Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Many authors, with widely different professional backgrounds, believed in the existence of certain systems of proportion, scale and numbers.

Alberti wrote:
It is manifest that Nature delights in round figures, since we find that most things which are generated, made or directed by Nature are round ... We find too that Nature is sometimes delighted with figures of six sides; for bees, hornets, and all other kinds of wasps have learnt no other figure for building the cells in their hives, but the hexagon ... The polygons used by the Ancients were either of six, eight or sometimes ten sides. (Leone Battista Alberti, Ten Books on Architecture, Florence, 1485, cited in March and Steadman, The Geometry of Environment).

The various series of numbers (the Cantor set, the Fibonacci series), of curves (the Koch, the Minkowski and the Peano curves), the system of fractals, the golden section, Le Corbusier’s ‘modulor’ (based on repeated golden rectangle proportions) are but a few examples (Van Der Laan, 1983, Mandelbrot, 1983, Bovill, 1996). It has been assumed that certain such systems must be applied in architecture also (Padovan 1999, Salingaros, 2000). Geometric systems (as for example the module system) are transformed into number systems and vice versa (as for instance the Van Der Laan scale) (Van Der Laan, 1983). Certain styles and some architects did introduce various systems of proportions, scales, rhythms and measures. Palladio designed the plans of his villas on rectangles with whole number proportions: 1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 1:4, 3:8 (Elam, 2001, Padovan, 1999).

National Assembly, Dacca, Bangladesh, 1962–83, designer: Sher E. Banglaganar.
Geometric patterns (triangle, etc.) may be dominant on a façade.

Architecture, after all, is a manifestation of geometry applied for the purpose of the design of buildings. Research attempted to create geometric systems for structural or architectural design, as has been seen already when discussing space frames, shells, domes and membranes. Some of the systems are of a pure mathematical or geometric character, in others structural or architectural design forms the basic background. There are attempts to develop fully automated structural design systems with geometric representation for structural domains, using automated techniques for finite element modelling, coupling self-adaptive integration of optimization techniques with geometry models (Kodiyalam, and Saxena, 1994). ‘Solid modelling’, meaning representation design, visualization, and analysis of three-dimensional computer models of real objects, finds application in the design of buildings but in other quite different fields also.

The attributes of symmetry and harmony gained favour in historical architecture: asymmetry, however, was appreciated only to the extent that it achieves harmony. On the other hand Viollet-le- Duc, a nineteenth-century architect, wrote: ‘Symmetry – an unhappy idea for which in our homes, we sacrifice our comfort, occasionally our common sense and always a lot of money’ (quoted by March and Steadman). Rhythm meant either repetition or variations with pleasing relationships. In modern and post-modern aesthetics, sometimes seemingly arbitrary deviations from repetition and disharmonic alterations became welcome. So, for instance, the memorial colonnade by Oscar Niemeyer was designed with variable column distances.

However, even the most sophisticated systems do not prevail forever, and invariably change over time. Styles and architectural design have to cope anew repeatedly with this transience and must devise their own solution for attaining pleasing appearances of buildings. What, however, is ‘pleasing’, is in itself a dynamic concept and the history of art and architecture continuously reports new design concepts that initially were judged to be ugly but as time went on were considered to be agreeable (Kroll, 1986).

The geometry of new architecture buildings may also display new features. Straight lines become curves, verticals and horizontals may be slanted and cut into each other at odd angles. Curves that traditionally featured in gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture are ignored; partly regular curves (circle, etc.) and individually designed curves take their place.

Hypo Bank Headquarters, Munich, Germany.
Façade with out-of-size proportioned components.

Naturally, the foregoing does not apply to all new buildings. Neo-classicist and late-modern buildings may adhere much more closely to the old rules.

Japanese architects have been ingenious in their application of geometric forms. Tadao Ando, for instance, favours a grid derived from traditional rice straw tatami mat with dimensions of 90 by 180 centimetres. Ando designs concrete walls with an exposed surface and each of his moulding boards (with the size of a tatami) has six holes through which the boards’ screws are driven. Arata Isozaki accords preference in his geometry to the square and the circle. In some designs he uses segments of curves and curved surfaces. On occasion grids are applied combined at slanted angles.

Size, scale and measure are changing. Large-size surfaces are articulated and contain uniformly spread identical small-scale elements or forms. In such cases a certain uniformity of the surface may be achieved and the contours of such surfaces can be selected almost at random.

It was pointed out that new architecture often extends components to the outside of buildings and sometimes into the air space. This is typical for suspended structures with external masts and cable systems but it can occur in other cases too, see, for example, Himmelblau’s office extension in Vienna. An innovative architectural component is the tall atrium often applied in large hotel buildings and office buildings. The internal height of such atria may reach up to 40 or more levels and poses a fresh challenge for their internal design (see the interiors of the hotels designed by John Portman).

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Monday, March 30, 2009

Function and Form

In the following some specific characteristics of new architecture design are identified. The architectural design and form of buildings is influenced by the type of the building and by its function. Buildings such as residential, commercial, industrial, transport, educational, health-care, leisure and agricultural buildings are designed with features characteristic for the individual building type. Structural systems also have an interrelation with the type and function of the buildings. As a consequence there exist school-building, residentialbuilding and other systems. Technical progress (prefabrication, mechanization, etc.) resulted in the industrialization of building and, as a specific form of this, ‘system building’. Early on, the various deficiencies inherent in system building (such as inadequate architectural quality and others) brought system building into discredit. Consequently it has ceased to be considered as the basic panacea for the problems of building. Nevertheless, the system concept may contribute to the combination of upto- date technology and good architecture.

Basically we can differentiate two types of megasystem. The first of these is the technical system of buildings (Ahuja, 1997), which consists of:
  • the structural system
  • the architectural system
  • the services and equipment (lighting, HVAC, power, security, elevators, telecommunications, functional equipment, etc.).

It was frequently claimed that ideally the form of a structure should correspond to the type of a structure and that the function of a building should harmonize with the structure form. Many realized examples seem to confirm this assumption; exceptions, however, already existed in historical architecture (e.g. hanging stucco ceilings in the form of vaults). In modern and post-modern architecture the use of steel and of reinforced concrete made it easy to design structures whose form did not really correspond to the type of the structure. The principle of the harmony of form and structure was in fact undermined by this development.

The second mega-system is composed of:
  • the process of architectural, structural and engineering design and their documents
  • economic analysis, data and results including quantity surveying, feasibility studies, risk analysis
  • management of design, construction and use of buildings and structures (facility management) including cooperation of various organizations and persons involved in the construction process.

The architectural profession may rely on systems for buildings that are typical and occur with restricted variations in great numbers, but for any major commission individual approaches are favoured.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Otto Wagner (1841–1918)

Otto Wagner’s work, although originating from a traditional education, anticipated the emergence of modern architecture. The innovative use of new technologies and materials (wrought iron, glass, and aluminum) found their way into his architecture. His buildings were often clad with decorative panels, as distinctive of the Jugendstil, or infused with historical expression. He influenced a generation of architects through his teaching and mentoring, such as Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, and Josef Olbrich.

Born in Penzig, near Vienna, Wagner initially studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Vienna from 1857 to 1859. He enrolled at the Royal Academy of Building in Berlin for approximately one year before moving on to the Vienna Academy from 1861 to 1863. Wagner’s earliest projects were apartment buildings in Vienna that depended on historical reference. Wagner’s later projects, such as the Postal Savings Bank Office of 1904–1912, relied less on surface ornament and considered new technologies such as exposed structure. Other notable projects include the Neumann Department Store (1895), the Church of St. Leopold (1905–1907), Die Zeit Telegraph Office (1902), and the Lupus Sanatorium (1910–1913). He also designed many stations for the Stadtbahn System in Vienna and was advisor to the Commission for the Regulation of the Danube Canal (Geretsegger and Peintner, 1979).

Werner Oechslin, when discussing raiment as a theory to describe Wagner’s architecture, compares the essence and appearance to the kernel and hull. In a reference to Gottfried Semper, he differentiates between the ‘essential content’ and the ‘inessential cladding’ (Oechslin, 2002, p. 86). Wagner believed that innovations in structure should be approached creatively, and he was dismayed with engineers that were predisposed to utilize concepts literally. He felt that structural elements should not intersect, but should stand independently to demonstrate their function (Geretsegger and Peintner, 1964).

Wagner’s sketching style exhibits his control of fluid, expressive lines (inessential cladding). In ink or pencil, the quick lines show evidence of erasure but represent a remarkably clear image from his imagination (essential content). The fast, proportionally accurate, and beautiful sketches also reveal Wagner’s comfort with his media, achieved with extensive practice. Many of his drawings and sketches were meant as preliminaries, for presentations or competitions. Framed with lines, they use a dramatic perspective angle and often include texture and value. Some even reveal the action of walking through a building with the drag of a pencil, while others exhibit the calculations and hesitation of a pondering mind.1

This sketch represents an early design for a festival pavilion, built in celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince Rudolf and the Belgian Princess Stephanie in 1881. Wagner proposed a lighted and decorated processional path (including the Elizabeth Bridge), grandstands, and a festival structure used to welcome Princess Stephanie into the city (Graf, 1985). The page shows an ink perspective of the pavilion which has been framed with single lines. Although a comprehensive view, it is a preliminary scheme since it describes different treatment of the columns. Lower on the page appears a blurred form, bleeding through the reverse side of the paper. On the reverse of this page, a dress design for Wagner’s second wife Louise Stiffels has been sketched. Perhaps while designing the pavilion, his wife expressed concern about her attire for the celebration, since as ‘honored citizens’ they were undoubtedly attending the festivities (Mallgrave, 1993). With this interruption, Wagner may have turned the paper over and explored designs for her dress.

Smith, Kendra Schank. 2005. Architects' Drawing.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Deconstructivist Architecture

Deconstructivism can be considered as a group of independent stylistic developments within the post-modern period (Norris and Benjamin, 1988, Papadakis et al., 1989, Jencks and Kropf, 1997). Its origin can be traced back to the Russian avantgarde of the 1920s as manifested in the work of Malevich and Tchernikov and the Suprematism of El Lissitzky and Swetin. In Europe it had its roots in the Dada movement. In the USA one of its birthplaces was the East (primarily New York), the other being California. It discontinued the historical architectural language, the autocracy of horizontal and vertical elements and deconstructed the tectonic and orthogonal system (Bonta, 2001).

The partnership Coop Himmelblau designed the first actual deconstructivist realizations in Europe: the lawyers’ practice in Vienna, Falkenstrasse (1983–85) and the Funder factory building in St Veit Glan, Austria (1988–89). Zaha Hadid’s Vitra fire-fighting station in Weil am Rein (1993) went on to world fame.

Funder Factory Works 3, in St Veit/Glan, Austria, architects: Coop Himmelblau, Wolf D. Prix
and Helmut Swiczinsky. Deconstructivist architecture, with ‘red comb’, a power station with ‘dancing chimney stocks’. © Taschen.

In the USA Peter Eisenman, one of the group New York Five, designed buildings with crossing frames and distorted building grids. A special innovation was the use of folding applied by Eisenman at Colombus University (1989) but also by Daniel Libeskind at the Berlin Jewish Museum (1988–95).

The theoretical impact of deconstructivist architecture, however, only emerged after the Second World War when the French philosopher Jacques Derrida defined its principles in art and literature. During preparations for the design of the Paris La Villette complex, Bernard Tschumi contacted Jacques Derrida and invited him to participate in a discussion about deconstructivism in architecture (Wigley, 1993). As Tschumi reported: ‘When I first met Jacques Derrida, in order to convince him to confront his own work with architecture, he asked me, “But how could an architect be interested in deconstruction? After all, deconstruction is antiform, anti-hierarchy, anti-structure, the opposite of all that architecture stands for”. “Precisely for this reason,” I replied!’ (Tschumi, 1994). Deconstructivist architects, after analysing the project brief and the site conditions, usually reach quite unconventional design solutions. The main initiator of the style in the USA was Frank O. Gehry in California who often applies the techniques of scenography, movie making and theatre, using inexpensive, stage-set materials. In Japan, Hiromi Fuji followed the style. His buildings have been described as having a grid-based light framework, shaken out of order by an earthquake.

The 1988 Exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art curated by Philip Johnson and Mark Wigley promoted the deconstructivist architecture of Frank O. Gehry, Peter Eisenman, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Bernard Tschumi and the group Coop Himmelblau (Johnson and Wigley, 1988). Mark Wigley wrote in the prospectus: ‘In each project, the traditional structure of parallel planes – stacked up horizontally from the ground plane within a regular form – is twisted. The frame is warped. Even the ground plane is warped.’Whilst deconstructivism never attained dominance amongst architectural styles, it continually attracts adherents. Undoubtedly, the most spectacular example of the style hitherto is Frank O. Gehry’s titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum at Bilbao, Spain. Considering the high cost of titanium, only the use of thin sheets made the application possible. Consequently, the individual cladding sheets move and distort, due to thermal and mechanical stresses, thus displaying a range of colour variations and reflections according to lighting conditions (Jodidio, 1998, van Bruggen, 1997). Also titanium cladding was proposed in the winning competition project for the Beijing Opera by the Frenchman Andreu. It equally based its façade design on thin titanium sheet.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Spain, 1993–98, architect: F.O. Gehry. Following other realizations, this is a masterpiece of deconstructivist architecture. © Van Bruggen: Frank O. Gehry: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

Philip Johnson hailed the Bilbao museum building as the century’s greatest work and Gehry declared: ‘Poor Frank. He will never top Bilbao, you only get to build one miracle in a lifetime!’ However, Gehry’s Los Angeles Disney Concert Hall (2275 seats), completed after a halt and several design revisions, is also a (deconstructivist) masterpiece.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, California, USA, architect Frank O. Gehry. Deconstructivist architecture, a typical F.O. Gehry design, thin titan sheet cladding (as also at the Bilbao museum, Spain), a technological innovation in construction and also with new aesthetic effect.

Another deconstructivist building, Gehry’s Nationale Nederlanden Building in Prague, Czech Republic (1992–96) has a curved glass façade, in striking contrast to the historic ambience of its surroundings.

Nationale Nederlanden Head Office, Prague, Czech Republic, 1996, architect: F.O. Gehry. Deconstructivist design ignoring usual functional requirements (nicknamed ‘Fred and Ginger’ because its two towers seem to be dancing). © Van Bruggen: Frank O. Gehry: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Guggenheim Foundation New York.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Late-modern, Neo-modern, Super-modern Architecture

In spite of the popularity and success of the neo-classical and historicizing architecture, the modernist style has never been abandoned, as many architects continued to be led by its principles. Following the 1960s, these architects were sometimes labelled ‘late-modernists’ and, later, as ‘neo-modernists’ and ‘super-modernists’. However, in time and under new influences, modernism acquired new characteristics and therefore the modernist design began to differ more and more from the pre-1960s’ architecture.

Other labels, such as neo-minimalism, also appeared (Jodidio, 1998), in which the clear and simple lines of early modernism were evoked.

‘High-tech’ is recognized (by some) as having a style of its own. However, its elements can be present in all categories of new architecture.High-tech features are common in neo-modernism and deconstructivism, as for example at the Paris Pompidou Centre by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano mentioned above. The use of high-tech elements is even more characteristic of the British Norman Foster and the Japanese Fumihiko Maki. Indeed, the conspicuous use of these elements may impart the appearance of an industrial product to a building. The buildings as industrial products become apparent in the aggressive, metallic coated ‘Dead Tech’ buildings of the Japanese Shin Takamatsu or Kazuo Shinohara’s more peaceful ‘zeromachines’ with a pure graphic architecture.

Georges Pompidou National Centre for Art and Culture, Paris, France, 1971–77, architects: Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. A first realization of the idea of a ‘high-tech’, ‘cultural machine’ building; the external pipes painted in vivid colours, a staircase with a cylindrical plexiglas envelope, the overall boiler-house impression, open up a new approach in postmodernist architecture.

Modernism was characterized by an elimination of decoration and ornamentation. This resulted in the idea of ‘minimalism’ or ‘plainness’ (Zabalbeascoa and Marcos, 2000). This trend was preserved only to some extent in neo-modernism, which combined modernism with post-modernism, i.e. it did not altogether reject decoration and ornamentation although it did reject the historical forms.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Neo-classicist Architecture. Traditionalism. Historicism

In theory at least modernism negated all forms of the historical styles, while at the same time cultivating the idea of the building as a machine. It was this line of thought that later led to the idea of hightech architecture, an early example of which is the Pompidou Centre in Paris, designed by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. By contrast, post-modernism took another route, by returning to the use of ornamentation and decoration, although usually not by simply copying historical details, but rather by applying the spirit and essence of historical styles.

Neo-classicist architecture used classical themes, principles and forms in loose associations, reminiscent of but not identical to historical patterns. Consequently, the style is quite diversified and its variants have been labelled as freestyle, canonic, metaphysical, narrative, allegoric, nostalgic, realist, revivalist, urbanist, eclectic, etc. (Jencks, 1987). The buildings of Ricardo Bofill in Montpellier, Marne-la-Vallée and Saint Quentin en Yvelines, seem nearest to classicism in detail and composition (d’Huart, 1989). Although his designs reflect historical architecture, he prescribed construction by using prefabricated concrete components. The oeuvre of several other architects also belongs to this trend, even if the respective approaches may differ greatly. Robert A.M. Stern, Allan Greenberg, Demetri Porphyrios, James Stirling and Leon Krier and Robert Krier may be mentioned as outstanding representatives of the style. A questionable application of historical models, in the form of ‘gated communities’, appears in some countries, imitating the castle concept with a fence, moat and controlled entrance but applying the concept for the purpose of elitist dwellings.

Les Espaces d’Abraxas, Marne-la-Vallée, France, 1979–83, architect: Ricardo Bofill.
Neohistoric architecture designed with pre-cast concrete components.

Paradoxically, a nostalgic form of architectural historicism happened to emerge in some of the most advanced industrialized countries, sometimes appealing to popular taste. In the United Kingdom, the style found an influential and high-profile advocate in the person of the Prince of Wales, whose intervention led to the annulment of a competition for the extension of the National Gallery, London, in which the jury’s preference for the modernist design by the firm Ahrends Burton and Koralek was set aside.

The Prince, reflecting a popular mood of the time, led his attack against modernism in defence of historicizing architecture at his 1984 Gala Address at the Royal Institute of British Architects with his question: ‘Why has everything got to be vertical, straight, unbending, only at right angles and functional?’ Under his influence, which found considerable public support in the UK, many buildings of contemporary function, such as supermarkets and shopping centres, which until then were designed to resemble barns, acquired a direct, even occasionally out of context, visual association with historical, vernacular architecture. In 1989 Prince Charles formulated the ten principles upon which we can build as follows:
  • the place: respect for the land
  • hierarchy: the size of buildings in relation to their public importance and the relative significance of the different elements which make up a building
  • scale: relation to human proportions and respect for the scale of the buildings aroundthem
  • harmony: the playing together of the parts
  • enclosure: the feeling of well-designed enclosure
  • materials: the revival and nurturing of local materials
  • decoration: reinstatement of the arts and crafts
  • art: study of nature and humans
  • signs and lights: effective street lighting, advertising and lettering
  • community: participation of people in their own surroundings.

The ideas of Prince Charles certainly encouraged traditionalists but they never became the sole inspiring force in architecture (Hutchinson, 1989). Charles’s attack on the modernist projects submitted for the expansion of the London National Gallery resulted in a new project prepared by architects Venturi, Scott and Brown. The new design contains classicist but non-functional columns and it is only the architects’ high-quality work that has saved the building from becoming pure kitsch.

In skilful hands, however, historicizing architecture could be quite subtle. For example, the new building of the Stuttgart New State Gallery, designed by James Stirling, Michael Wilford and Partners (1977–84), alludes to Schinkel’s museum designs from over a century before with considerable flair, showing that old motifs can be brought back and meaningfully transformed in harmony with modern application. In another example, the façade of the administrative building in Portland, Oregon, by Michael Graves (1980–82) makes a neo-classicist impression, without using any authentic historical detailing (Graves, 1982). Neo-classicism, therefore, may appear with different features. Some further outstanding examples in this category are the buildings designed by the American Robert A.M. Stern, the Californian Getty Museum designed by Richard Meier, the New York AT&T building designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee. Papadakis treats in one of his books (Papadakis, 1997) the designs of twenty architectural practices and five projects of urbanism, all inspired by ‘modern classicism’.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Masonry is a composite material in which individual stones, bricks or blocks are bedded in mortar to form columns, walls, arches or vaults. The range of different types of masonry is large due to the variety of types of constituent. Bricks may be of fired clay, baked earth, concrete, or a range of similar materials, and blocks, which are simply very large bricks, can be similarly composed. Stone too is not one but a very wide range of materials, from the relatively soft sedimentary rocks such as limestone to the very hard granites and other igneous rocks. These ‘solid’ units can be used in conjunction with a variety of different mortars to produce a range of masonry types. All have certain properties in common and therefore produce similar types of structural element. Other materials such as dried mud, pisé or even unreinforced concrete have similar properties and can be used to make similar types of element.

Chartres Cathedral, France, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The Gothic church incorporates most of the various forms for which masonry is suitable. Columns, walls and compressive form-active arches and vaults are all visible here. (Photo: Courtauld Institute)

The physical properties which these materials have in common are moderate compressive strength, minimal tensile strength and relatively high density. The very low tensile strength restricts the use of masonry to elements in which the principal internal force is compressive, i.e. columns, walls and compressive form-active types such as arches, vaults and domes.

In post-and-beam forms of structure it is normal for only the vertical elements to be of masonry. Notable exceptions are the Greek temples, but in these the spans of such horizontal elements as are made in stone are kept short by subdivision of the interior space by rows of columns or walls. Even so, most of the elements which span horizontally are in fact of timber and only the most obvious, those in the exterior walls, are of stone. Where large horizontal spans are constructed in masonry compressive form-active shapes must be adopted.

Where significant bending moment occurs in masonry elements, for example as a consequence of side thrusts on walls from rafters or vaulted roof structures or from out-ofplane wind pressure on external walls, the level of tensile bending stress is kept low by making 22 the second moment of area of the cross-section large. This can give rise to very thick walls and columns and, therefore, to excessively large volumes of masonry unless some form of ‘improved’ cross-section is used. Traditional versions of this are buttressed walls. Those of medieval Gothic cathedrals or the voided and sculptured walls which support the large vaulted enclosures of Roman antiquity are among the most spectacular examples. In all of these the volume of masonry is small in relation to the total effective thickness of the wall concerned. The fin and diaphragm walls of recent tall single-storey masonry buildings are twentieth-century equivalents. In the modern buildings the bending moments which occur in the walls are caused principally by wind loading and not by the lateral thrusts from roof structures. Even where ‘improved’ cross-sections are adopted the volume of material in a masonry structure is usually large and produces walls and vaults which act as effective thermal, acoustic and weathertight barriers.

Where masonry will be subjected to significant bending moment, as in the case of external walls exposed to wind loading, the overall thickness must be large enough to ensure that the tensile bending stress is not greater than the compressive stress caused by the gravitational load. The wall need not be solid, however, and a selection of techniques for achieving thickness efficiently is shown here.

The fact that masonry structures are composed of very small basic units makes their construction relatively straightforward. Subject to the structural constraints outlined above, complex geometries can be produced relatively easily, without the need for sophisticated plant or techniques and very large structures can be built by these simple means. The only significant constructional drawback of masonry is that horizontal-span structures such as arches and vaults require temporary support until complete.

Town Walls, Igerman, Iran. This late mediaeval brickwork structure demonstrates one of the advantages of masonry, which is that very large constructions with complex geometries can be achieved by relatively simple building processes.

Other attributes of masonry-type materials are that they are durable, and can be left exposed in both the interiors and exteriors of buildings. They are also, in most locations, available locally in some form and do not therefore require to be transported over long distances. In other words, masonry is an environmentally friendly material the use of which must be expected to increase in the future.

Macdonald, Angus J. 2001. Structure and Architecture.


Monday, March 23, 2009


Japanese architecture, like any other architecture, is deeply influenced by the environment. In addition to the four seasons, there are a short rainy season in early summer and typhoons in early fall, creating a cycle of six "seasons." Spring and autumn are pleasant, and winter, of course, is cold. The three remaining seasons—the rainy season, summer, and typhoon season—are hot and muggy, and it is to these three that Japanese architecture is geared. The assumption is that if a house is constructed to ameliorate the discomfort of rain and humidity, the human body can bear the discomfort of the only remaining season that poses a problem, winter.

Temperature, rainfall, and humidity chart comparing Tokyo and New York.

A Culture of Wood and Paper
To cope with the warm and humid climate of Japan, materials with a low thermal capacity, such as wood, are best, and to cope with the frequency of earthquakes, materials such as brick or stone are avoided. Fortunately, Japan is blessed with good raw materials, particularly timber, well suited to the climate and ideal for an earthquake-prone country. The abundance and variety of wood has, as a result, instilled in the Japanese a keen appreciation of wood—its luster, fragrance, and texture.

As will be seen in this book, wood, paper, and other native materials are copiously used in the home. The shoji sliding doors made of soft, translucent paper and delicate wood latticework, the heavier fusuma sliding doors covered with paper of subtle or bold designs, the bamboo and reed screens, the handsome wood pillar in the alcove, the lovely paper lampshades with wood bases, and, of course, the bath made of aromatic cedar all attest to the Japanese love of wood and paper.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Metabolic, Metaphoric and Anthropomorphic Architecture

A metaphor is an artistic device, aimed at evoking certain feelings by creating some analogy between two dissimilar entities. Usually, therefore, in metaphoric architecture (sometimes also categorized as symbolic architecture, Jencks, 1985) the designer’s aim is to derive some association or symbol from the function of the building or from its context, which then in some way is reflected in the appearance of the building. The use of the metaphor in architecture, in fact, is not new. For example, Gothic cathedrals often evinced mysticism and pious devotion. A similar purpose motivated Le Corbusier in the design of the Ronchamps Chapel. A notable example of metaphoric building in recent times is the Sydney Opera House, architect: Jorn Utzon; structural engineers: Ove Arup and Partners (Utzon, 1999).

Opera House, Sydney, Australia, architect: Jorn Utzon, structural design consultant: Peter Rice from Ove Arup. Metaphoric design with reinforced concrete shell roof, reminiscent of sails blown by wind.

The location of the building at Sydney Harbour inspired the architect to choose a roof system consistin of reinforced concrete shell segments, which resemble wind-stretched sails. The Sydney Opera House inspired Renzo Piano to design the new Aurora Place Office Tower, some 800 metres from the Opera, with fins and sails extending at the top of the 200-metres-high building beyond the façade. In the Bahia temple at New Delhi, the reinforced concrete shells bring to mind the petals of a flower. The roof of the Idlewild TWA terminal at New York Airport (architect: Eero Saarinen) reminds the viewer of the wings of a bird or aeroplane, whilst the façade of the Institute of Science and Technology in Amsterdam (designed by Renzo Piano) recalls a boat. Santiago Calatrava’s Lyon- Satalas TGV railway station building (1990–94) equally imposes on the spectator the impression of a bird’s wings.

Some metaphoric examples by Japanese architects include:
  • Shimosuwa Lake Suwa Museum, Japan (designer: Toyo Ito, 1990–93): from the exterior elevation this evinces the image of a reversed boat but, in plan, a fish.
  • Museum of Fruit, Japan (designer: Itsuko Hasegawa, 1993–95): here the individual building volumes have been put under a cover of earth, which could be interpreted as representing the seeds of plants and fruits and so indirectly the power of life and productivity.
  • Umeda Sky City, Japan (designer: Hiroshi Hara, 1988–93): here skyscrapers have been connected at high levels thus providing an association to future space structures.
Sometimes the metaphor is related to the human body or face, in which case we speak of an anthropomorphic approach. For example, Kazamatsu Yamashita’s Face House in Kyoto, Japan, 1974, is designed to imitate a human face. Takeyama’s Hotel Beverly resembles a human phallus. Some architects do not apply recognizable metaphors directly but deduce the building’s form through metaphysical considerations. This approach also characterized the designs of some deconstructivist architects. Daniel Libeskind projected the expansion of the Jewish Museum in Berlin in the form of a Star of David. This, however, is not immediately obvious to the casual visitor.

Metabolic architecture derives its name from the Greek word metabole meaning a living organism with biochemical functions. The term is applied, and not always appropriately, to non-living organizations or systems that react or adapt to external influences and are able to change their properties in response to various influences. The concept of ‘metabolism’ was affirmed at the international level at the Tokyo World Conference held in 1960 on industrial design by the Japanese Kisho Kurokawa, Kiynori Kikutaka, Fumihiko Maki and Masato Otaka. By doing so, they wished to counteract aspects of modernism that sometimes adopted the approach of machine design in the context of architecture. At the same time this particular group of architects were also guided by the desire to diminish the impact of Western architecture on the Japanese traditions, without rejecting up-to-date technology in construction.

Subsequently, and influenced by American mobile home unit technology, Kurokawa introduced his ‘Capsule’ theory, which was published in the March 1969 issue of the periodical Space Design. A cornerstone of this theory was the replaceability, or interchangeability, of the individual capsules. Kurokawa’s first such building, which immediately succeeded in making him known worldwide, was the Nakagin Tower in Tokyo, built in 1972, in which capsules of a standard size were fixed to a reinforced concrete core. Whilst the core represented permanence, the capsules made possible functional adaptability and change. The Nakagin Tower was followed by further capsule buildings and unrealized projects of metabolic cities. Although metabolic architecture failed to gain wider acceptance, the idea of capsules was used in several forms, as for example in Moshe Safdie’s residential complex at the Montreal Expo, which consisted of modular, pre-cast concrete boxes. Also, mobile home manufacturers in the USA, from whom the idea of capsule building originated in the first place, gained further inspiration from the architectural achievements of the concept. Kurokawa’s later designs in the 1990s (the Ehme Prefectural Museum of General Science and the Osaka International Convention Centre, both in Japan, and the Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysia, the last designed in association with the Malaysian Akitek Jururancang) do not follow the capsule theory; instead they are based on abstract simple geometric shapes made complex. The Kuala Lumpur airport’s hyperbolic shell is reminiscent of traditional Islamic domes and thereby combines the modern with the traditional.

Nagakin Capsule Tower, Tokyo, Japan, architect: Akira Kurokawa. Metabolic (capsule) architecture.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wide-Span Structures

Spaces with a large surface with or without internal columns (supports) and bridges with long spans have been constructed since ancient times. Domes, up to the nineteenth century, had a maximum span of 50 metres and it is only relatively recently that the progress in technology has allowed this restriction to be exceeded to the extent that in the twentieth century space coverings with spans of 300 metres and suspension bridges with a span of 2000–3000 metres were being constructed.

Wide-span hall roofs have some kind of supporting structure, which may bring the loads down into the soil, or be supported by separate supports such as masts, columns, frames. They also have a weather shield, which may be a membrane, panels laid on top of the supporting structure or a unified loadbearing and weather-shielding structure. As a consequence wide-span structures may be classified according to one of the three types of structure. This leads to overlapping classification systems since each of the three types of structure may be combined with various classes of the other two types of structure. A dome, for example, has one single structure with a load-bearing and weathershielding function and may be supported in various ways. A membrane may be self-supporting or suspended from masts.

The last 150 years have not only brought with them a gradual increase in span (and height) but also a considerable number of new structural schemes and architectural forms for covering spaces: shells, vaults, domes, trusses, space grids and membranes (Chilton, 2000). A great variety of domes have been developed: Schwedler, Kievitt, network, geodesic, and lamella folded plate domes.

Type of a Schwedler dome

Steel trusses were developed beginning in the nineteenth century. In the first half of the twentieth century reinforced concrete came on the scene as a competitor to steel for long-span structures, for instance in the form of braced or ribbed reinforced concrete domes and roof structures (designs by Pier Luigi Nervi, Eduardo Torroja and Felix Candela). During the 1920s and 1930s thin reinforced concrete shells were constructed. Shells may be not only domes but also cylindrical and prestressed tensile membrane structures. Then up to the present time, a great variety of new structures were added to the list of wide-span structures: steel, aluminium, timber, membranes, space trusses (with one, two or three layers, polyhedra lattices) and tensile (tensioned) structures (Karni, 2000). Another aspect of categorization is the way in which vertical loads are transmitted to the ground: directly by the structure, as is the case with some domes, or by special supports: pylons, masts or columns. In this second category are the ‘masted structures’ (Harris and Pui-K Li, 1996). A masted building may have one, two or more (four, eight, etc.) masts and these can be placed interior or exterior to the building. A special category is formed by rotational structures, which may have one mast, or several within the building envelope or, alternatively multiple masts may be arranged around the perimeter of the building. Some of such rotational structures may be designed for grandstands. It is obvious that the masts not least due to their conspicuous appearance influence greatly the overall architectural design and its details.

Some of the load-bearing roof structures require an external layer on top for water and heat insulation purposes. Competitors to traditional roofing materials (wood shingle, reed, clay tile, stone slab, lead, copper) made their presence felt: corrugated coilcoated steel or aluminium sheet, plastics, foil or textile, factory-built-up composite panel (Selves, 1999). Some of these are also applied as wall cladding or suspended ceilings.

As mentioned earlier, stadiums are increasingly being constructed with a retractable roof, which makes sports events feasible in any kind of weather: typical are the stadiums designed by the Japanese Fumihiko Maki and others. The year 2002 saw the USA’s first retractable football stadium completed in Houston. Here the travelling mechanism of the roof rides on rails along the tops of exposed structural steel super-trusses and during retraction the two trussed panels part in opposite directions. The wheels of the mechanism ride on a single rail. Each of the two 287 metre-long super-trusses is borne on two reinforced concrete super-columns, which are nearly 210 metres apart, thereby eliminating the need for columns in the seating stands (Engineering News-Record, 2000). Plans have been put forward to rebuild the London Wembley Stadium with a retractable roof and with a capacity of 90 000 seats. Other recent designs of retractable roofs demonstrate a number of innovative solution possibilities (Ramaswamy et al., 1994, Levy, 1994).

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Size, Scale, Proportion

The subject of size, scale and proportion is discussed at various places in this book. Here we draw attention to some general aspects concerning which there are no universal aesthetic rules in art. A short poem or a miniature painting may be of the same high aesthetic value as monumental creations, like War and Peace by Tolstoy, the paintings in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. This applies to architecture also. The Il Tempietto in Rome by Bramante is just as much a masterpiece as the Saint Peter Basilica also in Rome. Driven to the extremes of small or huge size, a work may be admired not so much for its aesthetic value as for the expertise in producing it in such minuscule or enormous dimensions. At the one extreme small elaborate sculptures in ivory or miniature paintings may serve as models. At the other extreme skyscrapers, pyramids, long-span suspension bridges, may serve as models. The opposite of what was previously said is also true: size in itself may not disqualify any art object from aesthetic appreciation.

Size, and other related characteristic categories – such as scale, proportion – must harmonize, however, in some measure with the actual expectations of people, or, on the contrary, be convincing with their new, and possibly revolutionary, characteristic features. Technological aspects have a function here. The cathedrals from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries utilized to the full the technological potentials of their period. Cathedrals with a similar stylistic approach but built in the nineteenth century (St Vlasius in the Black Forest region, Germany) or in the twentieth century (Notre Dame de la Paix in Yamassoukrou, Ivory Coast) evince admiration for their sheer size but the anachronism between style and the period of design and realization acts adversely. As has been stated earlier new architecture has very much altered perception of size: skyscrapers and wide-span structures have been widely accepted.

Similar statements as for size may be made for scale and proportion. Absolute size and relationships of size may be very different from what was generally acceptable in historical styles.

First Interstate Bank Tower, Dallas, USA, 1985, architect: Henry N. Cobb.
Uninterrupted largescale slanting glass facade (unknown in historical architecture).

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

The period 1880–1920

It was this period that saw the end of ancient and historical architectural styles, such as Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine and the later Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, thus paving the way for twentieth-century modernism. Independence was achieved by what were former colonies as, for example, in Latin America. The benefits of scientific revolution and industrial development were reaped mostly by the leading powers of the day: Great Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Japan. Their conflict resulted in the First World War of 1914–18. At the end of this war it seemed that society was being impelled by democracy and the ideas of liberal capitalism and rationalism, and it was hoped that scientific and economic progress would provide the means for solving the world’s problems.

During this 40-year period the construction industry progressed enormously. Even earlier in the 1830s, railway construction was expanding at first in the industrialized countries, later extending to other parts of the world. The growing steel industry provided the new structural building material. A few decades later, the use of reinforced concrete began to compete with steel in this field. The progress in construction during this period was perhaps best symbolized by the Eiffel Tower, designed by Gustave Eiffel (1832–1923), a leading steel construction expert of his time. In fact, the Tower was built for the Paris World Exhibition in 1889 and the intention at the time was that it should be only a ‘temporary’ exhibit. Originally 300 metres high, it was taller than any previous man-made structure. More than a century later, during which it has become one of the best-loved buildings in the world, it is still standing intact.

The Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1887–89, structural design: Gustave Eiffel, 300 m high.
One of the first spectacular results of technical progress in construction.
© Sebestyen: Construction: Craft to Industry, E & FN Spon.

A subsequent engineering feat was the Jahrhunderthalle in Breslau (now Wroclaw), designed by Max Berg (1870–1947), and completed in 1913, a ribbed reinforced concrete dome, which, with its 65-metre diameter, was at its time of construction the largest spanning space yet put up in history. In this heroic period, such technical novelties as central heating, lifts, water and drainage services for buildings became extensively used.

Jahrhunderthalle, Breslau (Wroclaw), Germany/Poland, 1913, architect: Max Berg.
The first (ribbed) reinforced concrete dome whose span (65 m) exceeds all earlier masonry domes.
© Sebestyen: Construction: Craft to Industry, E & FN Spon.

In architecture and the applied arts, there were attempts to revive historical styles, such as the neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance. Later, the mixture of these historical styles and their reinterpretation gave rise to the Art Nouveau or Jugendstil movements, collectively known as the ‘Secession’, which literally meant the abandonment of the classical stylistic conventions and restraints. A similar style was propagated in Britain by the designer William Morris (1834–96), and in America by his followers, in the Arts and Crafts movement, whose aim was to recapture the spirit of earlier craftsmanship, perhaps as a reaction to the banality of mass production engendered by the Industrial Revolution. Consequently, a schism occurred amongst artists, designers and the involved public, between those who advocated adherence to the old academic style and tradition and ‘secessionists’, who favoured the use of new techniques and materials and a more inventive ‘free’ style. Also during this period some architects, both in Europe and America, began to experiment with the use of natural, organic forms, such as the Spaniard Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) in Barcelona and the American Frank Lloyd Wright (1869–1959) (Plates 1 and 2); the latter; in addition, drawing on local rural traditions and forms. Amongst European protomodernists, the Austrian Adolf Loos (1870–1933), the Dutchman Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856–1934) and the German Peter Behrens (1868–1940) merit mention. Using exaggerated plasticity and extravagant shapes, the German Erich Mendelsohn (1887–1953) and Hans Poelzig (1869–1936) were important figures in the lead into modern architecture.

Sebestyen, Gyula. 2003. New Architecture and Technology.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Building Construction

If we look at ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs used to depict a house and entrance, we will see that the hieroglyphs focus upon the walls. Perhaps this reflects the way in which buildings were constructed there—by building up from the foundation. This emphasis on walls, which was to influence the evolution of Western architecture, presumably developed from the need to provide a comfortable interior sheltered from the harsh climate.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs and Chinese Characters
House Entrance House and Other Buildings

If we look at the Japanese writing system, based on characters borrowed from the Chinese, we will see that the characters for house and other buildings all contain the topmost element, the roof. This reflects the Japanese process of housing construction—erecting a wood outer frame and covering it with a roof before making the inner walls. This emphasis on the roof may have developed as a result of the requirement that houses offer shelter from the rain while permitting cross ventilation in the hot and humid summer of Japan. In this way we can find a major conceptual difference between Western and Japanese attitudes toward architecture.

In Japanese house construction, a wood frame is built first, followed by the raising of the roof,
and then the addition
of walls.

The physical division of space in a timber-framed Japanese house characteristically occurs after the roof is raised, unlike the traditional Western method of building in stone, where the walls separating each room are built first and the roof put in place afterward, creating in the end a whole of separate spatial units. The interface between interior and exterior is also different. In masonry construction, a solid wall separates inside and out and is structurally important, so that few openings are permitted. Wood frame construction in Japan, on the other hand, requires no enclosure between the supporting posts and, with the use of movable partitions, it is possible at any time to open interior and exterior spaces to each other. This style of wood construction allows a step-like hierarchy of spaces. Again, with the thick walls of masonry construction, one room is much like another as far as separation goes, but with paper-covered sliding doors, the degree of separation increases with the number of partitioning agents. In the deepest part of the Japanese house, that is, the middle, is the plastered wall, along which are arranged the sleeping rooms. Beyond these are more open and functionally free spaces, divided into any number of rooms by sliding doors, and surrounding these is a wide corridor bounded at the outside by wooden shutters which offer protection from the rain and cold. The eaves extend well beyond these doors, creating a buffer space appropriate to Japan's rainy climate.

Section of Japanese House

Yagi, Koji. A Japanese Touch For Your Home.


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