Friday, October 26, 2007

On the drawing board...

I have a commission for a series of interventions on a 23 year old estate in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood in Palm Springs. My clients are re-imagining the modern/post-modern house and have tried to unleash it's inner pure modern side while expunging the post-modern elements. I have a couple of sketches here for a pavillion in the garden. This is an exciting small scale design that has a long architectural tradition. The folly in the garden was a popular motiff of English neo-classicism as well among the staples of Palladian renaissance architecture. Here the modern language of the house is combined with this neo-classical tradition as well as with the abstract planar language of modern architecture. Eight pillars support a slab at the midpoint of each pillar, the entire composition sheathed in white smooth troweled stucco. To contrast with the stark lines and lack of texture a handmade crystal chandelier is suspended from the center. The only imprecise shape, surface and texture of the project. It is a simle, elegant composition for admiring the surrounding garden, adjacent pool and the distant vista of the borrowed landscape of the neighboring properties.

I am a Modernist, I don't see my work as the beginning of history and I am not reinventing the wheel. I devour books on modernism. I study the masters, how did they use the common materials around them to compose space, structure, and shape. I apply the lessons I have learned to the contemporary problem at hand. My designs are the interaction of planes in juxtaposition to each other to define space. The precisioned geometric plane is shorthand for the mastery of nature that is unique to man. It is the abstract language of the architect's tools, It is an outgrowth of simple construction. Wood stud, concrete block, stucco, this is the language of most California construction; it is the tradition I work with and within the skill level of most competent constructors.

I say this because we are in the midst of a revival that is rarely being acknowledged as a revival, there seem to be several camps on the issue, some try to distance themselves from the source of their forms. Their compositions are new, unique, dynamic, etc. but the form language is from a specific period of the past, specifically 20th century modernism, or mid-century modernism if you prefer. Designers will either say the are engaging in nostalgia, or they will try to deny any connection to the historical trend, typically they may engage in distancing themselves through declarations that sound like "my designs are an independent response to specific parameters, I am not a modernist, I am not reusing designs from the past,"etc. I think there is some truth to that but I don't see the need for the distance. I do not borrow/steal designs, re-hash, or engage in nostalgia, as I have said before I acknowledge precedent and try to apply infered lessons to a present problem.

I find it important to recognize that, even if it is unpopular, but I will admit it has gotten me into trouble. There is no visible reward to being transparent about your methodology, people want to think you are looking at history a new with every design, at least to pay lip service to that heroic artist ideal. I presented a design to a client once complete with a design statement that acknowledged my influences, the project was shot down for being too retro, Using the same design methodology I presented a similar project without acknowledging my influences and It was welcomed as being fresh. It was the same journey that brought me to two different places. Needless to say I don't connect the dots for people anymore, maybe that is what others do as well, but on my forum I want to share with my 2 readers the truth.

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