Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A New Resolve

It has been two years since my previous end of year post, "A New Beginning".  The resolution then was: Share, Teach, Diffuse traditional plaster trade knowledge. Since that time I've been teaming up with craftsmen to organise and conduct ongoing professional workshops. Tadelakt with Ryan Chivers, Sgrafitto and Fresco with Franco Saladino, Scagliola with Jim Gloria to name a few. I've joined education committees to study and implement further integration of craft studies into traditional architecture programs such as the Institute of Classical Architecture and Art, University of Colorado and Notre Dame's respective schools of architecture. Most impactfully, I accepted a full time position as Professor of Plaster Working at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, SC. Words can scarcely convey the rewarding experience to work with motivated young men and women over a period of 4 years in the development of craft skills.

Nevertheless, I'm hardly content. In fact, I would say I'm burning with a desire to push myself harder and further. Our modern use of 'resolve' has the sense of 'complete' or as used in new year's resolutions: a determination to complete an objective. By contrast, the original Latin 'resolvere' meant to 'loosen' (solvere), 'again' (re+), to 'melt, dissolve, reduce to liquid'. That's the meaning I'm after. The next few years are about turning up the heat. Below is my kettle on the boil:

Bachelor of Applied Science in the Building Arts

What I haven't hitherto made widespread public knowledge is that I not only teach at the American College of the Building Arts but likewise have enrolled as a student. I'm now in the midst of my Junior year, on track to graduate the summer of 2016. My trade specialization is architectural stone carving. Plaster is largely an additive process. You start with nothing and with successive layers create form. Stone is the opposite. Completely subtractive, you begin with everything and reduce to the same place. Plaster is fast. Stone is slow. In many respects, a complete reversal of the approach to mass and void in architectural form. How I wish this program existed when I began my journey as a craftsman! I certainly consider myself fortunate to now have this opportunity so many years later.

Space, Time, Interconnection

My previous college experience was three years of engineering school in the University of Texas system. I was working, paying my way through, going to class mostly at nite. An unanticipated advantage of that was that my professors of math, physics and engineering were all adjuncts. Professionals working mostly in the aerospace industry, teaching for the mere joy of it. I loved the practical application of the study of math and science as well as the fundamental theories of statics, dynamics and mechanics of materials. But by my Junior year I understood the daily life of the engineer. Cubicle life, shackled to computers was not for me.

However, my passion for math has never waned. If anything it has grown exponentially. I'm only a few credits away from a bachelor degree in math and soon as I've completed my studies in the building arts, I'm going for it. Likely a Masters subsequently focused on the following:

Geometry: From the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to the medieval masons, I'm deeply enthralled by the physical manifestation of number. Not just how to manipulate the 'rules' but delving into the philosophical derivations, the fundamental understanding of space itself.

Harmony: Music theory, proportion, emanation, syncopation, composition and oscillation. Light, sound, heat, all of our senses are responses to wave energy. I'm looking to increase my metaphysical awareness to my visceral, sensory understanding of the world.

Symmetry: Translation, rotation,  reflection. Classical, Islamic, the regular division of the plane by MC Escher in the 20th century are just a few examples of thousands of years of accumulated pattern design.

Putting It All Together

Why share all this personal information? Because I have an objective with all of this, namely: the widespread reintroduction and invigoration of ornamentation into architecture.

Why work in a vacuum or single-handed when I can put it out there and establish colleagues? Why wait to get started upon completion of some studies? Let's incorporate real projects that will inform those studies!

If you are a craftsman, designer, architect, educator or student in one of those fields and would like to collaborate please feel free to contact me: patrick@realfinishes.com

Interested in more content on a Philosophy of Craft?
Please visit my YouTube channel: A Craftsman's Philosophy

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Modernism Word of the Day; 1 -10


From the Latin 'pasticium', something made of paste such as pasta, pastry, pâté etc. In modern

architecture it is a philosophy of attributed plagiarism. If a design is not completely unique, unrelated to anything that came before it is at risk of receiving the negative label of pastiche.

For example, Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA resembles his previous design at the Guggenheim Bilbao leading fellow starchitect Zaha Hadid to accuse him of plagiarizing himself. How pastiche!


'Juxta' from the Latin root meaning to 'approach, join together', in the sense of violent conflict,
"jousting" or rape, "jostle". So the prevailing theory goes that by placing aggressive contrasts together of Modern and traditional architecture it helps the traditional to 'pop' visually so we can appreciate it more. 

From the Geman 'zeit', time and 'geist', ghost. Translated the 'spirit of the times', a prevailing theory that architecture can not possibly be a leading factor of human culture rather it should only strive to reflect the times. Anxiety, aggression and collision anyone?  


The specific use of this otherwise common word seems to have been appropriated from the field of fluid dynamics where unbroken lines and untextured planes are critical engineering concepts to minimize turbulence.

Ironically, much of the architecture designed according to these precepts is challenging to keep clean in the conventional sense.


The basic definition is a thin, non-structural exterior wall that acts as a rain screen. Most curtain walls are proprietary, high embodied energy extruded aluminum systems with glass panel infill. They have a working R-value of around 3 and let a ton of solar gain into the building. Windows are typically inoperable resulting in a hermetically sealed building wholly dependent on mechanical systems and caulk which must be replaced every 10 years.


= God


From the Greek ἀνά, ana meaning "against" and χρόνος, khronos meaning "time". Time is a very,
very important tenet of Modernism. Much more so than place or culture.

Built in 2006, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center would be considered in denial or fighting time, thrice wise in fact. It revives Renaissance forms, which in turn revived Roman forms, which in turn revived Greek forms. I suppose it is considered a kind of zombie architecture.  


Commonly held amongst our various architectural traditions, man had always been held as the subject of architectural design, the building was to be the objective reality, an outward expression reflecting his inner, spiritual nature. In stark contrast, Modern architecture enforces the complete extinguishment of any lingering artifacts of human culture, employing a complete reversal of the traditional thought process of design. The new doctrine dictates that "Form" was to follow only practical "Functions". The building and the attendant practical efficiencies of construction usurp the position of subject, placing people as just one amongst many objects such as chairs, toilets, stairs etc. populating the structure.


A fixed window, door or portal penetrating the building skin and surrounded by cladding. Maintenance free (or unmaintainable), the thermal multiple-paned units are replaced as the seals begin to fail, a 15 to 20 year life cycle for the higher end commercial models.


The maturation of Frank Lloyd Wright's earlier work as part of the Prairie Style movement; middle class homes situated in a natural landscape characterized by flat, cantilevered roofs, 90 degree angles and clerestory windows.

Many Usonian homes retained a significant amount of craft, utilized local materials while significant design effort was made to utilize natural cooling and light as well as passive solar gain combined with radiant floors for heating. This almost makes up for the fact that they all leak like a sieve.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Modernist Ideology: Theses XI - XX

Out of love and concern for the truth, and with the object of eliciting it,  the following theses will be put forth for public discussion:

Thesis XI
Craft, the decorative and applied arts are condescended as strictly technique driven, practical, functional works. By contrast, the so-called fine arts are distinguished by creativity, uselessness and a conceptual nature. This is an entirely arbitrary distinction out of context with thousands of years of precedent and common sense.
Thesis XII
Machined art is an oxymoron. More than lifeless it is pointless. What beauty we can extract from art is the interpretation of life by the human mind passed through the human hand. There is no sympathetic conversational narrative with a computer or a machine.
Thesis XIII
Traditional architecture holds man as subject, the center of design realized according to objective principles, a communally shared understanding. Modern architecture has reversed the balance of the subject/object relationship. The modern architect designs according to his individual, subjective whim. The occupant is reduced to just another object populating the structure among canned lighting, punched openings and toilets.
Thesis XIV
An inherent challenge in the practice of building is the time lag between design actions and negative consequences such as structural failure, redundancy and urban decay. Modernism rejects the traditional approach of addressing this difficulty: deliberate, empirical, generational improvement. Rather it promotes the perpetually new and highly conceptual widespread implementation of experimental designs using proprietary technologies, systems and materials.
Thesis XV
The modern imperative to waterproof the building envelope with polymer, cement and other impermeable materials is ineffective and deleterious to indoor air quality. Water is both generated from occupants within and inevitably finds a way inside from the exterior making modern buildings entirely dependent on mechanical systems for air exchange.
Thesis XVI
Man is not separate from nature. Man is of nature. Therefore nature is the only universal basis of design of which we can be assured everyone can understand. 
Thesis XVII
The International Style of early Modernism promoted an aesthetic stripped of all narrative symbolism and cultural reference. Its lingering legacy is an increasingly global, indistinct Utopia of no place in particular.
Thesis XVIII
Urbanism is a 20th century theoretical ideology of imposing an highly engineered, eutopic master plan from a centralized authority. The rapid developments of Urbanism bear scant resemblance to traditional town planning developed generationally by members of a local community. Thesis XIX The imperative to automate seeks with religious fervour to establish a technological nirvana, a misguided determination to liberate mankind from the pain and pleasure of physical, intellectual and creative toil.
Thesis XX

Modernism dismisses Beauty, Truth and Goodness as unknowable or relegates them to relative, subjective viewpoints. This results from a hyper-rational imperative which rejects sense and transcendence in our understanding of the world. Concepts that cannot be completely understood or explained through pure reason alone are rejected.

Interested in more content on a Philosophy of Craft?
Please visit my YouTube channel: A Craftsman's Philosophy

Contributed by Patrick Webb 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Architectural Word of the Day; 111 - 120


The regularly spaced buds or bunched foliage along the arrises of a Gothic pinnacle or gable. The blossoming crown terminating the peak is called a cropse.


In Gothic architecture, pinnacles occur as groups of shafts at or above the roof line most often terminated with a pyramid, frequently but not universally enriched.


A logarithmic spiral scroll, inspired by the unfurling of fauna as well as the growth patterns of horns and shells. This Art Deco example provides quite simply an embarrassment of riches!


A slender, typically octagonal pyramid set atop a square tower. In church architecture it stands as the crowning element of the steeple.

The pyramidal transition between the spire and the tower is called the broach.


The roll resembling a cushion that connects the front and rear volutes of an Ionic capital. The Romans used the term"Pulvinus" because of the resemblance to the swelling of the stem at the base of a leaf.

The detailed hand tooling on this limestone example is quite amazing. 30 feet below the texture it creates with the refraction of light endows the work with depth and life.


"But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love of detail." - Virgil


A bay window or, as in this example, a turret that is corbeled and projecting from the main structure. Its of old French origin thought to derive from the medieval Latin "oriolum" meaning porch, gallery.

Contributed by Patrick Webb