The Eyes of The Skin Review

The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa

Introduction

This book is a short but beautifully crafted argument for an Architecture based less on the sense of sight and more on the other senses, and about how touch is the core sense from which the others flow. It argues we have gone too far in holding sight above those other senses, particularly in Architecture and that there is a better, deeper way to understand and shape the spaces we design.

Book History

Pallasmaa wrote the argument out as an essay and lecture, then turned it into a book first published in 1996 which quickly became a classic of Architectural Theory. Amazon has it at 130 pages long but my edition is only 80 pages! Either way it’s a short and fairly quick read provided you are familiar with the references Pallasmaa makes. If you don’t you might find it hard work to digest.

Basic Premise

The skin is the oldest and most sensitive of our organs, and touch is the sense that became differentiated into all the other senses. The understanding of our external environment is much more co-dependant on all the senses. But vision is the sense that is increasingly dominating in Architecture. Pallasmaa sets out the case for the tactile senses in the experience and understanding of the world and in the design of buildings and cities. That the pre-conscious perceptual realm, that of peripheral vision contains the quality of architectural reality much more than a focused image. The quote below joins up these associated ideas and expresses them beautifully.

‘I confront the city with my body; my legs measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; my gaze unconsciously projects my body onto the facade of the cathedral, where it roams over the mouldings and contours, sensing the size of recesses and projections; my body weight meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand grasps the door pull as I enter the dark void behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.’

– Juhani Pallasmaa

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The Van Nelle Factory from the Front

The Van Nelle Factory: A Modernist Architectural Classic

  • The Van Nelle Factory
  • Constructed 1925-1931
  • Architects: Leendert van der Vlugt of Brinkman & Van der Vlugt
  • Address: Van Nelleweg 1, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Introduction

At 220m long, 8 stories high and 60,000m² in size the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam rises up against the flat landscape surrounding it even if it doesn’t tower above the other buildings like it once did when it was finished in 1931.

Designed and built in the 1920’s on the banks of a canal in an industrial zone on the then outskirts of Rotterdam it was a pioneer of a new form of Construction that the Dutch called literally New Building or ‘Nieuwe Bouwen’. This was a modern factory building made just at the birth of Modernism and incorporating the latest technology plus techniques developed on site by the constructors it became one of the buildings that would go on to define the style of modernism itself. A modernist classic from the day it opened.

Now a UNESCO heritage site it still maybe is not as well known as it should be being both a great influence in early modernism and an beautiful piece of frozen social history that is often overlooked.

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Unité d’Habitation: The Brutalist Boat

Unité d’habitation

Key Information

  • Name: Unité d’habitation
  • Location: Marseille, France
  • Architect: Le Corbusier
  • Year: 1947-52

Introduction Le Corbusier’s first Unité d’Habitation 

The Marseille Unitéd’habitation which literally means unit of habitation is the first of the series of experimental and futuristic housing blocks developed by the Architect Le Corbusier after WWII. It became one of the most influential Modernist buildings of all time with countless iterations tried by other Architects all over the world and developed in different directions and with different levels of success.

Corbusier himself built four more Unité d’Habitations in Europe. The Rough concrete he used ‘béton brut’ became the signature of the style known as Brutalism. Simply put if you are are interested in Modern Architecture or the History of Architecture this is one of the buildings you should know.

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Helsinki Design Week

Today I went to The Helsinki Design Week Design Market in Kaapelitahdas. It’s billed as the largest design stock sale in the Nordics and its a great place to get a sense of what is going on in the Finnish Design scene. Mainly fashion and product design but food, interiors and jewellery etc was there to see and it was great to see how many future worldwide brands could be bubbling up here.

Read moreHelsinki Design Week

Generative Architecture

I found a project by Joel Simon called Evolving Floorplans (via Kottke) which is all about the algorithmic generation of floorpans, specifically in reference to a school design. Evolving Floorpans is the first time I have seen a clear visualisation of an algorithmic architectural design, it’s quite beautiful.

Firstly I should note I’ve no experience in the writing of code such as for the alogorythm that Joel wrote and only an interest in the experimental zone of 3d architecture printing, so having said all that some observations;

Just programming for efficiency of circulation gave a remarkably ‘organic’ plan structure but maybe this is not be surprising given how things are designed ‘bottom up’ in the natural world.

The plans, optimised for traffic flow didn’t translate at all for classroom use, building usability or internal legibility. Square up the classroom sizes a bit and use something that errs towards more modern classroom layouts like joined classrooms etc and lab spaces. The structure was not addressed, and we probably shouldn’t kid ourselves that new structural materials or techniques will either come soon or deliver greatly enhanced results than right now. The hierarchy of the room types could also be factored in, ie. the gym and cafe of larger volume, environmental site factors accounted for. Joel already understands much of this though,

‘The metrics could be expanded to include terrain maps, sun paths, existing trees and other environmental input, allowing the buildings to be highly adaptive to their context. The physics simulation could force certain boundary shape constraints.’

Conclusions

If developed further this could easily inform outline design and progress until some baselines and agreements in the basic design have been set. It could provide very soon a tool to help the design team and Architects, how much further it could go I don’t know.

Links

Thread on reddit/architecture

Week in review August 19th 2018

Sound Mirrors, Romney Marsh Photo by Tom Lee

Things I saw this week

  • Sound Mirrors of Romney Marsh (website and video) a form of early warning system against enemy aircraft rendered obsolete by the invention of radar in 1935.
  • I want this mug! (ember)
  • Nasa hosted a 3d-printed habitat competition for Mars (video) (via things)
  • My home town of Helsinki dropped off the top10 most liveable cities list down from 9th in 2017 to 16th in 2018. (ref) though I’m not too sure about how these things are calculated I think that they do give a good general indication. Although I would say I think you can potentially live anywhere being rich. I would love to see an index that attempts to show how well you can live in cities as your income goes up or down. Quality vs income then the gentler the slop up or down might indicate a better place to live.
  • Added Urbanfinland.com to my blog list in resources. Some great writing and research here by Timo Hämälainen. I hope to go over some of his ideas in a separate post soon.

My posts this last week

 

Sweets Hotel Amsterdam

Archidose #1007 has some pictures of a Sweets Hotel (Weigbrug) in Amsterdam. The Sweets hotel chain turn old bridge houses into apartments in a kind of distributed hotel. I saw Archoses post while I was thinking about writing up my visit earlier this year to Amsterdam. It’s a city I love, I lived there for some time and met my wife there, and its a great city to talk about from many angles. This is just one project which gives a taste of the interesting urban innovations alive and well in the city.

 

The Photography of Heikki Willamo and a Mythical Journey

A Mythical Journey

Early in this Autumn last year I went to see a photography exhibition by Heikki Willamo in the Finnish Photograpghy Museum called The Mythical Journey or Myyttinen matka. It’s Nature photography at its best but this exhibition was a little different. It was photograpahy from Finland and Scandinavia by Heikki but trying to capture the ice age Hunters experience of Nature and the Landscape. Images of animals as they were seen by Ice age peoples.

Heikki had long been interested in the rock paintings the oldest dating from forty thousand years ago. Until the bronze age and the beginning of a farming culture these images, made by hunter-gatherers appreciated the world in animalistic terms where the great animals took center stage.

“Of the animals, the large mammals were especially important. They had powers and had a connection to the spirit world. They were perhaps the mythical ancestors of clans, spiritual guides for hunters, and familiars for shamans. Images were created of them deep in the ground – in the depths of the caves charged with powers.” – Heikki Willamo

Primordial Space

As hunter gatherers became farmers and the bronze age dawned then animals faded from center stage and animal images in the form of property of people became common as man as the subject of art took center stage. The way we saw the animals and our relation to them changed fundamentally. Heiki tried to recapture a feeling of how they were seen during the birth of man, when we too were one of the animals hunting, eating, living in the same landscape and in much the same way as them. When the world was made of a primordial space full of magic and the sounds of the animals were of the Gods calling!

Links 

See photo gallery below Note all the photos you see are ones I took of Willamos original hung prints, go to Heikkis’ website to see more of his work and where he is exhibiting next.

Kaleva Church

One day in early spiring this year I was in Tampere for the day and had a couple of hours to spare so I thought I would revisit a great modern building that I feel is often a little neglected, maybe because it’s a little out the way or maybe because Aalvar Aalto casts such a long shadow over Finnish Architecture or maybe a little of both.

Kaleva Church by Reima and Raili Pietilä the result of an Architectural competition in 1959 won by Reima Pietilä and Raili Paatelainen and built in 1964-66. The building sits on a small hillock at the head of the convergence of two large roads both with postwar apartment blocks lining them.

The plan is immediately surprising and consists of a series of high and narrow concrete wings made from 17 35m high hollow concrete u shapes, with full height windows in-between.  Each of these concrete u’s are slightly different.

Malcolm Quantrill has written that the Kaleva Church is derived from the Christian fish symbol, generates a daring interior space, with the single-volume nave capturing a powerful, medieval sense of monumentality. I agree it captures a medieval like sense of monumentality but not about the fish symbolism. The fish symbolism appears to me to be a sop to the Christian church it houses, highly organic in nature it looks much more like a leaf. Look at the early sketches from the Pietilä’s and I think that seals it.

The massive concrete walls were meant originally to remain as bare concrete but I think that someone lost their nerve some part of the way through and pale sand coloured ceramic tiles were used to cover the building instead in an attempt to play along better with the apartment blocks it sits among. It looks a little like a poorly disguised Brutalist construction though I don’t think that label sits completely comfortably for this building. The central space and how it is conceived seems so inspired by nature and pays much attention to the play of natural light and space inside make it an exceptional building, one that inspires a feeling much like that in a medieval cathedral, although perhaps lighter and more naturally flavoured.

I know this building in Finland was a little controversial when it was built, some thought it to ‘natural’ and not modern enough or functional enough for the Finnish Architectural brand but as a church part of its function is to inspire and I find it does just this.

References:

Structures and Architecture: New concepts, applications and challenges´ edited by Paulo J. da Sousa Cruz’

Finnish Architecture and the Modernist Tradition By Malcolm Quantrill

Further Reading:

Pietilä’s Crystal for the Finnish President by Kati Blom

Gallery of Kaleva Church taken by me on Flickr

Kaleva Church on sosbrutalism.org