Do we need architecture?

I hope the title of this post doesn’t scare anyone into thinking I don’t see the value of architecture! I study architecture, I intend to practice it, I admire and adore it, but this last week, I have been pondering it.

For the past week I have been sorting out my new student house in Belfast, cleaning it, putting up curtains, all that fun stuff, and along with a fellow architecture student  and best friend I visited ikea, obviously haha.

Ikea is mesmerizing. They have whole houses designed in the smallest space, showing you all you need for a kitchen, bedroom, even your garage. You walk along, and come across another strange little abode in the middle of a warehouse, and it looks great. They genuinely look nice, like you could set up residence there immediately. So we buy a few lamps, a side table, coffee table, and fill our rather nasty student accommodation with our things, the nicely designed furniture, the ambient lighting, and suddenly, our bedrooms are lovely places to be in. And it made me wonder, does interior design affect how people experience a space more than architecture does?

When I began to think about this, a lot of my favorite places, are my favorite places because of the stuff in them. The quirky oddities, the interesting posters, the soft candles with the melted wax spilling and collecting on the glass bottle they’ve been stuck on top of. Or even the music of a place can make it dear to your heart. Nothing makes me happier than when I sit down in a cafe or restaurant, and they offer me dainty mismatched china tea cups and saucers. Objects bring life and personality to rooms, can architecture achieve this too and to the same extent?

I know architecture affects how people enjoy space, it can even affect their behavior there. Light can make or break a room, as can circulation space, orientation, scale, materials, but…If you had a truly awful room, with terrible layout, bad light, could a lovingly put together interior fix it? and make you love it? I don’t know the answer to this question! And I know that there are buildings that I adore, purely because of their architecture, the Tugendhat house by Mies van der Rohe being just one of them, this is just one of my many musings! Is architecture just as powerful as interior design? Do they go hand in hand? Could one out-weigh the other? Let me know what you think 🙂

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The Martin House Complex

The Martin House Complex, by Frank Lloyd Wright pleased me even more than expected. It’s hard to believe that in a suburban street of Buffalo, the same architect that designed the awe inspiring Guggenheim had made a family home, yet as you round the corner, just as you’re thinking you might be in the wrong place, there it is. Granted it isn’t as strange looking at the Guggenheim, what actually hits you first, in my opinion, is the large lawn. It seems as though the complex has been given a larger plot of land than its neighbors, it sprawls proudly over simple landscaping, completely different to all other houses around it. It looks uninhibited, free almost. It’s hard to portray through my pictures but the complex is truly vast. The main dwelling connects via a long covered walkway to an indoor hothouse, the Barton House for relatives, stables, and a home for the gardener.

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After attending the two hour tour of all the buildings, what stuck with me most was Wrights indulgent flaunting of his budget-less scheme, to work out his own design ideas, even if they didn’t best suit the occupants. Wright and Mr. Martin saw eye to eye on almost all aspects of the project, but Wright appeared to show no concern that Mrs. Martin seemed to almost hate her new home! I found the house mesmerizing and incredibly interesting, but when I thought about living there myself, I think I would be on Mrs. Martins side. It definitely feels like a very masculine dwelling, very somber; the large overhanging roof mean the rooms are never bright and airy. Dark, chunky wood is everywhere, covering radiators, disguising shelves and electrics, running along the tops of the walls. Wright even chose and designed the furniture for the house; Mrs. Martin had no real say anywhere apart from the Hothouse. She even radically altered her bedroom, by moving the exterior wall out, to counter the effect of the overhanging roof, so she could get more light. She attempted to incorporate dainty, renaissance style tables into the house, and of course they just look out of place and wrong.

To emphasize my point that Wright was following his own agenda, look here at these curiously stylized, chimney-like stacks on the tops of the buildings. They are in fact bird houses, to house ‘Martin’ birds for the Martin family. A sweet idea, but in reality they were completely useless; the material they were made from would have created an oven, far too hot a place for any bird to build a nest.

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Another example would be these poles in the garden. They are meant to be washing lines! But they were never used for such a purpose. Maybe in reality Wright included them to help alleviate the dominant horizontals everywhere else in his design.

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Despite what may seem as a lot of criticism towards Wright, I can’t deny that I loved the Martin House Complex. It doesn’t at all look as if it’s over 100 years old. It’s obvious too that Wright had a vision and that he carried it out to its fullest extent. Vertical lines were shunned as much as possible. The bricks were thin rectangles, to as to be horizontal, the roofs had low pitches, and Wright even invented his own gutters so that there would be no vertical downpipe.

Frank Lloyd Wright was striving to create a true American style, what he called the prairie style. He wanted it to be influenced by nothing European, unique and new. Despite this, the similarities between Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh from Scotland, are eerily alike. In my head I was questioning myself if I’d got them mixed up! I can’t write enough about this amazing collection of buildings, I could ramble on forever! If you can ever visit it I’d highly recommend it, my tour guide especially made my trip very enjoyable 🙂 I definitely learned a lot!

The Guggenheim

On a recent trip to America, I left my family one day to go on a solitary visit to the Guggenheim by Frank Lloyd Wright, and it was love at first sight 🙂 You know you’re approaching it as the block numbers count up, but even though you’re looking out for it, I think the sight of it must always be a surprise. In such a linear, 90 degree angled, vertical city, the looming, curvaceous building looks so peculiar, like a voluptuous  space ship settled in the middle of the avenue.

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Inside, the wow factor continues. What surprised me most, and what I couldn’t seem to work out, was why, from the outside, the building so clearly grew in circumference as the height increased, but from the inside, the opposite seemed to be true. Inside, it almost felt like the base was wider than the top level. Nevertheless whether that was just me or an intentional trick of perception, your eyes instantly lifted upwards. It was like a cocoon of light, or a sea shell, which Wright is said to have based his design on. As I meandered slowly around the levels, listening to my architecture audio tour, I was amazed at all the little details. Wright intentionally made the gallery walls on the sweeping mezzanine ramps sit at a slight angle, so that when artists work was hung on them, they would be viewed as if still sitting on an easel. Also, from wherever you are in the atrium, you can see all the work displayed, no matter what floor you are on.

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The building is focused around the circular atrium, which has ramps sloping all around until you get to the top. As well as these walkways that hug the walls there are satellite galleries, not of circular form that branch off these walkways. They provide a more conventional, white rectangle to display work, but in my opinion they were of far less interest than the main circular hub. In University we are always asked, ‘why do you like this?’, it’s not enough to simply say you find something awe inspiring, but to articulate ,why? The Guggenheim for me provided blessed relief from the straight lines and regularity of New York City, whilst still holding on to a sense of rhythm and pattern. Like a cathedral, it made you always look up, to drink in the wide expanse of light. Bare in mind a huge portion of this building is a tall, empty chasm, yet it is this emptiness which seems to occupy the space and define it. I walked away from the Guggenheim refreshed, happy and as if I’d discovered a gem.

Hello world!

This is my first tentative step into the great unknown world of blogging! Hopefully this site can be a place to share my thoughts about architecture, and my growing understanding of it as a student. I’m due to start my second year of my BA Hons Architecture course in September,so It’s still early days in my development as an Architect! I hope my posts about general musings, uni projects, and things that interest me, will also interest you!

Thanks for stopping by my humble abode, the doors always open, I’ll put the kettle on!