The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster

The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster

Overview

A detailed biography of Philip Johnson in chronological order. The American Architect who became kingmaker during the rise of the modernist movement in the U.S.A. after WWII. A floored genius, a copyist, a playboy, politician and propagandist. This book sets the standard so far in my reading for an Architectural biography both in personal and professional detail.

I do not believe in principles, in case you haven’t noticed.

—Philip Johnson, 1982

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Nightlands Review

If you want to really get a feel for Nordic Architecture, indeed to really get under the skin of the differences between Nordic Architecture and the rest of the world then this is the book to start with. Not only does it give a convincing picture of ‘Northerness’ but it paints a credible narrative of not only the primordial origins of Nordic Architecture but the differences between the Nordic countries too. 

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Model of Glenn Murcutt house

Unpaid Internships in Architecture

Introduction

Internships are really valuable especially early on in your career and when you are studying then a summer internship is going to be a big help. As the process of becoming an Architect takes so long, maybe 5 to 7 years at school plus a couple of years of internship plus some exams sprinkled throughout that time its important to pick up some real world experience as you go. But many firms offer Internships without any pay which is controversial. I have tried to lay out the arguments below from both sides with some practical advise for those looking for Internships.

Don’t Work for Free

The short answer to whether you should take an unpaid internship if you are offered one is don’t! No really just don’t do it no one should be working for free not even for good experience. I have tried to provide a summary of all the arguments, where the profession stands in different countries and some resources to hep you when you are applying for these posts.

Background

Unpaid internships in the Architectural profession, depending on the country you live in, are still quite common. In the UK a 2012 Student earnings survey found that 11% of students were unpaid. In the U.S.A. the (NACE) survey of 2017 showed 43% of all interns (not just Architects) were unpaid so it happens everywhere but the level differs greatly, and it’s still quite common even in countries where it is nominally illegal.

Thankfully these types of positions are getting more and more uncommon but they are still around and the more prestigious the firm often the more tempting it is for you to accept an unpaid position with them as a way of getting better experience and padding your CV.

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The Eyes of The Skin Review

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa

Introduction

This book is a short but beautifully crafted argument for an Architecture based less on the sense of sight and more on the other senses, and about how touch is the core sense from which the others flow. It argues we have gone too far in holding sight above those other senses, particularly in Architecture and that there is a better, deeper way to understand and shape the spaces we design.

Book History

Pallasmaa wrote the argument out as an essay and lecture, then turned it into a book first published in 1996 which quickly became a classic of Architectural Theory. Amazon has it at 130 pages long but my edition is only 80 pages! Either way it’s a short and fairly quick read provided you are familiar with the references Pallasmaa makes. If you don’t you might find it hard work to digest.

Basic Premise

The skin is the oldest and most sensitive of our organs, and touch is the sense that became differentiated into all the other senses. The understanding of our external environment is much more co-dependant on all the senses. But vision is the sense that is increasingly dominating in Architecture. Pallasmaa sets out the case for the tactile senses in the experience and understanding of the world and in the design of buildings and cities. That the pre-conscious perceptual realm, that of peripheral vision contains the quality of architectural reality much more than a focused image. The quote below joins up these associated ideas and expresses them beautifully.

‘I confront the city with my body; my legs measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; my gaze unconsciously projects my body onto the facade of the cathedral, where it roams over the mouldings and contours, sensing the size of recesses and projections; my body weight meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand grasps the door pull as I enter the dark void behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.’

– Juhani Pallasmaa

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The Van Nelle Factory from the Front

The Van Nelle Factory: A Modernist Architectural Classic

  • The Van Nelle Factory
  • Constructed 1925-1931
  • Architects: Leendert van der Vlugt of Brinkman & Van der Vlugt
  • Address: Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Introduction

At 220m long, 8 stories high and 60,000m² in size the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam rises up against the flat landscape surrounding it even if it doesn’t tower above the other buildings like it once did when it was finished in 1931.

Designed and built in the 1920’s on the banks of a canal in an industrial zone on the then outskirts of Rotterdam it was a pioneer of a new form of Construction that the Dutch called literally New Building or ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’. This was a modern factory building made just at the birth of Modernism and incorporating the latest technology plus techniques developed on site by the constructors it became one of the buildings that would go on to define the style of modernism itself. A modernist classic from the day it opened.

Now a UNESCO heritage site it still maybe is not as well known as it should be being both a great influence in early modernism and an beautiful piece of frozen social history that is often overlooked.

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Unité d’Habitation: The Brutalist Boat

Unité d’habitation

Key Information

  • Name: Unité d’habitation
  • Location: Marseille, France
  • Architect: Le Corbusier
  • Year: 1947-52

Introduction Le Corbusier’s first Unité d’Habitation 

The Marseille Unitéd’habitation which literally means unit of habitation is the first of the series of experimental and futuristic housing blocks developed by the Architect Le Corbusier after WWII. It became one of the most influential Modernist buildings of all time with countless iterations tried by other Architects all over the world and developed in different directions and with different levels of success.

Corbusier himself built four more Unité d’Habitations in Europe. The Rough concrete he used ‘béton brut’ became the signature of the style known as Brutalism. Simply put if you are are interested in Modern Architecture or the History of Architecture this is one of the buildings you should know.

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Helsinki Design Week

Today I went to The Helsinki Design Week Design Market in Kaapelitahdas. It’s billed as the largest design stock sale in the Nordics and its a great place to get a sense of what is going on in the Finnish Design scene. Mainly fashion and product design but food, interiors and jewellery etc was there to see and it was great to see how many future worldwide brands could be bubbling up here.

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Generative Architecture

I found a project by Joel Simon called Evolving Floorplans (via Kottke) which is all about the algorithmic generation of floorpans, specifically in reference to a school design. Evolving Floorpans is the first time I have seen a clear visualisation of an algorithmic architectural design, it’s quite beautiful.

Firstly I should note I’ve no experience in the writing of code such as for the alogorythm that Joel wrote and only an interest in the experimental zone of 3d architecture printing, so having said all that some observations;

Just programming for efficiency of circulation gave a remarkably ‘organic’ plan structure but maybe this is not be surprising given how things are designed ‘bottom up’ in the natural world.

The plans, optimised for traffic flow didn’t translate at all for classroom use, building usability or internal legibility. Square up the classroom sizes a bit and use something that errs towards more modern classroom layouts like joined classrooms etc and lab spaces. The structure was not addressed, and we probably shouldn’t kid ourselves that new structural materials or techniques will either come soon or deliver greatly enhanced results than right now. The hierarchy of the room types could also be factored in, ie. the gym and cafe of larger volume, environmental site factors accounted for. Joel already understands much of this though,

‘The metrics could be expanded to include terrain maps, sun paths, existing trees and other environmental input, allowing the buildings to be highly adaptive to their context. The physics simulation could force certain boundary shape constraints.’

Conclusions

If developed further this could easily inform outline design and progress until some baselines and agreements in the basic design have been set. It could provide very soon a tool to help the design team and Architects, how much further it could go I don’t know.

Links

Thread on reddit/architecture

Week in review August 19th 2018

Sound Mirrors, Romney Marsh Photo by Tom Lee

Things I saw this week

  • Sound Mirrors of Romney Marsh (website and video) a form of early warning system against enemy aircraft rendered obsolete by the invention of radar in 1935.
  • I want this mug! (ember)
  • Nasa hosted a 3d-printed habitat competition for Mars (video) (via things)
  • My home town of Helsinki dropped off the top10 most liveable cities list down from 9th in 2017 to 16th in 2018. (ref) though I’m not too sure about how these things are calculated I think that they do give a good general indication. Although I would say I think you can potentially live anywhere being rich. I would love to see an index that attempts to show how well you can live in cities as your income goes up or down. Quality vs income then the gentler the slop up or down might indicate a better place to live.
  • Added Urbanfinland.com to my blog list in resources. Some great writing and research here by Timo Hämälainen. I hope to go over some of his ideas in a separate post soon.

My posts this last week