Sunday, 24 August 2014

Dynamic architecture

I guess there has always been a fascination with an architecture of moving parts. The most elegant, of course, have always been those environments achieved with the most economical means: the infinite variations on the transformation of cool marble terraces and pavilions in Mogul architecture by the ephemera of canopies and rugs. Or the swelling and shrinking of living space in the traditional Japanese house, as a variety of shutters and screens slide to open or enclose the engawa in response to the seasons, or for privacy or security.

But for some architects, that is not quite enough. They make entire walls that slide or tilt, rooms or even houses that swivel and turn. The latest one to get its 15 minutes of fame is a house in Teheran, with elegant swivelling container-like boxes that turn 90° to transform its facade from open in summer to relatively closed in winter.

I won't pretend that I am not seduced by the imagery, that's my imagination doesn't immediately speculate about the effect of such transformations on the public space of the city. But as usual, more detailed scrutiny of what is really achieved, leaves one much more dissatisfied than excited.

Dezeen really outdoes itself this time, with an extraordinary spread of photographs and detailed architectural drawings – so that one can study the functional and spatial implications of these dynamic rooms.  Unfortunately, such study is rewarded mainly by the conclusion that the magic is a bit like the illusions of Harry Houdini. It was he who said he could make an elephant disappear in a crowded room – how? By distracting you.  In the case of the Sharifi-ha House it turns out that the elephant in the room is just what a minor role in all this mechanical gymnastics actually performs. 

The main bulk of the house, and its spatial order are arranged around an internal atrium that is hardly impacted by this variable slice of space which hangs off one side.

What's more, the house is conspicuously centrally air-conditioned, calling into question the entire raison d'ĂȘtre of the transformation from cosy enclosed in winter and light and airy in summer.

Sometimes, I worry about my own cynicism, and my constant temptation to query the headline. And so it is in this case.

As must have been obvious from my introductory paragraphs, I love architecture that responds dynamically to the seasons and to the patterns of life that it supports. But both my scientific and aesthetic biases are shaped by Occam's razor, which so forcefully asserts that the simplest solution that solves all of the problem, is usually the best.

See the glorious spread on Dezeen at Rotating rooms give Sharifi-ha House by Next Office a shape-shifting facade.

If you can put up with the irritating Flash driven navigation, there are another 47 images on the architects' own site at  It's like the game 'Whack the Mole' but eventually you can find Projects then Sharifi-ha House.

No comments: