Monday, September 3, 2012

Schlemmer-Tange-Serlio (3-9 September)

On this date in design…

Oskar Schlemmer, German painter, sculptor, designer & choreographer, birthday 4 September 1888
Kenzo Tange, Japanese architect & Pritzker Prize winner, birthday 4 September 1913
Sebastiano Serlio, Italian mannerist architect & author, birthday 6 Septeber 1475 

It seems as though the Bauhaus gets a lot of attention here but its far-reaching impact is limitless.  With the addition of Oskar Schlemmer to the faculty in the sculpture department and eventually the theater department, the influence on the art world exceeded the oppression of the Third Reich.  One unique feature of the Bauhaus is that so many controversial and challenging individuals with conflicting ideas thrived in constructive disharmony.  Schlemmer objected to the popular abstract ideas, focusing more on the human figure and its relationship to the space in which it occupies fundamentally grounding what architecture should be.  This is illustrated by his reduction of the human form to an architectural language that emulated movement thereby “capturing” the fourth dimension in physical space.  The influence of these dancing forms can be seen today in the work of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid who both strive for Schlemmer’s theories in the contemporary world.   

In the aftermath of the destruction of World War II, the metabolist movement took hold in Japan and one of its most ardent supporters and contributors was Kenzo Tange.  This movement is characterized by large-scale flexible & expandable structures what would grow organically as the needs of a population changed.  
It is easy to make this connection in the atmosphere of two nearly leveled cities where the architects of the time were mostly concerned with housing the demoralized population.  In the case of Tange, his design was selected to memorialize the event with the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  The museum hovers over the axis of the park in plain, unadorned concrete so as to not distract from the contents inside; the visitor is suspended on piloti in the figurative mushroom cloud. 
Not long afterward in 1953, Tange was one of the few select architects and journalist who were invited to participate in the documentation of the habitual construction of the Ise Shrine.  Historically a closed process it also marked the end of the US occupation of Japan.  Later, he was able to demonstrate to the world his talent for combining traditional Japanese design with the modernism by completing a few structures for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; the first held in Asia.  This would make Tange’s work in demand around the world and notably, his funeral was held in the Tokyo Cathedral he designed.   

In the time of the Renaissance, the world was hungry to elevate the human experience not just societally and scientifically but artistically.  As advances in building and communication technologies arose and in his day, Sebastiano Serlio laid the groundwork for proliferation of the Italian Renaissance style throughout Europe with his influential book “I Sette Libri Dell'architettura”, a.k.a. “The Seven Books of Architecture”.  This addition to the design community enlivened the atmosphere.  It examined and definitively identified the proportions and geometries of architecture.  It combined both high quality illustration with explicit written instruction for not only architects but the builders and craftsmen of the time to achieve what could be argued perfection in built design focusing on the practical rather than theoretical aspects. 
This work is still in use today and is a phenomenal reference for the classical orders.  The comparison could be made that what Serlio did for architecture was what the Bauhaus accomplished in the 20th century.  To see Serlio’s work in physical form visit le Châteaux de Fontainebleau.    

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