Tag Archives: Sheds as architecture

Rubin Observatory

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory is the new name for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) currently being constructed in Chile.

The Objective

When it becomes fully operational in October 2022, the observatory will take ten years to photograph all of The Universe it can see. With a field of view of 4° (or about eight times the width of a full moon, it will use a 3.2gigapixel CCD imaging camera – the largest ever constructed – to photograph the entire sky (18,000 sq.°) every three or four nights.

Post processing will compare those photographs with ones already taken, identify what has moved and by how much, and make that information available to astronomers worldwide within 60 seconds. It will map the movement of galaxies in space over time and make it possible to calculate and catalog their masses and observe how they distort space-time. We will better understand the Universe.

The observatory’s job description also includes: [*]

Case Studies

The LSST is the first astronomical observatory to be built for this purpose so any survey of existing facilities will reveal only general characteristics.

Nice Observatory, Nice, France (1886)

The building was designed by Charles Garnier and the dome by Gustave Eiffel*. The dome opening is covered by a panel that retracts, creating the profile we associate with observatories. The interior image shows what was the largest refracting (i.e. glass) telescope at the time. It also shows how Eiffel’s dome rests on a circular drum inside Garnier’s rectilinear building.

Palomar Observatory, California, USA (1928)

Instead of a retractable dome covering, California’s Palomar Observatory has a split sliding arrangement. Assuming similar levels of weatherproofing and mechanical complexity, this double sliding arrangement should require less time to fully open and close.

Sphinx Observatory, Switzerland (since 1937)

The Sphinx Observatorium is built on the ridge between the Swiss peaks of Mönch (left, below) and Jungfrau (right). It is 3,571m above sea level and an astronomical dome and a meteorological dome allow research into meteorology, astronomy, glaciology, physiology, radiation, and cosmic rays.

The observatory now includes four laboratories, a pavilion for cosmic ray research, a library, mechanical workshop, and living quarters for ten. The scientific area includes two large laboratories, a workshop, a weather observation station plus two terraces for experiments.

As the highest man-made structure in Europe, it has viewing decks open to the public. The observatory is reached by elevator shaft trough the mountain.

Indian Astronomical Observatory (IAO), India

Located in Ladakh near the Indian border with China, IAO is one of the world’s highest observatories at 4,500 metres asl. A drum supports a rotatable dome housing the telescope and an attached building houses support facilities.

Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, U.S. (1985)

This has an integrated rotating mechanism that doesn’t require a drum for stability. The telescope is exposed when the roof retracts along the circular side rails. Built in an ecologically sensitive part of Hawaii, it is currently decommissioned prior to dismantling.

Extremely Large Telescope, Chile

The ELT is designed to search for Earth-like planets around other stars in the “habitable zones” where life might exist. It has a double-sliding canopy and no drum.

Site Selection

Many astronomical observatories were built in places where atmospheric conditions are no longer suitable for observational astronomy. Newer observatories are typically located in remote areas at high altitude, with little or no precipitation, low temperatures, low humidity, and low levels of atmospheric and light pollution. All these factors result in a high number of clear nights per year and for high-quality images, and occur together in the Chilean mountain range of Cerro Pachón where the the Gemini South (left, below) and Southern Astrophysical Research telescopes (right, below) are already located. The initial construction cost of Rubin Observatory was reduced by sharing their base facilities 100km away at La Serena, as well as their fibre-optic link to relay the 30 terabytes of data the observatory will produce each night.

Site Analysis

The design for the Rubin Observatory summit facility takes advantage of the natural topography of the El Peñón summit on Cerro Pachón. The main telescope enclosure occupies the highest and largest peak, and the attached service and operations building steps down into a saddle area to the southeast.The specific orientation of the summit facility was selected after extensive weather testing and a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis of the site verified that it provided the best seeing environment, or the least air disturbance, for the telescope. Geotechnical studies of the natural rock at the site have shown that it is strong and erosion-resistant. [https://www.lsst.org/about/tel-site/summit]

28/07/2020 Thanks to Roger who pointed me towards this document https://docushare.lsstcorp.org/docushare/dsweb/GetRendition/Document-21494/html  that’s a construction progress report for the summit facilities. Section 2.1.2 contains the following explanation for the  general layout of the summit facility. “One clear implication from the first documentation of environmental conditions was that the prevailing steady wind would be a major factor in shaping the buildings and their relationship to the dome and telescope. Keeping the buildings low and providing turbulence-suppressing treatment on any large structures adjacent to the telescope would help avoid ground-heated air being pushed up into the observing path of the telescope. Also affecting building layout and massing was the available area on the selected site. El Peñón peak is a relatively narrow ridge which is steeply sloped on the approach side. These factors logically favored a multi-level facility stepping down into the saddle between the main peak and a small adjacent hill, which was a convenient location for the smaller calibration telescope facility”. Nice work, Roger!

Technical Solutions

The camera will take a 15-second exposure every 20 seconds. This time is a compromise between a long exposure that would allow faint sources to be spotted and a short exposure that would clearly capture the motion of faster-moving objects. Each field is photographed twice in case one is rendered unusable because of cosmic rays hitting the camera. Repositioning the telescope within five seconds requires a very short and rigid structure but, even so, realigning the mirrors and instruments takes one second and the other four are reserved for the structure to settle down. This short structure means a very small f-number [the ratio of the system’s focal length to the diameter of the lens opening] and that the camera must be focussed with extreme precision.

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory – https://www.lsst.org/sites/default/files/LSSTexploded-lg.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52230747
Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation. https://www.lsst.org/sites/default/files/photogallery/Camera_CU-full.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52230238
By Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation – https://www.lsst.org/sites/default/files/LSST-Print5-high.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52227945

The exceptionally heavy telescope is mounted on a concrete drum for added stability. On top of the drum is the azimuth assembly which is basically a giant motor to realign the telescope. “Magnet motors” are said to allow fast, smooth, and quiet transitions but accuracy of repositioning can’t not be important when distant galaxies are being photographed in order to check if they’ve moved.

This shows the “elevation drive arc” after it was test fitted (in Spain) with aluminum surrogate motor magnets. The motor magnets have been installed in the azimuth track and covered with plywood to keep them from attracting metal fragments during the assembly process.


Concrete base with steel-frame structure and sheet metal cladding. It’s a shed.

This photo of LSST at sunset was taken by Gemini South observer Gianluca Lombardi.

Architectural Solutions

So then, why does the Rubin Observatory look the way it is? Is there any part of it that can’t be justified by function or performance? We find it difficult not to anthropomorphize something that has its highest part concerned with looking and observing even though this is just how visibility works. (Animals may turn their heads but no animal can freely rotate its head through 360°.) But what’s with the body-like shape attached to it? It’s like no other astronomical observatory.

Here’s what.

The telescope enclosure and service and operations building (above) have a stepped-down layout. This design provides a contiguous protected environment for transporting and maintaining the camera and mirrors. The mirrors of LSST are exposed to the night sky and, over the course of the 10-year survey, the mirrors will become dusty and their coatings will develop imperfections that will affect the telescope’s performance. This side facility is for equipment to transport, wash and re-coat the mirrors.

This will happen every two years for the primary mirror and every five for the secondary mirror and will occur in a temperature-controlled space distant from the observatory itself. These heated operations spaces are below the service level with the heat-generating equipment located below that, and farthest from the telescope. An 80-ton platform lift will carry the mirrors and camera between the telescope and maintenance levels as necessary. It’s a bit more complicated than cleaning your glasses.

November 11, 2018 – The Coating Chamber for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) arrived on the summit of Cerro Pachón, safely completing a 15 week journey from Deggendorf, Germany, where it was constructed. The 128-ton Coating Chamber is the largest single piece of equipment to arrive at the LSST observatory site to date, and will soon be joined by the Telescope Mount Assembly (TMA), from Spain, and the 8.4-meter Primary/Tertiary (M1M3) Mirror, from the United States, which are expected to arrive in 2019.
Submitted by LSST Coating Chamber Engineer Tomislav Vucina: Photos of construction of the coating chamber, where LSST’s mirrors will be recoated every few years. We anticipate M1M3 (coated with aluminum) will be cleaned and recoated every 2 years, and M2 (coated with protective silver) every 5 years. Reflectance monitoring will allow us to predict when this more time-intensive work is necessary, and it will likely be coordinated with other scheduled downtime. More information on the washing and coating process can be found at http://ls.st/m1y

https://gallery.lsst.org/bp/#/folder/2334275/ has many more photographs showing all aspects of facility construction from 2015 through to May this year. It’s a brilliant resource.

The construction and operation of the ventilation louvres suggest they’re no more than simple openings to provide ventilation and indirect illumination. It’s unlikely they would all be open at the same time. Any building free to rotate 360° would need openings on all sides if some of them are to always face the optimal direction or directions. The only clue I found on the website was the sentence “Light baffles, wind protection, and thermal controls with natural ventilation and daytime cooling mitigate environmental issues such as ambient light, wind, and large variations in temperature, which can all affect image quality.” Moreover, opening and closing these baffles isn’t dependent on human comfort or judgment as “The Rubin Observatory telescope and facility are designed to be highly automated, requiring little human intervention”.

The folded structure of the washing and re-coating facility is less easy to explain. The high-level windows are definitely well shaded but there are easier ways of achieving this.

This next photograph shows some serious air handling on the lowest level so my guess is that whatever load there is, is reduced by having the shape provide a degree of self-shading at the middle of the day.

28/07/2020 Rather than their primary purpose being self-shading, the folded side surfaces are an example of the previously mentioned “turbulence-suppressing treatment” [provided to] “any large structures adjacent to the telescope [so as to] avoid ground-heated air being pushed up into the observing path of the telescope.”

It’s very difficult to find any information on the design of the observatory or even who or what firm designed it. I could find out about control software architecture and active optics system software architecture but not about architecture. I did find a photograph of representatives from eight US and Chilean Architectural and Engineering companies visiting the site in 2009 but nothing about who was eventually awarded the job. It’s not important we know but, all the same, it suggests that this building designed to assist advancing our understanding of The Universe is not Architecture. I’m good with that.

The closest the Vera C. Rubin Observatory comes to being Architecture is visualizations that render it with

  • no materiality whatsoever
  • disregard for the Sun
    • curious shadows emphasizing the play of light upon volumes in space
    • an improbable position (for 30° 40 14 Slet alone at night)
  • ignorance of the building’s purpose
    • telescope cover open during daytime
    • sunlight hitting the exact place it’s least wanted
  • anthropomophicization
    • emphasis on the “body” with a “head” turning at some “inquisivite” angle
    • ventilation louvres expressively open as if “gills” for “respiration”
  • vehicles and people pointlessly indicating “human scale”
  • an overly dramatic sky

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory

Vera Rubin worked in many fields of observational astronomy but her most important contribution was measuring the discrepancy between the observed rotational rates of galaxies and their predicted rates of rotation. Her work provided strong evidence for the existence of dark matter that Swiss astrophysicist Fritz Zwicky first proposed in 1933 and, by showing that they form inside dark matter, advanced our understanding of galaxies.



*27/07/2020 I corrected the name of the designer of the dome of Nice Observatory to Gustave Eiffel. Thanks to Roger for letting me know.

**28/07/2020 There’s lots of interesting information in this Project Report. Thanks again Roger!

The Sheep Shed

Sheep aren’t indigenous to Australia but their rearing and shearing factors large in Australian history and culture.

"Tom Roberts - Shearing the rams - Google Art Project" by Tom Roberts - lQEDjT-_MXaMJQ at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tom_Roberts_-_Shearing_the_rams_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Tom_Roberts_-_Shearing_the_rams_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

True, sheep didn’t turn into ecological nightmares like starlings, rabbits, camels, cane toads and such but still, they don’t touch the ground lightly. They graze much closer than cattle and overgrazing by sheep has been causing soil erosion and denuding landscapes around the world for millennia. Of more immediate and global consequence is sheep flatulence at the rate of 30 litres of methane per day per sheep. The roughly 75 million of’em in Australia fart two and a quarter billion litres of methane (1,045,215 metric tonnes) per day. That’s over 1,300 times the approx. 770 metric tonnes of methane per day currently estimated to being lost from the broken well at the Aliso Canyon storage site.


It’s still not great compared to the global warming impact of CFCs but the agricultural sector is still responsible for 12.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and for 40% of methane. Percentages are higher for Oz.


I only mention this for some contextual balance. This post is about Deepwater Woolshed by Stutchbury & Pape Architects. As a shed, I like it, but I like it independently of culture and history both Australian or architectural. Sheep do local ecologies and global atmospheres no favours so, ecologically speaking, should we not tar this building with the same brushIs it possible to like a building independently of its greater environmental context? OF COURSE IT IS! We do it all the time! We make and propagate associations with favourable contexts and propagated and ignore or suppress associations with unfavourable ones. The Seagram Building scores 3/100 on an EnergyStar assessment, for example. The environmental context in which Deepwater Woodshed is politely discussed is a favourable one but an extremely narrow one.

• • •

Shearing sheds are, foremost, sheds.


There are pens for holding sheep outside, and more pens inside to accommodate two days’ worth of sheep to allow them to dry if they’re wet.


Windows are basic.


A recent innovation is to have the holding pens beneath the building.


Another is for the shearing to take place on a raised platform rather than the floor.


This makes life easier for the roustabout to shift the fleece to the wool table for grading. Deepwater Woolshed incorporates both innovations.


The NSW government website offers guidelines for sheep shearing shed design.

we learn that

Much is written here, on “Oztecture”, about Deepwater Woodshed but I only want to mention things that are explicit. Sentences such as “The extreme heat experienced during the shearing season drove the placement, orientation, form and materiality of this building. The efficient movement of the sheep in a low stress environment and the technical requirements of the process of shearing drove the planning and layout.” do not prove anything.

“The building has embraced a range of design solutions to contend with the summer heat.” Fine – tell us more. “Alongside optimal orientation to capture prevailing northeasterly breezes that cross ventilate the interior, overhangs of a large portal frame roof provide shade to the walls and provide undercover sheep storage and access. A reticulated irrigation system sprays cooling water onto the roof. Large expanded mesh screens have been hung to the southwest, providing protection from the prevailing wind. Cascading water across these suspended surfaces utilises the cross-ventilating breeze and evaporative cooling, lowering working temperatures.” Huh?

One sentence says the prevailing breezes are north-easterly but the next says they’re south-west. Look, here’s the five-year average wind rose for Wagga Wagga Airport 60 kilometres south-east. Prevailing winds are due east. You can trust airport wind data.


The high end of the roof faces NNW. The rainwater tanks are at the eastern corner of the ENE side facing the prevailing winds more than any other side does.


Yet the screens aren’t on the SW elevation as stated, or even the ESE elevation above. They’re on the WSW elevation (below) downwind of the prevailing winds.


I don’t get it. At first I thought the writer had gotten themselves into a muddle but, even so, I can’t reconcile the locations of these screens with their stated function. It’s nice to see a monopitch roof all the same.

“Strip skylights provide natural lighting. The entire structure is bolted together; all linings, cladding and floors are screwed and fixed. Thus the entire shed is demountable. The usage of a structural roofing system was an initiative providing additional planning flexibility.” Good stuff.


“This project sets out to provide a quality work environment for one of Australia’s oldest trades. The resulting building has elevated the task of shearing at Bulls Run, while reinterpreting the traditional built form of an Australian icon. This is a sophisticated passive building in tune with land, man and beast.”  It’s a shed.

It’s also a very highly praised shed.

  • At the 2005 Royal Australian Institute of Architects national awards, Deepwater Woolshed won the Colorbond category and was a joint winner in the commercial building category.
  • It was featured in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
  • It won the Blacket Award for regional architecture, the Colorbond Award, the Commercial Building Award and the Energy Efficient Award.
  • Kenneth Frampton wrote about it here.

Frampton drops the full weight of his prodigious knowledge to bear onto this outback shed, making full use of The Fallback Context,

and The Cultural Context.


The Architectural Context is a subset of The Cultural Context. It means something is architecture if it can be likened to other, certified, architecture.


Referencing Katsura Imperial Villa has never hurt the reputation of any architect. Invoking Katsura Imperial Villa has never harmed the reputation of any historian. Here’s the money shot posed with window panels alternately half open and fully shut.

If we’re going to play Architectural Associations however, my first move would be Kenzo Tange’s first and only house of 1953,


quickly followed by Kazuo Shinohara’s first house of 1954.

Kugayama 1954 view

My next move would be Isé Grand Shrine that predates Katsura Palace. It has a big roof (to keep rain off its walls) and is raised (to protect the contents from floods). These don’t just indicate something is important and worth protecting, they actually protect it. The history of Japanese architecture is the history of protecting things.

ise grand shrine

My final and winning move would be a Yayoi Era  (300BC-300AD) kura (storehouse) that predates Isé Shrine by about a thousand years. These storehouses had a big roofs to protect the walls from rain and were elevated to protect the rice from floods and rats.

20091006-Ray Kinnane 44556557_storehouses

This bypasses Katsura Imperial Villa and Grand Isé Shrine and links the principles of materials, construction and environmental response of a modern shed with a shed 1800 years prior. Protecting grain from rats is clever but not classy. When talking architecture, buildings can’t be “elevated” to something below them. Most buildings can be given the pretentious posturing of architecture but few have the embodied intelligence of sheds.

Deepwater Woolshed is a shed, and a very good shed it is too. For an accurate assessment of what this building does we can turn to this 2011 issue of Australian Wool Innovation.

beyond the bale

I’m still waiting for those Shearing Shed Guidelines to be posted to the AWI website. From this next article we learn that The Bulls Run Property to which Deepwater Woolshed belongs, was sold to the Paraway Pastoral Company.

bulls run

Three years later, stockandland.com and farmonline.com reported that Paraway Pastoral was to sell part of the property.

stock and land

As of January 4 2016, the website of the auctioneers, landmarkharcourts, still had the property details.


The 617.96 hectare (1,527.03 acre) auction included the 1927 homestead, a cottage, silos and other agricultural buildings. The reserve price was only AUS$1.3 million (US$1.1 million) so the US$400,000 Deepwater Woolshed couldn’t have been part of the package.


Analysts report that for large pastoral companies to focus on their main businesses, it’s quite common to divest themselves of properties not crucial to their core portfolios. So click go those corporate shears. The rearing and shearing of sheep factors large in Australian history and culture. Sheep still get reared and sheared but the people who buy, operate and sell the farms don’t let romantic imaginings influence their judgment. We should do likewise when evaluating the buildings.

In the game, each player starts with a Sheep Station, consisting of five Natural Pasture paddocks, fully stocked with 3,000 sheep …

• • •


Advance of the Sheds

For every force there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the level of amenity, let alone luxury, people can reasonably aspire to steadily lessens, the market for Architecture must continually expand downwards by appropriating materials, configurations and concepts formerly the realm of Building.

The absence of applied finishes occurs in vernacular buildings as the expedient use of resources but when appropriated by architecture becomes a value-adding vernacular revival.

The rational forms of engineering design seen in bridges, ships, rural buildings and the replicated products of industrial design are incorporated into isolated architectural statements.


The rational buildings of industrial design became the reluctant carriers of architectural statements.


No sooner had a minimum quantity of daylight been recognised as promoting health and well-being in the mid-1920s, the quality of that light became a definition of architecture.


The concept of prefabrication is a useful one for building but Architecture has been very wary of adopting it as anything but a metaphor for a modern society that somehow never seems to arrive.

Eames House - 05

Prefabrication implies replication for diverse purposes and locations. Prefabrication is not when non-identical glazing panels are fabricated offsite. Many building components are fabricated beforehand elsewhere.


Prefabrication seems incompatible with a concept of Architecture.  If Architecture grapples with it at all, it is on the level of “exploring ways to make it socially acceptable” or “to obtain as much variation as possible from prefabricated components”. Either way, the result is to pretty it up without challenging any prejudices, and destroying its virtues in the process.

The spirit of living with fewer possessions was artfully articulated by Pawsonesque Minimalism that not only hides all your vulgar possessions but vulgar construction joins as well. $ublime.


Green roofs had the capacity to do useful things for both internal energy performance as well as the greater environment but came to be regarded as a metaphor for those things detached from any tangible benefits they may have or have had.

Environmental parameters, being quantifiable, ought to have a place in a Parametric architecture, but no. Parametricism steers well clear of any parameter that could generate genuine building form.


Sheds are useful and, as they are in the sights of an ever-downwardly shifting Architecture, are prime candidates for assimilation into Architecture.

The Advance of the Sheds

As part of its downward spread, Architecture is beginning to assimilate sheds and lumbering them with cultural and intellectual baggage.

Here’s a recent German shed. It’s a well mannered shed but not without architectural pretensions such as the square windows, the inside-outside thing, the heavy-on-light thing, the dark-on-bright thing.


This one, in Japan, is very sheddy on the outside but very Skandi-Muji on the inside. Square windows again.


Here’s Go Hasegawa’s House in Komae from 2009,

house in komae

his House in a Forest from 2006,

Go Hasegawa & Associates . House in a Forest . Nagano (3)

and Pilotis in a Forest from 2011.


This next shed featured in an earlier post.


The previous two houses had an air of primitive hut about them but it’s not so easy to say anything pretentious about this one. If you said “pilotis” you’d only make a fool of yourself. “Takes advantage of the view”? It’s on a hill. The site looks large enough to not need a two storey building. “Touches the ground lightly”?

“A bicycle shed is a building. Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture” goes Nicholas Pevsners’ famous definition. We knew what he meant,


but he spelt it out anyway.“Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.” 

Pevsner displays his century’s prejudices by his choice of examples. For him, a bicycle is an item useful for the satisfactory performance of the physical aspects of daily life and thus deserves no more than a building. A church, on the other hand is big-A Architecture because it does not cater to any meaningful physical reality so it must therefore enhance the spiritual aspects of daily life. It’s a fair expansion of something flawed.

Times have changed. Some people keep their bicycles to stop them getting stolen but also because they might like to be able to care for their machines better. A cycle is not something used only on post-war England schooldays but is an integral part of their lives. On some level, there is an non-visual aesthetic pleasure to be gained from a well-maintained cycle.

Another non-visual aesthetic pleasure comes from living with fewer things and less need to find the space or things to store them. Some people choose a life of consumption agnosticism. They don’t believe happiness comes from buying things or, if they have them, from hiding them or displaying them in some ingenious storage solution that also costs money and space.

The clients for this next shed are people like that. They used to live in what in Japan is called a danchi – a high-density residential estate. 

sodegaura danchi

Horrible you may think, but after living there for a few decades one might just begin to appreciate the closeness of other people and the comforting smallness of the spaces.


The clients requested a house that recreated the feeling of a danchi apartment even though a larger house could have been designed for the site. You enter into the garage


(like you do in the Porsche Design tower in Miami)


but then go up some stairs to three rooms and a bathroom. 40.5 sq.m.


Interior finishes aren’t lavish.

The windows of the three main rooms face south and directly into the windows of the neighbouring house. The kitchen is that one wall you see in the central image above. No attempt has been made to hide the basin or the washing machine that will go beside it. This house defies explanation in terms of Western housing aspirations as articulated by Western architects. 

The text supplied to Dezeen and Architizer by the architects, Yoshihiro Yamamoto Architects Atelier says the clients wanted a house which was narrow – a typical mistranslation of the Japanese word semai that describe houses that are small, cramped. The text mentions how the danchi lifestyle was something precious to the clients and how they wanted to preserve it.

Going by Pevsner’s definition, this building is not architecture because it has not been designed with a view to having any visual aesthetic appeal. Two points. One. IT WAS DESIGNED FOR ITS OCCUPANTS, NOT PEVSNER. NOT YOU. NOT ME.  The aesthetic appeal of this house is a psychological one the occupants are sensitive to. The owners are happy.

Any problems we have with this house are ours.

  • Given what we now know about the crazy economics of Japanese housing. and their ephemerality, the architect has not used this opportunity to build as an excuse to be sensationalist for the sake of foreign media. We have no right to be outraged by this.
  • This house will probably not be there in 20 years but its touch-the-plot-lightliness is not being presented as a virtue. No building lasts forever. Permanence vs. impermanence is a false opposition. Symbols of impermanence are no more virtuous than symbols of permanence.
  • This house has been named Danchi-Hutch. The word danchi does not have good connotations for us now, and also for many Japanese. The word “hutch” translates as goya (ごや、小屋) It means a small, simple and crudely-built building, often temporary. In the 1960s when many people were visiting Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, some journalist, the story goes, described Japanese houses as akin to  “rabbit hutches” (ウサギ小屋). Every Japanese knows this story. It stung, and it stung at a time when the Japanese wanted to be seen as worldly. Naming this building danchi-hutch suggests the Japanese are over it, and are re-evaluating the aesthetic virtues of living with less land, less space, fewer things and less architecture.

These are dangerous concepts. Lacaton & Vassal have already experienced the displeasure that happens when you build something inexpensive, useful, good value for money, and without regard for conventional notions of what constitutes architectural beauty.

Lapatie House

This building was not conventionally beautiful according to accepted criteria. Normally this is no big deal but it is when it provides a low-cost alternative to an unachiveable future of glossy parametrics and datascapes. The Lapatie House proposed going back a bit as the way forward. Kengo Kuma has suffered no such opprobrium with his big shed in Tokyo called La Kagu.


It comes with a tree and a timber deck and stair treads. Even shed haters have something to like.

I’m not surprised Kengo Kuma did this. I hope it means the Japanese have tired of providing a culturally unassailable basis for seamless minimalism, exquisite concrete work and unfeasibly large timbers craftily joined. Isolated pockets of resistance remain.


The Japanese can make an aesthetic out of anything. It’s what they’re good at and we love them for it – albeit often recklessly. Even Kengo Kuma’s shed above has signs of stealth Shedism – look at these coathanger rails. Are they pseudo-found objects as stylistic affectation? Examples of Lo-Tech as affordable Hi-Tech? Are they beyond aesthetics?


I doubt it, mainly because it’s Kengo Kuma. But it could have just as easily been Waro Kishi. We can safely and without cynicism update Pevsner’s definition: Architecture is a shed designed by Kengo Kuma or Go Hasegawa or Waro Kishi. A building is a shed designed for IKEA. 


The Fightback 

There will be a fightback against the shed and the threat it poses to Architecture for Architecture, as we know, takes good and useful ideas and neuters them by turning them into architectural statements.


This house resists all such attempts. It undermines all that architecture holds precious. Accordingly, it is singled out for special attack.

I usually love how Japanese houses combine refined materials and nice interiors into a seemingly simple exterior. This one is actually horrible on all fronts. The wood is cheap underlayment. The windows force you to look into the neighbours bedroom (and vice versa). The space: I don’t see anything noteworthy. And there are all those things and boxes sticking on the facade: what are those? Get rid of it. It’s also absolutely ignorant of it’s surroundings. Even when taking the assignment of building a small and narrow house on a corner plot in mind, this could have been improved on all fronts.

This is just a website comment. Normally, it’s journalists who initiate the process of death by architecture by seeing useful ideas only in terms of their visual effect while ignoring or begrudgingly acknowledging less photogenic but useful characteristics or ideas.


Baracco and Wright Architects’ Garden House blurs the boundaries between garden and home while redefining what it means to be minimal.


The form of the shed enclosure, as dematerialized and undressed as possible, is intended less as a reference toward economy or utility, although it does do that, than as a framework to be colonized by vegetation over time, both inside and out. The architecture can be envisaged in this way as a seamless part of a landscape and vegetation strategy, a mere step on a longer trajectory toward restoration, and one that can be almost as easily reversed – a scaffold upon which vegetation must grow in order to complete the functions of, for example, shading and cooling.

We’re going to have to expect more of this kind of nonsense festooning sheds with cultural and intellectual ornamentation, killing all that is good about them, assimilating them into the world of Architecture. 




Sheds Without Shame

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

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

Why I dislike The Eames’ House

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

Eames House - 05

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


Reasons to dislike Case Study House #21

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

Reasons to dislike Case Study House #22

Reasons to like Case Study House #22. 

It’s a shed.


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

still a shed
34° 6’2.81″N 118°22’13.59″W

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

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

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

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

country shed

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

and it is in Australia where Glenn Murcutt has also.

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

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

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

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

lacaton & vassal

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



Architecture Myths #11: Lowly Building Types

Peter Behrens supposedly had the idea first – take a lowly building type and “elevate” it to Architecture.


1909 hmm. I’m surprised it wasn’t earlier. By 1909, wealthy landowners had all but died out, or were soon about to. The smart money would have been on wealthy industrialists – especially ones who produced light bulbs, motors and generators. Oh, and turbines.


Let’s have a look at that roof.


The basic structure is a hinged portal frame structure with a parallel structure for the gantry crane. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why the sides of the roof are composed of two trusses set at an angle to approximate a circle – unless the plan was to avoid a gable end that looks a bit too much like a pediment.


That contrived non-structural pediment screams Acropolis anyway and that’s probably all it took to “elevate” this building to “Architecture”. Like many monuments the AEG’s famed monumentality comes from disguised scale – there are no human-sized doors or windows so it’s difficult to tell how large it really is.

This elevating of lowly building types is a pretty shallow business but, all in all, it was a GOOD CALL once you learn that Behrens was also artistic consultant and corporate brand engineer for AEG. 


There’s more to Behrens than we’ve been led to believe. He’s supposed to have been the engineer whose office gave Gropius, Mies and Le Corbusier their early training. But in what? Perhaps we should credit Behrens with making those three alert to brand engineering. Anyway, Behrens brought new architectural clients to the party.

Fagus Factory 1911, Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer


In 1928, Gropius had been lurking around Albert Kahn’s Ford factory in the US but we don’t know what he thought of it. Given the above two earlier buildings, I expect he thought it wasn’t pretentious enough and that the Americans hadn’t yet discovered that industrial buildings could be made into Architecture.

Albert Kahn ford factory 1924

Kahn’s 1924 factory had various assembly lines and various functions yet is basically a shed whereas Gropius’s 1925 Dessau Bauhaus has people doing various things in various spaces in highly articulated volumes.

Once the Eurostarchitects fled Europe, factories and worker housing disappeared as architectural subjects and the history books jumped to office buildings and California houses. We know the rest. But what other subjects for Architecture did America have to offer? Petrol stations never really took off, perhaps because they were simply too small. It wasn’t for lack of trying.

Being basically amorphous, buildings providing office space did and continue to supply ample scope for whatever it is architecture does.


Architectural_Photo Simulations
Architectural_Floor Plans

Frank Gehry also once designed a shopping mall.


So did ZHA.


So far, architects have shied away from data centres despite them being a far greater part of contemporary life than any of the above building types. Sure, with Galaxy Soho, ZHA claims to have given representation to the fluid connectivity of contemporary life but this merely misrepresents predetermined point-of-purchase options as free choice.


I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Architecture tends to represent only what it can represent and, tellingly, what it is asked to represent. Data centres have so far proved Architecture-resistant on both counts. This says more about Architecture than it does about data centres.

iCloud data center