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Mario Botta Archltotto HOUSE AT RIVA SAN VITALE

(Ticino. Switzerland) 1971-73

Conceptual drawings

Conceptual drawings

Poised on the flanks of the Swiss Alps, in Monte San Giorgio which encircles Lake Lugano, this modest building by the young Mario Botta - like that of his friend and colleague Luigi Snozzi in Locarno (pp. 80-81) - had an exhilarating impact when it appeared. Like Rossi's San Cataldo cemetery (pp. 56-59). it seemed to mark a return to order and traditional values after the crisis of 1968: nature, the family, geometry, craftsmanship in construction. However, the Riva San Vitale House differed from Rossi's architecture, which was not concerned with projecting positive models. It appeared to be offering to restore a moral way of life, spatially represented not only in the composition but also in the small, embedded details, using precedents derived from the tradition of the villa - a 'Utopian topos", a world within a world, a refuge In natural wilderness from urban totalism'.

James Ackerman (The Villa. 1990) has enumerated the elements of the 'mythology' the villa expresses. The Riva San Vitale House can be considered as a successful example of the type: its tall, prismatic volume is firmly 'engaged' in the land, while at the same time, in its exaggerated erectedness. it maintains a distance from it. The idea of distance is underlined by the very means through which the building is linked to its surroundings by the long, light bridge made of steel which. In its suspension, length and lightness, keeps on distinguishing the artifice and its ground. The house really does appear, as the architect himself wrote, to emerge from the terrain in a dialectical game with the environment, emphasized by the minimal occupation of the terrain and by the subtle bridge of steel that, standing on the limits of the road, stabilizes the physical relation to the mountain.'

The «nlrance bridge

Platonic geometry, with its rigorously square shape, and the artificial materials of the project, both products of culture, set the building apart from the natural landscape. *hile their artificiality exalts the landscape's physical character by contrast. Although contained in the landscape, the building conceptually 'frames' the landscape. As in all villas, the dialectic of view is also expressed in Riva San Vitale House. Much as the building is designed as a distinguished, well-formed object to look at. at the same time it is a place tolookout from, a belvedere. In fact, in its tower form, the San Vitale villa resembles an expressly made artifice for enjoying a prospect.

According to Ackerman. the villa mythology expresses 'the prerogatives of privilege' and 'regional pride'. Indeed, the Botta villa, in its aloof and pristine physiognomy, has a super ior. an aristocratic air which the heaviness and roughness of the material - echoing the tradition of Renaissance rustication - in fact exaggerate. One could be critical of this manifestation of "power and class aspiration'. One could be equally critical of the exaltation of the regional Ticinese architectural qualities which the building evokes in the rigour of its geometry, the robustness of its material and the elegance of construction details. However, the Riva San Vitale House can in fact be seen as an expression of a critical manifesto. As Kenneth Frampton has pointed out in his perceptive writings on Botta and the school of Ticino in Modern Architecture (1985), the building derives from the roccolo. a bird catching tower, a rustic building type to be found in this Italian part of Switzerland. In choosing this unusual prototype, and promoting it to the status of a symbol embodying the true values of the region. Botta appears to be using it as a means of criticizing the debased, kitsch version of Ticino commercial regionalism, and of the commercialism of culture in general.

The villa has been linked through history with two traditions, in its formal spatial expression: on the one hand, the master-servant dialectic confirming the legitimacy of the master; and on the other, the perennial otium negotium antithesis supporting the 'sweet and honorable otium' of the 'contemplative life", as opposed to 'active', commercial engagement. The villa, without loosing its strong formal identity in history, has oscillated between a conservative and a liberating approach. In the context of the post-1968 world, it has surely taken in Botta's work the latter position.

(Above) A selection of plans and elevations

(Left) Detail of the house'« construction

(Opposite) The entrance bridge connecting the house to the mountainous surrounding landscape

(Above) A selection of plans and elevations

(Left) Detail of the house'« construction

(Opposite) The entrance bridge connecting the house to the mountainous surrounding landscape

Ralph Ersklne BYKERWALL

(Newcastle upon Tyne, England) 1968-74

Ralph Erskine's Byker housing project is one of the most celebrated episodes in the bnel history of the populist movement in architecture following the cultural-social explosion oi May 1968. Although the project is unique, the j story it tells is characteristic.

Byker began as a settlement built in haste for shipyard craftsmen. A ten-thousand strong village of skilled workers who lived in red-bricx flats and enjoyed a strong sense of common I ity. it was declared overcrowded by the officials I of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne. The conflict I between an obsolete built tissue and a sttf vital social fabric demanding to be accommo -

(Opposite, above) Urban plan

(Opposite, bolow) Bykor Wall from the outside

(Above) From tho insido dated within it is a common problem worldwide. The old solutions of massive demolition and redevelopment conceived and imposed from above, as practised at least since the end of the Second World War in Europe, Great Britain and in Newcastle itself, were rejected in the case of Byker. It is to the credit of the local authorities that they reached this conclusion early on. and equally to the credit of the private developer, whose understanding of the nature of the problem was enhanced by the populist movement of the end of the 1960s.

Ralph Erskine was invited to design the project because of his previous successful involvement over a period of fifteen years with social housing in Sweden. His success was partly due to his commitment to making no design decisions unless close consultation with the users of the project had first taken place. At that time, such procedures were still unorthodox in most parts of the world, although very much in tune with the polyarchlc spirit of Scandinavian Welfare State policies.

Wnen he was invited to work on the Byker Wall project. Erskine was professionally located in Sweden and had therefore to arrange for an office annex on site. Consequently, it was not as easy for him to embark on a participatory process of design as it had been for Lucien Kroll in his Louvain Medical Faculty housing (pp. 44-47). Luckily, an old collaborator of Erskine. Vernon Gracie. turned down a more lucrative job in the Middle East in order to move to Byker. Together with Gracie. Erskine set up a local practice similar to American examples of 'storefront architecture' of the late 1960s in Harlem (New York). Mantua (Philadelphia), and in Boston's South End.

Byker became a way of life. By contrast to the atmosphere prevailing on most such projects. Erskine's attitude was not one of agitation and antagonism towards the authorities. His ties with his client, the Newcastle District Council Housing Committee, were close and his contribution as a professional positive rather than critical. He in fact assumed an enviable, and certainly rare, dual role: on the one hand, he acted as an architect for the Council, and on the other as a planning consultant. This meant that he was able to rewrite his own architectural programmes before actually accepting the commission as architect, and to maintain an overview of the future development of Byker by other agencies and firms. Because of his highly responsible ethos of self-control - in his dual capacity as supervisor and supervised -this privileged position led to creative innovations rather than either bland compromises or unchecked extravagances.

The intentions of client and architect were from the start to assist the economic development and modernization of the area. To do this, they improved Byker's accessibility by bringing in a road running along the north/east sides of the site and linking it to public transport. They supplied new housing, but at the same time preserved family and social links - the essential component of the programme.

The basic concept of space organization emerged out of the seemingly conflicting programmatic forces: the invention of the architect and scrutiny of the users, who were informed in detail about every decision. An early pilot project of 46 houses was built for testing by the development's future residents. Their post-occupancy criticisms were incorporated in the final project.

The fundamental design scheme was that of a large wall created by the high-rise perimeter block of flats. This turned its back to the planned highway and enclosed low-rise housing terraces, interwoven tightly with paths, open areas and gardens in a territory almost free of cars. The duality of the scheme reflected the bipolarity of the programme, the mass of the wall block acting as a barrier against the negative environmental impact of the road, the low. traditional, village-like frame sustaining the social fabric.

The curved volume of the project dominates the hilltop landscape impressively and has a dream-like effect. It rises, a weird huge mass, partly in silhouette, evoking memories of medieval fortifications from illustrations in children's books. The design of the wall, with its scenographic ornamental patterns, is indebted to Erskine's schooling in Northern European Expressionist architecture, which had been tried in social housing projects of the past - for instance Michel de Klerk's housing projects of Amsterdam South of the 1910s. Passing from the open landscape into the walled-in, intimately articulated area is a stunning dramatic experience similar to that one has in historical fortified cities that grew up over long stretches of time. Byker's exterior irregular gigantism, coupled with the informal humility of its interior, is exceedingly appropriate to the open site where it is situated, beyond urban constraints. Despite its fabulistic image, however. Byker is not merely a scenographic setting. And yet it is true that such a scheme probably could not serve as a prototype for an urban situation, where a less walled-in spatial concept and a more explicit public face are required.

The strongest impression of community cohesion emerges less from Byker's visual effects than from its spatial-functional organization and its functional details. Even though many of these physical details and their technical craftsmanship - for instance its rapidly aging external balconies - have not lasted well, its larger vision of the will of a community to survive as a community and of professional diligence and accountability remain intact.

Ten years after the project was completed. 90 per cent of the users expressed satisfaction. a remarkably high rate for low-budget rented housing. Byker won the Award of Britain in the Bloom competition, in the summer o' 1980. as the 'best-kept village'. In 1989, it received the Prince of Wales Prize at Harvara University's Graduate School of Design, along with Alvaro Siza's Evora Malaguera housing project (1988).

It is ironic that just when such new, creative ideas about the architecture of social housing had started to emerge and to overcome the failures of the past, reasons beyond the architects' control - political and financial -made this kind of architecture largely imposs ible to pursue.

Close up of Byker Wall from tho inside


(Vienna. Austria) 1972-74

In the 1960s Hollein had completed a number of paper' and actual projects before under taking the design of the Schullin Jewelry shoo Most of these had been small-scale art galie? ies or commercial shops, their design always; balancing act between consumption ar>3 imagination, and very Viennese, reminiscent tf the turn of the century. In connection with hi architectural practice. Hollein also emerged» one of the major forces behind new. high-quality industrial design. In the context of a practice reflecting the innovations of pre-war. avant-garde architecture. Hollein's early "fao I tasles' are both stimulating inventions, but 1 also powerful critical statements.

The Schullin shop is a modest project, bal the ambitious ideas it incorporates, and certainly Its influence, are disproportionate*» large. In an era of piecemeal functionai accommodation of facilities. Hollein produced

(Opposite, left) The Schullin shop facade

(Opposito, right) Axonometrie diagram of the facade and interior

(Right) View of the interior

(Opposite, left) The Schullin shop facade

(Opposito, right) Axonometrie diagram of the facade and interior

(Right) View of the interior a genuine Gesamtkunstwerk with a remarkable unity of materials, where even the most minute, uninteresting' detail is treated with great and loving attention. Granite slabs, ducts, a niche, a portal, plates, frames are all carefully layered in contrast to anything that surrounds the shop, or that pre existed on its site.

Against the bland, conventional and depersonalized post war mainstream buildings, the Schullin shop appeared as a shocking, gilded eccentricity when it was opened in 1974. Although it fulfilled all its functional requirements. the architect did not choose to be content with that. Its facade cried out and was a most conspicuous image, in the context of the functionalist tradition. Hollein had created something that defiantly turned its back on it.

Yet. very much as in the case of Robert Venturi s so-called witty', or even 'perverse'

design statements, the Schullin shop delivered a disconcerting, and uncompromising lesson. Instead of replaying the 'form follows function' routine, this 'modest' undertaking took upon itself to pose questions about the relationship between truth and poetry, language and reality: the sort of questions that grand works of art belonging to the Viennese, if not the entire Western tradition, had always posed in the past.

The project was one of the most important works to bring back to post-war architecture the idea of narration through iconic architec tural means. At a time when facades were according to current practice means of 'communicating' the operation of the building programme (which, anyhow, was trivial for the Schullin shop), Hollein decided to use it to tell an exotic story, the story of the gold mine and the cracked stone. A cracked object? How strange that this object appeared when architecture could tolerate at most an organic object's informality within a highly controlled universe of mechanical products! What an anomaly, this geometry of disorder and chaos in the midst of so much rational perfection, well-formedness, bien finil

The fabulism of the Schullin shop, like that of the other shops Hollein designed during the previous decade, can be criticized and condemned for delinquency or indifference to the prevailing urban and social problems: its myth-ographic luxury can be seen as decadent and irresponsible, as erecting temples to fetishism and fanning the flames of the bourgeois thirst for consumption. But the sheer anarchic fantasy and creative invention which went into the project's design were, paradoxically, not dissimilar. in terms of fantasy and imagination, to the previous decade's cultural revolt.

Foster Associates Ltd


(Ipswich. England) 1970-75

The architecture of the workplace enjoyed predominance in the first two decades after the Second World War and many innovative ideas about the form, structure and function of buildings were associated with it. Most major architects of the time engaged in this field with great inventiveness. This has not. however, been the case in the last twenty years. With few exceptions, such as Herman Hertzberger's Centraal Beheer (1968-72. pp. 48-51) and Richard Rogers' Lloyd's of London (1978-86, pp. 156-59), little creative attention has been given to offices and factories architecturally. Norman Foster is among these rare exceptions and one of the most singular and significant ones. His Willis, Faber & Dumas offices are one of his most inventive and influential contributions to this design problem, at once so urgent and so neglected.

Starting from the need to develop an architecture of the workplace that would be appro priate to a new generation of employees with a new attitude to work and discipline. Foster arrived at a very different solution from Hertzberger's Centraal Beheer. Foster, like his old friend, classmate and associate Richard Rogers, believed in using 'appropriate techno logies to social goals', in achieving emancipation through innovation. Influenced by the vision of Buckmmster Fuller's Dymaxion House and by the notion of the 'well-serviced shed', as described by the influential British architectural historian and critic Reyner Banham. Foster placed great emphasis on problem-solving techniques and searched for an integration of structure, services and external skin, m words paraphrasing Mies, 'to do more with less'.

A programme responding to new ideas about labour, human relations, management and flow of information required a spatial layout based on short lines of communication' and an 'open door" management policy. It also required the integration of social and sports activities into the production facility. These programmatic demands led to an open plan architectural scheme with "offices witha/ doors', without enclaves or hierarchlzation erf spaces and a careful clustering of activities. Natural and socializing amenities and visual contact with the outside were provided for all. A swimming pool at ground level, a restauran: pavilion and a large roof garden also became essential componentsof the building. As m the case of Centraal Beheer. arriving at this solution was not the result of oneway decisions by the architect. The design folio*«* detailed analysis and investigation of the organization of the office and public presen tations and discussions, with both staff and management.

The building has been likened to a 'sand wich'. Two 'served' floors of open plan office space (to use Louis Kahn's notions of 'served-and 'sen/ant', which were influential in the development of Foster's approach) are situated between two 'servant' floors within which special amenities - swimming pool, restaurant, roof garden - are interspersed. The

Opposite) Sorlos of conceptual drawings Upper loft) Wallt, paving, trees and Uadtcaplng create a network of related »paces; the glass lobby acts as a wind break

(Lower left) Flooding hazard Indicators show seed to raise areas in use; ontranco is restricted to high olovation

(Upper right) Reintroduction In a different, more appropriate form of escalator routes

I lower right) Sketch for a 'predominantly' glazed roof (or tho building

ITWs page) Floor plans sandwich is held together by a vertical core consisting of a circulation lobby topped by the all glass pavilion located on the roof garden.

The technological means for implementing thss architecture were also carefully studied. Essential to establishing the desirable transparency was the absence of any bulky, space-occupying structural elements. The basic concept of structural organization adopted was thatof a dual system: a major one for the main body of the building and a minor one for its periphery. The major columnar support system was constructed as a regular, square grid, the minor an irregular one. using smaller columns. A series of regularly spaced columns was lined up around the periphery of the site's amoeboid configuration, leaving an irregular zone surrounding the grid. This is a classic approach, avoiding a single-grid pattern that contains multiple distortions, a kind of 'organic' deformation schema such as Alvar Aalto or several other contemporary architects might have employed. Going further back in history, such a

(Opposite, above) The building by night (Opposite) Site plan

solution was first invented by the Renaissance architect Serlio in his efforts to reconcile classical taxis with the typically disordered shapes of the medieval urban sites.

Also essential for establishing visual contact with the outside, so desirable for the employees, was the detailing of the glass. The ingenious system of its suspension and the absence of mullions in the floor-to-ceiling glazing were all designed and calculated by the architect's office. The glass manufacturer offered guarantees for the design in return for the rights to it. Important also towards achieving a feeling of openness and accessibility was the 'dematerialization' of lighting features, diffusers. pipes, ducts. A sandwich structure absorbed them between ceiling and slab.

In a reversal of the usual institutional hierar-chization of quality materials and design, whereby the most precious and well-crafted environment is created for the public lobby and the most restrained for the actual working areas. Foster designed a simple entrance/ reception for Willis, Faber & Dumas. As one penetrates the building, walking and rising by escalators, one encounters increasingly more luxurious and comfortable areas.

The building was carefully designed from the point of view of energy control and efficiency, which are achieved through a low periphery plan, low proportion of glass-to-floor area, high-efficiency lighting and very effective insulation provided by roof landscaping, a Le Corbusier-type method.

But the most celebrated feature of the project is its external wall, its skin, which transforms this wonderfully pragmatic shelter into a poetic object. The solution marks the beginning of a major shift in sensitivity, away from the sculpted, plastic, spatially exhibitio-nistic architecture, as well as away from the structural, rhythmic and skeletal, both of which types had been predominant since the Second World War. and towards one that focused on the qualities of occlusions, covering, impermeability. folding - that is. on surface. The Willis. Faber & Dumas office is entirely clad in an almost seamless solar mirror glass curtain that extends to the edge of the site in a manner reminiscent in plan to Mies's Berlin 1923 glass skyscraper. The effect is a miraculous disappearing act by the building, and at the same time a doubling of the architectural I features of the surroundings reflected on its surface skin. The irregularity of the mirroring glass adds to the magic, the unreality and tne deep sense of play, our turn-of-the-20th-1 century, economical, people's answer to the I challenge of Louis XIV's Galerie des Glacesat Versailles. Foster's invention was soon I imitated around the world, and it still is at the I moment of writing. But almost without excep tion, these attempts are poor reflectionswhitf I fail to capture the unique experience offered b) the mirrors of the Willis. Faber & Dumas | building.

Foster was not interested in the discussions about the de institutionalization and re-appro-priation by the individual of the workplace, so predominant among populists after the events of Spring '68. As a trade-off for individualized, enwrapping workstations. Foster opted fori commonsense environmental and socta I amenities such as light, spaciousness, long vistas and visual contact with the outside. | together with excellence in the detailing of the inanimate objects that surround the worker. He was also from the outset determined to treat i aspects of the external impact of the building as being of equal importance to determinants internal to the building. It appears retrospectively that almost all these decisions we<e taken with imagination and good judgmenL

(Above left) Exterior view with entrance

(Left) Detail showing the attachment of th* glass facade to the roof

(Below) Section

(Opposite, above) The building by night (Opposite) Site plan

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