Monday, January 17, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright as a Design Inspiration


 I'm not alone in looking to Frank Lloyd Wright's work as an inspiration for excellence in Architecture. So much has been written that it would be presumptuous to assume that I could add anything entirely new to the discourse. Instead I simply urge anyone interested in design to periodically take a fresh look at Wright's work. It's something I do often... going beyond the customary affirmation of Wright's genius and really studying his Architecture with a fresh eye. From the turn of the 20th Century until the 1960's his designs virtually exploded with new ideas. Unique among Architects, Wright rewrote the rules more than once, and pioneered original approaches to Architectural space decade after decade. His body of work speaks for itself:
Dana House
Other interesting links:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

C.F.A. Voysey as a Design Inspiration


C.F.A. Voysey is a British Architect whose work I turn to for inspiration time and again. His works straddle the turn of the Century from late the 19th to the early 20th. Exhibiting more restraint and austerity than the works of Richard Norman Shaw, Voysey's buildings seem to be a calculated departure from the mainstream Arts and Crafts movement. His unmistakable preference for taut, unadorned surfaces and cleanly modeled geometries is noteworthy for its time. In his work you can glimpse roots of the Modernism that would appear after the turn of the Century. Some historians have credited Voysey and his contemporary Charles Rennie Mackintosh as being early and important influences on the development of the Modernist aesthetic.

I'm less interested in academic distinctions than in the beauty of his buildings. I'm drawn to Voysey's works because of the comfortable blending of the traditional styles of his day, vernacular elements, and fresh ideas. In Voysey's hands this blend seems monumental and inviting at the same time. Recognizing this achievement- an Architecture that comes across as both grand and intimately-scaled is important to me. I feel that many times this is what people seek... design that fulfills their desire to make a public statement without any sacrifice of comfort, functionality, or appropriate human scale.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gilbert Stanley Underwood as a Design Inspiration

The Ahwahnee in Spring
Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park California

Wilderness, as preserved by the National Parks and National Forests, is a tremendous source of inspiration for me. Yosemite is spectacular, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon are beyond words. Glacier, Mt. Hood, Mt. Lassen, Mt. Shasta... from the most remote backcountry trail to the most touristed highlights. I cherish the time I've had visiting and absorbing the spirit of these places. But even though I revel in the power and appreciate the value of pristine wilderness areas, I've always experienced a sort of guilty pleasure in the Architecture found in these places. 'Park Service' buildings are usually designed to fit into, blend with, or at least act as a visual foil to their spectacular natural settings. The largest and best known are the great lodges that were developed to encourage tourism in the early days of the National Parks. They allowed the general population to visit and experience these remote and often inhospitable landscapes. I find these structures to be beautiful and inspiring. Beyond the scale of the buildings and the obvious difficulty of building in these locations, it's contrast that makes them so compelling. The raw natural landscape intensifies the power of the Architecture, and vice versa.

Gilbert Stanley Underwood is an Architect responsible for the design of several of these memorable structures. His work in the 20's and 30's took the Arts and Crafts Movement's influence in an uncharacteristically monumental direction. The National Park lodges of that era are the largest buildings that I can imagine coming out of this artisan and craftsman oriented sensibility. To me, Underwood's work represents the high water mark of United States 'Park Service' Architecture.

I appreciate the design sensibility and the sheer endurance of Architects like Underwood. Their talent and effort was in large part responsible for endowing the National Parks with these beautiful buildings. And just as important, I appreciate those who had the wisdom to tightly constrain the development of structures in the Parks- so that Architecture remains a foil to the celebration of wilderness rather than its replacement.

Ahwahnee Hotel (Yosemite)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

George Washington Smith as a Design Inspiration

Jackling HouseBeing a native Californian I've always been a huge fan of the Spanish and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. George Washington Smith was a key figure during the period these styles blossomed and flourished in 1920's California. Most of his projects are found in the Santa Barbara area, but he completed projects elsewhere in California and the USA. Originally a painter, he had spent significant time touring Europe prior to World War I- painting and studying Art. He returned to the US to wait out the war, eventually arriving in the Santa Barbara area. His focus turned to Architecture after a home and studio he designed for himself was recieved with acclaim by the Architectural press. For a brief period between 1919 and his death in 1930 he produced strikingly beautiful homes and other structures. His work evoked the timeless beauty and feeling of its European antecedents, but was purposefully adapted to creating a lifestyle and image unique to the culture and climate of California.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Richard Norman Shaw as a Design Inspiration

I've always been drawn to images of Richard Norman Shaw's work. Lovely English vernacular compositions with Gothic and Rennaisance details. His designs were part of a trend that would later be labeled as 'Queen Anne' style. Some years later in a land far away the Queen Anne style became a major influence in the evolution of San Francisco's exuberant Victorian Architecture- one of my favorites!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

H. H. Richardson as a Design Inspiration

 The works of H.H. Richarson are a beautiful synthesis of romantic and historic stylistic precedents which became increasingly well adapted to American needs and building types over the course of his career. Having studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris (only the 2nd American to formally train in Architecture at the school), he brought an eclectic eye and broad range of ideas to the rapidly developing American cultural scene in the late 19th Century. There were old world histoic influences as interpreted through the lens of a Beaux Arts sensibility, but there were more contemporary strains of thought brewing in Europe at the time he studied there. These also seem to have had an influence on him, and once back in the U.S. he  produced an easily identifiable and highly acclaimed body of work. In fact, during his years of active practice between 1868 and 1889 his work became so well known as to become the standard for a new style known as 'Richardsonian Romenesque'. This was one among many important contributions he made to the face of American Architecture.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Karl Friedrich Schinkel as a Design Inspiration

I always return to Schinkel's work when I'm thinking about Architectural 'Revival' styles. In many ways I prefer his work to original works of the historic periods from which they draw. His buildings are a balanced synthesis of Historicism and Romanticism transcending the limitations of each category. The body of work he created is enthusiastic, energetic and original in a way that is precicely opposite the tired repetition that often plagues neo-classical and other historic revival buildings.

Schinkel worked as the ‘Architect in Chief’ for the Kingdom of Prussia from 1815- 1841. His work is best known through a remarkable folio known as the "Sammlung Architektonischer Entwurfe". I'm privileged to own a copy acquired from Exedra Press when they published a facimile edition in 1982. The draftsmanship of the plates in the Schinkel folio immediately seduces any who appreciate beautiful architectural drawings. They illustrate buildings of remarkable beauty and grace. The evocative style of drawings and buildings influenced many at Columbia University School of Architecture in the early '80's, including myself. This folio is now out of print and hard to find, but someday I'll track down the successor to Exedra press and encourage them to reissue it for a new audience. That would be a worthwhile project!

Unfortunately there are few internet resources on Schinkel. This is what I've been able to find:

Roman Baths near the Charlottenhof Palace
Altes Museum, Berlin 1823-1830
Casino Glienicke
Babelsburg Palace