Elements & issues
Any good architect of the 19th century knew that in order to shape the image of a building, the construction ought to be concealed. The building is a composite product resulting from the assembly of heterogeneous materials, the unity of its image is ensured by its cladding. The exterior finish, the incrustation coating the rough construction, belongs to the origin of building practice; the finish is necessary to protect the structure: plaster on masonry or paint on wood are the simplest demonstrations. The exterior finish became a distinctive monumental feature with the use of stone slabs cladding, marbleized plasters and wet or sgraffito plasters. Nowadays we use sheet metal cladding and silk screened patterns on glass plates as replacements for travertine slabs. It is in modern times that architects state the arbitrariness of the relationship between casing and core, signifier and signified. There is no longer building integrity but only intellectual ingenuity. Architects have at their disposal an almost endless variety of exterior finishes, they can choose to expose the building structure, to project it onto the cladding or to conceal it. Gehry exposes the internal structure of the Museum in Bilbao strikingly contrasting the exterior titanium cladding. Nowadays the cladding has been enriched by new functions becoming an integral part of the system monitoring the building interior environment. This technical aspect however does not exhaust its expressive meaning: the use of corrugated metal gives the idea of an industrial product; smooth wood cladding evokes the comfort and elegance of an interior space while the use of rough planks establishes a mimetic relationship with a natural environment; terracotta or ceramic curtain walls recalls modern building practices at the turn of 19th and 20th century. Caruso St John offer a refined interpretation of this ancient theme in the facade of the New Art Gallery Walsall (1999) where they use rows of tiles that taper upwards.
Farrel/Grimshaw Partnership, Park Road Apartments, London (United Kingdom), 1960
It was designed in the late 1960s by the architects Farrell/Grimshaw Partnership for the Mercury Housing Society. Both Terry Farrell and Nicholas Grimshaw were members of the society and lived in the block. It was their second scheme and, when listed in 2001, was commended for pioneering the High-Tech movement in British architecture. The building is widely known for its corrugated aluminium cladding, radiused corners and sloping glazed roof. The exterior belies the light and spacious interiors of the flats. Living space is maximised by concentrating bathrooms, lifts and stairs in a central structural core. Natural light is maximised by placing the freestanding perimeter columns behind continuous window glazing. Curved corners add the sensation of panoramic views over London.
Francesca Martinelli – A.D. volume XL, October 1970
Herzog & de Meuron, Sammlung Goetz, Munich (Germany), 1992
The gallery is a freestanding volume situated within a park-like garden between the street and a house from the 1960s. A timber configuration rests on a reinforced-concrete base that is half buried, so that only its upper glazed perimeter is visible from the outside. A similar matt glass strip surrounds the timber volume at the uppermost section, admitting diffuse glare-free daylight from a height of 4 meters into the exhibition spaces. Two reinforced-concrete tubes are set laterally between the lower and upper galleries. Depending on the daylight conditions and the point of view of the observer, the gallery appears either as a closed, flush volume consisting of related materials (birch plywood, matt glass, untreated aluminium) or as a wooden box, resting on two trowels in the garden.
Giada Amelio – Haus fur eine zeitgenossische Kunstsammlung, Werk, Bauen + Wohnen, 1992
David Chipperfield, River and Rowing Museum, Henley on Thames (United Kingdom), 1997
The building appears to be one of the most important and renowned museums dedicated to the river and rowing. The project is situated on the bank of the Thames, is then inserted into the green and is located in a privileged position with respect to the center of town.
The first sketches of the museum are inspired by the local river houseboats and traditional wooden barns of Oxfordshire.
This is unquestionably a modern building, but at the same time communicates with the folk architecture of the past.
Lying on water meadows on the south bank of the Thames, the museum houses an important collection of rowing boats cataloging the history of the sport, the Thames and the city itself.
Marco Bisetto – UME n°1, 1996
Caruso St John, New Art Gallery Walsall (United Kingdom), 1999
The large rectangular gallery spaces with exposed concrete ceilings suggested the precast ribbed floor. The timber joist analogy precluded the use of tapered sides for the ribs, so they were precast individually in sprung steel forms which, when released, enabled the rib to be withdrawn upwards. This analogy also dictated the aspect ratio of the ribs, which led to the narrow, 120mm, width. An interesting, if structurally illogical, feature of the ribbed floors is that the depth of the ribs relate not to the loading and span of the floor, but to the floor-to-ceiling height of the space below. The facades of the tower are clad in pale terracotta tiles, whose scale diminishes towards the top of the building. The tiles wrap and disguise the complexity of the interior like the feathers of a bird.
Pietro Bigatello – El Croquis n. 166, 2013