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Visual Essay / 2018
Materials are synonymous with architecture, they literally and metaphorically create the architecture we know today. In fact, designs are often recognized for the very material palette they explored. This could be for the structural possibilities these materials opened, their sustainable capacity or the aesthetic and metaphysical impact they leave on the user.
Standard brick masonry in the works of Laurie Baker or Alvar Aalto, the use of wood in works by Kengo Kuma, Frank Gehry's wizardy with metal. These are common place references most people identify with where materials take the limelight. In these examples the materials transcend their purpose as a 'building block' of a larger structure and weave a narrative to themselves. The shades and texture of bricks stand out and complement their green contexts, similarly wood turns to lattices and facades that add warmth and intrigue to their cold urban surrounding, Metal catches glimmers of light, while throwing hazy reflections of the surrounding hues.
Mies Van Der Rohe created his own modernist icon with marble, steel, glass, onyx and travertine with the Barcelona Pavilion.
The aforementioned materials grew to become the most recognized feature of the pavilion. The form echoed the architect's ideals of planar surfaces coming together to create spaces that flowed into each other without distinctions.
So, what if the iconic material palette of the Barcelona Pavilion were stripped down? What would become of it's identity? It was put to the test by Architects Anna and Eugeni Bach in their installation 'Mies missing Materiality' in 2018. The pavilion was clad in white acrylic panels that pushed the design further down the path of minimal modernism. Now, what if we were to take a step in the opposite direction? Further away from the luxurious palette of stone and stark minimalism of white in architecture that was explored. An approach more reminiscent of the road took by Mies in during the conceptualization of the 'Brick Country House'. The same modernist ideas explored with a 'vernacular' and humbler choice of the common Brick and Wood.
This serves as a visual experiment to understand the idea of whether modernism has to be confined to a material palette.
This is important as over time our understanding of architecture is based on the existing examples of 'good' or 'bad' architecture. But to assume things might have not worked any other way in these examples is limiting. The Brick Country House is a project by Mies that remains unrealized and yet renowned. It hosts a different choice of materials but a modernist design with the same spatiality of rigid planar surfaces and free flowing zones, similar to ones found in the design of the Barcelona Pavilion in the years to come.
Though the latter would feature a colder palette atuned the modernist era compared to the warmer hues of brick against the green landscapes of the Brick Country House
Brick as an element of architectural design has been prevalent for thousands of years, to the point where it is probably engrained into our genetic memories as a race. It is humble and aesthetic, shaped to fit in hands while coming together to form massive structures that withstand the elements of time.
Something tangible in its texture, comprehensible in its coursework and structure, all the while continuing to grow charming over time. This also left it ubiquitous and often frowned upon in comparison to more luxurious alternatives such as marble and granite.
In this visual exercise we shuffle the material palette of the Barcelona Pavilion and try to interpret our change in its perception. When the luxe of Marble and Onyx are replaced with simple low-cost brick masonry and wood work. Maybe a dash of rammed earth. What happens when the design is subject to such a polar change, its experience and identity.?
These are not conclusions but mere observations we can make based on imagery and not the physical experience of being in this new enviornment.
Spatial perception changes instantly as the cold neutral palatte shifts to a warmer one, transforming into something more affectionate; especially combined with the unobstructed spatial nature of the layout. Each space welcomes you to linger and reach out to feel something all too familiar, tactility of brick against your fingertips and warm wood against your bare feet inviting you to step in further. The exposed masonry also becomes a starker back drop for Georg Kolbe's 'Alba' now standing prominently against the reds. The masonry lacks the charm of the hazy reflections their marble counterparts cast, but catch the light to accentuate its own textures. Standing in contrast to the surrounding greens, as opposed to the neutral luminosity of the travertine walls.
The reflecting water pools seem more dominant as they begin to balance the new warmer palatte while standing out against the hues of wood. The rammed earth wall with its layers of earthly shades substitues for the intrigue the symmetric patterns of the broached marble within the space. The pavilion presents itself in a different light with a material palette that accentuates the warmth the form of the design innately provided through a free flowing spatial arrangement.
Its easy to understand how materials over time will continue to be the dialogue that builds the narrative of any architectural design. But the fact remains that every material shows different degrees of potential when it comes to accentuatuing inherent qualities of a given spatial form of any design. Would the Barcelona Pavilion still have remained an icon if it didn't portray the material palette it holds?
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