Rooftecture S (2005), situated on a cliff face overlooking the Setonaikai sea next to the Sanyo railway line in Kobe, Japan, shows how the siting of a plot does not have to restrict the potential construction of a dwelling.
The design of Rooftecture S was intuitively thought out by the architect Shuhei Endo (born 1960), most renowned for his works with the strong and dynamic material, corrugated steel. Some of his main works using this versatile material include Cyclestation M, Translation O and Springtecture B where he manages to change the visual integrity of the material by making what is known to be a very rigid and strong material appear to be very malleable as he curves it into organic, interesting forms.
It is this material in particular that when viewing the property from the exterior you instantly notice as the South East facing wall is covered in a seemingly triangular sheet of it. It is these angles among many others that make the building busy and inviting to the eye, reminiscent of the late 20th century movement, Deconstructivism.
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In order for the small dwelling to fully benefit from the fact it is South East facing a large amount of glass has been used to help the sunlight flood the building throughout the day, heating the house passively and also allowing the user of the house to have extraordinary views out to sea.
The two levels to this house are an essential component in the success of the building as they make use of the tiny 50.3m² plot. Because of the location of Rooftecture S, Endo has been forced to create a frame house with the rooms sectioned next to each other in a long, thin formation. This makes the circulation of the interior very linear as people move through the articulated space from zone to zone. This is most noticeable on the first floor where from the dining and kitchen room you must pass through a small corridor which has a toilet and the entrance just off of it, and then the living room before you can reach the bedroom. There is almost no noticeable transition from the public spaces to the private spaces as it has been designed as a mainly served space with a limited amount of interior walls that help to create a light airy feel.
With only 67.5m² of floor space this house would be best used as a single dwelling or one for a young couple. The contemporary and light colours in the interior allow light to be reflected throughout the building as well as creating a modern feel to the space.
Endo's relationship with such industrial materials as glass and steel, shows a connection back to the early 20th century when Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), a Ukrainian sculptor and painter, introduced constructivism to the world with his radical new tower block. The idea was part of a project for a monument to the third International.
Constructivism, like the majority of Endo's works, focuses on abstract geometric shapes, machine-made building parts and a sense of movement. Running parallel to constructivism at this time was neo-expressionism. Known mostly for its distorted shapes, organic forms, fragmented lines and lack of symmetry, architects such as Hans Scharoun and later Eero Saarinen were leaders in the field with buildings such as the Schminke House (1933) and the TWA Flight Center (1962) respectively.
The Schminke House in particular really emphasizes the use of abstract geometric shapes and a lack of symmetry as Scharoun tries to avoid the use of primitive spaces, small separate rooms such as having a separate dining room, living room and kitchen. Instead Scharoun preferred to open the space up to a freer plan, developing Le Corbusier's Dom-Ino idea. A method by which the use of columns to support the building instead of structural walls allows the floor plan to be depicted how you want rather than it being a fixed plan due to the walls.
The development of central heating allowed this idea to become more of a success as there didn't have to be one main source of heat which everyone would crowd around in order to get warm. Instead, the heating system would heat the house evenly, meaning there could be no communal area if desired. It is the Dom-Ino idea that you can also see in Rooftecture S where the wedge shape form of the house is supported by 5 columns, allowing the 1st floor to be clear of structural walls that would normally determine the spaces. On such a small property such as Rooftecture S it is essential to make the most of any space given, making this an important part of the design.
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The abstract geometric shapes used to create Rooftecture S define its form and with it fitting snugly up against the cliff, it looks almost as if the house has 'crashed' into the cliff like a shipwreck from the nearby sea. Similarly with the Schminke house, Scharoun has tried to link forms of a ship into his design. Set onto a slight hill, Scharoun was able to use this to trick the user into thinking that they had just walked onto a modern pleasure boat. He achieved this by designing the entrance to be from the top of the hill so that once you walk into the house, rather than being flush with the floor you actually find yourself on the floor above the garden. This creates views similar to those from a large boat where the ground is below you after walking on. What helps these views to be so impressive are the large sections of glass that Scharoun has used to open the landscape up to the client and make full benefit of it surroundings. Scharoun's new use of materials such as glass and steel is also shown in Rooftecture S where, because it is such a small property, Endo has created a large stretch of windows within the corrugated steel to frame the views out to sea.
Unusually for a building where the architect has had a free choice on where to orient the building, the building actually faces to the north. The reason for this is that, commissioned by a local industrialist, the house is situated on the lands of his factory and the site Scharoun was given meant that the ugly factory was to the south of where the house was going to be built. This created an interesting problem for Scharoun as, unlike Rooftecture S where large amounts of light can enter through the large south-east facing windows, he had to design it so that light could still enter the building effectively without revealing a large view onto the factory. Scharoun combated this by designing the living spaces to face the views to the north, detracting the eye from the views to the south where he had built a conservatory to allow light in. The light colours used for the interior also helped to reflect the light around the space and illuminate the rooms. To try and benefit from the evening sun from the west, Scharoun designed large decks out to the north to take in the sun.
In a sense the Schminke house acted as a barrier or divide for the site that it was situated on, with it separating the factory from the garden. This, along with the living spaces facing north allowed the client to have the mental transfer from work to home even though they were situated very close to each other. In contrast to this divide Rooftecture S 'attaches' itself to the cliff and because of the organic design the shapes continue with the cliff slant and allow it to blend in with its surroundings. A house which manages to utilise both of these effects is the Harry and Penelope Seidler house which is situated on the edges of a small woodland area in Killara, Australia. This house, built in 1967 is also situated on a declining slope and with its angled roof, neutral colours and the fact that it never exceeds the tree heights, enables it to blend well into the landscape. However, with the heavy concrete geometric forms that are used to make the building it contrasts largely with the bushy and forever moving trees that surround it.
The design of this house is very reminiscent of many of Seidler's previous works, showing the influence of American and European modernism. Most noticeably the seemingly floating roof and overhanging balconies that appear to defy gravity. A house that Seidler may have been influenced by was the Robie House (1910) by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) which contains many dynamic overhangs and sweeping horizontal lines which help to provide a vibrant feel to the house and a sense of movement as your eye is taken around the building. This was very reminiscent of Wrights' works and with Falling Water (1936), Wright combined the modernist approach with a very organic idea as he managed to fit the house onto a small hill and over a waterfall, camouflaging it with the landscape.
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Similarly to both Rooftecture S and the Schminke house you enter from the top of the hill and as quoted by Norman Edwards in The Sydney Morning Herald on 20th August 1968, "Somehow you get the impression you are standing on the deck of a liner except that there is bush on all sides". The plan of the building has been laid out to emphasize this fact.
"The main aesthetic aim of the house is not to have horizontal freedom of space, but by fusing and opening the various levels into each other, and by 'pulling them apart' and thereby creating a two-and-a-half-storey high open shaft between, to add a vertical interplay of space."
This quote by Harry Seidler sums up how he wanted the space to be read and in doing this it creates a sense of involvement with all people on every level, making the space very communal. In the same way, the Schminke house is trying to accommodate adventure and change through space rather than enclose areas by using non-geometric forms. Consequently the house has six directions. A free plan space is also used within Rooftecture S, however, because of the considerably smaller scale of the house Endo has tried to create small divides within the free plan to separate the public spaces from the private spaces.
Rather than creating a space within a house to act as a centre, Scharoun, Endo and Seidler have all designed elements in their houses that make the mobile person the centre. In the Seidler house the garage is situated above the house, higher up the hill and to get down to the house you must go down the path before crossing a bridge. To get to the garden you must pass through the house and descend through the levels. This linear movement is very similar to Rooftecture S where Endo has designed it so that in order to get to the kitchen from the road outside you must walk down the pathway which runs parallel to the house before walking back in the direction you came from, taking in every room of the upper floor. The objects within the Schminke house have been positioned so that a person is guided from room to room. Having entered the house from the main entrance you are instantly guided into the living space by the small curve in the bottom three steps of the staircase. These subtleties add the dynamic elements to each of these houses and 'create' the moving person.
These houses really reflect certain movements that were present at the time of design and construction as well as noticeable influences from previous buildings by different designers. They also each contain factors that are reminiscent of the architects own style which helps to personalise the houses. However there is one underlying connection between all of the houses: Organic architecture. All of the houses contain sections of organic architecture and show how the meaning of the word has developed throughout the century, with the early 20th century houses being designed to blend in with its environment and becoming part of the landscape that surrounds it. "Form and function are one" - Frank Lloyd Wright. Moving on to mid 20th century where the focus was more on the building incorporating curves and non geometric shapes whereas towards the late 20th century and early 21st century the idea of organic architecture is inclusive of most of the other principles but with the focus mainly being on natural forms.
This movement has influenced some of the most significant architects ever, consequently producing some of the most impressive buildings to date. Because of its broad interpretation, Organic architecture is evident in almost every building that has been built within the last century. It is a movement that has not only influenced people at the time of its origin but also for years after. It has withheld the barrier of time and continues to influence people today. A true movement.
- Curl, James Stevens. 2006. Oxford dictionary of architecture and landscape architecture
- Curtis, William J.R. 2009. Modern architecture since 1900
- Unwin, Simon. 2009. Analysing architecture
- Watkin, David. 2005. A history of western architecture
- www.greatbuildings.com :
- http://architecture.about.com/od/20thcenturytrends/ig/Modern-Architecture/ Jackie Craven. Picture Dictionary of modern architecture.