Residential Design

VOL.6 2018

A business-to-business magazine focused on the collaborative process and talented work of residential architects and custom homebuilders.

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Architects Network, hosted a one-day symposium on the history, theory, and evolution of modern residential architectural detail- ing—from the early 20th century to contemporary architecture today: "DETAILS, details, Residential Architecture Assembled and the Prose & Poetry of Construction." Among the speakers was Edward R. Ford, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of many books, including "The Details of Modern Architecture" (MIT, Volume I 1990; MIT, Volume II 1996). We report here on his talk, "Intolerance: Craft in the Age of Digital Perfection," the first of a four-part series about the symposium. "Craft in our culture is usually equated with precision, if not perfection, but meaningful craft is more often the opposite. The craftsmanship of imprecision, of inaccuracy, and incom- pleteness is far more integral to the best architecture of any period including the digital age." –Edward R. Ford Edward Ford started the conference by recounting his first encounter with the Raymonds' "Architectural Details" in a used bookstore; he found himself both intrigued and a bit perplexed by it. The book is profusely illustrated but without much text. Displaying one of the early pages on roof systems, Ford flatly stated, "It goes from thatch and logs, and on to bamboo at the top, and down to concrete and steel at the bottom, with some other things you can do in-between. There is no rating system by which to judge what system is best for what purpose, or whether it is about history." But to Ford, it was obvious the book was about craft. Craft was something Ford said he has consciously avoided in the past. Indeed, the word itself carries a lot of ideological baggage. "To some, craft was whatever quality that traditional architecture had that modern architecture had destroyed," Ford noted. "To the modernist, craft was this ornamental incrustation that you put on useful objects that made them less useful. To the laymen, and to many architects, craft was about agility (in making)— it is about skill, it is about expertise." Ford then projected an image of Gian Lorenzo Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, where Daphne is turning herself into a tree to escape her assailant's clutches. Ford stated that one's re- action to such work is more astonishment and admiration than just aesthetic pleasure. Ford rhetorically posed, "How can this guy possibly do this in marble?" Although this is obviously a work of art, it is also evident that this is about craft as well. Ford's next image was of a Michelangelo drawing, Madonna and Child, featured in the recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He said it is one of those works you really need to be standing before to appreciate. "You can actually imagine the hand of the artist moving the chalk as he slowly defines the image." But what is most moving to him, he said, is its incom- pleteness, with some parts fully realized to near photo-real and others just barely scratched lines. "You literally see the process of how this thing was created." Ford then spoke of Vittorio Gallese, professor of human physiology at the University of Parma, Italy, and professor of Experimental Aesthetics at the University of London. In his book, "Motion, Emotion, and Empathizing in Esthetic Experience," Gallese expounds upon his work with mirror neurons. His definition of a mirror neuron "is a neuron that fires both when a person acts and when the person observes the same action performed by another." When you lift something, you feel the weight, and that feeling is a bunch of neurons firing off in your brain. Accord- ing to Gallese, some of those same neurons fire when you see someone else lift something, as well. One empathically feels the weight. This is actually an old idea in the arts. Art historian-critic Heinrich Wölfflin theorized that "we under- stand an Ionic column because we know what weight is like." "Physical forms possess a character only because we pos- sess a body… We read our own image in all phenomenon." — Heinrich Wölfflin Gallese's work establishes the scientific evidence con- firming Wölfflin's intuitive reasoning. "If you are watching a film of Jackson Pollock painting, you can feel what the action of painting would feel like," and Ford went on, "and when we see the result—the painting itself—we feel it as well." This for Ford has an undeniable implication when it comes to craft. Ford postulated, "What works for the brush, works for the chalk, works for the chisel," while showing an image of a Norwegian log cabin wall where you see every mark of the hewing tool. Buildings have their history of the act of construction, but often today their histories lie hid- den, covered up or polished away in their finishing. To Ford, this idea of the history of the assembly of a building made legible may be a new way to think about architecture detail- ing—"details as embodied history." For more on this lecture, see the full story on residentialdesignmagazine.com John DeFazio, AIA, is an architect and planner, and director of the Raymond Farm Center for Living Arts & Design. He teaches at Drexel University in Philadelphia and at the New York Institute of Technology in New York City. Professor and author Edward R. Ford. 23 VOL. 6, 2018 RESIDENTIALDESIGNMAGA ZINE.COM

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