J.J.P. Oud’s “Architecture and Standardization in Mass Construction” (1918)

Translated from the Dutch by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, et al.

From Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology

of Original Articles.  (Whitney Library of Design.  New York, NY: 1975).

• • •

The nature of architecture is determined not only by factors which may be described as spiritual, but also very much by social and technical factors.  More than any other art form, architecture has its roots in human society and depends on social considerations, even in its most individual expression.

The idea of inner balance and perfection is much more meaningful when applied to the art of painting, for instance, than when applied to architecture, which is prevented from achieving this inner balance by its dependence on the dualism of necessity and beauty.  Architecture is a balancing of purely architectural and [118] utilitarian factors, and any evaluation of it from an aesthetic point of view must presuppose this compromise…

This is why the question arises as to whether architecture is a true art-form or not.

It has to be admitted that, on purely aesthetic grounds, architecture is restricted in its possibilities in such a way that the degree of pure expression which can be achieved through it is limited.  Purity of expression in architecture can only be increased when the aesthetic and utilitarian factors come to resemble each other as closely as possible, thus making it less necessary to adjust one in relation to the other…

One thing is certain; the aesthetic of modern buildings will not be based on the buildings of the past: they will be shaped by the essential characteristics of modern society and technology, and will therefore be completely different from those of any previous period.

The modern architect must therefore be technically knowledgeable (or at least have a clear understanding of modern building technique) and have a very broad awareness of social factors…

Traditionally (or for as long as we can remember), every architect has been allowed to design his own doors and windows for himself — a right which he will not lightly give up.  Where the building of private houses is concerned, he can go on enjoying this privilege; but in the case of mass construction the growth of industrial methods in our time demands that the criteria for the building of private dwellings be set aside.  The problems of mass construction must be examined with an open mind, avoiding the reinterpretation of existing forms and searching instead for designs based on a real understanding of the task.  Architectural possibilities will be opened up in a way which has not happened for a very long time.  If aesthetic considerations are also taken into account in the design of standardized buildings, then a truly monumental style of architecture can be evolved.

The design of standard types of buildings will bring back the proportions and rhythms of a town which are so lacking in the present-day townscape.  The artist-architect must, however, take great care not to become ruled by his observance of these ideal proportions and types.

Much will depend on how far standardization goes: whether it will be the mere definition of standard types (trade standards) of doors, windows, etc., or whether it will mean the design of complete standard home types.  But however far standardization goes, it will always be possible to create beauty by the grouping of building blocks, doors, windows or whole houses to create contrasts of proportions and ratios.  And this does not even take into account the possibility of introducing (where it is economically possible) decorative materials such as brick, so that textured surfaces can be alternated with plain ones in double or triple strip patterns, while still retaining the total effect of mass.  This is the outcome of modern production methods, which have already been accepted unwillingly by their private builder and which have extended their influence to luxury products, such as metal-framed windows and stair-rails.  The architect who has had to build blocks of dwellings has also turned to standard trade models for mantel-pieces, wall-coverings, parquet floors, wall-tiles, sanitation installations, etc., out of pure economic expediency.

If the acceptance of the mass-produced product is completely in keeping with the spirit of the present time, as far as architecture is concerned, it comes at exactly the right psychological moment.  The anarchy in the construction industry — brought about both by a lack of aestheticism and by too great a concern with aesthetics — will be limited by the truly aesthetic use of the mass-produced product.  The architect acts as a theatrical director, stage-managing mass-products into an architectural whole, creating an art of proportions.  The lust for aesthetic excess, on the other hand, can be satisfied in the design of private houses.

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~ by Ross Wolfe on October 20, 2010.

2 Responses to “J.J.P. Oud’s “Architecture and Standardization in Mass Construction” (1918)”

  1. […] and depends on social considerations, even in its most individual expression.”  Oud, J.J.P.  “Architecture and Standardization in Mass Construction.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of […]

  2. […] and depends on social considerations, even in its most individual expression.”  Oud, J.J.P.  “Architecture and Standardization in Mass Construction.”  Translated by Tim Benton.  Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology of […]

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