Tag: AIACC

Coda: 1414 Fair Oaks Avenue

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

Author John Chase is the Urban Designer for the City of West Hollywood. His last book, Glitter, Stucco & Dumpster Diving, won a PEN USA nomination for best books on the visual arts in 2001. His next book, 2000+: 30 Los Angeles Buildings by 30 Los Angeles Architects, will be published by Monacelli Press in Spring 2006. Chase is a former architecture critic for the San Francisco Examiner and former Disney Imagineer. He is a member of the arcCA editorial board.

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1414 Fair Oaks is a 1958 office building by Smith and Williams in South Pasadena, with landscape design by Garrett Eckbo’s firm, Eckbo, Dean and Williams. It is important for three reasons. It incorporates outdoor space as an integral part of its design, it has a design vocabulary of great clarity, and it was once a venue for design collaboration between creative disciplines.

The project is clearly broken into individual buildings and building sections. The height of hyper-articulation is reached where the open wire web trusses supporting the floor of a second-story wing are divorced from the structure of the roof of the one-story section below it. The two floors cross each other as autonomous design elements.

The high vaulted, metal mesh-enclosed space at 1414 Fair Oaks is alternately, and of equal importance, indoor or outdoor space, landscape or office space. In this sense, it reflects the cooperation of the offices it contained. Three discrete suites house the offices of architects Smith and Williams, landscape architects Eckbo, Dean and Williams (forerunner of today’s EDAW), and planners Si Eisner and Lyle Stewart. Together they formed the partnership called Community Planners. Community Planner’s designs “include nearly every classification of architectural work from a garden tea house to a complete city,” according to Whitney Smith.

arcCA Board Member Pierluigi Serraino, Assoc. AIA, writes in his book Modernism Rediscovered, beautifully illustrated by Julius Shulman’s photographs, “The setting provided the firms with the opportunity for collaborative projects, while maintaining independent practice.” This is an example of cross-disciplinary professional practice that has rarely been equaled since.

Another building was added to the complex at the east end of the site by Smith & Williams, fronting on Fair Oaks, sometime after the main building was completed. It appears boxy and blank, and unshielded by the sun, in contrast to the original building. The creative tenants of the building are long gone, replaced by CPAs and other mainstream office uses. Wood elements are in need of re-staining, and the landscape needs a regime of replanting and restoration.

In a brief high school internship at Smith and Williams in 1969, the chief lesson I learned in this building was that design not only resulted in the creation of physical objects but conversely was also the product of a matrix of action, of use, of social and cultural meaning. The result of Smith and Williams, and Eckbo, Dean and Williams’ design process at 1414 Fair Oaks is a building that deserves to be better known as a temple of high modern design.

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The Late Travel Sketches of Richard J. Neutra: Seeing His World

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

Richard J. Neutra, Obidos.

Author Lauren Weiss Bricker, PhD, is an associate professor of architecture and director of the Archives-Special Collections in the College of Environmental Design, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Dr. Bricker is Chair of the State Historical Resources Commission in California and co-chair of the Commission’s Committee on the Cultural Resources of the Modern Age. She is a co-author of the forthcoming Mediterranean Revival House (Abrams), and is currently working on “The Pragmatists,” a study of the American response to the form and ideology of European Modernism, supported by a fellowship from the Clarence S. Stein Institute of Urban and Landscape Studies, Cornell University.

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If the recording of my world ever bordered on art, it was in the most casual manner, but a real human experience kept on oozing, dribbling, sprinkling, and sometimes freely flowing onto all kinds of accidental paper, whatever happened to be at hand. No spoken or slowly written word can quite express in the same way this past life, as lived in tiny fractions of time.Richard J. Neutra, Life and Shape, 19621

In his autobiography Life and Shape, renowned Modernist architect Richard J. Neutra explains that travel sketches were his medium for capturing empathy or “in-feeling” with all he saw and encountered throughout his life.2 A sketchpad or sheaf of drawing paper were standard equipment on every trip Neutra took from his teenage years in Vienna to the end of his life. Through color, line, texture and shape, these graphic images depict many issues that informed Neutra’s architecture: the dominant role of environment over human habitat, the need to create places for human interaction, and the design of objects as cultural signifiers.

In the College of Environmental Design, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, we are fortunate to own 106 Neutra travel sketches, made between the late 1940s and the end of the 1960s, just prior to his death in 1970.3 The drawings were donated by architect Dion Neutra, son of Richard and Dione Neutra. A selection of the travel sketches was exhibited at Cal Poly Pomona in 1986, and later at the University of Southern California.

 

Polish Square.

In the small catalog accompanying the Cal Poly exhibition, former Dean Marvin Malecha (who shares Neutra’s passion for the travel sketch), noted that this medium “is far superior to the photograph when perception and understanding are the prime object…The designer can focus on those issues which are most important at the time or those which have made the biggest impression. Distortion, subtraction and even addition are essential to the travel sketch and they are equally important to the schematic design drawing.”4

According to Dion Neutra, the act of drawing was a visceral process for his father, through the use of the motor skills required for drawing he became physically engaged with the site. According to Dion Neutra, the creation of the travel sketches was a social act for Neutra. It was a chance to connect with people, as is evidenced in a photograph of Neutra surrounded by a group of Russian soldiers, and other onlookers. Dion Neutra believes the travel sketches functioned as a “memory peg” for Neutra, reminding him of what he’d seen and where he’d been.

 

Neutra sketching.

The early travel sketches, the majority of which are housed in the Richard J. Neutra Collection, Department of Special Collections, UCLA, exhibit the influence of Viennese artists Gustave Klimt and Egon Schiele on the young designer. The significance of drawing of all types was instilled in Neutra’s professional education at the Imperial Institute of Technology in Vienna (which he entered in 1911), followed by his experience in the office of Berlin architect Erich Mendelsohn, the office of Frank Lloyd Wright, and later in collaboration with R.M. Schindler in Los Angeles.

While the majority of the Cal Poly Pomona travel sketches date from the late years of Neutra’s life, the collection contains an earlier drawing of Mt. Palomar, in Southern California (1946). The mood of the drawing is somber: Neutra uses oil crayons to create a dense grouping of pine trees; with the edge of the crayon he crisply outlines boulders strewn in the foreground. As a foil to the sobriety of the scene, Neutra injects a small female figure in the lower left corner; she is tilting on one leg apparently buffeted by the wind that is blowing through the scene. The edges of the sheet are scorched, a reminder of the effect of the devastating fire that destroyed Neutra’s first VDL Studio/Residence in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles in 1963.

 

Mt. Palomar.

The majority of the Cal Poly Pomona sketches were executed with pastels. Dion Neutra has noted that his father used larger-dimensioned sheets in his later years, which may contribute to the often-expansive character to his images. Neutra chose to depict historically significant sites, yet one never gets the sense of preciousness or self-conscious reverence for his subject. Instead, he extracts, edits, and emphasizes the aspects of the view that interest him.

The drawings tell us about how Neutra literally saw the world. In Life and Shape he explains that his that his left eye had a lens defect and was shortsighted, while his right eye was normal. Over time, the left eye became farsighted, and the other became more normal. He describes the effect of this condition on his visual perception:

Since most of the time I saw and worked with one eye, either the right one for minute sharp detail or the left for over-all composition, my mind similarly also swung back and forth—oscillated, so to speak, between an attempt at total comprehension, an integrated over-all view, and the minute perfectionism of near-sightedness. But I kept using each eye, one imaginatively and wholesale for over-all form, the other more observationally, for tiny, neat detail.5

Richard and Dione Neutra took photographic slides during their trips.6 A comparison between a slide of site and Neutra’s travel sketch reveals the way he “saw” a site. It is also reflective of the advantage of the sketch over the photograph as a medium for conveying his perception of a specific location. One such case is Cabo Espichel, in Sesimbra, Portugal on the coast south of Lisbon. The focus of the slide and Neutra’s sketch, from the 1960s, is the Casa Agua, a small octagonal building within the 18th century Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Handle. In the photograph, the modest-sized building is surrounded by a grassy plain, with only a hint of its proximity to the coastal edge of the site. By contrast, the Neutra’s sketch gave the building greater prominence by centering it in the picture, enlarging it and contrasting its solid polygonal form with a hint of blue sky and clouds and the shoreline. He also carefully renders the masonry wall framing the building’s grass-covered entrance court, giving it much greater prominence than is evident in the more general view of the photograph. The sketch clearly reveals those portions of the building and its context that interested him.

 

Cabo Espichel.

 

Wetmansherde.

In his sketch titled “Wetmansherde” (1963), Neutra employs the traditional device of framing his subject through an arched opening. The scene is a grouping of vernacular. The key element of the drawing is a large tree that is planted near the base of the tower. The trunk and branches of the tree extend forward in the scene, its branches sending shock waves around the archway. Spatially the outline of the tree flattens the illusion of three-dimensional space created by the more traditional aspects of the composition. The eye of Neutra transformed the scene into one of considerable artistic interest.

Neutra’s travels took him many points in Asia. A number of the travel sketches depict scenes in Thailand. His sketch of statue of the Buddha in Ayutthaya (1966) is the one the few interior drawings in the Cal Poly Pomona collection. The figure sits on a high throne, its green body contrasting with perspective so that he effectively fills the space near the back of the worship hall. Rather than treat the Buddha with extreme reverence, Neutra chose to capture the bemused expression of the figure as he looks down on his worshipers.

 

Buddha, Ayutthaya, Thailand.

The breadth of Neutra’s vision is clearly evident in his sketch of “Indus. Attock.” (1968). Attock is a town located in the Punjab District of Pakistan. It is reported to have been along the route followed by Alexander the Great in 326 B.C. when he crossed the Hinduskush Mountains to capture the plains beyond the Indus River. The landscape embraces the town—the broad mountain range beyond is softly rendered, as is the vegetation and land—including an oxen in the foreground. The buildings are generalized, with a maroon edge defining an occasional corner or roof. The presence of the river is suggested. The overall effect is one of calmness, with the natural site conditions dominating the scene.

 

Indus, Attock, Pakistan.

The Neutra travel sketches give us an insight into the great architect’s world. Richard and Dione Neutra traveled the globe at a time when many Euro- the golden throne and the deep red ceiling. Neutra peans and Americans were much more provincial in the range of places they chose to visit. The travel sketches give us an insight into what Neutra saw, and how he saw it. As such, they give us a glimpse into the think and perception of the man, and perhaps his architecture.

 

Bangkok Temple.

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1. Richard Neutra. Life and Shape, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962, 82.

2. Ibid.

3. The Department of Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles holds the earlier travel sketches, dating from the 1910s into the 1940s.

4. Marvin J. Malecha. “Introduction. Understanding Architecture through Drawing,” Richard Neutra Travel Sketches, The School of Environmental Design, Cal Poly University, Pomona, 20 October–7 November 1986, n.p.

5. Life and Shape, 73- 74.

6. The slides are housed in the Visual Resources Library, College of Environmental Design, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

 

Sugar Daddy: Drawing Berlage’s Exchange

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

Author Wendy Kohn is co-author of The City after the Automobile and editor of several architectural monographs. She is currently an architectural consultant and columnist for the magazine My House and a member of the arcCA editorial board.

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“It’s a stair I used every day,” remembers Daniel Castor as he contemplates “Sugar Daddy,” his luminous drawing of the entry to the Chamber of Commerce in H.P. Berlage’s 1903 Amsterdam Exchange. Castor first encountered the building he describes as a “ship in dry-dock” while traveling around Europe after college graduation. The structure known as the Beurs “struck a chord in me,” he admits. In 1993, Castor won a Fulbright to return to Amsterdam during a break from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Several grants and four years later, he finished an analysis of the Exchange that’s been published in book form (Drawing Berlage’s Exchange, Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 1999), exhibited in Los Angeles and Rotterdam, and recognized as both masterful and magical.

 

His research began with a series of probes: different ways of revealing the ideas behind Berlage’s “inscrutable” building in drawn form. These were plans, isometric projections, even a sixteen-foot-long, continuous elevation. But it was Castor’s desire to convey his own wonder at a building many Dutch saw as “ugly and boring” that led him to develop his own technique. “That’s beautiful,” declared his Dutch friends when he completed his first “deep space” perspective drawing, “and if that’s the building, then it’s interesting.”

 

In his study, Castor focused on the zone of the building where Berlage, credited as Holland’s first modernist, pierced the austere flatness of his exterior elevations. The massive Exchange’s perimeter and its immediately adjacent interiors proved an “unending” subject: “the more I looked, the more I saw.” Castor’s eight “jellyfish” drawings, his term for these inside-out studies, possess this quality as well.

At first they seem factual: a careful transposition of three-dimensional, built form onto a two-dimensional plane. But the more your eye flows around and through the volumes of space depicted, the more you start to see solid and void, motion and stasis, lightness and weight simultaneously.

 

At 2 ft. x 4 ft., these large drawings suggest the interaction between calculated design and experienced tectonics in a way photographs or typical renderings are rarely capable of. Rather than definitive cuts through surfaces, as in conventional architectural drawings, slow fades move your eye from what is portrayed to what is left out. The technique extends the implied space of Berlage’s Exchange right out to the viewer’s own. It manages to evoke and analyze at once. Working on the Exchange entirely by hand meant that each jellyfish drawing was essentially an experiment, a record of choices made during the rendering process. Even though the jellyfish technique allowed Castor to show many competing aspects of a single view at once—inside and out, above and below, surface and depth—he reached a moment in every drawing when he had to surrender the ambition to convey everything he perceived.

For two subsequent projects, on Bramante’s Tempietto and Trajan’s Markets, Castor built wire-frame models in Autocad as an armature for his rendered perspectives. The computer allows Castor’s choices to be more “premeditated.” Why did he study the Exchange with a mechanical pencil instead of a series of keystrokes? As Castor tells it, “Thoreau went to the woods to write deliberately. Well, I went to the Beurs to draw deliberately.”

 

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John Lautner: Diagramming Vision in Los Angeles

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

John Lautner, Beyer House, detail of drawing.

Author Jon Yoder is completing a doctorate in Critical Studies in Architectural Culture at UCLA. His dissertation takes the ocular-centric projects of John Lautner as lenses through which to focus on issues of experiential and projective vision. Drawing on visual media theory and existential phenomenology, it is the first sustained study of embodied visuality in architecture. He has also worked as an architectural designer with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, The ZGF Partnership, and SPF:Architects.

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By all accounts, Los Angeles architect John Lautner was a poor draftsman. Architect Wes Peters, Lautner’s friend and fellow apprentice with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin, even called him “the most terrible draftsman I ever saw in my life.” Lautner admitted as much: “I took drafting when I was in high school and I couldn’t keep the pencil sharp. I couldn’t make a neat drawing and I knew the typical school, all they do is grade on neat and then to hell with the ideas, and Mr. Wright had ideas so I went for that.” This distinction between neat drawings and substantive ideas is more than the defensive response of a messy student—it reflects a common distaste among Modern architects for what was widely considered to be the superficial pictorialism of the Beaux-Arts tradition. At Taliesin, Lautner purposely used his poor drafting ability to deflect the rendering tasks that apprentices were typically assigned during their tenure with Wright. By consciously focusing on ideas instead of on line weights, Lautner hoped to avoid the lures of mimesis and “paper architecture.”

Instead of drafting, he preferred the physical tasks of building. His experience with masonry and pipefitting at Taliesin, coupled with his supervisory work for a building contractor during World War II, gave Lautner a direct feel for construction systems and materials. This knowledge helped him to achieve many ingenious structural solutions throughout his career. In fact, his penchant for structural efficiency and bold concrete forms have led some to align Lautner’s architecture with the work of structural expressionists such as Oscar Niemeyer, Eero Saarinen, and Kenzo Tange. These were, after all, the contemporary architects he most admired.

A closer look at one of Lautner’s seemingly crude drawings, however, reveals a greater concern for program than for construction. His schematic plan for the Beyer House is essentially a programmatic diagram of room functions, furniture arrangements, material notations, site conditions, and viewing angles. Seen as a presentation drawing, it is certainly unpolished, even child-like. But as a working diagram it is actually extremely sophisticated. It contains an enormous amount of information. No mark is superfluous. Every line means something. Of course, many architects of Lautner’s generation employed similar “bubble” diagrams, but few ever managed this level of complexity. And most surrendered what began as curvilinear forms to the rectilinear rationale of the grid during design development. As Lautner fleshed out his designs, however, they often kept their curvaceous character.

 

John Lautner, Beyer House.

Lautner often began projects by taking a topographic map to the building site and indicating desirable viewpoints and orientations directly on the map. Then, practicing the creative gestation he learned from Wright, he would return to his office and spend days trying to visualize the project. As Lautner explained, “It’s thinking right from scratch and having a major idea, from inside. I’ve never designed a façade in my life.” Although many other architects have made similarly staunch “form follows function” assertions about their inside-out design processes, Lautner’s claim was largely justified. He rarely designed in elevation, diagramming projects instead in plan and section. After meeting with the client to verify program, he would then hand these seemingly rough diagrams to his staff to produce construction drawings under his supervision. His drafters were often surprised at the level of detail and accurate scale in diagrams that initially looked child-like.

Of course, this design process sounds similar to those of other star architects. Frank Gehry, for example, is known to generate napkin sketches of general building profiles from which his staff extrapolates built form under his guidance. Still, although Lautner’s forms are often as sculpturally plastic as Gehry’s recent buildings, they resulted from an extremely different impulse. Gehry’s surfaces undulate mainly for effect from the exterior, while Lautner’s forms curve primarily to accommodate views from the interior. Reflecting what Erwin Panofsky labeled the “spheroidal” shape of human vision, Lautner’s bulbous spaces diagram the alliance of site and sight. As Lautner explained, “Usually in the hills you have a panoramic view that people are interested in right away, and so most of my things are curved.” Even his innovative spanning systems—trusses, waffle slabs, and concrete shells—were employed largely to keep the views from his buildings as free of visible obstructions as possible. By using these long-span devices to eliminate intermittent walls and columns, Lautner opened the viewing “apertures” of his wideangle spaces. If Gehry’s buildings pose for cameras, Lautner’s houses operate as cameras.

Even during his early days with Wright, Lautner’s architectural attention was clearly focused on constructing views. In a 1937 “At Taliesin” newspaper article, he compared the behavior of Wright’s Roberts House at Deertrack, Michigan to that of a human eye: “The house itself is literally looking toward the lake because the living room roof and ceiling pitches up like one’s eyelash under a visor to the sky, leaving nothing but glass between you and the view.” During his later career, Lautner continued to note “eyelids” and “eyelashes” in his schematic designs. These often found architectural expression in moveable shades and deep roof overhangs that simultaneously shield the sun and frame distant views. Sightline notations and optical specifications such as “CHK view ON SITE!” also occur frequently throughout these drawings. These notes and arrows might seem crude, but they actually require more from the architect than is typically expected—more time on site (and sight), and less at the drafting table.

On one hand, because Lautner never became a very good draftsman, his reliance on graphic representation techniques was minimal. He was no captive of the two-dimensional surface, and neither are his buildings. On the other hand, neither was Lautner the child-like primitive that many assume. His curving, free-flowing forms were rarely the result of purely intuitive gestures. Although his schematic drawings often look like basic bubble diagrams, they are more than formally vague placeholders for future program; they are actually sophisticated design drawings that contain incredible detail and indicate precise layouts of space and vision. They are diagrams that surely asked and answered more questions than highly polished presentation drawings would have.

Drawings, for Lautner, were necessary devices for achieving the final building, but they were simply not valued as finished artifacts. This attitude hampered Lautner’s public recognition in the 1970s, when a major East Coast publisher wanted to issue a monograph on his work. The attempt was stymied when Lautner refused to “clean up” his drawings for publication. In order to be published, they would have had to become more like the presentation renderings he despised. “They just don’t get it” was his continued refrain. Drawing and construction were both transparent activities for Lautner—merely means to an end. He could readily see beyond both activities to imagine their implications. Graphic techniques and construction technologies were essentially lenses through which he visualized his projects. Like Lautner’s camera houses, his drawings are less for looking at than they are for looking through. They are operative diagrams of ocular desire.

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Note: The author would like to thank Frank Escher and Brian Hart of the John Lautner Archive for their valuable assistance. See also The John Lautner Foundation website: www.johnlautner.org.

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Gregory Ain: Drawings Against Photographs

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

Gregory Ain, Dunsmuir Flats, Los Angeles, 1937, view from street.

Author Anthony Denzer is Assistant Professor of Architectural Engineering at the University of Wyoming. This article was drawn from his doctoral dissertation, “Gregory Ain and the Social Politics of Housing Design” (UCLA, 2005). He also received an M.Arch. from the University of Kansas.

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When Julius Shulman visited his friend Gregory Ain one day in 1937, he unexpectedly witnessed a scene that would forever shape his understanding of the practice of architecture. Ain and his partner George Agron were designing a small house, and Shulman found them debating the placement of a wall between two rooms. “They had tracing paper over the board,” the photographer recalled. “They were going back and forth on that one line.” Even half a century later, Shulman remained astonished at the level of intellectual rigor applied to a seemingly mundane problem: “I have never forgotten that line. Here are two mature men—young men of course, but they were mature— … They were working on one line!”1

Of course, all architects give careful consideration to the placement of lines on a floor plan, but a review of Gregory Ain’s architectural drawings shows that his working method was especially meticulous.2 Clients were amazed at the number of alternatives he had studied; a colleague said he “suffered” over his plans at the expense of his private life.3 Ain developed this method simply because there was so much at stake. Throughout his career, he sought to construct bold new social relationships, and yet he also wanted to minimize his structures in order to save construction costs. The difference between 960 and 1,020 square feet might mean the difference between a built and an unbuilt project. At the drafting table, every quarter-inch counted.

One of his most difficult projects, which clearly shows how his “suffering” carried significant social and architectural meaning, was Avenel Homes (Los Angeles, 1946). This ten-unit complex of attached row houses was the most progressive project of his career, as it challenged practically every convention of postwar housing: its social organization, economic administration, and physical form. But during the design process some of Ain’s avant-garde ideas were rejected by local officials from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). In the initial plan, Ain designed a kitchen which was almost completely open to the living room, a pioneering attempt to enliven the work of the housewife by connecting it to the social life of the house. When the FHA demanded a closed kitchen, this important relationship was destroyed. In addition, the original design also used the dining table to bridge between the kitchen and living room, which was an eminently reasonable strategy for saving space in the 908- square-foot units. When this feature was eliminated, residents were forced to accommodate a freestanding dining room set in the compact living room. Many families responded by expanding the living room four feet, eliminating the south overhang that Ain had considered essential to the plan.

 

Gregory Ain, Avenel Homes, Los Angeles, 1946. plan.

FHA officials also objected to Ain’s original plan for a “double bathroom,” which located the toilet and sink in one compartment, with the bathtub and laundry in a separate adjacent room. This plan would have accommodated simultaneous activities while maintaining privacy, an eminently logical and convenient feature. Again, Ain creatively interrogated the basic relationships between typical functions and their architectural planning. And, again, he was defeated. The bathroom, as built, was a common square room containing the toilet, sink, and bathtub. Summarizing the conservative institutional logic that Ain battled, Alfred Steinberg argued: “FHA opposes the novel and untried because it represents risk.”4

But when he made presentation drawings for publication, Ain used the “original” floor plan, which included the open kitchen, built-in dining table, and double bathroom, even though these innovations were not built. This post-construction idealization of the project was consistent with Ain’s earlier habits and his general belief that architectural publications should convey ideas rather than mundane realities. In the 1990s, at least three new Avenel residents rebuilt the kitchen according to Ain’s original plan, a sympathetic “restoration” effort that raised quite interesting critical questions about the meaning of the “original.”

Ain hired Julius Shulman to photograph the Avenel project, and Shulman might have been expected to have a heightened sensitivity to Ain’s work, given his 1937 epiphany as well as his belief that the purpose of architectural photography was to recover and communicate the design’s “true” intentions.5 Still, Ain found that Shulman’s images could not properly convey the progressive aspects of the project that he wanted to promote—the social relationships— in part because Shulman could not photograph what had not been built. Indeed, photographs of his projects frequently disappointed Ain; he worked with seventeen different photographers between 1936 and 1952, as if he were constantly, fruitlessly, searching for the artist who could correctly portray the underlying architectural ideas. At the end of his career, Ain told David Gebhard with a certain modest pleasure: “You know, I have many houses that have never been photographed at all.”6

Ain’s approach to architectural drawings was always calibrated against his curious and complex set of attitudes towards architectural photography. When he was asked to reflect on his achievements late in his life, Ain spontaneously launched into an extensive critique of photography and architectural publishing. He had become so dismayed at magazines’ habit of favoring photographs over plans that he audaciously proposed a moratorium on the use of photographs in all architectural publications. It was a serious suggestion; He apparently developed the idea while he was a prominent educator in the 1960s, and he repeated it twice in separate interviews in the late 1970s. He believed that the important architectural ideas—social relationships—were found in the floor plan. And he genuinely failed to understand why magazines represented his work primarily through photographs rather than drawings.

He admitted his own work had contained “far less ‘eye-appeal’ than contemporary work which may have had a different motivation.” And he insisted: “public relations was never a factor in my practice … the camera has never been part of my problem.7 Ain’s anxieties about photography, then, shaped an ideology about how his project would be produced, disseminated, and ultimately received.

Ain was an excellent draftsman and he could draw immaculate aerial perspectives due to his mathematical mind and his training under Richard Neutra. But it is abundantly clear that Ain’s illustrations were not intended as objets d’art; they were only produced, when needed, to convey the project to his client so that it might be built. In fact, a number of Ain’s projects did not have pictorial drawings at all. Most significantly, Ain did not follow Rudolph Schindler’s practice of making stylized illustrations for exhibition, nor Neutra’s habit of using color for atmospheric effects. Ain’s ascetic, hard-line drawings were utterly “rational” and documentary, although he did sometimes prefer to show the building in an “ideal” state. A preponderance of his perspective drawings were only completed on trace paper, a material unsuitable for exhibition or for posterity.

Ain was especially disappointed that one image, in particular, often represented his entire career: an exterior view of Dunsmuir Flats (Los Angeles, 1937, at beginning of article). This photograph, by Julius Shulman, showed the four-unit apartment building as a lean, streamlined “machine-in-the-garden,” the articulated structure appearing to cut through the landscape like a freight train. Because the image emphasized architecture- as-volume and the building’s repetitive form, it appeared to be a perfect illustration of the International Style. More than any other, this image garnered national recognition for Ain. It was published widely in period magazines, and it was displayed at the Museum of Modern Art.8

In a late interview, Ain claimed that he resented over-publication of the iconic Dunsmuir Flats photograph because the elevations were “simple extrusions of the plan.” This statement was patently insincere, since he went to so much effort to craft the solid-void relationships between the slab overhangs and the strip windows, for example, but in essence it was an effort to distance himself from Shulman’s image and deny authorship of it. Ain insisted: “I never liked the way they looked, though the plan was really extraordinary.”9 Indeed, the plan inventively solved several problems, and on this basis Ain considered Dunsmuir Flats his most successful project.

 

Gregory Ain, Dunsmuir Flats, Los Angeles, 1937, plan.

Yet, when Ain referred to “the plan,” he meant an idealized redrawing of the plan; as at Avenel Homes, here he also elided the fact that the building was not built as he wished.

Early perspectives and plans show that Ain intended that each unit would have a geometric integrity of its own and then participate in an idealized system where each would be staggered in plan and section at identical intervals. The building as constructed, however, compromised the purity of this system in several ways. First, the two rear units were built at the same floor level and therefore did not “interlock” at the roofline. Second, the four units were not, in fact, all attached. Ain was forced to “break” the building into two pieces with a three-foot clearance in between the second and third units. In reality, as a close reading of Shulman’s photograph demonstrates, Dunsmuir Flats was not the perfectly platonic mathematical game that Ain sought to portray. When he made presentation drawings of Dunsmuir Flats for publication, Ain “restored” the building to its ideal state.

If Ain’s habit of redrawing and idealizing his buildings indicated his suffering—and his perfectionism— it also placed him within a strong tradition among architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Andrea Palladio. These architects, too, used the mutability of drawing as a medium to elide issues of contingency that were considered irrelevant to the architectural ideas. What made Ain’s case significant and instructive was his insistence on using drawings as a means to compensate for the limitations of photography.

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1. Julius Shulman, interviewed by Taina Rikala De Noreiga, Los Angeles, California, January 12 & 20, February 3, 1990, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Tape 4, side B.

2. Ain’s drawings are archived at the Architecture & Design Collection (ADC), University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara.

3. James Garrott, quoted by Esther McCoy, The Second Generation (Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books, 1984), p. 134.

4. Alfred Steinberg, “FHA-Profits Before Housing,” The Nation 168 (January 1, 1949), pp. 11-13.

5. Julius Shulman, Photographing Architecture and Interiors (New York: Whitney, 1962), p. 2.

6. Ain, interviewed by David Gebhard and Harriette Von Breton, June 19, 1973. Transcribed notes, David Gebhard papers, (ADC), p. 2.

7. Ain, interviewed by Thomas S. Hines, April 25, 1977. Tape recording courtesy of Thomas S. Hines.

8. Elizabeth Mock, ed., Built in U.S.A., 1932-1944 (New York: Museum of Modern Art), 1945.

9. Ain, interviewed by Gebhard and Von Breton, op. cit.

 

Representing Beyond the Surface

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

David’s Island.

Author Perry Kulper is an architect and SCI-Arc Faculty member living in Los Angeles.

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The projective roles of the architectural drawing in the discipline of architecture are simultaneously exhilarating and daunting. The formal predilections of Modernism, frequent shifts in cultural paradigms, the displacement of manual drawing by keyboard procedures, and the increasing links between software applications and material fabrication processes suggest a reassessment of the role of drawing.

These working notes are an attempt to broaden considerations surrounding the drawing through the cultivation of its various levels of communication, the stimulation of its latent content, and the catalyzing of its speculative roles. These thoughts are an attempt to augment the homogeneous and reductive practices of drawing and to reestablish its imaginative, generative, and creative agencies.

To overcome the legacy of reductive representational practices, we should conceptualize the construction of drawing as more than a tool for problem solving, organization, or expression. A number of interesting questions deserve reconsideration: the distance between the architect, the drawing, and construction; the differences between varied drawing types and their vested authorities; the debates over white page versus black screen; the temporality of drawing and its reminiscent and speculative potentials; and the dimensions of experience that perpetually elude the conventions of drawing. While not at the forefront of educational or professional discussions, engaging the spirit of these questions might allow the architectural drawing to reassert its formidable creative agency, while participating in the continuities of cultural imagination.

Motivated by ideas and language on the one hand and by geometry and material projection on the other, the architectural drawing has undergone a multitude of developments, interpretations, and transformations. It has defined and been defined by complex cultural circumstances. In my own work and my work with students, I am interested in the drawing’s capacity to represent these complex situations. I am optimistic about the conceptual and speculative potential of mark-making, valuing what is known as well as the accidental and unborn; the margins and figures count alike.

Unlike more exclusionary positions, my work employs multiple representational techniques simultaneously, allowing the drawing to communicate on several levels. The use of indexical sets, notation, diagrammatic assemblies, material indications, language, and other generative marks cultivates latent relations, facilitating the drawing’s investigative potential. Manual, digital, and hybrid techniques are all possible. Local “ecologies of potential” emerge from this choreography, teasing out spatial possibilities from the drawings.

The avoidance of premature ideational, geometric, and material reduction is one of the primary ambitions of my work, and a necessary ingredient in the imaginative life of the drawing. The act of drawing itself becomes a form of discovery of the logics and structure of the work.

In the Strategic Plot for the David’s Island Competition, for example, speculations about content and programmatic structure emerge from a number of sources, not the least of which is the imagined potential in the space of the Plot itself. Like a game board or a map, it occupies a representational territory between landscape and architecture, incorporating notations for future development. Material configurations coalesce with diagrammatic and durational marks, opening representational borders and cultivating more fluid ideological, material, and temporal assemblies.

 

Fast Twitch Site.

In the Fast Twitch drawing, I set out to explore desert occupations linked to ground, sky, and horizon. This drawing includes territorial marking, notation, language, and material indications. As it developed, my interests expanded to include hybrid archetypes, subtle shifts in perceptual awareness, incompleteness, and relations between rhetorical structuring and embodied experience. The drawing examines these interests through varied communicative levels, opening analogical and intuitive means towards the generation of a proposal for desert occupation. Conventional drawing types intermingle with other invented representational techniques, enabling the emergence and eventual synthesis of a range of ideas, with material and spatial ramifications nearly impossible through more traditional drawings.

 

The Metaspheric Zoo, speculative proposal for the Prague Biennale.

The Metaspheric Zoo (a cross between “metaphor” and “atmosphere”) is a speculative proposal for the Prague Biennale. It is the first in a series of preparatory drawings to discover and theorize the zoo. Its primary topical, relational, and programmatic attitudes were established through an image combining characteristics of a puzzle, a geographic matrix, and a taxonomic inventory. Ambient surfaces tease coded and indexical marks. Instrumental practices are crossed with language and invented “characters” toward the creation of a synthetic, incomplete, and strangely familiar whole. From this beginning, programmatic interests in botanic surfacing, a roving taxidermy, and a vessel for obsolete atmospheres emerge, confronting the disparate impulses of instinct and desire which are all but eradicated from our over-programmed society.

Although culturally grounded, drawing is a kind of personal cartography in which circumstance and creative identity coalesce toward spatial configurations. Drawing is a risk, and confronting the white surface, or black screen, is an act of violation. It is an assault on whiteness and abstraction.

By engaging varied and shifting levels of communication (in many ways analogous to our embodied experience of space), the speculative, imaginative, and latent capacities of drawing may make it possible to forget, momentarily, the scenic surface of the image. The possibility of seeing behind, beneath, and through the space of drawing—and the drawing of space—toward greater cultural agency and communicative range is the promise and provocation of architectural representation. Though the parameters have radically changed, the architectural drawing remains an unfinished and tantalizing project.

 

The Metaspheric Zoo, detail.

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Let Me Illustrate

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

Neil Denari, Prototype House, Tokyo, Japan, 1993, axonometric drawing.

Author Tulay Atak is an architect and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA.

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This short essay was written after an interview with Neil Denari that took place on June 4, 2005. Rather than explaining Denari’s work or quoting his words verbatim, the essay addresses a specific comment Denari made during the interview on drawing as illustration and attempts to extrapolate the notion of illustration in architecture. I am grateful to Neil Denari for his generosity with his time.

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Neil Denari calls his drawings illustrations. Images in a book, a manual, a newspaper, or a magazine are illustrations; hence, the medium where the image is found plays a role in determining how an illustration works. A diagram, a cartoon, a graph are illustrations; hence, the kind of image plays a role in determining what an illustration is. What place does an illustration hold between drawing and design in architecture? What kind of a practice does it entail?

As Mario Carpo has shown, the introduction of images into architectural treatises in the Renaissance, concurrent with the invention of movable type, made an enormous impact on architecture.1 The volatile category called “illustration” implied not only the mechanical reproduction of drawings, but also a transformation in the production of architecture. Alberti, for instance, preferred to translate images into text and avoided visualization. With his distrust for illustrations at the dawn of mechanical reproduction, he devised a method for the notation and reproduction of three dimensional shapes based on numeration rather than visualization.2 He claimed that with his method, identical copies could be produced; two sculptors separated by distance or time could produce the two halves of a sculpture which would form a complete whole if brought together. Already implied in Alberti’s work was the practice of the architect as the writer of codes as opposed to an illustrator.

In Alberti’s case, the resistance to illustrations was founded on a criterion of precision. Prior to the intrusion of illustrations, written codes and sequences of operations were considered to be more precise for the transmission of architecture than an image. Hence, the adjacency of the two terms “precision” and “optical” was not an easy coupling; rather it was an acculturation that developed over a period of time in various fields. Art historian Svetlana Alpers has described the beginnings of this adjacency as the “art of describing,” in relation to a set of practices from mapping to projection.3 When Marcel Duchamp coined his own “precision optics,” the two terms were meshed onto each other in the world of visualizations.4 Duchamp, himself a student of technical drawings, played with the situation of illustration between drawing and design, between image and concept. In the set of rotating drawings named “rotoreliefs,” he relocated precision in the corporality of vision.

What, Exactly, Is an Illustrator’s Practice?

Illustration always has an end beyond itself. It illustrates something other than itself, and it can never be found outside media—be it a book, a magazine or a newspaper; or independent of its referent—be it a text or a product. It is embedded. Illustration has a clear intent: to deliver information. In most cases, illustration is a commercial activity; hence, the delivery of information is also the delivery of a mood conducive to its reception. Simply put, illustration is a mediating practice. Illustration is a condition of architectural drawing in which drawing has no autonomy but is the embodiment of design.

Page from Denari’s sketchbooks: Corrugation and perimeter studies for possible projects.

Illustration is not an art; the closest it comes to art is that lowly version of art, graphics. No less coded than written codes and instructions, illustration operates with visual codes. It requires a specific set of skills, which can be acquired and repeated. It has already-set types of drawings.

Instead of inventing new types of drawing, as Rossi and Morphosis have done, Neil Denari’s Gyroscopic Horizons is full of standard drawing types. The two images included here, the section and axonometric drawing of the Prototype House in Japan (1993), are standard architectural drawings. While drawing types remain constant, design changes. The constancy and change are traceable in Denari’s sketchbooks, as well. Hence, illustration has less to do with tools—like ink or graphic software—and the final medium where it will be found—like Mylar, notebook, plot or a website—than with standard drawing types. The standardization of drawing types is a part of illustration. In illustration, the passage from ink and Mylar to the computer screen is smooth. Here, a parallel might be drawn with Zaha Hadid’s work. Taking perspective as the visual code of architecture, Hadid’s early paintings were not the invention of types but the distortion of already existing ones. Hadid’s paintings were illustrations of her architecture.

The visual code of illustration leads to visual precision. Precision on its own does not predetermine architectural form. Rather, precision is about how one deals with form. Here may be the key role design becomes precision design. The lesson of Duchamp’s “precision optics” might well be an optical tangibility. Precision design is clear both in terms of its conception and in terms of its projection and mediation from drawing to building. This is a passage from precision optics to precision design, from architectural graphics to graphic architecture.

 

Neil Denari, Prototype House, Tokyo, 1993, section.

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1. Mario Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing: Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory. (Trans. Sarah Benson). Cambridge, London: MIT P, 2001. Carpo’s recent essay “Drawing with Numbers: Geometry and Numeracy in Early modern Architectural Design” extends the problem of images in architectural theory to numeration practices from fifteenth century onwards. JSAH 62:4, 2004: (448-469).

2. Alberti, On Painting and Sculpture (Ed. and trans. Cecil Grayson.) London: Phaidon, 1972. 128-130. See also Mario Carpo, Architecture in the Age of Printing, 122-123.

3. The vast bibliography on the history of optical precision is heterogeneous: Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the 17th Century. Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1983. Michel Foucault. Birth of the Clinic: an Archeology of Medical Perception. (Trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith.) New York: Vintage Books, 1973. Barbara Maria Stafford, Body Criticism: Imaging the Unseen in Enlightenment Art and Medicine. Cambridge, London: MIT P, 1991. Picturing Science, Producing Art. (ed. Peter Galison and Caroline A. Jones) London: Routledge, 1998. A forecast of optical precision was given by Arnaldo Momigliano’s pioneering work on history and the antiquarian. Momigliano also suggested a link between the development of modern engineering and the practices of the antiquarian. In this respect, the figures of Piranesi (1720-1778) and Auguste Choisy (1841-1909) are noteworthy in the establishment of the visual field governed by precision in architecture.

4. In the 1920s, Duchamp carried business cards, which described his profession as a “precision oculist.” For Duchamp’s precision optics, see Rosalind E. Krauss, Optical Unconscious. Cambridge, London: MIT P, 1994. p. 95-142.

 

Drawn Out: Introduction

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

 

Author Alexander Ortenberg is an architectural historian, a practicing architect, and an architectural artist. He received his PhD from UCLA, his dissertation focusing on the evolution of architectural representation and on the evolution of architectural professionalism. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona and is the principal of Ortenberg Architecture. He is a member of the AIA, the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), and the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI).

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When discussing architects’ practices, scholars and professionals alike tend to emphasize the longevity of our craft’s mental and physical instruments. Even as recent technological and theoretical developments made some of them obsolete and challenged some others, little has been done to rethink the history of the architect’s tools. As to architectural drawing—arguably the oldest and the most stable of those devices found in our conceptual toolbox—we have become accustomed to the notion that visual representation emerged after a certain threshold of structural complexity and/or sophistication of architectural forms had been surpassed.

It is tempting indeed to interpret four-millennia-old papyri found near the Egyptian city of El Ghorab as a prototypical construction document. Practicing architects might also be eager to construe late medieval drawings as a form of communicating the future building to the patron and the public. Furthermore, the sketchbook of thirteenth-century master-builder Villard de Honnecourt might appear not unlike those that turn-of-the-twenty-first century masters such as Alvaro Siza still carry around with them. Finally, Rafael’s letter to Leo X advocating the use of floor plans, elevations, and sections seems to present evidence of a completely modern approach to design emerging in the early sixteenth century.

Undoubtedly, these artifacts indicate a long history of drawing being one of architects’ major tools. They should not, however, be misconstrued as proof that contemporary means and conventions of architectural representation are nothing but a refined version of the eternal architect’s toolbox. Magnificent as they are, the elevations of late Gothic cathedrals could not be considered as an exhaustive means of representation. Unlike our contemporary drawings, which imply the representation of depth—and this includes orthographic projections—medieval drawings depict only the plane of the main elevation.

Moreover, even as some forms of architectural representation have indeed displayed remarkable longevity, their social and cultural roles have gone through tremendous changes. Drawing, which is now considered the most transparent and universal way to convey design ideas to a wide range of agents, was once used to draw the line between the architect and his learned patron, on one side, and the unenlightened mechanic, on the other. The Renaissance theorist and artist Luca Pacioli—whose 1509 treatise was a major tour de force in establishing modern conventions of graphic representation—was convinced that the rules of geometry were too abstract to be grasped by mere craftsmen. Written two centuries later, a treatise by French Royal architect Ch-A. d’Aviler attests to the fact that late-seventeenth century architects searched, in their communications with builders, for the best written and verbal expression and did not rely on graphic explanation. It was only by the middle of the eighteenth century that English and French theorists proposed extending the ability to read architectural drawings to the “whole Body of Artisans and Mechanics.” Even then, many of these theorists made clear that they meant only the masters of the trades. The “servile and labouring Order of People” was still condemned to have no other knowledge than what was absolutely necessary for the perfection of their manual skills.

Nineteenth-century democratic ideals—mixed with architects’ struggle for their professional authority—brought a new approach to the art of architectural representation. It became perceived as a universal language to be understood by the client and the foreman, by masons and carpenters, by architectural critics and by the general public. Coinciding with the significant reduction in the cost of papermaking, these social and cultural developments led to a true explosion in the production of architectural drawings. In a letter written in 1867, the French architect Charles Garnier reported that, while working on the project for the Paris Opera, his office produced 30,000 (!) sheets of working drawings. Garnier was well known for his efforts to promote architecture as fine art. His inscription for his tombstone did not, however, mention any of his artistic achievements but said, merely, “Here lies Charles Garnier, the son of a shoemaker.” It was this dual self-perception as both an artist and a laborer that made him as proud of his mode of production as he was of the final fruit of his labor.

The architectural profession arrived in California around the turn of the twentieth century. As Reyner Banham once stated, by this time “being unable to think without drawing became the true mark of one fully socialized in the profession of architecture.” And yet, the drawings discussed in this issue of arcCA demonstrate that their role extends beyond the widely recognized functions of learning new ideas, developing design concepts, and communicating them to collaborators and clients. They clearly indicate that architects have used their representational skills to make a statement of who they are vis-à-vis their colleagues, society, and the history of our profession.

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Drawn Out: Editor’s Comment

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[Originally published 3rd quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.3, “Drawn Out.”]

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I received the final PDFs for this issue of arcCA, for corrections, while sitting in my car on a side street outside the Le Sage Riviera RV Park in Grover Beach, California. Someone in a café in Pismo Beach had told me there was a public wireless hotspot there.

Surely there is something of architectural significance in the idea—well, no, not the idea, the fact—of someone in a car, downloading onto a laptop computer, through a wireless network based at an RV park, an issue of a magazine featuring award-winning buildings.

And just across the road—the Pacific Coast Highway—is the Grover Beach Amtrak station. It’s something one might draw, if one thought about it awhile. Not the train station (though of course one could); the . . . what? “Matrix” isn’t right (no mid-air suspensions). “Infrastructure” isn’t social enough. “Space”?

It would be a good assignment for the John Lautner described by Jon Yoder in this issue—someone interested in the relationships and not too concerned about making a pretty drawing. Someone who would give equal weight to the seen and the not seen.

As you will see, the regular editorial section of this issue is about drawing and, more specifically, about attitudes toward drawing and the use of drawing. We have excluded the most obviously utilitarian sorts of drawings—construction documents—not because we think them dull, but because we intend to devote the first issue of 2006 to them.

Less intentionally, we’re delaying until the fourth quarter of this year an article about the architectural illustrations of Carlos Diniz. The editor dawdled in selecting the illustrations to print, and then we ran into a further delay in securing high-resolution scans. But they (along with Peter Dodge’s commentary) will be something wonderful to look forward to.

The drawing on the cover is by Rob Quigley, this year’s AIACC Maybeck Award winner. We’re pleased for the second time to be able to publish the annual AIACC and Savings By Design Awards in a special color section.

You’ll find, as well, a series of color plates accompanying the articles on drawing. And the more attentive among you may have noticed something different about the cover. Take these changes as hints that more systematic enhancements to the design of arcCA are afoot. We are working with our designers on a number of ideas, to be implemented formally beginning in 2006. As always, but especially now, your suggestions are welcome. If you will be at the Monterey Design Conference, you can look for me at mealtimes in the dining hall at a table with the arcCA logo, to share your thoughts. And stay tuned.

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Coda: Los Altos Neutra

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]

 

Author Miltiades Mandros has a solo practice in Oakland. He is an editorial board member of _LINE, the online quarterly journal of AIA San Francisco.

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In 1999, Dion Neutra, the son and partner of Richard Neutra, asked if I would locate and document the condition of the some twenty Neutra projects built in Northern California. I did, publishing a survey of my research, “Northern California Neutra: 20 Projects,” in _LINE, the on-line journal of AIASF, in 2003.

One of the most fascinating of these projects is the “Three Small Houses in an Orchard” (1939), as Neutra referred to them, erected on a single lot in a former orange grove near downtown Los Altos. Jointly owned by three friends, they were not only Neutra’s smallest houses but also the only example in his work of communal or semi-communal living. Despite their modest size (940 square foot twins and an even tinier 450 square foot cabin), all exhibited Neutra hallmarks: thin, cantilevered roof planes, steel-framed ribbon windows, open plans, plenty of built-ins, and a horizontal orientation reaching out seamlessly to the surroundings.

 

Richard Neutra, Three Small Houses in an Orchard, plan.

 

The trio survived intact until the early 1980s, when the streetside twin was demolished to make way for a new house of far less character. In 1999, the owner of the remaining houses, John Gusto, asked me to design an addition to the larger cottage; we learned, however, that the cottages were on the local historic register, making an addition impossible. Frustrated, Mr. Gusto tried to sell the property, but the restrictions frightened away buyers.

I sought other options. Although it allowed no addition, the city did agree to allow demolition if a buyer disposed to sympathetic restoration were not found. I tried mightily to garner interest. The help of Joseph Rosa (Curator of Architecture and Design at SFMOMA at the time) brought nibbles but no deals. Mr. Gusto considered moving the larger twin to property he owns in the foothills of the Sierras. Barbara Lamprecht, author of the definitive work on Neutra, asked the owner of Neutra’s 1934 Beard House in Altadena to consider moving the house to his property—a promising tack that ultimately bore no fruit.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gusto found a buyer who wanted the site merely for its location. Demolition seemed assured. I besought the Historical Commission and other agencies to save this important part of the local heritage—small but significant early modernist American buildings, which could be restored and reused for civic purposes. Eventually, a group on the Historical Commission got behind the idea. Potential sites were considered and possible uses discussed. Early in 2005, the City Council agreed to accept donation of the larger house if the cost of relocation and restoration were privately raised. Local interest has grown exponentially, and more than $150,000 has been raised. As of early October, neither the expected donation of the house nor the move itself has occurred, but a site has been selected. The house itself, empty, waits patiently.

Editor’s note: On November 20th, as we were going to press, the house was finally to be moved.

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Under the Radar: Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]

 

Author Eric Naslund, FAIA, is a principal at Studio E Architects in San Diego. He is the past chair of the AIACC Design Awards Program and currently serves on the editorial board of arcCA. He is an adjunct faculty member at Woodbury University in San Diego.

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Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center
San Dieguito River Park, Del Mar, California

ARCHITECT: Rinehart Herbst: Catherine M. Herbst, Stella Murphy, Todd Rinehart
ENGINEER: Endres Ware: Paul Endres
CLIENT: San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority, Dick Bobertz, Director
PHOTOGRAPHY: Greg Yeatter and Brighton Noing

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Set at the interface between suburban development and the wetlands of the San Dieguito River, the Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center, by Rinehart Herbst of San Diego, presents a modest but powerful landscape presence. The Learning Center, at a miniscule 532 square feet, deftly gathers up and makes sense of its setting, belying its tiny footprint.

Its program is a simple one: provide an outdoor pavilion for small groups—mostly local schoolchildren—to observe and learn about the watershed. The architects were tasked with fitting this program on and into a much beloved roadside strawberry stand. The stand is a gabled shed without foundations that had served the local produce market for many years. Made of rudimentarily crude stick-frame construction, the shed nevertheless had a certain honest integrity that seemed fitting to the architects. Their appreciation of it, along with the realities of a $60,000 budget, formed the starting point for the design.

Rinehart Herbst stripped the shed to its skeleton and extended the framing towards the river. The extension telescoped the shed form to make an expansive view portal that also gives the center an iconographic presence. This portal carefully frames one’s views of the wetlands while screening out nearby development and the Interstate 5 Freeway. The frame is wrapped with sandblasted Polygal sheathing and metal roofing. A foundation was made by lifting the shed onto wood beams, which are anchored in a floating position by helical piers. Finally, lateral forces were ingeniously resisted by a series of three tension cables that wrap the building like a ribbon on a birthday present. These cables are anchored to the foundation beams on both sides of the structure, cinching the frame to the ground.

The result is a straightforward and delicate building that lightly places itself in the land. The Strawberry Stand Wetland Learning Center is a temporary structure intended to serve only a few years until a more permanent visitor’s center can be constructed. The building can be removed and easily placed in another location. Let’s hope it will always be in service somewhere in the River Park, as it seems so at home there.

 

 

 

 

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Leadership in a Growing Region: AIA Central Valley

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[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]

 

Skyline Build Out; courtesy of the City of Sacramento.

Co-author Phyllis A. Newton, Esq., is Executive Director of the American Institute of Architects, Central Valley Chapter. Co-author Michael Malinowski, AIA, is a member of the board of AIACV.

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The Sacramento region has become a hotbed of growth and optimism. Seemingly overnight, the area is transforming from a somewhat sleepy city surrounded by nondescript suburbs to a vibrant, regional center. A similar transformation is underway at the Sacramento-based American Institute of Architects Central Valley Chapter (AIACV). 

More than sixty-three years old, the AIACV has historically served its members well by providing continuing educational programs, a biennial design awards competition, annual golf and tennis tournaments, licensing seminars, and a forum for social interaction through monthly meetings often in the form of building tours. Like the region it serves, the Chapter leadership awakened a few years back, took stock of the challenges and opportunities faced by its members, and made a conscious decision to become a leadership resource to the region as it faces dramatic and pressing change.

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The Region Undergoes Rapid Transformation

According to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the population of the six-county Sacramento region is projected to increase from it current 2 million to 3.8 million residents in the next fifty years, with the number of homes doubling from 713,000 to 1.5 million. The City of Sacramento is emerging as the valley’s cultural and entertainment center. A vibrant restaurant- and nightlife is evident now on the weekends and is spreading to other days of the week. For the first time, downtown Sacramento has become a destination and a desirable place to live, as evidenced by the numerous high-rise residential projects that are in the works, including a project designed by Daniel Liebeskind, FAIA, and two, fifty-two-story residential twin towers at the base of Capitol Mall. Attracted by a slower pace of life and relatively affordable real estate prices, Bay Area transplants are finding their way to the “Big Tomato.”

Growth is always a double-edged sword, bringing both opportunities and challenges. As one of the few remaining frontiers in California, with vast amounts of relatively inexpensive and unspoiled land, Sacramento and the surrounding region are uniquely situated in both time and place. To be successful, they must glean the richness and diversity that growth can bring, while at the same time avoiding the architectural and regional planning errors made by other jurisdictions.

The AIA Central Valley Emerges from Hibernation

A few years ago, the AIA Central Valley Chapter took a hard look at itself and determined it was relatively irrelevant to the community. As an organization, it was not “at the table” when critical decisions were being made. Civic and government leaders sought out other allied organizations and community activists for input on crucial decisions, as the AIA, when asked, was generally silent. Architects, when they did speak, did so individually or own behalf of their firms. The architectural profession did not have an organized, cohesive presence in the community. The average citizen had no notion of why or how the AIACV, or its members, might be important forces in shaping the region.

Recognizing its civic obligation to contribute, the Chapter began a concerted effort to become involved in important regional issues. It reached out to the community to form strategic alliances with allied organizations and important civic, business, and community leaders. Its executive director set aside some of the more routine duties associated with running a chapter and began attending City Council and other meetings, speaking on the Chapter’s behalf on important matters, or offering professional assistance to the community. It did not take long for the Chapter to gain recognition for its increased presence in the community and for initiating a number of exceptional programs that are already making a difference.

 

Curtis Park Village, Kuchman Architects / Philip J. Harvey, AIA / ac martin partners, site plan rendering by Sawyer Fisher Rendering.

A Unique Marriage Is Formed

Earlier this year, the AIACV and the Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) formed the “Smart Growth Leadership Council,” in order to encourage and recognize development projects that incorporate smart growth principles. Under this program, developers voluntarily submit their projects to be evaluated against written smart-growth guidelines drafted and approved by both organizations. If the project meets the guidelines as sufficiently “smart,” the project receives a letter of endorsement from the Council that can be used to assist with marketing and the entitlement process. If the project does not initially receive a favorable review, the developer is given an explanation and invited to resubmit after improvements have been made.

To date, two in-fill projects have received the Council’s endorsement. The first was Curtis Park Village, a seventy-acre PUD on a hundred-year-old rail yards brownfield site designed by Kuchman Architects / Philip J. Harvey, AIA / ac martin partners. Despite the multi-million dollar toxic clean-up undertaken by the developer and the creation of a variety of housing options that are not currently available in the neighborhood, the project has faced some opposition from neighborhood activists, primarily on traffic-related issues. Because the Council’s endorsement will be a useful tool when the proponents seek their entitlements in 2006, certain improvements to the project were voluntarily made.

The second project to receive the Council’s endorsement was an eight-story, mid-rise residential and neighborhood retail, mixed-use project in midtown Sacramento—an older residential/commercial area adjacent to downtown with a number of historically significant homes and a distinctive urban flavor. The project, designed by Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects of Portland, introduced cutting-edge architecture to the neighborhood. Again, a few neighborhood activists sought to block the project. When the Planning Commission’s approval was appealed to the Sacramento City Council, the Smart Growth Leadership Council’s endorsement played a significant role in the City Council’s unanimous decision to allow the project to go forward.

By partnering with an environmental organization known for controversy and opposition to projects, the AIA Central Valley is offering the development community a balanced perspective and an innovative incentive to incorporate smart growth principles into projects. The result is something greater than either organization could have achieved on its own.

Helping Shape the Central Business District

The Sacramento Central Business District is the roughly 400-block area centered on the State Capitol. Despite numerous civic- and business-led efforts over the years to jumpstart the area economically, the downtown environs was a virtual ghost town after the five o’clock exodus of state workers. At the root of this lack of energy and nightlife was the scarcity of downtown housing—in particular the kind of housing choices that might bring people back from the suburbs to the City’s urban core.

In the last few years, a confluence of changes in market and perception has resulted in a number of proposals for high-rise residential projects in the downtown area. As a whole, these will dramatically alter the existing skyline and the City’s demographic geography. Unfortunately, the City’s eighteen-year-old design guidelines for the central business district were drafted at a time when high-rise, high-density residential development was so far fetched as to have not been seriously addressed. As a consequence, some of the proposals, while technically adhering to the design guidelines, were viewed by many in the architectural profession as seriously flawed. Given the legacy these structures would leave, the Chapter launched the Design Advocacy Taskforce (DAT) whose purpose is to assist local government in assessing these city-shaping projects.

The Taskforce is comprised of Chapter members who have expressed an interest in reviewing major projects about to undergo the City’s design and planning review. The Chapter notifies its members of upcoming public hearings and provides access to the staff reports prepared by City personnel. The Chapter also obtains and makes available a copy of the developer’s submission packet to Taskforce members who wish to view it, either individually or in a forum organized by the Chapter. Taskforce members are also encouraged to provide either written input on the proposed project for inclusion in the public record or to address the permitting entity at public hearings. A procedure by which the Chapter itself may take an official position relative to a particular proposal or issue is currently being discussed.

By speaking out on significant projects, some of which have been designed by Chapter members, the Design Advocacy Taskforce is entering relatively uncharted territory but providing valuable, professional input to civic leaders.

Developing a Center for Collaboration

Realizing that the transformation of Sacramento into a great urban center will require the efforts of a number of related disciplines working closely together and a partnering of civic and private enterprise, the AIA Central Valley is also at the beginning stages of developing a collaborative design education center. This shared facility is envisioned as bringing together, in one place, a number of public benefit and nonprofit organizations that attempt to influence the shape of the built environment. As an educational resource where the public can learn about good design, livable communities, smart growth, and sustainability through gallery exhibits, lecture series, and an informational repository, the AIACV envisions this center as an important resource not only to members of the various organizations but also to community leaders and the public at large. By sharing common facilities and perhaps staffing, the center may offer each of the participating organizations efficiencies and opportunities that would not exist operating independently of each other. Intended for an urban setting undergoing revitalization, the center will put into direct action some of the principles the AIACV espouses.

Putting the Pieces into Place

Change takes time and effort. Charting its new course has taken the Chapter four years, and it is still a work in progress. A new executive director has brought passion and vision, but the changes have been deliberate and thoughtful. Through events such as breakfast roundtables, the Chapter has sought to inform its members and engage them in the new direction upon which it has embarked. As the Chapter adds new initiatives and assumes a greater role in the region, further change will be inevitable. Within the next few years, the AIACV hopes to be a dynamic organization, actively engaged in shaping the region, well known and respected by government and business leaders and the public at large. Relevance, after all, is the reason it began its transformation.

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The Illustrations of Carlos Diniz

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]

 

Art Center College of Design.

Author Peter Dodge, FAIA, is Consulting Founding Partner of EHDD and a member of the arcCA editorial board.

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Carlos Diniz was one of the greatest architectural draftsman/illustrators of the last half of the twentieth century. In a wide range of mediums he created extraordinary drawings—superb images of architecture and the places the architecture occupied, from small residences to aerial views of great urban expanses like New York or of the desert surrounding Las Vegas. Chuck Bassett, a famous design principal at Skidmore Owings and Merrill, said this about Carlos’s work: “Beautiful, technically correct drawings in the finest tradition of the architectural draftsman, assiduously researched, carefully detailed in every part, permitting the mind and eye to examine a sweeping, topographical view of London, or a busy street scene, or an intimate corner of dining terrace with nary a false note or the intrusion of arbitrary license.”

In his professional career, which spanned more than four decades, he exquisitely executed more than 2,500 commissions, many of them of some of the most famous buildings of the times for a wide range of prominent architectural firms. I first met Carlos when we were both studying graphics and industrial design at Art Center School in Los Angeles in 1948. From there, he worked in several architectural offices, ending up at Victor Gruen from 1952 to 1957, where he learned some of the everlasting basics, such as drawing the conceptual images and illustrations of shopping centers and city plans.

In 1962, after he had started his own studio, Minoru Yamasaki hired him to become a part of the team designing the World Trade Center in New York. Around the same time, he was hired to work with SOM on the Bank of America Building in San Francisco. He also illustrated SOM’s designs for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Then there was Faneuil Hall in Boston for Ben Thompson.

Carlos and I got to work together in the early ’70s on Praia Grande, an Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis design of an 8,000-unit destination resort complex on the southern coast of Portugal. His drawings for this complex were astounding. A coup in the Portuguese government ended that project for everyone. Another set of dazzling drawings for an unbuilt project was created for the Nevada Pyramids in Las Vegas.

A few of the many other world-renowned projects that first came to fame through Carlos’s magnificent illustrations are the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, the Union Station Rehabilitation in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles Convention Center and the Pacific Design Center, the Central Area Plan and the rehabilitation of the Navy Pier in Chicago, and Canary Wharf in London.

Toward the end of his life, Carlos retired from the studio but never stopped drawing. He said he always was striving to be the Canaletto of our time. At his memorial celebration, there was an exhibit of at least fifty marvelous drawings and paintings of his favorite city, Venice, Italy, that made me think that he may have surpassed Canaletto.

 

Bank of America Building.

 

Canary Wharf.

 

Faneuil Hall, Boston.

 

Piazza San Marco, Venice.

 

Santa Monica Bay Village.

 

U.S. Embassy, Moscow.

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. . . and Counting

in: ARCCA Archives / 0 Comments

[Originally published 4th quarter 2005 in arcCA 05.4, “Sustain Ability”]

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Number of green buildings certified by the US Green Building Council (usgbc.org) as of October 11, 2005:
331
(USGBC)

Number of these buildings that are in California:
46
(USGBC)

Number of LEED Platinum buildings in California:
5
(USGBC)

Location of largest LEED Platinum building in the world:
ITC Limited Headquarters in Gurgaon, India
(Engineering News Record)

Number of building industry professionals who have earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) professional accreditation as of June 28, 2005:
over 20,000
(USGBC)

Number of correct answers needed to pass the 73-question LEED exam:
39
(USGBC)

Percentage of US energy use by buildings:
40
Percentage of US electric energy use by buildings:
70
(2002 Buildings Energy Datebook)

Percentage of global population represented by the US: 5; Percentage of global energy use by the US:
25
(2002 Buildings Energy Datebook)

Largest energy end use in residential buildings:
space heating at 33%
Largest energy end use in commercial buildings:
lighting at 24%
(2002 Buildings Energy Datebook)

Rank of California in the world as a consumer of gasoline:
number 2 (the U.S. as a whole is number 1)
(California Energy Commission)

Per capita daily water use in California’s central valley:
300 gallons per person
Per capita daily water use by some of California central coast residents:
50 gallons per person
(Association of California Water Agencies)

Average amount of water used to manufacture a new car:
39,090 gallons
Amount of water needed to produce one ton of steel:
62,600 gallons
(US Environmental Protection Agency)

Average weight of waste resulting from the construction of a single-family home:
4 pounds per square foot of constructed floor area
(2002 Buildings Energy Datebook)

Terms that most architects didn’t need in social settings prior to LEED:
cellulose insulation with borates, embodied energy, fly ash, geothermal heat exchange, hydrochlorofluorocarbon, pervious paving, stack-effect, thermal bridge, volatile organic compounds, and xeriscape
(McGraw-Hill Construction)

Some web sites with green in the URL:
greenerbuildings.com, greenclips.com, greenhomebuilding.com, greenhomeguide.com, greenfuseenergy.com, greendesign.net, globalgreen.org, buildinggreen.com, igreenbuild.com
(AIACC)

Overheard during a LEED panel discussion in Los Angeles:
“Don’t try to push sustainability with a developer who drives a Hummer.”

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