View Stephen  Strasser's profile on LinkedIn 



205 G ST. SW



This form does not yet contain any fields.

    Otto Wagner

    An interesting figure in the beginnings of modern architecture is Otto Wagner (1841-1918). In some ways, his work is similar in tone to Adolf Loos, who I wrote about earlier last year, in that he was a Viennese architect whose work challenged the reigning Neoclassical/historicist traditions of the late 19th and early 20th century. Wagner was an member of the Art Nouveau movement popular in Europe at the time, and so his work did sometimes incorporated the ornamentation that Loos railed against. Still, he was very much a pioneer and influenced many of his contemporaries around the world as Professor of Fine Arts in Vienna through a textbook he published entitled “Modern Architecture” (1896).

    Vienna Subway Station 

    Wagner began his career designing very traditional projects, both private residences and civic projects. One project was to build railway stations in Vienna, which impressed upon him the use of modern machinery in building. This experience, along with a growing interest in science and technology (and probably contact with the city's avant garde artists), helped instill a desire to move away from building traditional structures. He criticized existing styles as “confusing architecture with archeology” by making inimical architectural gestures. While his work was not as minimalist as future modernists, it did mark a definite break from the past.

    Vienna Postal Savings Bank (exterior) 

    He also helped revolutionize building practices. In his Vienna Savings Bank he used thin sheets of marble clad onto brick walls, which cut down construction costs and sped up work time. He also used more modern methods such as steel frame construction, and explored using modern materials such as glass for ceilings and aluminum for radiator columns.

    Vienna Postal Savings Bank (interior) 

    Otto Wagner's work made an important contribution to modernism and his desire to achieve simpler solutions elevated the practice into a modern age, matching the period and project at hand.

    Armchair from Savings Bank 


    Canal Park: Update

    On November 17, Canal Park opened to the public. It is a wonderful urban space with the current draw being the ice skating rink visible from M Street. Even on a mid afternoon there are a number of skaters using the park.

    Facing north. Photo by the Olin Studio. 

    The upper two thirds of the park were mostly empty when I visited, probably due to remaining construction and cold weather. In addition, the restaurant on the grounds, Park Tavern, is not scheduled to open for at least a few more weeks. Most importantly, there is a significant amount of housing planned and under construction for areas adjacent to the site. While a number of offices to the south and west are built and occupied, the east side of the park is still bordered by parking lots.

    Facing south (restaurant is to the left). Photo by the Olin Studio. 

    But as it stands now, the welcome space is beautifully done. Come see for yourself. Maybe even rent some skates and take a spin.



    Lebbeus Woods (1940-2012): Visionary Architect

    Recently, an architect named Lebbeus Woods died at age 72 in New York as the city was still reeling from hurricane Sandy. He was not as well known outside of academic circles since his work consisted primarily of Deconstructionist drawings and theoretical writings, and the media coverage of the storm eclipsed the news of his passing. It was a great loss, as he played an important role in my formal education—I studied his works and writings and incorporated some of his ideas into my thesis at Catholic University—and so I wanted to pay tribute to this unique man.

    One of Wood's many drawings.

    Early in his career, he worked as a practicing architect under Eero Saarinen and later as part of his own practice. Primarily though, he was a professor of architecture at Cooper Union, and above all, a theoretician. He was known for very innovative, well-crafted paper architectural drawings of structures that were designed to provoke thought. Only once did his plans for a permanent structure ever get built.

    Light Pavilion in Chengdu, China. Built.

    His depiction of buildings and urban landscapes had a dystopian, science fiction-like quality to them. Often, he would design structures for cities that had undergone a violent man-made or natural disaster, such as Sarajevo after the Balkan Wars or San Francisco after an earthquake. Sometimes, these structures would be created to indicate that a catastrophe had happened, like “scabs over a wound”, in order to show healing. The purpose of these elements were to create networks of buildings that begin to knit together fractured landscapes.

    Labrynthine Wall for Bosnia

    Woods was also very interested in seeing what architecture could do to help address human problems. Although his forms may have been unusual and fragmented, his goal his to get people to see what was possible outside of existing 'traditional' building conventions. “I’m not interested in living in a fantasy world,” he said. “All my work is still meant to evoke real architectural spaces. But what interests me is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits. Maybe I can show what would happen if we lived by a different set of rules.”

    Berlin Free-Zone 3-2

    He was serious enough about his mission to create the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture in 1988 in order to explore his ideas. The mission statement reads: “RIEA is a non-profit institution with the purpose of advancing experimentation and research in the field of architecture, in response to changing political, economic, technological and cultural conditions in the contemporary world."

    War Architecture

    The comment sections on articles about Wood's death have praised his vision, his consciousness, and his innovation. His drawings displayed in museums and his writings on his own blog have influenced many people.

    His fantastical works and meticulous drawings were inspiring to me and opened up ideas in architecture I had not been exposed to. His presence will be sorely missed.




    Studio O Apartment



    This recently completed project is a renovation to 500 square foot studio unit in a 1960's apartment building. The client wanted to create a more open and modern feel, as well as accommodate their future needs and the needs of of future occupants. As a result, the entire unit was gutted, eliminating a small closed-in kitchen and hallway. The bathroom space was updated and expanded with a flush walk-in shower, the kitchen reconfigured to be along one wall, and expansive built-in storage space containing a hidden bed was added. A simple curved wall opens up the view from the entry to the set of ribbon windows on the exterior wall making the space appear much larger. 

    The result is a modernized studio unit into a multi-functional, contemporary, and accessible space overall.  


    Before, construction, and completed photographs.










    Frank Israel

    It has been a couple of months, but I want to go back and do a post that focuses on particular architects and designers who have influenced my work and creativity. While I am obviously a big fan of the clean lines of Mid-Century Modern design, I do appreciate more recent influences as well. At the end of the 20th century, architectural movements such as Postmodernism and Deconstructivism started experimenting with ornamentation and form, in contrast to the simplicity of Modernism. I think one of the more talented innovators of this period was an American architect named Frank Israel.

    House at Carbon MesaFrank Israel died at age 50 in 1996 just as his work was gaining influence and recognition. It was, sadly, an early end to an amazing body of thought and work. He loved to experiment by pushing conventions of modernist design in terms of form, scale, and basic building materials while still trying to create a comfortable and accessible space for his clients. How structures were cited on a landscape was of great importance to him. In addition, he valued making his projects fit in with older structures (he often did renovations and additions to existing buildings) and with the natural landscape. In a period where many architects were pushing innovations of material and spiraling construction costs, his concern for his customers and the surrounding environment stood out.

    Fine Arts Building at Riverside Campus of UCLAIt was his adopted home of Los Angeles that was critical to his development as an architect. After working and studying on the East Coast, in Rome, and in Tehran, he moved to LA in 1979 in order to teach at UCLA's School of Architecture. Soon after, he became a set designer for several movies and then designed office spaces for independent movie production companies. With this experience, his designs made use of inexpensive everyday materials (plywood, stucco etc.) into assemblages of complex forms and vibrant structures that gave new life to drab warehouse spaces. This exposure in Hollywood lead to his being commissioned to create elaborate private residences for a number of clients in the film industry. At the end of his life, his architectural firm began work on much larger scale projects. Probably his most well known work is the Fine Arts Building at the Riverside campus of the University of California, which was actually not constructed until after his death.

    Drager House. Photo by Mark Darley.Throughout this period, he loved to experiment and found that LA gave him a place to do so. In turn, he and other local architects (such as Eric Owen Moss and Morphosis studio) created what some people have called the LA Style by altering conventions of form in unique an often challenging ways.. One design principle that drove Frank Israel was his love of cities and his desire to create “cities within buildings”. Just as a metropolitan area consists of a variety of scales, colors, local materials, and views of the surrounding areas, a building by Israel often contained this same type of variety under the same roof. Unique spaces within a building were connected to others that could be different structurally. It has also been suggested that Israel's “structural disequilibrium” was also influenced by the earthquakes and other natural disasters that the LA area is prone to. His work embodied the context in which it was created.

    A personal favorite of mine is a residence he designed in the Bay Area in the aftermathDrager House. Photo by Mark Darley. of extensive fires that burned the surrounding hillsides in the early 90s. The Drager House, nestled in the Berkeley hills, is a rich example of Israel’s facility in generating form while respecting context and site. The house immediately draws you in with a rich palate of materials, unexpected views, comfortable, livable spaces, and a respect for the site. Like his LA based work, it is fragmented and unified at the same time.

    While he is not a household name the way say Frank Gehry is, Frank Israel is an example of great innovation in architecture, respect of the surrounding landscape, and the need for comfort and habitability tailored directly to his clients.