Actual-Size Architecture, a San Francisco bay area residential design

Click on a line to reveal examples of architecture that exemplify that pair of ingredients.

Click on one of the examples to read its description below.








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The Twelve Principal Ingredients

that I’ve established for designing architecture are described below. They do not constitute a recipe; they simply provide a palette of considerations I assess as clients introduce me to their project.   commentary

Function — a building's purpose, how it is used, how it accommodates the people who use it. A building designed to last many years may serve different functions over the course of it's life.

Space/Form — the volumes within and around architecture as well as the forms that shape them.

Structure — those elements of the building that hold it up, anchor it to the ground, or resist wind or seismic forces.

Materials — what the building is made of, considering properties such as durability, appearance, inherent structural qualities, weight, ease of fabrication and construction, reusability or recycleability, potential toxicity and so forth.

Systems — ways of developing basic material or power into complex assemblies. It includes structural methods; heating, cooling and ventilation systems and their integration; power generation; thermal storage; and so forth.

Economics — the available capital, labor, and material. It can also refer to the balance of initial expense versus the expense of long-term maintenance and repair.

Physical Context — the geological, geographical, environmental, and climactic aspects of a site. This includes solar orientation, microclimate, and local ecosystem, as well as the psychological sense of place unique to a site (sometimes called the Genius Loci).

Law — governmental oversight through zoning and building codes, and taxation. Zoning regulations govern open space, land use, and environmental impact. Building codes are concerned with fire protection, life safety, personal and environmental health, and efficiency of water and energy usage. Private developments may have their own additional covenants and restrictions.

Cultural Context — the history and culture within which a building appears. This social backdrop, or "Zeitgeist," may take into consideration existing local and regional architecture or draw from parallels within allied arts such as literature and philosophy. It comes into play both in the preservation of existing buildings and cultural institutions, and their influence on the way we design today.

Meaning — symbolism or allusion. Even structures with no ornament or decoration can convey meaning simply through massing or architypal form. A building can intimate an emotional state or personality, or express social or ideological messages.

Aesthetics — here refers to aesthetics for its own sake, as opposed to those inherent to the materials, a structural system, or a preconceived style. This might include a pronounced horizontality, a muted color scheme, framed view, predominance of a certain material, or the use of light to emphasize color, texture, or volume.

Originality — here used in the sense of one's personal aesthetic impetus, as opposed to novel arrangements or interpretations of other factors. Of course one's originality can still be influenced by cultural constructs, or by the tools a designer uses such as perspective or 3D software.


Examples of architecture that embody these ingredients:


Stonehenge  An inner ring of bluestones is thought to have been transported from a region of Wales known for the healthy properties of its spring water. If so, this suggests an association with healing. The orientation of later stones is toward sunrise at the winter solstice, and the avenue from River Avon aligns with sunset at the summer solstice, associating celestial with earthly events. (Physical Context/Meanining)   images   top
16th c. BCE Egypt
  Temple of Karnak  The forest-like density of papyrus columns, here on a divine scale, is necessitated by the severely limited span of stone lintels. (Structure/Space-Form) images   top
10th c. BCE Iran
  Windcatcher  A rooftop extension of the desert house faces the predominant wind, and channels it through the interior spaces. In a later development, the outside air is channeled past amphora-like water vessels, saturated from within, that condition the air through evaporative cooling. (Systems/Physical Context) images   top
4th c. BCE Nubia
  Parabolic Vault  In the upper Nile valley, baked-earth adobe bricks were the predominant building material, being easily made, and absorbing the heat of the sun during the day. Placed in successive couses of parabolic arches, bricks could be laid up without formwork. The parabolic form takes only the weight of its own material. (Space-Form/Structure/Materials) images   top
2nd c. BCE India
  Stupa  Funerary monuments such as at Karle, Bhaja and Ajanta are carved out of rock in voids shaped to naturally resist compressive forces — the vault and the dome. The vault is the arch form extruded, the dome, the arch form rotated about its center. (Space-Form/Materials) images   top
1st c. Rome   Colosseum  Though the Greeks utilized the arch form where structurally necessary and out of sight, it was always considered an impure device. The Romans employed it universally, and in great variety. Even so, the roots of Roman culture were thoroughly Hellenic, and the orders remained in the design of the Colosseum and other early structures. Doric, Ionic, the lesser-used Corinthian, and a new Composite order were assigned to sequentially higher levels in the structure. (Cultural Context/Aesthetics) images   top
2nd c. Rome   Pantheon  In arch-based structures such as the dome of the Pantheon, gravitational forces compressed masonry against itself to bridge a span. The resulting concavity forms a microcosm of the heavens. (Space-Form/Meaning) images   top
6th c. Japan   Wood Joinery  Complex wood joinery came to Japan with Buddhism. The systems were employed to take loads exerted by the region's typhoons by flexing enough to avoid structural failure. Carved stone bases on which the columns rested were rounded on the underside to allow the whole structure to rock slightly. Deep eaves kept wind-driven rain from the exterior walls. (Structure/Physical Context) images   top
7th c. Buddhist Japan   Pagoda  Unlike the western method if anchoring a tall structure to the earth with grounded tensile reinforcement, the tiers of the pagoda are stacked loosely on top of each other. This allows each tier to slide a few inches in relation to the one below it during a seismic jolt. To keep the whole tower from overturning, an enormous tree trunk is suspended from the top tier, reaching almost to the ground. The lateral thrust of an earthquake is absorbed by the swaying of this pendulum. (Structure/Systems) images   top
8th c. Japan   Ise Naiku Shrine  This Shinto shrine is ritually disassembled and rebuilt on an adjacent site once every twenty years, enduring as simultaneously ancient and perpetually new. (Meaning/Cultural Context) images   top
10th c. Europe   Church Form  The increasing popularity of saint worship led to the development of chapels — small, dedicated alcoves created within the apse or transept walls. (Space-Form/Cultural Context) images   top
11th c. Europe   Pointed Arch  Europeans exposed to Moorish architecture during the Crusades adopted the pointed arch for it's height-increasing potential. With some self-righteous exceptions, they adopted the infidels' zero-based numerology around the same time. (Structure/Cultural Context) images   top
11th c. Great Britain   Lincoln Cathedral  Geometric and structural gymnastics continue to awe visitors numb to standard cathedral touring. (Structure/Aesthetics) images   top
12th c. Europe   Flying Buttress  The higher the spring line of the arches in a Gothic structure, the wider the lateral buttressing needed to be. Using material-conserving half-arch structures to buttress either side of a main arch originated in early Romanesque structures, but here resulted in church architecture as spatially intricate on the outside as within. (Space-Form/Structure) images   top
17th c. Dutch   Townhouse  Being taxed only for the square footage of their ground floors, they cantilever each successive floor above for maximum area. With similarly cantilevered houses across the way, this led to darker streets, and so an innovative positioning of windows toward property line walls maximized available light. (Law/Space-Form) images   top
18th c. Great Britain   Conservatories  When William III levied a tax on windows, the more ostentatious of the upper class used conservatories and orangeries to flaunt their wealth. (Materials/Law) images   top
18th, 19th c. Cities   Zoning Laws  Heights of buildings were restricted in order to preserve views of noted landmarks — in Washington DC, no more than 20 feet higher than the width of the adjacent avenue; in St. Petersburg, Russia, no higher than the Winter Palace; in Philadelphia, no higher than William Penn's hat, on the statue crowning City Hall. (Space-Form/Law) images   top
19th c. New York   Zoning Laws  These laws were instituted to facilitate access to light and ventilation by mandating deeper setbacks from the front property line the higher a building grew. (Space-Form/Law) images   top
Alvar Aalto   Finnish Pavilion  Whether taken from the waving form of the Aurora Borealis or the palisade-like stands of conifers lining Finland's undulating lake shores, these meandering forms create an evocative architectural abstraction. (Space-Form/Meaning) images   top
Alberti   Sant’Andrea, Mantua  In contrast to the centralized space later to become the hallmark of renaissance church plans, here Alberti preserved the length of the Latin cross plan with its apse-oriented directionality. To emphasize the commencement of this procession of spaces, he incorporated the form of the Roman triumphal arch within the west facade. (Cultural Context/Aesthetics) images   top
Archigram, et al   Inflatable Structures  The wide variety of possible forms was more an iconoclastic rejection of hard-edged traditional building systems than it was practical. The inflated forms did however have the advantage of low cost, light weight and portability, and have been employed where practical since the 1950's. Typically only the space within wall cavities is pressurized, so that airlocks at the entrances are not necessary. (Space-Form/Materials) images   top
Catherine Beecher   Woman's Home Proposal  Elements utilizing fire — heating and cooking — are set in the center of this house plan for efficiency of construction as well as containment of heat. Tributary spaces are wrapped around this core. (Space-Form/Systems) images   top
A.G. Bell, B. Fuller   Space Frame  Conceived independently by both Alexander Graham Bell and Buckminster Fuller, the space frame is essentially a truss grown in width as well as length, so that loads can be transferred to just a few supporting points. (Structure/Systems) images   top
Jeremy Bentham   Panopticon  Now emblematic of life under authoritarian rule, the Panopticon was designed to allow visual monitoring of prison inmates from a central location. (Function/Space-Form) images   top
George Bergstrom   The Pentagon  The shape of The Pentagon was originally dictated by the shape of the odd site near Arlington Cemetery. Appropriate to it's use, the overall form is reminiscent of 17th century fortress design. Originally irregular, at President Roosevelt's request it was moved further south so as not to obstruct views of Washington. Though it was finally made a regular pentagon, there wasn't enough time in the late summer of 1941 to reconfigure the plan dramatically, and the symbolic shape remained. (Cultural Context/Meaning) images   top
Borromini   Palazzo Spada  A rich example of artificially shortening one’s perspective by trapezoidally distorting a rectangular volume. Here, a diminutive statue is thereby given greater prominence. (Space-Form/Systems/Aesthetics) images   top
Borromini   San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane  The interplay of elliptical and circular volumes have departed so far from their platonic origins as to feel almost naturally occuring. Details reflect inspiration from Michelangelo and nature, as well as Classical architecture. (Space-Form/Cultural Context) images   top
Gordon Bunshaft   Beinecke Library  Rare books are protected from daylight by exterior walls of thinly sliced white marble. The natural figure of the stone glows on the inside during the day, and outside at night. (Materials/Aesthetics) images   top
Brunelleschi   Dome, Santa Maria del Fiore  Political aversion to Milanese Gothic and a will to emulate the edifices of ancient Rome led to a competition to dome this octagonal crossing with no lateral buttressing. Brunelleschi's solution was to link two concentric, ribbed shells in a truss-like manner — a dome within a dome. The outward thrust normally held in check by buttressing was taken up by stone and wood tension rings. Equally inventive was the interlinked-brick construction that required no centering. (Structure/Systems) images   top
Santiago Calatrava   Alamillo Bridge  A sculptural, cantilevered spar in this cable-stayed bridge, though well beyond what is structurally necessary, contributes to a highly exuberant originality. Later works sacrifice even more structural sense for originality. (Structure/Originality) images   top
Peter Eisenman   Boston's City Hall Competition  Fissures through, and boundaries around this design map the footprints of buildings that formerly occupied the site. Eisenman's later proposal for the Cannaregio Town Square incorporated references to an unbuilt hospital by le Corbusier – a design incorporating a what-if sort of archaeological conjecture. (Meaning/Aesthetics) images   top
James Finley   Suspension Bridge  Though suspension bridges date to several hundred years BCE, this is of the seminal suspended-deck type, with a level surface hung from the cables allowed greater clearance for river traffic below. The nearly-parabolic catenary curve is the shape that cable takes under its own weight. (Structure/Space-Form) images   top
Norman Foster   Reichstag Dome  The shape of the interior volume grows from the method of harnessing daylight from above with a funnel of suspended mirrors, distributing the light throughout the interior. (Space-Form/Systems) images   top
James I Freed   Holocaust Museum, Washington DC  One's experience of this museum is laden with the gravitas of period structural systems — riveted iron and jack-arched brick. (Systems/Meaning) images   top
Buckminster Fuller   Geodesic Dome  Gravity and wind loads are resisted by being distributed across a web of lightweight connections. Adjacent points act together, each taking a small fraction of the total load. (Materials/Systems/Economics) images   top
Buckminster Fuller   Dymaxion House  Expanding on Catherine Beecher's core, the center here incorporates the nexus of plumbing, electrical, and structural systems. (Space-Form/Systems) images   top
Antonio Gaudi   Casa Mila  What first appears to be a whimsical anamorphic rooftop addition is a highly rational structural system. Each corner of the all-brick construction features a parabolic dome. These sit on rib cages of parabolic arches radiating out from the corners. Each pair of arches is angled away from the domes to counter the outward thrust. Where the curve of each parabola most closely approximates a semicircle, and is therefore able to resist centripetal forces, brick-infilled shoulders above the arches support a flat roof deck. (Structure/Systems) images   top
Frank Gehry   Gehry House, Santa Monica  Southern California's mild climate has long fostered plays of solid and transparent volumes. Here Gehry introduces chain link fence to define spacial volumes. (Materials/Originality) images   top
Frank Gehry   Fishdance Restaurant, Kobe  Gehry's childhood infatuation with fish took literal form in many midcareer works like this. (Space-Form/Originality) images   top
James Gibbs   St. Martin in the Fields, London  Introducing a single spire over the west portico, classically detailed yet a form Gothic in origin, draws one's focus heavenward. (Space-Form/Meaning) images   top
Michael and Patty Hopkins   Houses of Parliament Offices  Air distribution networks crown these new buildings, their forms evocative of the neighboring mansard roofs. The chimney form, traditionally used to exhaust smoke from fires, is here used to vent stale air after recapturing heat through a thermal recovery exchanger. (Systems/Cultural Context) images   top
Michael and Patty Hopkins   Bracken House  The historic bay window type incorporated in this building has precedent in the neighborhood. Here however, an overtly modern gunmetal structural system cantilevers the bays. Cast spandrel panels double as ductwork channels and glazing support. (Structure/Cultural Context) images   top
Baron von Haussmann   Plan for Paris  In this massive imposition on the city, the existing street plan was overlaid with boulevards cutting diagonally through neighborhoods to join monuments. This allowed the French army to better defend the city by easier observation of invading troops. (Function/Space-Form/Structure) images   top
Inuit   Igloo  The compression-resistant quality of packed snow, the most readily available material in the arctic, informs these arch-based structures. Centering is not required, as the blocks are erected in a spiral fashion, each leaning on the previous one. Heat generated within creates a film of ice on the inside surface of the dome, strengthening the construction. Snow's insulating nature prevents melting of the dome. (Space-Form/Materials) images   top
Thomas Jefferson   Serpentine Wall  Only a single withe of brick is required in this wall, kept upright by meandering to either side of its axis. (Space-Form/Economics) images   top
Fay Jones   Thorncrown Chapel  Small, lightweight structural members were necessitated by the difficulty in accessing this site. All materials had to be hand carried from the nearest road. Steel joinery left open in the middle adds to the chapel's airiness. (Structure/Systems) images   top
Louis Kahn   Exeter Library  Jack arches in the brick façade grow deeper the further they span in each successively higher story. Consequently the piers between become more slender as they ascend, as the need to carry weight decreases. The arch and pier grid is a refinement of a motif found in some 12th-century Romanesque towers, though here the four façades are held back from joining at the corners to emphasize that they take gravity loads only, the lateral loads being resisted by the concrete frame within. (Structure/Materials) images   top
Louis Kahn   Institute of Management, Ahmedabad  In a hot, earthquake-prone landscape that yields only bricks for a building material, Kahn and his engineer August Komendant developed a masonry structure capable of withstanding lateral and upthrust seismic forces. The layering of outer and inner walls shields the interior from solar heat gain. One wonders whether the Romans would have developed a similar vocabulary of forms had they not been so fixated on showcasing the Greek orders. (Structure/Physical Context) images   top
Louis Kahn   Kimbell Museum  There is a kind of poetic echoing between materials in the Kimbell. Travertine, with its crystaline voids is placed side-by-side with concrete that has been poured without so much vibration as to lose its similarly-proportioned air pockets. On the exterior, the stone is left with its original bandsaw markings. The wavy appearance mirrors the ripples in the unbroken surface of the adjacent pools of water. (Materials/Aesthetics) images   top
Louis Kahn   Salk Institute  Kahn here employed the Vierendiel truss, a massive concrete structural member with the advantage of no intervening diagonals. This allowed uninterrupted open laboratory space, while accommodating all necessary access to utilities and services between via the intermediate story created within the depth the truss itself. (Function/Structure) images   top
Louis Kahn   Center for British Art  Extensive use of oak inside this museum is a direct reference to the long British tradition of interior wood paneling. (Materials/Meaning) images   top
Josef Kleihues   Museum for Pre- and Early History  Original trusses of this church are rebuilt in wood with plate-steel fittings. The medieval forms coexist effortlessly with their modern detailing. (Structure/Cultural Context) images   top
Lakota, et al   Tipi  Women of these tribes developed the easily-assembled and dismantled tipi to satisfy portability requirements — necessitated by nomadism. (Function/Systems) images   top
le Corbusier   Villa Savoie  By virtue of a grid of slender columns, interior spaces were freed from being defined by the locations of bearing walls. They could then assume the optimal shape function required. This plan libre, was first developed in le Corbusier's prototypical Dom-Ino housing unit. (Space-Form/Function) images   top
le Corbusier   Mill Owners Building  The searing tropical sun is greatly tempered by the deep concrete overhangs on the south façade, and deep diagonal concrete fins on the west, keeping out direct solar gain while allowing daylight to penetrate the building. (Space-Form/Physical Context) images   top
J.H. Mansart   Mansard Roof  In 17th century Paris, property taxes were levied for each story of a building, up to the bottom edge of the roof. Mansart popularized the gambrel-like expansion of attics into tax-free full stories, with roofs coming down almost vertically at the sides to create the most usable space within. (Space-Form/Law) images   top
Erich Mendelsohn   Einstein Observatory  Mendelsohn's predilection for fluid, curvilinear forms was influenced by his fascination with Einstein's work. Though thought of as an expression of the possibilities of concrete, it was built in stuccoed brick because of the shortage of cement. (Space-Form/Originality) images   top
Michelangelo   Tomb of Julius II, first design, Statues  An architectural censure of the church's hegemony over its twelve states. Each statue, embodying a state, is left purposefully unfinished, unfreed from the stone. But positioning each figure in front of a column evoked the ancient practice of binding conquered slaves to poles for parading in victory processions – an allusion that may have escaped the pope's eye. Athens’ Erechtheum stems from the same roots. (Cultural Context/Meaning) images   top
Oskar von Miller   Planetarium  The domed projection screen first seen in the Deutsches Museum in Munich reifies the ancients' conception of the heavens. (Function/Space-Form) images   top
Samuel Mockbee   Rural Studio Houses  Reusing discarded material for building is as old as building itself. Industrial society has increased the available stock. In Samuel Mockbee's studio of architecture students, carpet samples stack to form insulating walls, road signs are reborn as roofing, and less economically, but to dramatic effect, windshields form a chapel's canopy. Finding such reuse here in the most impoverished of communities feels both more authentic and more gratifying than seeing a prize junkyard find crowning a multimillion-dollar "green" house. (Materials/Economics) images   top
Rafael Moneo   Museum of Roman Art  Bricks of antique proportion are laid up in arches of Roman character and scale. The ancient structural system enhances the contents of this museum with a spirit of context lacking in "white box" museums. (Materials/Cultural Context) images   top
Mongols   Yurt  Sheeps' wool is spread on the ground, watered, and matted into a thick insulating felt. This is attached to a lightweight, portable lattice. The door is oriented southward and a vent hole centered in the roof doubles as a sundial. (Materials/Systems) images   top
Mickey Muenning   Post Ranch Inn  Tree house-like cabins impart the loftiness of the surrounding Redwoods. The irregularity of the structural grid minimizes the feeling that civilization has intruded into the site. (Physical Context/Aesthetics) images   top
Jean Nouvel   l'Institute du Monde Arabe  Variable-aperature mechanical diaphragms blanket the south edifice like a colossal mashrabiya. Photo sensors modulate the size of the apertures. (Systems/Cultural Context/Meaning) images   top
Frei Otto   West German Pavilion, Montreal Expo  Membrane structures form natural hyperboloids when contorted. Otto took braced these forms against wind loads with by integrating tensile members. (Space-Form/Materials) images   top
Joseph Paxton  

Crystal Palace  Lifting of the glass tax in the United Kingdom came along just as refinements in steel production were leading to the development of lightweight, rolled steel sections. Paxton, a horticulturalist familiar with greenhouse construction, conceived this exhibition building. Later this unprecedented volume became familiar universally in the form of railway stations across Great Britain. (Structure/Space-Form) images   top

Richard Rogers   Turbine Tower, Tokyo  Wind-powered turbines are given a boost by centering them in a venturi created between two airfoil like towers. (Space-Form/Physical Context) images   top
Eero Saarinen   Dulles Airport  Draping steel reinforcing from one row of supporting pylons to the other, and casting the whole assembly in concrete created a sweeping catenary shaped roof inseparable from the allusion to flight. A recent extension of the roof toward the ends further enhances the air-foil like appearance. (Structure/Meaning) images   top
Karl Friedrich Schinkel   Altes Museum  Berlin, in a surge of post-Napoleonic patriotism, turned an aesthetic eye toward Greek forms. Considered structurally pure, the Hellenic ideal is here stretched to an unprecedented breadth. The tightly-bookended colonnade hints at the repetitiveness of the galleries within, an arrangement appearing nearly the same time as Viollet-le-Duc's writings on module. A square attic story subdues the exterior impact of a central, double-height rotunda. (Space-Form/Cultural Context) images   top
Vladimir Shukhov   Pavilions, All-Russia Exposition 1896  The first steel tensile structure was based on a double-centered tent form; a framed shell structure incorporated compound curves in compression. All interior spaces directly reflected the exterior forms — the structure defined the volumes. (Space-Form/Materials) images   top
Sir John Soane   Soane House  Vertical light wells draw daylight deep into this four-story townhouse. Even on the ground floor diffusion of light remains balanced and dramatic, the tea room especially, with its adjacent, top-lit galleries. (Space-Form/Aesthetics) images   top
James Stirling   Neue Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart  The cylindrical central space is an allusion to the rotunda buried within Schinkel's seminal 19th-century Altes Museum in Berlin. Two earlier German museums by Stirling, in Dusseldorf and Northrhine-Westphalia, feature similar open-sky cylinders. (Space-Form/Meaning) images   top
Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan   Wainwright Building  Increasingly expensive downtown real estate and the advent of the steel-framed structure, the elevator, indoor plumbing, and later the telephone allowed the advent the skyscraper. With Dankmar Adler, Louis Sullivan was the first to treat the skyscraper with an aesthetic of it’s own. When edifices were still thought of in terms of a classical stacking of orders, Sullivan focused the aesthetic on verticals, emphasizing the unprecedented height. (Space-Form/Aesthetics) images   top
Vladimir Tatlin   Monument to the Third International  Expression of forces both centrifugal and centripital draw one’s attention in and out of this assemblage of meeting rooms and auditoria, intended to house a forum for the globalization of communism. (Originality/Aesthetics) images   top
Jorn Utzon   Sydney Opera House  Inspired by the peeling of an orange, this son of a naval engineer created a rib-supported, tile-clad structure better known for evoking images of shells or sails. (Space-Form/Originality) images   top
Robert Venturi   Vanna Venturi House  Though better known for his later forays into symbolism, Venturi here disrupts the rectangular formality of modern space planning to resolve conflicting spatial requirements of overlapping functions. The resulting geometry can be seen as a foreshadow of deconstruction. (Function/Space-Form) images   top
Viollet-le-Duc   Functional Massing  Instead of contorting his interior spaces to fit a classical pattern of windows in a symmetrical façade, Viollet-le-Duc formed his exteriors to reflect the workings of the rooms within. (Space-Form/Function) images   top
Webler+Geissler   Gotz Headquarters  This building for a curtain wall manufacturer appears at first to be a classic, energy-sapping glass box. But sun-control louvers and a volume of circulating air within the double-glazed exterior wall assembly give the building a remarkably high energy efficiency. Vents and fans are controled by a sophisticated automation system, operating based on the inputs of occupancy, thermal, rainfall, and other sensors throughout the building. (Systems/Physical Context) images   top
Frank Lloyd Wright   Prairie Houses  were laid out around a central hearth to more evenly heat the rooms. To Wright the fireplace served the second purpose of symbolizing the spiritual center of the family. (Space-Form/Physical Context/Meaning/Aesthetics) images   top
Frank Lloyd Wright   Fallingwater  Steel-reinforced concrete cantilevers at Fallingwater pay homage to the massive geological protrusions unique along this stream. Casting steel into the concrete where tensile strength was required was made possible by the similar thermal expansion coefficient of the two materials, and had been in practice for some time. This was the first dramatic expression of its potential. (Space-Form/Materials/Systems/Physical Context/Meaning) images   top
Frank Lloyd Wright   Usonian House  These houses harbored multiple functions within their few spaces. Corridors were minimized and loaded with closets, laundry, and other functions normally requiring their own circulation space. (Space-Form/Economics) images   top
Frank Lloyd Wright   Johnson Wax Administration  The lattice-like cylindrical structure of a desert cactus finds itself emulated in the expanded-steel metal reinforcing within this building's unusually slender columns. Walls are made of a brick designed with dovetails on the backside, which key the bricks into a steel-reinforced mortar core. The effect is a structurally monolithic wall. (Structure/Systems) images   top
Frank Lloyd Wright   Taliesin West  Strata of rock in the nearby McDowell mountain range are thrust up at an angle duplicated in the masonry walls of this structure. (Physical Context/Meaning/Aesthetics) images   top


More about the twelve ingredients

The twelve ingredients I’ve listed here represent the myriad points of departure from which one can start a design. It may be misleading to have them arranged as shown, however. Among the limitations of this format are the following:

These particular twelve are not gospel. One could argue that the human body should be thought of as it’s own category, but here I place the ergonomics of a door handle or the choreography of a kitchen under Function, and the projection of facial or anamorphic features under Aesthetics. The process of design itself is sometimes considered a factor of it’s own, though I would consider it an instrument within our Cultural Context. Light is often spoken of in it’s own right; here I consider it just one aspect — though an important one — of Aesthetics.

The ideal work does not necessarily incorporate all these ingredients. Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater would suffer if it incorporated cultural references. Additionally, a great work of architecture may draw its strength from, for example, a pragmatic layout and refined aesthetic independently – whereas in this diagram only those with interrelated Function and Aesthetics appear.

A strong peculiarity of site, budget, client background, or program requirement may weigh heavily in the way these factors are balanced. Every project must be considered unique.

Where this diagram does justice is to those vital works of architecture with the most symbiotic combinations of ingredients. This comes about when a single element of the design does many things. Consider the roof of Eero Saarinen's Dulles Airport. The catenary structure, the sweeping flight-like allusion, the economy of material and protection from the elements — you can't separate one from the others. It is this integration that makes the architecture so potent.