Tuesday, February 7, 2012

“The Gruesome Belly – an Epilogue” or “The Power of Art in Architecture – a Manifesto for the Modern Experiential Being” or "Just a Few Thoughts"

There have been stories shared about patrons of Mark Rothko’s work breaking down in tears while viewing the paintings of his moody, expressive “multiforms”. Maya Lin’s design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial has visitors descending along its sliced earth, lined with stark black granite, thoroughly overwhelmed with a profound sense of being.

A sense of connection to the inexplicable, to memories imagined, to tremors of fear, the gory pit of dreams, to lust, to yearnings, and everything else. Therein lies the power of art and the power of architecture.
Just know that every last bit of the built environment we create has the potential, demands the right, to bear that power. Whether well intentioned, haphazardly ignorant, or blatantly harmful, every bit of our built environment influences our perception of being and our expectations of living.

Now ask yourself, why you manage to surround yourself with buildings and structures depressingly void of life. It takes but being aware. It takes but you willing to taste every last fiber of your built surrounding and letting yourself succumb to its yummy.
Ask for your home, your place of work, and your communal spaces to be expertly designed and exquisitely crafted.

We were recently invited to present a group of students and faculty of the Art Institute of Charlotte our work as designers and builders of modern architecture. We titled the talk “The Gruesome Belly” and went on to hunt in our work for all those moments of tickling tummies, quivering guts, and internal butterflies. We wanted to understand and share, how we come about weaving these marvelous moments from small constructional details, from understandings of site and client, from a tedious design process, from listening to our instincts, and from playing with materials and construction methods.

You might have seen before the image of the library we created in the Schoenberg Residence, here in Charlotte. But maybe we haven’t shared a bit of the anecdotes around it. We placed it as the pivotal center between three bedrooms of the children’s wing. In conjunction with a daylight-flooded hall, it became a play and reading area for the whole family. Structurally the library slices through the building and cantilevers out on either end as bright red inhabitable boxes. The lower one hovers as a cozy small nook over the rear terraces of the home, providing the children a great vantage point to the family’s dinners, get-togethers, and garden life. The taller box houses the summit of the climbing library; a cushioned, windowed perch, a cocoon that envelopes with the quiet of a sound chamber. The sense of the winding and surrounding shelves and the torqueing climb of the platforms and irregular steps is that of being snuggly held.

Every visitor to this house, who has made the way up, descends with stories of a childhood tree house. The mother of the three children, however, confided to us that she would make her way to the library’s summit on restless nights; cuddled up in the perch, partly lifted up beyond the house’s roof line, partly enveloped by the branches of surrounding trees, and partly cuddled amidst her sleeping children.

In this library numerous small pieces came together for these moments to be allowed. As different in tone and intent as calculated engineered structure and a carefully calibrated color scheme. We listened to the clients’ stories prior to design and created a spot for the library in their budget and within their expectations towards our work. Plumbers, window companies, and framers had to be cajoled, code requirements mitigated, and the dimensions of lounging, sleeping, sitting, crouching, reading, and perching measured and tested. Daylight had to be understood, passive ventilation taken into account, the view lines to the street measured against infraction of privacy. Every last detail, whether practical, functional, ephemeral, formal, or otherwise wanted to be part in telling the same story.

Another time, the parents shared with us, they found the house washed in absolute silence. Alarmed, they canvassed the house, fearing the worst, only to find all three children peacefully reading in the library. All three draped picture-perfect on separate landings, surrounded by their belongings of books, pillows and stuffed animals.

As imperfect the anecdotes for this particular architectural moment might be, it might give a glimpse of the potential your man-made surroundings have. To leave them unintentionally dull could be seen as a crime. At the very least as a lost opportunity for a richer life.
We happen to believe that you owe it to yourself to elevate your being, to spoil your senses, trigger your imagination, and love to live through a richer physical world.

We shared a few of these stories and moments with the Art Institute and ended with a row of slides, without comment, urging our audience to see the same richness in these snapshots. We hoped that each one of these showed the depth of intention and process, even in the simplest of designs.

Maybe the following will do the same.

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