I recently had the opportunity to escape the Pennsylvania cold weather to attend the annual conference of Ignite Restaurant Group in Daytona Beach, FL. Now I’m not NASCAR fan, I don’t own a Harley and am a little too old for Spring Break, but I always see travel as an opportunity to investigate the architecture pertinent to that area.
On the whole, the lackluster architecture of the main strip of Daytona Beach was disappointing. It seems Daytona Beach is redefining itself after having deteriorated during the economic downturn of the 1970’s. It is in the tearing down stage of its makeover which has left it with little noteworthy architecture. I did not even see any roadside architecture kitschy enough to inspire Venturi or Scott Brown.
The highlight of my architectural exploration of Daytona was the discovery of the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse located approximately 10 miles south of Daytona Beach. As an architect, I appreciate lighthouse architecture as the embodiment of the expression of “form follows function”.
Lighthouses were built to warn ships away from the dangerous shoreline, prevent the loss of life and precious cargo. Functionally, they obviously needed to be tall and the cylindrical form reduced the effect of wind on the tall structure. They are often painted bright red or orange or with a unique pattern so they could be easily be recognized during daylight.
Located at the top of lighthouse is the lantern room, where the light operates. Fresnel lenses which were used in lighthouses were considered modern technology in the 19th century. These lenses by design could focus the light and make the light visible further out at sea. This design which made them functional also reduced the amount of glass required making then more economical and lighter. They are also quite beautiful; outside of the lighthouse they resemble large crystals or pieces of art.
Outside the lantern room is an open platform called the gallery, used for cleaning the windows of the lantern room. Lighthouses were typically roofed with a metal cupola connected to a lightning rod and grounding system providing a safe conduit for any lightning strikes. All these useful functions led to iconic structures of beauty.
I wondered why today we cannot achieve the same expression of function and beauty. We have a wealth of technology and money yet we seldom try marrying form and function into an item of beauty. I think of the cell towers that we try to disguise as trees or flagpoles, which are not fooling anyone.
Most often lighthouses were designed by engineers, but occasionally the designs were attributed to architects, like the Castle Hill Lighthouse in Newport, RI by HH Richardson. I would like to see architects today contributing more to the design of some of the necessary structures required by today’s technology.
-Colleen Brogan, RA, LEED AP