Protection Shed Over Roman Ruins

(Chur, Switzerland) 1985-86

Roman Ruins Project

In many respects, this building is a simple, straightforward, functional structure, a shed for sheltering an archaeological excavation of Roman ruins in the town of Chur in the Swiss Alps. Made of thin, parallel, interspaced horizontal slats of wood that tilt downwards towards the outside, it protects against the elements, enhances natural light and ventila tion and is economical to maintain.

But, in its radically rigorous way, this drasti cally stripped-down structure does in the eno j carry meaning. It symbolizes its strong state ment of opposition to the crassly commercia1 or even 'cultural' buildings Robert Venturi calls 'decorated sheds'. The Chur building is a representation of a humble but at the same time severe and precise idea of architecture t does not show off but concentrates only on what is necessary and sufficient, continuing the tradition that goes back to the ancien! wooden constructions of the region. The Chur | structure stands in contrast to the world of conspicuous consumption, real as well as fictional, a world conducive to exaggeration exhibitionism and occasional falsity. It is, therefore, a moral statement about honest» and integrity. Like the revolt of Abbé Laugier, the celebrated early functionalist of the mid 18th century, against the overcrowding of architecture by court ornament, which ledhirr, to propose stripping down buildings to thei* essential hut prototype, Peter Zumthor'srebe* lion against mainstream architecture and its domination by images for mass-consumptr demands the return to the same stripped-down prototype, even though his method differsfron Laugier's. Rather than concentrating on the structural essentials, Zumthor focuses on the

(Opposite, left) Ground plan and sections

(Opposite, right) Site plan

(Above) Exterior of the protection shed

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Kolumba Plan

exterior covering, the skin of the building, expressing the love for traditional wood construction which he revealed in articles and interviews, in the late 1970s and 1980s, in the Swiss periodical Archithdse.

Without falling back on the facile, shallow formulas of the 'Swiss-style chalet' type of architecture, Zumthor exploits traditional elements both in the volume configuration of his shelters and in their outward appearance. He makes the onlooker aware of the particular qualities of wood which are often taken for granted, the fact that it can be hewed, hacked, cleaved, trimmed, bevelled, skived, whittled.

Zumthor's architecture can very easily be interpreted as Purist and Minimalist. It can be likened to Donald Judd's sculpture and to his recent experiments in architecture in Marfa. Texas. Zumthor might even be mistaken for a Platonist because of the impression that he is using primary volumes. A closer look, however, reveals that he is more concerned with the uniqueness of the concrete object and its particular details than with the perfection of an ideal prototype. He is, therefore, more like a Minimalist rooted in realism. For instance, the prismatic volume of the shed is skewed imperceptibly. This is done not only to meet the unique requirements of the site, but also in order to represent singularity in the way northern naturalist artists did, depicting with great devotion the exceptional and the characteris tic. Similarly, the details of joinery play a role in the overall composition that is as significant as the configuration of the whole.

In its rigorous attention to the skin of the building, the shelter upholds the values of humility, honesty and truth, of nominalist Naturwarheit, as Max Dvorak, the great art historian of northern naturalist art, would have said.

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(Opposite) Construction details (Above) The shed's interior

Philippe Chaix Jean Paul Morel Architectes ZENITH OF MONTPELLIER

(Montpellier, France) 1985-86

(Left) Detail of roof

(Above) Main facade by night

(Opposite) Section and view of entrance

Zenith is more of a system than a building - a frame for a shelter to be instantiated where and when needed according to specific requirements, to satisfy the growing demand for large-scale popular spectacles. The Montpellier project shown here followed a previous application of the concept, that of La Villette at the crossroads of Bagnolet, on the outskirts of Paris. It is a kind of temporary architecture conceived for performances by rock stars or jazz musicians. The Zeniths were commissioned by Jack Lang, the French Minister of Culture, within the framework of the Grands Projets programme and as part of the policy to support youth culture announced in 1982 by President François Mitterand. More are bound to be constructed as pop-related spectacles continue to blossom in France and elsewhere.

The Zeniths' creators cite as inspiration the ideas of the Egyptian populist architect Hassan Fathy and his concept of 'implicitness*. Consequently, it is very much an anti-rhetorical, anti-monumental, unpretentious architecture that professes to be simply a sign of the times.

In the Zeniths, the structure is designed to carry the sheathing of the building, along with support for the equipment and cat-walk, without the help of masts, as these would interfere with visibility. For reasons of economy and rapidity of construction, the whole of the building's covering is totally assembled and equipped on the ground, then hoisted onto the summit of the peripheral posts.

The Zenith of La Villette. designed in 1983. was a project carried out under strict constraints of budget and time. It had a capacity of 6.500 places - more than almost any other performance space in France. Two years later, the Montpellier version, which adapted the general principles to a new context and site, provided an opportunity to modify, enlarge and improve the first trial.

The basic scheme is that of a square hall covered by a lightweight structure. The 80-metre clear span trusses contain all services necessary for the shows - lighting, acoustics, fittings, stage design, projectors - besides supporting the modular, double-curved covering envelope which is made of PVC polyester. The acoustic performance of the structure is high, thanks to advanced studies both in insulation and acoustic correction. The interior envelope is made up of an overlay of plaster tiles for insulation and an absorbing panel made of PVC and glass wool. On the outside, acoustic insulation is ensured by alternating heavy PVC material and dense glass wool, which, incidentally, also provides excellent thermal insulation.

(Left) Detail of roof

(Above) Main facade by night

(Opposite) Section and view of entrance

The air inside the capsule is renewed by 16 vents located in the upper part of the envelope. Safety precautions include the use of fire resistant materials and 16 emergency exits.

The square shape of the plan aims for maximum visibility and flexibility, minimizing the distance of the back row from the stage.it offers relative compactness, a satisfactory rapport between stage and audience, and permits a good utilization of the angles of the structure for storage spaces and loggias or, either side of the stage.

Outside, on the parvis that opens onto the park, a large wire-mesh structure carries announcements and information. This mesh constitutes the building's 'facade': as in a circus big top, one does not enter the sheath of the building directly, but via the intermediary of a built and, as the designers put it, 'architec turalized' facade.

Zenith's metallic structure with its stainless steel facade is shiny but quiet during the day; at night it awakens, a radiant, magical box on the outskirts of the city. True to the centuries-old European tradition of ephemeral architecture of spectacle, it signals an invitation for a brief escape from the drudgery of everyday life into a world of alternative counter-factualities.

Alain Sarfati-AREA

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