100 Years of Architecture 28.09.16

  • Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight, England (1911–12) by Dom. Paul Bellot: After studying at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Bellot joined the Benedictine order, becoming a member of the exiled French community of 100 at Quarr in 1901. From there, he designed and built a monastery in the Netherlands, before embarking on his only English work in a similar style of athletic, undecorated brick Gothic, with the dramatic interlaced vault over the sanctuary. In a long career, Bellot built abbeys and parish churches in Belgium, Canada, France and Portugal.

  • Hilversum Town Hall, The Netherlands (1928–31) by Willem Marinus Dudok: As municipal architect for the Dutch city of Hilversum, Dudok was responsible for city expansion, as well as designing houses, estates, swimming pools, parks and gardens; the city’s town hall is his masterpiece. Heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Praire Houses, with its strong horizontal lines and monumental tower, the building consists of two squares, an inner courtyard surrounded by offices and a second courtyard surrounded by lower ranges. The mixture of voids and solid forms is unified by the skin of yellow brick, which wraps around the different components.

  • St Fronleichnam, Aachen, Germany (1929–30) by Rudolf Schwarz: Admired by Mies van der Rohe, Schwarz was nonetheless a severe critic of the Bauhaus. He shared Dominikus Böhm’s community-based liturgical thinking, and abstracted his church buildings to the simplest elements to intensify the qualities of structure, light and space, seen in the great white box at Aachen. After decades of relative neglect, Schwarz’s achievement as designer and theorist is now seen as an important alternative strand in architectural history.

  • The Woodland Crematorium, Skogskyrkogården, Stockholm (1935–40) by Erik Gunnar Asplund; sculpture by John Lundqvist: Between Stockholm Public Library and his Woodland Crematorium, Asplund travelled into modernism and then part way back. Visitors approaching up a gentle hill see the portico against the sky and the path leads them under it, where the roof opens to the sky and the figure group by Lundqvist introduces the ides of resurrection. Thus the idea of the impluvium from Roman houses returns in a new context, acting as a pivot to turn you leftwards to enter the crematorium, with its stone floor sloping downhill, exquisitely furnished with specially designed lighting

  • Torre Velasca, Milan (1956–58) by BBPR: In Italy, the presence of the past inflected post-war architecture, not, as in the Fascist period, by classical references, but through a desire to fit into the historical urban fabric and enrich the limited language of technology-based modernism from what was around. BBPR was a leading Milan firm that often outraged the movement’s guardians but now seem to have been ahead of the trend of seeking to reinforce the particular character of places. The Torre Velasca, sited way from the main streets, is the anititype of the Seagram Building.

  • Berlin Philharmonie (1956–63) by Hans Scharoun: Scharoun survived in Germany to enjoy a creative post-war career, including the Philharmonie and the library in the new Kulturforum, close to the line of the Berlin Wall. His competition design for the Philharmonie, placing the orchestra in the middle of ‘vine terraces’ of seating, beneath the convex curves of the roof, was judged by the conductor Herbert von Karajan to be acoustically excellent and suitable to the resident orchestra’s style. The many stairs and routes to the seating through the auditorium provide a spectacle during intervals and make wayfinding surprisingly easy.

  • Hedmark Museum, Hamar, Norway (1967–2005) by Sverre Fehn: Sverre Fehn worked in a manner similar to Scarpa’s interventions in historic buildings to enable visitors to see and understand the remains of a rare northerly monastery on a medieval trade route. A concrete walkway takes visitors over the excavated ground surface in a huge barn-like structure, introducing displays in side rooms along the way. Fehn completed the main building work in 1973, but continued to work on the site intermittently until 2005.

  • Quinta da Malagueira, Évara, Portugal (1973–77) by Álvaro Siz Vieira: After the return of democracy to Portugal in 1974, Siza was commissioned to build a new housing settlement at Quinta da Malagueira, outside the Roman walls of Évora. The back-to-back two-storey courtyard houses provide a unified feeling while allowing for internal change. Siza created an aqueduct, echoing a 16th-century one that supplies the town, carrying water and cabling through the settlement, allowing for insertions below and shaded pathways.

  • Filharmonia, Szcezcin, Poland (2007) by Estudio Barozzi Veiga: White is the quintessential modernist colour, and the Filharmonia, in a town that has seen much destructive change during the 20th century, is like a ghostly vision of a wrapped Gothic castle at night, when the gap behind the milky glass and aluminum outer skin is lit up. The two auditoriums inside are more strongly characterised by colour and texture, with a faceted ceiling to the Symphony Hall, developed with the acoustician Higini Araua.

  • Solid 11, Constantijn Huygenstraat, Amsterdam (2011) by Tony Fretton: ‘Solid’ is a name given by the housing association Stadtgenoot to a residential building that, like loft apartments, provides the basic shapes and services to be fitted out by the residents or users themselves, with an expectation of mixed use as apartments, workspaces, shops and cafés. The facade is self-supporting and built for a 200-year life, its base faced in red porphyry (a nod to Adolf Loos’s belief in the practicality of marble), while the upper structure is in brick. As with all of Fretton’s work, subtle references underlie overtly simple forms.

To mark the publication of 100 Years of Architecture, we asked author Alan Powers to explain his subtly subversive selection of 300 buildings from the early 20th century onwards. While the established modernist narrative can be traced within its pages, a more nuanced depiction of architectural production also emerges, as Powers reveals

As Ira Gershwin wrote: ‘The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible, it ain’t necessarily so.’ This could be the motto for 100 Years of Architecture. Historians should be disturbers of the peace, arguing that what you thought was so ain’t necessarily. You could shake this history even harder than I have, but the value of the shaking, it seems to me, is to restore balance by mixing opposites rather than to introduce just another slant.

Balance can be as bland as it sounds but I think the sort of excitement that jumps out of a photograph can be overrated, although in making books it is hard not to be seduced by it. The term ‘avant-garde’ is often equated with this sort of excitement, but while it had validity at the beginning of the period, in later times it is usually a self-conscious construct. The situation in architecture today is best represented by hybrid designs that negotiate with many constraints of reality, such as local culture, climate and construction rather than achieving those dubious qualities of ‘uncompromising’ and ‘radical’.

While not excluding examples answering to these descriptions, I have made a point of looking for projects that deal directly with social and local issues through the 100-year timespan, with a view to selecting a differently edited past as a retrospective background for the present. I have stuck to the belief that when A and B are seen as opposites, if A is seen as right, B ain’t necessarily wrong.

100 Years of Architecture by Alan Powers is published by Laurence King Publishing

 

Words

Alan Powers

 

Image credits: John Henshall/Alamy; Universal Images Group/DeAgostini/Alamy; Bildarchiv Monheim GmbH/Alamy; Arcaid Images/Alamy; M.Flynn/Alamy; LOOK Die Bildagentur der Fotografen GmbH/Alamy; Alan Powers; VIEW Pictures Ltd/Alamy; Hufton+Crow/VIEW/Corbis; Tony Fretton Architects/Peter Cook

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Historians should be disturbers of the peace, arguing that what you thought was so ain’t necessarily

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