Lazy Luddite Log



For me architecture is an occasional spectator sport. I sometimes play at drawing floorpans for imaginary fortresses or spaceships but I cannot fathom the mathematics involved. I am however wowed by some of its better achievements. And sometimes I’m even just curious about what is just around that corner in a sit-com apartment set.

Recently I have been drawn into online tours of unusual houses both big and small. At one end of the scale is the tiny houses movement and they are cute. Eventually however there is only so many ways you can do a shipping crate-sized layout and so I veered into tours of mansions. That soon took me back to an old love - the works of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).

Wright was always twenty five to fifty years ahead of his time. His 30s stuff for instance looks totally at home in the 60s and that has always been an era that draws my attention. I love his low-slung structures incorporated into the landscape. I likewise love his use of natural light and the clever segmentation of nominally open-plan spaces. The house Falling Water is amazing but so too are the Johnson Wax Building and the Marin County Civic Centre. They look like places it both be around and in whether alone or in company.

More recently I have been impressed by the works of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016). Her structures curve and twist into the sky like so much living metal or futuristic ceramic. Apparently two designs of hers will be completed here in Melbourne - the Mandarin Oriental skyscraper to overlook Southern Cross Station and the Mayfair residential tower on St Kilda Road. Once they are done I will have to take a look.

Most recently I came across the words 'Futuro' and 'Venturo'. These terms denote the designs of Finnish architect Matti Suuronen (1933-2013) for modular holiday homes that could be transported between locales. The Futuro was inspired by flying saucers while the Venturo was more box-like but with curved corners and a space-age look. They are mere curios now and scenes of a semi-abandoned resort village of them in Taiwan are both exciting and pathetic.

All these inspire retro-futurist daydreams. What if we worked in something by Hadid then shopped or lived in something by Wright and finally went holidaying in something by Suuronen? But who are ‘we’ exactly? Well the whole community hopefully. Many architects are interested in how they can alter our way-of-life for the better. But it was a philosopher and mathematician who made me aware of that.

At uni I did some extra-curricular reading of In Praise Of Idleness And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell. In one essay he proposed designs in which several homes were arrayed around shared courtyard gardens and common areas. Russell hoped such plans would serve the human needs of both privacy and community spirit. Even today I think few of us have a chance to get that balance right.

I could do with a better balance. It could take the form of living in the wing of a rambling villa or of occupying a tiny home in a cluster of such structures. And yet I’m someone who has possibly come closer to this than many. Living in suburban share households within walking distance of other such households has been pretty cool. It also brings me to one more comment - loops.

The best party houses are ones that allow a person to circulate from room-to-room via loops. Many house plans allow movement from hall to living room to kitchen and back to hall. Such loops allow for more mixing. You can get to those you wish to converse with or get away from others more quickly. A fun exercise is to design a floor plan with as many loops as you can. If anyone is reading this then have a go.