In penance for doing little posting of late, I present you with a little precedent study, and an archaeological one at that. Burnham & Root’s Armory Building (Chicago, 1882), was demolished in the 60’s, and Richard Nickel’s photos are little of what remains to tell the epic story of this impressive structure. Predating the Monadnock Building by 9 years, the simple masonry volume is rather unornamented, save for the excellent brickwork and rough-faced battered stone. A large skylit central drill hall anchors the form, which gives only small fortified slit windows to the street, save for the large, Richardsonian Syrian arch at the main entry. The windows pre-echo Kahn, but I’m not going to argue that he was so influenced, no matter how hard I’d like to. The structure is framed by the large load-bearing masonry walls, which are filled with long-span trussed arches, which allow for the large hall at the center. My first (failed) attempt at a truly square floor plan is at the bottom.
Oregon has a large number of covered bridges, where the wood trusses had to be protected from the persistent damp and subsequent rot and failure. These are simple, rectangular, white clapboard (or board & batten) gabled ‘houses’, concealing impressive, large-scale Howe trusses inside. I find engineered structures to have a brutal beauty, especially those of the early 20th Century, and often believe the Historic American Engineering Record to be much more fascinating than its architectural counterpart. These covered bridges offer a wonderful contrast between the utilitarian trussed interiors and the domestic exterior form. There might just be another project somewhere in there. . .
Three ‘k’s. Three drawings. Three ideas:
Kahn – an homage to Louis I. Kahn’s Center for British Art at Yale, where one of his pyramidal concrete skylights is placed above a more classically detailed library, contrasting the stark materiality of his modernism with the richness of the English country house which inspired it.
Krier – Starting with a plan very much like Wright’s Charnley house, but facing its street façade with a stuccoed language taken from Leon Krier’s Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami, all for the domestic scale of the single family home.
Kiosk – Almost an exact reduplication of a small Tokyo ‘warehouse’ featured in a book by Atelier Bow-wow, ‘Pet Architecture Guide Book’, with a triangular floor plan topped by a butterfly roof, centering the downspout on the front façade. All I’ve done is perfect the geometry and replace a roll-up garage door with a french glass door.
Driving through El Segundo the other week, I ran across a nice Miesian office block. A quick internet search for the name ‘Xerox’ which was left stained on a concrete wall and I stumbled across an all too familiar name – Craig Ellwood (Originally built for Scientific Data Systems, which was later bought out by Xerox). A floor plan confirmed my suspicions – a perfect square on 64 columns, raised one floor off the ground with a directional access given by two long walls on the east and west facades, and storefront gazing on the north and south, all centered on a cubic central atrium. The details are almost perfect derivatives of Mies’, but the vertical window mullions stop at the spandrel panels rather than continue full height as MVDR would have done (see Murphy’s Daley Center compared with Mies’ IBM tower). The whole project is undergoing a less than inspiring renovation by SOM, with absolutely no heed for the building module and planted ‘green’ walls. Too bad.
I had wanted to draw this while we were on site, but the monk who was giving us a tour was moving at a brisk rate. This is the entrance pavilion to Aalto’s Library at Mount Angel, as previously featured here, and is worth featuring because of the inherent classicism of it all – strictly modular, rigidly symmetrical (minus that one angled wall on the right), with a well-coordinated ceiling plan, brick floor patterning, column placement, and door/storefront alignment. For the über-modernist Aalto, this is proof that his early education in Nordic Classicism never truly left. Details below.
Three buildings I saw while driving cross town = three quick elevation studies: A symmetrical hip-roofed house with a long continuous masonry wall that continues to form a low wall on the rear yard; A series of openings on a flat stucco wall, centered on one large square picture window (the jack arches are my own); A square light well lined with industrial sash windows, and a clapboard volume beneath.
Alvar Aalto has only three built structures in the United States: a dormitory at MIT, an interior on Manhattan, and a library at a Benedictine Abbey in Mount Angel, Oregon. These few drawings are my rapid attempt to distill some important moments from the Abbey library, which I visited on a recent trip up the Pacific coast: A section through the skylit split-level reading room, and a plan beneath; a detail section through a typical study desk, which run the length of the double-height spaces, eliminating a traditional guardrail; and a detailed plan of a glass partition at independent study carrels, with hollow-steel-section framing members and wood stops – a beautiful, humane, change to the typical Miesian system. There was so much more, but unfortunately so little time.
My wife and I drove the coast on our way back home from Portland, and we stumbled upon an lighthouse along the Coquille river in southern Oregon. I was struck by the simple forms rendered in white plaster: the tall cylindrical light and a low lozenge-shaped accessory building. These were both detailed in a pseudo-French collection of mannered profiles and mouldings, with large cyma-ed keystones and segmental arches, and iron king-rod trussed roof construction. Civic work today pales in comparison.
What would a frame roadtrip be without a little precedent study? Case 1 – the infamous, amazing, polarizing, kickass Portland Building. And just to show you that drawing is a learning process, complete with error, the front elevation shown above incorrectly correlates the stepped entrance pavilion and the Portlandia statue it rests on – hence the small partial elevation underneath it. Below, I highlight a discrepant exterior and interior window in elevation and section as well as interior tile ‘wainscotting’ and an exterior arcade.
My wife and I took a short trip to Machado Silvetti’s Getty Villa a few months ago. I brought along my sketchbook and put down a few details, ideas, or forms that I found fascinating – from the archaeological ‘Roman’ architecture of the Villa proper, Machado Silvetti’s modernist interventions, or the ancient Roman and Greek antiquities housed inside, including that splendid bronze staircase (underside of risers and stone handrail).