Object Lesson


They Used to Call It Fretwork

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The CAD-CAM/CNC phenomenon has led to an entirely revolutionary, appropriately technological way of incorporating decoration into modern architecture. Case in point? Herzog & De Meuron’s perforated copper cladding, above, for the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Just don’t call it decoration.



The idea of the perforated surface isn’t exactly new, however. It used to be called “fretwork,” as seen in the patterned, cut-out sides of this British 18th-century mahogany hanging wall shelf.


In 17th- and 18th-century India, craftsmen carved jali window screens out of soft native sandstone, creating intricate geometric patterns to decorate the palaces of Mughal rulers such as Akbar the Great.

 The pre-modern Chinese made similar geometric window screens, albeit out of wood.




Tod Williams and Billie Tsien adapted the traditional cracked-ice pattern of Chinese window screens for the façade of their C.V. Starr Library in Berkeley, Calif.


Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: funcolors | Time: 10:07 AM Friday, April 20, 2012

    Lately I've been obsessed with geometric pattern. Captured by the rhythm, the visual buffet of lines and repetitiveness. Might be an old concept but it feels very fresh to me.

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About the Blogger

Ned Cramer

thumbnail image Ned Cramer is editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT, and editorial director of ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, ECO-STRUCTURE, and METALMAG, published by Hanley Wood, a Washington, D.C.-based business media company. Prior to joining Hanley Wood, Cramer served as the first full-time curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), where he organized public programs and exhibitions such as "A Century of Progress: Chicago's 1933-34 World's Fair" and "New Federal Architecture: The Face of a Nation." At CAF, projects under Cramer's direction received support from foundations and corporations such as Altria, Boeing, the Driehaus Foundation, the Graham Foundation, and the McCormick-Tribune Foundation. He speaks regularly on architecture, design, and related issues. The Avery Architectural Index lists nearly 100 articles with Cramer's byline, many written in his former capacity as executive editor of Architecture magazine. The recipient of an Arts Administration Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cramer has held positions at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Menil Collection in Houston. Cramer is an alumnus of the Rice University School of Architecture. He was born and raised in St. Louis.