Monday, June 29, 2015

Montessori School, by Organon Architecture


So some of you have been suggesting I start posting more regular art and architecture posts again. And others have suggested I post more of what I’m designing myself.

So at the risk of boring my other reader, and the troll, here’s something that’s on the board at the moment: a new Montessori school, with 3 classrooms, quiet decks, parents space, shared kitchen, internal garden ...


Thursday, June 25, 2015

More from Castlecrag

So just in case you missed the answer to my question posed on Monday: my (very poor) photos were posted from a place called Castlecrag, which is a suburb embracing Sydney’s Middle Harbor that was developed, designed and laid out in the 1920s by former Frank Lloyd Wright architect Walter Burley Griffin

He and his wife Marion Mahoney (another Frank Lloyd Wright alumni) designed 40 delightful stone and “knitlock” houses for the “natural subdivision,” of which 15 were built.

You might call it “Walter Burley Griffin’s Australian Eden.”

His aim was a community of modest houses sharing a natural landscape, with few boundaries between.

The Griffins personally undertook the design of the roads and allotments with the winding roads following the contours of the landforms. Communal areas were linked together with a network of walkways to provide open spaces, retain views and achieve maximum amenity for all residents. Equally important was respect for the native Australian landscape which the Griffins had come to understand and admire. In Castlecrag they set out to demonstrate that architecture and landscape should be integrated so that '…each individual can feel that the whole of the landscape is his. No fences, no boundaries, no red roofs to spoil the Australian landscape; these are some of the features that will distinguish Castlecrag.'

You can still experience the vision in parts of the place.

The all-but fully restored Fishwick House, above (from its neighbour) and below (from the street).
The current owner resisted the temptation to restore the former fish-tank skylights
that were originally part of the dining room ceiling. Yes, actual fish tanks.

Hard to photograph, and seemingly very interior, these remain beautiful houses to be in…

… and around.

Wilson House with Ula Maddocks and daughter Deirdre and three others, 1930s

[Pics from GriffinSociety website and National Library of Australia]


FULL DISCLOSURE: I may well be offering advice on the restoration of one of these beauties.

Quote of the Day: On the Sydney Opera House


“The sun did not know how beautiful its light
was until it was reflected off this building.”
- architect Louis Kahn.

[Pic by Paul Reiffer]

Quote of the Day: On the Sydney Opera House

“The sun did not know how beautiful its light
was until it was reflected off this building.”
- architect Louis Kahn.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: Organising our visual field

If we want to “break the box” instead of make a box, when we build our houses we need a few tricks up our sleeve.

A while back I talked about how ceiling decks are one of those tricks. Another is using “nested spaces” within a place.

Today I’m going to talk about how the way we perceive what’s called “the visual field” in front of us can be used to reduce the sense of enclosure.

It seems almost obvious to point out that we can never see all of a building at once. In The Dynamics of Architectural Form, Rudolph Arnheim discusses this, explaining that we perceive architectural space only “in pieces,” by eyes and head “roving back and forth over the edifice and by traversing around it,” and combining these in memory to build up a 3d model in our mind. And like coming to understand a painting, he says, we begin by examining the “visual field.”

In observing a painting, this perceptual process identifies the various elements and relations that constitute the work. A perceptual listing is prepared consisting of a description of shapes, an identification of each colour, and an examination of the relations of individual elements.1

In a shorthand way, this means identifying all the main visual elements you see – shapes, lines, colours, relations between elements -- that visually organise the space. This doesn’t mean identifying the elements that hold a building up (although in many a good building the two things coincide) but the things in your visual field that constitute the main visual presence.

In a sense, the elements visually organising the space would be the main lines you would sketch if you had just, say, a minute to draw your point of view – or what you would see if your squinted your eyes.

Consider the 2d representation of the space below built a few years back in Hamilton:

Hamilton Organic Architecture

So, what are the main shapes, lines and colours organising the visual field in this picture?

I’ll give you a moment while you squint your eyes, or scratch out a quick sketch. (Don’t worry if it’s a bit rough.)

Okay, here's my two-minute sketch, at the bottom of the page, below the fold.

The point being that the dominant elements organising the visual field for the observer, from this view, are primarily:

a) the vertical masonry piers,
b) the coloured vertical 'pier' at the end of the main space,
c) the vertical corner to the left, and
d) the floating ceiling deck overhead.

Why is that important to what I’m talking about here? Because, crucially, NONE OF THESE ELEMENTS CONTAIN THE SPACE.

Think about it. Look around the box you’re undoubtedly sitting in now. In a simple box, what defines the space visually – what defines each observer’s visual field within the space -- are the very things that contain the space, i.e., the walls and ceiling. So the visual field offers you a sense of containment.

But if you can define the space without reference to the things that contain it, then the 'container' starts to disappear, and space appears to flow more freely. The visual field offers you a sense of freedom.

In other words, by taking away the visual dominance of the things that contain your space, you allow the sense of space itself to dominate.

In other words, this is one way to begin BREAKING THE BOX.

There are two bonus features with this little trick.

  1. As you can see in my sketch below the fold, the ceiling deck is a major element in organising the visual field. If we can then take this outside by means of pergolas, say, that will essentially take this same organisational motif outside, then we can really begin organising our perception of space both inside and out without reference to our “container,” and we can begin to realise “inside-outside flow” much more dramatically than by simply adding a few sliding doors.
  2. If our organisation of the visual field is strong enough, then we can “clutter” our kitchen benches and tables as much as we like, because the organising elements will still be be organising the visual field for us; unlike in those stark bare boxes you see in magazines, that look untidy with a small coffee cup on a pristine bench.

In short, it’s a simple yet relatively sophisticated method by which to make a space for relaxed day-to-day living with a genuine sense of freedom.

Cool, huh.