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Steven Holl delivers Reid Building inaugural address

April 9 2014

Steven Holl delivers Reid Building inaugural address
New York based architect Steven Holl (and half his office) have flown into Glasgow armed with some choice one-liners and a purple cravat in order to deliver the inaugural address for the Glasgow School of Art’s Reid Building, which officially opens its doors today.

Addressing a crowd of invited guests and curious members of the public within the Reid auditorium, sadly discoloured following the application of fire retardant to wood panels which the contractor is replacing, Holl said: “I’ve never worn a purple scarf before and I’m wearing this in honour of Mackintosh. My connection goes back to the 1970’s when my professor gave a lecture at the University of Washington and he dedicated it to Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art.

“His idea of the history of modern architecture started with Brunelleschi and Schinkel in Berlin and then moved to Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. In the middle of that he inserts one full lecture on Mackintosh. Le Corbusier didn’t even show up, he wasn’t in there, when I graduated I didn’t even know who Le Corbusier was!”

Commenting directly on the project Holl continued: “When we won the competition we made the building taller because I knew we were going to have to lower it and so we lowered it three times and you know what? It’s just right, it was too tall before!

“Originally we wanted to use recycled glass which had a soda content to it which gives that light green colour but it was too expensive. I always wanted that contrast with the ochre colour of the Mac but the soda content of the glass we used got the colour almost the same.

“The contrast between these two buildings is 100 per cent what I wanted, I don’t care about what any of the critics said, they don’t get it. Mackintosh’s building shocked everyone at the time and this building has a deep connection to that moment in 1904.”


Nicky Chow
#1 Posted by Nicky Chow on 9 Apr 2014 at 14:47 PM
Bruno Leski!!!??? That famous Polish Renaissance architect??? I have fallen off my chair and writhing in pain & laughter on the floor!!!
Nicky Chow
#2 Posted by Nicky Chow on 9 Apr 2014 at 15:13 PM changed it...
#3 Posted by Neil on 9 Apr 2014 at 16:43 PM
During the lecture I kept wondering what it is that propels architects onto the international stage. It's clear to me that there are a number of much lesser known architects in Scotland that could have designed and delivered a better building. It can't be the pseudo contextual approach or the archibabble surely, maybe the accent swung it. That seems as justifiable a reason as any.
kevin toner
#4 Posted by kevin toner on 10 Apr 2014 at 16:17 PM
Nicky, funny you should raise that point.

A lecture on the following night, across the road, minutes prior to the GSA fireworks show, told of how western culture - during the earlier half of the C20th - adopted the arguably even more antiquarian Schinkel ‘as the birth of modernism’, which accords with Frampton’s Modern Architecture; and also Taut’s of the 1920s, which I made a point of referencing in my dissertation (Toner, p14). Mies was perhaps the biggest follower, which Frampton picks up too, probably from Peter Blake 1960.

Holl says Corbusier wasn’t mentioned at all (as a supposed pioneer) in his lectures, but the reference to Brunelleschi itself, as odd as it sounds, is in fact the reference to Corb, i.e. to Corb’s theoretical side (Vers un Architecture, 1923)
kevin toner
#5 Posted by kevin toner on 10 Apr 2014 at 16:29 PM
I quote myself, “..., which accords with Frampton’s Modern Architecture”, I should add ‘accords with what Blake referred to as ‘Schinkelism’ (p40, ’60), not “the birth of...” not modernism itself.

I see you’ve not contested ‘Schinkelism’ (Blake, ‘60) though Nicky. I wonder if that’s because of Frampton’s countless references to him too (?)
#6 Posted by ooctopus on 11 Apr 2014 at 12:02 PM
Which edition of Frampton is that Kevin? The quote appears on page 41 of mine.
Jim Opfer
#7 Posted by Jim Opfer on 11 Apr 2014 at 12:11 PM
I went along on Tuesday night to hear Steven Holl talk about his Reid building.
I had wondered if the three trumpet shaped cones might be resonant amplifiers that sing out some pertinent and meaningful natural resonant Earth chord....but he didn't mention anything about that and explained they are in fact 'Driven Voids' and their purpose is to bring daylight deep into the building. Why in that case does their tapering shape narrow toward their base? They should flare out towards the base in the same way that traditional windows with shutters splay wider towards the room not narrower. Equally, the third floor triangular sloping and glass based, ribbon window on the North elevation, doesn't really do anything to improve the amount or quality of light given this is determined by the solid wall aperture and not the glass volume suspended outside. Their complexity can only be cosmetic but we were told their complexity is functional.
We were also told the building has been designed around the Golden proportion and Steven Holl explained that if you hold up your finger and look at the spacing of knuckle joints, this ratio of distances is the basis of all things in nature. However, sitting there and listening to this, my mind wondered to the proportion of the lecture room wall behind Steven and the hole in this wall leading to the fire exit, which seemed random.
I'm really sorry the building didn't make me want to explore in anything like in the way a truly great building forces you to want to hang around and soak it up. The entrance foyer space is claustrophobic and terminates into a blank concrete wall and a dress making studio. It feels uneasy and needs to flow out and beyond the building perhaps with an Eastwards view toward the city centre but no, it has a blank abrupt stop with the feeling like it's a basement.
There was an embarrassing silence at the end of the talk when questions were invited but only two questions were teased from the floor and nothing whatsoever, from the luminaries in the reserved seats at the back of the hall.
I felt the impulse to ask if Steven had joined 'Architects and Engineers 911 Truth Movement' but thankfully stopped myself. Also, the slide of the footsteps on the Moon, caused me to wonder if he really did get to go there?
If there is to be criticism of this project, it is important to realise that this criticism cannot be directed towards Steven Holl Architects and perhaps that's what we all sensed on the night when the call came for questions after the talk. The man was invited to participate in the competition and he placed his proposal on the line for everyone to see. His intention was clear, it was assessed and it was chosen. The Architect has now delivered that building and if fingers are to be pointed, they can only be directed towards the judging panel who viewed the entries and chose to have this building constructed.
I want to congratulate Steven Holl and his various construction partners for the successful completion of the commission. I know only too well that it's very easy to criticise and extremely difficult to create. I do hope the building grows on me and I will make time to visit again and calmly compose my further feelings.
kevin toner
#8 Posted by kevin toner on 11 Apr 2014 at 13:01 PM
Hi ooctopus, Mines is the 3rd edition: revised and enlarged. I stress again, in it, that Schinkel is quoted as much as the most important modernists. There're too many pages to quote.

My own dissertation page reference (p14) regarding Taut's equal interest in referencing Schinkel for a likewise publication is the proof that Frampton, Holl's tutors, etc. were not the first to suggest modernism’s origins in the antiquarian. In fact, Frampton spells it out clearly regarding Mies in particular: how Schinkel was pivitol to Mies. Summerson (1991 reprint from ‘80) also spelled it out on how Schinkel was pivitol even to Gropius and the very beginnings of modernism, notwithstanding from an authoritative classicist perspective. It’s apparently Mies’ and Gropius’ master Behrens who is said to be the missing link (through his adopting of the Schinkelesque), where both Frampton and Summerson would agree!

Again, Brunelleschi provided a Le Corbusier example of referencing the antiquarian.

Nicky’s not alone in laughing at it. We all chuckled at the Mackintosh Lecture Theatre too on the following night’s lecture on Schinkel, when the speaker also quoted the modernist link, which I elaborated on at the end, inter alia, just before the fireworks.

Ps The GFT will be showing an architectural documentary on the Reid building this Sunday.
#9 Posted by hingwy on 11 Apr 2014 at 13:03 PM
There's an irony in him discussing the golden rectangle/section at that school. I recall that the senior tutors at the school would greet such references with rolling eyes and sighs during pin up reviews.
alan dunlop
#10 Posted by alan dunlop on 11 Apr 2014 at 16:15 PM
Jim O hahahahahahahhahahahahahaha........when LOL just is not nearly good enough.
Jim Opfer
#11 Posted by Jim Opfer on 11 Apr 2014 at 19:25 PM
Ah! Prof Dunlopski, where you in the seats at the back? :)
alan dunlop
#12 Posted by alan dunlop on 12 Apr 2014 at 08:47 AM
Yes, moved to the back because of my purple cravat but still curious enough to discover how a line like "to realise space with strong phenomenal properties while elevating architecture to a level of thought" can be delivered, while keeping a straight face.
kevin toner
#13 Posted by kevin toner on 12 Apr 2014 at 09:13 AM
Shuan Kell!!!??? That famous English Neo-classical architect??? I have fallen off my chair and writhing in pain & laughter on the floor!!!
kevin toner
#14 Posted by kevin toner on 12 Apr 2014 at 09:47 AM changed it...


kevin toner
#15 Posted by kevin toner on 12 Apr 2014 at 10:11 AM
Ah! The joys of flexitime (non-real-time) moderation!

ps Apologies for accidentally insulting Nicky’s intelligence.

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