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[HISTORY & THEORY OF DESIGN II] point essay – reflections

   “Don’t you know you’re talking about a revolution.  It sounds like a whisper”  These words, sung more then two decades ago by Tracy Chapman begins to describe the section we completed titled “Reflections”.   According to our class notes dated 10/25/10, the revolution process includes knowing the rules, thinking about shifting them, seeing the rules from different perspective and then finally, reforming and reshaping the rules.  In this “Reflections” section, we learned about how the new world called America took to the design styles they knew from their native England, France, Spain, Germany and Holland and incorporated their own version of the style to their new homeland.  We also learned about how England and France were going beyond the boundaries they already knew.
An excellent example of the “Revolutionary Process” is  the White House in Washington DC.

White House  (pic credit:
Leinster House  (Pic credit:

Built in 1792 by James Hoban, it was modeled after the Leinster House in Ireland.  This was a revolutionary decision at the time.  Many of America’s east coast cities were looking towards England towards design influences.  The fact that our presidents house was modeled after an Irish building was out of the norm.  In 1812, the British attacked and burned the White House and Capital Building in DC.  Where the rebuilding of the Capital Building was redesigned with a more modern design and using only some of the original design features, the White House was restored to how it was originally designed.  The symbolic value was more important then the modern design value.

Another revolutionary process, was the use of different materials now available through the Industrial Revolution.  Glass and Iron are now available and being used for train stations, arcades, exhibition halls to name a few.  The Royal Conservatory at Kew Gardens in London is an example of this. Built in 1844 by Richard Turner and Decimus Burton.

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“The project was pioneering, as it was the first time engineers had used wrought iron to span such large widths without supporting columns. This technique was borrowed from the shipbuilding industry; from a distance the glasshouse resembles an upturned hull. The result was a vast, light, lofty space that could easily accommodate the crowns of large palms.” (1)

In our class lecture dated 10/25-28, we also talked about how the revolution process – called “The Revolution of Excess”, causes a need to correct and make something new.  A variety of new goods from many genres were available during the mid 1800’s when trade routes opened to Japan and China.  Plates, dishes, bowls, carpets and wallpapers were easy to transport from the East.  Eastern Influence can easily be seen in the Peacock Room.  Designed by James Whistler from 1876-1877, the surface decorations on the walls – forming a sort of cage – to display eastern pottery and china was one of the first forms of true interior architecture.

Peacock Room (photo credit:

In the end of this time period, John Ruskin was one of a few people to say, “OK – enough is enough” when he wrote his book titled “Seven Lamps of Architecture” in 18851.  He stated, “The right question to ask, respecting all ornament, is simply this… Was it done with enjoyment?” This began in the narrowing down of what styles needed to be looked at in more detail, and what styles needed to just end.



Posted in History n Theory

[HISTORY & THEORY OF DESIGN II] reading comprehension 5

From the Roth, Harwood, and Massey readings, select an ARTIFACT you believe to represent
revolution in design. SPECULATE about the type of revolution this artifact symbolizes. Supplement
your answer with a beautifully hand rendered image of the artifact you selected, citing source and page on your image.

In doing this weeks reading, I came across a chair that I think represents revolution in design.  Taking influences from the Renaissance time period, The Quarta Chair by Mario Botta (1984) found in our Harwood book (page 185) I feel is an interesting interpretation on classical design. Made from Aluminum piping and pvc spacers, this angular design has hints of gothic (angular), art deco (high gloss/flashy materials) and modern industrial design (by its use of metal). With these different style periods found in this one chair design, it portrays an evolution of design from classical to modern.

Quarta Chair Sketch by Audra Volpi

 Using the internet, LOCATE and ANALYZE an image for an ARTIFACT, a SPACE, a BUILDING, and a PLACE, drawing the idea of eastern influences as understood by nineteenth-century minds (China, Japan, India, Middle Eastern) on western design and architecture. Each answer must include an
appropriately annotated and cited image in addition to a well-crafted essay to defend your choice of
each image and the ways (more than one) that the material item responds to design influences from the

This artifact, plastic beads pressed into a wooden form covered in beeswax, is from a group called the Huichol in Western Mexico.   Although this has much Spanish influence by the design of the beads on the parrot, I also found eastern influence.  From our class notes and lecture on 10/28/10, the Western world imitated the eastern world in many ways in the area of decorative arts. The use of vibrant colors, animal and nature captured in objects, fabrics and materials.  The colors of this piece, I feel, portrays the vibrancy in color that the eastern world opened up to us.

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The space I chose that perfectly resembles the eastern influence over western design is the Peacock Room, originally designed by Thomas Jeckyll and then completed by James McNeill Whistler.  From the gold guilding on the wooden panels with painted peacocks and ceiling detail, to the lattice work that forms a sort of cage against the wall to house a porcelain
collection, it is clear to see the influences that the East had in this design come out in the contrasting vibrant colors, use of animals and nature in the paintings as well as material choices.

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The arts and crafts practitioners, in the mid to late 1800’s, started to narrow down and focus on what styles needed to be looked at in more detail.*  (class notes 10/28)  When Frank Lloyd Wright built Robie House, his design portrayed some eastern influence.  From the low lying roof to the angular shaped exterior, to the minimalistic decorative style, this could be interpreted to be highly eastern in nature.

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No place on earth screams Chinese influence more then Chinatown in NYC.  Having grown up in New York, I spent many a night having dinner in this part of town and am fascinated by how much it has grown over the years.
In the mid 1800’s, Chinese traders and sailors began coming to the United States and a small number of them settled in New York.  Now, with an estimated population of over 150,000 crowding these small streets, it has grown considerably in downtown New York City and has communities now growing in Queens County. There are hundreds of restaurants, fruit and fish markets and many bakeries and tourist shops.

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