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.
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
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!
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.
Foto: Simo Rista / MFA
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.
Structures and Architecture: New concepts, applications and challenges´ edited by Paulo J. da Sousa Cruz’
Finnish Architecture and the Modernist Tradition By Malcolm Quantrill
The subtitle of this book is Living More with Less and its an examination of a post materialistic future for our society today.
Taking the book title of Stuffocation James Wallman shows that in developed economies we have started drowning in too much stuff. Then he looks at different movements and how they address this problem. From Minimalism, The Simple Life, The Medium Chill to the Experientialists. The experience economy and a new view of whats important in our lives is what this book finally comes out in favour of.
The Minimalists who cut out more and more ruthlessly their material possessions can maybe be a little to ascetic for James’ taste. The Simple Life followers who follow Henry David Thoreau who tells in his book Walden of getting back to nature for two years also comes up short, it’s often too hard, Thoreau himself only lasted two years and then went back to the city.
The medium chill a sort of midway between following a completely aspirational life and chilling out is what many people might be doing already and anyway it’s not that aspirational is it?
Experientialism is James Wallmans’ answer to the materialist society and the economic never ending chase of raising GDP and I think I agree and see something to be taken from all these ideas.
One thing that kind of rubs me though is that as an Architect it is easy to see a sort of minimal style that just drips opulence. This shows itself in interior design, art, fashion and I think I detect it also in some of the minimal lifestyle guru set. It’s rather easier to cut out the things you own if your socks count as one thing or you ripped all your cd’s and dvd’s to your laptop. If you only own three sets of 250 dollar jeans, and can buy another in a heartbeat, how is that not fully partaking in materialistic Western society? This type of minimalism somehow doesn’t seem that much more than a different type of ostentation, one that leverages the feel good factor of youtube and facebook as you sit atop your influencer network while sipping your fruitshake on a Bali beach (Instagram moment!). The book to be fair does touch on this subject but only just in passing.
I do also see the point in a kind of empowering minimalism when it comes to personal finance. Mr. Money Moustache to take one example shows a way of looking at finances and savings, possessions and even experiences which I think can really empower people. Again this personal finance side of the coin is not touched on in the book.
So overall I really like Stuffocation and it does really make you think about your life and provide a jumping point for further reading and maybe action in your own life. You should definitely read it, but just don’t stop there!
My new favourite blog misfits’ architecture posted about Yemeni traditional housing under the title The Inflexible House.
You might know about Yemeni buildings from famous photos of cities like Shibam or Al Hajarayn, where 500 year old medieval skyscrapers rise up with tapering walls clumped together often on rocky outcrops. Nothing looks quite like them and also on the inside they are perhaps quite different than how you might imagine1.
They have no spatial hierarchy on the inside just essentially the same plan repeated upwards. Ground floor is for storage of food and 1st floor with main reception room and kitchen off of it, above that are the floors for the family but there is no hierarchy, no ability to subdivide just larger and smaller sized rooms stacked onto of each other. Its inflexibility of plan opens it up to a different type of flexibility which a standard modern western house lacks;
There’s much that’s good in the Yemeni convention of building a house having all floors the same plan and deciding later how to use those spaces. Some patterns of use are more established through custom or necessity but the spaces can still be reallocated to suit temporary situations such as the visit of a relative or longer-term changes such as an eldest son marrying. This is simply how these houses are lived in and part of it is because they can be lived in this way. Changing the use of a room involves no architectural trauma because the houses weren’t planned to have a hierarchy of spaces. – misfits’ architecture
The apartment building designs I have been involved with in Finland over the last few years are all about culturally arbitrated spaces designed for specific purposes. An eight floor Finnish apartment block will have a sauna block on the entrance floor with a bomb shelter space in the basement both of theses generated from specific Finnish cultural assumptions, fear of imminent attack by the Russians and a culturally required love of the Sauna.
Apartments within the block must all have balconies though not necessarily bedrooms at all, with wet room bathrooms, larger apartments will have their own Sauna and the biggest apartments are on the top floors to maximise price per meter. Kitchens and Dining rooms as separate spaces from the living room have virtually ceased to exist. All this means that the main living space is super flexible within certain spatial bounds and that apartments can’t really accommodate much more than couples or nuclear families living in a certain type of way with a certain set of contractual obligations (a mortgage!) as there is no privacy within these types of apartments.
Other types of living, co-housing, lodgers, multi generational families even kitchenless housing don’t fit at all into these programmed plans. I’m not saying that any of these ones are better than what we have now only that these different programmes and housing types could inspire different more practical and more flexible ways of living and in turn adding variety and value to our cities. The Yemeni inflexible house could inspire more flexible planning in modern housing still.
Update 22.10.2019 – The Guardian catalogs the toll of the last five years of War in the Yemen on the Architecture and Historical heritage of the Yemen.
Al Hajarayn by Dan
Sana old town
See Misfits’ amazing post about Yemeni Architecture here [↩]
Rehome are ten student furniture designers from Lahti University. They have designed cardboard and plywood furniture that can be assembled without the need for tools. Because they can be manufactured and deployed quickly, among other things they can be used to help house refugees where an efficient, quick and flexible response is needed. From first concept to implementation this is a really great idea.
They have just been to Milan design Fair so hopefully their ideas will be exposed to as wide an audience as possible.
aVOID tiny house by Leonardo Di Chiara. Is a really engineered version of a tiny house that you could see being mass produced. It contains bags of innovative ideas, I love the fold out chairs for example.
Mimoa has been around for a while, it’s a great resource for finding good modern architecture anywhere in the world and is the first site I go to when planning to visit a new city. So this morning when I signed up for the office architectural trip in the spring I saw that they are running a kickstarter campaign to raise money to update the site.
Also I saw John Hill over at DDA posting about their campaign so I put in a pledge. With crowd sourced photos, reviews and project information it harks back to a more open time on the web. It’s become a great took for anyone interested in Architecture while travelling, but it is not optimised for mobile and nowadays thats of primary importance, so they need money to redevelop the site for mobile first.
When I lived and worked in Amsterdam MVRDV was one of my favourite Dutch Architects Offices, I loved their experimental bent and when I was back in Amsterdam in 2016 I saw their recently completed Chanel shop a refit of a 19th century Amsterdam town house.
The new shop front is a lovely play on the old brick facade and a modern glass fronted designer shopfront. The bricks of the old facade at the top slowly dissolving into the new glass ones of the shop front.
The shop is in PC Hooftstraat which has since I lived there has been a street for luxury brands and shopping situated beside Vondel park just outside of the old Amsterdam. It’s outside of the 9 streets or the old city main shopping lanes but thanks to that can probably accommodate an older richer clientele.
It is worth noting that increasingly Amsterdam is a major player in the Fashion world. Major brands have their world HQ’s there like Tommy Hilfiger the home of preppy US fashion is based in Amsterdam, and many others have their Euorpean HQ’s there like Nike for example. The Chanel shop is a small piece of evidence for Amsterdams fashion chops.