Tag Archives: design

Multi-level Scheme, Sketch 2016-05-01

sketch, 2016-05-01-ish, house space diagrams

sketch, 2016-05-01-ish, house space diagrams

Sketching is the fastest way to analyze three-dimensional relationships.

I usually rely on 3D virtual models to firm up the details, but my initial sketches form the foundation of thought that shape the rest of the process.

The above sketch is a house set on the side of a mountain in Black Mountain, North Carolina. It’s a given that the structure and forms need to respond to the steep slope of the site. But an additional demand is that it also be accessible… useful with an age in place strategy for the homeowners as they become elderly and potentially too feeble to negotiate full flights of stairs at a time.

With these guidelines, I instinctively look for a scheme of half levels. This keeps intermediate flights between spaces at most six steps. It also balances the house across the site and minimizes the amount of deep cuts or fill areas that might be required of the topography. The above sketch are numerous quick looks at such a scheme.

It is important when creating series of spaces to understand their relationships. You can see abbreviations for the living areas scattered about the drawings. Hurried and loose sketches help keep the exploration fluid and flexible. Nothing is fixated until the entire scheme begins to come together.

A developed depiction of this concept can be seen in the 1934 Villa Muller by Adolf Loos, in Prague. For this early twentieth century Viennese architect, his crowning work was also his last. It is a rich example of his concept for multi-level floors within a simpler exterior, which he called Raumplan.

Villa Muller’s exterior is a simple, unadorned cube. It was intended as the quiet, reserved public face of the house overlooking the city.

But the interior is an exuberant intertwining of spaces and materials connected by short half flights of stairs. Many, small, comfortable and intimate spaces are all tied together by paths and views into and across each other.

Below is a floor level diagram. It is difficult to understand in two dimensions so I’ve removed all the walls from the model and colored each floor uniquely. Except for the top floor (orange) and the roof, the two lower main floors actually have sections that ascend or descend from the neighboring section.

From the lowest, darkest basement level all the way up to the walkable roof, there are multiple sets of stairs connecting each quadrant of the house. Both stairs are centered under skylights on the roof so that natural light is filtered down through the entire house from above. It’s a masterful scheme in just 3,400 SF.

Floor level diagram of the 1934 Villa Muller, by Adolf Loos

Floor level diagram of the 1934 Villa Muller, by Adolf Loos

For more images of Villa Muller, see this Google image search.

sketch, 2016-04-11, post-and-beam foundation details

Centers and Edges, Sketch 2016-04-11

sketch, 2016-04-11, post-and-beam foundation details

sketch, 2016-04-11, post-and-beam foundation details

(A lot has happened since the previous article, and with little time to write, I thought I’d post some sketches of various explorations from the intervening period.)

This sketch is pretty typical of my usual process:  Multiple ideas and scales derived simultaneously. This keeps formal and material explorations coordinated and sensitive to the other.

First, in the upper left corner, there are two circles bisected by lines. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that the left-most line is a simple dot-dash, the architectural symbol for center line. This represents the figural core of a thing, essentially its idealogical center. You can’t actually see the center of a material, but we humans like to align materials by their center of being.

The second line, to the right of the first, is a double dot-dashed line. This is the symbol for property line, and represents the edge of a form, space, or property. We can touch this face and use it to define how big things are and when they touch.

Farther right, just past the middle of the sketch, you’ll see these two line types expounded in a simple grid with two rectangular columns. See how these two line types are used? The center line (in the middle!) bisects the two columns while their edges are defined by the property line type.

Architecture is a constant play of idealogical alignment and physical material alignment. Our mind perceives beauty when forms are visually aligned. A series of exposed columns is aligned by their centers along a idealogical grid line, as in a Greek arcade or medieval cathedral nave.

But columns are rarely all the same size. Lower ones are bigger and upper ones smaller. Interior or exterior columns often differ in size. And most steel H columns have a major and minor axis which rotate depending on how they resist the building’s bending in various directions. Simply aligning these can be difficult, but it becomes exponentially more difficult when attaching facades.

In this sketch, I was discussing a wood post-and-beam house and how its enclosure might work. You can even see some large scale spacial exploration within the same grid in the right-most portion of the sketch.

Finally, the lower left is a detailed look at the actual materials. This is a concrete footing pier for the timber frame above. A steel “T” connects the wood post above to this foundation form below.

Although a little series of exploration sketches like this might take just a minute or two, they may make key decisions that drive an entire project!