21 June 2007

You're invited to see my photographs . . .

Thank you to everyone who attended the opening of my exhibit of architectural photography at the Ethical Society. You are invited to visit it while it remains on display through August.

If you're able to see it, please let me know what you think. I'm most interested to hear people's reactions.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- skylight

View looking directly upward toward the ceiling in the main space of the Ethical Society. The dark circle in the center in the suspended light. The radiating lines are the structural glulam roof supports that join at the peak of the roof where a skylight admits daylight.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, November 2005.

Let the sun shine!

You are invited a talk on Harris Armstrong and an exhibit of architectural photography I'm having at the Ethical Society.

Summer Solstice talk

As Platform Speaker at the Ethical Society, Andrew Raimist will be speaking on "The Architecture of the Sun" on Sunday 24 June 2007 at 11am. The audio-visual presentation will address climate, sustainability, and solar issues in the architectural designs of Saint Louis' pioneer modern architect Harris Armstrong. In addition, music, refreshments, food, and other outdoor activities will follow the talk. The public is welcome to attend and enjoy an exhibit of architectural photographs by the speaker.

Architectural Photography exhibit

An on-going exhibition will have its opening following the talk. Featuring architectural photography in color and black & white by Andrew Raimist, the exhibit will present interpretations of the work of Harris Armstrong, other modernist architects, and selected examples of architectural excellence from the Midwest. A limited selection of framed, matted images will be available for purchase. The exhibit will be on display through 15 August.

I hope to see you there! Please feel free to forward this invitation to interested friends or post to your newsletter or blog.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, 2007.

Ethical Society -- south facade, 2005

A view of the main entries on the south face of the Ethical Society. In the center, between the two projecting glazed vestibules are a pair of concrete columns that also contain a fireplace. The chimney protrudes from the roof on axis with the roof peak.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- design model, 1961

A working model for Armstrong's Ethical Society. The design as built generally corresponds to the model, but with some slight differences.

The canopy at left, beyond the two glazed vestibules, was never constructed. The rounding of the educational wing at the top and bottom of the end walls is not present as built. The configuration of the reflecting pool isn't quite the same as built. The trellis elements aren't show around the main copper roof (they may have been omitted intentionally). Additionally, the overhangs around the main entry hall appear to be solid planes rather than a trellis. In the built version, the trellis wraps around the front (south) side and the rear (north) side, but stops where it intersects with the roof of each wing.

There seems to be an additional pair of columns at the main entry hall projecting the volume farther toward the south; this additional pair was eliminated in the constructed version. The separation between the main copper roof with its cantilevered brackets clearly wraps around the east, west, and south side continuously. In the way the roof was constructed, the juncture between the roof of the wings at each side isn't nearly as clear and distinct as indicated in the model.

The low fenced in area at the east end of the education wing was set aside as a children's play area. The design of the fence depicted here was not constructed. Rather, the wall system used continues the material and geometry of the rectangular education wing itself.

Model by Armstrong's office, circa 1961 (location unknown).

Photograph of model courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- brochure with model

This image is taken from the fund-raising brochure publishing at the time. The building model is shown photographed in it's location on the site and the main level floor and lower level floor plans are illustrated.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- early floor plan, 1961

An early version of the Upper Level Plan for the Ethical Society. This drawing was published in a fundraising brochure distributed by the Ethical Society.

The plan is fairly accurate with respect to the final configuration. The portions of the plan that were alterred in the final version include the shape of the stage, the elimination of stairs at each side of the Reception Area, the elimination of the canopy at the main entry, and the modification in the size and configuration of the spray pond.

This plan corresponds to the design illustrated in the design model.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- main entry vestibules

View looking directly south toward the two entry vestibules that frame the fireplace between them. The fireplace itself is constructed in the space between two concrete columns. The fireplace is located on the central axis of the main facade of the building aligning with the tall steeple form of the roof above.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, October 2005.

Ethical Society -- pre-preliminary south elevation, c. 1961

A very early sketch of Armstrong's for the South Facade (main entry facing Clayton Road) of the Ethical Society. This drawing is circa 1961

The three sets of doors at the main entry feature mirrored pairs of his signature "H. A." door design. A large section of the area surrounding the entry appears to be glass. Planting is indicated symmetrically at each wide of the raised entry.

The reflecting pools of the final design are absent. The concept for a central peaked roof is indicate with a cone resting above an elliptical drum. The form recalls Etruscan tumuli from the pre-Roman era. That the height of the roof was a critical factor in the design is suggested by the revisions to the building height. The apparent symmetry of the exterior seems absolute.

The reason that this design was set aside in favor of a square shaped plan with a taller spire is not clear. There may have been concerns regarding cost, symbolism, and practicality.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- pre-preliminary east elevation, c. 1961

A very early sketch of Armstrong's for the East Facade of the Ethical Society. This drawing is circa 1961.

Drawing courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

A Summer Solstice Celebration!

Uploaded by Andrew Raimist.

Music, lunch, activities, talk, exhibit, . . .

You (yes, you) are invited to attend my talk on Sunday 24 June at 11am at the Ethical Society. Following my talk, there will be fun, activities, music, lunch, and the exhibition opening of my architectural photographs.

Ethical Society -- south exterior, 2005

View of the Southeast exterior of looking from the main entry toward the East. The difference in the character of the main pavilion (skeletal structure, fully glazed walls, and overhanging trellises supported on cantilevered brackets) versus the wings to the East and the West (non-structural surfaces, horizontal strip glazing, and no three-dimensional articulation of the facade) couldn't be more pronounced.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- south reflection, 2005

Reflection of the South facade of the East educational wing. The wings to the East and the West have flat roofs. The reflecting pool tends to give it a floating feeling. The effect of the pools is quite different when the fountain jets are turned on.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- north elevation, 2005

The north elevation of the Ethical Society has an entirely different character and function compared to the south elevation. The great majority of the parking is located on the north side of the building, so this is the view most visitors see when walking into the building.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, September 2005.

Ethical Society -- view of north facade, 2005

The ground level view of the north elevation gives quite a different impression than the primary front (south) elevation does. Similarly, an overall view of the north elevation varies in feeling and impact from a closer, raking view at the ground floor level. The glazing and concrete here differ from the rest of the building, either around the primary central pavilion or anywhere on the north and south wings.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, October 2005.

20 June 2007

Ethical Society -- entry hall, c. 1960s

A view of the entry hall from about 1962. Architecturally, virtually nothing has changed. The film used when this was taken and the subsequent fading of the color print is likely the reason for the variation in color. Its seems much more muted and subdued compared to recent photographs.

I'm assuming the glass panes are still the original ones.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- entry hall east

A more recent photograph of the main entry hall looking toward the east. The effect of the colored glass is powerful and almost overwhelming. Certainly when comparing color photographs to black and white, the colored light tends to almost obscure the physical architecture, making spatial relationships more ambiguous, reducing the perception of structure & materiality, and abstracting the concept of windows and stained glass. Rather than the more typical experience of looking at a stained glass window, the experience is more like being contained within a stained glass space.

Ethical Society -- entry hall

The paired concrete columns take on a massive and heavy form when initially entering the building. The surrounding pools of water tend to lighten and fracture the sense of solidity, giving the building a kind of floating atmosphere. The colored glass walls surrounding the main entry hall reinforce the feeling of lightness and wonder.

The tartan grid of concrete beams, however, is everything that the glass walls and reflecting pools are not: massive, heavy, and permanent. A feeling of tremendous weight above and sense of enclosure are a primary impressions upon entering. These characteristics tend to contrast sharply with the lightness of the exterior and the soaring nature of the auditorium.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

Ethical Society -- entry & fireplace

The close proximity of the massive concrete fireplace positioned between the two entry vestibule creates a sense of fundamental elements being employed in a modern way. The use of fire and water are clearly used for symbolic as well as emotive expression.

The density, solidity, and relatively high quality of finish relate the concrete structural elements to the stone masonry construction developed over millenia. Concrete was often referred to as being the modern adaptation of the heavy massive walls and structure of monumental buildings of the past. Rather than brutalist in its expression (as many concrete structural expressions by other architects of the time), it has a refined quality, giving the impression of almost having been solid stone carved into the forms presented.

The fireplace has an almost surreal character. The two joined heavy pillars which constitute its flue are unique in the building. Yet the concrete box to contain the fire (and wood below) hardly seem capable of carrying the kind of weght involved. With a fire burning, this ellision of an emphemeral flame and a permanent, massive central column creates an intense flickering of matter along a vertical axis. The presence of a fire (and the upward movement of the resulting smoke) combined with the the massiveness of the structure (and the gradually widening columns) provides an intensely ambivalent image. In joining the sense of impermance and chaotic form (from the fire) with the massive, symmetrical, formal supporting structure, Armstrong focuses a great deal of attention on this central column.

By dividing the facade in this way and creating two entries of relatively humble scale and construction, the building suggests that the nature of structure is intended to relate directly to the human (and often imperfect) condition. In blocking the central axis in this manner, feelings of grandeur and transcendence seem to be severely reduced, if not eliminated altogether. This condition (creating a solid rather than a void at the center) deters any tendency for hierarchical, ceremonial displays. Historically, churches, cathedrals, temples, and other religious structures will often keep the central axis open and focus a great deal of attention on it formally, architecturally, and symbolically. Sometimes such an axis presents itself as a kind of sacred path from the imperfect outside world to the protected transcendence of the sanctuary within. These kinds of central axes can also facilitate displays of power, authority, and judgment upon those unable to follow such an honored route.

Armstrong's design seems to intentionally contradict that kind of hierarchical, monotheistic symbolism. Rather, the expression appears to focus attention on an individual's personal experiences and values as opposed to a pre-defined structure given by higher authorities. The design seems to emphasize the physicality of the human form, requiring the passage over a sort of bridge (over a symbolic moat) and entry through a blaze of light and color (in the shimmering glass facade). The visitor is given a choice to enter on one side of the central axis or the other without judgment; no one can choose to occupy the central path.

These concepts seem to relate in an appropriate way to the ideals of the Ethical Society itself. The relationship between the design of the building, its control of circulation, admission of light, and expression of structure (among other features) can be evaluated for the degree to which they seem to support the philosophy of the organization. I want to explore this idea in greater detail for this building and others designed by Armstrong that seem to merit such an interpretation and approach. In particular, I will be examining, comparing, and contrasting his designs for religious structures (built and unbuilt). Where appropriate, this analytic method will also be applied to civic structures and other buildings consciously expressive of shared cultural values, such as his entry to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Competition (which resulted in the construction of Saarinen's Gateway Arch), his American Embassy in Iraq, and other projects that seem to suggest symbolic meanings greater than that of an individual.

The issue of monumentality in modern architecture was a subject of great debate at the time following the conclusion of World War II. I would like to investigate Armstrong's explicit and implicit ideas in this regard.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

19 June 2007

Ethical Society -- Armstrong giving tour

Harris Armstrong giving a tour of the Ethical Society in the mid 1960s. Armstrong is at the far right gazing upward. In his later years particularly, Armstrong served as a mentor and guide to students and the public in general with the goal of improving the understanding and appreciation of architecture.

Photograph courtesy of the Harris Armstrong Archives, Special Collections, Washington University in Saint Louis.

17 June 2007

Ethical Society -- reception area

View looking toward the southeast corner of the reception hall.

The paired concrete columns are kept on the exterior of the colored glass walls, except at the fireplace/chimney located between the two entry vestibules. Heavy paired concrete beams form a tartan grid at the ceiling.

Vertical strips of colored glass make this south-facing space a wonderful visual experience on any sunny day.

Photograph Andrew Raimist, October 2005.

12 June 2007

Harris Armstrong -- introduction

This photograph of Saint Louis modern architect Harris Armstrong, FAIA (1899-1973) in the guise of a Hollywood movie star reveals two things. First, he saw himself in the spotlight playing the part of a hero, overtaking the retrograde aspect of Midwest culture to build anew Saint Louis as a brave new world. Second, he considered himself to be a bit of a dandy, rather charismatic, and quite the lady's man.

I became interested in Armstrong's architectural work as a graduate student in architecture at Washington University in Saint Louis (1986-1990). In the lowest level of Givens Hall, an archive of his works was installed, but appeared to get little attention. The installation included a light table which i took occasion to use when preparing slides for presentations and lectures. I began to wonder about this fellow with the De Stijl inspired logo pressed in porcelain enamel, but didn't do much at the time except imagine and dream what sort of work he might have done.

After graduating and working for several local architects during my internship period, I began searching for appropriate material with which to explore the particular difficulties in preserving, restoring, and renovating modernist works of the twentieth century. After speaking with various architects and several professors, I met with Professor Emeritus Leslie Laskey. His daunting demeanor always impressed me, especially considering that he'd studied art with some of the original Bauhaus faculty (after relocating to the U.S.).

Laskey suggested a few buildings, but zeroed in on one in particular. Harris Armstrong's Magic Chef Building of which I was only vaguely aware. It had been a stunning example of a modernist high-rise structure in Saint Louis and had recently been demeaned by being transformed into a self-storage facility. He talked of Isamu Noguchi's sculptural ceiling which was then still partly visible near the cashier's desk where boxes and packing tape were for sale. I told him of my idea to write an article about the difficulties in achieving an appropriate renovation of such modernist buildings when new uses create needs.

At the time, I somewhat naively felt that architecture created at least in part on functionalist grounds would be able to be modified more easily (at least intellectually) than updating historic nineteenth century heavy masonry construction. The special blend of function, economy, form, and modern construction materials gives such structures a unique character in the realm of historic preservation. Clearly, historic modernist structures like Wright's Taliesin, Mies' Farnsworth House, or Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye merit treatment as museum pieces. But what about the many outstanding buildings designed by other architects of this period. How does one respect the original architect's intentions without either blatantly, facilely mimicking it or, at the other extreme, creating an 'intervention' which challenges the basic concept of authorship?

Professor Laskey's recommendation was, "Forget about the article. What you need to do is save the Magic Chef Building. Its being destroyed right now, so go save it!"

I left him feeling a bit bewildered and confused. How could an unlicensed, architect-in-training, save a significant architectural work? I hardly felt sufficiently experienced to take on such a task. So, after visiting, photographing, and thinking about this structure, I began to consider how I could possibly convince someone to invest the money, time, and energy involved in bringing such a building back to its original state. Gradually, I realized that only by writing about the design and its architect, could I hope to influence others to even begin to envision the potential for rejuvenating the Magic Chef Building.

[ . . more to follow . . ]