Cover image: Three14 Architects

This first of Habitat’s New Year’s FOCUS features – ARCHITECTURE ’18 – showcases the latest trends, techniques and finishes in the discipline of enclosing space, this primarily in the design and equipping of contemporary residential structures. Our approach is to overview the high-end components of today’s modern living machines, via a comprehensive delivery of ‘now’ information. Informed local and international architectural comment is included.

When Habitat was just three years old I had the privilege of visiting the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, in late 1976 – just before it opened – to meet the architects who created it. Also known as the Pompidou Centre, this is a complex building in the Beaubourg area of the 4th arrondissement near Les Halles and the Marais. Hugely controversial at the time, being dubbed ugly, factory-like and totally out of place, it was designed in the brutalist style of high-tech architecture by an architectural team headed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.

Its vast, seemingly unsupported interior space houses the Public Information Library; the Musée National d’Art Moderne, which is the largest museum of modern art in Europe; and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research. The huge, rectangular, factory-like structure has become a major tourist hub and gathering point, attracting almost four million visitors per year.

Indeed ‘fashion’ exists in architecture and for many architects practising in 2018, current trends will play an important role in their design work. Certain briefs might express the desire for a design that’s unique, but more often clients may be influenced by projects featured on the internet, in magazines – or manifested in or at other people’s homes. Yet, what is equally relevant is the extent to which a chosen architectural signature can reflect personal needs and desires; which will likely be subject to change over time.

Building History

Conceived circa 700 BC, Grecian, later Roman – and more recently Palladio in early 16th century Venice – epitomised symmetry as an architectural direction that has proved to have stood the test of time. Its inherent balance is instinctively appreciated by many viewers, virtually at first glance. However, Centre Pompidou is far from reflecting this discipline.

Dion Max Walters of Bomax Architects offers his opinion on symmetry: ‘Architectural history shows the formality of symmetry in a predictable and easy to understand way by creating a mirror image on an axis. Symmetry is a method of achieving order in design;  in 2018, our understanding of design has progressed. We are subliminally aware that we do not have to be symmetrical, but balance is essential.

‘An architectural design can be completely asymmetrical, yet still balanced through the careful composition of positive and negative forms. Achieving balance in architecture involves all aspects of design such as form, colour, texture and materials; and is a skill that is not easily learnt or understood. Such a composition can be evaluated simply by the response it evokes – it feels right. The design may have focal points, but these would complement rather than distract from the harmony of the whole.

So, how important is symmetry in the history of architecture? Johann Koch of JK Designs says: ‘Architectural history teaches invaluable lessons on the fundamentals of design, it’s impossible to ignore and it’s unwise to do so. We constantly refer to A Pattern Language written by Christopher Alexander et al. Here, they describe and discuss classic planning, movement, social spaces, ergonomics etc., with research based on centuries of development in architecture and planning, most of which is still very relevant today. In essence, any design is a careful merger of architectural history (fundamentals) and our Zeitgeist. As with various styles of design, symmetry was a language that many appreciated and opted for. I don’t believe it’s a fundamental aspect, but merely a choice of design preference. So it’s contextual and conditional.’

Ben Kotlowitz of KMA / Understanding Design largely agrees: ‘Symmetry is actually an age-old concept but today, through being able to analyse photographs with computers, we realise that perfect symmetry does not exist. Arguably, we should rather aspire to an imperfect symmetry, which aims for perfect proportion and beauty rather than trying to achieve symmetry. We prefer the idea of being somewhat playful in our design, accommodating the quirks of the site – and occasionally the clients – to achieve buildings and spaces that both look and feel right.’

‘Symmetry has a place in certain architectural typologies however, for me the key is more a focus on balance of form through massing and materials rather than mirror imaged elements and detailing,’ so says Nigel Tarboton of Metropole Architects.

‘We are always mindful of history and very often we draw inspiration from the past. For us a project involves a deep understanding of site and material, plus our clients’ current needs – coupled with a certain optimism for the future – is what drives our designs,’ so says Kim Benatar, Director at Three14 Architects.

Today’s open plan, multipurpose areas are all about connectivity and interaction and are undoubtedly beneficial within 2018’s shrinking living spaces; this is an established trend that we’ve catalogued in Habitat over the past decade or more. It illustrates a desire to be more connected to family and friends with the major spaces in the home becoming communal areas where a variety of activities occur concurrently. The open plan format serves a secondary purpose in making domestic life seem more welcoming; the inclusion of a seldom used ‘front room’ or formal lounge has virtually ceased.

On connectivity and spatial flow, Jenny Mills of Cape Town-based JMA raises moot points: ‘Small spaces benefit from clever use of colour to create depth, and the ability to play with light and reflection also assists in a sense of spaciousness. Compact urban living is being driven by the transport / commute problems, so clever solutions for downscaling are increasingly in demand. Tranquil green courtyard spaces are as important as high impact views, where nurturing and calming textures and tones provide respite from our over-stimulated modern existence.’

‘Spatial flow is important as our homes become smaller due to escalating cost and a reduction in available space. It allows smaller spaces to feel bigger as the rooms flow into each other. It’s all about modern living – where we work, meet and socialise in the same space – and it also allows the indoor space to feel bigger, especially when the exterior is introduced through large openings and interrelated areas,’ says Kevin Lloyd of Kevin Lloyd Architects.

He adds: ‘Connectivity to the exterior spaces is essential and very possible with 2018 modern architecture. It offers that necessary sense of space, allowing one to still achieve the possibility of relating to nature and not just built form.’

Globally, and specifically in security-conscious 2018 South Africa, people are re-embracing the concept of entertaining at home, which has spawned the home cook and connected kitchen / dining / living spaces from where busy parents can keep tabs on children while preparing meals. In South Africa, access to the exterior and the integration of interior / exterior recreation and entertaining areas is equally important in terms of the architectural and decorative signature.

For the full article see Habitat #263 January / February 2018

overview: Colin Sharp | comment: John Weigand – Professor and Chair for the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Miami University


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