Mid Century Modern Demolition Derby

July 3, 2024 Blog, Sustainability, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 24

The latest raft of demolition plans in San Antonio is rendering an already hot summer unbearable. And for some reason, it is the Mid Century Modern gems that are bearing the brunt of it. San Antonio College’s Early Childhood Development building, designed by local architect William Dukes as an Osteopathic Hospital in 1958. The long, elegant building has a cellular quality softened by edges that bow in plan, and nice big windows that would be ideal for an architecture school.

Oh, and it is in great shape.

Now, you add the ongoing one-sided discussion about the Summer 2025 demolition of the Texas Pavilion/Institute of Texan Cultures, and…

The just-approved (conceptually) demolition of the Badge and ID Building at San Antonio airport with its wave-like folded plates and poured-in-place Y-shaped columns, and you would think everything built from Eisenhower to Nixon was under attack.

It was designed by Clarence W. W. Mayhew in 1968 according to Roadside Architecture’s article on Texas Mid-Century Modern roofs. Mayhew is well known for residential designs in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a super cool building, and immeasurably tiny for the size of the project. Still, you know how highway and airport engineers are!*

We also have ongoing concerns about this building on Main Street, a little too far south for San Antonio College to go after, but still surrounded by parking lots. (Developed by Kallison, architect Henry L. Fox, 1962.)

Now, in San Antonio, the Mid-Century Modern master was O’Neil Ford, who came here to restore La Villita in 1939 and ended up creating some of our greatest landmarks, like Trinity University ans the Tower of the Americas. He also did the Villita Assembly Building in 1959, which serves as Sauerkraut Bend and storage during A Night In Old San Antonio(R). The building is not threatened but will be extensively renovated, with more riverside access, a big glass wall and a new clerestory for the essentially windowless circular building.

Also it has a flower on top.

It is not all death and dismantlement for Mid-Century Mods in SA – we did save this 1950s house by Harvey Smith, who restored the Spanish Governor’s Palace and Mission San Jose in the 1930s. He built it for himself and even though it is in Alamo Heights, the Architectural Review Board’s unanimous denial of a permit somehow got the owner to reconsider, which is a win!

Nice to end on a positive note

*Old joke:

Q: What is the difference between a terrorist and a highway/airport engineer?

A: You can negotiate with a terrorist!

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San Antonio Roundup May 2024

May 30, 2024 Blog, Technology, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (1) 76

Tomorrow is the last day of May and the last time the Institute of Texan Cultures will be open in their original 1968 home, a Brutalist landmark that is the only downtown building by a Mexican-American architect, as I detailed recently here.

What else is happening in San Antonio (not counting endless evidence-free speculation about a downtown Spurs stadium)?

This is a 1920s bungalow at 800 W Russell Place in Alta Vista, which is not a landmark district. As you can see, it is getting a new roof. Here is a view from North Flores:

Much of the original clapboard is being preserved. Here is what the house looked like three years ago after its second fire…

In most towns this building is demolished.

In San Antonio, where preservation is more ingrained into the local psyche than elsewhere, this building is coming back three years later in its original form, most of which will be new material. That is how we roll (with the exception of the Institute of Texan Cultures above). I have seen buildings with massive holes in the roof and collapsed porches and chimneys brought back from the dead here. It is not unusual. It is an ethic.

Three years ago Sue Ann Pemberton’s Main Street Architects brought this Monte Vista house back from the dead. Heck, over 30 years ago the Harnisch House in King William was completely gutted by a fire, nothing left but masonry walls. So here it is a few years ago:

But the threats that came up in May 2024 were of a different sort. First, there was a proposal for a 200-foot high Ferris Wheel three blocks behind the Alamo. The Conservation Society was the first to oppose it when it went for rezoning, but we were quickly joined by the Alamo Trust, Centro and others and the matter has been deferred, perhaps indefinitely. The proponents didn’t want to call it a Ferris Wheel but an “observation wheel”. I suppose it isn’t the 1893 wheel by Ferris (which was a riposte to Eiffel’s tower of four years earlier) and it was to be a bit smaller.

The bigger question was why downtown?

Six years ago, the Alamo Reimagined Plan was all about bringing a sense of reverence to Alamo Plaza, pushing out the populist entertainments for a more refined atmosphere. Now they are back? Tomb Raider replaced by Observation Wheel? Even the World Heritage folks got wind of it and were not pleased.

To top it off, a second tawdry proposal emerged. A group called Outfront Media proposed “Urban Entertainment Districts” a la Denver and Atlanta, with a host of digital billboards flying right in the face of the recently adopted Sign Code. Times Square, anyone? Reverence?

Now, Ferris Wheels and digital signs are all well and good. They make sense in Times Square and La Vegas and Pudong and Akhibara. Heck, they would make sense at Port San Antonio or out on 1604. Just not downtown.

And what makes sense for Pudong does not make sense for the Bund it faces.

The digital billboard trial balloon is getting a lot of flak (and for once that metaphor makes sense).

So what else is happening? A five-time building permit violator finally opened his restaurant, presumably treating the health code better than the building code. Here are some before and after photos of how this Lavaca gas station building had all of its proportions changed. How did he do it? He just got a permit for something and did something else. Five times! Mejor pedir perdón que permiso I guess.

Three years ago.

A few months ago. The parapet changed, the walls changed, thje proportions changed. Not only did he violate five permits, he used the nastiest low-quality finish there is (EIFS!!!) and just kept globbing stuff on top of stuff. Poor building’s life just got a lot shorter.

What else? Unlike San Antonio, which has a robust preservation ordinance and department, the city of Alamo Heights does not. They at least have an Architectural Review Board, which recently voted 6-0 to disallow the demolition of Harvey Smith’s own house. Smith was the architect who restored the Spanish Governor’s Palace and Mission San Jose in the 1930s.

Earlier this year they also managed to save a century-old house in Alamo Heights thanks to community uproar. So, kudos to Alamo Heights – at least you have your landmark-free neighbors Olmos Park and Terrell Hills beat! See below – it is still there!

On the other hand, we are probably going to lose the Sisson House, which has been deteriorating for over a decade next to the San Juan acequia, not far from the mission complex. Owned by the National Park Service, there will be Section 106 review. Unlike our burned friends above, this one may not make it, as the city has already proposed making it a training site for the Deconstruction ordinance, which requires older buildings to be pulled apart by hand and the irreplaceable materials re-used.

It has a really cool limestone basement also.

That’s all for now – see you in June!

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Heritage Narratives

April 30, 2024 Blog, Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice, History, Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments (0) 73

Thanks to the intergalactic webernet, we live in a time of narratives. Stories. Mostly these are short form: Reels and memes and Tik Toks and brief videos, but narratives nevertheless. Stories. A good story does not need to be true or follow rules of evidence like court cases or history books, i.e., they don’t have to be real. They are arguably better stories if they aren’t real. Humans are inherently story tellers and probably inherently fabulists. When friends and colleagues express frustration at the preponderance of blatantly untrue narratives, I try to explain that the solution cannot be provided by evidence. You need a narrative. But that does not mean you have to be a fabulist and fabricate.

History is rife with examples of massacres and conquests carried out in the name of unproveable religious or ideological narratives. Sure, those narratives may have been window dressing for underlying economic or political realities, but they worked their fabulism on the participants.

What does that have to do with heritage conservation? Well, in her important new report The Relevancy Guidebook, Bonnie McDonald of Landmarks Illinois talks about preservationists as storytellers. One of factors limiting preservation’s appeal and constituency has been an inherited focus on architecture. This has exacerbated the diversity deficit as I have written about here and here and elsewhere. Preservationists need to focus less on architecture and more on story.

Architecture became a default mechanism for preservation for a number of reasons. First, the earliest preservation laws coincided with the advent of architectural history in the early 20th century. Second, the introduction of historic preservation tax incentives brought in a slew of real estate developers who wanted their preservation as mechanistic as possible. Not the squishy world of stories. Third, we trained a generation of practitioners and bureaucrats on jalousie windows and jerkinhead roofs and like any profession, there is a frisson associated with the forced erudition of a secret language.

Just another duostyle Doric portico in antes

And this is already happening. When I did one of my early National Register nominations in the 1980s of the Kenwood United Church of Christ, I had all of this fascinating information about the important people who attended the church, including the famous poet Edgar Lee Masters. The State Historic Preservation Office made it clear that I could leave that information in, but it would have no bearing on the significance of a Romanesque church of Maryland granite by the city’s first professional architect.

In contrast, when our National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Texas Pavilion/Institute of Texan Cultures building went to the State Review Board in January, they specifically asked for more pictures with people in them! A formalist focus will appeal to some, but people and their stories appeal to everyone.

That’s my photo – Guilty of formalism!

Narrative is especially important if you are trying to conserve heritages that: 1. Did not or could not express their identity in architecture; 2. Had important historic things happen in everyday buildings without architectural integrity; or 3. Were actively erased by the dominant power structure. In these cases you need to gather the stories first, before you ever go out looking at buildings.

The Texas Pavilion/Institute of Texan Cultures building is a case in point – the only downtown building by a Mexican American architect (Willie Peña). San Antonio’s Mexican-American history is defined more by erasure than preservation, as I illustrated recently.

So many of the histories we are capturing in the 21st century are those of groups who were either erased, like the indigenous and ethnic/racial minorities; or hidden, like the LGBTQ community. In the dozen years I have been working on improving the diversity of the National Register of Historic Places, we have seen significant improvements in how to deal with these properties, and a bevy of historic context statements that have done a lot to uncover, rescue and record these formerly secreted histories. Today the National Register is actively working on updating guidance to capture more stories and to reflect the full spectrum of American history.

But much more needs to be done. One could say that the mainstream historians of the past overlooked these secret histories. “Secret histories” – now there is some branding that could spark the required frisson – the dopamine kick – that “insiders” get when they follow a fabulist narrative. But, like the work the National Register and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and us local preservationists – it would have evidence. Do you think it would work?

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Early 2024 photos

March 15, 2024 Blog, Historic Districts, Vision and Style Comments (0) 102

Old Naval Hospital, Washington, DC

Just a collection of images from the first 10 weeks of 2024, mostly in San Antonio.

Fachwerkbau details with a bit of Prussian Blue, New Braunfels

Cruise ship in Galveston, January

Addition to historic house, Roosevelt Park neighborhood, San Antonio

Landa Library, Monte Vista, San Antonio (1928)

Fireplace detail, also in Monte Vista

Five O’Clock Tea by Julius Stewartm 1894, San Antonio Museum of Art

The alley buildings of Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.

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Traditional Architecture

December 8, 2023 Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice, History, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 233

I was just up at University of Notre Dame to participate in final reviews for their Historic Preservation Program, which is designed as an advanced degree for architects, thanks to the support of the Duda Center for Preservation, Resilience and Sustainability. My friend Steven Semes crafted the program and was kind enough to have me as an advisor. Notre Dame’s architecture and preservation program celebrate the Classical tradition while most architecture schools eschew it. This is a reverse of the situation a century ago, when most architectural schools only taught the Classical tradition.

I first saw Professor Semes in 2006, debating Paul Byard at a Traditional Building Conference. I even commented on it in a blog at the time and later joined him at a Congress for New Urbanism conference in Madison. I blogged again when his book The Future of the Past came out and he joined us at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago to talk about it. He has brought me up to Notre Dame twice since I moved to San Antonio, and I learn something each time.

The Stoa at the Walsh Family Hall at University of Notre Dame

In my blogs I admired his approach to preservation as a way to understand how we built before. Humanity has forgotten more building techniques than it knows – Roman concrete, Chinese chrome, Mayan limewalks, Persian passive air conditioning, the alternating stones and wood lintels of earthquake-resistant Nepalese houses, etc.

Or the natural thermal qualities of the Shaanxi yaodong!

What really struck me this time was something he said about traditional architecture as a whole – not simply the Greek-Roman-Byzantine Classicism of orders and temples and stoas but also traditional Chinese architecture and traditional Indian architecture and traditional African architecture and traditional Incan architecture. Traditional architecture is not a style but a practice that is handed down over generations. Semes quotes Hannah Arendt about the “loving care” of tradition – the bridge between the past and present.

Semes made the point at some time during our discussion Monday that “traditional building” is actually quite catholic in its easy incorporation of motifs and principles from other traditions. This is why the orders have spread from the Mediterranean to the rest of the world and in the other direction, why Saracenic architecture spread into Europe to help birth the Gothic. “Traditional building” is about building traditions, process, and continuity. Every society has its building traditions, which are in the realm of process and practice, not “Style.”

The students in the program – all degreed architects – are from Kenya, Costa Rica, Syria and Iran. They produce exquisite hand drawings, just like my students did during my 16 years at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Why? Because the gesture of a hand drawing teaches something a click cannot. Just like building a dry stone wall rewires your brain to see dry stone walls in a way you never could before.

Actually dry stone walls are a wonderful example of the diversity of traditional building. I was just reading about the dry stone walls of Japan. I have experienced the dry stone walls of Ireland and the north of England, and I am aware of the tradition in Kentucky. I am sure I have encountered them in South America as well.

Marcahuamachuco, Peru

Another universal is of course the earthen building. We call them adobes here, and Professor Sue Ann Pemberton recently made a presentation about earthen architecture at our own adobe brick Yturri-Edmunds house in San Antonio. The World Heritage site of Bam, Iran is earthen. In fact, the majority of buildings in all of human history are earthen.

One of the most famous landmarks in the world is earthen architecture (with a veneer of stone in some places)

Speaking of veneers – Here in San Antonio we have caliche block – the South Texas version of laterite, which is what is beneath the stone veneers of Angkor. A muddy clay with enough calcium carbonate that it hardens into an artificial limestone when you dry it in the sun.

South Texas caliche – losing its protective plaster layer

Southeast Asian laterite losing its Angkorian stone veneer.

On the way back from Notre Dame, I read one of those marvelously complex articles in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, all about a Stoa (hey – I was in one in Notre Dame! See photo above) from Samothrace that had evidence of the use of a flat arch in the metope/triglyph section of the Doric entablature a century or two before it appeared in Rome. Now this is the third century BCE and the triglyphs themselves are already skeuomorphs of wooden antecedents, carved from the same stone as the metope and then cut at an angle to create the flat arch.

Non nova sed nove

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Design Guidelines D’OH!

September 6, 2023 Blog, Historic Districts, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 280

There are some basic principles of heritage conservation/historic preservation you will always hear from me. The first is that preservation is not a series of rules or standards but a PROCESS. It is a better process than zoning or building codes because it treats every property as an individual with its own character and history. Zoning and building treat properties as alienated commodities, one-size-fits-all.

Hakka tulou, South China

Fortified Saxon village, Transylvania. I guess these two pictured structures are the same. Both are made of the same material and designed for both commerce and fortification. They must be identical.

Which is why preservation folks often bump up against zoning attorneys, because the whole treating-resources-based-on-their-actual-characteristics thing is especially annoying to them. After all, their expertise is commodification. You don’t have a house, you have a residential unit.

3-2 $2400 a month ignore the picture.

I taught Historic Preservation Planning for almost twenty years and one of the two final paper assignments was ALWAYS developing design guidelines for a specific historic district. The principle, which was clear since the advent of historic districts, was that you can’t really have design guidelines that apply to all historic districts in a city. Some are Victorian. Some are bungalows. Some are Mid-Century Modern. Any design guidelines that applied to such diverse districts would have to be so bland as to be useless.

This is a San Antonio historic district, so it should follow the same rules as….

this San Antonio historic district, or this one (they all look the same, right?)

I would show my students the Mid-North Historic District Design Guidelines from 1973, created at the time the historic district in Chicago was designated, because EVERYONE KNEW that each district had its own characteristics and needed its own, specifically tailored design guidelines. But that did not happen due to money. So, a perennial Master’s student assignment was born.

Mid-North historic district, Chicago

Fast forward thirty years and the Conservation Society of San Antonio gives a grant to the River Road neighborhood to craft design guidelines. I also helped them from the technical side, since my dissertation was on the history of historic districts and I have a lot of experience with design guidelines.

This is River Road. Some commonalities with bungalow districts, although with more Revival Style and fair amount of Moderne influence, especially in windows, unlike other districts from that period.

Those are the windows on the right – very particular to this area.

And they came up with an excellent document. It was set to be adopted by the Historic and Design Review Commission today but some people in the neighborhood (attorneys probably, or some other commodifiers) raised a last-minute stink so they pulled this thoughtful document from the agenda. Apparently they think that the citywide guidelines are enough, which means they missed the entire point.

Which means they think that River Road looks the same as everywhere else.

Quod erat demonstratum.

D’OH!

OCTOBER UPDATE – DUDA FORUM

I am at the Duda Forum on Historic Preservation and Sustainable Development and Kate Singleton of the City of Dallas reported on how Dallas regulates its historic districts. They have a citywide “boilerplate” for design guidelines but then they differentiate it based on the characteristics of the district. DALLAS DOES IT RIGHT! Not only do they understand that every historic district needs its own individual design guidelines, they also do it for Conservation Districts! Trevor Brown (on the same panel) described how Conservation Districts each have their own regulations that vary dramatically between districts. Some only regulate materials, some do setbacks and massing. Trevor stated that it is a “Neighborhood-driven process” which is exactly what preservation is supposed to be.

Preservation is a process whereby a community determines what elements of its past it wants in its future.

Every place has its own character and needs its own guidelines.

If you need a primer on how historic districts work, here’s one of mine from 2009.

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Techno Trivia and the backward lens 2

September 1, 2023 Blog, History, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 232

In the last installment of Time Tells we learned about how elevators are older than bicycles and we restrained ourselves from commenting on fixies (unlike this time).

What other strange bits of technology trivia can we find in the backward lens? There are always reversed technologies, like the “introduction” of concrete in the late 19th century only to learn 120 years later that the Romans actually did it better 2000 years earlier. Or the case of Qinshihuangdi’s chromed blades predating the 1930s discovery of the chrome process, again by 2000 years. But I am looking for either things that seem old but aren’t – like the bicycle – or things that seem new but aren’t – like hydraulics.

Acequia flowing right now in an aqueduct above a stream – since 1745.

The reason this is interesting is because we tend to organize things in a progressive manner – x begets y begets z – so when we find things that happen in a transgressive manner – z happened before x or y happened and then everyone forgot about it – it is interesting to us. Because it is differently patterned. Like the fact that the first bread toaster predates sliced bread by 35 years. Yes, there was a toaster patented in 1893, the same year we got the zipper, the dishwasher, the Ferris Wheel, Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Pabst Blue Ribbon, spray paint and diet soda. And to think that Coca-Cola was only 7 years old at the time.

Then there are the things that go away and come back – like the electric car, which was all the rage up to about 1910, but then got squeezed out until the 21st century where it is hitting back with a vengeance. I guess the oil companies were pissed off about losing the battle for indoor lighting to the electric folks, also around 1910. We often forget that John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil made their money off indoor lighting. Cars had nothing to do with it up to the point where his trust got busted in 1911 (which made Rockefeller even richer, because capitalism).

Oooh look at that truck – it just caused zoning!

Fun Fact; Rockefeller’s Standard Oil made its money off of kerosene, which is what everyone was making out of petroleum. Standard Oil was the first oil company to NOT throw the gasoline (an unwanted byproduct) into the river.

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San Antonio Update May 2023

May 26, 2023 Blog, Chicago Buildings, History, Interpretation, Technology, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 282

Fiesta is over, the IPW international travel network just completed a lovely visit to the Alamo City, and the State Legislature has almost completed its biennial shenanigans, one bit of which just hit the press and could have a negative impact on one of our treasured landmarks, the Institute of Texan Cultures, built in 1968 and a unique celebration of Texan diversity in a unique Brutalist building.

I wrote about this not long ago – the Conservation Society has been working to list the building on the National Register of Historic Places. Meanwhile, its owner, University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) completed a series of working groups looking at the future of the institute and insists it is looking at three possible options – keeping it where it is, keeping it in the Hemisfair area, and moving it elsewhere. The building – the focus of the Conservation Society – has long been rumored to be a potential site for a new highrise (as illustrated in an issue of Urban Land a few years back) or sports stadium.

Two things happened this week that bode ill for the building. First, the popular Asian Festival was moved from the site to the main downtown UTSA campus. This is a classic predemolition move akin to dozens I have witnessed since the 80s. Remove a beloved event/store/use from a building. Ideally replace it with something crappy that people want to get rid of, and then …poof – no one objects to demolition!

This was the classic example from 40 years ago. A beloved downtown grocery in Chicago where you could get apple-sized strawberries (this was before those became normal – GO GMO!) dipped in chocolate was closed first. Then the retail space became a shop selling two pairs of vinyl men’s pants for $9.99. Within a year or two everyone forgot about Stop N Shop and the exquisite 1930 Hillman’s building was demolished.

Eventually they did building something there. It was only vacant like this for 19 years. See my 2012 post here.

The second thing that happened is that the State Legislature passed a bill that basically gives a couple hundred million in tax revenues to the convention center and downtown sports stadiums. Given that the site of the Institute of Texan Cultures has long been rumored for a baseball (or basketball?) stadium, having a handy government funding source sure could help if it comes to undoing a big Brutalist landmark.

I understand the populist dislike for Brutalism, and even more I understand the Mischief of Modernism that made these amazing buildings in 1968, a Hubris of Scale that engenders an equally skewed approach to redevelopment in our own time.

Meanwhile, at the Alamo temporary constructions are EVERYWHERE. This is the South Gate, which is not a reconstruction but a modern interpretation of a feature that existed from the Mission era (1724) all the way until 1871. It is built atop the actual archaeological remains of the south gate, no easy feat. Just beyond it is the temporary Lunette, a palisaded fortification that exists for maybe 18 months in 1835-36, but since that includes the famous battle of the Alamo, there it is.

And cannon. The Alamo has gained an average of one cannon per year over the last seven years. You have been warned.

These are in addition to the also “temporary” Southwest rampart, with its massive 18-pounder cannon which went in a year ago. Oh, and they just got permission to build a “shade structure” just south of the Lunette in Plaza de Valero. The Conservation Society objected that this will obscure views of the Alamo.

I have a natural concern about “temporary” structures, with specific examples from the last 40 years. Sticking with Chicago, back in 1977 they wanted to build a bandshell in Grant Park, but thanks to a 1912 ruling, no buildings can be added to Grant Park (except the ones already there) which is why the Museum Campus is just south of the park. Now, if this had been the 21st century, they would have done what they did with Millennium Park – just build the buildings and then put the park on top of them! Problem solved!

What schmatta?

Alas, this was the 1970s when people were wearing vinyl pants so they decided to build a “demountable structure” for the new bandshell. It was basically a fold-up tent they could erect and disassemble each year, thus not “building” in Grant Park. I remember seeing it the first year it went up. I have seen it since, because it has been demounted exactly 0 times in my lifetime. So, I tend to be suspicious.

More staying power than a traditional mortgage.

The shrine of Texas liberty. Never mind the bollards.

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New Construction

February 17, 2023 Economics, Texas, Vision and Style Comments (0) 269

I ride past this every morning on my bike. Here is the progress of a new construction townhome “in the 400s”. Note dates for each iteration.

June 2021
October 2021
November 2021 – getting there??

Then it kinda came to a standstill for a year and a half. This is normal. Then all of a sudden, as the housing market tanked…..

February 2023. He finally has a friend under construction.

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Oppositional Synchronicity

December 30, 2022 Blog, Vision and Style Comments (0) 301

I have been reworking an old slide show about architectural styles. “Styles” are rubrics we use to categorize things, generally after the fact. This means that the labels we produce for stylistic trends are not usually those being used by the practitioners at the time. In architectural history, for example, the asymmetry, contrast and exuberant ornamentation of the Victorian era is labeled “Queen Anne” when many of its practitioners called it “Free Classical.”

Carson House, Eureka, California

To make things understandable, we push them into categories they never conceived, which is itself a problem, as I have explained before. Compounding this contortion is the problem of time and history. We can say that the Art Deco style kicked off at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Decoratifs, or that Napoleon instigated the rise of the Empire Style around 1805, and we would be partly right. The problem is that historical events can often have two, oppositional results.

College Hill, Providence, Rhode Island

One of my favorite examples is the 1954 Supreme Court case Parker v. Berman, which famously declared “the right of cities to be beautiful” as well as safe and sanitary. This has two opposite effects in terms of design. One result was Urban Renewal, which in less than a decade would be labeled “Urban Removal”. This involved the wholesale demolition of huge tracts of urban land, to be rebuilt with modernist housing and shopping.

Prairie Shores, Lake Meadows, Chicago

Of course the formal opposite of Urban Renewal in 1954 would be Historic Preservation. Preservationists ran with that 1954 decision and within 12 years some 70 cities had historic preservation ordinances. By the time of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act, most cities could create their own ordinances without state legislation, and the Act itself mentioned urban renewal as a challenge it was trying to address.

Greenwich Village, resisting the building beauty shaming of Modernism.

In fact, both urban renewal and this new idea of historic preservation were inspired by the same “right of cities to be beautiful.” They just had different concepts of beauty.

To find an even more interesting example of oppositional synchronicity, we need to go back 60 years earlier, to the birth of this new, unadorned, mechanistic mass-produced Modernism. In 1893, 27 million people visited a World’s Fair in Chicago called the World’s Columbian Exposition. At the time, Chicago architects had been building the first skyscrapers for about a decade, and one of them, Daniel Burnham, was the architect of the Exposition. In order to coordinate architects from across the nation, they had to go with the Classical Revival style they had all been instructed in at the Ecole des Beaux Arts or its imitators. As the story goes, the “White City” in Jackson Park celebrated old styles just as Modernism was being invented in the same city. The exception that proved the rule was Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building at the fair.

from my copy of Magic City
The “Golden” Door did borrow from Moorish and other styles

The Columbian Exposition had such an impact on architectural design that the following year a young Frank Lloyd Wright, newly independent of Louis Sullivan, submitted a pure Classical design for the Milwaukee Public Library, even as he was refining a Modernism even more abstract than his Liebe Meister. He never did this again, but the weight of the moment had a momentary impact on his design. Everyone wanted in on this Beaux-Arts Classicism that enthralled 27 million.

LEFT: Thomas house, 1901 by Frank Lloyd Wright. RIGHT: 1892 townhomes.

But those 27 million also saw Louis Sullivan’s ornament, and may well have seen the stripped skyscrapers downtown, embodying a new modern style. Louis Sullivan wrote “The Tall Building Artistically Considered” in 1896 placing him firmly in the Modernist camp. BUT… turns out he was one of the most skilled ornamentalists ever, creating rich flourishes without precedent.

You tell me where is the figure and where is the ground. Go ahead. I dare you.

The Columbian Exposition of 1893 also launched the modern field of urban planning, with Burnham designing “City Beautiful” plans for Washington, San Francisco, Manila and Chicago, among others. These tended to be in the same style, replete with columns and pediments and swags and balustrades.

Chicago

As Sullivan was declaring tall buildings “every inch a proud and soaring thing” in 1896, Frank Lloyd Wright was bending the rules of architectural design with horizontal houses that pushed away traditional ideas of facades, entrances, walls and windows. By 1900 he had invented something completely opposite to Beaux Arts Classicism, and by 1910 he blew away Europe with his “Ausgefuhrten Bauten” that illustrated his newly realized designs.

Find the front door. I dare you.

In 1908 Adolf Loos would declare ornament a crime in the building arts, citing an analogy with tattoos that would not exactly work today. So here we have the oppositional synchronicity of a world charging on in two seemingly opposite directions and an architect paving the way for an unadorned future with the most elaborate ornament ever. In fairness, his ornament was always secondary to the building design from the plan outward, and the impact of Loos would only be felt fully in the 1920s.

Yet, in many ways you can trace BOTH the Neue Sachlichkeit of bare bones European modernism and the White City mimicry of Beaux-Arts City planning to the SAME event in 1893, when young Frank Lloyd Wright was still a “pencil in the master’s hand.”

1924 Rietveld Schroeder House and contemporaneous neighbors.

Moreover, ornament can be misleading because architectural composition starts with a plan and massing, which can be generally Classical with symmetry and hierarchy, or Romantic with asymmetry and contrast.

Here are a couple of examples from San Antonio. First, we have a classically inspired arrangement of volumes, replete with abstract, modernist ornament. Second, an irregular, emotive arrangement with very traditional detailing.

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