Arch. aesthetics - ?Function versus 'frou-frou'?

Just wondering what others think about the point where structural embellishments become mere frou-frou. For example, arched windows and doorways/throughways can look very nice in a residence, but they're evidently made by starting with a regular rectangular opening, and adding a moldable piece - so, the arch is in no way structural, even tho', in ancient buildings, it was. So, is a non-structural arch in a residence, for lack of abetter phrase, "aesthetically dishonest"? What do y'all think is the line between structural element, structural embellishment, and (for lack of a better phrase) tacky frou-frou?
Just curious.
- K.
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HUGE can of worms. We spent all of History B (Modernity) reading tedious papers by 19th C Germans and "discussing" questions of ornament. I just told 'em to go to www.metalbuildings-r-us.com and call it a day. That's all architecture is. Anything else is worthlessly spending the client's money either at the clients or (far worse) the municipalities behest. They figured that was wrong, but as contemporary architecture students most of their counter assertions centered around doing good things for poor people and had little at all to do with either architecture or decoration.
Had a fill in the blank question on a history test. It was about a certain kind of decoration on furniture. I wracked my brain. Eventually I filled in "frou-frou." The teacher laughed. And then marked it wrong. She was after "chinoiserie".
I think the tackiness of the frou-frou of your arch is going to depend not on its honesty or lack there of, but in how it is dressed and what its context is. Quite possibly summed up as "how well the building is designed."

We should define terms. I'll leave that up to you and shoot from the hip. No, it is not aesthetically dishonest because aesthetics is not inherently honest. Frou-frou can be as aesthetic as tectonics. Some people respond more readily to it than to formal massing. And isn't aesthetics about that response?
Is it structurally dishonest? Well, duh. Maybe. Is how we decorate part of structure? No. Then it isn't structurally dishonest. But if we put up an arch aren't we saying "look, arch. arch is structure"? How about "mostly." And arch is a part of architectural vocabulary detached from purely structural concerns.
How about saying that it is architecturally dishonest? Let me try to hash this out:
Aesthetically dishonest - If you paint or carve flowers on a building that seems pretty safe to say is an aesthetics issue. There are no actual flowers; building isn't presenting as having actual flowers... I don't think the top Bavarian muralists or Baroque ceiling painters were trying to say "no, this IS like this" but rather to say "I want you to feel like this is this." I think in my assumed scope of this discussion the idea of "aesthetic dishonesty" is a non-starter. No such thing. Follow the term and get into questions of aesthetics and intent and approach/implementation etc. and there may be dishonesties to uncover, but I think that's not where we are. And isn't there a whole branch of _philosophy_ called "aesthetics"? I try not to run with philosophers.
Structurally dishonest - I think my thinking here is rooted in the engineering. Structure makes stuff stand up. If the structure is lieing then it falls down. If you think something is structure but if it were true then it would fall down then that isn't structure it's something else (see below) and the structure isn't dishonest. Structure may be misleadingly presented - that looks like a column but on inspection it's really a pendant. But the _structure_ is a pendant. The structure is real and it is what it is. I don't think it can be "dishonest."
Architecturally dishonest - This, I think is where the dishonesty can come from. It is the architect that will use the arch for aesthetic purposes and dress it up as structure. To the aesthete, it's pretty; kinda nice and baroque looking. To the structural engineer, it's some round cut sheet rock stapled to some studs, yeah, that doesn't fall down. To the casual viewer "ooh, look how that arch brings the weight of the bricks [scored stucco on plywood] around the opening [straight back to the studs and down]. How muscular and masculine. I really groove on that arch." The architect has lied. For, perhaps, and aesthetic purpose - to make the consumer feel that masculinity, to create the reaction BY MEANS OF saying the building is other than it really is.
As hinted before, an arch is not only a structural technique, it is also an opening with a rounded (etc.) top. That is a different experience (space, light, reaction) than an opening with a flat top. Pure geometry, if you will. The choice of opening shape (see Libeskind) may be based on any number of things aesthetic, structural or architectural. We are architects and we have our reasons/rationals/ Big Ideas/schemes/schemas/themes.... In short, dishonesty does not enter in to "I wanted the user to experience an uplifting of soul as she walked from point A to point B through this arched opening with softly receding darkness. The square lintel is to psychically truncating." One might answer "but aren't you telling a lie about... " And the answer "not really." Critics will pull whatever truths out of the building they chose to put in to it. The critics will lie to themselves. That is, to a degree, beyond relevance or need of caring. One might venture that it is erroneous, but dishonesty requires some intent, no? And the psychically uplifting opening is a clear honest (if perhaps goofy) intent.
There is a problem with the question itself. Totally loaded. "Dishonest" already judges; brings a whole baggage train of assumptions about correctness.
Mies urged us to be honest to our materials. Well, yeah, if I could work with naked polished bronze and onyx that don't actually have to DO anything I think I'd be "honest" to my materials too. And wasn't Mies the guy who glued a bunch of I-beams to the outside of a skyscraper to "honestly" express the hidden structure?
Dishonest? What is this honesty? Is it something important? Label it "dishonest," as they did, and the argument is manipulated. Everybody KNOWS dishonest is bad. (I read a criticism of Neue Staatsgalerie (http://www.staatsgalerie-stuttgart.de/staatsgalerie.de/media / architektur/map_og.gif) once that was all bile and nastiness. Circles, you see, are fascist.) Therefore making arches out of sheet rock is bad.
But is it?
Of course not.
Bah. Asking if something is "dishonest" in this context boils down to "do some people dislike it enough to be rude about it." It ties in to the larger question that everybody is pursuing and not so many people state "what is the one true, right, correct architecture?" (though some blissfully alert people tack on "for this time"). To which question the answer is the same. Bah, of course not.
So, is the non-structural arch in a residence some kind of dishonest? Yeah. So what?
Architecture is not about what you must do, it's about what you can do.
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One of the best discourses on "dishonesty / honesty" in architecture I've seen. EDS
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I was mostly curious re: individual takes on the question, just becuase of curiosity. I think that there is, in most humans, a need, in the philosophical sense (i.e. not physiological, like the need for food/water), to try to mka etheir surroundings aesthetically pleasing. I'm interested not so much in acedemic criticism, but in the thoughts/impressions of practicing designers - critics make their living by dividing things up into little bits and then over-iontllectualizing what each of those bits "mean". OTOH, practicing architects and designers deal more directly/immediately with various expressions of human aesthetics, ranging from the "I saw it on teevee" to "this is my personal vision".
I knwo that sounds vague, but I'm exploring this topic in my own mind and am interested in others' thoughts on the general topic, since that will give me more points (and also, more specifics) to explore in my thinking. IOW, I'm not seeking answers as much as I'm seeking additional ideas, or, in a sense, additional questions relating to the subject.
Part of it is that beauty is not only seen in what is currently in vogue, but in things ranging from megalithic structures (Stonehenge being the most famous) to Victorian structures to Modern - so, it isn't a question of style, which makes me wonder about what it is that makes one building much loved through hundreds (or even thousands) of years, while others of the same style are forgotten. So I'm interested in what thoughts practitioners have, as food for my own thoughts so to speak.

That's an interesting example in that I've personally never been a fan of it (chinoiserie), because most of the things look, to me, disjointed - my perception has always been (even as a kid) that something seemed to be out of balance between the shapes of the items, and the decoration, some balance that the originals might have had but the copies or, in today's parlance, "reimaginings", lack - part of what I'm trying to figure out is the origin of that type of perception, and why some people have it, but others have an entirely different perception. I don't mean "intellectual analysis", per se, but perception, the expereince of a thing.

I'm not defining, I'm, trying to figure soemthing out (albeit in what might seem to be an obscure amnner).

Ah, good thought. I'll think on that for a while.

Ah!, good point and interesting thought.

There probably is such a branch of philosophy, but I've found that what gets called "philosophy" all too often wither end up either (1) divvying things up in such minute bits that the poins is missed, the thing that's supposedly under consideration becomes unrecognizable (I suppose one might simpy call it "hair-splitting?), or (2) passes from "trying to understand something" to what sounds more like "falling-down-drunk dood blithering in a bar"... I did take a semester of philosophy (due to it being a requirement, rather than my desire ;) ), but a lot of it seemed to, how to put it, ramble off into omphaloskepsis, losing, in the process, much (sometimes most) of meaning.
At the same time, having read, and occasionally heard, bits about "lack of [aesthetic] integrity" in various sructures, I'm interested in trying to understand what the phrase means - if anything ;) !

OK, makes sense - I'll want to think about that idea, too, for a while.

Ah, OK. More food for thought. That might be what generally bothers me about them, and similar "fauxchitecture": knowing it's foam and sheet rock and whatnot, even if it does look passably decent.
At the same time, I'm wondering whether it's "honest" of *me* to think something look OK, *until* I realize it's just a fake - shouldn't I "like what I like" without thinking about it?, am I merely piqued because I feel I've been 'hoodwinked' so to speak?, am I a "faux eleite" *because* I get bugged when I've been hoodwinked?, and finally, is any of that at all relevant ;)

Now, that's interesting. OK. Going beyond th enecessities fo structure, to create *a type of expereince*, and, re-reading the above, and thinking about it, I'm thinking, Maybe that's part of the Art in Architecture, since that's ne of the things Art is, i.e., communicating non-verbally, using color, shape, composition.
Hmmm.

Good point. Probably why I've never much cared for most critics - analysis is one thing, but criticism is another. THere's often a thin line between the two, but good analysis examines what-it-is, whereas criticism applied value judgements which tend to have everythign to do with the judger and often little to do with what is being judged.

Oh, I wouldn't say "goofy" - that's not something that would (or did) at all enter my thinking. There is IMO nothing at all wrong (and a great many things "right", in terms of human psychoemotional needs) with wanting to crate something that lifts the mood of those who will use/experience the space. That intent is what can make even utter kitsch endearing - the *method* might have been off-kilter, but the intent was to give others a positive mood/experience.
I just had the thought that maybe what separates "kitschiness" from "tawdriness" could be that peole can perceive that the intent of kitsch was to at least entertain, whereas that which is tawdy only makes a half- asses effort, is only pretense, and thin pretense at that?

True. It's something I've read/heard, and decided to question.

I don't know, but it'd be a hell of a thing if he did! My question there would be, Why Bother? - it's no better that sticking black-painted plywood planks onto a "monopoly house" (plain rectangle) to "make it a Tudor style" - IOW, a complete pretense, not even a decoration.

Circles are "fascist"...? I wouldn't put it past some opeople to make that sort if judgemnt, but IMO, it seems silly - even goofy ;) !
I looked at the website. I might call it "a bit stark in places", but couldn't say much more unless I'd been inside fo it, expereinced how it functioned, interacted with the art and visitor.

AH! Interesting thought. I like it - it makes sense to me.

But a lot of things can be "true". As I see it, "truth", where Art is concerned, is, "Does it move the human heart, invoke thoughts an demotions, conjure up memories both real and (in the positive sense) dreamed? Ancient song that the Inuit throat-sing are "true", Balinese Gamelan music is "true", Shadowfax (the group) is "true" ((and in a sense, so is the literary creation, in its own sense)), Brahms is "true", Coltraine is "true", and so on.
WEll, so maybe that answers my own question. Architecture is, in a sense, "music" and music is, in a sense, "architectural" (at least I personally expereince it as a three-dimensional sculptural thing - well, at least, music I think is "good" ;) ). So maybe it's similar to an arpeggio, or a trill - if it harmonizes with the rest of the piece, that's th epoint, so I suppose architecture is similar in that regard.

Ah :)

I might print this one out so I can think further about these things.
Additional input is, of course, welcomed!
- K.
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Thanks EDS. Hope it wasn't too tough to follow.
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Kris Krieger wrote:

Peter (gruhn) got into quite a spell that I read some of, so I'll just say that my aesthetic interest/orientation seems to be structural. If I'm going to have an arch, I'd rather it be structural than only decorative.
gruhn wrote:

I have a big family.
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There *was* some good food for thought there. I would prefer the structural, but I also thought that the point about the subconscious emotional reaction to the visual (and auditory, etc.) expereince of a space was a good one. I also thought the point about intent in design was a good one. Both points helped me give mroe thought to what it is that, at least for me, differentiates "this is a nice space" from "this is utter unmitigated slapped-up cheese".
In a asense, it helps me give, if not a definition, then at least a general "shape", not only to the question of why I personally like and dislike what I do, but also, to the question of why some structures (be they prive or public) are liked, even loved, over a long period of time, while others are, in a sense, discarded (torn down, or completely redone). Of course there is the influence of "fashion" (my favorite being the quote to the effect that it's "a monster so hideous that we must change its face every season"), but that's a different thing ;)

So, other folks have rug rats, you have "little wrigglers"? <G!> ;)
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Kris Krieger wrote:

That's correct.
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wrote:

Then by that definition, is a non-functioning transom over a window or a large glass window with plastic mullions also frou-frou ? Those are also purely aestetic arent they ?
How do you discern or draw the line ?
(i like arches - structural or not - as a nice changeup from every other portal )
john R.
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I lived in a house that had no acute angled walls, instead circular or ovoid stairs, ogees on the moldings, slight curves or beads to and a couple of curved walls. Even the Italianate marble and slate mantlepieces were curvilinear. The only rectilinear elements were the outside walls, floors, windows and doors. Turned columns supporting all three stories of proches as well. One of the reasons we paid to much for the place. But when you are sitting day to day in a series of spaces and looking day to day at a collection of elements helping define those spaces, it helps to have those elements soothing, pleasing and at the same time out of the pedestrian you have to put up with outside the home.

porticoes, arches, peristyles and all the details that make their rhythms work.

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It's obvious that they appeal to many people as a "traditional" element, but to me *personally* (as in, my personal opinion/tastes), they do not look at all like real windowpanes (which I grew up with and remember very well), because they lack the texture, finish, visual weight, and basically any/all other characteristics of real windowpanes - IMO, they they look, especially up-close, like what they are: cheap plastic non- structural faux-ditional stuff stuck in between two panes of an obviously modern thermopane window. If I had a choice, I'd prefer to not have them in my own place.
That plywood arches are (ore at least can be) a bit different, because, esp. with the rounded corners, they definitely intereact differently with light, and at least *look* like they're an integral/structural part of the wall.
I have little tolerance for things ther are pbviously just "stuck on" so to speak, like my example of black-painted boards obviously just stuck onto a plain rectangular "monopoly house" so as to supposefly make it look "Tudor".

Mainly, I'm asking people for their input on whetehr a line should is drawn, and where, and whether one "should" be drawn.
But personally, as above - anything obviously just "stuck on", and passed off as being what it is not, is IMO cheesy. I think what differentiates, as I'd mentioned, tawdriness from "loveable kitsch" is that kitsch doesn't pretend to be anyhing other than what it is, whereas twadry results fron using "stick-ons" in a half-assed attempt to pass somethign off as what it isn't.
Note that "stick-ons" are nto the same thing as "integrated design". If someone actually *designed* a residence in, for example, a Tudor style, and constructed it so that the various Tudor elements were eitehr truely structural, or at least indistinguishable from structural elements, and was also true to teh overall aesthetic gestalt, that would be an enirely different matter form a plainjane tract box that has painted boards stuck onto the sides (which tend to warp and start to come off after a couple of years).

THe point was made by other posters that what's inportant isn't so much whether the element *is* structural, but whether it *loooks* convincingly structural in context with the otehr elements of the design.
In the end, it seems to be that a talented designer knows how to introduce elements in a pleasing way, whereas hacks/developers will throw up stuff willy-nilly and, as the saying goes, "just slap some lipstick on that pig and call it Miss America"...
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