Monday, January 21, 2013

VillaWitte #2--Atrium

Villa Witte was a name I've long loved. I think it offers the most exquisite opportunities for creating a logo. Here is the proper front elevation, which doesn't directly face the road to the northeast, but faces north.

I originally conceived this house in shingle or wood siding, so prevalent in the northeastern United States. The first problem is that both cladding materials are insanely annoying and costly to maintain properly (cedar shingle might not be too bad). Second is that most siding now is vinyl, which is kind of gross. I'm of the opinion that a material should look like what it is and behave like what it is. But I suspect raw, uncolored vinyl would be singularly unattractive, like the color of stained teeth? Thirdly, Sketch-Up renders wood siding very badly, whereas their stone facing looks comparatively nice. Nothing wrong with stone, either, it's solid and has permanence.

You may notice right off the bat that there's no foundation or basement. I wanted to disturb the land as little as possible--as a matter of fact, the site I kind of liked appeared to be a natural clearing--so I'd rather not excavate that much. But since the site should be a hill leading down to the Hudson, there will certainly need to be some way to keep the house from sliding down into the river, probably with pylons or something like that. Finding a site with a natural bedrock outcropping and attaching the structure solidly to it would be nice, but presumably all but impossible to locate. The back of the house is designed to be cantilevered anyway, as the slope becomes steeper, while the front is right at ground level.

The front doors and the window above them are enormous sheets of bullet-proof glass. This is not because I expect the house to be in a neighborhood with a lot of gunfire (although the way things are going in this country these days, who can say?). Rather, I love the contrast between complete visual transparency and unquestionable security against even firearms. 

Initially, I had liked the idea of carving a hollow out of the glass so that the doorknob and deadbolt lock mechanisms would be totally visible, to call further attention to that duality--despite the fact that this would likely render them less secure. In the end I decided it would be much more dramatic if they were sliding doors operated by a key card, passcode, or best of all, a voice recognition system, with no doorknobs at all. On the night of a party, for instance, the voice recognition software could be programmed to open the doors for anyone on the guest list. Probably it would be wise to have them operate by some kind of hydraulic piston or something that would allow them to be opened (or closed) quickly in an emergency even when the power is out, or at least provide a crank to easily open them manually. The sidelights are structural glass, which will be explained shortly. The canopy is reinforced concrete. The rectangular frame cut out of the stonework at the upper right will be explained later on.

Here's what you see when you first walk in the door. The oval recess in the center is a pool of water, which I'll get to in a second. The stairs on the right take you down to the public rooms of the house. There was probably a mathematical way to make the geometry of this room--mostly oval in shape--much more precise. Unfortunately, it would have taken me countless hours longer to do it that way, and really I just wanted to get the atrium finished and move on to other parts of the house. So I must confess I measured out everything that was realistic to do so and then finished it mostly by eye.

When you look up, you see this. The stairs meander up through the atrium to the top. The roof is a giant skylight, fractured almost like shattered glass (the design of the skylight will require considerably more thought than it was possible to do at this stage). The whole skylight can open up from the center like a blooming flower to regulate temperature. I foresee it being controlled by a sophisticated climate control system capable of automatically opening and closing this aperture and the various windows and doors, pulling cooler air into the peripheral rooms and hot air up out of the atrium. I've never been a fan of air conditioning. The air is stale, reconstituted, and unhealthy, as are the constant drastic temperature changes when one travels from outside to inside and back again. I'd like to think that a well-thought-out computer program could operate these features in such a way that a relatively comfortable temperature could be maintained without the need for air conditioning in all but the most extreme weather conditions.

The walls of the atrium are two layers of structural glass, about a foot apart, that act as a huge tank that collects rainwater. This water will feed, at the very least, toilets and other non-consumable water use, but I see no reason at all why a purification system couldn't be added to this to accommodate all the water needs of the house, at least when rainfall is heavy. I'll return to this idea a little later, when we get up to the roof.

Where the various stair platforms meet the wall surface will be troughs for ivy and the wall will be fitted with spurs for the ivy to attach itself to the walls and climb it. The entire atrium will be a growing, living, breathing, sun-drenched entity. Since rendering something like ivy would be a disaster for Sketch-Up, I didn't bother to create them, but they're there. The troughs of soil for the ivy will be watered by "perspiring" pipes fed from the water wall. It might be prudent to give some of the glass on one side a slight mirror finish so that sun coming in from the south will be reflected across the room to shine on the ivy on the opposite side.

Although the water itself will provide some measure of concealment, both the inner and outer walls of the atrium are glass in most places. The ivy provides an added measure of privacy in a very natural way for the rooms that are more private, particularly the bedrooms on the upper stories. At the same time, questions of privacy and visibility are made very prominent here. In any place where it might be problematic, clear glass that can be frosted over at the push of a button could easily be employed.  The skylight and glass walls will bathe almost the entire interior with natural light. I'd like to think artificial lighting would almost never be needed during daylight hours. Using glass for the skylight that can be frosted over by the climate control system could help to regulate temperature, as well.

Rainstorms will be the most dramatic event in this house. There is really only one thing I don't like about a violent thunderstorm on a hot summer day, and that's being caught walking around in it when I have somewhere that I need to be. Everything else about them I think is magical. It's Mother Nature at her very best. I love watching the huge, dark storm clouds approach over the horizon, a truly breathtaking sight. I love the thunder and especially the beautiful performance of lightning strikes. The sound of the pouring rain soothes me as much as the hypnotic sound of crashing ocean waves. During a particularly intense one, I will sometimes stand outside on purpose, just to feel it coming down on me. And for some reason, being all warm and dry while nature pours her heart out on the land is a sensation I find extremely comforting.

This house opens itself up to a rainstorm. The rainwater very literally enters it and pours in, through, and back out of it. So the first thing to notice is that the skylight over the atrium opens up in just such a way that, after filling the wall tank and to a small degree before that, the rainwater pours down and fills the pool in the center of the ground floor. One issue that will need to be addressed is the water, coming from so far above, splashing out of the pool and onto the white marble floor creating a serious safety hazard. A simple solution that occurred to me was to surround the pool with planters filled with taller grasses and wildflowers that would catch the spashing water and also thereby be nourished by it. I didn't like the way this disrupted the lines of the atrium's ground floor, but some compromise could be found. Although it would be a waste of resources the rest of the time, it'd be nice to have the ability to pump water up to fall through the atrium at least when entertaining in dry weather.

One last thing to notice about the atrium, before moving on, is the coat closet, most of the time merely for the residents to store their various outerwear. But it has a Dutch door with a counter, so that when there's a party, it can very easily be used for coat check with a hired attendant. It can also serve as an alternate entrance, which I'll get to later.


©2013, Ryan Witte

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