I had the a significant benefit to my architecture research: my dad owns his own success architectural and consultancy firm. To provide context for this research, I needed to work on the technical, artistic and even symbolic reasons why a house isn’t just a house, but has an entire richness to it’s purpose. My dad has owned his own firm for 35 years who specialise in assessment, design and construction practice from big investors to minor extensions both in terms of practicality and aesthetic requirements. This was hugely important way to get inside of the design and thinking behind how we could approach the building of the house.
He begins by pointing out that “buildings are designed to make a statement”, quoting the phrase “an Englishman’s home is his castle” because you go to a castle to be saved. In early culture, the home and the building in general served two vital purposes – shelter and protection. Fundamentally, that’s the intent of every building, but it’s meaning is modified to suit the needs of the inhibitors. In his experience dealing with a vast array of clients, it’s always about the type of person that uses the building because it many ways its a reflection of them and their personality (unless it’s corporate where it takes on a general model usually adapted by the owner).
To explain this, he pointed towards architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who had a philosophic way of approaching design known as organic architecture. According to Figueroa (2014), Wright believed that nature and man must work in harmony and coexist, which is a sense reflects my previous research on how natural life can influence man-made structures. Most architecture is developed from and inspired by organic natural life, but in Wright’s case it was a matter of being thoughtful and considerate for what nature and our intervention has to the world. Effectively, it’s encouraging me to think carefully why something should be designed with nature in mind, in fact, also how environmental factors play into it’s purpose for existing. My dad suggested given the use of ocean, that it would be appropriate to spire our thought around natural influence. In a way, natural will overgrow man, whereas man remains static – playing into the idea of being overwhelmed and oppressed by nature, or less negatively, helped by.
As my dad continued, Wright actually went as far as to live with inhibitors before designing the house because he needed to understand them as a person to make the design thoughtful and meaningful to them on an emotional level. As my dad explained, people need to feel “comfort, stability and safety”, inspiring the question – who is our character? And how does their personality reflect the identity of the house?
The house is an extension of the individual and furthered by the world around us. In One of Wright’s most famous works, Fallingwater (1935) [below], he built the house around the senses of the inhibitor. Each window they looked out, the way they manouvered the house, etc. created a tranquil state. The inhibitor felt at ease and in contentment by the natural beauty that projected through the windows and how the buildings was organically molded around it. It was philosophical and emotional, and transcended the simplicity of safety and shelter – it became one with the person and made them embrace it with greater profoundness.
Essentially, as my dad was encouraging, being abstract can help define what the house says about the character and how it communicates with the audience. It really was aesthetic that drove the emotion, but the stimuli was carried by the meaningfulness of the presentation. Intent is everything, and as our team have discussed, whether the house be simple or complex, what matters most is that it makes sense to both the character and the story.
This led my dad to highlighting a similar but different philosophical perspective from Rudolf Steiner, whose work aimed to make scientific and spiritual statements. Steiner believed, much like Wright, that architectural could only be appreciated and understood through experience (Bayes, 1994). Importantly however was this point: “Symbols are an intermediary between the person and the thing. They are often a barrier. If the thing is significant in itself, is pure, it needs no intermediary” (Bayes, 1994, p. 16). In this sense, you can’t be ‘too obvious’. It has to feel right, be organic.
In his Goetheanum designs, there is a spiritual essence generated from the curvature that exudes the building. It feels powerful, charged and attempting to project a statement to observers. But it’s still subtle, yet unique. It’s like a church (reflecting the powerful all-seeing designs they tend to have), and it generates energy in it’s very expressive curved design.
Figueroa, J. (2014) The Philosophy of Organic Architecture. CreateSpace Independent
Bayes, K. (1994) Living Architecture: Rudolf Steiner’s Ideas in Practice. Croatia: Steiner Books.