photo & text by nacrowe
in the modern age we are spoiled with examples of both awe-inspiring, mind-bending and deeply challenging ARCHITECTURE. the rate of INNOVATION with regards to techniques and materials is something we take for granted, much like the parallel track that we see with computing technology. unlike digital technology, prominent architecture is not an ephemeral entity, instead it is a tangible representation of our current culture for future generations to appreciate, inhabit and incorporate into their owned lived experience.
what makes ROSS KING's book BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME: HOW A RENAISSANCE GENIUS REINVENTED ARCHITECTURE (BLOOMSBURY, 2013) so compelling is that it relates how the first modern skyscraper, the dome of the CATTEDRALE DI SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE (i.e. the FLORENCE CATHEDRAL), was built effectively for the first time since antiquity during the middle ages. in the 15th century when the dome was built over an 18-year span, FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI had to bitterly compete against successful rivals (notably LORENZO GHIBERTI) and repeatedly convince the powerful wool guild (who were funding the operation) of unproven techniques such as a 360-degree oxen-driven pulley system, cross-fitted herringbone patterns of bricks with embedded (and hidden) iron rings and a dual layer dome with lighter materials used the further up it went. according to KING, the success of the raising of the dome of SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE sparked an era of innovation that caught the imagination of later artists, sculptors, architects and technical-minded local standouts like MICHELANGELO, DONATELLO and LEONARDO.
for me the most interesting aspect of this book is how BRUNELLESCHI was alone among his peers in taking the time to study the works of antiquity, especially the ruins of ROMA, for REFERENCE and INSPIRATION. during this period the common view was that their was nothing to be gained INTELLECTUALLY, TECHNICALLY or ARTISTICALLY from their PAGAN antecedents, as the regional powers of what later became ITALY were superior in their CHRISTIAN worldview. in fact, marble from old buildings was often repurposed into churches and headstones among other trivial entities. it is hard to believe that BRUNELLESCHI was alone in his efforts to unlock the secrets of creating not only a dome, but one with a hexagonal pattern. he found such an analogue in spa from one of NERO's palaces, and spent years devising a plan to make such work on a larger scale.
it would seem that convincing a massive paying entity to entrust that you're unproven techniques will be successful decades down the line in the most public of forums is quite the achievement. feels like the modern-day analogue to the lunar landing or the construction of the PANAMA CANAL. i couldnt help when reading about BRUNELLESCHI's curt, caustic temperament and sense of innate superiority the contemporary WILLY WONKA / TONY STARK figure of ELON MUSK. makes you wonder how he will be remembered generations down the line.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
ABSTRACT: THE ART OF DESIGN is an ongoing NETFLIX series of documentaries that highlights exemplars associated with various fields of design. in this entry i am focused on the episode related to the inventive, progressive creative work of the modern DANISH architect BJARKE INGELS.
before watching this episode my prior entry point to his work was a critique by THE LIFE-SIZED CITY YOUTUBE series which criticized a pedestrian bridge to his new corporate complex in COPENHAGEN which serviced no target demographic and in fact made nearby major intersections less efficient. so there you go, my only bias. i've never been to DENMARK and have never seen INGELS' work in the flesh. what the episode presents is a young, ambitious architect that has an inclusive YES IS MORE mentality towards commissions and input by shareholders. his designs seem inventive, modern and slightly ostentatious, yet apparently are made on the cheap utilizing lesser unconventional materials.
i haven't been to DENMARK, but i have been all around EUROPE and what always struck me was this dual sword represented in the idea of tradition. this focus on tradition can be manifested in art, music, food, clothing and architecture and can either be stifling to creativity or a springboard. you get the sense that DANISH culture is rather reserved and its buildings highly practical with a certain uniformity that belies the homogeneity of its people. INGELS comes off as almost AMERICAN in both his ambition and sheer bravado. i mean the dude, made a ski slope on top of a power plant. i have no idea if this guy is a PRITZKER level talent or an ambitious yet reductive, over-hyped upstart.
not sure i really care either way whether or not he is a naive at best or a charlatan at worst, which seems to be the consensus of his detractors. his cost-effective, multi-use spaces provide a bit of poetry towards infrastructure concepts that are long overdue stateside. his energy and commitment to sustainability and efficiency as well as fun is sorely missed in outdated, eyesore AMERICAN infrastructure targets like airports, train stations and community centers.
we need rejuvenation. something to capture our imagination. just like our democracy and adherence to market capitalism, our architecture is outmoded. we need to get on that. rejuvenate. put a ski slop on a goddamn power plant already!
photo manipulation by nacrowe
back during my teaching days i always liked to construct a classroom environment that was pointing outwards. this included the posting of quotes and pictures throughout the room by the requisite poets, authors and philosophers (i was an ENGLISH teacher), but also architects, artists, mathematicians, comedians and scientists. my argument was they all had to communicate effectively to do their jobs so why wouldn't they be welcome in my learning environment.
the ENGLISH canon by default is often full of dead white guys. im sure you can name them. hell, some of them i greatly admire (F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, HERMAN MELVILLE, OSCAR WILDE, ERNEST HEMINGWAY, etc.). what most people don't know is that in the early 20th century when literature became a formalized subject (no longer reading and writing), there grew an institutional need to come up with a list of "great books" to be instituted as canonical. being that most of these list builders were white, the list is pretty white. sadly that list persists to date in some form or another and to vary from it meant that on some level parents felt you were depriving their children. ugh. i really hated that part of my job.
my thought if forced to teach those books was to always complicate them with takes and perspectives that were beyond that of the original author. i also wanted to familiarize my students with interesting people that were beyond the curriculum and beyond literature in general.
one of the favorites of students over the years was the now-deceased IRAQI-born BRITISH architect ZAHA HADID. her architecture was fluid and often blurred the lines between eastern and western forms as well as the very notion of inside and outside spaces. her buildings were the go to if i was trying to teach about GESTALT PSYCHOLOGY or even positive and negative space (i.e. what is the author leaving out?).
its interesting because her buildings were almost a RORSCHACH TEST for how sexist the culture i was currently living in. in KUWAIT, they boys couldn't believe that these impressive and endlessly inventive modern forms could be the work of a woman. there obviously must be some mistake. the KUWAITI and JORDANIAN girls there just silently beamed with pride. stirring the pot is what i did. got them thinking.
other places like ALBANIA, VENEZUELA, MYANMAR and JAPAN had no issue seeing seeing her work as being that of a woman. not in the slightest. they were more interested in how these architectural forms were used. what was their function? what would it be like to live, work or attend an event at such a special space.
sadly HADID passed on a few years back and i have since left teaching, but i still admire her work and the fact that her architectural forms still seem fresh to me and were incredible useful to my former students to think outside the box.
literally. none of her buildings resembled a box. maybe one that melted.