Monday, June 4, 2012

Mackintosh-Wright-Gaudi (4-10 June)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Scottish architect & furniture designer, birthday 7 June 1868
Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect & educator, birthday 8 June 1867
Antoni Gaudí, Spanish Catalan architect, death 10 June 1926

The most notable Scottish architect is without question Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The springboard of his career was when he won the competition to design the new building for the Glasgow School of Art. With his future wife Margaret Macdonald collaborating on the interiors, the result was a blend of clean rectangular shapes with languid and delicate curves sourced from Art Nouveau.  In the years that followed he designed a chain of tea rooms for Kate Cranston.  For each he designed not only the walls and furniture but in the case of the Willow’s Room de Luxe he went so far as to design the teaspoons and the waitresses’ uniforms.  At the Sauchiehall Street Tearoom he developed his signature “light feminine” and “dark masculine” color schemes; something that seems commonplace today.  One could say that Mackintosh originated the concept of “brand identity” not just for himself as a designer but for his clients. 
His innovative rectilinear chairs had far reaching influence as later seen in the dining set of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House.  Later Mackintosh along with his wife, her sister and Herbert McNair would become known as “The Four” and developed The Spook School.   The group was one of the first to exhibit at the Vienna Secession as examples of the Gesamthkunstwerk (“total work of art”) premise.    

I again beg for forgiveness as I indulge in childhood heroes this week.  When it comes to Frank Lloyd Wright deciding what to highlight is a virtual impossibility.  As a child interested in architecture I was naturally drawn to Wright not just for his genius but on a subconscious level as so much of how our modern lives are arranged can be linked to his innovation.  Wright emerged from the Arts and Crafts tradition to define American architectural style.  The concept of the Usonian House set the stage for suburban development after World War II.  The Prairie School of thought brought us the “Ranch”-style house and his earlier work with concrete formwork is still emulated today.  As I visit New York this weekend, the only thing that is holding me back from sneaking a pair of rollerblades onto the ramp of the Guggenheim is the fact it is currently closed for an installation. 
But I think one of the most humanizing characteristic of Wright’s illustrious career is the fact that when his clients called to inquire to the progress of the design for their vacation home, he lied and told them preliminary drawings are ready for review.  Wright proceeded to quickly draft up a few elevations and a plan in the three hours it took them to drive to his office.  The result was Fallingwater.  See, we all procrastinate and fib every once in a while. 

Allow me to indulge just a moment longer…the second most influential architect of my own personal career is Antoni Gaudí.  His striking and distinct style is nothing more than captivating.  One feels as though sucked into a surrealistic fantasy as Gaudí elaborated on Art Nouveau concepts incorporating native Catalan techniques of tile work called trencadís as well as wrought iron and stained glass.  This favored son of Barcelona enriched the city with such works as Sagrada Família, Casa Milà and Park Güell to name a few.  His work however was widely dismissed after his death due to several factors including the proliferation of the modernist design movement, the Spanish Civil War and the fact that he left behind no written documents. 
Before the advent of modern engineering let alone computer drafting Gaudí used weighted string models upside down to design the complex arch forces and weight distribution.   His work may not have been as prolific as Wright’s by comparison but it is ingenious none the less.  After all, we would not have the term “gaudy” if it were not for Gaudí.  And as I always like to say: “Gaudiness is next to Godliness”; fitting for the man sometimes referred to as “God’s Architect.”         

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