The structural frame as generator of architectural form
origins of architectural form.
The primitive house of the Colchians.
From the French translation of Vitruvius made by Claude Perrault.
The primitive house of the Phrygians.
From the French translation of Vitruvius made by Claude Perrault.
Vitruvius, in his De architectura libri decem , had
considered the structural framework as a precondition of
architectural form. Vitruvius described two primitive constructions.
The first, the one of the Colchians in Pontus, was built in the
following manner: "They lay down entire trees flat on the
ground to the right and the left, leaving between them a space to
suit the length of the trees, and then place above these another
pair of trees, resting on the ends of the former and at right angles
with them. These four trees enclose the space for the dwelling. Then
upon these they place sticks of timber, one after the other on the
four sides, crossing each other at the angles, and so, proceeding
with their walls of trees laid perpendicularly above the lowest,
they build up high towers. The interstices, which are left on
account of the thickness of the building material, are stopped up
with chips and mud. As for the roofs, by cutting away the ends of
the crossbeams and making them converge gradually as they lay them
across, they bring them up to the top from the four sides in the
shape of a pyramid"(II,1,4).
The second model of primitive house described by Vitruvius is the
one of the Phrygians, who lived in an open country where timber was
scarce. This was the reason why, according to Vitruvius, they came
up with a sort of construction that required less wood. First, they
made a trench on the ground and then they built a pyramidal roof of
logs which they covered with reeds and brushwood. In both models of
primitive construction, Vitruvius implies that the geometric forms
are the consequence of direct operation with physical objects rather
than abstractions that pre-existed in the mind of the builder.
From these primitive structures, according
to Vitruvius, the architectural orders developed later: "In
accordance with these details, and starting from carpenter's work, artists
in building temples of stone and marble imitated those arrangements in
their sculptures, believing that they must follow those
inventions"(IV,2,2). It can be contended that the skeletons of
Vitruvius' primitive houses were a materialistic version of the Platonic
Idea: they stood for the image-idea that guides the artist-architect in
Laugier's cabane: structure as perceived
Laugier. La cabane primitive.
|The structural form of the primitive
house was also a key issue in the theory proposed by Marc-Antoine
Laugier in the 17th-century. As Vitruvius, Laugier also places the
origins of architectural forms in nature: the first dwelling was
built in the forest, with branches and trees. In spite of these
materialistic connotations, Laugier's cabane differs from
the previous theories of Vitruvius in one important aspect: the cabane
is an abstract concept as much as it is a material
construction. For Laugier, the architect derived the idea
of the building from the primitive house: " Les pieces
de bois élevées perpendiculairement nous ont donné l'idée des
colonnes. Les pieces horisontales qui les surmontent, nous ont
donné l'idée des entablements. Enfin les pieces inclinées qui
forment le toit, nous ont donné l'idée des frontons: voilà ce
que tous les Maîtres de l'Art ont reconnu. "Thus, the
primitive house, that is, the basic structural skeleton,
represents the first architectural idea.
->Compare to VITRUVIUS.
The primitive house of Viollet-le Duc:
the rationality of construction as generator of architectural form
Viollet-le-Duc. The first house. From Histoire de l'habitation
|In Histoire de l'habitation
humaine, Viollet-le-Duc offered his particular view of the
origins of the first house in the form of a legend. He argued,
that it was the necessity to get protection against rain, wind and
beasts, which prompted a man, Épergos, to build the first house.
He came up with the idea to tie up the upper part of two nearby
trees. Then, he asked other people to bring more trees and to tie
them together in a similar way. The trees were tied up with
branches and the whole structure was covered with mud. Finally,
the door was placed in the side protected from the action of wind
This account of the origins of the
first house formulated by Viollet-le-Duc cannot but remind us of
the primitive dwellings described by Vitruvius. As a matter of
fact, the conical form of the house described by Viollet-le-Duc
corresponds to one of the two models described by the Roman
author, the one built by the Phrygians. But apart from this
coincidence, there are some significant differences between the
descriptions of the primitive house provided by Vitruvius and
Viollet-le-Duc; differences that reveal the different conception
of architecture that both authors had. For Vitruvius, the
primitive house was more a creation of nature than of man.
Viollet-le-Duc, on the other hand, emphasizes the rationality of
the men who built the first house. Furthermore, Viollet-le-Duc
assumes that the construction system itself has its own logic, and
that this logic determines the architectural forms. Hence, the
conical form was the result of a technique consisting in fastening
the trees in their upper part. The form of the hut, therefore, was
not an idea first conceived in the mind, but the consequence of
the logical construction technique. Furthermore, the idea of the
first house is associated with the structural form, which for
Viollet-le-Duc constitutes the essence of architectural form.
It can be argued that one of the
fundamental premises of architecture has been that the conceptual
structure -i.e. the perceived form of the building- should coincide as
much as possible with the physical structure of the building. This premise
takes us back to the very origins of architecture, when a building was
more than anything else a structure whose form derived from the laws of
construction and the proper use of materials. As architecture evolved as
an art form, the original unity of structural and architectural form was
put many times into question. There have been periods in the history of
architecture where such unity was consciously sought (i.e. Greek
architecture), while in others was purposely neglected (i.e. Baroque). In
neo-classicist thought, the separation between visual structure and
physical structure was considered problematic. Laugier's theory of the
primitive hut can be interpreted as a defense of the lost unity between
two kinds of structure.->STRUCTURE
The novel forms of the nineteenth
In the 19th-century, markets, railway
stations, warehouses and bridges offered architects and engineers an
opportunity to create novel forms. One of the most original forms created
in this period, the Eiffel tower, is a purely structural form. It is not
simply a translation of the traditional 'tower' into iron, but an original
new form. This gigantic building demanded from the viewer new forms of
perception, distinct to the traditional notions of proportion and
eurhytmia that had dominated classical aesthetics. The Eiffel tower is not
a static composition, in the classical sense, but a dynamic form, whose
force emanates from the base and continuous vertically along four
asymptotic lines that meet at the apex.->Tatlin,
Monument for the Third International
The significance of the tower does not stem
only from the originality of its form but also from the new spatial
conception that entailed->GIEDION.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the idea that space was the
abstract system of relations -as opposed to the cavity or void- was
Space, Time and Architecture.
Russian constructivism: the crossing
boundaries between reality and representation
View of the third OBMOKhu exhibition, Moscow, 1921.
|The intersections between the world
of abstraction and the world of physical reality was revealed by
the objects created by constructivists. In Russian constructivism,
a structure was both an abstract arrangement of lines in space and
a physical construction*. As a matter of fact, the word construction
could be applied indistinctively to both kinds of structures,
abstract and physical. Lissitzky, for example, considered that
"every organized piece of work -whether it be a house, a
poem, a painting- was a practical object", i.e. a PROUN.
V. Stenberg, Construction for a Spatial Structure no. 6
CONNECTING POINTS IN SPACE|
BETWEEN TWO POINTS
Aleksandr Rodchenko, Spatial Construction/Spatial Object, 1921.
The spatial constructions of Rodchenko are as much physical as
they are meant to be abstract. They are objects floating in an
abstract three-dimensional space. Their ultimate purpose is to
escape from the constraints of the physical realm, to exist only
in an abstract, non-gravitational space. It is the expression of
the contemporary space-time concept: the object changes
continuosly its position, there is no absolu te space where things
stay fixed. The dynamic dimension is built in the object itself:
the recursive repetition of one element (the circle) suggests the
idea of time.
Aleksandr Rodchenko, Spatial Construction/Spatial Object, 1920-21.
Gustav Klutis, Spatial Construction, 1921.
|Similar ideas are present in the
work of Klutsis. His spatial construction floats in space, hanging
from the ceiling, as if it would negate the force of gravity. The
object is built through the recursive repetition of a basic
element, in this case a three-dimensional figure, i.e. the
prismatic frame. In the pictorial representation of the right, the
axonometric projection allows for a diversity of readings, each
one of them implies a different orientation of the object in
space. However, the same effects are achieved either with the
physical construction or with the pictorial representation: space
is non-gravitational, the object is in continuous motion.
Gustav Klutis, Construction, 1921.
G. Klutsis, Design for a screen-tribune-kiosk, 1922.
El Lissitzky, R.V.N.2, 1923.
Klutsis' Design for a Screen-kiosk is as much a physical artifact as
it is an abstract construction: it seems as if the kiosk would have
been built by assembling individual components in an
Some of Lissitzky's Prouns also reflect the interweaving of abstract
and physical realms. The prismatic solids remind us of wooden
blocks, but the space that contains the objects is more abstract
TATLIN: MONUMENT TO THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL:
The monument consists of three great rooms of glass erected with
the help of a complicated system of vertical pillars and spirals.
These rooms are placed on top of each other and have different,
harmonically corresponding forms. They are to be able to move at
different speeds by means of a special mechanism. The lower storey,
which is in the form of a cube rotates on its axis at the speed of
one revolution per year. This is intended for legislative
assemblies. The next storey, which is in the form of a pyramid,
rotates on its axis at the rate of one revolution per month. Here
the executive bodies are to meet ( the International Executive
Commitee, the Secretariat and other administrative bodies).Finally
the uppermost cylinder, which rotates at the speed of one
revolution per day, is reserved for information services: an
information office, a newspaper, the issuing of proclamations,
pamphlets and manifestos- in short all the means for informing the
international proletariat; it will also have a telegraphic office
and an apparatus that can project slogans onto a large screen.
These can be fitted around the axis of the hemisphere. Radio masts
will rise up over the monument. It should be emphasised that
Tatlin's proposal provides for walls with a vacuum (thermos) which
will help to keep the temperature in the various rooms constant.
V. Tatlin, Model of the Monument to the Third Intenational, 1920.