Thursday, September 24, 2009

Brick Schtick

Although most of these photos are of the Stata Center at MIT, this is not a critique of Frank Gehry's design. This is a critique of cheap brick cladding. Stone work has not been of great structural importance since steel frame structures became popular. Debate has continued since.

A "New York Times" article from 1894, (the date the Tower Bridge was built) compares the Brooklyn and Tower bridges, "The Tower Bridge is a good deal more ornamented than our bridge...In our bridge everything has a purpose; the granite piers really support the cables, and they are pierced in order to allow the cars and foot passengers to pass. In the Tower Bridge the bricks and granite of the towers dissemble the actual structure, which consists of four hexagonal pillars built up of steel girders and plates, two in each tower....There is nothing to be said against such feats of engineering so long as they honestly state what they are. Too often, however, they try to look like a building of brick and stone erected on the old principles. This is the case with London's Tower Bridge. The square towers are screens of shams so far as the structure of the bridge is concerned; all they do is clothe the ugly iron skeleton and give shelter to the stairways and elevators."

In "The Builder", an architectural journal from 1902, H. H. Statham writes, "The architecture of the Upper Thames, in seeking after the picturesque, has too often become exaggerated, and wanting in truth and simplicity....In the same way an attempt to treat a bridge "picturesquely" will probably result in a lamentable failure...We wish that the local authorities could see their way to build stone bridges, but we are afraid that iron is sure to be the material used."

The first photo is of a public housing structure in Brockton, Mass. Recently refaced, these homes now have a slightly better appearance. But the brickwork was patched on in awkward sheets that are obviously not structural, or attractive. Compare this with the photos of the $300 million MIT Stata Center, clad in the same material.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Holl's Hall, built 2002

MIT's Simmons Hall, designed by Steven Holl Architects. Aside from the uncomfortable temperatures and the "Faraday Wall" created by the structure that prevents wireless signals, the building is well on its way to ruin. I think these images stand on their own. At the end are photos of Green Hall, the old Ashdown House, and one of the oldest doors on campus. Green Hall has new windows and the old Ashdown is undergoing a major renovation, but in over 100 years will Simmons Hall even be standing?

Old Railing/New Railing

On the top is a triple decker with the original railing. Each and every spindle is intact, and properly proportioned. And aesthetically pleasing. Below is the triple decker next door. The railings have been replaced with modern railings. They may be up to code, but they are not appropriate to the structure and if you look carefully several are already missing.

Brockton's Plouffe School, built 1998

Brockton has spent the last decade rebuilding its public school infrastructure. The Plouffe School is one of several new elementary schools built in the same style throughout the city. After just 10 years, the building is falling apart.

The iron fence around the building is already rusting through and every brick pillar is cracked from top to bottom. In addition, the ice shield has broken free from the roof, gutter brackets are falling off and a window screen lies on the ground below the window.

For comparison, the last photo is from the Union Cemetery one block away. The iron fence is solid, though ill maintained and the pillars still intact, one century later.