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Formal Analyses: Two Houses by Aires Mateus & Associados

August 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Solid-Void Analyses: Black Spaces – the Representation of a Habitable Thickened Wall

House in Melídes by Aires Mateus
Figure 1a: Solid-void plan of the ‘apparent condition’; inhabiting a thickened wall
Figure 1b: Positive void; reversing main and auxiliary spaces
Figure 1c: ‘Actual condition’; inhabitable spaces

House in the Serra de Mira de Aire
Figure 2a: Solid-void plan of the ‘apparent condition’; inhabiting a thickened wall
Figure 2b: Positive void; reversing main and auxiliary spaces
Figure 2c: ‘Actual condition’; inhabitable spaces

What do the black spaces (zones or areas) represent in the work of Aires Mateus?

By convention, in plan or section, what has been cut is indicated as black, so if a space is in black, then in theory it has been treated as a mass that has been cut. This is a graphic representational technique to convey the idea of inhabiting a thickened wall. Figures 1a and 2a can be understood in Louis Kahn’s distinction between served and servant spaces, where the served space is in white and the servant space is in black. This means the servant space is not only habitable space (as in Figures 1c and 2c), but is perceived and experienced to be part of a solid wall or construction, a habitable thick wall.

Francesco Cacciatore, in his text, Abitare il limite: dodici case di Aires Mateus & Associados = Living the boundary: twelve houses by Aires Mateus & Associados, introduces an alternative means of understanding Kahn’s hierarchical relationship between served and servant space in the work of Aires Mateus. To aid with our understanding, Cacciatore employs the terms main and auxiliary as a means of distinguishing the served and servant spaces. The main spaces are the served zones or the primary areas, such as living rooms, bedrooms, etc., whereas the auxiliary spaces are the servant zones or secondary areas, such as kitchens, storerooms, closets, bathrooms, circulation, stairs, etc. (Cacciatore, 2011).

In the solid-void plan, the main (served) spaces are in white and the auxiliary (servant) spaces are in black. The thickening of the wall to contain the servant space is what the black space communicates in the plans of Aires Mateus. This is part of a chain of research developing the “idea of the boundary,” “where matter gets thicker on the boundary,” as noted by Manuel Aires Mateus in his foreword to Cacciatore’s book (Manuel Aires Mateus in Cacciatore, 2011).

The black space is a representation of the increase or thickening of matter on the boundary or border, hence the title of Cacciatore’s book, Living the boundary. Cacciatore writes, “The auxiliary, or servant spaces are conceived as a thick inhabited wall,” a wall which can include the stairs, kitchen, storerooms, etc. as a “habitable interstice” containing long galleries excavated in the wall (Cacciatore, 2011). Hence, the apparent condition, our apparent perception, is a black thick massive wall (Figures 1a and 2a), but the actual condition, the reality, is that the space is fully inhabitable and useable (Figures 1c and 2c).

Cacciatore describes the work of Aires Mateus as reversing the traditional relation between served and servant spaces, where the main and auxiliary spaces can be flipped. Cacciatore, in his discussion of the House in the Serra de Mira de Aire, writes, “the traditional relation between main and auxiliary areas is so clearly reversed that the former are conceived as a sort of huge and pervasive servant space inside which the basic geometric shape prevails”(Cacciatore, 2011). Figures 1b and 2b convey this reversal of Kahn’s hierarchical distinction, where served and servant spaces, main and auxiliary spaces, solid and void, positive and negative, figure and ground are reversible and reciprocal interchangeable integers or entities, seemingly able to go back and forth between their dialectic conditions.

The House in Sesimbra,Cacciatore writes, has “servant spaces [which] coincide with the main areas, articulated in a sort of large continuous and pervasive space. Served spaces, instead, are located in measured thicknesses that accommodate secondary interstitial spaces” (Cacciatore, 2011). Hence, this blackening of certain spaces in the plans and sections seek to communicate and reinforce the idea of the habitability of a thickened wall, where servant and served spaces, positive and negative, solid and void can be reversed. Cacciatore sums, “The persistence of interstitial space and habitable walls as containers of spaces with different hierarchies and use values would lead Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus to gradually refine a representation technique that emphasizes spatial rather than building values” (Cacciatore, 2011).

Finally, the black space contributes to the experience of the wall as being part of the ground, which is also in black in the drawings. The black (servant/auxiliary) space hence connects to the ground to give an impression of the white (served/main) space as a cave excavated from the black mass of the ground.

Compositional Analyses: Decomposition of a Design Process by Subtraction

House in Melídes by Aires Mateus
Figure 3a: Base composition of 5 bands of unequal width, A-E
Figure 3b: Base composition with vertical divisions
Figure 3c: Solid-void plan overlaid over base composition

The compositional analytical method of decomposition is used here to de-compose or unravel the design to discover the originating design principles, the compositional ordering device, or the clear set of rules, that is, the design system, used to generate the plans (see Eisenman, 2003, for his own use of decomposition).

For the plan of the House in Melídes, the translation from a generic form to a specific form, to borrow Peter Eisenman’s terms (Eisenman, 1963, 2006), is the articulation of the 5 band structure (Figure 3a) to become the result (Figure 3c). Figure 3a can be said to be the base composition for generating the plan of the House in Melídes. 5 bands or stripes, labeled A, B, C, D, and E are of unequal widths, and these constitute the basic compositional system which can open into various possibilities. Figure 3b marks the vertical breaks/walls to divide the 5 bands. Figure 3c shows the result of the design potential within the 5 banded organizing principle.

House in Melídes by Aires Mateus
Figure 4a: 5 bands; push/pull of divisions
Figure 4b: Sliding of stripes of unequal length
Figure 4c: 5 bands as an ordering system for the plan to allow for various possibilities

Figure 4a shows the positive and negative, pushing and pulling movements produced in the interior void space. The voids in bands B and D are pushing to the right, whereas the void in the central band C is pushed to the left, anchored by a central block. Bands A and E are the entry/exit bands, where only one edge from each opening lines up to the central block. The top left opening edge is aligned to the left of the central block, then a mirroring takes place where the bottom right opening edge is aligned to the right of the central block. The 5 bands contribute to a sliding movement within the structure (Figures 4b and 4c). The three voids within the bands B, C, and D are of unequal width, further adding to the non-uniformity and dynamism of the composition, as the width of each of the 5 bands, as mentioned, are also variable to each other. Bands A and C are sliding left, bands B, D, and E and sliding right.

House in the Serra de Mira de Aire – upper floor, by Aires Mateus
Figure 5a: Base composition of a 9 x 9 square grid
Figure 5b: 9 x 9 grid as an ordering system for the plan to allow for various possibilities
Figure 5c: Solid-void plan overlaid over base composition

 

House in the Serra de Mira de Aire – lower floor Figure 6a: Base composition of a 9 x 9 square grid Figure 6b: 9 x 9 grid as an ordering system for the plan to allow for various possibilities  Figure 6c: Solid-void plan overlaid over base composition

House in the Serra de Mira de Aire – lower floor
Figure 6a: Base composition of a 9 x 9 square grid
Figure 6b: 9 x 9 grid as an ordering system for the plan to allow for various possibilities
Figure 6c: Solid-void plan overlaid over base composition

For the plans of the House in the Serra de Mira de Aire, the translation from a generic form to a specific form is the articulation of the 9 x 9 square grid (Figures 5a and 6a) to become the result (Figures 5c and 6c). The grid is the system employed in these plans so that decisions can be made to solidify/spatialize various zones according to the modules of the grid. Blocks of 1 x 4 units, 2 x 2 units can be selected to fulfill particular programmatic requirements. On the lower level, on two instances, a single unit is left as a void. This 9 x 9 grid base composition permits various possibilities while maintaining a clear system and emphasizing the rules of the system.

Manuel Aires Mateus stated that “designing is about representing an idea,” and that there is a need to reinforce the idea through our methods of communication. Whether it be designing by subtraction, giving primacy to the void, the thickening of a wall which contains habitable space, the reversal of the served and servant spaces, or the emphasis of a clear geometric system, both the design and the means of representing or communicating it, can be used to reinforce these ideas.

 

ALO

References:

  • Aires Mateus, Manuel Rocha de, Francisco Xavier Rocha de Aires Mateus, Juan Antonio Cortés, and Ricardo Carvalho. Aires Mateus 2002-2011. El Croquis no. 154 (2011): entire issue, 259 pages.
  • Cacciatore, Francesco. Abitare il limite: dodici case di Aires Mateus & Associados = Living the boundary: twelve houses by Aires Mateus & Associados. 1st ed. Translated by Antonella Bergamin. Foreword by Manuel Aires Mateus. Siracusa: LetteraVentidue, 2011.
  • Eisenman, Peter. The formal basis of modern architecture. PhD diss., Trinity College, University of Cambridge, 1963. Baden, Switzerland: L. Müller, 2006.
  • Eisenman, Peter, Manfredo Tafuri, and Giuseppe Terragni. Giuseppe Terragni: transformations, decompositions, critiques. New York: Monacelli Press, 2003.

All sketches drawn by author

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