Tag Archives: concrete

Holy Rosary Church Complex

Holy Rosary Church Complex in Louisiana by Trahan Architects, 2004.

The Holy Rosary Church Complex, outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is composed of five parts: an administrative block, two linear classroom bars, a religious education bar, and a square chapel in a courtyard formed by the first four (click for plan). Trahan Architects designed this last part as the focus of the orthogonal composition, itself skewed towards an opening that links the chapel to the community beyond.

Rotating the chapel in plan from the other, ordered campus elements, activates the spaces between the chapel and the courtyards edges. These spaces take on different characteristics as the distance between the chapel and these elements changes from near (intimate) to distant (communal). Whereas the positioning of the chapel already places importance upon it as an object, its rotation further emphasizes this, creating a sense of expectation at what awaits inside.

With the chapel, or oratory, the architects imagined the interior as a womb, a "sacred space every human has experienced." This concept is evident in the uniform finish on the floor, ceiling, and walls, referring to the womb's lack of orientation. As well, the space is a pure cube, broken only by the complexly carved openings that bring light into the space without creating distracting views. The interior is reminiscent of Tadao Ando's equally powerful ecclesiastical spaces, while being something wholly new.

The architects worked with a limited palette (poured-in-place concrete with two types of glass) to create a meditative environment that places a high importance on spatial characteristics and the play of light on these materials. Even the toilet rooms are treated as equals to the rest of the complex, with concrete sinks that border on the poetic. Along with their design of St. Jean Vianney Catholic Church, Trahan Architects are creating thoughtful, sacred spaces that are unique "spatial embodiment[s] of spiritual experience."

[Thanks to NarrowLarry for the heads up on this project.]

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in St. Louis, Missouri by Allied Works Architecture, 2003.

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAMSTL) opened to the public on September 20 with its first exhibition titled "A Fiction of Authenticity: Contemporary Africa Abroad" featuring ten artists' works in the gallery spaces (and one site-specific installation across the street from the museum). Small by current museum standards, CAMSTL's 27,000 s.f. contain performance space, class room studios, a technology lab, the requisite bookstore and cafe, and offices, in addition to its two gallery spaces.

Designed by Portland, Oregon's Allied Works Architecture, the museum shares its site in the Grand Center District a few miles west of downtown with Tadao Ando's Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. Together the two structures attempt to create an anchor to attract people to the district while also creating the "cultural soul of the city", according to Grand Center, Inc. As much of St. Louis' downtown and environs still shows signs of the suburban flight decades ago, the district is one of many developments that focus on people's movement back towards downtown, as many cities elsewhere are experiencing successfully.

The effects of the museum on the area and its development has taken a backseat to its relationship to its neighbor, the Pulitzer, a contemplative place to enjoy and study art, which opened two years ago to much acclaim. Their similarities are just as great as their differences, both in their missions and architecture, though ultimately each finds a common goal in the importance of cultural expression and its setting. Since Ando's building preceded Allied Work's building, the latter's designer, Brad Cloepfil, responded to the Japanese master's work without mimesis nor contrast, but respect.

Although Ando's building may have determined some of Cloepfil's design, especially in terms of material and scale, CAMSTL is given the more prominent, corner site. The building maximizes its footprint by following the property line, creating a strong street wall broken in three places: on the west by windows exhibiting a class room studio and a gallery, and on the north by a higher window next to the entry reception desk that frames the tops of three old houses across the street (visible in the image above). The two-story building's exterior has two layers, a stainless steel mesh above the first floor concrete walls, the latter relating to Ando's building but differing in execution.

Inside the museum the two exterior materials continue their presence with concrete walls supporting perpendicular mesh walls, as well as plaster walls for the display of artworks. The mesh helps to break up the possible monotony of an all-concrete building, but its effects as a light-filtering screen are not used to their fullest extent, since most of the screens wrap concrete walls and are therefore flat and opaque. Regardless, the interior is remarkably open and light-filled with diagonal views created by the perpendicular placement of the walls, the upper walls resting on the first floor walls in a few places (click for diagram).

From certain places inside the museum, one's attention is drawn to the courtyard the building shares with the Pulitzer Foundation. In the courtyard one notices the subtle differences between the two buildings. Ando's building is an assemblage of parallel concrete walls, the opposite of Cloepfil's, for example. Richard Serra's steel sculpture, "Joe", unites the two compositions, itself a strong contrast to the two buildings in form (circular vs. orthogonal) and color/material (rusted steel vs. gray concrete). It's also in the courtyard that one sees the potential of the two building to attract people and act together towards creating the cultural soul of the city.

[Google Earth link]

Brazilian Museum of Sculpture

Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo, Brazil by Paulo Mendes da Rocha, 1988.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha's Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo, Brazil is a simple yet provocative design that uses a large beam to give the museum a presence, while also fulfilling the need for shade and shelter for the exterior plaza. The architect's sketch, at left (click images for larger and expanded views), clearly illustrates this idea and its focus toward the visitors that use the plaza for relaxation, relief and performances.

The image above shows the entry to the museum which is actually buried under the plaza. The museum's differing ceiling heights create a stepped outdoor space that is split by the entry fissure (click for museum plan). These different heights also accommodate the stepping required to create outdoor seating for the plaza space, giving it a multi-functionality that is usually required for art institutions and their treatment of open space.

An interesting aspect, and possibly unintended consequence, of the raised concrete beam is its framing of the surroundings. Depending on the visitor's proximity to the structure, a short, wide sliver of space is visible between the beam and the plaza surface, and with the dull gray of both the view beyond is emphasized, gaining importance through the visitor's experience. Much like sculpture changes in relation to the viewer, the context is changed by the building's presence and the visitor's relation to it.

Paulo Mendes da Rocha's building was a finalist for the first Mies van der Rohe Award for Latin-American Architecture in 1998, a prize that went to Enrique Norten for a multi-use building in Mexico. The award helped to give exposure contemporary architecture in Latin-American countries, overlooked by most western-focused publications, a condition that is slowly changing as architects like Norten and Mendes da Rocha become more well known internationally.

[Google Earth link]



LOOK UP in Gelsenkirchen, Germany by Anin + Jeromin + Fitilidis & Partner.

Based in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, the young advertising agency LOOK UP looked to the Dusseldorf-based firm Anin + Jeromin + Fitilidis & Partner to design their headquarters near Essen. The simple, rectangular building, composed primarily of concrete and glass, was the second building completed in the industrial redevelopment area. Light and heavy, clear and opaque, the box fits into the industrial landscape while providing an identity for the ad agency.

The rectangular box is violated only by the entry stair, which connects the first two of the three office floors, and two cantilevered concrete balconies. Production spaces are contained on the ground floor, a heavy base with few punched openings in the poured-in-place concrete. "Creativity zones" are housed in the two upper floors, transparent behind large expanses of glass and a concrete brise-soleil on the short south facade.

Although a simple building, the headquarters has many dramatic features, primarily the entrance stair, a transparent box seemingly hung from the concrete wall, and the brise-soleil, which resembles a comb due to their cantilevered structure. Inside an open plan dominates, with simple, modular furniture a nice complement to the rectilinearity of the building and gridded mullions of the east elevation.

LOOK UP's headquarter signals a definitive trend in architecture and business: the reclamation and renovation of derelict industrial areas for service-oriented companies, which naturally follows the rise of the service sector. And Germany, with its large expanses of industrial land, is poised to be a leader in adaptive reuse of those areas.

Department of Geosciences

Department of Geosciences

Department of Geosciences in Aveiro, Portugal by Eduardo Souto de Moura, 1994.

What is a facade? To many architects a facade is an afterthought, a two-dimensional surface (elevation) dictated by the interior plan. Following this approach, materials and openings are articulated to give the building its presentation to the public, limiting the compellingness of a building's exterior and the chances of a successful integration of inside and outside. Architects like Michael Graves design elevations while Eduardo Souto de Moura, in his Department of Geosciences for the University of Aveiro in Portugal, designed facades. The distinction may seem small, if not inconsequential, but it means the difference between fake and real, respectively.

Given the restrictions of the University's campus guidelines it is amazing the architect achieved what's seen in the image at left. The program dictated the buildings size (80m x 20m), shape (three stories), circulation (20% of floor area yielding a double-loaded corridor) and exterior materials (red brick). The only variations among other campus structures following the same guidelines were the size of window openings and color of materials. Instead Souta de Moura kept the structural elements, the end shear walls and floor plates, exposed and infilled them with deep horizontal wood louvers for shading.

The richness of the facade belies its simplicity, though this may be attributed to the depth of the glass from the implied plane created by the concrete and wood louvers. A flat brick wall with punched openings cannot create a sense of mystery as to a building's inner working, which the wood louvers accomplish. The Department of Geosciences is reminiscent of Herzog and DeMeuron's Dominus Winery in Napa Valley, California, that uses various sized rocks within wire baskets to clad the structure: each building utilizes a simple device but yields meaningful results.

Beyond the facade, the interiors are minimal with only the required furnishings for the appropriate uses (classrooms, laboratories, and conference rooms). With this approach the building becomes a cohesive whole, both inside and outside austerely articulated. Herein lies a key to successful architecture: finding a common means that connects the interior and exterior. In the Department of Geosciences it is definitely the facade that enables the building to transcend its context of typical flat facades punctuated by gridded openings.

[Google Earth link]



Landesgartenschau in Weil am Rhein, Germany by Zaha Hadid, 1999.

Zaha Hadid's first major executed project, the Vitra Fire Station, brought her, and the chair manufacturer's campus, international attention. Containing structures by Frank Gehry, Alvaro Siza, Nicholas Grimshaw, and Tadao Ando, in addition to Hadid, Vitra became synonymous with cutting-edge design, even though most of the company's output is early Modernist design. The adjacent German town of Weil am Rhein took advantage of Vitra's attractions, choosing Hadid because of her formally bold fire station. Though the British architect has a recognizable style - evident in her sweeping, gestural paintings - the proposal for the Landesgartenschau (state flower exhibition) stands apart from her previous works.

Hadid's fire station at Vitra is an object, sitting in a concrete campus, making itself known. The strong curved and pointed walls and roof planes describe the building's origins: lines of force drawn from the surrounding landscape. It commands attention while referring to something outside of itself. The Landesgartenschau appears similar, with its sweeping concrete surfaces and linear, angled composition. But instead of acting as an object, the Landesgartenschau is an extension of the landscape. The building "arcs up from the ground, as if incised and folded back from the land" (Architecture, July99), presenting the visitor multiple opportunities above and around, never becoming purely a destination.

The small program contains exhibition (with mezzanine), a cafe (with terrace), and some offices.These uses are contained in a complex, linear space, with offices in a wooden volume, jutting from the concrete "ramp". Support and mechanical spaces are located in the "elbow", inherently the vertically tightest spaces. Typical of much of Hadid's designs, programmatic elements are squeezed into narrow, long spaces - a product of the sweeping curves consistent in her work. This weakness, though potentially unbearable in a residence, is excusable in an ultimately temporary building (the Landesgartenschau is a six-month long exhibition that different German cities host each year, though it most likely will have an extended life span).Without artifacts occupying the spaces, the building (much like Libeskind's Jewish History Museum in Berlin) stands on its own, especially the strong interiors. Surfaces of concrete, glass and wood slide past and through each other, giving the spaces a restless, jarring quality, contrasting with the calming views through the wide expanses of glass that run most of the its length.

Both the Landesgartenschau and the fire station use site characteristics as a design strategy, though each to different effect. The differences can be attributed to adjacency relationships: the fire stations relation to landscape away from the immediate site, and the Landesgartenschau's relationship to, and transformation of, the immediate site. The uniqueness of each can also be attributed to a changing attitude to landscape, both by the architect and the general public. From the steady increase in population all over the globe to the nauseating hype of information technologies, people are looking to the landscape for meaning and utilizing nature to our and her advantage. The Landesgartenschau does not solely emulate and transform the terrain; it buries itself to stabilize interior temperatures, houses an air cooling system underneath the building's "tail", while shading the windows with louvers. The building does not scream "I'm green!", shielding itself under a grass mound. It sensitively and carefully molds the terrain to create an evolved "green" architecture: grounded expressionism.

[Google Earth link]

Private Residence

Private Residence

Private Residence in Chicago, Illinois by Tadao Ando, 1998.

Tadao Ando's first major American commission (after a small gallery design in the Art Institute of Chicago) is a private residence (1998) in the Lincoln Park area north of downtown. The design and construction continue the Japanese architect's consistent body of work with its focus on simple geometries and the relationship between light and space. Ando's work remains aesthetically identical from country to country (having also built in Europe as well as Asia), with context dictating very little except orientation relating to sun, wind, and views. Mainly reinforced concrete, glass, and steel, every building Ando constructs bears these trademarks, with differences arising in composition and spatial progression. This private residence is no exception.

Situated on a 75-foot wide triple lot, the house does not attempt to blend in with its neighbors, mainly late 19th century brick apartment buildings. A blank concrete wall with one opening containing a large steel door confronts the visitor. Immediately one senses that the focus of the house is inward. The simple plan is broken into three distinct parts: the two-story entry/guest wing followed by the one-story living/dining space towards the private, three-story wing off the alley. These three parts surround and visually open to a shallow pool, existing for viewing only. Skimming the surface of the pool, a ramp leads from the living/dining space to a roof terrace above. Finally a long concrete beam traversing the pool helps to confine the exterior space west of the house and reinforce the north-south axis of the interior spaces.

From such a simple, three-part parti, Ando is able to construct dramatic spaces, particularly through the constant relationship of spaces to the exterior pool. This creation of a "faux" nature creates a serene, meditative environment that finds a dialectic in the harsh surfaces of the concrete. For people used to the light, soft surfaces of much residential architecture and developments, living in a Tadao Ando house would seem difficult. But it is this difference that illustrates the strength of his architecture: it imposes a way of life upon the occupant. The gallery-like spaces command patience and an inner peace that not everyone is capable of. Some may argue that the architect's job is to fulfill the client's wishes and not to impose beliefs upon the client. The ideal lies somewhere in the middle, with mutual understanding and compromises happening on both sides. Whatever the case on this residence, Ando's architecture promotes introspection that may lead to a different way of life, a different way of looking at the world.

[Google Earth link]

Kyoto Design Store

Kyoto Design Store

Kyoto Design Store in Kyoto, Japan by David Chipperfield, 1989.

British architect David Chipperfield's first public commission, a shop for Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake, led to a series of similar public works in Japan, including the Design Store in Kyoto. His design ideas that focus on space, light and craft appeal to a Japanese sensibility that looks at the design of the built environment in a similar fashion. And although the built work has an aesthetic likeness to the work of Tadao Ando (especially in the predominant use of concrete, steel, glass, and wood), Chipperfield's theories about architecture are unique, particularly in their approach to the ideas mentioned above.

Rejecting the typical process by which architects devise plans, and then elevations that work in concert with the plan (the generator), Chipperfield's buildings are considered sectionally and experientially before plan and elevation become concerns. Early sketches give the projects a direction, typically showing not just a sense of space and material but also the mundane, everyday actions that take place within the spaces. This grounding in reality informs the creation of his spaces. Instead of designs that stop at the elevation in terms of design decisions (to be given character by specifying products and components), the sensuous aspect takes precedence. Material and light are shaped in an intuitive, and ultimately, intellectual way.

Everything starts with space. To make space is the first motivation, the first responsibility, the first problem. Space gives form, space gives plan. The plan is not a generator, it is a diagram for a spatial idea.   -David Chipperfield

Chipperfield aligns his attitude toward humanity's shaping of the physical world with artists, such as Richard Serra and Joseph Beuys, who have attempted to reinvest the physical world with idea and the intellectual idea with the physical. As architects shape the physical world more than anyone (except possibly for developers) it is apparent that strong consideration of the relationship between the idea and the physical is few. The few, though, are inspiring and create a setting in which our lives become fuller and more enjoyable. And it is through careful attention through the design process towards space, light and craft that David Chipperfield aspires to this goal.

The Design Store reflects the major ideas in Chipperfield's design with a thoughtful succession of spaces, both interior and exterior. It does not resemble so much a place to display objects for consumption but a contemplative environment that transcends its "type". The control of natural light is strong, especially in bringing out the true quality of the materials (again principally concrete, steel, glass, and wood), and in turn affecting the mood and character of the spaces.

Like Ando, David Chipperfield works with a limited palette to create powerful spaces that are born from a concerned consideration of their effects on human experience and understanding. It is from this beginning that Chipperfield arrives at his goal, a goal that is possible through material, light and volume existing at the center of the architect's craft.

Kimbell Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum

Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas by Louis I. Kahn, 1972.

Space is not a space unless you can see the evidence of how it was made. -Louis I. Kahn

Louis Kahn's client, for what was to become his most famous commission, asked for a museum with a human scale and galleries with natural light. Kahn surpassed these conditions, creating his greatest built representation of the ideas he was constantly developing and reevaluating throughout his career, mainly shaping space through the unification of light and structure.

A simple composition of parallel concrete vaults, the Kimbell Art Museum (1966-72) reveals itself to the visitor before stepping inside the building, with the porticoes that seem to be a superfluous continuation of the building's vaulting. The unnecessary porches (as referred to by Kahn) define the structural vocabulary of the whole museum: basically a concrete beam (100' x 23') in the shape of a cycloidal vault, supported by four square columns. This simple structure is used, as was the case in most of Kahn's buildings, to create an abstract order, a genesis for creating more complex space. The gallery spaces are not confined by the individual vaults but flow from one to another; the low "servant" spaces between vaults helping to define smaller, human-scale rooms.

Structure is the maker of light, because structure releases the space between and that is light giving.  -Louis I. Kahn

This flow is achieved through the freeing of wall space that Kahn refers to at left, apparent in the exterior porticoes. The creation of space on the interior through light, though, is achieved through a freeing of roof space, not wall space. In what has become Kahn's most popular element, light diffusers spread natural light from a narrow slot to the sky along the undersides of the concrete vault. Casting an even glow throughout the museum the diffusers shield the Kimbell's work from the strong Texas sunlight but also to help indicate the time of day. Or so Kahn thought. The even glow does not help to relate to exterior circumstances so much as the three courtyards that Kahn created by slicing the vaults in particular places. These courtyards bring in a piece of the outside world, located at the most interior portions of the galleries.

The Kimbell Art Museum illustrates the changing ideas that shaped Kahn's buildings, from the "served and servant" focus of his earlier buildings to his enigmatic dictum of "silence and light" near the end of his career. The tension that existed between his strong practicality and his spiritual view of architecture reached a fulfilling synthesis at the Kimbell.

[Google Earth link]