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Architecture Is at a Curious Crossroads. AccordingEssay

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Architecture is at a curious crossroads. According to Kenneth Frampton, the current role and goal of architecture is "to remove itself from both the optimization of advanced technology and the ever-present tendency to regress into nostalgic historicism or the glibly decorative," ("Towards a Critical Regionalism," Part 3). Universal techniques, materials, technologies, and cultural concepts of spaces and places have emerged, in the face of globalization and concurrent homogenization. On the other hand, there is a studied backlash against globalization and homogenization that permits a "resistant, identity-giving culture" unique to each place and space (Frampton, Part 3). To honor localized forms, it is important to resist what Frampton refers to as "Populism or sentimental Regionalism," (Part 3). Frampton calls this approach to architecture arriere-garde, as opposed to avant-garde. However, the avant-garde and the arriere-garde end up converging in architectural forms such as the Eames House near Los Angeles, California and the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic.

Applying Critical Regionalism to the Eames House and Villa Tugendhat requires first a deconstruction and analysis of what "universal civilization" is, or in the case of these two structures, what "universal modernism" is (Frampton). It is important therefore to identify the tectonic and syntactic elements that are shared in common between the two structures. Villa Tugendhat and Eames House (Case Study House #8) can be discussed as among "the most intensely discussed and influential buildings of the 20th Century," (Neumann 87). It is also necessary to place both buildings within their respective historical and constructive contexts. Neither one was created in a vacuum of creativity, emerging as a singular representation of the architect. Villa Tugendhat was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who had previously designed the Mosler House in Potsdam and the Wolf House in Gubin, Poland. Mies had also been working on the German Pavillion at the Barcelona World Fair, which places him in the unique context of representing the core principles of Critical Regionalism, albeit in an unself-conscious manner. Mies would be better described as a member of the avant-garde than the arriere-garde, as Frampton might put it.

Villa Tegendhat: "No Equal"

When it was accepted for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2001, Villa Tegendhat was heralded as " a unique work of art, which not only has no equal either amongst the works of the architect, but also has no equivalent in world architecture," (UNESCO 2). It was specifically because Mies "applied the radical new concepts of the Modern Movement triumphantly to the Tugendhat Villa in the design of residential buildings," that made the event momentous (UNESCO 1). As the Mies structure predates the Eames House, it can be said that the Eames' aesthetic and architectural syntax was at least in part influenced by the Modernist work and sensibilities of Mies. In fact, modernism has been referred to explicitly as a "international style," that is a style that is devoid of culture and place and which can subsequently be applied anywhere (UNESCO 2).

According to Neumann, the "size and program of the Tugendhat House clearly align it with the two houses in Krefeld," which he was working on concurrently (87). Mies' approach was already one that captured the essential forms, functions, and aesthetics of modernism and could apply them to different and distinct cultural and geographic contexts. However, Mies departed seriously from the work he was doing in Krefeld, and here is where Critical Regionalism comes into play. In Krefeld, Mies was using "load bearing brick facades and vertical and horizontal steel supports," whereas the Brno project was "based on pure steel frame construction, a precondition for the large expanses of glass on the lower floor," (87-88). As the Brno property was on a hill, Mies kept in mind the geographic spatial components as well as the commissioning family's desire to maximize lines of vision over the hill. The characteristic white stucco finish corresponds well, in terms of visual brightness, with the prevalence of glass throughout Villa Tugendhat. When it was constructed, the use of this amount of glass was "strikingly new," at least in Brno (Neumann 87).

The entrance to Villa Tegendhat is on street level in what could easily be conceived of as the back of the house, which abuts the main road. It is an "unassuming" entrance, as the bulk of the house's beauty is in the rear where it overhangs the hill and offers views of Brno. The front room and its semi-circular staircase that flows in a "spectacular…light filled space is, of course, the decisive and most conspicuous part of the building," (Neumann 88). Moreover, Mies was given full license to create not only the structure and exterior elements of the villa but also its interior design and decoration as well. The whole house has three stories. UNESCO (2001) refers to Villa Tegendhat as being built in "functionalist style," (3).

Interior elements include "a translucent wall of opal glass" in the dining room as well as the entrance area for continuity (Neumann 88). As Neumann points out, opal glass is a quintessentially modern construction material, new at the time, and reflective of the embrace of urban culture because it was used in nighttime advertisement displays in Berlin: opal glass "was widely discussed as a crucial element for a new luminous, ephemeral 'architecture of the night," (Neumann 89). Mies also used white linoleum for the floors, which mirrored the white stucco of the exterior walls. Moreover, the use of while linoleum "had the photogenic effect of a space whose floor and ceiling seemed of equal brightness," (Neumann 89). When Mies built Villa Tegendhat, white linoleum was manufactured from natural tree resins and was local to Germany (Neumann). The use of white, especially with regards to the stucco exterior, would become an "idiom" of the international style (Neumann 90).

Eames House: An Extension of Modern Life

Known to the architects Charles and Ray Eames as "Case Study House #8," the Eames House in Pacific Pallisades, California was one of roughly two dozen homes built as part of the Case Study House Program; it was started in the mid 1940s and it too nearly twenty years to complete construction (Eames Foundation, 2013). According to Correia and Ngo (2008), the Case Study house series were "intended to put industrialization into effect and promote the ideas of modernism," (30). The Case Study houses could also be described as forerunners of the sustainable design trends, as the architects set out specifically to use "building components that were pre-designed, pre-engineered and pre-fabricated," (Correia and Ngo, 2008). It was made relatively cheaply, too (Correia and Ngo, 2008). It has been entered into the United States Department of the Interior's registry of National Historical Landmarks.

The Case Study house was expressly "designed to express man's life in the modern world," using materials from industries that flourished after the Second World War (Eames Foundation, 2013). Moreover, the Eames House was meant to be customized to the needs of its residents, in a user-centric notion of architecture that was radically different from the concept of retrofitting pre-existing designs to suit the demands for modern comforts, furniture, appliances, and living technologies. It was also designed to be "a space where work, play, life, and nature co-existed," (Eames Foundation, 2013).

The house is built on a hill, using a prefabricated steel frame and characterized by its windowed exterior. Its position affords "a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean connecting the house's transparent skin with the natural landscape," (Correia and Ngo, 2008, p. 30). The Eames House and its Case Study House counterparts are located in a cluster, an experimental design cluster, which is secluded from the road and not visible from the main street (United States Department of the Interior, n.d.). According to the architects' needs, separate living and working spaces were created in the Eames House. The studio and the living spaces are "distinct volumes," but they coexist within the same general footprint. There is an open courtyard that connects the living space and the office space, also providing a third type of public or shared space. This shared open space then blends seamlessly with the external environment, which is richly landscaped both for aesthetics and privacy.

Supremely rectangular, the Eames House can be divided into "bays" of uniform dimension and volume. Materials used in construction include plaster, plywood, asbestos, glass, and "pylon" (United States Department of the Interior, n.d.). Translucent and transparent glass on both windows and doors are distinctive, with several colored panels adding texture to the checkered glass walls. Its interior is open plan, "with one space flowing easily into the next," much as the bays structurally flow one into the other seamlessly due to their structural similarities (United States Department of the Interior, n.d.).

Convergence and Divergence: Similarities and Differences

One of the "universalist" elements that was incorporated into Villa Tegendhat, and which also manifests in the Eames House, is the industrial aesthetic. Although the Eames House was on another continent, it also reflects similar design and material sensibilities.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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