Architecture and Urban Space: 1959-60

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Dainotto, Robert. "The Gubbio Papers: historic centres in the age of the economic miracle" Journal of Modern Italian Studies 8 (1) 2003: 67-83.
  • This is a wonderful article on some important shifts in understanding public space and building in the aftermath of Italy's period of rapid economic expansion following World War II. Dainotto discusses the particular symbolic value invested in the restoration of 'historic centres' (centro storico) that began in roughly 1960. This is described by Dainotto as a reaction against Americanized sprawl and neo-liberalism that increased exponentially in the 1950s. The interest in preserving historic centres is also described as a post-war reaction to the Fascist history of the country. That is, a counteracting of Fascism's embracing of 'modernity' and destruction of historic buildings to that end. In this way, Dainotto discusses these movements as a larger ideological distancing from the immediate past, and the Americanized present. (Dinotto, 70)
  • I found that Dainotto provides an excellent summary of the profound effects of the economic miracle in Italy. (Dainotto, 67) This period of expansion reached its pinnacle during the years we are looking at: between 1958-1962. (Dainotto, 67)
  • Dainotto also discusses the effect of the rapid modernization that shook Italy after the war as one comprable to that of Paris in the late nineteenth century. (Dainotto, 67-69) This argument is also found elsewhere and is supported by my consideration of the artworld and film and the simultaneity of the shift to modernity and postmodernity in Italy in this period. - Carla Benzan

  • Alessia Ricciardi's article on La Dolce Vita (I list it on the 'Film' page) also signals the import of modernity and postmodernity in this period . Fellini's film certainly takes up experience in 1960 Rome as a city in very interesting ways. At the most basic it represents the sprawling suburbs and apartments on the outskirts but I'm sure there must be analyses of this aspect of the film. For one, in my paper I am interested in the rising and falling of the main character in so many of the sections of the film. I did not use the philosophy of Virilio to discuss this in my paper but I am very interested to read more. See my note in the discussion section of the 'Philosophy' page. - Carla Benzan

  • Julius Shulman, one of the integral figures in the development of the architectural photography profession, publishes "The Architect and the Photographer," in the AIA Journal, December, 1959.

In the article Shulman argues for using wide-angle lens to produce special, elongated effects in order to mimic how the eye studies the facade of the building, rather than using a normal perspective which is "true to normal proportions." This suggests that the role of photography in understanding architecture was becoming more closely studied. Shulman posited that special effects and staged photographs that resulted in a heightened the viewing experience, actually brought the viewer closer to understanding a building through an "analytical, story-telling photograph." This was the beginning of a modernist trend that may be termed a "system of absence." I understand this system of representation as a way of photographing buildings that actually produced an opposite effect- a misrepresentation of the edifice being photographed from unusual angles, and including highly staged tableux (which, in many cases involved the erasure of "non-modernist" furniture or appliances): far from ordinary every-day experience of lay viewers and users of the space. -Aldona Dziedziejko

Image: Photograph by Julius Shulman
(night time view of Case Study house #22)

  • John A. Russell Building, University of Manitoba School of Architecture (1959)

In 1877, the University of Manitoba was established in western Canada. Facilities were originally located in downtown Winnipeg before being moved out to Fort Garry in 1929. The School of Architecture, the second in Canada, was established within the Faculty of Arts in 1913. Bachelor of Architecture degrees were conferred after four years of study. In 1920, the School of Architecture joined the new Faculty of Engineering and Architecture. Post-graduate architecture instruction began in 1933. A decade later, the School of Architecture and Fine Arts was established in an attempt to meet the increasing demand for architects and interior decorators. Just previous to the 1959 completion of the Faculty's current facilities, the entire program was reorganised within the School of Architecture. The last major phase of restructuring occurred in 1963 with the formation of the Faculty of Architecture which would soon encompass the undergraduate (Environmental Studies) and graduate programs: Architecture, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture and City Planning. Some of the Faculty's better-known graduates include John and Patricia Patkau, Richard Henriquez, John C. Parkin, Etienne Gaboury, Bill Allen, and Harry Seidler (winner of the 1996 Royal Institute of British Architects Royal Gold Metal).

(Photo: John A. Russell, Director of the School: Official Opening November 8, 1959)

The John A. Russell building was the first curtain wall building in western Canada when it was built in 1959. Centre Space and the Courtyard are the primary public spaces. Centre Space is used frequently for public lectures, studio reviews and exhibitions. In addition, there are two exhibition spaces including the Faculty gallery. Lounges scattered throughout the studios provide informal venues for the exchange of ideas or simply places to relax.

Students in the Faculty of Architecture have ready access to professors teaching in all five of the Faculty's departments. Faculty members have received training in the design disciplines at universities all over the world and are actively engaged in professional practice, research and/or scholarly work. Completed projects by the teaching staff include a wide range of building types and other projects in Winnipeg, across Canada, the United States, and abroad. Instructors have gained numerous prizes, distinctions and recognition at national and international competitions and design award programs, and are published on all continents.
Part-time and sessional faculty members are drawn from the architectural, interior design, planning, landscape architecture, engineering, business, and legal professions to provide state-of-the-art knowledge and experience in the courses offered within the Faculty. The professional activities of the part-time faculty, and the extra-curricular activities of the full- time faculty expand the teaching and professional resource base of the school, and provide a closer relationship between students and the community which they will eventually serve.



Heart of Glass

A renovation of the architecture school at the University of Manitoba--an intellectual generator of Winnipeg Modernism--gives cause for celebration and boasts greater clarity, thanks to its new glazing system.

TEXT Herb Enns

PHOTOS Julie Epp, David Kressock




The reconstruction of the John A. Russell Building at the University of Manitoba (1959)by LM Architectural Group, Bockstael Construction Ltd., and the University of Manitoba's Physical Plant is one of the most notable Modernist restorations in Canadian architectural history. As water leaked through ceilings and walls with every prairie thunderstorm, the need for a major replacement and upgrade project became evermore apparent. The deterioration of crude first-generation extruded aluminum storefront framing systems, the breakdown of seals within early versions of insulated glazing units, and the destabilization of asbestos fibres from the spray-on ceiling finishes made for a toxic and patently unsustainable brew. New technologies addressing thermal performance criteria and energy conservation, continuity of air barriers and air tightness, pressure equalization and water infiltration control, environmental health concerns, and light filtration rendered the inventive 1959 exterior wall assembly quaint and obsolete.

On the surface, the restorative strategy seemed to be matter-of-fact-- follow the existing drawings, replicate the original proportions, use matching surrogate materials, and upgrade the envelope's environmental performance. At the project's inception, little was known about the full extent of possible technical challenges. Since the building systems employed were largely unproven and newly conceived, the eventual damage and decay, the limited lifespan of the framing assembly, the extent of mould abatement required, and the carcinogenic risk of an asbestos fibre-seeded building were unforeseen. To paraphrase commentators on the war in Iraq, ". . . they didn't know what they didn't know!"

In order to answer some of the more basic questions as to what went wrong, it may be useful to paraphrase the technological landscape of 1957-1959, and to track the transformation of post-World War II Modernist construction systems as the building was being conceived and constructed. The exterior wall of the original façade was built of aluminum extrusions and glass cladding components. These were attached to traditional wood-frame infill walls braced between the cast concrete and concrete/metal pan floors. The courtyard walls were more visibly free of load-bearing capacity, with interior columns expressed independently of the façade. Inspired by the aesthetic liberation of space and ample access to light, the inventions and refinements in aluminum and glass made for a minimal, transparent, efficient, mass-produced, self evident, and versatile cladding system.

There are several western North American examples of "curtain walls" that predate the Russell Building. The Boley Clothing Company Building at 12th and Walnut Street in Kansas City, Missouri by Louis S. Curtiss incorporated multi-storey panels of glazing as early as 1908. Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower (1956) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, was wrapped in glass and steel frames. The 1955 Dafoe Library at the University of Manitoba provides evidence of the advance of glazing systems in the west.

The primary distinctions between projects like Gordon Bunshaft's Lever House (1952) in New York and the Russell Building involved material innovation. While eastern Modernist projects relied on steel-channel framing with stainless steel caps, the westerners were inventing extrusions of non-ferrous lightweight aluminum. It was in Kansas City in 1906 that Patents 820,438, 837,640 and 846,343 were issued to the Kawneer Manufacturing Company for storefront construction. From 1942 -1945, Kawneer was fully devoted to the manufacture of aluminum airframe sub-assemblies. However, following the war, they shifted production from aircraft to architectural fabrication, and introduced the first unitized aluminum curtain wall in 1956. While the Russell Building was not the first of its kind, its architects were certainly early adopters.

There were other important developments in building material technology following World War II. In 1945, the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG) introduced Twindow® double-paned insulating glass. The manufacturer's stamp in the glazing unit seals of the Russell Building is "Canadian Thermopane-1959," and while the lineage of that company is difficult to trace, it points to Toledo, Ohio, where, in 1946, the Libbey-Owens-Ford Thermopane factory was opened to manufacture insulated window glass. In 1901, it was Edward Libbey who established the Toledo Museum of Art--recently expanding into the Glass Pavilion by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA--which houses the original Libbey Glass Company Collection. Pilkington Glass invented float glass in 1959, a process that gradually replaced the polished plate glass of the Russell Building in 1962, and in this case, the Russell windows were the last of an era.

Cement asbestos and asbestos insulation were common in the post-World War II era. In using it as a backing material for translucent ground glass panels, the designers were appropriating a low-cost industrial material as the visible exterior finish for a relatively high-profile and sophisticated project. Its removal was mandated by new health standards.

The remediation of the Russell Building has been a technical success. Bearing in mind compromises to air infiltration with the retention of the operable units (the Building Envelope consultants recommended the building be entirely sealed), and the absence of Low-E coatings in the courtyard glass (contravening University policy) in order to maximize transparency, the architects, contractors, and clients achieved a fine balance.

Wonderfully reincarnated in the renovation is the precise calibration of the geometric order, clear visual access within the core of the building across the spaces linked to the courtyard, and the colour and texture of most of the interior finishes. EQ3, a Winnipeg-based international manufacturer and retailer of modern furniture and accessories, has donated furniture--most of it designed by Faculty of Architecture graduates--for the student lounge.

One significant oversight, for which all participants in the process (including the author) bear some responsibility, was the exclusion of Professor Grant Marshall from discussions of the interior details. We discovered--too late--how finely and subtly the discrete finishes and furnishings of the interiors had been honed and perfectly tuned to the ambitions of clarity, simplicity, and technical innovation. Marshall's role as a sophisticated interior accomplice to Winnipeg's Modernist architects has since been confirmed.

At the festive rededication of the John A. Russell Building on Friday, September 15th, 2006--with invited guests including Professors Peter Forster (who was hired in 1959 to teach at the original building) and Doug Gillmor (a member of the 1950s design team led by Jim Donahue)--John Russell's son Barry evoked the memory of his father. The senior Russell was, as his son remembered, a genius at local, national, and international public relations, gifted in setting high academic standards, and dedicated to spreading goodwill amongst all of the arts in Winnipeg. Russell was one of the most demanding, thoughtful, and savvy Deans to lead a school of architecture in Canada. The following evening, Winnipeg band The Weakerthans played to a sold-out house at the Burton Cummings Theatre, performing One Great City--with the primal "I hate Winnipeg" refrain--from their album Reconstruction Site. Winnipeg--where dormancy is a thing of beauty--is a culturally intense, seemingly vacant, profoundly social, hypercreative, love/hate city. The John A. Russell Building is its Modernist glass heart.

Herb Enns is the director of the Experimental Media Centre, University of Manitoba, and a contributing editor to Canadian Architect.

PROJECT John A. Russell Building Exterior Envelope Upgrade, Winnipeg, Manitoba

CLIENT University of Manitoba

ARCHITECT LM Architectural Group


Otterlo '59: The End of CIAM

The CIAM (Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne) was held at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo in September 1959. It concluded with the vote to permanently disband the group. 

The proceedings of this final meeting were collected and edited by Oscar Newman as
CIAM ’59 in Otterlo (Stuttgart ,1961), featuring contributions by Jaap Bakema, Georges Candilis, Giancarlo de Carlo, Jose Antonio Coderch, Ralph Erskine, Aldo van Eyck, Sandy Ginkel, Geir Grung, Herman Haan, Oskar Hansen, Alexis Josic, Karoly Polonyi, Ernesto Rogers, Alfred Roth, Alison and Peter Smithson, Jerzy Soltan, Kenzo Tange, John Voelcker and Shadrach Woods.


Information and image source:

--Jenni Pace