I would like to begin first, by recalling a conversation I had with one of my classmates. Daniel Salgado and I were discussing the McIver and the Julius Foust buildings, and their appropriateness within the bounds of the lessons we learned in the explorations unit. As a matter of personal taste, Daniel favored the McIver building, while I favored the Julius Foust building. Which is more appropriate in today’s world? A view that reflects upon the past (mine), or a view that looks forward to the future (Daniel)? The answer is both. When designing a space, place, building, or object, you must do it in a way that suites its modern purpose while giving it deep meaning, and value by reflecting the stories of the past.
It was from our two different points of view that we began having a discussion on how it is not always appropriate to view these historic buildings through modern eyes, because more often than not it’s original purpose was different from the one we assign to it today. Daniel didn’t enjoy the Foust building for this exact reason. He felt that its current purpose didn’t match up to the exterior form the past had assigned to it. I then reminded him of its original purpose as a library, and explored the idea of its castle-like appearance as a means of illustrating a fortress, a place of protection and safety. Daniel responds by saying, “Why the heck do we need a fortress though?” Both the Foust and the McIver building have their challenges in this present day when it comes to being good design for all, at all times. It was from this that we also discussed the appropriateness of renovations in general, and how some are more successful than others in reassigning a modern purpose to a historic site. Therefore it can be argued that certain historic buildings are simply to unique to be used in any other way and be functional. So it is best to simply preserve them in their original state.
In regards to the McIver building, all I could do is ask “why?” Although it is clearly an example of modern architecture at mid century, the McIver building is just one of those you look at and wonder what the architect was thinking when he drew it. The front entry doesn’t appear to match the rest of the façade. Even though the blocked pattern is visually interesting, you have to wonder why it is there. It is in this building that the challenges to modernism are made clear. The front entry is a perfect example of form without function, and its relationship to human scale is unclear. The McIver building is one of the first buildings on campus to gravitate toward what I call “puddle architecture.” There is a lot of stuff on the surface, but there is really no story to give it any sort of depth, and personal meaning to the building.
It is all of these lessons that I have learned through my semester in History and Theory of Design II. It is because of this class that I have learned to better observe and understand history as it relates to both the context of its particular time period, and how it is reiterated and reused in today’s modern world. As it relates to substance v. surface, I have also learned there is a lot more to design than a pretty face, I mean façade. It is important to have a surface, but it is much more important to have a deeper story to tell in order to give meaning, and great value to your project. It is because of this lesson in particular, that I have become a much better designer today and will continue to be into tomorrow.
Thank you Patrick! You have been a wonderful inspiration, and you are a wonderful professor. 🙂