002 Doors of Morocco

Apologies for the delayed post. Not a great start, I admit.

 But! I have a (valid?) excuse! I was halfway across the world, broadening my horizons as it were. Where, you ask? Morocco, I answer. SO for my very first found-objects-post, I figured I'd focus on something that I found while I was there. And that something is .... doors!

Many of the doors, particularly ones leading into Riads (old family homes consisting of a series of rooms surrounding an open air interior courtyard ... see below) within the Medina (old part of the city), have two distinct leafs. Think of a door within a door. The main leaf is usually quite tall, far taller than most doors we have in the West. The second is a door within that leaf that is far smaller. Typically the family will use the small leaf, stooping as they leave and enter their home. The unusual size of the door may help to symbolize the privacy of the home. The small size may aid in making the guest aware of entering the space; they must literally bow as they cross the threshold. However, during celebrations or family events, the large doors are thrown open, symbolizing hospitality and welcome. 

Using the door, the main face of the home, for social cues is fascinating. Wouldn't it be helpful if we all had a tool to show people we need some space, or that we're in the mood to host? 

Even the doors that don't employ the two-leaf-thing, are intricate and beautiful. By far more colorful and intricate than anything I've seen in New York. 


001 Kahn I Get an Amen?

I know this topic is supposed to be built works. So why am I starting with an unbuilt work? Because I just can't help myself. (I'm acting like an animal. Now here's my scandal.) Louis Kahn's unbuilt Hurva Synagogue has been a mini unexplored obsession of mine. Yes, it's my lock screen on my phone. Yes, I've pinned about a dozen renderings, both interior and exterior. No, I never really stopped to understand why I was so drawn in. UNTIL NOW. (cue rock guitar solo)

Rendering by Ken Larsen

Rendering by Ken Larsen

(stop rock guitar solo for a brief disclaimer that will basically apply from here on out)

Guys, listen. There's really only one thing I'm interested in: why is this building is so damn moving? I'm not trying to understand the full timeline of the project, what the client's motivations were, how much it cost, what it was an academic response to, etc. I'm trying to analyze the mushy gushy stuff. The purely subjective. The warm fuzzies. I know that probably isn't the most interesting aspect for everyone, but it's the most helpful one for me. (For more academic analysis, please see Unbuilt Masterworks, by Ken Larsen). So let's talk about feelings!

Even as an atheist, I'm completely drawn to sacred buildings. As far as emotional architecture goes, they're that good cry at a sappy movie. They're totally manipulative. Their main objective is to evoke feelings of awe and greatness; to make the visitor feel small and humble in comparison - which is so bad ass. I mean, an office building's main objective may be to house as many workers as possible and increase efficiency, but the main objective of a sacred space is to transcend the human experience. And Kahn is a MASTER at making buildings feel sacred. Let's take a ride.

Kahn's Hurva Synagogue 

Kahn's Hurva Synagogue 

From the exterior, Kahn's Synagogue is imposing AF. No windows, no clear sense of scale, the building seems to be all sizes and no size at all. It's infinite. And its stark and unyielding symmetry immediately throws the visitor off. Most buildings entrances announce themselves, as if they are making way for the real master of the universe: the human, of course. Not here. The center of each facade, where a typical entrance should be is a solid stone wall, as if humans are not meant to even be here: this space isn't about them. As the visitor finally rounds the corner, a small set of steps leading to nothing more than a narrow opening (not even a door, just a gap in the imposing repetitive structure, "get outta here, human!") is all that stands for an entrance. 

Section by Ken Larsen

Section by Ken Larsen

Imagine walking through the narrow slit, past the rough hewn  stone, and entering the interior chamber of the space, where suddenly everything inverts. Where on the outside there were rough tapered walls so massive and rooted to the earth, inside the smooth concrete seemingly floats and defies gravity. Outside were thick impenetrable barriers; inside, a series of punctured columns, so big and light they are more like open-air rooms than structure.

The Sacred Interior - Ken Larsen

The Sacred Interior - Ken Larsen

Even the detailing of the two structures underscore their dichotomy. The exterior shell's rooms are low, almost primal feeling. More cave-like than temple. The interior structure's openings are tall and soaring, each expressed with a pointed arch, as if they would keep ascending towards the heavens if only they could. Even the roofs are upward reaching, as if the sky were drawing them in. These two structures, the sacred and the profane, never touch. They skirt past each other always separated. It is up to the visitor to traverse the two worlds. 

Crossing between the two worlds. Renderings by Ken Larsen

Crossing between the two worlds. Renderings by Ken Larsen

In order to reach the elevating interior chamber, the visitor must either descend a narrow and dark stair, unclear what's awaiting at the end, or pass over an elevated gangplank spanning the distance between the rough exterior and the smooth interior. On the gangplank, the visitor is suspended between the two structures, the space expands above and below them in an explosion of light and air. In the stair, space is compressed, which only exaggerates the final result of transcendence. Here Kahn employs a genius spatial manipulation. By making the visitor descend to reach the final central atrium, the structure seems to grow in their perception. The more the visitor descends, the grander the overall space. It is no coincidence that absolute center of the sacred space is also the lowest point, and therefore the tallest.

Hurva Synagogue Sacred Interior - Rendering from McCarter's  Louis I Kahn

Hurva Synagogue Sacred Interior - Rendering from McCarter's Louis I Kahn

Similar to the exterior, Kahn employs the use of symmetry and repetition as a stand-in for the infinite. Imagine exploring the Synagogue, where each room is repeated on all four sides. Each stair has 3 other identical brothers. Each hallway, column, puncture repeated and repeated. The visitor feels as if they understand the entire building and simultaneously is never really sure they have covered everything. By making each space so similar to the other, the visitor is disoriented. Yes, they've seen this stair ... or was it that one? Did I enter here, or here? And through that disorientation, the space feels infinitely large, with infinite rooms, stairs, halls. The one place this relentless repetition is broken is at the alter itself. Where the dizzying sameness and symmetry gets a point of orientation. It is a symbolic gesture, implying that the anchor of the world, the point of focus and orientation, is also the place where we commune with god.

Francis D.K. Ching,  Form, Space and Order , 1979. 

Francis D.K. Ching, Form, Space and Order, 1979. 

Man, I wish this were built.

Here's the Sitch.

You gotta start somewhere, so here it is: The Beginning. 

As I mentioned elsewhere/everywhere on this site, I want to take my life as a designer more seriously. I want to give myself real deadlines and expectations to keep getting better - to test out ideas, even if they suck - and to really dive deep into designs that I love to try to see what makes them tick. In the hopes that someday, I too can make designs that tick. So apologies in advance, this will be more akin to a journal entry (read: potential public shaming) than a beautifully crafted and choreographed blog. Hold onto your butts: this could get weird.

So, enough of the disclaimers. Here come the claimers ... as in, I claim this is what I'm committing to. Go with me on this.

 Aside from terrible word play, I want to explore 4 aspects of design: 

  1. Built works
  2. Found objects
  3. Representation
  4. Concept Design

Each week, I plan on focusing on one of each of these themes, completing a full rotation once a month. Please don't fall asleep. I know this is the dry part. But bear with me! It's going to be fun!

1. Built Works I'll choose a building that has fascinated me and really dive deep. Study the plans, read up on the theory, and try my best to extract its architectural goodness. What I'll deliver to you: A written understanding of the work with photographic and diagrammatic evidence to back my claims. Though who knows? Maybe the goodness will be better represented in dramatic play-form? But most likely it will be writing.

2. Found Objects I think this one will be a little loosey-goosey. More fly-by-night. A real bad boy. Living in New York, there are loads of existing, amazing, and sometimes subtle things that can really be inspirational. I think a good goal for this one is, find one! Or a set! Or a whole bunch! What I'll deliver: Most likely a series of photos with a bunch of gushing about how cool the things are.

3. Representation I think my second greatest love next to the built world is drawings of the built world. I mean, I really have it bad for a great collage. And don't get me started on perspectives. Don't believe me? Just look at my hoard of architectural representation porn. So for this week, I think I'll keep it pretty simple. I'll choose from one of the hundreds (literally) of images I've already collected and try to recreate it.

4. Concept Design This, I'm afraid, is a tough one. Where to get the program? How to choose the scale? I'm thinking competition briefs, both old and new. Though these will be quick sprints, not necessarily the full-on described deliverables outlined in the brief. What I'll deliver: A handful of representations for the concept design with a brief description of the approach.

So that's it! And of course, I'd LOVE to have any suggestions from you. Got an amazing building I should look into? Send it my way! Found a new representation technique I should check out? Bring it on. Have a design problem that you want someone to explore FOR FREE. Come on. Need I say more?

Is it too ambitious? Probably. Will these goals be revised? Constantly. After all, this is design as it develops.