Saturday, July 30, 2011

National Farmers’ Bank of Owatonna, Minnesota

photographs by versluis ©2011
Note: the mural of milk cows in a pasture is by Chicago based artist Oskar Gross (1871-1963).

The 1908 National Farmers’ Bank (now Wells Fargo) of Owatonna, Minnesota
Louis H. Sullivan (1856-1924), principal architect

According to Jennifer Komar Olivarez, “Sullivan thought that a building should evolve organically, ‘germinating’ like a seed into a whole plant.” And, “He also felt that every structure needed a consistent, unifying ‘system of ornament.’”[1] Ornament was essential to Sullivan’s architectural design strategy, which was quintessentially inspired by the flora and fauna indigenous to the United States Midwestern prairie landscape. This importance is also characterized by the colors and textures of tapestry brick a preferred material that was used in Sullivan’s Midwestern “Jewel Box” bank buildings of the early twentieth century.

The following text is from the historical marker near the site:

Banker Carl Bennett wanted more than a prominent new building to house his family’s business. He wanted a work of art. Bennett’s search for an architect led him in 1906 to Louis Sullivan, one of the country’s most inventive designers. Together they created a magnificent home for the National Farmer’s Bank in the heart of downtown Owatonna. This brilliant collaboration of the patron and architect produced what many consider the finest small-town bank in America.

After helping to make Chicago the country’s architectural capital in the 1890s, Sullivan came through with a bank design for Owatonna unlike any other. Believing that function and form of a building should complement one another, he conceived a structure resembling a treasure chest, a fitting image for a bank that housed people’s savings.

Sullivan chose for his bank a theme he used often—an arch within a square—then attached to it a rectangular office building. He combined those simple, monumental shapes with complex ornamental details that bring the building to life. Set in sandstone-and-brick walls are two huge stained-glass windows, each framed by a wide band of terracotta—a hard, molded clay-accented by a narrow band of glass mosaic.

The architect did not create this masterpiece alone. His sketches were completed by his draftsman, George Elmslie, who designed much of the ornamentation and went on to become a noted Minnesota architect. Joining them were a team of skilled craftsmen who created the ornate interior—a “color symphony” of painted plaster, stained glass, and huge cast-iron chandeliers. The finished bank was dedicated in 1908.

Remodelings have altered some of the interior features. But much of the original splendor of Louis Sullivan’s bank remains. In 1976 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.[2]
  1. Olivarez, Jennifer Komar. Progressive Design in the Midwest: The Purcell-Cutts House and the Prairie School Collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2000. 20. Print.
  2. Historical marker: Minnesota Historical Society.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Purcell-Cutts House in Minneapolis: a unified vision

photograph by versluis 2011

The Edna S. Purcell House (now the Purcell-Cutts House), 1913 (east elevation)
(Architects: William Gray Purcell and George Grant Elmslie)
Near Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis

For William Gray Purcell responsible architecture required that we must look and see and be sensitive to our environment — fitting for it’s time and place.

Think of… our prairies, fragrant [and] beautiful…vast riverways, our great lakes, and the procession of the seasons moving across the face of them…. Think of us as a people born into such [an]… environment, and dream of an architecture arising from the dynamics of a [people]…so nurtured, so blessed…. Do we believe in our spiritual resources? Then let us rely upon ourselves, let us not forsake ourselves. Do we believe in the divine creative impulse dwelling within us and working through us? Then let us…believe that beneficence may be worked through us, that genuine power is common to us all…. Do we believe in the reality of life? Then let us not deny our presence in…an ordered universe. Do we believe in the romance of life? Then let us utter a song! —William Gray Purcell [1]
Concerning details of the geometry of the house Jennifer Komar Olivarez writes:
The Purcells’ new house had a steel-reinforced structure and reddish buff-colored stucco exterior. In keeping with its site, the two-story house appeared strongly horizontal, owing to the overhanging eves, including a seven-foot projection at the front (east) of the house. The eves also regulated light and heat entering the house as a shield on hot days. A wall of windows under the eves connected the interior of the house to the garden and reflecting pool. Bands of windows on the second floor, some spanning more than one room, contributed to the horizontal line [along with the piers of spruce and cypress wood trim]. And a continuous band of red and blue stencil designed by Elmslie provided an imaginative, low-cost alternative to an expressive terra-cotta frieze. [2]
Here’s a link to an excellent website, produced by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, with 360° Quicktime® views of the interior.
  1. Kennedy, Roger G. Introduction. Progressive Design in the Midwest: The Purcell-Cutts House and the Prairie School Collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Jennifer Komar Olivarez. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2000. 14. Print.
  2. Olivarez, Jennifer Komar. Progressive Design in the Midwest: The Purcell-Cutts House and the Prairie School Collection at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2000. 38. Print.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

stone as a memorial and primordial “living” thing: “Cairns”

photographs by versluis, 2010

Top: the Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa and the original building designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1948. The exterior is claded with white-gray “golden” Lannon stone (a dense limestone). The ends of the entry arch seem to be pulled gently, by gravity, back to the base grade.

Below: The Three Cairns, 2002 (partial views) at the Des Moines Art Center is by British artist Andy Goldsworthy (born 1956, Cheshire, England). The middle photo is a detail of the counter part. Goldsworthy’s sculptural “Cairns” are site-specific installation pieces, which are built with indigenous materials. In this case, Goldsworthy uses Iowa (dolomite) limestone that was chosen to correlate with Saarinen’s original building.

This passage by Goldsworthy seems to provide insight into The Three Cairns, “Stone has shown me things about the structure of growth. I have found an energy in stone that can best be described as a seed that becomes taut as it opens.” [1]

Stones are primordial things that can be exposed on the surface of the land or lay hidden down under in the soil. A stone can be revealed, gradually, by being pushed out from beneath the earth by wind, rain, and erosion — or natural forces within the earth itself.

  1. Goldsworthy, Andy. Wood. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1996. 23. Print.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

2011 CIVA Biennial Conference: The Future of Matter/The Future of Paradise

Photograph by versluis, 2011

A panel discussion about the acclaimed Biola University’s Visionary-in-Residence Program, Los Angeles. The 2011 CIVA Biennial Conference, Saturday afternoon, 18 June.

Pictured left to right: John Chan, the 2011 Biola Visionary-in-Residence; along with the following Biola University faculty: Barry Krammes, Professor of Art and Biola University Gallery Director; Astri Swendsrud, Adjunct Professor of Art; Daniel Callis, Professor of Drawing & Painting and serves as co-director of the Urban Studies Program at Biola; Brent Ridley, Associate Professor of Physical Science.

The 2011 CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts) Biennial Conference was held at Biola University in Los Angeles, from June 16-19. The theme of the conference was Matter and Spirit: Art and Belief in the Digital Age. The conference was structured by three major themes:

Why Matter Matters: Technology and the Created Order
The Problem of Matter: Technology and the History of Art-Making
The Future of Matter: Technology, Art-Making, and Hope

On the final afternoon of the conference a panel discussion was held highlighting the 2011 Biola University Visionary-in-Residence Program. For 2011, John K. Chan was selected by the Biola University Art Department as it’s Visionary-in-Residence. And John was present to help elaborate on the theme: “The Future of Paradise: Projective Ecologies of Second Nature” a topic that coincided with the final Conference theme and presentation of “The Future of Matter.”

When John asks students about what they think of when they hear the word “Paradise” — their predominate response is a stereotypical Eastern tropical paradise. However, the promotional materials for Biola’s 2011 Visionary-in-Residence Program says this:

From the resplendent ecology of Eden to the celestial archetype of New Jerusalem, the Biblical narrative begins in the garden and ends in the city. The Future of Paradise is an interdisciplinary exploration of this cosmological narrative, through the vantages of art, architecture, sociology, theology and ecology, aspiring to critically examine our cultural conditionings and their contribution to the escalating ecological crisis all around us, while also reclaiming the disintegrating connection between our bodies and the biosphere.
In addition, the CIVA materials states:
John Chan is an Environmental Designer, Assoc. AIA, and is a LEED Accredited Professional with a portfolio of notable architectural projects ranging from large-scale master planning and institutional buildings to idiosyncratic, small-scale residential structures. Chan currently investigates the meaningful integration of ecological intelligence within the collaborative dialogue of design. In 2008, John established Formation Association, an Environmental Design Collaborative.
The Formation Association is involved in a variety of very interesting projects.

Addendum: Coincidently and interestingly, John Thackara in “Design Observer” gives a brief report about the current exhibition in Paris called The Fertile City: Towards An Urban Nature.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Eames House (1949): “Arts & Architecture” Case Study #8

Photograph by versluis, 2011

The Eames House seems, ironically, to contrast with nature and yet at the same time is integral to nature. This horizontal architectural structure of steel, glass, and sheet metal is close in proximity to the Pacific Ocean and becomes a backdrop for the strong verticality of magnificent eucalyptus trees.

Charles and Ray Eames, a husband-and-wife design team, were the principal designers for their house in Pacific Palisades, just northwest and adjacent to Santa Monica, California. The house, built in 1949 was one of the “Case Study Houses” commissioned in 1945 by John Entenza, editor of Arts and Architecture magazine. The main objective of the so-called Case Study Houses was to utilize wartime technology and materials to build modern homes that could fulfill the housing shortage after World War II. [1]

In A Global History of Architecture the authors write this short description about the Eames House:

For the Entenza project, the Eames initially had in mind a pristine Mies-like cube standing on two slender steel columns, cantilevered out from the slope of a hillside lot. However, in 1947, the Eames [especially Ray] decided to build the house more to conform to their personal lifestyle. Still using the same amount of steel, they designed it to enclose more space. The new house, anchored by a retaining wall, nestles against the hillside, parallel to its contours, making it a statement as much about the site, the location, and the inhabitants, as about the deployment of prefabricated industrial materials. Their house featured extremely thin steel framing, with exposed corrugated metal roofing; the building consisted of 18 bays, 2.3 meters wide, 6 meters long, and 5 meters high, which determined the rhythm of the structure. Glazed panels—transparent. opaque, or translucent, as the situation demanded, and occasionally interrupted by painted panels in bright, primary colors [however, gold instead of yellow]—appeared to be an homage to Mondrian. The windows were operable at midlevel, and sliding doors connected to and integrated the courtyard. Grass, plants, and trees surround the building on all sides. [2]
  1. Neuhart, John, Marilyn Neuhart, and Ray Eames. Eames Design, The Work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1989. 106-21. Print.
  2. Ching, Francis D. K., Mark Jarzombek, and Vikramaditya Prakash. A Global History of Architecture. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007. 719. Print.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright: Aline Barnsdall’s “Hollyhock House,” 1917, Los Angeles (Hollywood) [1]

View from the Barnsdall House and the famous Hollywood sign

Entry (center) and cast concrete block colonnades (details).

North elevation (partial)

West elevation

South elevation (partial)

East elevation (partial) the background indicates major restoration in progress

North elevation (kitchen)

North elevation (dining room)

photographs by versluis 2011

The hollyhock has a central stem that elevates the blossoms and topped with buds. Perhaps this another reason is why hollyhock was chosen as the emblem for Frank Lloyd Wright’s Barnsdall complex (now the Barnsdall Art Park) on “Olive [orchard] Hill.” Obviously the name is a play on words with the Hollywood location.

Regarding the design Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer writes:
The design for Hollyhock House represents a totally new direction in Wright’s work: … sculptural concrete masses, slightly canted or sloped, with flat roof terraces over the entire house. Here at last is architecture in sympathy with the region, not pretending to be anything other than a building that belongs where it is built. Since Barnsdall’s favorite flower was the hollyhock, Wright built the abstractions of the plant into the decorative elements of her home, which she had already named “Hollyhock House.” Running bands of these “flowers” adorn the concrete parapets, colonnades, and planters, as well as appearing on the backs of the house’s specially designed chairs. … [2]
  1. Larkin, David, and Pfeiffer, Bruce Brooks, eds. Frank Lloyd Wright The Masterworks. By Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. New York: Rizzoli and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, 1993. 126. Print.
  2. Ibid, 132-33.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

To God be the Glory (Soli Deo Gloria)

Photograph by versluis © 2011

It’s not everyday you see the Dordt College motto on the roof of a barn. This is the old barn from the Crull homestead located several miles west of Rockford, Illinois near German Valley. Steve Crull, (Dordt alumnus ’72) says that over forty years ago, as a Dordt student, he was back home working on the farm for the summer when his dad had the idea to reroof the barn and cleverly weave the two-color shingles to form the letters. So Steve and his brothers shingled the barn as one of their summer jobs. Interestingly the letter style naturally seems to anticipate bitmapped typography, which would come along a little later with the dot matrix printer.

As a side note: the name “Crull” is of German descent and if you follow US 20 west from Rockford into Iowa you’ll find settlements of Germans who are of the Reformed (Christian) persuasion. Among others, the Iowa towns include Ackley in Hardin County and Wellsburg in Grundy County; in fact, at one time, many of the members of the Christian Reformed denomination in this part of Iowa were Germans and not Dutch. (reference)

Note: I may have seen this story about Crull's barn in the Dordt “Voice” awhile ago.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles

Photographs by versluis, 2011

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles is a sublime building designed in a postmodern architectural idiom that reflects the significance of harmonious colors, light, rhythms, space, and time, which seems to “appreciate the creative spirit indigenous to the local community.” Additionally, the program of the Cathedral is unified and has many of the traditional features that connect it to the great Roman Catholic Cathedrals of the past. When entering the church one is literally guided in procession to the place where the central liturgical elements commemorate with the Eucharist (The Thanksgiving).

In 1996 the Spanish architect, Professor José Rafael Moneo, was commissioned to design the Cathedral. Construction began on May 1999 and by spring of 2002 it was completed — in all the complex essentially resides within a city block.

The architect uses natural light to reveal the materials of the exterior and interior architectural spaces and the materiality of eating the Eucharistic elements. As the Cathedral’s website explains:
Spanish architect, Professor José Rafael Moneo has designed a dynamic, contemporary Cathedral with virtually no right angles. This geometry contributes to the Cathedral's feeling of mystery and its aura of majesty.

Inspired by the themes of LIGHT and JOURNEY, architect Professor José Rafael Moneo chose natural light to flood the Cathedral. Sunlight streams through glass-sheltered, Spanish alabaster mosaics, combining the opaque white of alabaster with its various hues of earth tones — red, yellow, brown, orange and rust. Light also enters the Cathedral and devotional chapels by way of large, slanted shafts, reminiscent of those used by the early Franciscans when they designed the California Missions.

The Cathedral features the largest single use of alabaster windows in the world — some 33,500 square feet. This powerful natural light emphasizes the purity and beauty of God’s creation.
The very striking and intricate tapestries created by artist John Nava for the Cathedral are meant to convey the Communion of Saints along the south and north walls of the nave. The Cathedral’s website iterates:
Twenty-five fresco-like tapestries depict 135 saints and blesseds from around the world, including holy men and women of North America canonized by the Church. Twelve untitled figures, including children of all ages, represent the many anonymous holy people in our midst. All the figures direct our eyes to the light of the great Cross-window above the Altar where the Eucharist is celebrated.

Nava combined digital imaging and ‘Old Master’ methods in creating the saints for the tapestries. He constructed figures from multiple studies, combined drawn and painted elements, had costumes made when needed and even drafted family members to serve as models on occasion. He wanted the figures to look like people we know now, and did not use a highly stylized form to depict the saints. Nava’s desire is that people identify and see that ‘a saint could look like me.’
The plaza fountain (a detail pictured above) senses the biblical story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. The Hebraic inscription in the stone has all the characteristics of fine Hebraic script typography.

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