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    Lecture - Steven Holl

    By RMartz
    Oct 8, '13 5:19 PM EST


    Welcome back everyone, or should I be welcoming myself back after a short absence. A lot of exciting things have been happening here at Knowlton and there are more to come down the pipeline. One of the big events was our yearly Glimcher lecture, co-sponsered by the Knowlton School and the Wexner Center. Last years was Merrill Elam of Scogin & Elam. This year we were fortunate to have architect Steven Holl of Steven Holl Architects. I could spend a whole page simply discussing his most noted works, including Simmons Hall, the addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle; rather lets jump into the lecture and I’ll try to touch on all the main points.

    He titled his lecture “The Architectonics of Music” and it was a discussion of the relationship of architecture and music, if there is any difference between the two at all.  A quote by Louis Khan that he referenced is “I constantly refer to music when referring to architecture, because the is no great difference…I must see the plan as a symphony”.  As you’ll see, music has been an important source of inspiration for him. The lecture was divided into seven categories…

    Rhythm and Counterpoint: “Architecture doesn’t need to be big, just Intense”. Using the example of the Nordic Pavilion of 1962, he introduced the concept of rhythm and counterpoint, which in the case is the play between the field of constant concrete beams and the trees that intersperse and break up the structure.  One of his firms examples was their competition entry for the Hypo World Bank in 1994. Pulling inspiration from “Stockhausen”, a piece by the composer Gruppen, the design became a play between a stoic masonry form and an exuberant form nested above. This form was originally a more literal reference to the mountains, with points, curves, and everything in between (think a collage of Gehrys IAC building perhaps). It then down played to more cubic volumes, similar to the Nelson Atkins addition.

    Proportion, Scale, and Material: In discussing this topic he specifically looked at the Stretto house, in which there is a 4 measure rhythm of masonry with light, gestural, metal roofing connecting them. Where the topic of “Proportion, Scale, and Material” comes into play is the way in which the projects logic is used at the small scale as well, whether in the custom door handles, cabinetry, light fixtures, or the water feature directly at the entry.

    Chance/Experiment: He began this section referencing the work of composer John Cage and Morton Feldman, who both used chance operations, such as the I-Ching, as a means to compose music. The argument for it is that it is not random, “I choose chance”. In designing the Sarphatistraat offices in Amsterdam, they used a chance operation on the concept of a Menger Sponge. A Menger sponge is where the plans, elevations, and sections are all the same; cube within a cube, within a cube, etc. They used chance to define the light fields and voids in the building, resulting in a very interesting interior and exterior, particularly when viewed across the canal at night.

    Space Acoustic: To understand space acoustic he referenced two projects. The first, the Philips Pavilion, was a collaboration between Corb and the composer Xenakis, in which the parabolic curves of the pavilion come from the parabolic curves that Xenakis used to write the piece Metastasis. It became a literal translation. He then looked at the work they are doing for the Ecocity in Tianjin, China, where the forms of the main cultural center share both similar experiences of space and process, in which the second building becomes a literal inversion of the first to create a very distinct relationship. What was also interesting is that the way they study the space is to use the digital model and a large 3d printer to create large sectional models, thereby better understanding the space.

    Color/Light/Time: This section was really a discussion on his famous use of light. One of his earlier and most famous examples is the Chapel of St. Ignatius in Seattle. When you stare at a blue square and then immediately at a white sheet of paper you see a yellow square. This resonance of complementary colors is the play of light within the chapel, in which the lighting of the 7 bottles of light each has its pairing of colors, creating a beautiful interior. On a side note, in relating to time and the experience of space, he showed a diagram of how the curved forms of the ceiling all have their focal points below the floor, which prevents hot spots from occurring, and noted how the reverberation time is 1.9 seconds, perfect for chamber music.

    Notation: Notation describes the graphic method in which scores are actually shown. In the design for the Daeyang Gallery and House in Seoul, Korea, Holl looked at a piece, Symphony of Modules by Istvan Anhalt, as a direct inspiration for the geometries of the plan. That said, the discussion continued into the experience of the space and how the notations, used as cuts in the building, bring down light down through the unifying sheets of water to completely illuminate the galleries below; the light shimmering because of the water.

    Glissando: A Glissando is where a string player takes their bow across all the string of the instrument, famously in the introduction of Rhapsody in Blue ( The physical structure of this act, not unlike a parabolic curve actually, has become a defining concept for their current project of an addition to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. A series of 3 pavilions proceed from the existing building down into the Potomac river. The spaces become defined by curvilinear forms cut from the structure, which through themselves and cuts of light, create dynamic spaces that all have views of the river.

    As a reflection on the lecture as a whole I wanted give a couple things to think about that we (students) were discussing afterwards. Many of us were surprised by how literal the inspiration for some projects was. It’s a technique used in school that I never really thought translated to the profession, I was wrong. Secondly, being a phenomenologist, his design really is driven by experience, rather than program, noted by his saying “There’s a program that then had to be fit into it” when speaking of the Chapel of St. Ignatius. During the presentation he showed a clip from a movie about the Daeyang Gallery and House, which had him walk through the spaces and it made me realize the increased importance of film in the coming future. Some thoughts.

    Once the video is processed you can find the whole lecture on the Knowlton website  ( Keep an eye out for the always informing lecture from our own Doug Graf and join us this week with Laura Kurgan.

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This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the school's lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews and updates from other school events.

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