I have always enjoyed writing, and have for years been writing articles and entries for, among others the magazine NATUR. As part of my Master’s programme at Aarhus School of Architecture, I’m required to reflect in writing about my process while working, and moreover to have a blog about it. The idea of writing to […]
Yesterday I had my mid-critique and I really feel that I am now on the final straight. The direction has been laid and the devil is now in the details. I was very surprised especially by the conclusion made by the teachers that I should focus on my one final drawing and make that the thing that explains the project. No model, no nothing. However since it is very much a landscape project I think that there is a point to explaining it in this way. The spatial qualities however, are hard to catch in such a drawing, so I feel that for the two main spaces I need to either make precise perspective drawings or models to get more into detail. That said this project is really more about the larger scale. About framing the ruin itself in the simplest possible way and in the right places.
I had a discussion with Anders about how my main problem since the time I figured out that the project is about excavation has been – where and how to dig and how to move between the excavations. I have been through excavating the entire tower and using it as more or less a column in an atrium space, a completely abstract placing of frames facing north-south and placed seemingly at random to underline the abstract concept of excavating. The first real breakthrough came with going back to the site and then starting to work in a large plan drawing. It became clear that the excavations had to be based not on some arbitrary abstract system, but rather on real situations on the site that I wanted to exhibit. Some small, some large details that one would never normally get to see. Framing views, seeing foundations, etc. When I first started drawing the large plan, I took offset in the plans of Enric Miralles, specifically his cemetary in Igualada. It was an old gravel pit, where the landscape and the movement through the artificial valley became central and all the spaces and the graves placed into the hillside become part of one big landscape gesture. I started drawing with the tower as the central anchor point. I was sure from the beginning that the tower should remain the natural main attraction of the site. Thusly it made sense to let all lines diverge from here. It became a very angular and dynamic plan, with the excavations pointing to and from the next stop on the journey, but the problem was that it became too complicated. It was no longer about the content of the frames, but rather about the frames themselves. This is when I realized that the focus should, like in a picture frame, be on the story told inside. the frames should remain abstract and simple geometric shapes, leading the visitors attention to their content. Frames put down in the landscape to enhance already existing or reveal new qualities. The movement between the frames would the be the shortest possible route to the next point of interest, yet low walls would still point out the route. Never from the corner of a frame, but one of its sides. Thusly keeping the shape intact. Not dictating movement, but guiding. My fourth visit to the site further clarified things. I walked the route I had at that point planned, and noticed how unnatural it felt, that it doubled back on itself – making people almost go back the direction they came. Walking outside the wall from the corner tower to the eastern opening I had already decided upon and using it as an entrance however gave a new perspective. The height of the remaining wall is such, that for most part it is impossible to look into the castle, and you are therefore compelled to look out, towards the landscape. As you move forward and up the hill however, the wall becomes lower, and you get a great overview of the castle. Walking in through the hole presented a dilemma, because the point here was, to dig down far enough that the hole was at eye-level. This led to the idea that it should be a steep stair – almost a ladder. That way you will get the view while walking down the stairs and kids can get the view as well by crawling up.
After this weeks mid-crit there were some questions as to the nature of the paths going along the walls. Whether they shouldn’t be kept free of the walls. Showing that they are indeed part of a system of their own. A story about looking at the ruin. Furthermore there were some questions as to the nature of the viewing platform and the building. Going down the stairs to go up again was a point I could see myself. There are two options. Either stop the building at the point on the hill where you exit now or exit at the bottom down by the water and walk up the hill outside on a path / stairway. There was also a question as to whether it needed to be a building or it could simply be a landscape staircase, but I really feel that this heated room for viewing the landscape would be a very special and useful one. Perhaps it could be used for lectures like an auditorium / classroom as well? The setup is already right and then school classes and groups with a guide could make a stop there in any weather.
When I start to collect all these blog posts and write my final CWR I also need to go back to my reflections about the idea of excavating in the first place. At first it came the idea of wanting to enter the tower at the base, but it as it were – I became interested in the space that could be created around the base of the tower. I went through a process of wanting to enter via tunnels, etc. all still with the purpose of entering the tower, but it was only when I decided that it was the excavation itself that was the point of departure for my project that it began to take shape. So I started out with a very radical approach to working with the ruin. Cutting into it and walking inside the walls to maintain the integrity of the space – but ruining the structure in the process. I then went on to sketch a project where the outer walls of the neighboring building would be used as the foundations for a new wall. Much in the same way as at Kolumba museum. I mixture of different approaches because I wasn’t sure how to attack the idea of making a visitor centre. When I arrived at the idea of excavation it also became clear from the pin-up’s that for the idea to work it had to be about displaying the ruin and treating it as gently as possible. That means either not touching or making an art out of touching as little as possible. This relates very much to Exner’s philosophy at Koldinghus.
After having drawn the very angular plan of last week, with the angles signifying the direction of the next ‘frame’ of excavation, as well as letting lines converge at the tower, to create a sort of perspective coherence with the tower as the vanshing point – all taking inspiration from the plans of Enric Miralles, I discussed said form with Anders and the conclusion was that it in some way becomes too much of an architecture in itself to fulfill its purpose – displaying the ruin. In order to do so, frames aligned with the geometry of the ruin itself would serve this purpose the best – this way the content becomes important rather than the frame – rather like when exhibiting something in a frame on a wall. The connections between said frames would then be simply the shortest possible route between them, never connecting at the corner of the frames – which would ruin the strict geometry and the idea of the ‘frame’ in the landscape.
There was also the talk of paving materials. Where I have so far thought of the paths being made in crushed brick and the ‘frames’ being filled with whole bricks, like a ‘materialization’ of the frames, Anders pointed out that crushed brick or gravel much better fills out the gaps that the ruins walls would have, while the full bricks could be used for the paths and the walls surrounding the frames. Here comes the question again of which bricks. Contrast and complement are the keywords here. Rather than emulating the medieval bricks I think that a pattern such as the one we used at Randers tegl really gives counterplay to the ruin, but perhaps stands too much out in itself. In this case I want to brick to step to the background, letting the bricks of the ruin stand out. Really a clean concrete surface would be the most obvious way to do it, but I feel that the right bond with the right brick would lend something else to the place. It may still be the ultima bricks, as I felt that they have worked very well with the original bricks. Another option I have considered is the cut up bricks of herzog & demeuron at Vitra in Basel. The bond completely dissapears and they have a wonderful tactility, but I once again feel that they would draw too much attention to themselves. Subtlety is the word.
A third material may be needed for the stairs and walkways around the site. This leads to another point. After returning to the site once again, during a veritable storm, I walked through my route as I had thought it out, and it appeared to me that it may be too cramped and not very natural. Almost walking back the way you came in several instances, the idea of following the flow of the landscape and the zig-zag movement should still be there, the idea of the tower as the centre definitely so, but another way of achieving it should be by movement of the body rather than a geometrical shape.
I had the idea that perhaps the space between the tower and the adjacent building should be symmetrical with four stairs coming down, and perhaps even a glass sheet in the centre. Due to the tower being wider than the long house next to it, the stair towards the bridge would then be larger than the others. This would maintain the outside geometrical symmetry, but also show the significance of this being the first entrance that meets the visitor to the site – “this way in”.
You would then enter the oblong space from the side, looking at the castle turning left to see the long axis of the room, with a light well at each end bringing light down upon a poster, you can read the one closest to you, but not the one at the other end. This will entice you to want to get to the other end to see it, but know that you will see it later on your journey. From walking out there I got the idea of going outside the castle wall at the corner tower, continuing up to the only window in the long eastern wall which I previously also had as a destination, but now using it both as a view hole and as a the entrance back into the castle. While walking outside the wall your view of the castle is completely blocked in the beginning, leading you to look out at the landscape, while contuing up the slope however the view opens again and this time you see much more than you do inside, because you’re at a higher vantage point and you’re looking from the outside in. Upon entering through the old window in the wall you stand in another smaller excavation site, that clearly shows the foundation of the previous castle of Erik Menved as well as the hole in the wall you just entered through. This staircase is very important. It mustn’t obscure the view and it must not be too massive. I am even considering a using ladders with a slight incline. This way you would be facing the view while walking down and seeing the old foundation as you reach the bottom. Next, turning around, an old door opening takes you out into the central courtyard space, where a path leads back towards the tower, whereupon walking down the stairs you once again stand in the excavated tower – but this time at the other end. After sitting on a bench looking at the light flowing down the tower, you exit again going up the last set of stairs, which ends right in front of a staircase to the left into one of the most interesting and intact spaces of the ruin – an old cellar. This is not excavated, but pointed out to you as interesting merely by the end of the staircase next to it. Having looked at this pace you continue on a path back out into the courtyard, finally arriving at a new excavation at the end of the western wing of the castle – the old kitchens. Here a staircase takes you down the hill to the outside wall, you turn left and you are in an excavated space into the hill. The incline of this hill is really signified by the excavation straight into it – the features of the old kitchen are also made much clearer by the clean surface that now surrounds this part. A path leads you on along the outside wall of the castle, the lowest point. At the end of the wall the path leads you over the castle wall. This takes you to the end of the castle exhibition and to the second act of the story.
The viewing platform and building on the hillside got very positive response. This we agreed was a very similar thing to what was done when excavating in the site. Putting something foreign down in the landscape to show something. This Anders pointed out would be made even stronger by seperating it from the plane of the castle – and letting visitors walk there on a bridge. Another point to be made was that it should not be seen immediately when arriving via the bridge – it should be saved for last. I also felt that this idea of arriving from the landscape to explore the castle which has one main closed building at the tower where paths converge and then ending up in a totally different building which is focused on the landscape. Standing as a completely foreign object in brick cutting the hill in half and thusly making the slope of the hill more visible. When looking at a hill it can be hard to discern how tall it is, just as it can be hard to see how large something is on a photograph or a drawing unless there is some point of reference like a person in the photo. This building could have the same function for the hill, while at the same time being a place of calm where you can sit and observe the landscape. I think it would be fantastic if you could go inside and all you could see was the sea, sitting on seats following the topography of the landscape and with a fireplace. A good example of this which I will come back to is Snøhettas Reindeer pavillion. Another excellent is Bruder Klaus Feldkappelle which we just visited on the way back from our study trip at La Tourette.
I have an idea for such a space, which came from the sketches on the bottom left on the drawing that is above this post, but I have yet to draw this newest iteration through, which includes a fireplace/double wall which will seperate the stair from the roof from the inside space and also hold the firewood for the fireplace. Fireplaces are often the alter of a house and the centre, but here the view will be the centre, but the fireplace will have a very prominent position and size on the side. Below are two examples that show the difference. At the top is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous fireplaces at Wingspread. Here the fireplace is at the centre of all circulation and the house is arranged around it. Below is the more recent reindeer pavillion in the norwegian wilderness by Snøhetta. Here the fireplace still holds an important position and is very sculptural, but it is set aside from the centre and is a feature in the room rather than the thing that defines the space. In my house I attend for the fireplace to land somewhere between these, with the circulation going around the fireplace like in Wingspread, but with the panoramic view as the main feature of the space.
Tverrfjellhytta, Norwegian Wild Reindeer Pavilion, Snøhetta, 2011
I am considering whether it would be a good idea to perhaps be even more radical and frame only the water?. Angle the window down towards the water, letting the whole space slant towards the water. As you walk down and take a seat you will be able to see some more of the landscape, but not before. This would frame a totally different experience than the one seen from the roof, but the experience of the view from inside will always be different in an indoor, warm space with the frame of the window dictating the direction of you gaze, than when outside in the elements, seeing everything at once.
This is how I imagine coming to the building.
Upon crossing over the castle wall and looking to the right the ground seems to continue out over the edge of the hill. A massive brick structure with the roof covered in the same crushed brick gravel as the excavation sites. A wall with a bench rizes up on the left side of the plateau. Even on this windy day with the rain silently falling, the wall feels warm. On a hot, sunny day this would seem to make sense, as it faces faces south-west but today something else must be afoot. After sitting on the warm bench taking in the view towards Rønde for a moment you decide to continue. At the edge of the plateau you look straight down 12 meters directly into the sea. Turning around the thick wall you follow a staircase down into the building. While walking down you catch a final glimpse of the ruin, before it dissappears and all you can see is brick. At the bottom of the staircase, you turn left on the landing and open the heavy metal door which is set back into the thick wall. You enter a room that appears to be much like a theatre with a steep incline – like one of the old west-end theatres of London, though here the angle corresponds to the hillside rather than to the cheap ticket you just bought. The view over the sea opens in front of you. Closest to you along the wall the stair contiunes down, with every second step contiuing across the room creating benches. While walking down you notice the fireplace at the front left of the room and see that the thick wall you just passed through was actually hollow and the reason it was hot was that it contained the chimney for the fireplace. It also contains shelving and firewood for the fireplace – light coming down from above. After enjoying the view for a few minutes you get back up from the bench and continue to the bottom of the stair where after passing the fireplace you turn left again, around the wall and walk a few meters before coming to another heavy door on your right – you open it, and in front of you lies a narrow path cut into the hill, following the landscape back under the bridge to the ruin. The wind feels much stronger and the rain seems colder, the air fresher. From here you can see that the coast line much resembles that of western jutland, with steep cliffs coming down and rocks at the bottom to secure the coast.
This is it for now. My concerns now are mainly getting ready for the mid-crit and showing off these ideas. I have been drawing in plan and in a very graphic manner. At the end I want to have a section model all the way across the site in 1:100 showing the two buildings and the path on the outside of the wall. But for wednesday I am considering drawing an isometric drawing on top of the tracing paper drawing I have now. To start getting spatial again, to show depths of excavations, to show materials. This will be a totally different thing to the ‘Miralles’ plan I was planning on, but perhaps that has served its purpose – getting my thoughts and ideas to where they are now. Its still very much a liquid process where many things will change. But things are solidifying rapidly.
On saturday I went back to the site with Jens Thiis, and seeing it again, arriving from a different direction and up the hill side really gave me a new perspective on how movement around the grounds should be facilitated. Just walking along the lines of the sketch I made the day after the pin-up showed me that there was something about it, but that it was arbitrary.
I needed to find some details in the castle – little things you would never normally notice – and then let those be my areas of interest. Walking around the grounds people would themselves immediatly see the bigger things – those that don’t need pinpointing, and they could easily diverge from the path, to then return back to it.
I was encouraged to look at the plans of Miralles and the like. To see how they graphically represent movement, how the sections are made on lines that come directly from the plan, set askew at an angle responding to its place within the movement on the site.
I started working on tracing paper on top of a 1:200 plan of the site. I would have wanted a 1:100, but the size of it simply made it unfeasable. The castle grounds would only just fit inside an A0 – and I really wanted to work with the movement through the nearby landscape as well.
Gradually it occured to me that the tower could work as a hinge. The two gates were originally intended to make entry harder, and in a diagonal line. This line of movement still exists and could be continued. So using the corners of the tower closest to the interventions I used these radial lines to connect the different parts of the site. From arriving at the grounds in this new way I really want to incorporate walking under the bridge and up the hill into my project. The framed view under the bridge, the obscured views of the castle and the sea you get while walking up, looking past the trees, and then finally the look along all the walls to the tower. This grand perspective in each direction – the view over the sea and the landscape of the bay and the view towards the tower – this would be my viewing platform!
Then came the connection down to the level below the bridge. here I felt that any intervention would need to be in the language of the hinge. Starting the sense of moving in diagonals already here. This has so far resulted in a 30 m walkway up the hillside to the viewing platform – extending 18 m from the side of the hill. On the one hand its a very drastic thing to do – on the other I feel that it will greatly enhance the qualities I already mentioned. It’s an important part of the program and maybe it should be treated as such? I expect to be challenged on it, but it works well in plan.
How to end the loop was another great problem for me. I wanted the walkway to take you around the ruins in a way that is natural and which you could leave and rejoin and you please. For this to really work, I wanted to play on the two different entrances to the site. Either via the bridge as usual, or under the bridge and up the hillside. These two entrances should take you in the two different directions around the site. So you arrive on one and leave on the other. Getting the full experience of the route. This caused me a lot of irritation, because the two will pass right next to each other, and I don’t intend to put up signs saying “go this way”. So Arriving there will be two funneling mouths you can enter. One pointing towards the bridge, one towards the hillside entrance. You can of course choose yourself, but you will come back on the opposite one and point towards the other exit. This is accomplished by letting a walkway cross above the stair going 4 m down to the excavation of the tower. I feel that this will also add another layer to the exhibition space between the tower and the neighboring building. You can see people walking up there and as you walk up there you can see the tower and the exhibition from a different perspective. Either a telling of what’s to come at the end of your walk around the site or a reminder of where you started.
My next planned step is to start on a new layer of tracing paper, using marker to clearly draw up the walls and re-draw the guide lines I ended up using. Letting the others fade to back on the layer below. I’m still debating how to draw the sections and whether I need close up details here or if it should be solved in plan. There is also the issue of how to draw the paths between the excavations. I think of them as being made of crushed brick gravel, which then either abruptly or gradually regenerates into bricks sat the interventions, thusly making a connection. This also begs the question – what about the walkway? is that also made of massive bricks? and if so isn’t it a waste to not program the inside of it?
I definitely feel that I am on the right course, but the fact that this week’s pin-up’s have been cancelled really annoys me, as this is quite a critical phase.
more to come.
These pin-up’s and the dialogue that comes from them seem to give me a lot to think about every time. It can sometimes be hard to see the progress that’s in between, but the project has quite obviously developed and changed every time. In the time after our study trip I had been thinking along the lines of using ideas from both la tourette and the other things we saw on the way, as well as looking at the site in a historical context on the basis of reading about the castle and its history. At the pin-up however I was compelled to take a step back and return to the abstract concept of excavating and uncovering. Seeing what I’m adding as something completely seperate from the existing and letting the circulation be decided directly by the different spaces that I want to create around specific places on the site.
This means two things. First of all I need to go back to the site – pronto – secondly that I need to work in plan for the next two weeks. Perhaps on the same drawing. Getting the landscape plan right, the walk through the site. How does the site meet the interventions? clean cuts in the landscape, perhaps lines with bricks. Do the walls continue up and become furniture? are the paths lined with bricks? crushed bricks? do they fade out into crushed bricks and reappear as solid brick at the excavations? are some paths more important than others? do you enter the excavations gradually by the paths becoming ‘ramps’ ? do they at this point go from being crushed brick to solid?
these are some of the questions… It’s becoming very much a landscape project, which I’m fine with, and I feel that there’s really something to be gained from the transition from existing landscape, to paths, to built structures or just marked areas. Tomorrow I will start drawing my large landscape plan. Saturday I will visit the site. Sunday I will start selecting areas and drawing lines between them. Go go go!
Having returned home I feel full of new ideas and of appreciation for the things that such an interlude which lies somewhere in between a break and an intense course in architecture.
I have from each part of our trip gotten something, and it’s time now that I start making decisions and relating these ideas to my project – if they turn out to belong. Reading the Kenneth Frampton text has also given me some things about, however they are mainly about which parts of the text I should use to illuminate my ideas. I did get some ideas about how to think about the landscape or the “topos” relating to the typos and the tectonics, so that is a bonus.
I now have two systems of brick. The one Jens and I worked with in Randers and the idea of Herzog and Demeuron. Cutting up machine bricks to get an absolutely unreadable and tactile surface. It communicates a plane, whereas the horizontally lined ultima brick wall communicates horizontality, layers and mass. Something tells me, that both will be needed.
Visiting Tadao Ando’s coference centre at the Vitra factory really gave me something to think about. He worked with the landscape and made an excavation – to get away from the noise of the road next to him and get light down, but all the same – he made a clear path where you walk between the cherry trees he set out to protect and his famous silky smooth concrete walls on a narrow path. At no point did I feel that I should cross over and take the shortest route and I think that this is partly due to the enclosed space created by these two factors, but also the composition and the fact that you just can’t help touching the wall.
I had the idea of letting people discover the different parts of the exhibition for themselves and I still think that could be the case – but letting them walk along the walls to then suddenly see new parts and be enclosed by the new buildings and the excavation around them I feel is a really powerful idea. Using the structure of the ruins to lead the visitors around the site.
This is where my experiences from La Tourette come in. The plan solution of the building is complex, yet elegant and the part that I feel that I can really use is this idea of movement alternating from outside to inside. In Corbusier’s case this is about looking at the landscape or the courtyard – in my case it will be the spaces within the ruin and the landscape surrounding it.
So what will happen is this. You walk along a narrow footpath next to one of the castle walls. On your right are possibly trees/bushes to give shade and enclose the space and make you want to stay on the path. Ahead is an opening, between the old ruinous wall and a new, strictly made wall. From this wall a roof appears to hover above the old ruin wall. You walk into this opening by following the path you were already on, and take a left turn through the old door opening in the ruin. You are now enclosed by a new building where part of the programme will take place – each will be about a different part of the castle or have a specific function. One will be either a café or just a space for eating your packed lunch with a view of the sea, one will be about the tower (the hardest one), one will be about the well and the living quarters, wine cellar, etc.
I don’t know how many spaces I need yet – but my next task is to find out, by reading about the castle and it’s history and then drawing. I have come to the conclusion that what I will bring to the pin-up on wednesday is photos and sketches. Nothing more.
From then on this will be my schedule.
nov 23rd-nov 25th:
- Read about Kalø
- Print reference images
- Sketch plan of route through ruin
- Diagram of movement (butterfly)
nov 25th-dec 2nd:
- Reflect on feedback
- decide on interventions draw landscape plan with said interventions
- start planning 1:200 model (build rhino model)
- Draw sketches of each space with program and exhibition within
dec 2nd-dec 9th:
- build 1:200 model
- crude versions of interventions on model.
- Section drawings
- Update landscape plan
dec 9th-dec 16th:
- Detail drawings
- Roof structure
- 1:50 models of parts of project?
dec 16th-dec 31st:
- Finalize CWR (blog + references -> rewrite and connect = CWR)
- Revisit site if necessary
jan 1st – jan 6th:
- Make final model 1:200
- Finalize 1:50 model(s)
Jan 6th – jan 12th:
- Gather and organize process material
- Make final drawings
- Make presentation posters
Here are the thoughts I copied down during our study trip to the monastery La Tourette near Lyon, designed by Le Corbusier in the 60’s
DAY 1 at the monastery (and the trip getting there)
The first days of our study trip have been self-planned for the most part by Steffen, whose (wreck of a) car we have been driving to the monastery. He has travelled around Europe a lot because of his great interest in wine, food, etc. And thusly he knew of a few places of interest on the way, where we should go. First and foremost, the Vitra museum in the town of Basel, where we had a tour of the many very interesting factory and museum buildings commissioned by the design company and designed by famous starchitects from around the world. They differ greatly in style and range from the pragmatic and simple by an English architect (I will find his name later) in corrugated aluminum plates with round corners, to the absolutely insane by Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. Gehry because of his free-form sculpture approach and Hadid because of her work with perspective and confusing lines. Both of them using their houses as a way to experiment with form-finding and testing ideas for future projects. Both of them interesting as architecture, but not necessarily very functional. Unfortunately, the building which seemed the most interesting, by Tadao Ando was not open because of a conference that day (it is a conference building – so those things happen), we got to see it from the outside and to look at some photos, but it was really a pity. Just from what I have seen I have had a great deal of inspiration for my project, as Ando deals with the noise of the road adjacent to the building, by digging out a courtyard to the south and getting in an abundance of light. The way he does so, along with the way he uses walls in the landscape, which you are actually inclined to walk along, his incredible (some would say autistic) attention to detail and the way you enter the building are all some that I will consider as inspirations for the project at hand – or at some other point in the future.
Another very interesting building at the site is only now being built. It is designed by Herzog and Demeuron and is interesting mostly for the way of dealing with bricks. Machine made bricks are chopped to pieces, so the inside part where there are channels is suddenly the exterior. This creates a fantastic tactility in the sunlight and also obscures the lines of the bond, making it one surface. I think the contrast between this and the existing, very irregular bricks could work really well. The lines would then be vertical, rather than the horizontal lines of the ultima bricks. Perhaps there could even be a way of working with both according to what’s happening – showing the landscape, vs. showing the height of the tower, vs. contrasting the building, etc.
After a night’s stay in Mulhouse, we continued to Ronchamp, and Le Corbusier’s famous Notre Dame Du Haut as well as Renzo Piano’s beautiful monastery sitting on top of a hill with 360 degrees of views to the stunning landscape around it. This chuch is very unlike the monastery where I am sitting now, but at the same time many details and tell-tale signs show that it’s definitely the same maker. As we also learned in Silkeborg this is the one work in Corbusier’s euvre, where he really let his artistic side out and boy did he – to an extent where it borders on being too much at times, but with some absolutely fantastic sculptural effects, work with interior and exterior light (the sun was showing it from its best possible side). One thing I took notice of above all else, at least in relation to the current assignment was the floor. It wasn’t level but slanted from the ‘back’ of the church downwards to the alter and the plateau it stood on, which then again kinked and slanted upwards again. This effect of walking on the floor next to all the spatial mosaics with different colors of light and directions, below the organic, convex shape of the roof, with the light from a slit flowing along it is quite as special experience. Inside all the towers, light flows down in a fantastic way. Here the floor is also raised and there are shrines inside of them. There are really some great effects going on here and somehow I feel that even if I don’t use it in the current project I am certainly going to unconsciously have them in my arsenal.
Now. Having arrived at La Tourette, with the weather still showing everything in the best possible way I must say that… it looks a fucking mess. It’s clearly a different Corbusier at work. Very academic with his modular at full warp speed. So far it’s very interesting to move around in. There are a lot of interesting details and lines that meet when you move, etc. The telltale signs of his ideas of exploring architecture through movement. All that is great, but in this project he – like in most of his other work – cares little for esthetics. It’s extremely rough and very deliberately so. It’s there to tell his story and to be a massive mess in its own right. It is very interesting, but very ugly. More on that later.
DAY 2 – Getting the place under my skin
Everywhere you go. There is a slight humming, a sound of water running in the pipes and of people talking or walking somewhere not quite distinguishable. On the church, the racing car spoiler clock tower and the enormous exhausts on the crypt scream masculinity. The west facing façade of the church looking like the solemn face of an easter island sculpture.
Walking down the narrow hallways, especially to the northeast, facing a hill – your view is blocked and the glass alternates between being fitted directly to the concrete and being inside a black frame with a window that opens. Rythms appear when you walk.
When you go outside the main door and start walking down the steps to the courtyard, sand and grass distinguish the route. You walk under the buildings in the same patterns you would inside, but here you have the opportunity to demonstratively change levels and see the building from new angles.
Put quite simply it’s a mess of a machine of a megalomaniac’s mind. So far the true qualities lie in the landscape and in simply walking around taking in the views, rythms and different spaces that only open themselves while in movement. The walls of the spaces for staying are covered in thick layers of sprayed gipsum, which being almost the shape of egg cartons gives the impression that they should handle acoustics well – they just quite clearly don’t. Being too hard and having no textile surfaces to rebound upon. There is no softness in this house apart perhaps from in the people in it’s cells. The sounds that change are also part of this experience. You really feel that you are in the belly of a monstrous machine. Even in the church you constantly hear the humming of the heating furnace below. ‘it’s alive’. This experience is greatly enhanced of course by not talking, just walking, sitting, being there. The acoustics in the building are not made for conversation, they are really really horrible in a conventional sense. But along with the absolute abscense of insulation, they ensure that wherever you are in the building, you feel the life of the community around you. Of the machines powering the building, with all the chords, pipes and utilities exposed and acting as ‘decoration’.
The church room itself is quite interesting. Having visited Ronchamp yesterday, which was like a thing from nature, this is quite clearly purely machine. Scenes from the death star come to mind. Different colored lights come in from the sides, just as in Ronchamp, but here the light is one color in each narrow window frame, and all the larger openings are systematic. However – at seemingly random places, there are tiny openings just as those in Notre Dame du Haut. Letting in a tiny bit of light for instance just before walking behind the ‘confession screen’. Which by the way has clear glass with holes in it, so you can clearly see who you are talking to – you are not in the company of god.
Reading the text before coming here gave me some perspective on the thoughts behind the structure, this idea of walking inside and outside, orienting towards the courtyard and the landscape, etc. But I have to say that said text could have been a tenth of the length and you wouldn’t have less of the actual points. What a load of architecture theory horse shit. This house is a horrendous block of concrete that only an academic mind could appreciate. It’s the brain child of the ultimate self-proclaimed prophet of architecture, and thusly loved by his disciples for its purity of idea. Loved as only one’s own child could be. It stands demonstratively in the hills not quite sitting, not quite floating. It’s a heavy box to lift. It’s a machine, not made for esthetic purposes, but for containing and working with its community of black friar monks. To satisfy the experiment that Corbusier involved all of them in. Who’s your god now?
I could keep saying both good and bad things about this house for days, possibly repeating myself once or twice, but there is no conclusion I think other than that this house is an experiment. It’s a machine made for testing ideas and pushing limits. It’s not made to be pretty, to fit in or to satisfy anyone. It’s a messy, brutal and powerful piece of art, that no one in their right mind would have in their back yard, but which you are somehow still drawn to explore.
DAY 4 – reflections and connections to own project
New plans, thoughts, inspiration. Vive La France
La Tourette consists of a myriad of complexities, details, situations, light, spatial constellations, etc. It shouldn’t work, except the one thing that insures that it does above all else – is the plan solution. The butterfly movement described in XX text where you move from viewing the landscape to viewing the courtyard I think could be a really strong influence to use when designing at Kalø. Taking in the ruin and the landscape in alternating moves. Entering walking along a wall like in Ando’s Vitra project, except this time it’s the wall of the ruin, you walk down into the new space below and come up on the other side of the walls of the ruin, now looking towards the landscape, but still essentially, walking along the wall – thusly also seeing as much of the ruin and it’s details along the way. It will be the ruin that decides where to go, as I have already given myself the rule, that I mustn’t destroy any of the ruin – thusly I can move over low pieces of wall, through existing openings or peut-etre below pieces of wall by digging or suspending those parts on concrete beams? – maybe this would be entirely unnecessary, but we’ll see.
Another element could be using vegetation. Trees on one side and the walls on the other, to create shade and to frame the views along the sea with both natural and artificial (quotation from frampton text)
After today’s pin-up I feel that I have finally gotten into the essence of what a museum as an excavation can be all about. The tutors and the rest of my group agreed, that the project has definitely moved in the right direction, but a lot of suggestions did come up. There was some disagreement over whether it should be clear geometrical shapes or could be more free-form, as well as about how to get around the site.
One argument was that the idea of making north-south facing structures wasn’t relevant because the sites for digging are not chosen at random and could therefore be optimized exactly to the ruins and the sections I want to display.
I feel that the visitor should be as free to wander around as possible, without being held in their hand every step of the way. That being said, there are some issues with the grass being worn down and the site becoming muddy, especially against the sides of the excavations. Perhaps some system of walkways or pointers could be part of the system of excavations, without being readable as “one way only”. I will have to put some consideration into that.
There were also some suggestions about how to show the verticality of the ruin once in the underground exhibition spaces. letting the roof continue up to show the entirity of the wall. Retracting it more so that when you walk forward you can look up… I feel there is a potential issue of showing too much, so this has to be tested. It should be a totally different experience of the ruin compared to being outside. In this case the glass could potentially also be slanted.
The main thing though was to make sure that all the excavations are treated the same way within their area or rather are one thing or building each, rather than being completely seperated by the ruins. This would require some walkways above the ruin or something like that… interesting. more later.
I had a clear idea yesterday of what I had to build once I got to the school. After an interesting lecture about Iranian brick architecture I did get a working model done – I’m pretty pleased with the overall outline of it – but it did make me think that perhaps instead of a simple stair I should have went with the ‘rice fields’ version, where there would indeed be a stairs between two walls, but then when you enter the space at the bottom you will see that the stair continues on the inside, becoming benches for looking at the walls behind the glass.
I won’t have time to do too much about this idea in time for our pin-up on wednesday, but I will have time to make some drawings that include it. Speaking of drawings I just finished my section drawing for wednesday and I really like the way it turned out. Using the pen on my tablet to hand draw and fill in the section in the existing ruin and filling in the new addition with colored blocks really makes the difference between old and new stand out.
For wednesday I plan on doing some nice presentation drawings and chosing sites for my other interventions at the ruin – showing off different aspects and letting people experience the landscape of the ruin itself.
A thing that I can’t remember if I mentioned, but which is quite important I feel to the design is the idea of using the existing ruin as the landscape that it is. People already walk around on the walls that form stairs in themselves. This was something I earlier in the process thought that I would use on the inside of the ruin, cutting into the walls, but I now see that it’s much more natural to use it outside and to make which ever buildings I make the right height for the visitor to be able to walk from the tops of the walls onto the roof of my interventions. This will decide all the roof heights of my interventions and make them fit into this ‘landscape’. Whether I will need railing on these buildings stands to be decided – since there isn’t any on the existing walls and people just walk onto them I feel that I can argue that if people walk up the old walls to get to the roof, then they don’t need the safety up there – it’s just a roof that people happen to walk onto.
This answers the ‘landscape’ part of our assignment. Walking around in and on it – stepping onto the new buildings and looking out over the landscape. It’s not a grand finale like a deck at the top of the tower, but rather a more delicate way of seeing different things in different places. Having your attention drawn to specific parts of the ruin – and perhaps framing the landscape with my buildings and even – dare I say – openings in them?
Another thing to note is that the new walls will divide the existing spaces into new spaces, and the transitions between these, as well as the spaces themselves become an area of interest. Should they be treated? the should at the very least be considered and qualified as spaces.
This is one of those annoying situations, where I have a number of solutions for a problem that’s hard to define. Where do I excavate? How? How do I in the best way possible display the old ruins?
If excavating and treating the old ruins as objects I feel I have to be delicate in my way of treating them. To touch them or intervene would be to destroy what I am trying to display – on the other hand – creating an enclosed space where you can view only parts of a ruin means that I HAVE to touch them. Or does it? How can I close or even climatize a space around only a part of the ruin when I cannot touch it?
I think the answer must be to make an effort out of showing the delicacy of the touch. At the foundation where I am digging the building out, the surface of my excavation will obviously be touching the building and here I think I have to go for maximum contrast. White concrete against the old, weathered bricks, but what about when I get above ground level? I will enclose parts of the spaces with bricks, but should I leave a gap between the old wall and the new? should it be closed with glass and light flood along the old wall? how is this meeting done without cutting into the old ruin?
The question of the roof is the same. Obviously I can rest beams on the new walls that I build, but how can I seal the building towards the ruin? One answer could be that I don’t – I leave the building open, BUT that wouldn’t really create the sense of ‘displaying’ the building as an object in a museum.
Another option could be to simply close the building before touching the ruin. Build as closesly as possible and then have a pane of glass making it impossible to touch the displayed object – it’s art – you’re not allowed to touch it! But then again… part of the experience would be ruined if you could not run your hands along the old bricks… maybe the want to do so will be even stronger by having the glass, and once the guests exit my intervention and walk around the rest of the site they will be compelled to touch the walls in those places… It could be an option.
At Peter Zumthor’s treatment of the ruinsin chur a light, semi-transparent, translucent wooden building encloses the space around the ruins and you walk on walkways only touching down certain places where part of the programme appears in montres. You walk from building to building in alleyways similar to the walkway to an airplane. In Zumthor’s building you aren’t able to touch the buildings either, but you are seperated from them by space and being on a bridge – rather than glass. I think, however, that it could have a similar effect – and must certainly be tested.
If I do make such a space, I will have to take into account drainage in the bottom, removal of leaves, branches, trash, etcetera that might find it’s way to the bottom. One option could be to simply make it possible for staff to remove the glass panes and thusly be able to clean the gap. There could also be a net at the top, but I feel that such a device would ruin the idea of not touching this gap – it should be all about the pure light on the wall.
After yesterday’s pin-up presentation it became quite clear to me, that I need to look at the idea of excavating as a much more abstract concept – seperate from the existing structures at the site.
In that way. Multiple smaller excavation sites could lead people around the whole fortress, and let them discover different parts of the program for themselves.
We had a good discussion about how doing so, would more clearly display the remnants as objects while inside these frames. But from our talks yesterday I feel that not only the word excavate is important to this discussion, but also exhibit and examine. These frames could act in different ways according to their context; the landscape around them, the meeting point of different building elements, being outside and inside.
The idea is, that once you have been inside one of these frames and walk out again, you will see the built structures in a new way – both as buildings and as objects of examination at the same time.
This does leave a great amount of unanswered questions though. What are the strategies of excavation and exhibtion that should be used? should the areas follow a grid ? should they be arbitrary or related to special areas of interest? Should they be physically connected? How do you enter these areas? should they be able to overlap? and in that case what happens in the intermediary zone? should some of them be climatized? which ones? How much or how little is needed to make people see and area of the site in a different way?
Do I level out the areas in the middle of the hilly landscape? do I pave them? put out a frame of wood? do I dig a straight wall down or do I dig down in a manner like rice fields or even architectural context models? Do I make stairs or ramps or let the landscape ‘naturally’ change to let people come down in to the excavated sites?
I think the answer is yes… to most of them. The hard part is finding out what to do where and what not to do. I still have this nagging feeling that the fact that I need to use bricks as the major component of my intervention is really a cause of annoyance. I need to find a way to make it work for me again.
More on all of that later…
The image is of the entrance to Peter Zumthor’s building framing the excavations of Roman ruins in Chur.