Brian Smith

MAM = WOW

79 posts in this topic

I am watching "Building the Ultimate" on the Science Channel. The theme of the episode is "Glass Houses" and I was simply astonished by one of the buildings they showcased. It is the Milwaukee Art Museum - and it looks like it belongs to the era of Buck Rogers. Imagine something a bit like the iconic Sydney Opera House, but sleeker and more sculpted - and where the shell of the building can mechanically spread apart like spectacular and enormous wings, letting light stream into the structure below. I am providing pictures and links to the structure, but still images simply do not do it justice. Seeing the ribbed sunscreen actually lift up and apart, like the sail of a boat or the wings of a seagull, is just amazing!

What I find even more amazing is that, despite the fact it was opened in 2001, I have never seen it shown anywhere else before.

None of the pictures below come even close to providing the spectacular impressson of it I got on television. As such, I can just imagine what it would be like to see it in person, looking out over Lake Michigan as the wings spread upward - as if the winds off the water were lifting it gracefully aloft.

Closed

mam3.jpg

Open

mam4.jpg

Closed

mamv2.jpg

Open

mamv1.jpg

For more images and information, check these sites:

http://www.soasoas.com/april/gallery/mam/

http://people.msoe.edu/~reyer/mke/2001b.jpg

http://www.galinsky.com/buildings/milwaukeeart/

http://mam.org/thebuilding/photo_gallery.htm

http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/wiscons.../calatrava.html

http://en.structurae.de/structures/data/ph...cfm?ID=s0003308

http://tinyurl.com/d8s3a

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It may be visually beautiful but it is not good architecture.

That it is designed to look like a bird is just as irrational and arbitrary as if it were designed to look a greek temple.

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It may be visually beautiful but it is not good architecture.

That it is designed to look like a bird is just as irrational and arbitrary as if it were designed to look a greek temple.

Are you referring to the architectural principle that form should follow function?

One reason that building a Greek Temple in 21st century America is ridiculous is because it doesn't belong here. The original function that it was designed for is not the same as a bank or a university building where classes are held today. Not to mention the fact that it would not be an original design, but a copy that which was done in the past.

However, I don't think that the Milwaukee Art Museum is similar in that way. The site of the building is not rocky or hilly, and there is a good deal of leeway for deciding on the design. I think it is a pretty amazing building, and utterly original. It is not nihilistic in the least. That said, I don't think it is as good as FLW or John Lautner, but it doesn't have to be.

Regarding Brian Smith's comparison of Fallingwater, there is a difference between building a structure that looks like a bird and Fallingwater in that Fallingwater doesn't look like a waterfall - it is sitting on top of one that already exists. Fallingwater completely conforms to its site, whereas, the site where MAM sits could have had a number of different designs that would have conformed to that site as well.

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Sarah

My only point in referencing a waterfall was to indicate that inspiration derived from things in reality - ie the cascade of rocks of a waterfall - or the wings of a bird - or the sail of a ship - do not, in and of themselves, make a design arbitrary or irrational, as Joe suggested.

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I don't quite understand why building in the classical style in 21st century America is ridiculous, or at least any more ridiculous than building this art museum.

To me, the museum looks like a building following the same ideology of Frank Gehry. Sort of "We can build it, so we should build it" ethos.

Having a gimmick doesn't make for a great building. It may make for a interesting engineering or architectural exercise but that is about it.

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Vladimir,

What exactly are you claiming is deserving of ridicule about this building? What about it is absurd, preposterous, or silly?

As to an explanation of why still building today as the Greeks built more than 2000 years ago is worse than ridiculous, I refer you to "The Fountainhead".

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Vladimir,

What exactly are you claiming is deserving of ridicule about this building?  What about it is absurd, preposterous, or silly? 

I just think the building is ugly (a personal value judgement) but also that it seems to be primarily a gimmick rather than a building designed for lasting value, function and beauty. There is no particular reason for the way it opens/closes other than the gimmick. But perhaps that is what they thought would draw people to the museum, that gimmick. Either way it is not a type of building I would build.

As to an explanation of why still building today as the Greeks built more than 2000 years ago is worse than ridiculous, I refer you to "The Fountainhead".

I have read The Fountainhead and don't recall it explaining the issue satisfactorily. And in discussions of architecture in The Romantic Manifesto Rand simply says "refer to The Fountainhead" meaning she never explains the issue properly in a non-fiction context.

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...it seems to be primarily a gimmick rather than a building designed for lasting value, function and beauty.
On what basis do you make this claim? What qualifies as "lasting value" - and how does this building fail to meet that standard? How does the screen not serve its function? What standard of "beauty" are you using to disqualify the building as beautiful?

Again, since you identified the building as "ridiculous" - what specifically about it is deserving of ridicule? What about it is absurd or silly?

There is no particular reason for the way it opens/closes other than the gimmick.
What makes you claim there is no particular reason for the way it opens/closes? Are you assuming that the opening and closing serve no purpose?
I have read The Fountainhead and don't recall it explaining the issue satisfactorily.
What was the explanation it did provide? And what did you find unsatisfactory about it - ie what error, inconsistency, or incompleteness in its reasoning did you discover?

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On what basis do you make this claim?  What qualifies as "lasting value" - and how does this building fail to meet that standard?  How does the screen not serve its function?  What standard of "beauty" are you using to disqualify the building as beautiful?

On the basis of the museum's own website which states the purpose and function of the building. The screen basically serves no practical function, it's purpose is merely decorative and sculptural. The standard of "beauty" I use is mine alone. Other people obviously think this is a beautiful building, I do not.

Again, since you identified the building as "ridiculous" - what specifically about it is deserving of ridicule?  What about it is absurd or silly?

I said no such thing. I simply asked if building a Greek temple was any more ridiculous than this art museum.

What makes you claim there is no particular reason for the way it opens/closes?  Are you assuming that the opening and closing serve no purpose?

As per the museum website, there is no reason other than its existance as a decorative sculpture as I stated above.

What was the explanation it did provide?  And what did you find unsatisfactory about it - ie what error, inconsistency, or incompleteness in its reasoning did you discover?

In short it provided no explanation whatsoever. Rand states in the Manifesto where architecture should be placed in the scheme of other arts and crafts but explains nothing regarding how it should be judged or what types of architecture or buildings are best.

In The Fountainhead the stylistic choices of Keating and Roark are largely arbitrary choices of Rand herself. And of course, there were few specifics of Roark's style given in the first place other than vague generalities. Extrapolation from The Fountainhead that neo-classical styles are somehow inferior would I think be a grave error.

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One reason that building a Greek Temple in 21st century America is ridiculous is because it doesn't belong here. The original function that it was designed for is not the same as a bank or a university building where classes are held today. Not to mention the fact that it would not be an original design, but a copy that which was done in the past. 

I understand what you are saying and I really don't disagree with you. But I enjoy a lot of classical and other historically inspired architecture from the early 20th century, an era one could make an equally valid a case that it did not belong.

I grew up in the Fort Worth/Dallas area where most parts of town were built in recent decades. At the time, the influence of the 1960s and 1970s was everywhere, including in architecture. My opinion is that most buildings from that era are bland and tacky at best and very frequently butt ugly. When I was a kid, I discovered the pre-World War II decades through photographs, music and old buildings and completely fell in love with the era. It was so CLEAN, so grand and so utterly different than the slovenly, shoddy and very cheap looking popular culture I grew up in.

Go to some big city downtown and try to find an old early 20th century bank lobby that has managed to survive intact and look at the opulence and grandeur. When one went to the bank, everything about the place shouted out: this place is an important and dignified financial institution and by virtue of the fact that you have business here, you too are important and are part of something grand and wonderful. Now go into some modern banking lobby and, if you even notice your surroundings, try not to yawn.

Next time you are in New York City, go into Grand Central Station and notice that it is actually GRAND. Compare that experience with the blandness of today's typical airports. The best you can hope for in most airports is that they have at least a little more class and atmosphere than a typical public housing project.

The historically inspired architecture of the early 20th century may have been second handed in some respects. On the other hand, however, the craftsmanship, the attention to detail and concern for beauty was just wonderful and something that is all but lost in today's culture. Maybe aspects of it were second handed. But I will take second handed greatness over first hand mediocrity any day of the week.

To me, the best architectural movement was the "modernist" movement of the 1920s that we today look back on and call "art deco." The architecture of that era was simply spectacular. It had the all the style, grandeur, craftsmanship and attention to detail that the historically inspired architecture before it had - but it wasn't borrowed. It was highly imaginative and innovative. After World War II, everything in the popular culture started going to pot in a very big way, including architecture and totally jumped into the sewers of nihilism and mediocrity once the 1960s came around.

To illustrate what I am talking about with regard to 1920s -early 1930s architecture, here are some photographs I took this past April when I visited New York City for the Ayn Rand Centennial conference and for a couple of Radio Dismuke events. I consider all of these buildings to be outstanding and nothing that has been built since, in my opinion, even comes close.

chrysler.jpg

Chrysler Building

chryslerdetail.jpg

Chrysler Building detail

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Chrysler Building detail

chryslerdetail3.jpg

Chryslier Building detail

empire.jpg

Empire State Building

11madisonpark.jpg

11 Madison Park

11madisonparkdetail.jpg

11 Madison Park detail.

aig.jpg

Here is a building I only first noticed on my last trip to New York. It is the AIG Building and I fell for it the moment I saw it. Built between 1930 and 1932, it was the last jazz age skyscraper in the Wall Street area. It was originally called the Cities Service Building

aig2.jpg

AIG Building

aig3.jpg

AIG Building

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Ooops. I forgot that Invision Power Board has a default of 10 images per posting - and I picked out 12. Here are the final two - both of them showing ground floor details of the AIG Building in New York City.

aigdetail.jpg

AIG Building ground floor detail

aigdetail2.jpg

AIG Building ground floor detail

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In The Fountainhead the stylistic choices of Keating and Roark are largely arbitrary choices of Rand herself.  And of course, there were few specifics of Roark's style given in the first place other than vague generalities.  Extrapolation from The Fountainhead that neo-classical styles are somehow inferior would I think be a grave error.

Vladimir - I am afraid I disagree. I think Ayn Rand explained her views on architecture very well and in great detail through the character of Howard Roark and the things he argued for. For that reason, I don't think it is correct or fair to label her position "arbitrary." One may perhaps disagree with it - but that does not make it arbitrary.

Personally, I think Ayn Rand made a very convincing case for her position - and, trust me, I was a VERY hard sell on something like that. The reason I was a hard sell is because some of the same arguments that Roark made about his buildings were the same arguments that adults all my life had made to defend the bland and ugly 1970s garbage that I so thoroughly despised. But, ultimately, I came around - especially when it became clear that Roark was not opposed to ornamentation and beauty per se.

I have no doubt that Ayn Rand and I would have had some big differences of opinion with regard to taste in architecture. My understanding is that she enjoyed a lot of the art deco style architecture that I am very fond of - and on that we would have probably had common ground. On the other hand, I love a lot of the grand and opulent older historically inspired buildings as well. I fell in love with such buildings at an early age and they have always been a great value to me - and Ayn Rand's arguments in The Fountainhead, while I understand and mostly agree with the intellectual point she is making, it certainly did not cause me to fall out of love with the sort of buildings I have enjoyed all my life.

As to whether neo-classical styles are inferior - part of that depends on where one is coming from. To the degree that it is a matter of personal aesthetic preference, no, it does not necessarily follow that neo-classical building are inferior. But if one's standard is originality - well, then, yes, it would be simply because the style is NOT very original in today's context.

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The screen basically serves no practical function, it's purpose is merely decorative and sculptural.
Actually their site (along with other sites, the interview on the show I mentioned, and even my own post) identifies "the screen" as "a sunscreen that can be raised or lowered creating a unique moving sculpture." In other words, a function dictated by form was turned into a beautiful, moving sculpture-like, form. Unless you are claiming sunscreens do not serve any practical function, your assertion here is quite in error.
The standard of "beauty" I use is mine alone.
I didn't ask whose standard of beauty you were using. Ther was no reason to assume your standard was anyone else's but your own. I asked what standard of beauty you were using.

--

As to your statements about the Fountainhead, if you believe that Ms. Rand "provided no explanations whatsoever" concerning the issue, and that her stylistic choices between between Roark and Keating were "largely arbitrary" (!), I can only suggest a second, very careful reading of the novel (especially since her reasoning on the issue is an element of the theme of the novel).

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Vladimir - I am afraid I disagree.  I think Ayn Rand explained her views on architecture very well and in great detail through the character of Howard Roark and the things he argued for.  For that reason, I don't think it is correct or fair to label her position "arbitrary."  One may perhaps disagree with it - but that does not make it arbitrary.

The reason I called Roark's architectural position arbitrary is that the style of architecture he is in favor of is entirely dependant on the time period his character is set in and not on his essential values or character traits. Roark was a proponent of modern architecture, thus if the novel was set in the 1870s his character could be exactly the same and his architectural style would be different.

Perhaps "arbitrary" is a bad word to use in this context however. I better word I think would be "non-essential."

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What I'm still trying to figur out here is why originality is a virtue, automatically; this isn't stated anywhere, but it seems to be implied. Even Dismuke, who admits to liking historically-inspired buildings (just as I do) nevertheless seems to concede at least 'intellectual' superiority to original building, even if his heart is set on something else. Putting aside the philosophical implications of that dichotomy, I just don't see why something original for originality's sake is necessarily good. I like the skyscrapers on the one hand, but on the other I would love to see a building that explicitly aims for dignity -- a library, a museum, something like that -- adopt Classical elements in its architecture, and just because that's not 100% original, I don't see why it should be conceded that it is in any way second-handed.

A second-hand building with Classical elements would be something built by a man who didn't understand the historical relevance of those elements, and simply included them just to appear well-educated and knowledgeable in the eyes of others. Another man, one who includes the Classical elements because he has a profound education and sense of past, will undoubtedly want to have at least some traces of Classical architecture, to explicitly connect the modern world with the ancient, and underline the continuity between the two and the importance of understanding and preserving that.

There's no automatically bad style of architecture; that would be intrincisism. There are only people who misuse a style for bad ends.

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The reason I called Roark's architectural position arbitrary is that the style of architecture he is in favor of is entirely dependant on the time period his character is set in and not on his essential values or character traits.  Roark was a proponent of modern architecture, thus if the novel was set in the 1870s his character could be exactly the same and his architectural style would be different.

Perhaps "arbitrary" is a bad word to use in this context however.  I better word I think would be "non-essential."

Wow, I really really really really (no, really!!) disagree. Roark's entire approach to architecture was one of objectivity: WHY did prior architects make copies of copies of copies? WHY did classicists hold that there were only certain concrete rules of design that had been created centuries ago, and that was the apex of design? WHY did an architect need to design a house for the purpose of his client impressing his guests, who couldn't really care less about the client's house anyway? WHY did an architect need to be fawned over by critics?

Roark rejected all of these -- and more -- in favor of looking at architecture with his own eyes. He didn't subscribe to the idea of "form follows function" because it was trendy(!), but because of the principle of INTEGRITY.

I mean this is made so painstakingly clear over and over throughout the novel I thought it was a bit overdone, if anything. I don't know how someone can read The Fountainhead and not get that point.

Now if you don't like modern architecture, fine, but don't make the mistake of equating a preference for a particular style with a lack of objectivity. Roark makes very clear what he stands for and why, in architecture as in the rest of his life. If you want to argue that he was wrong in his reasoning, that he made some mistakes along the way, fine. But please don't claim that he didn't have reasons for his views.

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There's no automatically bad style of architecture; that would be intrincisism. There are only people who misuse a style for bad ends.

Would you say that of writing? What about a writer who couldn't communicate clearly, who made up words or threw together strings of words randomly?

If there are objective standards, then, yes, there are objectively bad styles. The critical issue is determining what those standards are within a given field, artistic or otherwise.

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The reason I called Roark's architectural position arbitrary is that the style of architecture he is in favor of is entirely dependant on the time period his character is set in and not on his essential values or character traits.  Roark was a proponent of modern architecture, thus if the novel was set in the 1870s his character could be exactly the same and his architectural style would be different.

Perhaps "arbitrary" is a bad word to use in this context however.  I better word I think would be "non-essential."

"Different" does not equal either "non-essential" nor "arbitrary". And, to have told the same story, with the same themes and ideas, an older architectural style could not have been selected. The style of Roark's buildings was quite essential to the story, regardless of the name used to identify that style at the time.

Again, if you consider Ms. Rand's choice of archetectural style to be "non-essential" to her story, I have to recommend a re-reading of the novel.

--

FC - independence is a virtue. Originality is an expression of that virtue. But, like all virtues, it is contextual. In other words, the mere fact that something is original - ie has not been done by someone else before - does not aoutomatically make the creation good as what it is. To use the example of art, merely being original doesnt necessarily mean it is a good work of art. And I don't believe anyone here has suggested otherwise.

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Now if you don't like modern architecture, fine, but don't make the mistake of equating a preference for a particular style with a lack of objectivity.  Roark makes very clear what he stands for and why, in architecture as in the rest of his life.  If you want to argue that he was wrong in his reasoning, that he made some mistakes along the way, fine.  But please don't claim that he didn't have reasons for his views.

My point is not that Roark was wrong with his reasoning, I think he has a perfectly reasonable view of architecture. My point is only that The Fountainhead is very vague as to actual styles of architecture.

Roark's buildings are only vaguely described. It is easy to understand the ethos behind their construction but not the actual construction or stylistic features. Ayn Rand was not an architect and obviously didn't have time to write a detailed view about architectural aethetics in a novel. She spent her time (quite rightly) in describing the essential philosophical issues rather than details about design or construction.

If you are an architect working on a building and are trying to decide how high to make the ceilings or what sort of trim to use you aren't going to find any concrete answers in the Fountainhead. You may find the book useful to form a concrete design philosophy but it is simply not a architectural textbook.

A good analogy would be to someone trying to use Atlas Shrugged as a blueprint for working on the metalurgy of railroad tracks or on electrical generators. It just doesn't make sense.

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The reason I called Roark's architectural position arbitrary is that the style of architecture he is in favor of is entirely dependant on the time period his character is set in and not on his essential values or character traits.  Roark was a proponent of modern architecture, thus if the novel was set in the 1870s his character could be exactly the same and his architectural style would be different.

Perhaps "arbitrary" is a bad word to use in this context however.  I better word I think would be "non-essential."

I think I kind of see your point. In other words, if Howard Roark had been born in the Renaissance, the style of buildings he would have built and which would have been considered innovative and original would have been very different stylistically than the buildings presented in The Fountainhead. And, of course, the Howard Roark of the 1920s and 1930s would have been very much opposed to the Peter Keatings of the world making second hand imitations of the buildings of the Renaissance era Roark. And, in the same way, a contemporary Howard Roark would be opposed to making imitations of the Roark that Ayn Rand wrote about.

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Vladimir - What was Roark's "perfectly reasonable view of architecture"? What "essential philosophical issues" related to architecture did Ms. Rand not include in that view? Why does one need to understand the details about the "actual construction" or the details about the "specific stylistic features" in order to understand the difference aesthetically between good and bad architectural styles?

For instance, why does one need to understand the difference between the stylistic features of various Greek columns or how they are constructed in order to understand whether a style of architecture which uses Greek columns in skyscrapers is aesthetically good or bad?

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My point is not that Roark was wrong with his reasoning, I think he has a perfectly reasonable view of architecture.  My point is only that The Fountainhead is very vague as to actual styles of architecture. 

That is because "style" didn't matter. The purpose of Roark's architecture, unlike that of other architects, was not to conform to or express a "style" but to create a functional, beautiful building to meet the needs of his client.

As the great and very Roark-like John Lautner said:

I don’t believe the essence of Architecture has much to do with the techniques or styles or rationales of the moment. (Architecture occurs all thru the ages and still is Architecture.) I think we must more than ever seek and continually search for the real ideals and bases of Architecture – as Human Guides to wade through the morass of pressures to regiment – to expedite etc. The world’s richest nation should be able to produce a free – beautiful – Architecture for individuals – for people – to daily increase the Joy in life.

http://www.johnlautner.org/ownwords.html

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