Sunday, October 24, 2010

iar 222. point : alternatives.

In the Alternatives unit, we studied the architecture and ideologies of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Baroque period.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west, the architecture of the Middle Ages gradually deviated from classical design principles. The Gothic style of architecture (in my opinion, perhaps the most beautiful) emphasizes lightness and verticality. Despite the fact that their structure is exposed, not hidden, Gothic cathedrals boast immense stained glass windows that fill interiors with ethereal light, thus dematerializing structural mass. These churches were built to glorify God and the Church, dwarfing man and providing glimpses of the heavenly realm. The great Notre Dame Cathedral in Amiens, France is considered the hallmark of the French Gothic style.

The Renaissance, beginning in Italy around 1400, marked the rebirth of antiquity. Classical thought and design concepts were resurrected from the distant worlds of Ancient Greece and Rome, and humanism dominated European thought, as man again became the measure and measurer of all things. The goal of architecture and the arts shifted from heavenly aspirations to a glorification of mankind's place in the universe. According to Roth, "To the Italians of the fifteenth century, Gothic architecture, with its roots in northern European sources, evoked an uncivilized, brutish period that they began to call the dark age that separated the glories of ancient Greece and Rome from their own time. Emboldened by their flourishing urban (and urbane) culture, they set out to match the intellectual and artistic achievements of the ancients" (Roth, 353). The famous Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio designed villas based on clear mathematical proportions. His Villa Capra - commonly known as the Villa Rotunda - is the most widely copied building in the world.

A playful new style known as Mannerism, in which the rules of classical design were intentionally manipulated or broken, began to appear during the High Renaissance. Michelangelo Buonarroti, whose designs emphasized more complex forms instead of the clear and rational ones found in Palladio's villas, led the way to Baroque architecture.

The Baroque period was an age of drama and theatricality. Roth describes Baroque architecture as "complex, multilayered, molded, and plastically or sculpturally shaped" (Roth, 397). It is an architecture designed to awe and impress by stimulating the senses. While Renaissance art and architecture can be described as staying within the confines of a box, Baroque art and architecture break outside of the box's boundaries. Faced with the threat of the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church employed dynamic Baroque art, architecture, and theatre as a means to attract followers and prevent Protestant conversions. In France, the ostentatious style of Louis XIV dominated architecture.The royal palace at Versailles was designed to display the power and the glories of the "sun king," as Louis XIV was known. Its Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) clearly demonstrates the palace's holistic design. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and added to Versailles between 1678-1688, the Hall of Mirrors provides a dazzling spectacle in which windows, mirrors, glass chandeliers, and gilded surfaces interact to captivate the viewer with light.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary describes an "alternative," in part, as "something which can be chosen instead." The Alternatives unit explores the design world's struggle between established norms and their alternatives. Since antiquity, some designers have chosen to distort or turn away from classical design principles in hopes of expressing novel ideas and themes. This is demonstrated clearly by Gothic architecture. Although Renaissance architects, designers, and artists looked to classical examples, they interpreted classicism in their own way to express the uniqueness of their time. The Baroque style didn't discard classicism but amplified and distorted it.

As designers, we endeavor to distinguish ourselves from others by manipulating designs in unique ways or even blatantly "breaking the rules." Even still, as King Solomon observed in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, there really is nothing new under the sun. Whenever and wherever there have been rules, there have been rule-breakers.

Yet another image of the Amiens cathedral.

Gothic architecture distinguished itself as an alternative to classicism.

iar 222. counterpoint : perspective.

Form: word
Scale: space

Monday, October 18, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 4.

1) The Neo-Palladian/Georgian, American Georgian, Louis XVI/French Provincial, Late English Georgian, and American Federal periods all display some similarities in design characteristics.


Desk/bookcase w/ Chinoiserie

Windsor chair

Tall clock (Martin Carlin)

State bed (Osterly Park)

Sheraton side chair

All these artifacts are balanced and symmetrical, with some repeating elements. Curvilinear forms create a sense of softness and delicacy. All are made of wood, with smooth and carefully crafted details. All are functional, serving a practical purpose.

interior spaces:

Holkham Hall saloon

Gunston Hall stair hall

Marie Antoinette's bedroom, Fountainbleau

Saltram House saloon

Gardner-Pingree House parlor

All these interior spaces convey classical design language, symmetry, and repetition of elements. Patterns are dense, soft, and naturalistic. Materials are rich and create contrasts. Each space has a sense of formality and serves to display the importance of its owner. Each is balanced in its distribution of furniture and other elements, but also shows emphasis through focal points.


Chiswick House

Drayton Hall

Pantheon (St. Genevieve)

Nathaniel Russel House, Charleston, SC


All these buildings strongly demonstrate classical design language. Balance, symmetry, and proportion are important in the design and ordering of architectural elements. Repetition of forms is also evident. Overall form is relatively simple and geometric. Entrances are strongly emphasized. Materials create contrasts on the facade.


London, England

Williamsburg, Virginia

Paris, France

New Town, Edinburgh, Scotland

Washington, DC

In all five of these places, similar design themes and characteristics are present. Symmetry, order, balance, and proportion guide design. There is a general feel of formality. Classical details and motifs are important elements in architecture and interiors. Naturalistic motifs and geometric and curvilinear forms are also common design features.

Classical design is clearly present in these artifacts, spaces, buildings, and places because of the impact of the Renaissance. Roth describes Renaissance architecture as "rationally comprehensible, formed of planes and spaces organized according to clear, numerical proportional systems, its edges and intervals delineated by the crisp elements of the ancient architectural orders" (Roth, 391). To varying extents, this description can be applied to the architecture and design of these later periods.

2) English Colonial architecture, interiors, and furnishings are generally simpler and less refined than their inspirations in England, but a common design language can be found. Symmetry and order are important, although classical language is not strongly evident. Roofs are steeply pitched with tall chimneys, as in English Renaissance residences. The focal points of interiors are large fireplaces. Textiles continue to be important, and English decorations and motifs are used. Furniture demonstrates symmetry, repeating elements, and curvilinear forms.

Spanish Colonial architecture, interiors, and furnishings clearly draw inspiration from those in Spain, but are simplified. Surface decoration is emphasized, showing Moorish influence. White-washed interior walls contrast with dark wood trim. Decoration is concentrated around doorways, which often have ironwork. On floors, tiles with geometric patterns are common. Furnishings, although not as ornate as those from Spain, display curvilinear decorations.

French Colonial architecture, interiors, and furnishings also demonstrate simplified characteristics from the mother country. Facades demonstrate symmetry, repetition, and horizontal divisions. Roofs are steeply pitched. Interiors show symmetry and rectilinear elements. Furniture follows French styles. Pieces are symmetrical and often rectilinear in form, with some curvilinear elements. Armoires, for example, have simple cornices, double doors, and little decoration.

German and Dutch Colonial architecture, interiors, and furnishings are similar to one another and to their European inspirations. Architecture emphasizes symmetry and verticality, but with horizontal banding across the facade. The concept of stacking is especially evident. Roofs are steeply pitched. Interiors frequently display wood. Storage furniture is symmetrical and has horizontal banding as well.

In American Colonial designs, forms and decoration become simpler than their European inspirations. Generally, wood is used for construction because of an abundance of trees. Buildings are smaller, less formal, and less refined. Opulence is diminished as structure and practicality are more important. Gradually, other influences besides European begin to take effect.

According to Roth, "There were no classical ruins in the New World from which Americans could learn something of what made for good design" (Roth, 459). Thus, American colonies turned to what they knew: European designs.

3) Possible Palladian villa, derived from simple mathematical ratios and fractions:

4) The Baroque period is indeed referred to as the age of theatre. Baroque art and architecture were all about drama, theatricality, and inspiring awe. The Catholic Church, as part of the Counter-Reformation, used the Baroque style and theatre to attract new followers and prevent Protestant conversions. According to Larry F. Norman, "After the Council of Trent (1545-63), the Church launched its powerful propaganda campaign against the Reformation, using all the powers of persuasion at its disposal: opulent architecture and decor, eloquent sermon oratory, powerful painting and sculpture. Despite its continuing distrust of the immorality of theater (actors were, for example, excommunicated), the Church could not easily afford to disdain the persuasive powers of the stage" (

Louis XIV of France used awe-inspiring theatricality at Versailles to bring glory to himself and his reign. Exquisite architectural opulence and stage productions displayed the power of the "sun king."

Individuals in the Baroque period looked to the theatre to learn how to conduct themselves in social situations. According to Larry F. Norman, "The elaboration of a civilization of manners in Renaissance Italy, exemplified by guidebooks to courtly refinement and culture such as Baldassare Castiglione's Il Cortegiano, spread across Europe as the former feudal and warrior class of the aristocracy was domesticated under centralized monarchies and modern states (Elias). Concurrently, the rising bourgeoisie, often freed from day-to-day business concerns, increasingly mingled with the aristocracy while imitating its manners and decorum. The birth of this new large leisured class created a world in which distinction was no longer political or economic, but instead performative: an accomplished person of quality played his or her role in the social comedy with winning grace and wit. Theater became a metaphor for social role-playing as well as a school where spectators learned to improve their own performance at Town or Court" (

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

iar 211. assignments 3 & 4

assignment 3.0 - seeing: exploring relationships

building to site:

structure to enclosure:

unit to whole:

natural light to form/space:

circulation to use:

material to form:

final presentation board:


assignment 4.0: communicating to non-designers


site plan:


living room:

dining room:

final presentation board:

Monday, October 11, 2010

iar 222. MAP project & COMPASS project

MAP project:

3D: Apple Store.
2D: Kingscote.
Paragraph: Monticello.
Word: Blenheim Palace.

The project can change from a 2D presentation to a 3D model of the Apple Store, 5th Avenue.


COMPASS project:

Form: paragraph.
Scale: building.

The concept of stacking, represented through buildings from different civilizations throughout history, which we examined in the Foundations unit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

iar 222. point : foundations.

In the foundations unit, we discussed foundational architecture throughout antiquity, as well as the cultures that produced this architecture. We began with the mysterious Stonehenge in England - a peculiar arrangement of monoliths forming circles (a larger one enclosing a smaller one) on the earth's surface. This structure, part of which is now missing, once formed a surprisingly accurate sundial. Exactly how or for what purpose Stonehenge was constructed remains a mystery. In the nearby village of Durington Walls, there is what appears to be a wooden prototype for Stonehenge.

In addition to the concepts of forming circles and lines on the earth's surface and establishing an axis, an important concept in the foundations unit was that of stacking. Just as the makers of Stonehenge stacked their monoliths, the Sumerians stacked bricks to construct buildings such as the ziggurat of Ur-Nammu. This stacking can be seen to represent an aspiration towards heaven.

Ancient Egyptians stacked giant blocks of stone to make such buildings as the step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. The pyramid consists of six mastabas stacked atop one another. The iconic pyramids at Giza are more developed examples and are particularly rich in meaning. Originally each pyramid was coated with limestone and its top capped with gold. When the sun struck the golden tip, its light was metaphorically carried down the four edges of the pyramid to the "four corners" of the earth. The pyramid's massive scale represented the power and superiority of the pharaoh. Its verticality represented the pharaoh's upward journey to the gods in the afterlife. The stacked shape of the pyramids can also be seen to represent the stratified society of ancient Egypt.

Unlike the earlier Minoans, whose architecture represents no fear of invasion, the Mycenaeans built fortifying walls around the city of Mycenae. The entrance into the city is the Lion Gate, representing another manifestation of stacking. Atop the gate is a triangular block of stone with a carving of two lions facing a central column, but the meaning of these symbols is unknown.

The ancient Greeks focused not on the hope of an afterlife, as the Egyptians did, but on achieving perfection on Earth. Their pursuit of perfection is seen in the way they proportioned each building according to the proportions of its parts. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks constructed massive columns by stacking cylindrical layers of stone. The great Acropolis of Athens is the site of the remarkable Parthenon, temple to the goddess Athena. In building the Parthenon, the Athenians intentionally included subtle imperfections to ensure that the temple would appear perfect to the human eye. A less unified composition is that of the Erechtheion, also located in the Acropolis. In its Porch of the Maidens, caryatids - carved figures of women enslaved by the Greeks - act as columns to hold up the roof.

The ancient Romans were influenced extensively by Greek culture, even borrowing its gods but giving them different names. Roman architecture used Greek orders and precise proportioning. With the use of concrete and vaulting, however, the Romans exceeded Greek building scale and shaped space in a way the Greeks never could. The Pantheon demonstrates just how much space the Romans were able to capture within a single dome. The Romans introduced many new building types. The Colosseum in Rome is another good example of stacking. Borrowing again from the Greeks, each arcade layer has engaged columns that represent a different architectural order. The first layer is Doric; the second is Ionic; and the third is Corinthian. The fourth has Corinthian pilasters. The Roman baths, theatres, amphitheatres, and stadiums were a way to distract and occupy a large population.

Particularly interesting to study is the city of Pompeii, preserved by ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. One can, in a sense, see the city as it existed in a moment of time, untarnished by subsequent centuries of change and deterioration.

Studying the foundations of architecture is extremely important for us as designers and amateur philosophers, for in these foundations we see part of the process of human history - mistakes, failures, successes, and the pursuit of significance. Architecture would not be what it is today if early developments had not been made. Classical influence, in particular, is inescapable even in our modern society.

This image (as unoriginal as it may be) represents the foundations unit well, as Stonehenge was where our foundational study began. The image also incorporates the idea of stacking. The sunrise (as I assume it is) is fitting as well.