In chapters four and five of his book Uncommon Ground, David Leatherbarrow discusses the miss use of modern design as it pertains to the specification of cataloged details, as well as topographical relation of the building to its site.
In his writing on Critical Regionalism, Kenneth Frampton explains the importance of selecting materials and designing from scratch in order to attain a tactile and sensory experience.1 When considering the human reaction to a path or place based on a careful material selection as opposed to manufactured mechanical experience, the costs may be similar. Prior to full page ads in architectural magazines and free box seat entertainment from venders, architects designed the furniture, light fixtures, etc. for a given typology based on the tactile feeling they wanted to create. Today, architects not only reuse specifications from project to project, developers often file them into an afterthought budgetary group known as: furniture furnishings and equipment.
“Thus, much if not most of what design prescribes for construction comes off the shelf, as do the suits and shoe most people wear. Architects rely on trade literature because without a pressing need it is very hard to find (to budget) the time to study products further, harder still to break the routine or slow the pace of the professional office.2
Even colors today are subject to the numbers from a catalog given by two major manufacturers. This is a far cry from utilizing materials which naturally portrayed the feel and hue of its surroundings which Leatherbarrow explains that both Frank Lloyd Wright and Aris Konstantinidis always sought to achieve.
The Xenia hotel designed by Konstantinidis on the island of Mykonos was a terrific example of utilizing site, materiality, and color to compose a seamless vantage.2 In chapter five, In and Outside of Architecture, Leatherbarrow refers to topography of a building’s site as a connection to its horizon as well as the “flow” from interior to exterior. Leatherbarrow takes two architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Aris Konstantinidis as precedents. Wright and Konstantinidis are both fundamental contextualists, with subtly differing ideas of how a building fits perfectly into a site.2 Still, they both believed that the building should blend into the site and appear as if it had been there for decades prior.2
Leatherbarrow elaborates on the continuity of the site to building to horizon relationship by explaining that
“…this does not mean that the patterns and situations by which topographies are known need to manifest themselves in the same materials (as if isohylic), nor be spatially continuous (isotropic), nor given the same shape and profile (isomorphic); instead, they have to accommodate similar performances, each serving as a receptacle and ‘singing’ in its own way…”2
The harmonious blending of materiality and topography from site to building to horizon differs tremendously from today’s tempting “…tabula rasa tendency of modernization favoring the optimum use of earth-moving equipment in as much as a totally flat datum is regarded as the moss economic matrix upon which to predicate the rationalization of construction.”1
In the end, it seems the foundation of why architects and designers began reusing ideas, details, and colors is because “… designers can avoid thinking anew about the basic premises of dwelling experience because that sort of thinking can be assumed to have been done by specialists, the results of which are available on the market in the form of ready-made solutions.”2 Likewise, the flattening of a site is often another example of utilizing an off the shelf idea where civil, landscape, and underground plumbing will be copied from on site to the next.
1. Frampton, Kenneth “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” The Anti-Aesthetic, Essays on Postmodern Culture. (New York: The New Press 1998), 17-35.
2. Leatherbarrow, David, Uncommon Ground: Architecture, Technology, and Topography. (The MIT Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England 2000), 119-212.