Sunday, 22 June 2014

Trees over the top

I am not immune to the seduction of a grand architectural gesture.  At this house in Ho Chi Minh City by Vietnamese studio  Vo Trong Nghia Architects trees grow on top of five concrete boxes, like oversized pot plants.  Not just any trees, banyan trees in soil more than 1.5 meters deep, designed to retain storm water in order to prevent flooding.

The monumental concrete prisms are apparently monolithic, recalling the grandeur of ancient temple terraces or perhaps stone circles of other lands.  The concrete has the intriguing texture of its bamboo formwork, continuing the muscular expression.  It takes an effort of will to tear oneself from the visual and visceral, to interrogate the simple functionality of the setting for tropical living, or the explicit sustainability credentials of the project.

There is an unusually good description with a set of images and drawings available on Dezeen  so I won't do that here.

But as you look, note the subtle solution to the need to move between the apparently independent dispersed pavilions, by way of covered ways around the rear periphery of the landlocked pocket site. Think of the merits of the thermally massive shaded surfaces  and the perceptible coolness even in the height of the monsoon season, of an environment that hovers near the wet bulb temperature, rather than the normal dry bulb.

Reflect on what you think of an exterior deliberately detailed to stain and be colonized by whatever mosses and small plants thrive on natural rock faces in such a climate.....because I don't think that it will take less than a year for that to occur.

This is a piece of architecture that seems to challenge you at first view with the simplest brutally potent of concepts, but possibly to sustain a quite gently lyrical lifestyle, in its masterfully wrought oasis.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Alphabet buildings

Lots of architects name individual houses after the outline of the letter of the alphabet which their plans resemble.  Very occasionally a bigger building is so obviously related in form to a character or ideogram, that it becomes known by that name.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Positive energy

A renovated office block in Norway has laid claim to being the world’s first energy positive building.  PowerHouse Kjørbo, at Bærum outside Oslo, was designed by Snøhetta, with consultants Asplan Viak, property management firm Entra, construction company Skanska, aluminium companies Hydro and Sapa and the environmental organization ZERO.

During the course of its design life of 60 years, Powerhouse Kjørbo will generate enough energy to cover the total amount of energy used to produce the building materials, construction, operation and disposal. The building’s energy system is based on geothermal for heating and cooling, as well as the largest rooftop solar photovoltaic system in Norway.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Kubrick’s Cube

In 2001 a space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick envisages an enigmatic monolith as evidence of a higher intelligence having been present in our solar system.  He only got the date and the size wrong.

Data centres are starting to look ominously like Kubrick’s vision.  They may not yet be autonomous; indeed given that they are actually about connectivity, that idea is an oxymoron.  But in as much as they are a building type which contributes disproportionately to our requirements for electrical power, their design is very much about reducing to a bare minimum the dependence on mechanical environmental controls. 
And so it is with this one outside the city of Covilha, at the foot of Portugal's highest mountain range.