I enjoy the crisp evening air while standing on the south patio of the Greystone Mansion which overlooks a sweeping vista from the LA skyline to Santa Monica Bay. The sun has now set and twinkling lights in the distance silhouette the night sky. It has been another long yet inspiring day studying fundamentals of Classical Architecture. This aptly named “Intensive” program is facilitated by the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art (ICAA).
Over the duration of the week we studied proportioning systems and fundamentals related to the Classical Orders. With a compass, straight edge, and lead-holder in hand, we subdivided lines, constructed polygons, and geometrically established the “mean and extreme’ ratio, more commonly known as the “golden ratio.” We constructed each of the primary canonical Orders and compared their proportioning systems derived from the base diameter of each column (D). In todays industry dominated by CAD and other digital programs, it is easy to draw lines, but also hard to appreciate geometric complexity and architectural scale.
We used the Greystone Mansion venue as another resource of the classical language. This beautiful building has many textbook examples of well executed details. In the main hall fluted ionic pilasters are supported by pedestals and set between roman arches. Ornamental plaster strapping and florets decorate the ceiling and a checkered marble floor reflects light below. Wandering through each room, we appreciate the beauty and thoughtfulness that went into crafting the space.
Each of the lovely rooms have details that can be studied. On our hands and knees, we examined and analyzed moldings by hand and measured the profiles. Afterward we compared our record drawings with canonical details and discussed any variations discovered. We also each composed analytique drawings which described architectural features that inspired us.
Architectural tours and field sketching were a wonderful compliment to the studio coursework. We spent a day in sunny Pasadena beginning with a discussion on the successful marriage of architecture and urbanism at the civic downtown. I squint up through my glasses and see the sun shining around the fabulous City Hall dome. We next toured the California Institute of Technology campus where we reviewed regional inspired variations on classical forms. Our long day ended at the Huntington Art Museum and Botanical Gardens. This Beaus-Art architecture was a great source of conversation and inspiration, showcasing the features we have been studying throughout the week.
Wash Rendering was another component we tackled during the Intensive. Originating from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, this method of representation uses graded values to suggest light and describe three-dimensional form. Showcasing a play of light and shadow, this representation very successfully describes architectural details. Working with an ink wash, we practiced various techniques. Similar to watercolor rendering, the ink wash is a transparent medium, and darker values are achieved by adding multiple successive layers.
The Intensive concluded with an ‘esquisse’ design challenge. Meaning ‘sketch,’ this term also originated from the École des Beaux-Arts. An initial design concept would be established quickly, and further developed afterward in greater detail. For our purposes, we were introduced to an academic exercise for us to each design a tripartite classical garden pavilion located at the Greystone Mansion. Working at our drafting boards, we feverishly rolled out trace paper, pointed our lead, and began designing.
This design challenge gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our knowledge of Classical syntax. Classical architecture is often described as a language. As an example, in this analogy, one can consider that a moulding is a letter, a column is a word, and Order is a sentence, and a building is a story. This ICAA Intensive presented to us more than a mere list of rules, but a flexible system that allows designers to communicate ideas.