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Is there such a thing as the modern detail?

Grenci, C; (2006) Is there such a thing as the modern detail? Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

It seems that there is always a tension in every attempt to define what architectural details really are. There is a confident assumption that details have a concrete presence in the smallest scale of a building exactly where 'separate elements of the structure come together'. But when you look for a consistent account from the whole to the detail you get a point of elusiveness, an absence of certainty of what a detail is supposed to be. Are details simply a matter of articulated relationship between the whole and the parts} Why do architectural detail's definitions become so disputable Is this a common feature in other disciplines as well The word detail is generally defined 'as the small part in relation to a larger whole.' Apparently, though, this definition needs an adjective that qualifies and assures its position as a resolved architectural matter: the typical detail, the standard detail, the appropriate detail, the principal detail, the minimal detail, the good detail, the bad detail, and so on. However, such precarious characterisations easily become meaningless, if not ambiguous. What are we trying to say, for example, when we describe a detail as modern} Detail, on the one hand, and modern on the other, again becomes an unanswered situation. What does modern detail mean The concepts of modern, and the related concepts of modernity and modernism, are commonly distinguished as being components of Modern Architecture. Modern architecture is mainly associated with the Modern Movement (1914–1939), but is also generally understood as descriptive of the architecture that emerged between the industrial revolution and the beginning of World War two. Consequently, anew assumption is formulated yet again: if there is such a thing as Modern Architecture, is there also such a thing as the modern architectural detail? This enquiry is my point of departure of this report I will critically explore what makes modern detail different, physically and conceptually. Why do we call them modern? In order to formulate possible answers, I will pay particular attention to the Modern Movement. If omission is one aspect concerned with details, my primary objective is to identify its exact opposite, and authentic condition: the material nature and the physical evidence of (modern) details' objective existence. At this point, I will look for the solid, the concrete, and the tangible through an examination of three key subjects where details are openly shown and discussed. Firstly, details identified as the frequent source of building failure. Secondly, I will explore details showing changes in the methods of building. Thirdly, I will specifically explore details specially developed when new buildings are facing existing fabric. In brief, the materiality of detail will be captured as the physical expression of ideas and concepts. Questions of ornament, decoration (therefore style) and constructional solutions are consistent with detail, so much so that the boundaries between them are often indistinct. In fact, ornament and style are the first topics connected with details in general and modern ones in particular. What happened when both were purposely concealed from the Modern Movement's vocabulary? Did the approach to details—from the whole to the parts—lose its consistency due to this suppression? Has the modern detail changed its significance due to an undecided distinction from a standardised technical solution? With the purpose of searching for responses to the above questions, I will refer to 'the theoretical and the empirical' understanding of the role of the detail developed by Italian architect Marco Frascari in his remarkable essay The Tell-the-Tale Detail (1984). Frascari's identification of a duality between a 'physical production' and a 'mental production' of the detail, that is, the detail seen as 'the place of the meeting point of the mental construing and of the actual construction', engages interestedly with my consideration of modern detailing as two parts or aspects intertwined permanently. This can be illustrated through confronting the aspirations of the International Style to create a 'new single style' with the dissimilar—and sometimes opposing—'exercise of detailing' of modern architects. Consequently, having limited my research to the Modern Movement, I will in turn define a particular historical frame within this period by considering the experiences of two architects: Auguste Perret (1874–1954) and Alvar Aalto (1898–1976). Perret's 'no vocabulary detailing' and Aalto's abandonment of the use of 'modem details', on the one hand and the completion of two dissimilar buildings (both equally modern though) within their work—Perret's church of Notre-Dame du Raincy (France, 1922–24) and Aalto's Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium (Finland, 1929–33)—on the other, will be regarded as revealing confirmations of a detailing that can be called modern in the overall meaning of the word.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Is there such a thing as the modern detail?
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest. Third party copyright material has been removed from the ethesis. Images identifying individuals have been redacted or partially redacted to protect their identity.
UCL classification:
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1569413
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