Category Archives: COMMENT

What is a Megastructure?

The short-lived Japanese architectural movement of Metabolism is, Rem Koolhaas noted, notable for being the only architectural movement that didn’t originate in a Western country. I can’t say this is wrong, but I don’t feel it’s all that true either. Metabolism wasn’t exactly global and who’s to say local architectural movements are happening everywhere all the time? It’s just that we don’t hear about them and, if we do, it’s because they’ve been brought to our attention as a kind of uncritical de-regionalism/homogenization of everything. Metabolism was unique to 1960s Japan. We just made it part of our history, effectively neutering it until Archigram came along and did the same for us in metal.

1960

City in The Air Arata Isozaki

1961

Fun Palace Cedric Price

1964

Plug-in City Archigram

Other than its provenance, Metabolism was defined by two more things. One was megastructure and the other was the notion of growth and changeability. Isozaki’s huge steel spaceframe at Expo ’70 was more Metabolist because of its author than its megaframe. More Fun Palace than Metabolist, it was big structure but not Metabolist megastructure akin to tree trunks serving useful parts such as accommodation with services and a structure at the same time. As ever, the joy of megastructures was the impossibility of them ever being possible. Trees have no problem delivering nutrients to growth areas via a stabilizing structure but mammals do and buildings do. Putting everything inside an exoskeleton works for crustaceans but wouldn’t do for Metabolists as it couldn’t show the potential for growth and change. There’s also the problem of it looking too much like those conventional space-enclosing shells known as walls. The charm of Metabolism may have stemmed from the conceptual incongruity of its two defining characteristics but it also made it impossible to build anything other than representations of them. It was very 1960s in that respect. Expo ’70 is said to have been Metabolism’s swansong. That’d be about right. Ten years seems to be the best-by of any of those representations we call styles.

Although the idea of having services pass through mega structure was a stupid one, the other idea of a structure that allows for units of building volume to be added or replaced wasn’t much better despite buildings often needing to have units of building volume added or replaced. The problem here is one of redundancy. How much structure is going to be built to support and service an arbitrary amount of additional building volume? We can design in some structural redundancy for the additional dead load but we’ll also have to add a bit more if that load is going to be a live (changing) load. It’s a problem. Another conceptual niggle with the growth analogy is that with trees, the structure becomes more massive as the tree grows. This doesn’t happen with buildings (or with molluscs). Sure, Metabolist buildings could be (theoretically) extended with additional structure supporting additional modules of building volume but the building is now less like a tree and more like bamboo that propagates underground. This inconvenient absurdity is probably why in 1962 Izozaki produced another City in the Air proposal with incremental growth for both accommodation and the structure to support and sustain it. However, even if the building is extended horizontally, the vertical cores still need to be designed for an unspecified amount of additional load. City in The Air V2.0 is only slightly more realistic.

By 1969 megastructures were huge. They’ve since gone out of fashion but Paolo Soleri’s megastructure cities outlined in his book Arcology: The City in the Image of Man were truly impossible, visionary stuff. This next image helpfully includes The Empire State Building for comparison. What all this concrete did other than put a city up in the air was never clear. In retrospect, we might see it as a a “touch the ground lightly” move but this would be tempered by our knowledge of the planetary impact of so much concrete for so little purpose.

This has always been the contradiction with megastructures. They are first of all, structures designed for an arbitrary and unspecified amount of building volume to be added. Or are they? Maybe a megastructure is more about attitude than potential, and its primary function to support itself first and foremost? What we do know is that any structure that doesn’t work to capacity is a waste of materials and, perhaps sensing this contradiction, Soleri saw infrastructure such as dams as megastructure as having a satisfying amount of concrete and then proceeded to adorn it with botanical centers, greenhouses and other visionary stuff.

They were examples of hanging program onto an infrastructure for which a justification is assumed. It’s still naïve compared to BIG’s megastructure which monetizes airspace in those mega-infrastructures known as bridges. It assumes surplus structural capacity and that the details can be sorted out later.

If ostensibly practical megastructures such as dams and bridges have a habit of staying just as visionary as the purpose-unbuilt visionary ones, then we’re going to have think about what it is about megastructure proposals that makes them so appealing? Consider this next photograph. Is it a megastructure? It is big and it exists but it doesn’t have the visionary romance we associate with megastructures. The program it was designed for never eventuated but there’s nevertheless the potential for growth and change? I don’t think it matters. It’s all concrete not doing much and China has at least 300 massive structures such as this one which is the New South China Mall in Dongguan. What we see in this photograph is about 20% of it

These are big structures with potential but no purpose. Thinking just in terms of the amount of concrete that went into the building of structures like these, it’s an architect’s duty to repurpose them and extract some utility from all this concrete that’s already been manufactured and poured. The difficulty stems from the fact that these are specialized structures optimized for one purpose only.

In that way they’re a bit like any other highly specialized structure such as aircraft carriers that are excellent at providing a place for military aircraft to take off or land at sea, but not very useful for anything else. There’s not much you can do with a decommissioned aircraft carrier.

So yes, this post is just me arranging the the furniture here for a demonstration project to convert a shopping mall into housing. This will of course be proof-of-concept and it will involve various assumptions that will hopefully be realistic. I don’t have data or dimensions for New South China Mall so I will be using the mall I mentioned in the Mallville post as my demonstration megastructure. The mall is approximately 350 metres long and approximately 70 meters wide on average. China’s second aircraft carrier The Shandong is 305 meters long and 75 meters wide. (For reference, the USS George H.W. Bush is 332 m long x 42.8 m wide.)

Far from being abandoned, my demonstration mall is completed and fully-functioning neighborhood mall. From memory, about 50% of its retail space is food and beverage, approximately 25% is children’s after-school activities and the remainder is everything else. There are two basement parking levels, five levels above ground, and a rooftop garden.

The mall is unusual in having ten entry points at ground level, external access to all levels on the south-west side (1) and two levels of external gallery access and shops on the east side. (2) One corner has direct access to B1. (3) There are three IN ramps and two OUT ramps. All this permeability would improve liveability were it to actually be converted into housing, but I don’t expect it to make any difference to actually fitting the housing into it.

I used store directory boards and fire escape plans to create a working model.

This image of the B2 car park gave column positions. There was much variation for both the positions and the thickness of the columns, particularly around the atriums. Most of this was undecipherable using the positions and sizes of columns in the car park levels but occasional more detailed information was used for cross checkin . These next two images of B1 were vital for scaling. The basic column grid is 8.4 meters x 8.4 meters.

Car park beam depths ranged from 50 cm to 70cm but longer beams on large columns span the upper level spaces between atriums to produce column free circulation corridors on all upper levels. For the working model, I will assume that floor slabs and supporting beams are accommodated within a 1-metre thick “slab” and, for the time being, will assume an additional headroom of 70cm in places where there are no beams. A model of an assumed structure isn’t any more accurate despite being modeled in detail.

The mall levels around the atriums will have cantilevered beams as well as hidden transfer beams to deal with local events. Some rationalization and simplification would be necessary and, in order to continue, a regularized column grid of 8.4 m x 8.4 m was used but keeping the one change of direction. Floor levels of the actual mall varied between approx. four metres high for B2 to six metres high for B1 (because of sewage and water supply) and generally five meters high for all the other levels. I used a uniform FF height of 5.5 meters.

Despite the change of use, I will keep the elevator cores and fire escape stairs. I’m imagining a low-energy building but won’t make a decision on whether or not to keep the escalators functioning. Facades will be removed and the atriums naturally ventilated. Services and utilities will need a rethink.

• • •

Keeping it Real

The capabilities of BIM continue to grow incrementally through improvements to algorithms and hardware. About this time last year, I wrote about how I thought BIM packages that offered the real-time estimation of energy performance, carbon impact or cost would be an incredibly useful for the verification of design decisions. Rather than that becoming a reality, ongoing advances in architectural visualization applications and increased computer processing power now enable the real-time visualization of building imagery. One of the more useful examples of this is the insertion of BIM or CAD models into a site context mapped from OpenStreetMap data. This lets important or critical viewpoints be identified and the proposal evaluated for its visual impact on those surroundings.

https://blog.enscape3d.com/enscape-version-3-3
https://www.archdaily.com/catalog/us/products/30812/how-to-add-real-world-context-to-design-scenes-with-site-context-enscape?ad_source=search&ad_medium=search_result_all

At the same time, it is becoming easier to select materials for mapping to a white model for render purposes. Materials libraries are becoming larger. Being able to edit these materials for colour, texture, reflections and transparency is standard.

“As well as being able to import materials directly from the Material Library into the … Material Editor, you can batch import and export material packages. This is particularly useful for individuals and teams who want to access certain pre-prepared materials from other projects.”

This technology can be used in two different ways, depending on the stage of the project workflow. In the design phase, it could be used by designers to verify a design and, depending on the project and client, could also be used to offer a client choice of options without too much additional work. However, in the later stages of a project, glossy visualizations are more likely to be used to gain the approval of a client board of directors.

In 2005 I was responsible for the overall design of a project for a pedestrian road linking a main village road to a cultural centre via a supermarket, restaurants, gym and miscellaneous retail, all within a perimeter of apartment buildings. The chief planning officer wanted one small pocket of open land to have the feeling of “a London square”. This was the drawing I showed him. He approved, and the £STG 60 mil. project progressed to the design stage.

In the next meeting, the municipality historian requested the development “tell stories of local history” so my initial sketch (below) included a “theme building” and a vertical axis wind turbine that symbolically replaced the windmill that had existed on the site until 100 years earlier. It looked like this.

The facade of the apartment building on the left alluded to the main local crop of wheat. This is the facade and on the right is a photograph I’m sure I used used when presenting it to the municipality historian. The historian approved and the design stage progressed.

Everyone around the table at project management meetings likes drawings like these next ones because they provide building information in a form that’s easily understood and communicated. Few words are necessary. Architects are entrusted with jobs because clients trust them to know what they are doing.

We all know the story of how Frank Lloyd Wright is said to have drawn all the drawings for Fallingwater in the evening before a visit at short notice by the client. The only visualization was this hand-drawn rendering that, because we don’t know who drew it, was probably not by Wright himself. Regardless of its shortcomings in accuracy and resolution, it was sufficient to convince the client to build the house.

https://acidadebranca.tumblr.com/page/447

My undergraduate instructors were educated in the 1960s so I was encouraged to produce ink drawings like those heroic Yale architecture school ink drawings from Paul Rudolph’s studio. This was just how architecture was communicated in the sixties. This drawing is of the US Embassy in Athens, completed in 1961 to a design by Walter Gropius and TAC.

This trust between architect and client lasted into the 1960s. I particularly like this artists’ impression of a mixed-used building in Milan, designed by Gustavo e Vito Letis (1953-1955). Whoever is responsible for this drawing impression was confident the building would appear far better in real life, and the client was also equally confident it would too.

[via ordinearchitetti.mi.it]

Of course, if you go to Milan’s via Filipo Turati you’ll see how the real building (still) looks far better than the image of it. This is of course how it should be, and it is characteristic of many Italian mid-20th century buildings.

Both of these mid-20th century visualizations are stylizations for which the conventions were shared. They were understood as artists’ impressions and that the final reality of the building in its surroundings might differ. These next drawings are of Moore Ruble Young’s US Embassy in Berlin. The conservative nature of these watercolour renderings are evocative of a conservative era of international politics and with what the clients of embassy buildings usually want. The choice of rendering medium has been chosen to conform to client expectations.

In the early 2010s, architect sketches and drawings were sent to outside companies to produce “final approval” renders and animations such as these. These images are more photo-real than anything I’ve showed you so far but the choice of sky and people to “animate” the scene is still very stylized.

Virtual reality began with animations called walk-throughs and fly throughs but setting them up and rendering them to the desired resolution was time-consuming, expensive and usually outsourced. More powerful chips and algorithms mean it is now possible to generate real-time moving images so a client holding a powerful tablet computer can have a virtual walk-through. It is also possible to have more accurate texture mapping using large libraries of materials that can be edited for colour, texture, reflections, and transparency. And it is also possible to render reflections, vegetation and water more convincingly and all in something close to realtime. Improvements such as these are claimed to result in more accurate and realistic visualizations but these visualizations still need to be “signed off” by the client to prevent clients asking a court to rule on whether the built reality lives up to the expectations resulting from the virtual reality.

Computationally, real-time photo-rendering remains subject to the limits of processing power. One VR application manufacturer recommends a NVIDIA GeForce GTX1080 or Quadro P5000 as entry-level but the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti/Titan or Quadro P6000 if the project is large or if the motion requires smooth movement and accurate lighting. Not all architects believe project presentations require motion at all, let alone whether that motion requires smooth movement or accurate lighting. Some situations might, although I can’t imagine what they would be. It’s even less easy to imagine why processor power-hungry features such as animated vegetation are required. 

Animated vegetation impresses clients and conveys solutions to audiences who might have trouble fully conceptualizing your ideas.

Manufacturers of BIM packages and extensions that provide these functionalities, emphasize their value for business development rather than their potential to facilitate design.

Virtual reality is the key for modern and innovative architects that want to add more value for clients. It’s more immersive and emotional than a presentation based on renderings alone. There is no better way for customers to perceive their projects up close.

Having said that, I quite like this next use of in-graphic motion even though its charm doesn’t come from being realistic of anything other than a manga. This graphic generates a lot of atmosphere from something as small and primitive as a gif. We should be wary of any first application of increases in processing power. As soon as it became possible for animators to have realistic depictions of the motion of feathers, flames, hair and fur, there came a slew of animated movies featuring feathers, flames, hair and fur. I’ve been reading reviews of Avatar: The Way of Water, and it seems the real star of the movie is its “realistic” depiction of underwater worlds. The real news is that avatars can now have children, presumably by functioning avatar genitalia. Somebody should tell Mark Zuckerberg. If he can nail, that then all of Meta’s problems will be over. Just don’t post any images of them.

Visual communication is devalued when it’s presented and intended to be understood as a perfect image of an imagined future reality. More to the point, design itself is devalued when the only qualities that require communicating are those which can be seen. A project manager may see a certain kind of beauty in a spreadsheet, a quantity surveyor in a bill of quantities, a structural consultant in a carbon analysis. Real-time virtual reality photo-renders may become a new but stylized means of communicating the visual aspects of an architectural idea to clients.

The commercial world will operate as it sees fit, but when universities attempt to equip their students for participation in that world, there is a danger that imagination and design skills will be devalued if students think they must develop an idea in virtual reality before presenting it for critical evaluation.

The Emotional Layer

This first image is courtesy of Moon World Resorts, Ltd., a Canadian consortium proposing to build a moon-shaped hotel in Dubai. The image says just that. Moon-shape, Dubai. It could only say Dubai more if Burj Khalifa was also in the image but that’s impossible because moon building is exactly where Burj Khalifa was last time I saw it.

Don’t take my word for it. You can deduce this from this next photo which actually is the last time I saw Burj Khalifa

Now, moonworld is either a shameless attempt to deceive, or some photoreal depiction of an idea that was never going to happen in the manner it was depicted. I hope the future owners of the planned 300 boutique apartments will be given more accurate information. But this emphasis on resolution or a certain kind of fidelity seems to be diverting attention away from other qualities architectural renderings ought to have – an honest attempt to depict some future reality being an important one. This lowering of standards for representational honesty has been going on for some time now. Here are three examples that all happen to have the name Zaha Hadid Architects associated with them. Two of the three are for projects in the UAE – which could also be circumstantial.

First is ZHA’s Opus which had a prolonged opening after a prolonged gestation. Despite being a stone’s throw from Dubai Water Canal, the proposed view from the window of one of its hotel rooms was of Dubai Marina some 16km down the road. Design Boom places these images at May 2014.

Laurian Ghinitoiu’s photographs from the building’s eventual publication in ArchDaily etc in 2019 were far more evocative than my construction snaps.

This next image I’ve had in my downloads folder for some time now. It’s of a building in some leafy place with a tropical sky that turns out to be Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Here’s two views of the site from 2003 and 2021. While pleasant enough and possibly within the bounds of artistic license, a person not knowing the context would believe this representation of the site is typical of what surrounds it.

My third example is the relatively recently completed Bee’ah Headquaters in Sharjah, UAE. I’ve mentioned this before.

Notwithstanding, the April 2022 announcement of the building’s completion was accompanied by photographs by Hufton+Crow (link) that are simply unbelievable – at least to anyone who’s ever driven along Al Dhaid Road. It’s the most render-like building I’ve never seen.

Previously, this project had broken new ground with a cartoony animation silhouetted against the sun setting in the south (not the MIR animation with the sandstorm we saw earlier) although, to be fair, that could have been before the building was flipped onto a site the other side of the road where the building wouldn’t be seen against a mountain of car tires [since removed, it looks like]. Now the thing is there, it’s amazing how out of place the building looks, even from orbit. And what’s with the green?

• • • 

This caught my eye in the recent 2’nd Misfits Trienalle. It’s sponsored content but that doesn’t make it any different from non-sponsored content that does the same cheerleading. The premise is that photorenders are now too realistic and, as a result, cold and unmoving apart from being a bit unnerving. A later episode in this sponsored story arc told us how children watching a preview of some animated movie were upset because the animated heroine appeared too realistic despite the children knowing they were watching a movie. This led to the mind-bending conclusion that something so obviously unreal can suffer if it looks too real. I understand this work “suffer” to mean it can’t produce the desired suspension of reality. One suggested solution was to make photorealistic renders look less real by incorporating various graphic stylizations to reassure people they weren’t looking at a photo of something that actually exists.

I’ll have a stab at unpicking this. First, we’re being asked to recalibrate on the basis of a false premise. Photorenders were never that perfect. Just thinking back from examples I’ve seen, there was always an overabundance of supercars, of children with balloons, of birds in formation, of multiple trees with all identical branches, of the Sun or/and Moon in the wrong positions, of shadows not agreeing with latitude/orientation/time of day …. Simply having the same amount of pixels doesn’t make a photo rendering a photo. Photographs can and are used to mislead, but the scope for manipulation is less. We still accept them as a reliable source of information and this, I think, is why the word photorender is used as if it were an indicator of quality.

We have to accept that photorenders are no more or less a fiction than the old watercolor “artist’s impressions” of yesteryear. If we don’t accept this, then we have to accept that what the built building will actually look like isn’t what’s wanted. The photorender is the result of architects and clients suspending reality for a while to move the project forward. I can imagine different styles of renders being produced accordingto target different types of stakeholder, including the media-consuming public.

The sponsored content said that adding an emotional layer will create a sense of place and provide even more value to a project, firm, client and community. I’m not sure how this can add value to a project, client or community or, now I think about it, how it can even add value to a firm. Will clients notice if this metaphorical emotional “layer” is switched on or off as its name implies? And if they do, is it worth them paying a premium when it’s really just visualizers doing their job in accordance with the latest fashion?

It’s not so much a fashion but a new name for something that’s been around a long time. As far as my technical quibble layer is concerned, too many renderers fail to notice the sizable hill behind Fallingwater and it’s actually quite difficult to get some sky in the frame unless you go for the dramatic, now dated, view from below the first ledge. These next three images all have the same emotional layer of interior warmth but the render ups the emotion by adding a solitary bird. This render may even have the same dpi and degree of detail as the two photographs below it but the context has gone all moon hotel.

The cover photograph of the booklet on the right above seems to have its blues and yellows pushed and, though this is prettification rather than emotion, it does draw our attention to how the massing of the house from this angle is rotationally symmetrical with that of the stream and rocks. If you know your colour wheel, then the horizontal and vertical blue lines of the water satisfyingly balance the horizontal and vertical orange lines of light.

It’s time to remember that the hand-drawn render on the right below was the only visual in a package that at one time sufficiently impressed a client to build America’s most famous house ever. The rocks are incorrect and the waterfall too linear but it was enough for Mr. Kauffman to imagine this house on his land. There’s an emotional layer with a cosy domesticity implied by the plants and somebody beating a rug from the living room window. I only just noticed another rug on the upper terrace. A red one. This render isn’t attributed to anyone so it’s probably not by Wright although I remember reading that Wright added a few flourishes of colour to the finished drawing. so the rugs and hanging plants are probably his suggestions. Who else would dare?

Fallingwater didn’t need photorendering once it was completed because photographs such as the one above left shot around the world almost immediately as it had only just become possible for photographs to be internationally transmitted by wireless. Perhaps Fallingwater wouldn’t have been so sensational if renders, updated renders and final renders had been drip-fed to the international architectural press for months and years prior.

We’ve been here before. Post modernism encouraged us to relate to products and our architecture emotionally in order to shift more units. Now we’re being told to relate to images of buildings in much the same way. It’s the same coldhearted value-adding economic imperative. I’d like to dismiss all this talk of an emotional layer as some harmless way of generating a new type of kitsch but, since we live in a world where numbers of likes (or citations) is taken to indicate value, the more lasting damage will be caused by these very shallow definitions of emotion becoming the yardstick for quantifying the real thing felt by real persons in real buildings. “It’s just like the photorender!” will become the ultimate praise.


The 2’nd Misfits’ Trienniale: WEEK 3

August 18, 2021 – August 18, 2022

This is the third and final week of The 2nd Misfits’ Triennale. It spans the above period and brings us up to the present, or rather, to three and a half weeks ago. If I’ve missed anything worthwhile in those past three weeks then I’ll find out about it in three years’ time. Slow architecture. I’m okay with that. The problem with daily architecture feeds is that it’s all forgotten the next day. It’s already difficult enough to learn from history so what hope is there for yesterday? Still, some good and thoughtful things have happened in the past three years and are deserving of a chance of a few more minutes contemplation. These are my selections from the past year.

[8] August 24, 2021: Xinsha Primary School / 11ARCHITECTURE
I didn’t see many schools in the first two installments of this 2nd Misfits’ Trienalle so I’m glad to see this one in Shenzen. It’s multi-level like many Asian schools, but makes space for a sports field and running track. Space for children to play is found in unlikely places as well as the likely ones. The building isn’t isolated from the street around it. It has several distinct zones. There are plants. Entering it is an event for students. Waiting to take their children home is an event for parents. Impressive.

[8] August 27, 2021: Port-o-Prenz Apartments / J. Mayer H. Architects
It’s nice too see Jurgen Mayer H. keeping busy. The facades have some familiar H. motifs and, come to think of it, so does the site plan. Six dispersed cores provide the maximum number of dual-aspect apartments. More than half the L-shaped apartments on internal corners are also dual-aspect. Nine of the ten one-bedroom single-aspect apartments are on the outer periphery of the project. Importantly, and this is why I include it here, apartments or rooms of apartment facing into the project site all have long views across it. You don’t see this amount of thought very often.

[8] November 2, 2021: 6 tsubo-house / Arte-1 Architects
We’re in Japan of course, where a tsubo is a traditional unit of area measurement equal to 3.3 sq.m, making this house 21 sq.m in area. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to get in two bedrooms plus a separate kitchen. Not having a sunken genkan and getabako (shoe cupboard) must have been a difficult decision. I also like that this micro-house is not for some idyllic countryside location but a functioning house for a tight urban situation. My new criteria for microhouses are skill, audacity and pretentiousness and this one has the lot. That double-height arched window is a masterstroke. Microhouses without shame!

[8] November 15, 2021: Spiral House in Berlin Proposes a New Residential Typology of Homogenous Living Spaces
At last, a project best comprehended in section! The spaces in the apartments step around the central core with a split circular stair, each apartment having a entrance at one end, and an exit at the other end half a floor above or below.

The two sets of stairs are independent and therefore one of them will always serve as a fire escape. I’ve only ever seen this once before in the 1964 Mt. Eliza Apartments, Krantz & Sheldon, 1964 at 3/71 Mount Street, Perth.

[8] November 16, 2021: The Ledge / Wallmakers
This house in Peermade, India made me think. It’s aesthetically pretentious but, at the same time, bordering on a required poetry. The more interesting thing is the lo-res materials and construction by which this has been achieved – not that it’s without contrivance on that level too. There’s no section but the roof and walls seem layered with LED sandwiched there somehow. Despite all that, it’s something unexpected made from dirt, rocks and sticks.

[8] November 26, 2021: Renovation and Transformation of a Norman Jaffe House / Neil Logan Architect
Norman Jaffe is one of those architects destined to be never remembered. Many say he sold out by resigning from Philip Johnson’s office to design many large and expensive houses for rich clients, mostly on Long Island. They’re very much of their time, but what houses! [c.f. Career Case Study #2: Norman Jaffe]

[8] December 2, 2021; Kennels / Atelier GOM
This is the first project I‘ve linked to. It’s a hotel where people and their dogs can stay. The architects have thought about unit entry and eye-heights to make it pleasant for dogs and producing an awareness of other dogs while limiting the opportunity for accidental encounters. The project is well thought-through on all other levels and the documentation is good. It’s not just an idea. I hope it’s successful. I admire that all this was done without any mention of Object Oriented Ontology. It’s just a hotel for dogs and their owners. China.

[8] December 17, 2021; House in Kanazawa / Shota Nakanishi Architects + Ohno Japan
I’m trying to avoid houses of more than 50 sq.m unless they have some compensating feature and this house does. It’s not on a pretty site facing north. The large roof is a light reflector and should generate pleasant microclimates year round. There’s attention paid to every aspect of the internal environment yet the living areas of the house are directly connected to and visible from the street to the benefit of both sides. While not a caricature, the house also has a strong Japaneseness in its construction, its front elevation, and its relation to the street.

This next house should have appeared in the first installment as it was published in April 2020. At first glance it’s another house with a reflector roof and that explains why the living areas are upstairs getting maximum light from the south.

But in light of last week’s post, this house has a very interesting relationship between inside and outside. First, the corner window truncates the volume and lets us see inside like a perspective section. This window will never have a curtain and so the outside will always have a strong presence as the occupants go downstairs to bed or to go take a bath. (Although it’s probably not so common these days, people in yukata walking to the sentō is not a strange sight in Japan. Going to have a bath is a public act.)

Also interesting is the genkan. Here, it is enlarged to become a gallery into which outsiders can enter and keep their outside shoes on and not enter the house proper.

This genkan is a virtual outside space adjacent to the virtual outside space of the truncation/terrace and then on to the outside proper. You can think of the corridor leading to bathroom and bedrooms as an engawa separating the virtual inside and virtual outside. This house wears its art lightly. That single angled truncation on the incline has set up some very pleasant consequences. Nice photographs by Satoshi Takae.

[8] April18, 2022, La Lomita Retreat / ASPJ Arquitectura, Paisaje y Territorio
As I keep saying, it has to be a very special house to make me look deeper if it’s more than 60 sq.m. This one does. It does all the good things and hasn’t gone crazy with the materials and finishes. It’s a shame it’s in such a lovely environment as much of what it does is applicable to Mexico’s larger cities, or even cities anywhere. It’d be good to have a world with more buildings like this instead of 350 sq.m houses with 50 photographs and no plans.

[9] April 21, 2022, House 905 / HARQUITECTES
It’s always good to see a new house by Harquitectes. I’m glad they’re still doing houses well, with their own integration planning logic and construction. Always a pleasure.

[8] May 22, 2022, Sako House / Tomoaki Uno Architects
Yes, the Japanese are still making weird little houses but this one a universe for its owner. I counted nine different spatial experiences in 54 sq.m. There are sufficient plans, sections, construction and detail drawings to fully understand everything about the house apart from what it would be like to inhabit. The allocation and priorities of spaces are unorthodox, weird, and actually a bit disturbing. What I like about this house is that it doesn’t care what anybody anywhere else in the world thinks of it. See for yourself.

[8] June 13, 2022, A New Building by Kazuo Shinohara will be Added to the Vitra Campus
Well well. Technically, it’s not exactly a new building by Kazuo Shinohara. He would have preferred to have been asked by Vitra to design them a new one. Umbrella House is not a large house but the inappropriate “campus” landscaping makes it seem diminutive.

[9] June 22, 2022: Minimum House in Toyota / Nori Architects
I was cheered to see this genuine attempt to do a lot with a minimum amount of inexpensive materials. It can’t be done without a thorough questioning of the role and cost of every construction element. Nice work!


Take-aways

With this third and final week of August 2021 – August 2022, the sheer volume of content from the Far East is apparent. It’s probably a function of volume of construction but also a higher proportion of construction for reasons of their respective economies. Also apparent was the sheer amount of content promoting or asking rhetorical questions such as “How to make the metaverse make money for you?” [sic.] I won’t trouble myself too much over this as someone will make money from the metaverse and it will probably not be you or me. Nevertheless, I’ll have to look deeper into this as it seems like a thing that the media obsesses about until it actually becomes a thing.

Finally, this early December 2021 article, originally on CommonEdge, resonated.

In this three-part review I call the Misfits Triennale, I saw two distinct ways of practicing architecture – a divide. There are the ten or so behemoths who suck up all the huge projects and most of the media oxygen. And then there are all the other architects.We should be grateful to ArchDaily for giving them the opportunity to let other people know they exist. Apart from maybe being on the same page of the feed on any given ArchDaily day, these two ways of practicing architecture have nothing in common. The big practices’ technologies and aesthetics don’t inform those of the smaller ones and there’s definitely no flow of thought and intelligence in the other direction. They’re two separate dimensions.

When we have a situation where the extraordinary is so divorced from the ordinary, any perceived lack of masterpieces is because we no longer have any shared reference by which to identify them. They’re either all masterpieces or none of them is. It’s not as if the masterpieces of the past had that much influence anyway on how architecture is practiced. They may have reinforced the notion that architecture had two distinct levels one higher than the other, but at least there was a connection between them. Smaller practices found inspiration in the work of those more famous than them. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Despite attempts by ArchDaily and others to set certain agendas, I don’t see any shared theory, outlook, or even aspirations. It’s everyone for themselves. In theory, this ought to result in more individuality but for the big practices it seems to be making everything more samey as they compete for the same money. I find the work of the medium- and small-sized practices more genuine.

Out-takes

Some of these are absurd, some are propaganda, some are filler, and some are a combination. Some are to remind me to have something to say later. At the end of the 1st Misfits’ Triennale, I followed up with the post Space Merchants that identified the “trending” topics of 1) Vertical Forests, 2) Automatic Design, 3) 3D Printed Houses, 4) “Data Driven”, and 5) Living on Mars and, over the past three years, I think I’ve returned to all of them more than once either as posts or persistent themes.

Mars is still hot, although not as hot as it used to be.

Perhaps it’s because The Metaverse is now being shoved down our throats.

NFTs are no small part of this.

The reduction of labour in the construction workforce is always being cheerled by someone, if not by Gropius anymore.

As is the reduction of labour in the design workforce. I wonder who’s going to be left to design airports, corporate headquarters, art galleries, high-rise luxury apartment buildings, large-scale infrastructure, coastline revitalization projects and new city masterplanning?

We’ll find out soon enough, by observing architecture’s new business development hotspot, Saudi Arabia.

Formative Furniture

This list of memories isn’t ordered according to my memory but according to the year of manufacture and so it’s an unintentional history of materials, technology and trends over the past fifty or so years.

Ahh the 1932 1227 Anglepoise desklamp, designed by George Carwadine! Circa 1975 when I was in second year, I bought mine secondhand along with a double-elephant size (cedar!) drawing board and stand. The square base of this one looks familiar, although some had a G-clamp to attach it to the upper edge of the drawing board. Now that I think of it ….

The design of this chair was unchanged for most of the 20th century. It probably had a name but I just knew it as a drafting chair. Mine was all black and I bought it new to go with my drawing board and lamp. Drafting chairs like this existed for as long as there was hand drawing. Probably only Japanese manga artists still use them. For a few years I lived in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro area in an apartment across the road and a couple of stories higher than one where some manga artists/authors lived. I recognized the chairs, the tables, the lamps, the takeaway food, the long hours …

The MoMA website tells me my first formative chair was designed in Argentina in 1938. For me it never had a name but many know it as the Hardoy Chair, Butterfly Chair, Safari Chair, Sling Chair, or Wing Chair. Its correct name, MoMA tells me, is The BKF Chair after its designers Antonio Bonet, Juan Kurchan, and Jorge Ferrari Hardoy. I learn that the first two exported to the US went to Fallingwater by one Edward Kaufmann Jr. The first chairs had a leather “sling” but later canvas ones were inexpensive, stylish, and very popular with architects and people wanting a California vibe for their patio. I thought it very modern. A relative must have had one because I know it wasn’t that comfortable, and that rainwater would collect in the canvas if it was left outside. Taking it undercover must have been cumbersome as the steel frame was rigid and not that light. Left outside, it rusted. They’re still being produced, in the US by Knoll.

The Noguchi Ceiling Lamp 60D was designed in the early 1950s and, though I never had one, student houses everywhere had a cheap copy machine made with wire instead of hand-tied bamboo.

In 1975, now in my second year and liking all things Japanese, I did pay full price for an Akari 3X Table Lamp. Designed in 1951. They give off the best light with the old incandescent bulbs they were designed for.

My memory of spun aluminium lampshades is from the 1960s but it was the previous decade when manufacturers discovered they were simple and inexpensive to make as long as the shape was vaguely conical. These lampshades came in many anodized colors but I remember gold and turquoise were popular. Too inexpensive and ubiquitous to ever be regarded as a design classic, they were everywhere for a while and then disappeared, much like laser-cut metal screens came and went in 2008.

The 1956 Saarinen Tulip Chair is another chair I didn’t know had another name. They seem to have always been around and part of my mental library of furniture. Again, as a kid, I thought it was very modern but this was probably because I’d already seen either it or something referencing it on The Jetsons. In the 1960s, as now, the future was all curvy and white but it was 2017 when I sat in one for the first time. I discovered that the upper part swivels, making it difficult to reposition the chair unless you lift it. When sitting down, it also means you have to sit first and then swivel to face the table. Standing up and sitting down become things you have to think about. This is the price you pay for the absence of visual “clutter”.

Much of my first knowledge of contemporary furniture came via television shows. It may be a false memory but I remember seeing and liking a chair like this in the 1960s Irwin Allen series Lost in Space. It would have been all-white. The Herman Miller website tells me it is the Nelson Coconut Lounge Chair, designed by George Nelson in 1956.

The Folding Black Canvas ‘NY’ Chair was designed in 1958 by Takeshi Nii. I didn’t know that in 1975 I bought one to put in my dorm room with my Noguchi lamp. Sitting in it was comfortable, especially when cross-legged, but being very low with respect to everything else in the room was uncomfortable. The chair was what we now call flat-packable with the two L-frames and the canvas between them being one piece, and the arms/legs being the other. Assembly involved using two bolts each side to attach the L-frames to the arms. This chair had more pieces than the BKF chair but it made sense when you sat in it because the legs spread outwards to stretch and firm the canvas across the back. The chair is light and bringing the arms together folds the chair so it is easy to carry. It seems even more beautiful now I know it was designed in 1958. I must have bought it from an imported furniture and furnishings store called Habitat, which was close to the UWA department of architecture. The store itself was rather architectural, and eventually became the headquarters of the Western Australian chapter of the RAIA. You can imagine why.

The Verner Panton Fun 5 DM Shell Chandelier is sometimes called a Capiz Shell Chandelier and was designed by Verner Panton in 1960. Bond villain Blofield had one in his Swiss mountain lair in the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. As these things go, lair and lamp were blown up just prior to the gunmen-on-skis chase.

https://www.jamesbondlifestyle.com/product/verner-panton-fun-shell-lamp photo © Mass Modern / Eon Productions, United Artists
By Schilthornbahn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=87851712

The Arco Lamp was designed by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni for Flos in 1962, although it’s usually attributed to only Castiglioni. I’ve never wanted one but I appreciated its few parts and how it provides overhead illumination without the inconvenience of a ceiling. The last of the three stainless steel parts must telescope into the second last to allow the height to be changed. These also seem to have been around forever, although the shape of the lampshade has dated, unlike a big chunk of Carrara marble. The drilled hole is a fabulous example of “It’s just design.”

The Lava Lamp was designed in 1963 by Edward Craven Walker who later founded the lighting company Mathmos. I saw one not too long after when my cousin Hadyn gave one as a birthday present to my Aunt Vera who was always the most progressive of my aunts. The lamp had pride of place on the cocktail bar in her living room with its pastel sheepskin rugs and stuffed baby crocodile.

The unikko [poppy] pattern was designed by Maija Isolator for the Finnish fabric and clothing company Marimekko in 1964 but my blue and white Unikko tablecloth was bequeathed to me in 1976 when a friend went overseas to study. This tablecloth always made food look great, especially if served on white plates. It must be because there aren’t any blue foods.

Blow, the first mass marketed inflatable chair, was designed by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino, Paolo Lomazzi, and Carla Scolari in 1967. It was everywhere almost immediately and I probably saw it on some television talk show. It was 2017 when I actually got to see one at a furniture exhibition at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum. (1933, Giovanni Muzio). 1967 was also the year of Jean-Paul Jungmann’s Habitation Pneumatique Expérimentale.

The Pratone lounge chair, designed by Pietro Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti and Riccardo Rosso, was designed in 1966 but production only began in 1971. It’s easy to see how there might have been some problems finding a material that was pleasingly flexible and durable yet still pleasant to touch. Again, it was the same 2017 exhibition before I saw one for real. A sign said “Don’t touch!”

It’s hard to believe the “beanbag” has only been with us since 1968 when Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini, Franco Teodoro designed the Sacco. A 1970s staple in student houses, kids’ rooms and children’s reading areas in public libraries.

Photo: Andrea Pavanello

In the same 1968 the modern waterbed as we knew it, designed by Charles Prior Hall, a design student at San Francisco State University. A friend of mine had one in 1975. They didn’t look that different from any other bed but they came at a time when anything was new and different was enthusiastically adopted. New things to sleep on don’t get invented very often.

The 1970-something folding clear lucite Plia chair by Piretti Castelli was something I’d never seen but I admired its clean lines. There’s something about a cantilever. Lucite, I learn, is another name for Plexiglass and Perspex, two names that you heard a lot in the 1970s.

The 1970s [why are dates so vague in the 1970s? doesn’t nobody remember?] Joe White armchair by Jonathan De Pas, Donato D’Urbino and Lomazzi. I understood that it was meant to look like a baseball glove and looked comfy and comforting. I didn’t yet know postmodernism existed so its associations of secure and winning were lost on me. I must have been borrowing art books from the local library because it seemed like an Oldenburg sculpture you could sit on.

This 1972 Furniture Unit by Joe Colombo was designed to allow all the activities of living in a single piece of furniture. You can see the beds that roll out beneath the television, etc. I still like this idea because it says nothing about what kind of enclosure it should be in. This ought to have been a liberating idea, but nothing happened. Or you could put 100 of them in a grid in an exhibition centre and have some kind of negative city without architecture, a bit like Archizoom’s 1972 No-Stop City but with more creature comforts. I’ve never seen it.

From the pop-art device of taking something ordinary and scaling it up as with the grass chair and the baseball glove, we now have the post-modern device of shrinking something large. This is Gaetano Pesce’s 1980 New York Sunrise sofa. I never wanted one but I could appreciate it as something that a sofa could be. There’s been many Italian designers in this small sample of mine.