A sequence of Rooms (Ecology and Design.1)
Our latest participation in the Open House Festival allowed us to reflect on our domestic projects. The result was a little booklet alternating ecological and design matters we care about. Seeing how the two categories liked to intertwine and work together was fascinating. This is the first paragraph in the design section.
The room has been the founding principle of domestic life and architecture for a long time. It is the founding structure elements composing a building that needs continuous support while it allows privacy (a walk-in wardrobe), specialisation (a kitchen) and character (the dining room). A room can be someone’s room or a specific one with its character, light conditions, materials and all the rest. Throughout the history of modern and contemporary architecture, the room has been fought as a legacy of class separation and social conformity. Modern architects have gradually broken up the room until reaching its complete dissolution before a new generation has returned to review the quality of discrete spaces. Between the total dissolution of space into the exterior landscape and the formal separation of rooms, most contemporary architecture seeks to find balance, character and sense.
In our work, we often deal with existing conditions. One of the ways in which we reduce our carbon footprint and the cost of our projects is to exercise the eye in recognising existing qualities and structural principles of the buildings we are entrusted to modify. When working on a traditional building - founded on rooms, a large portion of our work consists of remodelling these rooms to unlock the movement of air and people. This is one of the principles of the narrative open plan. We look at what’s there. We identify its qualities. Recognising the buildings’ structure allows us to work with its grain and reduce costs and carbon footprint; recognising its founding character allows us to compose complex, eventful projects.
Loop House was born from this analysis: a series of rooms that needed to open into one another and towards the garden. Mies van der Rohe’s houses in Krefeld, Germany, have become the main reference. A series of wide portals only partially and very clearly connect the original rooms, guiding us through the house. We preserved the rooms’ identities while ambiguously letting them open into one another and then into the garden.
The Spider is another similar exercise where a single structural element (also painted red) joins three rooms into one while preserving the old distinction by preserving and enhancing the differences between ceiling shapes, floor finishes and decoration. Rather than simply knocking down walls and creating a single space, we have worked with clients on selecting the features worth preserving to increase rather than reducing the richness of the resulting space. We also decided we should record the intervention by exposing the new structure. The latter is conceived as a single object with flush, continuous surfaces: an asymmetric portal reminiscent of LeCorbusier’s Villa Savoye's entrance portal, Louise Bourgoise’s sculptures, and Sol LeWitt’s incomplete structures.
The traces of the original rooms are celebrated, allowing a series of rooms to become a sequence of rooms.
The space between the rooms, the transition or liminal space, becomes the object of the design. Its detailing determines how well our space is perceived as one or how will the original rooms.
The red structural portal is set 400mm beneath the ceiling level to preserve the trace of the original layout. One of the existing ceiling decorations is also preserved, with two new ceiling shapes playfully counteracting the traditional features. The floor design is also conceived to combine the clarity of the new design with the complexity of original fragments. The clients proposed to use a beautiful, traditional tile, together with a more typical engineered wood floor. The changes in materials coincide with the footprint of original rooms: the tiles denote the bay window area (now imagined as a greenhouse), and the breakfast room; the engineered wood outlines the original dining room and kitchen (with planks laid in two different directions). The kitchen island is left free to cross the original partition lines: a very large, coloured, freestanding object. The entire kitchen was designed to wrap around the existing corner chimney breast and make the most of the high ceilings. The result is a composite and sequnce of spaces composed of four volumes.