Experiencing Architecture: Understanding the Built Environment

December 07, 2012
Raymond R. Owen '14, "Tiger" Staff Writer

Stuart KesslerHave you ever considered the affect of buildings in your daily life? Considered the size, structure, and spacing of the buildings that house you, provide shelter for your human activity? How about the scale and placement of our college's stadiums, the vaulted expanse of the Commons, or the intimacy that was the Tiger Inn?  On Thursday, November 29, Stuart Kessler reminded the audience in the Parents & Friends Lounge that buildings everywhere affect them, and that architects are the authors, designers, and creators of the spaces that inevitably shape their lives. His talk was titled "Experiencing Architecture: Understanding the Built Environment," and it provided laymen with an interesting new vocabulary to discuss architectural structure.

Presented by the Architectural Society of Hampden-Sydney, the Lectures & Programs Committee, and the Fine Arts Department, the "eminently well qualified speaker," per Professor Mary Prevo, Dr. Kessler has a Bachelors Degree from UVA, a Masters from the Pratt Institute, and a Doctorate from the Columbia University School of Architecture. He spoke on the basic considerations used by the architect as he structures the manmade world.

The talk was short and insightful. A proponent of architectural appreciation, Dr. Kessler described the effects of buildings as seeing and feeling experiences. Combining the structural limits of engineering and artistic creativity, great architecture, he says, "obeys the laws of structure while providing the palette for artistic flair."

Dr. Kessler defined the words unity, balance and composition, proportion, shape and harmony, using famous examples such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Parthenon, the Guggenheim Museum, Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple, and the Temple of Neptune, among others. He was a very passionate speaker about his craft and used phrases such as "the vestibule before the building transmits limitlessness to limits," and "subtle progressive vertical rhythm" to describe the forms of the great buildings shown on the screen.  As further vocabulary to use in architectural discussion, a definition of scale was outlined: intimate, natural, and heroic.  Dr. Kessler said, "architecture is emotional and scale is a tool."

According to the speaker's description, the persuasive architect considers everything from the approach to a building to the intimacy of the rooms inside. Good architecture draws from afar, and then guides the observer with structural cues in and through the building. In a well-designed building, "the rooms and entrances sequentially prepare the viewer for the next space, the next revelation, and the next piece to the overall affect." Dr. Kessler said, "buildings are a serial vision, constructed to be experienced."

Dr. Kessler states clearly "creator and observer are both crucial to the process of creation." The success of the architect is dictated by the way that the observers view the space. Kessler stated his basic goal to be enlightening people to "the basic elements that make walking through a building more interesting." The more powerful the observer's attention, the more a building will have to say.

If architecture interests you, then the Architectural Society provides an outlet for learning about the College's and other buildings. The Society hosted a tour of the old Eggleston Library as part of its "Deconstruct Hampden-Sydney" series.  Keep eyes peeled for notifications of upcoming events, and any questions can be directed to Professor Prevo of the Fine Arts Department in Winston Hall.