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Old 08-18-2008, 01:02 PM   #1
ablarc
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A Very Good Year

MCMXXIX.

It was a very good year.



To celebrate a year of superlatives, the Boston Society of Architects put out a yearbook.

In it, you could find photos of that year?s local triumphs, such as what reigns to this day as the world?s handsomest garage:


Motor Mart.

Under construction, the Empire State Building was all the rage. It spawned stumpy little knock-offs, such as the world?s smallest skyscraper:


Granite Trust, Quincy.

Or the world?s most ambitious-looking department store:


Sears Roebuck, now Landmark Center. This went from department store to department store, though since the departments are now owned by diverse chains, it?s called a shopping center.

Some of these masterpieces were still under construction, so the BSA showed them in renderings. The renderer soft-pedaled this building?s most interesting feature ?the acute angle of its nearest corner:



But the real action then, as now, was in New York, so the Boston Society?s yearbook printed a hefty selection of that year?s blockbusters from Gotham. Like Boston?s stumps seen in a funhouse mirror, New York?s towers impressed with their slenderness. Truly they soared:


Irving Trust.


Panhellenic (now Beekman) Tower.


Barclay-Vesey Building, damaged 9/11/2001, but since restored.

1929?s skyscrapers were pretty slender in Chicago too:



It was the apogee of the Deco style. Never have modern buildings been so sumptuously ornamented. Three New York entrances from 1929:






Chanin Building.

Deco ornament extended to interiors. It was the last great age of craftsmanship







Waiting in the wings were the killjoys. After the Depression came and went, new (and even some old) buildings were stripped bare by the puritanical strictures of Bauhaus Modernism ?cagily re-branded as ?The International Style?. The true visionaries were 1929?s dreamers, who ?inspired by Hugh Ferriss?concocted vast confections for their future city:



This one must have been seen by Cesar Pelli. He recycled the basic design for Hong Kong, Jersey City and Charlotte:



Boston?s own visionary, Harold Kellogg, produced an apparition of unfathomable vastness with his deceptively small Batterymarch Building, Boston?s greatest from this era:


To see how much Kellogg?s renderer missed the point, compare the photo above with this post's first image.

.

Last edited by ablarc; 08-18-2008 at 04:21 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 08-18-2008, 03:51 PM   #2
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Re: A Very Good Year

I always love looking at old Art Deco renderings. Even the drawings were thought of as an art form. Today all you get is some fuzzy box run through a few Photoshop filters.

My question, though, probes deeper than just aesthetics. What happened in society that made them stop valuing the grand, powerful ideals behind Art Deco? There is a sense when you look at the design from the time that this was the pinnacle of humanity. Art Deco is the last time craftsmanship was seen as a virtue.

Then modernity came along and everything had to be about mass production. Individuality and craftsmanship were thrown away to be replaced by the "new", the constant regeneration of discarding of products. Something in society turned people into consumers and the shift is evident in the way we build. After all, what are buildings and cities if not mans highest form of self reflection?
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Old 08-18-2008, 05:11 PM   #3
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Re: A Very Good Year

Quote:
Originally Posted by vanshnookenraggen View Post
I always love looking at old Art Deco renderings. Even the drawings were thought of as an art form. Today all you get is some fuzzy box run through a few Photoshop filters.

My question, though, probes deeper than just aesthetics. What happened in society that made them stop valuing the grand, powerful ideals behind Art Deco? There is a sense when you look at the design from the time that this was the pinnacle of humanity. Art Deco is the last time craftsmanship was seen as a virtue.

Then modernity came along and everything had to be about mass production. Individuality and craftsmanship were thrown away to be replaced by the "new", the constant regeneration of discarding of products. Something in society turned people into consumers and the shift is evident in the way we build. After all, what are buildings and cities if not mans highest form of self reflection?
You could make a career out of the history of the disposable mindset.... but I think some contemporary design is countering alot of these points. Craftsmanship and detailing are not necessarily the same as ornamentation, and as such I could cite much current work that is as focused on quality as any art deco building.

As far as the "grand, powerful ideals" of Art Deco, there is an obvious lineage between that and International Style, Bauhaus, etc. Today's precious objects of architecture probably tend towards the humble, and we could read into that in light of our societal wakening of the last ten years in terms of our disposable lifestyles. Certainly not all contemporary architecture is humble, and before someone throws Gehry at me I will say that his work is about that last that comes to mind when I think about quality detailing and craftsmanship.
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Old 08-18-2008, 07:24 PM   #4
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Re: A Very Good Year

Then modernity came along and everything had to be about mass production.


It was called WWII! Changed about everything!
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Old 08-18-2008, 08:01 PM   #5
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Re: A Very Good Year

And then PoMo came around and destroyed cityscapes everywhere.
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Old 08-18-2008, 09:27 PM   #6
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Re: A Very Good Year

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You could make a career out of the history of the disposable mindset.... but I think some contemporary design is countering alot of these points. Craftsmanship and detailing are not necessarily the same as ornamentation, and as such I could cite much current work that is as focused on quality as any art deco building.
I could cite some too, but I couldn't cite too many. Herzog and DeMeuron's building in SoHo comes to mind and maybe --just maybe-- Foster's Hearst Building. You might want to add Stern's 15 Central Park West, but after that the list thins out. And did you notice the examples are mostly in New York? Can you identify even a single Boston example?

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As far as the "grand, powerful ideals" of Art Deco, there is an obvious lineage between that and International Style, Bauhaus, etc.
Bauhaus directed plenty of enmity at Deco. For evidence of that, read Johnson's International Style catalog he compiled for MoMa back in the Thirties. He reluctantly included Hood's McGraw-Hill Building but heavily dissed the crown that made it Deco. He also put it down for not being white. Gropius loathed ornament of every kind. That was partly because it takes artistic talent to conceive, and Gropius couldn't draw.

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Today's precious objects of architecture probably tend towards the humble, and we could read into that in light of our societal wakening of the last ten years in terms of our disposable lifestyles.
Haven't any idea what you mean by this.
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Old 08-18-2008, 09:58 PM   #7
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Re: A Very Good Year

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And then PoMo came around and destroyed cityscapes everywhere.
It was Modernism that destroyed the cityscapes because it was philosophically anti-urban. It insisted on buildings as sculptural objects seen in the round, and you can't make a city all of such objects (though you can make a dandy suburb).

In a city, buildings generally have one facade and define space with streetwalls, while in the suburbs, space swirls about buildings treated as objects in the round. City Hall and its plaza, the Congress Street Garage, all of Charles River Park, Harbor Towers, the Aquarium, the Carpenter Center, William James Hall, the Harvard Science Center, the Waterfront Marriott: these are all Modernist buildings, they are all suburban, they're sculptural, and they have ruined much of the city.

Though you may heap withering contempt onto the inept stylistic floundering of Post Modernism, at least it rediscovered the unvarying components of building in a city: defining space with a streetwall, ground floor retail, and providing a little eye candy to engage the passerby. Not much, but urbanistically better than what came before.

Projects like the Christian Science Center and the Holyoke Center are hybrids: Corbusian architectural vocabulary grafted onto traditional urban building paradigms. It's not too much of a stretch to recognize them as early examples of Post Modernism --though their creators would feel compelled to deny it (if they were alive or still mentally alert, that is).
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Old 08-18-2008, 10:36 PM   #8
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Re: A Very Good Year

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Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
I could cite some too, but I couldn't cite too many. Herzog and DeMeuron's building in SoHo comes to mind and maybe --just maybe-- Foster's Hearst Building. You might want to add Stern's 15 Central Park West, but after that the list thins out. And did you notice the examples are mostly in New York? Can you identify even a single Boston example?
Macallen, Big Dig House, the northpoint buildings seem to be from the outside, I have not toured them.


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Bauhaus directed plenty of enmity at Deco.... Gropius loathed ornament of every kind.
The modernists inherited the hubris of the Art Deco, they just stripped it of limestone flower petals. I was just countering the argument that somehow man lost his lofty ideals after Art Deco.

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Haven't any idea what you mean by this.
What I'm saying is flip through a copy of El Croquis or any heavily fetishized publication of late and you may see something of a mass return [?] to the elegance and quality that the original poster sees in Art Deco, minus the panache.
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Old 08-18-2008, 11:01 PM   #9
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Re: A Very Good Year

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Macallen, Big Dig House, the northpoint buildings seem to be from the outside, I have not toured them.
We have our bars set at different heights.

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The modernists inherited the hubris of the Art Deco...
Hubris? What hubris?

Quote:
I was just countering the argument that somehow man lost his lofty ideals after Art Deco.
Fair enough, I thought that a tad fishy too. But what does that have to do with hubris?

Quote:
What I'm saying is flip through a copy of El Croquis or any heavily fetishized publication of late and you may see something of a mass return [?] to the elegance and quality that the original poster sees in Art Deco, minus the panache.
You mean they're back to doing limestone petals?
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Old 08-18-2008, 11:15 PM   #10
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Re: A Very Good Year

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Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
Hubris? What hubris?




etc

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You mean they're back to doing limestone petals?
I guess you nailed it when you said we have the quality bar at different levels... Since the US is pretty well wrung dry of cheap, immigrant stonecutters I don't foresee us getting back above your bar (though China has that economy I think). My bar is at quality, sustainable materials put together in a compelling, durable and smart manner.
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Old 08-19-2008, 06:33 AM   #11
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Re: A Very Good Year

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I guess you nailed it when you said we have the quality bar at different levels... Since the US is pretty well wrung dry of cheap, immigrant stonecutters I don't foresee us getting back above your bar (though China has that economy I think).
It?s alive and quite well in New York, where rich people can afford it and astute developers are willing to invest the money to give it to them:

http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=8447

http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=4892

It?s also alive and well in many parts of high-wage Europe. Every building by Quinlan Terry is an example.

And don?t forget projects like Whitman College at Princeton:

http://www.archboston.org/community/...hlight=whitman

Quote:
My bar is at quality, sustainable materials put together in a compelling, durable and smart manner.
Such very general goals remind me to put in a plug for peace in our time and a cure for disease.

Actually, if you flesh out your statement and illustrate with some examples I?ll probably understand your point well enough to agree with you.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:19 PM   #12
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Re: A Very Good Year

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It was called WWII! Changed about everything!
Most of all the class structure. Grandiose, ornamental architecture has always been the product of stratified societies. The highest "quality" buildings - ancient temples, medieval churches, landed estates - were built in times and places where wealth was seriously stratified. The rise of the bourgeoisie coincided with a gradual cheapening of architecture. First came the acceptance of brick as a quality building material for the burghers of London and Amsterdam - something which had previously been, for the most part, a serious taboo. Ruskinesque Victoriana was ornate, but only by today's standards; the details and motifs tended to be mass-produced to some extent, and were hardly comparable to the tympana of the French Gothic. With WWII and the Quonset Hut came architecture that could be built to quickly meet the budgets of the masses.

This is too structural a view, of course. To really plunge into this subject in depth we would need to construct a parallel intellectual history of aesthetics and what people like Gropius, for example, were reacting against. And let's not forget how aesthetics become intertwined with politics, the "international style" playing a major role in the early Cold War. Still, all of that is a "top-down" perspective on the history of architecture. The cheap, stripped-of-detail terrace house and tenement were staples of the Western city long before the Bauhaus was even a twinkle in some German babies' eyes.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:23 PM   #13
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Re: A Very Good Year

Oh, and I feel obliged to point out that 1929 was an extraordinary year - until October. The financial bubble of the 20s helped preserve some ideas that would have otherwise long fell prey to post-WWI literary and artistic currents. So we see the ability of elite Britain to retain its imperialist ideology, and strengthen support for it by co-opting media like radio and film to ensure the support of the masses in its African "missions civilisatrices". Likewise, thee is a dialectic of art - the co-optation of modernism's "sharpness", to use TS Eliot's term by the oligarchs of ornament - the elites whose fortunes (and fashions) were not wiped out until they fell prey to Depression and War.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:32 PM   #14
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Re: A Very Good Year

The best things cost more now, as ever. They're still the best even if only some of us can own them. Have you sat in a Bentley Continental?

The Commies said: "Let's not have anything really top notch." But then they couldn't resist making the Chaika for a few special people.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:47 PM   #15
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Re: A Very Good Year

I see your point - distribution hasn't entirely canceled out quality. Of course, I'm not sure the car example is very apt - one wonders what sort of car the pharoahs would have been able to drive, as even the Bentley is the product of an industry founded on the principle of mass production.

To take a better one (for this forum) - there are still Hindu temples being carved out of stone by hand and being set up outside London. I think one would be hard pressed to find this sort of effort dedicated to anything that wasn't built with some "special," extra-pecuniary motivation, though. Even the best latest effort at a "high quality" commercial building - Stern's Central Park tower - cuts way more corners than even the most average art deco skyscraper. And let's not start with Prince Charles' Potemkin villages - pebbles in the sand compared to the monumental structures you exhibit at the top of this thread.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:47 PM   #16
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Re: A Very Good Year

Here's what I wrote on this topin in a previous thread:
Art Deco is considered the last of the "historical" styles. You can have any architectural element and make it Art Deco--arches, columns, lintels, cornices, there's even an Art Deco cupola near my old apartment in Somerville. Modernism revolutionarily swept away all the accumulated ?rules? of architecture: the need for arches, lintels, cornices, ornamentation, etc. To appreciate City Hall, for example, you have to see that it has done away with all traditional architectural elements, much like how in modernist music you have to be aware of the notes that are NOT being played; the windows don?t have lintels, there is no cornice, no obvious doorway, no arches, cupolas, towers, spires, domes? It is really quite awesome how the early modernists swept away all the accumulated knowledge of the centuries and started from scratch. Modernism?s European roots were looking for a completely fresh start, after several devastating world wars the past was too painful and it seemed like the past needed to be abandoned. (One of the reason I think modernism was more popularly accepted in Europe was that America did not see the past as tragic, having heroically come out unharmed and on top of the heap. (If the Bauhaus refugees had stayed in Germany I wonder how American architecture would have developed).) Of course, this also paints you into a corner and fairly quickly these elements began to creep back in unless you?re going to be making Bauhaus white boxes forever. The Newton public library has a modernist cupola on it for example. But now modernism has accumulated its own set of stifling dogmas that need to rebelled against. Among them:
1. No ornamentation
2. Sleek and smooth surfaces
3. Modern materials
4. Sculpturalism
5. Structuralism
6. Mono-stylism (the view that only modern style is appropriate as opposed to, say, Beaux Art which was free to choose among many styles)
7. Iconoclastism
Modernists thought that they had killed history once and for all, but future historians will laugh at the pretensions of modernism and see it as simply the chapter between Art Deco and whatever comes next. We have already thrown away all of the modernist urban planning ideas--towers in the park, no mixed use, no ground floor retail--all that's left is to get back on the historical style parade. Actually, all that's left is to see that we never left the parade and that modernism is just another float in that parade, despite its pretensions otherwise. The problem is that it has been holding up the next float for far too long.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:48 PM   #17
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Re: A Very Good Year

Modernist 1890's or so: We'll reject the lifestyle of the wealthy bourgeoisie and the crimes of their ornament with our clean lines and simple style.

Modernist 2008: Come check out my cool $130,000 kitchen!

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Old 08-19-2008, 12:49 PM   #18
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Re: A Very Good Year

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But now modernism has accumulated its own set of stifling dogmas that need to rebelled against.
When is now? 1987? Modernism has been beaten up enough in the last twenty years; this is why UNESCO is now rushing to protect the Bauhaus from the wrecking ball.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:50 PM   #19
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Re: A Very Good Year

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Modernist 2008: Come check out my cool $130,000 kitchen!
It's to modernism what a woodframe French Provincial McMansion in the St. Louis suburbs is to traditionalism.
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Old 08-19-2008, 12:57 PM   #20
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Re: A Very Good Year

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When is now? 1987? Modernism has been beaten up enough in the last twenty years; this is why UNESCO is now rushing to protect the Bauhaus from the wrecking ball.
Make It New.
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