Small Thinking on a Grand Scale...

Small Thinking on a Grand Scale...

‘Small is the new big’, is the catch cry of the small or micro house movement.

Our first reaction is usually that it does not fit our lifestyle, and goes against the norm where bigger is better. What it does do is it forces us to re-think and ask questions. What does size and space really mean to us? What is the essence of what we 'need' to make us spatially happy?

If we take a closer look, there are some great principles at play and this opens up opportunities for us to get down to the nitty gritty of what our personal requirements are, and what is possible if we don’t default to the typical expectations of size and prestige.

Having lived in a well-designed small inner city apartment, I found that I was not thwarted by compactness, instead it liberated my lifestyle. I discovered a new and greater engagement with the city, where my neighbourhood began to function as my living room.

When taking the 'big' step to small living, stripping down to the essentials is the starting point, not an end in itself. Once the space is simplified, building it back up again we find creative and exciting alternatives in thinking about living inside a space with the discovery that less can be more.

With compact spaces everything needs to be considered and creative problem solving and design become essential. Every junction, surface, nook and cranny must go through questioning its purpose and what it adds, or detracts from the picture.
Here, there is little room for gimmicks. To work, small spaces need to generate architectural detail, where every joint aligns beautifully and materials & textures add a rich sense of volume and rest. It's this interior detailing that adds the quality experience to a space, and enhances your interaction with it.

Whatever your current situation is, small thinking helps us reconsider sustainability, where less crowding and wasteful use of materials become conscientious choices. When these things are considered honestly, smaller houses equates to less time maintaining, cleaning or working to pay mortgages… less stress and more time for life’s pleasures, social engagement and environmental responsibility.

Thinking small may not be for everyone, but you cannot deny it begs the question, is big better?

The art of seeing

The art of seeing

"The question is not what you look at but what you see."

Henry David Thoreau

When you look at the world, what do you see? Not just talking visually, but how to relates to your thinking. Do you see what others miss or do you miss what others see?

One of the magical things about life, is we all have a unique perspective and see things differently. It is that different point of view that can encourage new modes of thinking and forms of behaving that can add spice to our world. It is very easy to close your mind to other ways of perceiving the world around us, limiting the potential and richness available to us all.

We can only know what we have experienced, all else is speculation. Architecture is the same, experiencing the sensation of being inside something is vastly different from imagining a space that doesn't exist yet.

Opening your eyes to a different point of view can unleash a level of architectural perception in ways you never before imagined, adding immeasurably to the architectural experience.

By being open to hearing how others see the world, new horizons appear where before only the tree line was visible.

To help you along your way, be it with your architect, your friends or anyone else you may choose to share your point of view with, have's a couple of things to consider:

Be open to expect the unexpected, and allow new thoughts to flow before defining your own parameters.

Remember parameters only come from the limitations of our own experience and knowledge. Others have experienced things that could offer some wonderful insight.

Allow yourself to challenge and be challenged. You can’t be right all the time, surely? Enter into some robust discussions and be open to some collaborative problem solving.

Don’t be afraid to throw away a good idea. Although it might be awesome, it may also be the one hindering the exploration of even more awesome ideas. Be prepared to let go and 'see' where it takes you, Have kaleidoscopic eyes – step back and see things from multiple perspectives - this is critical thinking and involves not letting 'trend or fashion' be the only benchmarks. By understanding how these factors limit your viewpoint, you can then fully comprehend what you are looking at and embrace its opportunities.

It is this process that offers new insights into the potential of the architectural space, how they are used, how they feel and how we respond to them. Take a look around you, try to see the buildings and spaces that you experience, with different eyes. You never know, it might just change your perspective.

Should architecture be beautiful?

Should architecture be beautiful?

We all like to look at beautiful things; be it objects, nature, art, and people. It changes our perception and allows a range of emotions to influence us. But when we look around us, I wonder if we have left architecture out of the mix.

Should architecture follow suit? The Taj Mahal, for example, is a beautiful building – majestic in form, symmetry, and scale – it appeals to us all.

This building’s beauty transcends religious views, architectural style, and time. Architecture is not about re-creating the Taj Mahal, but trying to create spaces with an undeniable sense of impact and beauty.

We all have individual tastes; we tend to think that our own views are extremely varied; yet we live in a world that has a strong focus on trend, fashion and following style.

A sea of suburban brick and tile homes are the trend, but not a beautiful experience. Individual owners may think that their own abode is pleasing; but collectively it does not make for a ‘beautiful’ environment.

Architects have a range of tools that choreograph the act of creating beauty; proportion, scale, balance, pattern, rhythm, order, and space are some of the key ones. These tools, when used in context, can bring a building to life and allow it to aesthetically ‘sing’.

How these elements are arranged determines how well it works. The choices of materials, textures and colour’s are as equally important as what the building looks like or feels like once you’re inside it.

Architecture considers the relationships between all these elements; the fine detail and the junctions between surfaces, textures and material are all taken into account.

Do they contrast each other, enhance each other, overlap and juxtopoz each other, touch each other or create tension by not quite touching. Material is like colour. There are no wrong colours. There are just wrong ways to use them. It is the fine tuning that makes the difference. As Architects we don’t think of ‘red’ – we think in terms of candy, jam, wine and lipstick. It is this shift and subtlety that brings about the delight.

Each of these decisions impacts on our view of the architecture whether realise it or not.

Contemporary culture advocates diversity and evolution of styles, and encourages the development of new ideas.

Aesthetically successful architecture comes from integrating this approach by acknowledging the past, how it relates to the present with an understanding of how the building will age in the future.

Aging gracefully is a universal sign of beauty, and beauty, of course, has a strong correlation to happiness. Frederick M. Padelford, an American scholar during the Frank Lloyd Wright era stated, “Indeed, I think that we are not at all aware of the immense social asset that uniformly good architecture would be. Fancy a city in which all of the buildings are beautiful, and trace the influence on the lives of the inhabitants. In the first place, it would add greatly to the happiness of people, for it is the normal function of beauty to make us happy.”

We have never needed to understand the value of architectural design more than today, especially its influence on us, its impact on our day-to-day experience of the world and its ability to render an architecturally beautiful, happy space to inhabit.

Architecture 101

Architecture 101 – An inside scoop on the making of great architecture.

Architecture is largely misunderstood, as being solely about aesthetics and function.

But it is more fundamental than that, so let’s strip it back to the basics—architecture is about people,

places, and things, and the interaction between them all. It is how we fit into our world, and make it our own space to live in. Architecture is all about tying it all together with an idea that addresses those interactions and relationships.

Simply put - the idea develops into the concept whose form requires a particular material; and then spaces are given shape. And voila - architecture is created. Of course it is creatively and technically more complex than that. At the heart of it, architecture is more craft than science, and is an evolving discipline used to create meaningful buildings that reflect people’s lives.

Here is a brief overview of a few fundamental principles: Space – the stuff that surrounds us – the awareness we have between our body and the physical world, walls, and structures around us. The manipulation of space is largely what architecture is about, and determines how we feel when we approach, linger or leave a building.

Context – this is referred to as reflecting a sense of place or location. It is not just your building or site, it is your street, your neighbourhood, the cultural environment that surrounds you and the history of our built environment as New Zealanders.

How the idea fits into the bigger historical context of your site may come through in your design – a historic orchard may suggest a building design that references the spacing of the previous trees. Well addressed context creates longevity in design, as it will always feel as if it belongs.

Light – the quality of light that comes into a space. It’s not just about creating as much window as possible., moreover how differing shadows are cast, the depth the light can reach into a space, and how materials, textures, colours and reflections can be affected by it.

Proportion and scale – Importantly it is about how the building relates to our own human scale. Different door heights, window sizes, widths and volumes of spaces all impact on how we feel in an environment and our own sense of personal space.

Organisation (relationships) of spaces – how spaces are arranged and organised impact on how we connect, or not, to activities and each other. Treating spaces as ‘rooms’ limits our opportunities, it is just as important designing the experience of moving to, from and between spaces.

Materiality – the type of materials used influence responses from us. We all have a library of past experiences of different materials, their touch, smell, texture, memories etc… and we often unknowingly attach these to our overall experience of a building.

Sensory/emotional experience – architecture has the ability to control our sensory experiences, manipulating and controlling how we respond to the spaces in an emotional way. For a long time, we have limited our thinking to just 5 senses but there are many others that the true architect works with to heighten our environments when inhabiting or experiencing a building or home.

Architecture requires more than knowing 'what' to do with the tools, architecture is about knowing 'why' we are using that particular set. In all instances, architecture is about designing with 'reason or purpose' beyond habitation, everything should be considered. Examine the needs, imagine what will actually happen in those spaces, and then design around those needs and experiences. The design must be able to be to make sense in multiple ways. For example choosing vertical claddings to accentuate height and reflect the texture and colour of adjoining tree lines.

A designer providing you with just design, reflecting trends, fashion or perceived ‘resale value’ without sound reasoning and conceptual ideas, is not delivering quality architecture. What you will end up with is a just another building. Architecture is a serious business with no room whims or fancy.

In future columns we will explore these ideas, and more, in detail and reveal how good design can transport you from just building a house, to creating an environment that truly reflects you, warms your soul and captures your lifestyle in a most individually unique space.