Grotesques

This post is an answer to question posed in the previous blog post:

Q.  “Who are we?”

A.  We are grotesques, inlaid into the terra cotta floor of the Reading Room in the Laurentian Library, in Florence, Italy.

libreriaThe Library’s Entry Vestibule and Reading Room were designed by Michelangelo. They are notable because of the radical ways in which architectural elements are used without strict adherence to their traditional/ expected/functional roles. The tall vestibule, an interior room, is made to feel like an outdoor courtyard, literally outside-in.  There are large corbels (brackets) that don’t physically hold anything up, and window-frames surrounding planes of opaque stone rather than glass.

It is a prime example of the style called Mannerism. From Wikipedia, “Mannerism is notable for its intellectual sophistication as well as its artificial (as opposed to naturalistic) qualities. Mannerism favors compositional tension and instability rather than the balance and clarity of earlier Renaissance (work).”

I had been taught that the Laurentian Library was both conceived of and fleshed out by Michelangelo. Because of this, I thought that the faces inlaid in the floor were made from sketches by Michelangelo. However, in a correspondence with Leonard Barkan, a scholar, currently at Princeton University, with many deep interests including Literature, History, Art History, Classics, and Meaning, I learned that this was not the case. He wrote:

The faces on the floor of the Laurentian Library are indeed interesting, in the fashion of grotteschi, which were a widely diffused style of decoration throughout the sixteenth century and beyond.  They probably don’t have much to do with Michelangelo himself.  The Library was realized from what appear to have been his very generalized architectural designs, but he seems to have had very little input as regards the details, since it was all done after he had definitively left Florence.  And the letters we possess on the subject suggest that he wasn’t very closely connected with what was going on in the construction.  The drawings for the floor were (we’re told) by Niccolò Tribolo.  For a brief account in English, see: http://www.bml.firenze.sbn.it/ing/tour_of_the_complex.htm

The inclusion of this assortment of cartoon-like heads in this stately space may have been done in order to include the wild, sensuous, and willful side of human nature along with the sublime, intellectual and religious side.

Grotesques are found in architecture throughout the world. The following Gothic examples are from the Bayeux Cathedral, in Bayeux France.

g3

g11g2g7

Bayeux images courtesy of  George P. Landow

Feel free to share the content of this posting, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Asymmetry

450px-Chartres_1

Chartres Cathedral

Asymmetry is literally a lack of symmetry. It is usually defined in negative terms such as “objects that are not identical on both sides of a central line,” or those having a “failure of parts to correspond to one another in shape, size, or arrangement.“  It has been described as distorted, disquieting, out of place, hyperactive, tiresome, and threatening.

This blog post is a consideration of asymmetry in positive terms.

1.  Asymmetrical objects cause our eyes to actively scan, and our minds to actively evaluate the unequal parts of the form, seeking balance.  I feel this active engagement as stimulation, engagement, and fascination. Sometimes, a dynamic balance is achieved in an object; sometimes it is not.

2.  In addition to being a source of formal interest, asymmetry can deliver vital information. There are examples of extreme asymmetry in living things, such as this type of flounder, which has both eyes on the right side of its body. Other species of flounder are known to have both eyes on the left side of their bodies.  This is functional for them because they live at the bottom of the sea with enormous pressures causing them to lie flat.
Kuvalähde: Wilhelm vonWright: Pohjolan kalat.
CrabGross asymmetry such as that of the fiddler crab above can tell a story about a creature’s role, functioning, or habitat.  It raises the question, “What are the functional reasons for this particular form?”

3. There are degrees of symmetry. The human face is generally symmetrical, with 2 eyes, 2 nostrils, 2 cheeks, and 2 eyebrows. Yet on closer inspection of almost every face, inequality of the parts is obvious. Asymmetry is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.

b849cc4f3f3cbfd185a6d84c47da75c6_6

Marilyn Monroe’s iconic and memorable face (top center) is admired. By mirroring just the left side (lower left), and comparing that to a mirroring of only the right side (lower right), we can see that it is far from symmetrical in structure and detail. Her facial imbalance gives her vulnerability and compelling beauty. She even darkened her beauty mark to enhance the irregular composition.

4. For human-made things, composition is a result of choices. What is the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked?” In the early 1900s, Kazimir Malevich, a Russian Suprematist artist, created elemental, abstract art, which was shocking and radical in its time.

 malevich.black-red-square
malevich.petersburg
Here are some famous examples of architecture in which, as described in the four points above, asymmetry :
1. stimulates active engagement opening the possibility of stimulation and fascination.
2. raises questions about the functional reasons for its particular form.
3. is the source of interest, beauty, ugliness, and expression.
4. raises questions about the meaning or message in the choice to “go crooked”

800px-Thomas_Crane_Public_Library,_Quincy,_Massachusetts_(Front_view)

Thomas Crane Public Library by H.H. Richardson, 1882.

asymmetry-architecture-beauty

Auditorio de Tenerife by Santiago Calatrava, 2003

fallingwater

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, 1939

lotheringen_12

Coetzee House by Emilio Eftychis, 2005(?)

Niterói_Contemporary_Art_Museum

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum by Oscar Niemeyer, 1996.

Miyakonojo 2

Miyakonojo Civic Center in Miyakonojo, by Kiyonori Kikutake, 1966, Metabolist Architecture

Chartres Cathedral image courtesy of Wikipedia.

First photo of a flounder courtesy of TBD; second image of a fiddler crab courtesy of Google Images; third image of Marilyn Monroe courtesy of upscale; images of Malevich paintings courtesy of Web Museum.

First architectural example courtesy of Wikipedia, second courtesy of  Wikipedia; third courtesy of fallingwater.org; fourth courtesy of designboom; fifth courtesy of Wikepedia; sixth courtesy of Panaramio.

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

I invite your comments.

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.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

I invite your comments.

Geomimicry

“…history tells us the art and architecture of ancient Egypt are creations from the mind of man; the desert tells us they are translations from the language of the landscape.”

 egypt 1

 Sahara Desert Rock Formation

egypt 2The Sphinx at Giza

egypt 3

Theban Hills, West Bank, Luxor Hills

egypt 4Temple of Ramses II, Abu Simbel

Photos and quote from Architecture Magazine, circa 1998.

Feel free to share the content of this blog, but please provide a link back to 2H Pencil.

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?

italianbank_2259212b

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.

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

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.