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Architecture as a Visual Information System: the vocabulary of motifs
Week 7b - Visual Communication

By definition, information and communication have at their root explicit or latently explicit
intentionality; that is, a message is constructed from a known repertory and assembled according to some
rules of construction (syntax) such that the resulting novel message can be interpreted. The question now
is two-part: whether the message if embodied in physical object, such as a building, is a message and
whether there are multiple meanings in the physical message.
Architecture is usually divided into a few groups: public, commercial, and domestic and then
further subdivided by function, place, and time. For example, Brown Universitys University Hall is one
example of public architecture intended for university life, then viewed as a special kind of public function.
Its plan diers from the common H-shaped layout in other contemporary dormitories though shares the
same layout as Harvard Universitys Massachusetts Hall. Each of these buildings were intended to serve a
function, though the conceptualization of the function diers (the floor plan) while the construction
techniques and aesthetic design are shared among them all. In the United States these decorative and
functional movements can be identified and the repertory of codes that were made manifest [see
Gadamer quote earlier] within these movements articulated.

Brown University, University Hall

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Harvard University, Massachusetts Hall

To make the lightening-speed tour of architecture a little more intelligible, below is a timeline,
with examples of major movements and their hallmarks. After the timeline, there is a consideration of the
impact public forms of the architectural repertory, in the form of sample books, exerted over our visual

Categories of architectural influences and movements:

American Colonial (1690s-1830)
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Georgian Colonial House Styles

Georgian Colonial homes usually have these features:
Square, symmetrical shape
Paneled front door at center
Decorative crown over front door
Flattened columns on each side of door
Five windows across front
Paired chimneys
Medium pitched roof
Minimal roof overhang
Many Georgian Colonial homes also have:
Nine or twelve small window panes in each window sash
Dental molding (square, tooth-like cuts) along the eaves
About the Georgian Colonial Style
Georgian Colonial became the rave in New England and the Southern colonies during the
1700's. Stately and symmetrical, these homes imitated the larger, more elaborate Georgian
homes which were being built in England. But the genesis of the style goes back much farther.
During the reign of King George I in the early 1700's, and King George III later in the century,
Britons drew inspiration from the Italian Renaissance and from ancient Greece and Rome.
Georgian ideals came to New England via pattern books, and Georgian styling became a
favorite of well-to-do colonists. More humble dwellings also took on characteristics of the
Georgian style. America's Georgian homes tend to be less ornate than those found in Britain.

Federalist and Adam House Styles (1780-1840).

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Low-pitched roof, or flat roof with a balustrade
Windows arranged symmetrically around a center doorway
Semicircular fanlight over the front door
Narrow side windows flanking the front door
Decorative crown or roof over front door
Tooth-like dentil moldings in the cornice; Palladian window
Circular or elliptical windows
Decorative swags and garlands
Oval rooms and arches
These architects are known for their Federalist buildings:
Charles Bulfinch
Samuel McIntyre
Alexander Perris
William Thorton
About the Federal Style
Like much of America's architecture, the Federal (or Federalist) style has its roots in England.
Two British brothers named Adam adapted the pragmatic Georgian style, adding swags,
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garlands, urns, and other delicate details. In the American colonies, homes and public
buildings also took on graceful airs. Inspired by the work of the Adam brothers and also by the
great temples of ancient Greece and Rome, Americans began to build homes with Palladian
windows, circular or elliptical windows, recessed wall arches, and oval-shaped rooms. This new
Federal style became associated with America's evolving national identity.
It's easy to confuse Federalist architecture with the earlier Georgian Colonial style. The
dierence is in the details: While Georgian homes are square and angular, a Federal style
building is more likely to have curved lines and decorative flourishes. Federalist architecture
was the favored style in the United States from about 1780 until the 1830s. However, Federalist
details are often incorporated into modern American homes. Look past the vinyl siding, and
you may see a fanlight or the elegant arch of a Palladian window.

Greek Revival
While most stylistic details from the Federal period draw upon English architecture, the era is also
marked by a revival of Greek forms, through which America began to define its own emerging architec-
tural independence from its European heritage. Considered America's first unique architectural style,
Greek Revival architecture was so common during the middle part of the 19th century that this also came
to be known at the National Style. Greek Revival exteriors may include an entry porch supported by square
or round columns, decorative pilasters, hipped or gabled roofs, transom windows and side lights
surrounding the front door. These buildings often had flat roofs and colonnades inspired by the monu-
ments of ancient Greece. By 1830, United States Capitol building was completed. The Greek Revival
building is the model for many later public buildings, prompting the style to become known as the
"National" Style.
Victorian (1837-1914)
The early decades of the Victorian Era saw the full flowering of the industrial revolution. For the
first time, mass production of hardware and supplies made products readily available and aordable to
increasingly more people. The prominence of handmade craftsmanship quickly gave way to machine
manufacturing. House styles were breaking free from their box-like shapes, with asymmetrical floor
planning and elaborate exterior features.
The Victorian Era marked the explosion of creative options and the emergence of intricate, daring
forms and techniques available to the homeowner as never before. Designers and architects broke away
from the traditional symmetrical lines and simple colors. Victorian homes are colorful, elaborate, and bold.
Gothic Revival
Early Victorian houses drew inspiration mostly from Western Europe, usually reinterpreting
medieval forms. Multi-colored and textured walls, steeply pitched roofs and asymmetrical facades are
traditional features. Gothic Revival homes are most easily identified by the elaborate vergeboard (also
called gingerbread) below the gables, and the strong vertical emphasis of the windows and rooflines.
As the architectural influence of the Federal Era blended with the emerging Victorian aesthetic, a
new style developed, incorporating the arches and pediments of Roman architecture with the elaborate
detailing made possible by the emerging industrial base of the growing nation. Italianate homes featured
elaborate porch decoration, decorative eaves, symmetrical facades with corner quoins, and arched
windows which were often paired. Some Italianate homes featured a central square tower or cupola, and
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most had flat or low-pitched roofs. The Italianate style later influenced the rise of Richardsonian Ro-
manesque; a style prevalent in many of the large public buildings built during the late 1800's.
Second Empire
As the newly prospering cities of America blossomed, the impulse for a new and equally vigorous urban
architecture also grew. Inspired by the ornate cityscapes of Paris, Second Empire architecture incorporates
rectangular or square floor plans, tall flat facades capped by Mansard roofs with dormer windows, and
double entry doors. Roofs are frequently patterned and bay windows are also common.
Stick / Eastlake
Increasingly aordable building materials and woodworking allowed for creative new uses of wood
cladding and framing beyond the basic box structure. Stick / Eastlake style homes feature decorative
trusswork, exposed half-timber framing, and an intermingling of vertical and horizontal planes. Roofs are
typically steeply pitched with simple gables. Stick style houses are particularly common in California and
other areas where no previous architectural style had predominated.
Similar to Stick style architecture, Shingle style buildings are notable for their extensive and unusual use of
newly aordable wood products. Manufacturing techniques made it possible to produce wood shingles in
such abundance that architects incorporated them not only as roofing, but also as siding. In Shingle style
houses, the entire exterior sometimes consists of shingles.
Folk Victorian
Given the aordable and widespread construction techniques of the era, working class families could, for
the first time, build homes of their own. The tradition of the English cottage and American homestead
merged with the romanticism of the era, giving rise to the style known as Folk Victorian. Often found in
rural or country settings, Folk Victorian homes are usually constructed from local materials and blend
functionality with newer stylistic ornamentation that includes colorful and fluid vergeboard (also called
gingerbread) around wide wrap-around porches. Though often less elaborate than their urban counter-
parts, Folk Victorian homes feature a similar attention to texture variations and creative decoration.
Queen Anne
Perhaps the most recognizable of Victorian styles, Queen Anne houses quickly gained popularity
throughout the entire country from the late 1870's to the beginning of the 1900's. The Queen Anne style
shows the influence of English architect Richard Norman Shaw, whose designs melded the ideals of the
old-English cottage with the rampant decorative impulse of the Victorian Era. Queen Anne homes
frequently feature irregular floor plans, multiple steep roofs and porches with decorative gables. Dominant
octagonal or circular towers, corbelled chimneys, and highly decorative windows and entry doors with
glass panels add to the curb appeal of these beautiful homes. Common elaborations include vergeboard
and exterior framing, bay windows, and a wide variety of colors and textures throughout the entire

Colonial Revival (1876-1955)

Symmetrical faade
2 to 3 stories
Brick or wood siding
Classical detailing
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Gable roof
Pillars and columns
Multi-pane, double-hung windows with shutters
Temple-like entrance: porticos topped by pediment
Paneled doors with sidelights and topped with rectangular transoms or fanlights
Center entry-hall floor plan
Living areas on the first floor and bedrooms on the upper floors

About the Colonial Revival Style

Colonial Revival became a popular American house style after it appeared at the 1876 the US
Centennial Exposition. Reflecting American patriotism and a desire for simplicity, the Colonial
Revival house style remained popular until the mid-1950's. Between World War I and II,
Colonial Revival was the most popular historic revival house style in the United States.
Some architectural historians say that Colonial Revival is a Victorian style; others believe that
the Colonial Revival style marked the end of the Victorian period in architecture. The Colonial
Revival style is based loosely on Federal and Georgian house styles, and a clear reaction
against excessively elaborate Victorian Queen Anne architecture. Eventually, the simple,
symmetrical Colonial Revival style became incorporated into the Foursquare and Bungalow
house styles of the early 20th century.
Subtypes of the Colonial Revival House Style
Dutch Colonial
Two-story house made of clapboard or shingles with a gambrel roof, flared eaves, and a
side-entry floor plan.
Garrison Colonial
The second story protrudes; the first story is slightly recessed.
Saltbox Colonial
Like the original saltbox homes from colonial times, a Saltbox Style Colonial Revival has
two stories at the front and one story at the rear. The gable roof covers both levels,
sloping sharply down in the rear.
Spanish Colonial Revival
Low-pitched ceramic tile roof, stucco walls, eaves with little or no overhang, wrought
iron, and windows and doorways with round arches.

20th Century Trends

Art Deco
Art Nouveau
Arts & Crafts
Structuralism Structuralist architects view design as a process of searching for basic, underlying
structures. Within a highly structured or ordered framework, Structuralists often attempt to instill
innovation and complexity. They may view Modernist architecture as poorly defined and unlivable. The
Kunsthal in Rotterdam by Rem Koolhaas has been called a Structuralist design.
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Modernism Modernist architecture emphasizes function. It attempts to provide for specific needs rather
than imitate nature. The roots of Modernism may be found in the work of Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990), a
Russian architect who settled in London and founded a group called Tecton. The Tecton architects
believed in applying scientific, analytical methods to design. Their stark buildings ran counter to
expectations and often seemed to defy gravity. For examples of Modernism in architecture, look at works
by Rem Koolhaas and I. M. Pei.

Publishing Style Books and some impacts upon architecture

The source of the visual repertory for English-speaking colonies derives, naturally, from England.
However, the wellspring for that country in the 18th century was actually a 16th century Italians concept
of an earlier reworking of classical Roman ideals. Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was trained as a stonecutter
and sculpture. In 1570 he organized his thoughts and interpretation of artistic architecture when he
published I Quattro libri dellarchitettura. Palladios work reflects the myriad personal influences upon his
way of seeing and the struggle to produce his own vocabulary of architecture. The concept of the
Antique, the somewhat idealized view of classical Roman life and principles, was represented in the
painting and architecture of Bramante, Raphael, and others, which impacted Palladio. These architects in
their turn were influenced by, and appropriated the work of, Vitruviuss specifications for proper propor-
tions. From 1540s on, style, room shapes, and the forms of orders were regularized. Palladio, however,
reconceptualized the notion of space used between the orders. The Palladio institute in Italy states
[Palladio] saw the distance between the columns as an integral part of each order, with for
instance two and a quarter column diameters serving as the intercolumniation for the Ionic order,
and two for the Corinthian. The order thus becomes - for the first time in Renaissance architecture
- a potential generator both of two dimensional and three dimensional schemes. His work
displays an adherence to a system of design, which makes use of a grammar of forms and
proportions, and a controlled vocabulary of motifs. His immediate predecessors and elders
contemporaries are less systematic. There are reasons for this. They were in a sense inventing and
changing the rules as they went along, developing as architects from work to work. [http://
Interestingly from an information perspective, Palladio was concerned with creating an architecture, a
dialect as it were, of correct forms, proportions, and principles. His concern bore fruit from his discus-
sions with Trissino.
Trissino was one of the leading writers on orthography, grammar and literary theory of his time.
Like others of his literary contemporaries he was concerned with the most appropriate form for
written Italian, in a period in which no standard literary version of the language existed, apart from
the Tuscan forms employed by Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. Trissino however went beyond a
concern with the most "correct" form of Italian, to a realisation that literary eect depends on
grammar and choice of vocabulary. It may be that Trissino himself saw the parallel between
linguistic structure and a structured approach to architectural design; alternatively Palladio by a
process of intellectual osmosis, helped by his reading of Vitruvius and Alberti, may have trans-
ferred Trissino's view of the relation between literary style and linguistic rules to architecture. His
architecture in any case assumed a linguistic and grammatical character, which consciously or
unconsciously was recognised and approved by humanist intellectuals, like his friend and patron
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Daniele Barbaro. For Barbaro and his well educated friends, Palladio oered something which even
the great and the richly inventive Sansovino could not: a truly rational architecture, based not only
(as Alberti had recommended) on the application of reason and principles derived from nature,
but structured along the lines of humanist linguistics.

The idea of capturing all aspects of a subject, classifying it, representing it graphically and
determining the syntax of proper assemblage for good products is the fundamental behavior of
Renaissance and Enlightenment epistemological eorts.
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Besides Palladio there were many attempts to articulate the vocabulary of motifs and as will be suggested
below translating these works into English establishes an unbroken aesthetic line from the days of
Imperial Rome to today.
Sabastinao Serlios Architettura,
Stephen Primatts 1667 The City and Country Purchaser and Builder
Colin Campells 1715 Vitruvius Britannicus
Giacomo Leoni, 1715, The Architecture of A. Palladio
William Salmons 1734 Palladio Londiensis: Or, the London Art of Building,
Hoppus, Edward, & Cole, Benjamin. Andrea Palladios Architecture Carefully Revisd and
James Gibbss two works, the 1728 Book of Architecture and 1732 Rules for Drawing the Several parts
of Architecture
Kents Designs of Inigo Jones

Expressed extremely briefly, under The Earl of Cork, Lord Burlingtons influence, the English
translations of Palladio spurred the construction in Britain of large estates whose design self-consciously
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reflected new thinking, an intentional spurning of Medieval and Baroque styles. Most significantly was the
use of printed manuals: any competent architect or carpenter could emulate the favored styles of the
aristocracy. Mastery and advertising such skills did double duty: domestic architecture of the middle
classes could emulate modestly the style of ones better, transforming a place to reside into a place to
show-o. Furthermore, it meant new areas of employment with social consequence: the rise of the
landscape architect to tame nature and to reshape it into an appropriate setting for the architectural jewel.
Wien and Koeper (1984, pp. 67-68) write
Inigo Jones was revered by the English Palladians no less than Palladio himself, and imitated
nearly as often. By working in a style that owed a great deal to Palladio in the early seventeenth
century he had given their movement an English ancestry. This was a matter of much more
consequence because the Anglo-Palladian program was strongly nationalist; England was to have
a national architecture, free from the associations with popery and absolute monarchy that tainted
the Baroque of continental Europe. One may be sure that it was not simply the requirements of
scansion that caused Alexander Pope to name the British architect first in his exhortation to the
leader of the movement, Lord Burlington:
Jones and Palladio to themselves restore,
And be whatever Vitruvius was before
In the British North American colonies, however, there was not the reinforcement of proper use of
the motifs taken from the design books. A particularly upwardly-mobile, wealthy colonist might decorate
the interior of his house, say his dining room, with Palladian door frames, broken pediment with a
pineapple design, something that would never occur in England and marked the provincialism of colonial
ambition. Here the preferred source for design was James Gibbs. Peter Harrison is a good example. He
designed, among other things, Touro Synagogue (1759-63) and the Brick Market (1761-72) in Newport, RI.
The Brick Market is a famous example of taking a medieval idea of the open-air market but dressing it up
with Roman arches and placing the public governmental oces above the market in a two-story pile, brick
Palladian design with wooden pilasters. Using Gibbss 1732 Rules book, he designed (1760-61) the oldest
extant church in Cambridge, MA, the Christ Church which sits across the graveyard from Harvard
Universitys Massachusetts Hall.
In Puritan New England, church design was consciously designed not to emulate English Anglican
models: no steeples, no religious iconography within or without the building, and the buildings use was
more like a community house than reserved exclusively for religious services. Sanctity of space was to be
everywhere, not limited to a building or a time of day. This follows Governor Winthrops dictum for the Bay
Colony to set itself up as a model City upon the Hill, to live daily as saints in a model town to harken the
Gentiles. [The early Puritans called themselves Saints and outsiders gentiles]. It was no doubt a shock to
some when Congregationalist churches, such as the Old North Church and the Old South Church [now
demolished] copied Anglican models.
The Congregationalists had no use for Gibbs. Whether this was because they were conservative
in architectural matters - as they certainly were - or because they regarded Gibbss style as
specifically Anglican is an open question. Surprisingly enough, the most thoroughly and
uncritically Gibbsian of all the churches in the British colonies was built, on the eve of the
Revolution, for the Baptists. This is the First Baptist Meeting House at Providence, Rhode Island,
which went up to the design of Joseph Brown in 1774-75 [72]. That the steeple of a Baptist
meeting house follow a design made for an Anglican church by a Catholic architecture is clear
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proof that considerations of taste took precedence over all others by this time. The whole building
is of wood; the spire, white today, was originally painted to simulate various marbles. [p. 83-85]

The use of architectural books increased greatly after the mid-century, as did also the number of
books available. Eighteen titles appear in colonial records up to the end of 1750; by the end of 1760 the
total had nearly tripled, to fifty-one. [p. 88]
Domestic architecture was helped in the same way in the late Victorian era.
[Architectural magazines; how-to magazines of styles]
[Cross-fertilization: introduction and expanding the idea that aesthetic qualities in life arent
reserved for the rich; establish economic and political movements to move high-culture down to the
[e.g., Oscar Wilde; Frank Lloyd Wrights House Beautiful; Arts & Crafts movement; Morris and Pre-
Raphaelites; lead to other movements in architecture, e.g., architecture parlante, Bauhaus and others.

Architecture parlante
The phrase architecture parlante (speaking architecture) refers to the concept of buildings that
explain their own function or identity.
The phrase was originally associated with Paris-trained architects of the Revolutionary period,
particularly tienne-Louis Boule and Claude Nicolas Ledoux. In Ledouxs unbuilt plans for the salt-
producing town of Chaux, the hoop-makers houses are shaped like barrels, the river inspectors house
straddles the river, and an enormous brothel takes the shape of an erect phallus.
Nonce orders
Within more practical applications, nonce orders, invented under the impetus of Neoclassicism,
have served as examples of architecture parlante. Several orders, usually simply based upon the Composite
order and only varying in the design of the capitals, have been invented under the inspiration of specific
occasions, but have not been used again. Thus they may be termed nonce orders on the analogy of
nonce words. Robert Adams brother James, in Rome in 1762, invented a British Order featuring the
heraldic lion and unicorn. In 1789 George Dance invented an Ammonite Order, a variant of Ionic
substituting volutes in the form of fossil ammonites for John Boydells Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall,
London. In the United States Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the Capitol building in Washington DC,
designed a series of botanically American orders. Most famous is the order substituting corncobs and their
husks, which was executed by Giuseppe Franzoni and employed in the small domed Vestibule of the
Supreme Court.
In these nonce orders the sculptural details required by classical architecture could be enlisted to
speak symbolically, the better to express the purpose of the structure and enrich its visual meaning with
specific appropriateness.
The same concept, in the somewhat more restrained form of allegorical sculpture and inscriptions,
became one of the hallmarks of Beaux-Arts structures, and thereby filtered through to American civic
architecture. One fine example is the 1901 New York Yacht Club building on 44th Street in Manhattan,
designed by the team of Warren and Wetmore. Its three front windows are patterned on the sterns of early
Dutch ships, and the faade fairly drips with nautical-themed applied sculpture. The Harvard College boat
house is a smaller implementation of the same: the boat house (where fragile, wooden crew shells are
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stored) is adorned with robust, stone representations of a Viking ship prows cleaving the water. The same
team designed the 1912 Grand Central Terminal, which also contains self-explaining architectural
elements in the form of the oversized allegorical sculpture group, and in the ingenious way that the
shapes, surfaces, steps, arches, ramps and passageways inherent in the structure constitute a language
that helps visitors orient themselves and find their way through the building.
The same year, McKim, Mead & White designed the nearby Farley Post Oce Building with its
famous inscription adapted from Herodotus: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays
these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
The civic architecture of Washington DC provides some of the most poetic and most verbose
inscriptions. Beaux-Arts architect Daniel Burnham is responsible for the Washington Union Station (1908),
with its inscription program developed by Harvard president Charles William Eliot. It includes over the
main entrance this paean: Fire: greatest of discoveries, enabling man to live in various climates, use many
foods, and compel the forces of nature to do his work. Electricity: carrier of light and power, devourer of
time and space, bearer of human speech over land and sea, greatest servant of man, itself unknown. Thou
hast put all things under his feet.

Arts and Crafts Movement (1830-1920)
The Arts and Crafts Movement, with its call to return to the ideals of craftsmanship and the honest use of
materials that characterized past eras, evolved as a reaction to the increasing industrialization of the
Victorian era. Spanning the Victorian Age and extending into the World War II years, the architectural and
decorative impulses of the Art and Crafts Movement were expressed in various forms around the world.
The founder, and one of the main voices shaping this movement, was the Victorian Englishman, William
Morris. A poet, writer, designer and socialist, Morris spent time studying at Oxford University, intending to
become a clergyman. He soon discovered he was far more interested in the decorative arts.
The American Arts and Crafts Movement is characterized by the Craftsman style in architecture. Craftsman
houses were generally one and a half to two stories tall. They were environmentally sensitive structures
that not only suited, but made good use of their surroundings the materials that went into Craftsman
houses were usually native.
In both architecture and art, the American Arts and Crafts movement shows a nostalgia for the
personal and private in design and use. Decoration and color are muted and made useful rather than
eliminated. Quality and craftsmanship is emphasized, and each element is given weight as part of
integrating the design into the complete environment.
Craftsman style architecture is the hall of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. The founder,
and one of the main voices shaping this movement, was the Victorian Englishman, William Morris. Its
greatest American proponent was Gustav Stickley, whose periodical "The Craftsman" gave the style its
name. Craftsman houses were generally one and a half to two stories tall. They were environmentally
sensitive structures that not only suit, but made exceptional use of their surroundings. Most Craftsman
homes are constructed from native materials.
The Bungalow oers a subtle variation on the Craftsman aesthetic in fact, the two are so similar
that many use the term Craftsman Bungalow to describe these homes. However, the Bungalow style
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derives from house forms created by English architects, who in turn had borrowed stylistic impulses from
the Bengal region of India. Similar to Craftsman homes in materials and form, Bungalows often have broad
overhanging eaves, large low porches with square columns, and hipped roofs. Low-pitched gables and
exposed timbering reinforce the bungalow's horizontal emphasis.
Colonial Revival
Colonial Revival architecture favors simplicity over elaboration and is the first revival that was
based on American architecture. Colonial Revival forms revived symmetrical floor planning and classical
and colonial decorative motifs. Cape Cod architecture, with its trademark five shutter window facade, is
one common example of this style.
As populations in California and America's Southwest expanded, architecture throughout America
was increasingly influenced by the remnants of Spanish colonial design. One resulting style was Mission,
spanning not only architecture but furniture design and other decorative arts. Mission architecture
showcases stucco walls with decorative parapets, red tile roofs, arched rooflines above square piers, and
open, widely overhanging eaves.

Tudor Revival
The inclination away from standardization was nowhere better portrayed than in the ideals of the
Tudor Revival. Exterior color schemes were typically of brown, white and black, sometimes combined with
red brick. Incorporating exposed framing, thatch or shingle roofs, and rough-hewn stonework, Tudor
Revival homes were intentionally made to appear older than they actually were. In fact, the apparently
primitive construction details of such houses were often purely decorative.

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Another stylistic variation within the Arts and Crafts Movement is the Prairie style, popularized
through the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Often appearing to nestle into their surroundings, Prairie forms
are horizontal in emphasis with low pitched roofs and large over-hanging eaves. Although firmly
grounded in the Arts and Crafts tradition, their forward looking use of materials such as reinforced
concrete and dramatic expanses of windows, have lead many to consider this the first Modern style.


The 1932 Commerce Department Building, part of the capitals neo-Classical building boom in the
1930s, has this extreme example: The inspiration that guided our forefathers led them to secure above all
things the unity of our country. We rest upon government by consent of the governed and the political
order of the United States as the expression of a patriotic ideal which welds together all the elements of
our national energy promoting the organization that fosters individual initiative. Within this edifice are
established agencies that have been created to buttress the life of the people, to clarify their problems and
coordinate their resources, seeking to lighten burdens without lessening the responsibility of the citizen.
In serving one and all they are dedicated to the purpose of the founders and to the highest hopes of the
future with their local administration given to the integrity and welfare of the nation.
Beyond such inscriptions, in the United States the concept of architecture parlante likely reached
its zenith in the Nebraska State Capitol (1922) and the Los Angeles Public Library (1925), both by architect
Bertram Goodhue. With their extensive architectural sculpture programs, tile murals, painted murals,
ornamental fixtures and inscriptions (Goodhue worked with a sort of multimedia repertory company of
artists, like the sculptor Lee Lawrie), both of these buildings seem particularly eager to communicate a set
of social values.

Modernism (1920-1960)
With the advent of Modernism, its formal rigor and its distaste for ornament of any kind, by 1940
or so architectural parlante was eliminated from the serious architectural vocabulary and found only in
commercial and vernacular oddities like The Brown Derby. Modernism was not just another style: it
presented a new way of thinking. Although usually thought of by most people as a literary genre,
architects of the 20th century were aected profoundly by its ideas. In this era we see many trends cross
between literary, aesthetic, and political domains. Some of the most important ideas are expressed in Art
Moderne and the Bauhaus school coined by Walter Gropius, and move through Deconstructivism,
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Formalism, Modernism, Structuralism and Postmodernism.
Modernist architecture emphasizes function. It attempts to provide for specific needs rather than
imitate nature. The roots of Modernism may be found in the work of Berthold Lubetkin (1901-1990), a
Russian architect who settled in London and founded a group called Tecton. The Tecton architects
believed in applying scientific, analytical methods to design. Their stark buildings ran counter to
expectations and often seemed to defy gravity.

For examples of Modernism in architecture, look at works by Rem Koolhaas and I.M. Pei.
Many believe Modernism in America began with Frank Lloyd Wright, whose Prairie style distilled the
essences of form and function. In Europe, similar impulses toward simplification were taking place
beginning with Art Nouveau in the last decades of the 19th century and culminating in Art Deco, often
considered the last true style in the age of decorative arts.
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Wrights first Prairie School house

Paralleling developing theories in all the creative arts, Modernism showcases abstract styles and
simplified geometric forms. New materials and structural technologies allowed architects to create
structures that had previously been impossible.
Modern architecture is bold and looks to the future. Abundant and aordable selections of style,
size, and finish give the modern homeowner more choices than ever before. Despite the advances,
however, the influence of the past continues to provide the foundation from which modern ideas and
buildings are built. The roots of history expressed in our modern landscape remind us that while change
seems inevitable, we are connected to a tradition of creativity and innovation that draws our attention to
the past as it points us toward the future.
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Art Deco
The British historian Bevis Hillier popularized the term Art Deco, taken from the 1925 exposition,
Internationale des Arts Dcoratifs Industriels et Modernes (International of Industrial and Modern Decorative
Arts), held in Paris. But the International Style Exhibition in 1932 at the Museum of Modern Art marks the
coherent turning point for the modern styles. Art Deco architecture looked toward the future, rather than
the past. New materials, such as Bakelite, steel, and aluminum were employed in building and hardware.
Designers plated brass with nickel or chrome to create a vigorous and bright color palette. New types of
electrical lighting, including neon, gave art deco buildings a futuristic allure. Art Deco uses bold vertical
lines and stretched figures and forms - the distinctive sunrise and ziggurat motifs hint at the rush of
progress that was to come.
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Originating in Europe, the International style was brought to America by refugees escaping the
unstable political and economic situation of Europe prior to World War II. The International style empha-
sizes new technologies and materials; it eliminated most decoration that was not utilitarian. The forms are
geometric, and roofs were typically flat. Glass is used in unconventional ways, sometimes even rounding a
corner. Colors are simple and tended toward white or grey, and materials are typically man-made,
although wood is sometimes also used.
Streamline Moderne
The technology of flight and the distinctive look of the aerodynamic, gleaming airplane inspired
the style known as Streamline Moderne. Metals are almost exclusively nickel or chrome, and hardware was
given a smooth polished surface. Sleek, curving lines and cylindrical motifs make Streamline Moderne
homes look as though, were they not nailed to their foundations, they might take o.
Post-war Modern
After World War II, the United States experienced an unprecedented housing boom. Familiar
structures such as the manufactured home, rambler, split-level, and A-frame were built by the millions.
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New development projects used the burgeoning road system to connect the city centers to the expanding
suburbs. These new houses were roomier and better constructed because of new building methods that
featured the duplication of floor plans and the use of power tools. What modern homes lacked in
individuality they made up for in aordability. Most of these homes also oered a new space of growing
importance to the post-war modern family: the attached garage.
Spanish Revival
During the mid -1900s the population of the American Southwest, particularly California, grew
rapidly. As the need for homes grew, architects and homeowners took inspiration from the established
regional traditions of Spanish Colonial and Mission architecture. Historic design elements such as red tile
roofs, abode or stucco walls, and native landscaping are combined with modern elements to create homes
that are both brightly lit and comfortable. Spanish Revival exteriors blend into their environment, yet their
interiors are often warm, spacious, and informal.
Postmodern Eclectic
With a wealth of styles and inspirations to draw from, post-modern homes - those built after about
1975 - combine diverse elements to create a mixture of vintage and modern. Most new construction today
falls into this category. Postmodern eclectic neighborhoods may feature a combination of Colonial,
Federal, Victorian, Craftsman, and Modern elements within the same street - sometimes even the same
house. Despite their dierences, most postmodern eclectic homes do have commonalities. Many feature
open floor plans, high ceilings, an abundance of windows, light interiors and an emphasis on comfort
rather than decoration. Exteriors may combine a variety of building materials such as brick, stone, adobe,
wood, or aluminum siding. Interior walls are most often painted drywall, and roofs are usually asphalt or
slate tiles.

Koolaas Kunsthal, Rotterdam:

www.classic.archined.nl/ news/0111/koolhaas.html
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Postmodernism has seen a revival of architecture parlante ideas. Terry Farrells eggcup-surmounted
headquarters for TV-am in London and the book-shaped towers of the Bibliothque nationale de France in
Paris, can be seen as examples.

Centre Pompidou
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Exterior shot of Centre Pompadour, from Caf Beaubourg [a place to see and be seen, but still fun; met a
nice Parisian cat there!]

Interior shot of the library.

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Considering architecture as a kind of information is not far-fetched. Communication and
information theory both rely on establishing a set of standard, optimal forms to make creating the
message ecient. One could manipulate the dimensions of a house or a room or entire city blocks but at
the core were elements drawn from the repertory. It was enough in architecture to determine the set of
standard forms to be modified when necessary but in general applicable to most needs. By working out
carefully a set of pre-fabricated elements it was possible for established builders to speak a new language
of forms, for artisans to produce for a wider audience and by doing so improve and alter social structures,
and, most significantly, to make previously private knowledge knowable to literate and illiterate alike.

What are your thoughts? Come ready to share em in class.

Whien, M., & Koeper, F. (1984). American Architecture. Volume 1: 1607-1860. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.