The Present Day:
Following on from Part 1 where I spoke about the history of some of the major styles and philosophies we come to the present day. In a general sense, Contemporary architecture at the moment tends to borrow from a Neo-Modern approach to designing. A ‘form that follows its function’ ethos but now more considerate and sympathetic to its setting while also drawing on traditional styles and techniques in order to provide a further historical context or expression. However it falls short of PostModernism with its accentuated ornateness, and pomp of the past.
The ‘Historical’ context in particular is an increasingly important design criteria as a way to resolve or respect both the traditional and modernist views. Efficiency and lack of ‘clutter’ is still a guiding thought and even more so in the current climate of eco designing with its strict waste reducing sensibilities and also the ‘lean – construction’ ideals. Certainly, minimalistic and simple designs espouse these ideologies in new builds while preservation of heritage and traditional buildings is also promoted as this is the most sustainable way of building: keeping valuable materials and structures rather than ‘rebuilding’ or demolishing where possible, which leads to transport pollution, embodied energy concerns, further CO2 and pollution from creation of raw materials for construction etc.
Floating above the mainstream, there are of course as always ‘starchitects’ and some others, that push architecture to its boundaries, creating feats of engineering and design and experimenting with various forms that don’t neccessarily conform to one particular style. These sometimes ‘hit’, other times ‘miss’, but this has always been the way, in order to keep us rethinking our values and expectations, as art should do. Some examples of such boundary pushing architecture is the works of Spanish Architect and Engineer Santiago Calatrava below found on the flikr stream of 45street and google.ie
- Ciuitad Valencia, Spain – Calatrava
- Calatrava’s Opera house in Valencia, Spain – Shells of steel coated with ceramic tile arc over invoking a spaceship. Found this on concierge.com
- Calatrava’s unique styles and vision
Milwaukee Art museum - Santiago Calatrava.
You also have the more fluid and odd designs of the like of Zaha Hadid below.
zaha hadid design
Amman opera house-zaha hadid design. pic from 360east.com
Zaha Hadid planned design - pic from worldarchitecurenews.com
Most examples today of well designed contemporary architecture revolve around these core principles although occasionally referencing other styles and context in what is a looser world of design now. Often using simple Neo-Modernist geometric lines and shapes, just as important is their interaction with other forms that are natural or otherwise, and of course with the topography of the site containing its own history. I get it for the most part, and I appreciate it, however, it is ‘how’ this design is used that is important, not just simply ‘what’ is used. The best forms show a clearintention, by way of materials, colours or angles amidst a set of surroundings, to highlight something else. Essentially they act like ‘Arrows’ directing your eyes to something or somewhere else.
‘Context’ is central to contemporary design. Look at any quality contemporary project, exterior or interior and you will see clever use of light and shape in materials, not in order to be the focus of attention but as a way in providing a mirror to, or contrast with something else. Like the ‘arrow‘ concept I talked about previously it is a deflection of attention, in order to highlight that ‘other’ thing which could be daylight, the sun, a feeling of space, a colour somewhere else, a reflection, the trees, the orientation or altitude of the site, the rock forms nearby etc…
In the case of interiors, contemporary design is often utilised as a way to make the outside world the focus, effortlessly drawing it into the building. For example, many contemporary interiors use clean bright simple furnishings in order to highlight the green and colour of the countryside through the window, such an example is the ‘memetic’ house in Dromahir, Ireland by Dominick Stephens Architects. Images from treehugger.com >>>>
- Mimetic house. two parts to house. bottom concrete part with timber facade built into site and hidden from most views with glass covered rectangular room with glazed exteriors on top.
The top of this house has outward leaning walls so that the glass is always reflecting the grass and green colour up towards us, making it almost invisible in the landscape. An inventive way to mimick and be a part of the landscape.
- Mimetic house interior of upper room
Mimetic house. pic from vaari.eu
Hopefully this answers the question regarding ‘Why is it white?, thats boring’ The Interior of the mimetic house in this shot is all white and the materials sparse and linear but as I explained above the purpose of this interior is to frame the outside world in a series of green pictures. Nature is thefocal point of the rooms design, each wall and surface acts like an arrow pointing your attention to the outside rather than to itself. Colour in this instance could compromise the intention of this design, deflecting from the outside green landscape.
Another technique that is used in contemporary interiors is that of utilising a range of subtle colours and lines with additional contrasting colours and shapes to highlight a particular object in a persons living space such as an art piece, or perhaps focusing the attention on a kitchen piece, books or even chairs, by making everything else a bit more understated and subtle. Again, acting as an ‘Arrow‘ to an individual or series of items.
An example of this type of ‘pointing’ would be where a lenghty countertop with long horizontals usually breaks up verticals or emphasises the horizontal space and orientation of the room, rather than simply being the focus of attention itself. This is where many people dont get or like current contemporary architecure and design, as it rarely has intricate details or glamourous patterns in itself. It is usually a way simply to emphasise something else. Many readers are those that see the object itself rather than the overall space or intended focus of attention. Not that this is a problem, simply a difference in viewpoint and outlook on design.
In the case of the outside world of exteriors and structural forms particularly in landscape settings, contemporary designs often utilise different materials to try and provide a simple geometricreference to elements of the site, with nature’s undulating, non linear, asymmetrical forms whereby like two sides of a coin, one needs the other. Reference is done by way of contrasting or mirroring it in a simple way. Above all it should be sympathetic or considerate of the site, not simply to dominate it or seeminly to say ‘F*** You!’ to all around. Some examples below of fine contemporary architecture with historical or site based references recently.
Below is a building, from the US this time along Albert Kinney Boulevard in LA which highlights a contemporary twist of Modernism. Deeply referencing the history of the neighbouring houses with positioning of the windows and jamb details and yet keeping to modernism’s linear and functional aspects is highly rewarding visually.
- Fine Contemporary design. Neo-Modernism with historical reference.
The building below was designed by George Ranalli for a centre along Saratoga Avenue in New York City. Modernist design oozing with historical context throughout. Brick structure with concrete cornices and glazing at high level and with mahogony window frames. A smart Contemporary design that shows plenty of character. Very nice type of brick used on this and invokes both Neo-Modernistand traditional building techniques and styles.
- George Ranalli – Saratoga Avenue Centre with plenty of historical references mixed with modernist design
The Next building is one from Seattle in Washingotn, USA. It is very simple in outside form and blends in nicely with the site between 2 traditional homes in a suburb using modernistic linear shapes but the beauty comes from the use of materials. The wood facade perfectly reflecting light and shadows cming through the trees in front and providing a natural feel to the house.
- Madrona Residence by Vandeventer Carlander Architects in USA
- View from across the street. House is stepped back and blends in with the site and the streetscape.
- Shadows and Light dancing on the wood facade screen from the trees in front of house.
A quick note to Flat Roof haters…please dont base your opinions of flat roofs on the fact that dodgy builders put them up in the 60′s and they all leaked. It was a different time with different circumstances. The need for extensive building of cheap housing dictated that they went up quickly with little regard to quality. Building Science has come along way since then aswell….air and water barriers, sealing tapes and membranes and technologies of these products has vastly improved and just the fact that design regulations are tighter and more attention paid to roof designs these should be enough to feel safe. There are plenty of bad pitched roofs out there also, but they are better at hiding their problems than a flat roof with a larger margin for error, hence why many builders prefer doing them still.
Well, that just about wraps up this introduction post to Contemporary architecture and some of the various forms currently being put up. Next up is a bunch of old and new examples from my hometown of Cork in which I will highlight the good and bad points of these local examples. Plenty of great pics to come! Ok I’m off to get a latte…hopefully just like this one I had recently>>
- the taste buds are frothing up already…