Bettina Götz und Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
In: UmBau 14, Österreichische Gesellschaft für Architektur, Vienna 1993
preview and two distinctions
Architecture is not something that can be solved once and for all. Nor does “form follow function,” but rather function is a prerequisite – just as a roof should be watertight. We demand plastic architecture, in the sense of “less is more.” Taking an abstract concept as point of departure, the less that can be eliminated without endangering the concept, the better the result.
Our work takes two different approaches to dealing with programs: first, articulating form by way of content, from the inside out, or, in other words, the program turns itself inside out, and second, in contrast to the first, the paste-up method involving existing building elements (prefabricated units, existing spaces) or architectural working concepts in the broadest sense.
Even in the late twentieth century, housing – with the exception of
towers – occupies a field of tension consisting of point – line – surface. And, on the other hand, aside from its inherent appeal, the tower is not really in a position to be part of the solution to the housing question.
Human beings move in a horizontal plane; vertical layering of horizontally organized levels does not allow a greater degree of freedom as heights increase. On the contrary. Circulation requirements, fire-safety measures, and structural specifications are major hindrances to an open spatial configuration.
the alpha of the housing question: the neutral envelope
Seen in terms of enabling a variety of uses and a workable building width, number of stories, and siting, as well as the employment of industrial manufacturing methods, what results is a linear massing type at the greatest remove to the plastic form-giving of the use-blind basic structure. It is based on the extruded-profile principle. The technical infrastructure is situated on the exterior along a longitudinal free space zone. Free in the sense of limitations of the structure, and open to later conversions – with the Centre Pompidou as prototype.
The different functions of the building enclosure should be kept separate spatially. By articulating and defining the outer skin – each element is defined separately – we create a multi-layered interface comprising the functions insulation/structural engineering/shelter. This approach is radically on display at Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth Pavilion: the house actually extends across the entire site. What is generally portrayed as an object in space is an icon that gives rise to misinterpretations and is in fact only one part of the barrier to the outside: protection at the outer limit, structural members on the box’s exterior, insulation as definition of the envelope (= in this case, the box). In 1924, Hugo Häring stated that “A window has three functions: 1. to give light, 2. to allow ventilation, 3. to create a view out. … What is to prevent us dividing the functions of a window and fulfilling them separately in the best way for each?”1 One can apply this to all of a building’s functions. The specific form-giving remains in the background as a diffuse possibility. We show the linear quality of the bar-shaped building, the beauty of the smooth surface and the play behind it.
the point as potential part of a series: the untapped texture
In the broad field of single-family-home construction, an additive approach is to be contraposed to the conventional solitaire building type. The individual building is viewed as a potential part of a linear or planar structure. The additivity requires a certain fundamental introversion – as opposed to reaching out into the landscape. Densification of contemporary single-family-home subdivisions is, de facto, nearly impossible. In contrast, introverted concepts which from the start include an option for direct annexation would definitely be open to it. Experimentation with prototypes – which goes beyond the self-realization of aesthetic
concepts – is, so to speak, newly acquired territory in the quest to re-
duce land consumption.
the plastic quality of the bar-shaped building
In contrast to the content-neutral approach, here the program can become the form. By way of example, the bar-shaped building as abstract product, an embodiment of the current parameters for housing construction: the size of the dwelling is the factor determining the arrangement along the length of the massing. Our point of departure: we hold that the outdoor spaces – gardens and terraces – should be in proportion to the respective apartment size. The density typical of today’s suburbs is attained with a basic framework made up of two-story structures; all residents can have a garden.
Prerequisite for broad bar-shaped buildings: all apartments are to be oriented to the south to the greatest degree possible. Topographic conditions or environmental parameters – noise, visual factors, etc. – can impede such an orientation. The basic framework has to be adapted to the conditions like a custom-made suit: the meeting up of general typology and specific place gives rise to an individual configuration – as opposed to a simple product of set theory.
This is what is fascinating about historic cities: what remains is a spatial hull, a plastic sequence whose original raison d’être is no longer known.
bar-shaped structures, surfaces and surface areas
An exercise in surface area: a rough framework is superimposed upon the building site – this subdivides the site. The surface is to be appropriated to the greatest possible degree. According to Bernard Rudofsky, “North of the Alps, the courtyard house is considered alien. Instead, the front yard thrives – leftover from construction, no-man’s-land, at best a meeting place for garden gnomes. […] A rehabilitated front yard undergoes a delightful transformation when a wall is put around it. Instead of shrinking, it develops optically and spatially; it rises up into the third dimension and furnishes a room with a celestial roof.” 2
If at all possible, semi-public spaces are to be avoided. Therefore, the enclosed spaces are structured intensively as efficiency apartments that can be extended or added to as needed. Residents can stay in place as their requirements change. Superimposed on the heavyweight construction (= hardware) is the anonymous fitting-out (= information). The property developer sets up a site with the basic equipment for living. External and internal qualities serve as a basis for living and dwelling – as an activity that is as heterogeneous as possible.
Putting an unfinished solid-masonry structure on offer is a rarity, but is nevertheless at regular intervals a peripheral topic, treated mainly as a multi-tiered building site, as a platform for do-it-yourself construction; in other words, a site for stacked homes as another option for multi-story housing (Eric Freiberger in Göteborg, Frei Otto’s eco-house project in Berlin, a project by Yona Friedman in Marseille). Here the aspect of structure as primary element is brought to bear in a particularly striking manner – at once primary component and archaeological remnant, sediment of culture, washed ashore as historical jetsam.
yesterday – tomorrow. the amorphous figure
The house as incomprehensible construct, as three-dimensional event. The building as landscape, but not the landscape as pre-image of the building. The aim is to produce strong densification, and, at the same time, pronounced individuality. By clearly separating the functions circulation and living on different levels, the building moves away from being organized as bar-shaped massing and toward the plane, toward the stack. A technical grille above the access level holds all of the essential installations. The grille constitutes the basis for the rampant outward growth of the minimally equipped spaces. The notion of the space-city is to be brought to the level of the real. Unchecked rampant growth within a controlled system – in the sense of zoning guidelines of the technical sort. The structuring of Manhattan serves as an example, as does the Far Eastern three-dimensional definition of the exploitation of a buildable site.
To be in line with heterogeneous requirements and contradictory demands, the building should be a machine. Open at the micro-level, the apartment floor plan, pronounced in its function as sheathing shell. It’s not a matter of floor plan – facade – roof, but rather an understanding of the building as “firm skin.”