Trips to Famous Buildings – Chalet Gifferhorn

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Continuing with our series of posts on Swiss architecture, I found a video that features a rather opulent Swiss chalet, the winter home of fashion designer Valentino. Located in Gstaad in the heart of ski country this chalet is probably the most opulent Swiss chalet in all of Switzerland. Below is a video featuring the chalet. This is what an unlimited budget will buy you in Switzerland. The video will start after pressing play.

Trips to Famous Buildings – Palladio’s La Rotunda

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Arguably the most famous of all of Palladio’s villas, the domed villa built in the town of Vicenza, Italy is one of the most admired, copied, and studied buildings in all of architecture. It is so famous that it has been declared a World Heritage Site. The timeline of the villa’s construction is somewhat unclear as records don’t survive today, but it is generally attributed to around the 1560s. Palladio’s masterpiece was not finished in his lifetime and work on the villa went on long after Palladio’s death in 1580. The rooms in the attic floor were not built out until 1725-40 while the fresco’s below the dome’s balustrade weren’t undertaken until 1680 decorated by Ludovico Doriginy over a period of 7 years. The villa’s owners changed over time as well. The villa was originally commissioned by Count Paolo Almerico, but he was forced to sell it due to bankruptcy. In 1591 Count Capra purchased the villa and had a dedication plaque installed over the North Portico with his name Marvis Capra Gabrielis F added to reflect his new ownership of the building. Today the villa is open to the public as a museum. Here is a link to the museum’s website if you plan on seeing it in person.

Using Palladio’s drawings from his 4 books of Architecture, I recreated the villa in my computer. The task involved first modeling the different orders of columns with their respective entablatures precisely and then laying them out to form the 4 porches. Palladio specified a double height (2 x 9′)= 18′ Ionic order for the portico using Eustyle intercolumniation (which works out to 5 dentals between each column). The Eustyle spacing creates a separation of 2.25 diameters between the Ionic columns with a slightly larger 3 diameter spacing for the 2 center columns, giving you a 6′ entry door (2′ dia x 3dia = 6′) and hallway into the dome room from each portico.

Plans and Section taken from Palladio's 4 books of architecture
Plans and Section taken from Palladio’s 4 books of architecture

The building itself is a perfect square 60′ on each side with 4 porticoes and a dome both 30′ in diameter (exactly half the width of the building). The ground floor plan is completely symmetrical with 4 larger rooms on the North & South sides and 4 smaller rooms facing East/West along with the 4 central halls leading to the rotunda. There are also 4 cramped stairwells accessing the upper floor. There are a couple of interesting exceptions however to this plan’s extreme symmetry. The east elevation departs from the other sides as it has 4 windows in a half story at the height of the ionic capitals. You can see these here on this section.

Section detailing ceiling heights and interior finishes
Section detailing ceiling heights and interior finishes

What the purpose of this half floor was we can only speculate, perhaps serving as bedrooms that would get first light with the rising sun. The number of fireplaces is also noteworthy as they are decidedly unsymmetrical. There are a total of 5 chimneys protruding from the roof, 2 on the North side, 2 on the South and one lone fireplace on the west elevation. The North/South fireplaces align perfectly with the large 4 rooms on the first floor (each fireplace is placed between the 2 windows on the long side of each room. The odd 5th fireplace doesn’t appear on Palladio’s drawings and must have been a change/addition or serviced the attic story. There were several change orders made to the design as it went from drawing to completed building. Palladio’s drawings in his books show a spherical dome, while what was built was less steep and more stepped, perhaps to save money or ease construction. Dome construction was a uncertain and risky undertaking in the Renaissance and it is likely that the villa’s builders probably erred on the side of caution to avoid potential collapse.

To get a 3D view of the villa and better understand my descriptions, download this virtual model done in Sketchup of La Rotunda. It is extremely well done and quite accurate, created by Enrico D. Sketchup Model

Also included is an image gallery of photos taken inside and outside the villa.

Image Gallery

As a side project, I decided to gut Palladio’s villa and try to carve out a more modern floor plan out of the existing shell of the building, preserving the exterior walls, windows and doors and porticoes. My digital version of the villa with plans and renderings will be featured in a later post.

Trips to Famous Buildings – Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ

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Hello again readers,

It has been a while since I went on a trip to visit a famous architectural landmark, so I packed my bags and set out for AZ to check out Wright’s winter home Taliesin West, located in Scottsdale, Arizona. Wright’s first trip to AZ was in 1927 when he was asked to consult on designs for the Arizona Biltmore Hotel. Following that initial visit, Wright and a team of apprentices returned to the AZ desert every year setting up desert camps in the winter months to escape the harsh winters in his home state of Wisconsin. The Taliesin West complex that exists today broke ground in 1937 and evolved over Wright’s lifetime undergoing renovations and additions until Wright’s death. Wright created Taliesin West as a community to host his Fellowship program, a quasi school for budding architects eager to learn from the master’s tutelage. The Fellowship was founded in the 30s during the Great Depression when Wright and nearly all architects were getting no commissions. His Fellowship program was a means of supporting his practice in the lean years of the Depression. Wright’s apprenticeship program started out of his home in Wisconsin and the program and the apprentices relocated to AZ for the winter months.

Even though Wright is long dead, The Fellowship program still exists today in the form of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture operated out of the Taliesin West Complex. The school offers an NAAB accredited Masters of Architecture degree to those who complete the program at Taliesin West and Taliesin. It is a small school, only about 30-40 students in total and it admits only about 8-10 students each year. Students live on the property in tents constructed by past Fellows and in living quarters created by Wright. However, the school’s existence is in jeopardy as it is in danger of loosing its accreditation due to the way the school is funded.

For me it was exciting walking through and experiencing first hand the inside of a Wright design. Wright properties are very controlled; every detail and view was crafted by the architect to create a seamless connection with the surroundings. It wasn’t always comfortable, but it was beautiful. I was struck by how low the ceilings were. Wright was quite short despite his large ego, and he often designed spaces around his own height rather then accommodate the needs of taller people. Wright rooms are therefore best experienced sitting down taking in the space from a seated position.

Below is a photo gallery of pictures that I took on the tour. An overview map of the Complex is also included.

Image Gallery

Trips to Famous Buildings – Mosfellskirkja Church

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The past few posts have been devoted to religious architecture so I thought that I would chose to profile a religious building that really stood out for me. We travel to Iceland to find this church in the town of Mosfellskirkja, a small village outside of Reykjavik. It was built in the 1960s but the design was so modern that it still is current today. The roofline defines the building sloping upward towards the heavens. I decided to model the building in Revit to better understand how it was built as well as designing an adjoining Sunday school building to compliment the existing structure on the site. I could find no interior shots of the church so I had to guess what it must look like taking my own liberties with the interior design. Hope you like it.

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Trips to Famous Buildings – The Ulrich Lange House

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This week I am profiling an unbuilt design by Mies Van Der Rohe. This house was commissioned by Ulrich Lange in 1934-5, the son of Herman Lange, one of Mies Van Der Rohe’s wealthy clients. Mies had created other houses for the Lange family in the town of Krefeld, Germany where this house was to be sited. The war and permitting restrictions prevented this project from being realized so it remains just an unbuilt concept. The house itself was to be massive at 45 meters long (aprox 147 feet) by 21 meters wide (aprox 68 feet) yet was utterly devoid of any ornament or articulation. The facade facing the street presents itself as a long brick wall interrupted by an opening in the wall at its center with a curtain wall behind it.

I have to say that this is one of the most compelling house designs I have ever come across and was compelled to learn as much about it as I could. Records indicate that Mies was engaged by Lange in 1934 to design a home for his family. The design development process generated two distinct designs both incorporating an inclosed courtyard. Below are the elevations from the first scheme and the later final approved scheme.

Initial Design Scheme
Initial Design Scheme
Final Design Scheme
Final Design Scheme

The first scheme separated the house into two wings, a sleeping wing and and a living wing. The two wings were placed at right angles to each other and connected by the curtain walled space while the final design incorporated the two wings into one long volume. In terms of precedent, the Ulrich Lange house is very similar in design to Mies’s Landhaus Lemke house in Berlin in its arrangement of the rooms and use of a L-shaped design. The primary difference between the two designs being that the courtyard space was open in the Lemke design while the Lange house opted for an inclosed courtyard.

Landhaus Lemke House in Berlin
Landhaus Lemke House in Berlin
Floor Plans for the Landhaus Lemke House
Floor Plans for the Landhaus Lemke House

Using Mies’s final elevations and images from the computer generated model shown in the video below, I was able to painstakingly reconstruct the floor plan of this design. I had to use intuition and a study of Mies’s style of laying out bedrooms/bathrooms in his previous work as my guides to formulate the exact layout of the floor plan. The house had 4 bedrooms and 4.5 baths with a detached 2-car garage.

Mies appears to have borrowed ideas from his contemporaries to create some of the details in the Ulrich Lange house. The Lange house foyer has a similar skylight to Corbusier’s Villa Savoye(1928) that you are greeted by as you enter the front door. Mies’s unique curving wall in the main living hall is also noteworthy for its similarities to the Villa Malaparte(1938) rooftop wind sail designed by Malaparte four years after Mies’s design for the Lange house.

View of curving Rooftop Windsail
View of curving Rooftop Windsail

The house is divided into public and private spaces by a lavish granite wall that defines the rear boundary of the living room. All spaces to the front of the wall are public, while all spaces behind it are private.

Floor Plans for Ulrich Lange House
Floor Plans for Ulrich Lange House

Other revolutionary ideas Mies employed were supporting the roof structure over the punctuated wall. Contemporary architects such as Marcio Kogan employ similar strategies as developed by Mies in their work today.

Diagram illustrating how the Ipes house (2011) is supported structurally.
Diagram illustrating how the Ipes house (2011) is supported structurally.

The enclosed courtyard
Mies’s sketches suggest that the walled courtyard should hold some kind of garden, however the possibilities for the space are virtually limitless. The roof high walls make it ideal for a vegetable garden as deer couldn’t possibly jump over the wall and get into the beds. Alternately a swimming pool could be placed in the space. I imagined a sculpture garden divided by brick partitions. This scheme allows for a private viewing of a sculpture from the circular window in the study.

Sketch of the courtyard area drawn by Mies
Sketch of the courtyard area drawn by Mies

Critique
There is so much right with this house that it is hard to find fault with anything, yet circulation seems to be the one aspect that wasn’t as fully developed as it could have been. There appears to be only one entrance/exit into the house at the front door. Given the size of the house and the wealth of its owners, I am surprised that there wasn’t a tradesman’s entrance into the kitchen from the motor court to allow for deliveries to the house without alerting the family’s attention to their arrival. The two-sided curtain wall in the living hall appeared to lack any means of egress out to the enclosed courtyard. I altered the design to accommodate that requirement. Also the detached garage would make carrying the groceries inside more of a hassle in bad weather. The porte corchére did roof the connection between house and garage, but you were still exposed to the elements. However, the issue of carrying groceries probably didn’t even enter into Mies’s mind as those lowly tasks would be handled by servants in all likelihood. I would have also added more skylights into the bathroom/closet spaces in the master bedroom wing as those rooms would be dark without artificial illumination. However, we can’t be too hard on Mies as the house never went beyond the design development phase, so these small oversights which probably would have been corrected had the design progressed further can be forgiven.

Complementary Buildings
A house of this size would be ideally suited for a large estate encompassing tens of acres. To fill up the site, I created an observatory to complement the main house. The parti for the Lange house in its most basic form is a single line, with a beginning and an end point. The antithesis of this is a circular building where a curving line circles infinitely. You can see my photos of the house and its plans for its site in the gallery below.

Image gallery


Video

The video clips shown below are taken from the documentary “Mies in Krefeld” produced by qatsi.tv. These show the Ulrich Lange house and other unbuilt projects designed by Mies.

Original Link to the video and its list of credits.

Trips to Famous Buildings – The Old Louis Of Boston Reinvented

Louis Boston

Hello again readers,
I just saw this story and truth be told I have always wanted to go into this Boston landmark, but never really had reason to when it was a super high end clothing store. The Old Louis of Boston vacated their prestigious Newbury Street address a couple of years ago moving to the hip Boston waterfront district (neighborhood of the new ICA) and the old Louis of Boston building designed by William Gibbons in 1863 was sold and now has a new tenant, a Restoration Hardware. Architectural Digest covered the interior renovation of the building which is profiled in their June issue. The detail inside the Gibbons building seems to really work with the Restoration Hardware merchandise giving the store a feeling of grandeur which I am sure helps sell those $500 + faucets and nicknacks. Below are some photos of the interior spaces. For more photos check out the ADigest article in the link below. I am wondering though who really needs a 2 story copy of the Eiffel Tower for their home?

Image Gallery

June Architectural Digest Article

Trips to Famous Buildings – The Farnsworth House

As this month’s featured architect was Mies van der Rohe, I thought that I would find some more info on his most famous buildings. This 30 min documentary on the Farnsworth House fits the bill. Having personally visited Philip Johnson’s Glass house, I was struck at how similar it was to Mies’s Farnsworth house in terms of the furnishings and layout of the furniture. I also remember studying the Farnsworth House in detail at school and being amazed at how ordered it was, every structural and mechanical system fell onto a grid. The film gives you great shots of the interior and the surrounding landscape so one can really appreciate the beauty of the property. If you have a few minutes definitely check it out. The film is in 3 parts.

part 1

part 2

part 3