Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Site Planning & Design

Well, I did it!  Yesterday I took my first ARE:  "Site Planning & Design."  This was the first of seven tests I will have to take in order to achieving my architectural registration.  Though I feel pretty comfortable with my performance, I will have to wait a few weeks until I receive my official score (pass or fail) in the mail.

The test included 65 multiple-choice questions over 1.5 hours and two graphic/drawing components over 2 hours.  I felt adequately-prepared by reading a study guide, taking several study tests, and by practicing with the drafting software (which is quite a bit different from AutoCAD).

Next on the docket:  I'm going to try to take "Structural Systems" and "Schematic Design" before Christmas!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

New Favorite

"Design is not making beauty. Beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration, love." (Louis Kahn)

Back in July, my friend James asked me at a dinner party, "what's so special about Louis Kahn."  James is not an architect, but he was a high school student at Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he remembers architects coming from all over the see the Academy's Kahn-designed library.

Every now and then, architects like to go on a good architectural pilgrimage, and our conversation got me thinking about taking a little trip up to Exeter, which is only about a three-hour drive from New Haven.  After a little bit of planning, last Sunday after church, four of my friends and I piled into my car and drove to Exeter on a beautiful New England fall afternoon.  (Apparently, five grown men in one Prius is a bit much!)  James was the only non-architect of the group.

The Library at Exeter is the fourth Kahn-designed building I have visited.  The others are the Yale Art Gallery and Yale Center for British Art, both in New Haven, and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth.  (I am ashamed to say that, though I went to high school in eastern Pennsylvania and lived in Philadelphia for a summer, I have not yet visited the Richards Medical Research Laboratory in Philadelphia.)  Though each of these buildings is quite amazing in its own respect, and it is a little hard to compare three art museums to a library, I think that the Exeter Library is probably my favorite.

One of the things that struck me most about the Library was that it feels both monumental and intimate at the same time.  This is especially true on the interior, where the central atrium feels more like a large living room than a small-atrium.  And at the same time the building has a large atrium space, it also has small and intimate study and reading areas, including one are with a fireplace.  I suppose this combination of both monumentality and intimacy should not have surprised me too much as I can recall a similar reaction to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth a couple of years ago.  Kahn's work is monumental, not in a size sense, but in the sense that it feel like it has always been present and will always remain present in the world.  His work is rational, Classical, Modern.

Of the Kahn buildings I have visited, the Exeter Library quite possibly feels the most classical.  Kahn was obsessed with the idea of the architectural ruin, and he tried in many ways to recreate in a Modern way the architecture of the ancient world.  Having just been to Rome this past May, seeing the Library for the first time conjured up images of the ruins at the Forum Romanum and the Paletine.  Most spectacular in this sense is his use of brick on the exterior of the building, where he uses flat arches at each double-height window as the transition point for the piers to narrow:  because of this most delicate detail, when you first look at the building, you hardly notice that that the piers are narrowing and the windows are getting larger toward the top of the building.

One peculiar thing I noticed while visiting the library is that each side of the square building has eight bays and nine piers.  This surprised me as Classical architecture generally has "even columns, odd bays," which gives the building a clear center and point of entry or access.  This is evident in most refined Classical buildings of the ancient world.  Though this confused me at first, given Kahn's architecture's affinity to the Classical, my friend Andrew pointed out that this removes any sense of central entry from the building, allowing the bi-laterally symmetrical building to be seen entirely in the round, and forcing the visitor to walk around the arcade at the base of the building until finding the entry.  We also noted that none of the paths on the campus approached the building on-center with one of the facades, but at the corners.  The building, though the same on each facade, is meant to be viewed as a three-dimensional object in space.

I suppose I could continue to write about the Library for quite some time:  each piece of Kahn's architecture is a world unto itself.  Just suffice it to say that I had a really great time visiting the Exeter Library.  Not only was it nice to have a chance to visit a beautiful work of architecture, but it was a really wonderful opportunity to spend the day with a great group of good friends. I am especially happy that James was able to come with us to visit his alma mater with renewed interest in the building, and I really enjoyed the comments he left with his photos on Facebook:  "I never paid much attention to the library's architecture when I was a student.  Now that I was deliberately focusing on it, I must admit it's a very cool building.  It's a large space, but it feels very intimate, and there's a pleasing unity to the design.  The grand starkness of the structure of the structure makes the library look like an alien ruin in Halo."

Since I have never played Halo, I cannot speak to the quality of the architecture as an alien ruin!  But I must say that James perhaps said it better than any of the architects in his reaction to seeing the building.  Kahn's architecture is all about unity, and it is perhaps the grand starkness of his work that makes it most sublime.