around this time, a more pragmatic mindset began to set in as interest in scientific inquiry grew. Philosophers such as John Locke, Baron de Montesquieu, and Jean Jacques Rousseau put forth various political theories. Monarchical rule began to come under scrutiny, a fact which would lead to the revolutions in France and America. Many individuals during the Age of Enlightenment desired a pure and rational architecture that lacked the excess surface decoration and "artificiality" of the Rococo style. This desire was especially strong in the French philosophes.
The American colonies reflected back on the design styles they knew from their mother countries in Europe. They largely built in the Classical and Gothic styles, depending on the country of origin. The work of Thomas Jefferson - which includes the Virginia Capitol Building, Jefferson's Monticello home, and the University of Virginia - all follow classical principles.
The Industrial Revolution, which began around 1750 in England, forever changed economies, societies, cultures, business, industry, and technology in Europe and America. According to Harwood, "By altering the way that people live and work, the Industrial Revolution affects the appearance and planning of communities and public and private buildings, ushering in new types, new construction methods, new technologies, and new materials that increase comfort and convenience for all levels of society" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 3). A a result of industrialization, a rising middle class began to gain prominence and to set design trends. Harwood continues, "Throughout the 19th century, exhibitions and expositions are innovative testing grounds for new design ideas and the introduction of new products. They also are fresh sources for the introduction of new concepts in interior decoration and furnishings. Manufacturers create their finest, most innovative pieces for these exhibitions and architects design impressive new buildings that affect architectural development" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 5). Iron was increasingly used as a building material, which allowed for the construction of buildings such as the Crystal Palace in London, England. Built for the Great Expedition of 1851, the Crystal Palace was built from prefabricated parts - cast iron and glass - in only a matter of months. It was a marvel of the Industrial Revolution, a testament to the capabilities of machine labor. Designed by gardener Sir Joseph Paxton, it was modeled after the greenhouses and conservatories of the 19th century. Inside the Crystal Palace, countless machine-made items were put on display to show off the "Works of Industry of All Nations." But while these items were innovative in that they were the products of machines, they were unoriginal in that they took on the forms of the past. Herein we notice an incongruity of the 19th century, that is, an inconsistency between moving forward and looking backward. While such great advances in building technology were being made - as Roth explains it, "epochal changes in the creation of new building types that exploited new building materials" (Roth, 469) - the century was nonetheless steeped in various revivals which embraced design styles of the past. Harwood explains, "During most of the 19th century, buildings, interiors, and furnishings look backward in design instead of forward, almost an antithesis of progress" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 6). Among the many revivals occurring in the 19th century were the Greek Revival, the Gothic Revival, and the Egyptian Revival. An interest in exotic design also characterized the century. And yet Roth entitles the chapter on the 19th century, "The Development of Modernism."
In reaction to industrialization, the Arts and Crafts movement (as it is now called) came into being, emphasizing the importance of handcrafted goods inspired by nature. William Morris played a large part in this design movement, which looked back to medieval influences for inspiration. An offshoot of Arts and Crafts was the Aesthetic Movement, which championed "art for art's sake." Another offshoot was the work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose notable works include Falling Water in Pennsylvania and the Frederick C. Robie House in Chicago, IL. Wright differed from William Morris in that he did not reject the use of machines, but realized their usefulness. In his architecture, interiors, and furnishings, Wright sought to create an authentic American style.
At the turn of the 20th century, the Chicago School built skyscrapers that influenced the architecture in other cities. The extensive changes experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries were necessary elements in the further development of "modernism" in the 20th century.

This image seems to be asking the question, "Should we move forward or look backward?"