Oh Lord, purify me, make me a chalice in which you dwell, offer your sacrifice in me and spread your love through me. Let me shine like gold, adorn me with the jewels of virtue that I may always be open to you. Fill me. Overflow me. Let me be like that most perfect vessel, the Singular Vessel of Devotion, She to whom I cry for protection against the Evil One. I ask this for your glory, for the vessel is nothing without the sustenance inside, the cup nothing unless it is filled. Oh Lord, purify me.

Give me a word, Abba

Monday, April 12, 2010

Timelessness in Architecture

As many of you know, I am an architecture student at the University of Notre Dame. The program here is based in Classical ideas and technique. In other words, we follow the Vetruvian ideals of Firmitas, Utilitas and Venustas--Strength, Usefulness, and Beauty. All of them. We reject the modern tendency of just focusing on the utility. Also, a lot of the professors focus on Classical style as well as ideas. If you look at the walls in Bond Hall (the Architecture School building), you'll see buildings with columns of different orders (corinthian, mostly, or variations), arches, domes, vaults, pediments, ornate cornices. You name it. Not only are the ideas classical, however, but for the first three years, we don't touch computers. We do all hand drafting, plus water coloring. We do architect like the ancients did.

Well, maybe that's an exaggeration.

However, this is SO different from a lot of schools. Not everyone here is a die-hard classicist. So why do we do what we do?

The answer is two-fold, as is the question. The two folds of the question are as follows:
1) Why do we use classical ideas and style?
2) Why do we use old-fashioned technique?

1) The answer could lie in something that my professor said the other day in class. He's a young architect who graduated from the program about ten years ago. He's not a hard-line classicist, but he understands tradition as an important aspect of architecture. He was describing the different styles of architecture here on Campus, and he made the point that the first wave was "early French" and was very distinctive: yellow brick, mansard roofs, round arches etc. The second wave was the "collegiate gothic" movement. This included many of the dorms (including my own, Morrissey Manor, although Morrissey is considered "transitional"). Then, starting in the 50s and extending into the 90s, there was an era where Notre Dame hired firms (primarily Ellerbe and Associates) who put up buildings according to the trend of the decade (what other century had such a difference in trends from decade to decade?) Then, in the year 2000, the University started to return to collegiate gothic, although the architects that they've hired haven't yet perfected the style. So we get a "neo-collegiate gothic".

Now, some of these styles have stood the test of time. They are still standing, and many of them are still impressive, such as the Main Building. It's not readily evident when these were built, or what society they were designed for. They use traditional ideas and styles because they have come down to us over time. They, in other words, could be said to transcend time. However, the more "modern" buildings are very obviously built in the 80s, or 90s, or what have you. And for sure built in the 20th century. However, once a stylistic tradition has been started, and has stood the test of time (the column, for instance) then it ceases being associated only with one era, with one century, with one decade. However, the modern buildings have no distinguishing features, except simple massing, and very little ornament. Nothing sets it apart. Nothing can be handed down. Therefore, it can not transcend time.

This, then, is why we study older styles and ideas. They have lasted, and are now something that can be used in buildings without indicating any specific time. If we want our buildings to be able to be used for a long time, they must not "go out of date", they must transcend time. However, this is not to say that nothing can be added to the tradition. If there becomes a modern development of traditions, then so be it. However, up to the point of modern architecture, all architecture was merely a development of, not a break from tradition. We can find a modern architecture that is based in tradition. I firmly believe this.

2) Now, why old fashioned techniques? This is an easier question. Some people say that hand drafting is more time consuming. I've heard otherwise. Also, hand drafting has a more personal touch to it. You can be free to do exactly what you want in designing and drafting instead of depending on a software developer to create what they think you'll need. Now, Computers are very helpful, but they are not the whole answer to architecture. My professor (same one) said that hand drafting connects the spacial thought with the physical sight better than computer drafting because you are DOING exactly what your brain is telling you to, instead of just clicking and dragging. It is not only useful to be skilled at drawing (for purposes of quick sketches and drafts) but it gives you more freedom to add a personal touch and also to change the design according to the clients wishes. Finally, it is more healthy for the brain.

I sat in on a Sacred Architecture class today taught by Duncan Stroik, the Awesome. It confirmed everything I just said. Yes!

Take that, Modernists, or rather Post-Post-Modernists, which is possibly more correct.

This is a great School.

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