31 October 2010

Readings - "Atmospheres" by Peter Zumthor

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A lecture delivered by Peter Zumthor on 1 June 2003 at the <Kunstscheune>, Wendinghausen Castle, <Wege durch das Land> Festival of Literature and Music in East-Westphalia-Lippe.

"Atmospheres - Architectural Environments . Surrounding Objects" by Peter Zumthor, published by Birkhauser

It is such a pleasure to read the thinking of Zumthor, recipient of Pritzker Architecture Prize 2009. Because the book material was a lecture, it feels as though I was talking to (or "talked by") Zumthor directly.  The poetic dialogue was somehow rhythmical and flows from one chapter to the next.

My favorite part is under <Coherence> on page 69:
... the idea of things coming into their own, of finding themselves, because they have become the thing they actually set out to be.  Architecture, after all, is made for our use.  It is not a free art in that sense. ... And it is at its most beautiful when things have come into their own, when they are coherent.  That is when everything refers to everything else and it is impossible to remove a single thing without destroying the whole.  Place, use and form.  The form reflects the place, the place is just so, and the use reflects this and that.

Peter Zumthor (for the curious) is famous for these buildings:

Therme Vals, Switzerland

Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria

Kolumba Museum, Germany

29 October 2010

Praying for smooth construction

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It was M house Construction Ceremony ("praying to settle the earth") yesterday.  It is a traditional ceremony marking the beginning of construction.

Lets hope everything will be smooth sail!

The client's father, who is a monk, was hosting the ceremony

compare this to 2 days ago....the site is now ready for the new house

our client's family to the front...the builders to the rear

vote for Phamish and Water Moon!

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We are thrilled with the shortlisting of our projects - Phamish Darlinghurst and Water Moon - at one of the most prestigious interior design awards in Australia, Interior Design Excellence Awards (IDEA Awards) 2010.

Voting for IDEA Awards' Designer of the Year: People's Choice Award is now open to public, voting closes Nov 10.

Please vote for Facet Studio under either Phamish Darlinghurst (HERE) or Water Moon (HERE)!!

overview of Phamish - panels featuring chrysanthemum flowers can be seen enclosing the shop, and lightbox projecting patterned shadows on the left.  Our task was to utilise the colours red and gold, together with patterns of chrysanthemum flowers, to create modern Asian-ness for this Vietnamese restaurant

close-up of the panels with backlighting.  We scattered the panels to maximise the effects of the chrysanthemum flowers, and incorporated indirect lighting behind to give sensitivity to the space

close-up of the lightbox.  The chrysanthemum pattern is also projected onto the ceiling to complete the sense of being surrounded by the flowers

atmosphere of the seating area within the shop. one of the triggering imagery for us was the view of people dining amongst chrysanthemum flowers....

view of Water Moon from the street. The design intension of inserting a new space into the existing context is clearly visible

plywood floor platform works in with the panelling on the side, and provides a smooth transition of various floor levels throughout the shop. horizontality at the centre (stacking plywood panels at the bar, horizontal gap between bar and lightbox, and the general geometry of lightbox) forms a subtle contrast with the verticality to the side of the shop (linear lighting, vertical panelling)

backlit sake bottles in the lightbox emits subtle and gentle light to illuminate the space as a centre focus point; like the moon in the night sky..

close-up of plywood wall panelling. the panels form a new enclosure of the interior space within the existing old building by offsetting and expressing the differences; space within a space. The panels also incorporate concealed linear lighting to subtly envelop the space.

28 October 2010

Studying Railway Parade……

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It has been a constant struggle with Railway Parade.

evolution of retail study models

Initially it was a office building, but due to low demand on office space, we changed to residential.  At first Council was thrilled with the residential proposal and gave us incentives in parking requirement - which they eventually took back months later.  The parking requirement attached with residential development was unfeasible for our site, so we ended up with a fully commercial retail development which has no parking requirement.

So, what is the difference with designing retail development?

This is the scheme we decided to go ahead with.

Retail fitout is an art form in itself.  Retail development is the envelop for that art.
What we have here to work with as architects, is the envelop - the skin inbetween the retail fitout and the weather, the most primitive definition of architecture: "shelter".

Here we derived the concept of defining that skin with its supporting structure, and condensing the service pod (WC, exhaust, air conditioning plant, garbage collection...etc) into a compact box for maximum efficiency.  In a purist kind of way, the envelop and the box are serving the spaces in a very different capacity, therefore they should be detached from each other.

latest study model. detaching skin and box....but just how do we go about doing it structurally?

The issue is that the shopfront window facing the street is subject to a lateral wind load, which will be pushing the structure sideways and that lateral force needs to be transferred into ground somehow - transferring to the box at rear seems a natural thing to do, which in turn contradicts with the "detaching" of skin and box.  I think it has been at least 3 days now....for us to get our heads around way of detaching skin and box.... either way we are going for different degrees of "attaching", and never fully succeeded in "detaching".

This is beauty of architecture though.

Our job is to construct in reality, not in virtual reality.  The art comes in how we can materialise the concept in a physical environment; bearing in mind that even though everything seems possible with the advancement of computer rendering and 3 D modelling, when in reality, it is not.  It is when we have to bring all kinds of fields together, conduct the team towards a vision and direction in order to achieve, not mere "building", but "architecture".

It is another exciting battle we are marching into (after a long battle with program and function and concept)... I think we need to call out to our friendly alliance, the structural engineer, after some more studying and formulating of options...

earlier presentation perspective of the mixed retail/ residential scheme, showing the existing building at front (which we are yet to make for the retail studies). It was a nice scheme, but after the distillation of program, function, aesthetic, the current scheme is much stronger and pure. Obstacles can surely be blessing in disguise.....

26 October 2010


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M House demolition Day 2 - entire structure is now rubble!

So it all started! M House demolition

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Welcome to the construction site of M House - images courtesy of our Japan correspondence (aka builders on site)!

the existing house from the street. It will disappear by end of this week...

The site is located at Niigata, 2 hours north of Tokyo.

Winter season is characterised by heavy snow, so the building structure will need to be all up and sealed before the snow starts in December, in order to prevent delay in construction (if the building is sealed, builders can carry on working inside even during heavy snow).  The speed is unimaginable here in Australia... but it is industry standard in Japan to have timber structure (with site preparation and foundation all completed beforehand) up and sealed in 1 day - this is to maintain structural integrity of the timber by minimising exposure to weather.

builders knocking down the kitchen area

When we first presented the idea of a single storey house, to our surprise the clients reacted to - despite all the other things we thought they could have reacted to - having to sleep on ground floor.

Housing design market in Japan are largely taken over by the package house companies, typically building 2 storey houses on small lands; our clients grew up in one of the package houses and "going up stairs" was a ritual marking the act of "going to sleep".

After a long design process, the concept of sleeping on ground floor was finally intellectually accepted and agreed.  Our clients moved the family sleeping quarter from the upstair bedroom to the living room on ground floor, and slept on the floor for over 6 months in order to become accustomed to sleeping on ground floor.... that is when they realised that sleeping on ground floor is actually no different to sleeping on the level above.

upstair bedroom

wall finishes are taken down, exposing the timber structure underneath..no wall insulation was evident...no wonder it freezes during winter.

living room downstairs. The large south-facing window unfortunately does not enjoy a great outlook due to privacy concerns (it faces the street).

More than often, we found ourselves challenged by different expectations, assumptions, and behaviours; most of the time these challenges come from the most unsuspected areas, simply because of our individuality as human beings in personality, background, and culture.  The important thing as a design professional is to be logical in design approach and respectful to individualities, to ensure that we are doing the right thing for the purpose and the site.... and never lose sight of the big picture ...

We will talk a bit more about the actual design next time.

25 October 2010

Ambiguous Boundary at UNSW

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In exploring the ambiguous boundary in architecture, Facet Studio and students from UNSW have put together the exhibition: Ambiguous Boundary, at UNSW Red Centre Gallery to showcase the associated writings and case studies.

Opening night at UNSW Red Centre Gallery

The thoughts and observations presented by some students were surprisingly insightful, and have given out much clues for further research and discussion.  We will be posting the exhibited writings and topics in a series soon.

layout of the space also formed part of the exhibition - from certain view points it is a maze with no exit, from other view points glimpses of the outside can be caught.

We wish to thank Dr. Stanislaus Fung and UNSW (University of New South Wales) for their generous support!

24 October 2010

Apple - desirable

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In the excitement of new MacBook Air launching this week, we made a visit in the rain to Bondi Junction Apple Store.

What makes Apple so special?  I am starting to think about it as a luxury goods brand in the line of LVMH, rather than a technology brand (and what's better? it does both so very well!).

Being architects, we were quickly distracted by the unusual space.

interaction space to the rear of store. natural light floods in from above created a calm and serene atmosphere, as if time stood still in this space.

detail at corner with skylight. The aluminum wall cladding subtly reflects the light and creates a sense of illusive extension, space enclosed thus possesses a dreamlike quality.

wall panels responding to natural light from the above with soft shimmer and subtle colour variation.

detail at base of trees. perforated removable stone tiles covering the tree roots below to allow for air movement, moisture adjustment, and emergency maintenance access, whilst keeping in line with the minimalistic aesthetic of the store.

Having green in an interior space is not a new trick, but doing it well is another story.  I think the keys here are:

1, make sure the green is incorporated as an integral part of the overall space - this is an aesthetic decision, and every component in the space should be considered as a whole rather than piecemeal;

2, make sure the plants stay looking happy and healthy - this is largely functional, so the hassle for maintenance is minimised and that the aesthetic achieved will last.

... I think I can see similarity in the success of Apple products and Apple store spaces (or any successful design in that sense) .... there is beauty in function, and function in beauty.

Most importantly, there is consistency throughout.

Now Yoshi is swept off his feet by the 11-inch MacBook Air....I am finding it increasingly difficult to wait until the release of next generation iPhone......

ah the temptation...... and of course one has to try holding the new Macbook Air with 2 fingers like the poster....

23 October 2010

Mini student critic panel

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Today we have had a student visiting to present his final design project of the year.

It was a nice event for us. To be participating in the growth of young architects-to-be, in a way it is quite a privilege - in fact to be able to contribute in the education system is a privilege in itself.

The student design scheme is located in a heritage jail site, with some delicate siting and functional issues.

Student presenting final design model at our meeting space, with professor and few of us commenting on the rather intriguing design scheme

With the sun setting over glittering Sydney Harbour Bridge outside our window, we enjoyed the intense but intellectual session as a pleasant ending to this busy week.

22 October 2010

Water Moon awarded!

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clink clink* Small announcement...

Water Moon Japanese Restaurant has won the Commercial Interior Category of the inaugural 2010 Intergrain Timber Vision Awards!

view of central lightbox and bar. Central bar is constructed of stacked plywood. Plywood wall panels enclose the space softly with hidden light source, allowing the central lightbox to project from within, colourful backlit shadows of sake bottles, illuminating the dark space

The judging panel said:
The interior of Water Moon restaurant is a celebration of the beauty of timber in its purest geometric form. An intuitive piece of design, the jury applauded the enchanting use of timber to recreate Japanese culture humbly and beautifully.

A timber light box in the core of the restaurant provides a canvas for the inviting colour and shapes of the sake bottles, while creating what the judges called "a subtle manifestation of a bento box". Timber sliding doors and panelling in hoop pine plywood complete the picture with a clever alternative to traditional paper screens.

To find out more, check out Intergrain Timber Vision Awards

M House submitted!

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Our latest architectural project in Japan, M House, has finally submitted Confirmation Application to local authority yesterday!

(To all our fellow architects in Sydney, Confirmation Application in Japan is equivalent to a combined DA and CC here)

After 2 years of design development, tender negotiation and structural collaboration, the work-on-paper phase is now officially stepping into history, and Hello! the real world starts.

Latest study model of M House. We use this 1:20 model to study the effect of natural light entering the house, aesthetic quality of the roof structure and height relationship between floor levels.

The main element of the house is its roof - we try to capture the imagery of ideal (or kitsch to a certain extent) family life of "everyone living under the big roof" by incorporating the most recognisable shape of a stereotypical house, and floating the exposed timber structure roof over masonry walls.

Through the long 2 years process, admittedly the design has gone through phases (...and phases..and phases...) of changes, but the roof remains the unchanged focus point.

one of the earlier design models- this was presented at the first design presentation to client. Roof was concrete and asymmetrical due to internal spatial arrangement.

Perspective at the tendering stage. Decking in the foreground is now removed and opening size reduced - but it in fact helped to deal with some articulation and solar access issues. Bounding wall to the right is now timber instead of concrete.

M House is looking at completion in March 2011.

Demolition starts this Friday (which is...tomorrow!) and we will keep you posted with the latest news from construction site....how so exciting!!