Tag Archives: wood

Market Hall

Market Hall in Aarau, Switzerland by Miller & Maranta, 2002.

Miller & Maranta's Market Hall in Aarau, Switzerland is notable for its siting and its formal characteristics, particularly the rhythm of its wood construction. Featured in the wonderful little book Swiss Made, the Market Hall is influenced by its surroundings, yet is a unique counterpoint to the adjacent buildings, a light wood building sitting in stark contrast with the heavy limestone prevalent in the city.

Sited at an opening of streets in a dense section of Aarau, the building follows the adjacent building fronts, bending gradually on one long side and more noticeably on the other. Its location and inflection accommodate movement around the hall on both sides. When open on the short sides, the building allows free movement through itself as well as around.

The simple exterior of rectangular wood posts in a regular rhythm is split into a low and high section, the former opaque (or open when the doors are rolled to allow access) and the latter open. A flat roof, also wood, caps the building with a minimal profile. The greatest quality of the exterior comes as one moves past the building; what was opaque at an extreme angle becomes open more head-on. The tight spacing of supports creates an ever-changing face for the utilitarian structure that falls somewhere between market stand and warehouse.

The inside continues the outside rhythm through the roof structure. Only a single column and major beams breaks this rhythm and the otherwise open space. The simplicity is deceiving, as lights and sprinklers are tucked between the roof members, a consideration easier in concept than in practice. Here, the outside wall's separation of high and low makes the most sense, as the surrounding facades are framed between the low wall and roof, like looking through a window with large blinds. It puts them on display but also gives a fresh view of what could be considered the city's vernacular.

Mountain Pavilion

Mountain Pavilion in Bambajima, Toyama, Japan by Peter Salter.

Built as part of Toyama Prefecture's machi no kao (face of the town) series of small projects in the early 1990's, this mountain pavilion (affectionately called Peter House locally) on the Bambajima River is one of only a few built projects by the British architect Peter Salter. Having also designed the Inami Woodcarving Museum as part of the same series, Salter appears to grasp the built character of northern Japan, neither resorting to mimicry nor complete abandon of traditional forms, construction, and materials. Like the Museum, the mountain pavilion is a unique structure that enriches its environment, in this case at a trailhead in the Northern Alps.

Located near the small town of Kamiichi, the mountain pavilion is reached by winding roads that stretch for about 30 minutes from the nearby town. Once reaching the end of the road, Peter House is hidden behind thick trees on one side and open to the river on the other three sides. The exact purpose of the primarily open-air structure is not apparent at first glance. A deck is its sole outdoor space, though stone steps provide access around and below the pavilion. Inside, stairs lead to a viewing platform that points upstream towards mountain peaks beyond.

Exterior materials are primarily copper with some wood, while inside wood predominates with bamboo being used for the railing infill. The choice of materials gives the structure a subdued presence in its natural surroundings, even in winter when at times it is completely covered in snow. The intense snowfall in the region was taken into consideration by Salter, who designed the structure so it has an inner and outer shell, the interstitial space intended as a place for mountain creatures to make nests. Also, an intricate system of pipes slows water runoff so the melted snowfall would be visible in the warm months as drips of water from exterior pipes. On a recent visit, the previous night's rainfall was still evident in the structure's drainage.

Easily the most impressive aspect of the pavilion is its surroundings, made evident by the views that it frames. Thankfully, Salter designed a building that harmonizes with nature while straddling the line between contemporary and traditional, its form being an artistic response but also resembling a Japanese warrior helmet. Since its completion in 1994, a shed roof has been added above the exterior drain pipes (evident in second image), perhaps to protect the intricate workings from the heavy snow. At first the addition was a bit disconcerting, but after a while it was apparent that Salter's original design is such that slight changes don't affect its overall appearance and quality, whereas a Modernist solution would appear violated.

Emerson Sauna

Emerson Sauna in Duluth, Minnesota by Salmela Architect, 2003.

Recipient of both an AIA/Minnesota 2003 Honor Award and a Wood Design and Building 2003 Merit Award, the Emerson Sauna in Duluth, Minnesota by Salmela Architect is a small, yet poetic and witty building. Situated on the property of a client for which the architect previously designed a light wood house, the brick and wood structure is reminiscent of Finnish farmsteads, as the Merit Awards assert, but also it is an elemental rendering of "house", in the vein of Aldo Rossi.

The simple plan, a two-story building shifted in section and connected by a straight stair, locates the sauna space with chimney on the ground floor with a sleeping room on the second floor above the outdoor shower. Above the sauna space is a sod roof, it and the brick helping to keep the heat within the walls, while a series of small windows on two walls provides a connection to the trees surrounding the building.

Inside, everything is brick, wood and stone. Brick interior and exterior walls are combined with wood doors, ceiling and furniture, with a slate floor providing a subtle contrast. All the materials work together to create a warm interior environment.

But the most striking feature of the small building is the exaggerated pitched roof, especially in relationship to the connected, flat-roofed one-story space and its chimney. Such a simple maneuver - the diagonal splitting of the functions - yields a rewarding end-product. While the pitched roof's fronatlity refers to a house in its simplest, child-like shape, the position of the chimney and the two offset masses gives the design some wit, fortunately without resorting to pastiche.

Midwest Rural House

Midwest Rural House in Ann Arbor, Michigan by Ply Architecture, 2003.

Before Ply Architecture won last year's House: Case Study Cleveland Competition, the Ann Arbor-based firm designed this house in their Michigan hometown. While the former looks at the American single-family house via ideas of flexibility and prefabricated construction, the latter provides solutions to a particular family-of-four's needs and desires. Each finds their home in the Midwestern landscape, though the house in Michigan musts also respond to the Japanese and American cultures of the client's family, adding a unique twist to the suburban house.

Once entering the house it is apparent the design incorporates certain elements from Japanese residential design, as a built-in bench for shoes is included in the entry. Other Japanese elements included are primarily spatial: alcoves for scrolls, a courtyard, and a soaking bath (click for plan). These spaces affect the form of the house and are made visible in the house's exterior, which attempts to express its interior functions unself-consciously (click for elevation).

The architects were strongly influenced by the agricultural landscape of the Midwest, particularly Thomas Jefferson's gridding of the American terrain into one-square mile grids. The hedgerows that grew from this gridding helped to define spaces within the open fields; in turn the architects used a similar language to define the spaces of the open layout of the domestic interior, a method that helps to balance the multiple cultures and their respective needs and desires.

Many similarities exist between the Case Study House and the Midwest Rural House, each situating it in relation to the prevalent suburban, single-family house design: these include open interiors, smaller size, wood cladding, and a lack of an overriding formal exterior. Their houses are designed from the inside to the outside, expressing contemporary life instead of hiding it behind a historically-styled facade.

Chesa Futura

Chesa Futura in St. Moritz, Switzerland by Norman Foster and Partners.

Upon first glance of renderings for the Chesa Futura apartment building in Switzerland's Engadin Valley, it is difficult to believe it is the work of London's Norman Foster and Partners. Although the architect's work in recent years has embraced forms that veer from the orthogonal, the overt "blobbiness" and choice of materials stand apart from his recent oeuvre.

Situated on a slope overlooking the town of St. Moritz, Foster refers to the form as novel, though the building is responsive to its site in ways that dictates its form. The image above illustrates the large south-facing openings with balconies that face the lake and surrounding mountains. Likewise the north side responds to the sun, or lack of, with smaller openings and greater thermal mass. The form enables openings to wrap the building so the vista is greater than a flat wall.

Foster chose timber for the building's exterior for two reasons: timber is the indigenous architectural material in the area and it is a renewable resource, aiding the environment through carbon dioxide consumption while growing. Also, since the timber is locally forested, very little energy is used in transporting the material. Over time the larch shingles will show their age, coloring to blend in with the surroundings, appearing to grow like the neighboring vegetation.

The building is raised above the slope on angled pilotis for various reasons: to avoid timber rot from excess moisture, to maximize views and to "reinstate the rocky texture and scale of the mountain terrain beneath the building". A cylindrical core leads to a level of underground parking and storage.

Hopefully the materiality of the final product, as seen in the construction photo above, will lend the building a less "alien" quality in the landscape than the renderings indicate. Regardless, Foster's past work illustrates that a building's environmental aspects are just as important as its aesthetics.

[Google Earth link]

Theehuis Pavilion

Theehuis Pavilion

Theehuis Pavilion in Arnhem, Netherlands by Bjarne Mastenbroek, 2002.

Thanks to Robert Gabriël, architecture student at TU Delft, for the accompanying images (click to enlarge) and background information on the Theehuis Pavilion.

Located in National Park Veluwezoom, the Theehuis Pavilion is a replacement for the previous Theehuis after it was destroyed by fire. The Pavilion was designed by Amsterdam's Bjarne Mastenbroek (then architect with de Architectengroep), after winning a competition with his design. Situated approximately 10 km north of Arnhem, the Pavilion provides visitors to the park a place to rest and eat or drink, offering splendid views of the IJssel and Rijn valleys.

Reminiscent of recent buildings by Rem Koolhaas, MVRDV and other Dutch architects, the Theehuis Pavilion attempts to meld into the landscape through the architectural and structural treatment of floors and walls. Floors appear to float in flowing, contiguous spaces. Walls disappear as the structure, tree trunks, resemble the surroundings. A glass skin lends an ambiguity between inside and outside. Here architecture and structure have a symbiotic relationship, to achieve a balance between the Pavilion and its surroundings.

Essentially the Pavilion consists of a kitchen at ground level with public spaces sloping and spiraling up to a cantilevered viewing area. A wood floor, made with cuts perpendicular to the trunk and embedded in epoxy(see image following page), marks the dining area. Here the building opens itself up to views on all sides and provides access to the grass-covered rooftop, an indication that the building's landscape-oriented design embraces sustainability as well.


Bjarne Mastenbroek (1964) studied in Delft; after that he worked as an architect at Mecanoo, in Delft, and for Enric Miralles in Barcelona. Together with Dick van Gameren he started in a new office in 1991, joining 'De Architecten groep' in 1993. They were winners of the Europan 2 competition. In 2002 Bjarne Mastenbroek started his own office.

Ando Hiroshige Museum

Ando Hiroshige Museum

Ando Hiroshige Museum in Batoh, Japan by Kengo Kuma, 2000.

Intended to hold a collection of Edo-era artist Ando Hiroshige (image below), this museum in Batoh, Japan was inspired by one of the artist's ink drawings, "Rain on Travelers". Architect Kengo Kuma noticed how the artist used thin lines to portray the rain and carried this technique over into his design; the walls and roof of the simple box composed of a wood lattice over a wood structure.

Hiroshige's work represents ukiyoe, a movement in Japanese art to depict "pictures of the floating world". In other words his prints and paintings attempted to express the ambiguous elements of nature: light, wind, rain, fog. Consequently, Kuma's desire was to create in a building the spirit of the artist's successful depiction of nature.

The simple method of the wood lattice is surprisingly effective, with the change in light and relationship to the nearby landscape modulated by the differing levels of transparency, achieved by varying the wood spacing, throughout the building. It is evident that Kuma uses the structure and lattice as an architectural expression of Hiroshige's depiction of the changing elements of nature.

Inami Woodcarving Museum

Inami Woodcarving Museum

Inami Woodcarving Museum in Inami, Japan by Peter Salter.

The following text and images are taken from 4+1 PETER SALTER: Building Projects, published by Black Dog Publishing, revisiting a previous feature on this site, the Inami Woodcarving Museum by Peter Salter.

The Museum primarily accommodates fretted transom screens and religious sculptural pieces. At times there are temporary exhibitions of wood sculpture, associated with the annual International Sculpture Exhibition held in Inami. The permanent exhibits are devotional objects that were originally placed within a domestic context. In the Museum these artifacts are relocated in a similar relationship to the viewer and their surroundings through a series of small-scale enclosures within the larger building fabric. The Museum attempts to identify the objects with their surroundings, rather than exhibit them in a neutral space.

The Museum is seen as part of a complex of buildings arranged around an arcaded precinct. Its scale is borrowed from the nearby temple. The design is understood as a set of territories, which range in scale, material and indigenous techniques of construction, from the crudest and large-scale spatial enclosure to the finest "furniture-scale" room. Each space provides a point of emphasis in a sequence of rooms arranged around a quiet courtyard.

The Museum encourages a promenade through rooms with different spatial emphasis. Each space attempts to reflect the sequence of movements made by the viewer in relation to the exhibits. The lighting levels are generally low, similar to the interior of a temple. The artifacts are mostly seen with ambient light, occasionally with concentrated sunlight channeled through light snorkels, sometimes in silhouette - an attempt to reflect the quality of light outside. The courtyards provide a further space for temporary exhibitions, emphasizing the relationship between outside room and inside space. The Museum takes part in the process of wood-carving, offering glimpses of the timber stores located near the gallery, displaying the tools and fretted pieces of the wood-carver. Further along the promenade is a place for wood-carvers to demonstrate work in progress. Two eight-mat Tatami Rooms in the Small Gallery are reconstructed from an original, traditional Minka house.

Law Courts

Law Courts

Law Courts in Bourdeaux, France by Richard Rogers Partnership, 1998.

Richard Rogers's reputation rests on structures, such as Llyod's of London and the Pompidou Centre with Renzo Piano, that display their inner workings on the building's exterior. So in these works their appearance is a residue of the buildings interior. The elevations tend to work on a micro level, though, with well thought-out details and unique structural solutions. On the macro level the buildings are a cacophony of parts, grouped together according to their corresponding functions. Therefore this design process is limiting, though instantly recognizable. Recent work by Richard Rogers Partnership has incorporated more arbitrary formal elements and shifted the focus of structure and detailing from primary considerations to design devices.

The Millennium Dome in Greenwich, London, appears to align itself with the two works mentioned above, though while Lloyd's and Pompidou appear as products of a process the Dome appears as a goal, with the process used towards this goal. Responding to the significance of the Dome as a symbolic structure (both historically and specific to this project) the expression of the building becomes paramount. Rogers's solution both expresses the structure and creates a recognizable form. Two important points can be taken from his solution: the structure becomes an integral part of the design (as do the mechanical cylinders located outside the shell of the dome) without being the design, and the structure exists to create the form of the dome. Essentially, the dome and the structural masts are interdependent. The Law Courts in Bordeaux, France go a step farther.

The complex is comprised of seven pod-like wood-clad courtroom structures enclosed behind a long curtain wall, with the interstitial space serving as circulation. The roof undulates in rhythm with the spacing of the courtrooms, punctured by the latter. Spaces in the complex vary from the factory-like circulation to the womb-like courtrooms. It is obvious from this short description that Rogers is venturing into unfamiliar territory. Yes, the curtain-wall possesses his strong sense of detailing and the circulation spaces are reminiscent of his high-tech buildings, but it is the organic forms of the courtrooms that give the complex its life. Positioned behind the transparent facade as if on display, they are easily the most refreshing objects Rogers has produced in his career.

The easiest criticism of the Law Courts is the arbitrary nature of the courtroom forms. Unlike Renzo Piano's culturally and ecologically relevant "huts" at the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Center in New Caledonia, these "pods" only serve to attract attention to themselves and contrast with the technological sterility of the rest of the complex. Which is also the building's strong point: the courtrooms act on a symbolic level, expressing the judicial systems transparency.

[Google Earth link]

Sport Zentrum

Sport Zentrum

Sport Zentrum in Davos, Switzerland by Gigon & Guyer, 1996.

Gigon & Guyer are part of the growing younger generation of Swiss architects with a strong tectonic and aesthetic sense toward designing boxes. Their sport center in the Swiss Alps gives the town of Davos a cultural center that transcends its current landscape of commonplace condominiums. Their first commission in the town, an art museum, exhibited their intelligent and artistic use of glass, while this second commission focuses on wood and concrete. In each case the choice of materials is appropriate to the program.

The center is made up of restaurants, offices, sports surgery, apartments for guests attending sport's workshops, and a grandstand. This last piece gives the building its most notable expression, giving depth to its facade while shading interior spaces behind it. The other elements are contained within two parallel bars that overlap each other to create unified circulation and programmatic separation. Restaurants and support are situated on the ground floor, with sport's facilities one floor above and apartments on the top floor. Each use is expressed on the exterior, though simultaneously creating a unified facade composition. Bare concrete and two layers of wood cladding, the inner (spruce) painted yellow and the outer (larch) untreated, are arranged in a complicated arrangement that surprisingly creates a pleasing exterior. Variations in solid and void, coupled with the different layers of materials and colors, reveals the architect's aesthetic sense, bordering on graphic design.

The interior reinforces their strategy: planes and areas of color composed with artist Adrian Schiess. The use of yellows, greens, blues, oranges and greens, contrasted against both exposed concrete and natural wood furniture echo the exterior in its complexity and repetition. Mainly the rampant colors create interesting spaces and help to orient the visitor (yellows toward the grandstand, for example). At times the desire to cover most surfaces with color gives the sense of walking through a life-sized psychology experiment, where colors never exist as they are but are always seen in relation to another color.

Even though the limitations of the architect's graphic sensibilities are evident (both in the facade and the two dimensional approach to interior spaces), the building manages to overcome these shortcomings in a pleasing composition. Combining this approach with a strong use of materials seems to be Gigon & Guyer's ticket to designing successful buildings. And although their buildings may never garner masses of awards or international acclaim for the architects, it would be difficult to denounce this structure as bad architecture, nor one that should go away.