Like everything that emanates from the human race, architecture has always evolved. It has undergone influences of all kinds, religious, political, economic, military, philosophical, archaeological, and many others. At the beginning of the century, new pressures threaten architecture as they threaten the whole of society. Global warming, population growth, and dwindling natural resources are problems that neither architecture nor urban planning can solve alone. Nevertheless, some clues are loaded with promise.
The modern movement took off after the First World War. Money was missing, and people had to be rebuilt and lodged. It was also necessary to restore their optimism. Traditional rooftops cost more than flat roofs, and terraces were praised, on which "one can do gymnastics" and also "bask in the sun". We made horizontal windows for reasons of hygiene and also because many people had lost their furniture in the bombings and could not afford to decorate their walls. So we did more closets. The white color has become widespread as a symbol of purity. In a word, we sought to make an innocent and better world.
Since then, the role of the architect in society has grown to be sometimes idealized for its potential hero and genius, often misunderstood. Frank Lloyd Wright, who never missed the opportunity to talk about him, proposed without laughing to build a skyscraper 1,500 m high. Since then, we have seen architects submit more and more far-fetched visions and their sponsors, in concert with the press, to shout to the genius. Today we are witnessing a rise in the absurd, the "never seen", the novelty for itself, confused with authentic invention and originality. We have reached the point where a prominent architect could recently declare that "the master builder is free to follow his idea, his caprice, his genius".
The skyscraper is an invention of the XX th century, made possible by iron and steel. The first skyscrapers appeared around 1900. They are now growing all over the world and they are getting higher and higher. And the higher they are, the more the lateral forces exceed the vertical forces due to the dead weight of the construction. Nevertheless, we continue in many cases to design skyscrapers as we would for a hut, with poles at the four corners. We obviously multiply the number of poles and increase their height, but the constructive principle remains about the same. Fortunately, there is less and less on the joints between beams and posts to ensure the rigidity and stability of the whole. As with the geodesic domes, the utility and necessity of the diagonals have been realized, which advantageously replace the rigid joints between beams and columns.
This is the triangulation essential to the very high structures that has paved the way for a new conception, holistic this time, that for this reason we classify among the so-called "spatial" structures. The shape of these can make the vertical poles superfluous, and one thus arrives at an organic synthesis which satisfies at the same time the functional needs - the use of the space - and the rigidity of the structure.
Language of architecture
In architecture as in literature, language, code, possibly a style are essential to speak and be understood. All language has a discipline, which obviously imposes some restrictions. The language of spatial structures, like the others, has its limits: it is generally conditioned by a material, steel, and it is expressed mainly by the triangle and a small number of polyhedra. But this language is clear despite its apparent complexity and, above all, it has an extraordinary architectural potential still little explored to date.
For over twenty-five centuries, kings, philosophers and architects have sought to define the ideal order for society and to establish it. And now, for the first time in history, there are architects who are trying to convince us that chaos is the ultimate form of creative imagination! In Bilbao, Boston, and soon in Paris, we can already see new constructions that affect the appearance of a collapse. This is not only absurd but disturbing, because it is to be feared that this is a more or less conscious strategy to prepare us for the disasters that blacken our horizons. Because it is easier to accept a difficult future if we persuade ourselves that it is precisely the one we wanted.
Classical architecture has deep roots in our culture and it manifests itself in different ways. One is based on the belief that we have not changed much and that classical architecture can as well as another satisfy a lot of our needs today. Another, more insidious, is that classic principles are respected but disguised under a modern appearance. An example of this strategy is the villa Savoye, designed in 1929 by Le Corbusier, declared uninhabitable by its sponsor, and saved from the demolition by the intervention in extremis of the Minister of Culture Andre Malraux in 1959. It continues to celebrate in the whole world for its revolutionary modernism, but it cannot be denied that it also presents itself as a classical composition by its essentially cubic form - a flattened cube - and its division into three well-affirmed levels. The base is reduced to its carrying function, expressed by a colonnade of fine reinforced concrete posts that stand out against a dark background. The main floor dominates by its height, its shape and the white color that contrasts with the plant context; it is the "piano nobile" which, in turn, is divided into three horizontal bands. The third and last level is expressed by some sculptural forms that form a coronation and establish with the cosmos a link as mysterious as it is remote. With Villa Savoye we have an avant-garde work that respects the fundamental rules of classical composition.
Under the influence of "functional" architecture, one wants to "express the function" of each room by varying the size, shape and location of the openings. By varying the design of the openings, it is hoped to make its pavilion seem larger than that of the neighbor, whereas on the contrary it is the repetition of the same model that can lead to a relative effect of size and dignity. We too often give up the skylights which, in the attics, made it possible to stand up and see what was going on outside.
In conclusion, the architects of old did not hesitate to copy each other and to borrow particularly successful pieces from their colleagues. Thus, they gradually approached perfection and obtained a certain homogeneity in the constructed domain.
Oct 16, 2019