Friday, February 2, 2018

VIRGINIA KERRIDGE - THE SERIALITY OF MATERIALITY, TACTILITY AND TRANSPARENCY: “MY OBSESSIONS”


It was a balmy coastal evening. The sun set on a warmly humid day with an unusual lack of drama. The pale yellow, lemon horizon faded into grim, darkening black with an uneventful, unremarkable, fuzzy ease. The entrance into the Abedian School of Architecture now has a certain familiarity about it that seems to have the same lack of impact as the evening sky on days like this. Yet, still there was a surprise. The linear easel structure remained in place, looking larger than ever, crudely, awkwardly, filling the corridor in a way that was previously concealed by the intimacy of the entry screen, now removed, and the crowds, now gone – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/12/abedian-school-of-architecture-spring.html ; and the bar had been brought forward to avoid the awkward crush at the kitchen/entry space. It was, apparently, the barman's decision. He seemed to miss the irony of the comment that architects should know better. With so many architects about, why does it take a barman to notice the better location for the distribution of drinks? But this is the Abedian School where architecture seems to be defined by the visual drama of its own building, the ‘Sir Peter’ architectural form that becomes the promotional front for the working sheds behind – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/12/abedian-school-of-architecture-spring.html Appearances seem to be more important than functions in this visual drama of vertical posts, curving masses and dramatic downpipes: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/bond-downpipes.html

Gold Coast, Southeast Queensland, Australia

Strangely, there were many folk already seated with a drink in the Forum area. Students? Were they all encouraged to attend; coerced? What was the particular draw-card tonight – the speaker; the drinks; the nibblies: all three? One picked up a glass of wine from the more welcoming bar location, bypassed the cheese and bikkies, and chose a seat. The electronics at the lectern were just being connected. There is always some exemplary exposition of hope on these occasions with last-minute setups – blind belief that the gadgets will work without any testing failures. One attended to the few matters that needed to be looked at on the mobile phone, like everyone else. The tap on the back meant that a colleague had arrived – late. It was a steaming, solar hot water unit that had been the problem: 6:29pm.


Virginia Kerridge



Unusually, the speaker was ushered in by Professor Adrian Carter, like a formal promenade at a wedding without the fanfare. He introduced her in glowing terms; they were obviously good friends: “has won domestic awards; completed an apartment block at 3565 Main Beach, the new benchmark; has been written about in Chasing the Sky – 20 Stories of Women in Architecture (by Dean Dewhirst).” Virginia Kerridge, (VK), had been invited to run a masters programme at the school. She began, gushing with praise for it: “One big happy family in this beautiful building.” One remains cynical about such relationships generating exuberant praise. Opinions must be better than a mate’s vision of things. The school inspections of the past come to mind, where mate invited mate in a reciprocal dance of self-indulgent praise to ensure the very best of reports.


Main Beach apartments


Andy Goldsworthy's art - as delicate and amazing as Scarpa's detailing




VK – see: http://vk.com.au/ - dedicated her talk titled Art & Craft in Architecture, to the late Paul Pholeros, who had been the director of Healthabitat.^ She began by introducing her ideas: how architecture was “an art and a craft; art plus human experience” - “the interaction of looking and feeling and habitation.” VK’s mother was an artist. VK told how she had been raised with great artists, (Dobell, Boyd, etc.), as household names – mother was a student at the College of Art in Sydney. Then a friend’s artworks in nature were illustrated. There were beautifully delicate “interventions” that brought to mind the wonderful work of the Scottish artist, Andy Goldsworthy, but his name was not mentioned: the work was identical in its ideas, themes and techniques. It was this artwork that first raised the words tactility and materiality, and the concept of “making an intervention in a site.” The suggestion, the implication, seemed to be that all of these people and environments had had an impact on VK – inspired her, even if latently. Scarpa was added to the list; his Castelvecchio Museum that displayed “an intervention in a building, to integrate and be a part of it,” was mentioned.** The phrases started: “sense of tactility; getting ideas together” in the details of rails, steps, windows. Switzerland’s Peter Zumpthor got a brief mention, with an image of this Saint Benedict Chapel flashed up on the screen; but little more was said about this architect’s work beyond its “great sense of wonder in landscape.”# It seemed more intricate and considered than this – see text on Zumpthor below.


Castelvecchio Museum, Scarpa


Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor

3565 Main Beach


VK became a little nostalgic as she told of her beginnings at the NSW University where she studied architecture somewhat reluctantly, almost belligerently. It was only some time later that she “became really passionate about architecture,” after travelling to New York. It was then that she started working for herself. The stories went on to tell about 2008, when Katie Page – see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katie_Page - commissioned VK to develop a site at Main Beach. It was an area zoned for three storeys only, but the team wanted seven - “ to still maintain contact with street.” This seemed to set a terrible example for less responsible developers who might not care about the street. Ideas included “interface with public; green areas; screening; transparency and privacy; building depth; open/closed spaces.” It seemed strange to hear the 1970’s theory on the 'public space/street supervision' concept, then known as Safe Spaces, being promoted as a new, twenty-first century vision. This was the 3565 Main beach apartment building the Professor had praised. One remembered that the ‘relationship with the street’ concept arose as an important issue because mothers in high-rise units in Britain felt the need to be able to supervise their children in the play areas. Why was it important here when screens seemed to be the main expression?


3565 Main Beach


3565 Main Beach

An abundance of drawings was shown to illustrate the development of this project, and many models too. The architect had to go to court to argue for its approval. Sand-coloured, smooth concrete, grey zinc and pre-aged, recycled ironbark, (from the Kingaroy Railway), had been used for the building materials to create a “transitional urban form” for this seven storey building – “actually eight if you count the penthouse,” which, of course, one should. This game seemed to be as tricky as that of any other developer. Ideas of “modulation; light; human scale; relation to beach; transparency, (“Sort of see through them”),” were raised as the slick, double-light, John Gollings’ images glossed over the screen. The photographs captured the unique glory of the building as a sculpture: “It was a big effort; took ten years”: (on architectural photography: see -

and
http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2017/12/solitary-architecture-ignoring-contexts.html )


3565 Main Beach

House in the Country




House in the Country - showing historic cottage


VK moved on to talk about the House in the Country (the Hunter region). It was actually houses on a horse stud in a remote valley in the Hunter region: “I really love horses; such intelligent, sensitive creatures.” The approach to the design started with wandering around the site, “the valley of the gods.” She, VK, wanted to “keep the sense of history.” This seemed to be the two old sandstone cottages said to be a bushranger retreat, Thunderbolt’s hideout. The ideas continued: “ look at mountains; engage with creek, (reshaped by Peter Andrews, a quirky environmentalist promoted by Gerry Harvey of Harvey Norman); follow presence of mountains; scale; honour the mountains.” A couple vet houses were built first, almost as a test case, both saluting the hills; and then the main residence that incorporated the old sandstone buildings was constructed, to give “solid and transparent” spaces; “places for pauses” to “accentuate transparency,” all on the 100 year flood level datum, at a “grand scale.” The “idea of grafting;” of “adding to old as though it had always been there” - “a light touch with everything on the property.” Was this simply another version of Murcutt’s “touch the ground lightly” rephrased? The “sense of materiality and tactility that we are keen on using” was noted, along with the “robust materials inside” - hardwood ply and rammed earth: but not too much rammed earth, “It was far too expensive.” The influence of Scarpa was noted in the detail, “in all things you touch.” “The roofs echo the mountains behind.” One thought of the 1960s classic book by Paul Grillo, What is design? Is it ever read these days? Is it still in print? One wonders about the negative impacts of ‘progress' that mock age and its intelligence and relevance.



House in the Country


House in the Country - 'robust materials inside'

Zumpthor-esque verticals


House in the Country - 'valley of the gods'

House in the Country - vet's residence 'salute'

Taylor Square Warehouse - 'lead roof used to add weight':
note the classic 'architect's' car carefully parked for the image:
knowing some photographer's tricks, one needs to ask - what might it conceal?

Taylor Square Warehouse - 'a piece of sculpture'

VK moved on to talk about the Taylor Square Warehouse, the refurbishment of the old carriage works building to become a home. VK noted that the ideas were the same: “robust materials; light; recycled materials - (“This is where I start being interested in textures”) - detailing; inside/outside.” Oddly, lead was used as the roofing material - “To add weight to the scheme.” Was this a metaphor or a functional fact?  Here VK explained that her art was always rooted in her constant potting, painting and sketching, suggesting that this involvement freed up her architectural efforts. “The quality of work goes down when one stops revitalising your work.” The “higgedly-piggedly” stair was pointed out, “a piece of sculpture.” “Certain things are a constant patter – the importance of detail; tactility; “What is a handle?” - the shape of the hands.” (see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/what-is-handle.html ) “Exercise bespoke tactility; part of a vocabulary of a building; the enjoyment of materiality.” The repeated words started to feel like bland architectural jargon - (see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2018/01/architectural-words-logic-and-meaning.html ).


The lovely sag of the 'weighty' lead roof:
note the panel accommodates the perforations of the tapware, but not the waste


Taylor Square Warehouse 'Scarpa-esque' detail:
it seems to lack the intrigue, surprise and wonder of Scarpa's work

Luker Studio


Luker Studio in Glebe was the next project to be revealed. This was spoken about only briefly. It was from a stage where VK “just did things” - (c.f. http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/drew-heath-bespoke-details-practise.html ). She had it photographed only recently for the talk. Here an original, historic, Edmund Grouse house had been extended. The intentions were not to spoil the place with a “deliberate intervention, modern and robust,” to create a studio for the client in a garden – a box within a box. VK “played around with form” that “just happened,” to give “a multifunction box in a garden.” It all appeared somewhat random and ad hoc.


Luker Studio - 'deliberate intervention'

Luker Studio - 'modern and robust'


Bronte House - 'floating platforms'

'Scarpa-esque' entry water detail - see Scarpa details below

Bronte House was the next project up on the screen, a house for VK’s brother just above Bronte Beach - “floating platforms with screens for privacy.” We had heard about this theme before. “The pond defines entry; play with textures, (much like a Scarpa water detail); an enriching experience at the entry; void for airflow over dining area; sense of transparency and light (“my obsession”).”



The problems in controlling the service connections!

Bronte house - dining ventilation void


Lilyfield Warehouse - 'memory'


The Lilyfield Warehouse for Merrick Watts, a comedian was spoken about: “always fun.” “Wanted to have the character of a family home.” VK spoke of how parts of the old warehouse were removed to open up courtyard garden spaces, leaving the old trusses in place as “memory.” The issues were “air flow; robust materials; recycling of materials; re-imagining the building; obsession with tactility; relation to human scale” - “that’s what my work is saying to me.” It is what we had heard frequently repeated throughout the evening.



Lilyfield Warehouse


That was the end of the talk that finished bluntly, in a way similar to that used by the traditional storyteller: “That is the end of the story” - “That is my last image:” It was 7:40pm. This was obviously too early for Professor Adrian, who moved in with an exotically florid summing up: " a painterly approach to architecture; sympathetic recycling, etc. . . ." He asked a couple of ‘Dorothy Dix’ questions, as if to extend the evening; but even these self-conscious acts did not fill the gap, so questions were begged from the audience. Was he aiming for 8:00pm as the invitation had defined it? One person responded to the call: “Where do you get your inspiration for your buildings?” was the student's sad question. One thought: not from Pinterest! One could only admire the measured response to this naive question from what looked like a lost soul; how it was carefully and sensitively managed. It was indeed an impossible question to answer, one that said more about the student, and perhaps the school, than anything else.* Tradition explains the situation in a matter-of-fact manner: if it could be told, it would have been – such is the quality of matters subtle and poetic.



Still the time-gap had to be filled. Professor Adrian moved in with a commentary-question so forced that it felt embarrassing: “Do what is appropriate; full site engagement; vocabulary of how to look at problems; learn from material and inspiration.” It felt like a real struggle. This too, was responded to with guile and awareness. Then there was still more begging for more questions; even comments would do now. One audience member responded with questions about the legal approval process of the Main Beach apartment block. This project had to go to court to obtain approval. A few more minutes were spent exploring an answer, “that it was all happy endings; fluidity of bedroom spaces; screens help external appearance; protect outside to give more life inside; a double layer.” Then, yet again, there was more begging and explanations: “inside/outside space; treated as a big house; 100 signatures against; didn’t conform to codes; now liked by all.” “A change of thinking in the area?” “Yeah, probably a change in street landscape.” Professor Adrian was obviously searching for his prediction to be confirmed – that this apartment block was the new benchmark: (see real estate NOTE below).


Castelvecchio Museum, Detail, Scarpa

Now, in spite of the continued begging, there were no more questions, just a persistent, eerie silence. The subdued "OK" seemed to admit defeat. "Thank you." It was 7:45pm.


Castelvecchio Museum, Detail, Scarpa

The question remains: if Scarpa is such an influence, does the quality of the outcome lie in reproducing his awareness and solutions, or in seeking out the substance, the roots of his awareness? One had the feeling that this lady was designing a 'Scarpa' response to architectural matters. This seemed only to give things ‘Scarpa-esque.’ If quality and depth are going to resonate, rather than be replicated in an attempted reproduction, one has to seek feelings and emotions deeper than appearances, techniques, and themes. One kept on seeing Scarpa things in this work, almost in the same way as one might read a catalogue. The constant repetition of materiality, tactility and transparency – “my obsessions” – appeared to modify the commitment, and turn it into a prescription. Scarpa's work always holds more than a reproduction or a replica in approach can; more than a self-conscious 'careful feeling' might induce, no matter how 'sensitive' or 'committed'  this act is seen to be, or be explained.

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor


The inspiration derived from other architects is always a concern. How many Ronchamps are there throughout the world? I can think of a pump house, a transport rest area building, and a residence, all of which have been shaped with the very best intentions of ‘worshipping’ Ronchamp. All make a mockery of it, in spite of these ambitions arising from sincere, respectful admiration. We need to manage our inspiration as well as our intentions. It is easy for one to squash the other. One inspired detail does not make a work of art: but the role of copying in tradition needs to be acknowledged – see writings of Ananda Coomaraswamy. It was always considered better to copy a master than invent some quirky, personal variation of one’s own ad hoc invention.


Castelvecchio Museum, Detail, Scarpa

Castelvecchio Museum, Detail, Scarpa

VK’s talk was shaped by words that appeared to touch on a limited, fixed set of understandings that perhaps could manage futures - contain them. Yet the ‘art &craft’ of the architecture did manage to be displayed. It shows how tradition’s understanding of copying values, as against the circumstance where one “just did things .. playing around with forms . . . just happened,” still has relevance and strength even today. Good work can be done without being just too ‘arty’ or ‘crafty.’ We need to overcome the desire for everything to be a bespoke creation of MY unique genius, and approach the world with sensitivity and care; and humility – see comment below.*


Scarpa detail


Paul Pholeros
^ Paul Pholeros director of Healthabitat: see - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Pholeros
see also:
How design can help fight povertyhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiDSQyFdd68


Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor

# Peter Zumpthor: VK did not dwell too long on identifying the PZ Saint Benedict Chapel, located in the village of Sumvitg, Graubűnden. Was it because one might recognise the similarity between its idea and the housing at Hunter?

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor - entry (see plan below)


* Perhaps VK could have referred to PZ’s approach:
In an interview with The New York Times, Zumpthor once explained his process: “When I start, my first idea for a building is with the material. I believe architecture is about that. It’s not about paper, it’s not about forms. It’s about space and material.” (www.archdaily.com)
Maybe VK should have simply noted Scarpa and Zumpthor as her inspiration, as she had explained in her talk; but perhaps this might have alerted folk to the parallels between their work and hers: note the structure of the Hunter Houses, its similarity to Zumpthor’s chapel. Note also the similarity between the specific details that can be said to be 'Scarpa-esque.' ‘Inspiration’ can so easily be seen as copying. Now this raises yet another issue : today it is seen as a weakness to copy; that one has not been ‘original.’ Tradition held that it was always better to copy than to probe blindly into the discovery of form ‘creatively,’ 'higgedly-piggedly,' not really knowing what one was doing, just hoping for an 'interesting' outcome. Copying at least gave one a direction that held or referenced meaning, rather than one's indulging in random games, the 'playing around with form' seeking ‘self- expression.’ Art in older eras was never self-expression. It represented subjects that had depth and meaning, cosmic relevance. It was this understanding that made copying important, that it reproduced things of substance rather than mere personal whims. Our era seeks the scattergun approach: the repeated revelations of creative genius in everyone seeking to declare ME!



Maybe the poet can help here?
C.K.Stead Collected Poems 1951-2006, AUP, 2008, p.286:
‘Thinking is what creeps up on me
when I’m not thinking.
It’s the living that matters.’

** Note: Dropped names are used in the talk, apparently for the sustenance and prestige that might come with them, but not much more. The significant Peter Zumpthor barely got a mention, but became a claimed reference. Scarpa was mentioned two or three times. It was good to see that the consultants in the projects were given credit for their involvement.

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor

Hunter House, VK

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor

Hunter House, VK

Hunter House, VK

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor

Saint Benedict Chapel, Zumpthor


CARLO SCARPA DETAILS











NOTE
Zumpthor and Scarpa are two of nine famous architects who never had a degree: see -
Educational institutions might find this simple fact worth pondering. The list is:

Frank Lloyd Wright
Louis Sullivan
Le Corbusier
Mies van der Rohe
Buckminster Fuller
Luis Barragán
Carlo Scarpa
Tadao Ando
Peter Zumpthor


NOTE: For 3565 Main Beach ‘real world’ real estate information, see:

https://www.realestate.com.au/property/3565-main-beach-pde-main-beach-qld-4217
and
http://www.m3565.com/ ‘The new dawn of luxury’

One has to be puzzled about the dedication of this talk to Paul Pholeros given his commitment to design that can help fight poverty (see above).

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