Category Archives: MEDIA

Death of an Architect

I’m glad I’m not a journalist expected to, at a moment’s notice, rush out an obituary summarizing and making sense of an architect and his/her career while often simultaneously introducing them to the general public. The architectural historians and bloggers of yesterday weren’t without their biases but the only responsibility of contemporary architectural journalism is to place some content in a framework in which it can be readily comprehended. At least that’s how I regard this dreadful headline and lead that, to be fair, are probably a sub-editor’s summary of what they thought the main thrust of the article was. Perhaps it was.

Oliver Wainright in The Guardian, Friday 14th January

Just consider. If Bofill had died before his La Muralla Roja (Red Wall) in Calpe, Spain as chosen to “influence the aesthetic of Monument Valley video game and the cult TV show Squid Game, then this 850-word obituary would have been 213 words or almost exactly 25% shorter. If he’d died before his Espaces d’Abraxas was featured in the 1985 film Brazil or even before The Hunger Games, then it’d be another 84 words (10%) shorter. We live in a world where the importance of architects is judged by their number of popular culture retweets. Pad the rest out with equal parts biographical detail and architect quotes and job done.

Things I liked:

“Bofill initially shunned the architectural canon and turned instead to studying vernacular buildings on his travels around the Mediterranean and north Africa. “I’ve never liked architectural theory,” he told me. “So, from the beginning, I’ve always looked at traditional and vernacular buildings.”

“When I was 35, I was the most fashionable architect in the world,” he told me, … but I was always an outsider, never fitting in with architectural culture.”

Turns of phrase I didn’t

“A self-styled outsider”

Being an outsider architect is not a look. Rather, it’s the insiders who are self-styled or, to put it more precisely, respond to external forces to style their lives for architectural fame.

“Looking like a Stalinist Disneyland, his Espaces d’Abraxas project…”“neoclassicism on steroids”

Bofill’s proposal for a Neo-Palladian prefabricated villa is a gem that could only be thought of by someone who undePost-modernism neoclassicism and prefabrication were made forrsw each other. Arc du Lac and some of the office building projects also show his mastery of both.

“the excesses of puffed-up postmodernism”

I can think of a few architects more deserving of this accusation. There are no Bofill projects in Orlando, FL, for example.

“his projects wouldn’t always turn out as he hoped”

Bofill was not the first or last architect to experience this, but saying it makes him sound like like he was.

Words that aren’t untrue:

“as fashions changed his expressive work fell out of favour”

he developed a style that was very much his own”

ArchDaily, January 14th 2022, Nicolás Valencia

It had to be done, even though I’m not due to look at ArchDaily again until this coming June. I’ll quote it in full. ArchDaily were quick off the mark with these 125 words but, as far as I can search, I haven’t been able to find any follow-up piece.

“Ricardo Bofill, the Spanish architect founder of Taller de Arquitectura (RBTA), designer of the iconic Walden 7 and more than 1,000 projects in forty countries, has passed away at 82 in Barcelona on Friday, January 14, as officially announced by his own firm through a statement.

“The firm praised Bofill’s ability to “question the mainstream thinking in architecture. [His works] ranges a style expression, connected to the context, featuring a strong dose of innovation and risk.” Moreover, RBTA has confirmed that his two sons, Ricardo Emilio and Pablo, will continue leading the firm founded in 1963.

“His office has announced a public act to be held next January 26 and 27 at the headquarters in Barcelona for those who want to pay homage to Bofill. 

At the end of the article is an invitation to “Explore some of Ricardo Bofill’ most iconic architecture projects” on ArchDaily. Too much time has passed to even debate what the word “iconic” means anymore but I’m guessing it now means something like “backdrop”.

The New York Times, January 19, 2022, Fred A. Bernstein

Over at the New York Times, Fred Bernstein files 1,242 words, beginning with some facts.

“Ricardo Bofill, a Spanish architect behind some of the world’s most startling buildings, died on Friday at a hospital in Barcelona. He was 82. The cause was Covid-19, his son Pablo said.”

It’s a fine article and a fitting obituary, interspersing biography and history with descriptions of projects and their often mixed reactions such as

“Among Mr. Bofill’s best known works were public housing projects, most of them built in France in the 1980s, with vastly overscale classical elements, which were both derided as kitsch and hailed by critics as the long-awaited middle ground between historicism and modernity.”

Things I agreed with:

His goal, his son Pablo said in an interview, was “to demonstrate that at a modest cost you can build social housing where every floor is different, where people don’t have to walk down endless corridors, and where different populations can be part of one community.”

Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic of The New York Times at the time, wrote in 1985 that it was Mr. Bofill’s gift “to be able to unite the French instinct toward monumentality, which has lain dormant since the days when the Beaux-Arts ruled French architecture, with the country’s more current leanings toward populism.”

Things that aren’t untrue:
I was surprised to learn Bofill told Vladimir Belogolovsky in a 2016 interview for the website ArchDaily. “When Post-Modernism became accepted and popular in the United States and worldwide, it also became a style,” “And with time it became ironic and even vulgar. I was no longer interested.” I’d always seen Boffil’s Post Modernism as a style suited to the prefabrication of concrete components, much as Classicism was suited to carved stone ones. In both, the monumentality of the elements disguises the joins. Styles are never about the arbitrary whims of fashion, although many would have us believe otherwise.

This article is also not immune from mentioning that the jarring juxtapositions [of his Les Espaces d’Abraxas] made it seem dystopian — and it served as the perfect backdrop for Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie, “Brazil,” and the last of the “Hunger Games” movies. Again, the notion is reinforced that being referenced in popular culture as an Instagram backdrop or a set for a TV series is the only indicator of architectural success we have.

“In an unexpected twist, Mr. Bofill’s older buildings found new fans in the 21st century. “Westworld,” the HBO sci-fi series, was shot in part at La Fábrica, and “Squid Game,” the Korean TV juggernaut, featured sets that closely resembled La Muralla Roja.

Upon re-reading that, I think it’s a bit odd to discuss an architect’s career as if it were a movie plot with “an unexpected twist”. I don’t suppose I should be surprised, if we talk about architects as if they’re movie stars then why shouldn’t their careers have “plot twists”? Mr. Manuel Clavel Rojo is not helping. He’s either expressing the will of the epoch or simply going with the flow.

Those Bofill buildings and others became familiar Instagram backdrops — or in the words of Manuel Clavel Rojo, a Spanish architect and educator, “His buildings became pop icons at the very end of his career.”

The process had begun well prior to Bofill’s death.

Creative Bloq, October 16, 2021 , Joseph Foley

Creative Bloq posed the question below, before helpfully informing us that apartments in La Muralla Roja are available to rent on Airbnb. 458 words.

(Image credit: Sebastian Weiss / Netflix)

There’s also this Martin Solveig music video from 2016. [Thanks V!] –

Niall Patrick Walsh on Archinect, Friday, January 14th 2022

This article mentions how “in the 21st century, the scale, complexity and unapologetic optimism unique to Ricardo Bofill’s work has made it an ideal backdrop for contemporary culture, be it photography, cinema, music, or fashion.” This may be true but at least it’s not suggesting that’s the sole worth of the buildings and career.

The remainder of the article is functional, providing biography and history but also mentioning that Bofill “embraced vernacular details from Catalan architecture” and a “bold experimentation with modular geometries”, using Walden 7 to illustrate.

Walden 7 by Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

It’s a polite article and with sufficient images and links for the reader who would like to know more. The end of the article has links to similar articles I might be interested in. It’s a bit weird, but such is the way of algorithms and keywords.

Suspicious of some ingrained prejudice, I wondered how Richard Rogers’s death fared on ArchDaily. His life and career were summed up in 214 words which, although not many, is 89 more (41%) than Bofill. I don’t think these mini-obituaries indicate anything more than ArchDaily’s meanness in paying for original content when people supply it for nothing. Over at The Guardian however, Oliver Wainwright managed 2,600 words for Richard Rogers which is 1,750 (200%) more than he did Bofill. We can only speculate what might have happened to the careers of both if Bofill’s plan for Les Halles had been completed, instead of Rogers+Piano’s Beaubourg.

The history of architecture has always been an arbitrary construct, continually reshaped according to what we think we value from the past. These obituaries are examples of new history being laid down. They don’t encourage us to remember buildings for what they meant at the time, or architects for what they did or aspired to do, or if those aspirations might still be valid. The past 60 years saw architectural history mined for references to be used in architectural objects but there was still a sense of worth attached to them. Our immediate future looks like being the same, except the only metric of worth will be the number of instances something can be used as a reference for anything. It’s happening now, but we should’ve seen it coming.

The website is one of the most generous and informative architectural websites you will ever find. It is a true resource that also says a lot about the man and his regard for what he did.

• • •

Mon. 7th Feb., 2022: This obituary in Curbed does the man and his work more justice.

The Asakura House

In Summer 2019 an article of mine titled A Shinohara House is a Work of Art appeared in Log #45. This spin-off post picks up the story halfway.

It was the final year of my masters course at Shinohara’s “atelier” at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. One day I was looking through the plan cabinet at the A1 drawings on tracing-paper and came across plans and elevations of a house I didn’t recognize. A low-pitched pyramidal roof capped a reinforced concrete frame that divided each facade into two-story bays. It was awkward, clumsy, and heavy – a real dog, I thought. I felt that simultaneous shame and excitement at seeing something I felt I wasn’t meant to see, but I asked one of the seniors about this house and what happened to it. He told me it had been built but the client didn’t want it published. Whether that was true or not depended on who had told him.

Forty-odd years later, I related this story to a friend who said it would be very exciting if there were some unknown Shinohara houses out there. I sent him this sketch of my memory of what I’d seen, adding that the house had never been published.

I was wrong about that. Upon completion, the house hadn’t been published in Japan Architect as all other Shinohara houses had been, but it had been included in a 1996 monograph by publisher TOTO.

I bought a copy out of some weird sense of duty but never warmed to its grainy black and white photographs so I was happy to loan it to people and one day it didn’t come back. If I’d ever flipped through it to the end I wouldn’t have had to wait 44 years to learn that my mystery house was Asakura House completed 1966.

Setsu Asakura is best remembered for her work as a scenographer that encompassed avant-garde theatre, lyric opera, prose theatre, musicals, feature films and both traditional Japanese Kabuki and Noh theatre. That last part of that sentence is paraphrased from an excellent introduction to her and her work on

In short, she was an artist sensitive to three-dimensional space.

In the TOTO monograph, Asakura House gets one photograph and a single spread. That text is everything Shinohara had to say about this house 30 years after its completion.

You can see how my memory mashes up two elevations and misremembers the number of columns but was right about the ungainly proportions and the underwhelming roof.

This is my rough translation. I’ve added inline comments. The original doesn’t have much flow to interrupt.

Asakura House

In Spring 1964, Japanese artist Setsu Asakura and I had a joint exhibition at a large department store. The exhibition included a fine timber model of a house for her family.

This was the first I’d heard of this first proposal. It was referenced on p. 134–135 in an essay titled “meaning of The Archetypal House Project” by Shinichi Okuyama in the 2008 book “Kazuo Shinohara – Houses and Drawings” (Shokokusha Publishing). The essay describes internal arrangements, but not the exterior or materials.

When the house was completed in 1966, I was aware of a discrepancy between the house and my expectations of it. I was unable to resolve that discrepancy to my satisfaction so I decided not to have the house published.


Now, some 30 years on, it is being published for the first time. Trees in the garden make the exterior difficult to photograph.

This depends what you want those photographs to show. That particular angle makes the roof look more substantial, and the angle of the sun make the corner columns appear meatier. These are some unauthorized photographs.

In the period just after the exhibition, Setsu Asakura’s mode of artistic expression shifted to the three-dimensional spaces of stage design. Her family life filled the house for the next 30 years and it is no longer possible for a camera to extract and describe the architect’s concept for configuring [the space]. The one photograph of a spatial fragment shows the reality that has existed for 30 years.

Shinohara’s houses were always photographed prior to their owners moving in so the decision to not publish was made well before the house was completed in 1966, trees or no trees. The house has one bedroom.

I believe the discrepancy I mentioned arises from using a concrete structure as the physical mode to express something Japanese.

Shinohara either forgets or doesn’t expect us to remember that his first house used metal columns as if they were timber and to say something architecturally Japanese. It’s not necessarily the choice of material that was wrong.

Shinohara 1954

With my later House in White, I was able to think more deeply and from the point of view of a more Japanese configuration. The plan [of House in White] is a simple division of space. Moreover, the meaning expressed by the space has a strong symbolism. I define spatial division and symbolic space as the core of Japanese [architectural] expression. However, this concrete house is not configured by spatial division. It is closer to what I call my Second Style that has a stronger awareness of symbolic expression.

House in White was not later but concurrent. The conversation is diverted to methods of spatial composition. Shinohara is saying that House in White is Japanese both inside and outside while Asakura House is Japanese only on the outside.

A concrete house usually means avoiding timber [frame] construction and adopting a Western wall construction suitably calculated to withstand earthquakes. The beams shown in the section are deep to resist earthquakes and are not the same as traditional timber beams. Here for the first time I split the columns in cross section in an attempt to use a concrete structure to express something akin to timber construction.

Whenever Shinohara uses functional reasons to justify something, I smell a red herring. Deep roof beams alone don’t resist earthquakes.

The plan is a square with ten-meter sides and [the upper floor] is a single two-storey high room. Based on excellent structural analysis, it is a successful expression of a Japanese space. This expression is reinforced by the timber screens and typical Japanese details on the east elevation. At this time, I was uneasy about this direction for [configuring] Japanese space. The non-Japanese configuration I unconsciously used on the inside is in direct opposition to the Japanese configuration I used on the outside.

The plan is a successful expression of a Japanese space yet, three sentences later it is a non-Japanese configuration. It’s difficult to care. Shinohara is talking about everything else but those beams that have eluded cameras for 55 years now so let’s have a look! I’ve guessed white for the soffit because light would have been important to Asakura. The differently truncated beams occur when this beam geometry is juxtaposed with this roof geometry and I think the problem has something to do with that, possibly because a hipped roof is not being supported by hip rafters. Bottom line is it’s not pretty and needs a ceiling. Hmm, there’s an idea.

With House in White, I moved back towards a more Japanese space. After this, with Suzuki House, this difference between the exterior with its Japanese expression of a simple large rectangular roof and greatly overhanging eaves and the interior with its non-Japanese expression of a fragment of a southern European street led directly to what came to be called my Second Style. Inorganic space is said to be non-Japanese but should be more accurately called non/Western traditional space and I believe the initial motive for my shift towards it is bound up in this house. House in Uehara was a precursor to my Third Style ten years later and was built several hundred metres south of the Odakyu Line.

January, 1996

I only know of one Suzuki House [a.k.a. House on a Curved Road] from 1978 but there may be another as certain clients [Otsuji, Tanikawa and, as we shall see, Asakura] commissioned Shinohara more than once. Whether the inside-outside discrepancy of Asakura House was turned into a positive in a Suzuki House from 1978 or earlier, it still took 30-odd years for Shinohara to process it and tell us. The last line of the text is a reference back to the Odakyu Department Store in Shinjuku where the 1964 exhibition was held. It adds nothing but lets Shinohara mention his Third Style and imply an ongoing artistic quest.

But how did it all come to this? How could Shinohara have got it so wrong, even by his own standards whatever they were? Here’s what I think happened.

The period between 1964 and 1966 was a busy one for Shinohara. Asakura House was designed and constructed concurrently with House in Hanayama, House in White, and House of Earth. All have square plans and rooms within rooms, and all have some kind of pyramidal roof. It would have been strange had there not been similarities in their ideas and forms but tracking these similarities is where things start to get murky.

Lesson: If you attempt to create a linear narrative of one’s artistic progression from multiple projects whose design and construction periods overlap, then sooner or later circumstances are going to produce something that simply doesn’t fit and has to be excluded from the story which is, after all, a kind of fiction for popular consumption. Shinohara wasn’t the first to do it and certainly wasn’t the last.

It’s evident even from the translation above that Shinohara liked to describe his work in terms of First Style, Second Style and Third Style, much as Picasso had his Pink Period and his Blue Period. We know the order in which these houses were published but what we don’t know is the order in which their designs developed, overlapped or finalized.

House of Earth, 1966, section

I see House of Earth as an outlier and its detached basement as a working through of the irrational and emotional Earth House / Black Space project shown at the Odakyu exhibition. An architecture of underground spaces is more surreal than sublime, and Shinohara took it no further although traces of the idea remain in the houses from 1970–71 and their fascinating interior spaces within unprepossessing shells.

Of the other three houses, the design and construction of House in Hanayama took the least time, with its design beginning seven months after House in White and completing nine months before the completion of both House in White and Asakura House. Its three-quarter pyramidal roof is supported by diagonal struts springing from a corner, which is also the center of an implied square plan. It also has a lone, off-center column in the living space. Unless the design of House in White had progressed no further than a pyramidal roof on a square plan in the seven months before the design of House in Hanayama began, House in Hanayama is more likely a consequence of House in White than the precursor it’s supposed to be.

The high roof of Asakura House wasn’t working but the raised stonework of House in Hanayama makes its roof look almost too low. It sets up House in White as the Goldilocks solution.

It’s possible that a single design process led to both House in Hanayama and House in White, but it’s also possible that, after eight months of work, Shinohara was so confident of his design for House in White that he wrote off Asakura House and quickly derived House in Hanayama from House in White in order to end a 15-month publishing hiatus and to create what would appear to be a prelude to it, still nine months away from completion.

This is my hypothesis and it’s consistent with Shinohara’s desire to be seen as an an architect wanting not only to produce original buildings but to do so in a sequence that demonstrates confident progress toward some unspoken artistic vision. The roof struts of House in Hanayama prime us to appreciate their absence in House in White. A lone column stands by the entrance lobby, waiting to be seen as a precursor.

So then, what ideas did Asakura House bring to House in White?

Its design began six months after House in White had started and seven months before House in Hanayama. Asakura House and House in White both have double-height main rooms but that of Asakura House occupies the second and would-be third levels. The low-pitched concrete roof of Asakura House sits uneasily on 16 perimeter columns that are thus three storeys high, unlike House in White, where they are one and a half storeys, or House in Hanayama, where they are one storey but the raised stone base makes them appear even lower. This problem of proportion could not be fixed by lowering the roof if, as I’m inclined to think, Setsu Asakura had specifically asked for a double-height studio a reasonable assumption.

Moreover, the things that seem ungainly about Asakura House are the same things House in White is praised for getting so right.

  • House in White’s satisfying proportions come from its higher-pitched roof springing from a lower height and its ground-floor windows being half the height of the walls.
  • Its corners are emphasized by tripled timber columns that form an inward-facing L-shape, whereas those of Asakura House are emphasized by concrete columns that form an outward-facing L-shape that even Shinohara had second thoughts about.
  • Asakura House has a visible roof with no central support while House in White has a concealed roof and central column that continues through the ceiling.

The problem for Shinohara was that the two houses implied different and opposing approaches and, horror, both were to be completed and publication expected the same month, making it difficult to sustain the image of an artist pursuing a single, evolving vision. If both had been published at the same time, comparisons would have been unavoidable and any pretense of consistent development lost. In terms of the narrative of artistic progression, Asakura House was useless but House in White a masterpiece. If the former had been published first, critics would have said Shinohara was losing his way, and if it had been published second” they would’ve said exactly the same. This is simply how the game is played.

One day, Arata Isozaki visited Shinohara’s studio and, as an esquisse, set us masters students the task of designing a café. Mine had a square plan, 10 meters per side, with a 30-degree pyramidal roof supported by two intersecting triangular concrete trusses sprung from the midpoints of the walls rather than the corners. The implied ceiling was low, perhaps three meters. Skylights at the truncated apex allowed light into the quarter-roofs. Shinohara must have been mortified to see me inadvertently correct Asakura House’s roof and unwittingly design an anti-House in White in which a very substantial roof structure had no ceiling to hide it nor column to imply it. Isozaki had some kind words to say about my project, but I forget what they were.

What I do remember are his tweed three-piece suit and pair of expensive looking brown brogues. Thinking about it now, Isozaki’s contrived Western-ness may have been a criticism of Shinohara’s contrived Japanese-ness. It was to all come to a head with the Yokohama Port Ferry Terminal competition for which Isozaki was a judge. They never spoke again.

All this mattered not a single jot to Setsu Asakura. Her house was not an artwork but her home and her studio. It was where she lived and was industrious. It suited her purposes and she asked no more of it. She seems to have had a very productive and happy life in her house despite Shinohara’s misgivings about its place in his oeuvre.

Shinohara was surely irritated by her being photographed so frequently in what was after all her house and studio, but Setsu Asakura bore him no animosity for not wanting to publish it. In fact, she asked him to design her another and the result was the 1974 Prism House, a house that has something of a cult following. The received wisdom is that architects improve the lives of the people they design for even though there’s no evidence for such architectural determinism. Setsu Asakura shows us how people can lead happy, industrious and fulfilling lives despite architecture. Bravo!

This post turned out to not be about what happens when architecture detaches itself from people but rather about what happens when architects’ narratives take on a life of their own and detach themselves from architecture.



I didn’t win or even get
an honorable mention in the
2020 Architectural Fairy Tales Competition.
I know, I know. I know

I shouldn’t have written
an architectural parable
in which everyone got
what they thought they wanted
and lived happily for a while.

The Red Igloo

Once upon a time,

all Inuit people made igloos the same way. They made them out of snow because snow didn’t cost anything, it was there, they had a lot of it, and there would always be more tomorrow. They shaped the snow into blocks and laid them one by one in a spiral that became smaller and smaller until it made a dome.

They made a little entrance to keep the wind out. It always faced away from the wind. And they made a little hole in the wall to let the light in. It always faced the sun. Their igloos were as perfect as they could be.

Every now and then there was some small change such as putting a piece of plastic over the hole. It was better than a sealskin curtain as it let the light come in but kept the wind out. Apart from tiny changes like this, igloos stayed the same. Nobody could really make them that much better.

Inuit people still tell stories of a man called Nanouk. He is famous. He is part of the history of igloos. This is what happened.

One day while Nanouk was out hunting, he found a dead polar bear. He took two bowls of its blood and mixed it with enough snow to make himself a red igloo. He thought it would be easier to find his way back to if it started snowing hard. 

People came to look at Nanouk’s red igloo. They were all silent as they didn’t know what to think. Eventually, a child said, “It’s red! Everything else is white. It looks DIFFERENT!”

Then one of the adults suddenly said, “It’s NEW!”

Almost immediately, another person said, “It’s MODERN!”

Another person said, “It’s BEAUTIFUL!”

People were now all saying things at the same time. “You’re a GENIUS!” “It’s so ORIGINAL!” “You’re so CREATIVE!”

One person, holding a pencil and paper, said it was, “A TRULY BOLD AND ORIGINAL ARTISTIC STATEMENT!”

One old woman said, “My grandmother used to tell me a story about a red igloo. Nanouk! You have made this story real for me. I feel RECONNECTED WITH WHO I AM!”

Another person said, “People, that snow out there isn’t all white. It’s got polar bear blood, whale blood, walrus blood and seal blood splattered everywhere. We live with white but red is WHO WE ARE! Red is HOW WE LIVE!”

While everyone was cheering this, someone at the back said, “I don’t like it.”

Another said, “Nor me. That is NOT AN IGLOO!”

The man with the pencil and paper explained, “Don’t you see? This red igloo opens up a new world of possibilities for igloos! It REDEFINES IGLOOS FOR OUR TIMES! It makes us REIMAGINE EVERYTHING AN IGLOO CAN BE!”

Nanouk went inside his igloo and sat down. He remembered how much EASIER it had been to shape the snow when it had polar bear blood mixed in. It had SAVED HIM TIME. He thought about all the time everyone else could save. They could spend more time hunting for more food, or being inside their igloos eating ice cream and sharing stories with their friends and families.

He remembered how much STRONGER the red snow had been. He hadn’t needed to use as much snow. He had been able to leave more of it where it was, looking pretty.

He remembered how polar bears stayed away from his red igloo and how much SAFER he was because of that. He thought about how much safer everyone else could be.

He remembered how the red snow made his igloo WARMER inside. He knew he didn’t have to use as much whale oil to keep it warm. He thought about all the whale oil the others would save. He thought about all the whales that would not have to be killed.

He remembered all these things but, most of all, he remembered how SIMPLE it was. All he had to do was tell everyone to mix two bowls of polar bear blood into enough snow to make an igloo. He stood up and went outside.

There was a big crowd now. They all rushed towards Nanouk. “I want a red igloo!” “I want one too!” “Please tell us how to make one!”

Everyone went quiet when Nanouk spoke. He said, “I’m sorry, I can’t teach you. You have to know how to choose the right polar bear and kill it in a certain way and at a certain time. I can’t explain how I know this, but I do. Only I can make red igloos.”

Everyone was sad but one big person suddenly shouted, “It doesn’t matter! I’ll pay you to make a red igloo for me.” Another, bigger one, said, “I will pay you more!” The man with the pencil and paper said, “Once I tell everyone else, you will be FAMOUS. You will never have to hunt again!” And he rushed off to tell everyone else.

And so, apart from the occasional seal for blood to make his igloos red, Nanouk never had to hunt again.

[853 words]


Media Studies

The architectural media likes an anniversary and 2019 is the year we’re meant to be grateful for The Bauhaus and all it did for us. Last week I suggested the real legacy of The Bauhaus lay in legitimizing the idea of design as a standalone activity isolated from manufacture because once design could be valued for its own sake, manufacture could then be performed at low cost and high value-added by faceless people in any factory in any industrial city at the time or, now, in any “industrializing” country. The idea of separating design and production was like adding a spark to a mix of fuel and oxygen. 

Manufacturing was never the problem as that’s what factories were for. And nor was the problem one of design as people tend to buy what they’re told. The problem was that there weren’t enough people wanting enough stuff to achieve the “economies of scale” [a.k.a. profits] machine manufacture promised. The industrial world knew it wanted to separate design from production and for us to accept it. All that was missing was people to design things and to tell us we needed them. And we’ve been being told ever since.

We’re also being told to be grateful. One could always visit I suppose. Or go to Harvard Magazine for the article ominously titled What A Human Should Be. [Thanks Curtis!] The title refers to the last sentence of this next paragraph that is eighteen words of reported criticism in a 2,900-word piece. 0.62%. Never say you’re not getting both sides of the story.

You’ll be seeing a lot of this image this year. It seems to function in today’s media as a representation of unbridled creativity the likes of which the world had never seen. If machine production meant there was less place for craftspersons anymore, then I don’t think we should be so blindly accepting of performers being reduced to anonymous bodies going through silent and robotic motions. Superficial individuality is the smiley face of impersonality and interchangeability.

Look what we have here!

The following is most of the text of the article Bauhaus at 100: what it means to me [by Norman Foster, Margaret Howell and others]. In the spirit of the 0.62%, I’ve appended my thoughts.

The powerful notion that design and production can and should be separate activities was applicable across the entire spectrum of craftsman production. Such separation already existed for machines as their designers do not involve themselves in their production. The innovation of the Bauhaus was to transfer the separation of design and production across those aspects of design and production that until then had been performed by artists and craftspersons. One hundred years on, it’s fair to say that design didn’t save the world and that production is killing it. We are in no doubt that the impact of this single powerful idea is global. The Bauhaus paired with Industrialisation, The International Style with Globalization, and Postmodernism (and all its variants since) with Neoliberalism. All have the same relationship between design and production, morphing with the times.

Craig-Martin sees The Bauhaus’s influence across the entire spectrum of design as proof of the universality of its artistic/stylistic ideas. This is partially true because if something – anything whether a chair or a lamp or a tea service – could be designed and made by a craftsperson then it could now be designed by a designer and made by a machine. This was universal. The idea of separation was vital. It mattered little that The Bauhaus couldn’t produce what they designed. Facilitating the production and supply of inexpensive consumer necessities doesn’t seem to have been a priority.

Craig-Martin says, “[Albers thought] the most important relationship was between the artists and their work”. This shows a wilful ignorance of craftspeople as an existing system of production. The notion of an artist having a relationship with their work was not invented by The Bauhaus. This notion still survives in our current conception of the artist (whether YBA or not).

Bauhaus chairs may have been designed for machine manufacture but they weren’t designed for minimal transportation and warehouse volume that incur other costs. Apart from the Mart Stam chair (later made more expensive by Breuer), I can’t think of any Bauhaus designed product that actually hit that sweet spot, spawning many variants and interpretations. The first chair I remember is a kitchen chair like the one on the left, below but instead of the upholstered surfaces it had Formica on plywood. The first school chairs I remember were like those on the right.

Bruer’s 1925 Wassily Chair was destined for a life of limited licensed production and value of a different kind. Craig-Martin is right however in seeing Ikea as a contemporary embodiment of what we like to think the Bauhaus was about. Ikea designers are not as anonymous as they used to be but what hasn’t changed is the essential split between design and production. Craft is as absent as ever, unless one counts the self-assembly and even then a service exists to dissuade people from potentially gaining any satisfaction from putting it together themselves.

Perhaps more today than in the immediate past, there’s a conjunction between ideas in architecture, furniture design, art – the boundaries between different disciplines have softened a great deal. The things that the Bauhaus hit on and developed through the years went right to the heart of the design of things, the nature of things. They got it so accurately that it has never been truly displaced.

I would simplify this as “The thing the Bauhaus hit on and developed went right to the heart of the production of things. They got it so accurately that it has never been truly displaced.” I can’t see it happening in the future either.

Foster comes closest to admitting there might be a link between design and production and is first to mention the production of buildings. I wasn’t aware Gropius envisioned a time when buildings would be mass produced in factories. Buildings have proven very resistant to factory production but we do have a situation where many component parts are prefabricated and assembled on site by increasingly unskilled labour. Modular housing is still being designed but the conceit is for the production to be modular and the design not to look it. This goes against what machine production is supposed to be or have been. The enthusiasm with which we are expected to embrace the 3-D printing of buildings suggests that even those workers might be out of a job soon.

Foster gushes about Gropius’ house in Lincoln, MA. Here’s a refresher.

I agree with Foster saying the lasting influence of The Bauhaus is not stylistic, but the attitude of mind it cultivated. I don’t see this as a good thing. [Whether High-Tech was ever really a thing or just another example of fashion over substance is a topic for another time.] However, to say that Bauhaus at its best was a revolution in the relationship between arts and crafts, aesthetics and functions, conceiving and making is not a lie. I’m just unsure who gained what.

While attempting to find out where Margaret Howell’s Minimalist clothing line is manufactured I found this web page detailing the company’s tax strategy, its governance in relation to UK taxation, its risk management strategies, its attitude towards tax planning and level of risk, its attitude towards tax planning and level of risk and, finally, its relationship with HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs).

Howell says much the same thing as tax exile Foster. The coming together of different disciplines and the practice of combining design with manufacturing was inspirational, imaginative, experimental and, above all, a break with the past – which is all fine, apart from the fact it was none of those. Every discipline has its method of production and, it’s safe to say, The Bauhaus ideology destroyed them all. It was not the first time any designer ever thought about how things were made.

Some artists still have a one-to-one relationship with what they create and so do some architects known as sole practitioners that take pride not only in the design but also in its realisation in terms of materials, details and processes. If we don’t hear so much about sole practitioners these days then we have The Bauhaus to blame. [c.f. Architecture Misfits #34: The Sole Practitioner]

All this does is make me recall that symbols are substitutes for the real thing.

It’s telling Barnbrook says everybody should learn the theories of the Bauhaus before they are allowed to touch … a computer! But I do agree that Ikea probably is the most prominent expression we have of the professed ideals of The Bauhaus – or at least what Gropius suddenly claimed them to be in 1923, five years before his exit and after having claimed the opposite since 1919. This is Ikea’s Melltorp table, designed by Lisa Norinder for IKEA’s 2011 catalogue. You may remember it from this 2011 post. Apart from Stam’s tube chairs, it’s superior to anything designed by the Bauhaus. They didn’t do tables.

Lisa Nrinder for IKEA: MELLTORP, 2011 catalogue

It has a total of 41 parts, all of which are necessary. In Step 1, the circular spacers aren’t there to create a shadow gap. Instead, they increase the distance between the table surface (the top flange) and the lower part of the long beam (the lower flange) to make a web beam which is stronger than the long beam would be otherwise. The short beams don’t support anything. Their role is to provide the other other anchor for the corner bracket in Step 3. In Step 4, these hidden corner brackets secure the legs to the long beams and the short beams and it is this final step, that makes the table perfectly rigid and stable. The table top is covered with melamine, a moisture- and scratch-resistant finish that is easy to clean. $69.99.

It’s brilliant construction design for flatpack transportation and on-site assembly. Although “the table top is covered with melamine, a moisture- and scratch resistant finish that is easy to clean”, I wouldn’t mind purchasing and assembling a deluxe edition in oak, mahogany, teak or jarrah.

This is the first time we hear of the physical realities of buildings as well as their political symbolism. Regardless of style, fitted kitchens and communal areas, the building of buildings still indicates a claim to land, as ever.

“The Bauhaus’s focus on multifaceted ideation and execution carved out a new dialogue across design theory and aesthetics that became the blueprint for my generation’s newfound freedom.” I can’t unpack this sentence. It may be one of those machine-made sentences Elon Musk was talking about last week. The Bauhaus’s reach across time is truly remarkable.

Not much here, apart from art still being made by artists. I wasn’t familiar with the Pirelli Tire Building in New Haven, but I must have seen the Ziggy stardust costumes at some time.


Hans Obrist attempts to bring some perspective to the proceedings but falls short. Much has never been remembered, let alone forgotten. I’m not sure we need any more remembering of Johannes Itten. Hannes Meyer I’ve tried. Lotte Stam-Beese I knew nothing of. I’m wary of parallels between political intensity and artistic intensity. Industrialisation knew no borders or factions. Promoting design for machine manufacture could be done just as well in the US as in Germany. Even better, it turned out.

Not much happening here. Sure, The Bauhaus may have dealt with issues of housing, affordability and global aesthetics but not on Gropius’ watch. Hannes Meyer would have objected to the term “global aesthetics”. I doubt renewed interest in The Bauhaus will accomplish anything. Much like the legacy of Le Corbusier, it can be reformatted into anything the times demand and, as the above shows, just about anything can be made to make a point about something.

As we’re approaching the end, and as a kind of summary, the separation of the act of design from the act of production was something that could be applied to all of the decorative arts. Anything that was previously designed and crafted by hand was fair game. This is not in the spirit of inclusiveness.

As I wrote last week, arty-crafty William Morris didn’t particularly care who or what manufactured the objects he designed. Taha’s final statement about following through and developing ideas is something that has been taught at all schools for quite some time now and all it has bequeathed us is a system where design has been elevated so high it can now exist without any manufactured or constructed reality to validate it. Meanwhile, somewhere in the world, unknown people are busy tending machines or making things by hand for us. All this might have happened anyway had The Bauhaus never existed but Gropius and Co. decamping to the US and spreading the word certainly hastened the process in what was then the world’s most influential economy.

• • • 

All told, the above recollections and musings didn’t have much to say about architectural education, apart from Libeskind, Foster and i Gilabert seeing themselves as the living embodiment of the Bauhaus’s teachings. In a sense, they are.

We never learned much in the way of specifics and I suspect this is because, contrary to the mythology, Walter Gropius, the Dessau Bauhaus and architectural education never existed in the same place at the same time. Walter Gropius and the Dessau Bauhaus overlapped for three years 1925-28. The Dessau Bauhaus and architectural education overlapped for two years 1928-30 under Hannes Meyer and two more 1930-32 under Mies. Architectural education and Walter Gropius overlapped in the US from 1937 but forever since in our minds, as the assorted thoughts above testify. Given that The Bauhaus was run out of Weimar because of the number of communists (not to mention Expressionists!) on the payroll, for someone who could supposedly read the writing on the wall, Gropius’s appointment of communist Hannes Meyer as his successor in 1928 seems like a deliberate act of sabotage.

Party on.



I can’t help thinking that any architectural education worth having is the one that one makes for oneself, that exists outside of formal education, and that starts well before. As a welcome antidote to all the above, I received this which I’ve added to the Architecture of Innocence post of a few weeks back. Thanks Josh.

Joshua, (Australian; aged 10 – now 26)

This is a photo of a drawing I did of a farmhouse, a windmill and some power lines. I was maybe 10. Almost immediately my mum had it framed and it’s been hanging in the lounge room of the family house ever since. I remember trying to make a small scale model, complete with power lines. It’s an imaginary scene of a colonial-style rural dwelling often found in Jindong in Western Australia where, two years ago, I designed a farmhouse and managed its construction. Next month I sit my registration exams.


An Ordinary Beauty

I remember MUJI in Japan from the early 1980s as retailers of relatively inexpensive and basic items of clothing that were either white or black. Only afterwards came things like the pencil cases, files, folders and storage units that are such a huge part of Japanese living but, even so, MUJI products remain difficult to mistake for DAISO products.

By the late 1980s MUJI had their own shows during Tokyo Fashion Week and people could look at your collarless plain white shirt and say “Oh that’s MUJI isn’t it?” When everything else has an identifiable logo then not having one is invariably seen as an identifiable characteristic even if it’s not intended as such.

It could be that brands are threatened by non-brands. It’s easy to see why a brand whose existence depends on apparent difference, would fear a product with an actual difference resulting organically from an actual ethos. But threatened brands have nothing to fear because all they need do is encourage people to see the non-brand as a brand and have it judged by the same superficial qualities brands are. Brands may appear to promote difference but what they really do is ensure conformity. In architecture, the sadder consequence is that having an ethos works against recognition and The Misfit Architects are proof of that 

We’ve been here before. Henry-Russel Hitchcock’s 1932 introduction to The International Style claimed Hannes Meyer’s radical functionalism was a denial of aesthetics and, as such, an aesthetic in itself. There’s a logical fallacy here – non sequitur I think. It’s like saying a willingness to be transparent only proves how much one has to hide.

Radical Functionalism was an architectural approach that disregarded the visual properties of materials and thus placed itself outside the scope of conventional aesthetic judgments. Even so, buildings will always have visual properties and so there’ll always be people who will judge them. The real question is “are visible qualities the only qualities capable of being an aesthetic and carrying notions of beauty?” Empirical observations suggest so but we still don’t know – there’s no theory and nobody’s looking for one.     

Still. When we see something that isn’t consciously aesthetic, are we seeing a specific type of formal quality, or the absence of a formal quality?

This is the question posed by the photographs of Bernd & Hilla Becher. [1] The Bechers’ photographs aren’t of a single crane or water tower or lighthouse but composite photographs of usually nine, twelve or fifteen. We easily spot minor differences in shape and proportion but the Bechers have made it more difficult for us to see how they differ because they are showing us identical structural and functional typologies, they are using similar camera angles and distances, taking photographs under similar flat grey skies and with the sun at a similar altitude and azimuth. Furthermore, the black and white prints eliminate colour as a differentiator. We’re encouraged to look for similarities. 

If the Bechers had wanted us to discover some shared “formal” aesthetic quality they might have chosen to photograph Gothic cathedrals or Baroque palaces or any other type of structure manifesting some “formal” aesthetic quality usually manifest as “architectural” pretensions. Instead, I believe they photographed what they did because they wanted to show us what happens when none of those are present. I believe they wanted us to see beauty in artificial things devoid of aesthetic pretence.

Contemporary photographer Andreas Gursky was taught by Bernd and Hilla Becher though in what sense he was taught I don’t know. [4] This is one of his photographs.

As for what this photograph and those of the Bechers have in common, we can say both make us look more closely at things we wouldn’t normally look more closely at. The Becher’s photographs may display a quiet dignity but Gursky’s show a quiet power and heroism that’s somehow epic. Somebody must like it because Gursky is the most financially successful photographer the world has ever known. The photograph above was recently auctioned for somewhere between US$1 mil. and US$15 mil. I don’t know the reason for the spread of these numbers but the order of magnitude is impressive.

Here’s four more of Gursky’s photographs, each epic in its own way.

The dimensions are also epic. Price aside, I would love to own and hang Rhine II [above] in my living room to look at everyday but it measures 2063 x 3575 x 50 mm and even my longest wall falls short by 50cm. Any photograph with dimensions such as these is saying its proper place is in a gallery.

It’s the job of art to make us notice it but there’s little that’s mundane about any of these photographs. The closest any comes to being a usual sight is the façade I unwittingly took a photo of in January when I didn’t even know of Andreas Gursky. You’re welcome.

The building may be mundane and beautiful but my photograph is just mundane. Unlike the Bechers, what I suspect Gursky is doing is mining overlooked subject matter for its novelty. Not that it matters much if a building that most people are indifferent to is the subject of a multimillion dollar photograph. When photographs are auctioned for millions there’s more at work than questions of formal aesthetic qualities or even their absence. Where does the value lie?

Just as property developers don’t care what type of property they develop, art investors don’t care what type of art they invest in. They may have their preferences but whether they’re aesthetic or financial we don’t need to know. What if they’re both? Perhaps art investors see a different kind of beauty in potential financial return? Does this make them philistines? shrewd investors? clever ones? or all three?

Even if we suspend objections such as these, we still need to ask “Why should photographers have to teach us to appreciate the beauty of the ordinary, when we could be doing it ourselves?” This is the big question and it’s the job of Art to make us continually question our reality. But does it ever reach so deep? With Duchamp, the surrealism of the found object as sculpture arose from mundane objects being exhibited as if they were art. This, we discovered, was sufficient to make it art. Dadaism didn’t make us appreciate the beauty of bicycle wheels and kitchen stools. It made us question the nature of Art.

Gursky may be showing us a new type of beauty in “mundane” scenes but, rather than being rewarded for teaching us how to find and appreciate it for ourselves, I suspect he is being rewarded for objectifying it and so making sure we never do. I suspect fame and its consequent financial reward are bestowed on people who ensure potentially useful ideas never gain popular currency.*

  • For neglecting to mention the human concerns of Modernism when he introduced it to the US in 1932, Philip Johnson was awarded the first Pritzker Prize.
  • If we look at Le Corbusier’s buildings and proposals in terms of their value as vehicles for his career, then this next proposal worked wonders. Never mind that it did more to discredit high-rise living than it ever did to promote it. Better living conditions for more people in Paris or anywhere else was not its concern and certainly not the result. 

I could pick any of the misfits architects to illustrate the other side of the same point but I’ll use Mario Asnago & Claudio Vender as they worked closest to the idea of an ordinary beauty.

Because we’re not taught to see beauty unless we’re being told to see it, seeing beauty in ordinary things such as the position and spacing of windows means we first need to be alerted to its presence and this is what Asnago & Vender did. They made small parts of their buildings perceptibly strange in order to make us look and appreciate what they had done. It was a useful idea, and also a polite and economical one. This is not the kind of idea architecture cares to remember.

Moreover, they saw the history of Milan in terms of “what’s already there” and didn’t use these “lesser” architectural devices for decoration but in order to knit their buildings into streetscapes in a way that was respectful without being deferential. This is not the kind of attitude architecture cares to recognize. 

  • Despite what Italian architects Asnago & Vender had been doing in and for Italian cities since 1930, in the 1960s Robert Venturi cleared the path for the plunder of Italian historic architectural motifs as a source of superficial architectural meaning first in America, and then around the world. In 1991 Robert Venturi received the Pritzker Prize.
  • We might also consider what has happened since and how Rem Koolhaas and his stable of architects have successfully promoted architecture as spectacle devoid of content.
  • Concurrent with this we have content as spectacle with the rise of virtual architecture, datascapes as architecture, “everything is architecture,” and vizualizations as a form of virtual architecture with only a tenuous link to reality.

US President Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon is credited with the rallying call “Flood the zone with shit!” – the idea being that people will become incapable of judging for themselves what’s real and what’s not. Architectural media had already adjusted to these new circumstances in which politics and much of our lives is now conducted and the daily spew of architectural imagery continues to dull our ability to judge what is virtuous and what is unacceptable. Or even care. Our threshold for stimulus is now so high that, mistaking stridency for skill, we think something good simply because we noticed it.

• • •

*Some future post will re-state this blog’s theme and lay out evidence for how architectural fame and fortune are granted in inverse proportion to moral content, ethical principles and humanitarian benefit. (The inverse proportion arises from representations of moral content, ethical principles and humanitarian benefit being the inverse of actual moral content, ethical principles and humanitarian benefit.)

• • •

Related Posts:

  1. Honorary Architecture Misfits: Bernd and Hilla Becher
  2. Architecture Misfits #26: Asnago & Vender
  3. Making Strange
  4. more on Andreas Gursky:


Misleading Narratives

Two posts back, in Repeating Crevice, Revisited, I wrote If Shinohara was aware of having designed certain possibilities into [a house he designed], he never let on. Now I think about it, he can’t not have known he was designing that house to offer its occupants various levels of awareness of the movements within. Instead, he chose to present an alternative narrative having nothing to do with any real benefits his design may have had

A more consciously misleading narrative has to do with Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus. This sketch shows LC was definitely aware he was designing something that permitted certain possibilities for multicultural living but he chose not to make them part of the narrative for propagation. Later historians have largely complied.


The Winslow House is often used as an example of how Frank Lloyd Wright gifted us the open-plan house. Wright’s $5,000 Fireproof House is seen as a lesser embodiment of Wright’s principle of configuring a house around a hearth as the heart of the home and of removing walls to arrive at a new conception of interior space. The first misleading narrative is Wright’s, the second is historians’.

Removing interior walls sounds like there were cost savings to be had, and supporting an upper floor and a roof with a largeish brick structural element in the middle of a symmetrical plan sounds like a very efficient way of using equivalently sized materials at maximum efficiency. If Wright and later historians hadn’t used misleading narratives to describe what was “important” about The $5,000 Fireproof House and the Winslow House and others, then we might not’ve had to wait for Rural Studio to rediscover and make explicit the link between cost performance and architectural beauty.

Economic efficiencies and benefits to society aren’t the opposite of architecture they’re made out to be – they just exist in a parallel yet invisible dimension. The visible world speaks to us of beauty and abundance and the invisible world reminds us how little we want it to cost.

In the decades since Le Corbusier and Shinohara, architects have elevated the misleading narrative to a level of art far exceeding what it exists to describe. The misleading narrative is now the primary means for display of architectural cleverness. In any field other than architecture, goods that please the eye but fail according to indicators of other qualities are called fakes. The English language has the saying “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and also its more down-to-earth equivalent “You can’t polish a turd.”  Well, actually you can and it’s being done all the time. Since it’s not going to stop anytime soon, I think we should at least explore the mechanism involved.

Many if not all of the misfit architects I’ve listed here over the years have either been totally forgotten, under-remembered or under-acknowledged for not providing misleading narratives to distinguish their noble efforts as architecture. Their innovations have been duly dismissed as idiosyncratic obsession or mere investigations into building science. Last week’s Architecture Misfit#27: Harold Krantz is a perfect example. Perhaps he’d be better remembered as the innovator he was if he’d spent a bit more time designing his narratives than simply indicating what he thought was the real worth of what he was doing.

• • •

House With a Sloping Wall

For years I’d been trying to track down a Japanese house I vaguely remembered – probably from having seen it in Japan Architect in the late 1970s. I never saw or heard of it again so it must have been a one-off, long forgotten and by now long gone. It was titled House With a Sloping Wall because that is what it had.

I found myself thinking of this house again last week. Perhaps it had something to do with the one-bedroom apartments that were also very much on my mind.

I spoke about how one-bedroom apartments are usually a bedroom and a living room side-by-side along the only wall that can have windows, and how the bathroom and kitchen are usually against the corridor where they share a shaft.


I never got to talk about the poetry of architecture and that was a shame since I’ve begun to suspect the poetry of architecture, building science and social utility aren’t as mutually exclusive as we’ve been led to believe. So here’s my memory of House With a Sloping Wall, re-imagined as a one-bedroom apartment.

Sloping Plan

We now come to a fork in the road. Do I present my House With A Sloping Wall as something aesthetically innovative or do I present it as something useful? Do I go for a misleading narrative or do I tell the truth? The former is easy and there’s no lack of impeccable references to work into a misleading narrative.

Firstly, my house has a 45° wall that’s no more wall than it is floor or ceiling – or all three – or two out of three, depending which side of it you are. A reference to Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture seems called for. Going in deeper, I could reference William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, as did Venturi.

There’s a long history of the perception of inside and outside being blurred by making building elements or finishes span the boundary between the warm side and the cold side.

There’s a longer and nobler history of trompe l’oeil attempting the same using only two dimensions. The best examples have the surrealism that comes from things not appearing to be what they are – a virtual outside.

trompe l'oeil

From the bedroom of my House With A Sloping Wall, the sloping wall doesn’t appear as a sheltering roof – an effect that, prompted by the skylights, is also apparent on the other side. IT ACTUALLY IS a sheltering roof. The perception of inside and outside is not blurred by extension or confused by illusion, but reset by the suggestion of a roof with skylights and chimney. An element that’s normally outside appears inside. This is not so common, but nor is it so rare. These examples below all riff on the idea of clouds indoors. The church is the least surreal because of trompe l’oeil precedents.

Moving away from inside and outside, I suppose I could leverage my CV and mention Kazuo Shinohara and those strange internal spaces in his 1981 House Under High-Tension Lines,

or the inclined roofs of his 1973 House in Seijo or his 1971 Prism House, both of which have spaces that seem to exist only to be visually appreciated. They’re bonsai versions of double-height spaces but their acutely angled corners intensify not light but shadows.

Did somebody say shadows?! I need to mention Junichiro Tanizaki’s 1977 essay In Praise of Shadows even though it’s about a 3.5 on the Japanese 1-7 scale of cultural inscrutability. 

Victor here! I know you’re not into pattern language but, since you’re narrative farming, another argument for lowered bedrooms comes from Christopher Alexander, who had a thing for ceiling height. He argued ceiling height has to vary according to degree of privacy. It sort of required ceiling to comply with “personal space bubble” that gets the largest in public spaces. Hence high ceilings in public lobbies and stores are comfortable. CA argued that tinier rooms and alcoves are cozier and allow humans to feel closer to each other – if they’d allow each other to get together in there.

Thanks for that Victor! I do admire the way Alexander aims to link sociology and aesthetic predelictions but other factors at work mean we must now pass from the floating world of architectural narratives into the objective world of building science.

Moisei Ginzburg and his Stroykom team’s Type B and Type F apartments had reduced ceiling heights for the bedrooms because they were less important than the daytime living rooms. This seems fair because in bedrooms people don’t move around so much. Space as a visual thing is not something appreciated when asleep.

With houses it’s not rocket science. Many vernacular houses have attic bedrooms because it’s a better use of building volume but, with apartments, this is something neither obvious nor easy to do despite the greater pressure to extract maximum value from their smaller volumes. That pressure never dissipates. Those ingenious apartment conversions having a “sleeping loft” above the kitchen and/or bathroom are a modern trope because they stack two zones needing less ceiling height. The four examples below all allow maximum area with maximum height but only one involves sloping surfaces.

If you haven’t already guessed, the real reason for my sloping wall is to return some of that under-appreciated bedroom volume back to the living room where it can be better appreciated during waking hours. Did I say some? 50% is half!


True, that 50% can’t be used in any meaningful way but then neither can a double height space and look how highly architectural history regards those. Nevertheless, in order to make my diagonally interlocking spaces more appealing, I produced a variation having those crudely approximated diagonals known as steps.

Stepped Wall.jpg

It’s pointless referencing BeFun’s Alley House – despite being ingenious it’s too little known. It’s far better to reference the space for The Baltic Pavilion in the Giardini at the 2016 Venice Biennalle grounds. Bringing it all back to Venice never did any architectural endeavour any harm.

One last card to play are bleachers. They’re the wild card, the joker in the pack, the ace high or low. People don’t associate bleachers with any grand architectural precedent, distinguised personages or unassailable theory. They just associate them with happy memories and enjoyable experiences. I’m not suggesting we return to the dark days of palliative postmodern iconography. What I am suggesting is that we couch our architectural narratives in essential truths. I can reference bleachers in good faith because they’re all about observing a large space in front of them.


The view back is equally important.


Even the space under the bleachers can also be referenced in good faith since, from what I can glean from the internet, many people associate that space with intimacy. Allow me to present Bleacher House.

The Bleachers3.jpg

Returning some building volume to the living room was the only thing that mattered with this house and, though the idea contained much art its explanation did not. Presenting this idea as architecture didn’t have to involve presenting it as something it wasn’t. This house IS BLEACHER HOUSE because it does the same thing. I suspect that any architectural idea of worth can be communicated more easily by calling attention to something of comparable and real worth.

This is different from those forced and unnatural associations that conceal lack of content behind phrases such as “recalls X” “resonates with X” “references X” “is redolent of X”, where X is the name of some building or architect there was never even the intention let alone the possibility of emulating. The architect Eladio Dieste is often referenced in this way.

• • •

20 Feb. 2017 (11 hours later): HUGE thanks to Daniel Munteanu for solving my mystery. One of the things Daniel does is run the blog OfHouses which “is a collection of old, forgotten houses” so it’s not that surprising he remembered this house. Me, I falsely remembered its name. It’s the Mochizuki House, by Hiroyuki Asai. 1971. I love it. 

Everything has been exquisitely contrived to appear as if it could no way other than the way it is, as all good architecture perhaps should be. If the wall were vertical, we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the light from that skylight illuminating that wall. Hiroyuki Asai, wherever you are, thank you.

• • •

There aren’t many kanji variations for the name Hiroyuki Asai. A search in Japanese led me to the site of architect Hiroyuki Asai. Our paths almost crossed.

  • 1970 Graduated from Tokyo Institute of Technology Faculty of Science and Engineering Department of Architecture
  • 1970 – 1976 Studied with Professor Kazuo Shinohara of Tokyo Institute of Technology and learned housing construction through practice

Elsewhere on the site he had this to say about Mochizuki House, his first “work” – everyone called buildings “works” then, as if they were art.

直方体 内部に屋根の架構を支持する柱一本 それと離れる位置で直方体を壁で垂直に分割 この構成では何も起こらない  分割する壁の頂部を傾ける 何かが起こる 意味の産出 分割という構成により傾斜壁の表裏に出現した空間の関係 <建築> この作品から私の全てが始まる

If a single column supporting a roof frame stands apart from a vertical wall dividing a rectangular parallelepiped, nothing happens. However, if the top of the dividing wall is tilted, something does. Meaning is produced, along with spatial relationships appearing front and back of that tilted wall – Architecture. All of me starts from this work. 

Asai–sensei, arigato.