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At the end of a decade that had seen much excess, what admired was the Ricola's deliberate formal restraint that culminated in the canonical - a category that recent architecture, in the conviction that it was unreachable, seemed to have discarded. Despite reduced dimensions, the Ricola warehouse is a manifesto. Architecture need neither depend on externalities (function or program) nor find personal expression, it should be the formal result of its own logic. Hence, in Ricola, the space that the walls enclose - the simplest of rectangles - is neutral. There is not a single formal gesture of the kind that tends to constitute personal expression in architecture. The intelligent handling of a material, laminated woof, included applying formal aspects of traditional architecture to the light wall - aspects having to do with number, proportion and rhythm. At the same time, the solution of the specific - the cornice - gave rise to allusions of history, a certain favour overwhelms us, at once archaic and modern, at the sight of this small but nevertheless intense work of contemporary architecture.
The work of Herzog and De Meuron seems to be inspired and guided by a search for origins. The whole mode of going about architecture had worn itself out and we had come to the end of history was manifest in the senseless repetition of styles. On one hand, the return to origins leads to the simplification of form, to extremes that leave no room for discussing expression. On the other hand it leads to questionas about the nature and potential of materials.
Herzog and De Meuron have seemed to resist the temptation of the iconographic: image does not exist. The essence of architecture lies in making the materials talk, and for this it needs only the most elemental volumes. The rejection of iconography also carried with it the rejection of any architecture that could be interpreted as a mere venting of the individual. Hence we find no personal gestures in their work, their work stemming from an apparent renunciation of individuality, or from relinquishing the opportunity to manifest their individuality in their work. In times of democratic massification, architecture ceases to be a property of the individual or personal, to become instead a mere object of reflection and a harmless, inert frame for action.
The Ricola warehouse space is the direct consequence of its construction, wall and roof generated by a simple rectangle, are the primary and primordial architectural elements. The sophisticated wall is born of the architects explicit desire to solve all problems in one stroke. Architecture hence, as a synthetic expression of the problems posed by construction and use.
Materials are what make forms emerge. In Ricola, the flat nature of the wooden panels is what untimely brings about the tecture of the wall, and it is here that construction manifests itself as an architectural form.
Their sensibility for materials gives rise to the Stone House in Tavole. The role played by different materials - concrete, blocks, stone - is crucial in defining the position of the windows the connection of the ceilings to the walls, and so on. The materials help define the structure, which is exposed to view.
They admire the infrastructural works in which gabions (large blocks composed of loose rubble encased in steel cages) are used to build walls. But it's a suprising experience to see the gabions from inside the building, with the sun's rays filtering through the gaps. The architects have transformed the conventional gabions into a new inimitable materials. The Dominus experience becomes a unique sensation that can in theory be transported to another place, but the invention of the new material addressed a specific architecture.
They have often been presented as exemplifying minimalist architecture. Minimalism emphasised the value of the simplest forms and aspired to bring out the energy of anything that was matter, eliminating allusions to representation and personal expression. Minimalists proposed a reflexive understanding of artworks, leaving up to the spectator all possible judgements and establishing certain aesthetic criteria, similar to their architecture.
As stated in his book 'Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture', Venturi preferred a more intricate and detailed style of architecture, elements that were complex and distorted, interesting, and ambiguous. A valid architecture evokes many levels of meaning and combinations of focus: its space and its elements become readable and workable in several ways at once.
Venturi felt limited by a simplistic modernity that aspired to what he considered an affected serenity, and that ignored the complexity inherent in the architectures he was drawn to. It was complexity, ambiguity, and tension that he found attractive, and that he wanted to be able to analyse and explain. Venturi related to architecture that didn't expose its workings, that wasn't obvious, that required one to feel captivated by it as a step prior to intellectualising, that went beyond a penchant for primary and transparent forms.
WESTON.R, Materials, Form and Architecture, London, Laurence King Publishing, (2003)
Although particularly associated with the 'Swiss School', emerged late 1980s, promoting a heightened awareness of materials has been a key feature of otherwise disparate trends in recent architecture. Partly seen as a reaction against the semantic/cerebral extremes of Post Modernism and Deconstructivism, both exemplified the tendency to reduce architecture to visual imagery. Equally, emphasising the richness and specificity of the direct, sensual experience of architecture offers a potent way of countering all pervasive anonymity of the non places - supermarkets, hotels, airports, malls - which dominate so much of the public space.
Encouraged to ground their work in an engagement with the city, Rossi's students became fascinated with the 'impressions of the incidental and seemingly unintentional' gleaned from the no man's land between cities, with their 'sometimes prismatic', often complexly formed buildings made of cheap materials. Choosing a cheap or unexpected material for a building or artistic pretension may be an obvious way of drawing attention to it, but regardless of the choice, expressing a material's identity also involves as Herzog and de Meuron put it in an interview in 1993, 'pushing it to an extreme to show it dismantled from any other function than 'being'. In an early house in Bottingen near Basel, they used plywood for every surface to create an almost seamless volume into an empty resounding form. Visually house was unusual, but its distinctive sound made its impact even more singular.
To clad the iconic storage building for Ricola, completed in 1987 in Laufen, Switzerland, they chose that familiar material of industrial estates, fibre cement siding, and made it seem extraordinary by exquisite handling. Diminishing in size from top to bottom, the reverse expectations grounded in traditional materials, and crowned by a cantilevered ' cornice' the panels were intended to recall the stacked timbers in the areas numerous saw mills and to echo the strata of the rock faces of the quarry within which the building sits. The repetition with slight variation is mesmerising.
As they pursued the expression of materials, the Swiss architects developed a range of design strategies. Forms were simplified, leading to their works quickly being dubbed the 'Swiss box' and to make the buildings even more object like, elements such as windows and doors were suppressed. Buildings were so frequently wrapped with a single material: as functional requirements dictated, this could be opaque or permeable - wooden or metal slats and perforated or woven metal sheets have been applied to buildings as diverse as houses, hotels and offices.
STEELE. J, Architecture Today, London, Phaidon Press Ltd, (1997)
The building which was to be widely hailed as the first built manifestation of the ideas explored in Complexity and Contradiction was Robert Venturi's Vanna Venturi House in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 1963. The Vanna Venturi House, a three dimensional childs drawing of a house is now regarded as an icon of Post Modernism, and sets out its primary characteristics. Form is used as a symbolic rather than functional expression of elemental shelter. Layering, intentional disjuncture, and deliberate ambiguity in plan, elevation and scale generate a level of playfulness and humour in the project which was to become part of Venturi's signature in his later buildings. The formal street facade looks larger than it actually is through the controlled balance of scaleless elements, giving a 'fun house' aspect that was anathema to ultra serious modernists. In contrast to the purism and proselytizing zeal of Modernism, Venturi argued that architecture should reflect and express the whole range of emotions found in real life.
When Venturi and Denise Scott Brown won the competition to design the Sainsbury extension to the National Gallery in London in 1986 there was public outcry, as much because the scheme was perceived as poking fun at the European architectural tradition as because of the circumstances of the contest. The skin of the building is animated by a series of classical pilasters, in various orders, moving across the limestone surface like so many superimposed, moving neon images on a billboard in Times Square. The columns eventually crowd together and appear to slide behind, or crash into eachother at the main entrance, a modernist nod to an emphasis on the location of the front door. From the entrance, a monumental main stair clearly indicates a line of progression into the building, where a curtain wall reminiscent of the early heroic phase of Modernism removes all doubt about the architect's intention to say that this is a modern building, in spite of its columnar mask. They turned it into a post-moderm, polemic, showing that it is difficult but entirely possible to make distinctions between free style Classicism and its more stylistic cousin. The original aspect of commentary soon degenerated into a hermeneutic dialogue that was devoid of any intention of popular communication, of finding historically and culturally meaningful semiotic system in architecture that could psychologically engage and emotionally engage the public in the same way that Classicism combined aesthetic pleasure with cultural mythology.
VAN VYNCKT. R J, ed, International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture, Detroit, St. James Press, (1993)
Of all his work, his most memorable achievement may be a little known nonbuilding in Philadeplhia. When approached by the United States Park Service to restore Benjamin Franklin's long demolished house on Market Street, Venturi found that the only reliable documents of the building that still existed were letters he had sent to his wife while he was ambassador to France. In those letters he had vividly described the house he has in mind, down to the location of windows and doors, and overall dimension. Focusing on the wish expressed by the letters, the architect made a characteristically novel counterproposal to the client, recommending that the outline described by Franklin be ghosted out in brightly coloured steel frame, and that quotes from his letters be commemorated in plaques placed around its base. Instead of presenting a speculative restoration in an all too familiar style, the structure allows the public to complete mentally the scene that once existed there, with each image varying according to the background, perception and imagination of the individual viewer. The result is a far more memorable architectural experience than any other rebuilding could have provided, and tangible proof of Venturi's originality and trust in the general public.
CURTIS, W J. R, Modern Architecture since 1900, Third Edition, London, Phaidon Press Ltd, (1996)
The swiss architects tried to discover a poetic link between a buildings form, structure and idea which might reinforce a sense of site without making gratuitous references to context.
Ricola storage. The facade is defined by the repeating horizontal lines of splayed panels which diminished in size towards the bottom of the building and expanded towards the top in three sets of dimensions. These subtle variations and ratios ( which had the character of a simplified rustication) introduced a strong visual tension and affed to the haunting ambiguity of an overall form apparently assembled from humble everyday materials and standardised elements.
In 1989 Herzog wrote: It was at one time possible for traditional architecture to bring together various different facets of the construction, the images, the materials and so on, but as this now no longer exists it is necessary to fill the emptiness left between these different aspects with another kind of energy; the energy of thought, of the reflections of the architect and equally perceptual energy of the observer.
BORDEN, D, Architecture - The History of Western Architecture, London, Herbert Press, (2008)
Forum Building. An eccentric and perplexing structure, accentuates its mass through the use of bulging forms and cantilevered corners. Special attention is paid to the soffit or underside which is clad with stippled and smooth plates of stainless steel that refract light and give the building texture, These used alongside mirrors and an overall iconic ink blue facade create a powerful and unique effect.
Allianz Arena. A colossal lozenge shaped structure, a spectacle of colour and form. The white exterior hides the colourful and dramatic atmosphere of the interior. The exterior is composed of inflatable ETFE foil air panles that can be lit different colours.