Ginzburg2 - 5 Construction and Form in Architecture Constructlwsm_—————-—-fi s a result ofour analysis ofthe machine's attributes it

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Unformatted text preview: 5. Construction and Form in Architecture. - Constructlwsm _—————-—-fi s a result ofour analysis ofthe machine's attributes, it is now possible to rm der an objective evaluation of the theory of “constructivism” being promni. gated at the present time, The actual meaning of the Word is not new to us, especially as it applies to ur- chitecture, where the construction of an organismmwhich determines the crea— tion ofthe material that isolates space and hence the character 0fthe spatial solu— tion—has always played a paramount role in the evolution of form. In a vast majority of instances the true meaning of architecture is discerned primarily in its constructive aspects; the fundamental problem of architecture— delimiting the boundaries ofspace with material forms—requires the creation of elements that function constructively. This is possibly how the most primitive architectural organism, the dolmen‘ whose object was to combine the most elementary constructive elements ofpos: and lintel—was created. Thus. in this prehistoric architectural monument it should above all see the constructive problem. It would, however, be a serious mis- take to restrict oneself to such an in- terpretation of architectural monu~ ments. Along with the experience man gains from dealing with his buildings, he also develops a complex system for a self—sufficient world associated with these constructions. Modern psycho— physiology has established that vari- ous elements of form (line, surface, volume), both in themselves and par- ticularly in various juxtapositions, en- gender emotions of satisfaction or dis— satisfaction within us, as do certain colors and sounds.1 [1 1’3 ‘42: $53 A y;— u 3-H. I i t e t I f C Elevator in Buffalo Irrespective of the laws of statics or mechanics which are understood theoreti- cally, each person develops a purely intuitive grasp of these laws, by virtue of which a vertical support that is too thin in relation to its height and load, for ex- ample, induces within us, without any reasoning or mathematical calculations, a i sensation of dissatisfaction: it causes us to feel anxious and uncertain about the ‘ fitness of the architectural organism, and thereby produces a purely physiologi . cal feeling of discomfg’t. As a result of our perceptual experience, the l mathematical laws of statics and dynamics are animated into lifelike forces of the organic world; accordingly, from the moment man takes his first steps, form exerts a spontaneous influence, which becomes increasingly more clear, dis- tinct, and concrete. Thus, by virtue of our brain’s associative faculty, the construction of the ar— chitectural organism also acquires a somewhat different, self-sufficient signif— cance; and, by virtue of a particular kind of association, the so-called “motor” kind, man seeks to find in this animated construction that element of movement which results in the development of form, and the reflection of which occurs dur— ing our perception of form. Lifeless forms, which affect us simply through their inert existence, take on a different life in our consciousness as fragments of uni- 96 versal movement, accumulating, in our memory a distinct classification of the same formal images on the basis ofthe spatial progression ofindividual elements in a given arrangement. These initial motor associations are followed by others. Movement as such. the rhythm ofa particular regularity manifested in architeci tural form, is not a neutral entity for us: it is condensed into two basic elementsfi the vertical and the horizontal—which enter into a certain competition or strug— gle. The life ofa form is imbued with what, for us, is a deeply agitating action, a true collision of two elements in the microcosm of constructive elements. reflecting two struggling elementsvthe boundless, static horizontality and the vigorous Qfing ofthe vertical aspect. The constructive scheme becomes a real spectacle for us, one where the eye never ceases to follow the outcome ofthis struggle. Construction. as such, tran- scends itself; the constructive forces associated with the experiences of man's inner world create an omomc world oi 'own, making it a familiar and intimately understandable phenomenon; the analogy with the static and dynamic laws of the universe transforms this organic world into a world of external forms. one often equal in the energy of its impact to the powerful forces of nature. Thus, the Qnstrnctitie system. by virtue of our perceptual experience and the psychophysiological characteristics ofthe human being, gii'cs rise to yet another system, one 20/1 ich is set/isujficienl and (it the same time proceeds/ram and is dependent upon the construction ofthe u'orld ofform—or, properly speaking, an { gestfietic system. Moreover, in the paradigm which we have examined, both sys— tems fully coincide. The very same element is simultaneously a utilitarian ele- ment of construction and an aesthetic element of form. But man did not settle on this course. Once he learned to see another world be— sides the elements of construction, once he sensed its self—sufficient significance, he naturally wanted to develop and enrich it. Greek architecture already repre— sents a significant elaboration ofthis sort. The Archaic Greek temple up until the eighth and seventh centuries BC. was most likely built of wood, and its original system was a purely constructive one, representing the necessary combination of vertical supports, horizontal beams, and inclined braces for trussed rafters. Existing reconstructions of the wooden Doric temple provide a very plausible explanation of the origins of each of the formal elements that make up the tem— ple‘s various constructive features. For us, this represents a secondary concern; what remains important is the effort of the man who has sensed the meaning and self-transcending significance of constructive forces, whose role he began to em- phasize and intensify. As soon as the elements of construction became the ele— ments of form, man wanted to make the life associated with construction appear to be as vivid as possible. If it were possible to resurrect the irretrievably lost wooden Doric temple before its transformation into masonry forms, we most likely would see how the static system of supports and spans was fully and em- phatically revealed by the architect. We would see the actually existing con— structive world, a system of internal forces clearly and graphically interpreted. Indeed, the very shaft of the column, growing wider toward the bottom, with vertical fluting underscoring its function, with the alignment of echinus and abacus assuming the role of a bolster, represents, as precisely as any other ele ment of the temple, an interpretation of its organic constructive life. But then the Greek architect proceeded from the wooden temple to a stone one. By this time, the system ofinterpreting construction was so firmly entrenched 97 l. l’or example, Wilhelm Wundt has determined that we experience the sensation of pleasure when we perceive a line that is more comfortable for the eye to follow —sucli as. for example, a vertical or horizontal line—when the muscles moving the eye have to expend a minimum of energy. By the same line of reasoning, an irregular and sharply broken line creates an uncomfortable sensation, since the eye must constantly change direction through angular movements, which cause the nerves stimulating the muscles, as well as the muscles themselves. to experience painful sensations. lf crooked lines are bent with a certain degree of regularity, which provides an opportunity to prepare for anticipating the phenomenon and for its realization, they tend to produce the most profound feeling of satisfaction. In precisely the same way, regular forms are perceived more readily by the eye than irregular ones. In the realm of regular forms. a normally developed optical sense prefers forms articulated according to the simplest principles, such as symmetry or the golden section. [Wilhelm Max Wundt (1832-1920), German psychologist and physiologist, established physiological psychology as a special science that sought to employ the method oflaboratory experimentation to determine the different phenomena of human consciousness and the natural correlations among them. He promulgated the concept of“psychophysiological parallelism," which held that these phenomena were inseparable from neural functions, although not causally related to them. Wundt’s conception ofthe role of kinesthesis in perception—to which Ginzburg refers here—was outlined in his pioneering work Grundzuge der physiologischen Psychologie (Leipzig: W. Engelmann. 1874). This work was translated into Russian as Osnooaniia fiziologicheskoi psikhologii, trans. Kandinsky (2 vols.; Moscow, 1880); the latter translation was later reissued under the editorship ofA. Krogius, A. Lazursky, and A. Nechaev (St. Petersburg, 1914). Among Wundt's students was the psychologist Hugo Munsterberg, whose own work on aesthetic perception at the Harvard Psychological Laboratory in 1898-1904 influenced Nikolai A. Ladovsky and others in the Rationalist movement in Soviet architecture in the 19205.] in the architects mind that it became a seltlsnt‘ficicnt system; and when the first stone temples began to appear, this interpretation was transformed into 11 dramatization of a non—existent life that survived in his memory by virtue o1 tradition. It is not at all surprising that such elements as the triglyph or capital should have become purely and solely aesthetic elements; that their organic link to construction was breached is indicated by the fact that the cuts in the stones inadvertently occurred in the middle of an element. Only in the fifth century BC. did a moment again arise in the history of Greek architecture that can be called organic; construction once again overtook form, which in turn became subordinated to it. At the same. time. it is possible to discern in the Greek temple, aside from its purely constructive—Le, constructively working—elements, other elements that were summoned into being merely by utilitarian considerations. For exam» ple, the sloping.r lines of the pediment constitute the constructive elements of rali ter braces "working" in the temple organism. while the filling in ot'the pediment with a triangular wall panel constitutes simply the means, devoid of any con- structive role, ofachieving a more complete enclosure ofthe temple space. The architect acquires a capacity to distinguish one aspect from the other; naturally. as he becomes occupied with a more vivid interpretation or dramatization ofthe organic life of the monument, he develops a different attitude toward them. While the architect emphasizes the constructively "working" elements in their active state. he simply decorates the “non-working” elements. The distinction between these two facets of the architect's activity is revealed most clearly in those instances when the constructive element can only be treated in a particular way, when its aesthetic organization constitutes an extremely clear-cut problem whose solution is dependent upon “givens,” upon a clear understanding of them. The element that is not constructive permits significantly greater freedom; like the triangular pediment of a Greek temple, it only dictates certain limits within which the architect is free to enlist the services of the sculptor or painter. Nevertheless, in the organic period of fifth—century B.C. Greek art which we have examined, even this decorative activity was dependent upon the overall system and independent ofextra-formal content, which can be anything subordi- nated compositionally to the general plan for organizing the temple space. Thus, just as the dolmen showed itself to be not only a constructive system but also an animated organic world, so the art ofthefifth—century Greek temple rep- resented not only an organic dramatization ofconstructively working elements, but also a subordinate system ofindependent “decorative” elements. A no less convincing example of the elusive boundary at which the “construe tive” ends and the “decorative” begins is Gothic architecture, which among the numerous historical styles is essentially the most constructive. Indeed, any Gothic church represents a naked and quite unconcealed constructive system of supporting piers, vaults springing from them, and very obviously “working” fly— ing buttresses, which are connected to supporting pylons by arched struts. This is no longer an intensification or dramatization of constructive existence, but a genuine, convincing, and rational constructive life. The feeling for the decora- tive, which nevertheless was sufficiently strong among Gothic artists, ex— pressed itself in architecture, by comparison, as a highly limited sphere of activ— ity—in the ornateness ofthe stained-glass window sashes, the coloration ofthe window panes themselves, and a few plant motifs in the capitals, gargoyles, and rose windows. 98 . II I“ I ml“- 3 Nevertheless. it is extremely easy to trace through this constructive style both the vivid rhythmic system of arranging a procession of supporting pylons and the fine decorative confidence with which the forest of arched struts and gar» goyles pierces the blue of the sky. So what is this? A constructive and rational system, or the impetuous fantasy of a mystical decorator? Naturally, it is both. What we find instructive in this ex- Eiple is the stability of purely aesthetic perceptions, which take the content of architecture to be either a constructive system or a disinterested decorative— ness, depending upon the contemporary state of life and the psychology of the artistically active social groups that are somehow involved in creating architec- tural monuments, or—to put it another way—depending upon the specific con- tent of the architectural genius of the epoch. But a second step always follows the first. Once it is acknowledged that decora- tive elements possess a certain independence, this independence continues to develop further. The decorative impulse. as such. once again grows beyond its self, becomingr transformed into a new system for organizing surface or space. Sometimes it even ceases to be dependent upon a general architectural system. engendering its own often contrary laws. The difference between a "work- ing" and a “non—working" element then disappears. and we can see in the development of almost every single style and frequently in wholly inde- pendent styles how form, having al- ready become mostly decorative, enters into a contradiction with con struction, reaching the level of a full- fledged conflict. At that point dec- orativeness as an end in itselfbecomes the only justification for a design, and efforts to find other objectives here would be in vain. Such, in general, was . the great style of the Baroque, which »~ .' »- - ' . a . r gladly devoted its images to painterly problems lying totally outside the realm of “Modern City. ” Etching by E. I. Norvert constructive forces. Nevertheless, the historian cannot sustain either the justification or the con- demnation of such styles. He must accept them as such; recent research on the Baroque style has shown that we are dealing here with an entity that constituted a fertile, brilliant, and, in its own way, legitimate world, one intertwined in the most tight-knit manner with all the facets of the material and spiritual culture of its time. The constructive and decorative aspects are most frequently perceived as some- thing mutually exclusive, as two extreme poles in the development of architec- tural form. However, it is exceedingly difficult to establish such a sharp distinc- tion between them. As we have already seen, a purely constructive form possesses the capacity/to grow beyond itself and to give us an utterly disin— terested, i.e., aesthetic pleasure; in the same way, while decorative form has its own laws, these often merge with constructive ones. Both terms are part of a larger, more generalized aesthetic conception. An extremely simple, utilitarian, and constructive window in a wall, when a harmonious relationship among its 99 w 3~ “we (“Clare uncompromlsmg War 0“ sides and a rhythmic formula for filling up the walls with it have been developm am". First. Working Grol‘p 0f by the architect, represents in principle the same sort of aesthetic problem as Constructiwsts. 1920[81Cl, Moscow. . . (Alekgei Gan Kunsmlkmizm does a form exhausted by the burden ofornamentation and concealed by it: it. [Constructivism Tver; Tverskoe who. only differences between them lie in the approaches taken by the architects m 1922, p. 3].) [The date of this declaration each particular instance and in these artists' creative psychology and the charac- 35 actually 1931' as noted correctly in ter of their aesthetic emotion. Gan’s book. It was in March of that year that this group of Constructivists was . . g g .‘ ‘ . ' formed in the Institute of Artistic Culture Putting up a row of pillars to support a beam is a purely constructive problem, at (1n,th khmiozhestvennoi kumury,‘ or the same time. if the architect has any thoughts about a specific rhythmic ar- INKHL‘ K. in Moscow. l rangement for these pillars, the problem immediately becomes a purely aesthet— ic one. Painting these pillars constitutes a means of protecting them from incle» ment weather, but as soon as the architect thinks about choosing a specific color for a color scheme, the problem immediately becomes one of decoration. Thus are all these nuances of what is essentially a single architectural sensibility inter- twined in a skein, and attempts to establish their limits would be to force thr- issue. In generalizing all these arguments, we should acknowledge the breadth aesthetic emotion absorbed. for a variety of reasons, within their different as— pects. Yet all of them are viable. as they are equally humane. We do not know what feelings possessed primitive man to put up his dolmen: was it a prototype for a human dwelling and a shelter from the elements, was it a manifestation of his constructive skills and their fulfillment in a purposeful application, or was it perhaps a yearning for a disinterested enjoyment of the first organization of space, the first creation of an aesthetic form? Or might it be that all these feel- ings motivated the prehistoric architect simultaneously? While we are obliged from a historical standpoint to acknowledge objectively that the most diverse approaches to this problem all have an equal right to exist, we still cannot forgo a genetic examination of them. Earlier, in the preceding chapters, we spoke of style as an independent phenomenon—of its youth, maturity, and withering away, of that distinctive language of forms and their combinations which characterizes each change in style. Having analyzed the history of styles, we shall easily to be able to discern the law that is the most characteristic of virtually every great flowering. When a new language of style emerges, when new elements of it are created, there naturally is no need to dilute them with anything else—the new comes into being for the most part as a constructive or utilitarian necessity devoid of decorative embellishments. The decorative elements that subsequently emerge do not dis- rupt the organic life of the monuments until such time as a surfeit of them ex- ceeds these organic bounds, falling into a self-contained play of decorative ele— ments. The youth ofa new style is primarily constructive, its mature period is organic, and its withering away is decorative. Such is the model scheme for the genetic growth ofa considerable number of styles. Moreover, the one exceeding all bounds—self—contained eclecticism, whose legacy remains a heavy burden for us to bear—has confirmed the genetic role of the obsolete European culture: these are the last days of its existence. Now, from this vantage point, we shall likewise attempt to evaluate modern “constructivism” as an artistic phenomenon. Perhaps now we shall be better able to comprehend both the menacing slogan advanced by the Russian Con- structivists2 and its bravado, which are quite natural psychologically and quite familiar to the art historian: there has never, it seems, been a young movement l ()0 —I——-—— which feeling its power. did not wish in its own time and place to press for the abolition of everything that did not conform to its precepts. Furthermore, the emergence at this time of a tendency such as Constructivism not only in Russia but also in Europe (where in most instances. however. it does not seek even ver— bally to abolish art but regards itself as representing its modern manifestation) is all the more natural precisely because it marks a new stage in the evolution of a cycle ofnew artistic ideas. Never have we sensed as we do now the purely histor- ical termination of the forms ot‘classical art. which we have continued to live off of through inertia in recent times; never have we sensed so clearly that the fine and living creation which recently surfaced among us is merely a wax manne— quin. a perfect exhibit. whose rightful place is in the museum. Undoubtedly the course ofhistory has come full circle. The old cycles have been completed. we are now beginning to cultivate a new field of art. and. as always happens in such instances. the problems associated with Utilitarian and con- structive aspects are regarded to he of paramount importance: the new style is aesthetically simple and organically logical. This is why the ideas of(‘oiistructivisnr for all their destructive promises. ap— pear to us at the present moment to be natural. necessary. and vivifying. If stich a "constructivism" is generally characteristic of any pn'mordial condi- tions fora new style. it should prove especially characteristic of the style of our times. The reason for this. ofcourse. must be sought not only in the economic cir‘ cumstances of modernity. but also in the extraordinary psychological role which has begun to be assumed in our lives by the machine and the mechanized life as- sociated with it. whose essence consists of the bare constructive aspects of its component organisms. In the machine there are no elements that are “disinterested” from the standpoint ofelemental aesthetics. There are no so-called “free flights offancy. ” Everything in it has a definite and clear—cut constructive task. One part provides support. another rotates. a third produces forward motion. and a fourth trans- fers that motion to the pulleys. That is why the machine with the most actively functioning parts. with an abso— lute lack of “non—working" organs. quite naturally leads to an utter disregard of decorative elements. for which there is no more room. leads precisely to the idea of Constructivism, so prevalent in our time. which must by its very being absorb the “decorative.” its antithesis. The point is not. as some Constructivists are trying to persuade us. that aesthet— ic emotion has disappeared; that. fortunately. is not the case. and this is best proved by the work of the Constructivists themselves; rather. the point is that under the influence of the transformed conditions of life and the significance of modern economics. technology, and the machine and its logical consequences. 7)}? aesthetic emotion. its character, has been transformed as well. There re- ‘ mains and always will remain within us a need for the aesthetically disin- terested. since this constitutes one of the fundamental and unshakable charac- teristics of our physical or. if you will. biological nature. but the satisfaction of that need is at present taking a different course. The most desirable decorative element for us is precisely the one which is u n varnished in its constructive as- pect; thus. the concept ofthe “constructive” has absorbed within itselfthe concept ofthe “decorative.” has merged with it and caused this entanglement of concepts. 101 The capacity for aesthetic perception as such exists within us all, and the 01(- ment best satisfying that perception at the present time is constructive form ii; its naked, unvarnished aspect. Hence, our reconciliation to the landscape oftlu new life, hence the paintings by artists and the models by stage directors that willingly treat particular elements of construction. the machine, and engineer ing structures as decorative motifs. Undoubtedly there is nothing accidental in modern art’s striving for an austere and ascetic language of constructive forms, just as there is nothing accidental about the epithets that the various artistic groups willingly assign themselves. “Rationalismfl'” “Constructivism,” and all such nicknames are onlyfoutyvard rep~ resentations of a striving for modernity, one which is more profound and fertile than might seem the case at first glance and which is engendered by the new aesthetic ofa mechanized life. It is worth casting a glance at the works ofarchitects and painters. stage direc tors and other masterswthose who are fiercely proclaiming the death ofart—as well as at the works of those who have not yet been able to bring themselves to leave the eclecticism and pseudo-romanticism of recent decades completely be» hind them; we can see in both categories, depending upon the degree ofthe art— ist‘s sensitivity and talent, the same striving for an art that is logical and ra— tional, simple and sober—much more an art of handicraft than an art of en— thusiastic inspiration, much more a profoundly straightforward and advertising art than a listlessly sentimental and rarefied one. Constructivism, as one of the facets of a modern aesthetic, born of clamorous life, steeped in the odors of the street, its maddening tempo, its practicality and everyday concerns. and its aesthetic, willingly absorbing within itself the “Palace of Labor" and the adver- tising posters for popular festivals, is unquestionably one of the characteristic aspects of the new style, avidly accepting modernity in all its positive and nega- tive aspects. ...
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Ginzburg2 - 5 Construction and Form in Architecture Constructlwsm_—————-—-fi s a result ofour analysis ofthe machine's attributes it

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