Architects and Painting

Nature morte à la pile d’assiettes et au livre, 1920
Painting courtesy of '-46 The Paintings and Sculptures of Le Corbusier', Published Feb. 1988 in Architecture SA (Johannesburg)

Recently, I've been reading about Charles-Edouard Jeannerets double life as Painter and Architect. In fact many disciples of Architecture might be surprised to know that Jeanneret was a painter foremost and throughout his illustrious career dedicated at least one day per week to painting. As a 'student' of the highly acclaimed painter Ozenfant, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret began his career as artist and writer critic. He completed hundreds of works of both brush stroke and then later sculptures of various mediums. His painting had a profound impact on his career as Architect and his split identity prompted him to adopt the name Le Corbusier (his Architect alias) while maintaining his birth and painter name, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret.

Le Corbusier was at the forefront of the 'Purist' movement. The Purists proclaimed the potential and importance of geometric form. His painting (and that of other Purists) explored and even exploited everyday industrialized objects of early 20th century development. Many of his paintings are analytic dissections of basic instruments such as bottles, tools and other mass produced items of the day. There is clear objectification of formal, scale and functional qualities through an abstracted geometric analysis. It could be suggested that a profound intuition of formal manipulation, as observed in Le Corbusier's paintings, had tremendous influence on his designs as a practitioner of Architecture.

Why the significance of painting?

Today, there are a handful of architects who paint as exploratory component in their process as practitioners. This is an incredibly important thing in light of the trajectories in current digital practice as we see it unfolding now. The loss of tactile hands on work given way to the amorphous digital realm. To be certain, the possibilities and rigor of investigations through digital media can lead to exciting possibilities, but something remains missing; that highly personal investigation the artist brings in the physical actions of hands and at times intuitively free discovery.

History has shown it is commonly the artist at the forefront of idea, be it through chance or deliberation. Charles-Edouard Jeanneret as Painter is testament to this claim.

Condencity_13 Education outside of class

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the new Campus Complex at Ehwa Women's University in Seoul. The day I visited was a rare opportunity as the renowned Architect Dominique Perrault was speaking about this newly opened building. Before the lecture began, I took an hour exploring the contours of this nearly invisible project. It is what I consider to be a non-form in architecture, submerged in its contextual disguise. The length of the building extends as two subterranean halves, linking the primary campus entry gate to the historic Main Hall center of the old campus. It has been dubbed the 'campus valley' although this moniker, in my opinion, is a bit simplistic for what the building expresses and achieves.

Six floors of 66,000 m2 space are configured as a newly grafted landscape. Building and landscape fuse to form an experiential plain; roof as traditional campus quadrangle and promenade path as primary link. The internalized facade and entries are tucked away along a pedestrian road; "the valley". It is a kind of anti-quadrangle when evaluated against the traditional campus 'quad', however when the surrounding roof landscapes mature, it will function as a desired outdoor campus amenity bound by the historical structure of campus form.

The Campus Complex is in an elite class of new environmentally efficient buildings. Interior programs of assembly, dining and administrative functions are conditioned by an energy efficient geothermal heating and cooling system. The earth acts in part as climate moderator against the weather extremes of local conditions. The long glass and stainless steel facades allow natural light to flood the interior space entry corridor. Little artificial lighting is required of internal spaces during daylight hours.

The unpretentious silence of this project is it's defining poetic moment. Architecture too often relies on a 'vocal', or more explicitly visual form to be successful. As counterpoint to this statement, this student center exists as a paired consideration with it's immediate context both visually and functionally. A newly formed building and landscape pairing to be discovered through tactile experience.

Paul Strand_Manhatta 1921

I came across this short film on a blog I read from time to time and wanted to share it. I knew of Paul Strand as a painter but not film maker, so I was particularly intrigued by this shift in medium. There is a scene in the clip that references back directly to a painting he completed in 1915 titled 'Wall Street'. The painting for me represented all that is vacant in American urban life; a kind of cold autonomous silence.

While the film appears to dismiss this 'silence'. it extends to illustrate Strands gift for observing the American metropolis from a uniquely fringe point of view.