Ten Thoughts on Architecture
John Huffman McLeod
Thesis submitted to the faculty of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture.
Robert J. Dunay, Chair:
Joseph L. Mashburn:
V. Hunter Pittman:
Blacksburg, Virginia 1997
In the face of technological developments, economic demands, and cultural desires that can encourage buildings devoid of character and permanence, we need to look for attributes of architecture that evoke strength and elude the undulations of time.
This is an electronic copy of an originial document. The quality of the graphics may fall short of the hard copy. The original document may be found in the Art and Architecture Library at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia.
Juhani Pallasmaa asks, “Why do so very few modernbuildings appeal to our feelings, when almost any anonymous house...or the most unpretentious farm outbuilding gives us a sense of familiarity and pleasure?”1 This question implies some inherent difference between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ architecture. It is not coincidental that architecture, and many other aspects of our culture, tend to get divided into these two categories. There exists, in fact,a discernible point in history where this fracture appeared. Marcus Borg, a contemporary theologian, explains that “the Enlightenment is the ‘great divide’ in Western intellectual history that separates the modern period from all that went before it.”2 Likewise, Vincent Scully, Jr. conveys the same notion relative to the specific context of architecture:
Modern architecture is a product ofWestern civilization. It began to take shape during the later eighteenth century, with the democratic and industrial revolutions that formed the modern age.3
Borg states further that “[t]he modern worldview, derived from the Enlightenment, sees reality in material terms, as constituted by the world of matter and energy within the space-time continuum.”4 Similarly, in his essay “Six Themes for theNext Millenium,” Pallasmaa echoes this stance almost to the point of paraphrase:
The central theme in the Modernist architectural theory was the representation of the space-time continuum. Architecture was seen as a representation of the worldview and an expression of the space-time structure of the physical and experiential reality.5
outbuilding, Montgomery County, Virginia
So it becomes clear that a historical distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘traditional’ holds water. One may even say more specifically that the Industrial Revolution, with its introduction of mass production and modern materials, dehumanized our culture in many respects, and, in terms of architecture, enabled us to build in ways that lack humanness. However, the answer to the enigma of why sofew modern buildings appeal to our feelings lies not so much in the distinction between traditional versus modern, as it does, simply, in the nature of architecture itself. Architecture has existed across time. Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp is architecture every bit as much as Chartres Cathedral is. Works of architecture, regardless of their era, ‘belong to Architecture,’ as Louis Kahn would say,6 ratherthan to a particular time or style. They embody qualities that exist before, beneath, behind, beyond time. Therefore, while it may be true that fewer buildings of the modern period seem to ‘belong to Architecture,’ the real question becomes ‘What are the qualities of architecture that endure?’ or, simply, ‘What is architecture?’
Le Corbusier, Notre Dame du Haut Ronchamp, France