posted by tobias
Peter Zumthor has been one of my heroes for a long time now. He works from a small studio in the village of Haldenstein, Switzerland and over the past 30 years or more has consistently produced buildings that whilst reduced to only the most relevant essentials, embody a most extraordinary richness – the results are always emotionally moving, buildings that belong completely to their place and will do so for time eternal. Through their subtleness and masterful refinement, they all posses a most extraordinary strength, presence and memorability.
Zumthor won the Pritzker Prize in 2009 – there is no bigger award for Architecture, and to my mind, no architect more worthy of it. So as I sat on the plane, planning a few-day visit to London, Hyde Park Zumthor’s summer Pavilion at the Serpentine, Hyde Park, was top of my list. A temporarary structure, built to a tight time frame and an even tighter budget, the Serpentine Pavilion nonetheless manifests Zumthor’s mastery of his art.
After the jostling streets of Kensington, the grand gates of Hyde Park signal a change of pace, and upon first sight of the Pavilion a welcome calm washes over me. Entering the perimeter corridors of the metal structure, kept in almost total darkness, is like entering Zumpthor’s private world: even in the middle of one of the world’s busiest, wealthiest cities, the experience is one of humility and transcendence. The courtyard space is simple and beautiful. Simply beautiful. As always with Zumthor’s work, respect for the human scale is demonstrated by the ceiling height of the covered space around the garden. In the garden itself, there is an almost irresistible urge to take a seat, pull down the pulse rate, and reflect. So I did.
Upon reflection, the visual experience of the Serpentine Pavilion is composed of three key elements:
Architecture – all in a singular material, folded and sculpting the experience, in contrast to the
Garden (by Piet Oudolf) – as a delicate, whimsical and delightful centerpiece, and,
Sky – dynamically framed by the splayed roof form, making it feel expansive, and creating the feeling that light is rushing through a funnel to connect with the garden.
Leaving the Pavilion, I feel refreshed, invigorated. London? Bring it on!
The Serpentine Pavilion will remain on display until 16th October 2011 – http://www.serpentinegallery.org/2011/04/serpentine_gallery_pavillion_2011_zumthor.html
posted by tobias
The Bachelor Flat.
To my mind, Episode Two hinged on gauging contestants’ capacity to organise themselves into a structure that would allow a theoretical project to become a reality. This is so much a part of the reality of the design process, and a challenge to even the best architects and designers, at times.
The client brief is, by necessity, one of the first layers of project constraint, but one that also creates a lot of opportunities. As I’ve said on many occasions: No matter how good a designer, a project will always be a reflection of the quality of the client. In the case of Top Design, of course, our designers had no choice of client, yet it was still incumbent upon them to get the most out of their client. That starts with asking the right questions in order to get the best brief. On the show, questions were limited to three for expediency’s sake. In real life we can ask as many as we like but the quality of the questions is critical in both circumstances! And then, in absorbing the answers we need to become empathetic to the client and therefore able to deliver a design that both reflects our core values as a practice, but also the client needs/preferences.
One then asks, How far should one push outside a client’s brief? In my experience, it’s most productive to push beyond the comfort zone, but at the same time not too far that confidence in you as a designer is lost. It’s a delicate art, however if trust can be built slowly and consistently over the course of a project, the collaboration between client and designer becomes a great one, and I believe that this is the way that the most creative solutions are achieved.
Since Tobias Partners was established we’ve have had the good fortune to work with some truly wonderful clients, people who have trusted us implicitly, but also the kind of people we had no trouble listening to. So when we pushed them into new territory, they more often than not respected our initiative. Some have even pushed us to discover new things. This has resulted in some great outcomes, and long lasting relationships.
Episode 2 of Top Design explored many of the aspects of the design process as I conceive it. But then, I have to say that I was generally disappointed with the contestants’ management of this critical aspect of design – either not asking the right questions, or not listening enough, or interpreting client briefs in a literal and ultimately unexciting way.
This is not the way to push urban spaces, or the architectural industry forward. It is not even good business management policy.
See you next Wednesday at 8pm on channel 9 for episode 3 of Top Design.
posted by tobias
New Zealand. We’re very close to a place called Arrowtown, a delightful gold rush village. Today is the first time I’ve actually visited this site. It has a beautiful aspect – views to the South through trees (the Japanese call this aspect Shirawage and it’s more highly valued than views without trees.) We’ve spent the morning getting to know the site, the earth, the local materials and crafts available. The local stone is Schist, which will certainly feature in the structure and will assist in creating “thermal mass”, a part of the building that can retain the sun’s heat during then day so it can be released again when the outside temperature cools at night. We will embrace local materials and crafts so the building is as much “of its place” as possible. We’ve been researching a geothermal heating system that can be done on this site. It will involve bore holes (about 10cm width) that go down over 100m – we’ll use this to heat the house (under floor) and the water (for all purposes including swimming pool). As the building can be viewed from above, the roof will probably be planted in “sedum” – it would not only look great but also increase the building’s thermal performance.
Tomorrow, Matt (one of the Associate Directors of Tobias Partners) and I plan to sit on site for a few hours and conceptualize the fundamentals of the design, mainly focused on the internal planning. We’re thinking that, between the view out to the South and the sun coming from behind (North), we’ll be able to propose an interesting building form with protected sunny courtyards nestled into the mountainside and carefully framed vistas overlooking the lake across to the snow-capped mountains. Somehow, I keep thinking of one of those incredibly evocative, classic Japanese woodblock prints.
posted by tobias
Okay, in the debate of whether I should participate or not, the pros obviously won. Of course, I was the ultimate adjudicator, and there were several reasons I voted to act as judge on this prime time TV program dedicated to architecture and design. Firstly, I was really impressed by the rigour of the recruiting process. Production company Granada went out of its way to locate highly credible architects and designers from around the country, all at the beginning of their respective careers – that is, the kind of folk most likely to bring fresh ideas and solutions to the curveball problems thrown at them every week of the show’s existence. But also, the kind of people who understand how to make a project viable in real terms, not just come up with fantasy propositions. I’m a notorious anti-DIYer, and the fact that Top Design wanted to include me, a trained, award-winning architect as a judge on the show, along with Amanda Talbot, an interior designer recently returned from a very successful 12 years working in the highly competitive London market, both intrigued and encouraged me. And then there was the choice of host: Jamie Durie, an extremely knowledgeable man, with a broad experience base and incisive insights into into many areas of cultural production.
The judging process was rigorous, the elimination stakes high, but in the end I’m convinced we voted for the most qualified, capable and professional person amongst the lineup of ten contestants.
Every week, just after the show goes to air on channel 9 at 8 pm EST, we’ll give you behind-the-scene commentary on moments we found particularly compelling. Stay tuned.
posted by tobias
As it stands today, Tobias Partners has 27 projects up and running. And each week we plan to give you an insider peek at one of these, at various stages of development. Of course, we love seamless finishes, best quality material and the streamlined, clean lines of our finished homes and commercial sites. But we also love the process, the getting there, with all the grime and dust and sweat that comes with it. Architecture isn’t just about glamorous homes and glossy mag lifestyles; it’s about finding real solutions to everyday issues – and making life better along the way.
Project: A five level home, and an adaptive re-use of a post-war apartment block
Location: Ben Buckler Point, Bondi
Handover date: mid 2013
So, that’s it for today. All that remains to be resolved is the great cappuccino debate. But we’re on it, trust me.
posted by tobias
Why a blog? And if a blog, why now?
The question is an obvious one, but one that any person about to give over a significant chunk of his time to recounting his professional – and even private – life must inevitably ask himself.
Here’s the thing: After nearly 12 years in the business and with over 100 commissions to its credit, Tobias Partners has evolved to a point where we’ve broken through the cloistered walls of the architectural profession and begun to put down roots in the culture at large. At any one of our weekly meetings, my team of 17 architects, designers and I get together to discuss what’s on our minds: anything from media reaction to our controversial conversion of a heritage-listed harbour-side homestead (read the story here), to our latest coastal site with heavy challenges – Whale Beach. Or any one of the twenty-seven projects we’re working on right now. Then, a lively debate might ensue on the pros and cons of me participating in a prime time TV program about design. Others will voice concern about judging this or that design competition. Yet others will start the greatest debate of all: where to get the best cappuccino in Paddington (seems the tipping point has something to do with the foam:fluid:chocolate ratio.)
Then, someone else will chime in: “Nick, why don’t you write a blog?”
So, here I am, the solitary guy sitting at his computer writing – predominantly to strangers, but hopefully future friends – about what makes him, and his partners, and our clients, and our culture, tick. The guy who’s going to whip his camera out at inopportune – or to my mind, very opportune – moments to document behind-the-scenes moments in the making of our daily landscape. The guy who can take you along with him as he travels from site to site, city to city and country to country, checking out the best – and worst – of architecture and design today, and even from centuries past.
ToBias – it’s a Nick’s eye view onto the world of architecture and design as it intersects with our culture today.