Permeable walls and place recognition in Henry Klumb's architecture of social concern

Rosa D Otero, University of Pennsylvania


Through place recognition, architecture helps preserve, enhance, and even define the identity of a place. In this dissertation, I deal with the question of place recognition and explore how architect Henry Klumb was able to construe this idea architecturally. The answer is revealed by an analysis and understanding of the two senses of place recognition: how this understanding precedes the project but is also the outcome. Klumb's approach to place recognition was achieved by means of permeable walls, sophisticated screening devices found throughout most of his buildings that regulated the building's relationship with its surrounding environment. This study analyzes how Klumb's understanding of the natural and cultural environment and his social concern helped define the identity of a changing Puerto Rico on its road toward modernization. Because of the climate, walls built in Puerto Rico need to be open to the outside to allow breezes to enter the building, and they need to provide a significant degree of protection from direct sunlight and frequent rains. The merit of Henry Klumb goes further than just an understanding of the tropics. His buildings and writings are evidence of his social compromise with the country. He favored a modernity based on existing conditions and local traditions, not one based on the eradication of the past, as the government proposed. This work proposes an analytical scheme to classify walls according to the way in which interior and exterior spaces interact; it establishes a universal method for better understanding the spatial relationships from which they originate or that they instigate and/or eliminate. Through historical examples and a selection of Klumb's buildings, I examine how different types of these devices were used according to natural and cultural conditions to acknowledge place recognition. Additionally, I propose a three-part approach for the study of architecture by identifying three mutually dependent provisions: recognition, intention, and mechanism. In other words, through place recognition, an architect builds on an architectural objective that instigates the use of a distinctive tectonic device. This study identifies permeable walls as Klumb's mechanism for an architecture of social concern for Puerto Rico.

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Recommended Citation

Otero, Rosa D, "Permeable walls and place recognition in Henry Klumb's architecture of social concern" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3179786.