David G. Eller O&M, 1973: The Modernist Era
Howdy, and welcome back! This week we will be entering a new era of architecture on campus: Modernism. Before we get started, let’s look at the background of the building, then we will go into detail about the Modernist era of architecture and how those specifics are mirrored in the construction of Eller O&M.
The David G. Eller Oceanography and Meteorology Building was built in 1973 to house the growing oceanography and meteorology departments. Known to the students and locals as simply O&M or Eller O&M, the building is the tallest on campus, hedging out Rudder tower by a mere five feet. Not included in that height measurement is the added height from the Doppler radar equipment on the roof (“David G. Eller Building”).
The building is Modernist in style (more details on this later) and is composed mostly of concrete and limestone.
So what is Modernism?
Modernism, or the International Style is a movement in architecture that started in the early 20th century and rose to dominance after World War II (Waters). It has remained dominant in public buildings through to the beginning of the 21st century, and is only very recently being replaced with the post-modern style of architecture.
The key to the modernist era is a shift away from aesthetics towards functionalism. While Beaux Arts was heavily focused on the finishing details and extraneous decorations, modernism was all about functionality. It focused on creating a well-built, sturdy building that did not include any superfluous details, but rather created a clean line of function. Modernist buildings were often composed of cement blocks, large limestone bricks, or exposed steel supports stemming from the wish to portray the “honesty of materials” (Jones).
Here is a short list of what to look for in Modernist Architecture:
- Clean line
- Sturdy materials, often using support materials as finished materials (e.g. concrete)
- Many windows
- Often white, brown, tan, or gray
- Often taller than Beaux Arts counterparts with an emphasis on height or width
- Focusing on rectangular shapes
O&M shows all of these traits, so we will look at each of them one by one, spending more time on the more interesting features of the building.
The first two principles of modernist architecture we can see when looking at O&M are the clean lines and use of sturdy materials. Looking at the ground floor of O&M, we can see the large limestone bricks that compose the exterior of the building, devoid of any extra detail work. The smooth lines are very disparate from what we have spent the last few weeks looking at in Beaux Arts architecture. It was made of reinforced concrete and also includes a limestone exterior. The really interesting part about its construction is it has no foundation, but is rather built on piers over 50 feet underground. When it was built, there were many rumors that “the building had a 3 degree lean and that there was a crack in the foundation”, but rumors were quelled when the actuality of the building’s base were uncovered (“David G. Eller Oceanography”).
O&M also includes another principle of modernist architecture: large windows. The exterior wall of the first floor of O&M is mostly window separated by support columns. From the second floor and above, the windows are smaller in scale, but where size is smaller, quantity is much greater, giving almost the same effect and amount of light as the first floor.
O&M is officially “light brown” but in person, it appears much more of a light gray color than a brown (“David G. Eller Building”). The fourth principle of modernism on our list is color, and it is obvious that whether it is brown or gray, it is within the parameters of the modernist color scheme.
Next let’s talk about height. One of the things that made modernism so popular was its ability to build stronger and taller. With the materials used, Eller O&M was able to achieve a height of 151 feet (“David G. Eller Building”). When it was built, it was the highest point between Dallas and Houston, but with the recent completion of an apartment building north of campus, it has been surpassed by about 50 feet.
The focus on rectangular shapes often led to an emphasis on height or width. As discussed, Eller O&M places a lot of prominence on height, however, there are also subtle details to bring out the width of the building. Looking at the image below, we can see the obvious vertical lines on the exterior of the building, but just as important are the horizontal lines formed by the many consecutive windows on each floor. These created lines draw the eye horizontally, creating many different rectangular visual cues.
There you have it. This concludes our discussion of Eller O&M.
The Modernist era is very prevalent on main campus, and is even more common on West Campus (west of the railroad tracks), but we will not spend very much time on the Modernist era, due to the brevity of the style itself.
Next week we are looking at the MSC, a building that was built originally in the modernist style, but was renovated recently to include many post-modern traits. It will serve as a kind of transition post from Modernism into our final post of the semester discussing the Post-Modernist Era.
- “David G. Eller Oceanography and Meteorology (O&M) Building.” TAMSCAMS: Department History. Texas A&M Chapter of the American Meteorological Society, 10 Mar. 2007. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
- Waters, Suzanne. “Modernism.” com. Royal Institute of British Architects, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
- Jones, Greg. “What Is Modern: Characteristics of Modern Architecture.” org. A2 Modern, 09 Apr. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.
- “David G. Eller Building.” Emporis. Emporis GMBH, n.d. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.