Friday, May 8, 2009

PA Final Manhattan Municipal Building

The Manhattan Municipal Building, built in 1912 by the architecture firm McKim Mead and White, celebrates eclectic ornament, democracy, and civic duty. The Municipal building made such an impact that during the midst of the cold war, Stalinist architects modeled their government buildings after it in order to compete through architecture. Stalinist architects purposefully made the center towers far greater in scale in order to mark their importance on the landscape and out-do such American skyscrapers as the Municipal Building.

The Municipal building however was not built necessarily to compete with Russian architecture. New York’s population increased significantly during the industrial revolution and by the late 1800s the city was in need for a much larger city hall. After various designs were turned down a design competition was held in 1893. Thirteen firms competed, each with a three-person jury, which represented the design as a whole in order for fair judging in the competition. The commissioner of bridges and the art commission would have the final approval of the building. McKim, Mead, and White’s entry won the competition mainly because their cohesive design provided the most floor space of all the competition entries.
At the intersection of Centre and Chambers street sits the early skyscraper, the first in New York to incorporate a subway station at its base. The Manhattan Municipal Building is the center for civic life in Manhattan and is one of the largest government office buildings in the world (1). Accommodating numerous offices and departments the building also includes the official CityStore of New York City. A triumphal arch at the entrance proceeds into a tunnel that goes through the middle of the building, now only open to foot traffic was once open to street traffic itself. Transportation is largely incorporated in the building through the arch of Constantine inspired tunnel and the subway station, now used only on the south side of the building. The municipal building brings people together from all five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten Island) and sees about 28,000 people married each year.
The building has a romantic notion about it with its eclectic foray of classical and renaissance inspired details throughout. A myriad of sculptures including the female personification of the city cover much of the fa├žade. These Roman inspired sculptures represent civic duty, fame, and pride. The skeleton of the Municipal building was the first to go up and is built mainly with granite and concrete.
The design of the Municipal building had a resounding effect around the world. Stalin and architects of the ‘new’ soviet society modeled such buildings as the Seven Sisters and the main building of the University of Moscow after the Municipal building. All borrow from Palladio’s three-tiered system of a large tower with smaller structures flanking each side of the tower. Each building is a white marble or stone skyscraper with Roman and Renaissance inspired details. The Reichstag building in Germany is also very similar through its use of ornament and materials. McKim, Mead, and White set the tone for many governmental buildings to come since their eclectic use of civic statues and classical roots mimic the notion of democracy and justice in government.

Thousands of New Yorkers get married at court in the Municipal Building each year. Besides being used for office use, the courts, and courtroom marriages, the building brings people from all walks of life together as it caters to many different governmental needs. It may not be the tallest skyscraper or the most magnificent but it had such an impact on the world that our 'enemies' had to re-create it in order to compete. Many people ignore it's underlying greatness since next to the rest of New Yorks skyscrapers it seems somewhat insignificant. Nevertheless, the Municipal Building is a center for democracy which reflects America's ideals through classic and eclectic architecture.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Top Ten

Looking back at my top ten I can see that I am inspired by vibrant colors, soft & curvilinear lines. I like the simple design of the mac and mid-century modern designs. I also enjoy intricate details and patterns found in oriental rugs and Indian designs. My design style would have to be a mixture of the two. Clean lines through architecture with a few intricate & noticeable details that tell story.


My parents collect oriental rugs. There are a lot of standard reproductions available that are terribly unoriginal and 'Americanized.' My parents have taught me the difference between original oriental rugs and those made in the U.S. I'm sure there can be some nice reproductions however I prefer those rugs with character. Oriental and tribal rugs tell a story through pattern, color, and figures. The best thing is that you can have one or two pieces of furniture in a room but once you add an oriental rug it seems nearly fully furnished.


I am intrigued with India and is culture, music, fashion, and religion. I am a sucker for Buddha figurines. I love bright colors such as orange, purples, greens, and blues as they use in much of Indian garb and decoration. Indian textiles and designs often have great details and patterns. These patterns sometimes tell a story, making the design of something such as a scarf into a storybook.

Vintage glasses are so fun and border on the line of fashionable and well, just plain bad. Simple and classic is always the best way to go when it comes to sunglasses.

Art inspires me in every way. Above is a painting by Edgar Degas. I could get lost in his paintings they are so rich and vivid. I love all kinds of art, whether abstract, digital, or expressionist like the painting above. Art has always been a huge passion of mine. I understand and appreciate art better than I can create it.
Mac's are designed so beautifully and their systems are so simple. I cringe every time I have to use a PC. Mac's are just the best all around.

Bamboo is one of my favorite products out on the market. I love salad bowls made out of bamboo. They are extremely light and so cute! oh yeah, and sustainable!

Eclectic mixtures of modern sleek lines and curvilinear exotic styles makes a beautiful design juxtaposition. Bringing together different design styles through art, pattern, line, and color is my approach to design.



curving staircases, especially those with a splash of color really make me drool.
The Eames Molded Plywood Chair is my favorite chair for many reasons. My grandmother has a red one and whenever I see this chair I am always reminded of her. Also I love mid-century modern and this chair is at the very top of the best designs that came out of this era. The lines and simplicity just work and the curving wood is quite appealing.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Home is one that speaks to me through weight of line and color. I think that Frank Lloyd Wright was quite arrogant yet he was very talented and his home is one of my personal favorites. I would love to live in a house such as this.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Opus Week 13

Self expression of architects can be seen in the monumental like structures of post modern design. Nicholas Grimshaw's work is renowned world wide and is a form of self expression juxtaposed to the simplified architecture for the masses mid century. Above is the National Space Centre in England.

Post-modern design has transposed modern architecture into a form of self expression in which the building carries a monologue from the architect himself and a dialogue between other architects and the world as a whole. This may seem like a very broad statement so lets break it down. Modern architecture of the early and mid 20th century was about the masses. Although designers were coming up with new and original ideas, their work was mass produced and therefore their work was less personalized (Roth 567). Personally I have a set of Eames style molded plywood chairs. They are not original Eames yet such items were mass produced not only by the manufacturer but also by 'knock off' companies so that design was universal. Much of post modern architecture celebrates the designer himself and his personal creation.


Mass produced modern chairs of the mid century: The Eames molded plywood dining chair

A juxtaposition is seen between the 'characterless' modern architecture of the early to mid 20th century and the creative endeavors of the post modern architecture of the late 20th century. Architects make statements through their work and they become celebrities in the world of design through their works. Frank Lloyd Wright hardly cared about the inhabitant of a house he design, he cared about his design. Wright is an example of highly personal designed architecture that does not relate to the inhabitant or the function. We see this dysfunction in the Guggenheim Museum, which is a beautiful building, but highly dysfunctional when hanging flat art work on curved walls. While modernist design was able to reach the masses critics such as Robert Venturi 'asserted that less is not more.' Modernists designs were easily universal because they were simple designs to duplicate. Venturi argues that we must recreate modern architecture in a way that we take the advancements in materials and technology and use these tools developed by early modernists in order to create modernism with 'ornament, references to the past, local tradition, social practices, and to the users' received conventional sensibilities' (Roth 568). I could not agree more because although I find early modernist architecture interesting, I would never want to live in such a characterless building. I do not think that humans work like machines and a machine for living while practical, is emotionless and does not cater to the human psyche.

The Guild House in Philadelphia was Robert Venturi's attempt to create modernist architecture incorporating ornament and other features

Venturi made a great point in his writing from the book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) yet I don't believe that his philosophy transposed itself successfully in his work. His 'first public demonstration of this philosophy' was the Guild House in Philadelphia, an apartment complex made for elderly Quakers (Roth 569). The windows are tiny and the building reminds me of the many poorly designed buildings that attempted to take modern architecture and apply ornament. There are buildings such as this all over the U.S. and especially in Greensboro. The YMCA close to downtown comes to mind, and many other buildings built throughout the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Despite many failures, post modern design thrived in the hands of other architects such as Richard Meier. His work, the High Art Museum in Atlanta, is a beautiful white building which plays with solid volumes which play with light and shadow. The question arises with such buildings as the High Art Museum, does art=architecture? I think that architecture is a systematic and mathmatical form of art and one can see the many systems created by the forms in the High Art Museum (Roth 571).
Buildings such as the High Art Museum above paved the way for High Tech architecture such as Phillip Johnson's Pennzoil Place, or the Louvre's glass pyramid by I.M. Pei. High tech is defined by roth as being 'an extreme excentuation and exaggeration of structure and mechanical systems' (574). Architects took the beauty of industrialism and exposed systems to a whole different level making the literal workings of the building abstract forms and works of art. Architects meditated on ornament and it's connection with modernism and what resulted on one end of the spectrum was the celebration of technology and systematic parts-which became the ornamental pieces to post modern structures.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Opus Week 12

The Guggenhiem by Frank Lloyd Wright

Designers of the modernist movement began shaping and stretching the limits of a new architecture. Architects such as Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe compromised with city officials on ground space in order to stretch the Seagram Building vertically. Frank Lloyd Wright stretched the boundaries of his normally rectilinear architecture with his design for the Guggenhiem Museum. The modernist movement is defined by the machine and the stripping away of all ornament of previous eras (Massey 63).

Designers and architects of the 20th century speculated about the direction of design and many people wanted to compose a new architecture which resulted in the modernism movement and the following mid-century modern movement. Modern architects went back to basics when designer the new architecture and put a great emphasis on geometry and form. The Bauhaus, directed by Walter Gropius, fueled modernists desires and served as a creative school for the new industrial inspired architecture (Massey 67).
The Studio Wing of the Bauhaus

The Bauhaus taught a strict architectural discipline despite the it's ideas being new, this in part could be the nature of the Germans and their relation to industrialism. Lighting designs of Marianne Brandt, K.J. Jucker and Wilhelm Wagenfeld rose in popularity from the Bauhaus. The table lamp designed by K.J. Jucker and W. Wagenfeld is an almost surrealist view of a table lamp in that it is not functional as a table however much of it's form is shaped as though it should be a table. The glass bulb takes up the entire surface which could be a table, which is humorous in my mind because the user of such a design may want to set something down on it only to be reminded that the surface is round and functions solely as a light (Massey 74).

Table Lamp by K.J. Jucker and W. Wagenfeld

Post World War II the United States experienced great prosperity in the years after the war and people all over now had access to modern design. Despite the fact that U.S. just came out of a war the U.S. was energized by their success. The cold war also led the Soviets and the U.S. to compete not only in weapons and space but through design and technology.

The Pedestal Chair by Eero Saarinen used the new molded technology for plastic and employed one leg rather than four.


Mid-century was a time where modernist design could be design for all. One could by a house that came in parts, pre-assembly. The idea was that you could assemble your house on your own. New uses of plastics, aluminum, and other materials made much of this possible (
Votolato 153). The 1950s was the beginning of the consumer age where people were presented with choices on materials and brands. The following is an excerpt from Gregory Votolato's book American Design in the Twentieth Century:

"During the early 1950's Sterling Ready-Cut-Homes advertised extensively their 'cut to fit homes' for self builders or self contractors. Sterling's color catalog shows a choice of fifty seven designs. Their kits included 'easy to follow plans,' all lumber, roofing, nails, glass, hardwar, paint, doors, and windows. The prices from 2,150 in 1952 including delivery to the building site, were made possible by economies in quantity production and bulk purchasing components."

Every time I think of house kits of the 1950s I smile because the idea is slightly rediculous, however house kits were quite popular and actually ended up making decent homes (Votolato 154).

House Kit Home by Sears The Westly Floor Plan


Modernism became the mainstream by the mid century and great works of furniture, architecture, and many products were developed due to the cold war and great prosperity in the U.S. Eero Saarinen's Pedestal chair is a great example of the beautiful work with plastics that came out of these modern years (Massey 154). During the 20th century architecture and design were inspired by industrialism, the development of new materials, and was fueled by the competition of the cold war.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Peer to Peer

Above: The Reichstag building in Germany Below: The Manhattan Municipal Building

The Reichstag Building in Germany has many connections both physically and analytically to the Manhattan Municipal Building. Aesthetically the Reichstag uses classical elements such as Corinthian columns, arcades of windows, and side flagging towers with an extravagant central entrance. This building uses concrete and stone, similar to the Municipal building. The building is horizontal while the Municipal building is an early skyscraper. The Municipal building needed to be large in order to house its many governmental offices of the growing city of New York. The Reichstag on the other hand was probably built horizontally because it represents the unification of the German government. It is similar to the U.S.’s Capital building in that its function is important, but the symbolism behind it is far greater. Although the Reichstag was built approximately twelve years before the Municipal building, it was still influenced by the classical style of governmental buildings in the U.S. Germany was experiencing many changes in their government and the Reichstag building represents a fair and democratic society through its use of classical elements. In my essay I talk about how Stalin reshaped the Russian government through the building of renaissance and classically inspired governmental buildings. He took his inspiration directly from such buildings as the Manhattan Municipal building, and one could say that the Reichstag building also influenced him.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Reflections: Unit Summary

The Crystal Palace by Joseph Paxton employed the use of glass and steel and has influenced building techniques well past the 19th century


Reflecting on the many revolutions that led to great change in the architectural and design world, architecture seems to skip a generation and then is later revived by the next generation. Gothic and Renaissance revivals can be found around the world from Cathedrals to private residences in America. With political change brought new ideas and while many were still reviving the past, some were looking towards the future and the exotic. New trade routes were opened from the east and a flood of asian inspired creations made their way through Europe, the U.S., and across the globe.
Revolutions brought new design styles. A new America brought new architectural and furniture styles, which differed greatly from the British imperial style. Also the revolutionary war changed design in that people were trying to set themselves apart from the past. Colonial America went from being highly influenced by the British to completely separation and that can be seen through the furniture of the time.

Revolutions and new trades routes changed architecture and design worldwide, however nothing affected the design world more than new materials of the industrial age. Glass and steel were the ultimate materials developed that changed architecture drastically. Greenhouses and arcades employed the use glass and steel initially. Joseph Paxton was inspired by the glass and metal structures of greenhouses and utilized their techniques in the Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace needed to be erected within months and still be beautiful and revolutionary in its design. The World’s Fair, an exhibition showcasing new machines and technologies around the world, would be the function for its erection and the building itself needed to reflect the new technologies of the time. Crystal Palace was erected in record time and paved the way for structures other than Greenhouses to employ the use of steel and glass.

While machines, technologies, and materials of the era inspired Joseph Paxton and other architects, Phillip Morris and many others followed the philosophy of the hand-made aesthetic. The Arts and Crafts movement, English-Free Architecture movement, and the Aesthetic movement all began in Great Britain. Phillip Morris rejected the machine and thought that well crafted, hand made furniture and design was the best way to approach design. Breathtakingly well-crafted woodwork and hand-made textiles were the direct result of these movements. Not all designers of these movements completely agreed with Morris’s strict handcrafted philosophy and they thought that machinery, if used wisely, could make a design better. These movements quickly took off in the U.S. especially in New York and Chicago, where the Arts and Crafts Movement would soon influence Frank Lloyd Wright and lead the arts and crafts style into the 20th century. These movements were very simplistic in design compared to the extravagant baroque and renaissance designs of the preceding era. These simplified designs eventually allowed for even more abstract ideas to occur in the early 20th century with the beginnings of modernism.

New materials, revolutions, design philosophies, and design movements from Great Britain define design of the 19th century. Architects were reflecting back on the past while moving forward with new technologies in building. The connection between the past and the present had not been severed and would not be severed until the modernist movement. Architects of all time periods continue to reflect on the past for inspiration. We try to find a balance between the past and the present and it will continue to be a struggle in many architects minds on whether to reject the past in order to move forward or to learn from the past in order to make better designs for the future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Opus Week 11

The AEG Turbine Factory, industry as the inspiration for architecture

Picasso's self portrait, he is among the the artists that worked with abstraction and cubism

The roots of modernism lie within the arts and crafts movement, post impressionism, expressionist and cubist art, and the industrial revolution. Artists of the early twentieth century explored the abstraction and flattening of art. Architects, designers, and artists toyed with different geometric patterns and designs. The rise of industry and the invention of the automobile and airplane inspired architects and designers to find a architectural model for the future rather than following Greek, Roman, and Renaissance models (Roth 519). World War I brought the use of new materials and many advances in the industry which in turn helped the modernist movement (Roth 520).

The word congruence implies fluidity and a constant which relates to the congruence of eclectic revivals in many public buildings. The Manhattan Municipal building, which I am doing my precedent analysis on, is an example of an classic eclectic building with it's statuettes and triumphal arch. The materials used are mostly concrete but a new form of building takes place because many of the eclectic buildings in New York and other large cities at the time are skyscrapers. Technology of the 20th century is employed in order to build these skyscrapers yet designs inspired from the roots of architecture-the classical era-are used (roth). So while the classical tradition is continued with new materials and technologies the modernist movement pushed forward with the creation of the Bauhaus in Germany.

The Bauhaus's main building

Architectural training changed drastically with the creation of the Bauhaus and architects were trained across many disciplines and were later able to choose which design discipline fit them best. Sweedish modern and architects from the Netherlands were also a large part of modernist design. Their concepts for modern were less strict than those of the Bauhaus. Alvar Aalto is a large contributor to the Sweedish aesthetic that was brought to America around World War II. Aalto's work is described as a more 'humanistic scandanavian approach to modernism' (Massey 86). The Bauhaus focused on machine and like Corbusier, finding the most functional machine for living. I think that the Bauhaus created beautiful work but much of it is cold and far to utilitarian for my taste. I enjoy the less invasive scandanavian work. Artists and architects were exploring the use of the machine and how it fit into our everday lives. I think that no man works as a machine and a machine for living might sound pleasing, but in reality it is not 'humanistic'.

ApartmentTherapy.com is one of my favorite websites which features photos from modern apartments. Many of which are eclectically mixed with modern and traditional elements. Above is an example of the Tulip Chair.

The idea of compression and release is a very broad concept in the the design world. Undulating walls automatically comes to mind such as in Gaudi's work. In class we spoke about a skyscraper that used bay windows in each apartment, thus creating undulating walls across the whole building. Compression and release also speaks to the way steel and glass are molded. The 20th century brought architects to play with curvilinear walls and different forms such as molded plywood. Charles and Ray Eames were among the most renouned for their work with molded plywood, however I would like to look at Eero Saarinen's work with the Tulip Chair and his molding of plastic. The Tulip Chair was made out of one mold while many of the chairs at the time were made in parts. Without the technological advances of the war the creation of such chairs would not have been possible (Massey 155).

The new technologies brought by both of the wars in the 20th century allowed architecture and design to move forward at a rapid pace into the modernist movement. The abstraction and reduction to the basics made designers start from the beginning and build from there. Corbusier began with the basics and moved forward as did Charles and Ray Eames, both Eero and Eliel Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, and the many designers of the modernist movement. A congruence of the same revivalist architecture is seen throughout this time where architects and artists were trying to find a new architecture. The underlying factor in this is technology. Technology bound together the new concepts (modernist architecture) and the old concepts (classically rooted architecture).