Course Information
Department of Architecture, Cornell University

Building technology quotes

Jonathan Ochshorn

That technical considerations are an "abomination" to the artist
Quote by Hans Poelzig, writing in 1921.

"All purely technical considerations are an abomination to the artist from the start. Even if he knows that these purely technical matters cannot be avoided, that they have to be tackled, he also knows and continually feels that technology plays far too large a part in the life of the present age, and he will continue to struggle against its dominance. Technical and artistic intentions are and remain complete contrasts, and the artist knows only too well how German art expresses this confused, rowdy, deviate, utter and complete irrational charm... He (the artist) thinks of nothing but the chance that he may plant this piece of land with the constructs of his imagination — to the extent they are at his disposal — and only then does he try to whittle down his constructs to the level on which present-day life moves."

That no one would purposely design a dysfunctional building just to look picturesque
Quote by Pugin, writing in 1853.

Pugin wrote that the picturesque "results from the ingenious methods by which the old builders overcame local and constructive difficulties... I am quite assured that all the irregularities that are so beautiful in ancient architecture are the result of certain necessary difficulties, and were never purposely designed; for to make a building inconvenient for the sake of obtaining irregularity would be scarcely less ridiculous that preparing working drawings for a new ruin."

That specialists (technical consultants) are not needed: an architect who makes "organic" buildings can do it alone!
Quote by Frank Lloyd Wright, lecturing in 1939.

"There is no very great difficulty in creating an organism, an entity, in the way of a building in which all needed services are incorporated features of the building. But that type of building, call it creation, cannot be under any 'specialistic' system such as that to which you [the questioner] refer. Such creation must occur by single-minded mastery on the part of the creator of the building, and that alone is organic building. We cannot in organic building have a group of specialists; we have to relegate the expert to the back-yard of the building... or to oblivion."

That dividing architectural instruction into ornamentation (decoration), the arrangement of spaces (distribution), and building technology (construction) leads students to concentrate on one while ignoring the other two
Quote is by Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand, writing in 1802.

"To divide architecture into three entirely independent arts [decoration, distribution, and construction], which may and indeed must be studied separately, is to ensure that the aspiring architect will develop a predilection for one of those arts, devote himself to it, neglect the two others, often fail to concern himself with them at all, and consequently acquire only a portion of the knowledge that he needs."

That methods of construction may be conveniently concealed if they cannot be expressed:
Quote is by Leopold Eidlitz, writing in 1881.

After a nasty battle of styles (Antique vs. Medieval) architects settled into a kind of truce — "Like most wars, this ended in exhaustion on both sides... A truce was established on the basis of a division of the possible spoils, with a semblance of mutual respect and reconciliation. Before the public, the parties admitted both Antique and Medieval architecture to be respectable systems of art, each fully capable of expressing ideas; confessed that ideas are at best somewhat unsettled at present, that methods of construction may be conveniently concealed if they cannot be expressed, and that the selection of architectural forms is very much a matter of taste."

That architects should leave the "mechanical" stuff to engineers and concentrate on artistic arrangement and ornament:
Quote is by James Fergusson, writing in 1887.

It is not essential that the engineer should know anything of architecture, though it is certainly desirable he should do so; but, on the other hand, it is indispensably necessary that the architect should understand construction. Without that knowledge he cannot design; but it would be well if, in most instances, he would delegate the mechanical part of his task to the engineer, and so restrict himself entirely to the artistic arrangement and the ornamentation of his design. This division of labor is essential to success, and was always practised [sic] where art was a reality; and no great work should be undertaken without the union of the two."

On the necessity to build without working drawings:
Quote is by Christopher Alexander.

"The details of a building cannot be alive when they are specified in the form of working drawings, because these drawings always assume, for the sake of simplicity, that the various manifestations of a given part are all identical.

"The person who draws a working drawing cannot draw each window, or each brick, differently, because he has no basis for knowing the subtle differences which will be required. These only become clear when the actual building process is already under way. So he draws them the same, because he has no reason, sitting at the drawing board, to make them different. But the builder builds according to a detailed drawing, and is constrained by his contract to make the building exactly like the drawing—and in the actual building this becomes dead and artificial."

On difficulty of designing a problem-free building:
Quote is by Frank O. Gehry.

"These things are complicated and they involved a lot of people, and you never quite know where they went wrong. A building goes together with seven billion pieces of connective tissue. The chances of it getting done ever without something colliding or some misstep are small."

On responsibility of architect to understand building construction:
Quotes are by Peter Eisenman.

"There's not an architect I know that doesn't have problems with important buildings," Mr. Eisenman said in a recent interview in his New York office. He cited a comment that Frank Lloyd Wright is said to have made when a client called to complain that a house was leaking: You mean you left my building out in the rain? "Do you know any architect that's been free of that? I don't know any," Mr. Eisenman said. "Frank, Rem—they all do," he said, referring to Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhaas. "Wright, Corbu, Mies. Look at Mies and the Farnsworth House—enormous problems."

On particular qualities of materials:
Quotes are by Michael Graves.

On the relationship of conceptual design to building technology:
Quote by Piet Mondrian.

"If one takes technique, utilitarian requirements, etc., as the point of departure, there is a risk of losing every chance of success, for intuition is then troubled by intelligence."

On construction failures:
Quote by Benjamin Latrobe.

"I am very sorry the arches have fallen, both on account of the expense & the disgrace of the thing. But I have had such accidents before, and on a larger scale, & must therefore grin & bear it."

On the dangers of water:
Quote by Leon Battista Alberti.

"For Rain is always prepared to do Mischief, and where-ever there is the least Crack never fails to get in and do some Hurt or other: By its Subtility it penetrates and makes its way by its Humidity rots and destroys, by its Continuance loosens and unknits all the Nerves of the Building, and in the End ruins and lays Waste the whole Structure to the very Foundations. And for this Reason prudent Architects have always taken care that the Rain should have a free Slope to run off; and that the Water should never be stop' d in any Place, or get into any Part where it cou'd do Hurt."

On choosing defective material because of an institutionalized lack of knowledge:
Quote by Horatio Greenough.

"The defects of the stone of which the Capitol was built could have been no secret to Mr. Bulfinch [one of the Capitol architects]. Had there existed a board, or a school, or any other responsible depository of architectural experience, we should not have witnessed the deplorable recurrence to the same quarries for the construction of the Patent Office and the Treasury buildings. The outlay in paint alone, to which recourse has been had in order to sheathe this friable material, would have maintained a school which would have saved us from the blunder..."

On building a 12-mile-tall satellite launcher:
Quote by Roger Entner.

image from Thoth Technologies

Image from Thoth Technologies

Stability is a key concern, noted Roger Entner, principal analyst at Recon Analytics. "It's promising — it's just that physics stands in the way," he told TechNewsWorld. "I think transmuting lead into gold would also be an awesome idea."