Architecture should act like nature – not simply look like nature
(Richard Neutra / Glenn Murcutt)
Excerpt below from “Topographical Stories: Studies in Landscape and Architecture” Chapter 2: Cultivation, construction and creativity
David Leatherbarrow – U of Penn. 2004
“In ‘The Significance of the Natural Setting,’ Neutra repeated his assertion that buildings and settings are two difference things: “a building may be shaped flamboyantly in free curves or rustically textured in rough-hewn redwood and crudely worked stone, but in any case it is, after all a geometrically simplified construction set in the midst of a natural scene….instead of being an outcropping rock or a sprouting plant, it must always remain a man-made insertion.” (80)
The building Neutra used to illustrate this observation was the Kaufmann House: glass, aluminum, white walls, and water in the desert (see my photos below).) But these materials and this realization do not end, they merely pose the problem of “insertion,” for “while manifestly a foreign body in the landscape,” Neutra said, “a building can nevertheless be virtually fused with it.” The whole matter of “tampering” with a site in architecture hinges on how this “virtually fused” is understood. (80)
Neutra insisted that “fusion” was not a matter of appearances; the building was not to look as if it were an outgrowth of nature. Mimesis understood xerographically was not the answer. The instances of conformity, congeniality, or assimilation he gave involved instead performance. The construction was to “fit into its site” through its operations, it was to assimilate the location by working with it. All the devices or instruments that can be adjusted indicate the building’s capacity to attune itself to changing conditions. Here the setting is neither a picture nor an object but a process or set of processes through which changeable conditions are continually (re)appropriated into the living situations housed by the building.
Consider the little problem of putting an opening in the wall of a building. each aperture is certainly a visible figure, part of the building’s image, and accordingly could be part of a project of imitation or of representation. But each is also the locus of a set of operations, the modulation of light and air, for example achieved by arresting, retarding, or accelerating their passage. Views in and out must be controlled as well.
LeCorbusier, once said the history of architecture follows that of windows. In the work of many architects of note the aperture is not a site of image-making (or not this primarily) but a place where the building and the site perform complementary operations, where the play of the one prompts the performances of the other. Thinking of the window along these lines suggest that the building’s other elements—floors, partitions, lights——can be viewed similarly, as if the entire ensemble were an orchestration of performances, each with its own schedule, role, and voice. On this account, the building’s geometries and configurations would not be “abstractions” but outlines of operations, jointly defining the building’s profile…the building is what it does.”
Quote: “Nature Near: late Essays” Neutra
“Man is always in the middle of something—this ineluctable presence, enveloping and permeating our lives, is called the environment. It ties us together. It determines who we are, how we feel and what our outlook is. Of primordial vintage…the environment, depending on how sensitively we manage its complements of resources, can either erode or strengthen our sanity and civility, and these are as essential to survival, in any meaningful and lasting human sense, as clean air and water.” (94)
House as complex set of “environmental” performances – ecosystem – how each surface performs, behaves, acts, and transforms the latent conditions around our bodies.
Yale Student > Dwelling Code > F2015
Kaufmann Residence > Richard Neutra > 1946 > Palm Springs (JM Photos)
“Neutra’s “Plywood Model House” was constructed in 1936 as part of an exhibition of new house types in Los Angeles. When viewing the building today its congeniality with its site is remarkable. But just as a city can reclaim a design that initially neglected it—Pars the Eiffel Tower, for example—land and climate can annex into their vast holdings a project that wa separately conceived and developed. The build’s are indicates the factory origins of its construction materials. Both its geometry and finishes were determined by the properties of 4-by-8 foot sheets plywood, not its vicinity. Further, the build’s standing on its site was temporary. Once the exhibition was over the house was disassembled,put on a truck and moved from its site Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood,where it was reassembles and stand today. Land and plantings were subsequently arranged around it, achieving by compensation the elegant repose apparent today (DL)”.
Sounds remarkably similar to the journey for this year’s Yale Building Project may take? Further, To place this within a cultural and consumerist context, the Plywood Experimental House was part of a larger exhibition of “houses” of all different characters. See the “Exhibition House Group”: below – look carefully and you will see the plywood house amount the tudors and colonials:
Leatherbarrow, David. 2004. Topographical stories: studies in landscape and architecture. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Keeping up and moving beyond the [Dow] Jones
There is a simple and elegant thesis or question at the base of this project.
Is a house something more than a sum of its parts—more than a utilitarian equation of means and ends? Can a house embrace and comment on our prosaic rituals, while also elevating and promoting our awareness of a deeper, changing world around us? Surely it must try. The suburban, consumerist house today is largely trapped or entangled in its own social constructs and depths. Just think of all those neo-traditional, developer Colonials or Shingle style houses that stand in for single-family, private house and lust for lifestyle today. In our flattened consumerist landscape today, is a house really more than simply an effect of its own representations (mirror or light)? Is this ambivalence in fact an opportunity? Can a house be activated programmatically, materially and spatially to reconfigure the normative tropes, conventions and representations (images), the social and categorical dimensions that largely author it to begin with? BIG question, one that is not so much meant to be answered as tested in the field itself so to speak…. in practice (repeatedly).
Using the operative technique of collage and the concept of super-position and phenomenal transparency latent in collage, this project deploys techniques of superimposition and simultaneity to exaggerate a series of social-perceptual dilemmas rather than resolve them. It is worth remembering, collage was deployed as a modernist critique and attack on the centrality of perspective theory. In this project we have deployed collage (multiplicity + abstraction) against representation (identity) by letting the house work psychologically on a number of levels simultaneously -familiar and fresh, abstract and nostalgic, serious and witty, light and heavy, straightforward and cunning. The search for a house and a home-coming is indeed a nostalgic journey here, filled with hope and promise, but it is never allowed to lapse into sentimentality. The house is an open, flexible space that allows for multiple reconfigurations and possibility of use and discovery, but is also grounded, well-sited and recognizable within the context of its suburban neighborhood. No easy task when resolving a program of 15,000 square feet.
In response to a 35 foot sloping grade change of the site and super-sized (read: extra/large social-economic class) suburban streetscape surrounding the site (lower Fairfield county), the site strategy is a simple operation of gradation and contrast. Through a series of cascading site and retaining walls the property in plan is organized into a series of tiered gardens, courtyards, and active fields that recede back in descending or ascending order from the proto-suburban front lawn to the entry + motor courtyards, to the active entertainment (pool area) and play areas at far upper reaches of the site. In section and elevation, the building mass is split into two distinct strata: the concrete and plaster foundation and first floor “base”. These walls and piers are linked physically and conceptually to the ground and the site – to the elongated retaining wall system and the tiered landscape.
The form of the upper story follows traditional wood frame construction. It is composed of a series of simple cedar gable-house figures with the scale and feel of a basic house block. These gable boxes have been kept as tight, thin and crisp as possible in their detail and effect. The series of repetitive bay windows index each of the bedrooms and face the southwest playing fields. The two primary gable forms and the various bays all appear suspended above, but balanced on the steel eyebeams that separate the masonry base of the building and wood structures above it. The contrast between private spaces in the wooden frame is suspended above the open, flexible plan of the various main living spaces and outdoor terraces, porches, gardens etc.
The owners requested and asked for a house and spaces that would be a quiet, but strong backdrop to the incredible bustle and activity of this large, outgoing family. This simple contrast between the life and activity of the house and the white walls and warm wood works to stunning effect. The waterfall + stream became the central circulation space between all of the various three stories of the house and the differing range of activities all around it. This space is best experienced and understood not in plan but rather in section and while moving—like the waterfall and stream itself. It is the cut or gap that allows views through the entire site and house while providing light, water, and motion to the lower basement level that opens directly to the pool areas.
The house is simple in form and materials, but powerful. It relies on the abstraction of conventional forms and details to bring out an entirely new, open and most importantly, highly flexible indoor/outdoor living spaces for the family.
The Harvard Five included, as its founders, Marcel Breuer, John Johannsen, Philip Johnson, John Blacklee, and Elliot Noyes. During the 1950s these mid-century “good-life” modernists promulgated an experimental residential design theory and program for modern, single-family residential life. New Canaan became the site of one of these experimental communities; some sixty residences were constructed over twenty years. Less than twenty residences remain standing today. “Documentation Modern,” a non-profit organization in NYC has been working to measure and document these buildings before they vanish to be replaced by neo-colonial, surface deep, developer custom homes (8-10,000 sq. ft. typically in this area).
Recalling the experimental history of the residence, this project examines Noyes’ own design methods through the balancing act of abstract formalism. The task for us in this project was to design an addition/alteration that attends to the current owner’s interest in honoring the original house (at least its shell) while also being responsive to their differing needs and lifestyle in 2002.
Suspended above the original single story box, a clean metallic container acknowledges the 9-square grid and the proportions of the Noyes design. Creating a sectional void along the entry wall, a unique vertical condition is produced to weigh against the initial linearity. This spatial experience goes against the grain and contrasts with the horizontal sensibility of the house. The resulting large, two-story glass curtain wall allows for the registration of changing light and views throughout the space and stair.
Exaggerating the disjunction between the original house and its addition recalls the heritage of the prior design while also creating a series of perceptual disorientations. Taking cues from the art of the 60s and 70s, this reading(s) questions the aesthetic autonomy and formal purity of architecture, not to mention the social engineering embedded in the original design and aesthetic, re-presenting its latent ambiguities and power. Here again “the Ice Storm” should come to mind or think “The Brady Bunch” meets the “Old Navy Store” with the resultant admixture becoming the “Rugby Bunch” ad campaign currently running in commercial syndication. In this architecture project, or more precisely architectural proposition, lifestyles, or forms of life, collide without apology or without remorse.