Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Making Architecture Great Again: Traditional Architects applaud Trump's suggestion to make Federal Buildings reflect the period styles of the early Republic

Making Architecture Great Again
Fake Architecture: Politicizing aesthetics

By John Henry, Architect

It is with a great measure of ambivalence that I write this.  The reason being: I grew up in a fascinating land rich with ancient archaeological treasures, and my university training taught me to follow and love only Modernist tenets.  I appreciate both sides of this polemic.  I see great and poor design on both sides.  But over the years I noticed an extreme bias of one side against the other and only in the past few did the ‘disenfranchised’ side respond with intelligence and force.  This mirrors our current political stasis where one side, “tolerant”, actually does not wish to hear at all from the other.  The side marginalized for years and years may now even see legislation supporting their view and preference.

I graduated with a Master in Architecture from Texas A&M University in 1978.  As Rush Limbaugh likes to say: our ‘minds were full of mush’.  Students absorb whatever their professors espouse.  We went to college with hopes and dreams and expected reality to accept what we had learned and the world to hire us to exercise our newly acquired skills and theories.  This seemed to work (the modern approach) in the commercial world but not in the residential.  And as clinical as my Bauhaus inspired training seemed to be, there was never a political connection to style or design.  In fact, all personal beliefs, other than design theory, was not discussed in any of my classes.  As we slowly realized, in the art and architecture world of the 40s to present day especially, things were not as neutral and antiseptic as we were led to believe.

Architecture was supposed to be apolitical.  It was a process, explained by our Gropius educated Dean, that was a culmination of analysis and problem-solving.  We never heard it connected with any particular dogma other than purely an academic development based on technology. 
The history of architecture before the advent of Modernism and the International Style was treated as a series of notable construction adventures by primitives to fantastical expressions and devotions to Greek and Roman gods and Caesars, to 17th and 18th-century monarchs, despots, to Fascists, mixed in with a mish-mash of experimental classical revival styles, mostly based on the Western Tradition – but finally abrogated -- that culminated in the most acceptable manner of building from the 1940s to the present day – namely, Modernism.

It wasn’t clearly explained why this break occurred, or why the previous 2,500-year culmination of creative enterprise was abandoned completely except that economics and expediency were the main culprits.  And there was absolutely no return.  We never asked why.  The previous two and a half millennia were reduced to museum curiosities, never to be repeated.  Or else. 

One did not design any building with classicizing features in the Universities after the theories of a group of European architects made their way through academia (and were supported by big pocketed investors/developers).  To go classical/traditional was out of style, backward thinking, against the best theories of architecture; it was verboten.  In fact, only Notre Dame finally turned to a full curriculum with an emphasis on classical architecture.  The frou-frou of traditional architecture was replaced by a machine ethic expressed in glass, steel and concrete.  It was ‘honest’.

Let’s fast forward to the recent news that the Trump Administration is looking to put in place an emphasis, and legislative guidelines, favoring traditional architecture for new government buildings.  While architects in general may find this a seriously rude signal that would stifle creativity, architects of strong ‘progressive’ minds are calling this a crusade against the free expression they have enjoyed for so many years but especially an affront to their beloved Modernist beliefs and self-declared unassailable conventions.

We have finally confirmation, evident from several recent politically charged critiques, that Modernism – and its progressive offshoots – is indeed an architecture of the left.  Like the left-leaning media on which we have accepted as the norm, Modernism and its genetic progeny have pervaded our environment for 80 years or more, has infected nations worldwide with its seemingly inert tenets, and is rarely challenged.  Supported by academia and the leftist art world and glossies, it has been the de facto norm.  The inescapable conclusion is that artistic expression, like political thought, has been governed by the left for decades now.

In a recent U.K. based opinion piece seen on, the writers claim that traditional architecture is favored by the ‘European Right’.  It follows that the left prefers Modernism, no?  The article goes on to say that “There is clearly a reaction taking place against modern architecture, led by conservative voices and members of the New Right” (underline is in the article).  The authors then label right-wing architecture critics as a ‘motley crew’, and consequently that proponents of classicism are white supremacists.  They contrast traditional architectural expression against modernism, warning that the latter “…faithfully mirrors the ambiguities, complexities, and struggles of the contemporary urban experience, to be replaced with a singularly white, European image of human progress.”

Where have we heard this malarkey before?  Why in our recent Democrat vs. Republican dialogues.  The right is racist, the left inclusive, etc.  What we have experienced since the 40s has been an intolerance of Modernists to accept any argument favoring Traditional architecture.  This is no doubt a parallel of the current political malaise.
The web article above is just one of many recent clearly voiced associations of Modern art and architecture with the left and Traditional with the right.  The left has disguised its agenda for over half a century in our American politics and public realm, employing aesthetics and media/education to gently but forcefully assert their nascent and overt programs which are actually politically charged with clear objectives.

This connection occurred to me several years ago because the arts intelligentsia, headed by the left through any logical accounting, has marginalized traditional fine arts for years – sculpture, painting, architecture – in favor of a free form aesthetic that eschews ambiguity, impressive self-referential theoretics, to nihilism.
The more recent ‘progressive’ Modern architecture, since its inception has made a point to stray as far away from any notion of classicism or cultural heritage or even common conception of ‘building’.  From amoebas on stilts to crumpled cans and wavy disconnected metallic surfaces, with jarring incoherent interiors that appear to be inspired by ‘20s German film sets (as in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari which was said to ‘explore the twisted realm of repressed desires, unconscious fears, and deranged fixations’ – Anton Kaes), the imagery is an anti-architecture in the traditional sense, evidently against the 2,500-year tradition inherited from Athens and Rome and then taken up by French and other European royalty and nobility.

The left has co-opted the arts, news, and media in order to overwhelm the sensibilities of our citizenry, educate our children in the most liberal mores, but especially to crush the right’s core beliefs.  The left’s views on family values, reproduction and sexual mores, immigration, policing, governance, and politics in general is reflected in the often-dystopian and bizarre images of architecture for private and public commercial buildings that have been erected in the last 80 years.

The funny thing is, after graduating and starting my practice, I noticed how rare modern design was represented in private housing.  I was subconsciously disappointed on one hand, yet on the other, happy to design traditional houses!  (I had to take on an ongoing research project into the great ‘Western Tradition’ - Classicism, purchasing hundreds of texts and visiting/experiencing/documenting countless landmark buildings in Europe and in the United States, as the underlying theory and proper execution was not sufficiently explained to me and millions of other architects matriculating under Bauhaus ‘Start From Zero’ design principles.) In fact, apart from Modern revivals every few years, the preponderance of private housing – large and small – has been in traditional and regional styles.   Four walls and a pitched roof seemed to be sufficient, from small Medieval dwelling to early Renaissance palaces.  The left absolutely abhors a traditional pitched roof.  It really is comical to what lengths they will go to avoid it.

Like Trump’s large middle-class following and appeal, the humble traditional looking house with its recognizable (and endearing) details and proportions is preferred to anything that resembles a spaceship.  The disconnect with Modern public and commercial architecture in the late 60s was finally answered by the profession’s academic’s cartoon-like Post-Modern designs.  These also failed to hit the mark for a true Traditional architecture but they could not go back to the origins and replicate the exact proportion, details, etc. due to an expected leftist ruling critical media backlash.  Beauty and proportion were not in the Modernist vocabulary.  The idea was that anyone could train their ‘eye-mind-hand’ and create suitable buildings and become architects.  The notion of talent was not discussed.  Solve the ‘problem’ and the result will have an innate ‘correct’ or acceptable form.

Houses with pitched roofs rarely have the problems of modern houses with typically flat roofs.  Traditional houses have less window and more wall and thus are more energy efficient.  They have fewer wild intersecting planes and dissimilar structural elements and thus less prone to long term upkeep and repair; they are easier and more economical to build.  The same advantages are documented in traditional commercial and public buildings.  The costs to build the crazy distorted music venues, museums, and other privately funded projects is 2 to 5 times that of a Euclidean design and create a host of problems not found in traditional architecture including how to build, where to start even, how to seal against the weather, how to make accessible for long term maintenance, etc.

My idol in school was Frank Lloyd Wright, a fierce individualist and the model of Ayn
Rand’s hero in The Fountainhead.  Wright was also an avowed socialist.  He eventually abandoned his Usonian houses to beat the Modernists at their own game.  He capitulated to the left.  Philip Johnson reintroduced an all-glass house, based on Mies’s model, and influenced a generation of architects.  He then dallied in Post Modern design, working-in traditional elements to his large projects later in his career.   In the mid-40s however, Johnson was invited by the Nazis to Warsaw and joined the high brass to watch the city get bombarded and burn to the ground.  Others, like Corbu were fascist sympathizers.

My first shock that there was no neutral design world was evident in a photo published in a well circulated trade magazine of high profile modern and post-modern architects supporting gay rights in the late ‘70s.  I couldn’t rationalize this anomaly, as I had never read any architect taking such a politically charged stand, and only years later realized how prevalent leftist liberal leanings were shared by so many artistic professionals.

Classical architecture has been used by despots, namely Nazis and Italian Fascists, to impress the oppressed.  Classicism though was adopted by our early founders to express the freedom of democracy reflected in our greatest and widely recognized monuments and public/government buildings including the Jefferson Memorial, U.S. Capitol, and White House.  These and other historical forms derived from ancient and European architecture were adopted and replicated/mimicked by 18th and 19th-century American architects into the fabric of our towns and cities.  They are preferred by many over the completely out of scale and anti-urban, anti-human scaled Modern monstrosities. 
It is time to Make Architecture Great Again.  If Traditional architecture represents the Right and we have been made to suffer for so many years by the insipid and overbearing blank and scale-less buildings ascribed to Modernism and thus the Left, then the public deserves a reconnection to a historical progression of the fine arts exemplified in government buildings and other monuments,  that was severed after the industrialized building systems (though well employed at the time) to quickly rebuild the catastrophes of two world wars.

Is this payback, is this retribution?  Is it time to get even?  Perhaps.  But I would call it a long-awaited correction and a Return to Tradition to establish a more human connection between buildings and the people who must occupy and be inspired by them.  We have had enough of ‘Federal Modernism’, deconstruction and its cousins, and are tired of having our sensibilities ordered by the left without question.  A push towards an at least acceptable option of having period style historical buildings erected by our tax dollars is not out of the question.

But there should be no question at this point, that the architecture of the left is a social and political statement, namely Modernism; that like ‘blue state’ politics, it represents liberalism socialism, and tends towards even communism.  Traditional architecture is then deduced to be supported by the right, or conservatives.  In this country, the blasphemous arts and modern architecture are Democrat supported media platforms.  Republicans, on the whole, support traditional forms of art and construction, prefer it, and should have the right to build the same for public installations.  It would be nice if the Antifa - left art critics were to shut up for a protracted period – and get out of the way.  Executive Order is welcomed.  Mr. President: like the fake news, we are tired of being served Fake Architecture for so many years.  Let’s achieve a more fair and balanced distribution of design theory and practice.

What would a world where beautiful buildings predominate look like?  Something like this:

The painting above is by Michael Gandy, 1820.  It is a landscape representing English architect John Soane’s unbuilt work.  Can you imagine an alternative universe built solely of Modern style buildings?  I would fear it.


John Henry is based in Orlando, Florida.  He holds a Bachelor or Environmental Design and Master of Architecture from Texas A&M University.  He spent his early childhood through high school in Greece and Turkey, traveling in Europe -- impressed by the ruins of Greek and Roman cities and temples, old irregular Medieval streets, and classical urban palaces and country villas.  His Modernist formal education was a basis for functional, technically proficient, yet beautiful buildings. 
The drawings and work above were all designed by John Henry, drawn by hand, except as noted otherwise.
Photos by Harvey Smith Photography

Commercial Web    Residential Web   7491 Conroy Road, Orlando Florida 32835   407 421 6647


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Craftsman Style for Orlando Historic District by John Henry Architect

Orlando has six Historic Districts. Any new construction or remodeling has to be presented to the Historic Preservation Board for review in order to judge compliance with regulations on style, colors, massing, setbacks, permeability ratio, fenestration, etc. John Henry was asked to design a 2,800 sf bungalow Craftsman style home on Fern Creek Avenue in the Lawsonia Historic District. This is a narrow rectangular but deep lot just west of downtown Orlando. It is flanked by similar period-style homes. The contractor, Main Street Builders Construction, requested a front porch (which can project 8 feet into the front setback) and a two-story symmetrical design that mirrors the majority of Craftsman-style homes that were built in the area and around the country. The garage is set back behind the house. The house has an Office, Master Suite, Kitchen, Dining, and Family Room on the first floor with three bedrooms upstairs, two with a Jack and Jill bath, plus a Bonus Room. The color scheme was an all-white siding and trim with black window frames and slate-colored roof. The requirement was to prepare and submit these Preliminary drawings to the Board within a 10-day deadline in order to meet the monthly review schedule. This was done and the product is as shown. There are some compromises to make when you build on a narrow lot and have to work with symmetry. For example: all the front rooms MUST have equally sized windows to match. Even upstairs and around the sides of the house you should have vertically oriented windows of the same proportion. In this case there were four windows to size between the Foyer, Powder Room, Master Bath and Closet. Then on the second floor windows must line up as well! You have to have egress in case of fire so a 3 ft by 6 ft window set at 8 ft off of the finished floor gives you a 2 ft wall to climb over. Period houses like this were built all over the country at the turn of the century and went far into the 50s. They also include other styles that are regional or European inspired. One aspect about the Craftsman style is a broad front porch with round or square columns on pedestals. The color combinations are endless with lap siding and trim boards. There were stucco and brick compositions and some were assymetrical. They had large windows for their time and the Preservation Board looks for a minimal 'transparency'.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

John Henry - Best Architect on ActiveRain

John Henry - Best Architect on ActiveRain: Recently, my post 'Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down,' was featured by ActiveRain. Last night, I received a comment from John Henry along with the soundtrack to Gl

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Charm and History of Mediterranean Style Houses, Presented by Orlando Winter Park Florida Architect John Henry


There is a quixotic appeal of the wonderful dwellings, villas, and palaces that originate in the lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea by American homeowners, architects, and builders.  In most cases, the simplicity of form and geometric integrity, clean and bright harmony of color, and earthy materials seem irresistible -- to love and emulate.
While these houses originate in a warm dry climate, they are reconstructed in spirit from the sunny humid climates of Florida and Texas, to the drier states of Arizona, New Mexico, and California.  And they have been found in the rainiest and coldest of areas as well.
When one visits Turkey, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France or Morocco, the impression of smaller houses built next to each other, whitewashed, with multicolored roofs, is simply charming to behold.  
But there are differences of course due to culture and building practice, availability of materials, etc.  which culminate in a regional or local style.  And historically, the further back one goes the more simple and primitive the forms.  In the southern and eastern Mediterranean, the roofs are often flat and act as rainwater catches for potable storage. Dwellings are smaller interlocking squares with no pitched roofs.  The absence of any color is due to the limewash that maintains cleanliness, is bug resistant, mold resistant, and reflects heat.
On the other side of the Sea, where a more (northern) European tradition of pitched roofs prevail, you have the same small houses, now with single pitch tiled roofs, or sometimes just sloping roofs.  Stone walls in many cases have not been plastered but those that are will also be painted.  Skipping forward to the Renaissance a new sensibility about design as a philosophical art developed among master masons.  They used the same materials to design structures that now were inspired by things they found in the ground: Greek and Roman temples.
These temples became iconic to Western Civilization.  The perfect symmetry was mimicked from small rural hamlets to the great churches of the southern European countries up to the northern bounds.  The 'Mediterranean' ideal changed bit from region to region depending on climate, materials, workmanship, and level of enlightenment.
Fast forward to the last 100 years in the United States and you will find that stucco, stone, and tile - with wood and iron details - were the basis for small entry level houses, custom homes, and large luxury estates which borrowed exacting details from Italian villas and manors.  But they were not all symmetrical.  In fact, due to the development of haciendas from Colonial Spanish settlement, these freewheeling asymmetrical working ranches and estates inspired a more relaxed and informal design genre that was picked up in the new California and transmogrified in other southern states especially.  
In Florida during the 1920s, Addison Mizner combined Iberian motifs successfully and used his own ingenuity to create magical estates in the Palm Beach area.  A little earlier in Newport, Rhode Island, the Vanderbilts asked Richard Morris Hunt to create a replica of an Italian Genovese palace.  Other formal Renaissance inspired estates were built on the East Coast and in other areas where Gilded Age millionaires could afford the size and extensive detailing in and out.  Often these were clad in limestone or even marble.
While all the Old World prototypes were built of stone walls clad with stucco and roofed with ceramic tile over wood timbers, here in the United States wood framing more often comprises the main structure with a cheaper stucco finish and often concrete tile roofs on wood trusses.  In some areas concrete block is used for the perimeter walls, which allows the best bonding for exterior plaster.
Interiors of U.S. custom houses are a smorgasbord ranging from ultra contemporary to select period details in fireplaces, moldings, and some stone flooring.  The 'contemporary Mediterranean' style allows a free hand in complex roofing and usually asymmetrical facades due to typically tight urban or suburban lot restrictions.  It is very difficult to create a fully symmetrical design with garages and the number of rooms limiting the plan on a smaller lot.
The Romans introduced the arch and this structural element, played against horizontal members, has been called the Palladian Arch.  The Greeks employed no arches in their temples.  Romans invented concrete as well and were able to build public buildings efficiently with thick brick walls filled with a concrete stubble.
Graceful full round arches are an Italian Renaissance motif and with arched windows below, create an iconic 'Mediterranean' style.  Use of columns, not as on a temple, but to frame windows and doors or used rhythmically at the front and rear porches, is the second important motif.  These can be simple or very detailed.  When they are decorative it is important to wrap similar complex details in the moldings around doors and windows, and as demarcations of floors upon floors on the facade, etc. 
Wood rafters and balconies are more a Spanish Colonial motif than an Italian one.  In buildings of stature, the entire facade and perimeter of the house were finished in either a stone veneer or lime stucco.  Wood rafters under the eaves are seen in all Northern Mediterranean houses and they are often exposed inside and carved in a decorative manner in higher standing villas and palaces.
The ceramic tile of southern European houses is an expensive roofing choice now, supplanted in many entry-level to medium quality homes with similar profiled concrete roofing tile.  The choice of color and mix allows the replication of a few hundred years ofreplacing hand worked and fired ceramic tile based on nearby silt deposits at the rivers' edge.  Roofs can be open gable or hipped.
Towers and other roof ornamentation is appropriated from larger period villas and palaces, some fortified elements as well.  A playful hand can create several different combinations of classical details and simple walls and fenestration (the order and placement of windows). 
All together the modern Mediterranean house offers a great palette of design elements, floor plans, interesting facades, and interiors.  Certain treatments and profiles are regionally recognized styles.  So that we now see smaller elemental designs in starter homes to an eclectic mix of towers, chimneys, porches, arches and columns, etc. for mid-level to upper echelon custom homes.  Sometimes the results can be quite exotic!

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

According to the National Association of Realtors - "82 percent of homes purchased between July 2017 and June 2018 were single-family homes with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, sized at about 1,900 square feet, with a median sold price of $250,000".  This is the NAR's model house for 2019.   Interestingly the demographics area as follows: married buyers are at 63% of all owners, followed by white female singles.
Architect John Henry just developed a new custom suburban house design situated on a corner lot in Central Florida.  Setbacks of 5 feet on the back and side, with 15 feet on the two street sides allowed just enough space for this transitional single-story design of 1,980 SF.  The lot size allowed a buildable footprint of 50 by 85 feet.
The homeowner requested a wrap-around porch for neighborhood views and a friendly image.  There are three bedrooms and two baths, a single Living and Dining area with large open Kitchen with bar seats.  Laundry and pantry are convenient to the Kitchen and just a few steps off the two-car garage.
There is sufficient privacy between the Master Suite and the two bedrooms, sharing a bath. (All bedrooms indicate a queen size bed for scale)
The stunning eye-opener, when first entering under the arched porch, is the amazing amount of light and views under a soaring vaulted ceiling.  The wrap-around porch continues into a larger private rear porch ('lanai') that shelters a nice grass yard and Pool with Grill.  The Great Room, Kitchen, Dining, and Master Suite all have views into this private area.
A fireplace in the roomy Great Room is on axis with the Kitchen, a great visual anchor to the entire open space.  The ample covered porch modulates the direct sun and allows cool rocking chair respites on three sides.
At the last minute, the homeowner requested an additional bedroom and bath, which pushed the Master Suite to the rear of the setback (not shown).  An alternative would be to situate two bedrooms upstairs, allowing this design to be built on an even smaller lot.
The owner wished to include some slightly contemporary touches on the architectural treatment outside and although there are stone and stucco, the angled porch columns add that quixotic touch of 'transitional' design.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Fabled Payne Stewart Mansion by John Henry Architect.
Created over 20 years ago in a private setting on a pristine lake in Central Florida this is one of the best examples of a contemporary Period Style Mansion in the United States.  It is Italian Baroque on one elevation and pure Greek/Roman on the other.
This is a beautiful Villa resplendent with characteristic columns, arches, and moldings.  But each element has a custom design, and the use of classical proportion and detail make this truly unique and World Class in execution and effect.  The interiors were created to be part of the period style.  Natural stone was used for exterior and interior columns, balusters, and moldings.
The eye delights over the darks and lights, detail and shadow, wood, stone and stucco.
Please see the newly created video that includes for the first time: the interiors in still photography and the exterior/grounds in aerial photography.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Contemporary Modern Custom Home Plans for Luxury Houses

Custom Contemporary Modern Style house ideas, photos and drawings by Architect John Henry based in Orlando Florida.  Serving Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, Naples, Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Winter Park, and Windermere.