Monday, January 26, 2015

Structural Expression in Architecture

A notable architectural movement that took hold in the 1970's is the use of structural expression.  As use of steel and concrete became more prevalent and practical, architects began using the structural components as a notable visual element in the design.  These buildings began to take on a machine-like aesthetic with their technical components and sometimes inner workings, revealed and accentuated in the design.

Norman Foster has been a recurring name with this architectural style.  From the HSBC Building in Hong Kong (1986) to his designs today for buildings like the Hearst Tower and the Leadenhall Building, he still often uses this approach today.

HSBC Building, Norman Foster

Hearst Tower, Norman Foster

Here are some other examples:

Centre Pompidou, Richard Rogers

Hancock Center, SOM

In contrast:

One of the most exciting aspects of emerging technologies is the effect on what is possible for an architect.  Architects today have so many options at their disposal with rapid advancements in structural and building system technologies.  This allows for an antithesis to structural expression.

"The best engineer a few decades ago was someone who could create the most beautiful beam of structure; today it's to do a structure you cannot see or understand how it's done.  It disappears and you can talk only about color, symbols, and light.  It's an aesthetic of miracle."
-Jean Nouvel

This approach to architecture invigorates people's imagination and makes them wonder "what makes that stand up?"  This is in dramatic contrast to structural expression which reveals how it works to anyone who can see it and tells its own story with structure.  This approach nearly hides it and makes it a mystery.

Here are some notable examples:

Marina Bay Sands, Moshe Safdie

Barclays Center, SHoP Architects

Villa Kogelhof, Paul de Ruiter

As an architect, I find it interesting to see how structure can be such an integral part of the aesthetic in buildings or completely hidden in the design.  

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