Sunday, October 30, 2016

Contemporary Traditional Architecture and the Need for Including Its Instruction in Architectural Education

Contributed by Anthony O. James 
Buffalo, NY

Figure 1: SmartDwelling I, Stephen Mouzon, 2009
Contemporary Traditional Architecture

When traditional architecture is mentioned, the first thing likely to come to mind for many people is the old farmhouses they see on drives through the country. That is certainly one definition that makes sense; however, contemporary expressions of traditional architecture go far beyond that. I have chosen to call such expressions “contemporary traditional architecture.”

The adjective “contemporary” clearly indicates that this type of architecture is current; it is the “traditional” adjective that needs further definition. Traditional in this context means the designer is drawing on forms, materials, and stylistic influences that have gone before, whether from the local region or elsewhere. Another description is that of architect Stephen Mouzon, author of “The Original Green,” who describes what he calls “living tradition” in the context of sustainability as “the collective intelligence behind . . . sustainable buildings and sustainable places.” Historic buildings and places, or new buildings and places designed using lessons learned in the past, represent this living tradition. 

When used today, this kind of design does not myopically look back at the past as some golden age (although examples of such can be found). Rather, it looks to the future, remembering the lessons of the past, and building on them. A design by Mouzon was widely touted when it was illustrated in a Wall Street Journal article titled “The Green House of the Future,” April 17, 2009 (Figure 1). Another example is the 2002 design by Robert A.M. Stern Architects for the International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee (Figure 2). This building responds very sensitively to its context, without copying any building that came before.

Figure 2: International Storytelling Center, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, 2002

Where does contemporary traditional architecture fit in the broader scheme of contemporary architectural design?

For the past several generations, architectural education has, for the most part, emphasized the new, the radical. The point is often made that if a building is not “of our time” it is retrograde and irrelevant, giving in to popular taste, and thus suspect. There is no sense of continuing a noble tradition, updating it through creativity within a framework of tried and true design methodologies. In the words of Roger Lewis, a Washington Post architecture commentator, “Today almost all practicing architects in the United States are, in the broadest sense, modernists. . . Their talents and aesthetic tastes vary widely, but few [architects] design buildings replicating architecture of the past or buildings festooned with historic motifs and ornamentation borrowed from previous centuries.” (Washington Post, May 18, 2012) The emphasis is rather on personal expression and seeking something so new and creative that no one else has ever thought of it before.

Creativity is, of course, a good and necessary thing. But if a client is looking for a traditional design today, what do they ask for? Where do they turn? How do they find an architect who is conversant in designing forms and details they will be happy with? comfortable with? proud of? Will the architect say, “What do you mean by traditional architecture?” Should they look for architects who call themselves classicists, because that title seems to indicate an architect may have an understanding of tradition? But what, after all, is tradition? Is there such a thing as “new traditionalism”? or has it never died?

The argument can be made that tradition has in fact died, that there is no longer an unbroken line of designers following in the footsteps of their fathers. And in a broad sense that is true, which leads to the coining of the term contemporary traditional architecture. But there is a very small cadre of practitioners who have followed in the traditions of their predecessors, and continued to design using the lessons of the past. Don Swofford in Virginia and F.L. Bissinger in Pennsylvania come to mind. But a more sizable group brought up on modernist principles, has rebelled against those limits, and seeking a source of harmonious design, found it in tradition. Robert Stern is perhaps the best known of this group, although he also embraces modernism for certain projects where the firm deems it appropriate, and when dean of the architecture school at Yale, encouraged the presentation of a wide variety of views.

Some may find the questions listed above provocative; others may find them irrelevant. It depends on the architect’s point of view. In all likelihood, however, questions of style will remain relevant to clients. Some clients look to their architect to lead them in matters of design and taste. Others already know what they are comfortable with. Institutional clients may have a stylistic given, for instance a desire to link to a style that already defines a campus, projecting stability and longevity (Figure 3), or a look that says “I am Up-to-Date/Cutting Edge” and thus my school/organization is, too (Figure 4). These options can be seen as a battle between the traditional and the avant-garde, although in architecture today the avant-garde is practically mainstream and the traditional is side-lined and often ridiculed as a “pastiche.” Roger Lewis, in fact, starts the article quoted above by stating “The nation’s capital is the only American metropolis where debates still break out periodically between architectural traditionalists and architectural modernists,” and then goes on to belittle the traditionalists. Buildings like MIT’s Stata Center usually get the attention and the press, while buildings like the new law school at Washington University usually fly under the radar.

Figure 3: Washington University Social Sciences and Law Building
Kallman McKinnell &Wood, 2008
Figure 4: MIT Stata Center, Frank Gehry, 2004

A further pairing of educational examples is likewise striking (Figures 5 and 6): Quinlan Terry’s Downing College Library, Cambridge, UK (1992), and Will Alsop’s Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto (2004).

Figure 5: Downing College Library, Quinlan Terry, 1992

Figure 6: Ontario College of Art and Design, Will Alsop, 2004

What does the past have to teach us?  

The past is a rich mine of inspiration. There is much we can learn from the architecture and building traditions that have gone before us. Architects can draw from ideas of beauty, harmony and proportion that have stood the test of time and create designs that will be accepted, even loved, by clients, and the general public.  Such acceptance will contribute to the longevity of such buildings in the future.  Just as the greenest building today is the one that already exists so in the future the greenest buildings will be those that are adaptable enough to accommodate future space needs but also “lovable” enough to be objects for future preservation.

Sustainable construction techniques and design ideas that have served past buildings well and lasted for centuries have not been out-dated by the latest technology. The 1970s (or 1990s, or even 2010s) office with fixed windows becomes a stifling box during a power outage. Natural ventilation, use of local materials, appropriate solar orientation, flexible planning, all these are hallmarks of traditional architecture of the past, and all are certainly appropriate for contemporary design.

The “lovability” variable, however, is not necessarily seen as important, or even understood. Yet, when a building is lovable, it is less likely to be torn down and thus becomes greener; it becomes a more sustainable design. A building that today has all the latest high-tech energy-saving equipment will, in the future when its equipment becomes obsolete, the appearance of the building is no longer popular (if it ever was), and people would rather have it torn down, no longer be sustainable design. Instead, it becomes an example of conspicuous waste should it be demolished.

Why Should We Consider Teaching Contemporary Traditional Architecture?  

Gary Brewer, a partner at Robert Stern’s office, wrote in a post to the Traditional Architecture listserve that “Practicing architecture always has a way of balancing grand intellectual theories with an on-the-street pragmatic reality of what it takes to actually build.” And what are some of the aspects of that pragmatic reality? Some things are what we might expect, such as “value engineering,” financial realities, building code issues, or building material considerations.

But another factor architects often face, is client desires and expectations. A client may desire a design they are comfortable with, which may mean the style of building they grew up with, or what they think is appropriate to their context. And often that means something traditional. Unfortunately many, if not most, architects who come out of architecture school today are not sure how to approach such a design.  Thus, we get many “sort-of-traditional” buildings that really are extremely awkward, if not down-right ugly, buildings that have not learned from the past. Many, many examples could be cited. A local example is the new fire station in Clarence Center (Figure 7).  Its context is a historic village, and the client’s desire was to have a design that related to the village; however, how to accomplish that goal seems to have been a mystery to the designer. Thus, we have parts that do not relate well to one another, squat proportions one place and elongated features elsewhere, ambiguous detailing (what exactly do those bands at the top of the piers represent?), and a general lack of unity.  The designer may well have benefited from having a course in traditional design in school.

Figure 7: Clarence Center Fire Station, designer unknown

Figure 8: Illustration from
Best Western Design Manual
The hotel building type has a long and distinguished history, but those lessons seem to have been lost over the past 50 years or so.  Design guidelines for many hotel chains today show egregious examples of not learning from the past when they attempt to describe how to design a traditionally styled hotel (Figure 8, an illustration from the Best Western chain’s design manual). Several examples from the Homewood Suites chain illustrate the same problem, which seems to be ubiquitous in the industry (Figures 9 and 10).  But is it entirely the industry’s fault? Or do the architecture schools bear some of the blame?

Figure 9: Homewood Suites, Slidell, LA

Figure 10: Homewood Suites, Tallahassee, FL

Pitched roofs, chimneys, sash windows, dormers, pilasters, cornices, etc., figure into the design vocabulary in these buildings, but these elements are used awkwardly, without an understanding of the traditions from which they come.  The resulting buildings would not make anyone’s list of favorites.  Retail buildings, such as shopping centers and malls, are another building type where clients often require a traditional style, but the results are similar to those in the hotel industry. This problem is not just limited to the United States and Canada, as the Versace store in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Figure 11) shows (although this may have been designed by an American architect). Here clumsy proportions, extraneous details, and an awkward and out of scale entablature overpower the attempt to relate to the historic architecture in Jeddah. Even a well-respected architect such as Charles Moore, when designing a delightful set of Post Modern columns for an addition to the Williams College Museum of Art, topped them with a bland, ill-proportioned stucco box that cheapens the whole design (Figure 12). Religious buildings are another arena in which poor traditional design is often found.

Figure 11: Versace Store, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Figure 12: Williams College Museum of Art Addition, Charles Moore, 1986

Figure 13: Russian McMansion
Much residential design in the United States is not done by architects, but by unlicensed architectural designers and builders, who often buy their plans from plan services or out of catalogs. The examples of poor traditional designs found in such sources are appalling. This problem is not limited to North America, either, as “McMansions” exhibiting the same awkwardness, poor proportions, and cartoonish detailing (Figure 13) can even be found in Russia.
Figure 14: American McMansion

Figure 15: House on Cape Cod

Albert, Righter & Tittman, 2006  
Residential design is a rich field for the exercise of traditional design as so many residential clients prefer that. The unfortunate part of that dynamic is that there are so few architects working today who are really knowledgeable in how to design a satisfying, literate, well-detailed traditional home. The woeful tale of “McMansions” spreading across the suburbs of America (Figure 14) has become part of popular lore, but the logical cure for it, traditional design carried out by knowledgeable practitioners, seems beyond reach because the majority of architects and designers apparently do not have the knowledge or education to carry out such design. There are firms today, however, who can do an admirable job when a traditional design is requested. Albert, Righter & Tittmann of Boston is one such (Figure 15). Archer and Buchanan of West Chester, Pennsylvania, (Figure 16), and Bobby McAlpine of Atlanta (Figure 17) are two more.
Figure 16: House in Devon, Archer and Buchanan

Figure 17: House by Bobby McAlpine

The case for teaching traditional design can thus be made on several fronts, including most importantly sustainability and numerous client requests for traditional design. Just because the public seems to favor traditional design in numerous surveys may not be sufficient cause to pursue and promote this approach, but certainly its other benefits, including its sustainability, beauty and lovability are.

Contributed by Anthony O. James 
Buffalo, NY

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Failed Project of Civilization

Contributed by Patrick Webb
of Real Finishes

This essay is really addressing ethical questions pertaining to the built environment, that's to say how society might organize itself architecturally: How ought we to live? What models help us best to flourish as human beings?

I observe that for many that question has been put to rest. The city is the best model for human flourishing and all energies should be directed to refining it. I don't take the aforementioned position as a given and contend that there may very well be value in revisiting the few basic structures of societal self organization, some ancient, others more recent. Brace yourself for the anecdotes, here they come!

The Ascetic - either the hermit or perhaps the solitary frontiersman who lives in near isolation, living off the land so to speak. The monastery creates a brotherhood of ascetics who though sharing certain tasks in common, reserve much time for isolation and quiet contemplation.

A pilgrimage to the Sea of Galilee during my Aliyah

Alright, where to begin? Well, not at the beginning but in my twenties. For 7 years I took a vow of poverty and lived as an ascetic, my daily concerns being studies of linguistics, ethics and aesthetics. Particularly the latter being my personal interest, I could be rightly called an aesthetic ascetic as it were. As a young man I was relieved of the pressures of raising a family, acquiring debt, managing property, climbing a corporate ladder, building a business or otherwise establishing my turf in a commercial enterprise. Yes, there were rules and obligations; however, my experience of the monastic was that this conformist aspect of the life was light, just enough for cohesion of the brethren. I've never since had as much time to simply think and personally develop. As I'm always pressed to answer: how did you not have sex for 7 years? Don't know, couldn't do it now. Likewise reintegrating into the so-called "real" world of civilization was a bitch.

The Tribe - Nomadic by nature not 'cause they hate cha. Hunter gatherers and foragers are the oldest form of society and continue to persist, though to an ever shrinking degree, to the present day.

Civilization hates the tribe, plain and simple. As is well recorded, Europeans flooded the planet from the 15th thru 18th centuries, conducting an unrelenting pogrom of improvement. They encountered pre-existing cultures along the way: Islam, Incas, Chinese, Indian, etc. They didn't care for them much with their pagan and primitive ways but at least they could respect them at some level as proto-civilized, they had cities and rules of law after all. However, when they reached Africa, North America and Australia were they in for a shock: bloody tribes! These people lived and died leaving virtually no mark on the land. The human being living as an animal, how unbecoming. For the enlightened adherents of Cogito Ergo Sum, this just did not compute.

I was born in Manhattan, the heart of arguably the world's first megaregion stretching from Boston down to Washington DC. Nevertheless, I spent my summers at my family's property in Jamaica, W.I. Millbank was a little place deep in the tropical rain forest at the end of the road leading up from Kingston into the Blue Mountains. No phone, no electricity, no plumbing, no problem man. It was a village but retaining many characteristics of tribal life. One bathed in the river, cast nets for fish, caught rock shrimps too, foraged for produce and game in the bush as well as for medicinal leaves and roots. The local folk would go off into the jungle for days on end. Little use for money. No law, no codes and consequently no criminals. Your only responsibilities were to one another, simple and free. That way of life is over, like a fading dream. The 4G service there is better than Charleston. Millbank has been transformed into a distant, impoverished outpost of a civilization upon which its denizens now passively depend.

The Village - A sedentary development of the tribe. Familial groups who stay put by establishing agricultural and husbandry practices.

I recently returned from a traditional plasterer's gathering in the village of Llangors, Wales. Flying over the Welsh countryside en route to landing in Cardiff one can't help but notice the lovely plots of land set aside for cultivation and grazing, interspersed with forest as well as small villages connected by country lanes. Not at all unlike a neural network, you get the palpable feeling the fabric of this society is quite literally sentient and very much a thriving living organism.

Llangorse Lake

Hundisburg, Saxony-Anhalt
Similarly, I had the experience last summer of working in Hundisburg, literally "village of the hound", in the middle of nowhere Germany. Hundisburg was situated in a similar pattern of concentrated village development with adjoining agricultural lands and forest that had slowly accreted over millennia. As these villages would grow to a state of maturity, they would divide like a cell and form a new largely self sufficient familial group at a distance away no more than a two hour walk. And so around Hundisburg you have in a radial fan: Ackendorf, Rottmersleben, Nordgermersleben, Bebertal and Süplingen each with its own distinctive, if related character, culture and history. Modernity has pressed upon them all, imposing for good or ill the legal and transportation infrastructure of contemporary life. Nevertheless, I admired the persistence of the locals to live off the land, eat from their gardens and with the seasons, continue to make their own building materials then build according to their traditions, refuse credit cards and avoid even cash when possible in lieu of barter. For the kids, the next generation being English speakers as beneficiaries of a standardized education courtesy of the E.U., these are just nostalgic fetishes of their cute but backwards parents. They're all European now.

The City - Something altogether different from the village. The city is characterized by strict hierarchies, rules of law, property rights and division of labors. Most towns share these characteristics and can be classified as small cities.

The city is a rather recent phenomenon among human society, perhaps dating back at the most some eight to nine thousand years. For sure villages go back much further. However, as I've been enlightened by a colleague who is writing a book on city planning, a city is most definitely not an overgrown village. Ancient cities weren't grown at all, rather they were manufactured whole cloth with religious, legal and economic infrastructure accompanied by a rationalized plan that is to say an urban layout.

Who made these first cities? The best I can tell, tyrants. The city is possible because of institutionalized systems of coercion, by force of violence enforcing a culture of subjugation, dependence and passivity maintained in successive generations by indoctrination of rule of law and respect for authority. In a word slavery.

Rebellious Slave, Michelangelo
Admittedly there have been these intractable problems from the inception of the city but the case is continually made that the city is a worthwhile project after all. Look how much culture it has brought humanity. You don't get opera in a tribe or Michelangelo in a village. The highest of highs, such pinnacles of human achievement. Inspiring values worth almost any sacrifice...but from whom?

Democratic Athens struggled with this question. By Athenian democracy I mean property owning males, about 10%. Women, foreigners and slaves, you know the folks who actually did all of the work didn't count because after all work is demeaning, subhuman. A group of the citizens felt democracy was all wrong, the enfranchisement of 10% was already too broad. The unlearned it gave voice to interfered with the realization of the ideal polis where the good, the just and the beautiful were recognized as three expressions of a single guiding universal ideal. The beautiful city is a just city. A just city is a good city. A good city is a beautiful city.

If you are committed to the city project as your model of human flourishing I guess it's perfection is perhaps a reasonable quest; you're committed after all and that's the nature of commitment. However, from someone like myself who makes no such commitment, it reeks of Romanticism. No not the 19th century aesthetic movement but hearkening all the way back to Classical Greece & Rome: Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. When has the West or anyone else for that matter ever produced anything even approaching a good, just and beautiful city? Athens? Rome? Paris? London? New York? It's a delusion, a fantasy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the ideals of the good, just and beautiful as among the guiding lights for human flourishing. I just observe that the city has never been the appropriate societal vehicle for such development, rather an impediment.

The Megaregion - The absorption of cities into huge swaths of development, forming blocs that are in fierce economic competition with one another in a single global market.

Cities were horrible places for most people. Running them required armies that acquired and policed slaves, serfs or similar peasant rabble; the only "volunteers" being the most vulnerable and desperate outside populations who, otherwise facing starvation, were compelled to prostitute themselves as "metics" or indentured servants. Unsurprisingly, the city was the minority form of societal organization. Up until as late as 1800 less than 3% of the world's population lived in cities, although it must be admitted that the outstretched influence of the city was already vigorously on the rise. Today, over half the world's population lives in cities, a startling 75% in the West. Who doesn't physically live in the city, lives according to the prescriptions of the larger megaregion.

The megaregion is the metastasis of the city, spreading everywhere like cancer. It is militarily intolerant of any independent form of societal self organization. Totalizing, the megaregion reaches out into the most far flung reaches of desert, tundra  and jungle, to the most isolated tribe and village, "civilizing" them, excising conformity and dependence by rule of law.

When I was a child I had a vision for world unity. I thought how wonderful it will be when everyone has electricity, everyone has a car, everyone speaks English...everyone becomes the same because they're just like me! I think I can be forgiven for that; it was the thinking of an undeveloped, immature child. As humanity faces impending ecological crisis, the depletion economies and nihilistic behavior of the megaregions are stamping out remaining solutions embedded in thousands of years of accumulated tradition, culture and language, literally humanity's collective ability to think, in favor of an imposed universality. The fact that megaregions such as Toronto, Dubai and Peking are converging in the ways they look and function is not evidence of progress, it's evidence of tremendous loss resulting from infantile thinking.

So the questions arise: Is this state of affairs inevitable? Is this human evolution, progress toward some yet undetermined end? Who's to say for sure, maybe it is. I have my biases but I'm not insisting that the tribe and village are better than the city. Personally though, I don't like having all my "evolutionary" eggs placed in the megaregional basket without my consent. Just as we make room for national parks, protected species, there may be some wisdom in making a place for other forms of human society, uncivilized as they may be. Civilization can afford this and the price our species may have to pay for not doing so might be too much to bear.

Contributed by Patrick Webb
of Real Finishes

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: Henry Howard – Louisiana's Architect

Contributed by Michael Rouchell 
founding member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art

The architecture scene in Antebellum Louisiana was dominated by three practitioners, James Gallier, James Dakin and one lesser known architect, Henry Howard. The Forward to the book by S. Frederick Starr describes why Henry Howard ended up being the lesser known architect. While Howard was a workaholic, working up to 18 and 20 hours per day, and working what is almost like two distinct architectural practices, one in the city and one in the country, Gallier was able to take time out to publish his autobiography and the book American Builder’s General Price Book and Estimator. Much has been written about Gallier, and James Dakin, who was from New York and apprenticed with Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, had his biography written by architectural historian Arthur Scully Jr.

This book is the long awaited biography of Henry Howard, and is intended to set the record straight on some works by Howard that, until now were thought to be by an unknown designer, or worse has been misattributed to Gallier. Jewell’s Crescent City Illustrated, which was published in 1873 to promote the city and its thriving businesses and industry during reconstruction, omitted Belle Grove Plantation among the list of works that Howard submitted. The original hand-written manuscript that Howard provided for Jewell’s Crescent City Illustrated was discovered by Victor McGee, the great-great-great grandson of Howard, in a large trunk in the attic of his mother’s family home of Seven Oaks Plantation in Westwego, along with other papers and files belonging to Howard. The manuscript was word-for-word what was published, except that Belle Grove was omitted from the list of Howard’s projects. Howard’s manuscript, in its hand-written form, is featured as an appendix in the book. 

Pontalba Plan by Gallier
For many years the Pontalba Buildings lining the up and down river sides of Jackson Square were attributed to James Gallier. The story goes that the Baroness Pontalba, after inheriting her father’s property and wealth, and after returning from France, hired Gallier to design and build the two large apartment buildings, but early into the project had a falling out with Gallier, hired another builder, and sought the advice of Howard. Howard was asked to provide a schematic design utilizing what foundations were already built, and rather than letting Howard take over, the baroness used Howard’s schematic design in combination with Gallier’s specification, but with Gallier’s name struck out. It is fair to say that the plan is by Gallier and the façade is by Howard. A drawing in the book of the proposed façade by Gallier looks nothing like what was built; the drawing does not indicate the three pediments that give the building it tripartition, and the Gallier’s dormers flanked with brackets were not built. Nonetheless, Gallier still attributed the work to himself, and so for a long time was thought to his.

Pontalba Buildings

The discovery of Howard’s files prompted Samuel Wilson to curate an exhibit of Howard’s work at the Tulane School of Architecture, and later in 1977, James Brantley would encouraged Victor McGee to write Howard’s biography, and then offer to collaborate with him on this book. Later, Brantley’s architectural photographer wife, Jan White Brantley would also contribute. Therefore, this book is the 4 decade-in-the-making work by the three, but would be finally completed after the death of McGee in 2007, and Jan White Brantley in 2008. 

This book chronicles the solo practice of Henry Howard, and later his brief partnership with Albert Diettel and Henry Thiberge. It begins with his upbringing in Ireland, apprenticeship with his father who is also an architect, his architectural influences located within Ireland at the time, his immigration to America via New York City where he became employed as a picture frame maker, his relocation to New Orleans where he became a carpenter, a stair builder, and eventually began his practice in architecture. The book also provides a detailed description of each project as they were commissioned and compares various projects to some of his earlier projects to demonstrate design characteristics and similarities. Some characteristics of Howard’s work included locating the stair within its own space off the main entrance hall, a later fascination with asymmetrical plan arrangements, and the location of the kitchen within the volume of the main house, which was thought to be a fire hazard at the time. The book also chronicles the prosperous times of the Antebellum Period, the interruption of the Civil War, and the struggle of resuming an architectural practice during Reconstruction. Changes in style occur during Howard’s practice, starting with the Greek revival and transitioning into the Italianate style.

Carrollton Courthouse circa 1895
The book also emphasizes Howard’s attention to detail, particularly with specification writing, and features a copy of one of the hand-written pages of Nottoway Plantation’s specifications in the Preface, as well as a comparative on Howard’s specification vs. others. 

Carrollton Courthouse
Color photographs by Robert and Jan White Brantley are featured for all extant works, along with numerous vintage photographs. In addition drawings, lithographs, watercolors, and other illustrations are provided, particularly where there are no known photographs for such works as Windsor Plantation, which was left in ruins by a fire in 1890. The vintage photographs are helpful because they show subtle changes to buildings that have been made over time. For example, a photograph of the Carrollton Courthouse taken in 1895 shows the original front entrance, and shows that all the windows once had pediments over them. Perhaps some preservation sensitive developer will purchase this currently unprotected landmark, replace the Victorian front door with something matching the original, and restore all the missing pediments.

Indian Camp Plantation 1917
A current photograph of Indian Camp Plantation shows that original wings are missing their parapets when compared to a vintage photo taken in 1917, and perhaps most significant is the John T. Moore house in the Lower Garden District now has two story front porch, whereas the vintage photograph shows a small cantilevered balcony at the second floor only. 

Indian Camp Plantation

Finally, at the back of the book is a catalog of all works arranged by the year they were built, and includes the owner’s name, the name of the architect (Howard by himself or with one of his later partners, Albert Diettel or Henry Thiberge), the builder if known, documentation of its attribution to Howard, and has a cross reference to the pages in the book where the building is more fully discussed. The catalog also has brief description of each project, thumbnail photographs if it is still extant, and drawings, watercolors, lithographs or other illustrations if found for those that no longer remain. Still, there are a number of Howard’s works that have not survived, and have no surviving photographs, drawings or documentation as to what they look like. 

This book is a must-have for anyone who is interested in Louisiana’s historic architecture and plantation houses in particular. It is also ideal for anyone who has an interest in classical architecture and its practical application in Louisiana’s setting. 

Contributed by Michael Rouchell 
founding member of the Louisiana Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art

Monday, October 24, 2016

“Living Structure" or Nature?

Contributed by Carroll William Westfall 
Professor Emeritus 
School of Architecture 
University of Notre Dame

“A traditional Batak house,
Sumatra, Indonesia. (Wikipedia),”
included in “Alexander’s Classical Tent,”
David Brusssat’s blog, “Architecture Here and There.”
I missed (or forgot) reading Christopher Alexander’s “An open letter to classicist and traditional architects” back on August 9, 2002, on the Tradarch list and reposted there by Bin Jiang on October 23rd: 

Alexander is certainly right when he states, “If we hold too narrowly to the pure historical classicist forms, we run a very severe danger that this could be perceived as an elitist game, not relevant to seven eighths of the people on Earth, and possibly colonialist in its meaning if not its intent.”

And he reminds us, The issue is, it seems to me, that we must renew our attention to forms that have life, and like nature, originate from life and joyfully celebrate life.”

But his writing here and elsewhere does not note that architecture serves human nature’s aspiration to enjoy justice. This fundamental principle that binds individuals into a society is missing from what he writes about the “living structure” that he posits as the basis of both nature and architecture. His position appeals to architects who accept the same modern empiricist approach to (small n) nature that neglected or disdains Nature that encompasses human nature. This limitation is revealed in Modernism’s embrace of technology as a means to achieve undefined ends and its exclusion of architecture as the means a people use to serve and express the highest end their society seeks, which is justice. Every society has a different means of serving its aspiration for justice, which we can understand as the fulfillment of the human nature of each person. Ours means has a career within the constantly revised tradition that began with Greeks, Hebrews, and Latins.

I have not found in Alexander’s work a recognition that every mature society has a best (i.e., classical) form for the justice that its civil or religious order (united or separate) seeks and that its classical (i.e., its best appropriate) architecture serves and expresses. Those whom he calls “classicist” architects honor style, not architecture. Imposing “classicist” architecture would be an act of cultural imperialism, and so would be (and have been) imposing Christianity, Latin, Greek, or English, or his “living structure,” which is agnostic relative to the society’s means of seeking justice. 

The aspiration of every individual to live nobly and well is more than congruence with “that living structure, and the deep nature of what it is,” that he argues “must be produced,” arguing that “that is what ought to guide us and lead us on.” I would rather think that more important in every society are the millennial traditions and revisions that have guided its quest for justice, that is, the adaptation, more successfully done in some societies and eras than in others, of the principles that produce the beauty in architecture that is the visible counterpart to justice.

Thomas Jefferson, Poplar Forest, Bedford County, Virginia (Photo C.W. Westfall)

Contributed by Carroll William Westfall 
Professor Emeritus 
School of Architecture 
University of Notre Dame