From approximately 1930 until the 1980s, rectangular and functional spaces were the chief form of architecture around the world in general. The latter part of the 20th century -- the 1980s onward -- saw change once again, however (2008). For the most part, 20th century architecture, however, "focused on machine aesthetics or functionality and failed to incorporate any ornamental accents in the structure" (2008). The designs were, for the most part, simplistic, uncomplicated, and lacking excessive detail in both the design and the construction process (2008). The term "form follows function" was based on this type of architecture (2008).
Ornamentation on a building does not necessarily have to be seen as criminal because, in many cases, ornamentation has social uses like serving as landmarks, offering the identity of the building, referencing scale, and attracting individuals to go inside the building. Ornamentation, under these examples, can be seen as quite functional indeed, and it puts the two principles of doctrine at odds with one another.
Modernism when it comes to architecture started as an effort to let the shape and the organization of a building be determined only by functional requirements rather than by tradition or traditional concepts of aesthetics. It presupposes that a person has done what they needed to do in order to develop functional requirements. The architecture that resulted appeared to be very simple, flat, and lighter in comparison with older architecture, perhaps because of the limited number of functional requirements upon which the designs were based.
Sullivan, though he coined the phrase "form follows function" and which was adopted by many important modernist architects, did not design along such dogmatic lines during the height of his professional career. His buildings were oftentimes quite spare, but he frequently punctuated the plain surfaces with an outburst of Art Nouveau that were usually cast in terra-cotta or iron and they were used to design ivy or more geometric shapes, but usually always, in some form of another, influenced by his Irish ancestry.
The Woolworth Building, New York City, New York
Sullivan stated that when it comes to skyscrapers, form actually does follow function. Dupre and Johnson (2001, p 87) note that the Woolworth Building is one of the first skyscrapers and is a "larger-than-life advertisement of the ascendancy of the corporation in the twentieth century." Willis (1995) states that in Sullivan's seminal 1896 essay, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered," Sullivan advised that the universal law "form ever follows function" should be applied to highrise structures. Sullivan was not referring to three-dimensional form, but rather, to the symbolic expression of different interior use on the facade (1995) and this is precisely what we see with New York's Woolworth Building, which was constructed in 1913 and was, as Wiseman (2000, p 48) notes, the tallest building in the world at the time.
Matlins (2011) states that Frank W. Woolworth commissioned architect Cass Gilbert to design the Woolworth building, a Gothic-style skyscraper, in 1910. It is an unusual story as the building was completely financed in cash, thanks to the wealth of Mr. Woolworth, which is something that is rather unheard of nowadays. The Gothic-style skyscraper, which would later come to be known as the "Cathedral of Commerce," (2011), was designed to tower over City Hall Park on a full block site on Broadway and Barclay Street (2011). The height and cost was first estimated at 625 feet and $5 million, but ended up being 792 feet and costing $13.5 million (2011). Woolworth wanted a very tall and slender tower as well as an dramatic terra-cotta exterior and luxurious lobby. The extensive foundations as well as the elaborate design choices for the exterior and interior lobby of the building are what inflated the cost of this skyscraper (2011).
The Woolworth Building is a special skyscraper not only because it was one of New York's first but because Gilbert was able to achieve new aesthetic and physical heights. The Gothic cladding made a dramatic impact aesthetically speaking, but it is the skill in which Gilbert handles its massing and proportions that is especially noteworthy. The office block, which makes up the complete...
These elements set it apart from all of its competition. The Woolworth building could have its Gothic details taken away and yet is would still remain to be a "satisfying composition," according to Wiseman (2000, p 48). However, without the ornamentation, the building would be completely different, but Gilbert was so good when it came to organization of form that he could shed the cladding if he had to, deeming it unnecessary. "He had, in the end, all but exhausted the ornamental tradition for the tall building of his day" (2000, p 48).
The Woolworth Building is indeed a picturesque skyscraper and, because of that, it has remained a classic. Dupre and Smith (2008, p 31) note that Gilbert's challenge was to synthesize traditional aesthetics in the structure of a new office building. The base of the building is a u-shaped mass that maximizes the amount of light that is let into the offices. The top of the Woolworth building spirals up to the sky in a Gothic style replete with arches, spires, flying buttresses, and gargoyles (2008, p 31). This Gothic reference was considered to be Gilbert's salvation, as it was a way for him to design a tall building that would have the verticality of a skyscraper, while at the same time keeping a connection with the classical form. The Woolworth Building possesses a "twentieth-century structural system clad in fifteenth-century Gothic details" (2008, p 31).
The Woolworth Building rises from a 29-story platform to become a tower inset on all four sides at the 42nd-story. Nash & McGrath (2010, p 17) compare it to a medieval spire, as the tower changes from a square to an octagon at the 48th-story, and culminates in a three-story, 125-foot-tall copper-clad roof. The Woolworth Building is especially interesting because Gilbert solved the problem of placing a smaller tower on top of a base by integrating the tower into the front facade (2010, p 17). The building was designed to appear as a free-standing tower, so all four sides were treated architecturally (2010, p 17).
Nash and McGrath (2010, p 17) describe the Woolworth as a creamy, ivory-colored terra-cotta cladding anchored to a brick backing tops the three-story limestone base with granite at the street level. Terra-cotta is light and decorative as opposed to it being a more structural type of material, which helps to emphasize the steel cage that is supporting the building (2010, p 17). The straight, structural lines of the piers end in the tower, which are then decorated with gargoyles and panels of terra-cotta in different colors such as green, blue, sienna, and a deep rose (2010, p 17).
Another interesting aspect about the Woolworth Building, according to Nash and McGrath (2010, p 17) is that is was the era's most famous example of the coming together of advertising and ego that went into the development of skyscrapers. Woolworth let Gilbert know that he wanted it to be 50 feet taller than the Metropolitan Tower so that his building would beat the record (2010, p 18). Woolworth certainly knew that there was symbolic worth as well as an advertising function of having the world's tallest building. He said, "I do not want a mere building. I want something that will be an ornament to the city" (2010, p 18).
Much like William Lamb, the architect of the Empire State Building (covered later in this paper), Gilbert felt that the design of the building was an expression of what was being demanded of him. He said, "The economic conditions which call for the use of every bit of available space and at the same time provide ample light for rooms leave little opportunity for the arrangement of the masses" (Nash & McGrath 2010, p 18). Still, there are several details in the design which surpass a merely functional building. For example, the lobby is Romanesque with barrel-vaulted ceilngs with glass mosaics patterned after the early Christian mausoleum Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy (2010, p 18).
The Empire State Building, New York City, New York
The Empire State's
Is, take it from the critics, class.
-- Price Day, the New Yorker, 1932
Dupre and Johnson (2001, p 39) note that when the Empire State Building was first opened, it was billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." It was hailed as an example of architectural and mechanical engineering genius and, though it was constructed in the shadow of the Depression (which actually made the labor quite cheap hence the speedy construction), the Empire State Building was the tallest building in the world for over 40 years. Even though the World Trade Center, which was built in 1972, eclipsed the height of the Empire State Building,…
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