Thursday, May 17, 2018

What is the ideal relationship of architect to client?

Floor Plan, Malcolm Willey house, 1933, by Frank Lloyd Wright (with then-radical integration of kitchen and living spaces highlighted)

What is the ideal relationship of architect to client?

I like to quote architect Bruce Goff, who said he "liked to do what they [his clients] would do if they were a good architect." Each client being as unique as every individual, Goff would devise a unique house for every client, spending as much time discovering who they really were, in order to discover how best to make their home best fit them -- as if they had been able to produce it out of themselves.

Architects Charles & Ray Eames had a somewhat similar approach, based upon a conversation with Eero Saarinen on the subject of the Guest/Host Relationship, saying:
One of the things we hit upon was the quality of a host. That is, the role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests—those who enter the building and use the objects in it. We decided that this was an essential ingredient in the design of a building or a useful object.
I think that's a great way to think about it. 

Building upon that idea, designer Steve Sikora sees designer and client as "dancers in a complicated tango of wills"--the better clients helping produce a greater architectural response.

My partner, Lynette and I shared the mixed blessing of leading a design and branding firm for over 30 years. One of the lessons you take from that, is the understanding that the quality of your work is significantly determined by the quality of the clients you work with. Notice, I said work with, rather than work for. When a designer is able to ally as equal partner with a client of vision and courage, it creates fertile ground for optimal results in every endeavour. Doubtless, in our practice, our greatest achievements would not have been, were it not for the engagement, faith and occasional challenges presented by our clients.
Applying this to Frank Lloyd Wright's highly innovative 1933 Willey House (plan, above), about which Sikora (as owner) writes frequently, not least about its dramatic impact on modern domestic design:
In the case of the Willey House, Nancy presented Wright with enough constructive resistance to lift her dance partner above the prevailing paradigms of domestic architecture.
Wright's approach demands a demanding but open client.
As John Sergeant observed, “The relationship between client and architect was for Wright a thing of joint intent.” To achieve clear focus and gain permission, even “In large projects he always sought out one person and never a committee, to represent the client.” That, as they say, is easier said than done, but it was a prerequisite that governed his creative and persuasive processes...
When [his son] John Lloyd Wright considered a career in architecture, his father gave him this advice, “You’ve got to have guts to be an architect! People will come to you and tell you what they want, and you will have to give them what they need.” “Don’t you take the wants of the client into consideration?” John asked. “If you consider the house first, you will supply the needs of the client. The wants change from day to day, but a house must embody the needs of those who live in it. The architect must be aware of those needs, the client seldom is. An architect must have the courage to turn away a commission even if he is hungry if his work will not represent the highest ideals….Think it over, John: to be an architect is no light matter.”
The Willey House was a small masterpiece that helped re-set Wright's residential thinking for the rest his career; a new form that flourished in the creative tension between a responsive architectural genius and a demanding yet sympathetic client.
Consider this, a client will typically select an architect based upon their past artistic expressions. Nancy Willey was certainly a case in point. Yet the same client will judge their architect by how well their needs are met, once the design is implemented. This too, is evident in the correspondence between Nancy Willey and Frank Lloyd Wright. In her initial letter she asked “What do you think are the chances of my being able to have a – creation of art?” She repeatedly expressed wanting to follow his instructions to the letter. But when pressed into a corner, having to decide between high art and pragmatism, she was willing to fight for what she knew she needed and could afford. On November 17, 1933 frustrated with construction bids coming in at two times over budget on scheme 1, she penned a terse letter to Wright. In it she wrote, “I do not want a seventeen thousand dollar house even at twelve or ten thousand dollars. I want an eight to ten thousand dollar house at eight to ten thousand dollars. Can I have it?” We have Nancy’s red line and assertive pushback to thank, for what inspired Wright to cast aside his initial ideas and ultimately seek a more appropriate solution. Once the water broke, something new and wonderful was born, relieving the tension between clients and architect. From that point forward, in full alignment, both parties strove to advance the project with renewed enthusiasm. In Nancy’s own words from her Oral History interview with Indira Berndtson “…and how he responded, once he accepted it!!
Dance partners -- host and guest -- interpreter of true needs -- discover of a client's inner person. The good architect is all of these in one. And the ideal client is the ideal reciprocal to all these. But as Steve Sikora summarises, there is one quality above all that is required of a good client:
I had the chance to meet a life-long graphic design hero of mine, Milton Glaser. It was at a conference in New Orleans, where we both presented. An idea from his presentation became indelibly inscribed into my memory. While discussing his long career, Milton spoke about clients. He said, “I could never work for anyone who I did not have a genuine affection for.” His words were profound, because they implied two things; he could only do his best work for people he liked, but also, in a professional context, he gave permission for designers to understand, appreciate and embrace clients as fellow humans, even potential friends. He believed in collapsing formal, professional barriers. I instantly related his sentiment to my own client relationships.
And I, I hope, to mine.

Quotes from:

Saturday, April 28, 2018

"Man, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the rocks, trees, bears or bees of that nature to which he owes his being.”

“Man takes a positive hand in creation whenever he puts a building upon the earth beneath the sun. If he has any birthright at all, it must consist in this, that he, too, is no less a feature of the landscape than the rocks, trees, bears or bees of that nature to which he owes his being.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright, 1937

[Top pic of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Fallingwater,' by photographer Andrew Pielage; bottom pic of Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Tirranna' House, by Houlihan Lawrence via Cottage and Garden]

Friday, April 27, 2018

Getting a flower out of the system instead of a weed

"There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's where the light gets in."

~ Leonard Cohen

Weeds abound. Weeds can be found in every suburb, and every magazine. Weeds are what we get out of the system when we all try least hardest. But why live in a weed for twenty years or more just because the system makes building and buying weeds easier than it is to produce a flower? And why go to the effort of building yourself if the final result of all that angst and energy is just another weed.

We use this frequently as a slogan -- getting a flower out of the system instead of a weed -- but it's a slogan that we really mean. The weeds the system throws up don't interest us. The flowers we can grow out of it do. Immensely.

This is what we do every day here at Organon Architecture: work to get a flower out of the system instead of a weed. With the system now more grotesque now than it's ever been, it's never been more important.

It means we place as much emphasis in designing your home on the process of design and discovery as we do in the final product -- much of the design process involving finding out who you are and your ideal place in which to live.

It means we're designing your special place, not just something that suits every passer-by -- we do what you might do if you were a good architect.

That means that we don't know when we start where, and how, the process will end up -- it's always an open exploration, with the discovery and construction of your dream the final goal!

It means we know the rules (and there are many of them!) not simply to blindly follow them, but in order to find and exploit the loopholes -- to let the light get in through those cracks; because in this system it's not the weeds that the grow up within the cracks and crannies (they're everywhere, and in industrial quantities) --  it's the flowers. And they need careful tending.

It does mean the whole process may take longer -- but flowers always do need more care and attention than a weed.

And a weed you can get anywhere, every day of the week.

Flowers are much harder to grow. But worth it.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"'Jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs" [updated]

I was heartened this morning to hear Radio NZ report that "'jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs" -- not about the hoops, and certainly not about the costs they're imposing, but because this is finally being reported as a headline item.
Fire engineers are accusing councils of making illegal demands on them that are inflating building costs by thousands of dollars... "I've become totally used to how bad it is, I'm sort of numb to it, it's just a bureaucratic nightmare right now," Wellington fire engineer Kenneth Crawford of Pacific Consultants said. "We've got so many demands coming from council ... it's pushed up costs, it's creating months and months of delays in obtaining a building consent, and none of this is actually really improving safety." A fire design on a small warehouse in 2013 that might have cost $1200 to $1500 was now costing at least $4000, and up to $20,000, he said.
Sadly, as anyone who's recently endured the consent process could tell you, it's not confined to fire engineers.

The Building Act requires council to process Building Consent applications within twenty working days of being lodged. Council have two dodges to get around this. The first is to set up a process to decide when the application has been successfully lodged. This can easily take two weeks, with no work at all done n processing. And the second -- based on he principle that "the clock stops" when questions about the project are asked -- is to ask as many silly questions as council processors can think of, all of them calculated to show down the processing and frustrate client, consultants and designers. [This 2013 table from Christchurch will give you some idea of the time 'saved' in this way.]

In recent months, for example, and like every regular applicant for building consents, I've spent many, many hours replying to council's Requests for Further Information (RFIs). These days it's often less about being a designer than it is about being a lawyer, explaining the building code clauses to the processor at the other end of an email.

The simplest RFI responses are to tell the questioner where precisely in the document set they can find the answer to their question, already addressed. But in recent months it's been getting worse. Among other things, in order to keep things moving I've been required to tell council the make and model of a shower and the finish of a bathroom cabinet; the colour of bedroom carpets (accompanied by a calculation to show they're bright enough); the normal process by which to pour a concrete footing in engineered soil, to abandon approved details because the territorial authority has decided they don't like them, and to replace them with those they've now decided they do; to discuss the acoustics of polystyrene sheets (that are not being used for acoustic purposes); to resupply calculations and statements that the processor has already received, but lost; to explain why handrails are not required on steps with fewer than two treads, and how an opening window into an open lightwell allows light and air into a room; to draw up a list of a project's "construction and demolition hazards"; to provide mechanical ventilation rates for areas we've shown will use natural ventilation; to draw up simple diagrams because processors are unable to read fairly standard plans; to confirm the use of smoke detectors (when they've already been clearly placed and labelled on drawings); and (in the absence of council finding anything else to ask about) to draw a detail of a bathroom splashback -- just some examples of recent Requests from processors, all of which have wasted my time and theirs, unnecessarily dragging out the consenting process, and all at the time and expense of clients who were once very eager to build.

I'm sure you can all add your own list of examples. (And please do!)

This process is often worse when councils sublet the processing to a consultant, whose motivation is then to spin out the questions in order to pad the bill. This can work out very nicely for the very average consultant, but very poorly for clients who have budgets and builders trying to programme in their work.

And all this of course is in addition to the truckload of documentation, in triplicate, that has to be supplied just to 'get in the door' to make that original application, the sheer volume of which in itself delays the processing and all but guarantees inconsistencies will appear in the document set. By way of illustration, I may be renovating a house built in the 1920s, of a style that is still very popular, the original drawings of which are on one A4 page with another smaller page containing what might be called the specification -- which might say little more than 'use nails.' And this 'document set' was probably drawn up by either the builder or owner. Yet to renovate that house now I will need documentation of around 24 A1 pages, and A4 specifications and accompanying documentation of around a thousand. And neither builder nor owner will be allowed to prepare those documents unless they have been previously Licensed by a government department to do so.

Every year it's been getting worse, without making the houses any better. In 2007, for instance -- aware that things were becoming more complicated in this new age of Licensing, Producer Statements and Memoranda/Certificates of Design Work-- the Department of Building and Housing produced a Guide to Applying for a Building Consent. It was a 44 pages long. The second edition appeared just three years later. It was already 62 pages long. None has appeared since: perhaps because no-one would have the time to read a document as long as it would now need to be. Crikey, these days it takes well over a day just to complete the application forms and processes to apply for a consent, and more than a day for every response thereafter.  All of it time wasted.

Every consultant will tell you similar stories, and not just fire engineers.

Yes, 'jumping through hoops' is pushing up building costs, and has been for some time.

Until or unless the Building Act is amended to remove risk from council -- and their ratepayers -- the hoops (and costs) are going to get worse, not better.

UPDATE: Further comment this morning on the mis-apportioning of  risk (Friday 27):

From Radio NZ the morning after:
The impact of everyone trying to pass all the risk on, was it was getting harder to build anything at a time of housing shortages, the Property Council's chief executive Connal Townsend said.

"The overall public policy setting of how the heck we manage risk, is completely out of whack," he said.

"We've just got people passing the ticking timebomb from one hand to another and blaming each other. It's pointless.

"We have to tackle the way risk is allocated and the fact that councils are left carrying the liability is just hopeless, absolutely hopeless."

The previous government tried hard to fix the problem [cough, cough - Ed.] but couldn't, and it was urgent this government confront it, he said.

The risk issue was a perverse result of building laws being overhauled in 2004 to combat the leaky building crisis.

Lawyers, including the Law Commission in a 2014 report, have since then resisted changing the way liability is doled out.

"The net effect of our joint-and-several system is that councils are left carrying the can," Mr Townsend said.

"This story with the fire engineers, all they've done is blown the whistle on a ridiculous problem that has to be solved."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Q: What is a house?

“The house is a machine for living.”
~ a banality from the very banal Le Corbusier

“Oh yes, young man; consider that a house is a machine in which to live, but by the same token the heart is a suction pump. Sentient man begins where that concept of the heart ends.     “Consider that a house is a machine in which to live, but architecture begins where that concept of the house ends. All life is machinery in a rudimentary Sense, and yet machinery is the life of nothing. Machinery is machinery only because of life.”
~ Frank Lloyd Wright, from his lecture ‘To the Young Man in Architecture'

"A house is not a machine to live in. It is the shell of man — his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation. Not only its visual harmony but its organisation as a whole, the whole work combined together, make it human in the most profound sense…  The poverty of modern architecture stems from the atrophy of sensuality.”
~ architect Eileen Gray, designer of the house that Le Corbusier could never have designed, but nonetheless fell in love with

 “A house is not an object but a universe we construct for ourselves – not a garage where we park ourselves.”
~ architect Claude Megson, on 'making a home for man'

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How did the brilliant, intricate work of architect Claude Megson disappear from view?

The November 2nd issue of Paperboy magazine gives eight whole pages to Claude Megson Counter Constructions, the first ever book on the work of this important but neglected New Zealand architect. 

The shorter online version of the article is here, and asks: How did the brilliant, intricate work of architect Claude Megson disappear from view? Conclusion: 
His reassessment is long overdue. 
The beautifully-photographed book is self-published by UK-based architect Giles Reid, with generous backing from the Warren Trust. So here's your reminder that the last recommended posting date from the UK for Christmas delivery is Saturday 9th December.

Your price of NZ$69.95 includes postage and packaging. To purchase, go to: 
I hope you will take a look.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Frank Lloyd Wright, and the importance of the built environment

Listening in this weekend to the Wright Society Virtual Summit (you all could be too, you know), I'm really enjoying hearing Frank Lloyd Wright's clients talking about their homes, and their lives in and around them.

Roland Reisley was just 26 years old when he joined a housing cooperative in Pleasantville, New York, able to commission Wright to design the community and several of the houses, including their own. "We didn't dream of approaching Frank Lloyd Wright, ordinary people don't do that," smiles Reisley today, 67 years later. But when the community founder showed Wright the site thus began "a wonderful, long, productive and happy relationship with him."

Asked what he has learned after a lifetime of living in and enjoying his Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian home — enjoying every day the nature of the design, seeing the seasons change, how the light passes through the home, Reisley sums up with a very important observation about what essentially makes good architecture:
I came to realise after many years … a pinch-me realisation, that after many years there had not been a single day of my life, even the bad days that happen in every life, where I was not aware of seeing something beautiful. I always, every day of my life, [am saying] ‘isn’t that lovely’ — whether it’s … in the morning I look up and see the way the wood is mitred in certain places, and how it contrasts with the light through the window which is either nice and green fro the trees or white with snow; and I could go on with similar awareness.     “We sit outside (in summer-time) … and look around and say ‘isn’t it beautiful!,’ ‘isn’t it wonderful!’ — every day, every time…
    Neuroscientists have observed … that living with a sense of awareness of beauty brings a sense of comfort, a reduction of stress, and these other kinds of things, that may contribute to physical and emotional health, possibly even longevity. I’m 93 years old! I’m in very  good shape for 93 years old. I like to attribute that to this sense of beauty that I’ve lived in all my life.
   It also has made me very conscious, as I talk about this house and the architecture and how it makes me feel, of the importance of the built environment generally.     “I remark these days not just to visitors but to architects as well: ’You know, these buildings are just objects. We may like how they look, we may not like how they look, but what matters is how they make us feel. When we’re in this environment, does it feel good, does it [make us] feel better, does it feel enriching. And that may or may not coincide with whether we like the way it looks. I think Wright understood that, and he created environments in which people feel good.
Not a trivial point.

[Pics from the Wright Society Virtual Summit Guide, and The Weekly Wright Write-Up]

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Recent Project: New kitchen in home renovation

The wonderful kitchen designer with whom I often work, Leonie Von Sturmer, is far better at self-promotion than I am — and here (above) on the front cover of the latest Trends magazine is the new house and kitchen we recently worked on at Greenwood’s Corner, Auckland.

With its new roof carefully located to manouvre through council’s height-in-relation-to-boundary controls, I love the way you can relax at the kitchen counter with a beer, enjoying the birdlife and foliage of the surrounding trees through the glassed gables and dormers.

(If I say so myself), it makes for a surprisingly open and informal setting in a relatively constrained site.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Recent Project: Howick renovation



Among the many projects currently in the office is this one, a renovation of a mid-century modern in Howick, offering opportunities to rethink New Zealand’s modernist heritage, and to undo  some of the later “modernisations.” And, like every renovation project, it involves a bit of untangling …



Thursday, February 23, 2017

Housing: Variety through repetition


1_ VIEW-web

Designing a house form that works and that can be replicated to produce variety is fun, and economical, but not straightforward.

7_VIEW I-web

This project, by Organon Architecture, has 36 houses of two types; two types whose lower floors are identical and whose upper floors differ only in their orientation – and in that difference lies the difference that produces the difference: two house types in which the way they come together creates the structure of the composition, produces the interest, creates (with the simple form becoming complex by repetition and the relationship to the other repeated units) creating the relationship of composition to landscape.


Repetition means ease of assembly. Repetition means making use of industrialisation to reduce costs and waste. Repetition, here, producing variety instead of conformity.

That’s they way nature does it. That’s the way to make it work.

I think it does.

Could you live here?


Monday, January 23, 2017

Quote of the Day: “Not only cathedrals … ”

“Not only cathedrals, but every great engineering work is an expression of motivation and of purpose which cannot be divorced from religious implications. This truth provides the engineer with what many would assert to be the ultimate existential pleasure.
    “I do not want to get carried away with this point. The age of cathedral building is long past. And, as I have already said, less than one quarter of today’s engineers are engaged in construction activities of any sort. But every man-made structure, no matter how mundane has a little bit of cathedral in it, since man cannot help but transcend himself as soon as he begins to design and construct.”

~ Samuel Florman, American civil engineer, general contractor and author, from his book The Existential Pleasures of Engineering


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quote of the Day: Form ever follows function …


“[T]o the steadfast eye of one standing on the shore of things … the heart is ever gladdened by the beauty, the exquisite spontaneity, with which life seeks and takes on is forms in an accord perfectly responsive to its needs. It seems ever as though the life and the form were absolutely one and inseparable, so adequate is the sense of fulfilment.
    “Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight or the open apple blossom, the toiling work horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes into shape, and dies in a twinkling.
    “It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognisable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.
    “Shall we, then, daily violate this law in our art? Are we so decadent, so imbecile, so utterly weak of eyesight, that we cannot perceive this truth so simple, so very simple?”

~ Architect Louis Sullivan, in his 1896 article ‘The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered


Friday, January 13, 2017

Rivendell et al, by Laurie Virr [updated]



Architect Laurie Virr has lived and worked in Canberra most of his life, where he has been something of an apostle for organic architecture, especially that practiced by Frank Lloyd Wright.

His first house in 1969 was (and still is)

an unusual Canberra example of the late twentieth century organic style of architecture based on a triangular module. The house was Laurie’s first commission in Canberra and displays the themes he would explore in his residential projects over the next three decades: the use of massing, geometric forms and deep roof overhangs in an energy efficient, solar house.

His own house, dubbed Rivendell and designed in 1975,

is an outstanding example of the late twentieth century organic style with its massing, use of geometric forms, deep roof overhang and energy efficient design. The successful implementation of a complex geometric plan based on a hemicycle is unusual if not unique for a mid-century Canberra house. The house has been published many times, in the U.S.A., Europe and Australia. Inexplicably, it is relatively unknown in Canberra.


The roofs and brick masses of Rivendell, looking north towards the Mount Taylor Nature Reserve


Convinced that government-financed housing had been a disgrace rather than a grace to the Canberra landscape, he set out to prove what was possible --

to design a house no larger in area than welfare housing of that time, 102.4m2,  but one in which the siting, the exploitation of space, the massing, the concern for the environment, and the details, expressed in unequivocal terms what I considered to be architecture.

Dining area of another Laurie Virr hemicycle, at Valla Beach, New South Wales


Taking his brief from his wife (no architect should deliver his own brief, he reckons) and allowing the site to suggest the house that could deliver it, he began a study of hemicycle houses, first designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the second Jacobs House, and designed this passive solar masterpiece for him and his growing family. Taking his cue from Louis Sullivan’s edict to “take care of the terminals and the rest will take care of itself” he held the public spaces of the hemicycle between the orthogonal cavity brick masses housing retreats, servicing spaces and study.


The French doors and stationary glass on the north face of the house encompass an arc of 90o [he explains], making it an architectural expression of the problem. This is also exemplified by the walls that define the terrace and mark the extent of the glazing.


Courtyard of Laurie Virr design at Murrumbatemen, New South Wales


Built with his own hands, he has lived and worked there –very comfortably -- ever since.

There are just two people living in the house at this time and it is comfortable for us, but there was an occasion when 56 folk gathered within and there was room for all.



[Images from Laurie Virr’s site, Canberra House, and Wright Chat.]

NB: UPDATED 15 Jan to add corrected captions.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017



Does this animation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Fallingwater’ (set to Smetana’s ‘Moldau’) ever get old?

No, I don’t think it does.


Fallingwater from Cristóbal Vila on Vimeo.


Friday, December 09, 2016

The ruins of the “City of Culture, ” Galicia – by Peter Eisenman


ENTR ECOT | Cidade da Cultura from urbanNext on Vimeo.

Back when I was studying architecture at Auckland uni, starchitects like Peter Eisenman were all the rage.


My own sympathies were with the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, and work like it that embraced human life. Architecture like Eisenman’s I characterised as neutron-bomb architecture – architecture from which all human life and humanity were rationalistically erased.Galicia2

For the most part however, neutron-bomb architecture was what my lecturers wanted. This, they held, is architecture with real rigour. Wright, and work like it, was mostly shunned.  What they wanted was architecture generated not by life, but by diagram.


So it’s with great sympathy for the good people of Galicia, Spain, who had inflicted upon them in the name of said rigour the architecture of Mr Eisenman, an abomination never completed but which has left them €475.9 million in a hole. All that’s left to show for it is the

hulking cultural complex Ciudad da Cultura de Galicia (City of Culture of Galicia) sits incomplete and empty. Commissioned to the American architect after an international competition hosted by the Parliament of Galicia, the cultural center presented an ambitious feat of construction on the slopes of Mount Gaiás… [C]onstruction of the six-building complex endured during the 2008 Spanish recession, and as costs for the building’s materials and construction continued to rise, the project became a crippling burden on the regional government of Galicia… Considered a “white elephant” to the government and the people of Galicia, construction of the project was halted in 2013.

What rigorous vision is being imposed here?

The parametrically configured design was conjured by overlaying the map of the city of Galicia on top of Mount Gaiás’s sloping topography. The result was a series of granite-clad slopes interconnected by streets and plazas meant to invoke an urban environment.

This is what passes for rigour in the rarified world academic architecture: a 3-dimensional multi-million-euro equivalent of the scribble patterns you drew in kindergarten. The result, in reality? A White Elephant, as Peter Eisenman’s Ambitious “City of Culture” Fades Into Ruin.

[U]ndulating marble forms that extrude from the earth are flanked with scaffolding, metal barriers and caution tape. Shrubs and weeds have already begun to sprout between the cracks of the pink granite panels. Despite a few pedestrians, the site remains empty, untouched, all too uncannily fulfilling Eisenman’s vision of an “archaeological” site.

How appropriate.


The suspicion will be that if completed the work may have appeared more humane. If you truly think so, just Google his finished work …

[Film by ENTR_ENCOT. Pics by, Alex Lievens]


Monday, November 21, 2016

Rose Pauson House, by Frank Lloyd Wright



One my personal favourites designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is the delightful little desert house he designed for Rose Pauson that was sadly destroyed by fire not long after its creation.

It does make a beautiful ruin, but a tech whiz at the Hooked on the Past blog has reproduced it virtually with the aid of AutoCAD and a bit of trickery.



Head here to see it all, including the story of the virtual creation.



[Pics by Hooked on the Past, Wright Chat]


Thursday, September 15, 2016

“The joy of growing up in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright”



Frank Lloyd Wright’s modest Haynes House, in which Thomas French grew up
{Pic by Tony Valainis, ‘
Indianapolis Monthly]

We build our houses, observed Winston Churchill, and then our houses mould us. Writer Thomas French reflects on the joy of a childhood moulded by a genius, by the sheer joy of growing up in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Growing up in a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Indiana meant living inside the famed architect’s imagination—an influence that stays with me still….

Architect Claude Megson writes that a house isn’t just a garage to park yourself but “a whole universe for ourselves to inhabit,”a place reflecting our whole universe of needs and emotions. The universe of our own soul – and, for the family’s youngest, playing a large part in its creation. French’s description of the sensory excitement and natural joy transmitted by the house reflects Megson’s vision:

Wright’s design already was shaping me in ways I did not yet recognise. Small as it was, the house had enough room for my many moods, all the versions of myself that were emerging. Sometimes I could not bear the sight of my parents—not because they’d done anything wrong, but because I was 13. Other times I would happily join my mother in the kitchen, helping her bake oatmeal cookies, both of us bathed in sunshine from the skylight above. Before we moved to that house, I had never heard of anyone putting a window in a roof. Now I couldn’t imagine living without one.
    On stormy summer nights, [my sister] Brooke and I would turn off the lights in the living room and watch the dark clouds explode with lightning strikes that illuminated the yard and the woods and our faces. Together, we counted out the seconds until the ensuing thunder shook the room’s giant windows.
HaynesHouse    The house was tactile and primal, a wonderland of the senses and a trove of Jungian archetypes. In our bedrooms we hibernated like bears, dreaming on and on. When we woke, we shuffled through the long, low tunnel of the hallway until we were freed into the open space of the living room, endlessly repeating the sequence of compression and release. All of it seeped inside me slowly, almost without my noticing. Walking from room to room, I absentmindedly ran my fingertips along the red-brick walls, tracing the stubble of gray mortar. The air carried a faint scent of cypress that was strongest in the library. The clerestory windows across the top of the walls in the hallway were carved into vaguely geometric shapes. I got it into my head that these shapes formed a code and that the master was speaking from beyond the grave, waiting for someone to decipher his message. I never cracked the puzzle, but the windows gave the entire house a sense of mystery that I found satisfying.
    The house and its creator were teaching me to hold still long enough to see patterns all around me—in the movement of sunlight across the kitchen, in the shadows of the trees at the edge of the woods, in the way our family broke into a symphony of cries and complaints in the mornings before we left for school and work, which crescendoed again in the evenings as we got ready for bed. Wright had sketched it out for us, this fabric of connection and meaning, and now I was paying attention…

Frank Lloyd Wright helped me navigate the rapids. When he designed our house, he had been an old man who knew a great deal about life and death, creativity and loss. He was an artist, fully formed and fully aware, on the edge of his final journey, and he had bestowed upon us his maturity, his wisdom, his abiding calm and limitless passion. The balance of light and dark he created inside that house was durable enough to contain the storms inside me, our family’s ups and the downs, all the multitudes within us. When I struggled, the walls cloaked me in quiet. When I felt strong, I sat in the living room and gazed out those big windows toward the horizon, imagining the blank pages of my life waiting to be written.

What a beautiful tribute to the house that shaped him, “a testament to one artist’s beguiling vision of a country where all of us, not just the rich, can lead lives of beauty and grace and possibility.”


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: Using tricks to deliver meaning


The human eye can be 'tricked' * -- something of which every decent artist and architect is aware.

Take this tricked-up meme currently doing the rounds,

an image of intersecting grey lines against a white background, with 12 black dots on the nodes where the grey lines meet.
    All 12 dots are really on the image, but most people are unable to see them all at the same time, making the dots seem like they appear and disappear with every blink. This occurs because the eye’s stimulated light receptors can sometimes influence the ones next to them, creating illusions.
    In this particular image, tweeted by game developer Will Kerslake on Sunday, the brain can see some black dots but guesses when it fills in the peripheral vision. Because mostly grey lines appear in the periphery, the black dots don’t appear…
    How many dots can you see at once?


So because we perceive in a certain way, artists and architects use this in their work.

Based on understanding how we perceive colour and colour contrasts, artists use it to create real spatial depth in paintings.

Based on understanding how we perceive light (strong contrast between light and shadow needed to see real contrast), artists use it to create life and excitement on a canvas, and architects to create it in spaces.

Based on understanding howwe perceive colour in light and shade, architects use it to select darker colours on a window wall to relieve glom inside and better connect us with nature outside.

Based on understanding how we perceive continuity and spatial enclosure, architects use it to 'break the box' and expand the sense of space.

Based on understanding how we perceive the visual field, architects use it to order space and to ‘capture a view alive.’

Yes, these are all visual tricks. But they work because they respond to the ways we perceive, and because they work they can and are used to create real meaning.

* This does not mean the eye is unreliable - it simply means that (in the case of refraction, for example) it often shows us more context than we know, so while our perception is automatic what what we perceive sometimes needs interpretation.

[Hat tip Kaila Geary Halling.]


Thursday, July 07, 2016

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: More about windows



“So, what about our windows?” It’s usually a half-asked question at some early stage of a project, about the colour of windows generally – which are usually picked by someone who has a favourite colour they see in a brochure – or about how many windows in a space – just so many holes punched in a wall -- but the placement and colour of your windows is more important than you might think.

Consider it from the point of view of perception, as architect Richard Neutra used to. Former Neutra apprentice John Blanton explains the importance of size and placement:

Studies in neuroscience in architecture will continue to show the benefits of bright, daylight rooms..
    Lowering costs through simplicity was always a factor for [Neutra] so that the client could afford gracious social areas within a limited budget, which he took very seriously.
    A room with a single exposure, especially a bedroom or business office, is the hardest to work with. Neutra’s answer was wall-to-wall windows, but not necessarily floor-to-ceiling. Extending them to the corners created light onto, and gained reflection from, the side walls. This accomplishes brightness with lessening of glare. Some light from those walls reflects back onto the solid portion of the window wall, again decreasing glare. Thus, a feeling of a dark cave wall with a single overly bright opening was avoided.
    The effect of opening up the room is further enhanced because the eye flows to the nature beyond the glass, unhampered by the enclosure of dead corners. I have long believed that glare is caused by the eye’s rapid re-focusing between light and dark. This is stressful, which is why it is uncomfortable. Together with similar adjacent rooms, these wall-to-wall windows produced a long ribbon window on the exterior.

So it’s not enough just to punch a hole in your wall: to avoid the dark cave means more glass than you might have thought: and  glass especially going to the corners, so light can fully wash the internal walls.  (And feel free to even take the glass round onto the next wall plane itself to fully open up your corners!)


And bear this in mind when you’re hanging your curtains: make sure you have enough curtain rail to take all of your curtains well past their window when they’re open, and to draw them away from any adjacent wall lest they remain and cast the very shadow you’re trying to avoid.

Notice too that the exterior effect (the long ribbon window) is produced by the interior purpose, that purpose being to avoid glare and dark corners, and fully open up the space to nature outside the glass. This connection, Neutra believed and neuroscience has since confirmed, is essential for human health and well-being.

Bear in mind too, especially if fitting blinds, that because the brightest part of the ‘sky dome’ is directly above us, we will get most of our light through the window’s top-third, so unless you do want that dark cave you’d best avoid having your blinds bunch up at the top of your window.


So what about the colour of your windows, and the window walls? Does perception play a part in suggesting how to handle these? Sure does: to minimise the contrast between the outside brightness and the shadow unavoidably cast on the inside of your window joinery, Neutra always favoured the light-reflecting colour of silver. But for his window-walls themselves, something much richer:

The walls below Neutra’s continuous windows might have built-in cabinetry or in a colour different than the white side walls, perhaps the favorite colour of a child occupant. If white paint were to be used below the windows as on the side walls, that low band of paint would actually appear to look dirty because less light is being reflected there. However, because using a colour could detract from the view outdoors, which was his invariable goal because it promised the most actual health benefit, he did this on an individual basis. Ideally, his choice for this lower band was his chocolate “Neutra Brown.” This particular brown, it seems to me, is a “magic colour” in that the eye identifies it but does not attempt to focus on it, so its use is oddly comforting, as I have experienced.
    Any post in this extended bank of windows was usually painted silver, another “magic” colour. It created the least amount of contrast with the incoming light, and it almost made any post disappear to create openness. Again, expansiveness! Additionally, Neutra ensured that any vertical sliding door jamb would be hidden on the exterior side of a post or wall. Likewise, he concealed the horizontal head of such door so that it was hidden within or behind the roof framing. Again, openness, rather than a sliding door frame silhouetted within the structural frame, which would pose another obstruction to our view of the outdoors. It is an experience so subtle that it is not seen other than subliminally.
    All this gives us the “Neutra impact.” We do not look at his windows, we look through them.

That’s the reward of we get it all right: by starting from the inside out, letting the function dictate the form.

I hope this Mini-Tutorial has helped you see the placement and colour of your windows rather differently.

Feel free to check out all the other Architectural Mini-Tutorials for more fresh ways to see architecture.


* * *  Pics used show Richard Neutra’s Hailey House, pics by Angeleno Living. Text quoted from Barbara Lamprecht’s wonderful Neutra blog.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Architecture: Making ‘a home for man.’ Part 3: The essence of the home


“Whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more. For space in the
image of man is place, and time in the image of man is occasion. ... We are not
building buildings, we are building ritual, building occasion, building life itself.”
~ Claude Megson (after Aldo Van Eyck)

Over the last two days we talked about man and how to begin making a home for him on this earth: It’s not just about marking a spot; it’s about making places: human places, for human occasions.

But isn’t it the case that much of our built environment, and hence much of what architects do, is normally beyond our immediate awareness? Most people just don’t notice too much about the buildings they’re in, do they (at least not consciously) – they quickly become ‘second nature’ to us, unless of course something goes wrong!

We might ‘feel’ a space or a building as being good or bad or uplifting or stultifying or bland or glorious … but we don’t always consciously know why. So let’s start looking at what architecture is trying to say to you, and how you can begin to ‘listen.’  And let’s literally start in the home . . .

Part 3: The essence of the home

“A house is not an object but a universe we construct
for ourselves – not a garage where we park ourselves.”
Claude Megson

SINCE WE TEND TO take for granted the architectural experiences we are offered, so Jay Farbstein and Min Kantrowitz in their book People in Places suggest a starting point for learning to understand what architecture can say to you if you let it (assuming of course that the architecture has something to say!):

Architecture [they say] begins with the five senses, plus other (sub-senses) like those to do with temperature, humidity, air movement across the skin, and especially the kinaesthetic or haptic; the senses must come first!

Next, These sensations must be integrated into patterns i) of day-to day life – entering the house, engaging in conversation, cooking, eating, watching television, bathing, lying in bed – and ii)of integration with the wider world with the perceiver at the centre – detailed and complex recognition of siting, eye lines into the distant ( and close) landscape.

Of harbour, valley and hilltop (each with their own resonance for us) and even the gradual exclusion of the public realm (“this is our space”) down to individual realms (“this is my space”).

Architecture recognises and builds in all these patterns or rituals – try and identify them in the place you’re in now, and think too about that special place from childhood and see how its patterns go together, and if they played some part in making it special for you.

The point here is that all architecture begins with you – it doesn’t begin with some gods-eye view from above, or from some arid analysis of string-courses and pendentives. It starts from the point of view of the observer, of the person experiencing the whole ensemble---it starts there, and it radiates out1.

From this starting point then, architecture needs to integrate the material sensed (nothing should be accidental in art), and integrate it conceptually into a pattern that gives to the person experiencing it a meaning to life on this earth. It should be life-enhancing, on a distinctively human scale, because, as we’ve said, architecture is about making a home for man ­ - literally MAKING a home for man – and at the same time EXPRESSING the facts about our world and our place in it, and then underscoring whatever emotional evaluation follows from that.

* * *

Sometimes the house grows and spreads so that, in order to live in it, greater elasticity of daydreaming, a
daydream that is less clearly outlined, are needed. "My house," writes Georges Spyridaki, "is diaphanous,
but it is not of glass. It is more the nature of vapour. Its walls contract and expand as I desire. At times,
I draw them close about me like protective armour .. But at others, I let the walls of my house blossom
out in their own space, which is infinitely extensible.” Spyridaki's house breathes. First it is a coat of armor,
then it extends ad infinitum, which amounts to saying that we live in it in alternate security and adventure.
It is both cell and world. Here geometry is transcended.
~ Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

AS WE’VE SEEN in Part Two of our story, the essential meaning -- the very essence of the dining occasion-- is celebration. Giving to a home this essential human meaning of celebration is what we’re doing when we build a space for dining (or, if we’re not very good, we build something that might give almost the opposite impression).

Thus, the essential meaning given to the dining space of a home should be celebration.

In the same way, architect Claude Megson suggested that every space in a home has its own essential human meaning that must be given its essential place and expressed appropriately in the architecture (and in the following outline I use Megson’s schema). When we build a house, in the words of Megson “we build a whole universe for ourselves to inhabit” – that place must reflect our whole universe of needs and emotions. The universe of our own soul. So let’s take a tour round our ‘soul,’ and the essence of all that it contains.

If our Dining area isn’t just a place in which to gnaw on a raw bone, then the Bathroom isn’t just a place to hose ourselves down. It is, or should be, a place wherein we experience our physical selves (visuall via our mirrors) and receive our full physical sensation of being; a place in which to cleanse and refresh ourselves both physically and spiritually (it’s no accident that religionists adopted bathing as a symbol of baptism.) It should express, if we can manage it, a feeling of cleansing and rejuvenation -- almost of rebirth.2 The term used by Megson was “Regeneration.” That, oddly enough, is the feeling a good bathroom should give.

Just to clarify here: A good bathroom, or indeed any space designed and built properly, should both support the function intended for that space, and at the same time express the meaning -- the essence – of the space. Both feeling and function are equally important – indeed, the feeling is an integral part of the function that needs to be built into the form I f form and function are realy going to be made one. (And as Frank Lloyd Wright said on a somewhat related subject, if done properly “form and feeling become one.”)

So Dining = Celebration; Bathroom = Regeneration. What else needs to be expressed in Megson’s schema?

Our Living Room is the place where life reveals itself; wherein a stage is set for our lives, for all our entrances and exits; a place of both continuity and permanence; both adventure and security; a place for books, for relaxation, for discourse, for the good news and the disappointments of our lives; for the gatherings and the adventures and occasional withdrawing from the world we all do and need to do .. the place wherein the nature of our selves is worked out and revealed, with all the other spaces in the house acting as support.

And like a stage (and like our own private souls) the Living Room both exposes and hides us: as Gaston Bachelard explains the house should sometimes be around us like an armour, like a cloak, and at others it should hardly be there at all.

Most of all, a living room should express the adventure of life. All these things described in the living space reveal the nature of a full life, so the living room as a who;e shows us the whole cosmos of life. If dining is a mark in time, then our living rooms should reveal a sense of the infinite. So a Living Room worth its name must both support the function of lounging, and at the same time it should, Megson argues, express the concept of Revelation. That concept, he argues, best describes the human need fulfilled in our best Living Rooms. In this place, more than in any other part of the house, this concept should be most evident.

The Entrance: Here is our hinge, our place of welcome and farewell, the place in which we are midway between coming and going, where we are poised “cat-like” between entrance and exit, between rejection and welcome … a dynamic equilibrium representing the occasion of greeting; the concept best expressed here is Poise.

The Bedroom is our ultimate place of withdrawal; our place for solace and sexual excitement, for peace and repose, and for reflecting, planning and dreaming. Bedroom = Reflection.

The Kitchen is the place in which life is sustained and nurtured; in which the first lessons are learned of chemistry and physics; of safety and danger. The essence of the Kitchen is Sustenance, or Nurture.

All these functions and feelings and meanings take place under one roof, in one house. In the same sense that all artwork is making a statement about the world in which we live – whether the artist likes it or not -- every piece of art is a microcosm of what the artist considers to be fundamentally important within this universe – so too the house should contain a whole universe in microcosm.


In Megson’s words, the house is not just a garage where we park ourselves; nor is it merely an object: it is instead a whole universe we construct for ourselves -- “it should embody the complete human spirit.”

This is how we go about our task, of making a home for for man . . .


1. A point to anyone who can see the similarity to Austrian economics, or to Montessori education.
2. We cleanse ourselves of ‘the outside’ while symbolically cleaning ourselves within; we emerge physically revitalised and metaphorically reborn. (It is no accident that bathing is the essential religious symbol of baptism.)
    Water represents purity; as does its complement, light; which together produce an essential sparkling, uplifting effect.

[Cross-posted to the Claude Megson Blog]

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Architecture: Making ‘a home for man.’ Part 2: What is a man?

If we’re going to make “a home for man,” as we talked about in Part One, we need to know why man needs a home. And to answer that there’s a more fundamental question we have to address first . . .  

* * * *

Part 2: What is a Man?

Hamlet: What is a man?
If the chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.
William Shakespeare

LET’S BEGIN TO ANSWER our two questions  – what is man, and what it means to make a home for him -- by looking at two very special spaces which will help us get a grip on what sort of people we human beings are, and what ‘home’ means to man: two dining rooms (pictured below) created by Frank Lloyd Wright, one in 1902 for Susan Lawrence Dana, and the other in 1941 for an un-built project. Each one creates a space for people to celebrate the event of dining together, because for humans the act of dining together is something to celebrate. Not just time for a feed, but a stop, a reward for succeeding at the job of existence.

Wild animals hunt down their food and eat it raw. A lion rips the innards out of a lesser beast and eats it while the blood is still warm, and the heart still beating. A hyena finds the windfall and tears the remaining flesh from the bones, and vultures fortunate enough to discover the remains pick over what’s left.

Not us. That’s the way of the beast. We’re animals, true, but we’re rational animals. Our enormous brains have enabled us to succeed at life, to plan ahead, to flourish and to celebrate our successes. If the chief good and market of our time be but to sleep and feed, then we truly are no more than a beast. But we don’t just do this. We don’t just gnaw on a raw bone then fall asleep in a darkened cave: we sleep in comfort and we eat gloriously prepared food in the most elegant surroundings we can manage with the people we like and admire, and we celebrate we can do that by building into our homes this important ritual –this occasion.

In this sense, a dining space is not just a place to eat and be fed; it is the place in which we mark the occasion of dining – a place in which we share in goodwill the goods of the world together; where we mark the occasion of coming together, of our celebratory. Understood this way, as architect Claude Megson explained, the one-word essence of our dining space is: Celebration.

In a very concrete way then, architecture is simply built-in ritual, making a special place to host each of our special occasions.

From man’s earliest days, we’ve marked the things of importance to us with our rituals. The ritual of saying Grace at dinners has a good secular reason, a pause for thanksgiving, a moment in which to reflect on our success in providing for ourselves.

Man raises himself above bestiality partly by a simple elegance that speaks to who we are and what we need, and partly by marking these regular rituals as something life-sustaining. As architect Claude Megson used to say (echoing Aldo Van Eyck),

whatever space and time mean, place and occasion mean more. For space in the image of man is place, and time in the image of man is occasion. ... We are not building buildings, we are building ritual, building occasion, building life itself.

If you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright, then you do it in a particularly life-enhancing manner.

Frank Lloyd Wright: Dining space, Susan Lawrence Dana House, Chicago - 1902

Note for example those two very different dining areas by Wright, above and below. Study them, and try and imagine yourself there—how it might feel to be there. Note for instance the lighting fixtures, the high-back chairs and the moulding lines, all of which help to contain the seating group and also to bring the focus of the diners’ attention down to the group, making it a smaller, cosier space but still part of a much larger space in which the diners are framed by the seating, and their faces lit up by the lighting fixtures to become the centre of interest that they should be in such a gathering.

Frank Lloyd Wright: ‘Sijistan’ Project, 1941

The vaulted ceilings contain, gathering without overpowering – like a tent canopy above – giving a very human scale to what is quite a large ensemble. Warm colours and special detailing massage the space to fit the occasion – offering the sense of a group that is gathering together to celebrate their own efficacy, the bounty they have produced, and their joy in each other’s company. In short: a celebration of thanksgiving – every day.

“ARCHITECTURE,” AS FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT SAID, “makes human life more natural, and nature more humane.” And THAT is the starting point of understanding the meaning of architecture: that it’s about life – human life – in ALL its forms – literally all of its forms – and the job of architecture is to keep us connected to what’s important in our lives; celebrating our important occasions; making the most of the material the earth provides in all its forms, and at the same time mediating, excluding and shutting out that which isn’t wanted.

Hamlet’s question above affirms for himself thatthe unexamined life is not worth living” He’s right. ‘Building in’ such simple rituals as our celebration of dining gives us the opportunity to daily examine and celebrate our lives as we go through those daily rituals that give and keep on giving meaning to our lives. The result is a heightened sense of existence connecting us to our most fundamental values. “We build our homes,” said Winston Churchill, “and then our homes build us.” And so they do.

What good architecture does is to deal with the totality of a human existence, to provide at one level the support structure to make human life possible, and at another much richer level to express back to us what it means to be human by giving a sense of place to all our occasions, by building in all our important rituals, by connecting us to what is meaningful in our lives: To sunrises and sunsets; to the sharing of food together; to relaxing with friends; to having time and space for contemplation and for conversation, and for rest, and for sex -- and for rest and contemplation (and conversation) after (and during) sex.

That’s about as important as a job gets, right?

* * * *

BUT ISN’T IT THE CASE that much of our built environment, and hence much of what architects do, is normally beyond our immediate awareness? Most people just don’t notice too much about the buildings they’re in, do they (at least not consciously) – they become ‘second nature’ to us -- unless of course something goes wrong!

We might ‘feel’ a space or a building as being good or bad or uplifting or stultifying or bland or glorious … but we don’t always consciously know why. So tomorrow, we start looking at what architecture is trying to say to you in your home, and how you can ‘listen.’