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Do opposites attract?

Even the great masters have been known to create uneasy partnerships of materials and styles.
Article by Jackie Craven

An adobe skyscraper? A steel castle? A log cabin with Corinthian columns?

Not very likely.

Buildings begin not with a blueprint, but an expectation. The architect who bucks tradition is often ridiculed... and no wonder. Odd mixtures of materials and mismatching of ornamental details have produced some of the ugliest buildings on our planet.

First, there are those terrible "remuddlings," where efforts to modernize have gone haywire. Examples from Old-House Journal:

And then there are the unhappy marriages arranged by muddle-headed designers. Examples from architecture critic and social commentator James Howard Kunstler:

Even the great masters have been known to create uneasy partnerships of materials and styles. For example, look at Alvar Aalto's Institute of Technology in Otaniemi, Finland. Gleaming steel rests uncomfortably on a brick foundation. Squat rectangular forms clash with huge curved shapes. Critics have called the Otaniemi Institute muddled, confused, and disharmonious.

But if harmony is the music of architecture, difference is the soul. Aalto's genius as an architect was in his ability to combine surprise with inevitability. He did it in the Finlandia Hall, in Helsinki.  On a smaller scale, he did it in the Villa Mairea. Buildings like these push past our expectations, yet, unlike the Otaniemi Institute, they are pleasing to the eye and the spirit.

Now, let's look at a small, contemporary project: a cabin in the Catskill Mountains designed by Pierre Levesque, AIA of connections architectural. The cabin is a country escape for city dwellers, so Levesque incorporated city/country polarities in the design.

  catskill cabin



Side wings resemble rustic "lean-to" sheds

Central element symbolizes a construction crane

Rough-hewn lumber

Polished steel

Olive green shingle roofing

Metal roofing

Wood siding

Red metal cladding

Roll-up door invites nature inside

Interior includes pulleys, plywood paneling, and other industrial details

"Opposites attract," says Levesque. After all, it takes nuts and bolts, walls and doors, foundations and roofs, to give a structure form.  And it takes a rich mixture of emotions and ideas to give a building meaning.

Some critics say that opposing design elements create a tension and a sense of powerful attraction. Viewed this way, grand structures such as Alvar Aalto's Finlandia Hall, and smaller structures such as Pierre Levesque's Catskill cabin, might be called "sexy" or "sexual". What do you think?

Tell me your views! 

vive la différence!

In recent features we've looked at several buildings that defied expectations.  Here are a couple:

  • The Loos House. Emperor Franz Josef was outraged when Adolf Loos built the austere Goldman and Salatsch building... directly across from Vienna's elaborate Imperial Palace.
  • The Esplanade. This oddly-shaped arts center is being hatched in a nest of Singapore skyscrapers.
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