Sunday, March 27, 2011

Formwork for Space

This is the wood formwork that was installed last week to contain the concrete that will be poured this week. This concrete will be the foundation and floor slab for all of the house except the Great Room and porch. The plumber will be out prior to the pour to install piping for the kitchen and bathrooms, which will be in this area.

This formwork gave me my first real sense of how the scale of the whole place feels. Now I can see the house wrapping the courtyard, and the size of the square porch around the open space in the middle. The feeling I get from the size of a built work is always a little surprising; most often I find that a space feels smaller than I imagined from the drawings. I have feared that the built spaces of this house would feel too small, but after walking around these forms for a while and imagining the final building, I was smiling. I think it will be about right. These spaces may seem smaller than we are used to, but I think that's because we are used to more space than we need. This house is human scaled for sure, just what's needed to walk through, walk around, to go about living. I don't think there will be anything unpleasant about a smaller scale here; actually I think it will be more pleasant than most places we experience. It's not so much "small-scaled" as intimately scaled. The building will hug you. It will brush your shoulder as you go around a corner, ask you to dance around columns, invite you to reach out and touch a sun-splattered wall. And that will be nice because the materials inside this hard exterior shell are soft and natural. But then if you are in the Great Room, or a bedroom, you look up through a skylight and your viewing distance goes from a few feet to a few light-years. There is something powerful about being in a human-sized room with a God-sized view.

And the walls keep rising around the Great Room. I think the concrete slab for this space will be poured when the rest of the house slab is poured. No formwork needed here though - the "forms" are the brick and stone walls.

It's worth pointing out that there's not really any "architecture" here yet. There is building, and there is design. But architecture is about enclosing space. The key element that distinguishes architecture from the other arts is that it provides a volume for people to inhabit. As the late great Philip Johnson said about judging works of architecture, "Let the building wrap itself around you; that'll be the test." Since the brick walls have gone up there is certainly the definition of an area, and the suggestion of volume, but it will be a while before it is fully defined, before it wraps around us. I've always been fascinated by this spatial wrapping. As a child I found a pile of bricks in my grandparents' backyard, stacked them into a square about a foot tall, and curled up in a corner, intoxicated at having carved out a space within the universe just for me. So here's my new square of bricks, another special place carved out of the universe - but not just for me.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful my friend, wonderful! PS. I love your previous post on Word and Image