Sunday, April 19, 2015

Smooth Operator

Photos © Diego Opazo
 "As elegant and succinct in form as a corporate logo or a hockey puck."

That's the line the editors cut from my article on a house in Valencia by Fran Silvestre, featured in Record Houses this month (link here). Probably the right call, but it was the only real zinger in the piece. On the other hand, I love their title (above). And the house made the cover.
"The project required some structural sleight-of-hand to arrive at this simplicity of line. The entire house stands on four columns, which rise two stories through the short lateral walls to support the roof's concrete vault. The bedroom floor is suspended from this vault via high-strength concrete panels hidden in the partitions ... (leaving) the ground floor ceiling completely free of interruptions.... The two overhangs counterbalance each other, extending up to 18 feet."

If you are wondering about the seamless exterior finish, it is solid-surface, better known as Corian, mainly used in kitchen counter tops.

Smooth Operator
Balint House, Valencia, Spain, by Fran Silvestre
Architectural Record, Record Houses, April 2015, pages 94 - 99, cover

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Country Vernacular

The Architectural Review  sent me to a hilltop village in Catalonia to see small archeological museum by Barcelona architect Toni Gironès (story available to subscribers here). I was surprised that such an unspoiled place still exists - off the tourist trail.

Photos DC unless noted

From the first paragraph:
"Seró, the site of this center housing fragments of megalithic sculptures found nearby in 2007, is a rural hamlet of scarcely 75 souls located in the foothills of the Pyrenees."

Photo, Toni Giuronès webpage. All rights reserved
"In its isolation and its elementary urban condition, the settlement has provided Barcelona architect Toni Gironès with an ideal setting to re-examine the role of architecture in contemporary society: what sets a design apart from the merely functional agricultural buildings of the town, determined by brute necessity, and at the same time, what it can both take from and give back to those buildings, enriching our appreciation for their material qualities, structural strategies and relation to the cultivated landscape. By the same means, he explores how architecture might disentangle itself from popular notions of icon building and static representation, without losing its capacity to confer and extend the largess of deep poetic resonance."

Some of the agricultural buildings that inspire Gironès

Toni Gironès

The chamber housing the megalithic fragments, wrapped in layers of ceramic latticework, with a floor of packed clay and skylights over each fragment. 

Toni Gironès leaning on one of the skylights above the chamber

 In the bar and wine tasting room for local products, the same latticework is filled with empty wine bottles on the exterior walls. And filled ones on the interior walls. The bottles are corked in winter to create an insulating cavity, and a couple are removed entirely in the summer to create air currents.

 The roof is completely accessible, and enclosed in matts of rebar, with brick paving, including "gravel" made of broken brick

Toni Gironès

Toni Gironès

 The bits of glass on the upper plaza cover skylights for the exhibit space below, one for each vitrine housing artifacts found in the tombs.

Toni Gironès

Ramps connect the upper level with the ground. The last section of the ramp is made completely of rebar, which slips into the courtyard. The courtyard separates the bar and meeting room from the pavilion housing the steles.

The rebar, the oxidized colors everywhere -- it's a bit overwhelming and very rough. I found all the ceremonial circulation over-cranked. The suggestion of spaces conceived to promote social interaction seemed to me more promising, although the chamber housing the steles is a real tour de force.

Plan, lower level

 Sacred and Profane
Archeological Museum in Seró, Spain, by Toni Gironès
The Architectural Review, Volume CCXXXVII , Issue 1416
March 2015, pages 66 - 78

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Frei Otto: Tensile Force

Fotos by DC unless noted

Following up on the Pritzker Award to the late Frei Otto (see story here in The New York Times), I have unearthed my photos from a visit in August 2002 to his tensile structures for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

People talk about postwar German architecture in terms of transparency and lightness, how it backed off from the heavy monumentality of the Hitler years.

And yet Otto's different details for organizing and anchoring the cables supporting the tent structures are the most naked discourse in force --in this case tensile force, which we are not used to seeing-- that I can recall. Not exactly sweetness and light.

Across an artificial lake from the Olympic site, there was a large park with undulating hills made from the debris of the bombed city after the war. The views of the tent structures from there were spectacular.

More views:

Swimming pool hall, from a contemporary postcard

Monday, February 16, 2015

Building Degree Zero

All phoros © Iwan Baan
My first contribution to the Dutch magazine Mark is an interview with José Selgas and Lucia Cano, of SelgasCano, on their project for a Vacination Center in Kenya, which they designed and built with their MIT students. The great Dutch photographer Iwan Baan took the pictures. Sorry, digital story available by purchase or subscription only.
"JS: What really interested us about Turkana is that it's absolutely at the limit in everything, making it very complicated to know how to build. The site is 100 kilometers from the nearest town. It was 40º when we were there, and that was in the winter. There's no water. It's windy, with dust everywhere. Working with any material was nearly impossible. Wood is out of the question because of the termites. You can't use adobe, because there's no clay."
"DC: Why did you decided to build out of sheet metal and concrete?"
"JS: It was very difficult to make the students understand this. For them, Africa meant natural materials: weaves, natural fibers, thatch, adobe. All the research first went into these. But when we arrived there, the client told us, 'Please, no thatch, no weaves.' They're expensive and complicated, and cost a fortune to maintain. They're for the luxury hotels, the tourists. So you realize that there are a lot of our own prejudices in wanting to use these supposedly natural and honest materials. And that it really is a tremendous lie. Africa is much more similar to us than we like to think. Their building systems are not that different. really."

Building Degree Zero
Vaccination and Educational Clinic, Kokouselei, Kenya by SelgasCano and MIT studio students
Interview with José Selgas and Lucia Cano
Mark (Amsterdam), No. 54, February - March 2015, pages 114 - 119

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Glazed, Dazed Media Gaze

© Rafael Vargas
I write about the new home of Les Encants, Barcelona's flea market, by Fermín Vázquez, and the urban design problems of Glòries, the unfinished crossroads, would-be plaza and future park where it is sited, in the February issue of The Architectural Review (available to subscribers here).
"This lack of structural clarity, as if the leaves of the canopy were caught in movement, together with the high-resolution images bouncing off the mirror finish, are symptomatic of the contemporary obsession with digital screens and their impact on visual perception, in which static spatial framing is rejected in favor of continuous visual flow."

Giltter Bug
Les Encants flea market, Barcelona, By Fermín Vázquez
The Architectural Review 
Volume CCXXXVII , Issue 1416
February 2015, pages 56 - 65