Tag Archives: friday find

Friday Finds!: Built In U.S.A.

Cover of Built in U.S.A. (Source: Museum of Modern Art)

Written to accompany Art in Progress, the Museum of Modern Art’s fifteenth anniversary celebration exhibit, Elizabeth Mock’s 1944 book Built in U.S.A. is a portrait of an institution granting itself a victory lap for it’s role in establishing then-modern tastes. Taking their taste-maker status for granted, Built is the Museum’s attempt to assert itself as a great enough authority to not only say what is worth the audience’s time, but to lay out the foundations of the modern architecture canon. Mock, curator of Art in Progress‘ architecture section, uses her introduction to set-up a vision of the “modernist architect” as an individual whose work can walk in perfect balance between “present conditions and future needs.” (9) The utopian-minded ‘modernist architect’ works at odds with the skeptical public, who can only think of the “heat bills” and “glare” that result from the glass-heavy modernist home design. To Mock, these shallow critiques of modern architecture are born out of ignorance, critics who think all of modern architecture can be reduced to “large areas of glass.” (21) Her introduction posits a conflict between the modern style and the cult of practicality. Written in wartime, Mock condemns the point-of-view that states that architects are only there to provide “trimmings,” using the fifty examples in the text to show how architects straddle the line between the practical and the aesthetic. (9)

The Museum of Modern Art, as celebrated on pg. 88 of Built in U.S.A. (Source: Museum of Modern Art)

The subsequent two-thirds of the text showcase the fifty American buildings highlighted in the exhibit. Including several photographs of each structures’ interiors and exteriors, Mock also includes a basic floor-plan. Alongside the visual aspects, Mock features critical notes for each work highlighted. The book functions as a useful source if you are looking for contemporaneous reactions to buildings like “Falling Water” or “The Red Rock Amphitheater.” Perhaps the most striking choice in the text, considering the publisher, is Philip L. Goodwin and Edward D. Stone’s design for the Museum of Modern Art. Praising the architects, the notes also make a point to distinguish the museum as a “flexible” museum, distinguishable and new from the “static collections” that defined art museums in the past. (88) Built writes of the Museum’s architecture as essential to its functionality as a new type of museum.

For additional context around Art in Progress and Built in U.S.A., the Museum of Modern Art has recently provided scans of the three 1944 press releases promoting both to the general public. The best of the three articulates the goals of Built so well it is just as good of an introduction as anything within the text itself. Starting off with a quote from Park Commissioner Robert Moses debasing the Municipal Asphalt Plant (highlighted in Art in Progress and Built) as “horrible modernistic stuff,” the Museum holds it in regard as “one of the buildings… which best represent progress in design and construction during the past twelve years.” In the press release, Moses functions as a real-world version of the abstract ‘public’ Elizabeth Mocks talks about in her introduction. In openly clowning this establishment figure, the Museum not only heaps praise upon the artist, but on itself as a taste-maker. Built in U.S.A., and the marketing surrounding the exhibit and text, establishes an ‘us vs. them’ narrative with the stakes being the aesthetic, and the soul, of a nation. All of the materials the Museum of Modern Art has shared related to the Built in U.S.A. section of Art in Progress are essential to understanding what the discourse surrounding architecture was like in the mid-20th century.

You can read Built in U.S.A. in our Special Collections (or even in the PCL stacks!). Or you can read a PDF (as provided by the Museum of Modern Art) here, further exploration of the Built in U.S.A. section of the Art in Progress exhibit can be found here.

Friday Finds! The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses

Eyes of the the skin- cover“A meaningful architectural experience is not simply a series of retinal images. the ‘elements’ of architecture are not visual units or Gestalt; they are encounters, confrontations that interact with memory.”

We see an architectural marvel and the first thing we do is record it. We sketch, we take pictures, we remember how it looks. But do we feel it? Sense it? Smell it? “The inhumanity of contemporary architecture and cities can be understood as the consequence of the neglect of the body and the senses, and an imbalance in our sensory system.” This book challenges the hegemony of vision and the ocular-centrism of our generation. Pallasmaa calls it the violation of the eye, he goes to the extent of calling it the Narcissistic and Nihilistic eye.

Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.  Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.
Above: The eye of the camera, detail from the film, The man with a movie camera.
Below: Regardless of our prioritization of the eye, visual observation is often confirmed by our touch. Caravaggio, The incredulity of St.Thomas.

As if we actually need to convince you to read this book. We are sure most of you have already read it. And if not, you are missing out on realizing architecture to its full potential. This polemic book on architectural philosophy and teaching, was first published in 1996 as an extended essay to Questions of perception: Phenomenology of Architecture written by Steven Holl, Pallasmaa, and Alberto Pérez-Gómez. The eyes of the skin is broken down into two neat essays, the first runs us through the historical development of ocular-centric paradigm in western culture, starting from the Greek civilization and its effect on the architecture today. Part two examines the function and presence of our other senses in experiencing architecture and how they could potentially bring us to building spaces that are integrated and personable.

Now imagine the picturesque ancient towns of Croatia and the busy, dense streets of Malta. Compare it to the function-first, grid-locked planning of New York or Chandigarh. Yes, there is a reason why most people choose the former for vacations. These are the spaces of intimate warmth, of participation and integration, catering to all the senses of the body; smell, taste, touch, sound and of course vision.  “The authenticity of architectural experience is grounded in the tectonic language of building and the comprehensibility of the  act of construction to the senses. We behold, touch, listen and measure the world with our entire bodily existence, and the experiential world becomes  and articulated around the centre of the body.”

Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929. Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.
Above: Le Corbusier’s proposed skyline for Buenos aires – a sketch from a lecture given in Buenos aires in 1929.
Below: The hill town of Casares in southern Spain.

We highly recommend it if you just started getting into the whole architectural philosophy readings. It is a particularly interesting book to start off with and debate over as well as most don’t really accept this idea of Pallasmaa’s. A good book to get some really romanticized quotes about architecture and planning for your class essays.

Small French Buildings

Coffin, Jr., Lewis A., Henry M. Polhemus and Addison F. Worthington. Small French Buildings: The Architecture of Town and Country, Comprising Cottages, Farmhouses, Minor Chateaux or Manors with their Farm Groups, Small Town Dwellings, and a Few Churches. New York: C. Scribner, 1921.

Small French Buildings is an English-language celebration of the French vernacular in Normandy, Brittany, the Cote d’Or and Dordogne. The book divides its collection of 183 plates into four sections by building type: Cottages, Churches and Chapels, Town Houses, and small Châteaux, Manors and other farm buildings. While it is unclear why certain buildings are highlighted in this volume, the images included provide access (though somewhat distilled) to the architecture of the everyday–where people lived, worked, played and dreamed. Published in 1921, this idealized vernacular, however uncluttered by its society, is a unique document in an era when art and architectural historians were generally concerned with the canon.

Library of Congress call number: NA 1041 C6