Francis Kéré, materiality and place

 

In 2022, Francis Kéré was awarded architecture’s highest international accolade, the Pritzker Prize. Kéré’s many projects show us the power of materiality rooted in place, which is something that we emphasise through the use of local materials in our architecture and design work.

Francis Kere RISE Design Studio

Against the odds

Kéré was born in a remote village in Burkina Faso, with no electricity, running water or a local school. He left his family at age seven to study at a city school, where he later trained as a carpenter. After receiving a scholarship for an apprenticeship in Germany, he went on to study architecture in Berlin. Despite being far from home, one of his first projects was to design a school for the village he grew up in, in collaboration with members of the community and using local materials. For this, he was awarded the Aga Khan Award in 2004 and the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture in 2009.

Innovative use of local materials

The Burkina Faso school project included the use of clay-earth bricks and suspended, corrugated metal roofs, to encourage stack ventilation for students learning in a hot, arid climate. By placing the overhanging metal roofs like this – rather than in the common way that makes houses hot inside – cool air is drawn in through the building’s windows and hot air is then released through holes in the ceiling. The innovative use of local materials and adaptation of traditional building techniques, combined with insight and involvement from the community, have been central to Kéré’s renowned approach.

Impact and investment

As awareness of his work grew, Kéré received widespread recognition for his experimentation with different materials to create cool and comfortable buildings in the hot African climate. He has also managed to raise funds for several projects focused on improving schools and other educational buildings for Africa’s young people, often involving buildings’ users in its construction, as he did in his home village.

Continuing to experiment with natural alternatives to air conditioning, one of his most recent projects – a technology campus in Kenya – uses wind towers shaped like termite mounds. In another project – a secondary school in Burkina Faso – he used local, laterite stone as the main building material. By orienting the building east to west, the amount of direct solar radiation on the walls was reduced, and a sharply protruding metal roof (like that used in the school in his home village) creates a large amount of shade.

Other projects in Africa have used a modular approach, with local people employed in the construction of modules, using local materials such as clay, laterite, cement bricks, gum wood and loam. Once again, large walls and impressive overhanging roofs remove the need for air conditioning in most buildings – a vital outcome in the changing climate and in communities without electricity for air conditioning, or the means with which to pay for powering cooling systems.

Inspiration

As the first black architect to win the Pritzker Prize in its 43-year history, Kéré acknowledges that he hopes to inspire young people in Africa to realise that paths like the one he has taken are open to them too. He continues to draw inspiration from local environments and there is a sense that his most impressive works may be yet to come.

Spotlight on Ricardo Bofill as we set up our new studio in Barcelona

 

Later this year, we will be opening a RISE Design Studio in Barcelona. We are excited about this, not least because we take a lot of inspiration from Spanish architecture in our work. Last month, we were very sad to hear the news that renowned Catalonian architect, Ricardo Bofill, had passed away at the age of 82. Bofill’s wide range of impressive buildings have influenced our projects and those of many others. He leaves a lasting legacy for us all.

RISE Design Studio Ricardo Bofill

Early influences and approaches

After an education in Spain and Switzerland, Bofill and a group of friends created ‘Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura’ in 1963 in the centre of Barcelona. From the outset, he worked in a multi-disciplinary environment, collaborating not only with engineers and other architects, but also artists and writers. This approach later developed into the holistic urban planning/design method that we are more familiar with today. His early projects were seen as exemplars of critical regionalism, with several viewed as a political reaction against the Francoist dictatorship in Spain at the time and a ‘shunning’ of architectural modernism.

In the 1970s, Bofill relocated to France, where his work echoed French traditions of classical architecture. His work in France culminated with the design of the new Antigone district in Montpellier, which combined large-scale industrialisation in precast concrete with classical forms. Described by Bofill himself as modern classicism, his projects like this led to his being referred to as one of the most significant postmodern architects in Europe.

Modular geometry

One of the best-known projects delivered by Bofill and his firm is Walden 7, a modular block of 450 apartments built on the outskirts of Barcelona in 1975. Located on the site of a former cement factory, the modules of the 14-storey building are linked by footbridges and arranged around courtyards. The intention of this design was that the building serves the evolving needs of its residents. On the same site, Bofill built his family home and office, within the original cement factory (see the image above). His stylish and innovative renovation of the factory included a large, central meeting room and exhibition space (the Cathedral), with 10-metre high ceilings and features of the original factory intact in the surrounding décor.

A similarly innovative and impressive project is the ‘monumental’ apartment block Les Espaces d’Abraxas in eastern Paris. Featuring prefabricated stone, cement facades and reference to baroque architecture, one building includes a semi-circular structure that encloses an amphitheatre (that was used as a filming location in The Hunger Games).

From concrete to other materials

Bofill increasingly moved from working with concrete to glass and steel, while still featuring classical elements like columns in his projects. Notable projects from the 1980s include the extension of Barcelona airport before the 1992 Olympics and the National Theatre of Catalonia. His designs gradually lost the classical aspects yet retained his love of a highly formal sense of geometry such as in the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco.

A lasting legacy

Over his lifetime, Bofill’s portfolio spanned a wide range of settings, from public buildings to transport infrastructure and urban design. Although Bofill has passed away, his firm in Barcelona continues under the co-leadership of his two sons and we will continue to take inspiration from his work while we establish our new studio in the city.

Spotlight on Jan Kaplický

 

There are very few Londoners (and international cricket fans) who are not familiar with the Media Centre at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Designed by avant-garde Czech architect, Jan Kaplický, this is one of his most renowned ‘spacecraft-like’ architecture projects. Completed in 1999, it received the RIBA Stirling Prize for its futuristic design and has become one of the icons of the sporting world. Kaplický provides us with inspiration here at RISE Design Studio, not only for his futuristic work but also for his interest in his later years in nature and the incorporation of organic shapes in his work.

RISE Design Studio Jan Kaplicky drawings

A new life in London

After beginning his career as an Academic Architect in Prague, Kaplický fled to London in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. He described a need to escape a country where empowerment was very limited at the time and it was “impossible to achieve anything that was even slightly out of the ordinary”. Not allowed to go to university, buy books, or exhibit his work in public, his move provided him with creative freedom and he soon found himself working on the design for the Centre Pompidou in Paris, under the direction of Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano before they relocated to the French capital.

He set up his own architectural practice in London – Future Systems – in 1979, and produced many intricate drawings of orbiting robots and homes transportable by helicopter. Although none of these drawings became real buildings, they drew a lot of attention to his ‘elegantly radical’ ideas, opening the doors for him to design the Lord’s Media Centre and later the Selfridge’s shopping store in Birmingham in 2003. Described as “the ultimate rejoinder to what was then Birmingham’s reputation as a decaying concrete jungle”, Kaplický’s work once again brought inspiration through his visionary designs.

From outlandish to organic

In the mid-1980s, Kaplický suddenly started to look to nature for organic inspiration for his architecture. Perhaps as a result of the death of his mother around that time – she was a well-known illustrator of plants – he had a renewed appreciation of the value of his mother’s work, using shapes of cobwebs, sea shells, mushrooms, flowers and other plants in his later work. Blending these shapes with a harsh and often controversial futuristic edge created a unique style that interrogated the relationship between nature and technology.

The business of buildings

Kaplický’s designs were generally not possible to build using conventional techniques. For example, the Lord’s Media Centre is an aluminum semi-monocoque shell – a sort of ‘boat shape’ – and there was no standard contractor in Britain who could build it at the time. Instead, Kaplický and his life partner, Amanda Levete, found a boatyard contractor in Cornwall to do the work. Combining Levete’s business experience with Kaplický’s designs worked well for several years.

In his later years, Kaplický designed a National Library building for Letná in Prague. Despite the work winning an international competition, its construction was blocked by the Czech authorities and caused much public and political debate. In interviews with Kaplický before his death, it was clear that he was sad not to have been able to build something in his home country.

Spotlight on Charles Correa

 

An aspect of our work that we are proud of is our ability to combine traditional architectural values with the use of modern materials. One architect who provides us with inspiration in this regard is Charles Correa, an Indian architect and urban planner who designed buildings that respect the local landscape while simultaneously meeting the practical needs of inhabitants. In 1984, RIBA declared Correa ‘India’s greatest architect’ – we look at some of his most important works and how they demonstrate his unique and deep-rooted understanding of Indian society and vernacular.

RISE Design Studio - Charles Corea - Cricket

Modernism in non-Western culture

While studying architecture in the US, Correa was influenced by the use of striking concrete forms developed by Le Corbusier (a collaborator of Jean Prouvé, another architect that we draw inspiration from in our work). This, along with careful consideration of the Indian climate, drove many of Correa’s design decisions. For example, he recognised the potential for residents of a hot country to experience a better quality of life with access to outside living spaces, such as terraces and courtyards. He also created traditional, symmetrical spaces, often in ‘modules’ that could be scaled up to the desired size.

A famous example of this is in the Gandhi Memorial Museum in the Ashram, which was Correa’s first important work in private practice. Completing the project in 1963, he used 6mx6m modular units to reflect the simplicity of Gandhi’s life and allow for eventual expansion (the incremental nature of a living institution). Using a simple post and beam structure, brick columns support concrete channels and a wooden roof and the modules reflect the isotopy (like fractals) found in the decorative elements of Hindu temples.

From low income to luxury

Correa designed nearly 100 buildings in India, ranging from low-income housing to luxury condos and cultural buildings. In the late 1960s, when developing his career as an urban planner, he created New Bombay (Navi Mumbai). Preferring ‘quasi-rural’ housing to the high-rise solutions more typical of towns and cities, he designed the low-cost Belapur housing in Navi Mumbai in the 1980s. These dwellings included communal spaces and facilities to create a sense of community and emphasise the importance of the human scale.

His later works included cultural projects such as university buildings in Maharashtra and an arts complex in Jaipur. Even in these projects he continued to believe that buildings must respond to their surroundings and take into account the particular needs of those using them. The arts centre, for example, is a clever fusion of past and present, inspired by both the traditional Hindu system of architecture and the ancient beliefs of using geometric patterns and symmetry.

A pioneer in passive techniques

Correa discouraged the use of mechanical heating and cooling methods, instead preferring to use ‘smart shading’, intelligent building orientation and methods to enhance the heat absorption capacity of masonry. He was passionate about using different parts of the house at different times of the day and embraced the notion of ‘open-to-sky’ architecture with open walls and courtyard spaces.

Correa passed away in 2015 and will be remembered for the great respect and love he had for the cities he worked in. He founded the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai in 1984 to improve low-quality buildings. He saw cities as places of hope and worked hard to provide city dwellers with low cost shelter, reasonable living conditions and a sense of community.

The work of Charles Correa provided inspiration in our Langley Vale Visitor Hub project.

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.