THE NEXT BEST THING TO SYMMETRY IS THE APPEARANCE OF SYMMETRY

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Awhile back, I did this conceptual design for the Dury Hotel expansion in New Orleans, which is currently under construction, but unfortunately, this design was not developed as I originally designed it.  The program includes five levels of parking over first floor meeting rooms and topped by three floors of guest rooms.  The upper floors of guest rooms are set back one bay on the Lafayette Street (left) side.  Whereas this building fronts on Carondelet Street, the main hotel building fronts on Poydras Street, on the right side.  The main hotel building is set back by a large surface parking lot on the corner of Carondelet Street and Poydras Street, so the connection to the main hotel occurs at the rear corners of both the main hotel and this annex.

The Carondelet Street facade has a rusticated base with segmental arched openings, a large cornice, and a mid section with arched openings below where the parking levels occur, and punched openings with double hung windows where the guest rooms occur.  The upper floor of guest rooms have windows that are located below the main cornice, and have a continuous architrave band in place of the sill, creating a complete entablature with the band of upper windows and the recessed panels between the windows forming the frieze of the entablature.

The lowest parking level occurs at the transom of the first floor segmental arched openings.  The arched openings are articulated as two floors and an arched transom, but actually the two floors are actually concealing three parking levels.  These deceitful devices are necessary on parking garages because the floor-to-floor heights are often so short, and the squat proportions that would result if each level were articulated would be undesirable.

The structural column grid lines are shown at the bottom of the elevation, and its the location of these columns that made the composition of this elevation so tricky.  Notice that the second bay from the right and from the left is slightly smaller than all the other bays, but because of the setback at the Lafayette Street side, the main portion of the facade starts off, from the left, a short bay, three equal bays, another short bay and then another large bay equal to the other three.  The challenge was to get this main portion of the facade to be symmetrical, but since that was not possible, I had to make it look like it was symmetrical.

To achieve this appearance of symmetry, the first and last bays of arched openings are pushed as far to the left as they can go, with the structural columns falling right at, or very near to, the face of the structural column.  Similarly the second bay of arched openings on the left side that is within the same structural bay is pushed to the far right, as close as it could possibly be to the column.  The resulting pier width between the arched openings is then duplicated on the right side, and the other arched openings inserted in between at equal spaces.  The result is that I have eight bays of arched openings with the first and last bays separated by a slightly wider pier than the middle bays, which is desirable in classical architecture.

The large space between the arched openings and the corners of the facade are articulated with pedimented aediculae.

The guest room windows, which are six-over-six double hung units, are each aligned over the vertical axis of the arched window bay below, and smaller two-over-two double hung units are located over the aediculae.

The cornice has regularly spaced block modillions.  The modillions are spaced, starting at the corner of the upper bed moulding on each side, and are arranged so that there is a space between each that is approximately twice the width of the modillion.  The bays are then tweaked, that is they are slightly adjusted so that, in this case all the windows are centered between two modillions.  There is one exception:  The small windows on the right side are centered on the modillion rather than the space between the modillions.  That’s your one clue that this facade is not quite symmetrical; it has the appearance of symmetry.

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UPPER PONTALBA GALLERY REPAIR

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The Upper and Lower Pontalba buildings are two of the most historic buildings in New Orleans.  They line the up river and down river sides of Jackson Square at the heart of the French Quarter, and are believed to be the oldest apartment building in the United States.

The Upper Pontalba Building has a second floor gallery that has tongue and groove wood decking that spans across wood purlins on iron outriggers.  The gallery is supported below by cast iron columns and have ornate iron railings and panel columns above that support a covered roof canopy above.  The wood beam that spans between the cast iron columns is vulnerable to rot and deterioration, especially where the beams connect at the columns.

The panel columns, consisting of two parallel vertical iron square bars with ornamental cast iron components between, rests on a flat iron plate.  This plate, which is completely invisible because it is buried inside the beam, sits on top of an iron post that attaches the top of the cast iron column to panel column above.  The wood beam bears on the iron plate on top of the cast iron columns.  The wood beam consists of a core beam, which spans from column to column; a thick outer fascia that runs continuously across the front face of the beam and splices the beams on each side to each other; and an inner fascia that provides a bearing surface for the iron outriggers.

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The detail above shows the collaboration efforts of myself and a restoration contractor to provide a fix that would outlast the previous repair, most likely done during the WPA.

Our solution was to replace the beam core with a new piece of pine timber, pressure treated for ground contact, and with the ends cut and notched and wrapped with W. R. Grace’s Ice and Water Shield.  In addition, the top of the beam would be covered with the Ice and Water Shield with some excess provided on the outer side so that it can also be lapped over the outer fascia, and the top of the cast iron column cap plate would be covered with the Ice and Water Shield with excess turned up onto the iron post that supports the panel column above.  The wood trim under the decking edge conceals the edge of the Ice and Water Shield where it laps over the top of the outer fascia.  The outer and inner fascias, and the wood trim under the decking edge are cut from Spanish Cedar, a  wood species that is more resistant to deterioration than other species.

Hopefully, this solution will last 50 years or more.

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JUGENSTIL BRIDGE PYLONS

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I made this sketch based off of the bridge pylons shown in this photograph of Berlin taken in the early twentieth century.  Some interpretation and artistic liberties were taken.

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THE CLASSICAL ORDERS – A SIMPLIFIED APPROACH AND SOME LIBERTIES TAKEN

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This is a drawing I did awhile back of the Classical Orders of Architecture.  What is unique about this drawing is that the columns are depicted at the same height throughout, but with varying shaft diameters, starting with the Tuscan being the fattest and the Corinthian and Composite being the most slender.  Usually, the orders are drawn with similar base diameters, but with varying heights, starting with the Tuscan being the shortest and the Corinthian and Composite being the tallest.  When I started studying the Classical Orders, I soon realized that the ratio of column height to entablature height was 1 to 4, or another way to look at it, if the portion of the facade with the columns (or pilasters) and entablature is divided into 5 equal height bands, the entablature would occupy the upper band and the lower four bands would be reserved for the columns or pilasters.  This works out regardless of the order.

Tuscan:  Column Height = 7 diameters; Entablature Height = 1.75 diameters.

Doric:  Column Height = 8 diameters; Entablature Height = 2 diameters.

Ionic:  Column Height = 9 diameters; Entablature Height = 2.25 diameters.

Corinthian and Composite:  Column Height =10 diameters; Entablature Height = 2.5 diameters.

Another advantage to depicting all the orders at the same height is that often the overall height that is required is known, and the column diameter has to be solved by dividing the overall height into the proper number of modular units.  For example, if your are working within a room, you usually know what the floor to ceiling height is, and if the Corinthian Order is desired, then the height is divided by 12.5 (10 + 2.5) to establish the required column diameter.  It seems rare that it would occur the other way around, where a column diameter is selected and the height must be determined.  This also makes it easier to swap out one order for another during schematic design, if the Ionic Order is preferred over Corinthian, then divide the ceiling height by 11.25 (9 + 2.25) to achieve the required column diameter.

Optional components of the Classical Orders include the pedestal and the balustrade/parapet.  The columns may stand directly on the building’s base or water table (or on a lower order) without the pedestal.  Similarly, the facade may have a pitched roof that sits directly on top of the cornice without the need for a balustrade or parapet.

To achieve the heights of these components I used the same 1 to 4 ratio as with the column and entablature.  The balustrade/parapet is 4/5 the height of the entablature, or the column height can be divided into five to determine the balustrade or parapet height.  The pedestal height is shown as being 1/4 the height of the column + the entablature.  (I’ve taken some liberties here; more often the pedestal is depicted as being 1/3 the column height, but I felt compelled to continue the 1 to 4 ratio as a theme throughout.)  According to Robert Chitham‘s book on the Classical Orders, he indicates that James Gibbs used this method for determining the pedestal height, so it can’t be all wrong.

Finally, I’ve used the same 1 to 4 proportion to determine the pedestal base height from the pedestal’s overall height and the balustrade/parapet’s base height form it’s overall height.  The pedestal cap and the balustrade cap is determined by the taking remaining height of the pedestal or balustrade/parapet and again divided into 5.

The next thing to notice on this drawing is that certain alignments must occur for the Classical Orders to look right.  When these alignments are ignored, for example, if the base is too wide, or the soffit of the entablature is too wide, it makes the column appear to be weak or over burdened in its effort to support the loads.

The alignments, starting at the bottom, are that the pedestal width aligns with the width of the column plinth; the width of the entablature’s soffit aligns with the upper shaft of the columns.  (The columns have entasis, which is a gradual tapering of the upper two thirds of the column shaft, the lower third remaining cylindrical.)  The planar face of the balustrade or parapet base aligns with the base plane of the entablature (the frieze if it is without relief and the bottom of the architrave).   There is a continual diminishing of material as the facade increases in height.  This makes since because the base of the facade must be thicker to carry more weight, and the upper portions must be lighter to not over burden the supports below.

As for the column’s entasis, I’ve shown the top diameter of the equal to 7/8 that of the base.  This is not exactly right, but it is close.  The purpose for using 7/8 was to make it easier for carpenters (again some liberties taken).

Modern lightweight frame construction has made it easy for architects to ignore this alignment of components and the required diminishing of material, and it is this perhaps more than anything, makes an amateur’s work stand out among one who thoroughly studies classical architecture.

Finally, there are some specific dimensions related to each of the orders.  The Tuscan entablature  includes an architrave that is .5 diameters in height, a frieze that is .5 diameters in height, and a cornice that is .75 diameters in height (.5 + .5 + .75 = 1.75, which is 1/4 of 7, the column height).  The Doric has an architrave that is .5 diameters in height, a frieze that is .75 diameters in height, and a cornice that is .75 diameters in height (.5 + .75 + .75 = 2, which is 1/4 of 8).  Also the Doric’s frieze has an alternating pattern of metopes and triglyphs.  The metopes are square, or .75 diameters wide and the triglyphs are .5 diameters wide, with a vertical proportion of 2 to 3.  The intercolumniation of the Doric, or the spacing of the columns, is done in increments of 1.25 diameters (1.25, 2.5, 3.75, 4.5) so that the column is always centered on the triglyphs.

The Ionic has an architrave, frieze and cornice heights of 5/8, 6/8 and 7/8 respectively.  (5/8 + 6/8 + 7/8 = 2.25, which is 1/4 of 9).  The Ionic cornice has a continuous band of dentils, therefore the intercolumniation is not as critical as the Doric.  The Corinthian and Composite both have architraves that are .75 diameters in height, friezes that are .75 diameters in height, and cornices that are 1 diameter in height (.75 + .75 + 1 = 2.5, which is 1/4 of 10).  The Corinthian and Composite cornice both have modillions that are spaced at increments of 2/3 diameters, starting with 1 1/3 and moving upwards (1 1/3, 2, 2 2/3, 3 1/3, 4).

Notice also that when modillions are used at a corner, the column center lines are aligned with the second modillion from the corner, and the outside face of the modillions at the corners align with back fascia of the adjacent side.

There is so much more to classical architecture, including proportion, composition, hierarchy, etc. that can’t be covered in this blog post, but it is hoped that builders, carpenters and designers who are unfamiliar with the Classical Orders will find this to be a helpful worksheet and introduction to their proper use.

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1989 INNOVATIONS IN HOUSING COMPETITION – A SINGLE FAMILY RESIDENCE

ImageThis project is a shingle style house that was submitted to the 1989 Innovations in Housing Competition sponsored by APA wood products.  It won a Certificate of Merit Award.  The Grand Award winner of the competition that year was Ken Dahlin, Architectural Designer of Racine, Wisconsin.  Other Certificate of Merit Awards were John P. Cutsumpas, Architectural Designer of Mamaroneck, New York and Jeffery Charles Raasch, Architectural Designer of San Francisco.  I was a student at the time and produced the presentation drawings between semesters.

I’ve posted the jury comments below.

Keep in mind that when this project was drawn, the post modern movement was waning and the deconstructivists and neo-modernists movements were gaining in popularity.  Genuine traditional styled projects were unusual.

The general comment from the jury: 

The quality of the submissions remains divided between the very high and the not-quite-so-high, as might be expected.  There is an emphasis on historically derived directions, as is evident in at least two of the winning entries.  The Grand Award winner falls within that classification and reflects a general embracing by the public of the comforts associated with homes of times gone by. 

While this is by no means the only kind of thinking the jury was looking for, it represents an approach that, it is hoped, will lead the public towards more design quality than it has typically been offered in many marketplaces.  At the same time, the jury recognizes that innovations can take many forms, and future entrants need not think that historic references are a prerequisite for winning this competition. 

The jury comments for my entry: 

This represents a very well thought-out, very thorough, fairly standard floor plan and cottage-type house.  The architecture itself is not particularly innovative, but what it does, it does extremely well.  It seems to be a very comfortable sort of house – a house that could fit in a lot of different neighborhoods, at least in the Northeast.  The quality of the execution is extremely high; however, the level of innovation is not particularly high. 

It is innovative in the sense that the spirit of the original that it springs from is still here, and yet it somehow merges with the way we live today, making it seem as if the two eras really are, in a sense, one – that they belong to each other.  That’s a pretty neat thing to accomplish. 

It has all of the things that a modern house should have, but the fact is, the designer was very, very thorough in interpretation and execution of what could be termed a shingle-style house.  It might seem a little too regional to the Northeast, but it really could be built in a lot of places, though probably not anywhere in the South.  Nevertheless, it’s an extremely well-handled attempt at this kind of thing, with nice spaces for dining.  The plan seems fairly well thought out. 

I think that the use of shakes on the exterior is very, very  important.  I think the artistry is marvelous.  The presentation is beautiful – absolutely beautiful. 

It is our feeling that the designer who did this very thoroughly thought out every aspect and carried it through the presentation, which is something we didn’t see a lot of.  It’s quite rare even to see that much care taken in a contest entry. 

(Note:  The program sponsors require that the Grand Award winning design use APA Rated Siding on the exterior.) 

The last comment is interesting.  I entered the previous year and did not win.  When the winners were announced, a brochure featuring the winning entries was distributed to all the other competitors, and  I noticed that the winning entry had what appeared to be wood shingles or shakes.  I remember thinking, “Hey wait! I didn’t know we could use wood shingles on the exterior!”  So this entry was deliberately done in a shingle style because plywood siding lends itself more to modernist styles than traditional styles.  I suppose vertical battens can be applied to create a carpenter gothic style, but there isn’t much else that can be achieved with plywood siding as an exterior material.  I would have proposed using plywood siding in other less significant areas.  For example, T-1-11 grooved siding could have been used at the eaves above the exposed rafters to simulate board sheathing, or the T-1-11 grooved siding could have been used for interior wainscots to simulate vertical board wainscots.    

The drawings were bound in a book rather than mounted on boards, therefore the cover with the exterior perspective was designed to catch the eye.  The drawing depicts the house framed by an archway.  Upon further examination, the archway is split in two with the left side depicting the detailing of the front porch columns and stone pedestals, and the right side depicting the rear secon floor balcony columns with the wood shake clad skirt panel.  The floor plan of the house is depicted as if it were a set of drawings draped across the porch floor or skirt panel.

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MORE THOUGHTS ON MY THESIS PROJECT AND WHAT IS AN APPROPRIATE WAY TO EXPAND AN HISTORIC BUILDING

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My Tulane Thesis Project from 1989 is the expansion of the New Orleans Museum of Art.  The project was designed in the classical manner, just like the original museum building, and in doing so, it challenged the Venice Charter of 1964, which establishes guidelines for the preservation of historic structures and sites.  The problem with the Venice Charter of 1964 is Article 9 which requires that additions to existing buildings have a “contemporary stamp.”  The charter was written when modernism dominated the architectural profession, and traditional architecture was looked down upon.  Prior to the Modernist Movement, there was no “contemporary stamp” of architecture, or at least not anything that was obvious.  Prior to the charter, an architect would design an addition to an historic building in a style that would complement the existing building;  the historic building with its new addition had to be designed as a single composition.  The real purpose for Article 9 is to allow architects disciplined in Modernism to be able to work on historic buildings with no remorse for designing something that was not in the same style as the older building.  It didn’t have anything to do with preservation of the older work.ImageImage

My proposed expansion to the New Orleans Museum of Art is similar in a lot of respects to another very well known classical building, the U. S. Capitol Building in Washington D. C.  An older version of the building had a lower copper clad dome that was designed by Architect Charles Bulfinch.  When the Senate and House wings were added onto the each end of the capitol building, the dome appeared to be too diminutive.  The architect of the new wings, Thomas U. Walter, replaced the low rise Bulfinch dome with a higher cast iron dome over a colonnaded drum, similar to Christopher Wren’s dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  The Senate and House wings were designed in a classical style, with a Corinthian Order that was extended onto the new wings, and with the heightened dome, produced a seamless classical composition.

Similarly, my expansion of the gallery spaces to the original museum building, extending the existing building’s Ionic Order, created a long, spread out building that desired to have some kind of vertical element that would be visible over the large canopy of oak trees that covered Lelong Avenue, the axial approach roadway that extended into City Park.  One slight difference is that the vertical element that I proposed was positioned behind the original building, not over it.  In fact, my proposed expansion, which included the renovation of circa 1970’s era wings on each side and replacement of a gallery addition to the rear, also built in the 1970’s, has minimal additional contact with the original building.

The vertical element that I designed is a large pavilion like structure with engaged Corinthian columns similar to those of the Choragic Monument to Lysicrates.  I chose that column style because it was the most refined of the Greek Corinthian Order, and because the original building was done in A Neo-Greek classicism, I insisted that the expansion would also be in a Greek style as well.  The dome had not been invented yet when Ancient Greeks built their temples, so capping this vertical element with a dome was out of the question.  I chose a stepped pyramid similar to the Monument at Halicarnassus, which I topped off with a statue of Isaac Delgado, the museum’s original founder.Image

What appears to be a stepped pyramid roof from the ground turns out to be in section a series of concentric square baffles positioned on carriage beams, and placed so that they are able to diffuse natural light into a skylight that is placed below on a low pitched built-up roof below.

The pavilion structure would contain a rooftop restaurant with dining terraces over the gallery wings, and with scenic views throughout City Park.

In contrast, Daniel Libeskind’s expansion of the Royal Ontario Museum takes the complete opposite approach to designing an addition to an historic building.  Here, the Venice Charter’s Article 9 mandate for a “contemporary stamp” is perverted, and the result is a metal and glass structure of random, chaotically arranged shapes graphed onto a traditional stone museum building.  It is a narcissistic kind of architecture demanding attention to itself, extending out beyond the facade of the old building, and seemingly pushing it away.  The composition of the new, tangled up, chaotic structure with the old historic building is an uncomfortable one, meant more for shock value than anything artistic.  The old building begs to be restored, with the hideous monstrosity graphed to it’s side, demolished and hauled off to a landfill somewhere.

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