MADDMaterialisation And Design Developmentfurther reading materialarchitecture,tectonics and materialisation
Blundell Jones_tectonic authenticity the architects journal 1991A.Beim_tectonics in Architecture (defenition of terms)Tectonics in Suburbia_Bernard ColenbranderWillem Jan Neutelings_naakt geboren / born naked
TECTONICS IN SUBURBIA the stacked building components and the decoration of the coloured coating, designed by Peter Struycken.(illustrated with the life & times of Andres Jackson Downing) In the works of Carel Weeber the erosion of traditional tectonics is drivenLecture on Tectonics-conference, Eindhoven, Dec 12 2007 to a climax. One may agree or disagree with the opinion that this climaxBernard Colenbrander is negative, but whatever it is, positive or negative, a building as De Struyck can be considered as a ﬁne piece of consistent thinking andTectonics is about the art of joining the parts of a building in a system designing, even when the result seems quite banal or vulgar at ﬁrst sight.that is ﬁrm and unshakable. Of course it is inevitable to pay tribute to The reduced presence of traditional tectonics can be analyzed withGottfried Semper when one relies on a deﬁnition like this. It is also examples that illustrate exactly this reduction as a pragmatic conclusionaccording to Semper when one stresses that this system is not only a of the progress of history. But more often, when the issue of tectonics issystem of the construction but also of the perception. In other words: raised, the approach is not so much from the pragmatic, but from thetectonics deﬁne a layered complex of parameters of how to make a unity conservative side. The loss of tectonic coherence is thereby identiﬁed asof a building on a conceptual level and also on a concrete level. It starts a loss of cultural quality, as inﬂation, as decay. The best example in thiswith the making, it ends with the way we perceive a building. Not only a context is of course Hans Kollhoff, whose ﬁrm belief in the Semperianbuilding has to be composed as a continuity between construction and way of thinking is one of the underlying themes of his career.coating, but we also have to experience this uniﬁed complex. The contradistinction Kollhoff tends to use to illustrate his point on theIt seems so very self evident, this Semperian approach of architecture’s tectonics of architecture starts with Peter Behrens’s AEG Factory incomposition, but it isn’t anymore. Probably that is one of the reasons why Berlin. The AEG is a building typical for the culture of the new industriala conference like this came up in this university as a relevant idea. era of a century ago, but the magic thing is that the building kept hisIt is not so very long ago that we knew also in the Netherlands to make presence in the urban context in a masculine way. It is as classical of thebuildings that were sound in tectonic terms. Berlage’s Exchange in best results of Hellenic antiquity. This is what you call a clearlyAmsterdam was for decades the archetype of a convincing and truthful composed building, expressed in all the physical aspects, identiﬁable byconstructivism, a constructivism that was clearly expressed in the every passer-by.appearance of the building. You get what you see here. The constructive After this Behrens building the course of history made place for anotheruse of the brick was the great messenger of the building. kind of buildings, a building like Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus in Dessau.In contemporary reality, however, a building with comparable principles The physical sensibility of Behrens has evaporated and something elsewould be considered an eccentricity. Berlage’s Exchange has become a has come in stead: the weightless abstractions of the Modern Movement,weird building. Mainstream architecture tells us another story nowadays. that seem to deny their physical presence, and that considers it irrelevantWe are used to buildings in which brick is not of constructive meaning to express bearing and being borne.anymore but is glued to the bearing walls. Brick used to be the essence The juxtaposition of these two buildings brings Kollhoff to a fundamentalof the building, it has become screen, ﬁnish and decoration, no more, no contrast, taken from Julius Posener, between buildings that behave likeless. Apparate and buildings that behave like Gegenstände (objects).What has happened in between? This question asks for a profound To illustrate the difference, I would like to repeat a famous quote byresearch into the evolution of architectonic grammar. Doing that one will Posener: ‘Apparate lösen Furcht aus, Gegenstände ﬂößen Vertrauenbe able, perhaps, to discover the roots of a process of gradual erosion. ein.’Apparently, the necessity of the unshakable system to connect the parts That the environment of the Apparate, of the machine, differed from theinto a whole has disappeared. It changed into an attitude in which it is no matter involved in buildings belonged very much to the ﬁeld of interest ofproblem at all when the inner reality of the building and the outer the Dutch inheritor of the thinking of H.P. Berlage: J.J.P. Oud. Muchappearance are of a fundamental different nature. It is even no problem more than Berlage, Oud was sensitive to the idea of the modernwhen the grammar contains contradictions and fractions in itself. architecture that buildings at least should appear light weighted and beThe destination of this process may be called decomposition. Tectonic as light as possible.decomposition can be a honourable theme on its own, as is illustrated for It brought him to plastering his housing blocks of the mid twenties,example in one of Carel Weeber’s ﬁnal buildings, ‘De Struyck’ in The making them as white as possible, even when the construction was inHague. In this building not only the connections are cut between the conventional brick walls. This plastering in white was due to the Dutchbuilding components and the historicizing grammar that seemed to be wet climate a stupid thing to do, of course, but Oud nevertheless did it,the basis of the composition. But also the connection is lacking between longing for an architecture that escaped the physical presence of
Berlage’s buildings and also of his own earlier buildings. space.Although he was sensitive to modernist aesthetics, he at the same time Contemporary tourists behave in a way that was, strangely enough,kept connected with classical composition rules. For example his explored for the ﬁrst time by the arts – as if it was a utopia to behousing complex in Hook of Holland has nothing of the balance acts Le conquered. Constant’s magniﬁcent studies into the aspects of what heCorbusier and others indulged in. it is a stable, harmonious composition, called New Babylon have become very well known. New Babylon is theonly plastered white as a ﬁnish. expression of an environment that hardly has any formal and physicalBetween the Bauhaus and Oud on the one side, and the life and times of substance. It is an environment that is completely ﬂexible and that servesKollhoff on the other, the erosion of traditional tectonics has continued. I the needs of a population that has communication as main occupation,don’t want to go deep into the many steps in between, however since the necessity of real, old fashioned work has disappeared withinteresting these may be. I only want to point at two probably quite mechanization at random.destructive historical moments: In New Babylon real matter fades away and is replaced by virtuality. OneThe ﬁrst moment was caused by Robert Venturi’s idea of the decorated might argue that man himself is inclined to disappear and becomeshed. The decorated shed drew the attention not so much to the building invisible. That is to say his existence has become more and morein his physically uniﬁed character but to the building as a communicator, independent from real time and space: his existence is not tectonic at all.as the spatial background for an image. It invited generations of The difﬁcult thing is that this trend of growing invisibility is a fact fromarchitects to leave behind the traditional self-evidence of conceptual contemporary life, but man is not ﬁnally saved from his body. Manyunity, which started with construction and ended with coating. people in the West are only saved from being obliged to do physical workThe second moment applies to Rem Koolhaas’s epiphany of the Generic with their body. Physical work was a big thing in the industrial era, butCity, which seems to strip architecture of her last clothes and declares slowly faded away. Society in general has turned from industry tothe curtain wall the ﬁnal essence of the old discipline. One could say: services and business. The real work has been exported and haswhen this becomes reality, it is over and out with architecture as a become largely invisible for us, because it all takes place in sweat shopsdiscipline connected to tectonics: architecture then is ﬁnally reduced to a and other terrible places in Asia.fashionable message, printed on a curtain wall. What remains for us to do is to lose our sweat in weird sport schools,I think that it is very necessary to follow the historical lines of tectonic where many of us spend hours and hours. I propose to include this in thevalue, expressed as they are in buildings between, let us say, 1850 and more absurd chapters in the history of mankind. And in accordance withthe present, and analyze them in terms of the architectonical grammar this absurdity it is understandable that Rem Koolhaas adopted theinvolved and answer the basic question if this evolution really indicates a iconography of physical action and sports already in his ﬁrst studies,total erosion of meaning. This is very necessary to do, but it would need published in the seventies as Delirious New York.a research that I have not, or not yet, done. That is why I want to do Returning to architecture: the history of modern architecture is a historysomething else today – remain vaguer than I would have wished when I of erosion of traditional tectonics, as a side effect of a general trend inhad had more research time. society to make invisible and virtual what used to be very visible andI will not so much concentrate on the evolution of architectonical physical. In building the notions of bearing and being borne havegrammar, but I will try to ﬁnd an entrance in the matter of tectonics by gradually lost their meaning and relevance. The ultimate location tobringing up a connected basic question. This question is: how would it be illustrate this erosion must be suburbia. What can be found there is anif we identiﬁed the erosion of tectonics as a mirror of cultural and socio erosion not only of the building itself, but also, and even more, of theeconomic trends in general society? general arrangement of the buildings in a spatial pattern. The basic ideaWell, to start the answer to this question: one could argue that the very of the suburb is the absence of the very need of integration. Whenbasic and existential reality of bearing and being borne – which is the Semper describes tectonics as the art of joining, in order to form ancore of traditional tectonics - is not a very big thing anymore in present unshakable system, this deﬁnition is completely lost here. The need today society, and this conclusion relates to all kinds of cultural trends that integrate functions is simply absent in suburbia, because the wholecan be identiﬁed. system that is brought to life there starts with disintegration.Martin Parr’s famous image of tourists in Egypt (derived form his The structure of the suburb is basically horizontal, which implies themagniﬁcent series Small World) is quite expressive. His photo’s tell us of parataxis of functions, in stead of the combination. In principle alla world in which citizens behave footloose and have hardly any functions are speciﬁc and private, without or almost without anconnection with their physical surroundings. The tourist is not into intermediary domain to keep the fragments together. If possible theexistential essentialities of life, he is into breaking out in ﬂoating time and public domain is domesticated in the suburb, preferably in a building.
This means that the connecting element between the individual parts is, vulnerable. After the Expo was over, a ﬁre made an end to the physicalas it were, hiding. Therefore, suburbia is a place without tectonics in the remnants: a suitable ending, I would say.sense of Gottfried Semper. When the eternal city of America has the substance of a stage scenery,In essence the suburb represents a modern vernacular in which all the the places where people have their houses cannot be very different. Inshapes that can be come across are instable. One may recognize a this context I would like to shed light on a small case study into one ofspeciﬁc quality in this vernacular, as for example the American author my personal heroes of American history, namely Andrew JacksonJ.B. Jackson has done brilliantly in his books. Jackson stretches his Downing, who used to be a footnote in several historical studies, but wassympathy for the lifestyle of the suburb by even adopting the mobile honoured about ten or more years ago with a few monographs thathome as a believable category in spatial patterns. rightly portray him as a kind of founder of the modern environment.Trends and interpretations like the one used by Jackson illustrate the Andrew Jackson Downing lived near New York along the Hudsonreverse of traditional tectonics: they implicate complete volatility of between 1815 and 1852. He had a very short life, this Downing.structure. They also implicate stylistic anarchy. And they also implicate I would like to suggest that his case is relevant also when we talk aboutinformality in spatial behaviour from station to shopping centre to tectonics. If modernism means decay of traditional tectonics, becausebungalow. the organic order of construction and composition gradually wasSuburbia is hardly organized by taste. The things in space are there abstracted until nothing was left, Downing may be considered as one ofbecause they are popular or fashionable. To quote the English author the starting points of this abstraction. That is: his life and works illustrateJ.M. Richards in his famous book The Castles on the Ground dating from how suburbia developed as a spatial category where cultural adaptation1946: ‘The world the suburb created … is an ad hoc world, conjured out took place in a process that suffers from erosion of traditional qualities,of nothing …. It is a world peculiar to itself and – as with a theatre’s drop while at the same time the cultural vitality was impressive enough toscene – before and behind it there is nothing.’ compensate for what was lost.So, the milieu of the suburb seems to contain a clue for understanding Starting to summarize what the life and times of Downing were about,the erosion of traditional tectonics. Maybe suburbia is the main battleﬁeld there was no professional education in architecture to start with. He hadwhere the process can be followed. It seems relevant not only to mourn no fundamental acquaintance with the traditions of the profession. Hethe loss, but also to track down if there may be any kind of heroism was a self taught man, starting his career on the nursery of his parents.involved in this apparently destructive episode of architectural history. This nursery appeared to be a suitable place to get in touch with aspectsLuckily there is. What happened in suburbia may perhaps look like a lost of modern life as they entered the American scene just before 1850.battle, but J.B. Jackson was in my view completely right in his sympathy Business went alright on the nursery, because gardening became quitefor the ﬂimsiness of this new, typical modern environment. popular in the decades before 1850.He backed this sympathy by analyzing the aspects of modern behaviour A new life style came up, with the start of industrial and commercialthat lead to a certain spatial vernacular with positive qualities in their own America. People were interested in leaving the city, to live in theright. countryside, commuting to the city everyday to earn their money - and soI agree with him and would like to accentuate how rich the American they did. They left the city, became prototype commuters and started tohistory of the 19th century is in drama and colour, as far as the spatial be interested in everything that had to do with creating their own place:organization of their habitat was concerned. For an old fashioned their own house and garden, that rooted in a kind of borderland, beingEuropean it is simply amazing to see how far the American habitat is different from the spatial concept of the farmers because the freshinspired not so much by heavy tectonics, but by spatial arrangements suburbanites were existentially unattached from the land and werewith the substance of stage scenery. A good example is the Columbian oriented on city culture, but living and enjoying outside.World Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago: an event that can be considered as Downing and his fellows on the nursery offered a helping hand, by sellingthe unofﬁcial starting point of the City Beautiful Movement, so, one of the trees, plant and ﬂowers, also assisting with the lay out of house andmain urban operations of the century. That is to say, the environment of garden. It was a new task, not covered by any of the traditional creativethe Expo introduced Americans into a spatial setting of clean streets and professions. What Downing did was extending his task at the nurserymonumental architecture with European predecessors. But the amazing and developing a kind of all round package for how to start a new life onthing is not so much the quality of the monumental effects as such, it is your own plot in suburbia’s borderland.the fact that this was reached not with real architecture but with light He did that by presenting his knowledge in books and an own magazinescreens connected to a light structure. The exterior impression was of an dedicated to ‘rural art and rural taste’. What came ﬁrst was a book,eternal architecture, but what was really there was very thin and published in 1841, so before Downing was even 30 years old. The book
was about the adaptation of the European principles of landscape The movements in this landscape did not seek a centre, but commandedarchitecture in an American context. Americans were a people to essentially centrifugal trends.‘descended from the English stock’ and that was why their environment What we see in the way Downing is mounting a new landscape forcould be based on the knowledge of the old world. Taking archetypes as America is a ﬁne case of cultural adaptation, in which aspects ofthe French or the Dutch geometrical garden, or the English landscape European rooted civilization are made ﬁt for another continent and othergarden, as a starting point, Downing presented a programme for a times – other times, that do not ask for a centralized city concept, but fornaturalistic design of the landscape, developing from unpolished nature a decentralized pattern dominated by the qualities of what would developto the middle zone of the garden to the ordered zone of the private as the modern suburb.house. Downing’s theory completely ignored the qualities of space that remainThe revolutionary impact of Downing’s thinking was not caused by his outside the focus of ordered landscape: he had no eye for thesummary of European culture history in landscape and his translation of wilderness. He started to focus when the landscape changed into theit for an American context. What made Downing an important ﬁgure broader rural landscape of villages and towns. On a smaller scale hecame from what he did afterwards. Learning from the needs of his took in account the area of the gardens, consciously designed to fulﬁl thecustomers at the nursery, Downing widened his scope and started to needs of the citizen. And in the end it was the private house that was theaddress the need of the new American middle class, trying to ﬁnd its core of the moral and spatial geography of Downing. In the houseplace on new territory not accustomed to have a garden or furnish a everything he aimed at came together. And what happens there ismodest house. Downing started a magazine to address the daily needs interesting also in perspective of the issue of tectonics, because theof the commuters in the suburbs struggling with their gardens and construction, the composition and the materialization of Downing’shouses and he used his own designs as examples that could be used or houses were approached very consciously.imitated by the readers. To start with, the design of the house was supposed to be more or lessThe books and the magazine became a success. Downing became a derived from the landscape. ‘It must nestle in, or grow out of, the soil’, hekind of a role model. He reached that status also by using his own house wrote, ‘It must not look all new and sunny, but show secluded corners’. Innear the nursery as an exemplary reference for how to survive the extension of this sensitive approach of the landscape, the style issuburb. This house was an innocent imitation in stucco of a Neo Gothic considered likewise. Some landscapes, the more ordered compositions,palace, reduced in scale compared with historical examples, reduced asked for a house belonging to the aesthetic category of the Beautiful.also in the amount of decoration and ornament, although it had a porch What was suitable in these cases was a classicist house. But quite morewith turrets and a few other picturesque details. It also had a veranda, often the order of the landscape asked for something else: for aestheticswhich was not taken from the European example, but was added as a belonging to the Picturesque. Downing excelled mainly in this category,necessary feature to ﬁt the American climate. preferring romantic architecture styles like the Neo Gothic, but alsoWhat is important to note is that Downing used the European example, referring to the style of traditional Italian or Swiss villas.but reduced it in scale and features and made it ﬁt for American In the ﬁne combination of ordered landscape and connected styles ancircumstances. These American circumstances were linked to the local ideal of civilization was expressed: ‘when smiling lawns and tastefulplace in so far as that he paid tribute to the climate, but in a cultural cottages begin to embellish a country, we know that order and culturesense they seem at ﬁrst sight rather more inspired by European are established.’conventions than that they have to do with what was essentially The houses of Downing were not so much realized on the building siteAmerican. For Downing America started after the natives, after the ‘wild by the star architect himself, they were collected in books and presentedyell of the savage’ as he described it. Culture started when church bells to a middle class audience as an example. They were used by thiscould be heard and ‘a thousand cheerful homes [were] gleaming in the public when the opportunity was there to ﬁll an own plot with a house.sunshine’. The books of Downing were taken to the carpenter and client andBut it did not remain with this free and ultra friendly interpretation of carpenter took the decisions together. The model was modiﬁed andEuropean heritage. Downing was aware of a fundamental difference. adapted just as seemed reasonable to do, because of the context,While the English village was predominated by church and nobility, this because of the budget, or because of taste.could not be the case in America, driven by republican principles. The One of the model books of Downing is The Architecture of CountryAmerican landscape had not one, but numerous places of worship, he Houses, published for the ﬁrst time in 1850. I would say that there arewrote, it had no single man’s house but many houses, marked by a not many houses in this book that I would call a real country house,general diffusion of comfort, independence and growing taste. European style and scale, but the book contains a lot of smaller houses
and cottages in stead. Most houses are small houses, that could be builtfor a relatively small amount of money, by people working in the newindustries and able to afford a modest plot in a suburb somewhere. Thatis why Downing accentuates the character of simplicity, ﬁtting to a houseto be built for a budget of somewhere between 400 and 1000 dollars inhistorical value.‘There are tens of thousands of working-men in this country’, wroteDowning, ‘who now wish to give something of beauty and interest to thesimple forms of cottage life’. A house like this must not attempt to look asa villa. It has a quality of its own, states Downing.Because of the climate it may be best to build the house in stone, but inmany cases it must done in wood. A special section of the bookconsiders the issue of building a house in wood, in which Downingproposes to cover a wooden frame on both sides with boards, nailedpreferably in vertical strips: vertical, not horizontal, because verticalboarding gives an expression of strength and truthfulness.Simple materials: that was one of the concessions that had to be made.‘We have … avoided unsuitable ornaments, chosen cheap materials,and, for the most part, have taken simple and symmetrical forms, so that,in some cases, not a dollar more would be expendend in the execution ofour designs than the same accommodation would cost in the usual plainmodes of building’.So, offers had to be made. With Downing it was not per se, in all cases,necessary to be truthful in materials: when money was lacking for stone,and wood was no realistic possibility, stone might be imitated by stucco,no problem at all. But in the references made to aspects of the beautyand the picturesque, images of the aristocratic past were still penetratingthrough the cheapness of the exterior material.One could say that Downing was following an opportunistic path in whichhe combined present day realism with slightly eroded images of a faraway past. The same mixture could be found in his interiors. Modern wasthe way in which the new social patterns of the industrial era inﬂuenced