Monday, February 28, 2011

Scientific Proof for Good Architecture!

1. High ceiling for high energy over gathering space contrasting with
lower, more intimate, ceiling over dining area.
Finally there is scientific backing for an idea architects have long espoused: that good architecture is good for people. The current issue of Psychology Today (January/February 2011) has an article about "how ceilings shape behavior."  Citing several sources it demonstrates what architects have always claimed (but could never prove) that the height and color of ceilings affects our mood and behavior. In general, extremely high ceilings can be uncomfortable and overwhelming, except for gatherings of many people in in a party atmosphere.  Low ceilings encourage intimacy and conversation, say in a dining room or window seat. Light colored ceilings raise perceived height and dark colored ceilings bring it down.

Somehow the typical American home has accepted the standard eight-foot ceiling as the norm. The article quotes a University of Minnesota study that reports "people in 8-foot-high rooms feel more confined, while those in 10-foot rooms feel freer." Further, "Low ceilings can trigger feelings of confinement, making places like basement apartments seem all the more crowded and unbearable."

2. A low ceiling at surrounding galleries adds emphasis to central space.
Much of the research in things like this comes from the fields of marketing and advertising for purposes that have nothing to do with architecture. Architects must be content with thinking serious thoughts in their ivory towers until they come to similar conclusions.

Of course, manipulating scale and creatively introducing variety remains a challenge for architects.  However, it is heartening to know that good architecture is not simply a matter of taste and opinion and more a matter of good practice for human well-being.
3. Playing with scale.
1. Worley residence by Michael Knorr. Photo by R. Munger.
2. Florida Southern Chapel by Frank Llloyd Wright.  National Archives American Building Survey.
3. Worley residence by Michael Knorr. Photo by R. Munger.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Capitolizing (sic) on Good Architecture

Wisconsin is in the news a lot this week because of a battle between unionized state workers and anti-union, budget-cutting Governor Scott Walker. That is not what this blog entry is about.  It is about the backdrop for union demonstrations: the Wisconsin state capitol building. It has been highly visible in TV and print news.
Approach to the Wisconsin state capitol.
I have long thought that Wisconsin's capitol is architecturally one of the best. It's classical motif is not unusual or particularly remarkable. However, its proportions and interior spaces are exceptional.

On the outside the Wisconsin state capitol has gravitas: a grounded heft to the proportions that make you take it seriously. The interiors have a three-dimensional spatial excitement, with pedestrian bridges spanning the galleries and numerous skylights to draw the eye upward. The building materials are lush (43 varieties of stone) and beautifully executed (hand-crafted glass mosaics and furniture). Other state capitols (not all, but many) are unfortunate victims of having been built too early in a state's history and do not have the grandeur of a powerful political center. Construction on Wisconsin's capitol began in 1906 and was completed in 1917. Wisconsin was, perhaps, at the height of its economic power and able to execute an exceptionally fine building. It was designed by George Brown Post (1837-1913), an accomplished classicist. He contributed to the famous Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, a classical extravaganza.
Numerous bridges span interior galleries.

The central dome.
In most ways the Wisconsin capitol surpasses the national Capitol with architectural panache. People are horrified at criticism of our national icon, but that is really what it is: an icon, not an architectural masterpiece. As a symbol of our nation it is just fine. As architecture it has been modified over the years into a clumsy mass of ill-proportioned lumps. At close view the dome all but disappears into its bloated base. The interior spaces are drab and uninspired. The house and senate chambers are gloomy. Not so with the Wisconsin masterpiece.
Every detail is exquisitely executed.

The Wisconsin state capitol building currently glistens with $145 million worth of renovations completed in 2001. This National Historic Landmark is worth a visit if you are anywhere near Madison, Wisconsin.
Numerous skylights add natural light.
All photos by MJK.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Architectural Model of Monticello

Paper model of Thomas Jefferson"s Monticello.
I got a nice email from Robert Anderson in Los Angeles. He noticed my list of "top ten works of architecture" which includes Thomas Jefferson's Monticello:
I came across your top ten list of buildings and saw that we share a high regard for Monticello. I have designed an inexpensive, museum-quality paper model of Monticello based on the HABS drawings and I am trying to get out the word to Jefferson aficionados. I would greatly appreciate it if you would check out my website and consider adding the link on your top ten page. I designed the model over many months when my daughter was sick to take my mind off of things. I think the end result does justice to Jefferson's architectural genius. I hope you will agree.
By the way, your designs are impressive too!
Best regards,
Robert Anderson
Los Angeles 

I have also added Mr. Anderson's link to the sidebar.

If any reader orders and assembles this paper model, let me know how it turns out. Pictures would be great too.