Architecture: A Philosophy

The eloquence in the language of architecture is measured by how a building is put together. The joining of materials in a manner that retains the integrity of each part, while assigning a function compatible and advantageous to its nature, has always been a measure of “seriousness” in architecture.

“God is in the details” is a phrase attributed to Mies Van Der Rohe and revered by architects as we endeavor again and again to do the right thing. Architecture is order, and this order carries throughout the building down to the smallest corner. There is no back side to architecture any more than there is a detail that is unimportant.

Detailing expresses the “how” of buildings and when done with great care and skill reinforces the “why.” It can express the honesty not only of the architecture but of all those involved in the making of it. It is a slow process whose results are seldom noticed. It has been said that good detailing should never show the agony it took to produce it, but should appear as if it had not been detailed at all, as if it went together the way it wanted to go together–or as Kahn has said, “the way it wants to be.”

My detailing is deliberately sparse and linear in order to enhance the spaces within and without. People look good in my buildings.

I try very hard in my work to listen to my client since it is the client’s program, budget and site which are the influences that will drive the design. I have found, however, that of these three the site is the dominant factor. The quality of the light upon that particular area of earth is always unique and determines the path the architecture will take. I endeavor to design buildings that belong, make the site look better and, hopefully, never shout. The order established by the program, the site and the budget produces architecture. Because of this, I have never designed two buildings alike.


The architectural philosophy of Hugh Newell Jacobsen. Beautifully detailed, elegant, refined, clean, crisp, exquisite, by arguably the best living architect on the planet. With a style that is as subtle as it is elegant, his homes seem to capture the beauty of both aesthetics into one sparse and linear yet whimsical style. Best illustrated by the house above that appears to be a series of staggered one-room schoolhouses from the front but is actually one dwelling.

Infused with a rare sense of clarity and elegance, they are serene and classically proportioned, but at the same time distinctly modern. Drawing inspiration from vernacular architecture, his designs often recall the barns, detached kitchens, and smokehouses of early American architecture.


Hugh Newell Jacobsen
Photos: Robert Lautman




~ by eaesthete on 01/21/10.

9 Responses to “Architecture: A Philosophy”

  1. The elegant spareness is so Nordic – love this! Thank you for showing me how to see – again and again!

  2. Talk about a sense of arrival! Two questions: do you approach the house on a long axis cut straight through the woods, or is there some devious, twisting road through the trees that gives no hint of whats around the final curve till the place actually burts into sight?

    And that dramatic central spine: impossibly tall & narrow right from the start, like the approach to OZ’ throne room, or a variation on the house’s massing–starting low & increasing in height, with a series of ever-taller volumes opening up as you climb the ceremonial stairs?

    And then what? A dark & massisve brick wall that, at the last minute, forces you to make an oblique entry to the living room, or a high expanse of white plaster washed by brilliant sunlight falling from above? Whatever happens, I know it’s memorable. Jacobson is a master of drama, that’s for sure.

    • MV

      Dramatic. Oz-like. All that and more, which is probably why he never designs two of anything “alike.” An intensely “singular” vision one might conclude.

      As for the arrival, I, somehow, imagine dropping out of the sky. Helicopter, parachute, hot-air balloon.

  3. I loved this house when I read about it in a magazine. I love the reduced to purity of the lines and the light. I was thrilled beyond the beyond when HNJ was selected by my alma mater the University of Oklahoma, to design the addition to the university art museum. It now sits on a corner of the campus (known for his Cherokee or bastard gothic (which I love, don’t hate me for that) with its compelling, massive form harkening to the prairie but with eyes straight to the heavens. There is a Bruce Goff building on campus which I think is ridiculous. The HNJ building will always look gobsmackingly beautiful.

    • Home,

      Beautifully poetic and although the trees break up the desolateness of the prairie in this location, your vision is so easily imagined.

  4. I loved reading this, fascinating philosopy!

  5. He could make millions by selling a pre-fab version of those egg crate shelves. I have always wanted them.

  6. oh i want the book.

  7. So beautiful and monastically serene – yet with intense vision and striking revelations. God is in the details. !

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