Monday, May 26, 2008
The Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale designed by Sverre Fehn in 1962 is one of the most beautiful pavilions at the Bienale. The proposal aimed to bring the white shadowless Nordic light to Venice which is achieved by the ceiling louvres which create soft diffuse light within the pavilion. The elegant, almost minimal, building incorporates existing mature trees into the design including the corner of the building where a large structural beams splits in two to frame the external tree.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Venice is in the once remarkably strategic but now unfortunate position of being located on the Venetian lagoon in the Adriatic Sea which was completely built out a long time ago. This has resulted in practically no expansion or development and created a city which I suspect looks much like it has for the past couple of hundred years. Whilst this creates an incredibly beautiful city and has been called one of the most beautiful cities in the world it feels as if it now exists solely for tourism and only an image of its former glory. The hoardes of tourists, 20 million a year, all but destroy the atmosphere and character of the city and transform it, as Andy said after his visit to the Venice Biennale last year, into a theme park. After a quick look at a crowded Piazza di San Marco I headed away from the main street which links the train station to San Marco via the Ponte di Rialto and along which one can barely walk because of the crowds, in search of a couple of works by Carlo Scarpa, a few important churches and Palazzo and quieter streets and canals.
Away from the main tourist strip Venice feels like a sleepy town within which the crowds and over zealous enthusiasm for cheaply made Carnivale masks and 70 euro Gondola rides seems completely alien. Quiet lanes and canals with boats sliding silently along, washing hanging across narrow lanes and quiet stones that have been there for hundreds of years. The streets, canals and buildings are the same as the ones filled with tourists but more beautiful and full of character without them. I imagined if I lived in one of the beautiful interiors of the old houses it would be a wonderful place to simply eat, sleep, fish and read and do little else as everything has already been built, its famous sons have already produced great works of art and literature and there is little room left for anything one would want to produce.
Carlo Scarpa's works were small moments of technical genius, lovingly crafted and it was evident that every single piece of material in his small interventions in the existing fabric of Venice had been lovingly considered, crafted and joined to its neighbour to create an exquisite piece of Architecture which expressed the beauty of manipulating materials into a door, wall, hinge or slab of stone.
I awoke at 7.00am on Sunday morning to return to Piazza San Marco without the tourists and in the soft early morning light felt like the authors who have written that Piazza San Marco is one of the greatest urban spaces in the world had a point. I am glad I got to see it without the tourists and appreciate it in a way that I imagine it has existed for the past few hundreds years prior to the combination of massive population growth in the past hundred years and budget airlines that has created a tourist industry that the city is barely capable of sustaining.
Sunday, May 4, 2008
Saturday, May 3, 2008
Atelier Ozenfant, 1922, was designed by Le Corbusier for his friend, Ozenfant. It incorporates some of the principles which which Le Corbusier set out in his 'five points of architecture'. The main double height studio space, originally designed with roof lights which have since been replaced with a roof terrace, is flooded with light. The geometrical clarity both inside and out creates a clearly legible and peaceful interior that is both spacious and functional. For such a small building, it is dense with brilliant spatial and planning devices, thresholds begining at street level and moving up the entrance stair which brings the visitor off the main straight and reveals the laneway, various shaped windows which reflect both the planning of the interior and respond to the corner site and is filled with natural light.
Le Corbusier designed a house which was both a working and living environment and gallery simultaneously. Whilst this combination of working, living and gallery existed in the large homes of the French nobility and rural farm houses Le Corbusier created a distinctly modern version of mixed program which architect's today are proposing as a new typology.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Villa Savoye (1928-29) by Le Corbusier. The biggest discovery whilst in Paris was Le Corbusier. It was a special moment walking down the driveway of the Ville Savoye and then turning the corner to see the beautifully symmetrical building surrounded by grass and trees which I has seen in architecture books for many years. In both the Ville Savoye and Maison la Roche the spaces were so clean and filled with light, so much light, yet somehow homely and far from cold and industrial, in comparison to todays mass produced building materials. All the materials and surfaces were selected for obvious reasons, the coloured walls defined the spaces wonderfully and gave the spaces a sense of character which was far from banal or imposing and the amount of storage, shelving and built in furniture gave you the impression that the inhabitant was of the utmost importance. The windows, views and flow and interaction of the public spaces and outside was so purposefully done you could easily imagine the house filled with life, and a vibrant life at that. This is so different from what I had expected and so far removed from the work of so many contemporary architects today. Despite some of Le Corbusier's grander ambitions I got the sense in his domestic work that whilst obviously radical for their time there was a desire for the architecture to improve and facilitate the life that exists within the building. That whilst it may have been promoted as a machine for living in that the role of the machine was to be at the inhabitants aid and become useful to supporting the life that existed rather than imposing itself on the inhabitant or dictating its use to the inhabitant. In comparison to the dark spaces and heavily ornamented older buildings the spaces of which I love a great deal and often prefer to contemporary architecture, Le Corbusier's work made so much sense and seemed to have more in common with the more utilitarian buildings that exist in the French countryside and have for centuries, the work of Loos and even John Pawson. I could imagine myself living in these buildings with ease and the neutrality of the architecture and its simple and functional design where one could appreciate the reasons for part of the building being a certain way seemed far from radical. This seems at odds with many of the more radical architecture movements of the last half of the twentieth century and today where so much of the 'architecture' is not essential neither simple and neutral and certainly not designed to improve how a person inhabits the space. Perhaps if I was alive in the 1920's I would have been quite shocked by Le Corbusier's building but after going to Paris I never understood how simply his buildings achieved the qualities of fresh air, light, function and circulation and how in a strange way modest were the aspirations of these houses in terms of creating a place to live. And how strong the relationship to more basic types of architecture was in the work of the Modernists. I thought at the time that perhaps the most radical aspect of the work was that he had the audacity to call it Architecture.