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Reading architecture in the CBD 19 th century architecture solid stately subservient (to European architecture) showy (it took wealth to pay for carved stone ornaments) Note: the heavy cornices the use of stone the use of ornament Note: the arches

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19 th century architecture l.jpg
19th century architecture

  • solid

  • stately

  • subservient (to European architecture)

  • showy (it took wealth to pay for carved stone ornaments)

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the heavy cornices

the use of stone

the use of ornament


the arches

the attempt to create rhythm in the façade

the height limitations (legal and technical causes)

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The self-conscious adoption of architectural motifs from Greece and Rome

In part, this was a nostalgic escape from the rapid changes of industrialization

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19th c. architecture was meant to be viewed from the front

Where is the front of this building?

can you find evidence of renovation?

Hardly any 19th c. buildings would be standing if it were not for renovation efforts

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Art Deco

the “futuristic” style

of a bygone era

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Art Deco

  • a short-lived but distinctive style: 1920s and 1930s

  • name is from the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs Industriels et Modernes (Paris) which celebrated living in the modern world.

  • inspired by Cubism, Russian Constructivism and Italian Futurism

  • celebrated the rise of commerce, technology, and speed

    • repeating and overlapping images

    • streamlined forms

    • organic lines mixed with repetitive geometrical patterns

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Why employ the wedding cake style?

  • concerns with light and air

  • setback laws were enacted in the 1920s when height limit laws were rescinded

  • structural concerns (reduction of weight as you ascend, concentration of mass at the base, like a pyramid)

  • aesthetics (it was one way to make a tall building even more expressive of height)

Surface ornaments bas relief were common flowing and sweeping american gothic lines l.jpg
surface ornaments (bas relief) were common flowing and sweeping “American Gothic” lines

these images and part of the definition above come from ArtLex, an online art dictionary

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Philosophical foundations

  • Louis Sullivan: “form follows function”

    • utilitarianism

  • Adolf Loos “ornament is crime”

    • egalitarian social ethos and simplicity

  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe “less is more”

    • minimalism

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The Lever Building, 1950Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

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Seagram Building


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

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Unité d’Habitation, 1962Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret)

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Aesthetic elements (1950s & 1960s)

  • Purity of form

  • Simplicity

  • Communication of power

    • Massiveness

    • Lack of (apparent) concern about weight

    • Uniformity of façade

  • Gradual evolution (in 1970s) toward more complex geometries and more interesting surfaces

Pennzoil place houston 1976 johnson burgee architects and s i morris associates l.jpg
Pennzoil Place (Houston) 1976Johnson/Burgee Architects and S.I. Morris Associates

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However …

  • Our focus has been on commercial and office buildings

  • Residential architecture in this period was much more varied in form (e.g. Habitat, Montreal)

  • Image Source:

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Postmodern Architecture




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Use of circles and squares

Polished stone facing


Ornamentation returns, but not as moldings or cornices: visual more than textural

Consumption spaces rather than production spaces set the overall tone:

buildings are designed to look like nice places to buy things, eat, drink, enjoy one’s leisure time

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Why is there a retreat from the street?

  • Air pollution

  • Noise pollution

  • Classism

  • Racism

  • Lack of activity at street level

  • Lack of public funding to maintain shared spaces

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When in doubt …

  • Ask someone in the building if they know about its history

  • Look for a plaque on the outside wall or in the lobby

  • Look at the state of the materials

    • stone erodes in urban areas due to acid rain

    • corners of buildings show wear and tear from passing vehicles and people

    • metal corrodes or rusts