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Commodity, Firmness and Delight in Architecture Article

Architecture Discussion by Brian Carter, Buffalo, New York, USA for e-architect

19 Mar 2013

Iconoclast Buildings

Commodity, Firmness and Delight – Architectural Synthesis

Are there connections between the award of the 2013 Prtizker Prize to a declared iconoclast (‘a person who attacks cherished beliefs’ according to one dictionary), the most recent AIA Architecture Billing Index that confirms December 2012 as the 47th straight month that project inquiries have grown, CFD and the projects in this newsletter?

It is certainly surprising to discover, from the projects below, what architects are up to – the refurbishment of abandoned petrol stations to create new park entrances, master planning for a new Airport City in the Gulf that will bring 200,000 people close to their work and living over the jetways or the restoration of a neglected landscape for Czech golfers!!

And, while this willingness to take on all and sundry may appear naïve or a brutal necessity to keep the studio door open or both, it is also encouraging to hear that architects across the world are eager to take on radically different work.

The announcement of the architect and a design for the annual Serpentine Pavilion is now almost as much of an established feature of London’s summer social calendar as Wimbledon and Ascot. However the prospect of a shimmering lattice in the park in 2013 built to a design by Sou Fujimoto (the youngest architect for the Serpentine Pavilion yet) seems strange and hypnotic.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London, England, UK
Design: Sou Fujimoto architect
Serpentine Pavilion building - Commodity, Firmness and Delight
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto Indicative CGI © Sou Fujimoto Architects

On the other hand the refurbishment of those abandoned petrol stations in the Netherlands seems even stranger. And, if there are limits to what can and can’t be done, those transformational powers that architects everywhere so readily claim certainly appear to be elusive at Noorderpark.

LED Clouds Noorderpark – Light Installations, Amsterdam North, The Netherlands
Design: Sophie Valla Architects
Noorderpark Amsterdam Building
photograph : Marcus Koppen

Other projects reveal a hotel in Romania cut into the landscape but then propped back up high on bright red columns so as to catch all important views of the nearby lake and a Clubhouse for Czech golfers stockaded into a hillside and planned for a staff of one alongside painstakingly rendered and predictably dreamy images of a lacy new Financial Center in Turkey and the billowing Airport City that looks eerily quiet yet borders a runway.

Hotel Atra Doftana, Romania
Design: TECON Architects
Hotel Building Romania - Commodity, Firmness and Delight in Architecture
photo : Cosmin Dragomir

Istanbul International Financial Center Buildings, Turkey
Design: HOK
Istanbul International Financial Center
image : HOK

HIA Airport City, Doha, Qatar
Architects: OMA
Airport City Building Doha - Commodity, Firmness and Delight in Architecture
image from architect

But what of CFD? It is certainly encouraging to discover commodity, firmness and delight by the spade load in the work of the prize winning iconoclast!

De architectura (English: On architecture, published as Ten Books on Architecture) is a treatise on architecture written by the Roman architect Vitruvius and dedicated to his patron, the emperor Caesar Augustus, as a guide for building projects. Perhaps the most famous declaration from De architectura is one still quoted by architects: “Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight.” This quote is taken from Sir Henry Wotton’s version of 1624, and is a plain and accurate translation of the passage in Vitruvius: interpreted in current English as:
The ideal building has three elements; it is sturdy, useful, and beautiful.

Brian Carter, a registered architect in the UK, is Professor of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

Brian Carter architect - author of Commodity, Firmness and Delight in Architecture

Comments on this Commodity, Firmness and Delight in Architecture article by Brian Carter are welcome.

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