08 August 2009

Of(f) the wall

"My entry into the profession in 1972 coincided with a number of important architectural events, most dramatically, perhaps, the first energy crisis of the decade, which began with the oil embargo in October, the beginning of a long-term and severe increase in the cost of energy. Its immediate architectural effects were formally dramatic if somewhat short-lived -- the incorporation of solar panels, earth berms, Trombe walls, and a variety of other gadgets to create passive energy sources. Its long-term effects were more subtle bu more permanent -- a dramatic increase in the importance of the wall as a thermal barrier, resulting in not only a lot more insulation but also the decline or even disappearance of single glazing, uninsulated spandrels, exposed columns and beams, and thermal bridges. Whole architectural vocabularies -- the exposed steel frames of the Case Study Houses, the exposed concrete frames and mullionless glazing of the brutalist era -- declined or disappeared, and the structural frame retreated behind the building envelope. The wall, at least in large-scale buildings, had long ago lost most of its structural importance, and once the wall became primarily an environmental membrane, everything changed. The solid wall devoid of insulation was replaced by the multilayered multifunctional wall. It is no accident that the advent of postmodernism and the decline, if not the disappearance, of any interest in structural expression followed soon after, for it is difficult to express a structure you cannot expose."- Edward R. Ford from Five Houses, Ten Details (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009, pp. 113-114)

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