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Monday, January 28, 2019

21st Century Architecture (part II)

Milwaukee Art Museum--weird for the sake of weirdness--a disturbing trend, especially with regard to art museums.
About three years ago I wrote regarding the incredible 21st-Century Architecture I could see rising now and just over the horizon. In rereading the first installment on the subject, it struck me that I may have slighted domestic architecture in favor of massive high-rise edifices. Moreover I seem to have been infatuated with some of the "weirder" manifestations of such works. More recently I wrote regarding the sprouting skyline of Doha, Qatar (most of which is definitely on the weird side). I can accept the fact that structures designed now and in the future will be significantly different from what we commonly see now; but all too often architects seem predisposed to be "different" for the sake of being different as might be noted in the new Milwaukee Art Museum (above). That I find indefensible except perhaps with regard to such designers/engineers as being artists with creative impulses tinkering in a billion-dollar art medium. Today I hope to steer clear of the "weird for the sake of weirdness" and to explore in greater depth a few of the more outstanding examples of domestic architecture (homes) being designed and built today.
A glimpse into the future (today).
Weird or not, all architecture has precedence and past influences, even the postmodern designs of our present era. It's not hard to notice both in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (1935) and John Lautner's Chemosphere (1960). Both architects and their work are excellent role models in the area of domestic architecture (above). However an influence we may not bring to mind is that which many of us enjoyed in the brief Hanna-Barbera's TV cartoon series The Jetsons (below). It ran for just one season (September 1962 to March 1963), but the architectural influence of this futuristic counterpart to their much-more-successful Flintsones, seems to have had an inordinate impact of the impressionable young minds of Today's architects. Whether the creators foresaw global climate change and the resulting rise in sea level, or simply to facilitate their flying cars, in the Jetson's world, everything seems to have been built on stilts.

Funny looking, yes, but Hanna-Barbera provided a more accurate peek into the future of architecture than we realized
--then or now.
Before launching into three of the best examples of 21st-century domestic architecture, let me briefly highlight two of the better examples of large-scale works I came upon. They range from the simply eye-catching to the borderline weirdness mentioned earlier. The first, designed by the firm of Neutelings Riedijk, is the City of Antwerp (Belgium) Museum of Art (below) which seems to buck the trend toward creating art museums which compete in their design with the art they house. Opened in 2010, the museum is situated in the heart of the old harbor area, close to the city center. It is a 60 meters (197 feet) tall tower of stacked exhibition spaces. Each level is twisted 90 degrees to form a giant spiral. The glassed spaces become vertical galleries. Escalators guide the visitors to the top of the building in a journey through the history of Antwerp as seen in panoramas of the city. On the upper floor is a restaurant, conference room, and a sky deck. The tower is designed to form one continuous space for exhibitions and events.

21st-century museum architecture at its best--different without being weird.
A second example of what's happening today can be found in Montpelier, France. Designed by Nolas Lisne Associates of Paris, the multi-functional White Tree (below) is a 17-story mixed-use tower designed to accommodate residential units, office space, an art gallery, restaurant, and panoramic bar. The 10,000 square meter (108,000 square foot) structure seems to grow organically out of the ground, with a natural form that appears to have been sculpted over time. The scheme’s various branches also provide selected areas of shade for adjacent properties. Influenced by the city’s fondness for outdoor living, balconies gravitate toward the exterior, like leaves fanning out to absorb sunlight. A generous provision of vegetation sees hanging gardens, plants and trees positioned throughout the residential units, imagined as a vertical garden. The tower devises passive strategies throughout its design in order to ensure a comfortable and livable environment that feeds off locally available resources.

From afar, White Tree might seem pretty far up the "weirdness" scale, but up-close, being "different" has its practical advantages.
Presently under construction, as seen above in computer renderings, each of the high-rise’s residents can select a preferred floor plan from a list of possible layouts (below), encouraging ‘free choice architecture’ through a series of modular spaces.

The lower-level "branches" of the White Tree.
Though having the appearance of a manicured bush, White Tree is actually a multi-angled vertical tower with cantilevered balconies of various sizes.
On the domestic front, I came upon the Herrero House in Alella, Spain, near Barcelona (below). Minimalism is, admittedly, not a style everyone could live with. Its largely white expanses of unadorned walls and hard edges strike some as quite cold and dehumanizing. Others find the same features with their uncluttered simplicity a welcome relief from the maniacal complexities of modern life. Personally, I'd fall into the latter group. Herrero House is a luxury Mediterranean villa that has an unique combination of 20th-century design and 21st century technologies. At almost 500 square meters (5,400 square foot) in area spread over three floors, Herrero House boasts a technical basement, a living area on the ground level, and the sleeping areas upstairs. The use of newly developed insulating materials exponentially improves energy efficiency. Home automation can control the whole house through a Smartphone. Rainwater is used to irrigate the Mediterranean garden and fill the pool. The amazingly white infinity pool is linked with the house which allows changing the color of its waters. The garden area surrounding the house combines Mediterranean native species with a Japanese Zen spirit, balancing tradition and serenity in nature to create an ideal home environment.

I could learn to live with this, but I doubt if my wife could.
Gracing the English countryside is the Serenity Passive House by Baca Architects (below). Built at a cost of $11-million, this is a prime example that the cutting edge doesn't come cheap. Certified as a passive house, it sips energy like a fine Chardonnay. This means that it has good solar orientation, triple pane windows, little if no heat loss from thermal bridging, and lots of insulation. The house can't forgo all heating and cooling, though. It relies on two systems that are integrated to not only keep the house cozy, but efficiently heat the pool nestled in the middle of the courtyard. The first is a ground source heat pump which utilizes 490-foot deep wells--far beyond standard depths--for this technology. The heat pump uses the ground as a sort of thermal battery by dumping excess heat in the summer and retrieving it again in the winter. The system is expected to balances itself out through the year. Engineering aside, the interior is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the architecture with its sweeping spaces that connect at the garden courtyard. The centerpiece is a waterfall cascading from the roof into a pool. The house itself at some 16,000 square feet, may take some getting used to. The sumptuous curves and bulbous look are akin to a racing car sculpted to speed through the air. The house is similarly shaped to reach peak performance in its environment.

One-of-a-kind luxury and technology at a price.
(Too rich for my blood.)
And finally, the Japanese architecture firm, ARTechnic, has designed and completed this unusual-but-beautiful minimalist concrete ovoid home in Karuizawa, Japan. Built in two sections, around a fir tree, it is nestled in a forest and is as amazing inside as it is on the outside. The Shell House is a house remodeled with a combination of minimalisn and nature. With the profile of a shell and an aerial appearance of some alien spacecraft, the futuristic Shell House is a two-story, concrete abode comprising two tubes with oval sections, arranged around a fir tree. The floor is raised 1.4 meters (5 feet) from the ground, The architects intended to minimize time spent on maintaining the property by separating the house from its natural surroundings. "Being in sync with nature isn’t about yielding to nature, it’s about coexistence," explains Kotaro Ide of ARTechnic. The regions’ low temperatures and high humidity level makes for a harsh climate. As a result, many houses in the area that have taken on traditional structures are decaying. Consequently, a large numbers of villas have not been in use for many years allowing them to become dilapidated. Despite the general avoidance of concrete material in the region, its usage and the lifting structure have helped the villa protect itself from the humidity.

Curvilinear minimalism, a design inspired by a tree.
Leaving the boundary between human life and nature ambiguous is a Japanese virtue. Yet, this ideal can only be achieved through meticulous attention and care of the wilderness on a daily basis. This might be attainable at our homes, but isn’t a practical theory when applied to villas. If a visit to a vacation villa inevitably leads to hours and days of maintenance, why bother going? Having a type of living space that merges with nature can be appealing, but it seems natural to consider this option only when one is ready to devote a large amount of time solely on maintenance. Villas should not only be functional spaces for the weekend, but good for rest, leisure, and picturesque views that never become dull. In the style of many modern sculptures, Shell House aims to enhance the surrounding nature by incorporating it within the spatial structure. Let's hope this, not the Jetsons, is the 21st-century future of architecture.

Costs, aesthetics, engineering, lifestyles, and nature all play a role in the evolution of a 21st-century home design.


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