Mississippi Architect, “Engineers and Architecture”

It’s been a while since we posted another volume of the Mississippi Architect, originally published from March 1963 through March 1965. Each volume contains a brief editorial, usually from Jackson architect Bob Henry, an article about a recent Mississippi building by a Mississippi architect, and then several stock articles about national trends or other buildings just completed around the country.

At times, I think the article about a national building is worthy of including on MissPres to give us some perspective on what Modernist works our Mississippi architects were reading about every month. Today, I’m including both Bob Henry’s editorial/tutorial about how engineers fit into the practice of architecture and an article about Le Corbusier’s “First” (and last) building in the United States.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at what seems from the pictures to be a really nice piece of Modernist religious architecture from Meridian, and not by a Meridian architect.

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Engineers and Architecture

Engineering was originally defined as the art of managing engines. The definition has since been changed to that of an applied science concerned with utilizing inorganic products of earth, properties of matter, sources of power in nature, and physical forces for supplying human needs in the form of structures, machines, manufactured products, precision instruments, industrial organization, the means of lighting, heating, refrigeration, communication, transportation, sanitation, public safety, and other productive work. It would seem that one might properly call himself an engineer if he is engaged in any of these activities. For this reason the title engineer means little unless differentiated.

Engineers of unlimited variety and degree of qualification are involved in the manufacture of building products for the construction industry and thereby make an indirect contribution to architecture. The engineers that are usually directly concerned with architecture are civil engineers, structural engineers, electrical engineers, and
mechanical engineers.

The civil engineer surveys the land. He locates property lines, trees, utilities, and existing structures in addition to ground slopes.

The structural engineer obtains soil information and designs foundations. He designs the wood, steel, or concrete members of the structure as necessary to support all loads and resist all physical forces.

The electrical engineer designs the electrical distribution and communication systems for the structure. He provides electricity for lighting and all power loads including special motor-driven equipment appliances, heating, and cooling. He makes provisions for the
telephone, inter-com, and antenna systems.

The mechanical engineer designs the plumbing, heating, cooling, and ventilating systems for the structure.

These are licensed professional engineers and hold degrees in their particular field from accredited schools of engineering. Large architectural firms often have engineer members. Others employ their own engineers on a full-time basis. In our state, most of the engineers
have individual practices and serve a number of architectural firms.

Either way, the professional engineer is a vital and valued member of the architectural team. The architect designs a structure from a broad base of engineering knowledge and relies upon the special talents of these experts to insure that the client receives the ultimate in a structure.

- Bob Henry

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Le Corbusier’s First U.S. Building

On a cramped site, tucked in between the Fogg Museum and the Faculty Club on the Harvard University campus, is a new and unusual building which combines unconventional architectural designs with such standard, time-tested materials as glass blocks. The building is the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts and is the first building in the United States by the French architect, Le Corbusier.

Often called the “brutal” architect, for the roughhewn design and texture of his buildings, Le Corbusier combined in this structure open square and rectangular shapes, broken by curving perimeter glass walls which are set in stark natural concrete. The openness and walls of glass provide interpenetration of outdoor space, which is the key to the design of the building.

Adding to the basic shape of the Center, Corbu, as he is generally known, utilized huge load-bearing columns which rise throughout the building, floor-to-ceiling window walls overlooking terraces, vertical and horizontal concrete sun screens, a curvilinear bisecting ramp, and a five-flight facade of colored glass blocks to light the stair tower.

Architectural designs like the columns and sun screens outlining the window walls are a jolt to many. The columns are spaced irregularly and varying sizes are exposed within the classrooms as well as at the base of the building. Their placement and size depend on the need for support in the particular area.

The enormous sun screens give the glass walls a deep-set, recessed appearance, and eliminate the need for shades or shading devices. The result is a sense of oneness to the outdoors, aided by the many grass-planted terraces, extending from the glass walls to the edge of the room at various levels. The pedestrian ramp to the third level of the
building connects the two streets on either side of the Center.

Probably the most standard of the devices employed by Corbu was the use of the colored glass block in the stairway wall. These glass blocks illuminate the five flights of stairs so that little or no auxiliary lighting is necessary during the day. The color, Shade Aqua, is blue-green which transmits soft, natural daylight. The random pattern of the glass blocks creates a constantly changing design which admits an abundance of daylight but restricts vision.

The building as planned by floors: basement–multi-purpose auditorium, light and communication studios and photographic dark rooms; first floor–administrative areas and common room; second floor–workshops for three-dimensional design; third floor-workshops for two-dimensional design, and exhibition space; fourth floor-seminar
rooms and special projects; fifth floor-artists’ studio.

In its few months of existence, the Visual Arts Center has become a building of national significance.

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This article is reprinted from the September 1963 issue of the Mississippi Architect, with permission from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. View the full September 1963 issue of Mississippi Architect in a digitized format, or for other articles in this ongoing series, including the pdf version of each full issue, click on theMSArcht tab at the top of this page.



Categories: Architectural Research, Modernism, Recent Past

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