Sunday, 15 September 2013

Occam's Razor cuts to the bleeding obvious

Occasionally (excuse the pun) you see a statement about a piece of architecture, that could be an elegant principle, worthy of repeating.  Sort of like conforming with Occam's Razor that the simplest theory that explains everything is the best theory.  Or Einstein's famous dictum, that all explanations should be reduced to their simplest, but no more.

It was in that spirit that I opened the post on DETAIL das architecture portal headed Four Different Façades – Sports Centre, expecting to see a building with an elegantly inflected marriage of responses to distinct functions, compelling in their 'just rightness'.

Well, the 'work' done by the facades takes the logic of this building a certain distance.  The south-east oriented façade of the swimming pool uses polycarbonate panels as air collectors to generate heat for the building.  And it makes perfect sense that it should be this same facade that has a large operable 'gate', so that the indoor pool can be opened up to the outside in summer. Unfortunately, the other three 'vertical' facades look either arbitrary or simplistic, and frankly don't have any compelling urban or other conditions with which to engage in any emphatic way.  How disappointing.

But also a reality check.  Let's face it, this particular 'principle' has always been used by most buildings, anyway.  You actually have to go pretty far out of your way to produce ruthless 'four part similarity' as in say Palladio's Villa Rotonda.  A good building doesn't actually have to make a virtue of its accommodating the influences of the site, and is likely to be modulated in three dimensions in a manner more complex than simplistically in the planes of four facades.

Perhaps my favourite personal example of this other fearsomely direct approach suggested by the DETAIL blog post, is Nouvel's Musée du quai Branly. But that building is infinitely more subtle. Think about it: the glass veil completing the Parisian street while creating the garden within a site.  The necessary reinforcement of the street corner with the right scale of solid building (I get upset that the iconic green wall distracts from the elementally potent urban design gesture).  The freedom to produce gleefully complicated 'backs' of the bounding buildings for use as studios for artists in residence, the porosity of the 'back' of the garden where it adjoins a residential community away from the boulevards......and so on.

Comparing the Nouvel's building and the "Inselparkhalle" in Hamburg reminds me of the confrontation in a NY street between Crocodile Dundee and the hopeful little thug with the thin little knife.  Like Dundee, Nouvel, might say as he points to the Branly: "That's a building with different facades!"

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