Architecture Whisperer, No. 4

Behold, the building speaks!  This one says, “The Law of the State is ironclad. Judgment is exacting. Crime does not pay.”

Law Court Offices 1

The Law Court Offices in Venice, Italy consist of a tall, dark and narrow, nearly windowless monolith that connects, at the ground level, to buildings of a re-purposed 19th century factory complex. The varied components of the court system all exist or can be accessed from somewhere within this “black box.”

Law COurt Offices 6The dark form is clad in oxidized copper panels punctuated by narrow windows. The entry is recessed under a 15 foot overhang. The Law Court Offices’ light-absorbing, geometrically simplified presence would be remarkable in any setting.  It stands apart, attracts attention for being different, and strikes a degree of trepidation into the viewer.

In the context of Venice, the City of Water and Light, it is the antithesis of most Venetian buildings, especially those along the Grand Canal, that fairly glitter with surface pattern and ornament.

Ca'd'OroTypically, they meet the ground or water with colonnades, behind which are layered the cool recesses of shadowed loggias. Above is the Ca’ D’Oro.

The historical center of state justice in Venice was the Doge’s Palace, on St. Marks Square. It has fabric-inspired brickwork, pedestrian-friendly Venetian Gothic colonnades, and lacy terra-cotta ornament. This lovely exterior’s grandeur does not, however, correlate with the harsh judgments and punishments that were imposed from within.

Doge's PalaceContrast the Doge’s Palace wall with the Law Court Offices’ wall:

Law Court WallThe architect C+S contends that this simple, archetypical, compact shape and the choice of materials constitute a metaphor representing “institution,” in all of its connotations of tradition, organization, and ritual. In addition to this, I think it symbolizes power, severity, and a general unsympathetic authority.  The State will not be moved. No one can escape justice. This is the message about the Law revealed by Venice in its choice of this design.

As an interesting contrast, the new Law Courts of Bordeaux, France, deliver an entirely different message about the Law.

richard-rogers-law-courts-bordeauxIn the words of its architect Richard Rogers, “This form with its enclosing roof creates a legible container of parts.” The cone-shaped masses are courtrooms. Circulation paths and connections can be seen.

Rogers says that the building intentionally “emphasizes, through a feeling of transparency and openness, a positive perception of the accessibility of the French justice system.“

Whether or not French and Italian legal systems are exceptionally different from one another, these two municipalities have built architecture that speaks of two very different things.

Photo No. 1 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 2 courtesy of  Alessandra Bello; Photo No. 3 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 4 courtesy of Wikipedia; Photo No. 5 courtesy of John Hopewell’s blog Italy 2010; Photo No. 6 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 7 courtesy of Peter Augustin.

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I invite your comments.

Architecture Whisperer, No. 3

Behold, the building speaks! It says, “We are great and powerful. You are small and meek. Any questions?


At the end of piazza Salimbeni in Sienna Italy, the bank Monte dei Paschi stands like a fortress.  In 1472, this palazzo was converted into a bank; it is the oldest bank in the world.  The institution relies on its reputation for stability and security, which are embodied by the building. The façade wall’s upper crenellated edge was designed for defense. The single doorway within a Gothic arch, placed off-center at street level, is intimidatingly enormous and exposed.

bank door

Upon closer observation, the large-scaled pair of bronze-bedecked doors contain a single human-scaled door.  The imposing building has made a concession to its users, allowing them passage, but at the same time reminding them that The Bank is formidable, and controls everything that comes and goes from its premises.

Architects manipulate scale to influence perception.

Edith Ann

In relation to large things, we feel small and powerless.

img_half_scale_cars In relation to small things, we feel big and powerful.

 Comfort-Chairs-Created-by-Cate-and-Nelson-Photos8In relation to human-scale things, we feel just right.

1st image courtesy of The Telegraph, 2nd image courtesy of Gimbo, 3rd Image courtesy of the Lily Tomlin & Jane Wagner Website, 4th image courtesy of Harrington Group, 5th image courtesy of Cate&Nelson.

Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Architecture Whisperer, No. 2

Behold, the building speaks! This one says, “Take that, you stodgy old status quo.

The Experience Museum Project (EMP), also known as the Rock and Roll Museum, is a brash mashup of metallic forms, a one-of-a-kind building set in the predominantly mid-century architecture of the 1962 World’s Fair Grounds in Seattle, now known as Seattle Center.

Rock and roll, since its inception, has gone through continuous evolution of pushing the mainstream’s comfort envelope. When it first arrived on our shores, it was considered obnoxious, if not scandalous by adults, and seductive by the young.

The early Beatleshair was regarded as radical because, compared to the prevailing norm, it was long and tousled, though in today’s context it looks positively tame.

A generation gap ensued in part because adults recoiled as young people embraced the genre. Similarly, critics recoiled when the EMP was constructed. From the Wikipedia article on the EMP:

Frank Gehry,” remarked British-born, Seattle-based writer Jonathan Raban, “has created some wonderful buildings, like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, but his Seattle effort, the Experience Music Project, is not one of them.” New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described it as “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died.” Forbes magazine called it one of the world’s 10 ugliest buildings.Others describe it as a “blob” or call it “The Hemorrhoids”.

The architect and builders went to great pains and great expense to make a building seemingly without straight lines, vertical planes, or neutral colors, subverting our understanding of what “normal” buildings are like.

The EMP is says “I was born to be wild.” Like rock and roll, it is loud and not easy to ignore. It is flamboyant. Its metallic surface has psychedelic shifting colors and reflections. It gets much of its power from its sheer novelty. Like rock and roll.

To this day, it is the only building of its kind in our city.  It’s no longer as shocking to us as it was at first, though it is hard to imagine a time in the future when this boisterous object will simply blend into the background. After a dozen years since it opened, it continues to attract attention with its tremendous energy and presence.

I think other buildings fantasize about letting it all hang out, and being the EMP.

First image courtesy of Zahner metal fabricators; second image courtesy of Wikipedia; third and fourth images courtesy of Zahner metal fabricators.

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Architecture Whisperer, No. 1

Behold, the building speaks! This building says, “OUCH!

The Shooting Venue for the 2012 London Olympics has a tensile fabric skin with scattered protruding colored portals.

One of two things have caused these angry lesions. The building may have been assaulted with deadly force by the shooting competitors within.

Metal surface scarred by bullets coming through from the other side.

On the other hand, it is possible that the building is screaming for Calamine Lotion. Lots of it. NOW.

1st image courtesy of  Magma Architecture, 2nd image rendered using “bullet hole brushes” in Adobe PSE, 3rd image courtesy of Current TV

 Feel free to share any of these images, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.  Thanks.