Thursday, March 20, 2008

On The Scene: The Sartorialist at Adamson Gallery

The DC street fashion set takes on The Sartorialist at the Adamson Gallery.

Read more!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood

The Brookland neighborhood is having a revitalization and is adding to it's history of well designed and unique single family houses. What makes this area so cool is that the houses are of all different styles from many different periods. Some recent additions have added a modern element to the streetscape's diversity. The twelve hundred block of Kearney Street is sided with a series of houses situated high on top of a steep hill. The lineup on this side is composed of variations of arts and crafts bungalows and Victorian classics. Large porches and varied rooflines dominate the compositions. Mid-block, a looming mass of what looks to be an abstraction of the typical "house form" with a flat front and triangle roof, breaks the stylistic fabric. This modern house plays on the traditional forms of a basic house and incorporates asymmetrical gestures to throw it off balance in a subtle way. What would historically have been ordered punches for fenestration are scattered around horizontally and vertically. There is no hint at floor levels or interior divisions. It is as though a Mondrian painting was punched into the facade. The openings are stretched in different rectilinear directions. Translucent tubular material glazes half while the others remain transparent. The simplicity of the materials, vertical natural wood siding and the dual glazing mitigates the complicated pattern. The sides of the house are clad in a type of panel system with horizontal bandings of wood and glazing intervening. The massing seems to be split in half along the sides. I wish I could have had a 360 degree view of the entire structure to be able to better understand these moves. From the Street view it just looks like all of the attention was paid to the front elevation with the sides as afterthought. The front view is quite elegant in its simplified abstraction, but turn the corner to view the side and it has a prefabricated warehouse quality to it. Why didn't the punched abstraction somehow wrap around one of the corners and follow the side part way? This could have helped tie everything together by making the elevations a bit more cohesive. It also would have strengthened the concept of asymmetry. All in all this house is a very bold design that adds a nice touch to the diversity of styles in the neighborhood. It could have been even better had it not held back on the interplay of massing and gone a bit more overboard with the theme of asymmetry.
Read more!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Where Graves Makes Sense

I admit that I've always had mixed opinions about the work of Michael Graves. While his objects for companies such as Alessi and Target are playful and, especially in the case of the latter, provide consumers access to design objects at affordable prices, their appeal derives from their form first and foremost, with function seemingly secondary. In fact, like many of his PoMo colleagues, Graves' work explores the nature forms in the development of architecture. Grave's intentionally plays with the scale and proportions of the building elements. Individual bricks recede into accentuated walls and are reinterpreted as large scale building blocks. Small, square windows are but mere panes in the caricatured, multi-pane windows. The effect are buildings which seem more like basic building blocks, simple geometric forms, placed innocently among the typical city architecture. From his architecture to his product design, there is a toy-like quality to his work. There are times that this approach may seem inappropriate, such as in the case of the Annex to the E. Barry Prettyman Courthouse, where the watered-down aesthetic lacks the sincerity one might expect from a federal building, and gives the building a sense of naivety. There is a question of the genuineness of the style and the architecture that one must confront. There is a certain sense of classicism, but reinterpreted in such a way as to feel nostalgic and contrived.

To me, Graves' work is sort of like the architectural equivalent of a topiary: simple and elemental in form, meticulously fashioned, and innately formal; but does it move me? Does it warrant further inspection, or is it a simple object, best viewed from a far?

There are times, however, that this approach, this style, as it were, does make sense. Take, for instance, Grave's design for St. Coletta of Greater Washington, a school serving children and adults with cognitive disabilities. Situated at the edge of the Lincoln Park neighborhood just steps from the Stadium-Armory metro station, the building does many things very well. The scale and form reflect the residential nature of the houses across the street. The colors are vivid and playful -- a welcome respite from the mammoth cream colored Armory and RFK stadium that loom nearby. And the building's forms in this instance are very appropriate, and thereby successful, appearing themselves as a simple assembly of basic building blocks. It is a building whose form is comprehensible on the most basic level. This is especially significant when you realize that students at the school suffer from mental retardation and autism. The building's design in this case is very intentional. Colors, shapes, and patterns are chosen to identify what the architect refers to as 'houses' that are organized around a central outdoor space referred to as 'the village green'. These elements help students at the school identify and relate to their settings. In other words, there is an intrinsic function to the form of this building, one which helps to instills confidence and comfort. The thought and attention that went into the design is indeed commendable.

While plans are up in the air regarding the fate of the RFK Stadium site (standby for an upcoming post), it is certain that change is on the horizon for this area. St. Coletta stands as a welcome cornerstone in this emerging part of the city.

For more information on St. Coletta of Greater Washington, please visit their website and read the National Building Museum interview with the architect.

Read more!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Modernism In Your Neighborhood

I am discovering that the more I explore the diverse and numerous neighborhoods around DC, the more modern interventions I find. The Brookland neighborhood is no exception. What was once a sleepy and worn down area, is now a location where authentic arts and crafts bungalows and Victorian houses on large grassy lots are being snapped up. Some of these original houses are great examples of that style. Many of these which are salvageable and not too far gone are being beautifully restored. They make great houses for urban families looking for more space, inside and out. Along side of these historic gems, can also be found some very cool modern houses. One example stands out on the corner of 10th and Jackson Streets. It shares the block with typical bungalows having large porches, steeply sloping roofs, and abundant wood exterior detailing. This new house is obviously modern compared to it's neighbors, but it is evident that the design pays homage to the history of the location. The rooflines and massing are broken up into different sections. Each piece is uniquely articulated. Wood detailing, color, and material create these separations. Not only does this create a vibrancy to the architecture, but it allows it's large scale to be perceived as smaller. The post and beam construction and detailing is inspired by the original arts and crafts construction methods. These elements are classic yet prove how tried and true construction methods can be recreated in a modern way. The soaring rooflines, angled masses, and large windows are what make this house stand out. The cohesion, simplicity and uniqueness of these pieces is what creates a well designed and crafted modern home.
Read more!

Monday, March 3, 2008

See DesignCult Live!

This Thursday, March 6, at 7 PM, come to Pecha Kucha Night at the Czech Republic's embassy. This event is a gathering of architects, designers, artists and other creative types presenting brief views into their worlds and works. This is an art party not to be missed! DesignCult will be making their first ever public appearance presenting a glimpse into what makes us tick.
Read more!