Architecture & Design: The Broken Link

A prospective client called me and a few words into the conversation asked: do you also design…?

This question reveals the extent to which architects became known as facilitators of the bureaucratic challenges in getting a job permit and technicians of building design. Therefore, my very first column in The Monsey Times would open with a general definition of architecture.

Architecture is the art of expressing cultural, individual, public, or private ideas by creating the forms and artifacts that comprise buildings and the environment we live in. Actually, architecture is a melting pot of almost anything in life. Climate, topography, site, history, economy, politics, fashion, materials, cost, location, demography, and more, all get mixed together. This is the intellectual soup and the raw material the architect begins his work with.

This article focuses on a narrow aspect of the design, the most obvious one; the visual. We would discuss the visual evolution through the examination of columns as an example.

To make an idea clear, two extreme conditions are compared. Take an ancient stone column compared with a stone clad or stucco covered steel column today.

Ancient stone columns were made in sections. Each section was resting on top of the section below. Anyone understands that to create stability the base of stone columns shall be wider than the sections above.

Such columns were constructed in the Beit Hamikdash (536-457 BC, planning phase) and were spread out in Greek temples and civic buildings.

The Parthenon (438 BC) is a living example as it is one of the most complete ancient structures to survive. The beauty of the examples above is in the truth of these structures. Just like the columns are wider at the base, they are standing on a platform that is yet again, like an even wider base to the column. Gravity is keeping the pieces together.

One experiences deep feeling of comfort when approaching such solid structures of perfect proportions dictated by the science of buildings and understanding of materials. The materials and structures themselves are delegates of truth. It was impossible to lie. The technology to lie did not exist.

In comparison take most buildings today. The structural design of the column is concealed by exterior finishes such as stucco or stone veneer. A steel column of 4”x4” can support a tremendous amount of weight. The common practice of covering such columns with stone tiles results in unnaturally looking thin stone columns. It looks so wrong that even the inexperienced and uneducated eye is bothered by it.

There is something very unappealing about things that pretend to be something they are not. The stone that covers the column may be beautiful, but when placed in an out of character fashion, hiding the truth of the concealed material, it is suddenly un-liked.

The stucco which is the number one cover-up material looks chip, airy, and uninteresting. When molded to look like a stone column, it is screaming betrayal, unfaithfulness, and weakness.

Covering up a slender steel column with stone tiles is a chip way to build. Covering up the same column with stucco is even chipper. I suspect these design decisions are made when specifications are not provided by the architect. Each party involved in the building development and construction is important to no end, but design itself is part of the responsibilities of the architect, not the client, the developer, or the contractor. They have tremendous skill and insight on multiple aspects of the building development process but they do not have years of focus, experience, education, or time to put into the building design per se. This is the architect’s job.

Experience shows that good architects can do wonders using very inexpensive materials.

In this article I would strongly advocate that one should insist on taking a more serious approach to design when working with an architect. Inquire if design fees are included. Care to participate and understand the design process and decision making. Be open to ideas and rely on your architect. A good architect can sometimes save you money through smart design decisions, creating immediate savings, if not just more sophisticated buildings to be proud of for generations.

An Architect’s own education and experience guides them in making informed design decisions. If stucco is your material of choice, the architect will use it in appropriate ways; that is to say, he will avoid using in a way that wouldresult in an undesirable (chip) appearance. Even better, is to ask your architect how can you be creative incorporating structural elements into your design.

If you stick to traditional design, know why a column stands on a wide base; understand the roll of an ancient column capital. Follow the load travel path. Look for a foundation to receive it.

In Modern architecture the conceptual core is to exemplify the integrity and truth of materials.

In Traditional architecture, one shall know architectural history, and follow a certain order, also known as and architectural cannon. The architectural order maintains the integrity of the evolutionary story of architecture.

Either case let your architect guide you. Take advantage of his expertise to benefit your most important asset.

By Boaz M. Golani

 Boaz M. Golani is a Cooper Union Alumni class of 2005. His company is BMG Design Build LLC, also known as BMG Architect. He has offices in Brooklyn and Wesley Hills. He is an expert on wood frame buildings as well as steel & concrete buildings. He has designed over 40 new buildings in NYC and a growing number of wood frame Projects in Rockland County. Mr. Golani will answer your calls directly at: 347-346-1117. Website: