Sculpture with Toilets
In architecture, few names have had as much influence on today’s built environment as those of Hadid, Gehry, Stern, and Meier. But, there is a lesser known name that may have had equal impact on today’s architectural landscape, David L. Niland [1930-2010]. Niland a respected and sometimes controversial educator left a legacy of shaping more than 4,000 of America’s architects over a 40 year career.
Raised in Cincinnati, OH, Niland was always interested in aesthetics. But, it was not until a sports injury in college forced the art major to focus on school and pursue his architectural career. Receiving his undergraduate and masters from Yale, it was there that Niland was exposed to the teaching of Louis I. Kahn and Paul Rudolph. Kahn, a poetic designer interested in the spiritual “what” or meaning of form and, Rudolph interested in the “why” of form balanced Niland’s teaching approach. Attending Yale also exposed Niland to Vincent Scully, the architectural historian and Philip Johnson, the architectural chameleon.
David did not ascribe to architectural fashions, movements or “isms” but would focus on universal aesthetic concerns. His own work would place him among the “grey” architects, the generation just after the grand “white” architects of Le Corbusier and his ilk. Like the grand white architects, Niland’s own work was concerned with the manipulation of light. But for Niland, architecture’s chief reason to exist was to eliset a strong positive emotional response – it is this that he would instill in all his students.
Niland’s architecture always had a labyrinthine and child-like wonder of discovery. His spaces where complex manipulations of formal elements. He believed that architecture should evolve and personal style should be variation on a theme. For Niland, “Architecture was sculpture with toilets.”
Unlike some of his contemporaries who explored industrial materials, David believed in using mundane building materials. He was remembered as saying, “I use 2×4’s and simple dry wall.” And it is that genius, to use what builders where typically familiar with, that helped make David’s built projects work.
David was a passionate and talented architectural educator. But like many, he had his quirks. Of those are what students called Nilandism’s, saying by the sometimes irreverent teacher.
– On why he painted all his architectural projects white: “I have too much respect for color to use it.”
– On what is architecture: “If architecture does not make you feel something it is not Architecture”
– On what architecture should be: “Architecture is the manipulation of volumes and voids”
– On the formal elements of architecture: “Architecture is about location, orientation, color, treatment, texture, and proximity”
– On why all his architectural projects hid every electric outlet, light switch and light: “mechanical and electrical systems are ugly, why should we show them (he mounted them under ledges around the room which were used for up lighting, down lighting, vents, a/c, etc.)”
– On evaluating architects and their buildings: “Draw a key corner of a building where the structure comes together and that will tell you what kind of architect and their idea.”