Architecture, Art and an Architectural Top Ten

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Mon, 2006-09-25 01:17

[A summary of a recent debate at my blog 'Not PC' on architecture, art, and architectural favourites]

Here first up is the post that started it all:

Con-art in Kaipara

I posted a field full of rusting steel posing as art (that's some of it below), and suggested the buyer had been conned. I'd suggested it is possible to objectively determine that one thing is art and another is just a pile of craftless tat, and Den disagreed. I'd suggested that individual taste is certainly subjective, but that what we like is nonetheless able to be analysed objectively to tell us something about ourselves and the way we see the world -- to which Den disagreed. I'd suggested that art is a shortcut to our philosophy ... and Den suggested I was talking nonsense.

Said Den: "Objectivity does not exist in art. You are a poor arbiter of taste if said taste is to be measured against the art you post (as 'the only true art')... I am incredulous that someone working in a field such as architecture would ever claim to be able to identify objective standards in art - to loftily pronounce that something 'is' or 'isn't' art based on what I see as fairly dubious credentials." And I replied here, including the invitation which began this debate.

Here's some related posts and threads, giving my own arguments on art and architecture:

**ARTICLE: Who needs great art? You do.

EXCERPT: Painting, movies, literature, sculpture, music, architecture ... all have the ability to make us cry, to make us laugh, and -- just occasionally -- to make us feel ten feet tall. Why is great art so powerful? -- why does it have this profound ability to affect us? Simply, because it speaks personally to each of us. It is our shortcut to our very souls. When we experience art that truly touches us, we don’t just feel, “I like this;” if we have souls we feel “This is Me!”

Why do we need art to see the world when we’ve already got eyes and ears and fingers and hands with which to experience it ourselves, and a brain with which to organise those experiences? Answer: We need art precisely because of the nature of that brain, and because of the way it organises the experiences.

Art: there's more to it than just meets the eye.

EXCERPT: Our crucial need for art comes from the nature of our human consciousness, and by virtue of the way we hold and form our ideas. Our conceptual form of consciousness means that our view of the world and our place in it is represents the very widest abstractions our minds are asked to hold, and the integration of those judgements with our emotional assessment of them are visible to us only through art -- it is only art that allows us to see our most fundamental view of the world and our place in it as a single mental unit, and what could be more important or profound than that!

**ARTICLE: 'The Scream ' has been found. Two cheers.

EXCERPT: Here's an example of something that is good art -- very good art -- that I don't like at all. If anything better expresses the dis-ease and dislocation expressed by twentieth-century 'thinkers' -- of the nausea and helpless angst and the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of Jean Paul Sartre; of A.E. Housman "a stranger and afraid in a world [he] never made"; of William Butler Yeats for whom "things fall apart, the centre cannot hold"; of Dostoyevsky's Underground Man*, whose "irritability keeps him alive and kicking"; etc; etc. -- then it is this piece.

How much sordid meaning to pack into one piece of canvas: in it we can see almost the whole of the tortured twentieth-century.

**ARTICLE: What architecture is all about

EXCERPT: “Architecture,” as Aldo van Eyck once said, “is about making a ‘home for man’.” The space we build is space for human life, for us to inhabit, and from which we can emerge to 'do battle.' It is a place that expresses what a home for man looks like, smells like and sprawls like; it is here that we begin to find the meaning in architecture: and the meaning resides in how it makes its home for man.

In the act of making and placing our buildings in the world, we make decisions about what’s important in the world. What values need to be 'built in' and made concrete. What should we include from around us? What should we keep out? Early morning sun is good; later afternoon sun isn’t. Gentle breezes are good inside the house, heavy rain is not; views of the lake and the trees and the beautiful hills about us are wonderful – views of the local slaughterhouse are not..

**ARTICLE: What is architecture?

EXCERPT: "Architecture ... does not re-create reality, but creates a structure for man's habitation or use, expressing man's values," identified Ayn Rand in The Romantic Manifesto. Architecture is primarily about making spaces for human beings to inhabit, and in doing so expresses what it means for man to inhabit this earth.

The work is utilitarian, but not primarily so - in the words of the late New Zealand architect Claude Megson: "The architect is creating, not merely an object, but a whole universe for ourselves to inhabit." The architect creates an integration of structure, function and ornament according to the architect's own implicit values in order to make a home for man. The stuff with which the architect works is space - human space. To paraphrase Protagoras, man is quite literally the measure of all architecture.

This is an important and overlooked point, and much criticism concluding that 'architecture is not art' arises when architecture is considered only in a two-dimensional fashion, as being only a simple skin-deep armature made up of more or less elegant facades and gorgeous surfaces. It is not; it is a space for man to inhabit. Architecture is more than just the raw materials that make up a building - what is crucial is what those raw materials delineate.

**READING LIST: So you'd like to study architecture

EXCERPT: So you want to study architecture?

You want books and readings I might recommend for someone beginning architectural education?

Here’s a ‘top twenty’ list to get you started...

here's all ten posts in the 'Not PC: Architecture V Architecture' debate:
What Den and I have posted here is not "the ten best examples of architecture from all human history" -- they are our own personal favourites.

PC 5: House for an artist, Wairarapa - Organon Architecture

"So in this case then for my own personal NZ favourite I not so humbly submit one of my own sketch designs, as yet unbuilt, for an artist's house in the Wairarapa. It largely follows my own ideas on the promise of the New Zealand house."

PC 4: John Soane House, London - John Soane

"He was perhaps the pre-eminent Architect of the Enlightenment -- using reason, ingenuity, the limited materials and technology of the day and what was known about the nature of architecture to develop a totally new conception of stylised space, with man at the centre."

PC3: Taliesin West, Sonora Desert, Arizona - Frank Lloyd Wright

"In one of the most inhospitable habitats known to man, in the desert north of Phoenix and sitting just beneath the McDowell Mountain Range. there we find a heightened sense of life writ large; a life built in a particular context that fits SO WELL it could be nowhere else. Whereas with Fallingwater one gets the sense that there man has completed what nature had just suggested, at Taliesin West we realise that in this place man has produced something that make an oasis out of what was before only raw desert; a place with "a view of the rim of the world."

PC 2: Price Tower, Oklahoma - Frank Lloyd Wright

"Here tonight is Wright's only completed tall building: the Price Tower, or as so he often called it, 'the tree that escaped the crowded forest'."

PC 1: Bavinger House, Oklahoma - Bruce Goff

"Goff's best work is this house pictured here, the Bavinger House. Built in 1955 for a young family in Norman Oklahoma, it brings together locally quarried 'ironrock,' mine tailings, coal rejects, glass cullets, airplane wire and a used oil-rig drilling pipe for the mast..."

Den 5: Jewish Museum, Berlin - Daniel Libeskind

"To return to the original point I made, that this building demonstrates architecture's power to speak, think about what Libeskind has done. By taking themes of absence and presence, and working these into the design in a concrete, tangible way, the architecture moves beyond something which must be explained - a piece of art that you have to read a pamphlet before you can sagely nod, grasping your chin - and into the realm of 'speaking' architecture: one forms one's own opinion, but is forcefully guided by powerful, masterful narrative."

Den 4: Peregrine Winery, New Zealand - Architecture Workshop

"The building is sits in an exquisite natural setting, and it resonates with the Murcutt project I posted earlier, in a number of ways. The twisting, translucent blade which is the most striking feature of the architecture, is seen to float over the countryside, forming a visual break between what is 'natural' and what has been 'grafted' on to the site. The relationship between the groundplane and the hovering translucent element is dynamic and uneasy - and exciting."

Supplementary post: Tropical architecture in Darwin

"I'm posting these pics here partly because they help to understand the context of the 'shearing shed' that Den posted below. These are photos of one of Darwin's few remaining original, pre-air-conditioning tropical houses, restored after Cyclone Tracy. I took them about ten years ago. As you'll see, many of the features are replicated in Murcutt's own tropical house."

Den 3: Marika-Alderton House, Northern Territory, Australia - Glen Murcutt

"The above is an Aboriginal phrase used as a design credo by auteur Aussie architect Glenn Murcutt, and one can see the direct translation from principle to built form in his entire body of work. This house combines a sensitivity to local culture and heritage..."

Den 2. Fallingwater, Bear Run, Pennsylvania - Frank Lloyd Wright

"This is probably not far from the top five buildings of anyone interested in architecture. Gotta be quick! It was designed as the private holiday house for Edgar Kaufmann, in a sum total of three hours..."

Den 1. Rail Switchtower, Basel, Switzerland - Herzog + de Meuron

"This building demonstrates that 'architecture' is not simply for the elite - that there is no distinction between 'architecture' and building. True inspiration can spring from the most banal and mundane requirements."

Tell us what you think. Which are your favourites, and why?

RELATED: Architecture, Art, New Zealand, Philosophy, Objectivism

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Peter Cresswell's picture

Thanks Ted.

I think you're probably right about Yeats, but his lines are so wondefully descriptive that they capture the essence of twentieth-century nihilism so well, just as his lines about the "terrible beauty" of the Easter Rising do for that event.
Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

A great man in his pride... W.B. Yeats

Ted Keer's picture


An absolutely wonderful post, my thanks for the shared beauty. In return, might I suggest you reconsider W. B. Yeats' sense of life? Yeats is undoubtedly the best English poet since Shakespeare. The poem you quote, The Second Coming, is perhaps tragic, (given the Great War then being fought, Yeats had such inspiration) but in no way implies Yeats' disregard for the greatness of the individual man. I almost take offense at your mentioning him in the same breath as Houseman and Sartre, both of whom I've read. Yeats was a stoic who may have seen man burdened by evil circumstance, but his poems, especially after his Against Unworthy Praise, show the greatest regard for a man of integrity. I suggest that all egoists read his works. Here I reproduce his comparison of the way an animal is without concern, a fool is ruled by it, and a wise man rises above it:


Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone -
Man has created death.

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