The purpose of this study is to examine in depth a particular level of building design—ornament and detail. The expression of a building at this scale is microscopic, yet it has an enormous scope. The same impulse that animates the mass and structure must, I feel, be carried through the design to the level of ornament and detail.
As Sullivan said, ornament is what gives the building “life.” It is the design at this level that gives a building an emotional or spiritual expression and determines the real character of the building.
I am intrigued with the way the modernists dealt with ornamentation. They found a way of validating ornament by deriving it from the function and materials that coincided with the constraints of their dogma. Architecture today is searching for a rationale for ornamentation in buildings. Perhaps a lesson can be extracted from the modernist way of thinking that is appropriate for today.
In the development of my design philosophy, I have begun formulating an argument for a modernist attitude toward ornament, specifically a way of deriving the ornament of the building from the nature of the building materials and their techniques of assembly. I am wary of tacked-on historicist ornament that lacks intellectual rigor and even appears shallow. I feel the modernist attitude toward detailing a building has more integrity than arbitrary historical quotations, since rather than being applied, the ornament is made of the very stuff of the building itself. In this way, the conception of the building is carried through to the details of the building design.
For the purposes of this study, I have selected the buildings of nine specific architects that have influenced me. While they represent a wide range of vocabularies, I have chosen these architects because I feel they all have achieved a warmth and sensuality in the buildings as well as an intellectual rigor that I admire. Through the in-depth examination of the ornament and detail of these buildings, I hope to expand my vision of the possibilities of ornament and detail and develop my own vocabulary. I propose to study these architects, their buildings, and their methods and ornamenting and detailing principles in order to expand my own design philosophies.