Tag Archives: SKYLIGHT

WINDOWS: “EYES TO THE SOUL”

November 2, 2018

A lot of traditional windows (photo by Andre Goncalves)

“Eyes are the window to the soul,” so said Shakespeare, Da Vinci and many other philosophical minds. Is it just a cliché? How about: Can one witness the soul of a building through its windows?

For light, view and air, windows are basically openings in a building’s exterior wall. Whether circular or rectilinear in shape, whether big or small in size, whether adorned with a classical frame or a minimal contemporary composition, windows are typically a clear and flat sheet of glass.

But today, technology accompanied by an architect’s vision (or ego) have transformed windows far beyond that sheet of glass.

Dutch Embassy, Berlin, Germany (photo by Achim Raschka)

Above and below, both Modern projects (by Rem Koolhaas of OMA) displayed are not shy in exhibiting its internal functions, activities and soul. In Old World architecture, stairs were often expressed primarily by a vertical massive form, such as a stone stair tower. Not so with this modern embassy. Its large abnormal corner window expresses the grand staircase of the upper floors, along with the embassy’s social energy.

Educatorium, Utrecht, Netherlands (photo by Hans Werlemann)

This university center is less about windows in the traditional sense of openings in an exterior wall, but rather, these windows are the exterior wall. As giant, full height, edge-to-edge planes of glass, a viewer is greeted with a building eager to expose the full shape of the auditorium atop a student cafeteria. One could say that we have a “naked soul.”

Elbphilharmoine, Hamburg, Germany (photo by Raimond Spekking)

Historically, glass was transparent and flat, and glass meant nothing more than that. With advances in fabrication and experimentation, the varying degrees of the glass transparency/translucency, as well as three-dimensional sculpting, offer new kinds of expression. The conventional idea of “frosted” glass that one might find in a residential bathroom, is surpassed by glass surfaces and forms of all sorts: fluted, mirrored, reeded, scored, and fritted—as well as concave, convex, and other such artistic explorations.

Therme Baths, Graubunden, Switzerland (photo from theredlist.com)

Another kind of window, though not often thought of as a conventional window, is the skylight. A skylight can be utilitarian, nothing more as it lets in natural light. Or a skylight can be sublime. With our metaphor of eyes to one’s soul, who looks into a skylight? Perhaps, the skylight as a window on the roof, is less about eyes looking in or out, but letting the external world grace the inside. Less about seeing a view from a living room window, as one example, a skylight lets the sky in, which is more about how one’s soul can be touched. As Zumthor acheived.

A museum that tells a story with three skylights as the narrator. Shelter for Roman Ruins, Graubunden, Switzerland (model photos from payload67.cargocollective.com; interior photo from arcdog.com)

Windows are used for scale, to give a building’s facade a human element. Windows connect the inside to its surroundings, and vice versa. For most, windows are thought of as openings. And as “eyes to the soul,” these openings, outside of the world of architecture, can also be the opening weekend for a movie, the job opening, or a “window of opportunity.” As we look into these windows and openings, into these eyes, we observe souls of all sorts. Whether the souls are uplifted and wonderful, or challenged and confronted, it is this depth in life, as well as the architecture around us, that feeds the human spirit.

left: Job posting (by Poon Design); right: Joe Montana and the 49ers (photo from joemontansrightarm.com)
Sudpark, Basel, Switzerland (photo from herzogdemeuron.com)

ARCHITECTURE AS THE LEAD CHARACTER

April 28, 2017

Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson trapped in Room, 2015

In film and literature, architecture is typically the backdrop, the atmosphere, the mood. But for some inventive works, architecture is prominent, and can  even be the lead character in the cast. You don’t have to be a design expert to remember powerful uses of architecture, not just as an emotional or psychological setting, but as a protagonist.

Did anyone see the independent drama film Room?

The dreaded shed in Room, 2015
The dreaded shed in Room, 2015

Over 50 critics named Room one of the best pictures of 2015. As impressive the performances of the actors were, the disturbing architecture of their imprisoning tiny shed left an indelible haunting impression. One vividly remembers the dismal skylight, as clearly as the unnerving voice of Old Nick.

John Cusack in Being John Malkovich, 1999
John Cusack in Being John Malkovich, 1999

In Being John Malkovich, that enigmatic office floor had only four foot ceilings, and it played a critical role in this surreal film. As stunning as John Cusack played the unemployed puppeteer, the low ceilings crushed his spirit and body. And in an inexplicable design twist, the secret tiny door behind a file cabinet leads into the mind of actor John Malkovich, played by actor John Malkovich.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, 2003 (photo from themisanthropologist.wordpress.com)
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, 2003 (photo from themisanthropologist.wordpress.com)

The architecture of urbanity, cities themselves, can also play the feature role. In Erik Larson’s novelistic non-fiction, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair is the story’s major proponent—as a vessel for artistic legacy and murder. The serial killer even constructs a “Murder Castle”—an eerie hotel with a gas chamber, dissection table and crematorium.

In this New York Times bestseller, the ego of the murderer is matched only by the glory of the city, the ambitions of the fair, and the creativity of historically accurate architects: Burnham, Sullivan, McKim, Olmsted, and of course, Ferris (creator of the Ferris wheel).

Synedoche, New York, 2008
Synedoche, New York, 2008

A city itself plays the lead in Synecdoche, New York. Using the word “synecdoche,” director Charlie Kaufman references the real city of Schenectady, and also references the term that signifies how parts of something can represent the whole, and the whole represent the parts.

Within the story, the fictional director envisions a film in which a full scale mockup of the city is constructed inside a warehouse. As the story unfolds over many years, the director builds settings and scenes that are actually occurring in the real city outside the movie warehouse.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014

In the Grand Budapest Hotel, the hotel is treated with the same depth, nuance and care as any member from the cast of actors, as if the hotel was indeed the lead character and story.

Blade Runner, 1982
Blade Runner, 1982

I can’t conclude this essay without mention of Blade Runner, a cult favorite amongst architects. The work of Futurist Italian architect, Antonio Sant-Elia, influenced film director Ridley Scott and the architecture of a dystopic future Los Angeles. But as powerful as the architectural setting is, the film’s atmosphere should also credit the soundtrack and ambient design by Greek composer, Vangelis. In this neo-noir sci-fi flick, the music was as prominent as a ‘lead character’ as the production design and Harrison Ford.

The score received nominations from the Golden Globe and the British Academy. The architecture received nominations from the Golden Globe and the British Academy as well, and also the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, no actors received any accolades—not Harrison Ford, Sean Young, nor Edward James Olmos.

© Poon Design Inc.