Skip to comments.National Gallery East Wing crumbling from Pei's inflexibility
Posted on 12/12/2009 6:54:54 PM PST by Lorianne
The facade of the I.M. Pei-designed National Gallery East Wing is now crumbling.
Catesby Leigh reports in the Wall Street Journal that the building, constructed using an experimental curtain wall system that the architect described as "a technological breakthrough for the construction of masonry walls," has become unstable.
The clean lines and solid geometrical forms of the building's design simply could not be interrupted with unsightly expansion joints. I.M. Pei quite simply was shackled to his own modern design, constrained to have large uninterrupted geometries of stone, a technological solution was an absolute necessity. The earlier Main Building, designed by John Russell Pope, had no such constraints.
What most people, even architects don't realize is that the Pope building, like the East Wing, is similarly constructed using a marble veneer over a structural core. What is different, however, is the extensive use of a well established conventions construction and the use of expansion joints. These expansion joints on the facade of the Main Building are cleverly hidden behind clusters of classical pilasters on corners of the facade. Pope, not being constrained by the ideology of modern architecture, was able to find a solution that was at once attractive and still working marvelously almost 60 years after completion.
The question of modern versus traditional when it comes to building technology has become more than just a question of style, but that of sustainability. The cladding of the entire East Wing will now have to be removed and restored at the cost of $85 MILLION TO THE TAXPAYER.
(Excerpt) Read more at greatergreaterwashington.org ...
I get the impression that modern architects haven’t the slightest clue about structural loads. Really, an architecture curriculum should first cover civil or mechanical engineering. Something basic such as mechanics and strength of materials. The latter is covered in the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (Part I of the PE exam) for all engineering disciplines.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings made it clear that he had no concept of floor loading.
Encased in glass, "entire 4' x 11', 500-lb (1.2 x 3.4 m, 227 kg) windowpanes detached from the building and crashed to the sidewalk hundreds of feet below." For a while, plywood replaced missing windows.
Is there a money back guarantee?
Architects are required to take course in mechanical, structural, civil engineering plus properties of materials.
All that doesn’t trump ego and ideology.
My civil engineering instructors always told us “the architect makes it look pretty...the engineer makes sure it will work.”
Of course, we also joked that architects were those who weren’t manly enough to be civil engineers, nor gay enough to be interior decorators.
It was an architectural design marvel, even though the building collapsed.
I’ve always thought Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the primary reasons for all the fugly buildings we see today.
I had heard that many of Wright's buildings have structural problems.
I think Wright will always be the greatest architect of the 20th century.
Not that he didn't make mistakes; his first actual real world project was for his sister. Whenever it rained the house leaked. Once, while distributing buckets during a rain storm his sister remarked: "This is what happens when you leave a work of art out in the rain."
One last thought:
I.M.Pei belongs to the European minimalist tradition: internal load bearing piers supporting “curtain walls.”
The idea was that by freeing the exterior walls from any structural role, the designer had more freedom enclosing the space. Ironically, their strict, idealized adherence to geometry severely constrained the possibilities this offered.
Anybody interested in this stuff should read Tom Wolfe’s “From Our House to Bauhaus.”
I guess that is a nice way to say they all leaked.
I’ve got an idea: Take it off and leave it off. Paint the substructure if you have to - for the lowest bid.
Your posts to me on this have made me look back at the work, and I think you're right. The European minimalist school is what has produced most of the architecture I find objectionable from both an aesthetic and functional standpoint.
I wouldn't want the upkeep, and I think its a shame that you can't see the waterfall from the house, but Wright's Falling Waters house is still one of the most beautiful buildings around. I'd just rather look at it than live in it.
The two World Wars and the Spanish Revolution did something to Europe, and so much of what comes from there creatively is nihilistic now. I find it disturbing to get too involved with their design sensibilities.
I’d really take another look at Wright from the standpoint of function. I think his interiors are exquisite—the use of horizontal lines that relate the interior to the exterior, the blending of materials to relate structure to natural surroundings and the relatively intimate scale of his domestic structures has become integral to building conventions.
“Form follows function” was—according to them—the first principal of the International (European) minimalist style. This is why the stripped their buildings of all decorative elements.
The problem is that people want more than mere function, they want room for their stuff, things to remind them of where they are and where they came from, afford privacy, make them feel safe, etc. They want symbols around them. They want to feel a part of a community, and at the same time keep a sense of individuality. The International style
I can’t recommend Tom Wolfe’s book on this highly enough. It’s a quick, entertaining survey of 20th century architecture.
In terms of form follows function, I think Amish furniture is an excellent example.
There are no purely decorative parts, but the necessary functional parts are clearly visible.
I believe all still-standing Wright buildings do.
The only exception I know of was the (now gone) Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.
That cabinet is gorgeous. But it does have some decorative elements: note the dovetails between the rail and stile in the upper doors, a dowel or splined, thru-mortise would have worked as well. Also the angle of the upper rail of the doors. These took more time.
Man yearns for more than mere function, this is the basis of minimalist’s failure.
Not sure about I.M. Pei’s failure with the Nat. Gallery. I think he he believed his structural materials would compensate for expansion. His refusal to change the design based on this experience is another matter.