Just saw that Hiroshi Sambuichi won the 2018 “Daylight Award.” Ok, somewhat odd sounding award to win, natch, but his work is a beaut and does indeed do some lovely — and quite stunning — things with light and views. I spoke of his building that I visited on Naoshima Island here, indeed making note of the qualities of light that were present.
Every picture above makes me want to visit and explore each of the buildings in detail. The angled frames crossing a path with light at the end of a dark corridor? What is it? Where does it lead? I can feel the experience of the space just from the photo. Or feel the serenity of the setting sun, reflecting off the perfectly smooth pool of water at the edge of the forever-going overhang that frames a riveting horizontal slice of the world. Or that cistern! The old and worn and rugged brick in contrast with the smooth and vibrant wood, punctuated by the flash of green, the moss that brings life in the shafts of light, heightened even further by the glass block that catches and makes physical the rays of sun. Sign. Me. Up!
There’s something quite arresting about this house, in even this one photo. The sun is certainly one reason why, gleaming off the smooth white polished and plastered walls (from locally sourced lime and salt) to bathe the interior in a sensuous glow… but for me it’s the way that smooth and polished plaster plays off the rough block construction that form the walls and columns, and even more so along the rough groin vaulting of the roof. Against the strong uniform background the shadows and textures really pop, and the different patterns and surfaces make for a tableau of visual delights. Even the stairs and floor are finely honed, adding their contrast between the silky and the coarse.
Even better is this is an adaptive reuse, made from a former lamp-oil mill built in the 17th century. It does what adaptive reuse does best, letting the rugged form speak of its time and place while carrying it forward with a new use and new insertions.
Poetry comes in many forms, including sometimes being wrapped in what at first glance may appear to be the most mundane of shells. Tonight’s project is just like that, a humble building built with straightforward and inexpensive materials, and one that presents an ordinary visage to the world. It is not a terrible visage, to be sure. It is well proportioned, it is in dialogue with the surrounding buildings, and there is a hint that something different is going on inside. It is an unassuming face that it presents to the world.
Inside, it is the space – that which makes architecture, architecture – where poetry erupts.
The main hall within is canted 13 degrees to align with the qibla, immediately creating a bevy of sculptural ancillary spaces. Used to great effect, they function as entry courtyards, apses, and towers, narrating the way from the outside to the sanctum within.
Inside, the hall is squat and expansive, compressing the space horizontally. At first thought, all that brick and concrete, coupled with a low ceiling, may seem like a recipe for an oppressive experience. Yet every corner blows upward in shafts of light, every side is a portico emblazoned with sunshine, and the ceiling features a burst of luminous dots that cast their rays onto the floor in an ever-dancing pattern. And the finely honed and polished floor, contrasting strongly with every other piece of the building, calls attention to itself and to the relationship of the body and the ritual to that floor, and to all those around you who stand on that special surface. The space radiates with intimate connection, both to your neighbors and also to the greater universe at large.
Architecture is about craft of space, the merging of purpose with form. Rough and tumble materials in mundane locations are not hindrances. When the intent burns bright, and the creative fire is unleashed, powerful and moving spaces are always possible.
Start with a very tight and narrow site – 15′-9″ wide by 82′-0″ long and bordered by buildings on either side – and add in equally tight finances. This was a house for the client’s mother, replacing one on the same site that was falling apart at the seams. And because it was a replacement, it had to be built very quickly.
These are the kind of challenges architects love. And love making magic out of.
The resulting house design is a wonderful exercise in the use of space. The house is a bit like a dumbbell, with a main living space up front and a bedroom in back, connected by a long corridor that borders a couryard. While it may seem odd to have a courtyard in such a narrowly-confined building, it is this courtyard that prevents the house from becoming a dark tunnel.
Letting generous light into all corners of the home, the courtyard is the property’s “lawn”, becoming an additional room during the good weather months, a perfect place for hanging out in the warm evenings. The roof of the building, accessed via a second bedroom stacked above the main floor bedroom, also serves as a deck and even a roof garden for growing vegetables, further expanding the amount of “yard” space available on the tight lot.
Simple and readily available materials rule the roost in the house, handled with excellent detail to make them sing. I especially like the concrete ribbed ceiling/roof – a very simple precast concrete panel that is quite akin to wood panelling that also has its own sensual feel from the smooth concrete texture. These planks are also arranged such that the joints line up at points with the joint lines in the concrete blocks and even along some walls. It may not seem like that would change the feel of the space much, but the eye notices, leaving the space feeling refined, whole, and unified.
Narrow framed black windows play up the the contrast between the heavy concrete walls and the light-filled gaps. The many windows let in copious amounts of light, especially in the hallway that doubles as a kitchen, laundry, and utility area. It’s a great double purpose area, taking advantage of the linear nature of the activities to combine them with circulation down the long site, leaving as much space as possible to the courtyard.
Even the exposed surface-mounted conduit shows a level of careful detail. What could have seemed like a slapdash and cheap solution instead, through precise and clean installation, feels quite proper and adds to the clean lines and airiness of the house.
A lovely piece of design, creating a vibrant house that fits the constraints beautifully. A great example of how good architecture doesn’t require lots of land or lots of expensive materials, rather, it simply takes care, skill, and design.
Sculptural, but still spatial. That was one of my first thoughts of this chapel in Finland by Sanaksenaho Architects. It’s also a very simple affair, and when things are stripped down to that level of simplicity, much like Tadao Ando’s works*, the quality (or lack thereof) of the space really takes prominence. And here, that quality is golden.
The rhythm of the wood beams, rising to a well proportioned pointed arch as they march down towards the luminous apse, hits you immediately upon entering, reinforced by the horizontal lines of the wall planks also pointing towards the end. In this way, the space feels both soaring (with the strong verticals of the arches) as well as ensconcing you snugly inside its warm confines. The band of windows at the apse work their magic to fill the space with diffuse, and again warm, light. It invites sitting, experiencing, and reflection.
Outside, the copper skin reflects the countryside (for now – it will patina). Details are vital to simple structures, and the diagonal patterning of the copper cladding keeps the form alive and dynamic, enhancing the way it embraces the countryside.
Nicely done. A strong image and concept rendered beautifully through simple and well refined moves, and an excellent sense of scale and proportion. Another entry on my list of spaces I’d like to visit and experience.
Another wonderful and stunning adaptive reuse. The Convent de Sant Fransec in the town of Santpedor was beyond having fallen on hard times. Much of the roof had collapsed, the walls were crumbling, and the nave was strangely filled with rusting junk cars. Rather than demolish it, however, the town chose to renovate it, and asked David Closes to turn it into a cultural centre.
What emerged is a delightful insertion that celebrates the age of the original structure and even the scars it gained over the years. In fact, it was those scars that formed impetus for the design: upon walking into the ruined nave for the first time, the team was struck by the quality of space that was heightened by the varied shafts of natural light that flowed through the crumbling roof.
That was it. To preserve the great spatial qualities the nave already possessed, and to heighten the texture of the rough stone, the new design incorporates many different lighting strategies, including a light tower, clerestories, and even varied artificial light sources. They rebuilt the vaulted roof in smooth plaster, a contrast to the stone walls that works to enrich the texture and play of light off the rough face. Similarly, stairs and other amenities are done in a way to differentiate between the old and the new.
This is a playful dance, with additions wrap around and poke through the building, allowing a circular path that lets you partake of the building from different angles while leaving the nave unencumbered and glorious.
A fine, fine piece of work. It takes what was there, sees the beauty within, and elevates it through care and vision.
Light. From the sun. It’s all around. It’s abundant. It’s dominant.
It’s so commonplace as to be almost mundane.
Of the many things architects must incorporate in the dialogue called designing, the use, manipulation, control, modulation, and celebration of light holds prominence.
What if you made a church of light? What would that be like?
Perhaps counter intuitively, you might make it a solid box.
Tadao Ando’s Church of the Light, in Ibaraki, Japan, is a masterpiece in the use of light to create a spatial reality and a strong spatial experience.
The building is, indeed, a box, but a finely crafted box. With silky smooth concrete, a rhythmic precision of the formwork and tie downs, and proportions that draw one forward. The design eschews traditional leanings of churches, dispensing with ornamentation, arcades, distinctions of nave or apse or transept. There is one symbol or ornament, and that is the cross of light embedded into the far wall. The room is spare, meditative, leaving one to be with their experience of their spirituality. The luminous cross casts a glow upon the sensual concrete, filling the space with a radiant air, peaceful and powerful at once.
Beyond its trappings as a church, the Church of the Light demonstrates the capacity for skillful design and excellent details to elevate even the simplest of spaces. It also demonstrates the capacity to revisit traditional typologies and to create something to fulfill their intent in new and powerful ways. It is the distillation of context – both physical (light, structure, site, constraints) and the ephemeral (philosophy, social cues, traditions, budget) – into a building that serves its function well and is readably feel-able the moment we walk in the door.
And it reminds us what we can do with that abundant, free, and delightful light provided to us by our favourite star.