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Architecture And Art In Design Cultural Studies Essay

Architecture is defined as the art and science of designing and making buildings. However can we categorise architecture in art or science subjects? Personally, architecture is a form of expression in both visual and emotional ways, at the same time fulfilling the requirement of functionality. It is neither just a shelter to live in nor a piece of sculpture to look at. It is a combination of both art and science. Science and engineering might be the primary objective for architects to provide a functional structure which protects us from weather, impurities and extreme temperature. However, art also plays a very important role in architecture to provide something more than a physical shelter. Like art, architecture expresses and evokes feelings, and is visually aesthetic. From the beginning of architectural creativity, the close cooperation between architects and artists has been important to intensify the greater aesthetic value of architecture. Buildings created are not just spaces for accommodation and structures for protection. These three-dimensional art objects enchant passersby and occupants, and allow them to interact with the created space and light, and be a part of the artistic activity.

Modern architecture has always been influenced by the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century and might be argued that it would be very different today without the influence of Fauvism, Cubism and similar abstract art movements. Cubism especially, played the main role in shaping today’s modern society. Cubism’s influence on modern architecture was not direct, but from the paintings of Picasso, Braque and Gris through Le Corbusier’s Purism, Russian Constructivism and Suprematism, Dutch De Stijl movement and the Bauhaus school, modern architecture has changed and evolved to the architecture of contemporary practitioners such as Frank Gehry and Daniel Libeskind under the name of Deconstructivism.

Painting stands for no other end than itself. The artist paints an apple or a head: it is simply a pretext for line and colour, nothing more. (Paul Cezanne)

Drawing and painting has been the main medium for architects to express their visions. Artists paint to search for art, but architects paint to explore forms and shapes, illustrate concepts of space and light, and perceive the ways to reproduce these formal elements on their buildings. Before technology was advanced enough to render a building and at the same time create different perspectives to lead the viewer around in the computer-generated drawings, architects used painting as a medium of visualisation and as a representation of their thoughts. For Le Corbusier, his drawings and paintings were the key to his work where he searched for his secrets of forms. For the architect Zaha Hadid, painting is a language to express the building design through abstract volumes, distortions, light and different tonal values. Frank Gehry expresses his vision and ideas of dynamic shapes in his sculpture-like buildings through semi-automatic writings. For him drawing is a way of thinking out loud and these subconsciously drawn pencil sketches are essential parts of his creative process. Hence, art has been a major influence on architecture, and since ancient civilizations through the arts and crafts of the classic periods, architecture can be considered as a form of expression; as a form of art.

Great Epoch

A great epoch has begun.

There exists a new spirit.

There exists a mass of work conceived in the new spirit;

(Le Corbusier, 1927, p. 9)

Art historians study history from a work of art which reflects the era of its creation. However, it is not only on paintings and sculptures that the historians learn about the art’s history. The history of art can also be traced on buildings as they represent the time of construction. We can learn about the ancient Greek and Roman cultures and art from buildings like the Parthenon and Pantheon, which were built during the classical period. Likewise, Egyptian pyramids tell us the story of ancient Egypt civilization. The architecture of Antoni Gaudi and Charles Rennie Mackintosh represented the Art Nouveau movement as much as the glass works of Louis Tiffany and illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley did. As Le Corbusier had stated, time changes and era determines its own style that we need to recognise and reflect the spirit of the new age. He did not accept the idea of ornaments, and instead wished to follow the spirit of the machine age. However, this does not mean that he totally rejected the aesthetic values of architecture. People misunderstood and put Le Corbusier and functionalism together when he described the house being a machine for living in. Modernists saw the machine age through the principle of ‘form follows function’ and applied functionalism on buildings primarily. However, Le Corbusier wrote in his Vers une architecture, ‘Architecture goes beyond utilitarian needs,’ and ‘Passion can create drama out of inert stone,’ making sure that functionalism alone was not architecture. Architecture is more than construction or adaptation to physical needs. It is capable of influencing our senses and fulfilling our desires. He wrote in Vers une architecture, ‘ARCHITECTURE is a thing of art, a phenomenon of the emotions, lying outside questions of construction and beyond them. The purpose of construction is TO MAKE THINGS HOLD TOGETHER; of architecture TO MOVE US.’

Le Corbusier was against pseudo-naturalism of the Art Nouveau movement and emulation of natural forms practiced by architects like Gaudi as he felt that architecture should not be an outgrowth of nature. His definition of good art was not organic, but primary forms that can be considered beautiful as they can be clearly appreciated.

Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light. Our eyes are made to see forms in light; light and shade reveal these forms; cubes, cones, spheres, cylinders or pyramids… (Le Corbusier, 1927, p. 31)

Le Corbusier found the most beautiful forms in simple geometrical shapes. They are the shapes which have been used in great buildings and art since classical times. These are the new vocabulary suited for the new era; the era of machines. Le Corbusier used this vocabulary with the influence of Cubism in his Purist paintings to express his belief that only pure, precise, geometrical forms were appropriate for the Machine age. Like Cubists, he painted the most banal mass produced objects not to create distraction from the main theme of his paintings, which was the exploration and appreciation of pure forms. However, Le Corbusier described cubism as ‘too decorative’, ‘too chaotic’ and that if cubism were to put together with science and industry, the discord would be striking. Therefore, taking some primary elements, he developed cubism into ‘Purism’ to express the characteristics of the modern spirit; plastic art appropriate for the machine age.

Ronchamp

After the First World War, Le Corbusier’s later works including the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, known as Ronchamp, became less crisp and machine-like, and he sought more after sculptural and primitive forms with his growing interest in art. The reasons behind his shift in style, being the need of materials that would age well unlike his old white stuccoed walls which had turned gray and tired-looking after the war and the weather changes, he turned to earthy slabs of concrete. Particularly, unfinished concrete mainly due to its texture and primitive look, partly because of the lower cost which was the most practical for the post war world. The forms of the chapel were free-flowing and sculptural like the forms he had been searching in his paintings all the time. The architectural expression of Ronchamp is picturesque, a drama brought together with the great masses of acoustic forms in light. It looks old-fashioned yet modern at the same time, and organic but unlike Frank Lloyd Wright’s nature forms, its primary shapes are geometrical. Blake(1996) wrote, ‘Corbu’s new world of form seems to be timeless, conceivably the product of any and all ages, modern in every respect and ancient in every respect also.’

Light is the key to Ronchamp. It gently clarifies the thick volumes of curves which seem to be hand-made by the architect. The play of light and shadows coming through the slits and the squares of windows into cave-like structure intensifies the drama of the chapel creating an emotional and spiritual monument without any reference to traditional religious buildings. The same sense of the tradition, a common thread, and an offspring of the same bloodline can be seen at Daniel Libeskind’s Museum in Berlin.

Between the Lines

The Jewish Museum Extension in Berlin was built by the Polish architect Daniel Libeskind in 1998. According to Libeskind, the project formerly named as ‘Between the Lines’, the won competition design concept, is about two lines of thinking, organization and relationship. He said, ‘one is a straight line, but broken into many fragments; the other is a tortuous line, but continuing infinitely.’ The zigzagged line where the main exhibition spaces situate, divides the straight line programmatically into separated voids. These voids are absence and inaccessible. The only openings are the skylight on the ceiling which can be seen as a ghostly connected line from the bird’s eye view of the building, and some slits of windows to see through the nothingness inside. Libeskind said these empty spaces are necessary in the museum to create a tension between the substances of the story that can be told and that cannot be told. According to Newhouse (1998), the voids represent absence-all that, because of the Holocaust, is lost to Berlin and to civilization in general. Many people might argue that having such a useless space which cannot be used as part of the museum exhibition is impractical and has no functionality. However, do we define function only for physical matters, because these voids have function of art, function of telling the story through the physical structures and function of the purpose of the building itself. In Cubist paintings, the role of the empty space is as important as that of the objects which create the space. According to Reichlin (1997), Jacques Riviere wrote in his insightful article of 1912 on ‘Present tendencies in painting’ that ‘the intervals between forms-all the empty parts of the picture, all the places in it occupied by nothing but air, find themselves filled up by a system of walls and fortifications. These are new, entirely imaginary objects, thrusting between the first ones as though to wedge them tight.’

The entrance to the building is through the old Kollegienhaus Museum, leading the visitor underground to three main axes beneath the new museum extension. Three corridors represent three major experiences of German Judaism: continuity, exile and death. The continuity axis leads to the main exhibition area on third floor through a passageway and a long enclosed stairway from underground. The effort and the difficulty of the path to return to the light of day represent the long continuity of Jewish people in Germany. The axis of exile leads the visitors to outside where the Garden of Exile is. Hanging garden with trees planted in forty-nine leaning concrete pillars with sloping floor unbalances the visitor and gives uneasy feelings. The axis of Halocaust, passageway to the Tower of the Halocaust, is a dead end. The tower is an empty space like the voids but with blank walls, and dark ceiling and floor. There is only a slit of day light coming through the skylight, the only source of light in the whole tower making the visitor feel unsettled and cluastophobic.

The half-hazard pattern of windows on the main building was created by the architect to represent the existence of the Jewish people in Germany. Libeskind linked the addresses of the final Jewish figures of German Judaism on the map of Berlin, and then projected the generated pattern on the building’s surface to produce scar-like cuts of windows. From those openings, light penetrates the interior harshly creating dark uneasy corners. The dramatic play of light resembles the window openings at Ronchamp with their slanted thick walls letting different angles and colours of light flooding into the chapel. Another similar characteristic between Ronchamp and the Libeskind’s museum is the dramatic quality of seizing all senses of the visitor through enchanting visual structures and the amplification of the acoustics. Both buildings are functional as they provide all the requirements that define the purpose of the buildings, moreover, they have gone beyond functionality and captured our senses to create a whole new kind of art experience.

Continuous Space

Space and perspective have been the most important elements of architecture on both traditional and modern designs. Space provides both functional and aesthetic qualities of architecture, whereas changes in perspective create illusions of the space. However, do we consider an architectural space as an area enclosed by walls and a roof and a floor? Or, as an existence which surrounds us and is continuous to all directions? In traditional architecture, inner and outer space were divided by walls to separate the living area from the outside environment. However, the old way of defining space became obsolete in modern times when artists and architects explored further to express the continuous interpenetration of outer and inner space. This conception of space was fully and successfully achieved in Cubism, before it was developed into a new architectonic language.

It was not the ‘abstract’ and ‘cubical’ elements which signified Cubism as the modern movement, but it was the invention and experimentation of a new approach to the spatial representation that did. The cubists did not produce the pictures of people and objects from only one point of view. They went round, saw from underneath and from above, from outside and from inside at the same time to reproduce simultaneity of the objects and illusion of their movements. Picasso’s famous Guernica painting is the rendering of the inside and outside of a room simultaneously. These discoveries on spatial constructions of the Cubists were advanced further in architecture by Le Corbusier.

Villa Savoye

Le Corbusier experimented with space and light in his early modernist buildings, especially in Villa Savoye (1931). The Villa Savoye is a box, a cube hollowed out and raised in the air by pilotis. There is no definite signification to point out the front, back or side of the house like in traditional buildings. The box is pierced all around with the horizontal windows which Le Corbusier called them ‘walls of light’. More than the function of letting light and air to come through, these windows allow the occupant to lean out from the inside of the house, and to see how the outside view is brought into the picture of the interior. Colomina (1997) described the house having no more than a series of views choreographed for the visitor. In his essay ‘Where are we?’, Colomina (1997, p.141) noted how Le Corbusier described the experience of the inhabitants of Villa Savoye: ‘The visitors, till now, turn round and round inside, asking themselves what is happening, understanding with difficulty the reasons for what they see and feel; they do not find anything of what is called a house. They feel themselves within something entirely new. And…they are not bored, I believe!’

Juxtaposition

Arab architecture gives us a precious lesson. It is appreciated by walking, on foot; it is by walking, by moving, that one sees the order of architecture developing…it’s a question of a real architectural promenade, offering constantly changing views, unexpected, sometimes astonishing.’ (Le Corbusier)

The technique of juxtaposition, ambiguity and complex layering of space, light, and geometrical shapes created by the Cubists can be found in Le Corbusier’s later works and contemporary deconstrcutivist architecture. Hierarchy is no longer an essential rule and there is no particular emphasis on only one part of the architecture hence the exterior and interior as well as the materials and lighting juxtapose with each other to deliver a whole greater experience to the occupants and passer-bys.

The Carpenter Center for Visual Arts in Harvard University (1963), the only commission for Le Corbusier from the United States, is a fine example to describe the juxtaposition and movement system that he applied in many of his last buildings. The center consists of a raised block with curved walls between two streets, and the main feature of the building: an elongated S-shaped pedestrian ramp which rises from both streets and penetrates the building through the third floor. The ramp creates the dramatic movement systems of people travelling up and down the building on the walkway, and changing directions in the air in totally unconventional way. According to Blake (1996), the ascending and descending ramps at various levels, suggest a new freedom of pedestrian movement.

The similar approach to creating this type of meandering movements in space is visible in Zaha Hadid’s designs for both built and conceptual projects. The Peak (1982-83), a winning competition entry for a Leisure club in Hong Kong, was the first exposed design idea of Zaha Hadid for Deconstructivist architecture. The club is situated on top of the mountain and the building’s elevated structure reflects the landscape. All the facilities including the driveway, hotel, spa, swimming pool, reading area etc. are juxtaposed to create an open compressed urban space and an uninterrupted view of the city. The activities and the movements; cars driving through, swimmers in the pool, and readers in the lounge, are all intertwined together constantly within the club. MAXXI: Museum of XXI Century Arts (1998-2009) in Rome follows the same architectural program that Zaha Hadid produced in the concept for The Peak. According to her, the building design moved away from the idea of traditional museum as an ‘object’ and towards the idea of ‘a field of buildings’ accessible to all. The buildings are constructed with lines of walls which intersect each other to separate the outer and inner spaces on the L-shaped site that meanders between the existing buildings. The architect used the shape of the site as an advantage to explore possibilities of intertwining and superimposing the bundles of twisted structures which result in a bohemian museum space. It is the result of complex spatial layering, juxtaposition of objects, and ambiguous interaction between separate parts of a whole that we have seen in the early Cubist paintings and the modernist architecture of Le Corbusier.

Is Architecture Art?

Painting is a blind man’s profession. He paints not what he sees, but he feels, what he tells himself about what he has seen. (Pablo Picasso)

Behind the over-complicated illusions and theories of Cubism and architecture of Le Corbusier and of Deconstrcutivists like Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, there are only simple meanings and basic intentions which we don’t normally realise. Despite of the look of complexity, works of these artists and architects have simpler and more real meanings than other forms of art as they don’t suggest or make us believe what is real but rather ask us to question ourselves what we think is real. Thoughts and feelings are more realistic than what we actually sees and the illusions produced by these practitioners make us wonder what to believe in and find our own solutions.

Is Cubism, which explored with space, light, and perspectives of three-dimensional objects on two-dimensional paintings, architectural? Or is it Le Corbusier and Deconstructivists whose works were influenced by Cubism that their architecture can be considered as Art? In my opinion, art and architecture influence each other and one cannot exist without another. Artists need to explore their representation of art through architectural elements and vice versa architects need to insert aesthetic and emotional values of art in physical structures. Art is essential in architecture to create something more than a shelter with four walls, a roof and a floor. According to Le Corbusier, architect reveals himself as artist or mere engineer. Architect is like a composer who masters the skills and tools he need to apply, but at the same time he expresses himself through emotions and artistic ability. Engineer builds a structure whereas architect makes it come alive. It would not be possible if the architect has not mastered art as well as construction skills. To conclude, for us to inhabit, work, study, enjoy and cohabit with nature, architecture provide a physical space which protect us, as well as a psychological atmosphere where we feel at ease, comfortable, and relaxed or uneasy and unsettled, depending on the mood created by the architect to suit the nature of the building. We live more than half of our lives inside buildings, and architecture affects us both physically and emotionally. We like to find somewhere we feel comfortable and feel at home, but at the same time we would enjoy going to places where there are peculiar experiences and feelings that we would not have them normally. What is the reason of going to art museums and galleries? Is it to feel the ‘art’? Or to look at beautiful things? Or just to enjoy the atmosphere? Do we love it? Or do we detest it? The reasons depend on one’s own mind. Artists expressed his vision whether we like it or not. It can be said the same to architecture. There are these buildings created by many artistic designers around us full of personalities and expressions like they are parts of us; and a major portion of our life.


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