The Little Street (1657-58), by Johannes Vermeer
Bill Kleinsasser never hesitated to use the words of others to illuminate the frames of reference he defined as essential to the creation of truly good architecture. He liberally sprinkled direct quotations throughout every edition of his self-published textbook Synthesis because they not only bolstered his thesis but also because he recognized paraphrasing these extracts would only diminish their authenticity and authority.
His wellspring was extensive and eclectic, ranging from renowned authors (Ernest Hemingway, John Updike, Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf), to poets (Ford Madox Ford, Wallace Stevens), mathematicians (Blaise Pascal), activists (Dorothy Canfield Fisher), historians and critics of art and architecture (Ada Louise Huxtable, John Ruskin, John Summerson, Harold McCarter Taylor), psychologists and psychiatrists (Jerome Bruner, Kenneth Craik, Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow), and of course architects (including Lou Kahn, Le Corbusier, Donlyn Lyndon, Charles Moore, Gio Ponti, Demetri Porphyrios, Augustus Pugin, Aldo Van Ecyk, and Frank Lloyd Wright). There were many more he also quoted.
Bill clearly was well-read, sharing with his students his appreciation for the wisdom of great thinkers. He impressed upon us the value of seeing the world through the eyes of others, those whose ideas we may have not immediately considered relevant to our work.
The following is a sampling of just a few of the “related thoughts” Bill mined to illustrate his ideas about architecture:
On Organizational Structure
“The first principle of composition is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come, and pursue that shape. All forms of composition have skeletons to which the composer will bring the flesh and blood. The more clearly he perceives the shape, the better are his chances of success.” (William Strunk Jr.)
“Before beginning to compose something, gauge the nature and extent of the enterprise and work from a suitable design. Design informs even the simplest structure, whether of brick and steel or of prose. You raise a pup tent from one sort of vision, a cathedral from another. Columbus didn’t just sail, he sailed west, and the new world took shape from this simple and, we now think, sensible design.” (E.B. White)
On Supporting Purposes
“Never cease to identify whatever you construct with the people you are constructing it for—for those it will accommodate. Identify a building with that same building entered, and hence with those it shelters, and define space—each space built—simply as the appreciation of it. This circular definition has a purpose. You see, whilst excluding all abstract academic abracadabra, it includes what should never be excluded but paradoxically generally is: I mean those entering it, appreciating it—PEOPLE.
“Architecture can do no more, nor than it should it ever do less, than accommodate people well; assist their homecoming. The rest—those signs and symbols one is worrying about too much—will either take care of themselves or they just don’t matter.” (Aldo Van Eyck)
On Establishing Longevity
“Once the designer has made, at least metaphorically, the box or envelope, he must choose what sorts of clues to place within it. For a box offers little in itself, except perhaps a defined boundary. A box is not a free place in which anyone can set up patterns—at least not easily. It is paralyzing—it is too free. It is possible to do anything, but therefore too little. There are no points of reference, no places to begin. Posts are needed—points of departure. Then there would be things to look around, to be next to. The imagination would be triggered and the act of possessing begun.
“The responsibility of the architect then is to develop a set of posts (metaphorically): suggestions which can be considered or ignored, suggestions which hold many possible interpretations, all sound and promising. But the suggestions must not be a fixed regulation. There has to be a sort of mystery and a sense that there is still something to be found out. If all the answers are immediate, there’s no seeking. Le the user search and discover his own answers and meanings, his own uses, his own patterns. Let the place be tantalizingly incomplete, even somewhat obscure. Give duplicity and multiplicity of meaning.” (Ronald R. Lee)
On Responding to Place
"It seems plain that the art that speaks most clearly, explicitly, directly, and passionately from its place or origin will remain the longest understood. It is through place that we put out roots, wherever birth, chance, fate or our traveling selves set us down; but where these roots reach toward is the deep and running vein, eternal and consistent and everywhere purely itself, that feeds and is fed by the human understanding.
“Whatever is significant and whatever is tragic in a place live as long as the place does, though they are unseen, and the new life will be built upon these things.” (Eudora Welty)
On Maintaining Historical Continuity
“Calling other works to mind allows the present to form links back to past works. Again, we will have conviction about the conventions of architecture, like the conventions of law, only when they are in that chain of esteemed instances. Linking forward and back forges a building and the conventions it displays into that chain.” (William Hubbard)
On Achieving Clarity
“Five lines where three is enough is always stupidity. Nine pounds where there are sufficient is obesity. But to eliminate expressive words in speaking or writing—words that intensify or vivify meaning—is not simplicity. Nor is similar elimination in architecture simplicity. It may be, and usually is, stupidity.
“Do not think that simplicity means something like the side of a barn, but something with graceful sense of beauty in its utility from which discord and all that is meaningless has been eliminated.
"This is, I believe, the single secret of simplicity: that we may truly regard nothing at all as simple in itself. I believe that no one thing is ever so, but must achieve simplicity—as an artist should use the term—as a perfectly realized part of some organic whole.
“In architecture, expressive changes of surface, emphasis of line and especially textures of material and imaginative pattern, may go to make facts more eloquent—forms more significant. Elimination, therefore, may be just as meaningless as elaboration, perhaps more often is so. To know what to leave out and what to put in; jus where and just how, ah, that is to have been educated in knowledge of simplicity-toward ultimate freedom of expression.
“Truly ordered simplicity in the hands of the great artist may flower into a bewildering profusion, exquisitely exuberant, and render all more clear than ever.
“False simplicity—simplicity as an affectation, that is, simplicity constructed as a decorator’s outside upon a complicated, wasteful engineer’s or carpenter’s structure, outside or inside—is not good enough simplicity. It cannot be simple at all.” (Frank Lloyd Wright)
On Establishing Vitality
“Architecture, by virtue of its actual limitations, can exploit our capacity for dramatizing ourselves, for heightening the action of ordinary life; it can increase man’s psychological stature to an angel’s. All this it does through its irrevocable attachment to function. The dramatizing of movements appropriate to architecture (and impossible without architecture), movements like entering through a door, looking out of a window, mounting steps or walking on a terrace, is something with which other forms of art have nothing to do. Here is architecture’s special province which on the one hand constricts its movement and on the other intensifies its meaning.” (John Summerson)