summer SUSTAINABILITY course in session!

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Before we start, I want to thank you for your thoughtful questions posted at the homework community.  If you haven’t done this yet, please do!  I will plan to answer one question at the end of each lesson.  It really helps me understand where you all are in your current appreciation of architecture.

First.  What is architecture, anyway?  And how is it different from regular buildings?  

Ack.  You might as well ask “what is art”?  It is a philosophical question, and you’d likely get a different answer from as many people as you ask.  Let’s look at Samuel Johnson's 1755 definition. :)

He says architecture is “the art or science of building.”  (yes, that lovely "f" is an "s.")

I think most architects today would amend that to be the art AND science of building, together.  It is not just art and it is not just science/engineering.  It melds the two.  Regular buildings are typically utilitarian, meaning they meet a set of requirements, but are not considered to be works of art.  There is often (quite silly) disagreement as to exactly which buildings meet the requirements of being true architecture.
Johnson’s definition should suffice for now, but if you want more, look here.

Low-brow moment: since I can't mention Samuel Johnson, the first English-
language dictionary writer, without thinking of this clip, I'll include it.
Yup, that's Hugh Laurie (Dr. House) as the idiotic Prince Regent, 
Rowan Atkinson (the often monosyllabic Mr. Bean) as Edmund Blackadder, 
butler to the prince, and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) 
as Dr. Samuel Johnson (Black Adder the Third, 1987).  
You're welcome.
And yes, I'm perfectly aware that the dictionary was published in 1755, 
before the Prince Regent was even born.  Still funny.  

Is there a LEGAL definition of architecture vs. not architecture?  Not that I'm aware of.  However, the definition of ART has been a legal subject since 1877(scroll down to the bottom of the post where it says "P.S. Time Spent = Value")

Second.  Why should we care what other people call architecture?

We shouldn’t, really, unless we publish architecture magazines or care about having "correct" opinions.
We’ll use our own eyes (and other various senses) to decide what makes the grade as architecture.

House in Acadian Village in Lafayette, Louisiana
Image courtesy of ciamabue via Flickr.
Porches to sit on when it's too hot inside, generous attics
to vent out the captured hot air, raised off the ground to
accommodate regular heavy rains, made of local cypress
wood, which weathers better than non-local woods.
Well done, vernacular architecture!

Third.  Don’t discount ordinary buildings by ordinary people

It is my personal opinion that some of the best architecture in the world is not created by architects.  Vernacular Architecture is a relatively new field of study in architecture schools, because it's only recently that schools have deemed them worth studying.

I certainly never appreciated the vernacular architecture where I grew up!  I adore it now.  Nothing like it anywhere else.  And its genius is not from the brain of one stodgy old fellow.  Its genius descends with the generations to fit its climate and the needs of its people.  SUPER COOL.

Homework #001

Homework #001A: SHOW OFF YOUR TASTE:

  • List the 2 COOLEST/2 DUMBEST buildings near your home; and, 
  • the 2 COOLEST/2 DUMBEST buildings anywhere in the world.  
  • Finally, in honor of Mardi Gras on Tuesday, 1 CRAZIEST building.

(That's nine buildings, in case your math is rusty.)
Give a one-sentence explanation as to why you chose each one. Just one sentence, so edit every word carefully to communicate concisely.

Homework #001B: FIELD TRIP:
VISIT at least one of these buildings and get a tour if possible (tour tips here).  Report back some thoughts on your experience including at least three photos.
Note: Feel free to reminisce this part of the assignment if you've been moved by a "field trip" in the past (still want the pictures, though!)

Reminder: please post all homework on our Google+ discussion board (membership by invitation only).

This Week's Q&A #001:

“Shelter Primitive, Landon Bay, Gananoque”

Image courtesy of awaqas1 via Flickr.

Clarissa: "What about roofs angle, flat, glass.....no roof! Do we really need them?"

Ally: One of the earliest functions of buildings/shelters is to keep the rain/snow off our heads.  A semi-permanent umbrella, if you will.  So YES, needed.

“Windsor Castle courtyard at Pipe Springs” Arizona,
North of the Grand Canyon.
Image courtesy of GSEC via Flickr
However, if you live in a desert with very little precipitation, a roof is less important than walls which would protect you from wind-driven sand storms.  You may notice that open-roofed courtyards are very popular in dry, warm climates. Courtyards are also better than backyards in terms of protection from scary people or animals.

Sloped roofs are particularly efficient at shedding water and snow.

Roofs keep off the water, but if that water puddles instead of shedding, there is a greater possibility for leakage.  If snow does not shed, it may thaw and refreeze, getting under shingles and forming ice dams (read: leaking).
This is why most traditional roofs are pitched/sloped roofs and not flat.

Flat roofs are not exactly flat.  They have a slope, just a gentle one.  Flat roofs can be easier to build over short distances.
“Roof Garden on Fifth Ave:
Spiderman rescued his girlfriend here.”
Image courtesy of WalkingGeek via Flickr.

Modern flat roofs have complex internal and external draining systems to shed water and keep them from leaking.
Flat roofs are especially handy when building very large buildings.  Can you imagine a Walmart with a pitched roof?

My favorite part?  Flat roofs can also be inhabitable (party on the roooof!) and expand the living area, especially in cities where ground-level decks/yards/gardens are not possible.  Plus, they have a view.

“Glass roof, The Arcade, Dewsbury”
Image courtesy of Tim Green aka atoach
via Flickr.
Glass roofs are still rather in the prototype stage (even after 150 years). What I mean by that is that they often leak and require additional maintenance to remain leak-free.... thereby failing in the number one point of a roof.
However, they're super cool!  They bring in loads of daylight and can connect to the outside in ways opaque roofs can only dream of.
Just be warned: ignore the maintenance and you'll be setting out buckets to catch the leaks.


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