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Entries in housing (21)

Friday
Mar042016

Métis trappers' tents

Métis Crossing campground: trappers' wall tents

From Assiniboine tipis website: Wall tents are rugged four-sided shelters, much like a small cabin, with a peaked roof that slopes down to four canvas walls. The military began using wall tents as early as the 18th century. Then again, during the civil war, wall tents were used extensively. They were popular as army hospitals. Two large wall tents, fourteen feet squared, would be stacked end to end to form a medical ward for wounded. Later, tents continued to be used by hunters, trappers and gold prospectors throughout the eighteen and nineteen hundreds. Even today, the wall tent is in high demand. The tents are used for shelter by the US Army in Iraq. They are popular for use in refuge camps. Nomadic peoples have also taken advantage of the rugged construction and comfort of the modern wall tent.aha, David Fortin has sent this link: Métis Crossing, Kalyna Country, Canada’s Largest Ecomuseum.  Not built yet, but planned.  It is in Smoky Lake, on the Victoria Trail which runs on the north bank of the North Saskatchewan River, next to Victoria Settlement, an Alberta provincial historic site.  This promises to be a living museum, so far the website shows camping, a rodeo, new zip lines, giant mushrooms by the highway, a grain elevator museum and the historic Eldorena Ukrainian church.  I love this little website, it is the prairies as I know it; rather than Edmonton and Calgary, this is rural Alberta in all its cultural mix.  
From its website:
Extending east and northeast from Edmonton, the Kalyna Country Ecomuseum is one of the most historic places in Alberta. Follow our rivers and roads to experience a millennia of aboriginal culture, a landscape traversed by the great explorers and fur traders, prior to the homesteading era and the coming of the railroad. Kalyna Country is Alberta’s multi-cultural capital. Kalyna Country contains Canada’s largest Ukrainian settlement; some of Alberta’s largest concentrations of French, Cree, Metis and Romanian settlement; Alberta’s only Irish settlement, plus German, Scandinavian, British and other slavic cultures. All of these groups, together have combined to give Kalyna Country a distinct flavour that sets the region apart from other rural areas of Alberta.

This is métis, not the people, but as a Canadian response to our diversity and our fundamental métissage where evolutionary indigeneity meets the shock of the newcomer, gets over the shock either militarily or resignedly, and starts to talk, to share, to borrow. 

Take the discussion of the Métis trapper wall tent: the tent poles were probably the same as tipi poles, the canvas was a trade good, used for both tipis and tents: one looks like a cone – the shape derived by poles alone, tied at the top, the other like a house – structural walls and a water-shedding roof, however in the wall tent the walls are not structural, the roof is a continuous skin that becomes a wall, the structure is external: completely different logic informs the shape of the wall tent.  Whatever, it is efficient, well-honed over centuries of use, and still in use today, viz. the Northern Trappers Alliance camp set up on Saskatchewan Highway 955 in a 2014 blockade of tar sands and uranium exploration companies.

The wall tent is métis architecture as the tipi is not.  Métissage borrows and adapts – a form of innovation, but quicker than the slow evolution of what we consider originary building forms such as the tipi. 

Wednesday
May082013

Shelter box: urgent architecture

Shelter Box: This compact emergency box was first deployed after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake in India. More than 100,000 have been used so far in 140 major disasters in more than 70 countries. 2.5 cubic feet, it contains a tent for 10 people, a children’s pack, thermal blankets, toolkit, stove and whatever is specifically needed for an emergency. Cost $1,000. Bridgette Meinhart. Urgent Architecture, WW Norton, 2013

Emergency housing has such a hold on the imagination, so wrapped up is it in development and dependency issues on one hand and on clever identi-kit solutions on the other.  I wrote a paper on the dependency side in 2004 for a conference organised at Ryerson by Robert Kronenberg on the transportable environment. The conference and the book from it tended to concentrate on technology: pop-up shelters, mobile pavilions, 3rd-generation walking cities, mechanical expandable structural systems – the extravagance of which I viewed in the context of Architecture for Humanity's 2001 competition for mobile clinics in Africa – for example, Ruimtelab and Linders & van Dorssen's project included a mobile phone as one of the most important tools in any kind of mobile environment. 

My point, at the time and probably still is, was that historically people subject to disasters swing into a kind of reclamation/restoration process immediately after the quake, or the bomb, or the flood: a response that we in the west generally do not understand. Here, trauma counsellors are first on the scene, something aid agencies extend to other cultures in other places.  They also bring in all the often hi-tech emergency shelters, they organise camps in straight lines, the newly homeless are detached from their land, their place, their property and their autonomy.  This is a critique of emergency shelter that dates from Ian Davis in the 1970s, that culture is left behind in aid agency panic to establish relief, rather than it being the organising factor. 

Nonetheless, flat pack dwellings are great fun to design: how small, how simple, how efficient and transportable can a house be?  One can be ingenious.  That there are millions of Chinese shipping containers pressed into service all over the world as housing isn't as much fun. 

Shelter Box: a box is delivered, clearly people are expected to interpret it, and then deploy it.  The tent probably does not require 6 burly World Vision volunteers to erect, the box could be thrown out of a plane and arrive intact.  Shelter is just a tool, not an object, despite its object/fetish nature. 

 

Sunday
Apr212013

The Smithsons on Housing, 1970

Robin Hood Gardens is being demolished, which is perhaps what spurred the posting of this 1970 BBC documentary of Peter and Alison Smithson talking about the design of Robin Hood Gardens, the conditions they found in Britain after the war, the lack of intelligent housing. It is filmed in classic Grierson style by B S Johnson with long slow pans of the project in construction interspersed with Alison and Peter talking about it: Alison with a strangely constructed accent — Alison from Doncaster in north-east England, who studied architecture in an era when no women studied architecture without a lot of trouble and yet, with the earnest Peter in a sparkly silver tie, can speak so passionately about the hopes and expectations of architecture while wearing a silver leather jacket.  I don't think we have any idea what her back story was.  

The documentary style with the slow pans: compared to today when no image is allowed to be seen for more than a second, preferably shorter, this was typical of the still, contemplative, postwar mise-en-scène of longueurs, of silences, of the populating of landscapes with people just outside the frame.  It is a style revisited by Patrick Keiller in London, 1994 the same slow suppressed anger.  The Smithsons On Housing is strangely elegiac considering it was made before Robin Hood Gardens was even finished.

Why did Robin Hood Gardens become redundant?  Society changed, moved on.  The housing Robin Hood Gardens replaced was a Victorian fabric of terraces: no front or back yards, back-to-back brick rows and shared privies, incapable of expansion or change, interspersed with temporary wartime housing and outmoded dockland infrastructure.  Robin Hood Gardens replaced fabric with an exceptional model: expandable, collective, much open space for children, all on the CIAM derivée: one lives up in the light and air and frees the ground plane for play.  This isn't fabric, although the people destined to live in it were the fabric of the working class.  By the late 1960s when the project was designed, that class was in violent transition; when Mrs Thatcher declared there was no such thing as society and arranged for the privatisation of council housing, projects such as Robin Hood Gardens – which relied on social solidarity, a shared understanding of values and one's place in life – became not only redundant, but an active hindrance to individualistic striving.  

Somehow Robin Hood Gardens and the Smithson's earnest, thoughtful, intelligent analysis of what was needed in housing completely misinterpreted the times.  Typically it is architects who wanted the buildings listed and protected rather than condemned: a handsome place to live with all its trailing social idealism and visions of a collective understanding of deep history and place, of London's industrial past, of – above all – solidarity, a now deeply outmoded concept. 

The 5 acre site that had carried Robin Hood Gardens's 252 units in what had been the Poplar district, will be part of a larger 7.7ha (19 acre) Blackwall Reach development of 1575 units, double the density.  The demographic has changed, the regeneration of East London is in full flow: how many new reports did we see in the run-up to the Olympics from that extremely glitzy, high-end shopping mall with reporters saying 'this isn't the old east end' ? – dozens.  However the new schemes still show tower blocks, slab bars of housing, green parks between; the buildings will still be concrete, but now they look white, rather than concrete-coloured.   There is a homeowners association, thus there is a financial commitment by future occupants to Blackwall Reach: it will be a 30-year mortgage rather than a weekly rent.  Is this the significant difference?  Participation in a financial structure which has shown in the past few years to be so unsteady and insecure?  

Robin Hood Gardens could have been renovated, restored, divided into separate titles even, but its form is so embedded with a belief in the essential good of government and people, betrayed as soon as the building opened in 1972, that it has become a tragic glyph in a rather tougher economic text.

Monday
Nov262012

t-walls

New World Design LLC, the Future Project – T-Wall Housing Proposal, Al Querna, Iraq

T-walls are the concrete units devised for the West Bank barrier wall in Israel.  Different versions are used throughout Iraq and Afghanistan by the US Army: the 1.1m Texas, the 3.7m Bremer, the 6m Alaska.  The 1m traffic barrier, Jersey, has sloped edges at the base and is used on highways seemingly everywhere.

New World Design, Jeffrey Olinger, Heather Boesch, Darby Foreman and Cliona McKenna, have developed a housing project based on T-walls for Al Querna, Iraq.  The T-wall unit is at once concrete wall and foundation: the units are deployed in a morse code grid, and houses are developed from and between them.  A basic L-shaped house unit multiplies to make alleys and courtyards in a number of configurations.  

The project is simple and subversive.  It is useful and uses the defences of war.  It is culturally cognisant and based on imperialist debris.  How much more interesting can this be?

Despite that the term, T-Wall, is a registered trademark of the Neel Company in Virginia for precast retaining walls, t-wall is the common name for the barrier units.  The Arab Land Group, established in 2003 and headquartered in the UAE to work with the US Army, manufactures the barriers.  

Clearly the shape of a pre-cast reinforced concrete slab with a footing cannot be proprietal, any more than can be a gable roof.  What New World Design has done is to appropriate a form that divides and obstructs, and to de-nature its malevolence as a form by embedding it in the construction of housing.

Monday
Aug272012

Enrico Scaramellini: Wardrobe in the Landscape

Enrico Scaramellini, Wardrobe in the Landscape. Northern Italian Alps, 2012. photo by Marcello Mariana.

Scaramellini says, 'Great is the land, the landscape: small is the place, the space.'
Plans and beautiful photos of this house set between two barns are on dezeen: it appears to borrow a room on the second floor from the adjacent barn, and the house flares slightly to the back, but the idea of a house as a door and a window is completely magical – a child's view of the world.

Wednesday
Jan252012

scots wae hae

Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. postcard, circa 1980, but unchanged for a century

The main street of Kemnay: the flinty buildings and people of northeast Scotland found in A Scot's Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon.  

My grandmother's grandfather, Robert Reid, was a shoemaker there. In the tradition of atheist, radical, autodidactic Scottish shoemakers, he read and wrote Greek, taught Classics to his bright little grand-daughter Nellie, skipping over his own romantic daughter and her Tennyson.

The lapidary 99%, then as now, was much more complex than a number.  Much is made of the lack of social mobility in Victorian Britain: emigration was the only way to really get ahead, but how many people in our relatively wealthy and privileged society would teach themselves to read and write Greek today, or any difficult language, sitting in some small isolated town with no university courses within miles, no online lessons, just the texts?

The shock of leaving Kemnay for Albert Park, a flimsy town that served surrounding farms east of Calgary, was total.  No one ever really recovered from it.  Kemnay and picnics on the grounds at Ballater, the 'Earl of Mar's children who only get half an egg for breakfast so be thankful you have a whole egg to yourself', the rosewood piano, tea with the Bruces – such things became golden, truly a lost Elysium, compared to 'getting ahead' in Albert Park, which along with the rest of the prairies was experiencing both a wheat boom and a real estate bubble: everyone was building houses, everyone lost their shirts.  

The excavation in the photograph below was about getting rid of a hill in Albert Park to make way for houses.  Some things never change in Calgary. 

Albert Park, 1912. Glenbow Archives NA 2087 1

Wednesday
Sep212011

the north

Terminology, very confusing.  As a child I learned that the difficulty in laying down the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s was crossing muskeg, which swallowed tracks and even whole trains.  This is what happened in the north, which I assumed was in Northern Canada, somewhere in the Northwest Territories, and as with things you learn in grade 8, I never examined it again until this past week in Sudbury.  

It is not that muskeg isn't a treacherous thing, great wetlands that form where there isn't drainage: bogs, full of decaying plant material, trapped moose and train tracks which eventually form peat and I suppose, ultimately coal.  No, the other treacherous thing is the word north.

The northern imagination written about by Northrop Fry, Margaret Atwood, embodied in the Group of Seven and Georgian Bay is not the north I thought it was, The North, north of the provinces.  It is actually western Ontario.   
This came as something of a surprise, given that Sudbury sits at 46°N and has a growing zone of 4b.  Calgary, which no one would consider north at all, sits almost 600km north at 51°N in zone 2b.

In another instance, the Ring of Fire is generally known as the zone of earthquake and volcanic activity that rings the Pacific Ocean, where the Pacific tectonic plate grinds against the North American plate, the Eurasian, Australian and Nazca plates.  In the west we hear a lot about it, especially in Vancouver where all buildings have been essentially rebuilt to earthquake standards.

But in Ontario, Ring of Fire is a mine in the James Bay region where chromium was recently discovered and for which a smelter is planned, much to the purported benefit of First Nations in the area.  It is seen as a revitalisation of Ontario's mining interest and will be introducing Chinese development interests to Sudbury.   I only know this because I watched Steve Paikin's Agenda last night on TVO where there was a debate on whether industrial development or species protection was more important in the north.  Their north.  The wishy-washy conclusion was that we should have both, which means that mining and forestry will proceed with glee and with a few ameliorative concessions to fish, birds and migrating herds. Who do not vote.

It is a different country, Ontario.

Preparing the ground for flatland housing development. Lonely yellow hydrant awaits.  
Anyway, this train of thought was triggered by a new subdivision (above) on a ridge that looks down on Sudbury.  Downtown Sudbury has a problem with drainage, sitting as it does on the bedrock of the Canadian Shield.  Water sits in lakes or in muskeggy wetlands, (they'd be called sloughs on the prairie, bogs on the coast).  In older districts, streets and the little houses lining them in the bottom of the basin in which downtown Sudbury sits, regularly flood, the streets become culverts and swales, the water hasn't got a lot of options.  Thus, new development perched on ridges above the city has a certain appeal.  

Putting in services for new development requires, by convention, that they be underground.  But there is no underground here, it is solid rock, so ground is created in a cut and fill way.  The rock is blasted into rubble and shifted around to make flat sites for houses with the sewer and water safely installed beneath.  
There are a lot of similarities between Sudbury and Yellowknife, where new development does exactly this, rock blasted into coarse gravel for developer houses on cul-de-sacs one could find anywhere in Canada.  Aleta Fowler wrote about this in On Site 14: does one go to the north to live as if one was in a southern Canadian suburb?

Kenneth Hayes has introduced the term geo-cosmopolitanism to the discussion of urban development which, in its rough outlines means being aware of and taking into account the deep geo-logic of place.  The naming is important, we can put geo-cosmopolitanism in all its complexity onto a different way of looking at cities, more deeply rooted in their history, their industries, their place in the world. 

Tuesday
Jun072011

Pedro Gadanho: Casa em Torres Vedras

Fernando Guerra, FG+SG, photographer. House in Torres Vedras, Portugal, by Pedro Gadanho

Another package of beautiful photographs from Fernando Guerra in Portugal: Casa em Torres Vedras by Pedro Gadanho.  This is a nineteenth century house with a massive renovation that owes a lot to utopian visions of the 1970s: plastic, colour, capsules, re-inhabitation where modernism bumps up against plaster mouldings, pre-fabrication, James Bond and Star Trek done by Zefferelli.  There is a kind of sentimentality here, not for a pre-modern costume drama past, but for a pre-cynical view of the future.   

Clearly Lisbon of the 2010s is the Barcelona of the 1980s.  Its architects seem particularly free to break from any kind of deference to any kind of thing.  Although Guerra's photographs strip out all signs of inhabitation showing just the abstract space and surfaces – this in itself a high modern tradition – this folio led me to Gadanho's blog, shrapnel contemporary: completely exuberant, messy, articulate, provoking, graphic, self-serving, terrifically interesting.

Gadanho's discussion of the Casa de Carreço (below) is a brilliant little text about making architecture: a miniature manifesto, and all the more powerful for its throw away form.

Fernando Guerra, FS+SG Photography. Casa de Carreço, Portugal.

Wednesday
Apr062011

Cloud's Hill, Dorset

Cloud's Hill, T E Lawrence's cottage, photographed after his death in 1935

Thinking about T E Lawrence, buried in Moreton, Dorset, about the great European carve-up of the Middle East that he and Gertrude Bell were part of in the 1920s, and his cottage, near Bovington Camp, that he renovated while serving out his last few years in the RAF in the early-1930s.  He had finally got it right, installing a porthole from HMS Tiger in what he called a slip of a roomlet, not having a bedroom, when he was killed, in 1935, in a hit and run motorcycle accident.

Interiors did a photo-essay of Cloud's Hill years ago – it is a National Trust Property and open to visitors.  I remember that the cottage did not have a kitchen, just a wood counter with three beautiful glass cheese bells in a row.  In 1933 he wrote to a friend,  'I have lavished money these last . . . months upon the cottage, adding a water-supply, a bath, a boiler, bookshelves, a bathing pool (a tiny one, but splashable into): all the luxuries of the earth. Also I have thrown out of it the bed, the cooking range: and ignored the lack of drains. Give me the luxuries and I will do without the essentials.'

This seems about right I think.

It was quite small, this cottage: two rooms up and two down, upstairs was opened into one room, the book room, lined with bookshelves.  The downstairs was the music room. He was delighted by its austerity and self -sufficiency: '...books and gramophone records and tools for ever and ever. No food, no bed, no kitchen, no drains, no light or power. Just a two-roomed cottage and five acres of rhododendron scrub. Perfection, I fancy, of its sort.'

Perfection, but also a kind of punishment, but perhaps he had lived too much and needed something elemental out of life and house.  It is curious, one's house should not be one's life, yet it inevitably is.

Wednesday
Jan262011

atelier rzlbd: charcoal house

atelier rzlbd. Charcoal House, Toronto. 2010. photograher: borXu designatelier rzlbd has done two similar houses in Toronto recently: Charcoal and Shaft, 3-storey wood frame buildings on small lots.  They have been photographed by borXu in a most interesting way, as if they were elevation drawings.   And on such narrow lots, 20-24' that is exactly what a house presents to the street: its face.

There is no great disturbance of space in the presentation of these houses, they are as one would see them: urban, private and elegant. 

Tuesday
Jan252011

MVRDV: the balancing barn

MVRDV. The Balancing Barn, Suffolk, 2010. photographer: Edmund Sumner/PRAlain de Botton is the creative director  of Living Architecture, and identifies the architects they commission to build interesting houses around Britain.  de Botton wrote a book a few years ago called The Architecture of Happiness, the secret art of furnishing your life.  On his website description of the book he takes the usual swipe at architects: 'Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, the book has at its centre the large and [faux] naïve question: 'What is a beautiful building?'  and then proceeds to 'change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves'.
Thank you for that.

MVRDV, Rotterdam is Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries, who had worked either with OMA or Mecanoo before forming MVRDV, a firm quite known for its starry and international architecture.

Living Architecture started by de Botton, commissions interesting world-class [his words] architects to build houses around the United Kingdom which are then rented out as holiday lets by Living Architecture, a 'not-for-profit organisation set up to revolutionise both architecture and UK holiday rentals'. 

Well, this is the background to the photograph of The Balancing Barn by MVRDV.  Edmund Sumner has taken an admittedly dramatic chrome-plated building and made it even more dramatic and soaring by the lens he has used.  Was it not charged enough as it is?  Why do philosophers and photographers insist that architecture needs jazzing up.  I don't think they get it, but they do get an audience.

Monday
Jan242011

tisselli studio architetti: VC1

tisselli studo architetti. VC1 2005-2008. south face and sectiontisselli studio architetti, which is Filippo Tissilli, Cinzia Mondello and Filippo Tombaccini, recently sent a project package to us for a four-storey apartment building in Cesena, completed in 2008. 
It is very dramatic – the description outlines the desire to give this building an identity beyond the numb suburban development that surrounds it, however, tisselli studio explain this in a wonderfully italianate way:

'Beyond the mere functional description of the intervention, the focus is still the wish to install an architectural quality to the directional vertexes of the building, refusing the homologation to the reassuring and anonymous morphology of the surrounding buildings.
The classic and consolidated residential functions can be found in a 'box' — a parallelepiped volume which, even in the tension of the planning, 'lives' and rotates along an axis parallel to the ground, almost lifting from the earth its most representative face.'


VC1 appears to be designed through a too-close camera lens, so typical of dramatic professional architectural photography with sharp points and soaring angles.  How did this very strange photographic convention develop?  Did photographers, not being architects, think that architecture was too static, too boring, and needed an injection of vertigo to make it all more interesting?   Perhaps.  However, VC1 is a wood frame building over a parking garage, inexpensive and conventional. It is the rotation of the outer envelope in the drawing stage that transforms the building into visual dynamism.   I quite like the rather scruffy and endearing ground plane of this project, not soaring, dramatic or abstract, but a real place.

A brave project in a relatively uncongenial environment where form is the only element that speaks of anything other than the ordinary.  As we all know, there is no such thing as an ordinary life, only ordinary budgets, conventions, rules, codes.  This seems to be a careful and thoughtful way to give a language of identity to an otherwise ordinary apartment block.
tisselli studio architetti. VC1, a residential project in the suburbs of Cesena, Itally, 2008

Monday
Nov292010

José Cadilhe

José Cadilhe. Casa em Póvoa de Varzim, Portugal, 2006-7. photographer: Fernando Guerra

This house, another photographed by Fernando Guerra, appears to be built on a standard lot, the house pushed forward to the streetwall, faced with steel (maybe aluminum, I can't find out) shutters which can open up entirely to an articulated glass front with balconies and slilding doors.  The back of the house is all glass, held in a concrete frame; the back yard is an austere plane of grass, little white cubic pavilion at the end. 

There is something about Portugal and surfaces: on one side are plain gloriously turquoise tiles, on the other patterned tiles.  Póvoa de Varzim is a town on the Atlantic coast, on the northern reaches of Porto.  It appears, from various website descriptions to be a Venice California sort of place: beaches and skaters. Once a serious port, now a mild seaside town. 

It must be the weather. Although northern Portugal is not Mediterranean by any stretch, it doesn't have this climatic clamp down on ways of living.  One can have an idea such as this punched steel screen, and then actually do it.  

Friday
Nov262010

make it right houses

Ginger. Make it Right house. New Orleans. deep fried kudzu, November 19, 2010

Deep Fried Kudzu is a website about southern life. Ginger, whose site it is, lives in Alabama and has an intense interest in folk art, material culture, cemeteries, food, architecture and craft. Her site is always delightful.  This week she posted a photo-report on the post-Katrina houses built by Make it Right, a charity headed by Brad Pitt. 

There is a house by Morphosis, by David Adjaye, and no doubt a number of other names.  They average $150,000 each.  If these photos are representative, these houses are making a very strange environment.   Some float, some collect rainwater, they are cubic and bright generally.  The New Orleans housing vernacular is nowhere to be seen. They are exhibition houses and most take a good photograph. 

Their logic is impeccable, staircases for people to sit and watch the sidewalk, expendable ground floors for the next flood, sleeping porches and such, but the language is Corbusier x trailer punk.  Each house is exceptional.
Not sure this is how one builds a community. 
Anyway, have a look here and see what you think. 

The house above I quite like for its sagging roof.  I wondered at first if it really was part of the project but then I found it on the Make it Right website.  For the life of me I cannot find anything about the architects of these houses on this very extensive site, so I don't know who did this.  Are the architects not important unless they are Morphosis?

Wednesday
Nov242010

Aires Mateus 2

Aires Mateus. Casa Areia, 2010oh, just another Aires Mateus house idea, done for the 2010 Venice Biennale.  Casa Areia.  What a life.  

Aires Mateus. Casa Areia, 2010

Tuesday
Nov232010

Aires Mateus

Aires Mateus Architects. Casa em Leiria, Portugal, 2010We get sent portfolios of photographs by Fernando Guerro for use in publications.  The one that came in yesterday is a house in Leiria, Portugal, by Aires Mateus Architects of Lisbon. 

One would think, from these portfolios, that Portugal is a splendid oasis of minimalism, and indeed, many of the projects photographed by Guerro are startling in their purity. 

It is quite hard to find information about the projects: their visual presence is often all I can get.  This one is a courtyard house, uncompromised by any acknowledgement of context.  There is a square pool outside the limits of the house, and a flat spill of paving stones at the entrance.  The interior has been photographed empty: just acres of blonde wood and white plaster.   This is a white world for a temperate country.  I look out the window at a -31° winter white here in a blonde wood and white plaster house that never gets really warm, and think about heat.

Aires Mateus. Case em Leiria, stairwell.

Monday
Aug302010

colliery landscapes

L S Lowry. Hillside in Wales, 1962. Oil on canvas, 762 x 1016 mm. Tate Collection T00591The 1824 drawing of Bath reminded me very much of the 1962 L S Lowry painting of a coal mining village,  believed to be near Abertillery in South Wales.  It is another town carved out of the rural landscape: tight, dense and relentless.  Do we mistake this density for a kind of urbanity or should it be more realistically considered expeditious worker's housing, one step up from the hostels of Fort MacMurray, or South Africa.
Lowry didn't include the rest of the colliery landscape, seen in this photograph below, with the pit head at the end of the terrace.
It is this historic spatiality that allows England to fit 51 million people into an area a bit larger than Vancouver Island and still have huge agricultural landscapes, estates and forests. 

South Wales mining valley, early 20th century.

Friday
Aug272010

Mount Royal

Mount Royal, Calgary. 1911. Glenbow Archives NB-41-22Mount Royal in 1911.  Nary a tree to be seen.  Now a forest. 

Thursday
Aug262010

Bath

Panorama of Bath from Beechen Cliff, 1824, Harvey Wood

In all the lectures I have attended in my life on Bath and Georgian architecture, I have never seen this image.  Bath as we value it developed throughout the 18th century; by time this drawing was made, some of the terraces would have been over a hundred years old, yet how raw it appears.  Nature was clearly to be held at bay, providing a prospect from which one might consider the elegant city.

I once stayed in a bedsitter in Queen's Square (1730, John Wood the Elder, Grade 1 listed buildings); elegant it was not.  Unheated, cold water tap, toilet on the landing, no bath access, dingy and absolutely freezing.  There was an architectural value in the Georgian city, but little social value.  There was still, in the early 1970s, unmended bomb damage from WWII and many of the terraces had been divided into hives of dark low-income bedsits.  This was also just the tail end of the council tower block which looked pretty good in comparison: modern, heated, full of space and light — again, an optimistic but discrepant architectural solution that soon foundered on social realities. 

It is still surprising how quickly Britain shed its social housing programs once the 1980s came and everyone, no matter how impoverished, was encouraged to cut free from the state and to become a property owner.  It took almost thirty years for this political, economic and social project to crash in the sub-prime bubble.  It would be difficult to find anything to rent in Bath today, certainly bedsitters are not considered legitimate housing any more unless as emergency housing for homeless families, and they certainly wouldn't be found in the classic terraces, squares or crescents of Bath.

Wednesday
Jun022010

Vivienda prefabricada en Cedeira: MYCC Arquitectos

Fernando Guerro, FG+SG. Vivienda prefabricada en Cedeira, MYCC Arquitectos, Madrid. 2010

MYCC  consists of three Spanish architects who studied variously in Dresden, Rotterdam, Vienna and Dortmund and then all arrived at ETSAMadrid, graduating in 2005.  Carmina Casajuana specialises in housing and urban design, Beatriz Casares works with Arquitectura Viva and Marcos Gonzalez is a specialist in urban environments. 

The project shown here is a pre-fabricated house in Galiza: Prefab House Cedeira. MYCC's statement about prefabrication and modularity clearly distinguishes between houses that are manufactured and those that are built – 'Something that leads us to believe in the efficient assembly line of an industrial building, covered and controlled, unlike a traditional work setting at the mercy of external factors that determine the construction.

Nothing too controversial here, this has been the argument for pre-fabrication for decades.  However, there isn't a great history of pre-fab housing in Europe: it simply isn't in their architectural tradition as it is in North America.  MYCC appears to be unhindered by the conventions of pre-fabrication with which our manufactured homes seem to struggle. 

Right, so it is about the design, not the process.  Perhaps.  This house has a loft, it has a glass front, it has a rusted steel screen over the glass front with workable shutters in it.  It is really beautiful, minimal, efficient, romantic.  It looks like an art gallery, it really is a cabin in the woods. 

Side walls and roof are the same material: from the photos it looks like an insulated steel panel.  We have these.  They are made in Airdrie and used to make ghastly imitation new urbanism housing for northern reserves.  However, here in the Casa Cedeira, the side walls and roof wrap the two storeys: the gable end walls are glass and steel.  How do we know this isn't Canada?  None of the steps have handrails and so they read as plane changes.  The main view of the ocean is screened, protected, rationed.  The relationship between house and landscape, even given that this house is newly constructed and the site is still scarred, is pretty uncompromising: it sits like a barn — neither the house nor the landscape are mediated or softened.  The hard line between building and site seems to have an urban sensibility to me.  Anything romantic about it is contained within the building itself, in the screen, in the light and shadows inside, not in its relationship with nature. 

I wonder if in Canada with our well discussed and theorised relationship with nature and survival, our cabins and cottages, camps and summer houses aren't too apologetic in their architecture, trying to either be invisible, or so deferential to things such as 'the view' that nature (whether it be the beach, the woods, or the front street) is over-exposed and unremitting.   Cedeira is more like a little fortress, autonomous and very much in control of its position.

Fernando Guerro, FG+SG. Vivienda prefabricada en Cedeira,night. MYCC Arquitectos, Madrid, 2010