Monday, 28 January 2019

Conceptual Development for a Summit Cafe

The image below reflects my first design reaction to a brief for a shelter and cafe on the North face of the Ben Nevis. The early stage concept is driven by naturally occurring cantilevers and how they function/co-exist with the forces of nature. Very abstract at the moment but detailed study to follow! 

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Summit of Ben Nevis - Topographic Studies at 1:200

Below is a topographic study of the summit at Ben Nevis. Information has been gathered from Digimap at 1:200 with contours at 1m intervals. More to follow as this project develops.

1:200 Contour Model of Ben Nevis Summit 


Book Review of Elements of Architecture – From form to place by Pierre von Meiss (1990)


I recently read this book and was astounded at how relent its themes are over two decades from when it was originally written by von Meiss. Below is a very short review of the text which highlights some of the lessons we can learn from the book and that we can apply in practice.  


Fig 1. Cover of Elements of Architecture – From form to place 

“Elements of Architecture – From form to place” is an introduction to the common principals of design that form successful architecture and urban design irrespective of style and period. Von Meiss analyses a diverse range of architectural periods to identify common characteristics that can be used by practitioners to create places that are well designed with a coherent identity. The text is thorough and acknowledges a wide range of factors that influence how a city or town develops and what contributes to a comprehensible and satisfying place. The author speaks of proximity, similarity, enclosure and orientation as key principals of coherence but cultural and political factors are only briefly mentioned. These factors are arguably more influential than the aesthetic established by the author but their complexity could overcomplicate what is a well-written and enjoyable theoretical exploration of architectural practice and the principals of urban design.

The first element that is explored is the simple window/opening and its origin from humble beginnings in the primitive home to its relatively recent transformation through structural innovation. The way a window has been articulated has changed drastically from being an “beautiful object within itself to a modern window that can only be understood in relation to the whole spatial layout” (von Meiss, 1990). Von Meiss explores the impact this change has had on the structural consistencies required to ensure contemporary buildings maintain a sense or order. The wrap around cladding has stripped the window of its order and logical quality thus creating new challenges. This view is somewhat pessimistic as the opportunity to enhance the city without the structural restraints of the lintel has resulted in greater links between internal and external public space. The campus for Central Saint Martins by Stanton Williams is a good example where this boundary between public/private and interior/exterior has been successfully blurred.

Perception and interaction with architecture is viewed by the author as an essential element often overlooked the brief and client. The aesthetic experience involves all senses including hearing, smell, tactility and the movement of the body, all of which should not be forgotten when designing. In addition to the senses there are physiological phenomenon that influence our experience of architecture, some of these phenomena are figure/ground, proximity, similarity, enclosure and orientation. The book encourages the designer to manipulate these principals to influence how others perceive and enjoy the built environment.

The author views both order and symmetry in a similar light in that perfection of either is not always desirable and “perfect order and total chaos are equally difficult to bear for long periods” (von Meiss, 1990). In regards to symmetry, the author states that “perfect balance can often provoke a strange uneasiness” this implies that both can be used cautiously to achieve a satisfactory balance but subtle deviations can be equally, if not more powerful. This challenges the established approaches of classical and renaissance architecture. The author is correct to imply that symmetry can be seen as a logical principal for considered design but it is not always appropriate.

Post modernism is not mentioned by the author and is probably the most challenging movement to apply his theories. A common theme throughout Elements of Architecture is the author’s position on object buildings and the need to create an urban fabric that is consistent with its context. The author argues that buildings with forms and materials that are totally independent from their neighbours should be reserved for buildings of special importance or in key positions and this is contrary to the principals of post modernism. However, he also makes clear that the architectural style in the urban fabric can be different but still coherent without being an object building by using consistent design principals. It would have been interesting to have seen the author confront postmodernism and to establish what common principals remained during this movement.

Complexity and simplicity are explored through the comparison of Michelangelo's Façade for the Funerary Chapel of St. Lorenzo 1516-34 and Richard Miers High Museum 1983. This comparison is evidence of the author’s pluralism and ability to make architectural similarities across periods in contrast to his failure to discuss postmodernism. This façade study reinforces his theory that an architectural coherence is attainable with very different styles throughout history.  

The author interestingly compares the spatial liberation of the Baroque period with the spatial liberation of the modern movement and the defining of new boundaries. The breaking of these boundaries is what led to the first spatial liberation in the baroque period when structural limitations were ignored and interior space was treated independently to achieve its aesthetic and spiritual needs. The second spatial liberation occurred with the modern movement and the technical development that allowed greater freedom and alignment of the plan with man’s desires. The success of this comparison is questionable as the spatial liberation of the baroque period was somewhat superficial in comparison to the intrinsic concepts of the modern movement.  

In conclusion, the subjective nature of design and the collective memory of society makes it increasingly challenging to dissociate the style of a building with its true substance. The prioritisation of style has once again risen to the forefront of modern architectural discourse with the appointment of a traditionalist, Roger Scrutton, to the government’s new ‘building beautiful commission’. This is precisely what this book seeks to avoid as one must understand the effective elements of historical precedent, regardless of style, in order to apply them in a contemporary context. Experimentation with the common principals of design to comprehend and apply the illusive elements of architecture is the primary message of this book. As a designer it is often difficult to define why a particular form or order is suitable over another, sometimes it simply feels correct but the “why” is hard to identify. Von Meiss offers credible theories as to “why” and he reinforces that architecture should be practiced within the broad history of different architectural movements but not rigidly defined by them.

References
von Meiss, P., 1990. Elements of Architecture - From Form to Place. 1st ed. London: E & FN Spon.
Frampton, K., 1980. Modern Architecture, A Critical History. 1st ed. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
Curtis, W., 1982. Modern Architecture since 1900. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon Press Limited.