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?
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
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
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
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
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
architektur/map_og.gif) once that was all bile and nastiness. Circles,
you see, are fascist.) Therefore making arches out of sheet rock is
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I might print this one out so I can think further about these things.
Additional input is, of course, welcomed!
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
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!> ;)
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 )
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
porticoes, arches, peristyles and all the details that make their
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
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
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
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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