A House for the Suburbs

Thomas Morris. A House for the Suburbs; Socially and Architecturally Sketched. London: All Booksellers, 1860.

The spine of this book simply proclaimed, A House for the Suburbs., and drew my attention. I expected to open the cover and find mid-century modern; however, I discovered this:

According to Thomas Morris: Thanks to the modern Genius of Speed and the Science of Rail, a wholesome future is in store for us. (pg. 1) The ease and speed of traveling between London and its environs has made it possible to live outside the city and reap the benefits of suburban living- gardens and improved health. He describes the suburbs of London and moves on to a discussion of the social expectations of suburban life: picnics, dinner parties, and book club.

Morris than transitions into a discussion of the architectural history of houses. He proclaims:

Very distinct is modern society from that of former periods; very superior our condition in regard to the security of property and person; and altogether unprecedented our rapidity of location; -yet the character of our dwellings is, or ought to be, equally distinguishable from those of any previous age.

He concludes with a discussion on “The Suburban House exemplified,” which includes the topics of style, material, and spaces.

The spaces identified by letters represent the house while the numbered the places of work and farm.
The spaces identified by letters represent the house while the numbered the places of work and farm.

House Building in 1946

Elizabeth B. Mock. If You Want to Build a House. Illustrated by Robert C. Osborn. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1946.

Elizabeth Bauer Mock (1911-1998) joined the staff at MoMA in 1937 and  presided over the Department of Architecture and Industrial Design between 1942-1946. According to MoMA, “…through her efforts and those of her sister, Catherine Bauer, the department became an advocate in the fields of urban planning and housing in the 1930s and 1940s.” (MoMA, “Modern Women”). She developed the exhibition, “If You Want to Build a House” and published the associated book of the same title in 1946.

Mock opens with this advice:

If you are going to take the trouble to build, rather than do the easy thing and buy a ready-made home, it is probably because you want something which in every sense will be your own. You won’t get that through imitation. The very word implies a sacrifice of integrity, therefore of individuality. Much more is involved than a choice of external style, for true individuality obviously is more than skin deep. It isn’t applied from without. It grows from within. 

Don’t think of your house as an impersonal shelter of so-and-so many rooms, tucked behind a conventional false-front, but as an outgrowth and expression of the best conceivable pattern of your life. Since the satisfaction of the solution will largely depend upon your awareness of your own needs, you should make your own program. An architect is only secondarily a psychiatrist. Houses are complex organisms and a good one is the joint creation of an alert, enlightened client and an able, sympathetic architect. (pg. 5)

She offers advice on size, the organization and function of spaces, light, open concepts, material, furniture, and site & gardens. She relies heavily on the works of Frank Lloyd Wright as well as Gropius, Breuer, Mies, and Neutra amongst others to illustrate her recommendations. The guide also includes several cartoons by Robert C. Osborn which also help to clarify Mock’s arguments for a well designed home.

MoMA. “Modern Women: A Partial History.” Accessed May 22, 2014: http://www.moma.org/explore/publications/modern_women/history.

First Planning Report, Glasgow

Robert Bruce. The First Planning Report to Highways and the Planning Committee of the Corporation of the City of Glasgow. 2 vols. Glasgow, 1945.

Robert Bruce in his planning report identifies the roadways as the most important issue to address in the redevelopment of Glasgow.  He establishes a 50 year plan to be achieved in three stages. At the time of the report, the Glaswegian roads functioned as all-purpose to include pedestrian, local, and through traffic; this lack of specification was the crux of the problem. According to Bruce: In such a wide range of road users it is clear that the interest of each is inimical to the interests of the others and that this conflict is at the root of the whole trouble causing injury, inconvenience, delay, nerve strain, and, to an appalling extent, death. (pg.14). Bruce argues that the inconveniences, stresses, and injuries will be mitigated through the reclassification of roads as arterial, sub-arterial, and local, through the construction of new roads, and through the alignment of all transportation services whether public or private and whether road, rail, sea, or air. He further suggests that planning needs to occur at a regional, not a local level.

Bruce faces two critical challenges in his redevelopment and reclassification of the roadways in Glasgow: financial and public opinion. He suggests that they will have to alter the belief of business owners that it is better to be on a major thoroughfare rather than a quiet, local road. He writes:

One of the greatest difficulties in connection with planning proposals will be to rid from the minds of the general public the idea that shops, theatres, picture houses, restaurants, etc., should all be facing main roads. What modern town planing sets out to do so it dissociates all such places from roads carrying through traffic and site them in quiet roads free from through traffic and which my be used in safety and in comfort by pedestrians. (pg. 23)

While Bruce’s major focus is transportation through and around Glasgow, he does address issues of housing, green spaces, and public amenities. He concludes his report with a discussion of conurbation and creation of satellite towns.

in full COLOUR

Looking for some design inspiration or perhaps an exciting summer read?  Check out  in full COLOUR: Recent Buildings and Interiors with projects selected by Dirk Meyerhöfer. This book documents a wide variety of projects where use of color, either of colored surfaces, colored light, or both, has a transformative effect on the built environment. These projects illustrate the remarkable power of color in architecture to define and organize space, and to create an emotional response.  Perception of color is both personal and social; the colors we see are a result of our brain processing physical stimuli from our eyes through the filter of our cultural experience, which means each person’s experience of color is unique. This might make a less daring designer hesitate, but as the projects in this book illustrate, the bold use of color activates and energizes the built environment. In the introduction Meyerhöfer says “through the warmth or coolness of a given colour…or through the choice of several, interrelated colour families, a building can be endowed with a ‘soul.'” If this seems like a stretch, choose the image below that most appeals to you. Now try to imagine the space with only neutral colors, or with entirely different colors. How does your experience, or your feelings about the space  change?

Semester Recap: The Unbridled Beauty of Watercolor Renderings

To kick off a series of blog posts recapping the Spring 2014 semester, we figured we’d start with one of the most visually captivating: watercolor renderings from our very own Alexander Architectural Archive.

Earlier in the semester, Judy Birdsong’s Visual Communications studio paid a visit to the Archive to check out some of our working drawings in order to see how they have changed over the years. This is a completely fascinating progression, and one of my personal favorite things to view when I visit the Archive for my own research needs. However, a few weeks later, students were assigned a project requiring watercolor — and the watercolor renderings the Archive has are an absolutely incredible resource!

I was lucky enough to be given a similar exposure to the Archive’s watercolors by Curatorial Assistant Nancy Sparrow, and I’m here to pass on the unbridled beauty. If any of you happen to have been looking to improve your architectural watercolor skills, the Archive is an unparalleled resource!

Throughout final reviews, a similar version of the same comment often comes to the surface: accurately conveying an architectural idea heavily depends on the way you draw or render your final presentation graphically. With so much focus on computer generated renderings in practice today, watercolors are almost slowly being vaulted into the ranks of a lost art. These stunning examples from the Archive showcase immaculate talent that displays a clear understanding of color, shadow, contrast, and fine detail by the artist.

We hope the following high-resolution images inspire you in some way, whether out of pure admiration, or to pursue a new (or revived!) technique in the renderings you produce yourself. Click on the below photographs to view in beautiful detail!

I was floored by this beautiful rendering of the Flawn Academic Center, located just across the mall from Battle Hall. Nancy and I could not stop admiring the glass…
…as well as the rectangular screen detailing that makes the FAC’s facade so distinguishable on campus. Truly, I could stare at every facet of this piece for hours!
This rendering of the Blanton Art Museum by Kallmann McKinnell & Wood Architects features a more soft and controlled style versus the more lively and articulated piece of the FAC. I love the gradient of color in the trees and the wax-like reflection of the roadway.
This detail view reveals the attention paid to the tiling under the eaves, the careful shading of the windows, and – my personal favorite – the almost exact reflection of the fenestration in the sheen of the roadway. This is such a unique technique that adds to the character of this piece, and I’m feeling a creative spark inside me just typing this!
We also love this rendering of the drama building, also on UT’s campus. This piece features some of the more lively, broad strokes of the FAC rendering. I, personally, love articulating trees and other plants with markers and watercolor, and this artist used flattering, vibrant green hues to offset the tan and sand hues of the featured building. I also purposely left this image uncropped – the paint strokes at the bottom reveal a glimpse into the creative process!

I cannot stress enough how valuable an experience it is to pay a visit to the Archive to see renderings, drawings, photographs, and even tools used by the greats we house in our collections. Not only are these collections inspiring, but they are reminders that there are endless ways to represent an architectural idea. I believe this last point is the most powerful, especially for students embarking on a career in architecture and design. The profession is inherently creative and open to interpretation – and you have the power to convey ideas in your own style!

Many, many thanks to Nancy Sparrow for bringing these pieces to my attention. We hope you take advantage of the Archive’s treasures for all of the semesters ahead!

The City of Glasgow, 1960

A. G. Jury. The Survey Report of the City of Glasgow Development Plan Quinquennial Review, 1960. Glasgow: The Architectural and Planning Department, 1960.

Despite living in and numerous trips to Glasgow, I am less familiar with the city’s modern history and development. I was not sure how meaningful the planning report of 1960 would be to me; however, a cursory glance intrigued me as I spotted the names of areas and streets that were all too familiar: Govan, the Botanic Gardens, Sauchiehall Street, Argyle Street, Great Western Road, and the Gorbals.

The report assesses land use, population, industry & employment, education, housing, and traffic & communication issues, projecting them forward to 1980. It further identifies 29 areas requiring redevelopment. According to the report, the primary challenge would be to accommodate a large percentage of the population within the city itself:

From the foregoing paragraphs, the overall position is that if modern standards are adopted, even at minimum level, the demands for additional houses, schools, factories and playing fields cannot be met within the City. Redevelopment, the replacement of old buildings by new ones, so far from offering the possibility of saving land, actually generates additional demands. ( Chapter 15, page 3)

According to the report, 100,000 families would be affected by the redevelopment of the 29 areas. The overspill, consisting of approximately 60,000 families or 200,000 people, would have to be removed from the city. (Chapter 14, pg 3). At the time of the report, agreements were in place and other negotiations in progress with cities and towns across Scotland to accept the overspill Glaswegians and industries into their districts. The report also proposes the creation of four new towns. (Chapter 14)

The report has left with  me with more questions than answers. How much of the plan was implemented, and was it deemed successful? More than 50 years on, what were the lasting affects of the plan in terms of the city’s continued development? I am, however, most curious to know how it affected the people, who were displaced. Life in some of those towns would have been drastically different than what they knew in Glasgow. I want to know their narratives and how they created place in a new town.