contemporary

XBO Mobile Structure / 70ºN Arkitektur

I particularly like the exterior of this mobile habitat with its uncompromising simplicity. Statement making architecture in a stunning setting, featured in www.archdaily.com
The xbo is primarily a result of the Rotterdam based project ‘PARASITE’ (Prototypes for Advanced/ Ready-made/ Amphibious/ Small scale/ Individual/ Temporary/ Ecological houses). The idea of the xbo is to provide a mobile habitat for 2 young people on the move. The structure consists of two movable parts in sum twelve meters long, 3,2m wide and almost 3,5m high, the xbo is an attempt to keep things to a minimum, to stick to the basics and focus on the essential.
Today many people are economical prisoners in their homes. One way out could be to change our way of living. In a small house the focus is on what is actually needed. The house may be a tool for such a change. This means that simple and basic qualities of life is the main theme for the development of this minimal space. We want to use this tool as an object of investigation and discussion. Not only while it is created, but also when it is put into use.”

Contemporary Architecture: Constraints Are Your Friend

Frank Lloyd Wright once said “constraints are your friend” and although one would think that limitations of creative thinking would be counterintuitive in the design world, it actually makes a lot of sense. Constraints define the character of the solution.
Besides the obvious constraints of topography, sun, wind, budget, etc., there are also constraints imposed by the properties of materials and systems; it’s from all of these constraints one can tease out meaningful solutions that are not arbitrary or faddish but are a thoughtfully considered response.
At Stilllwater Dwellings, modular construction is integral to the aesthetic language we have developed without dominating or overpowering it. For instance, the structural expression of the roof beams at the module ”marriage lines” create a secondary scale that define individual spaces within a larger room, giving a human scale to balance the overall dimensions.
In the Living Hall, the kitchen, dining, and sitting areas are given identity by the structural expression of the exposed wood beams which are regulated by modular dimensions.

Middle Class Modern

A recent New York Times piece on Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Park complex in Detroit belies the notion that the ‘average homeowner’ simply doesn’t like modernism. In fact, there’s nothing simple about it. Taste in housing is influenced by many factors including:
•          Sentiment; where you grew up, and the architectural roots of the family home
•          Professional aspirations, aka ‘keeping up with the Jones’
•          Need, as with a large, perhaps extended family
•          Or just proximity. You might not know a craftsman from a Chrysler, but you want to live near the #5 bus line.
“We wanted to hear how residents — especially people with long-term, intimate knowledge of living with Mies — think about this unique modernist environment and how they confront and adapt it to meet their needs. During our research, we were struck by the casual attitude that many residents have toward the architecture. Then again, Detroit has an abundance of beautiful housing options: one can live in a huge Victorian mansion, a beautiful arts and crafts house or a cavernous loft-conversion space in a former factory. Living in a townhouse built by a renowned architect isn’t as noteworthy as one might think. At the same time, such nonchalance is a mark of success: the homes are great because they work, not because they come affixed with a famous name.”

Contemporary Is Not An Option

Planned communities like Celebration, Florida have proved well-planned towns designed to higher densities – enabling walk-able neighborhoods and public spaces – are very well received and successful. As Witold Rybczynski notes on Slate, 10 years after Disney’s town was completed, the planning works well; and the residential architecture is not bad, just a bit bland.
Disney’s Controversial Town, a Decade On
By Witold Rybczynski
“To avoid cookie-cutter uniformity, Disney gave builders the choice of several architectural styles such as Colonial Revival, Victorian, and Craftsman. “Modern,” given the preferences of American home buyers, was not an option. Yet an impression of sameness persists, for the houses share the same contemporary building materials and details. All too often they also share a bland, middle-of-the-road civility. This is understandable, since builders can’t afford to antagonize buyers, but too much politeness can be a bore. The happy exceptions are the bumptious “Mediterranean” houses that occur here and there. They exhibit a good-natured Floridian vulgarity that is refreshing among all the good taste.”

Roof Overhangs

I love roof overhangs on so many levels. On the symbolic level they convey a sense of protection and security as they shield us from the elements. They’re welcoming, like open arms saying, “…hello, here is the entry, come inside”.
On a purely functional level they are great climate modifiers, keeping the walls dry at critical joints, and are particularly effective at shading summer sun.
As a crusty waterproofing consultant once told me “I would be out of business if every building had generous roof overhangs; a poorly designed or constructed detail will not leak a bit if it doesn’t get wet”.  At Stillwater we have embraced generous roof overhangs and always try and employ them, particularly over windows.

New Urbanism, Old School Design

Vacationing on the outer Pacific Coast in Washington we made a detour to the planned community of Seabrook, WA and got to meet the very approachable Casey Roloff who is the proud father of this baby. From a planning perspective it’s a very good example of New Urbanism with a sensible approach to environment and community. It has a good feel that will only get stronger as the place matures and gets that lived in feel that only a bit of time can accomplish.  But wandering the lanes and paths I couldn’t help wondering what it could have been if the buildings were contemporary. This recent Seattle Times article goes deeper:
planned comunity new construction
Seabrook developer building community, not just homes
By Beth Potter
SEABROOK, Grays Harbor County — Developer Casey Roloff likes to say that he’s building a sense of “community” — one house at a time.
His 6-year-old beach town on a bluff overlooking the ocean is designed to make folks feel at home — from the bustling Front Street Café as you drive in, to the open, wooden box filled with balls and other sports equipment at the entrance to a centrally located park.
You can pick up a loaner bike to ride around the narrow streets of the town about three hours’ drive southwest of Seattle — or take your kids down to the beach to dig in the sand. Houses have colorful names like “The Lost Lobster” and “Hodge Podge Lodge.”
“It’s not about the view or the beach or the ocean,” Roloff says. “A lot of people come and buy a house, and the town is so compelling that they haven’t been to the beach, and they’re sold.”

Less is More? It Depends on Who You Ask.

In a recent gloomy and hand wringing report on Japan’s declining living standards and intractable economic stagnation, the New York Times’ Martin Fackler decries a unique solution to urban infill:
“The downsizing of Japan’s ambitions can be seen on the streets of Tokyo, where concrete “micro houses” have become popular among younger Japanese who cannot afford even the famously cramped housing of their parents, or lack the job security to take out a traditional multi-decade loan.
These matchbox-size homes stand on plots of land barely large enough to park a sport utility vehicle, yet have three stories of closet-size bedrooms, suitcase-size closets and a tiny kitchen that properly belongs on a submarine.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/world/asia/17japan.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general
While over at Inhabitat, a Japanese micro house is featured as a model of intelligent design:
“The Showa-cho House in Osaka Japan is an amazingly airy residence despite its miniscule 59 x 13-foot lot. Architect Fujiwara Muro made incredible use of the limited space available by building up and splitting the home in half with a staircase, which acts as both a transition space and delineates the private and public sides of the home without a wall. Plenty of daylight flows in, and a simplified modern interior streamlines the space, adding a tranquil feeling to a home dictated by a ten foot-wide interior dimension.”
Read the complete story: Amazing Japanese Micro House is Only Ten Feet Wide Inside
http://inhabitat.com/2010/08/26/amazing-showa-cho-micro-house-is-only-ten-feet-wide-inside/

Materials for Modern Design: I Love Perfect Plank

Perfect Plank has long been a favorite material of mine. It’s a beautiful, versatile material for tables, stair treads, light shelves, bookshelves, countertops, column wraps and the like. It comes in alder, maple, plantation grown mahogany and even western red cedar for outdoor use.
Made to Last
Made from “finger jointing” and laminating off-cuts and wood from renewable sources, the lads at Perfect Plank offer a great value product. I love its heft; you can see and feel its thickness, up to a couple of inches. Because it’s not a veneer, dings and scratches can be sanded out and the surface refinished.
It’s a permanent, renewable, refinish-able, reusable and biodegradable material that will last for generations.
http://www.perfectplank.com/

Architecture that succeeds without showing off

There are some “show-off” buildings that I love; the uplifting Bilbo is one such building, but all too often signature buildings that overreach can become a self-indulgent mess. In the world of prefabricated homes this is probably even truer as a decadent display will seem even more pretentious when repeated in multiples.
Witold Rybczynski’s succinct article in Slate makes the case for a little more restraint:
In Praise of the Anti-Icon
By Witold Rybczynski
“Painter Paul Klee once wrote that while painters could make wheels square, architects had to make them round. Not any more. In the past, public and institutional buildings were expected to convey a sense of solidity and order; today they can just as easily suggest collapse and disharmony. In his forthcoming book, Architecture of the Absurd, John Silber takes aim at architects such as Frank Gehry, Steven Holl, and Daniel Libeskind, who, in a desire to create iconic architecture, frequently make their wheels square.
Silber, the outspoken president of Boston University for 25 years, excoriates these architects—and, by implication, their clients—for disfiguring, as he puts it, what should be a practical art. His spirited, if sometimes perfunctory, essay raises an interesting question: if not architectural high jinks, then what?
The new addition to the Seattle Art Museum, which opened last summer, provides one answer: an anti-icon. Instead of architectural pyrotechnics, the designer, Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, opted for what, at first glance, appears to be almost corporate blandness. Almost, but not quite. The dull stainless steel suits the often overcast Northwest light, and the sliding shutters that control light entering the galleries create changing patterns on the exterior wall. The upper floors of this loftlike building, currently leased as offices, can be converted into gallery space in the future, when the museum expands. This pragmatic approach gives the museum maximum flexibility, although at the price of somewhat uninspired interiors.”
To read the full article, go to:
http://www.slate.com/id/2175080/