Grand Canal, Venice (drawing by the author)
As a student, I hoped to develop a “style”. Something neat and easy to grasp; the sort of trademark that gave Picasso a high margin for his napkin sketches (allegedly). Experience has quieted this angst. Our creative power grows with the diversity of our sources; a true artist embraces contradiction.
So what kind of architecture do I like?
It is beautiful. Beauty cannot be rationalized, it must be recognized. I think beauty can be appreciated by everyone regardless of sophistication. Deconstructing and creating it is the realm of the artist. Designers should carefully study the intent of their work and who it serves.
Beauty is deeper than “style”. Any architectural mode, when meaningfully chosen, can enhance our civic life. The question is not what style, but why and how.
Integral vs. ornamental elements (drawings by the author)
Here are two superficially identical elements: doorways through a brick wall. What sets them apart are details, which either harmonize or work against the nature of masonry construction. The first doorway has a slight arch, which could be self-supporting. It is lined with denser, stronger bricks from the batch. The wall changes to a less porous stone, like granite, where it meets the damp ground. It’s built to last, with the practical wisdom of a craftsman. Its counterpart lacks such nuance, and must have support from other hidden materials. I’ll call this difference “authenticity”.
Authenticity is beautiful. Good design is not willful, but natural. I believe that a deep knowledge of material is imperative. We should educate designers like craftspeople, and builders like artists. When inspiration flows easily from mind to hand, and concept sketch to finished work, beauty will result.
Beauty is far more than visual. I remember the cool respite of a stone church in Siena’s afternoon heat. The scent of the still air. The resonance of lowered voices from its high vaults and marble floor. As I paused to study the chisel marks on a column base, I could sense the structure’s mass. Great architecture attracts and rewards all our senses. Great design, falsely wrought, will always disappoint.
Considering this, I believe good architecture ages gracefully.
John Singer Sargent celebrated Venice through oil and watercolor. His sketches capture the spirit of that city at the end of the 19th century, with simple brilliance. He expressed the materials of its ancient, waterlogged, elegant buildings, taking on a ruined grandeur before his eyes. Just like his portraits, he drew out the character of architecture, in the texture of each stone.
Watercolors of Venice by John Singer Sargent SOURCE
My goal is to make a place for the artist in shaping our society. Not just on paper, but in the field. We need the inspired work of a builder’s hand to make our designs complete. I want to create buildings with integrity.