Transcendental Ornament

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Transcendental Ornament
Voit, Michele
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This paper is an exploration of the meaning of the word "ornament" and how it has impacted my architecture studies, as well as the field of architecture in general. I will be highlighting the parallels between the progression of my undergraduate career and the evolvement of our understanding of ornament throughout history. I want to bridge the gap between what we might traditionally think of as physical ornament, and ornament as an architecturally inspiring experience. ( en )
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Awarded Bachelor of Design, summa cum laude, on May 8, 2018. Major: Architecture
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College or School: College of Design, Construction and Planning
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Advisor: Thomas Smith. Advisor Department or School: Mark McGlothlin

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University of Florida
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University of Florida
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Copyright Michele Voit. Permission granted to the University of Florida to digitize, archive and distribute this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.

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UF Undergraduate Honors Theses


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Transcendental Ornament How The M eaning of Ornament Has E volved T hrough T ime Michle Voit University of Florida Department of Architecture Spring 2018


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit Throughout history, architecture has primarily embodied ornament and in some cases, suc h as in the Rococo design, over elaboration. However, the technological advances of the Renaissance as well as a "fundamental shift in the nature of human consciousness", led to the emergence of Neo Classicism which forged the search for a true style o f architecture where the aesthetic space was ultimately desired. I n Europe, Adolf Loos' Ornament and Crime became an instrument for explaining his contempt for the use of ornament in design. The pursuit of a true style of architecture became prominent in America and the vision of "the transformation of industrial technique through art" thus became the adopted vision of Frank Lloyd Wright which ultimately succeeded in influencing many future architectural styles. Kahn's continuous search for the "thoughtful making of space" stems from Wright's initial balance struggle but the evident progression from physical embellishment to inspiring spaces is proof that what architecture means, is being redefined Although in the past, ornament was an inseparable aspect of architecture, and to many a dated aspect as well, I believe that if done well, it is quintessential fo r the construction of a memorable architectural experience Today, we strive to reinvent ornament by abstracting the physical over elaboration that is usually associated with it. However, much like in the progression of the fine arts from Renaissance icons to post contemporary exhibitions, ornament in architecture has evolved it is about creating a series of meaningful and unique experiences through spaces, rather than literal adornment within spaces.


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit # Figure 1: My sketch of a Carlo Scarpa detail from Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. To begin with, o ne extreme proponent for the eradication of all ornament in architect ure was the influential European theorist of modern architecture, Adolf Loos. Loos favored the nakedness of smooth surfaces because they are the true essence of architecture. In his mind, t he crime of ornament lies upon the fact that it poses an unnecessary and irresponsible cost to our society and our national economy, because it is a waste of human labor, money and material. Although orna ment was once utilized as a means for representation of the style of a particular age, it is no longer necessary because we have art. Today, design with ornament is selfish, because it is superfluous and will eventually become obsolete when that "style" is no longer desired. Since ornament is no longer organically linked to our culture, it is also no longer the expression of our culture 1 Loos' European background as well as his experiences in the United States, truly impacted his perception of architecture so the distinction he makes is not merely between complex and simple, but rather between superfluous and organic. Additionally, much like in Europe, a refinement of architectural style and the idea of ornament was underway, and became characterized by Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright's style is !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 Adolf Loos. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998. 22.


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit $ expressed by constantly oscillating between two poles one asymmetric and modern, and the other classic and symbolic seamlessly merged to embody nature as well as the idea of sacrament. His career is defined by his constant fluctuation between classic symbolic ornament and modern aesthetic of space. His first architectural works, class ified in the Prairie Style, depict his initial experimentation within the two styles of building. His transition to Usonian architecture exemplify the maturity and extensive thoughtfulness that vitally infl uence architecture today. Falling W ater was Wright 's breakthrough, and it has been designated as his "ultimate romantic statement," because of its inimitable, intimate relationship with nature. Meanwhile, the Guggenheim Museum and the Walter Davidson Model Farm are characterized at the climax of Wright's later career because they epitomize organic architecture. Essentially, Wright's experiences throughout his career led to the birth of organic architecture, or "the economic creation of built form and space in accordance with the latent principles of natur e," which has in turn significantly shaped fundamental principles of modern architecture.


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit % Figure 2 : Frank Lloyd Wright interior sketch of the Guggenheim Museum, 1943 Wright's approach to this design became revolutionary because of the uninterrupted, centrality of the space, compared to traditionally compartmentalized museums. Additionally, since it is in New York City, the feeling of openness also dramatically contra sts with the density of the city. Louis Kahn's career would be shaped by Fuller's evoking geodesic structural systems through their universal geometry and an attitude to both form and life that is fundamentally mystical. 2 Kahn's profound philosophy of arc hitecture comes from the idea of explicitly integrating mechanical systems with the structure and the important corollary that the universal ordering principle (what the building wants to be) could only make itself manifest through the revelation of the co nstructional process. 3 Thus, Kahn's method of design matured, and became about the function adjusting to the form as long as the form was originated through an in depth understanding of the overall program. His best work is evident in religious and honorif ic structures, because building was a mystical process. He engrossed himself in the "concept" and adapted the form to fit the constraints of the task. T he quintessence of Kahn's career can be seen in his design for the Salk Laboratories in La Jolla, California. His separation of spaces into, living, working and meeting areas projected him out of a habitual need to "reduce the laboratory space to an ideal form". His establishment of a full height service floor under each laboratory is a provision which has become fully utilized to this day. Kahn's rejection of a simple minded if socially committed functionalism in favor of an architecture capable of transcending utility led him to postulate a parallel approach to urban form. 4 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture a Critical History (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1980) 243. 3 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture a Critical History (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1980) 244. 4 Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture a Critical History (London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1980) 246.


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit & Figure 3: A mystical per spective from the strip of water that cuts across the plaza and extends the edge of the Salk Institute. The water creates a symmetry, a s ense of overwhelming, and embraces the "thoughtful making of space" that is so exemplary of Kahn. Photograph by Liao Yu sheng When our architecture careers begun, we were implored to think about the smoothness and clarity of spaces in the same way that Loos wanted the world to look at architecture. This over simplification was merely a stepping stone in order for us to co mprehend a bare bone, composition of spaces. In order to be able to make thoughtful spaces that address ed even the smallest details, we needed to strip away many pre conceived notions about what we thought architecture was. However, we have been so immersed in the belief that ornament is our nemesis, that we have forgotten that the true architectural idea of ornament today is more than crown molding on the ceiling and built ins in the living room. Ornament in architecture has evolved from ostentatious adornments meant to parade wealth and power to meaningful details that amalgamate to an overall inspiring and unparalleled experience. My very own experience in Vicenza, Italy, has in a way, taken me through my own path of rejection of physical ornament, to appreciation of an ornament tha t forges a mystical experience. Our exploration of European architecture and its historical focus on ornament has significantly impacted my studio work. Although it can be portrayed as old fashioned, the importance of preservation makes Europe rather unique, especially compared to architecture in


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit the United States. My analysis of Europe through sketching different places, people and buildings, led me to develop a project that responded and preserved the Italian values, yet also pushed the boundaries to instill a sense of wonder and novelty in the small town of Vicenza. Figure 4 (left): My sketch of a Carlo Scarpa detail of the Brion Cemetery in San Vito d'Altivole near Treviso, Italy. Figure 5 (right): My exploratory sketch of material and lighting condition at the Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza, Italy. The region of Veneto is characterized by its V enetian architecture, composed of the primary building material, brick. One of the most notable aspects of Italian construction in the Veneto region is the extensive use of the material as a main structural element. The incessant masking of this brick framework in an effort to recreate stone faades, combined with the stereotomic quality of the architecture, imbues a sense of mystery as to what the quintessential Italian lifestyle truly means. I n an attempt to stay true to the spir it of V enetian Italy, I wanted my design to transform the way brick is used and expose its beauty in a delicate way. The faade of the intervention would be a diagonal brick fabric with varying degrees of concentration that directly relate to the public an d private spaces of the building. There would be less concentration


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit ( (or more openings) in areas that pertain to the living and dining room of the apartment, and the desks in the offices. Additionally, the faade would also pierce through in specific interi or areas in order to create shelve space and thus direct interaction with people. The function of the space would correlate to the form, but my goal is to highlight a key aspect of Venetian construction that has been largely overlooked because of tradition and perhaps lack of aesthetic appeal. Figure 6 : Faade e levations showing brick fabric concentration U ltimately, my undergraduate architecture career has progressed similarly to the way the architectural notion of ornament has evolved from Adolf Loos' time to Wright' s and Kahn' s. From a clean exploration of spaces to a desire to instill profound inspiration and beauty in my design, there have been accomplishments, as well as setbacks. Although Loos is correct when he states that ornam ent is an expression of style of that era, the actual definition of ornament has also grown tremendously since he first rejected it. We are constantly redeveloping and abstracting architecture, in the same way we are doing so with art. Architecture is no longer about being in a beautifully embellished space, but rather about experiencing a space and being


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit ) stimulated by it. The feeling itself is the ornament, and without that transcendence, it would not be architecture. Figure 7 : Exteri or Perspective with site


Architecture Honors Thesis Michle Voit References: Loos, Adolf. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays. Riverside, CA: Ariadne Press, 1998. (selection) Frampton. Kenneth. Modern Architecture a Critical History London: Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1980 ! ! !