Josh Mings - Architectural Explorations

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral - Louis Sullivan

As I enter my third month here in Chicago, I am starting to get a deeper read on the city. While I know this read and journey will delve deeper and deeper as the years pass in Chicago, I've started to explore my neighborhood (Ukrainian Village) a bit more, with its amazing mix of cultural groups. It still amazes me that I see signs in Polish, Ukrainian, Spanish, Hungarian, and English all on my 10 minute walk to the bus stop in the morning. The vast amount of churches and cathedrals within a 10 minute walk of my house is amazing, which leads to:

Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral, the last standing church designed by Louis Sullivan. It is also five blocks from my house. I came upon this while browsing through a book on the complete works of Adler and Sullivan that my office has in its conference room, and was amazed that something like this could be so close to my house. It definitely still feels as if I'm walking in my architectural history textbook as I'm traversing the city.

Holy Trinity was one of only two churches Sullivan designed during his career, and the only one currently still standing. It is an amazing mix of vernacular Russian Orthodox Church architecture and Sullivan's personal ornamentation style (as seen via the entry portal). It is understated, yet extravagant at the same time.

The metalwork in the soffit and window jambs is a great contrast to the stucco finish (originally this stucco was a smooth finish, but is currently a more typical textured stucco), and also helps to show the thickness of the construction. The massive north facing window no doubt helps to fill the interior with light, and I hope to be able to take a tour of this building soon.

The attention to detail is what truly makes this church come alive. It beckons you to take a second look at what otherwise may be a typical church building. It speaks volumes that this little building of around 30'x100' has been elevated to cathedral status by the Orthodox church, simply by the images that come to mind through the word cathedral (Stephansdom, Chartres, Cologne, Reims). This little cathedral truly holds its own with those much larger buildings and I look forward to the day I'm able to take the full tour.

Until next time,

by Josh | Saturday 8 December 2012 0:14am | BuildingsChicago | permalink | 0 comments

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University of Chicago

Today's adventure took me to the South Side of Chicago to explore the campus of the University to Chicago. One of the principals of the firm and her husband extolled on how beautiful the campus was, and they were right, and it is an interesting juxtaposition how the firm is building an afforable housing project to replace some of the older CHA projects just a few blocks south of the university. It is a great mix of historic and modern, with the classic Chicago Gothic meeting Brutalism meeting Modern Tech meeting the humanistic Modern and so on. Plus the history of the area, and of the Midway Plaisance (which was the Midway of the 1893 Columbian Exhibition complete with a new invention now known as the Ferris Wheel) is absolutely amazing. I wanted to check out Jackson and Washington Parks, but unfortunately rain decided to pop up. I will head back down there in the Spring when everything is in bloom. Here are some highlights:

The Logan Center for the Arts - Tod Williams/Billie Tsien
Billie Tsien lectured at Tulane last fall and showed a bit of this project. It doesn't disappoint. The attention to detail, and how everything connects/joinery is amazing. I really loved how the brick becomes pavers of the same proportion in the courtyard. I can't wait to sneak into this building at some point. There is a balcony about 2/3 of the way up the tower that was in use very enthusiastically by the students.

Near the Logan Center is the School of Social Services Administration by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Not as expressive as Crown Hall, but still worthy in its own right with shades of warmth inside with wood. It feels grounded in ways some of his other buildings aren't, perhaps as an expression of the schools mission in helping others.

Very close to the SSA lies the Law School Complex by Eero Saarinen. One of his lesser known works, and lacking some of the expression and experimentation of the facade as his other works of his later years (such as the John Deere Headquarters in Moline). Some of the detailing of the slab was really well done, and I liked the solid building used as a play off of the glass library.

One of the highlights along with the Logan is the Mansueto Library by Helmet Jahn. His technology driven Modernism is a great foil to the Brutalist library designed by Walter Netsch. The highlights that Jahn's glass dome reflect onto the facade of Netsch's work are very fascinating. It allows Netsch's work to maintain its facade towards S. Ellis, while giving Jahn's work its own dues as well. It reminds me of how Norman Foster inserted a similar in shape and material library into the mat building of the Free University in Berlin.

I stumbled upon this and really loved the juxtaposition of ivy and Chicago Gothic.

Last but not least is the Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright. Impressive in its own right, but I much prefer his own home and studio. Its a bit jarring to see it in its context, especially with the large Booth School of Business directly across the street. I passed on the tour today, but may take it when I head back this way in the spring.

Until next time,

by Josh | Saturday 10 November 2012 4:07pm | GeneralChicagoBuildingsThoughts | permalink | 0 comments

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Unity Temple/Oak Park

Hi everyone,

The last couple months have been a bit of a whirlwind, but as some of you may know I now live and work in Chicago. I'm still getting settled in and am currently making a master list of everything to explore over the next few years. This weekend I took advantage of nice, if not chilly for someone still used to New Orleans weather, days and went out to Oak Park to see Frank Lloyd Wright's works in the area, and to take the tour of Unity Temple that I didn't take 10 years ago. It didn't disappoint.

Look forward to more frequent posts as I explore more of my new home!

Unity Temple - my favorite of all the Wright buildings

Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio - I didn't take a tour of this one, as I did 10 years ago. I'm sure I'll head back sometime in the spring (I essentially go west on my street for 6 miles and take a left to get there).

by Josh | Sunday 28 October 2012 3:48pm | ChicagoBuildingsGeneral | permalink | 0 comments

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Praiseworthy Competition with One's Ancestors: Columbus, IN Architecture Depository

The Time-Life Iconic view of Columbus (based off photography from a Time-Life article in the late 1950s)
Note: Click on any image for a larger version (opens in a new window)

"A good life is one led in praiseworthy competition with one's ancestors. The best response to the gifts we receive from previous generations is to create something of lasting value in our own time and in our own way for future generations." - J. Irwin Miller

Columbus' Architecture

J. Irwin Miller's gift is my hometown of Columbus, Indiana. Believing that architecture "reflects what a city thinks about itself and what it aims to be", Columbus' poetic Modernism is a response to previous generations [1]. It is a both/and condition, one of knowledge of the past and using that knowledge to create in your own way for the future, of abstract and material, of pragmatism and poetry.

First Christian Church - Eliel Saarinen

North Christian Church - Eero Saarinen

Twentieth-century architectural discourse was driven largely by either/or: Modernism with the abstract and pragmatic, Postmodernism with the material and poetic. In the increasingly fractured and globalized Twenty-first century world, the either/or dualistic view is no longer sufficient. This both/and condition brings together the either/or conditions of philosophy in the Twentieth Century to create a process design could follow to disseminate meaning and create a dialogue with its total environment. To propel architecture forward, both ends of the spectrum must be used to create an architectural whole [2].

Exhibition/Archive Space - 3rd Floor showing North Christian Church and others

This both/and condition and process begins to point to six overarching design principles:
1] Pragmatic/Poetic - Architecture should be both pragmatic and poetic, allowing the functional and spectacular to come together to create a building that conveys meaning.
2] Didactic/Honesty - Architecture should be didactic in its construction and speak to its materiality.
3] Awareness of Time - Architecture should speak to the temporal, allowing a connection both to history and context as well as to the present and a future filled with doubt and uncertainty.
4] Expression of Story/Narrative - Architecture should tell a story. Without a story, architecture has no structure and cannot speak.
5] The Total Environment - Architecture should be site relative, creating a dialogue and connection with the environment in which it is constructed.
6] Concept/Conclusion - Architecture should always have a strong poetic idea that shapes and is shaped by pragmatic systems, telling a story as you experience the layers of building.

Irwin Union Bank - Eero Saarinen

Irwin Union Bank Arcade and Addition - Kevin Roche and John Dinkeloo

Regarding Columbus, Indiana the abstract is found in the Jeffersonian grid imparted upon the Midwest. The later pavilionization of Columbus is a result of the grid, and this grid also works its way into Eero Saarinen's Irwin Union Bank building through use of the Palladian nine-square grid. The pavilionization of Columbus resulted in an architecture consisting of objects in a field; independent, well defined, and self-referential speaking to an individualism and self-reliance found in the Midwest. What is missing in this formal proposition is the ground, the essential reference plane of the Midwest region. Saarinen himself saw architecture "not as the building alone, but the building in relationship with its surroundings." This relationship lies within the ground.

Longitudinal Section through Saarinen's Pavilion and new Depository

Section model showing Exhibition Void, Mask, and Archive

While the nine-square grid of Saarinen's bank promotes this formal ideology, it begins to speak to the community and inclusivity much like his father's work in First Christian Church. Diving deeper into the works of Columbus a lexicon emerges: Green Space (Connecting Public and Nature), Modulating Light (Connecting interior to exterior and time), Publicity/Inclusiveness (Connecting public to built form), Material and Program Innovation (Praiseworthy Competition), Contextual Relationships (Both Blending and Contrasting). Each point of the lexicon serves to disseminate meaning, furthering Saarinen's belief that "the conveying in architecture of significant meaning is part of the inspirational purpose of architecture."

Ground floor plan showing connections to existing structures and Third Floor Plan showing how the landmarks of the city shape the building

Site Model

The bank pavilion embraces each point of the lexicon. It consists of two planes, the Midwest (ground) plane and the roof plane, and the void. The pavilion transitions the bank from the closed, fortress banks of old to a new, welcoming, and public paradigm. The void becomes poetic and open, set within the landscape, a continuance of the outside, public realm. It becomes a both/and wholly different from its surroundings yet connecting to its historical context in downtown Columbus.

Courtyard view through mass of tress which maintains the datum line of 11'6" (thickness of void) towards depository

It then becomes essential to create a conversation and a journey, not only with Saarinen, but also with the other architectural landmarks in the city, tending to the ground to create a link between disparate objects and a new urban whole. Saarinen's nine-square grid is expanded across the site, and through manipulation of the existing building, the void is extended down Saarinen's suspended stairs and into a new courtyard. The two planes and the void become key in this conversation, extruded cross the site along Saarinen's grid.

View toward First Christian Church in exhibition space

View from Cummins looking down Fifth Street, an architectural axis of the city

The two planes and void turn vertical to create a signal event within the city, a depository of Columbus' architectural history, a combination of museum and archive that acts as a sentinel that both preserves its heritage and propels it into the future. It creates a heartland within the heartland, responding to the discipline, the vernacular landscape (including the silos and other utilitarian buildings which both Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier admired), and acknowledging the whole and part simultaneously.

Continuing the Void: Vertical Exhibition Void (Top) with Horizontal Bank Void (Bottom)

The Midwest (ground) plane of Saarinen's pavilion becomes the body of the depository, the void vertical circulation, and the roof plane a mask that becomes a point of dialogue with the city. The planes and void are pierced and shaped by views looking out towards the architectural monuments of the city. Through this responsive mask, which is both concealer and revealer, a process of moving from insideness to outsideness and back again, and the transition from looking to seeing and understanding occurs. It becomes a process of seeing and recognizing difference, while seeking to promote the consignment to the whole.

Poetic (Conversation/Journey) and Pragmatic (Systems) Diagrams

This poetic conversation becomes structured by the pragmatic systems which underscore technological developments in Twentieth and Twenty-first Century architecture - elements of light, envelope and skin, a wandering circulation, structure, and mechanical systems all creating a lexicon, words upon which the poetic story of Columbus is told. Using the both/and condition, the depository imparts knowledge of the city and Miller's ideals; a dialogue between past and present that both engages in and strives to encourage praiseworthy competition with one's ancestors.

At the origin of the architectural axes - Fifth and Washington Streets

Project Information:
Master of Architecture Thesis, Tulane University, 2012
Location - 500 Washington St. Columbus, IN 47201
Size - 28,000 square feet new construction + 15,000 square feet renovation
Advisors - Scott Ruff, Kentaro Tsubaki, Elizabeth Burns Gamard
Model Assistance - Kelsey Howard
Research Assistance - Rhonda Bolner, Columbus Indiana Architectural Archive

Further Reading:
1] My Hometown, my thesis: an exploration into Columbus' architecture and earlier thinking regarding my thesis.
2] The Both/And Condition of Poetry and Pragmatism: an essay on this crucial condition in my work.

I welcome any and all comments, and hope you enjoy the project as much as I enjoyed working on it over the past year.

by Josh | Sunday 16 September 2012 1:58pm | ThoughtsStudioBuildings | permalink | 1 comments

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The Both/And Condition of Poetry and Pragmatism

During the course of my architectural education, the duality of poetry and pragmatism has come up many times. At times I've been told I'm too pragmatic, and that an element of play is needed in my projects, yet in the end results I have routinely been praised for the poetics present in my work. To me, this signifies that many still believe an either/or dualistic relationship between pragmatism and poetry exists. Either/or dualities, however, no longer exist in architecture. Either/or has been replaced by both/and, not only in regards to poetry and pragmatism but also in other dualistic conditions. Conditions where both ends of the spectrum feed off of each other to create an architectural whole.

The pragmatism shown, especially in the early stages of my projects, is a product of my environment. In the Midwest there is a general tendency towards the pragmatic and logical; traits I picked up from my grandfather. My grandfather was an engineer with Eli Lilly, so over the course of my experiences with him I picked up his logical thinking. I've always been a pragmatic thinker, with the first challenge to that during my first semester at Tulane. With this came the first introductions of the poetic; the switch from "how to build" to "how can I build".

It is my opinion that pragmatism becomes a system or a language on which the poetic is told. For example, in dealing with the notions of place and identity in my hometown of Columbus, Indiana a lexicon has been established consisting of the following five points: Green Space, Modulating Light, Publicity/Inclusiveness, Material and Program Innovation, and Contextual Relationships. These are all pragmatic responses to connecting the architectural works of the city; yet all are extremely poetic. The notion of green space in architecture recalls the connection between man and nature, of Heidegger and his concept of dwelling [1] that is so eloquently portrayed in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, and in the paintings of T.C. Steele. Modulation of light begins to bring a connection between interior and exterior, but is also used to create a connection between Man and God (in a church/cathedral) or Man and Time. The use of design to designate publicity and inclusiveness, as both Eliel and Eero Saarinen did with Modernism in Columbus speaks to the poetic notion of architecture creating a better world. In fact, Eero Saarinen spoke of architecture as "not just to fulfill man's need for shelter, but also to fulfill man's belief in the nobility of his existence on earth." [2] Material and Program Innovation, while speaking to the technological advances of our current society, has a deeper poetic meaning. It is "praiseworthy competition with one's ancestors", the definition of patriotism put forward by the Roman historian Tacitus and interpreted by J. Irwin Miller that "the best response to the gifts from previous generations is to create something of lasting value in our own time and in our own way for future generations." [3]

Alberto Peréz-Gómez speaks of this system or lexicon as "the work of architecture, properly speaking, preserves meaning within itself. It is not an allegory in the sense that it says one thing and gives us to understand something else. What the work has to say can be found only within itself, grounded in language, and yet beyond it."[4] To me, this speaks of going beyond the pragmatics of the system, and not simply using scenography or mimesis, using the poetic as a modifier to create a cohesive whole. For an example on how to combine pragmatic and poetic (in this case create a both local and global condition), one should look to the works of Norwegian architect Sverre Fehn. Fehn's work combined Modernist, pragmatic thought with the poetic Norwegian lexicon of heaven and earth, life and death, and deep rootedness in nature and place to create works that are "based on a poetic construction."[5] This poetic construction, for example showcasing the works and life of a local author/illustrator or telling the story of a natural phenomenon, combined with his belief that "the structure is a language, a way of expressing yourself, and there should be a balance between thought and language"[6] expresses the both/and condition of poetry and pragmatism. Whether it is the bridging concrete ramp lightly touching the ruins of the Bishops' Fortress at the Hedmarksmuseet in Hamar or the rock (the Norsk Bremuseum) left in the lea by glaciers thousands of years ago in Fjærland, "Every story has a construction."[7]

Columbus' development as a city is both pragmatic and poetic. J. Irwin Miller started with the very logical notion of architecture as an economic engine, providing the amenities required in order to draw the best and brightest to both Cummins and the city. One must look past the top-down condition created by Miller to the bottom-up poetics created by the individual architects who built in Columbus. Miller's personal belief that "what is built reflects what a city thinks about itself and what it aims to be"[8] recalls the nation building of the 19th century and the quest for nationalistic styles that represent nation and society. Although this is a top-down philosophy, it speaks to the larger poetic of connecting man and his history; of creating identity and meaning in the places we live. These poetics have created a bottom-up condition that shows an incredible optimism in built form, the poetics of the future in innovations to program, material, etc. Eliel and Eero Saarinen created a lexicon of Modernism that speaks to creating a greater collective whole in the city through Modernism, a both/and condition consisting of the 19th Century French Architecture with a capital A, and the German aufbau and cultivating culture for the collective whole.

Note: This is an essay I wrote during the design portion of my thesis project, one which helped immensely to discover what I truly was looking for and how I design. Look for the post on my thesis design project in the next couple of days, and feel free to leave a comment or note!

1] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time.
2] J. Irwin Miller, "Saarinen Memorial Service held in M.I.T. Chapel", Architectural Record Dec. [1961]: 232.
3] Will Miller, "Eero and Irwin: Praiseworthy Competition with One's Ancestors", Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future.
4] Alberto Peréz-Gómez, "The Space of Architecture: Meaning as Presence and Representation", Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture.
5] Sverre Fehn, "An Architectural Autobiography", The Poetry of the Straight Line: Five Masters of the North.
6] Per Olaf Fjeld, Sverre Fehn: The Pattern of Thoughts.
7] Ibid.
8] Columbus Visitors Center, "The Columbus Story",

by Josh | Wednesday 12 September 2012 2:10pm | ThoughtsStudio | permalink | 0 comments

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