Posts Tagged ‘architectural design’

Still-unsurpassed box store architecture: SITE

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

I first saw these amazing buildings, almost all of which have now either had their facades removed or have actually been demolished, in the November 2007 issue of Wallpaper. The BEST Products Company of Richmond, Virginia commissioned architect James Wines’ SITE (Sculpture In The Environment) to build nine commercial buildings for them in the 1970s and early 80s. BEST was founded and owned by the Lewises, a Virginia family interested in art and design. BEST stores were famous for their willingness to trade store merchandise for art and as a result the company, as well as the Lewises, gathered a significant collection of 20th century pieces. Much of the Lewis Collection can be seen at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. (See Wikipedia for a more detailed story.) Apparently more photographs of the building above have appeared in books on 20th century architecture than any other modern structure. Some interesting videos about the Best buildings are here. And Part 2 of this blog post is here.

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

Best Products Company building by architect James Wines of SITE

The Japanese live comfortably in tiny spaces. Could we?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

traditional japanese farmhouse

In the western world, 750 sq ft apartments can seem really small, even for just two people. The excerpt below is from an interesting article by Nold Egenter, a Swiss architectural anthropologist, on the cultural influences that allow the Japanese to live comfortably in what North Americans would consider small spaces. From the traditional peasant farmer’s wooden house, above, to contemporary tiny houses and apartments in contemporary Tokyo, Japanese living spaces have often measured less than 500 or 600 square feet, and yet they easily house a whole family. How is this possible?

Several years ago a study of the European Community concluded that the Japanese live in “rabbit cages.” The study was based essentially on statistical research which showed that the average dwelling space for a family in urban agglomerations hardly amounts to 40 square meters [430 sq. ft.]. Great astonishment! “Why do two out of three Japanese affirm that they like their life and that in general they are content?” In view of the fact that in Europe today a corresponding family needs roughly 100 square meters [1000 sq. ft.] – that is to say, two and a half times as much – one could ask the counter question: Do we waste space? Why does the average urban family in Japan manage with so much less dwelling surface and still feel comfortable? In such purely quantitative comparisons, it is often overlooked that spatial needs are closely related to the constructive design, and this is determined by the specific cultural tradition. To illustrate this point there is hardly any better example than that of Japan. Its architectural heritage and its dwelling culture developed under entirely different cultural and geographical conditions from those with which we are familiar.

Environmental and economic constraints are forcing us away from the sprawling way we have lived over the past century. If Negenter is right (to read his whole article, click at the end of this post), both architecture and dwelling habits have to change in order to make city living in small spaces more workable, and that obviously won’t happen overnight (though apparently it’s happening already). North American apartment, house and condo architecture would have to change, and so would our daily tools, appliances, expectations and habits. Nearly every design magazine and design blog now constantly revisits the question of how to live in fewer square feet, but perhaps what is needed is a much less piecemeal approach, and something that goes a little deeper than the “ten tips for living small” approach.

Tiny Tokyo house by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima

Bump House, Tokyo

The houses shown here are larger than many Japanese apartments. They are spacious by Japanese standards but still tiny by North American standards. All are less than 1000 square feet inside, some much less, and all make use of previously unused empty urban lots. The tiny white Tokyo house at top is by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima, whose most recent project is the New Museum in New York (great picture of her by Annie Liebowitz here). Directly above is the relatively large Bump house, (900 sq ft) and below is a tiny house by Sschemata (760 sq ft). I suspect they’re all white because it makes them seem larger. See Apartment Therapy on 300 sq. ft. houses, and see also a great post on increasing the perceived size of a house through Japanese building techniques – the videos show a number of tiny urban Japanese houses. Top ten ways Japanese live small is here. And a small article here by O.N. Gillespie, author of The Japanese House. North American example? Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.

Tokyo house by Sschemata


Handmade houses in Christiania

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

christiania, glass house, august 2007

Maybe it’s because these houses are reminiscent of the tradition of handmade houses here on the West Coast, but there’s something pleasingly familiar about the eccentric wooden buildings of Christiana, the surreal, semi-autonomous, rebel neighbourhood of Copenhagen. It would take too long to fully cover the strange history of  Christiania here, but you can click the link to read the Wikipedia entry if you’re not familiar with the story. In short, Christiania began in 1971 as an occupation of disused army barracks in the south of the city and has continued for over 30 years as a sort of utopian social experiment. Some interesting articles on Christiania’s present so-called demise are here and here and here. It’s the houses themselves I’m interested in. In British Columbia, this form of wild, freeform architecture is commonly called the handmade or hippie house, but we’ve also heard the term Westcoast Vernacular used to describe this style, and in California it’s sometimes called Big Sur Vernacular. You can actually find houses like these still nestled in parts of Vancouver, though they’re increasingly rare now in this town which is paralysed by Byzantine, creativity-destroying planning rules. But buildings like this are common throughout BC, especially on the islands off the southern coast where the climate is mild. Why are these so popular here? Maybe it’s that their use of wood and large expanses of glass feel correct in a cloudy environment where warm materials and natural light become imperative. It’s probably also that compared to the often stodgy transplanted architectural styles and decor that are much more common here (Victorian, Edwardian, fake Tudor, etc.), handbuilt houses represent boldness, innovation, creativity, pleasure and freedom. They’re closer to modern design, but it’s a much more freestyle version of modern architecture, not the austere, almost protestant modernism we’re used to, and the materials are in many cases more rustic. These houses aren’t machines for living, as modernists dictated; they’re theatrical stages and/or sanctuaries. They represent a kind of third modern design option, something that’s neither traditional nor modernist. Having grown up around this type of architecture I tend to assume this brand of  hippie utopianism is a distinctly New World thing, but obviously I’m wrong. You could see any of these in British Columbia and not feel surprised.

Glashus Christiania

Each glashus, or glasshouse, is made from salvaged wooden windows.

Christiania riverside house

This fantastic riverside house has a sod roof; closer view below. This is more an expensive piece of classic modern architecture, and less a handmade hippie house.  Christiania has grown a little more gentrified, but on the other hand this is a great sustainable house, and probably warmer than the beautiful but chilly early Christiana houses in the Danish winter. As an article in the Independent pointed out, Christiania has to a large extent just traded flower power for solar power.

copenhagen, christiania, grass roof


The house above is weirdly reminiscent of John Lautner’s Chemosphere house. Below, something slightly more traditional. Without a planning code, inventive building styles proliferate.


Christiania "banana" house built by German bridge builders

This “banana” shaped house was built by a group of Germans who came as volunteers to erect bridges in the colony and were subsequently allowed to build their own structure.

Thanks to photographers on Flickr for these excellent photos: Line Lyng, Christian Svanes Kolding, Dave Gorman and Henrik.


Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Kindergarten in Tromso, Finland, by Norwegian Architects 70 Degrees North

Kindergarten in Tromso, Finland, by Norwegian Architects 70 Degrees North

Kindergarten in Tromso, Finland, by Norwegian Architects 70 Degrees North

Magical kindergarten in Tromso, Norway, by Norwegian architecture firm 70° N. Via contemporist via trendinsights.