Parallel Walls

One of the simplest, oldest, and yet most enduring of architectural strategies is based on two straight parallel walls.

This strategy is found in prehistoric architecture, and it continues to be useful. Architects have explored its possibilities right into the twentieth century, developing variants and hybrids. It is unlikely that its potential has yet been exhausted.

The obvious attraction of this most uncomplicated arrangement is its structural simplicity—it is easier to span a roof between two parallel walls than any other form.

Opposite Page:

In many buildings, space is organised using parallel walls.

without its subtleties. As with many ancient forms of architecture these subtleties may have caused a sense of wonder in the minds of those who first used them; a wonder that we have only lost through familiarity. The causes of that wonder are still available for rediscovery and use in design.

In the chapter on Geometry in Architecture, and in particular the section on the 'six-directions-plus-centre', it was said that terrestrial architecture relates, in some way or another, to the earth, the sky, the four horizontal directions, and the idea of centre. The strategy of parallel walls relates particularly to the four horizontal directions. Its power lies in its control over these directions, in definite ways which can be used to create a sense of security, direction, and focus.

Protection is provided by the roof which shelters the 'inside' from the rain or the sun, but also by the side walls which limit the directions of approach to two—'front' and 'back'—or, with the addition of a non-structural rear wall, to one— 'front'—making this simple building like a cave.

But although it is simple, the parallel wall strategy is not

The sense of direction, or dynamic, is created by the long shape of the space between the walls. The line of direction can run either way, straight through between the walls to have taken advantage of the focusing power of parallel walls. This comes about by combination of the line of direction, the convergence of perspective lines, and the frame created by the walls with the roof above and the ground below.

.or culminate within the building, terminated by a back wall.

These characteristics of the parallel wall strategy are to be found in some of the most ancient buildings on earth.

In the nineteenth century the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered a city thought to be the ancient city of Troy, made famous by the stories of Homer. Some of the houses he found there were based on the simple form of two parallel walls.

.or culminate within the building, terminated by a back wall.

Vincent Scully, in his book The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods, suggested that the ancient Greeks used the sense of direction and focus (or framing) created by parallel walls to relate their buildings to sacred sites on the peaks of distant mountains.

The gateway, or propylon, was formed of two parallel walls too, extending the experience of transition from outside the city wall to inside.

Although the houses of Troy would have had focuses in their hearths, they do not appear

The evolution of ancient dolmens (right) shows the discovery of parallel walls as a structural and a spatial strategy. It seems a particularly human development from the amorphous cave; born of structural order, and producing 'magical'

architectural effects that add to the ways in which places can be identified.

This strategy also underlies the architecture of: the tar; and the Gothic church, which identifies the place of the altar in a similar way but with a more sophisticated vaulted roof structure.

Greek temple, from which the axis set up by the parallel walls strikes out into the landscape; the Romanesque basilica, in which the perspective of the walls focuses the axis on an al-

In the twentieth century some architects have experimented with parallel walls as a basis for spatial organisation.

When Michael Scott designed a new church at Knocka-nure in Ireland in the 1960s he reduced the parallel wall strategy to its most basic form.

In the Student Chapel at the University of Otaniemi near Helsinki in Finland, two parallel walls are used to channel a progression from a secular to a spiritual view of nature. The chapel was designed by Kaija and Hiekki Siren and built in 1956-7 on a low hill amongst pine and birch trees. The special place of the church in the woods is identified by the two flank walls, and the implied movement through the building is from right to left on the plan and section. Progress through the church is controlled by cross walls. The plan defines five zones along this route.

The first of these is the world through which one approaches the church. The second is the courtyard, entered from the side and partially enclosed by walls and screens like basket work woven from twigs. Inside the courtyard there is a bell tower which acts like a marker. From the courtyard one passes through to the chapel itself, which is the fourth zone, past the third which is a clubroom and overspill space for the chapel. The fifth zone, into which one cannot progress, is the transformed nature which one sees through the totally glazed end wall of the chapel. The focal cross stands outside the building amongst the trees.

Reference for Knockanure church:

World Architecture 2, 1965, p.74.

Reference for Finnish churches:

Egon Tempel—Finnish Architecture Today, 1968.

The 'nib' which houses the vestry helps to separate the nature through which one approached the chapel from the nature one sees from one's pew, the setting of the cross.

A number of Scandinavian architects in the late 1950s seem to have experimented with the parallel wall strategy. The next example is a cemetery chapel at Kemi (also in Finland) designed by Osmo Sipari and built in 1960. Here the two parallel

Reference for terraced houses:

Stefan Muthesius—The English Terraced House, 1982.

too. Because it allows extended repetition it is the basis of the terrace house, in which the place of each family is identified between two party walls.

walls are triangular in section, and the ceremonial axis of the cross and catafalque has been turned through 90 degrees to run across rather than with the longitudinal grain of the parallel walls. The entrance too, which relates to the cross, is in one of the walls rather than through one of the open ends of the parallel wall plan. There are two other significant walls in the plan: a third parallel wall which runs from within the chapel out into the garden; and one at right angles to the parallel walls, which connects the gate into the cemetery to the main door of the chapel.

The parallel wall strategy has been used in house design

The American architect Craig Ellwood put two dwellings between each pair of party walls in this group of four courtyard apartments in Hollywood (1952).

This low-cost house (right) was designed by Charles Correa for a hot climate. The use of parallel walls means that it can be almost endlessly repeated. The irregular section allows some more private upstairs sleeping accommodation, but with the openings in the roof, it also allows ventilation through the house.

In these examples of houses using parallel walls each dwelling unit has been accommodated between its own pair of walls. In the next two examples a single house occupies a number of intramural spaces.

The diagrams and drawings along the bottom of this and the opposite page illustrate a house in Switzerland designed by Dolf Schnebli, built in the early 1960s. The section through the house shows that its structure is composed of five barrel vaults supported on six walls. These walls form the structural order and the basis of the spatial organisation of the house.

In the ancient tradition, each of the spaces between the walls is given a single directional emphasis by one end being closed with a cross wall. The other end is visually open, but sealed against the weather by a glass wall.

The places of the house are disposed within this armature of parallel walls. Some are accommodated between walls (the bedrooms for example); some stretch across more than one bay of space, necessitating the removal of some portions of the walls from the structural diagram. The hearth is positioned as an additional place identifier, across the structural grain. There is a terrace, also defined by the walls.

This house too uses more than one bay of space in a parallel wall plan. It is a summer house on a Greek island, designed by Aris Konstantinidis.

This parallel wall house was designed by Norman and Wendy Foster with Richard Rogers. In it the sense of movement from entrance to terrace is with the grain of the walls, which run down a sloping site. Here there are three zones created by the four walls: the zone for meeting people, which includes the study, dining room and living room; an intermediate zone for the conservatory, kitchen and playroom; and a private zone for the bedrooms.

Reference for Greek summer house:

World Architecture 2, 1965, p.128.

Reference for Lichtenhan house by Dolf Schnebli:

World Architecture 3, 1966, p.112.

This house too uses more than one bay of space in a parallel wall plan. It is a summer house on a Greek island, designed by Aris Konstantinidis.

In this plan the implied direction runs across the grain of the parallel walls, that is from top to bottom on the drawing. The three walls are used to create four zones. The house stands on the coast. First there is the approach zone; then the living zone which accommodates the living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, and also the car port; then a shaded terrace; and finally the fourth zone which is open to the sea. In this house a reinforced concrete roof is supported on rough stone piers. The hearth divides the living from the dining places; and the pier by the entrance has been turned through 90 degrees to allow access for the car.

Some architects have experimented with parallel walls that are not straight, or with layouts in which a parallel wall strategy has been distorted.

The drawing to the right shows the plan of the ground floor of a student residential building in the City University which lies in the southern suburbs of Paris. It was designed for Swiss students by Le

Corbusier, and built in 1931. It is called the Pavilion Suisse.

The rectangle of dotted lines indicates the block of accommodation which is lifted off the ground on massive columns. This block thus also forms a large 'porch' which protects the entrance into the building.

As one goes in there is a reception desk in front and to the right. Behind that there are the private quarters of the director, and an office. Past the reception desk is the common room. And to the left there is a lift, and the stair which leads up to the student rooms.

The plan of this part of the building is not rectangular. Its furthest extent is defined by a convex curved wall; and the stair seems to wriggle its way upwards rather than having a straight flight. At first the plan does not appear to conform to the parallel wall strategy.

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