Thursday, September 30, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 3

1) Cathedral comparisons

Symbol - Florence vs. Cologne

Although technically a Gothic cathedral, the Duomo in Florence, Italy harkens back to classical design. Filippo Brunelleschi won the competition to design and orchestrate the construction of the cathedral's massive dome. He had visited Rome to study the architecture there, and was determined to rival the massive dome of the Pantheon. The construction of Brunelleschi's dome, begun in 1420, marked the resurrection of Roman building scale. The cathedral as a whole, in fact, seems to speak not a Gothic language, but the language of antiquity. This bold statement of classical rebirth is made apparent as the dome rises magnificently above surrounding buildings. This statement radiated a new attitude of faith in human endeavor.

The Kolner Dom cathedral in Cologne, Germany speaks a very different language, that is, one of the majesty and mystery of heaven. Seen from above, the cathedral boasts a large, white cross - a clear symbol of the Christian faith. The focus of the cathedral is one of verticality, light, and dematerialization. Tall spires and pointed arches reach toward heaven; giant stained glass windows filter in ethereal light.

Both cathedrals are symbolic messages to the cities in which they were built. The Duomo - with its massive dome, rounded arches, geometric shapes, and light palette - communicated to the citizens of Florence that classicism was rising again. The Kolner Dom - with its emphasis on verticality and light - pointed the citizens of Cologne toward the hope of heaven. No doubt the people of Florence and Cologne recognized these symbols, which were most certainly accompanied by cultural attitudes.

Understanding cultural context and the meanings therein can help us to understand symbols and how they spoke to people of the time.

Impressions - Florence vs. Salisbury

The Duomo cathedral in Florence, Italy and the Cathedral of Saint Mary in Salisbury, England give very different first impressions. The Duomo is quite different from a typical Gothic cathedral. Its palette is comparatively light; it is more geometric and visually solid, with an emphasis on form. Its impressive dome boldly soars above its surroundings, implying not so much a spirit of verticality but one of mass. Atop the dome and other roofed areas are terra cotta tiles. Exterior decoration displays some geometric forms. The structure that supports the two domes (one inside the other) is hidden from view.

The Salisbury cathedral emphasizes verticality with its pointed elements. Compared to the Duomo, it is visually less heavy, although its palette is darker. Large stained glass windows fill the cathedral interior with mystical light. Emphasis is on dematerialization of form. Decoration is delicate and intricate. Structure is externalized, demonstrated especially by the flying buttresses.

Both cathedrals have a colorful language of their own. The Duomo is lighter in palette, with almost a playful tone. Salisbury conveys a more serious attitude, but its stained glass windows create a colorful interior display. Both cathedrals tell stories with colorful imagery.

The choice of palette, form, materials, etc. for both cathedrals directly relates to the messages each one was built to convey. Both cathedrals are soaringly large and required the patronage of an entity as large as the Church.

Language - Florence vs. Amiens

The Duomo cathedral and the Notre Dame cathedral at Amiens in France speak different design languages. Duomo's nearly classical elements speak of the rebirth of antiquity. The cathedral does, however, speak a somewhat mixed language, incorporating Christian Gothic elements as well. The Amiens cathedral, on the other hand, contains a purity in the cohesion of its elements, being a perfect example of unadulterated Gothic styling. As one reflects on context, it seems somewhat appropriate that each cathedral developed in the place it did: Duomo in Italy - where the Renaissance would begin - and the Amiens cathedral in then still heavily Gothic France.

The smoothing of the ornamentation at Duomo does in fact signal changes in the attitude of the Church as it approached the Renaissance. Focus was shifting from the intricate Gothic language of heaven to a more geometric style and humanistic line of thought. Despite being more smoothed-out, the Duomo cathedral does have sculpted figures. The sculpture present in both cathedrals enhances the human experience by telling rich stories of the Christian religion - pages of the Bible carved in stone.

2) Domestic medieval interiors typically had a great hall where many different activities took place. This hall contained a dais, a screen, a centrally located fire pit (or later, a fireplace), and sometimes a minstrels' gallery above the screen. Colors were rich, including saturated green, blue, scarlet, violet, white, brown, and russet. Interior lighting was minimal, supplied by firelight, torches, candles, or lamps. Floors were composed of dirt, stone, clay, or brick; upper floors were composed of wood. Walls were made of wood paneling, stone, and plaster. Windows were small, although later in the period they became larger with the decreasing of outside threats. Glass was not prevalent. Doors were wooden and rectangular, with wrought iron hinges. Textiles were very important in these interiors, adding warmth to rooms yet remaining easily portable decorative features. Wall hangings were very common. Ceilings were vaulted, beamed, or timber-roofed. Furniture was sparse but included chairs, benches, stools, tables, cupboards, buffets, chests, and beds.

Images from:

Harwood, Buie. Architecture and Interior Design Through the 18th Century, pg. 156. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2002.

Monday, September 20, 2010

iar 222. Egypt, Greece, & Rome summary

This is what I came up with in class last Friday:

Egyptian architecture focused heavily on the idea of permanence, particularly tomb architecture. The scale of tomb architecture was very large and the material of choice was stone. Furniture was often made of wood and didn't have the same permanent quality. Egyptian art was stylized and maintained a great deal of consistency throughout the centuries.

Grecian architecture was all about achieving perfection. Buildings were proportioned according to the proportions of their parts, such as columns. Grecian art was more life-like than Egyptian art, focusing not so much on symbolism but on perfection, beauty, and the "ideal."

Roman architecture was grander in scale than Grecian architecture. Much Grecian influence was present in Roman architecture, but decor became more prominent and opulent.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 2.

1) Hersey's thesis is worthy of consideration. Greek culture being steeped as it was in the worship of gods, it is not hard to imagine that its architecture was built with the subject of religious sacrifice in mind. If the various architectural elements represent components of sacrificial objects and victims, the entire building itself could be seen as a ritual sacrifice to the gods. In his writing, Hersey makes reference to many architectural elements, explaining their significance and the meaning of the Greek words used to describe them. For instance, Hersey explains that the bases of columns represent feet, sometimes "bound" by cavetto molding or toruses, words referring to ropes; hunting, seen by Hersey as a form of sacrifice, involved the binding of the victims' feet with rope. Also, the trachelion and hypotrachelion come from the Greek word for "throat," and the volutes present in Ionic and Corinthian capitals can be thought to resemble hair or horns - principal objects involved in ritual sacrifices. The entablature is seen to represent a table on which offerings were arranged. Although Hersey's arguments are convincing, there is no concrete evidence that he is entirely correct.

2) When viewing buildings and artifacts left behind by other civilizations, it is always important to understand cultural context. The character of Carson in McCaulay's Motel of the Mysteries instinctively ascribes religious connotations to objects that actually had merely secular or practical significance. Everything is assumed to be part of a sacred burial ritual while practical functions are not even considered. Carson misinterprets the objects he encounters because he doesn't know anything about the cultural context of the lost civilization he has stumbled upon. He relies on the objects themselves as his only information source.

Because of the internet, false information can be transmitted quickly and easily. One need not have information inspected for accuracy and approved for publication before disseminating it abroad. When encountering this wealth of information on the internet, many people tend to believe what they read and see without questioning its validity. Assumptions are often made in the absence of familiarity with the context in which people, objects, and situations exist. When using the web as an information source, one should consult other sources as well in order to establish its validity.

3) The pyramids at Giza - constructed for the Egyptian pharaohs Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure - are displays of power, wealth, status, and eternality. Their massiveness and soaring verticality emphasize the pharaoh's dominant position over his subjects, his privileged communication with the gods (as a god-king himself), and his eternal existence in the afterlife. By means of his pyramid, his body and possessions are protected and his soul is directed heavenward. The pyramids appear to be solid, impenetrable masses set apart from the landscape on which they sit. Entrance into them is not advertised or immediately apparent. One stands in awe at their majesty, but is not welcomed inside. They are like sculptures rising from the surface of the ground, appropriate for viewing but not for entering into. In sharp contrast, the funerary temple of Queen Hatshepsut emphasizes horizontality and openness. It has a sense of being integrated into its environment rather than standing out from it. Upon viewing it, one is invited to venture inside, the means of entrance being immediately apparent in the form of a large ramp. Numerous openings along the building's facade lessen the aesthetic heaviness of the building material and invoke a curiosity to peer inside. This building form may reflect Hapshetsut's unique feminine influence. Instead of emphasizing power and dominance, her tomb seems almost submissive in nature. It does not seek to impose its glory but instead extends its welcome, reflecting almost a feminine nurturing quality.

4) In examining Egyptian and Greek architecture for the purpose of comparing and contrasting, it is helpful to choose a building type such as a temple, present in both cultures. Perhaps the most obvious examples would be the Egyptian Temple of Amun-Ra at Karnak and the Greek Parthenon in Athens. Both feature a myriad of columns and emphasize symmetry and axial progression. Both communicate stories through stone carvings. The columns of the Karnak temple's hypostyle hall depict the exploits of the pharaohs, the mighty god-kings; the pediment sculpture of the Parthenon celebrates the goddess Athena. But despite obvious similarities between the two temples, Egyptian and Grecian architectural forms represent differing views concerning life and spirituality. Surviving Egyptian architecture is massive to represent permanence and the importance of the afterlife. Repetition of forms reflects the cyclical nature of life and existence so integral to Egyptian thought. Stylized forms repeated throughout time emphasize the importance of tradition.

Greek architecture, on the other hand, records a striving for perfection in all things. There is a careful and mathematical proportioning of parts to the whole. In the construction of the Parthenon, great care was exercised to correct for naturally occurring optical illusions; that is, the building was made slightly imperfect in order to appear perfect to the human eye. Its sculpture reflects realism and an understanding of the human form.

5) The massiveness and heaviness of Egyptian tomb architecture is meant to convey the idea of permanence and eternality. Just as the soul of the pharaoh will exist for eternity, so his abode must last forever. Egyptian furniture, on the other hand, was built for the practical purpose of providing seating. Often constructed of wood, this furniture doesn't have the quality of permanence that tomb architecture has. As furniture was built for the Egyptians to use in their earthly lives, one could argue that there was no reason for it to last forever. To ancient Egyptians, life on earth was only the beginning of existence and was perhaps quite unimportant in comparison to the afterlife (although it appears that early on the idea of an afterlife only applied to pharaohs). There is a problem, however, in the sense that the surviving examples we have of Egyptian furniture come from royal tombs. Unfortunately, we don't have a clear knowledge of furniture as it existed in the household of the common Egyptian.

6) The two urns depict images of men (rulers or perhaps even gods) in a dominant role over women. On both urns, the male figure is seated on a throne while female figures appear to be attending to him. On the first urn, a woman appears to be handing the male ruler/god his sword and shield. Men, not women, were powerful warriors. On the second urn, the ruler/god holds a cornucopia as he sits, as well as a royal scepter topped with an eagle (the favorite bird of Zeus). The female figures on the urn, particularly the one approaching him from the front, appear to present him with offerings. These images reflect a highly male-dominated society. The urns themselves were almost certainly produced by male artisans. Commenting on ancient Grecian culture, Harwood says, "Males possess independence, wealth, ownership, and education. Women, on the other hand, are their fathers' or husbands' property, being restricted by law, politics, custom, and family relationships. Their main duties are to bear children and tend the family household. Few women artists are known, and nothing by those acknowledged survives" (Harwood, 64).

As a means of understanding Grecian culture, these urns are helpful but not sufficient, as they represent such a small percentage of life and art in ancient Greece.

Monday, September 13, 2010

IAR 211. assignments 1 & 2

Assignment 1.0: portfolio-1

Portfolio board: selected projects from first year; includes hand drawings, color studies made from paint swatches and magazine cutouts, and photographs of my luminaire project (all scanned, printed, and pasted onto matte board).

Perspective drawing for first year IAR 112.

Final project for first year IAR 110.


Assignment 2.0: diagramming: mining for partis

Diagrams for the Frederick C. Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright.

First, form/space diagrams:

organization/order diagrams:

hierarchy diagrams:


Presentation board compiled with Adobe Illustrator:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

IAR 222. point : theories

The object of unit one is to introduce various theories about architecture and design in general. Initially, we were introduced to several ideas, including architecture as an inhabitable art form, architecture and design as symbolic, etc. We also learned some basic elements of architecture to consider throughout the class: inside/outside, third dimension, fourth dimension, light, color, materials, and furnishings. The study of architecture can teach us about different values, cultures, successes and failures, and ideas. Through architecture, we can better understand nature, humanity, and the ways in which they interact.
According to Vitruvius, a good environmental designer must not be limited in the scope of his understanding, but must be familiar with “geometry, history, philosophy, music, and medicine.” Good design must address “economy, propriety, eurhythmy, and order.” Vitruvius also theorized that architecture should have three things: commodity, firmness, and delight. That is, it must be useful, structurally sturdy, and aesthetically pleasing. This applies to other designed objects as well. Christian Norberg-Schultz proposed a four-part criterion for good architecture: physical control, functional frame (basically the same as “firmness”), social milieu context, and cultural symbolization. We also learned certain aspects of vernacular architecture, including its dependence on tradition. Over the years, tradition has grown less and less important in architecture. Western culture now includes a greater number of building types and fewer shared values than in the past, as well as an admiration for “originality.”
The various “ways of looking” reflect Richard Buchanan and Victor Margolin’s idea that there is no “right” way of looking at design. An “aedicule” is described as the most basic form of architecture, consisting of four columns and a roof. When examining architecture, one can identify distinct aedicules within spaces. “The power of three” describes the way objects and ideas are often arranged in groups of three to convey information. Jules David Prown wrote that an artifact can be assessed by a three-step process: description, deduction, and speculation. Dick Hebdige theorizes that objects can contain double meanings, maps of meaning, and subcultures. Roland Barthes believes that group-specific meanings become universal due to a normally hidden set of rules, codes, and conventions. Edward T Hall’s The Hidden Dimension discusses the area of human proxemics, which profoundly effects architectural design. In the excerpt from The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton evaluates architecture in terms of how it affects human emotions and speculates about its ability to produce real happiness. The design cycle theory says that creativity starts in childhood, peaks by middle age, and declines in old age.
Interior architecture lies somewhere between architecture and interior design; it can be described as “the holistic creation, development, and completion of space for human use.” It was interesting to hear a definition of the term, especially after some ponderings about which direction this program is taking me. I suppose we have a foot on either side of the line.
Learning the history and theories of design is important for various reasons. Most "new" designs build in some way off of past ones, and learning various theories can help shape our designs by prompting us to examine why we make certain decisions. Practicing different ways of looking means that we examine designs in ways we've never considered before; we have the chance to become more attentive and more receptive. We consider architecture only a part of a larger design context so that we may study the many ways in which human beings shape the space and matter around them. Through our study, we become more seasoned in our understanding, more thoughtful in our decisions, and more inspired in our endeavors.

After much internal debate, I chose this image to represent the "theories" unit because each proponent of a theory tends to believe that he or she has the "truth."