Wentworth Institute of Technology



Jan '05 - Sep '06

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    crazy little mama come knockin at my front door

    Michael Bellefeuille
    Oct 21, '05 7:05 PM EST

    I talked with my old professor, Sue, on wednesday about my design for this museum of sustainable construction technology and of course the first thing she asked me was what my concept was. Suddenly I realized that I didn't have a cohesive concept. I had a lot of things I wanted to accomplish with the building and I knew that the dichotomy of public and private spaces and facades was a key part of the overall theme, but I didn't know how to articulate it exactly at that point. Anyway, I talked to Prof. Macphail about it and decided to come up with a better concept statement (hopefully like the "poetry" that Sue said was missing) and adjust my project accordingly. So I did that and feel much better about the whole process now. I've adjusted my design where it needs to be and will continue to develop it based on my concept statement, which was influenced largely by the book "Architecture and the American Dream" by Craig Whitaker, which is an amazing book. I referenced the chapter, "Front Door, Back Door," specifically for this project, but the whole book is a great analysis of how the American built environment has developed based on our subconscious ideology as a nation and how the built environment reinforces that. Anyway, here is my concept statement:

    Public and Private Dichotomy as a Response to the Environment

    After analyzing the site for this project and choosing an overall orientation based on the natural and environmental factors of sunlight, summer breezes, winter winds and noise, I noticed an inadvertent creation of public and private spaces around the building. From this realization, I decided to approach this project in such a way that the sustainable aspects of the building would serve to compliment what Craig Whitaker believes to be a uniquely American idea of a difference between public and private spaces. He states in
    Architecture and the American Dream that “taken together, front and back create a dichotomy, a tension between our public and private selves, that dictates how we present ourselves to the world and how we shape our architecture”. It is this concept””that Americans treat the front of their buildings (as a public or presentational face) much differently than the rear of their buildings (as a private or more functional face)””that will be the basis of my design. This idea of creating a prominent public front can often lead to false facades, though, which Whitaker also addresses. Again, he states that “to be accused of ”˜facadism,' or producing false fronts, is still a serious charge in some architectural quarters. A grand front contrasted with a bland behind means both must have been tacked on to the building from without, rather than emanating from within. By contrast, quite similar facades on all sides suggest that a building's character arises more from its intended use and the designer's own personal vision and sense of form.” Therefore the museum of sustainable construction technology will address and reinterpret the American concept of opposite front and rear facades and spaces””the former being public and the latter being private””but these facades and spaces will be responses to the environmental factors and sustainable design approach, and thus will not appear to be “tacked on.”

    I'll go into more detail about this and post more images soon.

    • 1 Comment

    • this sounds interesting. i've always been curious about our perceptions of front door/back door as well, but for a different reason...and this offers another wrinkle to consider.

      i grew up in a river community on the chesapeake bay and we often had a different dichotomy - that of river front and town front. both were equal but they were very different in character. they often both had porches. where in your analysis, you'll probably assume that the public front is the one you approach from the larger community, and thus the more formal front, in the river/town dichotomy, the river front was often the formal front and the town front the more loose and casual.

      now that i'm in kentucky, i've seen that a similar two-front thing happens in the 19th century plantation houses.

      in urban dwelling, of course, there was always a street face and the face at the interior of the block, thus public/private. i wonder if this was exported to our suburban landscape, where it's maybe a little more arbitrary?

      i haven't read whitaker's book but i wonder if the front-public and back-private phenomena was something which became more pronounced over the course of the 20th c? we seem to be more worried about our privacy now than every before, while simultaneously managing our money online and airing every peccadillo on cable reality shows. so what IS privacy now?

      just noodling, random thoughts that may tweak some of your own...

      Oct 22, 05 9:27 am

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