Spotlight on Lina Bo Bardi

 

Recycling or converting buildings came naturally to Italian-born Brazilian architect, Lina Bo Bardi. Inspired by the use and reuse of basic materials, she devoted her working life to engaging with every facet of culture and designing ‘people-friendly’ buildings. Described as “the most underrated architect of the 20th century”, it is pleasing to see her finally receive the attention she deserves. We take inspiration from Lina Bo Bardi here at RISE Design Studio, particularly her respect for authentic objects and how to preserve and celebrate them in the home.

RISE Design Studio - Lina Bo Bardi

Buildings flowing with the natural environment

In 1951, Bo Bardi created the ‘Casa de Vidrio’ in the rainforest surrounding São Paulo. An early example of the use of reinforced concrete in domestic architecture, she found a Brazilian context for the Italian modernism she was trained in. The landscape ‘flows’ underneath the building and the main living area is almost wholly open, apart from a courtyard that allows the trees in the garden to grow up into the heart of the house (perhaps a source of inspiration for Sverre Fehn’s Nordic pavilion). This celebration of the local environment is a theme that runs through her work.

Engaged public places

Bo Bardi’s designs were used in the the Solar do Unhão cultural centre in Salvador, and the Museum of Art, the Teatro Oficina, and Centro de Lazer Fábrica de Pompéia in São Paulo. In what she termed ‘poor architecture’, she sought to design public spaces that embodied a simple form of monumental architecture. The São Paulo Museum of Art is formed from ‘raw and efficient’ pre-stressed concrete, allowing unobstructed views to the lower-lying parts of the city.

She expertly restored buildings in a manner which neither pandered to nostalgia nor ignored context – the restoration of a 17th century sugar mill into the Solar do Unhão left the colonial exterior intact, with a modern staircase added. This reflected her belief that a museum should be a place for education – an active site of knowledge rather than a mausoleum of the past.

When she was commissioned in the 1980s to turn a burnt out office building into a theatre, she designed the new space almost completely out of painted scaffolding. The intense theatre space is designed to make the members of the audience feel as if they are engaged with the act on the stage.

Simplicity and the historical present

Lina Bo Bardi also designed furniture and she often used plywood and native Brazilian woods in her design. Wanting each object to display its own ‘natural logic’, her designs embodied simplicity and reduction and rawness of material.

Bo Bardi’s work has become much more widely acknowledged in recent years and support has grown for the proper preservation of her buildings. In a lecture at the University of São Paulo in 1989, she was asked to describe her ideas for the preservation of historic buildings. She replied that she sees no such thing as ‘the past’ in architectural practice. Whatever still exists today is what she termed ‘the historical present’ – you have to preserve the typical features and characteristics of a time that is part of our human heritage.

The legendary Richard Rogers retires

 

A few weeks ago, Richard Rogers retired from architectural practice. One of the UK’s top architects, this marks the end of an illustrious career portfolio which includes the striking, modern landmarks of the Lloyd’s building and the O2 arena in London. In this post, we look back at some of his key works and what these meant for architectural practice more broadly.

Richard Rogers Madrid airport

Born in Italy, Rogers moved to the UK as a young child. As he grew up, his architectural skills were honed at a range of institutions, including the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and Yale School of Architecture in the USA. At the latter, he met fellow student Norman Foster, with whom he set up an architectural practice with in England in the 1960s.

Early projects

In the late-1960s, Rogers was commissioned to design a glass cube house in Essex, framed with I-beams. This modernist, hi-tech style continued in subsequent works into the 1970s, including the use of standardised components to make energy-efficient buildings.

Perhaps most well-known at this time was his design of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which he developed with Italian architect Renzo Piano. The unique way in which the services for this building (water, heating, etc.) are located on the exterior allows the internal spaces to remian free from clutter. Although the building attracted widespread shock among Parisians when it was built, it is generally a widely-loved Parisian landmark today.

The Lloyd’s Building in London, which Rogers designed in the 1980s, was also subject to some controversy. Again, the building’s services, including lifts, staircases and water pipes, are on the outside of the structure, leaving open space inside. The building was Grade I listed in 2011 in recognition of its fame.

How cities are used

In his later career, Rogers devoted a lot of his attention to sustainability and the ways cities are used. He became quite vocal in political discussions about urbanism, setting up the Urban Task Force at the request of the UK government in the late 1990s to identify causes of urban decline and set out a vision for the future. The task force wrote a white paper, ‘Towards an Urban Renaissance’, which set out more than 100 recommendations for future city designers.

In the early 2000s, Rogers continued to work closely with government, advising mayors of London and Barcelona on urban design strategies.

His later works

Alongside his political engagements, Rogers created additional works that were, like his earlier works, simultaneously popular and criticised. Of particular note was his design of the then Millennium Dome (now the O2 arena), which received widespread criticism in the run-up to the new millenium due to its cost.

The ‘inside-out’ works of Richard Rogers remain icnonic to members of the public and architects alike. The way his designs strive for uncluttered, well-lit internal spaces has provided inspiration in our work and we wish him all the best in his retirement.

Christo & Jeanne Claude

 

Christo and Jeanne Claude RISE Design Studio

“The work of art is a scream of freedom.”
– Christo

It is with both joy and a tang of sadness that we present this post today. With joy because of the incredible work that the couple carried out; a lifetime of art full of brightness. And sadness because, now that they are both gone, it has left us wondering – who will fill their void? Who will be as inventive, as playful, and as daring?

Christos and Jeanne Claude’s wrapping of landmarks was a breath of fresh air. An idea both monumental and ephemeral which never failed to trigger a sense of awe. The work was particularly powerful because it went beyond talking about itself to talk about us.

It talked about us and our monuments and buildings, putting in perspective our place in history and our scale in the world. It made us realise that we are not gods, that we come and go and that our creations are only a little sturdier than we are. Like Christos said on one occasion: “We believe that nothing exists that is forever, not even the dinosaurs; if well maintained, it could remain for four to five thousand years, (…) that is definitely not forever.”

There is a great relief in the realisation that, however long our temples or bridges have been standing there, it is comparatively little when regarded in cosmic time. The gift wrapping of these awe-inspiring monuments made them objects again; and us, children. The lightness that comes with knowing that there are much bigger things than ourselves, that we are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things is a burden taken off humanity’s shoulders.

Christo and Jeanne Claude changed our cities and our landscapes, covering them up to show them in a new light. They made us think about the world we live in and the world we build in a quiet way that harnessed so much power. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many never got to see their art in person – some of the installations lasted weeks; others, only days. But the playful way in which they wrapped the world and let people walk on water remains documented for everyone to be inspired. For us, as architects, it is an immense gift that has allowed us to think about our own creations in a completely new light.

The RIBA House of the Year winner 2019: House Lessans

 

A bow to simplicity and values rooted in maternal landscapes, House Lessans is the winner of the RIBA House of the Year 2019 award.

RISE House Lessans copyright Aidan McGrath

When we think of contemporary architecture and high-quality design, we often picture modern trends, futuristic looks, and scary budgets. House Lessans reminds us that those preconceptions are just aesthetic preferences. High-quality contemporary architecture is characterised by adhering to larger values that are present throughout our society: acknowledgement of the delicate nature of the environment, an effort to utilise new technologies to drive tangible progress instead of for their own sake, or a shift from admiring grand appearances to appreciating quality.

House Lessans encompasses all of these contemporary values. It does so with a simple and tasteful exterior that nods at the typologies of the setting. The reference to the barns scattered around the Northern Irish landscape is apparent at first glance, and it fits in seamlessly with the subtle design decisions that habilitate a domestic program within the three-building complex. The budget is modest, but in no way compromises the end result.

The interior, equally subdued and graceful, focuses on atmospheric over shock value. The grey blockwork, white plaster, and timber flooring palette is reminiscent of misty farming fields without being literal, and the outdoors is ever-present through the use of natural light and the careful detailing of windows that bring the grassy landscape to the very edge of the rooms.

Looking at the project, it is a pleasure to admire the compositional skills of architect McGonigle McGrath. The result is a monument to architectural language; a true achievement of the art of making and curating.

Image ©  Aidan McGrath

Spotlight on Jean Prouvé

 

French architect and designer, Jean Prouvé (1902-1984), has been described as one of the most influential designers of the early modern design movement. Once quoted as saying “never design anything that cannot be made”, he combined engineering and design to produce a wide range of furniture and prefabricated architecture. An influential force among modern designers and constructionally-minded architects, we also take inspiration from his work here at RISE Design Studio.

Jean Prouve RISE Design Studio

Modern metal furniture

A apprenticeship in his teenage years with a Parisian metalsmith led Prouvé to become a master of of various metals. Opening his own workshop, Atelier Prouvé in Nancy, he became adept at working with wrought iron and steel at scale, creating numerous furniture designs and then opening his own factory. He fabricated lamps, chandeliers, and handrails, as well as the famous ‘La Chaise Inclinable’, the first reclining chair to use the technique of flat steel tubes, which allowed the chairs to be stacked.

He collaborated with some of the best-known French modern designers of the time, such as Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, and his early successes led to the mass-production of his furniture (tables, chairs, shelves, etc.) for universities, hospitals, offices and schools. Tables made via an innovative method of folding sheet material were described as having “the perceived lightness of bridges and the presence of architecture”.

Prefabricated architecture

During World War II, Prouvé was commissioned to design prefabricated barracks for the French army. This allowed him to develop the structural system that became central to his later architectural designs. The roof and walls were supported by large A-shaped columns that a ridge beam could be slotted into.

In the 1950s, Prouvé devoted more and more of his time to the challenges of prefabricated architecture. His own house, which he designed as a prototype, is now considered a major development in prefab housing and, even today, engineers can’t always grasp the complexity of the bracing and support system that he set up intuitively in the structures he created.

His ‘demountable houses’ combined easy assembly and structural integrity that were used in a range of scenarios in a number of countries: durable housing for homeless war victims, manufacturers’ offices, and rural schools, to name a few.

The poetics of the technical object

Many of Prouvé’s furniture pieces are still manufactured by a Swiss furniture retailer, and his prefabricated houses remain preserved and regularly displayed. In 2008, Prouvé’s ‘Maison Tropicale’ (developed in the 1950s to address housing shortages in French colonies) was assembled in front of the Tate Modern in London to coincide with an exhibition of his work at the London Design Museum.

Since 2010, there has been reinvigorated interest in Prouvé’s prefabricated architecture. Many have been sold to collectors as installation art and, at a time when architects, planners and governments are becoming increasingly interested in addressing the issues associated with mass affordable housing, his ideas are being developed, adapted and modernised to suit modern day needs and increase their original material and economic efficiencies.

Spotlight on Alvar Aalto

 

Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, had an international reputation for a ‘distinctive blend of modernist refinement, indigenous materials, and personal expression in form and detail’. Born in 1898 when Finland was part of the Russian Empire, Aalto took a break from his architectural studies in Helsinki to fight in the Finnish war of independence. After graduating in 1921, he travelled around Europe before returning home to began practice. Over his career he achieved international acclaim for more than 200 buildings and projects and we take inspiration from his work.

Alvar Aalto

Uniquely modern

His became well-known in the late 1920s for the Turun Sanomat Building, a newspaper office in Turku and the tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio. These buildings were designed in a straightforward and functional manner, without any historical stylistic references and incorporated smooth white surfaces, ‘ribbon windows’ and flat roofs. The sanitorium has been described as a work of both art and science: at the micro-scale the patients’ rooms received incredible attention to detail (lighting was never at sight lines and non-splash sinks allowed users to wash without disrupting others) while at the macro-scale the large, landmark building integrates perfectly with the densely forested landscape.

The Municipal Library at Viipuri (now Vyborg in Russia) was a departure from his earlier style, incorporating a spatially complex interior arranged on different levels. The library auditorium is particularly notable as it comprised an undulating ceiling of wooden strips, the warmth of which provided contrast to the whiteness of the building and appealed to both the public and professionals who were not enamoured with the ‘clinical severity’ of modern architecture at the time.

The horseshoe-shaped Jyväskylä University Building (1951) was nicknamed ‘the Athens of Finland’. An entire campus plan, the designs incorporated tree-lined paths with the inner part of the university closed off to traffic. Each building has two entrances to allow conduit from the city to the more ‘discreet court’. His Festival Hall is a combination of multiple lecture halls, a poetic gesture to create enticing and exciting spaces for everyday academic work.

‘Organic’ design

Aalto’s furniture designs were a natural extension to his architectural thinking. The ‘human touch’ of the wooden library ceiling is recognisable in his curved laminated wood furniture. He saw furniture not simply as an isolated object in space and his functional furniture remains popular internationally, despite changing styles. He also created lighting and glassware that were described as works of art, embodying an expressionist style with a keen sense of purpose and practical function.

Legacy

Although Aalto passed away in 1976, his works continue to receive the care and attention they deserve. The Vyborg library was recently restored and the Finnish commission responsible for the work won the 2014 Modernism Prize for preservation of a modern landmark.The Finlandia Prize for Architecture was also awarded in 2017 for the overhaul of the Harald Herlin Learning Centre and several other Aalto University campus buildings that were originally designed by Aalto. The renovation included updating the library to suit the technological needs of the university while retaining the traditional elements of the original design.

Spotlight on Charles and Ray Eames

 

‘A chair that looks like a crisp’ or ‘a folding screen that ripples’ are descriptions that are likely to bring to mind North American husband-and-wife design team, Charles and Ray Eames. Revered as two of the ‘most important designers of the 20th century’, their ‘grand sense of adventure’ made significant contributions to modern architecture, furniture design, industrial design and the photographic arts. In our ‘spotlight’ series about architects and designers who inspire us here at RISE Design Studio, we share some of the distinct characteristics of the designs developed by the Eames, trying to capture their spirit of ‘way-it-should-be-ness’ (when an object, through hard work and meticulous process, is realised in the incarnation of its ideal state).

RayEames-plywood

Mass-produced furniture

In the early 1940s, the Eames developed designs with a unique synergy that led to a new phase in how furniture looked and how it could be produced. When knowledge of their moulded-plywood method spread at this stage of their careers, they were asked to design moulded-plywood splints, stretchers and even aeroplance parts for the military during World War Two. After exhibiting their experimental moulded furniture at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1946, the Herman Miller Company in Michigan began to produce their furniture designs. The success of these initial designs of chairs with compound curves meant they went on to design and mass produce over 100 designs for these types of chairs over four decades, perhaps the most famous design being the moulded-plywood and leather lounge chair with matching footstool.

A mecca for modern architects

In 1949, the Eames switched their focus away from furniture, designing and building their own Californian home as part of a Case Study Home Program, sponsored at the time by an American architecture magazine. ‘The Eames House‘ (as it is known today) is where they lived for the rest of their lives and is considered a classic example of modern residential architecture, as well as a ‘must-see’ for today’s architectural students interested in this type of design. Intended as an experiment to realise the design of a house for a young married couple needing a place to live and work, the design of the house is perhaps as visionary today as it was all those decades ago.

From furniture to film and beyond

In the mid-1950s, the Eames began to focus more on their work as photographers and filmmakers. Charles Eames was an exceptional photographer and his photography work clearly permeated into their design work. The couple designed museum exhibitions, including the IBM Pavilion for the 1964-65 World’s Fair in New York and the Copernicus exhibition at the Smithsonian in the 1970s, both of which drew extensively on their photography and film work.

Looking forwards

Although Charles and Ray Eames are no longer with us (Charles died in 1978, Ray in 1988), members of their family run The Eames Office, which works on communicating, preserving and extending their work.

The Eames understood design as a solution rather than a luxury, and as something that is as much about industry as it is about art. Their vision of design that can get ‘the best to the greatest number of people for the least’ is perhaps one of the reasons why their designs are so timeless and why almost everyone recognises their work.

Spotlight on Sverre Fehn

 

Sverre Fehn (1924-2009) was a Norwegian architect who received worldwide recognition for his work. He is widely referred to as the leader of Scandinavian architecture in the postwar years and he was awarded both the Pritzker Architecture Prize and Heinrich Tessenow Gold Medal in 1997. Here at RISE Design Studio, Sverre Fehn is one of several architects who inspire our work. In this short post we share some detail about Fehn’s life, his well-known works, and reflect on how, like Peter Zumthor, his designs developed an aesthetic that drew on local culture and nature to create a unique experience of space.

Sverre-Fehn-RISE Design Studio

His influences

A Norwegian, Fehn was described as always trying to ‘run away from the Nordic tradition’. After qualifying as an architect in Oslo in 1949, he went on to work with the French metal worker, architect and designer, Jean Prouvé. With a resulting interest in resolving complex problems of construction detail, he was simultaneously influenced by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect, nurturing a passion for the modern design movement. Time spent in Morocco in the early 1950s also provided him inspiration from the simplicity of life in adobe vernacular houses, which are built from earth piled up in simple structures and respond to the surrounding natural environment by regulating heat and light.

Responsive architecture

After his time in Morocco, Fehn became acutely aware of the different characteristics that light can take, focussing his work on creating responsive architecture for different climates. He completed commissions for the Venice and Nordic pavilions at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, the latter of which was reminiscent of the detailed construction work of Prouvé: intersecting blades of Perspex and glue-laminated wooden beams, all held together with only 48 bolts. Five decades later, the Nordic pavilion still stands with three plane trees growing up from the ground and out of the roof.

He then completed the rest of his life’s work in the cooler, damper and mistier climate of Scandinavia where he designed country villas, an ecohouse and several notable museums, including the Norwegian National Museum of Architecture in Oslo and the Hedmark Ethnographic Museum in Hamar. The Hedmark Museum, also known at the Storhamar Barn is one of his best known works and a space designed to speculate on human nature and material history.

Relationship with the surroundings

Many of Fehn’s buildings have a strong relation with the surrounding environment, blending modernity with regionalism. The private Oslo residence, Villa Schreiner, has been called a ‘hommage au Japon’ due to its sliding doors, large windows, and the way the wooden structure is intricately linked with the nature around it. In Bamble in Norway, Villa Busk straddles a ridge and follows the natural terrain to demonstrate the strength of nature and man’s subordination to it. His Eco House in Norrkoping (Sweden) took the relationship with nature even further, using natural ingredients in construction. A wooden structural frame is filled in with straw bales mixed with clay and finished inside and out with a clay plaster. Partitions of adobe (from his days in Morocco) also feature.

You can browse a selection of Sverre Fehn’s woks on Pinterest.

Spotlight on Peter Zumthor

 

One of our most respected architects here at RISE Design Studio is Peter Zumthor, the renowned Swiss architect. Winner of the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize and the 2013 RIBA Royal Gold Medal, Zumthor’s sensuous materiality and attention to place has inspired several of our architecture and design projects. Although he has only built around 20 projects worldwide, his work is widely acclaimed and sought after. In this short post, we reflect on the career of Peter Zumthor, the projects that he has designed, and how he wishes his work to be experienced.

RISE yoga retreat Norway

With inspiration from Zumthor: Lake Krøderen Yoga Retreat, Norway (RISE Design Studio)

Five decades of work

Peter Zumthor has been based in his studio, Atelier Peter Zumthor, since 1979. Situated in the Swiss mountain village of Haldenstein, Zumthor works with a small team of around 30 employees. In the past, Zumthor tried to protect himself from too many outside influences and gained a reputation in the media as being somewhat reclusive. Although he is quashing this image today, his practice remains somewhat rarefied as his clients are seen as ‘vehicles’ for him to realise his ideas and facilitate his works of art, rather than ‘clients’.

Poetic sensibility – mountain, stone, water

Zumthor is well-known for his preference for simple, unfinished materials. Perhaps the most well-known work of Zumthor is the Therme Vals in Switzerland, which was completed in 1996. Built over thermal springs, the building is a hotel and spa/baths which is created in the form of a cave or quarry-like structure. To complement and ‘fit-in’ with the surrounding environment, the baths are situated below a grass roof and partially buried in the hillside. The Valser Quartzite slabs used in the project were quarried locally and the respect for the stone became the inspiration for the design.

Zumthor is also celebrated for the Kunsthaus Bregenz, built in Austria in 1997. The museum’s minimalist design allows the space to be adapted to suit the art that is on display, redefining the relationship between art and architecture. Other notable works include the Swiss Pavilion at EXPO 2000 in Hanover (built of stacked beams of larch wood and Scots pine and held together by steel rods and springs) and the London Serpentine Gallery temporary summer pavilion in 2011 (at the heart of the pavilion was a specially created garden to allow the audience an emotional experience, with time to relax, observe and talk).

Sensation of the interior

The work of Peter Zumthor is all about how a person experiences the sensation of a building. With buildings ‘grown out of their place’, as if from the ground of forest, the orchestration of light and sound, as well as the touch and smell, are all vital, tactile qualities which create a minimalist feel. The focus on experience is embodied in the attention to detail paid to the interior of the building, on a par with the design of the exterior. When the exterior can ‘rule all’ in many contemporary architecture projects, this is a welcome reminder of the importance of considering the experience of detail and looking at things closely, something that we are currently researching in our own work.