Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Speaking of perfect spaces...

... in July I visited this year's Serpentine Pavilion (Hyde Park, London). Designed by architect Peter Zumthor, it is simply a large wooden rectangular shape with deep overhanging roof on all four sides. This wide roof also provided shelter in the courtyard and created a powerful sense of shelter and comfort, with echoes of the cloister. The wild garden, designed by Piet Oudoff, counteracts the severity and simplicity of the space. Zumthor says "
Plants embody everything that I like to have around me: presence, personality, character. They are supple and therefore strong, and yet soft-spoken and gentle; they are fragrant and delicate; they have movement, colour, structure, scale and proportion..."

Tables and chairs lined the walls and provided a completely pleasant place to sit and socialise, with a quiet noise level, looking out onto the sky and the earth, while protected at the same time. Deceptively basic and very effective.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The secret life of buildings

I am loving this series on Channel 4 by Tom Dyckhoff, architectural correspondent for the Times
(some OK things about this paper after all, it seems). He explains how neuroscience and other forms of research are showing how deeply we are affected by architectural space. In a lab in Los Angeles he gets wired up and placed in front of various different virtual rooms. This experiment shows how much more stressed and depressed he becomes in a small space with low ceilings.

Which is exactly the kind of living accommodation in so many new build housing estates in the UK. We also have the lowest overall size of house in the Europe, apparently. This kind of building frequently economises on the window size as well. Dyckhoff does an experiment in his extremely light flat in London. The window walls are covered with sheets of card which let in the same ratio of light as an average estate home. He spends a week there, measuring his mood, which predictably shifts rapidly downwards.

Yet when we look for houses, the main factors featured are often the number of rooms, not the amount of light or the proportions of the rooms. It need not be like this, according to Dyckhoff. There is no reason why more people-friendly homes cannot be built for exactly the same budget. Watch out for the next programme, Monday nights.