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Architecture of Imagination

 

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The Fall of Babylon (1831) John Martin

The Fall of Babylon (1831) John Martin (17891854). Mezzotint; Courtesy of Gavin Stamp. It has been pointed out recently by Gavin Stamp that this artist, long known as "Mad" in architectural circles, was in fact brother to the notorious "Mad Martin," an individual with dangerous pyromaniacal tendencies. Still, John, a gifted artist, was at the very least "troubled" by recurring biblical visions of apocalyptic grandeur which, through all their emotional hyperbole, displayed a remarkable and forward-looking design talent. His images struck a deeply responsive public chord in his day, speaking to higher social and spiritual concerns.

Cross-Section of Newton's Cenotaph, Interior Night Effect

Cross-Section of Newton's Cenotaph, Interior Night Effect. (1784) Artist/Designer: Etienne-Louis Boullee. Ink and wash, 39.8cm 5.5cm; Courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. "The shape of the sphere," wrote Boullee, "offers the largest surface to the eye, and this lends it majesty. It has the utmost simplicity because that surface is flawless and endless." Boullee's beloved perfect spherical shape was most appropriate to his homage to Newton, the "Universal Man" whom Boullee himself in the effusive dedication for this design termed the "Vast and profound genius!'' and consequently he wrote, "I conceived the idea of surrounding thee with thy discovery and thus, somehow, surrounding thee with thyself."

Cross-Section of Newtons Cenotaph, Interior Day Effect

Cross-Section of Newtons Cenotaph, Interior Day Effect (1784) Artist/Designer: Etienne-Louis Boullee. Ink and wash, 39.8cm 25.5cm; Courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. At night, the interior of the sphere was to be illuminated with a large lamp to simulate daylight, while, during the day, sunlight filtering through small holes which pierced the sphere would create the effect of stars in the heavens. Newton's sarcophagus was to be the only material object in this "perfect" universe. In light of this concept's perfect realization, discussions of its "buildability" are irrelevant and superfluous.

Inspector's House at the Source of the Loue, Chaux Project

Inspector's House at the Source of the Loue, Chaux Project. (17731779) Artist/Designer: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Engraving after Ledoux by Van Maelle and Maillet., 47cm 28.7cm; Courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. Possibly the most important and revolutionary of the visionary French "Romantic classicists," Ledoux designed this remarkably functional structure (for his partially realized project, the ideal town of Chaux), which typified his interest in purity of concept as expressed through purity of form.

Eye Reflecting the Theatre of Besancon

Eye Reflecting the Theatre of Besancon. (CA.1784) Artist/Designer: Claude- Nicolas Ledoux. Engraving after Ledoux, 47cm 28.7cm; Courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. This strange image, showing the interior of the constructed theater one of Ledoux's own designsreflected in an eye, is further distinguished by the addition of a mysterious ray of light emanating from above and illuminating, possibly, that which was, which is, and is yet to come.

Southern View of Cow's Stable on a Cool Meadow

Southern View of Cow's Stable on a Cool Meadow (CA.1790) Artist/Designer: Jean-Jacques LeQueu. Watercolor, 21.2cm 29cm; Courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris. The intellectual rigor and purity of Rationalism collides with a more emotive Romanticism in this odd but engaging work done in a world on the very threshold of change. Humor, as a tangent to extreme "reason," may very likely have been an intended component of this design for a cow stable in the shape of a cow.

Palladio'sd Design for the Rialto Bridge

Capriccio. Palladio'sd Design for the Rialto Bridge (CA. 1750) Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 16971768). Oil on canvas, 90.2cm 130.2cm; Courtesy of The Royal Collection, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. This wonderfully harmonius composition was, like much of Canaletto's work, commissioned by his patron Joseph Smith as an "overdoor" canvas. Unlike most of his work, however, this was an illustration of an actual, though slightly adapted, design entered many years earlier in a Venetian competition to replace the aged bridge at the Rialto. This view depicts Palladio's own design from about 1570 for a substantial stone structure (with Canaletto's addition of statuary to the roof); another architect's design, however, was awarded the commission.

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel. (1928) Maurits Cornelius Escher (18981972). Woodcut, 62.2cm 38.6cm; Copyright 1996 M.C. Escher/Cordon ArtBaarn-Holland. All rights reserved. Escher was fixated upon the idea of boundaries"insides" and "outsides." Art and life for him were about mankind's struggle to get beyond the limits of ourselves; and to achieve the Absolute. Seen from an atypical, three-point perspective aerial point-of-view, the Tower is under construction. It is not object or goal but journey, destination, and process.

Vast Interior with Temple

Vast Interior with Temple. Karl Friedrich Schinkel (17811841). Pen and wash, 58.6cm 78.98cm; Courtesy of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. This grandly theatrical stage setting by Schinkel, one of the great Romantic classicists, typifies the manner in which his investigative graphic work helped to inform his built designs.

Homeless Deconstructivism

Homeless Deconstructivism. (1992) Luis Blanc. Wax pencil on vellum, 47.4cm 38.4cm The uncanny resemblance of so much "current architectural . . . ISM" to the slapdash shelters, devised and constructed by those truly in need of shelter, inspired this artist to lend his considerable image-making ability to an editorial and political end.

Proposed Arts and Culture Center, Rome

Proposed Arts and Culture Center, Rome. (1987) T.W. Schaller. Watercolor, 56cm 86cm An "ideal" object in space was the aim of this piece which silhouettes its subject by allowing it to emit light as much as to receive it.

 

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