Ernest Flagg

American architect
Ernest Flagg

Ernest Flagg (February 6, 1857 – April 10, 1947) was a noted American architect in the Beaux-Arts style. He was also an advocate for urban reform and social responsibility in architecture.

Contents

QuotesEdit

  • From time to time a square has been opened here, a park there, a street cut through in one place or widened in another, but these improvements have been entirely local in their effect, and have failed to change the general appearance of the city. Even the greatest of all these changes, the laying out of Central Park, was unfortunate, to say the least, for it serves to aggravate one of the worst features of the original plan, viz., the failure to provide a central artery of communication worthy of the coming city.
    • "The Plan of New York, and How to Improve It," Scribner's Magazine (August, 1904) 36
  • New York ought to have such an avenue like the Champs Elysées of Paris, Unter den Linden of Berlin, or the Ring Strasse of Vienna, but more ample than any of them; for here, of all places, owing to the shape of the island, there is the most need of such a thing.
    • "The Plan of New York, and How to Improve It," Scribner's Magazine (August, 1904) 36

Small Houses: Their Economic Design and Construction (1922)Edit

  • The object of this work is to improve the design and construction of small houses while reducing their cost.
  • The most perfectly constructed object in nature, and also the most beautiful object in nature, is the human form as it approaches perfection. This, then, is the criterion of construction as it is of design. The study of its beauties is the veritable key to art...
  • In the human form, as nature tries to make it, every feature is useful and every feature is beautiful. Each member is perfectly adapted to the function it has to perform; nothing is superfluous, yet the whole and every part is supremely decorative.
  • It is clearly apparent that in building the best results should accrue in proportion as every element in the structure is fitted both to the function it has to perform and the materials of which it is made. It follows from this that disguise and complication are hindrances, both to good construction and good design, and as complication and disguise are expensive and wasteful, that the interests of good art and true economy run on parallel lines.
  • It is hard to change long-established building habits; such habits sometimes endure for ages in certain localities with little or no change. It is, however, easy for new communities to acquire bad building habits.
  • When the necessity for shelter is great and the means for obtaining it scant, flimsy and makeshift methods of building find ready acceptance; and once introduced are hard to eradicate. Such habits, formed here in early times, still influence construction; as abundantly proved by our inordinate fire loss...
  • While it is not hard to suggest improvements on common methods of design and construction, it is very hard to introduce them.
  • Unless he is prepared to try his new theories and processes on himself, as has been done here, there is little likelihood that he will ever see them applied, for he will find that, of all people, builders are most set in their ways and hardest to move from their accustomed ruts.
  • These houses are intended to have stone walls. ...The fact that a stone house is better in many ways than a wooden one, and also more economical in the long run has, for the most part, been overlooked... The conditions are... ripe for a change from wood to stone or other incombustible material, but it will doubtless come about slowly.
  • Low walls are much less expensive to build than high ones... it is possible to use forms without the usual waste of lumber... when waste is avoided, forms greatly reduce the cost of stonework... much can be saved in the construction of foundations by methods described...
  • The most economical way of obtaining good results is to apply the great, fundamental principles of art; and depend on them for beauty, rather than upon the use of either applied ornament or more expensive materials... much better results are likely to accrue from truth than falsehood, and from architectural [rather] than archaeological methods.
  • Beauty is largely dependent on fitness, and fitting methods are usually the most convenient and economical; therein, indeed, to a great extent, lies their very fitness.
  • Economy in building consists in the aggregate of a great number of savings, which when considered separately may seem trivial, but when combined are important. The list of those here provided for... may be divided into classes as follows:
  • 1st. Saving of time, trouble, and money in the preparation of plans by the module system, and the standardization of parts and methods.
  • 2d. Saving space: (a) By the utilization of the large volume of space contained in the slopes of roofs... (b) by the reduction of floor thickness... (c) by the utilization of space (as on shipboard) for lockers, cupboards, closets, etc... (d) by the use of thin partitions... and (e) by elimination of corridors... so that the least possible area may be required for communication.
  • 3d. Saving of materials: (a) By greatly reducing the average height of walls... and reduction of floor thicknesses... (b) by reducing the size and cost of foundations... (c) by the elimination of the cellar... (d) by the omission of much of the ground-floor beams and wooden underflooring... (e) by the elimination of all wooden studs and lath from partitions... (f) by the elimination of practically all trim, casing, base-boards, and their moldings... (g) by the omission of framing and casing of dormers... (h) by the omission of most of the plastering... (i) by the use of splayed jambs which also improves light... (j) by the use of a special type of casement window... (k) by the omission of applied ornament, reliance for beauty depending on other means... (l) by greater economy in making and using forms... (m) by the omission of stone sills... (n) by the omission of raised verandah floors, steps, balustrades, etc... (o) in the shortening of all stairs, pipes, ducts, drains, and wires... (p) in the avoidance of waste by designing for the use of standard lengths and sizes of material without cutting, as for beams, glass, etc., which the module system of planning makes easy... (q) in the avoidance of things requiring paint, and the use of wax for the finish of interior woodwork... (r) in the reduction of the size of sleepers for flooring... (s) in the more economical use of concrete... (t) in the saving of about one-half the piping in the installation of plumbing drainage... (u) in the elimination of butts and screws for the hanging of windows and doors; and (v) by the omission of fly-screens, the netting being directly applied to the window-frames.
  • 4th. Savings in labor: (a) By the lowness of the walls... (b) in the use of unskilled labor in building walls, by backing the face stones with concrete, and placing the face stones in the forms dry without the use of mortar, except for pointing... (c) in the simplification of woodwork, especially in the hanging of windows and doors, and in the setting of trim... (d) in the application of hardware, chiefly on account of the kind of hinges used... (e) in the standardization of parts and the use of similar members... (f) by cutting about one-half the labor in the installation of plumbing drainage... and (g) by the greater use of machine and shop work, which the exposed structural members permit of.
  • 5th. Savings by the use of more economical devices, materials, and methods: (a) in the matter of roof-covering... (b) in heating and plumbing drainage... (c) in hardware... (d) in use of tiling... (e) in the use of cement... (f) in the matter of damp-proofing... (g) in the method of flashing... (h) in the preparation of floors for tiling... (i)in the construction of bearing partitions... (j) in the arrangement of screens and shades... (k) in the avoidance of excavation and grading by adapting the building to the conformation of the land... (l) in the more economical use of land by the European method of placing the buildings at the side of the road... (m) in furring... and (n) in the standardization of methods by which the work of construction becomes simply a matter of routine in which each mechanic can perform his part without special direction.
  • The best art, and the only art which will ever lead to great results, must have for its basis the interpretation of beauty in nature.
  • When the true principles of design are forgotten; when, in art, the bizarre and novel is the aim rather than the beautiful; when complication and mystery take the place of what should be as simple and clear as the atmosphere, design runs amuck, and becomes so helplessly involved in difficulties that such manifestations as cubism, impressionism, futurism, and art nouveau shoe their ugly heads and pose as art.
  • Why can there not be a new art founded on the only principle which can produce great art—the principle that art is the interpretation or extraction of the essence of beauty in nature, and all else is secondary?
  • The system of building, described in this work, is intended for repetition. It would hardly pay to adopt it in its entirety for a single house if the matter were to end there. Where the processes and apparatus is used, over and over again, great economy should result; but for a single building, the trouble and expense of introducing so many new or unusual features and methods, might well offset the benefits which should accrue under more favorable conditions. Standardization both of parts and workmanship plays a great part in the economies obtained and standardization implies quantity.
  • Greek art was extremely simple and direct; both in design and construction the Greek mind abhorred complicaton.
  • The Greeks designed by a modulus of fixed measure, and that modulus, for the Doric order, was the distance between centers of the triglyphs. ...The triglyphs stand in the frieze, at the corners of the building and at regular intervals at all sides of it; between then are panels, called metopæ, which are always square. The distance between the triglyphs, therefore, determines the height of the frieze. The height of the frieze determines that of the architrave, which is the same. The distance between the triglyphs also determines the spacing of the columns, for except at the corners of the building the center of each column coincides with that of every second triglyph. Upon the spacing of the triglyphs, therefore, depend absolutely the proportions of plan and order. That spacing constitutes a fixed modulus for the entire design which never varies in its application and is, in fact, the harmonic scale of the monument.
  • To the Greek harmony was of supreme importance, and if the triglyphs represented the harmonic scale... their meaning and use is abundantly explained. ...The universal admiration which Greek proportions have always excited proves that the method of obtaining them was correct.
  • It was only within comparatively recent times that several refinements in Greek architecture... such as the slight entasis of the columns, the greater size of the corner columns, and the convex curve of the stylobate were discovered.
  • For more than two thousand years architectural design by the use of a modulus, except in the case of the classic orders, had been a lost art.
  • Certain combinations of dimensions produce harmonious results, but since the time of the ancient Greeks no system of design, consistently base on that knowledge, has been formulated.
  • When, in architecture, one uses a fixed unit and combinations of it, to produce harmony, the effect should be most striking and apparent... as it is in music by the measured beat and in poetry by the cadence and rhythm.
  • As in poetry and music, even the unskilled ear may be offended by a mistake in measure, without discerning the cause, may not also a mistake in the harmony of dimensions unconsciously offend us in design?
  • We here have... an architectural discovery which may prove of inestimable value to future art. ...Like fire, it is a good servant but a bad master. The danger is that it may lead to a cramped and mechanical design. One may easily become a slave to the module, and do things because of it which his taste or reason would not otherwise commend. ...How can the danger be avoided and the benefits secured?
  • A Greek architect of the great epoch would no more have thought of omitting the mark of the harmonic scale of proportion, on which the design was based, than would the composer of music think of omitting the harmonic scale of his composition.
  • The Greeks were men of sense; if they used the system they did so for a purpose, as artists rather than mathematicians and imperceptible irregularities could not affect that purpose.
  • The Parthenon stands as a reproach to the rest of the world. May not this be because the rest of the world has forgotten, or never knew, the principles which made the Parthenon possible and of which harmony of proportion... was one?
  • There have always seemed to the writer sound reasons for using the module system in architectural design.
  • One of the most ancient and inexpensive ways of obtaining shelter, was to utilize the space under sloping roof rafters. Indian wigwams have no other kind. Where civilization is slightly more advanced, low stone walls are built upon which the feet of the rafters rest.
  • Disadvantages... can be entirely removed by... the ridge-dormer. By its use space in the roof, otherwise of little value, becomes the most desirable. Instead of being gloomy, stuffy and hot, the dormers render it perfectly ventilated, light at all times, and cool in hot weather. In frame buildings, it is not so easy, because there must be tie beams... to withstand the thrust of the roof. ...Where low stone walls are used... the strength of the walls is sufficient to withstand the thrust...
  • The ridge-dormers are placed in pairs, at the very apex of the roof. They are opened and closed only once a year—in the spring and fall respectively; and are so arranged that no rain can enter. ...if the air in the room is warmer than the outer air, it must rise and escape through the ridge-dormers. ...If, during a heated spell, the lower windows and and doors are carefully kept shut, the air inside may be maintained several degrees cooler than the outer air. ...the coolest air of the twenty-four hours will find its way through them, taking the place of the warmer air which escapes. ...cooler air can be trapped in the house and held there during the day. ...hot air, being lighter, does not descend into cool air.
  • Ridge-dormers have many other advantages. In winter, when closed... it is nature's own method of lighting. Ridge-dormers greatly reduce the height of the building; because bringing into use space heretofore wasted, the eaves may be correspondingly lowered.
  • The chief difficulty in designing small houses is to avoid an excessive appearance of height. ...the ridge-dormer or its equivalent, the ridge skylight, would open a whole new field of opportunity...
  • Many women do not like to sleep on the ground floor, being afraid to leave their windows open at night. With ridge-dormers standing open, the lower windows may be kept closed and locked, while the room will be perfectly ventilated without them.
  • Dormers may easily lose, in winter, the credit they gained in summer. ...If, however, they are properly made and securely closed in cold weather, this will not happen.
  • Instead of the dormers, skylights... are easier to make and operate, need no double sash, cost less, and some may prefer their appearance.
  • One of the best ways to economize in building is to economize on ugliness. ...Nothing can be greater service in avoiding ugliness than a knowledge of the principles of design.
  • If the chief rules of good design were understood by the masses as they might be, nothing would do more to promote beauty, improve workmanship, add to the value of manufactures, and in many other ways further the general welfare and prosperity of the country. They are simple, easy to acquire, and should be taught with the alphabet.
  • When one understands the principles of design, his taste will have something more solid as a basis than mere whim or fancy, which in the untutored is more likely to be bad than good. Acquainted with the rules of good design he will not accept articles made in defiance of them.
  • How few people, even among the supposedly well educated, can give an intelligent explanation of the qualities of a design! ...the essential ones ...are necessary in order that the design may be worthy to be classed at all as a work of art. Among the essential qualities are reason, unity, harmony, clarity, and variety. Among the desirable qualities are imagination, interest, refinement, simplicity, dignity, and style.
  • In the human figure as it approaches perfection... is contained the sure guide for the determination of all true principles of design. ...it was because the ancient Greeks... realized this truth that they excelled all others in art.
  • Reason...to suppose any production, worthy to be called a work of art, can be made without its use is foolish. ...By the use of reason many mistakes in design may be avoided and many counterfeits of art readily detected....Beauty alone is an excellent reason for many things, but when a design is in direct conflict with common sense it cannot be a work of art.
  • Reason requires all things to have a use and be appropriate and fitted to the purpose for which they are used.
  • Unity. ...Unity of purpose is shown by continuity, or the proper relationship of the parts with each other, and with the whole as one sees it best expressed in the human form. Unity of mass is obtained by giving predominance of mass to some one feature...
  • Harmony. ...it is all embracing and should reign throughout—harmony in purpose, harmony in dimensions, harmony in form and harmony in color. In good design discord can have no place. ...all may unite to form a complete, harmonious, and well-rounded composition ...
  • Clarity or Decision. ...without it there is uncertainty, hesitation, obscurity, instability... incomparable with good art. The meaning and object of the design should be clear... it should be frank, as the French say.
  • Variety. ...Movement, contrast, and accent all contribute to variety... the spice of life... Monotony and dryness are lurking enemies which may be vanquished by variety.
  • The qualities called personal... and the ability to impart them, in greater or less degree, is the gage of genius in art.
  • Imagination... implies originality. It results in a reflection... of the working mind of the designer. ...Imagination may be called the dynamic force in art. ...It is the quality which distinguishes the artistic from the photographic representation of nature.
  • Interest. ...a design to be great must have great interest. ...the most potent of all ways to impart interest is to endow the design with beauty of form, and... the one which makes the strongest appeal to human interest and admiration is physical beauty in human shape.
  • Refinement. While the possession of this quality is due, in the first instance, to education, it is also largely a matter of temperament.
  • Simplicity and Dignity are so nearly related that they may be considered together. ...A quiet air of reserved power is characteristic of dignity, and that is best obtained by simple means and the absence of apparent effort. Simplicity is the mark of genius. The giant in art does his work easily, without straining and without affectation; his ways are direct and to the point.
  • A master in art need not go into the highways and byways for affects; he knows the straight course and follows it.
  • With dignity and simplicity come repose... the natural state of one at home in his surroundings and sure of his ground. Repose is a distinguished characteristic of Greek art.
  • Style... the very hall-mark of great art... there is little use in trying to define style.

Quotes about FlaggEdit

  • Inevitably Le Corbusier's large-scale housing was associated with the more visionary aspects of his planning and deemed unacceptable to pragmatic housing reformers. That association formed a sixth barrier. On one hand, the Radiant City, like his urban visions of the 1920s, was linked to a tradition of utopian planning that thrived in America during the 1920s and early 1930s. Such projects and proposals by Raymond Hood, Richard Neutra, Kocher and Ziegler, Wallace Harrison, Hugh Ferriss, Harvey Wiley Corbett, Ernest Flagg, and others enjoyed wide circulation. On the other hand, what separated the Radiant City (and Le Corbusier's projects of the 1920s) from many of its American visionary counterparts was his radical treatment of urban infrastructure and his advocacy of cooperative ownership, thus mandating not only material changes in the structure of the city but also political changes in a free-market economy that historically promoted individual property rights.
    • Mardges Bacon, Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid (2003)
  • Few architects tried to emulate this honest and enthusiastic attempt to use the concrete itself as a decorative feature, and the more reinforced concrete frame structures became common, the more customary it was to hide the skeleton within a covering of brick... In 1905 Ernest Flagg, one of the most brilliant Beaux-Arts trained American architects of the day, had complained bitterly when a thirty per cent rise in building costs obliged him to substitute a reinforced concrete skeleton for the masonry construction of the Naval Academy Chapel at Annapolis, carefully modeled on the Dome of the Invalides in Paris.
    • Peter Collins, Concrete: The Vision of a New Architecture (2004)
  • Ernest Flagg, the renowned twentieth-century architect, built the "new" Naval Academy in the early 1900s and infused a sense of grandeur into the Yard—physical structures befitting the training ground for the world's preeminent Navy. ...It is now recognized as Flagg's most monumental accomplishment.
    • Taylor Baldwin Kiland, Jamie Howren, A Walk in the Yard: A Self-guided Tour of the U.S. Naval Academy Naval Institute Press (2007)
  • In 1908 the architect Ernest Flagg proposed that street facades should be limited to 100 feet and towers should be permitted to rise to an unlimited height above them so long as they occupied no more than twenty-five percent of the site, a provision that was eventually adopted by the city code. Flagg wanted to "Parisianize" New York with even cornice lines yet allow for a "diadem of towers"; his own Singer Building (1908) shows what he meant.
    • Marcus Whiffen, American Architecture: 1860-1976 MIT Press (1983)

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