The Big Brush
The Big Brush is the practice of treating apartment housing as 20-25 metre wide lines drawn across a site 3D. The 20-25 metres comes from the 10–12 metre maximum depth for a habitable room backed by a non-habitable room plus an extra 2 metres for a double-loaded corridor. Here’s Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Apartments. Detroit, 1956.
Here’s SOM’s Lake Meadow. Chicago, 1961. These plans are from that wonderful site, housing prototypes.org.
The Big Brush is a winning formula and difficult to improve upon. Here’s an example from Dublin in 2001. Pay no attention to the second entrance lobby on the first floor. The drawing doesn’t appear to have been checked by anyone.
Nevertheless, blocks configured like this can look rather samey
and the corridors can be a bit gloomy.
One solution is to combine short blocks to make A New Shape.
Remember Frank Gehry Beekman Tower?
Here’s a plan of levels 9-22.
“Geez, Frankie, for a supposedly luxury development, those internal corner apartments are f**king nasty!”
Especially M0F and M0G.
“Couldn’t you, with your infinite knowledge, wisdom and benevolence, have combined them into a possibly okay 1-bed apartment?”
From this plan, it’s clear Gehry was just the window dresser. Sure, people can see some sky as they wait for the elevator but the developer knows exactly how much that window is costing. This is another quietly ruthless building. It obviously fulfils some kind of housing need but that aspect of its existence receives no coverage. It’s not the kind of thing an office puts in a press release. It’s innovation is superficial. Window dressing is, sadly, all too accurate.
All that mediacized windy-effect curviness does nothing for the occupants – especially those poor internal corner people. In passing, out of twenty apartments, there is 1 x 2-bed apartment, 12 x 1-bed apartments and 7 x studio apartments. None are any nicer than they need to be. “Architecture” exists in a different dimension, a parallel universe. The reluctance of traditional media outlets to say or publish anything in the form of criticism is deeply disturbing.
To summarise. The Big Brush lets you paint in lines,
in curves [one from the personal archive!],
make shapes, honeycomb,
or any random squiggle you like. This next one’s that easily-excited shapeist Oscar Niemeyer’s bootylicious Copan building.
But just look at that unexploited roof space! Whether Pune or New York, we know what to do with that!
Here’s a newish twist! The monetised roof space that is the terraces and balconies, is made to appear as a twisted wall instead of a terraced roof. It’s a brilliant way of disguising a truncated courtyard block. This excellent image is from the website of Allesandro Ronfini.
Here’s a plan. Dits.
It’s actually a bit of an untruth to say all residents have a view of the Hudson River, but this plan is the hardcore application of tried-and-tested property development principles. It’s a predictable shame all the attention will be diverted to the “let-the-roof-be-a-roof” roof.
There’s some more recent pics here.
BIG does have a history of playing down The Big Brush and why not? There’s no need to destroy one’s image as a creative. Developers instinctively understand The Big Brush anyway for anything else is lower return on investment. When Bjarke Ingels says Yes Is More, he’s showing developers he gets it. The real art is is to disguise the strategic commercialism underlying it. This isn’t criticism. As I’ve said, “the history of architecture is full of buildings that got built because the numbers stacked up”. Most of those buildings are famous for the wrong reasons. Let’s check BIG’s back catalogue for The Big Brush! This is the World Village of Women Sports 2009. The above W57 project doesn’t seem such a surprise now.
BIG take The Big Brush to its logical extreme is Yes is More, ever escalating.
If you believe BIG, The Big Brush is the solution to social housing, transportation problems and entertainment voids. As long as buildings have to be built on ground, it can’t get any more extreme. Here’s where MVRDV step up to the plate.
Technically, this isn’t The Big Brush as there’s only one double-loaded corridor at the top where the width finally permits. It’s A Small Brush, in mid-air, extruded.
You can find a full set of plans in the current issue of MARK magazine.
This next photo hints at exciting new property development possibilities once people such as that mother (not to mention the child) think of this as normal. =(
Other rooms on the other side of this double-sided apartment face a conventional outside but here we have a quasi-public space being used to add value. The Big Brush no longer has to have outdoors on both sides. This moves it on a bit from BIG’s so-yesterday perimeter block monetizations premised on two outsides. What we used to know as space-enclosing walls is now money-earning real estate. Respect, MVRDV.
Rather than merely enclosing space, walls have been monetised. Rather, why not exploit the structure that encloses the space to exploit the property? Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of this before? Why has nobody called it for what it is?
Shopping malls are good candidates for this sort of development. Any atrium could just be extended up a few storeys and the view from it monetised.
This could be be the final nail in the coffin for Modern Architecture and that schtick about “internal space” as the new subject of architecture. Space was only ever just poor mans’ land anyway not that we weren’t grateful to own a few square metres of it. Now that any large space with a bit of activity can be marketed as a value-adding view, the agenda for architecture this century might be about the monetisation of the enclosing elements themselves.
I have a lot of respect for large global commercial architecture enterprises such BIG and MVRDV. They continue to invent and develop new ways to exploit property space and now, it seems, building elements to secure profits and prestige for their clients and themselves.