Sunday, November 17, 2019

'The function of freedom is to free someone else'

This quotation by the late Toni Morrison raises the question: How has architecture freed people? How successful has the freedom of structural expression architects enjoy today (within footprint, building programme, socioeconomic and environmental limitations, of course) been at freeing those it's designed to serve? Architecture encloses people, to be sure; that's its primary function. But can free expression in architectural design free the product's users as well as its creator's imagination?

South Side Turn Verein, Indianapolis, Indiana (1900, Vonnegut & Bohn).
The first step in such an endeavor is, of course, to minimize the walls inside. Free, open, unobstructed space means free use and free arrangement for free movement of people. Like the wide, high, sunny gym at the New York Turn Verein I did gymnastics in as a kid, in a space similar to the 1900 South Side Turn Verein in Indianapolis...

Interior of TWA Terminal, JFK International Airport, New York, 2015.
Photo by Bogframe, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
...or the swoops, swirls and soars of the arched, curved, vaulted reception area of Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at New York's JFK International Airport, in its sculptural conveyance of the upward bound of the takeoff and the freedom of flight in the firmament passengers are about to experience, hence their freedom to "roam if you want to, roam around the world," in the words of the B-52's...

Apple Computer Retail Store, Fifth Avenue, New York City. Photo by Ed Uthman, MD, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
...or the glass cube membrane of the Apple Store in New York, where obstruction-free transparency freed users not only from the shadow of walls, the claustrophobia of low ceilings, and the obstruction of columns, but also the influence of...Donald Trump. 

Yes, from 1998 to 2003 our present Prez co-owned with Conseco of Indianapolis the 1968 General Motors building (co-designed by Edward Durell Stone, famous for the Radio City Music Hall and the Museum of Modern Art) the cube sits on the grounds of. Trump filled in the sunken court there to create a free, open plaza—which may have been one of the few good things he did for this planet, for architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable had castigated the court in her review of the building. However, he also emblazoned his name in big brass letters in two prominent places on the building so it would be crystal-clear who was boss of the block. 

But after Trump relinquished his stranglehold on that structure, Apple reopened the court to let in the sun and surrounds as a skylight to the store, an open invitation to freely peruse its products, and an architectural symbol of how Apple software frees us to explore the world without flying TWA.

Pierce Boston, 188 Brookline Ave., Fenway, Boston.
Photo by LittleT889, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In (or on) the open pool court at the crown of Pierce Boston in the Fenway, the sky is the ceiling, the sun is the lighting, and the windowed walls are the buffers. Here, freedom in design bridges the gap between inside and outside most thoroughly to create an inoutside, an outinside, or a Third Dimension that frees us from convention...

...that is, the convention of the roof over our heads that has been architecture's primary goal since primeval homo sapiens first sought the shelter from the elements that trees couldn't provide when natural caves and cantilevers weren't handy. By piercing the sky, Pierce Boston shows that the sky's the limit on the architect's freedom to think outside the box (by losing the lid, that is) and our freedom to breathe in the world around us. In that way architecture channels us to the world rather than shelters us from it.

But the question remains: in all of these examples, are we truly free, or do we merely feel free? Even when architecture reaches beyond the box, aren't we still, in Paul McCartney's words, "stuck inside these four walls"? After all, that is architecture's primary function, no?

Thank you for visiting. I welcome your comments!

1 comment:

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