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The Exercise of Detail and Technique in Scarpa’s Works

Detail is an exercise connected with the representation of the act of construction.

To Gregotti[1], this exercise gives a form to the final architecture object, reveal the properties of the materials, the laws of construction and make the project decisions intelligible. However, he also says that our contemporary architecture has abandoned the exercise of detail to quote commercial and industrialized items, like windows, doors and structural elements. For Gregotti, every detail is a small communicative part of a building. A way to put meaning in an architectural project. To him, without the work on details, the connection between the whole and the small parts will be broken and, therefore, the message of the architecture can be compromised.

Leon Battista Alberti, an Italian architect of the Renaissance, says, in his ten books on the De Re Aedificatoria[2], that a good exercise in detail takes into account three concepts: Numerus, Finitio e Collocatio. Numerus is the use of repetition of certain elements so that those elements acquire a certain meaning or purpose, like the use of three doors make the middle door a focus point. Finitio is the use of proportion do define the relation between the detail and the whole or between two details, like a relation in size between that same middle door and the others side doors. The middle door can be made bigger to convey the message that it’s the central entrance. To finish, Collocatio is a functional way of setting details in order to show the history of the detail, how it was made, what it is made of or to make rational divisions on the building.

Santa Maria Novella Florence faade
Facade of Santa Maria Novella [3]
We can see this exercise in detail on the Alberti’s facade of Santa Maria Novella church. We can see the application of Numerus by repetition of openings and decorative elements. We can also see the use of Finitio in the relation between the bigger middle door and the two side doors, emphasizing the central position of the middle door. At last, there is the use of Collocatio in the rational use of the detail to divide the building in two, with a large line between these two parts, and in the way we can feel the natural pattern of the material just by looking at it. Despite the example of the façade of Alberti’s work, we are left with the question of how we can use the exercise of detail in a contemporary work, without appealing to the use of historical anachronism.

Carlos Scarpa and Veritti’s Tomb

Carlos Scarpa was also an Italian architect as Alberti was. However, Scarpa was a modern architect that didn’t use historical elements without a connection to his time. He was born in Venice, 1906, and was heavily influenced by the Italian materials, by other modernist architects, especially Frank Lloyd Wright, and by Japanese culture. Besides being an architect, he also was a good craftsman, knowing how to work with glass and wood, designing glass vessels and other furniture. According to Barba and Quintana[4], Scarpa career always aimed for the perfection in architectural detail.

One of Scarpa’s works that shows his attention to detail is the Veritti’s Tomb or Tomba Veritti (1951), located in the cemetery of S. Vito, Udine, Italy. This project is a tomb made of botticino marble, an Italian marble, with a table and a seat made of stone made as the Veritti’s family tomb. The tomb occupies an area of 22 m² or 236 ft². We enter the tomb passing through a short metal gate in a circular opening. The gate open in a circular motion, as seen in the images 2 and 3, forming a gateway/portal between the outside world of the living and the inside world of the dead[5]. The connection between the place of work and the place of thinking. On the side of this gate there is a semicircular vessel with cropped flowers inside of it.

Facade of Veritti’s Tomb [6]

Facade of Veritti’s Tomb [7]
On the inside we the the Verritti’s pit in front of the seat and table. Behind the pit there is a stone wall made of various sizes of rectangular stone covering. Above it, there is a circular metal roof. This roof is divided in three parts by two segments of line. In one of these lines we can read the word Pax, the Latin for peace, and on one of the roof quadrants we can see an opening in the form of a cross.

Inside of Veritti’s Tomb [8]
Inside of Veritti’s Tomb [9]
The details that we see in the inside and outside of the tomb makes the connection between the concepts that guided the whole of the project and the small parts of the building. Everything in this building was thought to be there, having a connection with a central idea. Part of the meaning of this building only make sense because of the details made especially for this project.

[1] GREGOTTI, Vittorio. 1996. The Exercise of Detail (1983). In: NESBITT, Kate. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965 – 1995. New York, USA: Princeton Architectural Press.

[2] ALBERTI, Leon Battista. 1986. The Tem Books of Architecture: The 1755 Leoni Edition. USA: Dover Publications.

[3] FLORENCE FOR FREE. “The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (https://florenceforfree.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/basilica-of-santa-maria-novella/).

[4] BARBA, José Juan; QUINTANA, Paloma de La. “The Architecture of Details: Palazzo Querini Stampalia by Carlos Scarpa”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (https://www.metalocus.es/en/news/architecture-details-palazzo-querini-stampalia-carlo-scarpa).

[5] REGIONE AUTONOMA FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA COMUNE DI UDINE. “Catalogazione Delle Eclettico-Storicista ai Giorni Nostri e del Patrimonio Edilizio rurale Spontaneo e Proposte di Norme da Introdurre nel PRGC: Opere Cimiteriali Monumentali”. Retrieved July 12, 2018 (https://turistipersbaglio.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Cimitero-Monumentale-San-Vito-Udine.pdf).

[6] TRIPADVISOR. “Tomba Veritti”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g187814-d12188841-i313794311-Tomba_Veritti-Udine_Province_of_Udine_Friuli_Venezia_Giulia.html).

[7] FLICK. “Tomba Veritti”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7137/7813918750_16922387f3_o.jpg).

[8] CISA A. PALLADIO. “Udine, Tomba Veritti”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (http://mediateca.palladiomuseum.org/scarpa/web/foto_scheda.php?valo=i_6_408#).

[9] CISA A. PALLADIO. “Udine, Tomba Veritti, Copertura”. Retrieved July 11, 2018 (http://mediateca.palladiomuseum.org/scarpa/web/foto_scheda.php?valo=i_6_409).

Golden and Silver Ratio in Architecture

Among history, artist, designers and architects used some mathematical ratios and equations to help them with their work. Between those ratios one got famous in western tradition and other got famous in the East.

The one that got famous in the West is called golden ratio. This mathematical ratio is believed to be some kind of divine proportion (as called by Paciolli and Da Vinci in their “De Divina Proportione”[1]) that regulate the form of natural things and the human body. We can see the use of the golden ratio in the Euclid’s Elements[2], in the Renaissance art and architecture and even in modern architecture. The other that got renowned in East is called silver ratio or Japanese ratio (“Yamato-hi” for Japanese). They used the silver ratio in Buddha statues, in architecture and in anime characters, like Doraemon.

 Doraemon

Doraemon[3]

 

Each of those ratios are defined by a geometrical relation. The golden ratio is defined by dividing a section of line in two parts, part a and part b, in a way that the total length of the line (a+b) divided by the greater segment (a) is equal to the division between the two new segments (a and b) as we can see in the equation in the side and the image below, resuming: . The value of this ratio is always an irrational number that we round to 1.618. The silver ratio is quite similar, however, instead of being the total length of line (a+b) divided by the greater segment (a) that is equal to the division of the between the two segments (a and b), it’s the double of the greater segment added by the smaller segment (2a+b) divided by the greater segment (a) that is equal to the division of the between the two segments (a and b), resuming: . The value of this ratio is or, rounded, 1.414.

 

gold and silver ratios

Golden and silver ratio line[4]

 

Le Corbusier and the Golden Ratio

The famous architect Le Corbusier was one of the architects that believed and used the golden ratio in his works and advocates for its application in everyday life. To endorse the use of this ratio in any type of architectural work, interior design or product design, and inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, he created what he calls “Modulor”.

modulor

Image 3 – Modulor[5]

a le Corbusier sketch

A Le Corbusier’s sketch with relation between heights and the Modulor with distances in cm[6]

 

The Modulor used the golden ratio to calculate relations between parts of the human body. For this, he used, for a base, a six-foot tall man (182 cm) with one of the arms raised. However, preserving the adequate proportions, anyone could transpose it to make it work with people that are taller or smaller than the one Le Corbusier used in the Modulor. Based on this, an architect or a designer could know the best height and angle to put or to better design some furniture, doors, windows and even door handles.

One example of Le Corbusier’s architecture project designed with the help of the golden ratio is the United Nations Secretariat Building. In this building design, Le Corbusier worked with Oscar Niemeyer. Niemeyer is a famous Brazilian architect that were heavily influenced by Le Corbusier since he came to Brazil in 1935 to help Lúcio Costa (another Brazilian architect and also professor at Rio de Janeiro Federal University) and his students to design a Modernist building to the local government and teach Modernist urbanism to them. Being Niemeyer one of Costas’ student, he also learned a lot from Le Corbusier. After this, Niemeyer developed his own language, but still was influenced by what he learned from Le Corbusier.

On the building they designed together, we can see golden rectangles in the façade. We also can see the golden proportion being used in the window configuration of the building and, according to the website The Golden Number[7], we can also see the use of the golden ratio in the front entrance of the building and in the interior floor plans.

UN Secretariat Building and Golden Rectangles[8]

 

UM Secretariat Window Configuration[9]

 

The silver ratio in japanese architecture

In Japan they don’t believe much in the use of the Golden Ratio on design. To them, the use of the Silver Ratio create a design that is more beautiful and serene than the Divine Proportion. Since the Silver Ratio derives a smaller proportion (1.414), the objects that are done based on it are closer to a square than the ones done based on the western proportion.

One famous example of the use of the silver ratio is the Horyu-ji Temple in Ikagura, Nara Prefecture, Japan. This temple is a Buddhist temple with one of the oldest wooden building of the world. As we can see in the image below, the relation between the ground floor of the left building and its second floor is 1.414, and the relation between the first roof of the right floor and its last roof is also 1.414, the valor of the silver ratio.

 

Horyu-ji

Horyu-ji Temple with Pagoda[10]

 

As happened with our ratio, they were more used in the past, but we can also see contemporary works that used it, like the Tokyo Skytree. The Tokyo Skytree is one of the world’s tallest tower, having two observatories and a digital broadcasting antenna at the top. According to the image bellow, we can see a silver ratio relation between the distance of the floor to the second observatory and the distance between the floor and the top of the tower.

 

tokyo sky tree

Tokyo Skytree[11]

 

Today, neither of the two proportions is seen as a divine relation or a design rule, but we can still see projects that used them as a way to create a guidance or a feeling of harmony and serenity.

 

[1] PACIOLLI, Luca; DA VINCI, Leonardo. 2014. De Divina Proportione (On the Divine Proportion): Facsimile in Full Color of the Original Version of 1509. USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

[2] EUCLID. 2017. Euclid’s Elements. Kindle edition. USA: LRP.

[3] EPIC RAP BATTLES OF CARTOONS WIKI. “Doraemon”. Retrieved June 07, 2018 (http://epic-rap-battles-of-cartoons.wikia.com/wiki/Doraemon).

[4] WIKIPEDIA. 2007. “Golden Ratio”. Retrieved June 06, 2018 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio).

[5] THE GOLDEN RATIO. “Le Corbusier”. Retrieved June 06, 2018 (https://divinumproportione.weebly.com/le-corbusier-and-modulor.html).

[6] ICON. “Modulor Man by Le Corbusier”. Retrieved June 06, 2018 (https://www.iconeye.com/opinion/icon-of-the-month/item/3815-modulor-man-by-le-corbusier).

[7] THE GOLDEN NUMBER. “The UN Secretariat Building, Le Corbusier and the Golden Ratio”. Retrieved June 07, 2018 (https://www.goldennumber.net/un-secretariat-building-golden-ratio-architecture/).

[8] THE GOLDEN NUMBER. “Phi and the Golden Section in Architecture”. Retrieved June 06, 2018 (https://www.goldennumber.net/architecture/).

[9] THE GOLDEN NUMBER. “Phi and the Golden Section in Architecture”. Retrieved June 06, 2018 (https://www.goldennumber.net/architecture/).

[10] FANCLIP. “キティーちゃんの顔バランス。そうだったのか!!「白銀比」「黄金比」の話”. Retrieved June 08, 2018 (https://www.fanclip.jp/blog/archives/614)

[11] FANCLIP. “キティーちゃんの顔バランス。そうだったのか!!「白銀比」「黄金比」の話”. Retrieved June 08, 2018 (https://www.fanclip.jp/blog/archives/614)

Frank Lloyd Wright, the Willits House and the Traditional Japanese Architecture

The Willits House is a project made by Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the important architects of the 20th century. According to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, “In 1991, the AIA [The American Institute of Architects] named Wright the greatest American architect of all time”[1]. Besides not being his most famous work, the Willits House express Wright’s interest in the traditional Japanese architecture and in the simple way of living.

Wright’s interest in Japanese art started on the late 1880s, when he started to work as an art dealer as a side job, selling Japanese woodprint blocks to his clients. In 1905, when he decided to make his first trip outside of America, he decided to visit Japan, spending two months touring natural and historical landmarks. In January of 1917, Wright took a residence in Tokyo to work on projects in Japan. Apart from being designed in 1901, before his first trip to Japan, the Willits House received a lot of influences from the traditional Japanese house style.

Traditional Japanese Style

The Japanese traditional style was an architectural design that took place before the modernization made in the Meiji era (1868-1912), an era that Japan decided that it should modernize its architecture and engineering to become an industrialized country. This style is characterized by its feeling of simplicity and serenity, the attention to details, the use of wood structure and the use of wood and paper panels as walls and doors.

 

Minka in Kyoto [2]
The traditional Japanese houses are called minka, kominka or ko-minka. These houses are now slowly disappearing[3], partially because they are made of a very flammable material and partially because they aren’t appropriate for the current Japanese lifestyle. Nevertheless, they were very common in the Japan that Wright knew and visited.

Japanese roof frame [4]
To make these houses, the Japanese builders used a carpentry technique that made possible to build a house without the use of nails, with just perfect fits between wood pieces and mooring pieces together. This way of build makes it necessary to have attention to every detail of every piece used in the construction of the house so they attach together strongly.

A minka also utilizes sliding screens that worked as doors and walls. These sliding screens are called fusumashouji or fusuma, for short[5], and they can be used, when open, to turn a space wider or, when closed, to turn a room more private. These fusuma are made of wood and paper. They can be made from a very thin paper, letting light enter the house or the room, or from a very thick paper. Those paper can receiver a pure color or even some artistic painting

Willits house and its relation to Japanese traditional style

The Willits House is a house that Frank Lloyd Wright designed in 1901 for Ward W. Willits. This house received a lot of influence from the Japanese minka that we saw here before. The first characteristic that we see, analyzing the side view of the Willits House, is the white color on the wall and the wood framing the windows, mimicking the serenity found Japanese architecture and the fusuma that works as the door and wall of the minka house. We also can see a large eaves on the top of the building that are common on Japanese traditional architecture.

Floor plan

Dining room [6]
Going inside the house, we see a lot of wood frames working as structural element, as also a way to mimic fusumas, or as way of incorporate glass to make some rooms feels more permeable. Wright also used panels made of wood and glass as doors, using the glass as the Japanese use paper to fill their fusuma. We can also see that the rooms are spacious and very clean, helping to creating the feeling of serenity that are common on traditional Japanese architecture.

Wright was very interested in the Japanese culture and architecture. In this project, he could experiment some ways to incorporate his passion on the american house and in his architecture design. As we saw, this project is inspired in the Japanese minka, but also has adaptations made to work in the american style and way of living, like the use of glass and western wall material, instead of paper. These experiments were futher used on more of Wrights projects, defining part of the Praire House Style and the overall Wright style.

[1] Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. 2007. “About Frank Lloyd Wright”. Retrieved April 04, 2018 (https://www.savewright.org/who-we-are/about-frank-lloyd-wright).

[2] Kyoto-Araki Komuten Sukiya-Japan. “Introducing Ko-Minka”. Retrieved April 05, 2018 (http://sukiya-japan.com/minka/index.html).

[3] Tsunagu Japan. “Simple yet beautiful: Japan's traditional homes, kominka”. Retrieved April 04, 2018 (https://www.tsunagujapan.com/simple-yet-beautiful-japans-traditional-homes-kominka).

[4] Евгений Арсенюк Pinterest Account. “Japanese roof frame”. Retrieved April 05, 2018 (https://i.pinimg.com/originals/4a/f6/1e/4af61e02575a4c49430837c947396764.jpg).

[5] Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. “Fusuma”. Retrieved April 05, 2018 (http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus).

[6] Wiki Architecture. “Ward W. Willits House”. Retrieved April 04, 2018 (https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/ward-w-willits-house).

 

Article by HL Architects and Interior Design in Durham