Continuity, Context & Scale
Edward Larrabee Barnes (Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates)


Edward Larrabee Barnes, 1984

©Monica Pidgeon

I studied with Gropius and Breuer at Harvard, in the great period at Harvard, and at that time we were all doing flat roofs, gravel roofs. The buildings were put together with planes, surfaces were different, we had a wall of stone, a wall of wood, a wall of glass or a coloured wall. It was discontinuous in a sense. And all of the designs we had in school were isolated. We never did a contextual design, a design which was related to an adjoining building. The theory at that time was that every building was an abstraction standing free. Many buildings were actually set on podiums simply to divorce them from problems of slope and contour. It was a style that was intentionally a revolt, in a sense, from accommodating architecture and I think, in some ways, a nervous approach. At any rate, at one time I, after I'd been in practice a few years, got a consulate to do in Tabriz and had a chance to go to Persia, and for the first time I saw village architecture. I saw mud brick villages with dome roofs, crumbling at the edge from earthquakes back into the desert. I saw women in'chadors’with dust blowing over them, all the same colour as the houses, and I saw camels the same mud colour — one continuous surface that had slowly been built up and dissolving back into the landscape for 2000 years. And this impressed me tremendously. And on the way back I saw the same thing on the Greek Islands, all white continuous surfaces with an occasional geranium in a pot. And I was very very struck by the importance of continuity in time and continuity with the landscape, and con— tinuity with the adjacent building. And all of this was in such contrast with what I had been studying at Harvard.


Consulate At Tabriz, Iran, 1966

©E. L. Barnes Assoc

The design of the Tabriz Consulate is really to use the bazaar construction, the construction that was used by the Persians forever. These shell brick domes, each dome abuts the next dome, so that, in time of earthquake, as long as you build one structure adjacent to the next the whole thing shakes together and each one braces the next. As I say, the problem in the Persian village was that the edges were always crumbling. Earthquakes apparently didn't come frequently enough for one generation to develop a technique to pass on to the next. 80 that where you needed the earthquake bracing was at the edge of the village. Our consulate you can see is a series of bubble domes. You can see some skylights there which just as in the bazaar is left open for light, and you can see that the big difference between our design and the Persian design is that we introduce buttresses to transfer the load; and we have placed a steel cable ringing the top of the building to tie the whole top together. With these two additions to the perimeter of the building, everything else is exactly as we saw it.

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