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June 10, 2015

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I don't completely understand why modern architecture forbids the kind of ornamentation that makes buildings interesting to look at

I think it's a combination of reasons. Partly, it's a matter of art being an extra cost. Even in an ultra-expensive building, it can be a matter of principle to avoid such -- or, at least, to not appear to be ignoring the principle.

But I think the other, bigger, reason has to do with the way architecture is taught. Computers may be modifying this, but for a long time (my college roommate was an architecture student) the standard was to start with making samples for class out of blocks or sheets of paper. That is, there simply wasn't a way to incorporate decorative detail in such a model. And habits learned early can be very hard to break.

#2 looks like using a bandsaw. #4 perhaps a polishing wheel?

rather #2, using a table saw (UNsafely! Without a guard or pushstick!) bandsaw in the background.

and that chemist isn't wearing any eye protection!

Yeah, but consider the dates (from their clothing, if nothing else). Safety features were still mostly in the future.

The discussion of the cost of housing in NYC reminded me of this, from those hippies at Grist.

Millenials are, I gather, folks in their late teens up through their early 30's. Depending on how you count. So, first-home buyers, folks who are starting families, and are early in their careers.

I wonder if the creative juice is going to be bleeding out of NY, San Fran, LA, Boston, et al, over the next 10 or 20 years. The young'uns have to live somewhere, if they can't afford those places, they're gonna go somewhere else.

I love NY, it's the city I grew up near and the city I always think of as The City. It's the big apple in my personal universe.

But I don't think any kind of money would get me to live there now.

The cast iron stuff in SoHo is fantastic. There's a similar section in Philly, really beautiful old buildings. There was no functional need to make them so lovely, they just wanted to, out of pride of place I guess.

For traffic, we ended up using Waze on a smartphone with a $10 plastic dashboard mount. The Waze app uploads speed data which allows Waze to build very effective real time traffic models. In turn, Waze is very aggressive about using those models to reroute around traffic. AFAIK, that data isn't available anywhere else for the moment. They were acquired by Google, so eventually that technology might make it into Google Maps, but it will be a long while I expect.

Waze claims to have tens of millions of active users; it is very difficult to compete with having millions of real time traffic probes.

For traffic, we ended up using Waze on a smartphone with a $10 plastic dashboard mount. The Waze app uploads speed data which allows Waze to build very effective real time traffic models. In turn, Waze is very aggressive about using those models to reroute around traffic. AFAIK, that data isn't available anywhere else for the moment. They were acquired by Google, so eventually that technology might make it into Google Maps, but it will be a long while I expect.

Waze claims to have tens of millions of active users; it is very difficult to compete with having millions of real time traffic probes.

We've got Waze as well; my wife is a huge fan. Among the nice features: it lets you find out why traffic is snarled up. So you don't do things like get off the freeway and discover that the problem is a grass fire that spreads across all the alternate routes.

Mister Doctor has a Windows phone. Does that make Waze unusable?

There is a version of waze for tge windows phone

I gotta say Doc, that the phrasing "the world's first successful passenger elevator" made me laugh as I imagined it followed by "as opposed to the previous model, commonly known as 'the knee-breaker' ".

Or perhaps "the world's first successful zero-g experience"?

The cast iron stuff in SoHo is fantastic. There's a similar section in Philly, really beautiful old buildings. There was no functional need to make them so lovely, they just wanted to, out of pride of place I guess.

The beauty of embellishment is nice, for sure. The taste of the wealthy has always been represented in art and architecture. It's not just pride of place, it's the aesthetic sensibility of the person paying. Those gargoyles weren't street art: they were bought and paid for.

Something to consider: a poem about architecture.

That's a really good point, sapient. It implies that the disappearance of public ornamentation comes from the wealthy & powerful losing their taste for it. Which, when I think over the last 100+ years, seems fairly accurate.

So, why did the wealthy stop liking ornamentation? Why has the drive toward "clean lines" and "minimalism" been so relentless?

I wonder if it's consumer culture: once "stuff" of all kinds becomes cheap and disposable, clutter is a sign of poverty, and minimalism looks wealthy.

And thanks so much for the poetry link, sapient, it's beautiful and completely apropos.

Maybe, Doctor Science. Certainly, modern art has taken a turn for minimalism and clean lines. Getting rid of "stuff".

Hope you have time to read the poem that I posted. The poet, Jacqueline Osherow (Jackie O), uses terza rima, the form that Dante used in the Divine Comedies, to comment on late 20th Century America. She's brilliant, IMO. This is one of several poems that she's written in that form. I've read them all several times, and each time come back with a sense of new insights, and also wanting desperately for other people to read her best work.

Oh, crossed comments. Thank you for reading it!

Fashion in art goes through long cycles of change; personally, I rather dislike Baroque style architecture (but really enjoy Baroque music; go figure).

In Firenze, there's a few unfinished works by Michaelangelo: blocks of marble, partly sculpted, so that arms, legs, emerge from the block. It's reported that contemporary tastes gave a very negative reaction, but "moderns" find it fascinating and rather compelling.

Probably not so much a "class" thing as a "generation" thing, if you count generations long enough.

it wasn't just architecture that lost its ornamentation: machinery, cars, furniture, graphic design, literature, music, etc., etc., too.

ergonomic functionality is the style right now.

I suspect that your comment about the buildings being designed to look good as a model is close to correct. The architects would probably say that the entire building is intended to function as a sculpture, so that lots of details would detract from the overall effect, but it really amounts to the same thing. The building as sculpture can work amazingly well when it's done properly, e.g. Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

In a lot of the areas the cleek mentions, ornamentation had gotten more and more ornate, to the point that it overwhelmed. (Do we even need to mention tail fins on cars?) So the severely unornamented style was, to some degree, a reaction to an excess.

That being the case, I expect that at some point people will decide that they need a little more ornamentation in their day-to-day lives. I'm guessing that it will start with some of the Silicon Valley wealthy . . . just because they don't come from old money, and don't care all that much about what the old money elites think. But once it gets going, I expect it to spread.

The taste of the wealthy has always been represented in art and architecture.

I don't really understand this comment.

Only wealthy people build stuff?

Only things built by wealthy people are ornamented, or are built to be aesthetically pleasing?

I don't think that's so. Actually, I would say it is demonstrably not so.

Maybe I'm missing your point.

i'd like to see more curlicues and gargoyles.

but when i look back across the history of art, i can't find any periods where the best stuff wasn't also the most ornate stuff. as far back as we have examples of art and architecture, opulence and culture was curlicues and gargoyles and flying buttresses and intricate columns and everything was encrusted with carvings.

from the ancient Greeks and Egyptians, right up until the late 19th C., ornamentation was required. but after the industrial revolution, ornamentation could be stamped out by machines. it was no longer a symbol of wealth and taste. it was mass-produced and common.

and in response: the Arts and Crafts movement. in the late 1800's, they started to simplify design because they wanted to emphasize simple, authentic, and preferably hand-made objects over the mass-produced stuff. not buying gaudy mass-produced stuff became the height of good taste. and then, after a brief return to the ornate with Art Nouveau, the Art Deco movement (along Cubism and Modernism and Functionalism, etc.) came along in the 20s and 30s and streamlined everything. art was all about Industry and Progress and Power the wonders of the modern world. and from then on, the ornate truly fell away in favor of simple geometry and clean efficient lines.

(and again, that applies to art, architecture, music, speech, writing, everything - clean, simple, direct and functional replaced flowery ornamentation everywhere)

which is to say: i can't think of a period where the ornate was out of favor. so i can't think of any times where it came back. we're in uncharted territory here.

Why has the drive toward "clean lines" and "minimalism" been so relentless?

Historically, I would say that modernism as an aesthetic has been in the air since the very late 19th C, but was really formalized and applied to architecture and industrial design by the Bauhaus school.

It's a very un-sentimental sensibility, for lack of a better word. Form follows function, so ornament for its own sake falls away.

I suspect it's been "relentless" because it expresses something about the experience of modern life that people recognize and respond to.

i can't think of a period where the ornate was out of favor.

I hear what you're saying, but there are also cultures whose aesthetic sensibilities emphasize simplicity and economy of line.

Japan comes to mind, I would be interested to hear LJ's comments (or anyone with deep exposure to Japanese culture).

Shaker craftwork is another.

The discussion brought Philadelphia City Hall to mind for me.

(emphasis mine in the following)

It is topped by a statue of William Penn. The massive statue is 37ft high and weighs 27 ton. It is just one of 250 sculptures created by Alexander Calder for both the interior and exterior of the city hall.

More on the Billy Penn statue and the changing times in the late 19th Century:

Yet another version for why the statue pointed generally north instead of south is that it was the current (1894) architect's method of showing displeasure with the style of the work; that by 1894 it was not in the current, popular Beaux-Arts style; that it was out of date even before it was placed on top of the building.

the Japanese certainly went for the ornate in their Buddhist temples - though maybe not as ornate as, say, the Thai.

"It's a very un-sentimental sensibility, for lack of a better word. Form follows function, so ornament for its own sake falls away."

But, ironically, often executed by people without much grasp of function.

Why has the drive toward "clean lines" and "minimalism" been so relentless?

Cost?

But, ironically, often executed by people without much grasp of function.

The building I work in was designed by Michael Graves. I don't want to say he didn't have much of a grasp of function (we still have and love the kitchen stuff he designed for Target years ago for both its form and function), but the facade creates a sheet of water inches outside the side door when it rains, so you'd better have an umbrella, and it better be open, when using that door when it's raining.

The columns at street level in the front of the building visually form something approximating a wall when you're under the overhang, so you can't see anything that isn't almost directly in front of you. If you're waiting for a ride, hope it's not raining, because you probably won't be able to see each other unless your standing outside the covered area.

Those are my pet peeves, and they are mine.

you're standing, not your standing. Man, I hate that.

Only wealthy people build stuff?

Obviously the non-wealthy do the actual building of stuff. But, in general, the wealthy are the ones who pay to have stuff built. Or, at most, the would-be wealthy -- who tend to emulate the tastes of those who already are.

The current era is pretty much the first one when those of merely average means could afford to buy more than the basics of life. And, at least until very recently, in the US they still counted as "would-be wealthy."

This article points out that Waze is a privacy *nightmare*, which makes it likely that Mister Doctor will never agree to it. What do those of you who use it think?

there is probably still some residual fear that building interesting building with gargoyles and such could be used as a portal by Gozer the Gozerian

Obviously the non-wealthy do the actual building of stuff. But, in general, the wealthy are the ones who pay to have stuff built. Or, at most, the would-be wealthy -- who tend to emulate the tastes of those who already are.

The current era is pretty much the first one when those of merely average means could afford to buy more than the basics of life.

I think there are a number of things here that are mistaken.

Maybe we need to define the context in which we're talking about "building".

If we're only talking about very large, industrial scale structures, then yes, it takes a lot of capital to build those. But they are quite often built as a public effort, not just per the demands and requirements of wealthy people.

If we're talking about building in general, across a broader historical period, then I think this is just wrong.

Human structures, of all scales, at basically all times, commonly exhibit ornamentation and pride of craft that goes beyond what is needed for the "basics of life". Not just structures, but almost every kind of made thing.

hairshirthedonist:

My rule-of-thumb, which has few exceptions, is that buildings by "award-winning architects", especially when the buildings themselves are "award-winning", will have severe livability/usability problems. As Brett said, they talk about "form follows function" without understanding function.

It will be interesting to see what happens in practice with these residential super-highrises, because for once the major users of the buildings will be extremely wealthy. Can "award-winning architects" design technically demanding buildings that powerful people will put up with in their day-to-day lives? Stay tuned!

russell,

it is not only about the disdain for mass-produced ornamentation. The ornamentation in 19th century buildings was not always imdustrially-produced. In brick buildings, for example, the ornamentation was the work of the masons building the facade. In fact, I strongly believe that the architects had relatively little say on the final form, because the exact result would be dictated at site during the bricklaying.

The sleek form of modernist building was more suited for concreting. It did not require master bricklayers for completion, and was much cheaper. In addition, it gave the architect a complete control over the final result.

Second, the modernist style was rebellion against 19th century architectural tradition. I have read memoirs from architects educated in 1910's. They claim that their education was very much about learning to build different revivalist styles: neo-reneissance, neo-gothic, neo-classical etc. For them, the modernist form was a liberation from the chains of revivalist styles. Nowadays, there is little else and few architects could design a neo-gothic office building even if you paid for it.

russell:

We're talking about the buildings I described in the post, which are, now and in the past, very large and expensive but (except for One World Trade Center) privately designed and owned.

So, in all eras, their designs will cater to the tastes of the wealthy people who approve the projects and shell out the money.

The sleek form of modernist building was more suited for concreting

It's true that the two go hand in hand. I'm not sure if the style was influenced by the capabilities of the material, or if the material became popular because it suited the style.

Probably some of both.

We're talking about the buildings I described in the post

"We" in your statement apparently does not include me.

Here is the sequence of comments I was responding to:

There's a similar section in Philly, really beautiful old buildings. There was no functional need to make them so lovely, they just wanted to, out of pride of place I guess.

...

The beauty of embellishment is nice, for sure. The taste of the wealthy has always been represented in art and architecture. It's not just pride of place, it's the aesthetic sensibility of the person paying.

The idea that people build things beautifully simply as an expression of the taste of wealthy people is, simply, false.

Per wj's comment, the idea that beautifully made things were the exclusive province of the wealthy, likewise, false.

I don't mean to step on your thread here, so I'll leave those as my final comments here.

Thanks.

Gutzon Borglum? Sounds like an Ork LARPer. ;-)
---
The Umweltbundesamt in Dessau-Roßlau (Germany) is a nice attempt at combining pleasing design with functionality as an office building while demonstrating that 'green' buidlings are possible.

https://www.google.de/search?newwindow=1&biw=1393&bih=906&tbm=isch&q=umweltbundesamt+dessau-ro%C3%9Flau&revid=1764444757&sa=X&ved=0CCUQ1QIoAWoVChMI1ZjO77yIxgIVShIsCh13qgC4&dpr=1

The images do not give it full justice. When I saw it for real for the first time, my thought was 'I want to work here' (and I did for a bit more than 2 years). It's not flawless but for such a pioneering work that was to be expected.

Here are pictures I took myself. Not sure, if you can access them though (i.e. whether they are in the open part of the forum).

http://toadfishmonastery.com/forum/index.php?topic=2342.0

http://toadfishmonastery.com/forum/index.php?topic=2342.15

http://toadfishmonastery.com/forum/index.php?topic=2342.30

---

In late 19th century Germany there was a joke in Berlin among builders: "The shell is finished sir. What style shall we attach now?"

Can "award-winning architects" design technically demanding buildings that powerful people will put up with in their day-to-day lives?

Actually, Dr. S, I think they might.

I live near one of the earliest gated communities (Blackhawk**). The homes there are expensive, even for the area -- when they were built in the mid-70 they all cost $1 million plus (say 10 times the in current dollars). So the people are rich, albeit freqently nouveau riche (John Madden and Scott Adams, are among the residents).

But the houses themselves are a disaster. What my father, a carpenter and home builder his whole career, called "the shoddiest construction I have ever seen!" Pretty much every house in the place has serious plumbing problems, and has since day one. Yet people still live there.

** Not, be it noted, a disaster for everyone. It made the developer enough money that he could move to Seattle, set up a big car museum, and buy the Supersonics.

From what I've seen, houses built in the 70's were often crappy...whether 'high end' or 'low end'.

Same applies to the cars built in that era.

It's true that the two go hand in hand. I'm not sure if the style was influenced by the capabilities of the material, or if the material became popular because it suited the style.

My knowledge of architectural history is minimal, but I had fun googling cast iron buldings, and some other things related to this post. (Thanks for the inspiration, Doctor Science and those commenting)

It appears that cast iron was used because it was versatile and cheap (and easy to make ornamental), but fell out of favor because it wasn't as fireproof as they originally thought. I am not a designer, but admire the talent of architects to design safe, energy efficient, cost efficient buildings with materials that are available, then (if they are artists) to make all of that beautiful, or even magnificent.

And russell, yes, I misunderstood, thinking that you were also talking about giant buildings in big cities.

The idea that people build things beautifully simply as an expression of the taste of wealthy people is, simply, false.

Per wj's comment, the idea that beautifully made things were the exclusive province of the wealthy, likewise, false.

Those look to me to be absolutist interpretations of not-so-absolute comments. You aren't wearing a yellow shirt today, are you, russell? ;^)

From what I've seen, houses built in the 70's were often crappy...whether 'high end' or 'low end'.

Same applies to the cars built in that era.

I blame disco.

it predates disco, I blame Lawrence Welk

Architectural styling went to crap way before the 70's
In the late 70's solar architecture was a becoming a craze here in California and craftsmanship was being rediscovered.
I recall a very boring two story stucco box building in my town having its finished removed to expose very ornate masonry work in fine condition. I still catch my head trying to understand why someone spent money to cover up that craftsmanship.

I'm also using waze, and have done a bit of editing for Flagstaff, AZ. It shows where traffic is slow.

I still catch my head trying to understand why someone spent money to cover up that craftsmanship.

That reminds me of the older homes in my area in which people covered up beautiful hardwood floors, sometimes with decorative inlays, with wall-to-wall carpet. I guess it was "a thing."

I'm looking for an explanation for why someone would replace a hardwood floor in a dining room with a rug. A thick pile (so sliding chairs inand out is impossible), wall-to-wall, white rug. The owners were real estate agents, but even that seems insufficient to explain the insanity.

Maybe they did lots of coke.

Well, as for structures that are not giant urban buildings, how about human nests?

I know this is about buildings, but this article
http://randomwire.com/why-japanese-web-design-is-so-different/

touches on some interesting differences that I think extend to architecture.

In terms of architecture, you often have these gem link buildings surrounded the worst kind of architectural crap imaginable and it seems to me that Japanese have the ability to filter out the crap and just concentrate a particular building.

Some Japanese gardens, especially those related to tea ceremony, were/are designed with tobi-ishi (skipping stones) so that you had to concentrate on where you walked, forcing you to concentrate on the here and now, until you reached a viewpoint that allowed you to shed your everyday life. At certain points, the layout of the stones encourages you to stop and then you have a perfect 'frame', a viewpoint that is especially beautiful. It is similar to those signs that Kodak used to put up telling people where the best place was to take a picture, which always seemed rather ridiculous to me. But rather than having a sign telling you 'stand here to see the best view', you are physically herded to a location to see that. I have a feeling idea that what the Doctor points out, writing about the problems of the surrounding buildings, would not really occur to Japanese.

Japan is pretty much the West in terms of building design and construction, and then you have these Japanese style constructions, but there is actually a third sort of architecture, something I think of as 'Asian', because it reminds me of streets in SE Asia, incredible amounts of jumbled buildings. There are the places I really like, amazing architecture, but I find the allure of architecture a bit intellectual and dry for me, and when I see this 'working chaos', I find myself attracted to it.

Speaking as somebody who went to the trouble of ripping up the carpet in this house, and putting down hardwood flooring, before we moved in, and then put a nearly wall to wall rug in the dining room, shall I answer that?

Because I've seen what chairs being dragged out and pushed back in every day do to a hardwood floor, and all it takes is for that little felt pad to fall off or wear through once, and you've got a gouge.

It's fine putting chairs directly on hardwood, in rooms where the chairs don't move. But in rooms where the chairs are regularly moved about, sometimes under load, you need something to protect the floor.

Don't ask me to explain the white part, though.

area rug

@Brett: "I've seen what chairs being dragged out and pushed back in every day do to a hardwood floor"

See? This is why all furniture needs to be suspended on cables from ceiling-mounted tracks. With servomotor actuators to adjust height and position.

No more cat toys lost under the sofa; rearrange the LR/DR? Just click the appropriate icon on your smartphone and it happens automatically.

And no, the master bedroom is NOT on the visitors tour.

What you want is the "Chairba"; Like a Roomba with seating. With a hover mode, so it does absolutely no damage to floors when in motion, and heavy enough to not accidentally shift when not in motion.

Me, I wanted to do the house in that hardwook look-alike ceramic tile. But my wife wouldn't go for it.

A personal hovercraft for each chair, and the chairs heavy enough not to be movable otherwise? That's some powerful ducted fans, I think.

"Not JUST a chair! It's also a paper shredder! And leaf shredder! Put in a potato, out comes french fries!"

"That's some powerful ducted fans, I think."

Especially for the version that could handle stairs.

I wonder if there'd be enough interest for a kickstarter? I've been wanting to try doing one of those.

You aren't wearing a yellow shirt today, are you, russell?

We all have our yellow shirt days.

area rug

The Wiki way is strong with this one.

Brett, I can certainly see why you might want felt pads under the chair legs. Or even, maybe, a very very short pile rug.

But here we're talking about over 1/4 inch of pile. You literally have to grab the seat of a chair you are sitting in and jump in order to get it to move at all.

Yes, use of a rug? Understandable. The particular choice of rug? Less so.

Though I think back to a couple I roomed with, when I attended a local college over the summer in my Jr. year in high school. They had this stark white plush carpet in the living room, and all white furniture. Terribly impractical?

Sure, they didn't actually use the living room, it was for show. Maybe your case was the same? The dining room was just a showpiece, not actually used?

Hmmm, that possibility didn't occur to me.

A living room for show? Sure, especially if you have something like a family room. But the dining room??? I suppose it's possible, but it seems beyond weird to my simple mind.

They might have something "like" a dining room, such as a breakfast nook.

Yellow shirt day? Which yellow shirts?

Japanese have the ability to filter out the crap and just concentrate a particular building.

When I first visited Japan I was amazed at how a society which prizes such a "clean" visual aesthetic allowed the tangle of overhead wiring found in most cities and villages. Clearly the locals were "filtering out" in a way that was difficult for visitors to do. (Or if we temporarily succeeded, the resulting photographic images reminded us of what we had overlooked.)

I really like the idea of it being the US Waterskiing Team! But I suspect the Tour de France leader may be closer to what was intended.

I guess there was no alternative to overhead wiring given the frequency of earthquakes.

Hartmut:

That is a really lovely building. I like the way they've used the natural variations in wood to give an kind of ornamentation effect, without doing actual ornamentation.

The earthquake reason is often cited, However, in terms of wiring, I like to think of this as part of the 'Asian' aesthetic peeping through.

http://elizabatz.com/2015/03/01/electrical-wiring-powerlines-hanoi-vietnam/

It is possible that the first few pics on this webpage
http://royal.pingdom.com/2009/04/03/a-gallery-of-electrical-cabling-gone-wild/

are western countries, but as you move down, it is pretty much south and SE asia.

The trouble with the earthquake theory is the frequency with which electrical cables are underground in California. We have been known to suffer the occasional earthquake ourselves.

That's often been pointed out, but I think that underground cabling etc is something that was started in the East Coast cities and was a template. The fact of going underground seems to be a old old european thing (subterranean catacombs and such, (Phantom of the Opera!)) which links up nicely with the Victorian desire to hide things as well as ferocious engineering skilz, which then gets brought over to the US.

http://www.cityofcaves.com/about-the-caves/

I also remember seeing a program about the small 1 or two person caves somewhere in England where people took refuge from Viking attacks.

Though there are caves here in Japan, (Miyamoto Musashi wrote the Book of 5 Rings at a cave close to where I live, Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto inspiration for Zelda was caves near his boyhood home in Kyoto), I don't get the same vibe.

Test

My sister lived in a Florida home that had wall-to-wall carpet put in over terrazzo.

I scratched my head over that one a long time, and never did come up with a decent reason why.

The only possible reason for that is: Some people are insane.

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