Posted in History n Theory

Reading Comprehension IAR 222-01

Select an object or a building from any time period that you believe meets Wotton’s definition (as cribbed from Vitruvius) of commodity, firmness, and delight. With an annotated image, take care to EXPLAIN the ways in which you see the definition realized through the object or building. Use design language and concepts discussed in class for dealing with precedents (5 points).


“ In Architecture, as in all operative arts, the end must direct the operation. The enbd is to build well.  Well building hath three conditions… Commodity, Firmness and Delight.”  – Sir Henry Wotton – The Elements of Architecture.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II in Milan, Italy was completed in 1877.  This is a Neo-classical covered shopping mall with masonry buildings and iron and glass arcades.  As mentioned in our Harwood book on page 10, Due to new transportation options during the Industrial Revolution, there were many new materials available for construction and the use of steel was used beautifully in this structure.
 When I read the quote from Wotton above, I immediately thought of Galleria Vittorio and how his words can relate to this building and I can break it down this way…
Commodity – the function of the space.  It refers to design that is functional in a good way.  Galleria Vittorio is a covered mall with many shops and restaurants in this urban setting.  What I appreciate about the design of this space is that it is conducive to shopping in all seasons and all types of weather.  One can stroll down the street sipping a cappuccino in the rain without getting wet.  The arcades form a crucifix pattern with a central gathering area that promotes community.  There are concerts that are performed, social events and other community functions in addition to the shopping and dining., This space is divided up into ‘indoor streets’ that can be multifunctional simultaneously, offering more options for activities for people.
Firmness – is the building structurally sound.  As I previously mentioned, this structure is made of masonry, iron and glass.  The multi-story masonry buildings tower over the streets and create a definition of space that is so strong, it gives the sense of security.  The fact that you can see the iron frame structural ceiling also creates the sense of being protected by heavy materials, all the while having the glass create this more open feel.  All of these materials together are an excellent example of creating a building of firmness.
Delight, also thought of as Beauty.  Beauty is influenced by many things, such as culture, language and age.  It is obviously different for everyone since we are not all a cookie cutter of eachother with our likes and dislikes, but I feel that this space is extremely beautiful.  I am very sunlight driven and love the sense of openness this space creates. The iron exposed ceiling frame is an exciting addition that merges the old (masonry) and the new (iron).


Working from Harwood et al’s concept of cultural precedents, select one of the contemporary textiles illustrated above and PINPOINT the influences you see from the eastern world on the production of fabric in the west. Concentrate on motifs and patterns provided in Harwood’s text (5 points).

According to Harwood’s 18th century design history book (pg. 17), “Unity, harmony and balance govern Chinese art and Architecture…. The laws of the five elements of wood, fire, earth, metal and water govern relationships in the natural environment.”
The fabric to the right is an eastern influenced textile and some of the five elements listed above are represented, as well as naturalistic motif’s.  With the Peonies representing the earth and the lace patterns giving the feel of water and fluidity, it feels balanced and definitely harmonious.  Design, art and architecture of China and Japan have long influenced the western world as far back as classical Rome. (Harwood 18th c. pg. 15)  One would tend to believe that because of the many different cultures coming to live in the western world,  the need to bring different styles of fabrics that are familiar to the people would be an important, profitable one for manufacturers.


When considering perceptions of personal and social space, Hall and others suggest that different cultures have different space needs and attitudes. Most consider that citizens of the U.S. generally feel a need for more space. How does this play out in the classroom in which we gather for iar222? (5 points)

It is no surprise that in the United States, the trends have shown that “bigger appears to be better” when it comes to not only meal sizes, cars or quantity of “things”, but also architecture.  According to class lecture on 8/23, the average size house in 1970 was approx. 1800 sq. feet.  Today, the average size house in the United States is 3150.  It is not because people are having more children and need more space… People tend to like their “stuff”.  Currently, large open spaces in design seem to be popular and make them multi-functional.  As far as the room in which we gather for class (ferg 100), this room is set up as an auditorium.  There is a stage in the front of the room with a large projection screen and many seats for viewing.  It reminds me of an elementary auditorium.  This room is more space then we need and it puzzles me as to why we gather here for class.  The space is a poor design for what we need.  The walls are curved, which does not help project student’s voices well from one side of the room to the other.  What we have is not enough space, it is too much space and it is not laid out well for what we need.  Chairs are too small and too close together, in addition to their being a lack of legroom.  For a class such as this, the room would work better to remove all of the chairs and either have large couches or long tables and chairs where people could spread out.  I personally would welcome the ability to view some pictures in textbooks while lecture is going on so that I could visually relate more to the spaces being discussed.

SPECULATE about whether or not there can be an architecture of happiness, as de Botton writes in the work by the same title. Provide a juicy quote that helps give evidence to your views from the passage that you read. Include an annotated image of a happy object, space, building, or place and specify WHY and HOW your example exudes happiness (5 points)

“Architecture asks us to imagine that happiness might often have an unostentatious, unheroic character to it, that it might be found in a run of old floorboards or in a wash of morning light over a plaster wall….”
I love this quote from de Botton’s book, “the Architecture of Happiness”, as it goes to show that architecture is not only about the structure itself… it is about what you experience in the space and explains why I passionately feel that there is an architecture of happiness.  I experience it daily when I walk home from school and see varied styles of architecture; walking into my own home which was built in the 1920’s and experiencing the 8” floor moldings and period details that were common at the time and in this area.  The amount of windows in a space to shed light on the little details yet to be found. The more you look, the more you find.  I am fascinated by details, so I am instantly happy when I experience an interesting space.  One the other end of the spectrum, I find that I am swayed by color too.  If a space is a color that is not pleasing to me, then I am not as creative, inspired or happy.
When I read the quote above while reading the excerpt in the book, I immediately thought of a home I saw a few years ago while visiting Rhinebeck, NY.  It is an impeccably restored 1875 second empire home.  I am fascinated by the attention to detail in its restoration and imagine how the tall first floor windows affect the interior space.  What materials they used; is the interior restored and does it stay true to the period?  All of these things give me hours and hours of enjoyment.  Now, I know that what is beautiful for one, is not necessarily beautiful for the other.  I love older historic structures while others enjoy more modern styles.  Architecture as Happiness is subjective. It is influenced by things such as culture, age and time period.


Lover of architectural history, family, building design, coffee and dogs.

One thought on “Reading Comprehension IAR 222-01

  1. [1] the galleria is an incredible space…and you have completely articulated why it is….the whole great than the sum of the parts for CFD. [2] nicely done. [3] articulate analysis and suggestions for our unhappy auditorium (believe me, it's one of the better spaces on campus….sad). [4] lovely sentiment about lack of pretension in happy buildings, spaces, and objects….and an equally lovely example.

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