Using Things That Are There

In this small crevice in a huge rock face (in the Carnarvon Gorge in Queensland, Australia), an aborigine family laid the dead body of a small child, wrapped in bark. They marked

Opposite Page:

A cave that is used as a dwelling is architecture, just as much as is a built house, by reason of having been chosen as a place.

the place with silhouettes of their hands, made with pigment. This grave is as much a piece of architecture as is the Great Pyramid of Giza (and more poignant).

Although architecture is always an activity of a mind, it does not follow that architecture always entails building something physically. As identification of place, architecture may be no more than a matter of recognising that a particular location is distinguishable as 'a place'—the shade of a tree, the shelter of a cave, the summit of a hill, the mystery of a dark forest

In daily life, one is constantly recognising places. This is how one knows where one is, where one has been, and where one is going. With many of these thousands of places one does not interact; they are left unchanged except for the recognition itself, which may be fleeting and hardly acknowledged.

Some places however stick in the mind. They are remembered because of some particular distinction: a fine view, shelter from the wind, the warmth of the sun; or because they are associated with a particular event: falling off a bicycle, fighting with a friend, making love, witnessing a miracle, winning a battle..

The next significant step in a relationship with place is that one might choose to use it for something—the shade of that tree for a brief rest on a long and arduous walk, the cave as a hiding place, the hill top to survey the surrounding countryside, the darkest part of the mysterious forest for some spiritual ritual..

Maybe the recognition of a place is shared with other people, the memory and use associated with it becomes communal.

In these ways places acquire significance of many kinds—practical, social, historical, mythical, religious..

The world has many, many such places: the cave in

Mount Dikti on the island of Crete, believed to have been the birthplace of the Greek god Zeus; the route of the Muslim pilgrimage—the hajj—in and around Mecca; the mount from which Christ delivered his sermon; the stretch of boulevard in Dallas, Texas, where President Kennedy was shot; the places in the Australian outback which are identified and remembered in the 'songlines' of aborigine culture

Recognition, memory, choice, sharing with others, the acquisition of significance; all these contribute to the processes of architecture.

Of course architecture also involves building—the physical alteration of a part of the world to enhance or reinforce its establishment as a place. Recognition, memory, choice, sharing .operate at the rudimentary levels of identification of place. Architecture makes more difference when it proposes and puts into effect physical changes to the fabric of the world.

Architecture always depends on things that are already there; it involves recognising their potential or the problems they present; it involves, maybe,

remembering their associations and significances; it involves choice of site, and sharing with others.

Fundamentally all terrestrial architecture depends upon the ground for its base, something that we perhaps tend to take for granted.

In a flat and completely featureless landscape the establishment of a place would have to be an arbitrary decision; (once established however the place would provide a catalyst for other places). The irregular shape of the ground, together with the courses of the water

Castle builders through history have built their fortifications on sites which, though often powerfully dramatic, were chosen primarily for their defensibility. Even if identically rebuilt somewhere else, such buildings would not be architecturally the same on another site.

Simeon the Stylite lived in a cave dwelling within one of the volcanic cones of the valley of Goreme in Anatolia. The caves were extended and refined by carving into the rock.

References for architecture using natural forms:

Bernard Rudofsky—Architec-ture Without Architects, 1964.

Bernard Rudofsky—The Prodigious Builders, 1977.

African baobab trees have thick trunks and soft wood. With space carved out inside, they can be made into dwellings.

The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is built over a rock which is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

that flows through it, the wind that blows across it, and the things that grow on it, all under the sun, often suggests places which are seeds of architecture. Dealing with them, taking advantage of them,mitigat-ing their effects, exploiting their character...can be important factors in architecture.

In the untouched landscape, doing architecture can involve using hills, trees, rivers, caves, cliffs, breezes from the sea: things said to be 'provided by nature'.

Examples in which natural features or elements contribute to architecture are innumea-ble and can be aesthetically and intellectually engaging in the way they seem to symbolise a symbiotic relationship between people (and other creatures) and the conditions in which they live.

People have lived in caves since time immemorial; they have altered them, flattened their floors, extended them by excavation, enclosed their entrances, built outwards from them. to make them more commodious. It is said that proto-people descended to the ground from living in trees; people still make houses in trees. Since ancient times too people have used the walls of caves and of cliff-faces as places for the display of images—wall paintings and carvings. Through history people have found ways to cool and dry their dwellings with natural breezes, and warm them with the sun. Domineering or frightened people have chosen hills and craggy rocks as plac-es for fortresses or defensible villages. The constant need for water and food has led people to build near rivers and adjacent to fertile land. And so on.

Each of the major buildings on the acropolis in Athens identifies a place that was already there: the Parthenon identifies the highest point, dominating the city around; the Erectheion an ancient sacred site; the Propylon the easiest access onto the summit; and each of the theatres an accommodating bowl of land where spectators probably watched performances even before they were provided with formal performance places and stepped seating.

Reference for the Student Cen tre by Ralph Erskine:

Peter Collymore—The Architecture of Ralph Erskine, 1985.

Reference for Stoneywell Cottage:

W.R.Lethaby and others— Ernest Gimson, His Life and Work, 1924.

Reference for the Student Cen tre by Ralph Erskine:

Peter Collymore—The Architecture of Ralph Erskine, 1985.

At the base of Ayer's Rock in central Australia there are some natural alcoves, apparently carved out by wind erosion. Each provides a place of shade, stones to sit on, and also a surface on which to draw. Some of them appear to have been used as schoolrooms.

the late 1970s, Ralph Erskine used a particularly fine tree, already on the site, to determine the position of an outside space taken like a bite out of the plan of the building. The tree, with the natural contours of the ground, contributes to the identity of the place, and to the views from inside the building.

Reference for Mexican house:

'Maison a SantiagoTepetlapa', in L'Architectured'Aujourd'hui, June 1991, p.86.

Reference for Mexican house:

'Maison a SantiagoTepetlapa', in L'Architectured'Aujourd'hui, June 1991, p.86.

This cottage in Leicestershire (UK) was designed in the 1890s by Ernest Gimson. It was built hard against a natural rocky outcrop, which contributes part of the enclosure of the house, and also affects the levels of its floors. The land, as found and chosen, is an integral part of the work of architecture.

In designing the Students' Union building at Stockholm University in Sweden, built in

The drawing to the right is a section through part of a small dwelling in Mexico, designed by ^ Ada Dewes and Sergio Puente. ¡£ It was built in the mid-1980s.

The drawing to the right is a section through part of a small dwelling in Mexico, designed by ^ Ada Dewes and Sergio Puente. ¡£ It was built in the mid-1980s.

Reference for the 'timeless way of building':

Christopher Alexander—The Timeless Way of Building, 1979.

Reference for BBC Radio Centre:

'Foster Associates, BBC Radio Centre', in Architectural Design 8, 1986, pp.20-27.

The atrium of the proposed BBC Radio Centre at Langham Place in London was to have been oriented towards All Souls Church, using it as a visual focus for the space.

The designers used basic elements of architecture to make a number of places; these are used in concert with modifying elements and things already on the site to make the complete experience of the house.

The house is built amongst trees on the steep side of the valley of a fast-flowing river. The first element of the house is a horizontal platform built out from the slope. This is approached from above by steps; and there is a stepped pathway down from it to the river below. This platform is further defined by a single screen wall on the upslope side through the middle of which it is entered. It also has a roof over it supported by the screen wall and by two columns. The other three sides of the platform, which is a bedroom, are enclosed only by mosquito netting, which keeps out biting insects but allows in the songs of the birds in the trees. Steps in the platform lead to a shower room below. The roof of the bedroom is also the floor of the living room above. This 'room' has only one wall, a vertical extension of the screen wall below, through which it too is entered; the other 'walls' and its 'roof are provided by the canopy of trees around.

Using the natural things that are already there is an ingredient in what has been termed, by Christopher Alexander, the 'timeless way of building'. As such it is as relevant today as ever, though in regions of the world which have been inhabited for many centuries one is less likely to have the opportunity to use natural features and elements, and more to have to relate to previous products of architecture.

On a crowded beach, if there is a small space left amongst other people's towels, wind breaks, barbecues, deck-chairs, sunshades, etc., you make your own settlement, accommodating yourself to the space available, the direction of the sun and wind, the route to the sea, as best you can.

It's a similar situation when one does architecture amongst existing products of architec-ture—in a village, a town, a city; one interacts with what is already there.

In cities the task is often to make places in spaces between existing buildings, and relate to the places around that are already there.

When Foster Associates designed a new Radio Centre for the BBC (left, which has not been built) they took care to fit the building into its site, and relate to things around.

The building was to have stood at Langham Place in London, the junction between Regent Street and Portland Place,

and on the urban route between Regent's Park and Piccadilly Circus designed by John Nash in the early nineteenth century. Not only is the building's plan shaped to fit the site like a jigsaw piece, thus providing walls to define the adjacent roads, but it also provides a pathway, passing through the building, from Cavendish Square into Langham Place. The building has a six-storey atrium at its heart; this is oriented towards Nash's All Souls Church across the road, which its large glass wall frames like a picture, using it to add identity to the place of the atrium within the building.

Sometimes architecture involves using the fabric of an existing building, or its ruins.

When the Victorian architect William Burges was given the commission to design a hunting lodge, a few miles north of

Cardiff, for the Marquis of Bute, he was presented with the ruins of a Norman castle as the starting point. His design grew from little more than a ground plan, already there in stone.

Using these remains as a base, physically and creatively, Burges designed his own inter-

Reference for Castell Coch:

John Mordaunt Crook— William Burges and the High Victorian Dream, 1981.

Reference for Castelvecchio:

Richard Murphy—Carlo Scarpa and the Castelvecchio, 1990.

pretation of a medieval castle. The result is a collusion of the past with Burges's present. Castell Coch (The Red Castle) is not an accurate reconstruction of the original castle. In the 1870s when it was built, it was a new building (except that is for the foundations), but one in which Burges took prompts from what was already there. His imagination benefited from working on a base, and on a site (the castle overlooks the Taff Valley running north from Cardiff), inherited from seven centuries earlier. His intention was to make a romantic recreation of a medieval place, as an entertainment for his client and an ornament in the landscape.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa was presented with a commission which similarly involved using an old building and making it into a new work of architecture. His base (there was more remaining of it than Burges

Reference for Castelvecchio:

Richard Murphy—Carlo Scarpa and the Castelvecchio, 1990.

had at Castell Coch), was a fourteenth-century castle in the northern Italian city of Verona— the Castelvecchio (Old Castle).

Scarpa's attitude to the past and how its built remains might be used architecturally was different from that of Burges. It was not his intention to realise a romantic image of the past, but rather to use remains of the past as a stimulus to present aesthetic interest.

In dealing with, and remodelling the Castelvecchio, Scarpa created an architectural experience which is one of the present, but which also exploits accidents and collisions, juxtapositions and relationships, spaces and their character, that derive from arrangements which existed in the building before he came to it. To these arrangements he has added some more, from his own responsive imagination, as one more layer—belonging to the mid-twentieth century—on a building which already had many, from various periods of history.

Perhaps the most impressive place in Scarpa's Castelvecchio is the 'Cangrande space', named after the equestrian statue which it frames. This is a place that had

The 'Cangrande' space at the Castelvecchio in Verona, as remodelled by Carlo Scarpa. Scarpa interpreted the history of this particular corner of the castle, to identify an impressive place within which to display an equestrian statue.

not existed in the castle before, but it is one which is deeply conditioned both by the existing fabric of the old stone walls, and by an appreciation by Scarpa of the historical changes which had occurred in that particular part of the building.

When the Danish industrialist Knud Jensen commissioned Jorgen Bo and Vilhelm Wohlert to design the Louisiana Art Museum north of Copenhagen, there were various things that he wanted the architects to use in their design—things that were already there on the site:

First, the old house had to be preserved as the entrance. No matter how elaborate the museum might become in later years____ Second, I

wanted one open out into that view, about two hundred metres to the north of the manor, overlooking our lush inland lake. Third, about another hundred metres farther on, in the rose garden—on the bluff overlooking the strait and, in the distance, Sweden—I wanted to have the cafeteria and its terrace.

The first phase of the art museum that was built in response to Jensen's brief, which occupies the left two-thirds of

Reference for Louisiana Art Museum:

Michael Brawne—Jorgen Bo, Vilhelm Wohlert, Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, 1993.

The ground plan of the Louisiana Art Museum in Denmark, designed by Jorgen Bo and Vilhelm Wohlert. A old house is used as the entrance; the galleries and the cafeteria respond to other places on the site.

this plan, uses all the innate features of the site which he identified. The old house, at the middle-bottom of the plan, is the main entrance. The route through the museum then moves through some galleries and then north along a stepped series of walkways to a particular gallery which has a large glass wall looking out over the lake. The route continues through more galleries to the bluff, where there is a cafeteria looking out across the sea to Sweden. The architects also used other features already on the site, especially some of the mature trees, and the contours of the ground.

This building, the architecture of which takes its visitors on a tour of its site, and of places that were already there, could not be the same anywhere else.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment