The Primitive Hut, Maison Domino and the Home Insurance Building are three key frameworks that has been repeatedly used and referenced throughout history. How are the those framework interpreted in the modern conversation of Robert Venturi and Peter Eisenman as constituent architecture?

 

theory essays

Curiousity and questions based on my architectural studies.

According to Sigfried Giedion, you can explain history in two ways, facts as constituent or transitory. One where the subject is timeless, not ruled by it’s epoch, and is constantly resurfacing throughout time. As he called it, it is the basis of the “mass production in industry”. Transitory however, is the reverse. It is matters which are based on the culture during a specific period. Subjects which “lack the stuff of permanence and fail to attach themselves to a new tradition”. Giedion referred it as facts that has a “brilliance of a firework display”, but like fireworks, it is only of the moment, and not more. There are elements, facts, fundamental theories in architecture that can no doubt be constituent, but are there architecture itself that can be categorized as constituent and as constituent architecture, are they complete on it’s own? There are certain frameworks which are considered constituent because of how it keeps resurfacing in time, however, framework does not mean architecture, and here we explore how it is interpreted in modern conversation.

 

 

Maison Domino

Dominos, as many may know it, is a game where tiles are connected due to specific rules of the game. The Maison Domino is a building system designed by Le Corbusier, based on the elimination of walls and facade. It is a structural skeleton composed of levels, slabs and pilotis. It is a flexible form, where elements and programs can be added to, in order to complete the structure. It was named the dom-ino because of how it is a “word formed from house and innovation”. Although, Corbusier intended the Domino to be something revolutionary, and many regarded it as a failure, it can also be seen as something that turned into constituent architecture. Especially in the modern and contemporary period, you can extinguish original forms of buildings that is basically, the Domino. Some may have stretched it, scaled it, repeated it, but the basic structure itself, is equivalent to the same thing.  

 

 

“A great epoch has begun... Economic law unavoidably governs our act and our thoughts. The problem of the housing is a problem of the epoch. The equilibrium of society to-day depends upon it.... We must create the mass-production spirit”

 

 

The Domino was first designed as a solution to mass production housing problems, due to the need of reconstructing Belgian and French towns because of the First World War. He anticipated the idea to be something that is revolutionary and because of it’s flexibility, he expected it to gain popularity as people can use it to customized and design their own homes. Using the Domino as the “house-tool”, people can create their own houses and the domino exists between “architects and men of taste, and the universal love of the home.” Shelter, is a essential need from the start of time, and as Corbusier said, “Everybody, quite rightly, dreams of sheltering himself in a sure and permanent home of his own. This dream, because it is impossible in the existing state of things...”, for that reason, the creation of the Domino, as he believed would allow people to realize their dreams and solve the problem of reconstructing towns and even, cities.

 

 

“Architecture to-day is no longer conscious of its own beginnings. Architects work in “styles” or discuss question of structure in and out of season ;  their clients, the public, still think in terms of conventional appearance, the reason the foundation of an insufficient education.”

 

 

As a framework, the domino can then be used in different ways, decorated differently for each client, to suit the program and use intended for the space. The outcome will still have the consistent framework of the domino, but the structure and programme will be customized to the needs of the user. “The plan is the generator. Without a plan, you have lack of order, and willfulness. The plan holds in itself the essence of sensation. The great problems of to-morrow, dictated by collective necessities, put the question of “plan” in a new form. Modern life demands, and it waiting for, a new kind plan both for the house and for the city.” If instead of the plan, we talk about the framework, it is equally as important as it holds together the elements on top. The plan is the groundwork of the structure, and the structure is the basis of where the elements go, that is the “necessity for order” Corbusier talked about. Although not exposed most of the time, the framework created, makes the overall order of the structure, and the framework is what decides what it looks like geometrically, in its general scale and proportion. It is what controls the structures entirety. It is the idea of the lasting form which determines the importance of the framework, one may decorate the structure with elements in a hundred ways, but when you look at it as a whole, and is stripped bare of its elements, what is revealed, is it’s original skeleton, which held and gave the structure a form. And this form, the Domino, is the constituent piece of architecture.

 

Le Corbusier believed there were kit of parts, 5 points which makes up the sense of order. They are also constituent conditions, which would be used repeatedly overtime to create different forms of housing. First there is the free design ground plan, an open plan to work from. The free facade, allowing the exterior to be flexible to design. Pilotis, instead of having walls, it has columns to support the structure. Roof Gardens, flat roofs which can be an open space, or have usage added to it. Last but not least, the horizontal window, where spaces can be divided equally. The Domino follows all 5 of these points, which Corbusier pushed forward as part of the constituent “rules” that he hoped would revolutionize architecture.

 

 

Laugier Theory of the Hut 

“With the Maison Domino (1914), Le Corbusier presented the first mature interpretation of nudity. The Maison, which owes a great deal to Perret and his paredown classicism, can be seen as the translation of Laugier;s hut into reinforced concrete. The idea was to provide a rough skeleton to be clad with an envelope capable of relating directly to the structural core. The domino being a flexible, fundamental and constituent framework, was not a innovative idea. It’s predecessor, the primitive hut, a theory of the first structure built by man as human habitat, was the first built structure that provided a constituent framework. Through time, the primitive hut has created iterations due to the necessity of what a shelter needs to be. However, even though iterations have been made to suit the time and era of it’s needs and technologies, the framework of the hut is still constantly being referenced to, it is the first constituent framework, in which we still use today. 

 

 

“Architecture is not unknown to animals: the worm’s hole, the ant’s gallery, the bee’s hive... the gorilla’s hut, the house, the castle keep, the temple, and the palace all satisfy the same need, infinitely diversified. A common law may be induced from them, and that is the law of adaptation.” 

 

 

As human, as animal, it is in our nature to create a shelter, a habitat for ourselves and that was what the Primitive Hut was to us. The hut was “that great architecture is at the very origins of humanity and that it is the immediate product of human instinct”. It was the first man-made shelter, which we call architecture and that hut, provided the first initial framework for us to develop from. When the primitive man, built that hut, their neighbors saw the it and did the same, that chain reaction, alike to the domino, created the first series of villages. Each time the hut was built, it was modified, slowly, those villages were no villages, but town and cities. The thoughts of those primitive man was not to create what we have today, with all the fluff, but a place “to provide protection against inclement weather, wild beast and human enemies”. Those initial means, then developed into more complex beings, with the space for public and private, work and play, markets, industrial, due to the needs of society. “The little hut which I have just described is the type on which all the magnificences of architecture are elaborated that fundamental defects are avoided and true perfection attained. The upright pieces of wood suggest the idea of columns, the horizontal pieces resting on them, entablatures.”

 

Similarly it is with the very same basic intention, that Corbusier wanted, to build homes for cities that has been destroyed in the war. To solve the issue of the need of mass production housing. As it has been said about the “upright pieces of wood suggest the ideas of columns”, it is clear where the similarities of the Domino and the Primitive Hut lies. It goes for the same with the importance of their existence, they are the initial constituent framework which architecture is based on today. In times, they may have not been used as much, but repeatedly they are the framework which keeps reappearing in history.

 

 

Home Insurance Building

In the case of skyscrapers, the Home Insurance Building built in 1884, was the first structural steel framework built, and was also the structure in which many skyscrapers are then based on. The framework here was the introduction to skyscrapers, and it was later developed further to support more complex forms, such as the Philadelphia City Hall. If the primitive hut was a constituent framework for shelters and early homes, the domino for modern housing, this is the constituent framework that makes up skyscraper cities. Likely in the case of the Domino, it translated “upright pieces of wood” into columns and pilots, here, the Home Insurance Building, translated those “upright pieces of wood” into steel metal rods, scaled up and created a framework for skyscrapers. “Jenney devised a framework of bolted cast iron columns and wrought iron joist beams... this was the first time that structural steel was used in a building frame construction.. extended it to twelve stories, becoming the first skyscraper... The Architecture of the steel frame was further advanced....”

 

William Le Baron Jenney made a new constituent framework, which in a way, is a form of the primitive hut. He translated those “upright pieces of wood” to “iron columns and iron joist beams”, in which created the steel framework of skyscrapers. Others have then taken that forward to create further skyscrapers, maybe higher, wider or twisted, but it all comes down to the base line, of the original, of the constituent framework. Although the Home Insurance Building is not a building that is constituent, it’s steel framework however, it proven till date, that it is a constituent fact. On it’s own, the steel framework does not complete itself as architecture, but when altered, it fits into a certain epoch and completes as a form of architecture.

 

 

Conversations of Eisenman and Venturi

In more contemporary terms, Eisenman and Venturi both discuses in their own ways that the framework cannot exist on it’s own. Although it maybe the framework is the constituent fact, it doesn't make architecture by itself. It is only when the constituent and transitory elements comes together, that the picture is complete. Venturi talks about the idea by illustrating the diagram of the decorative shed and duck, where as Eisenman uses the concept of “self-referential” to show his point of view.

 

 

Decorative Shed and Duck

The decorative shed and duck theory, introduced in the book ‘Learning from Las Vegas’, talked about how Vegas, “...a city where the buildings count for little. What matters and what characterized the city is rather the decorative system of adverting signs that cover the essentially non-descriptive boxes of buildings....”. He initiated the fact that LA was purely a city filled with the same building, all dressed up differently. Although Venturi meant it in such a way that is it the complexity that characterizes the city, it also demonstrates what is constituent and what is transitory in this case study. There is the framework of the building, in this case, boxes and there are the elements in which “characterized” the structures. The elements make the building as a unique individual, but it did not create the actual and original form. The constituent fact of the city is that very dull box, but it is that box which provided a structure to be characterized. The elements which are used to characterize the city, are matters that are transitory. They are matters regarding to styles of that epoch. Regarding to Corbusier;“Architecture has nothing to do with various “styles” The styles of Louis XIV, XV, XVI or Gothic, are to architecture what a feather is on a woman’s head ;  it is sometimes pretty, though not always, and never anything more.”

 

Using the diagram of the Decorated Shed in comparison to the original forms and iteration of both the Primitive Hut and Domino, it is clear that, the constituent architecture is what holds what is transitory together. Not to underlie the importance of transitory elements, as they are what customizes are culture and mark our history. At the same time, the both the Domino and the Decorated Shed and Duck diagram illustrates that the constituent framework cannot exist on it’s own, they are what gives it life and character to the structure. The transitory elements is what completes the constituent framework, neither of which will be entire without another.

 

 

Self Referential System

In Eisenman’s point of view the domino is a “self referential” system. He believes that the Domino is made for what it is for, mass production housing, but nothing more. To him, the Domino was only constituent to what it is “self referential” to. Instead of the Domino being constituent, it is the conditions of “programme, use, and structure.” which are both “necessary yet insufficient” to make it a constituent fact. It is purely because of the economic and mass housing situation for the domino system to exist, and the fact that the model only works as it is. It is not something that is as flexible as Corbusier imagined it to be. Eisenman’s argument was that the Domino cannot exist purely on it’s own for multiple reason. One, it needs to have elements to complete it’s function, programme and structure. Two, the Domino is self-referential, it is designed as mass-produced or single housing, but that is all it is. It cannot change it’s original form to something else. It is not as flexible as Corbusier thought it was. It maybe constituent in some ways, but there is also a limit to what it can be. What Eisenman establishes is that, the domino cannot exist on it’s own. Similarly, constituent facts, is not sufficient to be finished by itself, instead to complete it as a whole, the transitory is needed.

 

The idea that elements are temporary, they are a transitory fact. It purely marks what popular then, or when that structure was built, but that does not mean it’s marking the actual architecture. Constituent framework however, as proven, is something that can belongs to no specific epoch. They are what determines architecture to be constituent. The Primitive hut, Maison Domino and Home Insurance building are all existing examples to date, that they have reappeared repeatedly in different age. Whist the constituent framework holds a great importance, as Eisenman and Venturi has both agreed that it is something that cannot exist on it’s own. By itself, the framework is not architecture, but purely elements of slabs, pilotis placed together. At the same time, transitory elements by itself is nothing, but elements. Only when placed together, they make what we call architecture. The Duck and Shed diagram from Venturi’s book shows that it is the transitory elements that characterizes the framework, and Eisenman talks directly about how the domino is self referential, and that the only thing that is constituent, is the programme, use and structure, yet, he argues that, on its own, it is insufficient to be architecture. Coming from different perspectives, both Venturi and Eisenman agrees that framework maybe constituent, but it cannot exist on its own.

 

And therefore you cannot categorize architecture as either constituent and transitory, they are matters which cannot be separated as one will not exist or function without the other. It is the constituent framework and transitory elements that makes up architecture, it is partly both, and therefore architecture itself, cannot be either one. The way Giedion separated facts into constituent and transitory does not apply to architecture itself. Instead of trying to identifying architecture by constituent or transitory, as we cannot classify it by time, due to how half of it is timeless and the other not, we can classify it in the order of it’s framework instead of classifying it by time. To divide architecture by it’s origins will precisely show how each alterations have changed from the original framework, but when “stripped bare” it is from the same structure. By doing so, maybe, we will also discover other constituent frameworks that have been overlooked in time. It will also suggest how by creating new constituent frameworks, we can bring future architecture forward. The archives of constituent framework, and categorizing architecture by this system will then open up a new ways of perceiving architecture.

 

 

 

References,

Sigfried Giedion. Space, Time and Architecture. Harvard University Press, c2008.

Valerio Paolo Mosco. Naked Architecture. London:Thames & Hudson, 2012.

Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture. London Architectural Press 1946.

Rykwert, Joseph. On Adam’s House in Paradise : the idea of the primitive hut in architectural history. New York :  Museum of Modern Art, 1972.

Rowe, Colin. Architecture of good intentions: towards a possible retrospect. London Academy Editions 1994.

Etlin, Richard A. Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier : the romantic legacy. Manchester University Press c1994.

Venturi, Robert. MIT Press,   1972. Learning from Las Vegas

Pier Vittorio Aureli. The Dom-ino Problem: Questioning the Architecture of Domestic Space. Printout from LOG no.30

Margolius, Ivan. Architects + engineers = structure.London :  Wiley-Academy,  c2002.

Banister Fletcher and Banister F. Fletcher. A History of Architecture. page 1.

Eisenman, Peter. Aspects of Modernism: Maison Dom-ino and the Self Referential Sign. Oppositions Winter/Spring Issue 15/16. MIT Press 1979.

Mallgrave, Harry Francis. Modern architectural theory :  a historical survey, 1673-1968. Cambridge University Press,   2005.

Frampton, Kenneth. Modern architecture :  a critical history. London :  Thames and Hudson,  1980.

Horning, Jonathan. Simple Shelters: Tents, Tipis, Yurts, Domes and other ancient homes. Wood Books Somerset 2009