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POINT: Theory

‘Commodity, Firmness and Delight.’  Three words used to describe good architecture by Vitruvius and then later Sir Henry Wotton, which are the main focus of the first section readings. Through time, these three words took on different meanings for different cultures and time periods, but one thing has remained constant.  “Architecture is the art form we inhabit.”(1)  It is solid, seemingly fluid, and able to take on different shapes while using different materials.  It is interjected into our lives and something we are forced to see.
When one things of commodity, we think of how design functions in a good way.  Is the space multi-functional or not.  An excellent example of this is the Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.(2)  This was designed by Mies van der Rohe and consists of a large open space surrounded by windows. This space is multi-functional and can be used as needed.
Firmness refers to the structural qualities of the building.  Is it structurally sound?   Does the buildings withstand certain environmental issues of a particular area at a particular time?  I am reminded of the twin World Trade Center towers that were structurally sound for the early 1970’s taking into account the codes and requirements of that time.  Noone ever expected large planes to intentionally crash into the building, but the fact that they withstood the impact and remained standing for as long as they did was remarkable.  To find out that the buildings were designed to withstand strong hurricane winds as well as a possible collision of a Boeing 707 jet (the largest jet at that time period) is quite ironic.  
Delight and beauty.  This is influenced by culture, language and age to name a few.  Although it is subjective, there are a few areas that Delight covers.  The way light effects the individual in the space.  Color, ornamentation and textures effect the way one experiences the beauty or lack their of in a space.

The Dakota – NYC (photo credit – Audra Volpi)  

One saying really stuck out for me in our Roth book.  “Architecture is arguably the most accurate, the most truly revealing, human cultural artifact.”(3)  I found this quote quite intriguing as I began to digest what it means.  From Architecture, you can tell the story of a culture no longer in existence.  It speaks volumes about the particular time period, the needs of the people, as well as the material availability.   

When I think of ‘Good Architecture’, I immediately think of a few examples in New York.  There is one building that sticks out to me – The Dakota.  This is my favorite building and I feel it perfectly portrays good architecture.  
Built in 1880-1884, this apartment building is square shaped with a center open courtyard.  There are no two apartments alike, but one thing they do share, are large parlor spaces and tall ceilings.  The stone façade with the use of iron and the patina roof give it a very solid feel.  Although an apartment building, it also has the open community spaces that can be used for large events, children playing or for gardening.  It is an excellent functional space.  I find this building exceedingly beautiful with the leveled dormers, carvings and small details of gaslights.  The situation in the city, across from Central Park near museums and subways also make this beautiful to me.


[1] Class notes and lecture dated 8/23/10

[2] Roth, Leland M. “”Commoditie” How Does the Building Function?” Understanding Architecture Its Elements, History and Meaning. 2nd ed. Westview, 2007. 14. Print

[3] Roth, Leland M. “”Commoditie” How Does the Building Function?” Understanding Architecture Its Elements, History and Meaning. 2nd ed. Westview, 2007. 12. Print


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

3 thoughts on “POINT: Theory

  1. Overall, I feel that it was a well written piece. The connections throughout time gave the post a unique touch. The specific buildings in each different point (commodity, firmness, and delight) are well stated and connect to one another. Very well written and stated. (As a side note make sure you proofread before posting some minor grammatical errors) Katie O'Boyle

  2. Excellent use of quotes. You seem like you have a firm grasp on the elements of delight however, I would have liked for you to have spoken more about the principles of design. The piece was conceptually and beautifully written as well as its very easy to understand the content that you are speaking about. You wrote the required word length, which is perfect because you summed up your point so beautifully. I feel that if it was any longer it would have been too lengthy resulting in the loss of interest from you perspective readers. At first I was a little lost with your choice of "Good Architecture" (the photo you have chosen) but you won me over when you did acknowledge the fact that it was an apartment but it was the atmosphere and surrounding which makes it "exceedingly beautiful" – Blakeni Walls

  3. In terms of the three things we were supposed to be focusing on for the review, I think you met them all very well. For one, you met the word count requirement, I think you actually had more than 500 words. You had excellent integration of quotes throughout the piece which really expanded on the ideas that you were explaining. I think your overall understanding of the unit was very good, so the quality aspect of the response is great. There are many beautiful pieces of architecture in New York and I agree with your explanation of why The Dakota is the building you chose to portray the themes of the unit. Well done.

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