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Saarinen, Kahn and the Use of History
Paul wrote:
Kahn did not replicate images from history; he abstracted ideas.
Steve replies:
This remark may be somewhat misleading in that Kahn is noted for suggesting and exercising the notion of wrapping ruins around buildings.
I've never met Kahn, but practically all of my architectural teachers (at Temple U. in the mid to late 1970s) were taught by Kahn, or worked for Kahn, or both. I very much liked the architecture of Kahn; I liked the rigorous geometrics, and it is indeed via Kahn that I came to fetish Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan. In the summer of 1976 I purchased a special edition A+U book Kahn' work (for those that may not know, architecture books (and magazines) full of color images were still a rarity in the mid 1970s, and it was basically Japanese publishers that began to change all that). It seems there was a time where that book was not out of my sight.
In the summer of 1977, I went on an architectural study tour in Italy. I spent a whole afternoon on the Palitine Hill, walking through the Palases of the Caesars. I saw 'Kahn' all over the Palatine Hill. Here's what I wrote then (right after my sophomore year).
Saturday, August 13, 1977
. . . We ended our tour on the Palatine Hill in the Palace of the Caesers. The masonary structure is incredible. I want to go back alone and do a good study of it. There was so much to see and take note of that I was very discouraged to even start. (It was also too hot, but that's really no excuse.)
John [who was a graduate student from Penn also on the study trip] and I started to get into all of the structure. I was surprised to see how much [history] he really didn't know. I made a couple of references to Kahn, and I think he [John] was offended. (Too bad for him.) He said Kahn couldn't be limited to one period. I say, who's limiting him? It's obvious he [Kahn] took a great deal from the architecture of ancient Rome, and that's a fact that can't be disputed at all. I think he [Kahn] was wrong in doing it now that I see the ruins. Like India doesn't seem that great anymore, only the ruins are better, and his [Kahn's] plagiarism for Exeter almost makes me sick [how's that for a visceral reaction]. Wrap ruins around buildings my ass!!!
I really don't know what to think about architecture anymore.
Venturi - Kahn - Corbu - who the fuck knows???
Back to the 21st century . . .
The other place in Rome that opened my eyes was the spiral entry ramp of the Vatican Museum. How come no one ever acknowledges that that spiral ramp and the skylight above it is exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright copied (or should I be kind and say reenacted?) when he did the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue? Wright's Guggenheim is certainly creative, but it is not all that original.
What I like best so far about investigating reenactment in architecture, it the search for origins, that which is being reenacted, because it's in the origins that true originality resides. Kahn himself said he wished he could write 'Volume 0'. I'm not going to say that I too want to write 'Volume 0', but I do have real faith in its existence.

2000.01.17 13:18
Thanks for visiting Quondam and gallery 1999. I don't often receive feedback, so I'm glad for your comments because it lets me know that cyberspace isn't like the hole in the ozone layer. Did I really say "it is only the present that brings time out of inertia"? Gosh, what am I doing working on architecture in the virtual then?
I like your definition of virtual architect --
a media term referring to someone who is an architect in "effect or essence, although not in actual fact or name" (profession), someone who designs sensible (perceptible to the senses or the intellect) as opposed to tangible (that can be touched) things.
I like it because it correctly uses the 'real' definition of virtual and correctly posits 'sensible' with relation to 'tangible'. Likewise, it seems correct to include the 'media' origin of the term.
I thus want to raise an issue that elaborates on the above. I feel some distinction should be made between a virtual architect and an architect of the virtual. I accept your [Van's] definition of virtual architect, but I don't believe it to be the same definition for 'architect of the virtual'. I'll use myself as a case in point: I am a licenced architect in the State of Pennsylvania. I have the 'real' credentials, but I do not design real buildings. I've so far devoted three years to 'designing' and 'building' Quondam - A Virtual Museum of Architecture. There was and still is little precedence for me to follow in this 'practice', however, the major step which allowed me to create this museum was my collection of cad models of buildings designed but never executed by significant architects. Before opening Quondam, I spent over five years building those cad models as a hobby--I wanted to get inside these buildings, albeit only virtually.
Once I got Quondam online, a whole other range of issues began to arise: designing with HTML, the continual need for content, coming to terms with what others were writing and thinking about 'virtual architecture' or 'architecture in cyberspace', does anyone even care about [my] architecture in cyberspace[?]. Right now I'd say that doing gallery 1999 - schizophrenia + architectures taught me through experience just how vast (dare I say limitless) architecture in the virtual realm can be. To be honest, I would thoroughly enjoy creating 'places' like Philadelphia (wqc/1999/16/1540.htm) all the time, but even I have problems with letting myself become totally immersed within the all out freedom of designing and building in the virtual realm.
So, am I a virtual architect? Or am I an architect designing and building within the virtual realm? Or is there no difference between the two? I would certainly respect a judgement by my peers, but who exactly are my peers? What other architects are designing AND building in the virtual realm?
Van, you say, "It occurs to me that competently using the *physical scale* then gives us license to use the *virtual scale*." I think I know what you mean, and I think you are saying something correct. Real architecture has a long standing history of dealing with the virtual, and perhaps that is the fundamental reason why the the notion of 'architecting' adapts so easily to the design and building of digital media systems today. I'd say that the only real problem with the rise of 'virtual architects' is that real architects are for the most part never taught just how good they can be as architects of the virtual.

2000.01.18 11:48
recalling vit. mus.
Rick wrote:
Don't be too holier than thou, now Steve; for these little devices open a window which your museum lacks. Philosophically, it is function, or purpose--which is to say, in this case, an unspecified teleology--which is missing from your schema.
Myst could remind you of such goals.
That is really what Myst is: A tour through a museum with alternative plots -- which is to say, with a teleology.
Steve replies:
Rick, I'm betting that you've so far spent more time in Myst than you've spent in Quondam, so perhaps the teleology of Quondam is still a mystery to you because you haven't seen it all yet. Or perhaps I'm 'intentionally' creating a museum without a teleology, just so Quondam is something 'other'.
I'm now going to say something that may offend (or turn off) some people: the real truth about directing ones own virtual museum of architecture is that one can do whatever one wants to do. In reality there is absolutely nothing that makes Quondam have to have a teleology, and it is just that reality of absolutely no imperatives, no rules, no obligations, and no need of approval that I hope Quondam begins to reflect.
I also have to add that Quondam is not an isolated 'work' for me, meaning, if I were to shut down Quondam today, it will have been my most elaborate self portrait to date.
I guess I just said it, the teleology of Quondam is 'virtual museum of architecture as self portrait'.
Rick, I believe you and your thoughts hold much more inspiration for me than Myst, Riven, etc. ever could.

2000.01.18 14:34
recalling vit. mus.
from: John Young
Rick's and Steve's and Rick's and Steve's convolutions are now getting most Quondamianly Mist-yc, self vaunted as work in progress, no shame eh, self-virtue only virtually virginal, games as scholarship-not run riot, students refusing to be sucked into professor's age-old vortex vacuum, while a proudfully unpracticing architect disdains ploys of highly practised shy-professor disarming gambits, wah!
One thing about arch-deft mongooses and cobras, they got a lot of moves for the crowd to be lulled by. Pure architecting, as if profs and pracs and unaffils mudwrestling long after WWF took over the racket.
Did you see the wonderful satellite shot of Chandigargh, no wait, Angkor Wat, or was it Trump's Taj Mahal, from 400 miles up? A virtual Corbu still swimming toward where cathedrals are white up at Columbia's space-cadet deft-arch-faux-history?
And Area 51 on Microsoft's Terra Cognita?
One thing about birds in the sky reading e-signals the eye cannot: Steve and Rick are plain as day vaguing. Me, I squat in a Faraday cage of my own haywire.

2000.01.18 16:43
recalling vit. mus.
The correct answer to John Young's latest post is:
a) just can't get enuf of that funky stuff
b) I promise to behave
c) who the devil knows
d) instead of playing games, let's talk about ME
e) Ankor Wat, the Taj Mahal and Chandigarh are all somewhere in Quondam
f) this is only an emergency; had this been an actual test, we all would have failed long ago

2000.01.19 11:05
recalling virt. mus.
No worries Rick. your original recalling virt. mus. post and John's post after mine lead to real closure of 1999 for me. that's something I haven't felt till last night after realizing what happened here during the day. more details later.
as to your critique of 'certain sophisticated CD games,' they are welcome at Quondam's journal Not There if that venue suits you.
As much as I personally celebrated my millennium moment late November in Brussels, it wasn't until yesterday, 18 January, that 1999 finally ended for me.
Regardless of the present's unrelenting sharp edge, time nonetheless manages delivery via tolerance.

Saarinen, Kahn and the Use of History
Steve asks:
. . .the spiral entry ramp of the Vatican Museum. How come no one ever acknowledges that that spiral ramp and the skylight above it is exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright copied (or should I be kind and say reenacted?) when he did the Guggenheim Museum on 5th Avenue?
Paul replies:
I don't think Wright had sufficient interest in history to have known about European precedents. He was adamantly All-American, at his worst an obnoxious know-it-all in the good ol' American "Know Nothing" tradition (except for his Japanesque tendency). Had Wright looked around Europe more he might have found a precedent in the double-helix marvel at Chambord.
Steve replies to the reply:
In all respect for your experience and generally thoughtful writing, Paul, your response vis-a-vis Wright's insufficient interest in history is dumb because the proof that Wright or someone in his office very well knew the Vatican ramp and skylight is the ramp and skylight of the Guggenheim in New York itself -- the skylights are virtually identical, and the only difference between the two ramps is that Wright's ramps take on a greater diameter as it raises. Moreover, your bringing up Chambord confuses (or is it obfuscates) the issue. Basically, the prior existence of the Vatican ramp in conjunction with skylight proves Wright's "All-Americanism" as the myth it is. Furthermore, Wright's control over everything may be a myth as well. I doubt that the Guggenheim's themselves were unaware of the Vatican ramp (which may explain the connection if Wright indeed never entered the Vatican Museum that way). I fear that the way you describe Wright's attitude above more aptly describes your attitude (in this case at least).
The fact that you make several huge assumtions above, particularly in the face of some strong phyical evidence, really makes me wonder about the general truthfulness (objectivity) of your convictions. Anyway, I find that the reality is always far more instructive than the myth.

Trope and/or Reenactment
Paul wrote:
Being more "modern" (i.e. having abandoned figural space) Saarinen's arch becomes a "one-liner" (pun intended). It transforms the curvilinear edge of the enclose space into an object--an object that is two-dimenstional, and minimally two-dimensional at that: a line. It strives to be without mass; it remains an isolated figure, disengaged from context. Minimal though it is, we see this as an OBJECT in space; only with difficulty do we recognize an implication of spatial definition made by the line in arching overhead. But as the line has no third dimension, it cannot contain or define a real volume of space.
Steve replies:
I'm sorry Paul, but there is a lot of disinformation in what you say above regarding the St. Louis arch. (I tend to believe you've never actually been to the arch. Were you ever there?) The arch is indeed "sublimely" 3-dimentional: the cross section of the arch is a continual triangle with quite large footprints at the base which gradually decresses as the arch ascends. The massive 3-dimensionality of the two bases, albeit surprising upon first encounter, is a definite reality (in fact, a six-person pod elevator travels within the "one-liner"). As to the experience of the space the arch "encloses", yes, it's very thin, but it's truly wonderful to experience, extremely awesome.
I doubt my recollections of the Arch, after not having been there over twenty years, would still be so vivid in my mind today if it wasn't there creating such an incredible space.

Wright and historical method
Paul, thanks for a more thoughtful reply re: the Vatican ramp and Wright's Guggenheim. I'll only pick on one part of your reply, when you say:
why would Wright--who maintained that he was the consummate creative genius, He who Let There Be Architecture--all else being deficient--why would the self-proclaimed artistic loner risk his precarious (as that stage) reputation in history by copying a ramp at the Vatican Museum? It doesn't make sense to me.
I don't think the workings of logic or sense making necessarily help here, and, ironically, it doesn't seem all the logical for one to admit Wright's charletanism, his PR tactics, his spin-doctoring, and the skepticism of his after-the-fact accounts, and then to draw a rigid line by saying, but Wright whould never, ever copy and/or find design inspiration in a European architectural precedent.
I have nothing against Wright or his architecture. In fact, I feel very lucky to live not far from his Beth Sholom synagogue, a real masterpiece. But I don't like to see personal opinion or even accepted scholarship get in the way of understanding creativity and the creative process (as opposed to the 'fabrication' of creative genius). In this particular case of the Vatican and the Guggenheim I see a very interesting example of creative mimesis, and even some very creative reenactment. I'll explain below.
As I walked up the Vatican ramp that first (and so far only) time in 1977, I remember thinking, "wow, this is just like the Guggenheim." I then wondered if Wright had ever been in the same space. Such a connection had unorthodox connotations (as this thread of posts attests), but alas, one will probably never really know. Only when I looked up at the skylight and instantly recognized the obvious similarity between the Vatican skylight and the Guggenheim skylight was it then that I became convinced of the extreme likelihood that Wright very much knew of the Vatican space (be it either by having been there himself, or by drawings and/or photographs).
I will now get very 'Freudian' here, and say that just maybe the Guggenheims, like Freud, had this strange love/hate thing vis-a-vis Rome/the Vatican. After all it was Freud, a Jew, who reenacted the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit by instituting the ego, id, and super-ego. So, one could then imagine the Guggenheims saying, "Mr. Wright, we want you to build for us a Jewish Vatican museum!" And lo and behold, Wright, creative genius that he was, designed the foremost Jewish Vatican Museum in existence, with no one ever being the wiser -- quite an accomplishment, (or did it all just happen subconsciously?). [I better stop before I start writing a reenactment novel here.]
Anyway, I think there is a lot more to learn about how 'design' happens by looking at the potential relationship between the Vatican entry ramp and the New York Guggenheim, especially in noting how Wright's design deviates from the Vatican model, then there is to dismiss the relationship because of its contrariness to received (but not necessarily fully disclosing) opinion.




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