Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category


Architecture Monday

December 11, 2017

OK, there wasn’t any way I wasn’t going to talk more about Ando’s Church of the Light.  There’s a reason this is one of Ando’s most known buildings.  For one, it was early in his career.  For two, it was done on a very tight budget.*  And for three, it’s such a crazy simple design.  And yet, there’s something about it that is way more powerful than the apparent sum of its parts.

Every little move of that simple design adds to the overall working and feel of the space.  Even something as simple as the joint in the concrete traverses continually all around the entirety of the space, and how the window mullion and the base of the cross all align on that same joint.  It both breaks down the scale of the space while also unifying everything into a whole, drawing your eye down to the apse and the luminous cross.

The angled wall that bisects part of the nave not only provides a functional need of creating a weather break, it also creates a circuitous path that is hidden from the inside, separating the mundane from the sacred.  More crucially, the way it narrows the volume in an offset manner brings yet more motion and expansion to the space that a pure rectangular form wouldn’t.  The wall also hovers below and allows light to wash along the ceiling, creating a hovering effect that seems to lift the ceiling even higher.

All the geometries then play together to create washes of light that change throughout the day.

One thing that was striking to see in person was how tightly packed the church is within its urban site.  The design was as much a response to the physical constraints as it was to the resources of the congregation.  And it masterfully navigated both.

Much less often shown in pictures is the later additions Ando designed for the church, which includes a courtyard, an entry canopy, and a side chapel/classroom/administrative hall/community gathering spot.  He employs much of the same language, including the amazing slippage of concrete and light.  Unique compared to the main church, however, is the rich use of wood.  (I especially enjoy the cross hung from the ubiquitous formwork tie holes.)

Marvelous work, on so many levels.  There’s little that can compare to being there in person;  feeling space around you is a multi-sensory affair which depends greatly on peripheral vision.  However!  There is the next best thing for now… 360 VR.  Click the images below to go to 360 degree views of both the main church and the side chapel.  And if you have Google Cardboard or similar, these should be viewable there for the full VR experience!

* So much so that midway through construction he thought he was going to have to redesign it to not have a roof!  The construction company however, sensing that this had the makings of something wonderful, chose to donate and complete the work.


Architecture Monday

December 4, 2017

One of the joys of visiting new places is all the interesting and nice buildings you run in to just wandering around.  They weren’t on the itinerary, and you didn’t see them in a magazine, but there they are, good, solid, everyday, wonderful architecture.  My Japan trip was no exception.  Here are a few (where I remembered to take pictures) of the buildings that caught my eye and design sense.

I like the muscularity of this building, using rusted steel and the prominent shutters to strongly frame its all glass-face.  Likewise, the big block look of the green annex is a beefy buttress that gives the impression it’ll be there for a long time.

A bit hard to see in the photo, but there’s what appears to be an old brick building that’s been encapsulated within this glass box.  I’m choosing to believe it’s an actual old building, for it tickles my adaptive reuse desires…  Either way, though, I always love exposed rough brick within a building, while the glass box itself could be much more elegantly and subtly detailed, the contrast between the heavily textured brick and the smooth box that surrounds it is nice.

This is one way to make a splash with your facade!  I don’t know if the wood supports the building – I hope so, for if it was just a surface treatment that would be much less exciting – but this is still fun and the little roof garden sells it.

The woodwork is what caught my eye of what I figure is a house.  You’ve got this thick regularity of the wood “logs” (kind of like long pieces of LEGO), the interlocking corners of traditional wood joinery, and by removing sections of the wood logs you have this regular interweaving of window and wall.  Nicely done.

A church hiding out behind a few other buildings.  Straightforward and evocative.

This daycare is wonderful on many levels, and that is a pun intended, for it’s got both a rooftop play area as well as a sheltered play area under the building at the ground plane.  With space at such a premium in many Japanese cities, these kind of gardens in the sky (or sheltered by the building) are quite necessary.  A nice, well-put together design, done on a modest budget and using the playfulness of the multi-windows coupled with a nice sense of proportion to create a good looking building that meets the needs of the kids within.

A multi-use building, two levels of office and retail topped by two levels of residential.  I like the mix of elements;  though the basic footprint is the same, the squaring off of the apartments at the corner lets you know there’s something different going on there, and I also like how the commercial levels are bookended by the solid wood siding punctuated by the tall, vertical windows.  What may not be obvious in the photo is that the broad middle band is actually foldable wood shutters, creating a little play of depth and shadow between them and the windows beyond.

A playful pavilion of sorts near the main train station in Osaka.  The combo of curves and the straight beams forming a parabaloid makes for a sculptural combination.

A fire station with a simple move of a screen wall formed by vertical bars and with planting on the lower level that matches the height of the doorway to the fire hall.  Just works.

Lastly, one kinda crazyinteresting building.  It’s a tower, with a funky shaped cutout.  But inside that cutout?  That’s a climbing wall.  On a rail.  So it can rise.  Presumably while you climb it.  That I’d want to see in action…


Wonder Wednesday

November 29, 2017


Architecture Monday

November 27, 2017

In many ways, my trip to Japan could have been billed as the “Ando Connection.”  The whole planning process began when I plotted the locations of many of Tadao Ando’s buildings all throughout Japan, and the end route was chosen to hit as many of them as I could.  This included what I thought would be the pièce de résistance, the Church of the Light.  Which was entirely amazing, and I may blog about it further in an upcoming post.  But it was his works on Naoshima Island that struck me the most, including a few absolutely mind-blowing experiences that broadened my awareness of how space could feel and what space could be.

The first of these moments happened not more than a couple of hours after we arrived, touring the outdoor artworks of the Benesse House compound.  And it began with a simple wall that grew from the ground.

And that was exactly what it is.  A seemingly simple wall, bisecting a portion of lawn and extending into a cobbled patio on one side, while descending a staircase on the other to a lower platform.  But that simplicity belies some stunningly skilled mastery of proportion, volumes, and notions of enclosure and expansiveness.

While the aerial view gives an immediate way to grasp the layout, the visceral experience of being there was way more intense than the sum of its simple parts of wall, cobbles, and stairs.  The play of nature vs the pristine concrete smoothness of the walls, the narrowness of one stair exploding out towards the sea, the interplay of different planes and levels as they connect and divide among the varying wide stairs at the other end, and the proportions and relationships between each element, all contribute to an incredible feel to the space.

This is a piece that is meant to be experienced in motion.*  The shifting forms, planes, and lines as you move constantly reveal and hide something, and each new step brings a different framing of the forested hills, the beach, and the water beyond.  This is installation art and spatial art at its finest.

Under the broad upper plaza is a small room containing a work by artist Walter De Maria, primarily consisting of two, highly polished stone balls.  While hilariously calling to mind early 3D computer rendering** the reflective curves nicely played off the purely orthographic nature of Ando’s walls and by reflecting their room (the only actual enclosure in this piece) that you couldn’t enter gave a nice little extra spatial twist.

I think I walked around the entire thing for the first five minutes with my mouth agape.  It was that powerful.  And but a taste of what was to come over the next day and a bit on the island…


* To which none of my videos turned out very well, unfortunately!

* Highly reflective chrome spheres were supremely popular to show off rendering power and precision, they were almost an obligatory feature of early computer renderings and ray tracing.


Architecture Monday

November 20, 2017

I’ve recently returned from a vacation to Japan that was very heavily aimed towards architectural visiting.  And indeed, I saw some absolutely incredible architecture, including some that expanded my understanding of what space can be and how it can feel.  Spaces that (actually) literally stopped me in my tracks and had me go “whaawwwaaahhaoaaa, what’s going on here?”  Good stuff, for sure, and I’ll share much of it in the weeks ahead!

Tonight I want to start with something a little more on the sedate end, but nonetheless is still delicious examples of finely crafted experiences:  a pair of buildings that form a community centre at the heart of the town of Honmura.

The larger building is the one that first catches your eye, with its tall and sensuous weathered cypress roof.  The building is also nestled within moss-covered earth berms, and right away you notice that the rise and angle of these colourful berms smoothly merges into that of the building’s roof.  The roof itself sports a prow that juts out on two sides and forming a hollow that extends right through, creating a passage that allows light and air to flow into the giant hall that’s within.

The centre was closed when I wandered by, so I could only peak inside.  Yet, that little peak was enough to see how the white underside of the roof allows the light from the prow and the light from the windows along the base of the roof (at the end of the berms) to blend and suffuse the space in an even glow of daylight.

Through the magic of internet photos, it’s also nifty to see that what looked like a simple stage from my vantage point is actually beefier and forms a divider of sorts, creating a tatami-filled back area of the hall that overlooks the lovely garden I saw being tended.

I’m really taken by the second building though, because while at first glance it seems to be a simple building with a very tall roof, it’s actually an assemblage of buildings, each with their own roofs underneath this larger, common, roof.

This is quickly revealed as you walk under the canopy and look up to see the oculus hovering above.  There’s this nice multi-layered effect going on here.  Along the perimeter, the thin and richly coloured support for the canopy stands with regularity before the much lighter coloured and faces of the individual buildings within, which are irregularly arranged along the edge and punctuated by the walkways that travel under the canopy.  Inside, each building’s roof is played off the canopy, with vertically oriented weathered grey smooth and tightly placed boards contrasting  with the horizontally oriented slats of the fresh cut canopy above.

The sub-buildings all feature sliding glass screen walls, allowing the entire area to open and become one, even while each finely crafted unit remains separate in their framing.  Even in the wet and cooler months, this little covered village can remain cozy and open for visitors to meander about within.

Stupendously done, on both counts.  And a joy that, while they may share the idea of a prominent roof, they’re both executed quite differently to allow them to fulfill their aims in the most expressive manner.  A bit of inventiveness that really comes together in clean and precise lines, making them a joy to be in.  Nice work

Naoshima Community Centre by Hiroshi Sambuichi


Architecture Monday

October 23, 2017

Continuing on with my experience at the Monterrey Design Conference, another of the speakers was Sou Fujimoto, and it was another great lecture that got me thinking about things in new ways.  He started his presentation comparing how the forest and the city were, in certain, ways, quite similar.  That seemed almost preposterous as a starting point, but he drew it out nicely – in particular was that in the forest, there are layers upon layers that float overhead (leaves, branches, etc) to form a canopy, and much the same happens in the urban environment (electric lines, signs, awnings, etc).  Huh… cool, I can get that.  Consider my perception expanded!  And looking at his work as it was presented back to back to back, there was this recurring concept and design generator of the repeated, of layers, and of the individual(s) clustering together to create a whole.

House N is one example of how these concepts get expressed, through the idea of a box in a box in a box.  Noting how the traditional house in the neighborhood was pushed towards the back of the lot, with a front lawn or garden that was often, in many ways, unused, House N starts by encapsulating the yard in the first of its three, heavily pierced, sensuously smooth white boxes.  The many openings in the box let both light in and the trees and garden inside out, creating a small semi-private courtyard that nonetheless can still participate in the streetscape.

Inside this outer box, two more similar boxes (both white, both with many openings) form the house proper…

The net result is a highly intricate collection of planes and openings, forming the proverbial leaf canopy through which you can catch glimpses of other rooms, the garden, and the sky beyond.  As you move through the house, these views continually shift, as does the light throughout the day as the sun traces its path across the sky.

Paths within the house align with a porch and chairs in the courtyard.  It looks a bit sparse in these photos, but as the trees grow and the foliage becomes thicker, the play of random and green will really sing against the white and rectilinear background of the outer box.  At the other end, the Tatami room offers a similar serenity indoors.

It’s a nifty idea, with lots of playfulness and getting every ounce out of its tight lot.  Nice work.

House N by Sou Fujimoto


Architecture Monday

October 16, 2017

I just got back from the Monterrey Design Conference this past weekend, filled with lectures that not only wowed architecturally or artistically, but also got me examining things and thinking in new ways, which is always very cool.  There are a number of projects to share, but tonight I’ll start with this one, because while I may think there are some design aspects that are not quite fully resolved, I really like how it takes the necessities and plays with them hard, springboarding from the constraints to create a multiple series of wins.

The brief for the project by the city was a for a gymnasium, with a community centre.  There were requirements for the size and height of the gym, and a max height for the property.  The retail/supermarket on the first floor may have been part of the brief (I can’t remember), but other than that, the developers were allowed to add in whatever they chose.  Now, for a gym, you need some deep trusses to support the roof (as having columns in the middle of your playing surface is just a drag for everyone).  And so the first of the various nifty bits in this project came in coming up with the idea to use the height of those deep trusses and nestle some residential apartments in between them.    The space between the trusses would otherwise have been “wasted” – now instead you’ve got 12 new housing units for the city.

The units themselves are quite nicely done, with a courtyard in the middle, a tall living area, and a small loft that opens onto a deck.  I especially like how the countertop becomes the landing for the staircase, and even more so how the huge windows at the end of each unit is angled to provide a vista down the street, rather than looking straight into the building across the way.

This sawtooth edge also is used to good effect in the gym, providing indirect natural light in a way that prevents glare and also protects the windows from errant sports balls.  The community room nicely sets out from the building slightly as a glass box, and is attached to the gym via a grand staircase & bleachers, letting it be both separate and part of the gym as needed.

Overall the whole design does a lot of its work vertically, nestling and stacking its functions in and around themselves and the structure until everyone wins:  a grocery store, a community space and gym, and apartments with plenty of light, interest, and a view onto the world.  Good stuff.

Sundbyoster Hall II by Dorte Mandrup Artkitekter