Sunday, May 9, 2010

Design and the Memory of Light


This is a little sketch - story, of the Sheats Goldstein Residence
(Originally designed for Helen and Paul Sheats in 1949 - Architect John Lautner)

 There is an embedded intelligence here ...

In his mid-career John Lautner was approached by Paul Sheats to design a home for him and his wife Helen. He told John stories of how Helen was fond of her childhood memories - running in the forest. Paul Sheats spoke for some time about the magic Helen felt while running through the forest and just looking up into the canopy of leaves above her. They were fond childhood memories and Paul wanted to give his wife a home in which those memories had the potential be revisited.

John listened intently to the stories and began to develop a strategy. Lautner drove out to the forest and began to wander. He tried to image what it might be like for a child to experience the 'magic' of the forest.

He was enamored by the quality of the light dancing through the tree top canopy. He felt the trickle of light reflecting off his body and the ground as he moved slowly up the forest path.

He imaged what he could do to invoke that feeling for Paul and Helen Sheats in the design of their home.
He developed a roof design, which invoked the feeling of light trickling through a forest canopy. He did it by inserting regular drinking glasses into a poured concrete waffle slab. He angled the roof towards the sun in order to optimize the amount of light penetration through the glasses embedded within the roof. In doing so he also developed the feeling of the space below.

The roof became a hybrid of roof and wall. One corner touches down on the ground. I have never seen this done in any other building before this. This is the first instance where roof is also wall that I can think of. This came about only through his genius and listening to the client. The interaction with Paul and Helen guided him to the final design. Because if this, I find the Sheats Goldstein residence to be an example of Honest Architecture.

Sadly the original ceiling has been clad over with wood. The idea in a way has been kept alive by not covering the exterior section of the waffle slab. Although the ceiling is now hidden the story the idea are still alive. Let's hope that the original roof is restored and exposed to show 'what can do, the memory of light'.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

George Bernard Shaw and The Marvelous Spinning Shed (LIGHT)

There is something very personal about a work hut. It is a place where first and foremost - work - is done. So right off the bat we need to consider what kind of work is to be done and what are the preferred working conditions of the - worker -.As an architect I tend to begin a project by getting to know the person I am working with before I begin to develop a design. I desire to find out what is important to the client. Through experience I have developed an understanding for what works in certain situations and what might be an aesthetic preference. With that in mind I appreciate the fact that each person is different and tends to - see - things differently. That is what makes every project exciting and can potentially lead to new discoveries and wonderful results.


Whether I design a space for an artist or a writer something as fundamental as light can take on a variety of meanings.
For instance, what type of light does a painter prefer. Does the artist paint from life? Do they prefer direct light or a diffused light. Does a writer enjoy the warmth of sunlight on her back? What time do they write? Do they want to sit in a room in which a wall has been bathed in sun - a warm wall? Is he amused or inspired by the way light dances through the leaves of trees? If so, what kinds of trees? Or, what kind of construct can simulate the memory of light dancing through trees ... (the subject of my next post). One natural element can have infinite design and experiential possibilities.

The fundamental way in which we experience light in the arena of - work - led me to examine this writing hut designed by writer George Bernard Shaw. The first time I read about the GBS writing hut was in a book entitled " A Little House of My Own : 47 Grand Designs for 47 Tiny Houses". Now let me just say that looks can be deceiving. At first glance this is just a simple box with a door and three windows; two of which are fixed. It has a sloping roof to shed rain and snow build up but there is a little secret hidden below. Literally. The hut is built atop a large Lazy Susan.

Now, Lazy Susans have been around for a while. Some even date back to the early 1700's. Vanity Fair advertised a Lazy Susan in 1917, but it took the creative mind of Bernard Shaw to see it's potential when combined with a writing hut. The idea was ingenious for a few reasons.

1. It allowed George to write in his hut without having to use an artificial light source. He would just get up (which was a good and healthy thing to do anyway) and give the hut a little turn towards the light.

2. It limited the windows needed for direct light to enter the space. This is important in cold weather. More glass in the cold months made for a cooler working space. By limiting windows to one side of the shed (with only one other window opposite the door) made it possible to work in the hut even in cooler months.

3.The direct sunlight entering the hut created passive solar heating within. Limiting the windows to the one side facing the sun also reduced the amount of heat loss.

4. Last but not least, Bernard was able to pivot the hut in the summer to create a shaded space (passive shading) whenever he desired to do so. Opening the only operable window opposite the open door created natural ventilation.

Shaw's hut is a beautiful example of function based on nature. It might not be aesthetically pleasing, but there is a beauty to it's functionality. For that reason I think it is an example of an honest architecture.