Tag Archives: style

Means and Methods of Architectural Design

On a recent trip to Italy, I couldn’t help but contemplate the progression of architecture styles across time and contemporary architecture’s divergence/evolution from past practice. Architecture, alongside art, has long reflected contemporary trends, culture, and politics. More than ever, contemporary architecture reflects our societies’ obsession with technology, efficiency, and value-engineering. As I stood within the walls of Carlos Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery, taking in the attention to detail and crafted experience of the space, I wondered if architecture would ever return to this level of craft, detail, and whimsy. It is hard to image Carlos Scarpa’s intricate and unique detail being created in the architectural world today. From my perception, the art of architecture on a mass scale is being transformed to a systems and science of architecture where unique, non-functioning, artful details are being abandoned as superfluous and cost prohibited.
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A Paradigm Shift
Great works of historic architecture were conceived by pen and paper as artistic minds envisioned each space on iterative gestural pages; translated from enigmas to sketches to drawings to reality. Materials were crafted by hand and details seamlessly integrated within each trade’s identity. Today’s paradigm shift toward Building Information Modeling (BIM), factory production, and intelligent building systems have transformed the means and methods of the tradition discipline. Traditional detailing known by each trade has been lost to time as architects and builders move to new systems. The design process has continued to evolve and transitioned to computer based iterative processes. This creates a new dialog where the computer program itself has an influence over the design.

Architectural contemporary styles are named for the processes in which they were designed, such as Diagramism, Revitism, Scriptism, and Subdivisionism. These processes include designing in CAD, BIM, and other 3D programs, which can predominantly drive the design style and form. Architects and designers need to be aware of how architectural design is affected by each program’s restrictions and work flow tendencies. There can be a detachment for the final goal of the built form as we go down the virtual rabbit hole. The benefit of 3D modeling is that it allows designers to more fully comprehend form and its intersection with the overall building systems. However, if the design process is pushed into modeling without a strong concept, the objective can be easily replaced with creating a well-organized and systematic Building Information Modeling, instead of holistic architectural design.
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Architectural Design and BIM
BIM designs are based primarily of component systems that create efficient, intelligent, and informative models. Designers can easily draw schedules and quantities that greatly speed up processes, however in the design process, focusing on components can also create a disassociation from the whole building and design concept. The translation of an artistic gesture of a material or space can easily be lost in the clunky world of 3D representation and restrictions.

I am certainly a proponent of BIM, but I am also an advocate of preserving the art and craft of architecture. BIM is a terrific for understanding buildings in their 3D form as a composition of components and systems. BIM’s intelligence allows for continued updating of schedules and quantities, allowing for time efficiency. However, these components are limited to the software’s modeling options and the designer’s skill at modeling. The virtual world is still not an accurate representation of all the properties of building materials or their structural capabilities. In other words, BIM cannot be a means from the start to the end. Our profession is obligated to continue to push for high design standards and syndicate and extrapolate. I continue to see architecture that either allows BIM to drive design or prioritizes efficiency and value-engineering over quality of design. As BIM evolves within architecture as a means to design, I hope it can assist designers in their creative process and challenge our profession’s boundaries.

Written by Hali Knight, Architect I

Sources
Prospect Magazine
Archdaily
DI

Modern Residential Building Styles

city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxBuildings constructed before 1965 have reached the age of eligibility for being considered historic by the standards of the National Register. That means that much of Modern Architecture, the general period ranging from 1950 through 1970, is historic, or soon will be considered historic as the 50-year mark is crossed. As historians assess and study Modern Architecture, we provide ever more precise descriptions and terms to describe the sub-styles and variations within the large umbrella term, “Modern.” As in taxonomy, which classifies and categorizes living organisms, we can recognize and assign groups of similar resources together for study.

Modern architecture had its roots after World War I as part of an egalitarian movement. The new architecture looked to industrial materials and processes to replace painstaking handwork; a horizontal proportion and deliberate embrace of the ground plane as opposed to a formal, vertical building proportion; and the rejection of ornamentation.

A Mid-Century Residential Survey in the City of Olympia

PMA has been working on a Mid-Century Residential survey in the City of Olympia. The date of construction for resources surveyed is limited to a two-decade span from 1945 to 1965, and the building type is limited to single-family residential. Surprisingly, there are more individual sub-styles found in this survey than were identified in a more broadly focused survey, our 2013 Mid-Century non-residential survey in St Louis, MO. The reason for this is that the tight focus of study allows for classification based on more specific characteristics.
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The St. Louis survey identified resources constructed from 1945 to 1975 as being either Moderne, Brutalist, International Style, New Formalist, Neo-Expressionist, or simply “Modern Movement” if the style could not be placed in any sub-style. A few had mixed characteristics. The wide variety of building types in the survey, including churches, high-rise towers, and industrial buildings, kept style classifications necessarily broad. Local variations of styles were observed and identified, but were not given their own identifying style name. A future regional survey of the same time period could invite more stylistic classification, if there were enough similar resources to compare.

The Olympia Mid-Century Residential survey covers approximately 400 single-family homes. The variations in style identified might be described in an overview as belonging to one of three “families.” Transitional Modern includes Stripped Classical, Minimal Traditional, and World War II-Era Cottage styles. The second group is Ranch style, which covers a broad range of sub-styles and forms, including Split-Level or Split-Entry Ranch; Contemporary Ranch; Storybook Ranch; and Colonial or Early American Ranch. The last group is a Neo-Expressionist collection of styles that were primarily constructed starting about 1965. These styles include A-Frame, Shed, Geodesic Dome, neo-Futurist, Pavilion, and other eclectic explorations and celebrations of building technology and structure. While none of these Neo-Expressionist styles were identified in the Olympia Mid-Century Residential survey, PMA expects at least one of these (Shed style) to be identified in urban Olympia if the time period studied is extended beyond 1965. Also, many of these styles were constructed in more rural areas than the concentrated Mid-Century neighborhoods examined in the survey. It is possible that Neo-Expressionist residences will come to light with further survey and exploration.

Min-Traditional-city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxThe Olympia survey classified the first grouping of styles as those that are transitional. Transitional Modern styles have some elements of Modern and some elements of more traditional architecture. Windows might be vertically-oriented, double-hung wood windows (traditional) rather than having horizontal proportions (Modern). A roof might be a moderate pitch, with minimal overhangs (traditional), rather than a shallow pitch with outwardly-extending gables (Modern). In Olympia, 37% of the houses surveyed were Modern Minimal Traditional, by far the most prevalent Transitional Modern style.

Ranch-city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxRanch style architecture is the style that architecture critics have generally spurned, since houses were often constructed by contractors without architect’s involvement. Ranch buildings are broad, one-story, and horizontal in overall proportion. They have an attached garage which faces the street and is part of the overall form of the house, and almost always a large picture window facing the street as well. Cladding is used to accentuate the horizontal lines of the house, so there is often a change in material at the lower part of the front façade- brick veneer was a popular choice. Many of the sub-styles of Ranch architecture are “styled” Ranch houses, meaning that elements from another style of architecture were placed on a Ranch form building. One example is Storybook Ranch, which uses “gingerbread” trim, dormers or a cross-gable, and sometimes diamond-pane windows. Are these decorated sub-styles still part of the canon of Modern Architecture? In many ways, they are more Post-Modern than Modern, but that distinction is worthy of an involved discussion of its own.

Split-level-city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxThe Olympia Mid-Century Residential survey found over half the resources surveyed to be Ranch or variants of Ranch style. 31% of the surveyed homes were identified as simply Ranch, with another 11% Early Ranch, 9% Contemporary Ranch, 4% Split-Level or Split-Entry, and 4% one of the “Styled” Ranch variations. Sheer numbers alone remind us that the Ranch is deserving of study and shows us how the majority of middle-class Americans lived. As Alan Hess writes in his book Ranch House,

“Most critics overlooked or ignored the prototypical Ranch house architecture, the variety of its manifestations, the social complexity of its neighborhoods, and the tract Ranch’s often innovative mass-construction methods. To most critics living in traditional cities with little contact with the conditions, desires, and apparent satisfactions of middle-class suburban life, the suburbs were a foreign land.”

The more we study these styles of Modern residential architecture, the more they may be appreciated, celebrated, and well-maintained. And if you live in or grew up in a Ranch style house, it is now potentially historic.
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Written by Kristen Minor, Preservation Planner. For additional MCM survey projects, please visit our STL Modern Non-Residential Survey project.

Practices for Preserving Post Modernism

Post Modernism, a style of architecture beginning in 1965 with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and extending to 1989, has always elicited great public debate on the architectural merits of its built works perhaps best exemplified in the controversy over one of the most iconic Post Modern buildings, Michael Graves’ Public Service Building (aka the Portland Building).
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Whether or not Post Modern architecture is considered merely flamboyant superficial decoration or serious building design and genuine work is greatly debated. The debate, beginning a mere thirty years after the apex of the style, has arrived sooner than expected and focuses on the distinction between design and architecture. Whether or not the materials and assemblies used to construct the buildings are impermanent remain to be assessed, understood, and judged over a longer duration of time. Therefore, are material conservators and preservation technologists ready (and willing) to contribute a scientific approach and unbiased assessment to a controversial debate over a design style?

Post Modern design was broadly practiced in both the United States and internationally. Large and small firms were attracted to the stylistic incorporation of classical western design vocabulary in stark juxtaposition against the plain, unadorned, square box that many argued architecture had become. Design magazines published examples of Post Modern buildings ranging from the academic and scholar approach by architects like the Italian Aldo Rossi to the flamboyant American style creator Philip Johnson, as well as, buildings by architects only known on local and regional levels.
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Architects, engineers, and material suppliers were pushing new materials and innovative construction technologies as a way to create Post Modern design elements. Continuous innovation in building skins reintroduced porcelain enamel panels, a product brought by Lustron to the building industry during the housing boom following World War II. New skins made from Glass Fibre Resin (GFR) capable of being molded in classical curves and ornamental shapes favored by Post Modern design were created. Innovations in brick technology including large scale brick panels made from a single wythe of masonry to panels whose outer face was only one half inch of masonry, or thin bricks. Improvements in resins created new wood or simulated wood products and adhesives for mounting faux finishes to structural systems. Perhaps one of the more ubiquitous new materials used in the creation of Post Modern architecture was the faux stucco product Dryvit, and Exterior Finish Insulation System (EIFS). Like porcelain enamel panels, EIFS were introduced as insulated wall assemblies as a means to improve energy performance during the world’s energy crisis of the 1970s.
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As Post Modern buildings reach thirty and fifty years, systems and products are aging and, like all older buildings, significant investments or improvements to infrastructure systems are often needed. Compared to more recent material innovations, Post Modern building performance levels are low and some of the innovative materials resulted in long-term material failures. As it is with any building skin, often the deficiencies of one material are in combination with more robust materials or the failing components are critical to the character defining features of the Post Modern design. And when material failure is coupled to design aesthetics and those aesthetics do not offer universal appeal, questions arise as to the merits of retaining the component. But should subjective opinions about design, a very personal matter compared to one’s appreciation of art, drive decisions to preserve or demolish a building. And when the building carries international recognition as a work of architecture, or as a work that defines the Post Modernism, should more resources be given to its preservation? Does the inherent impermanence of the original materials justify an approach of non-preservation as preservation? Many Post Modern buildings incorporate systems or components that are neither produced nor currently assembled in similar manners due to improvements in technology and building envelope science. Therefore, the process and method of building envelope repair could dramatically impact the exterior character of Post Modern structures.
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Is the proper approach to retain the essence of criticism towards Post Modernism by preserving the appearance of insubstantial material installed incorrectly? Proposals to improve envelope performance of both the individual components and building systems are challenged in finding products that will both improve performance and retain the aesthetics of a Post Modern building. Like previous building styles and periods, the preservation of character defining elements that were originally inadequately or incorrectly produced or assembled has always been a source of preservation controversy. in preservation and the undersized windows of the Portland Building are defining elements of the Post Modern design. The preservation community should be prepared to participate in discussing the merits of Post Modernism. The conversation has begun.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal.