alternative history of architecture

Completely different from the short version of building/architecture I wrote earlier, here an alternative history, about how architecture is interpreted from early on till nowadays, architecture as ‘art’ of building.

Around 30-25 BC, Vitruvius wrote that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful. According to Vitruvius, architecture is an imitation of nature. As birds and bees built their nests, so humans constructed housing from natural materials, that gave them shelter against the elements. The architect should not only be aware of history, but also of the physical rules governing materials.  This Vitruvian trinity not only is about aesthetics, but rather elevates building into architecture. The transformation of a primitive hut into a temple reveals a historical move from undefined concepts to definite rules of symmetry.

When perfecting this art of building, the Greeks invented the architectural orders which gave them a sense of proportion, culminating in understanding the proportions of the greatest work of art: the human body, at its top in the renaissance (i.a. Leonardo da Vinci). Later on, Alberti suggests that the whole matter of building is composed of lineaments (design, aesthetics) and structure. This lineaments looks a lot like what Semper later calls ‘clothing’

Laugier describes (in 1753) building the primitive hut as follows:

some fallen branches in the forest are the right material for this purpose; he chooses four of the strongest, raises them  upright and arranges them in a square. Across their top he lays four other branches. On these he hoists from two sides yet another row of branches which, inclining towards each other, meet at their highest point. He then covers this kind of roof with leaves, so closely packed that neither sun nor rain can penetrate. Thus man is housed.

In this we see a division between the structure and the enclosure. This evolves in 1851 in Gottfried Semper’s writings in four elements in a house: first the hearth of the house, the fireplace, the symbolic middle of the house, where everyone can feel at ease and at home; second element is the roof/framework, third element is the enclosure, the facade, lightweight enclosing membrane, the clothing and the fourth element is the mound/earthwork, the site and foundation. The validity of this is borne out by vernacular building throughout the world, even if some of the elements once in a while go together.

Building, constructing is the core of architecture. Building gives the means and sets the frames for the design. Style is the coincidence of a structure with the conditions of its origins. Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright follow the analogy’s of Semper talking about texture of tiles, comparing it with old oriental rugs. Unlike Adolf Loos, Wright attempted to derive an authentic ornament from the process of fabrication.

Around the beginning of the  twentieth century Loos writes that modernity is a breach with tradition, because humans do not any longer have the same relationship with his surroundings as the farmer or craftsman. Therefore he breaks with the ornament and initiates the modern style, without ornaments.

During the first modern era, we see less ornaments, but still feeling for the frame, the skin and the foundations of buildings. Mies van de Rohe, Louis Kahn, Jørn Utzon, Carlo Scarpa, they all had their way of creating a balance between showing and hiding the construction, showing the skin and making a transparent skin, showing the joint and hiding the joint.  (tectonics and stereotomics)

More recently, we see the four points of Semper, and the thin line between building and ‘art’ of building in the works of Alvar Aalto, Santiago Calatrava, Herzog and De Meuron, Tadao Ando, etc, etc.



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