Archive for September, 2012


Newtons 3rd Law of Tiny Houses?

September 27, 2012

Primitive Hut, from Marc Antoine Laugier’s Essai sur l’Architecture Frontispiece, by Charles-Dominique-Joseph Eisen

Is this tiny house a modern day version of Marc Antione Laugier’s Primitive Hut?

Château de Maisons near Paris by François Mansart (1642)


Attention:   unemployed students, overworked homemakers, empty “nesters,” outdoor enthusiasts, and all economically challenged humans with/without pets and extended family!  According to numerous posts buzzing across the “blogisphere”  the answer to your housing “whoas” has arrived in the form of a tiny house;  leading me to wonder, are we returning to the Primitive Hut of Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essay on Architecture(1753), an important work read by architecture students, and a plea for rational thought amidst late renaissance architectural excess?

I would guess that the operative word is excess, as in the ever present 4000 square foot mansions populating the the US sprawl-scape and attending my conclusion that in this case Newton’s Third Law may be the one to watch.  All photos used under Creative Commons.



What has teeth but doesn’t chew?

September 19, 2012

Southern US Federal Style House with Picket Fence

Post War Suburban Cottage with Picket Fence

If I had to design a logo for the ideal middle class suburban lifestyle it would include a white picket fence.  There is an entire body of lore formulated around them.  They adorn small town cottages, schmaltzy valentines, fuchsia covered front porches, and bed & breakfasts abiding in the land of quaint.  They connect with pergolas, gazebos and all manner of outdoor ornament.  We find them enhancing everything from rabbit cages to mobile homes and no small town florist is without a picket fence theme among their best selling arrangements.  There is a gift shop and a TV series named “Picket Fences,” alas movies, even the lyrics to a song reference the image.  I guess it can stand up to a bit of analysis.

Visually, a fence is attached to and extends the image of a house it surrounds, meaning it dilutes the view;  so if a home owner, as per the top photo, wants his residence to be a focal point, as in the grand manor house at the end of a path, then he would be ill advised to enclose it, especially with a prominent and matching fence.  If a fence must be used in such a scenario, make it match the landscape or better yet, disappear.  On the other hand, as per the bottom photo, a fence installed around a tiny house makes it appear bigger by implying that the yard is living space, as was often the condition in post war US suburbia, and the de facto source of our continuing romantic visions.

Graphically, and independent of context, a picket fence presents anything but a sweet, banal picture.  The image is actually rather threatening.  Just ask any kid impaled by one while climbing over.  Understandably, an anti picket cult has developed, including images of picket fences as weapons, teeth and references to “death by picket fences.”


Where not to build.

September 14, 2012

As noted by a sometimes visitor to this blog, the Navajo word for beauty is Hózhó.  The reference reminded me of a studio project I did way back when I was in architecture school.  As you can see from above, it does not contain a building.   The course took place in a location about half way between Taos and Santa Fe called Ojo Caliente.  It was a pretty amazing trip, not a little because we spent time traipsing across the desert with a Native American guide.  Intellectually, the take away from the project had, of course, to do with the importance of harmony between man and the environment, but there was something more which I neither can, nor care to define except to say that it follows me still.

I was raised on a truck farm.  Our neighbor grew Christmas trees for the local market.  At some point he lost interest and the trees that were still in the field were left alone.  Several, accidentally aligned in a semicircle, somehow grew together with large bows fanning out on the ground.  In winter the snow piled up on the limbs and one could stand in the circle and experience silence.  Eventually the place was sold.  The new owner had three daughters with a doting grandfather/handyman.  One day I passed my favorite copse to find that a club house, like an over sized dog house, was plunked exactly dead center.  After that I never saw the children play there, mostly no one went near.  So you see, I already knew that the most important thing to know about building is where not to build.


Light as art leads to art as light.

September 6, 2012

An important service that an architect provides is one the cannot be measured. It has to do with making connections. Connections that can best be made if one has built up, through education and experience, a large stockpile of references.  If measurement were possible the value placed on architect’s work might increase substantially . Recently the emphasis on sustainability has taken over the collective psyche. It has become the rage in all things political and even moral as if we have suddenly made some new discovery.  Architects, though, know that their profession is not referred to as a “practice” for nothing.  Discovery is, rather,  revealed through proficiency built up over time by a continual process of repetition, precedent and perfection.

Spanish Solar Pailion

This is not to criticize or imply that some wonderful work is not in progress.  On the contrary exciting projects like the Spanish Solar Pavilion are happening everywhere.  Touted as “Genius Design” it is an experimental project designed to limit interior summer heat gain,  maximize solar exposure required for the photovoltaic installation, maintain quality interior light and views and that says nothing about how fantastic, in all senses of the word, it looks.   It is pre-fabricated too!

Tower of Shadows by Le Corbusier, Chandigarh, India, 1951-1965

As one who has personally seen it, I wonder if  Le Corbusier’s “Shadow Tower” is related enough to share the title of genius.  It would appear that light as a source of art has finally lead to art as a source of light.  Do I have another case of “Inverse Architecture?