In 1922 Mies van der Rohe designed a skyscraper which, though the plan was irregular, was composed of many horizontal slices of space.

Human architecture would no doubt be different if we could fly freely in three dimensions. Because we walk and are held down by gravity, our lives mainly take place on flat surfaces, and architecture is concerned with the planning of floors. With this limitation in movement, human life and architecture have a particular emphasis in the two horizontal dimensions.

Some architects have accepted, or even celebrated, this emphasis by designing buildings in which movement and places are organised between strictly horizontal planes of platform and roof.

The German architect Mies van der Rohe celebrated the horizontal emphasis of human life in many of his projects. This is the plan of a 'Fifty-by-fifty' (foot) house which he designed in 1951, but which has not been built. The house consists of a square flat roof over a paved area.

The roof is supported in the most minimal way possible, on four columns, one in the middle of each side of the square. The walls are completely of glass.

All the spaces of the house are contained between these two horizontal planes; and the glass walls do not obstruct lines of sight in the horizontal dimensions.

It may be said that the Fifty-by-fifty house is a building of one stratum. It controls and organises a particular portion of the land's surface at ground level; it has no changes of level— no pits or platforms; there are no upper floors, or cellars excavated out of the earth.

In 1922 Mies van der Rohe designed a skyscraper which, though the plan was irregular, was composed of many horizontal slices of space.

This is the section through a part of a small house designed by the Italian architect Marco Zanuso, and built near Lake Como in 1981.

It has three strata, each with its own character. There is the ground level stratum, which has easy access to the outside; it has a stratum un-der—a cellar which is excavated from the earth and which probably has particular characteristics of darkness and coolness; and it has a stratum above—a sleeping gallery, which is secluded away from the ground floor, and has a sloping ceiling because it is directly under the pitched roof.

Stratification plays a part in the identification of place.

Below is a much grander house, in Kent; it too has three strata. This is a section through Mereworth Castle, designed by Colen Campbell, and built in 1725. (The plan of its main floor is on page 122.)

It has a lowest level of rooms which are partly above ground level, but this has some of the characteristics of a cellar—its ceilings are vaulted to carry the weight of the floors and walls above, and it is cool and not well lit.

The most important level is the one above, with the grandest rooms. This is known as a piano nobile—a 'noble floor'—which suggests that some sense of nobility was attached to its being above the level of the ground.

There is a strata of rooms above the noble floor, but you can see that this layer is penetrated to allow a dome over the space at the centre of the house.

The strata of a building can often be seen in its elevation, but their different characters can also be experienced inside the building. The ground floor is accessible from outside; the upper floors are separate from the ground, perhaps more aloof; the character of the top-most floor is affected by the geometry of the roof, and perhaps by the availability of light from the sky.

Many buildings are stratified in similar ways. This is an agricultural laboratory designed by a Swedish architect— Fredrik Blom—in 1837.

In Ernest Gimson's Stoneywell Cottage, there are almost two storeys within the structure of the roof He wanted to reduce the scale of the house from the outside, and emphasize the importance of the sheltering roof.

In this part of the library of Uppsala University, there is a lecture theatre on the topmost level. In masonry structures it is easier to support large spaces over small ones than vice versa; the walls or columns of the smaller spaces can support the floor of the large.

Many buildings are stratified in similar ways. This is an agricultural laboratory designed by a Swedish architect— Fredrik Blom—in 1837.

between the roof and the stair to the attic.

In the 1920s Le Corbusier radically re-evaluated the stratification of buildings. In his 'Five points towards a new architec

It has a ground floor with its entrance, (and which at the far side becomes a first floor because of a change in ground level); it has a cellar, which seems excavated from the ground, and which has a structure appropriate to carrying the weight of the building above; it has a middle floor which has its own particular character—separated from the ground but not in the roof; and it has an attic where the shape of the space is affected by the geometry of the roof structure—in this case the triangular section of the roof has been translated into a curved ceiling.

There is similar stratification in this Italian farmhouse (right) designed by Giovanni Simonis. Each level has its own character: the vaulted lowest level; two middle levels, the upper with a jettied window seat under the eaves of the roof; and an attic within the roof. The levels are linked by the series of stairs, the angle of which seems to relate to the pitch of the roof, allowing the close relationship ture' (1926) he said that buildings could have gardens on their roofs, and open ground floors.

Le Corbusier used these ideas in some of his house designs, and in other building types. In place of a garret would be a terrace open to the sky for sunbathing; in place of a cellar, or ground floor, a space open for free movement under the house.

Le Corbusier also experimented with the interrelationships between the levels in buildings. In this small house for a site in Carthage, Greece, designed in the 1930s, he made the layers interlink. The roof terrace is shaded against the strong Greek sun.

Le Corbusier also recognised the greater freedom in the manipulation of space that an architect has on the top floor of a building. A lower level is restricted in that its 'roof' is often also the floor of the level above, and in that the possibilities of allowing light in directly from above are severely limited. On the top floor these restrictions do not exist (the 'above' is no longer hampered by the 'below' of a floor above); there is more opportunity for moulding space in the vertical dimension and using light from above.

And in the Unités d'Habitation, some large apartment blocks he designed after World War II, the dwellings interlock with each other across the section of the building, and around a central access corridor. This drawing is through only a small portion of a block, which was designed to accommodate some 1600 people, together with community services.

In the Millowners' Association Building for Ahmedab-ad (1954) Le Corbusier follows the structurally sensible convention that a large space is supported on smaller spaces below. This also allows the large space—the discussion chamber) to be lit from

By using rooflights and openings in floors, John Soane created spaces where light from the sky could penetrate into the lowest stratum. In some parts heavy glass floors allow light to filter down through the levels. This is a section through part of his own house; a place where kept his large collection of sculpture and architectural fragments.

Reference for John Soane:

John Summerson and others— John Soane (Architectural Monographs), 1983.

Sometimes the usual stratification can be inverted. In this house by Robert Venturi the attic is vaulted, as if it is supporting weight above, and the lowest floor follows the irregular geometry of the ground. The main entrance is at mid-level, over a bridge.

Reference for Venturi:

Papadakis and others, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, on houses and housing, 1992.

Reference for Schinkel:

Karl Friedrich Schinkel,

Collection of Architectural Designs, (in facsimile, 1989).

above, through a convex roof (with the same freedom from the restrictions of floor above as the dome over the central hall of Mereworth Castle).

Associated with the 'temple' attitude to the identification of place (discussed in the chapter Temples and Cottages), is the idea of creating levels above the ground—worlds above the mundane. The stage for performance is an example of this; so is the piano nobile.

At the Schloss Charlottenhof, a villa built in 1827 in the extensive grounds of the Sanssouci Palace at Potsdam (near Berlin), Schinkel designed a terraced garden raised approximately three metres above the flat landscape around.

The garden is at the same level as the piano nobile of the house. The lower levels of the house were for the servants. The ascent from the mundane to the noble level is by a pair of staircases in the entrance hall.

In the Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier created three main strata: a ground floor accommodating the entrance hall, the servants quarters and the garage; the first floor with the living and sleeping rooms, and with an open terrace enclosed within the almost square enclosure of walls; and a level above with a solarium for sunbathing. All three levels are linked by the ramp at the core of the house.

The library is a building type which in many instances has a particular stratification. Traditionally, for various reasons, libraries were built on a floor above ground level: to avoid damp (in days before damp proofing of walls); to increase security for the valuable books; and possibly also because their large spaces could be built over cellular rooms.

The library of Trinity College in Cambridge was designed by Christopher Wren and built by 1684. Wren followed the precedent of earlier college libraries by putting the library on the first floor, in this case over an open loggia.

The Bibliotheque Ste Genevieve in Paris, designed by Henri Labrouste, and built by 1850, is also on the first floor. The library has a steel vaulted ceiling, and is supported on columns and cellular rooms beneath. The library hall itself is reached by passing through the columned ground floor hall, under the books, to a pair of staircases at the rear of the building where one turns to face the opposite direction and then enter.

There is a sense, in approaching both these libraries (and the many other examples), that physically rising to a level above the ground is equivalent also to rising to a higher intellectual level. The sense seems to have been consciously intended by Gunnar Asplund, the Swedish architect, when he designed the Stockholm City Library, which was built in 1927.

Here one enters up a staircase that emerges almost in the centre of the circular, and very high, library hall. The hall is lit by a ring of high windows which create rectangles of sunlight which slowly track across the white walls. The bookstacks are on three tiers around the circumference, each with its own walk-

way. The administration of book issues and returns takes place at the centre of the floor.

In the Viipuri Library, Finland, designed by Alvar Aalto, and built in 1935, one rises through various levels of bookstacks. The children's li

brary is on the ground floor, and the main bookstacks on three higher levels that gradually ascend under the high ceilings.

The upper floors are lit by an even pattern of circular roof-lights, with deep conical sides that reflect the light evenly through the spaces.

The National Archives building in Paris has three strata, each of two floors. The lowest is below ground, and houses the stores. The middle stratum accommodates the entrance concourse and offices. The reading rooms, book stacks, and computer facilities are in the top stratum, where ceilings are free from the constraints of a floor above, and light can be admitted from the sky.

The Cranfield Institute Library was designed by Norman Foster and built in 1992. It too has the bookstacks on the upper floors, with the smaller spaces—a lecture theatre and some seminar rooms—on the ground floor.

Like Labrouste's library, this is a metal-framed building with vaulted ceilings. Like Asplund's it has a staircase which rises through each floor. Like Aalto's it has a means of diffusing daylight through roof-lights to illuminate the spaces evenly. The number of columns is doubled on each of the lower floors to take the extra weight of the books.

The new National Archive in Paris was built in the early 1990s, designed by Stanislaus Fiszer. Its section shows a number of aspects of stratification. It has three principal strata, each of which has two levels. The entrance level has a central atrium, with a ramped stair which takes library users up to the higher levels. The offices and administration are also in this stratum. The lowest stratum, below ground, contains storage rooms. The upper floors are large, and take advantage of the possibility of being lit through the roof. On various levels Fiszer has used changes in ceiling height to help to identify different places, especially to suggest a separation between peripheral and central zones (this is done by suspended ceilings which conceal services), but it is only in the top stratum that he has the freedom to vary the sizes of the volumes of space significantly. The central reading room, lit by the sloping roof-light, is flanked by two levels which accommodate bookstac-ks, computer facilities, and so on.


A porch not only marks an entrance, it also identifies a place of transition between outside and inside.

The propylon is a building through which one must pass to reach the temenos of a Greek temple. This is the propylon on the acropolis in Athens; it marks the transition from the everyday world into the sacred area of the temples.

Opposite Page:

An ancient Egyptian pyramid complex can be interpreted as a transition from life into death. There is a hierarchy of places from the river to the desert. The heart of the complex is the tomb of the pharaoh. The point of symbolic transition is the place where the mortuary temple meets the base of the pyramid.

Experiencing products of architecture involves movement. One passes from outside to inside, or through the serial stages of a route. Even in a simple enclosed space it is not possible to look in all directions simultaneously, so one moves around.

One might tend to think of a place as somewhere one stops—a market square, a living room, an operating table. These may be called static places, or perhaps nodes. But the pathway one takes to get from one static place to another is a place too. One might call this a dynamic place. Dynamic places play an essential part in the conceptual organisation of space.

Dynamic and static places have characters that derive from the basic and modifying elements by which they are identified. The character of a static place might be affected by that of the dynamic places that lead to it; and the character of a dynamic place might be affected by that of the static place to which it leads. The experience of a corridor that leads to a cell in which there is an electric chair is affected by one's awareness of the place to which it leads. The experience of the burial chamber at the heart of one of the ancient Egyptian pyramids is affected by the nature of the route by which you reach it—penetrating the mass of the pyramid.

Even in quite mundane examples, transitions form part of the experience of works of architecture. The door of a house is a significant interface between the public and the private realm. Many religious sites have some form of gateway which marks the entrance: the lych gate of an English churchyard; the propylon through which one enters the temenos of a Greek temple; the gates and forecourt of a Chinese temple. All contribute to the effect that a static place—the hearth of a house, the altar of a temple—is set apart from the rest of the world.

Transition places are important in the ways that static places relate to each other. They play a part in the relationship

between a place and its context. Often there is a sequence, or hierarchy of stages between one static place and another. When entering dwellings, for example, one usually has to pass through a number of different zones of increasing privacy. Sometimes this hierarchy or serial experience of places culminates in a place which is conceptually at the core of the work of architecture—its heart.

This is the plan of the palace of Tiryns in Greece. It was a hilltop citadel built more than 3000 years ago. If one begins at the top of the drawing one can trace a path through a hierarchy of places leading up to the most important, the king's throne room—the megaron.

From the entrance court, itself surrounded with thick walls, one would have passed into a long and narrow passage, through a couple of gateways, and then to a smaller court where there was the first of two formal propylons. Passing through this, one would have entered another courtyard, and then through the second propylon into the innermost courtyard, which seems to have been cloistered. Off this courtyard was the megaron itself; but to reach its hearth and the throne one still had to pass through a porch or portico, and then an anteroom.

This was not the shortest possible route from the entrance to the throne—one changes direction twice during the course of it. Perhaps it was made tortuous like this to lessen the slope of the climb up the hill; but it also made the heart of the pal-

Reference for Greek architecture: A.W.Lawrence—Greek Architecture, 1967.

Reference for Gimson's house:

Lawrence Weaver—Small Country Houses of To-day, 1912, p.54.

ace seem much more deeply embedded in its body, and allowed the creation of a number of transitions, each of which could successively be defended in the event of enemy intrusion.

Transitions, hierarchies, and hearts can be found in less dramatic works of architecture too. The drawing on the left is the ground floor plan of a house that Ernest Gimson designed for himself at the end of the nineteenth century. It was built in the Cotswold village of Sapperton.

The main entrance into the house is from the right hand side of the drawing, from a village lane. The heart of the house may be said to be the hearth in the hall (living room), which is the largest room in the plan. To reach the hearth from the lane one passes first between two bushes (like sentinels), through a gate which is set in a waist-height wall, into a small entrance court, along a stone path which is flanked by flower beds, through an arch into the stone porch (there are some steps down into the garden alongside

it), through the front door which is set in a very thick wall (that actually supports a fireplace on the floor above), and into the living room. If the lane is 'public', then the entrance court is 'semi-public'; the porch is 'semiprivate', and the living room is 'private'. This sequence of places and transitions creates a hierarchy from the public realm to the privacy of the interior. Each stage in this hierarchy is accounted for in the architecture that Gimson gave his house.

[One passes through a sequence of places when entering by the back door too: through a wall into a back courtyard where there is an open-sided shed whose roof is supported by two columns; the back door is tucked under this shed roof]

At around the same time, Frank Lloyd Wright was designing the Ward Willits House, built in Highland Park, Illinois in 1902. As in the Gimson house, the heart is the hearth that in Wright's design lies right at the core of the plan. In this example the hierarchy of places between the public realm and the private includes the motor car. The route begins in the bottom righthand corner of the plan. The car drives up to and under the porte corchere which projects out from the house over the driveway. Emerging from the car, under the shelter of the roof, one climbs three steps onto a small platform which leads to the front door; passing diagonally across the small hallway one climbs some more steps, and then turns sharp left into the main living room. The hearth, in a sort of ingle-nook, is behind a screen which hides it from the entrance.

Transitions, and the hierarchy of places, draw out the passage from the public realm to the private. Often, as in the case of the Ward Willits house, the architect avoids the most direct route, so that the person approaching and entering the house can be 'led' through a progressive sequence of experiences.

Transitions also provide a buffer between one place and another, particularly between 'an inside' and 'the outside'. This may have practical benefits, such as when a draught lobby helps to insulate the inside of a building from a cold outside; but they may also have a psychological effect too, such as that between a busy street and the quiet interior of a church.

In 1953 Alvar Aalto built a summer house on the island of Muuratsalo.


Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment