All posts filed under: History

Nakagin Capsule Tower: Revisiting the Future of the Recent Past

By Zhongjie Lin (Associate Professor of Architecture) | The debates surrounding the proposed demolition of Kisho Kurokawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower provide a unique opportunity to re-examine Metabolism’s historic role in postwar modernism and its influence on contemporary architecture. Although one can argue that conflicts between urban development and architectural conservation are a commonplace characteristic of the contemporary metropolis, the intense conflict between redevelopment and conservation in Japan is emblematic of an enduring cultural attitude toward urban change that relies upon a paradoxical relationship between transformation and continuity. This distinctly Japanese cultural attitude underlies Metabolist urban theory and informs the design of the Nakagin Capsule Tower. The building was an experimental project meant to support a new post-war lifestyle, and facilitate change and renewal in an increasingly dynamic urban fabric. In many ways, the ideas and values that created the Nagakin Capsule Tower are the same ideas and values that are threatening to destroy it. An examination of the building’s recent past and possible futures reveals the complex legacy of Metabolism’s unfulfilled urban visions. Introduction In April …

Chinese Puzzle: the Shifting Patterns of Shanghai’s Shikumen Architecture

By Peter Wong (Associate Professor of Architecture) | The following case study examines the ways that material forms come to be associated with the values and cultural patterns of racial and ethnic groups. The historical development of lilong housing dramatically illustrates the active and dynamic processes that are required to form long-lasting associations between local communities and physical structures. This essay is reprinted from the volume Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences (Routledge, 2015). Sorting Pieces Urbanism in modern Shanghai resembles to many expanding Eastern and Western cities in the first decade of the new millennium. Tall buildings pierce the ground, squeezing sidewalk space between bright storefront displays and noisy street edges. Signage and brands compete for pedestrian eye-time accompanied by smells of traditional soup dumplings or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yet if one slows to observe the gaps between buildings, evidence can be found of an older city hidden inside the block. Small gatehouses – thresholds between the city streets and these interior realms – are managed by guards who monitor flows of pedestrians entering …

The Reel Lapidus: Movie Culture, Kitsch and the American Dream

By Michael-Paul James (M2 student) |Abstract: This case study looks at the effects of cinema on trends in postwar architecture, tracing the translation of illusions from the silver screen to a tectonic implementation in the built environment as translated in the work of Morris Lapidus. His architectural style represents an architectural trend away from the elite in favor of a rising middle class who offered a unique palate foreign to academia. A keen observer of pop culture, Lapidus incorporates set design and theatrical styles into his architectural paradigm.  His study of architecture first transparently followed his artistic endeavor in the pursuit of theatre. The idea that less is more was ridiculed by Lapidus. “Less is nothing” he writes in his book Too Much is Never Enough. A self-described architect of the American Dream, his embracement of excess defined a new era in opposition to the modernist movement and embracement of the middle class. The critics rallied against his designs ridiculing his work as “Boarding house baroque,” “emblems of tail-fin chic,” “the nation’s grossest national product,” “Superschlock,” …

A Pluralist Approach: The Pragmatism of H. H. Richardson

By William Glen Watson (M2 student) | Abstract: this case study examines the effect of early Pragmatist philosophical movements on the foundation of an American architectural identity. It examines an understudied aspect of late nineteenth-century architectural discourse, which supplements our knowledge of American architect’s exposure to transcendentalism and other forms of organicism. This essay argues that a clear link between American Pragmatism and architectural organicism can be constructed between the political philosophies of Charles Sanders Pierce, Henry James, Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson to the architectural works of Richardson, especially the Oakes Ames House and other period institutional buildings. The burgeoning American republic was in search of practical institutions to guide its way. As political theorists experimented with the limits of procedural democracy, architects gave physical form to these aspirations in both functional and ornamental terms. Introduction Ralph Waldo Emerson in his address of the 1837 graduating class of Harvard warns of the condition of an individuated man, specialized in a particular characteristic without sufficient experience or knowledge of the world in which they inhabit. Emerson states, The old fable covers …

A Primitive Prairie: Broadacre City, Usonia, and the Dialectics of American Identity

By Matthew Allen (M2 student) | Abstract: This case study attempts to ascertain the role of the ‘primitive’ in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City idea–an ideal model that inspired the settlement of Usonia in Mount Pleasant, New York. The word “primitive” can sometimes appear to be an ambiguous term used to denote an archaic or basic human condition in terms of social structures or technological capabilities. The term, which was used by architects and theorists such as Gottfried Semper and Le Corbusier, refers to a point of origin or the beginnings of the human condition in time. In the Usonia context, the primitive serves as a means to gauge or reference the architectural past to evaluate contemporary practice and theoretical discourse. From the turn of the century to the postwar period, Wright’s interpretation of the primitive referred to an idealized, utopian notion of a harmonious human coexistence with nature and other members of society. Figure 1. Usonia Homes Site Plan, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1947, Mount Pleasant, NY. Introduction Frank Lloyd Wright (FLW) states in his text The Disappearing City, “our own ideal …

Marina City: The Material Synthesis of Utopian and Capitalist Ideals

By Calum Dodson (M2 student) | Abstract: This essay uses an oral history report on the Jewish-American architect Bertrand Goldberg to determine the socialist and capitalist strains of his most noteworthy project, Marina City. This analysis compares and contrasts the social aims of Goldberg’s projects with his peer and mentor Mies van der Rohe, whose projects bowed heavily to the capitalist values of real estate speculation and corporate expansion. From his studies in Bauhaus Germany to his constructions in Chicago, Goldberg synthesized seemingly oppositional aims into an image of modern life. Introduction Bertrand Goldberg is widely known as the architect who builds round buildings, but little is known about his innovative theories of space and his utopian ideas that have generated these sculptural forms.”1 Bertrand Goldberg was born in 1913 in Chicago Illinois to Jewish-American parents. Goldberg’s architecture and his influence as an architect would be one of revitalizing the City. He grew up in perhaps, the most significant of American cities, and would return there after a journey of architectural learning to change its image forever. His unusual …