November 28, 2008

Progress photos from Thomas Aquinas College Chapel

Work is finishing up at Thomas Aquinas College's Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel. Some great work by New Classicist architect Duncan Stroik, another major work finished just under a year after Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Here are some photos I was forwarded the other day from a fellow alum. The solid marble statue of Mary sculpted by Tony Visco is being hoisted into place to crown the facade of this great new project. Reports I hear say that the interior is nearly finished, though the baldachino and the altar rail are not yet installed.

UPDATE: I've been corrected, Tony Visco is not the sculptor for this piece, though was to do some work here, circumstances worked out that his work was not used.
This piece is by Giancarlo Buratti as well as all the other exterior sculptural work.

Posted by Picasa

November 27, 2008

ND Architecture School's redesign for DC's Carnegie Library

Great work here by fellow Notre Dame School of Architecture students for the Carnegie Library in DC. The library has fallen into disuse and last fall, with the help of the National Civic Art Society, graduate students at ND came up with several great ideas for returning the library to its intended use with additions that are designed to HARMONIZE with the existing building.

November 24, 2008

7 Mod Architecture Firms Shortlisted for Eisenhower Memorial

According to BD Online:

"Frank Gehry and Moshe Safdie are among the seven architects who have made the shortlist for the competition to design the £60 million National Eisenhower Memorial in Washington DC.

The other five are Ralph Johnson of Perkins & Will; landscape architect Peter Walker; New York firm Rogers Marvel Architects; Ron Krueck of Krueck & Sexton Architects; and San Francisco-based Stanley Saitowitz."

This news is dissapointing on two levels. First the continuation of the dominant status quo in architecture of whizbang modernism, without any deference or respect for the depth of classical architecture. Doubtless some classical architect out there, and there are many that have the resume of Gehry et al (many in fact have more significant projects built than most of the finalists), submitted some sort of design for the project, but why only modernist firms? The complete disregard of ANY sort of classically minded firm is shameful. Americans love classical architecture, as a recent poll proved, but are sneered at by the press as being ignorant. Why shouldn't America get a chance to have a classical monument, like the ones so beloved by the country that exist in DC already?

The answer? The deck is stacked. Which leads to the second dissapointment, the process. The process to select the design was not as one might expect, an open competition of designs. The commision used the architectural establishment's little dirty secret, the RFQ, a "Request For Qualifications." This process does not weigh competing designs, weighing them on the merit of the proposal, the beauty or the genius of the design, but instead looks for "qualified" architects. This gives you one of two things, a "qualified" but banal designer, who has a lot to show, or apparently in this case, a lot of flashy names who's primary qualification is that they are famous.

The designs? Oh they'll come later. According to "None of the finalists have presented designs, and most likely won't before the winner is selected. 'I haven't really though of it', said Saitowitz. How can one get a great memorial for one of our most distinguished President's and General's if we don't even have a design? I believe that competitions, while not perfect, certainly bring out much better design than simply just naming someone and hoping that because he/she is "qualified we'll get a great place and memorial. I suppose that doesn't matter to whoever the jury were (they weren't revealed), I guess that they just want to have "A Gehry" or something whizbang to show that DC can be stylish like New York or Chicago.

The RFP system should be scrapped for all Federal projects, especially memorials and smaller buildings. Instead we should have open competitions, where common people get to decide. We would open the arts to architects and artists that appear to be now "unqualified" but would be able to adorn our Capital with great monuments again.

November 20, 2008

AIA Discusses Historic Significance of Modern Buildings.

This has been a dominant line of argument of late in the Historic Preservation movement, that "significant" buildings are worthy of preservation. However the confusion of "significance" for value does a tremendous disservice to the state of architecture in the world. After all what is "significant" is not always good, certainly Smallpox is a "significant" thing, but I seriously doubt that anyone would consider it a "good" thing.

A building can be significant in three ways:

1. A moment of history occurred there.

2. The building is an example of a style or movement or an architect's work.

3. The building is great as a building and a part of a larger environ, either rural or urban.

The first two ways of being significant are the most common ways that preservationists argue for the inclusion of modern buildings. These ways clearly are completely extrinsic to the building itself, so then the question of the building's intrinsic value is then apparently moot, or so it would seem.

The problem is that the building is a work of art created for a specific purpose. A building is made as a office building or school or church. A building also has to stand up to the elements and finally, a building as a work of fine art, has to move us to something greater, something that tells us about what it is to be human. (more will be discussed about this as time goes along)

A building must possess all three of these things : (as Vitruvius said: Utilitas, firmitas et venustas) These three things, brought together, lift a building to the realm of Architecture. In my opinion though, venustas (beauty) really is the spark that enervates a dead pile of brick and stone to architecture, but more on that later on.

However we live in a day that these things are really lacking in a LOT of buildings and in a lot of buildings that the critics call the great architecture of our day. There are a lot of buildings however, like smallpox, are so bad that they are the opposite of architecture. These are, seemingly without exception, the buildings foisted upon the world in the past century of the Modernist experiment. These are the buildings that are "significant!"


Now I'll allow, that there are SOME circumstances that allow for a bad building to be preserved for historic reasons. But I think those reasons need to be a lot more significant than "LBJ slept here one night." A hotel where MLK was killed or the Berlin Wall come to mind. These places have such a tremendous historic significance that the place rises above mere encyclopedic record, but it tells us something about being human, which is of course what art should do intrinsically. Here the lesson is extrinsic but somehow overwhelms an intrinsically bad architecture.

But the Berlin Wall, though a historic artifact did such incredible violence to the city that prudence practically requires us to tear it down. Document it, preserve it in memory and in archives, but don't sacrifice the city and our human endeavors to it. We need to have this sort of reason in dealing with the detritus of Modernism. Realizing it may be significant as in terms of a mistake, we should document it and tear them down.


This too goes for the second reason listed above. The significance of a particular work of architecture by a "famous" architect is even more removed from the intrinsic value of a building than its history. The IM Pei Third Church of Christ Scientist is the best example. The building is a failure on almost every level of Vitruvian goodness, but because it was made by "the great Pei" it should be preserved. So what? Because the building was built by a somewhat famous architect the owners and the rest of the city has to suffer an incredibly bad building?

A building's worth should be judged FIRST by its intrinsic worth. Does it work as a building, keeping out the wind and rain and keeping people comfortable? Does it stand up to time, or do we have to spend twice the initial cost every ten years keeping it up? Does it work as architecture, does it inspire us to something higher than the mundane and tell us about ourselves?

Or does it simply serve to stroke the egos of so many architecture critics who know better than the educated rabble?

November 1, 2008

What Beauty Is

Aristotle on Arts
Ethics Bk VI: Ch. 3

“state of capacity to make, involving a true course of reason. ”

St. Thomas on Beauty
Q.5. A.4
“Obj.1 Its seems that goodness has not the aspect of a final cause, but rather of the other causes. For, as a Dionysius says, Goodness is praised as beauty. But beauty has the aspect of formal cause. Therefore goodness has the aspect of a formal cause.

Reply Obj.1 Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally, for they are based upon the same thing, namely, the form; and this is why goodness is praised as beauty. But they differ logically, for goodness properly relates to appetite (goodness being what all things desire), and therefore it has the aspect of an end (the appetite being a kind of movement towards a thing). On the other hand, beauty relates to a cognitive power [intellectual virtue], for those things are said to be beautiful which please when seen [or heard]. Hence beauty consists in due proportion, for the senses delight [pleasure being key to learning here] in things duly proportioned, as in what is like them – because the sense too is a sort of reason, as is every cognitive power. Now since knowledge is by assimilation, and likeness relates to form, beauty properly belongs to the nature of a formal cause.”

Aristotle on Beauty
Metaphysics XIII Ch. 3

"Now since the good is distinct from the beautiful (for the good is always s in action but the beautiful may also be in what is immovable), those who assert that the mathematical sciences say nothing about the beautiful or the good speak falsely. For they do speak about and show these, and in the highest degree. The fact that they do not use the names, while they do exhibit construction and theorems about them, does not mean that they say nothing about them. Now the most important kinds of the beautiful are order, symmetry, and definiteness, and the mathematical sciences exhibit properties of these in the highest degree. And since these (that is, order and definiteness) appear to be causes of many things, it is clear that the mathematical sciences must be dealing in some way with such a cause, that is, the cause in the sense of beauty."

“that which is beautiful, whether an animal or any other thing which is composed of a number of parts, should have not only these parts [properly] ordered but also a magnitude, and not any chance magnitude. Indeed, beauty exists in magnitude as well as in order;”

“for the visual grasp of it and of its parts does not take place simultaneously, so its unity and wholeness are lost for the viewer.”

“The proper limit of [a good tragedy or plot] according to its own nature is this: the greater the length up to the limit of being grasped as a whole.”

Leon Batista Alberti
Ten Books of Architecture Bk VI Ch2

"I shall define Beauty to be a harmony of all the parts, in whatsoever subject it appears, fitted together with such proportion and connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered, but for the worse."
Blog Widget by LinkWithin