Thursday, January 9, 2014

[Odd musings again] [A non-historic and perhaps heretical look at architecture]

[A non-historic and perhaps heretical look at architecture]
Disclaimer: I am no architect, and I know little history about it. If there is a proper refutation please expound upon it. In the name of a good discussion I would like to hear something incorporating an opposing viewpoint (I would even like to be swayed). Or perhaps I'm ignorant about a certain branch of architecture.

A year ago or so, I visited the Morgan Library. Through out the visit I, like most people, was very impressed with what I saw. Perhaps I should temper that. What I mean is that I was impressed by the size of the place (and right in midtown nyc) as well as its content. Mr. Morgan was blessed an intellectual curiosity that led him to amass a large collection (and varied, I might add) of various items. This collection seemed to speak to something more than just the work of a headhunter trying to be wealthy. In the end, it's a valuable place for the city to have.
But there was something about the building that seemed lacking. Walking into his library, collection aside, all I could think of was being in a place that lacked a lot of imagination. The foyer was one that could be found in any public building created at the time. True, a lot of it was taken from old European palaces, but one would hope that Mr. Morgan was aiming for something more than a graveyard. Yet in the end, given the time the building was built, I can see why this building was made in this very specific way. (Note: In the Morgan Library, there is a modern section that looks absolutely lovely—it is an open space, using glass and sculptures to bring the outside in and open one’s mind)

Which leads me to my main question: why is it—in most places of the rich, and those trying to emulate the rich—there is this need to have extra space and mimic one another? A lot of these places would be better served, and perhaps be similar aesthetically speaking, being built as large warehouses. Of course, one could easily retort that the rich aren’t after originality but status, and the only way one gains that is by mimicking something in history and going the extra mile by simply increasing the size, and the cost of the material. This is understandable, given that we are status seeking apes (most of us anyhow). But in the wake of the new tech moguls, I would say that one would hope that something more original is created.
Now, in Morgan’s time, his obsession with the past is fine. And with respect to even a Japanese garden I visited in Tokyo, or British gardens I’ve seen, I can understand that old and boring is fine as long as it speaks to your higher status. But shouldn't some of the new super-rich seek something more?

I’d like to see more imaginative houses (and not just the outer facades), a new kind of house. One that doesn’t speak merely to history (though surely it can incorporate that), but to our visceral needs as well as our future.
First of all, if one is going to build something lavish, why would you simply build the largest thing possible?  Can't the status be about being remembered?
 (I will assume only private houses. There is much to be said for incorporating a public aspect of a house. The continuous presence of people can only help one’s imagination, even strangers, so I think that this is valid, but it’s neither here nor there for now. We will only deal with a private residence)
First: incorporate more of the outdoors inside. In the past, with limits from materials and maintenance, I can see why this was needed. But now, I’m not sure why this even exists. Yes, a shelter was meant to keep out the elements, and this house should do the same, but it should also allow the outside in and manage just fine.
The entrance: In keeping with a natural theme, I will say this: there is something to be said for surprises. What strikes me as the most impressive places are ones that appear "discovered": in southeast Asia there are abandoned palaces that are reached, slowly, through boat, with low mangrove trees on either side, opening up (with only the slightest of hints at the possible civilization ahead) to the palace's front. In Petra, one walks through wind curved red rock, winding and opening, before finally opening up to the first facade (an awe inducing experience). How to have this, without paying for a place built into rock?
For the front yard, and entrance, one could have a wall-like sculpture on either side, leading up to the front door. The sculpture itself could be anything, so long as it, or some trees, lean over and above the visitor, providing a very cozy feeling. Should you care to, it could be a settled pathway with water to either side (even I think that only boat access might be a little much).
The front door itself can be anything. I prefer archways, but I can see why someone would want a solid rectangular door. Same for the facade. It’s once you get in that things start to matter.
I hope that upon entering, or afterwards somewhere, there should be a moment of contemplation. Not god-filled, but rather you enter a foyer (and one only needs to see smaller churches/temples to see that this doesn’t need to be done with great amounts of space) and have light only coming from above through glass stained windows, or something of the like, and a small quiet space with a domed ceiling (or perhaps another shape that can control the sound).
Now you reach the main house. Here one could have a mix of straight lines and arcs. There will also be the outside moving in. I’m not speaking of a few potted plants. I’m saying that a stream should be running through. At some points its banks could be marble, straight and true. At other points it could have a beachhead with grains of sand, or perhaps a rocky shore. In other places the spring could turn into a hot spring. A small waterfall you can hide behind.
As far as plant life (I suppose animal life, might be too much) is concerned, I’m speaking about enough soil for gardens, or grass or fields, and trees. Yes, trees (bonsai if you wish). Most of the roof should be created with enough glass to allow for this. To help with tracking, one can add mats or places to clean your shoes/feet. But imagine having such a thing inside?! One could sections of a greenhouse to add variety to the plants.
Again, throughout this house there will be perfectly cubic rooms (or try some divine geometry) as well as well as a mix. Imagine a room with only one side made of a slanting wall. I have found myself, that outside of houses of religion, that only natural formations will evoke a strong feeling in me. And not just expansive vistas like coming to the top of a mountain (out of our scope). Rather: being surrounded by rock in a tight space, or seeing a rock out of place on a smooth meadow, or walking through a mossy forest with light filtering through the trees (there are many more, and it's usually something about the angles and closeness to materials that causes this)... We can evoke the feeling one gets when inside a lit cave, or a sculpture somewhere unexpected. I’m speaking of allowing the floor to tilt one way or another (a curved connection just to not always be 90 degrees). And if you’re walking in a hallway, it doesn’t have to have parallel walls, they can change, or the ceiling can suddenly give way to a glass ceiling, that allows the outside in.
Now note, I would advocate that all of the house be connected, in one way or another, so that one doesn’t have to leave the comforts of the shelter to reach another spot. I’m assuming temperate climate, not tropical. If it were the latter it could be more open. This means the house does need to provide warmth.
Finally, we get to where the people who live here (assuming they care for each other). The rooms should all be centered on a small circular area, like a plaza, where people can immediately sit and perhaps hang out. This could be an open space—or possibly closed like a green house—like a garden. I would say that at least one part of the house should enclose an open garden (nothing original here, though).
Since we can have sloping walls (that slope in and out), we could have at least one wall for the garden slope so that you can walk from the garden to the roof. Where the roof isn’t glass, it should be walkable. Possibly with grass or something else that's interesting.

I trust that you will find it at least thought-provoking if not incomplete. Or how am I completely wrong? Or am I simply providing for a white elephant project? Please, discuss. 

Update (30MAR2014):  I want to add another possible idea to this idea of architecture. Look at this. Here is the artist's, Mr. Latiano, website (all his works have a movement and explosiveness that borders on haunting). The appearance of that thing ripping through the floorboards, is nothing short of amazing/disturbing. When I mentioned above that there should be some unevenness to the walls, I didn't have this in mind. But this is how ideas come about. I can now see this serving as a light (with something similar coming out of the ceiling) or even a sculpture in a house. To make use of space it could be in the corner, or perhaps be in some form a cabinet or something else.  

 And reiterate on this note I should mention that a great idea for a light fixture would be lights in a stream (christmas lights and the sort) coming out of a creature's mouth. Though this is less a part of the house design than a decorative piece. 

Update (Aug2014): So on this matter, I am surely not original. On wanting natural forms in my architecture there are many who have come before (and explained it better and, of course, created it better). I am finding out a handful of them, but will add them as they come. The first is Gaudi and his buildings. Indeed, they do accomplish many things I mentioned (not all, but many). La Sagrada Familia is a sight to behold, especially inside. 

More to read on this matter: Here is some interesting design. This book is a must read, though it speaks more to how an urban landscape should look, and here's a list.

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