Posts Tagged ‘Mies’

International Modernism

September 27, 2014

This week the Getty released a list of ten Modern Architectural Landmarks worth preserving, rekindling the issue of preserving the best of Modernism. I have blogged about this in the past, and even written a book about a Modernist architect who worked in at least three countries. I have seen the multitudinous modernist mass mind that is Palm Springs Modernism Week and my work with the National Trust has had more than its share of modernist masterpieces. So I thought I would share a few today, ones that struck me when I visited them.
fh terrace oSs

I had to start with Mies’ Farnsworth House, which I have been very closely involved in for the last decade through Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust. When I first visited, I was genuinely awed by it, not simply the incredible feeling of being inside and outside at the same time, but also the relentless classicism of the composition. It is entirely modern yet once you see it, you realize it is a 2000-year old Greek temple, as I said in my first blog about it in 2005. That is the measure of Modernism – time and all the architectures that came before.

FH 2013 straight

See it?

Also from 2005 was a European trip to Poland, to Wroclaw, where traversing the marvelously medieval town center I suddenly stumbled upon two buildings I totally knew from architectural history….

wr mendel2

There it was, all Carson Pirie Scott – it had to be one of Erich Mendelsohn’s 1920s stores?

wr poelzig2

And this, this is totally Hans Poelzig circa 1912? What are they doing in Wroclaw?

I scoured the architectural history database in my head, trying to remember where Mendelsohn and Poelzig built stuff in the early 20th century and all I could come up with was Breslau, which led immediately to my “D’OH” moment: Breslau is Wroclaw! (Hard to admit such a silly mistake, especially given my Silesian ancestry!) Once I figured out what I had “discovered” it was an easy trip to the edge of town to find the great Max Berg Centennial Hall which made the Getty’s Top Ten list this week.

wr berg4
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

wr berg11
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

This one required a special stop on the edge of Vienna, also in 2005:
kmarxhof fr1
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

kmarxhof fr3
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2005

Tell me you don’t see Knossos in that!

Let’s jump up to Scandinavia for a second, which is more identified with Modernism than probably any geographic region in the world. An Alvar Aalto in Finland made the Getty list. I can claim but one trip to Sweden, but again, here was a site worth stopping for in 2007:

L1020304

Ah, Gunnar Asplund’s Stockholm Public Library from 1924. Again, there is great classicism here in its volumes and symmetry, and even arguably in its ornamental bands.

L1020301

The Getty list did not include the recently inscribed World Heritage site the Van Nelle factory in Rotterdam, and I have sad;y not seen it, although it graces the cover of one of my architectural history books.  Here are a few Netherlands modernist highlights from our visits there:

hilversum rathuis14s

City Hall Hilversum, Dudok 1930

troos schroder house1s

Shroeder House Utrecht, Rietveld 1924

de dageraad6s

De Dageraad, De Klerk ad Kramer, 1923

het schip3s

Het Schip, De Klerk, 1923

Now the Getty included Le Corbusier’s apartment and studio on their list, an odd choice by my reckoning – I would rather the Villa Savoye, although I have never seen it. My Le Corbusier visits were exciting, from the LaRoche-Jeannerret in Paris to the great Mill Owner’s Building in Ahmedabad…

headless roche jean
I guess he was shorter than I

millowners finals

millowners int vwS

sanskar kendra ctS
He also did the Sansar kendra in Ahmedabad, interesting but not as integrated as the other. I did not get to see the private house he did there.

usafa chap butt

Thinking about Ahmedabad naturally makes me think about Colorado Springs, where I visited the Air Force Academy in 2003. This was the coolest modernist landscape I had ever seen. The famous chapel is of course great, as you can see in these slides, but it was the relentless grid of the entire mountaintop – a fully realized Modernist world – that struck me when I saw it in person.

usafa chap 9 spire
usafa chap int ceil2

usafa dorm layer

usafa chap march

usafa o dorm

That was the coolest modernist landscape I had ever seen. Until I went to Ahmedabad five years later and saw the IIM, one of Louis Kahn’s masterpieces (Kahn is represented on the Getty list with his incomparable Salk Institutes in La Jolla.)

IIM 05s

IIM vw dorms2s
Kahn plays with arches and circles and grids as well as the orthogonal. Check out this staircase in the library

IIM lib helical stair6s
epic

IIM curvcircl voidbridgeS

IIM vw to lib and entS

Now I of course know the Robie House well – it stood outside my bedroom window for a whole year in college, and I have toured it countless times. How about for now we just do a couple horizontalinear descendants of that as a little formal game……..

robie super horizS

main view bestS

robie 08 straightS

marin co courthouse cls

And let us not forget Palm Springs. They really know how to tilt a slab.

tramway gas 65frey
Frey

Or fold a slab…

alex steel folded plate
Alexander

Or even a bulk up a slab like a Corbu chapel….

Gruen Bank2
Gruen

There is a loss there right now, hard to believe given the scale of the Palm Springs Modernism Week phenomenon. But as Richard Nickel said, old buildings have only two enemies: Water and Stupid Men. Guess which one is to blame in the desert?

spa hotel2
Cody

Speaking of water, the Getty list included one of our National Trust National Treasures, the amazing Miami Marine Stadium, designed by Hilario Candela in 1963 and now the subject of a seemingly successful effort to save a massive concrete landmark younger than me.

DSC_0233
Photograph copyright Felicity Rich 2010

DSC_0263

hilario candela10s
And here is Hilario explaining his design

I have to add this one from my first visit to Palo Alto a few years ago.  I saw it from a distance and had to drive around the block to stop and take photos.  Later even got inside – the geometry of the Air Force Academy plus the materiality of raw concrete.

concrete churchS

great interior

nice front viwS

There is obviously way to much International Modernism to cover in a single blog – so let me finish with some of my favorite concrete gems…

dulles angleS
Dulles, never dull

DSCF8789
Ando in St. Louis

fr saddle roof view
Barry Byrne in Cork

SJA banner church sidevw
Breuer in Collegeville

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Of Boots and Buildings: Musings on Modernity

February 4, 2011

In three weeks I will be speaking at Modernism Week in Palm Springs; my last post “What Is Modern” got a ton of hits; and I have just finished a draft of the Barry Byrne book following my JSAH article (still free during February 2011 online) “Barry Byrne: Expressing the Modern in 1920s Europe” so I have been thinking about Modernism a lot. Barry Byrne wrote a letter to Lionel Feininger at the Bauhaus in the mid-1920s disparaging the term, and he was right: What does “Modern” mean, especially now that it is overwith and reborn as a nostalgic style courtesy of Mad Men and Dwell magazine?

a Barry Byrne church in Pierre, SD Photo by Katherine Shaughnessy

So I have been trying to figure our another term for it, like “20th Century” or “Late Industrial” but none are adequate and we do have to recall that Barry Byrne and all of his friends like Mies and Oud and Corbu were actively proselytizing “modern” whatever the heck it was. It was a movement. It certainly lasted two-thirds of the 20th century and it had some formal consistencies like machined finishes and ornamental abstraction or negation, but as my article noted, there were lots of different modernisms from the revolutionary asceticism of Loos to the painterly formalism of Corbu, the expressive romanticism of Mendelsohn, and the reborn classicism of Mies.

or Dudok’s EuroPrairie

So Felicity has been thinking about boots and last night I looked at the latest pair of boots and they looked a little Emma Peel and a little English riding but mostly they were just a combination of very deft lines and contours. And they lacked ornament, unlike the ones with stitching along the sole or the various ones with buckles near the upper calf and it occurred to me that there is an attempt in many times and places to achieve aesthetic beauty without ornament, simply by skillful disposition of lines and forms and scale and proportion.

In ancient architectural terms I am leaving commoditas and utilitas aside here to focus on venustas and it seems a big piece of the modernist project was finding the simplest, sharpest lines between creation and venustas. Now we know from Mies that simplicity often took a hell of a lot of work, like the effort to polish away the ship welds that keep the Farnsworth House afloat.


Mies’ aesthetic was classicizing and quite different from his onetime student Bertrand Goldberg, who joined Felix Candela and other 1960s expressionists to find beauty in the potential of curving concrete structural systems. His Prentice Women’s Hospital – the current preservation cause in Chicago – is a brilliant example of beauty united with parabolic concrete vaults that grant a 45-foot (15m) cantilever.

Preservation Chicago

Now, normally we consider Mies to be of one modernist tradition and Goldberg of another, but it doesn’t matter whether the line is curving or straight – both are seeking expression through an economy of form, without applied ornament, not unlike that pair of boots, which is seductive without being explicit about it. No neon needed.

Einsteinturm, Photograph by Rolf Achilles

But what about the ornamental modernists, like Barry Byrne? In my book I note that he used ornament as an extension of the wall plane. At St. Thomas Apostle the exterior brick wall serrates and folds at the corners, expressing itself in the material alone, a la Mies, but at the top Alfonso Iannelli’s ornament creates a dramatic and perhaps slightly precious fringe at the skyline, but it reads I think as an extension of the wall.

Photograph copyright Felicity Rich, 2006

But Loos actually threw us off when he said ornament was crime. When I tour downtown Chicago, I always note the 1889 Monadnock Building, the first sculpturally modern building without ornament. And across the street is Mies’ Federal Center, which is covered in ornament.


Huh? you say – Mies doesn’t use ornament! Of course he does, but it isn’t eggs and darts and guilloches and dentils, it’s I-beams. Loads of ’em. They don’t support the structure and each is only two stories high, so they might help hold the windows a tad but mostly they make the building look a heck of a lot better. Venustas. Just because an ornament doesn’t look like a basket overgrown with acanthus leaves doesn’t mean it isn’t ornament.

another copyright Felicity Rich photo of a Barry Byrne building

another copyright Felicity Rich photo of a Barry Byrne building.

There is an attempt at clarity and unity that we identify with modernism, but I would argue that striving for economy of formal expression existed in many times and places, from Italy 2000 years ago to Ireland 1000 years ago to India 300 years ago to India 50 years ago, and that is only thinking about countries that start with “I.”

100 AD

900 AD

1700 AD

1960 AD
If you look at the career of a modernist who moved from Expressionism to Rationalism, like Oud or even Piet Mondrian, you see that one key to this movement or style or what have you is not simply simplicity or even simply an attempt to find venustas through an economy of form and material. It is also continuity, the most often overlooked aspect of Modernism.




Oh, heck, time to throw in Rietveld as long as we are being formalist….

But focus for a second on this Mondrian, which falls in between the evolution described visually above, and see the sense of continuity and connection. It is also there in Dulles airport, and this lovely Saarinen detail that lets a brick wall go through a glass wall without breaking continuity.



Continuity is the limited-access highway in planning and the fenetre en longeur and the machined surface and the streamlined railroad engine and continuity is there in Barry Byrne’s wall because even if there is fringe on the end, his goal was “clarity” and “unity” and that terra cotta is trying to express the wall, not add to it.

Photograph copyright Felicity Rich

Continuity was opposed by complexity and contradiction as High Modernism began its decline in the 1960s, but if we look closely at movements and forms that stress continuity and economy of line we find that they existed long before Mad Men. I was always stunned by the stuff of Biedermaier and Christopher Dresser in the first half of the 19th century because it was so…modern – but it was a century before modern.

So we need a word for modern (and so does Dwell) and we have needed it certainly since Byrne and Feininger commisserated about it back in 1925 but maybe if we look past the time period toward the impulse – economy of form, continuity and clarity – we might get there.