• Writing

    Matter and Mode

    A blog, focused on buildings, the title of which comes from an essay by Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Aims of Fiction,” in which she makes this compelling observation:

    “It is a good deal easier for most people to state an abstract idea than to describe and thus re-create some object that they actually see.”

    So I try to be concrete.

    Visit it here: tculvahouse.tumblr.com.

    Or, you can take a look at the individual posts:

    Why Matter and Mode

    On Landsdowne Crescent“: the doorway as the beginning of ornament

    Virtual Reality at Keble College,” on William Butterfield’s fancy brickwork

    Indelible Shadows“: Frank Lloyd Wright and Zorro

    Relativity and Rococo,” on Mendelsohn’s Einstein Tower

    Preface to Kahn,” on something he said about stair landings

    Exeter Corrected?“: the first of several posts having to do with windows

    A Cozy Monumentality“: more on the Exeter Library

    More on Windows,” with Jim Jarmusch

    Front Door, Back Door,” at the Villa Snellman

    Learning How Big Things Are” and why that’s important

    Remembering Saarinen” in Columbus, Indiana

    Windows Frame“: an observation from the Grand Canal

    Thinking Windows“: Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art

    On Snow,” and the window in Louis MacNiece’s poem

    Warped“: two houses, Providence and London

    The Moving Window Writes“: Traquair House

    Yet Again By the Pacific,” from a weekend at The Sea Ranch

    Boxwood and Brick“: Jefferson’s serpentine walls

    The Same, and Different,” from my master’s thesis

    A Mystery of Time“: the Swarthmore amphitheater

    City Car“: the Citroën DCV

    Continuity and Character“: more about the surfaces of cars

    Fronts and Backs” at the Royal Crescent

    Approaching Jackson Square“: the recursive city

    A Place with No Backs“: the TVA

    An Eye On the Street?“: a simple house in Berkeley

    Impossible City: New Orleans

    (Places, June 2017)

    “I don’t suppose any city in North America has been parsed so thoroughly in the last dozen years as has New Orleans. Before the failed levees drowned it in brackish water and press coverage and architectural competitions, the city was largely a mystery to anyone who hadn’t been there, and to most people who had. Now we are inundated with studies and proposals, paeans and diatribes, portraits and dramatizations, Treme and NCIS. We might even imagine we have the full picture of New Orleans. But of course that’s not true.” Reflections on photographs by Virginia Hanusik. Read more.

    Beyond Dangerous Waters

    (Places, April 2015)

    “Just on its own, Micah Cash’s photograph, ‘Pickwick Landing, Downstream,’ offers plenty to ponder. Sober harmonies of hue and tone and texture. Rust cracking the enamel of modernity. A sign ruled for an absent message. A frame within a frame, a view blocked, a working landscape classicized. You needn’t have been to Tennessee.

    “But I have been to Tennessee, grew up there, in fact. I learned to swim in Watts Bar Lake, and I’ve spent a lot of time on the TVA reservations, so I can tell you something else about ‘Pickwick Landing, Downstream’: I can tell you why the back of a sign is something to take a picture of.”

    Read more.

    Which Way, New Orleans?

    Illuminating the spatial character of New Orleans and its roots in the interchange among culture, topography and urban development. A series of articles based on this material, published on Places:Design Observer, begins with “Stoop, Balcony, Pilot House: Making It Right in the Lower Ninth Ward.” Subsequent articles include “The New Orleans Corner Store” and “Black In Back: Mardi Gras and the Racial Geography of New Orleans.”

    More from the series here.

    The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion

    (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007)

    “The landscapes, buildings, details, graphic elements, and murals of the TVA form a unified ensemble, a completeness in the classical sense, in which nothing may be added or taken away without diminishing the whole. The comprehensiveness of this vision is perhaps as important as any of its explicit messages in asserting the value of the TVA’s unprecedented transformation of a region. In the work of the TVA’s first decade, design is persuasion . . . . Of course, not everyone was convinced . . . . The intricate weave of people’s lives in the landscape does not readily admit comprehensive visions or earthly utopias. Resentment of the  TVA’s reengineering of the region lingers there. But just as certain are the benefits to the region, rich in new ways of intertwining our lives with the land.” Tim Culvahouse, editor’s introduction.

    Travel suggestions from The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion available as a PDF here.

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    Once Again by the Pacific: Sea Ranch Condo I

    Lisa Findley, co-author (Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 2001)

    “If you spend only one weekend at the condominium, the unit to rent is Charles Moore’s own, number 9 . . . . Let the others take the loft beds . . . . Volunteer for the window seat. There is surely no finer place to wake up in the morning, overlooking the edge of the bluff, with the surf surging around huge rocks where sea lions are also waking, as the mist dissolves and the sun breaks through the fog . . . . This place, secure and comfortable, and yet on the edge and also reaching beyond the edge, beckons the moment you arrive. And that is the crucial moment, . . . since the weekend itself is hardly more than an extended arrival, ending in a last-minute departure. It is not only for the sake of the preservation of the landscape that the condominium does not encourage you to spill out onto the lawn with your Weber grill and your whiffle ball. You have no time for such things. Instead you find, packed into the simple volumes, a complex set of spaces that allows two people to begin a conversation without preliminaries, or a half-dozen people to sit down to a meal in a setting that is contained and yet open, obliquely, to the sea.”

    Reprinted in Judging Architectural Value: A Harvard Design Magazine Reader.

    Click here for a PDF of the full article.

    Looking Backward: Architectural Theory Since the 1960s

    (Design Book Review, Fall 2000)

    Review of Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, edited by Charles Jencks and Karl Kropf; Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: an Anthology of Architectural Theory, 1965-1995, edited by Kate Nesbitt; and Architecture Theory since 1968,edited by K. Michael Hays (Design Book Review, Fall 2000)

    “As I was pondering the years these books cover, the invitation for my twenty-fifth high school reunion arrived in the mail, prompting, as such coincidences will in midlife, questions: Is this my architectural life? Can I claim the familiar but at times uncongenial legacy described in these anthologies as my own? Must I? One does, after all, want to belong, to have been part of the memorable movements of one’s time. To have been present at the beginning of something—the first days of the Fillmore, or CBGB, or postmodernism. Perhaps this is one reason we write theory: to certify our place amidst the contingencies of our time. Remember that day? What a time that was. I was there. The flip side, of course, is that people are already starting to talk about deconstruction the way people talk about Woodstock.”

    Click here for a PDF of the full article.

    Review of Kenneth Frampton, Labour, Work and Architecture: Collected Essays on Architecture and Design

    (Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 2003/Winter 2004)

    “[Frampton wants us to] remember that the conditions he evokes—the definition of domain, consonance with climate, material textures—are discovered in the world not as absolute qualities but as relative ones (‘the intensity of light and darkness, heat and cold; . . . the relative inertia of the body as it traverses the floor’). The faculty required to effect such qualities is not the faculty of choosing, but that of judging. Not ‘whether,’ but ‘how much?’—how dark? how rough? (There is no such thing as a perfectly’ rough surface.)”

    Click here for a PDF of the full article.

    Hello . . . Is Anybody Out There?

    (Harvard Design Magazine, Fall 1999)

    “’The ideal kind of building is one you don’t see’: this is a characteristic remark of Joseph Esherick, AIA Gold Medalist, who died this past December. His New York Times obituary begins, as if in wonder that such a thing could be, ‘Joseph Esherick, a self-effacing architect . . . .’ Esherick shares this improbable quality with a distinguished line of San Francisco Bay Area architects, from Julia Morgan to William Wurster to Jim Jennings. Of these, Wurster is the acknowledged master of the invisible building; beginning in the 1920s, he designed houses for comfortably well-to-do clients who, as a matter of principle, took care not to be conspicuous . . . . Walter Benjamin, writing in 1935—the year [Wurster’s] Gregory farmhouse was published in Architecture—made an observation that will be familiar to many readers of this magazine. He was trying to imagine the effects of the mechanical reproduction of images on our reception of works of art. What sort of difference might it make that people could pick up a color lithograph of the Mona Lisa for a few reichsmarks? Casting about for an analogy, he struck upon architecture, which, he writes, ‘has always represented the prototype of a work of art the reception of which is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction . . . .’ Imagine the consequences for architectural theory of a proposition that asserts not Joseph Esherick’s aspiration that buildings not be attended to, but rather the inevitability that they won’t be. When has contemporary theory paused to consider this question of reception? The short answer is: it hasn’t.”

    Click here for a PDF of the full article.

    Figuration and Continuity in the Work of H.H. Richardson

    (Perspecta 24, 1988)

    “Richardson clearly exults in . . . ambiguity . . . . He accepts (whether consciously or not) that buildings are both necessarily continuous and necessarily figurative. They are necessarily continuous, because they are part of a physically and temporally continuous world; they are necessarily figurative, because that is how we perceive things and represent them. These necessities may be turned to  advantage. In architecture as a continuous thing we may find our home; in architecture as a figurative thing we may find our voice.”

    Click here for a PDF of the full article.