Posts Tagged ‘human scale’

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Who cares if architecture has a soul or not?

October 24, 2016
goldern-mural

You guys all recognize these don’t you? Ok, maybe not!

Architecture with a Capital A:  Some would say that these images demonstrate the foundation of Architecture, with a capital A.  Whatever your opinion, they are proportioning systems with academic roots in the ancient world.  They are all based on a thing called the “Golden Ratio” and, like it or not, they work.  The temptation, which I will resist, is to go into a discussion of what they are and where they are used.  A one minute google search will inform any unacquainted reader and spare me the trouble of saying again what others have said often and better.

The golden ratio appears in nature.

Numerous examples  of the golden ratio demonstrate that proportion appears everywhere in nature.

Proportion, based on the golden ratio, can be thought of as an infinitely expanding and contracting telescope of repeating pattern: rectangle exactly divide by a square, another rectangle divided by square, another rec…

Proportion is Indigenous:  So, if not to explain, then why bring it up?  Because proportion, as defined by the “Golden Ratio” is indigenous.  It is part of nature, and when used in the built world, proceeds from the human condition; meaning that many, if not most, of us recognize, relate, find comfort, inspiration, and just plain beauty in an entity displaying proportional properties;  those being, the parts relate to the whole and they do so in an organized way.

Has Proportion Disappeared?  Sadly, proportion, at least in the classical sense discussed here, is mostly gone from our everyday built environment, and based on recent pursuits of everything green, it would seem like it is threatened in nature as well.  Proportion, after all, depends on rules, on absolutes.  They don’t do very well in a world where everything is relative.

 

Large and Lovely

Are classical proportions the soul of aesthetics?

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Consider this old house, built somewhere around 1900.  I know this place well because my grandmother lived down the street.  If style is the meter, it appears that some history of architecture book exploded onto its facade, typical Victorian, except for the 1960’s aluminum awnings and the 1990 standing seam metal roof.  Somehow classical proportions, along with the historic references, crept into the design with happy results. It took very little effort to impose golden rectangles onto the picture, in spite of the perspective for which no attempt at correction was made.  The whole is a harmony of parts, even suggesting that if the proportion is right, then the mismatched and mixed styles don’t matter.

Big and Bad!

Are aesthetics without a soul?

The exercise was much more difficult with this “house” and the one below.  Indeed, I couldn’t make it work.  No mater how many ways I scaled, rotated, moved, repeated, assembled, disassembled and reassemble the golden rectangle and its various parts, I could torture only a hint of classical proportions out of the image on the top and nothing from the one on the bottom.

not-golden-rec

Are aesthetics even necessary?

It is only fair for me to reveal that, for me, the two places above qualify for “McMansion” status, which is nicely itemized here:  McMansion Hell.  Does this disqualify me?  Maybe not, since if my analysis is correct, carefully worked out proportions could save even a “McMansion!”  If someone sends me additional examples, I am happy to try the exercise again.  I’d rather, though, evoke a positive, if fleeting, response.

Maybe it is the other way around. Could classical proportions proceed from the soul?

This little building should have come first in this discussion, as it is what made me examine the composition of beauty that I found residing there.  Like some parti for elegance, not only does it appear to be returning to nature, but from the standpoint of proportion, it just might be.

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Happily Ignoring the Open Plan

June 30, 2016
for sale

© Gaddis Architect 2016

Visual elements are important to consumers, often to the exclusion of everything else.  Does this seem like a reasonable statement to you?  “No,” you say?  “I check ‘Consumer Report,’ read reviews, make list of features, produce spread sheets comparing quality and cost.  I’m the definition of an informed buyer!”  Really?  Tell that to the car salesmen as you pass up the best deal on the lot because the color doesn’t suit.

tall room

© Gaddis Architect 2016

 There are, of course, in the world of residential architecture, multifarious examples of this behavior, most yielding irksome consequences.  Consider, for example, the unavoidable appeal created by the drama of a two story room,  the particular bane of social interaction, intimate conversation, and acoustic excellence, not to mention disappearing light, receding walls and ceilings that appear grey no matter what their actual color.

party

© Gaddis Architect 2016

Well okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit, although most of these homes are finished in drywall with nothing else to moderate the effects.

Anyone looking for verification has only to observe the behavior of party goers in such an environment.  I stopped counting the times I have found all of the guest crowded into the low ceiling kitchen, happily ignoring the open plan to avoid the soaring space.  I try to warn clients, telling them that what looks good does not always feel/function the same.  They always go for the looks anyway.

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“Real” Appeal

April 20, 2013

The ‘real” appeal of being house proud.

Three in a row.

Places like this are mostly excluded from the intellectualized world of architecture and design, except for – dare I say it -on  HGTV.  Those people understand that people don’t live in architecture.  They live in houses.  Whoever lives here is house proud, a term not often heard these days and in my mind somehow attached to the “American Dream.”  It means that even the most modest abode becomes alluring when it is obviously cared for.  Here the meticulously manicured yard, the fence, the porch, even the matching up and downstairs air conditioners deliver a strong subliminal message that says, “we like our house a lot and you should too.”  The thing about subliminal messages is that they are the stuff of art.  Art museums are full of ordinary objects arranged by artists against carefully chosen contexts in an effort to deliver some message often much less penetrating than the one that happens organically here.

Lest one think that there is a great deal of humanity, but really no architecture here, a closer look may be in order.  Consider how the bit of light foundation contrasts with the grass, forming a  visual perimeter around the house which doubles as a sill for the ample basement windows.  Consider how it repeats under the fist floor windows, capping the rusticated brick work and defining the top of a visual base for the entire building. Consider how the rusticated corners add substance to the structure.  Consider how the brick diapering and decorative pattern balances the heavy base and add interest to a plain facade.  Consider how repeating the house three times in a row in different colors adds humor. Perhaps this is architecture after all.

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The importance of being 9

January 16, 2013
Bedroom with lofted bed by Benjamin Marcus Architect LLC

Bedroom with lofted bed by Benjamin Marcus Architect LLC

My friend and colleague, Benjamin Marcus Architect LLC, with this compact little bedroom with a lofted bed, has demonstrated how architects often design projects that are “never too small to be great

Here is what he says about the project:  For this renovation of a 9-year old girl’s bedroom in a NYC apartment, we were charged with making a loft-type frame for a new full-sized mattress, that could house other important functions, in a very small footprint. Major constraints of this small bedroom were the width – just 7′-3″ wide, and the existence of 2 separate doors entering into the room from opposite ends of the two parallel, longer walls. We removed a shallow, full-height double-door closet to make room for the 18-inch wide stair. The bed-frame itself is just a few inches wider than the 54″ mattress, (to allow for fingers to tuck in the sheets) to provide as wide an aisle as possible along the length.  Underneath, all the functions – shelves, desk, bureau and closet – were in-set a few inches from the frame above, so that nothing would take up more room than the bed itself. A removable corner piece allows Mom’s hands to reach in for bed-making.

Open-ended shelves, a sawtooth-profile for the steps and a streamlined, diagonally-mounted wood grab-bar make the shape both fun and minimal. A new shallow shelf above (dedicated to a very important stuffed-animal collection), was integrated into an existing narrow-strip crown-moulding, and also served as a good place to break up the wall with color-blocking, and insert a small, adjustable, wall-mounted reading light beneath it. All the millwork was shop-painted using a high-gloss urethane-based paint, except for the stair treads, which were stained to match the existing oak flooring, and tie the work into the room. A large, new, frameless wall-mirror heightens the effect of the space and finishes off the room for this very sophisticated young client to grow into for the years to come.”

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A House in a House

October 15, 2012

Kirsch House, Oak Park, IL,  1979 – 1981, by Errol Jay Kirsch Architects

The idea of a house in a house is certainly not new.  Just ask any “Carteresque” architect who has been experimenting with passive heating and cooling design since about 1976 (Top).

Recently the idea has been resurrected  in the form of protective screens that work to keep out both heat, as in the Indian house (middle), and cold, as in the Bolivian house (bottom).

What’s new is that both of these concept houses seem to have found some universal appeal, as indicated by the fact that they are being published all over the blogisphere, and leading me to ask why? How are they different?

Medical Facility Tamilnadu, IN, 2011,
Architect: Flying Elephant Studio, Bangalore

To answer, one might first consider what else they have in common. Both plans are compact rectangular boxes, shielded on the long sides and exposed on the ends. In section it is the same, both single story boxes, with the advantage of a double functioning envelope, especially in the India house.

Aesthetically these buildings are elegant in their simplicity. The message, form follows function, the former understandable and the later uncomplicated, strikes a chord with lots of people who are looking for the same things in their lives. Many think to themselves, I could do that.  Maybe it is even affordable.  This looks possible!

The Shelter, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, by KG Studio

The Shelter, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, by KG Studio

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In the Interest of Moderation

October 10, 2012

1500 Square Foot House Plan, copyright © 2012 Gaddis Architect

Here, in the interest of moderation, boring though it may be, is a carefully thought out plan of a little house that meets some very big needs.  If you click on the plan, it will enlarge so you can follow the points below.

  • The main entry is into a foyer and circulation area, allowing for access to additional floors, if they are used, without the necessity of passing through the private part of the house, and allowing a home business or multifamily living arrangement.
  • The living and dining areas are exposed to the outdoors on threes sides giving ample opportunity for light, additional entries & a fireplace.
  • The galley style kitchen, including washer/dryer combination adjacent to the hallway, pantry and  counter with seating,  is open to the main living  and dining space.
  • There are two toilet rooms, one of them handicapped compliant, and a large handicapped accessible wet room with both tub and shower which is intended for use by all residents, pets included.
  • There is a single wet wall serving both kitchen and bathrooms which is a cost effective way to install plumbing.
  • The need for an office, additional sleeping space for company and part time residents, and extra storage is address by using the transition space off of the hallways on the way to the bedrooms.
  • There are two good sized bedrooms, on the same floor as the bathrooms, important for aging or handicapped residents.  Each bedroom has a good sized closet and is exposed to the outdoors on two sides for light and air circulation.
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“Open everything” hits critial mass.

December 18, 2011

Way back in 1976 I opened the attic space of  a single story wing under a gabled roof.  The new ceiling was finished with tongue and groove that matched the old wood cross ties that were exposed in the process.  The wood absorbed sound and the cross ties maintained the human scale of the the room. The affect was dramatic but subtle.  At that exact moment in time the idea of,  not only “open above”, but of  “open everything”  hit critical mass and took off, until now it drives whole building projects.

Here, as in almost all builder dwellings,  the soaring ceiling is achieved at the expense of human interaction and sense of place.  Did you ever eat dinner in a restaurant when you were the only customer?   The feeling of exposure is the same.  A good architect can design an open ceiling that avoids this pitfall.