Artistic Sculpting of Space by Joe Farrell

March 1, 2015

(March 2015, Joseph G.F. Farrell, SRQ Magazine)

While artistic sculpting of space is the most important factor, we want to acknowledge the other factors needed in order to make successful Architecture which are: the client’s desires, the location where architecture is built, the times in which we live, functionality, durable construction and enduring beauty, which is achieved by the artistic composition of space, textures and colors—space being the most important. For now sculpted architectural space is three-dimensional and appears to be nothing, but it is the most important something in architecture. An architect sculpts space and a sculptor sculpts stone. Shaping space is harder to visualize than sculpting solid items and in general we don’t talk about it very much. We talk mostly of secondary solid items like walls, floors, ceiling, columns, etc., which are easier to grasp than space.

Years ago in an effort to explain architectural space, architectural writer Peter Blake said, “If you take a Frank Lloyd Wright house, fill it with steam, freeze the steam, then take away the walls, floors and roofs, you are left with the architectural space Wright was sculpting.” While the sculptor shapes from the exterior, the architect shapes space in the mind’s eye, alternating between interior and exterior space until the design is complete.

Artistic sculpting of space goes beyond the utilitarian concept of three dimensions. Space can be artistically shaped to accommodate the emotional desires of the user, which evokes an experience beyond width, length and depth. This is done in the artistic composition of space, defined by walls, floors, ceilings, columns and other solid elements. There are high spaces, low spaces, narrow spaces, wide spaces, long spaces, short spaces, quiet spaces, spaces with hustle-and-bustle, calm spaces, bright spaces and dream spaces—all artistically composed to complement each other to elicit an emotional response for those who occupy it. When this is done with care and creative response for the client and compositional concern, you have successful artistic sculpting of space.

Examples of Artistic Sculpting of Space An example of an emotional response to sculpted space in nature is the excitement one gets by walking up a hill under a canopy of trees and dynamically experiencing an awe-inspiring valley view once at the top.

While attending the University of Florida (UF) in the 1950s, I worked for and mentored under Paul Rudolph during summers and holidays. He would graciously critique my UF student design projects and emphasized two major things. First and foremost, an architect was an artist. Second, space design or sculpting space is the most important contribution an architect can provide. He encouraged me to draw more section to comprehensively see the proportions of space I was designing. Rudolph believed every house should have a proper amount of extroverted and introverted space to provide for the psychological needs of the family. He would say, “A house should be a cave in a fishbowl.” He was a master of artistic space sculpturing, as seen in his many works. Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, many of which I have visited, are wonderful examples of artistically sculpting of space, such as the Robie House in Oak Park, Illinois. Artistic sculpting of space was so important to the Bauhaus School under Walter Gropius in Germany, Le Corbusier in France, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Germany and others of the International Style that they developed a dynamic change to the earlier Axial Beaux-Arts Space which, they called the “Space Time” Theory and which gives the exciting fourth dimension of time and movement to their new Modern Architecture.

The Uhr Artist Studio House was my first venture into artistically sculpting space. This project was one of the most exciting experiences in my life. While working as an associate with architect Bill Rupp in 1960, I designed a studio house for artist Shirley Uhr and her husband Howard located on Red Rock Lane in Sarasota. One day Shirley called me asking if we would design a modest house for them where she could work on her art; however, they had a very low budget of $12,000, which even then was really low.

I said yes—Rupp and I had just finished the PA Award winning Caladesi Bank in Dunedin and could use the work. Shirley and Howard had expected an economical subdivision house for their $12,000 budget similar to the modest builder house they had built before, but this time on a family lot. With this low budget in mind I went out to a used lumber yard to see if I could locate some cheap lumber. Much to my delight they had vertically stacked many long Cypress 2×10-foot planks which they were willing to sell for a song. “Good start!” I thought. They agreed to hold the planks for us and that night I had a revelation. Drawing inspiration from the stack of Cypress planks in the lumber yard I had the idea to mimic those planks aesthetically. As evident in the picture here, the design looks like lumber stacked lightly upon a stepped concrete base.

There were two cozy bedrooms (introverted space) on the ground floor with a central entry and stairway space that shot up vertically to the extroverted space of the second level. This was a glorious space 12-feet wide by 18-feet high and 58-feet long for the kitchen, dining, living room and porches at each end. The impression was that you were perched up in a mature pine forest where you could see through the 2-inch plastic strips between each plank along with the sizable fixed clear glass high up and at each end. You could climb up to a crow’s nest seating area at the top which had a 360 degree view out four directions across the tall pine tree forest. After I put together a few drawings and a study model from balsawood sticks which we invited Shirley and Howard to our office to see. Rupp and I didn’t think the house was unusual, but Shirley did. She was delightfully shocked and in disbelief as she was expecting a nice but small builder’s home. She had me explain the drawings a second time because she was too bewildered by the study model to hear a word I had said. The house got built for $12,500, an unbelievable $500.00 over budget and the Uhrs were happy in their very own artistically sculpted space.

After I finished the design and moved on to Hawaii, the house received design awards and was published both locally and nationally. I became involve with The Center for Architecture Sarasota (CFAS) last year thanks to the persistence of Cynthia Peterson. After numerous calls to my Honolulu office, she asked me if I had any design or working drawings of the Scott Building which I designed in 1959 while working with Bill Rupp. Cindy informed me that City of Sarasota, who now owns the Scott Building, was renting the building to The Center for Architecture Sarasota for one dollar a year and the CFAS was refurbishing it. I told Cindy I had many photographs and some exterior renderings and one ink plan drawing which I subsequently sent to her. While researching the Scott Building I discovered that Bill Rupp’s drawings, specifications, and papers were stored in one of his daughter’s basements in Amherst, Massachusetts after his passing. Upon discovering this, I arranged to get the full set or working drawings for Cindy. The Scott Building has wonderfully sculpted 9 foot overhangs and was the forerunner of the PA Awarded Caladesi Bank Project by Bill Rupp and I.

In 2014 I have thrice travelled to Sarasota for CFAS functions to give lectures and exhibit my work from Sarasota and Honolulu. Later this month, I will give a public lecture and present a large exhibition of my work in Sarasota. The Center for Architecture Sarasota will be celebrating their Grand Opening with a two-day celebration in their newly-renovated building located at 265 S. Orange Avenue. The historically significant building was designed in 1959 by renowned Sarasota School of Architects William Rupp and Joseph Farrell.

The Grand Opening Celebration on March 29 will feature the important architectural legacy of Joseph Farrell with a lecture by Farrell and an exhibit of his work. Joe Farrell is considered one of Hawaii’s leading architectural designers and has had nin-high-rise buildings built in Honolulu. The Center for Architecture Sarasota is a part of the SRQ Story Project Program.

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