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Abstracting History

ImageOld School! OK, I know a lot of architectural designers will scoff at relying on historic vocabularies, citing that we should be creating a fresh new language unfettering our shackles of the past and creating architecture for the new world order. Those of you who fall under that category can just move along, nothing to see here, this is for those of you who like to have some fun and don't take themselves to seriously or over intellectualize everything.

Note: I wrote this a few years back so some of the references to patterns in related industries are a little dated.

Tell Us More! I did my architectural thesis on abstracting and alluding to historical architecture, so the concept is of interest to me. I am also into vintage automobiles, so in a minute you will see how my sub-concious led me to this idea/concept.

Revelation #1: Lately the auto makers, particularly Chrysler, have been getting nostalgic and creating some great cars (IMHO). Currently everyone seems to be jumping on the old bandwagon and there will be a legends series to add to the Prowlers, PT Cruisers and T-birds.

Revelation #2: I finally got around to playing Diablo 2 and really got into the abstracted architecture the Blizzard people came up with. I thought hey this is cool, why can't real architecture follow along with what the game industry and the automotive industry is doing?


I will develop this design idea as an exercise that relates to multiple disciplines. A form of design inspiration to those who have a predisposition to the imagery I am referring to. I am not suggesting that we create architecture that looks like it came from a game, I am suggesting that we could reference historic architecture that we like and abstract it into contemporary building materials and construction techniques. Yes, I know Post Modernism and the 80's and 90's have come and gone, but I think they missed the boat to some extent. I think at times the profession abstracted for the sake of abstracting, or on the opposite end celebrated the complexities and contradictions in an exercise of academics.

Refinement of the Idea. I looked at what was done in the past such as the Neo-classical Radicals like Ledoux, John Nash's work on Regent's Street or even the Federalist style of John Russell Pope, with a flavoring of Mckim Mead & White and mixed them up with some Post Modernist like Grave's and Stern. I then referenced neo-classical and the Renaissance architecture to add flavor to my own ideas. What I found is that I have a fondness for the playfullness of the cemetary architecture of the renaissance and the design of mosoleum's. I saw an interesting mix of Classical and Egyptian architecture mixed in a playfull vocabulary that even seemed to have a hint of what we call Art Deco today. It seemed an interesting and unusual mix for the purposes it was intended for.

Where is this guy going with all this stuff he is all over the board without any apparent focus.

I think we don't need to be purist for this exercise and should find that which visually attracts us on an intuitve level, with all the above referenced inspiration, I think I can grab a wide variety of examples and run with them without being hindered by strong boundaries. This leads into the design challenge I have chosen as my first attempt at implementing the design idea.

Design Challenge:

Take your image (mental or otherwise) of what either Neo-classical, Egyptian, Aztec, Inca, Mayan or a mixture of some or all, and create an actual image/sketch of what that is. (I personally mocked up a tomb since the renaissance era had an amazing and eclectic collection of tombs/museleums with a lot of egyptian influence.) Now take that image and abstract it into an up to date architectural structure. (In my example I created a high-rise, but the building type is up to you.)

Mental Image of Historic Architectural Type

The goal is to create something that looks like it is being built today and current construction techniques and materials are encouraged. I really don't want to see an exact replica of the pyramids of Giza, I want to see something that has the flavor of ancient egypt developed into/throughout a state of the art facility! OR Something that would blow you away if you stumbled acrossed it within a game level.

Abstraction of form in Elevation Format

This exercise is not as much about architecture as it is of abstracting something and making it your own. Have fun and if you have no interest in architecture, think of it as practice for game level design! This was just a first attempt at the exercise, I did not capture the essence of what I was after, but I had fun in pursuing it!

Concept Refined as Perspective Study

Conclusion: The whole idea is to have fun and apply it to some creative outlet, not to define a direction architecture should take, instead to allow the wonder of how we saw things as a youth or as we came across a fantastic scene in a game, take over and inspire us to create something different. In the world of day to day project management or construction administration, I found it fun to partake of a little guilty pleasure and grasp at that which made me want to do architecture in the first place, to allude to a picturesque wonder and try to capture my imagination.

Author: Russell Thomas works and lives in Yakima Washington, and is the founder of 3Dallusions and the 3Dallusions Forum: 3DAllusions Forum

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