WPD-Spilsby-2-by-Speller-Metcalf_664

Sheds Without Shame

And Peter Behrens saw the shed was naked so he covered it up. 

aeg-turbine-factory

And so the shed was made to feel shame. Taking something virtuous and forcing it to wear an aesthetic statement of questionable value is the original sin of architecture, its genesis. It’s as if architecture loves to see good ideas killed through a process of aestheticisation – the real meaning of Death by Architecture.

Why I dislike The Eames’ House

The Eames took a shed and decked it out with the arty pretentiousness of Mondrian colours.

Eames House - 05

They were also responsible for the intellectual dishonesty of using cheap components to build on a fairly decent slice of well-located real estate. What’s going on? Did one of them inherit it? I’m guessing Ray did for, by all accounts, Charles was a bit of a  bounder, possibly a cad.

1

Reasons to dislike Case Study House #21

case-study-house-no-21-los-angeles-1958-julius-shulman-719563

“Despite saving all that money on construction and finishes, they dressed up yet stayed in, joylessly enduring each other’s company.”

Reasons to dislike Case Study House #22

Reasons to like Case Study House #22. 

It’s a shed.

ubvg_tl317n

It’s still a shed and, after seeing what their renewable neighbours have done to their site or were made to do to their site, it’s just as well it’s a shed.

still a shed

34° 6’2.81″N 118°22’13.59″W

If the Case Study House program was really about the beneficial use of industrial components to enclose space quickly and inexpensively, then we’d expect to see the north elevation used to illustrate this a lot more than we do. The useful idea apparent on the north side, is only important because it enables the aesthetic idea on the south side. Once inside, it’s all about the view. We’re always invited to look out of the house or through the house rather than linger at any time inside it or, God forbid, behind it. What Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, but she could just have easily said it about the Stahl House – “There’s no there there.”

But sixty-six years on from The Eames’ House has anything really changed?

  • Many people would still like a nice parcel of land in the Pacific Palisades – or the Hollywood Hills for that matter.
  • But many more people still have an aversion to prefabricated “off-the-shelf” building components.

Even today, if anyone wants to build a shed and live in it, it has to be justified in terms of “fitting in with the local character”. This is as true for the UK

country shed

where architect James Gorst has a nice line of sheddy houses alluding to some false memory of a rural vernacular,

and it is in Australia where Glenn Murcutt has also.

Sheds are everywhere but it seems they’re only acceptable when their obvious advantages are overlaid with a veneer of aesthetic pretentiousness. We like sheds but only when they hide their shameful nakedness.

Japanese architect Waro Kishi knows a bit about sheds without shame. Here’s his 1987 Kim House in Ikuno, Osaka. Less baggage than that other one. And no cutting of corners.

Here’s Kishi’s 1995 House In Nipponbashi, Osaka.

One might say “sheds without shame” is Lacaton & Vassal’s motto but this would be to turn their method of designing into a style. If L&V’s early houses such as Lapatie House and Dordogne House are small-scale sheds and their Nantes School of Architecture one of the larger applications of their thinking, then the middle ground is their 2013 two-sheds-are-better-than-one FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais art space in Dunkerque, France. The only design idea was to build another shed next to an existing one. The design idea is practically absent – and what remains of that design idea is probably something we construct in our heads.

lacaton & vassal

I thought FRAC Nord-Pas de Calais was about as shameless as a shed could be but no. Behind bdonline‘s paywall, Speller Metcalfe’s Western Power Distribution depot pushes the envelope with its 102% BREEAM score.

Untitled

8 thoughts on “Sheds Without Shame

  1. David

    Last week I was watching my friends defend their master thesis projects. The aesthetic pretentiousness was rampant. It seems everything can be made into an aesthetic, security/anti-terrorism measures, acoustics, food production, sustainability, industry. The way you have pointed it out, it’s hard not to see it any more. Here they call it “finding the spatially appropriate form” for some new invention or phenomenon. I was trying to explain the idea, that maybe the thing could be useful by itself without making a spectacle of it, to some people and got puzzled looks and something along the lines of “isn’t it the task of architects to make the new technology look beautiful”.

    Interestingly most people here agree that building has to perform well and doesn’t have to look like anything besides a building. However it still can’t look “boring”, so buildings are composed so as to find functional justifications for expensive building elements like cantilevers, large spans, complicated structural layouts. Weirdest example of that was a cantilever that would protect a door from sniper fire. It’s some kind of middle ground, still making buildings more expensive, but feels a bit better than basing the building on some obscure literary theory, imitation of natural or historical forms etc.

    It’s as if some aesthetic pretentiousness is hardwired into architecture. So many of the things architects have to design are possible only as a result of surplus of resources. Aesthetically unpretentious art gallery would be a bit of an oxymoron. If the building is a display of wealth anyway, then there isn’t really a point in making it less expensive. If they don’t spend the money there, then where should they put it…

    Reply
    1. Graham McKay Post author

      End-of-semester is always a particularly hard time. I’m pleased to hear you at least have a middle ground, even though the same principles still apply. I’ve always thought the least pretentious buildings result from extreme climatic circumstances but any kind of extreme environment or task will do just as well. I think if my environment had an abundance of snipers and I had a reason to annoy them, then I would not want my canopy to be ironic, whimsical or even drawing attention to itself by making any kind of non-performance related statement whatsoever. And what about my knees? Feet? A sniper having a bad day could still ruin mine.

      “Aesthetic pretentiousness is hardwired into architecture” is a good way of expressing it. I’ve often thought that architecture is the discovery of new ways to make buildings more expensive, and am becoming better at spotting those ways. History is a rich source, but new ones keep coming along.

    2. Design a building that isn’t necessary.
    3. Design a building that solves a simple problem in an overly complex (expensive) way. Pilotis (and the transfer slabs they support) are a expensive means of re-creating ground level?)
    4. Use a structure to enclose a space that won’t be used.
    5. Design a building that has little practical use.
    6. Design a building that solves a problem that didn’t need solving.
    7. Design a building that appears to not be an artificial object.
    8. Design a building that appears to disobey physical constants such as gravity.
    9. Design a building that appears to be transparent.
    10. Design a building to “raise awareness” of sustainability rather than actually be sustainable.
    11. Design a building that denies its climate.
    12. Design a building that denies its local realities of materials and construction.
    13. Design a building of expensively prefabricated components as a metaphor for industrialised building techniques.
    14. Design a building to be a manifestation of a theory.
    15. So yes, I’m definitely coming to think that architecture and building are complete opposites. I used to think that ideas of architectural beauty and waste were linked but now I think that architectural “beauty” is actually waste, architecturalised.

      But to go back to final project and theses presentations, I’m beginning to feel they are a display of how much one has “learned” or “bought into” the culture of architecture. Perhaps if I were a boss lurking around such presentations and exhibitions, I might want to hire someone who had conventional (or even new) ideas for architectural excess yet presented them as if they were the best ideas the world had ever seen. They’re saying they speak the language.

      I hope you manage to find a place for yourself in the midst of all this.

      Graham

      Reply
  2. Jonathan Strauss

    “Sheds are everywhere but it seems they’re only acceptable when their obvious advantages are overlaid with a veneer of aesthetic pretentiousness. We like sheds but only when they hide their shameful nakedness.”
    not really sure what this means?
    or is your tongue in your cheek?
    the comments re #22 seem to reflect poor design, planning and architecture. shed or no shed

    Reply
    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Hi Jonathan and sorry to be unclear. I’ve nothing against #22’s structural system or materials but these get overlooked – as does the poor internal design. With #22, it’s not that the naked shedness is covered up. It’s more like we’re asked to politely look the other way. Without a helicopter, it’s not going to be easy to photograph from the east, south or west but no-one has tried either. We can clearly see the north elevation, but only if we remember that it must have one. If the Case Study House program was really about the beneficial use of industrial components to enclose space quickly and inexpensively, then I’d expect to see the north elevation being used to illustrate this a lot more than we do. It seems that the useful idea that’s apparent on the north side, is only important because it enables the aesthetic idea on the south side. (I’m currently seeing all things according to my recent preoccupation with aesthetic pretentiousness killing all ideas that are good and useful in the world – sorry about that. I’m still running tests.) I’m a bit clearer now. Thanks for asking.

      Reply
      1. Jonathan Strauss

        Without full knowledge from having seen all facades, #22 would appear to be skating on the thin ice of enclosing space quickly and inexpensively.
        However, it maybe appropriate when looking comparatively at other buildings that are on the edge of an apparent cliff. The mysteries of what is below and supporting remain, to my knowledge, hidden.
        Mr Schulman was a master of disguise of things in plain view.
        Am on your bandwagon of aesthetic pretentiousness. Keep the long swords drawn.

  3. jens wolff

    I love the tall window with a view to the sky on the Nipponbashi-house; it’s the cream on a very clever cake.

    Reply
  4. Josh

    Good read.
    Though, I do think that Waro Kishi’s own ‘Azuma House’ still puts forward a deliberate and probably even pretentious aesthetic idea – I like it.

    Reply
    1. Graham McKay Post author

      Hi Josh, I agree with you about the Waro Kishi shed. It’s extremely difficult for Japanese not to make something, anything into an aesthetic proposition. It’s what they do. I don’t mean to ponder that here though. Your comment made me think of something Henry-Russell Hitchcock wrote in The International Style re. Hannes Meyer and generic ‘European Functionalists’. It was in my mind because I’d recently read something similar in Vladimir Paperny’s Architecture in the Time of Stalin – Culture Two re. Moissei Ginzburg and The Constructivists. Namely “The absence of an aesthetic proposition is still an aesthetic proposition.” I have great respect for Paperny’s otherwise excellent book but I have no respect for H-RH saying it. An oil rig, for example, isn’t making an aesthetic proposition out of the absence of an aesthetic proposition. Most vernacular housing doesn’t either. The statement then becomes The absence of an aesthetic proposition is still an aesthetic proposition ONLY IF ONE WAS EXPECTED TO MAKE ONE. But who’s doing the expecting? And why should one conform? It doesn’t wash.

      It occurred to me that the statement “The absence of an aesthetic proposition is still an aesthetic proposition.” is the original and at the same time the ultimate Death by Architecture statement. Take a useful idea (such as the lack of an architectural/aesthetic agenda) and architecturalise it/aesetheticise it/kill it/make people suspect it (by saying that it’s still an architectural/aesthetic agenda). It’s so simple. And so not true. It makes me think my Death – no, Murder – by Architecture hypothesis is correct and has been correct since at least 1932.

      Reply

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