Art Nouveau and Modernisme

Each summer I visit Barcelona, Paris, and London with students, and particularly in Barcelona and Paris, I always gain a deeper appreciation for Art Nouveau.  Art Nouveau was a bit of a blind spot in my own education, I now realize.  I've included Horta & Guimard in my classes for years, but it's been a pretty superficial treatment.  I've treated Sullivan and Gaudí as related but in categories of their own.

In Barcelona/Catalonia, so I've learned, their term for Art Nouveau is Modernisme.  This is a direct translation; see the brochures from the St. Pau Hospital below. 

A large part of Barcelona, the Eixample district, is full of wonderful buildings in the Modernisme/Art Nouveau style.  Indeed, this is what makes Barcelona so satifying to visit: the quality of the 'background' buildings is exceedingly high.

Barcelona Modernisme.JPG

Barcelona's Modernisme is distinctive from the Art Nouveau of Paris or Brussels because it includes more Neo-Classical and Neo-Mudujar influences, as well as the local influence of Gaudi.  But it is clearly part of the same movement using new forms of decoration with floral patterns, ironwork and ceramics.

 Palau de la Música Catalana, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1905-08). Photo ©Anthony Denzer

Palau de la Música Catalana, Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1905-08). Photo ©Anthony Denzer

I think Catalonian architects and historians are proud of the term Modernisme, and unhappy that it was usurped by the concept of Modernism.  Of course Modernism is quite different from Modernisme.

This also points to the fact that Art Nouveau was a worldwide movement which not only took different forms in different places, but also different names.  The UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination for The Works of Antoni Gaudi (1984) makes this point:

"[Art Nouveau was] an authentically creative movement, an international phenomenon distinct from the historicism of the 19th century. It is characterized by the return to natural forms, merged, without prejudice, with the inherited formulas of the past and known by several different names: Art Nouveau, Jugenstil, Liberty, Floreale, Modernism[e], etc."

Here's the Wikipedia page for Modernisme

And, somewhat obliquely, here's how Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described Gaudí’s relationship to the Art Nouveau:

"Gaudí’s architecture poses even more urgently the problem of how far Art Nouveau as a term with an analyzable, useful meaning can be stretched.  That he is first and foremost Gaudí there can be no question."

A Note on Green Building Aesthetics

Earlier this week Lance Hosey stirred up some debate with his Huffington Post piece called "Architecture’s Great Divide."  He was responding to Aaron Betsky's provocation in Dezeen: "There should be no top 10 prizes for sustainable architecture."

Briefly, Betsky says that the AIA-COTE Top Ten consists of banal, mediocre buildings.  Hosey rebuts Betsky's points one-by-one, concluding that it's "a false dichotomy" to pit aesthetics against performance. (Additionally, Lloyd Alter weighed in here.)

And similarly a few weeks ago, there was some heavy debate on Twitter after Alexandra Lange called the Cornell Tech tower "so blah."  I basically agree, but I made this point: "At least 80% in every category/genre is ugly or compromised but for efficient buildings this is, somehow, always seen as an inherent, defining problem..."

What I usually find absent from these discussions is the acknowledgement that aesthetic judgments are conditional, not absolute.  This often happens to me: A building (or work of art) might be "blah" or ugly on first view, then I find it beautiful when I learn more about it and revisit it.  Sometimes, someone else shares an insight that I missed.  My initial aesthetic reaction is superficial, but then with more perspective my appreciation changes. 

For green buildings, this is particularly germane because many 'sustainable' features are not immediately apparent.  It's likely impossible to see indoor air quality, or radically low plug loads, or zero waste, in architectural photography or a quick visit.  Do these things contribute to beauty?  Of course!  Beauty is more than skin-deep; it includes character.  We form judgments about people this way; Mother Theresa was beautiful, right?  In the same way, for me, a building's low energy use (or other unseen green feature) is an aspect of its beauty.

That said, I think I understand and sympathize with Betsky's complaint.  He has sensed, correctly, that most green building award-winners share a style: bland corporate modernism with a small dose of high-tech.  This style is not, by now, visually experimental or risk-taking.  And for those who aren't engaged by this style, or who are oriented to the next avant-garde, it's easy to understand that the awards are not going to be rewarding.

Solar Jobs, 1978

In March 1978, a Congressional Subcommittee chaired by Senator Edward M. Kennedy held hearings on the subject: "Creating Jobs Through Energy Policy."

Some of the most provocative testimony came from William Winpisinger, the President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers:

"We have a tremendous opportunity to dovetail the development of the new energy sources such as solar, cogeneration, biomass, small hydro, and wind with a national manpower policy and full employment program."

"We must be wary, however. The giant energy companies, already vertically and horizontally integrated, are casting covetous eyes upon the alternatives, particularly solar, and I guess staking out a claim on buying the sun. I don’t think we can permit that to happen. Of all sources, solar power must be the people’s power."

"It remains for public spirited and progressive citizens to remind the nation’s policy makers and the public, that the sun and solar energy belong to the people, not the energy companies; that the waters of the ocean and rivers belong to the people, not the monopolies; that the children of the ghettos have as much claim to ownership of pubic lands, oil shale and offshore oil deposits, as do a few private investors."

The next month, in April 1978, Winpisinger led the founding conference of the Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition (CLEC), with Heather Booth.  CLEC promoted energy-efficiency and solar jobs, based on the larger belief that "the energy crisis ... pitted the well-being of workers and consumers against corporate power and profits" (Andrew Battista, "Labor and Liberalism: The Citizen Labor Energy Coalition," Labor History, 1999).  CLEC gained a bit of political power in the early 1980s.  For a critique, see the 1984 Heritage Foundation report: "CLEC: Hidden Agenda, Hidden Danger" (pdf).  CLEC also gets mentioned in pieces such as "Obama’s Radical Past." 

Winpisinger was known as "Wimpy."  When he died in 1997 the New York Times said he called himself a "seat-of-the-pants socialist."

Also in 1978, a group called the Mid-Peninsula Conversion Project in Mountain View, California, issued a report called "Creating Solar Jobs" (pdf).  It estimated 66,300 direct solar jobs in the United States by 1985.  This study also estimated the costs for a statewide program to build and retrofit passive solar houses in California in the 1980s, and the construction jobs which would be created.  "We can assume conservatively that 10% to 20% of the single-family homes and 5% to 10% of the multi-family homes could be retrofitted by 1985 with a south-facing greenhouse or solar wall."  The nascent PV industry was also analyzed.

Tools: Libbey-Owens-Ford's Solarometer

In The Solar House, I included a picture of Libbey-Owens-Ford's Solarometer being demonstrated at the 1950 MIT Symposium.  In that photo (p. 128 of the book) we see Lawrence Amderson, Maria Telkes, George Fred Keck, and W.J. Arner of Libbey-Owens-Ford.

"Solarometer" was Libbey-Owens-Ford's brand.  In general, this type of tool is called a heliodon, and the heliodon is still produced today.  (See here.)

Here's an earlier photo of the Solarometer, from 1949. 

The notice on the back reads:
CHICAGO: Ralph Sherwin shows Joan Farrell how to operate the Solarometer, developed to help architects and home builders figure roof overhang for solar houses.  The Solarometer makes it possible to determine the angle of the sun in any city in the world at any time of day.

Solar Form: Self-Shading

Solar architecture takes many forms.  A common form for solar houses, especially prevalent in the 1970s and 80s, included a south-facing sloped glass wall, to collect solar heat.  I trace the history of this type in The Solar House.  In the book I also discuss some ideas about solar aesthetics from that period.

Here's more evidence (not in the book) that solar architecture matured in the 1970s.  Where the opposite environmental need predominated---cooling rather than heating---the inverse formal strategy took hold.  I've collected some examples, where the architectural form is clearly meant to provide self-shading so heat gain would be minimized. 

Note that the self-shading form may be oriented to the south or to the west, depending on the site conditions and the needs of the building.

Tempe City Hall
Michael & Kemper Goodwin (Tempe, 1971)
update: named The Ugliest Building in Arizona by Business Insider

Blue Cross and Blue Shield headquarters
Odell Associates (Chapel Hill, 1973)

National Housing Center
Vincent Kling (Washington, DC, 1974)

In a 1963 talk called "Solar Effects on Architecture," Vincent Kling said:
"it is obvious that the esthetics of any building design come as much from a mature, realistic approach to the sun effect as from almost any other single force affecting design concepts. As the architect solves the problem of sun effect, he is putting his stamp and flavor on the architecture."

Hartford Building
Ellerbe & Company (Woodbury, MN, 1977)

Dallas City Hall
I.M. Pei (Dallas, 1978)

These are but a few.  Do you know of other examples?  Please include them in the comments!