summer SUSTAINABILITY course in session!

Monday, March 24, 2014


You Can Just Tell

If a building has no signage*, can you still tell whether it is a home or a bank, a school or an office, a warehouse or a shop, a church or a cafe?  Probably.  And it's not just because you can see in the windows.
*(or perhaps just signage in a language you cannot read)

Well, Most of the Time

There are exceptions, of course.
loft conversion of warehouse with shops below, Wichita
Image courtesy of ercwttmn via Flickr

Conversions:  Sometimes a house has been converted into a beauty salon (there are dozens of those down the street from me) or a warehouse has been converted into lofts.

Errors: Some buildings are just ambiguous. One might kinda look like an ice cream shop but actually be an underwear shop.  A house might be so enormous and poorly scaled/proportioned to actually be a house... what is it then?  Oops.
guess what type of building this is in Copenhagen
Image courtesy of EuroMagic via Flickr.

Deliberately Atypical:  I discovered a complex of buildings today in suburban Salt Lake that mimicked lodges from the Swiss alps.  Except it was the headquarters (office) for a company called Black Diamond.  Black diamond is what you call a difficult ski slope, so you see where the choice of building type came from.

Defiance:  Some fabulous buildings and some 100% boring buildings are no type at all.  Good luck with that.

Back to Type & Typology

What does TYPE really mean?  Type is partially about what buildings or fishes or musics have in common, but it's also about an ideal or symbol: what would the perfect house-salmon-punkrocksong be like?

There's a pretty good paper on architectural type here, but it's a bit academic, so I'd skip it.

Typology is a pretty simple: it's when you bother to categorize things into types. (plus, it's a bigger word, so you can sound smarter)

Just so we're clear, I'm not generally a fan of categorization when it comes to artistic stuff or human beings.  If a building doesn't fit neatly in a box, that DOES NOT mean that
    (a) the building is irrelevant; nor that
    (b) having boxes to help us understand the "language" of architecture is silly.

Some Building Types

note: OF COURSE I'm simplifying and generalizing... that's the whole point.

Single Family House Type

"a backyard setting"
Image courtesy of DannonL via Flickr
This is exactly what it sounds like (a house for one* family).  And you all know what it looks like: a gable on front with a few steps, maybe a four-square window or two, a very visible front door and a prominent chimney.
How many people actually have a house like that?  Few today, I'd imagine.  And yet, that's what we think of when we say "house."
*duplexes, condos and apartments are called by architecture folk "multifamily housing"

Bank Type

Merchants' National Bank, Grinell Iowa by Louis Sullivan
Image courtesy of kiszka king via Flickr
You know what building type I hate?  Modern, drive-thru banks.  Hate 'em.  No effort to even TRY to look interesting or nice.

And the reason that bothers me so much is that banks used to be SOLID like Gringotts (though not as massive). They used to show--through the architecture--that you could trust them to take good care of your money.  The building needed to look strong (to ward off robbers) and upscale (to prove that they had their own money to spend).  A bit of intimidation didn't hurt, either.

Frank Lloyd Wright (most famous American architect ever) had a teacher.  Wright was so impressed by his work that he called him "Leiber Meister" (My Master).  His name was Louis Sullivan, and boy, could he do banks!  Many of his banks were small town (with not as much money to spend as they would like), making the job even more difficult.  The shape he preferred for these banks was almost cube-like.  What's more solid than that?
"Solomon dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem"
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Temple Type

I spent several years on a paper exploring the idea of type and typology as it relates to the idea of a Temple.  In Judeo-Christian tradition, before the Temples were built there was the precedence of an altar on top of a mountain and a tabernacle carried around the wilderness.

How should a temple be different from a church (architecturally speaking)?  Churches are all about gathering, fellowshipping, singing.  A temple is a completely different animal, all mystery, sacrifice, and power.

Shop Type

The two major thing shops need are glass shop windows (to show off their stuff) and visibility, which ends up being the same thing as advertisement.  They figure by the time they have you inside, their work is done!  You will be entranced by their magical goods and buy some.  :)
shop window with masks
Image courtesy of anniejay via Flickr

Office Type

Offices are typically quite protected from view.  They might have a visible entrance, but then you have the bouncer *cough* *cough* receptionist that keeps the riff raff from getting in to see the boss or anyone else.

The windows are ideally not transparent, because no one wants to be caught not working by some passerby who might actually be the boss.  Besides, businesses have such TOP SECRET business they're always doing and ideas that they don't want anyone else to steal.  So, locked up tight with windows that you can see out of, but not into.

School Type

Greenfield Village school, Michigan
Image courtesy of roger4336 via Flickr
Ah, schools!  We've gone from

  1. the one-room red schoolhouse with the bell (which is still iconic) to 
  2. large buildings with multiple classrooms with an unending array of windows to concrete block schools with very few windows ("can't have anyone daydreaming or seeing the sunshine: it stunts learning!") and 
  3. back again to schools that are so heavily daylit ("daylighting magnifies learning and improves test scores!" and we're obviously all about test scores) that there's a ton of glare on the technology screens causing headaches.  
  4. Back to the drawing board.

One More Type: Public Buildings

Libraries, capitols, courthouses --castles even-- most buildings built by governments are called civic architecture.  And each of these have their own typology.

I'm sure you're getting the picture, so I'm going to stop there.  As you go about your business this week, see if you can tell what TYPE of buildings you're looking at without checking the signs.



1.    If you're already behind on homework, make it up when you can.  As indicated in the schoolhouse rules, the discussion is best if we're all doing it at the same time.  However, better late than never!

2.   These homework assignments might take anywhere from 10 minutes to 3 days* to complete: it just depends on how much time/effort you have to put into it.
*A wonderful exercise we did in a drawing class was to sit in front of a building and spend 90 minutes drawing it.  After a short break (because sitting on the sidewalk is hard), we turned the page and started over, spending only 45 minutes on the same view.  Then 20 minutes, then 10, then 5, then 2.  
The clincher: some of the best drawings were the two minute drawings.  If you've only got a few minutes to do the homework, do it quickly with urgency!  Some would say the two minute drawings could only be good because of the time put in on the previous drawings.  I'm not sure of that.

3.    I am well aware that some of this homework takes a few days before you can start (pick the film, find the film, watch the film, report on the film).  Again, get to it when you can and don't worry about being late.
"pigeon with a question mark above his head"
Image courtesy of Orin Zebest via Flickr

4.    MOST OF THE LEARNING from this/any course will happen in the HOMEWORK as you find answers for yourselves.  No one ever became educated by being spoon-fed!  The MOST that lectures and textbooks can do for you is point you in a direction of inquiry.

5.    If you are confused about a lecture or an assignment, please leave a comment on the lesson page, so I can post a clarification.  I'm just an architect, and this is my first time teaching a class, so help me out here! (Oh, and there are absolutely no stupid questions.)  You can also leave a comment just to tell me how I'm doing.  :)

5.    Finally, if you are posting homework late, please start a new post (rather than responding to an old one) with the homework number so that we can all see it!

Homework #004A: trace a part of the Nolli map

One of the coolest city maps of all time, Giambattista Nolli's map of Rome, was finished in 1743.

He did it in black and white.  The buildings are black and the streets and plazas ("piazzas" in Italian) are white with one exception: when there was a civic building (including churches, because this is Rome after all), he drew the floor plan of the building in black, leaving large open areas (like the interior of the church) white.  Agricultural areas are lightly hatched in rather than solidly black or white.
A closeup of the area near the Campo di Fiore (the "Field of
Flowers," where the flower/farmer market occurs every morning).
The building in the bottom left corner is the Palazzo Farnese,
the city palace of the Farnese family (with its piazza in front).
The Teatro di Pompeo (Theater of Pompey) entrance was
located at that very unassuming triangularish shape near the
eight of "638."  That's where Brutus knifed Caesar.

You used to have to go to Rome to see it, but you guys can check it out online here.

  1. Click on the square that says "Launch Map Engine."
  2. Zoom in until you've got only 4 or 5 blocks on your screen.  If you like, zoom in on something you've heard of or visited like the Campodoglio, the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, San Pietro (Saint Peter's Cathedral) or the Parthenon.
  3. Print it out and lay a layer of transparent tracing paper over it and tape it down at the corners to secure it.
  4. Trace over the shapes (ignore the numbers) that indicate buildings and open areas.

Homework #004B Followup Questions:

  1. What was Nolli trying to communicate about the city of Rome by drawing a map in this striking way?  Another way to ask the same question: every map is trying to say something... what is this one saying?
  2. If you made a "Nolli" map of your neighborhood, what would it look like?  Overlay tracing paper over your neighborhood map (from last week) and focusing just on both sides of your street, fill in the areas that would be black vs. the areas that would be white.  If you live in the suburbs, this should take all of 30 seconds.

This Week's Q&A #004

Clarissa:  Why did the Egyptians build Pyramids instead of cubes or any other shape?

pyramids at Giza
Image courtesy of jay8085 via Flickr
Ally: The current wisdom (via Vincent Scully, Architecture: The Natural and the Manmade) asserts that it was the concept of the sacred mountain: that people worshipped mountains thousands of years ago and they couldn't think of any shape more permanent for the pharoh's eternal resting place than the mountain.
Then they took that shape, idealized it and started building.
Not everyone agrees with that rather poetic thesis.

Remember that they were built around 3200BC.  They were more than 3000 years old when Cleopatra succumbed to her pet asp 2000 years ago.  Think about that!
Because of their antiquity, I'm not thinking we're going to get much clarity beyond theory; but as we seem to delight in the mystery, who cares!

Parthenon, Athens, Greece
Image courtesy of simon_music via Flickr
Just for fun.....if YOU, Ms. Prehistoric Egyptian, were wanting to build an enormous Platonic solid, let's look at the options:

  • cube.  The biggest problem here is the roof.  How are you going to get beams that can support a huge roof?  The Greeks solved this 2700 years later with a ton of columns in the middle so that the beams could be made of stone and not have to span too far.
Montréal Biosphère by Buckminster Fuller, 1967
Image courtesy of cphoffman42 via Flickr
  • sphere/dodecahedron. Again, how do you build it?  People who build out of stone don't typically do much cantilevering (without support from below).  Spheres weren't really figured out until Bucky Fuller advanced the geodesic dome (think Epcot Center) in the 1940s.... and he didn't build them out of stone.
  • subsidiary pyramid at Giza
    Image courtesy of HannahPethen via Flickr
  • pyramid.  It's a pile, like a pile of sand.  A pile has got to be the simplest structure in the world to build out of stone simply because you're never worried about its structural integrity.  That thing isn't going anywhere.  

Remember, this is at a time when nothing enormous had been built and the only knowledge of building materials and their strengths was for small homes.

FURTHERMORE, we don't know how many different shapes they tried and failed before choosing the pyramid shape.

Most of what we know about the limitations of building materials comes from structural failures!


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