Archive for November, 2011

01
Nov
11

Pyramids Across The Eons

From a ways back in time, like about three thousand five hundred years ago, comes one of the really profound and wonderfully simple ideas of architecture and urbanism.  The precedent is an idea that is used throughout the human experience and it works especially well in designing buildings and cities.  In short we take ideas from the past and transform them into projects for the modern era.

Above, the astounding pyramids at Giza in Egypt are simple platonic solids constructed with great effort as tombs.  I don’t know how the idea of this form was arrived at but it definitely was a good choice which the pharaohs would mostly be pleased with.  Even though their resting places down inside were messed with, we universally regard these structures as great achievements in human history.

Some facts from Wikipedia;

The Great Pyramid was built as a tomb for the Pharaoh khufu over an approximately 20 year period concluding around 2560 BC. Initially at 480.6 ft, the Great Pyramid was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years.

In 1984 the architect I.M. Pei took the idea of a pyramidal form as a precedent and solved one of the challenging problems in the  architecture of Paris. How to create a front door to the Louvre Museum in Paris, France?

For years people had to line up on the narrow sidewalk along the street next to the River Seine.  Not grand by any means.  Pei took this ancient shape, modernized it with glass and steel, set it gently down in the middle of the courtyard, created a beautiful spiral stair down below grade and made the entrance to the museum a totally memorable experience.  He was also making a statement about how to build in cities with deep, rich architectural histories.  Be respectful but do not imitate the past.  We are living here today!

At the Palace of Legion of Honor art museum in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, there is another courtyard that serves as the entry forecourt to the building.  I walked in one day and wow! Here was another pyramid.

This time the museum had a perfectly fine front door at the end of the court but they needed some natural light in the floor below where the public access galleries so as to minimize the feeling of being in a basement, (which it is).  This design by Edward Larrabee Barnes and John M.Y. Lee was completed in 1992.  Not quite the statement that Pei got to make but still a lovely solution and a wonderfully detailed piece of work it is with those steel rods and connectors custom made for this application.

There in a nutshell is the idea of the precedent and it is used all the time at the full range of scales in design.