Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926)

The architectural work of Antonio Gaudí sparks much controversy – numerous critics ascribe his imaginative buildings to gothic and Moorish tradition, or credit his fluid lines to the Art Nouveau movement (Sweeney and Sert, 1960; de Solà-Morales, 1984; Descharnes and Piévost, 1971). Much of this may be true; his beginnings took imagery from these styles and the look of his elegant forms appear similar to the contemporary Art Nouveau architects, but Gaudí cannot be classified easily and this may only be a partial view of a complex man. Deeply religious, Gaudí felt a strong affinity for the Catalan literary and artistic movement called Renaixenca, manifest in architecture as a revival of medieval archaeology (Collins, 1960). He was concerned with the unity of principle between construction and ornamentation, and he viewed beauty in classical terms of proportion and harmony (Crippa, 2002; Martinell, 1975). Finding beauty in truth, he felt that ornament was to ‘contain nothing superfluous, but only the material conditions which make it useful; we must take into account both the material and the use which will be made of it…’ (Martinell, 1975, p. 125). Thus, his architecture often reflected structural moment diagrams or found form in geometry such as parabolic arches. On top of this he placed decoration and sculptural imagery imbued with symbolism.

Born Antonio Gaudí y Cornet in Reus, Catalonia, he descended from a family of coppersmiths. He moved to Barcelona in 1869, enrolling in architecture at the Escola Superior d’Arquitectura in 1870. Upon finishing school, Gaudí immediately obtained his first commission for streetlights in the Placa Reial and Pla del Palau. Finding a wealthy patron, he built a palace for Eusebi Güell (1885–1893) followed by an urban park (1900–1914). He designed other projects such as Casa Milá and Casa Batlló, but the passion of his life was the design and construction of the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia which he worked on until his death in 1926.

Gaudí explored structure and ornamentation using drawings and sketches, but the most unique and interesting method of his conception and testing of ideas was his use of models. His studio, in the basement of Sagrada Familia, was filled with plaster casts, ornament, and detail models. His search for beauty in the efficiency of structure led him to build polyfunicular models. Using strings or chains loaded with small weights, he replicated the stresses on arches.

This sketch is one of the few remaining sketches by Gaudí, since many of his drawings, models, and personal records were destroyed by revolutionaries in 1936. A study for the Colonia Güell church, this image for the nave has been sketched on an inverted photograph of a funicular model. He understood the structural principles, but employed the photograph as a way to view the interior space. Needing to assign volume to the arches (missing in the cable arcs), he could sketch over them with the assurance that the structure and form would coincide. Without calculating a perspective, he could quickly view the interior space. Thin dark lines of the chains are covered with soft pencil or chalk shading, defining the vaults of the ceiling and the dimension of the columns and arches. Openings are articulated by darkening potential windows.

Here Gaudí was combining the media of model, photography, and sketching to gain the information he required. Although still a vague suggestion of the future space, he was able to see more than the thin wires afforded him. Similar to architects who use tracing paper over drawings as a foundation, Gaudí was using what he knew to find out what he did not.

Smith, Kendra Schank. 2005. Architects' Drawing.


Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Colour, Light and Shadow

In historical architecture the range of colours was limited and depended on available natural materials and paints. In new architecture the range of colours is much broader and harsh colours are feasible through the application of paints, enamels and anodized colouring (Couleur, 2001).

Colour, light and shadow have always had an impact on the appearance of buildings and structures and nowadays these factors may be used in new ways (Franck and Lepori, 2000). The choice of colours, in particular on external surfaces, was limited also by weathering requirements. Research has built up a vast knowledge on colours comprising the phenomena of brightness, lightness, blackness, greyness, whiteness, contrast, hue, shade, colour systems, combining and mixing of colours, colour harmonization and patterns, changing colour impressions and interaction between colour and people (Rihlama, 1999).

New chemical processes have created new types of paints and colours. Architects are willing to design the exterior or interior of buildings with new colour effects. To mention one realization only: the new Luxor Theatre in the Kop van Zuid district of Rotterdam has a leading red colour on the surfaces (architect: Bolles and Wilson AIT, 2001). Strong colours on buildings evince a similarity with the colouring of machines (cars, electrical appliances, furniture, etc.) and electrical cables. There are some architects who have opted to make certain colours their design trademark, e.g. Richard Meier with his steel panels enamelled to a white colour. Others, e.g. some Japanese architects, prefer the dominance of grey.

Lighting has grown into an important factor in architectural design, as can be seen from this statement from Le Corbusier (Sebestyen, 1998): ‘Architecture is the learned, correct and magnificent play of masses under light.’ Building with light has been applied ingeniously by architects and studied in great detail (Building with Light, 2001). Artificial illumination provides new visual effects. The New York LVMH tower designed by the Frenchman Christian de Portzamparc is illuminated nightly by a warm golden colour that gradually changes into a deep green. Colour may be applied over a surface or focussed on a spot or on several spots. If light is concentrated over several small points and applied to a dense pattern, it becomes a tool of articulation. This approach was applied by Renzo Piano at one façade of the KPN Telecom Office Tower in Rotterdam. Green lamp elements are set on this façade in a grid pattern. The lamps are individually switched on and off and are controlled by a computer program.
The new Dutch KPN Telecom building, Rotterdam.
Articulation may be realized through light spots.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.



Tuesday, April 7, 2009


In Beedle (1995: 149) articulation is defined as follows: ‘Action or manner of jointing or interrelating architectural elements throughout a design or building.’ This definition is of general validity and it includes articulation of a ground plan to rooms, the division of a façade by repetitive decorations and/or dividing lines of floors or panels. Articulation of building volumes and of the urban space has acquired special meaning. Dutch architects (Aldo Van Eyck and Herman Hertzberger) designed buildings with strongly articulated premises and provided theoretical justification for this kind of articulation: ‘Things must only be big as a multiple of units which are small in themselves, for excess soon creates an effect of distance, and by always making everything too big, too empty, and thus too distant and untouchable, architects are producing in the first place distance and inhospitality’ (Hertzberger, in Lüchinger, 1981). However, articulation of the building volume (anti-block movement) and of the urban fabric does not exclude bigness. Articulation in our time is specifically used as a decorative (and constructive) subdivision of a surface (a façade or a ceiling) into uniform small decorative elements where there exists a complete neutrality regarding the size and shape of that surface. This led to the development of various ‘systems’ or ‘subsystems’ for façades, ceilings and other surfaces (Ornement, 2001).

Articulation of the space is achieved among other means by space divisions. In deconstructivist architecture (e.g. by Frank O. Gehry) spaces may be divided by quasi-virtual components, for instance, chains and grids.

Historical styles articulated the surface by a variety of flat or relief decorations. In modern architecture big flat surfaces, not articulated in any way, were employed.

Then in some designs large flat surfaces received an articulation of large sub-surfaces, frequently by marking these in specific colours. This type of ‘decoration’ may be applied in some cases but it never becomes a basic way of articulating and decorating surfaces.

CENG industrial building project, Grenoble, France, architect: Jacques Ferrier.
Example of façade building articulation with emphasis on parallel vertical lines.

IBM factory office, Basiano, near Milan, Italy, 1983, architect: Grino Valle.
IBM company design model.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


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