In this tiny house which Ralph Erskine built for himself when he went to live in Sweden, space is saved by having furniture which can be stowed away; the bed lifts into the ceiling space.

According to Robert Kerr, the English Victorian architect, the English gentleman's bedroom should be arranged so that the bed avoided draughts; one should be able to draw a straight line from the door to the hearth without it cutting across the bed. In French examples, he said, beds were protected from draughts by being provided with their own alcoves planned into the bedrooms.

In the main bedroom in Hill House, the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh placed the bed in its own alcove, with an arched ceiling.

Reference for Mackintosh:

Robert Macleod—Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Architect and Artist, 1968.

Reference for Mies van der Rohe:

Philip Johnson—Mies van der Rohe, 1978.

Hill House was built in 1903 at Helensburgh, Scotland, designed by the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The main bedroom is at the bottom left of this plan, which shows the first floor of the house. Though apparently very simple, Mackintosh subtly divided the room into various places for particular purposes. There is a hearth with a seat. The washstand is just inside the door. There is a dressing place by the pair of windows, between which stands a tall mirror. The bed lies in its own generous alcove, which has a vaulted ceiling; originally Mackintosh intended to define the bed-alcove even more with two decorated side-screens making an entrance, but these were not built. The lower drawing shows these screens, the bed, the wash-stand, and the decorative scheme for the bedroom walls.

In the Farnsworth House (below) by Mies van der Rohe, the places of the two beds are not as definitely identified by the architecture. Though their positions are hinted at by the organisation of space in the house, they take their own places rather than have them given to them by the architecture.

Altar—a table for sacrifice or worship

The architecture of an altar may be more consistent than that of a hearth or of a bed—it is almost always a table (a platform) for ritual or symbolic sacrifice, or which plays the role of focus for worship.

In ancient Egypt altars were tables on which nourishment for the dead pharaoh was placed. Altars were hidden away in the deepest recesses of the mortuary temples that were attached to the bases of the pyramids. Though they were concealed from public view, and attended only by the priests, they were usually positioned on the east-west axis of the pyramid, and the long axis of the temple.

This is a small early example from the pyramid of Meidum:

The same principles of arrangement apply in the much larger and more complex example at the pyramid of Chephren (which is one of the well-known group at Giza, far right). The mortuary temple lies at the base of the pyramid (at the top of the drawing); the altar is in a small chamber close to the pyramid; the spirit of the pharaoh would reach the food through the image of a doorway, which appeared to lead from inside the pyramid.

At Stonehenge the place of the altar is identified by a

circle, and a horseshoe, of standing stones. The altar is positioned not quite at the geometric centre of the circle, offset in response to the approach to the circle and the open end of the horseshoe.

In ancient Greece altars were positioned outside the temples. The image of the god was housed within. This is the temple of Athena Polias at Priene. The altar and the god inside the temple are linked by the long axis which they share. As in Egyptian pyramids, this was often the east-west axis.

In the pyramid temple of Chephren, the altar is hidden away in the deepest recesses. The god king would come to collect the food through an imitation doorway which 'connected' the chamber with the inside of the pyramid.

In medieval churches and cathedrals the altar is inside.

The spire of a traditional church acts as a marker, identifying the place of the altar in a way that can be seen for miles around.

This church designed by Auguste Perret is one big spire. The altar is positioned centrally, directly under the spire.

In medieval churches and cathedrals the altar is inside.

The spire of a traditional church acts as a marker, identifying the place of the altar in a way that can be seen for miles around.

Some twentieth-century churches have centralised plans too. This is the plan of one in Le Havre, France, designed by Auguste Perret, and built in

This is the church of S.Maria del Mar in Barcelona. Still, the altar relates to an east-west axis that provides the backbone for the whole building. The principal purpose of all Christian churches is to identify the place of the altar. In this example the way that the building focuses on the altar is clear.

During the Renaissance, some architects and theologians wondered whether the altar should be positioned at the centre of the church, rather than at one end.

In the church of St Peter in Rome the high altar is placed at the centre of the main part of the building. An extension to the nave stops the building being a fully centralised church.

the nave stops the building being a fully centralised church.

Some twentieth-century churches have centralised plans too. This is the plan of one in Le Havre, France, designed by Auguste Perret, and built in

1959. This church is a large spire (far left), which, like spires on traditional medieval churches, also identifies the place of the altar. In Perret's church the altar is placed on three axes: the two horizontal axes, and the vertical.

This church too has a centralised plan, with the altar at the focus of a square, and with its presence emphasised from the outside by a spire supported on the eight timber columns around the octagonal platform. It is a chapel

fied by a church building is by the effect of the perspective of a long space. This effect works because the altar is on the long axis of the building. This axis is so powerful, symbolically as well as architecturally, that entrances into churches often avoid aligning with it.

dedicated to St James the Fisherman, and was designed by Albert Christ-Janer and Mary Mix Foley. It was built in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, in 1956.

Another way in which the place of the altar can be identi

By the twentieth century the symmetrical arrangement had become so orthodox that

The place of the altar in a traditional church is identified by the axes of the building.

The axis of a church creates perspective which focuses on the altar.

architects were keen to explore other ways of positioning an altar in a church.

Christ Church, Spitalfields, has a symmetrical plan, and its altar lies on the long axis (in this case sharing that axis with the entrance). This London church was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the mid-1720s.

Alvar Aalto's design for the Vuoksenniska Church at Imatra in Finland is asymmetrical in its plan. But still the building, by various means, focuses on the altar.

The Cemetery Chapel at Turku in Finland (above), designed by Erik Bryggman, and built in 1941, has an asymmetrical plan, but the altar remains the focus of the building. Attention is drawn to it by the axis of the entrance and the pathway leading to it (as in more traditional church plans), but in making an asymmetrical layout the architect recognised the relationship between the inside of the church and the outside. The context of the church is not symmetrical; Bryggman's layout allows the sun in to illuminate the altar alcove, and the congregation to look out through the glass south wall.

Some things in architecture, without being altars, can be like them. This is a part of sketch 'ideal' plan for the Abbey of St Gall in France. It dates from the 9 th century AD, and shows the intended infirmary.

The operating table (at the top left) has the same sort of architectural relationship with its room, as the altars in their chapels (bottom).

Many ordinary everyday things can be like altars. When

someone, in their room, devotes A kitchen stove might be a table to memorabilia of a fa- like an altar to cooking. vourite football club, it can be like an altar.

A museum curator may place precious objects on their own altars.

A grandmother might make a piano into an 'altar' to her family.

A dressing table may be an altar to one's self.

A bar might be considered by some to be an altar to drinking.

A dining table can be an altar to a family eating together.

A mantelpiece can be an altar to the fire.

A grandmother might make a piano into an 'altar' to her family.

A dressing table may be an altar to one's self.

A bar might be considered by some to be an altar to drinking.

A dining table can be an altar to a family eating together.

An operating table might be interpreted as an altar, as might a mortuary table.

Performance place

A performance requires space; whether religious ritual, dance, music, drama, is not as focused a place as a hearth or an altar. A performance place also requires protection from encroachment by those not involved in it, who may be spectators.

When a clown performs in a field it becomes a stage. He defines its area by his movement

When a clown performs on a patch of ground it becomes a stage.

be made more formal and more permanent.

In Minoan and Mycenaean times (about 3500 years ago) the 'dancing floor'—orkestra— was a specific place.

and by positioning his props. He protects it from encroachment by force of his presence and pretend personality. The ring of spectators that he attracts also contribute to the identification of place, to the architecture of this impromptu theatre.

In primitive times a place for the performance of ritual may have been no more than a clearing in a forest, or a trampled piece of grassland. But by the powers of architecture performance places can

This is an example from the Palace of Knossos on the Mediterranean island of Crete. It is thought to have been built by Daedalos, architect to King Minos, as a place for his daughter to dance; but it might have been a place for displaying bulls before they went into the courtyard of the palace to be fought by young Minoans. This small dancing floor is a flat, almost rectangular, paved area, with low sitting steps on two sides. The rake of the steps takes advantage of the natural slope of the ground.

By a thousand or so years later, architects had formalised the outdoor theatre into the grand amphitheatre, which was

much larger and more geometrically organised, but which also made use of the lie of the land.

Behind the orkestra in a Greek amphitheatre there was a building—the skene—which in Greek drama was a background to the action. Through Roman and into modern times this building came to be used as a performance place in its own right—a stage. It was also, like the altar, brought inside.

The stage became framed by a proscenium arch. In the Greek amphitheatre the magic of the place of performance had been defined by the circle of the orkestra; in this type of theatre the separation of the special world of the actors and the ordinary world of the audience was defined by the platform of the stage, and by this rectangular opening—a window into a make-believe world.

With the development of cinema and television the window into other worlds became more far-reaching, and encroachment impossible:

Some architects have tried to design performance places in which the separation between performers and spectators is reduced.

In the Philharmonie, a concert hall in Berlin designed by Hans Scharoun, the performers are surrounded by their audience.

Reference for The American Center in Paris, by Frank Gehry:

Lotus International 84, February 1995, pp.74-85.

This section shows how theatres are often designed to be insulated against outside noises by their ancillary accommodation.

The plan at the bottom of the previous page shows the auditorium of the Philharmonie in Berlin (1956). As in his designs for houses, Hans Scharoun, the architect of the Philharmonie, was determined to be non-orthogonal. In this plan, he has placed the performers on their stage, not in opposition to the audience, but surrounded by them. Listeners sit in tiers as if on the slopes of a small valley. The sanctity of the performance place is preserved, by the platform, but the separation between audience and players is reduced.

Whether or not there is the illusion of separation between audience and performers it is often thought necessary to protect performance places from the encroachment of things that have nothing to do with them—traffic noise, the sounds of the weather, sunlight, and so on. This section through a theatre designed by Frank Gehry shows how performance places are often designed to be isolated in the core of their building, insulated from outside distractions by ancillary accommodation wrapped around them.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment