critical reflections
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critical reflections

Granary, Grimentz, Valais, Switzerland, 16th century © Thomas Deckker 2023
Was Vitruvius Right?
2024

Aurelio Galfetti: Castelgrande, Bellinzona 1986 © Thomas Deckker 1996
Two Castles in Switzerland
2023

Nouveau plan de la ville de Paris 1828 © David Rumsey Maps
The Arcades Project
2023

Derelict Building, Kings Cross photo © Thomas Deckker 1988
Henri Labrouste and the construction of mills
2023
Claude-Nicolas Ledoux: Barrière St Martin, Paris (1785-1790) from Daniel Ramée: C.N. Ledoux, l'architecture (Paris 1847)
The Barrière de la Villette: the Sublime and the Beautiful
2022

Vauban: Neuf Brisach
Neuf Brisach: The Art of War
2022

Lucio Costa: Competition sketch for the Esplanada dos Minstérios, Brasília 1956
Did Lucio Costa know the Queen Mother?
2022

Vaux-le-Vicomte, Entrance Court, engraving by Israel Sylvestre
Vaux-le-Vicomte: Architecture and Astronomy
2022

Edzell Castle, Ground Floor Plan, from MacGibbon and Ross: The Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland
Edzell Castle: Architecture and Treatises in Late 16th Century Scotland
2022

Capability Brown: Plan for Petworth Park from Dorothy Stroud: Capabilty Brown
The Upperton Monument, Petworth
2022

Isamu Noguchi: maquette for Riverside Drive c. 1961
Isamu Noguchi: useless architecture
2022

Jürgen Joedicke: Architecture since 1945: sources and directions (London: Pall Mall Press 1969)
Gottfried Böhm: master of concrete
2021

Thomas Deckker Architect: temporary truck stop, M20
Lorry Drivers are human, too
2021

Marc-Antoine Laugier: Essai sur l'Architecture
John Onians: ‘Architecture, Metaphor and the Mind’
2021

Sir John Vanbrugh: Seaton Delaval, Northumberland (1720–28) from Colen Campbell: Vitruvius Britannicus vol 3 (1725)
Seaton Delaval: the aesthetic castle
2021

Jules Hardouin-Mansart: Les Invalides, Paris (1676) Section showing the double dome
The Temple of Apollo at Stourhead: Architecture and Astronomy
2021

Eric de Maré: Fishermen’s huts, Hastings (1956) © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection
Eric de Maré: The Extraordinary Aesthetics of the Ordinary
2021

Iannis Xenakis: score for Syrmos, for string orchestra (1959) © Editions Salabert E. A. S. 17516
Iannis Xenakis: Music, Architecture and War
2021

United Visual Artists: Etymologies 2017 © United Visual Artists
United Visual Artists
2020

Margaret Howell: Campaign 2020 © Margaret Howell
Margaret Howell
2020

Palaces of Darius and Xerxes, Persepolis, Iran
The Plans of Antiquity
2020

Cristobal Balenciaga: Skirt Suit, 1964 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Cristobal Balenciaga
2020

Mathias Goeritz: La serpiente de El Eco, 1953 © Sothebys
Mathias Goeritz: 'Emotional Architecture'
2020

Richard Serra: Weight and Measure 1992 © Richard Serra
Weight and Measure
2020

Tony Smith: Playround, 1962 © Tony Smith Estate
Tony Smith: Art and Experience
2020

Highway Construction © Caterpillar Archives
Landscape and Infrastructure
2020

Frank Gohlke: Lightning Flash, Lamesa, Texas © Frank Gohlke
Grain Elevators
2020

Jürgen Joedicke: Architecture since 1945: sources and directions (London: Pall Mall Press 1969)
Jürgen Joedicke: Architecture since 1945: sources and directions
London: Pall Mall Press 1969

Gottfried Böhm: master of concrete

I was saddened to hear that the German architect Gottfried Böhm had died in June 2021, but very surprised as I had, until then, thought he was from an earlier generation of architects.

I saw the Rathaus Bensberg (Bensberg Town Hall, 1963-69) in Jürgen Joedicke's Architecture since 1945 (London: Pall Mall Press 1969) while a student, and was inspired to visit Bensberg. Joedicke was the only historian at the time, as far as I know, to acknowledge the importance of Böhm's work, and indeed of German and Swiss brutalism in general. Joedicke published this book in 1969, covering just 24 years since 1945, and although he subtitled it 'sources and directions' he failed, not unreasonably, to see how architecture would develop over the next 50 years.

To try to include all the beton brut architecture as 'brutalism' stretches the definition of a complex period to breaking point. Rather than try to subsume all this work within a single definition, as Reyner Banham did in his magisterial The New Brutalism: Ethic or Aesthetic (London, Architectural Press 1969), it would be more appropriate to regard some as brilliantly successful, such as Sieldlung Halen by the Swiss practice Atelier 5 (used by Banham, exceptionally, on the cover of The New Brutalism). I would characterise the work as the nexus between, on the one hand, the period of the architect as the vanguard, inherent in the foundations of Modernism, and the collapse or deflection of the original utopian beliefs into personal engagements with form and material, and, on the other hand, a period when public and private institutions would support these architects through commissions, whether popular or not (perhaps also believing in the transformative power of the vanguard), and before the trust between client and architect broke in Post-Modernism. If a date needs to be set for the end of this period, 1971 is the usual date with the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, a mere 2 years after the publication of Architecture since 1945. For excellent analyses of the beginning and end of this period, see Eric Mumford's The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism, 1928–1960 (MIT Press 2000) and Katherine Bristol's article "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" in the Journal of Architectural Education (Volume 44, 1991)

After the masterpieces of the Mariendom in Neviges (1963-68), for which he won the Pritzker Prize in 1986, and the Rathaus in Bensberg, Böhm's later work, like that of the slightly older Oscar Niemeyer, or the slightly younger Charles Moore, is unfortunately quite frivolous.
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69) © Thomas Deckker 1979
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69)s
© Thomas Deckker 1979
The Rathaus Bensberg is one of several buildings I admire in which unashamedly modern architecture is mixed with a medieval structure - others being Aurelio Galfetti's Castelgrande in Bellinzona (1984-91), which I visited with my unit at UEL in 1996, and Carlo Scarpa's Castelvecchio in Verona. The building was cast with a concrete external layer, subsequently bush-hammered to expose the aggregate and to unify the appearance as monolithic, and an aerated concrete internal layer.
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69) © Thomas Deckker 1979
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69) © Thomas Deckker 1979
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69)
© Thomas Deckker 1979
What I notice now, revisiting these photographs around 43 years later, is how the building seems geological in nature, like the almost contemporary National Theatre, London by Denis Lasdun. The walls seems to mimic the fortifications on which it sits, themselves articulating the topography of the site.
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69) © Thomas Deckker 1979
Gottfried Böhm: Rathaus Bensberg (1963-69)
© Thomas Deckker 1979
Shot on Agfa 100 consumer slide film.
Thomas Deckker
London 2021