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Showing posts from February, 2019

Michael Ventris

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Michael Ventris (1922-1956) graduated from the AA in 1948. However, he will be remembered as the man who deciphered Linear B – an early form of Greek script used for writing Mycenaean. After hearing Sir Arthur Evans say that the Minoan tablets hadn’tyet been deciphered in 1936, he made it his life’s goal. By the age of 8 he spoke 5 European languages and throughout his life, he picked them up in a matter of months. He amazed his friends from the AA, Oliver Cox and Graeme Shankland, by slipping into the native tongue when they travelled to Italy and worked in Sweden together. Cox and Ventris’s entry to the T.U.C. Memorial Building competition were published in the AJ of 22.07.48.
Ventris’ mother was friends with the art world’s leading lights like Gabo and Moore. Breuer made their furniture and Gropius personally advised the young Ventris to go to the AA. But he had a brilliant, analytic mind that produced sterile architecture. The design for his own house, which appeared in Country L…

Sydney Opera House

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The Sydney Opera House is practically a synonym for its architect, Jørn Utzon, who died last week. Designed in 1956 when parabolic concrete shells were all the rage, its politics became as complex as its engineering. Ove Arup, its engineer, wrote in March 1965's Architectural Design, “Utzon's drawings for the competition were really only sketches blown up photographically to the required size.” The Q.S. (one poor Mr. Major of Rider Hunt & Partners) estimated it would cost A£3,500,000 and the assessors' report thus commented “The scheme which we now recommend for the first premium is, in fact, the most economical on the bases of our estimates.” On its opening, 17 years later, the final cost was more than FIFTEEN times that initial estimate. Yet it remains the standard by which today's so-called “icons” are compared. As Gehry himself admitted in an interview with John Tusa in 2005, his brief at Bilbao was for a building “that does for Bilbao what the Sydney Opera Ho…

Plus

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Before WWII, the intellectual level of the American architectural press was scarcely higher than a hardware catalogue. Howard Myers, editor of Architectural Forum, wanted to address this by introducing the European avant-garde to the US. So he announced a new supplement called “PLUS: Orientations of contemporary architecture” that was “to add opinion, exploration and new controversy to reporting.” It was to be published bi-monthly as a kind of free little magazine to its big sister, the Forum.
A 16 page PLUS 1 appeared in December 1938 and included “Toward a unity of the constructive arts” by Naum Gabo and a 5 page article called “Can expositions survive?” by Dr. S. Giedion. Gabo bemoaned the fact that “The period in which we are now living has anything but an exact or definite social organization or consciousness.” Giedion gave a brief history of the exposition, entwining it with the evolution of the new ornamentationless design and showing the way forward for the architectural tast…

Perspectives

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It's almost a quarter of a century since Prince Charles delivered his carbuncle speech at the RIBA's sesquicentenary, making him the architectural critic that architects most loved to hate – a mantle more recently acquired by Alain de Botton. Their shared crime is, of course, articulating the vox populis about architecture from outside the unblurred boundary of the profession.
The Prince went on to put his money where his mouth was by building Poundbury and founding his Institute of Architecture that never received RIBA validation. On the 10th anniversary of his infamous speech and at the height of the last recession, he established a magazine, Perspectives on Architecture, to proselytise the message: “The magazine reflects the aims of the Institute but is editorially independent” claimed the first number of April 1994. The magazine was initially edited by Dan Cruickshank and published by Peter Murray with an initial print run of 70,000 indicating its ambition to be read by t…

The Case Study House Program

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The dawn of a new year makes anything seem possible. In January 1945 John Entenza, the ambitious editor of a small-time Californian magazine called Arts & Architecture, conceived and announced The Case Study House Program that set out to “begin immediately the study, planning, actual design and construction of eight houses, each to fulfil the specifications of a special living problem in the Southern California area”. There was never a better example of the architectural press directing, rather than simply reflecting, the shape of the built environment. Acting as client, the magazine commissioned top US architects to design eight houses that would become inexpensive, replicable prototypes, demonstrating how good modern design, manufacturing methods and materials could help ameliorate the anticipated deficiencies in post-war housing.
The houses would be built, furnished and temporarily opened to the public as show-houses, before being occupied. Of course, they would also be publis…