Centering a Town: 23rd. Effort/Homage to Mies (1/72 scale)

In the metopes below, eternal adversaries grappled in inextricable pairs: Lapiths and Centaurs, Greeks and Amazons, Greeks and Trojans along the north side in the direction of Troy, Giants and gods on the south. In many of the metopes the struggle was shown in mid-course: there was no victor, no vanquished. Warring opposites complemented each other in intricate, almost heraldic, groupings—and this is perhaps another essential aspect of the term Classical. It conjures aloofness, a sense of timeless idealism; but involvement, too, and violent involvement at that, is part of the Classical spirit.

Spiro Kostof, A History of Architecture

The drawings of Mies van der Rohe’s Brick Country House are nearly a century old. Reference to it in my “modern” design means that I’m following a tradition well in the past. His project implies that design, like life, is an active process, that the goal of architecture is to capture that understanding. It is Classical in the sense that we are aware of careful and thoughtful proportions, but also of proportions carefully shifted. And the design is Classical in the sense Kostof suggests, of competing stresses, contained but kept vital. Above, a metope from the Parthenon.

It is the challenge of contemporary architecture now, how to maintain yet enliven the modern tradition—it’s what we have—yet break away from the sterility of glass boxes and too well ordered grids. Too many solutions just push the box or attack it, without esthetic grounding, cultural context, or solid frame of reference, too often to excess. Mies’s design is reserved yet still fresh.

I made a larger model of this design, about 1/72 scale, adding a few changes and correcting the the front right corner. For more discussion, rough floor plans, and pictures of the 1/144 model see the previous post. Above, the rear view.

Rear corner. What I like about this design—and of course Mies’s—is that it is active yet coherent. We understand it at once as a combination of glass and brick planes crossed by horizontal slabs of continuity and support, yet there is variety and movement throughout.

Side view. Each face is different, yet composed and contained. Approaching and walking around the building will provide a varying experience.

Front corner. The tall vertical slabs on side and front anchor the building and the compositions, as well as add planes of focus and stability.

Front. At the same time, the building is informal and inviting, like other buildings in downtown St. Johns. Yet it also stands apart and announces its function. Something vital and different will happen here.

Yet the artist chooses not to take sides openly, recognizing that the greatness of the victor is directly proportionate to the skill and obduracy of the foe, that the hero needs the villain to gain his identity, that balance lies in the middle.

Background and Previous Designs

Other designs for this project, along with background material and more photographs of site, can be found here and at these posts.

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