Tuesday, April 7, 2009

White vs Gray Debate …

The establishment of the society can be seen as the establishment of order through conventions, or more specifically, the establishment of a language through symbolic codes.
The roots of the modern architecture lie on the functionalism that have driven architects to design buildings based on their purpose. The functionalism talks much about the origin of signs but little about their nature. It proposed new words but no rules for their combination and no grammatical frame work for their use. The greatest achievement of the artistic movements of late 20th century was to understand the limitation of functionalism.

There were two strong reactions against modern architecture and its aspirations toward an architectural language. Both movements stand in opposition to the ordered rationality of modernism. The first and most extreme form was characterized by The Grays which were known for their postmodernism way of thought. The Grays ideology began with the theory and practice of Robert Venturi. His publication “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture” (1966) argues against the purity, simplicity and clarity of modernism.

The second reaction is most clearly represented by the work of Peter Eisenman and four other architects who were known as The Whites. Peter Eisenman attempted to address the more basic questions of language, the grammatical questions. “What are the limits, qualitatively and quantitatively to the lexicon of architectural signs? What makes certain configuration architectural? Which shapes can or can not be used? And more important is how should they be articulated?”

There is a noticeable difference between the two reactions. By comparing the house X built in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and Vanna Venturi House which Venturi designed for his mother in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania we can recognize that Eisenman is mostly concerned with the systematization of an architectural formal language. “The process of design becomes an exploration of the syntactic combination of elements (beam, column, and frame)” . In House X the process of design is a process of research into formal structures and shapes which comes to life through the design.

Eisenman challenges the incoherent definition and languages of modernism. However, Venturi opposes the idea of a unique nature for architectural sign (classical or modernist), sees it as a more complex entity and detaches it from the underlying structure of language. Eisenman’s work is a reaction against the architectural signs itself and in particular the idea of the meaning of the sign. In the process of establishing this structure “Eisenman sacrifices not only functionalism but humanism itself”. Eisenman contributed in the development of a new inspiration to architecture and merged them with contemporary theories of linguistics and information theory.

These two architects have dissimilar approach to users. Eseinman named his buildings by numbers and designed houses that are more sculptural than livable. But Venturi and the other Gray architects designed not only with pure symbolism and historical example, but with the user in mind.

In Venturi’s design structure is more than just roof and walls. It is an organized space for a specific use and specific user. In his design space and user are part of the design process. The most famous picture of the Vanna Venturi House is the picture of the house with his mother sitting in a chair in front of her house. Also, Venturi considered history, context, social and cultural aspects in his design while Eisenman struggled with architectural form and language of modernism.

By comparing the works of these two architects side by side the similarities in their designs can be observed. “Concern for aesthetics of the single family house” and “lack of human scale in their design” are main similarities in House X and Vanna Venturi House. The material of the structure, building’s program and location of the houses obviously did not change their architectural agenda. In fact, they both considered the development of their ideology than any other aspect of their design.

Aside from the philosophy behind these two buildings, each house has its own uniqueness. They both have their own extraordinary features and manifest the ideology that is hidden in these buildings. It also depicts that thoughtful ideas by architects often result in outstanding designs. Both Eisenman and Venturi contributed significantly to architecture. They influenced and formed the future of the modern architecture although there were many differences in their design philosophy.


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Sometimes architects want to build their own creations being that not functionally just because it looks so great, so I think buildings must be resistant and functionals.

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