Wednesday, February 10, 2021

"Beauty's higher prizes are not for the timid."


Retreat in Northern Hokkaido Mountains in Japan, by international architecture studio LEAD

    "Beauty's higher prizes are not for the timid." 
                    ~ Richard Neutra

[Hat tip Friends of Kebyar]


Monday, March 23, 2020

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: Tips for your home office

House in Mt Eden. Existing sunroom opened up to lounge, home office created
in new sunroom extension (at rear of picture). Pic by Organon Architecture. 

SO YOU'VE BEEN FORCED to work from home, and we're all pretty clear nothat it's likely to be for a very long time.

You can only work from the kitchen table for so long. And using a laptop on your lap for any length of time will quickly leave you with neck pain and feelings of frustration.

Having had my own office at home for many years now, I've learned a thing or two so that I can help you setting up your own.

We all know the usual tips for working from home: get dressed, have a regular routine, don't work in any kind of pants that have a drawstring....

But what about how to set up your home office, now that you know you may be using it for some time.

I don't know much about drawstring pants, but I do know a bit about spaces and how best to arrange them. So here are a few tips ...

Four major don'ts: 
  1. Don't work from your master bedroom. You need your regular bedroom for sleep, especially when (like everyone at the moment!) you really need that sleep to heal. There are ways to make it work architecturally (if no other option are available) but, in general, don't confuse your subconscious by mixing work and sleep -- especially if you're the sort of person whose desk isn't clear at the end of every day!
  2. Keep away from the fridge!  It's too easy to graze all day when you're at home, without realising the message your mirror is sending you. So try to keep to a regular schedule of breaks and meals instead of being ongoing. And if you do lack the won't-power, then set up a kettle in your workspace so you can avoid the temptation. (A good idea anyway of your house has too many other distractions.)
  3. Don't spend all day in your pyjamas. Yes, it is a cliche. That's because it is too easy: throw off the bed-clothes, stumble into the kitchen, rub sleep out of your eyes as you drink your first coffee at your kitchen-table desk ... and then realise several hours later that those online quizzes and twitter chats aren't going to get your work done, and you're already full of aches and pains from sitting badly for too many hours. So do make sure you have a place that tells your subconscious "I'm going here to work!" and then get dressed for it and ready for it as if it's a regular work day. Because it is. (And then make sure you separate yourself from your work once the work day ends too. I recommend a martini.)
  4. Don't stay inside! One of the great things about working from your neighbourhood is (hopefully) access to gardens, trees and open spaces. Use them! Get outside regularly. Take regular walks, have lunch in the open air, talk to other people (from a suitable distance!). In short, avoid cabin fever and keep yourself linked into the outside world. (Especially important is to spend at least thirty minutes, early in the day, out under the open sky. Sleep researchers tells us this is the single most important thing we can do to lock in the circadian rhythms that support healthy sleep.)
Another thing: with the possibility of schools and daycare closing soon, your children may be in the house with you. Which makes it even more important to carve out your own special space away from all the hubbub so you can focus. If your partner is home too, maybe you rotate shifts keeping an eye on anyone who needs it, but do make sure you can carve out three-hour blocks of time (minimum) to focus on your work. [I'll make a few comments in a few days about home-schooling, if anyone's interested.]

And you are going to need that quiet uninterrupted space too when you get into all those online work meetings. Who can forget this now-famous TV interview -- you (possibly) don't want this happening to you!

So, some Architectural Tips. This may be your workstation for some time. Do it properly. You may need to do some minor (or major!) renovation to your home; or you may be able to think laterally and only move around a bit of furniture -- it's amazing how a bit of lateral thinking can free up space! - but you have to make sure that its going to work so that you can enjoy working there. It has to be ergonomic, have decent shelving so your stuff is all to-hand, it is has to work efficiently and productively.

And it has to feel right, to support you psychologically. Especially now, when everyone's an emotional mess. It has to be a place of your own.

You don't necessarily need to use a whole room either. Try to get your spaces do double duty. Think about how much space you can make in a boat or a caravan -- often with things that easily hide away. That's the kind of thinking you might need to use.

Look for a spot you don't use -- an attic, behind a chimney space, part of a wide hallway or passage, large wardrobes ... there's more room available than you think, especially if you're thinking laterally.

You have to make the lighting work for you too.  No shadows across your work from lights or windows in the wrong place (so you'll have a totally different arrangement depending on whether you're right or left-handed). No high-reflective surfaces. Proper visual weight to the lighting arrangement. No looking directly into light fittings (see the effect of the light, not the light source). No glare on your screen from either lights or late-afternoon sun, enough light on your paperwork so you don't hurt your eyes.  In the right place so it supports your work rather than hinders it -- and makes you look good in online meetups too!

And remember: add delight. You are going to be here for many hours, possibly for many months. Make sure you have a view, or some art, or some plants -- or all three! Any place in which you spend this much time has to feed your soul just as much as you are busy feeding your out-box.

[Pic from Not So Big Remodelling: Tailoring Your Home For the Way You Really Live]
Some principles to think through:

Some people can work with things going on around them. Most can't. Especially in these difficult times, the space needs to feel like it's your own. Like a kind of private daily retreat that feels good to be in -- light filled and pleasant to be in so that you want to be there. Otherwise you won't be.
If you do want to keep yourself linked into family activities when you need to, then perhaps keep the space close to the main loop of family activity, but with doors you can close off for acoustic privacy when you need to.
Better to make a space that is totally separate and private, that doesn't become the family control centre. These are two different functions; don't confuse them!


Your new home office or "away room" can be anywhere and, like the fittings in a boat or caravan, can be tailored to adapt or change or fold away -- to be hidden when not in use. A "transformer space."

Or the space may be a lesser part of a multi-functioning space, one that won't create interruptions for you while working, of course. Perhaps there's a handy alcove that will accommodate a desk, into which you can add doors to close it away when you're not working.
Or you could convert a space you rarely use, like that garden shed, garage, or large formal dining space (which can do triple duty as your library!), or the media room (which you only use when you're not working, right?) into a home office cum social space. Or that extra-large wardrobe. (Just re-shelve some of those shoes!) Or the guest room which, unfortunately, you may not be using so much (and when you do, a foldaway bed can work).

If you're using a foldaway bed, try to keep at least 750mm between bed and computer when the bed is down. That may mean a moveable desk, perhaps on a cart.

Double-duty doesn't mean things should look temporary. Your workspace should feel as interesting and comfortable as the rest of your house, and have the same feeling of permanence.

Visual organisation is more than just organising your space so it works well. It's making sure the underlying visual order works to support the space -- this place in which you are going to spend many hours every day. So we need to bring visual order to the space to avoid the perception of chaos. So think through points of focus, pattern and geometry, alignments and the composition of the space, so that the space directs you to your work and reduces the apparent visual clutter around it.

** LEADS! 
Speaking of visual clutter! The bane of many a workspace is your leads to power all your 'puter stuff. Lots of leads under your feet makes you feel cluttered, so think through lead placement and the installation of enough plugs and plug boxes to make your space work. (If you're installing a lot of equipment, then maybe make a call to an electrician to set you up properly, or just to ensure your system can take all the new loads without blowing all your fuses!)

You don't really want to be adding new bathrooms. But especially with more hand-washing going on, you need to make sure your home office has easy access to bathrooms, without distractions en-route. Think that through.

Ergonomics is more than just the study of efficiency in working environments: it's about making sure the human body meshes organically and efficiently with your work tools for comfort, efficiency and to avoid long-term bodily injury. At a basic level, it's making sure seat, desk, keyboard and screen are set up perfectly for your body dimensions. At a deeper level, it's ensuring the whole space and its dimensions works the way you work: seating, shelving, screens, desks and reference table. Get your seat right (don't skimp on this one!) and get the work arrangement and all its associated dimensions right, and you will feel physically better working there, and your workspace will takes up only as much floor area (and no more) than it needs to.

Your new home office doesn't need to be accessible from inside the house, or even in the house at all. If you make it weather-tight , moisture-proof and insulated, and get reliable power there, then a garden shed, garage or basement can do the job.  Or a rent-a-cabin. A separate entrance may be best anyway to give you that feeling of mental separation from your work: strolling to the (former) sleepout in the morning could be just the thing you need to refresh yourself before work each day.
Or a combined entrance, sharing the same entrance hall, giving that little necessary feeling of extra separation.

Views out and/or long views within a space are important. When we grasp a thought, we often find ourselves staring into the middle distance. If that view is pleasant and plant-filled, or connects us to the wider world without distracting us, or throwing us into it, that's ideal.

Last but very far from least: feed your soul.
Be bold with colour: don't be scared to paint the space your favourite colour --  or maybe just a feature wall. (It's easy to change again if you get sick of it. Or just change it every season just for variety.
Have as many plants around you or in there with you as you can reasonably manage. Living things keep us connected and help clean the air in our workspace.
And have art in there! Do have all your friends' and family photos in there, but make sure to leave room for art: for colourful prints, small and engaging sculpture, even mementoes or things that remind us of important events, people or ideas in our lives.

Now, more than ever, we need to remember and connect with what's important.

Especially in that space in which, for months or even years, we are now going to have to spend many hours every day.

Hope this helps!

PS: I'm gearing up to consult on the installation of your new home office -- anything from a few hours conversation and advice, right through (if needed) to working drawings and tracking down a builder. If that interests you, drop me a line here at or to talk more.

Peter Cresswell
O R G A N O N.  A R C H I T E C T U R E

[Source: All pics from Not So Big House and Houzz, except where noted.]

Thursday, December 12, 2019

"The building as architecture is born out of the heart of man, permanent consort to the ground, comrade to the trees, true reflection of man in the realm of his own spirit." #QotD

Pic: Wright's home Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin,
from the Spring Green General Store site. 
"The building as architecture is born out of the heart of man, permanent consort to the ground, comrade to the trees, true reflection of man in the realm of his own spirit."
    ~ Frank Lloyd Wright, from The Essential Frank Lloyd Wright

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Q: What is organic architecture?

I named Organon Architecture after two of my heroes.

"Organon" itself comes from Aristotle's Organon -- his collection of books on logic and induction that, when rediscovered, led to the led to a rebirth of knowledge and science."Organon" being defined as a tool or instrument, in this case an instrument of knowledge ...

And "organon" also refers to the principles of Organic Architecture -- sometimes called The Other Modernism -- that I try to practice and that Frank Loyd Wright was the first (and the best) to espouse.

Over the decades, Wright and others gave many explanations of what this Organic Architecture consists:
  • architecture perfectly integrated with its site; a free architecture ... architecture that belongs where you see it standing, and is a grace to the landscape instead of a disgrace
  • recognising that nature and materials, machinery, and technologies are allies, not antagonists
  • understanding the higher truth that form should not simply follow function -- that outward appearances should reflect inner purposes -- but that form and function are one
  • an interpretation of nature’s principles manifested in buildings that are in harmony with the world around them
  • architecture used to make human life more natural, and nature more humane
  • an architecture from within outwards ... where the whole is to the part and the part is to the whole.
  • a building that functions like a cohesive organism, where each part of the design relates to the whole.
  • an architecture in which a building is allowed to develop in relation to the forces and context that generated it in a manner analogous to the way a tree (for example) develops according to its generating forces and site context -- a reinterpretation of nature's principles as they had been filtered through the intelligent minds of designers
  • an architecture recognising the human need for order, pattern, nature, prospect and refuge
  • an architecture in which space and time become place and occasion, and reason and self-esteem are embodied in the expression of motion and purpose
  • a building that complements its environment so as to create a single, unified space that appears to “grow naturally” out of the ground
  • choosing one dominant form for a building and integrating that form throughout (often in a fractal manner)
  • using natural colours: “Go into the woods and field for colour schemes”
  • don't simply imitate nature, but understand and emulate nature's abstractions of geometry, form, colour, pattern, texture, proportion, and rhythm
  • respect and reveal the nature of materials
  • open up spaces, using nested, overlapping and interlinked spaces
  • integrate natural foliage in the inner spaces and wider views of the outer spaces -- "capturing those views alive"
Integration is the key word: of site and landscape and colour and material with the life within.

Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer worked with Frank Lloyd Wright for many years. This conversation brings the ideas home ....

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Quote of the Day: "Architecture is a building conceived from an idea or vision of good living."

"So to a definition: ... [architecture] is a building based on a concept of good living conditions... building conceived from an idea or vision of good living...
   "This vision, then is translated into reality by qualities of surface, space, structure and psyche. I could be more fashionable and even more alliterative by calling the last item 'soul.' Perhaps it is best to average it out and settle on 'spirit'..."

       ~ Australian architect Robin Boyd, writing in his manifesto Living in Australia

[Pics of Robin Boyd House by Darren Bradley, from Robin Boyd Foundation and Australia Post Collectables]


Thursday, July 04, 2019

Recent Project: Malvern Hills: 'Wind Screen'

I've been dreadful at posting new projects here, mainly because I've been busy designing them rather than posting about them, but I'd like to catch up a bit. There are quite a few to show you!

This project here began being discussed two years ago. It's for a very exposed very steeply sloping site in Wellington. That's just Wellington, right -- but this one is a little different: with the very steeply sloping site comes striking views right across the harbour: which makes it extremely exposed -- both to the public eye and to the weather.

And as they say, Wellington doesn't have a climate. It has weather.

The strategy, a simple one, is to hang the house between the retaining walls that are needed to hold up the street, and the cantilever beams sprouting in pinwheel fashion from a single large concrete pile. This takes account of the sloping-site problem. One enters and sleeps at the top level, lives on the middle level, and offers children and guests sleeping and play space at the bottom.

Did I say "simple"?
Once out of the ground, the house needs to deal with the weather problem. Because this house doesn't just have slope: with that slope comes both the spectacular views over the harbour that make it worth building there, and all the winds of Aeolus sent to batter anyone daring to step outside to see it.

Trouble. But as they say, problems are an architect's friend!

View from the proposed roof terrace: spectacular view; spectacular wind!
So how to solve this problem? The answer is a "wind screen" built around the drum containing our lower floor and protected terraces.

Add these windscreens around the outer drum, intersect this with the main circular drum, add trees and vines, mix all ingredients sagaciously on this sloping site and you have this house -- or nearly so. From there it almost designs itself!


Concept Plan

The house that designs itself:
add retaining walls and one three-storey drum to a sloping site; to that add
an intersecting drum with wind-screen,
an open terrace extending the view back to the city,
and trees and vines
and voila!

Can you see this rising from the hills above the Wellington Harbour? A strong form making it easily seen even at great distance.

And while the screen looks a little 'heavy' in the pictures, our windscreen is an almost diaphanous perforated metal screen, lightweight, decorated and visually permeable. A light steel veil draped over the drum and cinched down tight; a "breathable" screen, with sections easily slid away on Wellington's intermittent but glorious good days.

This Cultural Centre in Corsica gives you an idea of just how visually permeable a fine-grained steel 'veil' can be:

Cultural Centre in Bastia, by Paris Studio DDA
And this house in Israel shows how permeable (yet still sheltered) a coarse-grained perforated screen can be.

Pitsou Kedem's 'MA' House' in Israel
And this here is our screen, suggesting how decorated our screens can be; perforated metal being an ideal material to take integral decoration, we have added ornament based upon the interlocking circles of our two "drums." The effect in the sun is dramatic!:

Visually permeable perforated decorated metal screen, rejoicing in the sunlight (above) -- and rendered in red below:

Drums in the sun

The perforated metal is used to create a see-through screen that offers protection from the wind on the main terrace overlooking the harbour, with other open decks (that can be used on better days) that take the visitor further out to enjoy views over the central city.

View out to open terrace
 The perforated metal drum continues from base to top floor, piercing floors all the way up to form the balustrade at our entry level. Each of our levels, of course, enjoy spectacular views!

View from day bed on upper level
View from built-in seating at 'back' of lounge
These axonometric cutaway plans of each level should give you some idea of how it all comes together ...

[Hat tips, of course, to Sullivan, Botta, Melnikov..]

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Quote of the Day: “A house is not a machine to live-in..."

Pic: Portrait of Eileen Gray by Berenice Abbott
“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.
      ~ Eileen Gray, architect and designer

Friday, June 28, 2019

An Italian-NZ co-production

Two or three years ago, a delightful young architect called Marco Fois from Sardinia appeared in my office wanting to improve his English, and learn about New Zealand architecture. He spent over a year with me before heading home, and achieving his registration.

One of the projects he worked on while here was a renovation design underway when he arrived: we we just at the stage of hearing form our geotech surveyors that their more detailed site investigations had revealed the ground conditions to be very much worse than they'd originally reported.

So Marco and I wondered about a redesign, one that put a new house on a smaller footprint, and for the most part using the existing house foundations, which seemed sound. And since this was the project Marco knew best, literally from the ground up, when he returned home to Sardinia and began learning about Lumio (a sophisticated video presentation software) he modelled his scheme (without the pool) for that house. And here it is: an Italian-NZ co-production.

You can see how much fun he had doing it all:


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

But don't all designers need to compromise?

The great Colin Chapman -- founder and designer of Lotus sports cars -- was once wrestling with a design problem: he had the world's most beautiful car on his drawing board, "a racing car for the road" he called it, yet early testing had indicated the roof needed to be raised 1 1/2 inches to fully accommodate most drivers. "I'm not doing that," Chapman famously shouted, "that's a bloody compromise!"

I had a similar discussion with some clients recently, listening to them bewail their need to compromise their dreams for their house because of their small site. "But we don't want to bloody compromise," they said.

It's said that all designers need to learn to compromise: sometimes dimensionally, like Chapman; often aesthetically -- if, say, your two favourite colours won't go together on the same page; frequently functionally -- when you wind up with your kitchen, with all its plumbing, near the plumbing (and smells!) of your bathroom; and almost always financially, when the client's champagne tastes won't come anywhere near their beer budget.

But is compromise really the right word for what designers really need to do when weighing up all the myriad factors that influence a design?

Spoiler alert: No, it's not. 

It's not even the right way to think about it.

A compromise is "an adjustment of conflicting claims by mutual concessions" -- a process beginning in conflict, and usually leaving all conflicting parties unhappy when they finally leave the table.

What a designer needs to learn to do is not to compromise, but to harmonise. Two ways to help a designer harmonise the competing claims of any design involves two concepts coming from outside the field of design: a notion from economics called marginal utility, and something from philosophy called teleological measurement.

Let me explain the last one first.

Teleological measurement simply means measurement with a purpose, measurement that is "performed in and against an enormous context: it consists of establishing the relationship of a given choice to all the other possible choices and to one's hierarchy of values." 

We do this all the time in the real world. The simple fact in any real-world situation is that doing one thing always precludes doing another. If I go out to a party on a Saturday night I can't also stay home and study. If I use my truckload of wood to burn during winter for heat, I can't also use it to build my house. If I spend my last few dollars on beer I can't also spend it on the bus home. What we do decide what we do in each of these cases reveals our own ultimate standard behind decisions like these, and our own hierarchy of values that informs these choices. Even subconsciously.

Every designer must do the same, establishing a clear brief for their design and, in many cases, testing the design over several iterations in order to discover the ultimate value of that which she is designing, -- and also all the several lesser values that contribute towards these ultimate values, and how precisely all these values are ranked.
Teleological measurement deals, not with cardinal, but with ordinal numbers—and the standard serves to establish a graded relationship of means to end... This requires that [an individual] define his particular hierarchy of values, in the order of their importance, and that he act accordingly. Thus all his actions have to be guided by a process of teleological measurement.
In any project, it may take some time and many iterations to uncover these things (this is after all one of the key aims of every period of concept design) but ranking in order of their importance  the values associated with a design project is (or should be) a key part of every design process. 

Ranking them properly means that the final design need not be a compromise, but instead comes as a result of weighing up these values according to their place in our hierarchy

Sounds great, you say. But just how the hell do we do that?

That's where the economists' idea of marginal utility comes in.

The theory of marginal utility begins with this recognition that the values of each good are best ranked in order of their importance to the acting individual, the ranking providing a basis for these values to be harmonised:
All action involves the employment of [finite] means to attain the most valued ends. Man has the choice of using the [finite] means for various alternative ends, and the ends that he chooses are the ones he values most highly. The less urgent wants are those that remain unsatisfied. Actors can be interpreted as ranking their ends along a scale of values, or scale of preferences. These scales differ for each person, both in their content and in their orders of preference. Furthermore, they differ for the same individual at different times.
1. Going for a drive
2. Going to a concert
3. Playing bridge
4. Continuing to watch a baseball game
The choice of which ends to include in the actor's value scale and the assignment of rank to the various ends constitute the process of value judgment. Each time the actor ranks and chooses between various ends, he is making a judgment of their value to him.
Marginal valuation recognises that humans value goods according to our ends -- to be precise, according to the individual units of those goods, and each of these units themselves fits into our values scale. (We value our afternoon's first ice-cream cone more than our first coffee, our first coffee ahead of our second cone, our first beer ahead of our second coffee...)

Discovering this sort values scale in each of our design projects allows us to avoid compromise, and instead to harmonise our project's values based on each unit of the finite means available -- trade-offs between goods happening "at the margins."

The recent discussion with my clients offers a good example of how we might do this.

My clients have a small site. Simplifying things enormously for the sake of illustration, they like lawn. And they want five bedrooms. How does marginal utility theory harmonise these apparently competing wants? Simple: by testing each unit of these goods against their position in the clients' values scale.

  • The house's first bedroom (their master bedroom), is clearly more important than any patch of lawn.
  • The house's second bedroom and third bedrooms are still more important to them than any amount of lawn. (And on a tiny site, might preclude any lawn at all -- hence, they would be living in an apartment.)
  • The house's fourth bedroom is probably more important to them than that same area of lawn (although on that one, they are still deciding).
  • The house's fifth bedroom, they decided (when put to them this way) is definitely less important to them than that same area of lawn.

Thus, our quick discussion reveals that on this site and for these clients that the fourth bedroom is probably "the marginal bedroom" -- and they now have a framework within which to go home and think through whether that's truly the case.

The framework of marginal utility has allowed the clients to easily determine for themselves the likely number of bedrooms in their future house, and I will soon have a much clearer brief that better harmonises their wants with their site.

In a very simplified way, this is what I try to do in every briefing meeting. And it is what every period of concept design with every client tries to uncover.

Furthermore, it is precisely what every good designer does every single day, either consciously or subconsciously, when it looks like they're just pushing around lines on a page: they are seeking a way to bring together all the apparent conflicting values of a design into one harmonious whole. This framework of marginal utility allows the designer a way to think about that process explicitly, and to talk it through with their clients.

I often liken the design process as being, first, to uncover all the elements and inputs important to a design, and then to throw all these balls up in the air to see where and how they land. (And then doing that all over when we discover the need for a new ball.) That's essentially what happens when applying these two notions of teleological measurement and marginal utility in design. The first essentially gives us the relative size of our balls. The second explains how the balls bounce off each other to best effect.

Together they offer a designer a way out of any bloody compromise, and towards a more harmonious outcome.

Colin Chapman and his car's stylist produced one of the era's most beautiful cars, but there was never very much room inside and in the end only 1,000 of the cars were made, and on every one they lost money. Lotus however went on to take the hard lessons learned in producing the Elite and apply them to the Elan, which did make money -- and went on to become one of the most successful small sports cars of all time (a model of design that still survives today in the watered-down example that is the MX5).

We can only speculate how different things may have been if the great man had learned about marginal utility at an early age?

[Pic of 1961 Lotus Elite Tye 14, designed in 1957, from the Mk14 Restorations website]

Friday, February 22, 2019

A notice to all readers ... an Organon Architecture home of your own?

An important notice to all readers: If you want to get your hands on a ready-made pre-loved home by Organon Architecture, then here is your chance -- a home in Hamilton very much loved by its owners, who are moving to a new opportunity and new home in another city so need to find the right owner for this one.

Says the blurb:
The design is timeless, the combination of raked ceilings and lowered 'ceiling decks' cleverly defines spaces within the open-plan living areas.
When featured in House 'n' Lifestyle magazine, this property was described as '... a meld of dwelling and garden that's innovative, subtle and clever.'
So if you or anyone you know is in the market for a place set in landscaped native bush and just a stroll away from downtown Hamilton, give this some serious thought.

[Photos by Lodge Real Estate]