Archetype vs. Modernity


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Archetype vs. Modernity

  1. 1. ARCHETYPE vs MODERNITYA critical view on contemporary architecture in Vorarlberg, AustriaThe Austrian region Vorarlberg consists of two parts: theRheintal and the Bregenzerwald. The Bregenzerwald iseverything you imagine about Austria: lush green valleyswith on occasion a small assembly of chalets - sometimeswith a church and a village square, sometimes without.Incidentally a new building can be found, always thoughtfullyplaced into the existing structure and landscape.In contrast to the Bregenzerwald, The Rheintal is a denselyinhabited valley. The historical towns have melted togetherby parking lots, asphalt and many small plots - occupied bythe same chalets as can be found in the Bregenzerwald, by Bregenzerwaldbarns or by freshly built houses. Many of the chalets arerendered white and have dark coloured roof cladding andshutters.In both the Bregenzerwald and the Rheintal the newbuildings seem to be shaped like boxes; they remind ofmodernism. Modernism is rare in this region. But these newhouses coincide resonably easy with the existing buildings.They are cladded in untreated timber, a manner of claddingwhich is traditional for the Bregenzerwald. Sometimes thesenew boxes have a pitched roof, so their shape is even moreadapted; they blend into all the other pitched roofs.The interiors of the new buildings all smell of freshly cut andsawn timber. It is clear that very fine craftsmen have made Rheintalthese buildings. Elements that are used most - door handles,skirting boards - are made of oak, the others of larch. Thematerials make a subtle contrast.It is impossible to make plain photographs in these buildings;with their angularity and the way the bright alpine lighttouches the wooden surfaces it seems that these buildingsare made to be photographed.But although these buildings are very well-crafted andthey seem sensitive towards local tradition and theirsurroundings, I felt that something strange was going on.Why were almost all these new buildings shaped like abox? Why did I felt like it was not allowed to live in thesenew buildings and to use them? Why are almost all the Community centre Raggalnew buildings cladded in wood, although white plaster isalso very common in the region? What has this traditionalmaterial to do with the sense of modernism? And above all:why do all the new buildings look the same?A research on typologiesSome of these questions can only be answered when anassessment of what has been made by Vorarlberg architectsis done.Hermann Kaufmann is one of these architects. He hasmade many buildings in both the Bregenzerwald and theRheintal. He is closely related to the local timber sawing andprocessing industry; he is deeply rooted in local history and 1
  2. 2. tradition.When assessing his work1, some rather remarkableconclusions can be drawn. The typology he uses for oversixty percent of his buildings is a simple box. The secondtypology he uses is the archetypical house; a box with apitched roof. All the other typologies are directly derivedfrom either the box or the archetypical house.Similar things can be concluded from the work of the officeof Helmut Dietrich and Much Untertrifäller. Both are alsoborn in the Vorarlberg region and have built most of theirprojects here. Their office also uses the typology of the boxmost. Their other typologies are also either based on the box Untreated timberor on the archetypical house.With the young office of Cukrowicz.Nachbauer things areeven sharper. They do not use any other typology than thebox or the archetypical house.When it comes to the manner of facade cladding, similarthings can be concluded. All three offices clearly prefertimber as cladding.The uniformity in typologies and materials is not derivedfrom a uniformity in commissions. All three offices have builtfor a large variation in functions. The single family house hasbeen done most, though.All three offices do not have specific typologies for specificfunctions. They all seem to prefer a box.There is one exception. The archetypical house is almost onlyused for single family housing. This does not apply vice versathough, since the box is also used often for single familyhousing.It seems that all three offices want to refer to local elements- the archetypical house, the use of timber - but they alsoappreciate modern solutions. But how does this wish forboth local and modern influences work together? What doesit mean for its architecture?The single family houseLooking at some single family houses done by the threeoffices, some of these questions can be further researched2.All three houses are located in ‘a typical Vorarlbergcondition’3; a landscape of plots with each its freestandinghouse and drive on it. All three houses are loosely set in thiscondition. They neither criticize nor deny it.The exteriors of the three houses show both similarities anddifferences. All three are cladded in untreated timber. Allthree have a pitched roof. But, considering its proportionsand the way the roof folds over the entire volume, the houseby Cukrowicz.Nachbauer looks more traditional than theother two do.The floorplans of the three houses are particularly similar.All three houses have an open ground floor plan. The secondfloors are more determined by corridors and fixed walls.All three houses remind of a historic typology that is typicalfor Vorarlberg. This typology unifies both living quarters and 1. For complete research, see annex 3stable in one volume. All three houses are shaped like this 2. For plans and sections, see annex 4 3. Lecture Hermann Kaufmann september 14th 2009, Dornbirn 2
  3. 3. volume. The stables are missing though.When timber is used generally as facade cladding by thethree offices, in more than eightyfour percent of the cases itare untreated boards; only a bit more than six percent of theprojects have been cladded in treated timber.In the rural valleys of the Bregenzerwald the usage ofuntreated timber as facade cladding has been tradition fordecades, since the raw material is found nearby and thismethod needs almost no maintenance. The cladding agesover the years and becomes silvery grey.The projects made by Kaufmann, Dietrich Untertrifäller andCukrowicz are not all placed in the Bregenzerwald, but alsoin the dense Rheintal. As was already said, many of these Haus J.; Dietrich Untertrifäller architektenprojects are cladded in untreated timber.A product has been developed to let a building look silverygrey directly after it has been built, so clients do not have towait several years for it to become so.Again it seems that the architects are trying to unify bothlocal as more wordly influences; barn-houses claddedwith untreated timber and modern houses, set in anaccommodating suburbia.It results in three houses that look in fact very much thesame. Do the architects of these houses wish for this, or is itaccidental? What do they aspire?AspirationsKaufmann expresses his architectural approach as follows: Haus Morscher Günther; Hermann Kaufmann architekten“Das bisher bearbeitete Aufgabenspektrum zeichnet uns aus- wir sind nicht spezialisiert auf bestimmte Bautypen. Bauenheißt für uns Suche nach dem Kontext im umfassendenSinn.”4[ We have distinguished ourselves by what we have already built - we arenot specialized in certain buildings. Building for us is searching for thecontext in the broadest sense of the word. ]‘Searching in the context, in the broadest sense of the word’suggests that he finds no satisfaction in archetypical orexisting solutions.Dietrich Untertrifäller describe a similar approach:“Our projects are strongly linked to the site and its Haus Nenning; Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architektensurroundings; they are based on the individual situationand program. This guarantees differentiated solutions,individuality and uniqueness.(...)The diversity of our projects and the permanent effort toavoid specializing in reccuring identical construction tasksplay an essential part in our work and keep us alert.” 5And also Cukrowicz.Nachbauer strifes for subtle, responsiveand sensitive architecture:“Cukrowicz.Nachbauer interpret tasks and materials from 4. 5. 3
  4. 4. their context - precise, simple and selfevident. They find clearone of a kind economical solutions to complex requirements.Using wood, glass and concrete, as well as natural surfaces,considered use of daylight and sound proportions, createsrobust and inspiring places that appeal to all the senses,resulting in a strong, yet subtle architecture for thedevelopment of all aspects of life.” 6How does this wish for context-sensitivity relate to the factthat all their buildings look, in short, the same?What does this uniformity mean? How would these buildings American suburbs, Dan Grahamlook if the architects did achieve their aspirations?The office profiles remind of critical regionalism, as itwas explained by Kenneth Frampton in 1983. Framptonadvocated an architecture that is rooted in tradition andexisting contexts but does not deny contemporary demands.Frampton’s view was responsive to - what he called - thesense of placelesness and lack of meaning that was createdby the modernistic ‘tabula rasa’ approach7. His view wascritised as being naïve and too romantic and it disappearedfrom the architectural stage.The office profiles of the Vorarlberg architects however seemto have put critical regionalism back on the agenda - sincethey are speaking of context-sensitivity without denying American suburbs, Dan Grahamcontemporary demands.The fact however that all the buildings by Vorarlbergarchitects look the same, seems to deny the criticality oftheir regionalism.American SuburbsIn the post WWII years in the suburbs of Americancities large housing developments were done. Thesedevelopments created uniform houses, repeated seeminglyinfinitely with little to no variation. The artist Dan Grahamreacted to this with a research in both photographs andtext and showed with very little means the ridicule andalmost intolerable conditions that were created by thesedevelopments.Also responsive to the housing developments, was the CaseStudy House program. The program began in 1945 as anexperiment to formulate low-cost prototypes for housing,creating an alternative for the suburban houses of thedevelopers.The Case Study program resulted in houses that weresurprisingly large, flexible and cheap. The houses were allmade of a simple frame construction in either wood or steeland were all an assembly of larger and smaller boxes.All the houses experimented with the - just invented -modernistic interpretation of living: the need for equality,hygiene, practicality, light and air. In most of the houses thisresulted in open plans and facades with large sheets of glass 6. 7. Frampton, K., 1983. Naar een kritisch regionalisme. In H. Heynen,alternated by sheets of metal, to be opened and adjusted A. Loeckx, L. De Cauter, K. Van Herck eds. ‘Dat is architectuur’individually. Sleutelteksten uit de twintigste eeuw. Rotterdam: Uitgeverij 010, p.This uniformity in form, construction and in interpretation 558 - 562 4
  5. 5. of lifestyles suggests that the Case Study Houses themselveswere also very uniform, but the opposite is in fact true. Acloser look at some of the Case Study Houses can illustratethis9.Case Study House #25, designed by Killingsworth, Brady andSmith in 1962, is just as all the other houses made from asimple (timber) framework. The plan is also open and thefacade is also made from large sheets of glass. But the househas also adapted to its location and its broader context.CSH #25 is located in the wealthy, suburban context of LongBeach in California. The streets are alternated by canals andluxurious cars by luxurious boats. CSH #25; front facadeThe house occupies on first sight the whole plot. Its mass isdivided into two parts. The first is windowless and partedinto three vertical bands. One of these vertical bands is themain entrance. The second part is a composition of glassvolumes, which has in front of it an olive tree. The olive treegives both privacy and a naturally changing filter to daylight.When entering through the vertical band, one comes into adouble height patio. A small black pool in the patio suggeststhat the concrete floor floats. The water demarcates aprivate terrace. The living room, a bedroom and a study areseparated from the patio by sheets of glass.With the introduction of the patio and the olive tree theproblems of a tight plot, the lack of privacy when using largesheets of glass and the lack of private outdoor space havebeen solved in a simple and effective manner.Case Study House #21, designed by Pierre Koenig in 1958,is situated in a more isolated location. It lies at the end of astreet in a canyon in the Hollywood Hills. CSH #25; patioThe house is L-shaped. The facade that is turned to thestreet is completely closed, but the facade towards the valleyconsists of glass sheets.The interior design of CSH #21 is as minimal as the exterior.The steel framework is painted black and in sight, just as thesteel sheets that make the roofs and the walls.Surrounding the house is a garden that responds to thesimple design of the building. Rough brick terraces contrastwith the smooth surfaces of the pools and the metal panelsin the facade. The pools enlarge and double the house andbreak the light and send reflections onto the surroundingsurfaces.Although the look of the house is very minimal and rationalwith its black steel frame and metal sheeting, the building CSH #21, Julius Shulmanresponds with ease to its surroundings.CommitmentThe researches on the Case Study Houses and thearchitecture in the Vorarlberg region show that botharchitectures have a strong uniformity in typology, materialand layout, but that the architecture of the Case StudyHouses are more critical in their response to their context.But where does this come from and what does it mean? 9. For plans, see annex 5 5
  6. 6. Historically, the aspirations of the Case Study Houses wereto give an alternative for the monotonous suburban housesand to cater to the casual and independent way of life thatwas wanted in the post WWII years.The uniformity of the Case Study Houses in typologyand material - the assemblage of boxes, the steel ortimber framework - were a direct result from this socialcommitment; they were directly related to the wish to makeaffordable houses.Historically, the uniformity of the buildings in Vorarlberg wasderived from comparable conditions. The archetypical househad a pitched roof, because pitched roofs were more easyto make. Timber as construction material was an obviouschoice, since it was available in large quantities and easy toprocess.Clearly, since industrialisation and globalisation havemade other materials and processes available, theseconsiderations are not as obvious as they were. The useof local typologies - the archetypical house - and localmaterials - untreated timber - in contemporary Vorarlberg CSH #22, Julius Shulmanarchitecture has become a formalistic reference to thebuiding tradition of the Bregenzerwald, since there is nofunctional or economical necessity for it anymore.In the course of time the Case Study Houses became, helpedby the glamourous photo’s made by Julius Shulman, elitistand exemplary for luxurious villas; inspite of the originalsocial commitments of their architects.In the 1960s in the Vorarlberg region a movementcomparable to the Case Study program came to life. Drivenby post war scarcity in both materials and housing, the NeueVorarlberger Bauschule advocated an approach that usedmaterials, ground and other resources thoughtfully in orderto create modern, affordable and sustainable architecture.But just as the Case Study House program turned out to bean example of luxury, it seems that the same has happenedto the Neue Vorarlberger Bauschule. ContemporaryVorarlberg architecture seems to refer to it - with themodernistic open plans and the box typology - withmainly formalistic means, since the social commitment foraffordable and simple houses is no longer the reason tochoose this type of architecture.An interesting exception is the way contemporaryVorarlberg architecture deals with sustainability. Most of the Neue Vorarlberg Bauschule, row houses, 1964contemporary architecture in Vorarlberg is designed withsustainable materials and leads to energy efficient buildings.Interesting is though, that the architects do not adress thesuburban context in a sustainable manner; they accomodateto it - using large plots of land and thus creating a sprawlthat leads to congestions on the road, the disappearance ofnature etc. They do not try to formulate an alternative forit, as for example the densifying row houses from the NeueVorarlberg Bauschule did. 6
  7. 7. Critical regionalism and the suburban conditionReviewing the built oeuvre of the three Vorarlberg offices,the three office statements, the Neue VorarlbergerBauschule and the Case Study Houses, critical regionalismcomes to mind again.Critical regionalism argues an architectural approach thatprefers tectonics above the scenic, place above space,topographic above typological and tactiles above visuals.It wants to be regional but does not want to historicise. Itprefers an abstract interpretation of context rather thanhistoricist motifs.With the comparison of the Vorarlberg architecture with theCase Study Houses, some conclusions can be drawn. Thearchitects of the Case Study Houses have found context inthe American suburbs of the forties and fifties and the socialcommitment that belonged to it. It is the leading theme oftheir architecture.The interpretation of context by Vorarlberg architects is lessabstract. The Vorarlberg architecture has rendered contextmainly as formalistic references to tradition - the pitchedroofs and the use of untreated timber - and formalisticreferences to their modernistic past - the box typology andmodernistic floor plans.However, a commitment for a critical view on contextand sustainability exists, as the office statements and thesustainable aspect of their architecture showed. Above that,all three mentioned offices belong to the second generationof the Neue Vorarlberg Bauschule. But their aspirations havetaken the form of an almost forgotten legacy rather than theform of a true commitment.The reason for that lies in the fact that the Vorarlbergarchitecture almost never criticises its suburban context. It isas if suburbia has overcome the original critical commitmentof the Neue Vorarlberg Bauschule. Wealth and luxury haveovercome the principles that originally ruled the architectureof the Neue Vorarlberger Bauschule, just as the Case StudyHouses have become examples of luxury.As was said in the introduction, the Vorarlberg architectshave many qualities at their disposal. One could think oftheir craftmanships and their wealthy commissioners. Butwhen they keep denying a critical view on the suburbanconditions of their region, their architecture will continue tobe formalistic and thus will continue to look the same. 7
  8. 8. Annexes1: Bibliography ii2: Illustrations ii3: Typological research iii4: Single family houses v5: Case Study Houses #25 and #21 vi i
  9. 9. 1: BibliographyBillard, T., Buisson, E., 2004. The Presence of the Case Study Houses. Basel: Birkhauser, p. 141 - 154, p. 179 - 185Frampton, K., 1983. Naar een kritisch regionalisme. In H. Heynen, A. Loeckx, L. De Cauter, K. Van Herck eds. ‘Dat is architectuur’Sleutelteksten uit de twintigste eeuw. Rotterdam: Uitgeverij 010, p. 558 - 562Graham, D., 1962-63. Homes for America. In B. Pelzer. Dan Graham. London: Phaidon Press, p. 21 -222: IllustrationsPage 11. Flickr. 2009. Bregenzerwald on Flickr - Photo Sharing! [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]2. Own work3. Johannes Kaufmann. 2009. Johannes Kaufmann [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]Page 21. Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architekten. 2009. Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architekten [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]Page 31. Dietrich Untertrifäller architekten. 2009. Dietrich Untertrifäller - projects 1985 - 2006 [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]2. Hermann Kaufmann architekten. 2009. Architekten Hermann Kaufmann ZT GmbH - Einfamilienhaus [ online ]available at: Günther [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]3. Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architekten. 2009. Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architekten [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]Page 4Both images originally from Homes for America by Dan Graham, but copied from websites:1. Blog nj. 2009. [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on1 december 2009 ]2. Witte de With. 2009. Witte de With - Participants - Dan Graham [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ]Page 51. Billard, T., Buisson, E., 2004. The Presence of the Case Study Houses. Basel: Birkhauser, p. 1822. Billard, T., Buisson, E., 2004. The Presence of the Case Study Houses. Basel: Birkhauser, p. 1853. Shu and Joe. 2009. [ online ]available at: [ Accessed on 1 december 2009 ] ii
  10. 10. 3: Typological research Typology Example Function Total Material Total Total Percent- func- mate- typol- age of tion rial ogy total Archetypical house Single family house 8 Timber 14 14 17% Education / sports 1 Tourism 1 Public 1 Agriculture 3 Box Single family house 12 Timber 39 54 64% Multi family house 10 Plaster 5 Admin. / commerce / 15 Sandwich 4 industries Concrete / glass 4 Education / sports 6 Corten steel 1 Public 3 Mesh 1 Agriculture 1Hermann Kaufmann architekten Others 7 Box; with elements Multi family house 6 Timber 6 6 7% Box; industrialised Admin. / commerce / 4 Timber 5 5 6% industries 1 Others Modern chalet Tourism 5 Timber 5 5 6% Archetypical house Single family house 7 Timber 7 7 2,5% Box Single family house 9 Timber 8 24 60% Multi family house 4 Plaster 2 Admin. / commerce / 4 Steel cladding / 6 industries timber Education / sports 4 Steel mesh / timber 2 Public 1 Concrete / timber 3 Tourism 1 Corten steel 1 Others 1 Mesh 1 Glass / steel 1Dietrich Untertrifäller architekten Box; with elements Multi family house 2 Plaster 2 2 5% Box; classical Public 1 Plaster 1 2 5% Admin. / commerce / 1 Steel cladding 1 industries Assembly of volumes Multi family house 1 Glass / steel / 3 4 10% Public 1 plaster Others 2 Steel cladding 1 Tower Admin. / commerce / 1 Glass / steel 1 1 2,5% industries Archetypical house Single family house 2 Timber 3 3 20% Religion 1 Cukrowicz.Nachbauer Box Multi family house 2 Timber 3 12 80% Education / sports 6 Plaster 2 Public 4 Concrete / glass 5 U-glass 1 Natural stone/glass 1 iii
  11. 11. Hermann Kaufmann architekten Usage of timber Absolute Percentage total of totalMaterial Absolute Percentage total of total Untreated boards 76 84,4%Timber 69 82% Untreated shingles 8 8,8%Plaster 5 6% Painted boards 4 4,4%Sandwich 4 5% Multiplex boards 2 2,2%Concrete 4 5%Corten steel 1 1%Mesh 1 1%FunctionSingle family house 20 24%Multi family house 16 19%Education / sports 7 8%Admin. / commerce / industries 19 22,5%Public 4 5%Tourism 6 7%Agriculture 4 5%Others 8 9,5%Dietrich Untertrifäller architektenMaterial Absolute Percentage total of totalTimber 15 37,5%Plaster 5 12,5%Steel cladding / timber 6 15%Steel mesh / timber 2 5%Concrete / timber 3 7,5%Steel cladding 2 5%Glass / steel 2 5%Glass / steel / plaster 3 7,5%Corten steel 1 2,5%Mesh 1 2,5%FunctionSingle family house 16 40%Multi family house 7 17,5%Education / sports 4 10%Admin. / commerce / industries 6 15%Public 3 7,5%Tourism 1 2,5%Others 3 7,5%Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architektenMaterial Absolute Percentage total of totalTimber 6 40%Plaster 2 13%Concrete / glass 5 33%U-glass 1 7%Natural stone / glass 1 7%FunctionSingle family house 2 13%Multi family house 2 13%Education / sports 6 40%Public 4 27%Religion 1 7% iv
  12. 12. 4: Single family housesHermann Kaufmann architekten Dietrich Untertrifäller architekten Cukrowicz.Nachbauer architektenHaus Morscher Günther, 2007 Haus J., 2005 Haus Nenning, 2004Mellau Andelsbuch Hittisau v
  13. 13. 5: Case Study HousesKillingsworth, Brady and Smith Pierre KoenigCase Study House #25, 1962 Case Study House #21, 1958Long Beach Los Angeles vi