Aicher, Otl. The World as Design (1991). Translated by Michael Robinson (1994). Berlin: Ernst and Sohn, 2015.
Citation / Annotation:
Caldwell, Michael. “Flooded at the Farnsworth House” (2005). In Strange Details, 92–136. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007.
Almost invariably what requires the most effort to do goes unnoticed in the finished product—that is, it appears to be nothing. Things that were easier are noticed, look like something. I’ve found this to be true in multiple fields. For a long time I have vaguely wanted to come across a critical text that discusses in some amount of technical detail the considerable labour that went into obscuring connections and the like and thus producing the so-called “minimalism” of Mies’s buildings. I found this one by happenstance recently when I was looking for information on welding (versus bolting) the steel structural framing of buildings.
At one point in this interesting discussion of the Farnsworth house and its relation to the landscape in which it is set, Michael Caldwell turns to the structure of the house and the ways in which it departs from standard modernist principles and practices in order to become completely obscured, which in turn brings him to a discussion of the connections: “The house, we must conclude, obeys neither the structural logic of varying loads, nor an empathetic association of vertical and horizontal, nor even the modernist decree for separation of wall and support. There is a governing logic to this construction, however; we must look to the connections” (112–13). What follows is a detailed description of the plug welding technique and its meaning: “With one exception, all the exposed steel connections at the Farnsworth House are plug welds. Plug welding is an elaborate process: steel erectors first drill the columns with holes at the beam connections and fit the columns with erection seats; they then place the perimeter beam on these seats, shim the beam level, and clamp it secure; next, welders plug the vacant column holes, fusing the column to the beam; and finally, finishers remove the erection seats and sand all surfaces smooth. Curiously, these connections require a sequence of operations that demand a high degree of craft, yet each operation disappears with the next. The mechanical craft of the seated connection disappears with the industrial craft of welding, the industrial craft of welding disappears with the handcraft of sanding, and the handcraft of sanding disappears with its own operation. There is no glorification of technology in this curious sequence, just as there is no remnant of craft. To underscore this, the steel fabricators brushed the steel’s surface free of burrs and the finishers painted the steel with successive coats of flat white enamel” (113–14).