Saturday, November 5, 2011

Julius Shulman: Architectural Photographer

Photographer Julius Shulman was our greatest photographic chronicler of modern architecture from the mid-twentieth century well into the twenty-first. He both documented and romanticized the work of the important architects working on the west coast: Rudolf Schnindler, Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Meyer, John Lautner, etc. At the same time he created enduring myths about modernism, Los Angeles, and the atomic age.  The film Visual Acoustics by Arthouse Films, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, is not to be missed. This cinematic biography of Julius Shulman respects and enlightens his work. It was released in 2008 and continues to make the art house and film festival circuits. It is also available on DVD from Netflix.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Modern Architecture Tour

The first Denver Modern Home Tour was a success! We want to thank the four-hundred-plus people who took time to visit our property on Saturday. All were friendly and generous in their appreciation for modern architecture. I am sure the perfect autumn day contributed to the good mood everybody seemed to share. I enjoyed many conversations throughout the day. It is gratifying to realize how interested people are in good design. It was also fun being interviewed on KWGN Channel 2 before the tour. 

The tour creator, Matt Swinney, was delighted with the results and intends to return to Denver next year with an even bigger event. Meanwhile, his organization, Modern Home Tours, LLC of Austin, TX, has other tours planned. The next one is November 12th in Houston. For information follow this  link:
Garden in Houston.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Denver Modern Home Tour

MICHAEL KNORR & ASSOCIATES is honored to be selected for the first-ever Denver Modern Home Tour.
1. Denver Modern Home Tour.
On Saturday, October 22, 2011 from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm, join us to tour 8 of Denver's most recent examples of contemporary residential architecture. We have previewed all of the properties and think you will find something interesting at each location. There is a broad array of design choices, sizes, and neighborhoods. 

Please come by our featured property, 4501 E. Dartmouth, during the tour. For advance TICKETS go to this link:

For a MAP and INFORMATION on all eight homes go to this link:

We look forward to visiting with you on the 22nd!

2. Denver Modern Home Tour.
Rob Munger

Friday, October 7, 2011

What Does Steve Jobs Have To Do With Architecture?

This is a blog about architecture. So, what does Steve Jobs have to do with architecture?

Steve Jobs
The primary link is not technical innovation. (The PC has been as widely-used by architects as the Mac, if not more so.) Steve Jobs' lasting contribution to our world is design excellence. Apple products are distinguished from the competition because they are designs that get people excited about using technology. From the iMac to the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad, Steve Jobs created irresistibly attractive products that people crave. Steve Jobs made design cool. That is what Steve Jobs had to do with architecture.  Steve Jobs demonstrated that design -- all design -- matters. We are better for it in all areas where design is a factor. Design has moved from something elitist to something cool. All fields of design benefit from this, including architecture. Steve Jobs insisted on great design, ease of use, and a swaggering style accessible to all. In some way this has helped architects present their case for good design. Does good architecture make a difference? Of course it does, because good design always makes a difference. The evidence is readily available in the success of Apple. We owe thanks to Steve Jobs for providing that proof. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Philosophy of Architecture II

1. Stonehenge contains messages from the past that are
still being deciphered.
The philosophy of architecture is a big subject. In my opinion, architecture is ultimately a storage medium for information. The information it contains tells stories about us. Architecture speaks to us just as movies or music or novels convey moods and emotions and values. And just as movies tell different stories in different ways, architecture reveals or explains different things about the way we live, the nature of our religions, our hopes and aspirations. As stated earlier, most people think of architecture as simply a variety of styles. However, it is the stories contained in architecture that are important. Style is secondary to other qualities that convey information such as volume, sequence of events, and many other abstract characteristics.  
2. The Temple Philae in Egypt tells stories about religion.
Architecture tells us about the culture, climate, lifestyle, religion, and physical attributes of the people for whom it is built. We can look at an Egyptian temple and learn about the gods and demons that dominated their thinking. The ruins of Pompeii tell us about the daily activity of ancient Romans. We can visit a Gothic cathedral and see the progression of human understanding in engineering, their aesthetic attitude towards light, their spiritual goals. These are stories that can move people and make us think. They have nothing to do with architectural style per se, but with deeper aesthetic values which architecture embodies.
3. Ruts in the road convey archaeological information about Pompeii.
4. The forum at Pompeii conveys information about daily life in Pompeii.

The information stored in architecture is more than the obvious archaeological record. Architecture provides information about what might be or could be. This is the territory where things get really interesting. These characteristics are hints about the philosophies that underlie all architecture. 
5. Chartres cathedral is a tale of illumination and faith.
1. Wigulf
2. Anon. 1800. Public Domain
3. Dvortfirl
4. Achille Etna Michallon 19th century. Public Domain (Louvre)
5. BT

Friday, September 30, 2011

Philosophy of Architecture I

All architecture is rooted in philosophy. Philosophy underlies all decisions a designer may make. Put another way: it is nearly impossible to design something without having a point of view. Otherwise, we might as well use a gang of monkeys to randomly construct our buildings.
1. Mies Van der Rohe designed the Barcelona Pavilion as an expression of
Bauhaus philosophy: rational, simple, industrial, and unadorned.
We tend to think of architecture as a collection of styles. A menu of choices. It is certainly no such thing, except in the most superficial sense. Nevertheless, the history of architecture is generally told as a story of evolving styles. Styles are a convenient way to categorize the varieties of architectural experience, but behind those styles are philosophies. In other words, behind every style is a set of ideas and a system of values that drive it. That fact is more important than the styles that manifest under various philosophies of architecture.
2. Contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava believes architecture
is a direct expression of the underlying structure.
Every major architectural style originates in a particular philosophy of architecture. Each style emerges from the cultural requirements of the society in which it develops and is influenced by the history that preceded it. Architecture does not come about without architects thinking about these sorts of things. Any style is the product of a particular system of thinking about the meaning and purpose of our built environment. 
3.Architect  Bruce Goff believed every building
should be designed as if no building ever existed before.
Perhaps simple, utilitarian buildings can exist without serious thought behind them. However, when a building aspires to be architecture we have to start thinking about the purpose and meaning of the overall space, the outward appearance, and every detail that contributes to the whole. There is no one way to design a building. The choices one makes and the direction one takes are driven by a value system, whether deeply felt or only dimly perceived. Why are certain elements there? What materials should be used? How should we merge size, form, volume, texture and structure? Which are the “right” choices? These are, at root, philosophical questions and are only addressed within a theoretical framework. An architectural philosophy need not be particularly complex. But it must be there in some form or the simplest design decisions become too complex to bear. 
4. De Architectura by Vitruvius.
Many books have been written about theories of architecture. The oldest known is De Architectura by the Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (1st century B.C.E.) He is still citied today as an authority on architectural principles. Every architecture student learns his famous definition of architecture: a structure which has the qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas. That is, it must be strong, functional, and beautiful. 
5. Saint-Pierre de Rafael. A renaissance plan
reflecting the rational values of the time.
Other books are architectural manifestos written by architects to justify or explain their work. Among the more influential in the modern era are The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander, S,M,L,XL by Rem Koolhaas, and Learning From Las Vegas by Robert Venturi. 
There are also many histories which describe the theoretical goals behind architecture. An excellent example is An Outline of European Architecture by Nikolaus Pevsner.
There are probably as many theories and philosophies of architecture as there are architects. The important thing to remember is that architecture is not mere buildings; it is buildings that reflect ideas. 
6. Renaissance symmetry in the Villa di Poggio Giusto Utens.
Illustration credits:
1. Ashley Pomeroy
2. Lauren Manning
3. Chad K
4. Public Domain
5. Public Domain
6. Public Domain

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Viewpoint on Architecture

     This blog veers around and through a variety of architectural topics. But the journey has not been random. This blog has a point of departure and a goal. A viewpoint. Perhaps it is time to reiterate what that viewpoint is.  Obviously, this blog is for those who love architecture and want to know more about it. It is addressed to laypersons and architects alike. 
1. Wisconsin state capitol building interior.

2. Porcelian Room, Palacio Real de Madrid.
With architects I am preaching to the choir, of course. Many of them will have different viewpoints, but I hope this blog encourages debate and provides inspiration. I am happy to discuss the fine points of architecture well past midnight with anyone who is interested. 
With non-architects I am having a conversation with the congregation of people who are thrilled by the power that (some) architecture possesses. We often do not know why or how this power exists, but when chanced upon, it is a source of deep pleasure. It is the reason many of us travel the world: to see different and interesting man-made spaces like cathedrals, museums, skyscrapers, and homes. Great architecture may be humble or grand, ancient or new, transitory or permanent. It is the essential characteristics of any and all of these that this blog explores. 
3. Dining room by Michael Knorr.

4. Kitchen by Michael Knorr
This blog asks (though only partially answers) what is the essence of architecture? Architecture -- great architecture in particular -- is more than just structure. True architecture uses space to express the highest aspirations of humankind and our search for beauty. Practical necessities sometimes obscure the fact that the essence of architecture is the space within. Spatial relationships are the core of architectural experience. To fully appreciate architecture we need to look beyond the facade of buildings and into their heart. This blog aims to do that by describing the qualities that make architecture more than mere buildings. 
5. Wayfarers Chapel by Lloyd Wright.
The opinions in this blog are straightforward and grow from a simple premise: that good architecture is possible and that it can be achieved by deliberate means. This is true whether talking about a humble home or a monumental public building. It is true (or, more accurately, can be true) for any place intended for human habitation. Good architecture is a result of planning for certain results and creating environments to support those results in the most beautiful and structurally satisfying manner. 
Truly great architecture is rare. The everyday buildings we encounter -- super markets, gas stations, convenience stores, and, sadly, even our homes -- are frustratingly ordinary. Most people come in contact with great architecture primarily through pictures. Pictures usually focus on building exteriors, which, of course, tell only part of the story. This type of experience is twice-removed from reality. First, flat pictures can never really explain three-dimensional space. Even a 3-D movie would lack the total sensory experience of actually approaching and walking through a work of architecture. Second, the fixation on facade that most pictures present reduces architecture to surface treatments. Architectural criticism by this method devolves to a battle of styles. On this basis,  we look at and analyze architecture from pretty pictures that have little to do with the full experience. Architects encourage this approach because we love to represent our work in the most flattering light. Disturbing distractions are edited in Photoshop. Representations of  people are often avoided in the these photos and buildings assume an etherial otherness that doesn’t really exist. Even this blog suffers from this shortcoming.  However, architecture is more than glamor shots. To fully appreciate architecture we need to experience it directly. We ought not just look at architecture; we need to feel it. 
6. Societe Generale Headquarters, Paris. Stained glass dome.

7. Milwaukee Art Museum by Santiago Calatrava.
This blog shares the limitations of photographs. No combination of text and pictures can substitute for the real experience, but it may lay the groundwork for a way of understanding architecture.
For most of us there are limited opportunities to encounter great architecture in person. In particular, we seldom have access to the most important aspect of architecture: the space within. The Chinese philosopher Lao Tse (alternately: Lao Tzu or Laozi) said the reality of  a container is the space within.  At first this sounds cryptically mystical. But when you think about it, this is simply a matter of fact. Lao Tse uses the example of a tea cup. It performs its function (containing tea) in the space that is defined by structure. The purpose of a tea cup is to contain tea. The shell of the cup makes this possible, but the space inside the shell -- what some might consider nothingness -- is where the reality of its function occurs. The reality of the tea cup takes place in the void, the space within. Frank Lloyd Wright was fond of quoting Lao Tse’s aphorism, connecting it to architecture. Wright insisted that the reality of architecture is the space within -- not the shell we see in photos or glimpsed from a passing car. 
8. Auldbrass living room by Frank Lloyd Wright.
To understand architecture we must look beyond the facade to the spatial effects inside. This blog explores why some spaces seem to rise above the ordinary and mundane to be truly meaningful. It dissects architecture with straightforward concepts. At times, it explores the why of architecture (philosophy). Sometimes it discusses how certain architectural effects are accomplished. And sometimes it looks at the inevitable ambiguities and curiosities in architecture.  All of this is done within the context of the space within. The intention here is not dry academics. This is about the enjoyment of architecture. I hope the reader will share my enthusiasm for the incredible adventure of exploring all facets of the architectural experience as presented in this blog. 
9. V.C. Morris Gift Shop by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Photo Credits:
1. MJK
2. Brian Snelson
3. Office
4. Office
5. Jessicacu
6. Poulp
7. MJK
8. Charles N. Bayless
9. Jet Lowe

Thursday, September 1, 2011


1. Bauhaus-influenced chair by Marcel Breuer.
The Denver Film Society and Design Onscreen are starting their third annual architecture and design film series. Several new films stand out this year. Bauhaus: Model and Myth explores the goals and history of Germany's Bauhaus movement and the effect of politics upon it. Desert Utopia: Midcentury Architecture in Palm Springs will reveal the roots of the current upsurge of interest in modern architecture. EAMES: The Architect and the Painter will explore the life of an important midcentury innovator.
2. Eames house, Pacific Palisades, CA.
If you have not seen the 2009 film Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman, do not miss this biography of modern architecture's greatest photographer.

3. Kaufman house by Richard Neutra, Palm Springs, CA.
All films are accompanied by architects or historians holding Q&A sessions as well as receptions at local restaurants. For dates, times, and detailed info follow this link to the Denver Film Society web site.

Photo Credits:
1. Borowski
2. llpo's Sojourn -
3. Barbara Alfors

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Good Architecture Isn’t Timid

One measure of good architecture is that it does not hesitate to make a statement. This means that with good architecture there is always a clear understanding of the design intent. Good architecture is not timid. It is bold. Not that architecture should be bombastic or boorish (that's bad architecture), but the best examples of architecture are not timid in their esthetic expression.
1. Brasilia government buildings. Oscar Niemeyer architect.
Unfortunately, examples of good architecture are few, while examples of less-than-good surround us in abundance. Un-inspiring buildings confront us wherever we go. Bland shopping centers. Mundane office buildings. Housing designed to the minimum expectations of the “target market.” Nobody thinks much about this because bland buildings are pervasive We perceive them as the normal state of our environment. However, ubiquity is not quality. Rather than looking to buildings as a source of inspiration (which they could and should be), we are, for the most part, used to seeing them not at all. Aggressively bad buildings are not the problem. Most of us can spot the horrific right away and we deride the perpetrators of ugliness with a shrug of disdain. The real problem is the mundane buildings that fill our world with visual static: annoying enough to make us vaguely uncomfortable, but not so dangerous that we would forcibly remove them. So, given the pervasiveness of less-than-desirable architecture all around us, let’s focus on the rare good architecture in the hope it will be nurtured in the future.
2. National Center for Atmospheric Research. I.M. Pei architect.
3. Bridge and tunnel to Miho Museum, Japan. I.M. Pei architect.
Many qualities contribute to good architecture. As stated above, one of them is that good architecture is not timid. What does this mean? Take the design of a simple column, for example. The structural reason for the existence of a column is simply to support something, like a beam or a girder. But its esthetic significance can have much more meaning. A series of columns can create a rhythm that gives a building life and interest. We cannot be timid about these things. One column may be a requirement of structural necessity. But an architect can create, by repetition and manipulation, a grand colonnade that makes movement through a building a delight. Architecture can transform a mundane column into a sentinel witness to dappled light and magical vistas.
4. Residence at Shadow Creek. Michael Knorr architect.
5. Residence in Denver, CO. Michael Knorr architect.
Another thing about columns: they are usually too skinny, like little toothpicks holding far too much visual weight. An engineer’s job is to find the lightest, cheapest, and most efficient way to enclose space. That is a good and proper goal. But an architect’s job is to acknowledge the minimum requirements of structural engineering and sculpt them into a beautiful environment. Some would interpret this to mean that adding expensive finishes and excess space is the way to better architecture. This approach misses the point. We don’t need to “gild the lily” to create beauty, but neither do we need to live on the level of the lowest common denominator. Only the timid would acquiesce to an impoverished mindset that treats any embellishment of space and structure as wasteful or unnecessary. The most necessary thing in life, once we have satisfied our basic survival requirements, is the need for beauty.

We could also talk about flimsy arches that make some buildings appear as if constructed with cardboard. We could talk about stone veneers applied like wallpaper instead of the gutsy product of the earth it should be.
6. Roman arches.
7. Residence in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Michael Knorr architect.
Please understand: this does not have anything, really, to do with columns or arches or stone. There are no rules in architecture about the number or size of columns. That is just an example. The actual resolution of esthetic issues depends on the inherent theme of a particular design. The point is that most buildings are afraid to address such issues at all. Most buildings are timid amalgams of engineering necessity and market-study illusions. They are not real architecture. The best results and the greatest architecture only come from bold decisions that galvanize our attention and establish a better environment in which to enjoy life. In these arenas, good architecture is never timid.
8. Residence in Denver, CO. Michael Knorr architect.
Photo credits:
1. Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz
2. Daderot
3. 663 highland
4. Rob Munger
5. Rob Munger
6. Seynaeve
7. Rob Munger
8. Rob Munger

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Architecture is More Than Skin Deep

Architecture is more than the outside of a building.
1. The classic dome of Gustav Vasa church in Stockholm.
It is a common misconception that architects take care of what we see from the street and interior designers take care of the rest. When this happens, it is the result of an architect’s abdication of his or her true realm: creating spaces. Interior designers collaborate on the final resolution of those spaces with colors, textures, hardware, and furnishings. However, if the architect has not provided worthwhile spaces from the beginning, then everyone else -- from interior designer to lighting consultant to landscaper -- can only place band-aids on an injury. They can only try to fix what was never right to begin with.
2. The Air Force Academy chapel interior (Colorado Springs)
is a direct expression of exterior forms. 
3. Air Force Academy chapel exterior.

Perhaps the idea that architecture is only the outside of buildings comes from its representation with exterior photographs in magazines and books. These flat simulacra are mere shadows of architecture. They are not the real thing. Yet we commonly judge buildings by pictures without considering the total experience. Architecture is more that the exterior elements. It is the interior space, It is sounds reverberating through a building. It is an environment of aromas. It is feeling the warmth of the sun radiated by stone and mortar.

4. A house designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
5. An interior designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh.
We cannot detach architecture from its environment and study it as an isolated object. The sounds and scents of nature contribute to the feelings we have about our buildings. The mood of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto is different from the environment of an Italian villa. Neither can be removed from its surroundings and maintain the same meaning. Environments establish the character of architecture. Context matters.

Architecture is more than the outside of a building and great architecture is more than the sum of its parts.

6. The galleria in Milan.
7. Santa Maria del Carmine, Milan.
1. Xauxa.
2. Hustvedt.
3. BigacSC99.
4. Hunterian Museum Collections (Public Domain).
5. Public Domain
6. chensiyuan
7. Giovani Dall'Orto

Friday, July 29, 2011

Architecture: Bringing Light to Darkness

Perception requires light over darkness. Without light we cannot see. Architects use light to reveal space. As much as we might say that architecture is a pile of building materials we could also say that it is the manipulation of light to reveal form. The architect's palette consists of light, shadows, and revelations of color.
1. U-Bahn station, Munich.

Understanding space (architecture) is no different than understanding the manifestation of any other thing.

The following examples may shed light on the subject.

2. Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright.
3. Futuna Chapel, Wellington, New Zealand.
John Scott, architect.
4. AIG Tower, Hong Kong.

5. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul.
6. Grand Central terminal, New York.
7. Pan American Exposition, Temple of Music.
8. Ohare neon walkway, Chicago.
9. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris.
10. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris.
11. Pennsylvania station, New York. (Demolished.)
1. Guido Worlein
2. Kaschkawalturist
3. Craig Martin
4. Chow Meisy
6. Mark Estabrook
7. C.D. Arnold
8. Chicago at Night
9. Jean-Christophe Benoist
10. Didier B
11. Unknown