Case Study of Architect Christopher Lee

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Theorizing Architecture

  1. Introduction

This project attempts to convey an understanding of architect’s architectural theory through a direct observation and analysis of his self and buildings. Architecture and urban forms in relation to architectural theories is discussed in the following writing. The relationship between architecture and its social, cultural and intellectual context is also analyzed and critiqued in the writing to interpret the architect’s architecture in relation to relevant theories within the contemporary.

Architect Christopher Lee is selected to discuss his architecture in relation with theories. He is the co-founder of Serie Architects, leading his design team in London, Mumbai and Beijing together with his partner Kapil Gupta, making a mark for him all over the world. He is a very experienced international practice based in London and has interesting working experience in his life of being a successful architect. His firm involved in different project all over the world. Some representative works of them include The Tote in India, BMW Olympic Pavilion in London, the Monsoon Club installation in United State and Yan ZhenQing Museum in China.

Among Chris Lee’s popular works, Aarvli Resort is selected to study and analyze its theories of architecture. Aarvli Resort is a 9000sqm Eco-resort, located within the Konkan coast, the western coastline area of India. It is a new property of India by an International group of Resort, Formento Resorts. The sensitive design on the typography is the main spot of this resort. The resort is currently underway as of last month of construction.

  1. Climate

Aarvli resort, an Eco-resort, has designed responsively to the local climate of Goa, India. Goa, the smallest state in India by area, enjoys a tropical monsoon climate under the Koppen climate classification that features a hot and humid weather for most of the year with two distinct seasons, the dry season and the monsoon season.

As to design the structure closely follow the contours of its mountain-side setting, the building has a compelling curvilinear plan. The longitudinal elevation of building is orientated to East and West to get the maximum use of natural light. Due to its curvilinear form, the elevations of building are equally exposed to maximum sunlight. However, Chris Lee has effectively uses the nature elements on site to minimize the heat gain to its building. Vegetation on site has shaded not only the elevation of building, it provides greenery view towards the rooms and public spaces of the resort, gives fusion of interior and exterior. Effective use of courtyards and skylight within the curvilinear plan also introduces indirect light into interior space, increases the light quality of spaces. The staggered positioning of undulating landscape roof plane provides shading for lower rooftops and reduce solar gain, insulates from internal heat lose.

Goa goes through the monsoon season at the middle of year, June till September. The level of critical tropical weather is reduced especially July which the city gets not more than three hours of sunshine per day. The city receives maximum rainfall throughout the year and pushes humidity up. The smooth curve form plan which part of the roof merged into the landscape equipped the roof with ‘nature gutter’, transferring the rain water flow to landscape surrounding during this season, with the help of proper drainage system as well. Plants of green roof also act as water absorption as well as humid absorption during this wet and humid season of Goa.

The typography of Maharashtra Coastal creates the phenomena of land and sea breeze. Chris Lee has deliberated this natural phenomenon into his design. Circular courtyard is designed to draw sea breeze from west elevation, open pool and landscape to ventilate the building during day time. Curve form of roof designed follows the wind movement to ensure land breeze ventilates the interior through courtyards during night time.

  1. Theories: Critical Regionalism

In Critical Analysis of “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance, the fifth point indicated culture versus nature: Topography, Context, Climate, Light and Tectonic Form. “Critical regionalism should adopt modern architecture, critically, for its universal progressive qualities but at the same time value should be placed on the geographical context of the building” (Frampton, 1981) Emphasis, Frampton (1981) says, should be on topography, climate, light; on tectonic form rather than on scenography and should be on the sense of touch rather than visual sense.

In terms of culture, the adoption of local architecture layout has demonstrated in the planning of Aarvli Resort. In India traditional house Nakarattar house has inner and outer rooms in the middle of the plan surrounded with few courtyards. Chris Lee imitates the similar pattern, numbers of private guest rooms are planned together with an open dining courtyard within a circular layout of planning. Similar to Aarvli Town Hall, it is influenced by both Finnish vernacular architecture and the humanist Italian renaissance. Aalto drew inspiration for the courtyard arrangement in his building layout surrounded with the elevated courtyard.

Building features has been study to discuss on how these building designs has incorporated the culture with its nature and environment. As Goa receives tropical weather’s which most of the months are exposed to sunlight, the adoption of local architecture which courtyards and skylights are features to introduce indirect sunlight into the enclosed interior. Enclosed private rooms are planned in between the building to avoid direct heat gain from the weather. While Säynätsalo town house located at Finland receives 4 seasons, Aalto has sufficient use of skylight to improve the interior light quality during winter.

“But underneath forms in all ages were certain conditions which determined the. In them allows all human spirit in accord with which they came to be; and where the forms were true forms, they will be found to be organic forms – an outgrowth, in other words, of conditions of life and work they arose to express” Wright (1910) wrote on a monograph of his work published in Germany. Aarvli Resort defined as organic architecture not only of its fluid form and curvilinear plan, but also on how the structure allows certain activities to take place within in and around the environment of it. In-filled roof of Aarvli Resort looks like the structure is part of the landscape. Chris Lee presents his building in wave-like kind of form as to merge context to the dramatically typography of Maharashtra. Chris Lee has sensitively taken consideration of nature context in terms of the circulation planning of the building. He plans that all public spaces include lobby, dining area, and outdoor activities are planned at ‘outer layer’ of the resort plan to ensure all spaces are surrounded by nature context, the vegetation and coastal. He wants to accent the interaction of nature with the interior, allowing circulation to take place in and around it. The Saynatsalo Town Hall by Alvar Aalto, is declared as organic architecture as well yet the building are strictly rectilinear compositions. The composition of Säynätsalo town house is performed in the way of vertical and horizontal, tracing the verticality of wooded hillside of Säynätsalo. He planned the private spaces, the flats, into the wooded hillside of Säynätsalo which does not allow effective circulation but provide good view to residences of flat. At the same time public spaces include town hall, shops, and library are placed towards land ground which provide adequate circulation. Placing of courtyard as centre of plan also provides public circulation within private district. In compare, both architects have planned the spaces respectfully with site typology.

2.3 Design Strategy: Typography

Aarvli Resort is designed using an innovative plan that makes the structure blend in respectfully with the surrounding natural environment without sacrificing the spatial qualities that allow visitors to enjoy their stay to the maximum.

Curvilinear circulation spine is used to define a series of public and private space. As discussed in topic before, Chris Lee has take consideration of nature context into its circulation planning in the way that public spaces surrounded by nature context and private spaces are placed in between to draw people to public spaces. The transparent evolution of nature and structure offer the smooth experience of interior and exterior to appreciate the natural environment. Circular courtyards are designed as shaded dining and recreation area at the same time blended with verdant hills to the east and south, bringing nature into the spaces.Sea-facing swimming pools and water features allocated towards Arabian Sea allows panoramic views, creates the feeling of infinity pool. Green smooth-curvy roof is designed to synthesize the structure into contour of site, also providing better insulation and reduce heat gain.

Due to the geographical condition of Maharashtra Coastal, wind movements are different during day and night, the land and sea breeze. Design strategies have been carefully considered to fully utilize the breeze for both day and night time to ventilate the building. To get the maximum use of sea breeze during day time, open landscape and pools at the front of the resort, facing towards Arabian Sea allows cool air to flow through the building. No structures are built at the front elevation to avoid any blockage of air flow. Circular open dining courtyard at the back of the building allows venturi effect to ventilate the building effectively from front to back. On the other hand, land breeze from hills draws into building throught the smooth curvy form of rooftop landscape into the courtyards and to improve ventilation of interior spaces during night time. The master use of nature ventilation has fulfilled its requirement as an Eco-resort.

  1. Discussion

As Chris Lee travels a lot and educated in different cultural background since young, he learnt that it is important that architecture be simultaneously relevant to its urban context, cultural and geographical condition into his design. Together with the define of organic architecture of Wright, Chris Lee has demonstrated the fifth point of critical regionalism, culture versus nature, follow cultural context and appreciate the natural environment together adopting modern architecture in most of his work design. In an argument of Chris Lee publication “ Typological Urbanism”, he argue that “as cities owe their main characteristic to geographical and topographical conditions, and are always linked to other cities by trade and resources, they tend to specialize and form a distinct character.” The use of an innovative plan in Aarvli Resort allows the creation of a building that is highly respectful of its sensitive natural context but that also enjoys distinct spatial qualities that will make it a premium destination in the region (Furuto, 2012). Including the project of Aarvli Resort that he adapted local culture, he has lead his design team, Serie Architect, in country of UK, India and China, designing not only buildings and also urban planning referring on the cities characteristic and context. He always make that his building are able to reflect the vernacular architecture in a contemporary way. A city is an accretion of the achievements and struggles of its citizens in built form. This must be made visible in an architecture that acts as an inclusive framework” described Chris Lee (2011) in his article “My kind of City”. He highly appreciates the distinctive of the city and translates the language into his structure, telling the story of not only the client, also the nature and city, giving a perfect combination of these factors and languages in his work.

As conclusion, Chris Lee theory of design is to translate the vernacular language into his design and translate it into a modern and contemporary way of design at the same time appreciate the typography as factor of his design. His design can be conclude that he has demonstrated the theory of culture versus nature direct and indirectly with his own definition of contemporary way of design.

4.0 Reference

Furuto, Alison. "Aarvli Resort / Serie Architects" 02 Nov 2012.ArchDaily. Accessed 18 Jun 2014.

Designboom (1999-2012). Retrieved from

Serie Architect.(2012) “Aarvli Estates” Retrieved from http:

Lee, C. (June 2011) “My kind of city”. Retrieved from

Davies, Colin (2011). Thinking about Architecture An Introduction to Architectural Theory. Laurence King Publishing, London.

Jacoby, S., & Lee, C. M. (2011). Typological urbanism : projective cities / guest-edited by Christopher CM Lee and Sam Jacoby. Chichester : Wiley, 2011.

Kate, N. 1997. Theorizing a New Agenda for Architecture: An Anthology of Architectural Theory 1965-1995. Princeton Architectural Press. New York.

Frampton, K. “Towards a critical regionalism: Six Points for An Architectural of Resistance”. Retrieved from