I'd like to end my recent hiatus from blog posts by discussing a hinted-at project that consumed a good amount of my time for a couple of months this summer. It's the dream house I will build when I make my first million dollars. I've made it no secret that I've not been formally trained. Architecture has merely been my almost singular love affair from the age of fourteen. I will never concede that my knowledge of the subject isn't extremely solid from one end of the spectrum to the last, however. If any university professors would like to contest that, please bring it on. But in my understanding of the subject, I've always considered it important to design buildings on paper to work out my own ideas and also to absorb the concepts of three-dimensional space-making along with my historical, theoretical, and stylistic understanding of the art form. Some of my earlier experiments on paper I would like to eventually recreate in digital form, just to have them on record, but this one was a new experience for me.
As much as architects slave themselves night and day for most of their lives and rarely attain financial success until very late in life, I'll have to say, I understand so completely why they do it. I felt it when I created my first architectural project on paper--a completely avant-garde redesign of the three-story New York townhouse where I was living at the time. The creation of an elaborate three-dimensional, hypothetically inhabitable object produces a tangible high that can't truly be explained to anyone other than an artist or a designer. There's this one moment where the design object starts to materialize in your brain, and it's the most incredible sensation. I became addicted to doing it once I started. I couldn't stop.
This time I used Google Sketch-Up. My first disclaimer is that I was teaching myself to use this software while I was creating this project. If I were to start the whole thing over again now, there are things I would do differently to make the final images a little more polished. I don't regret learning the way I did, but it is the way it is. Any subsequent projects I might do with it will be executed better, I think. I plan to do more. Sketch-Up is somewhat rudimentary software, admittedly, but until I'm commissioned to design a house for a millionaire and her family, I'm not spending $5000 on Autocad. Sketch-Up is free, thankfully.
My second disclaimer is that Sketch-Up is really good at some things, bad at others, and can't deal with other things hardly at all. For regular orthogonal geometry, it looks quite good. It has a very hard time dealing with unusual, organic geometry, especially reconciling between the junctions of conventional geometry and more unusual geometry, particularly cylinders and spheres--it's a mess in fact. Most frustrating, as a perfect example, is that the absolute, original staple of Western architecture--the basic Ionic column with entasis--would be a complete disaster if ever attempted with this software. Such as it is. There's also ways to render surfaces and sunlight really beautifully, but only if you spend $1000 for auxiliary software. Not gonna happen.
My third disclaimer is that money was no object in my conception of this. I just went completely all out with no concern for the money that might be required to build such a structure. I wanted to let my imagination run wild and satisfy it once and for all.
Fourth is that I was not accounting for people with differing mobility at all, nor was I dealing with the concepts of adaptable reuse or alternative family types (although my own family would probably be alternative), all of which I would surely address if the project weren't hypothetical. I wanted to create what is for me the ideal, incredible suburban house, incorporating all the things that I wanted to work out in my head (like sustainable technology, ecological sensitivity, and majestic architectural moments), but unfettering myself from everything that might distract me from pure design exploration.
On that note, I do have some (rather incredibly expensive) ideas for how such a structure might be engineered, mainly with enormous Y-shaped steel beams projected out from the center of the house and a lot of structural glass, but until such time as it becomes financially possible to build this, I'm not going to worry about that.
To me, one of the most important aspects of architecture is context. Designing a building is very disconnected for me without a specific site in mind to guide various aspects for how it will look and what it should be about. My site is a mostly imaginary one on the south side of a mountain overlooking the Hudson River an hour or two north of New York City (I found an exact one, but it wasn't perfect, I'll have to drive around and look when I have the money saved). In other words, along with my penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park or my crazy hip warehouse space in Brooklyn, this would be the weekend house where I'd invite my celebrity friends for the most incredible parties and holiday getaways. But how this house is arranged on the site and how it appears would very much depend upon the actual site.
I wanted the interior arrangement of spaces to guide the overall form, and then compose the elevations based on that, making the exteriors well organized but not overly stuffy. I've done other hypothetical projects--like a house in a Federalist idiom in Maryland--that presented a totally formal attitude to the surrounding neighborhood. That was not my goal here.
So, before I go into greater detail in subsequent posts, here is the first look at my weekend house. This is the view one would have from the road, designed to not piss off the neighbors--out of respect for context--but allowing hints that there is something very different about this place.
©2013, Ryan Witte