An Architect Abroad: A Photo Journal by Nerio

As we explore the architecture of the west coast of America, from Palm Springs to San Diego, from San Francisco to Los Angeles we ask ourselves, why have these buildings stood the test of time? What is it about them that they have continued to outlive us?

SAN FRANCISCO

Our journey started in San Francisco, the city of fog, hills and the Golden Gate Bridge. What we saw was so much more, voluminous concrete forms, and complex structural curves. Our favourites from this beautiful city below:

  EMBARCADERO CENTER - John Portman, 1973

EMBARCADERO CENTER - John Portman, 1973

As you enter the incredible ancillary spaces at the Embarcadero Center, you are greeted by a spiral ramp which winds its way up through the building to an open roof at the top. The void spaces left behind, between the immense concrete forms were stunning, bouncing light from above and water reflection from below it was magic.

  SAINT MARY’S CATHEDRAL - Pietro Belluschi and Pier Luigi Nervi, 1971

SAINT MARY’S CATHEDRAL - Pietro Belluschi and Pier Luigi Nervi, 1971

The artistic nature of the St. Mary’s Cathedral evokes a union between heaven and earth through the balanced simplicity that becomes possible through modern engineering. The curved roofs create a graceful flow upwards until it reaches 190 feet where the four corners meet in a cross.

SAN DIEGO

San Diego with its miles and miles of white beaches has some of the beautiful mid-century gems, these buildings have been cherished and have some of the homes that made the west coast a modernist mecca.

 

  REVELLE COLLEGE BREEZEWAY - Risley & Gould, 1968

REVELLE COLLEGE BREEZEWAY - Risley & Gould, 1968

The breezeway could so easily have been a cheap, utilitarian bridge, but instead, they designed and built this elegant structure that is a joy to behold and to traverse in all weather. Working in unison; the colours, light and shadows provide a view beautiful to look at from all aspects.

 

  CASE STUDY HOUSE #23A - Killinsworth, Brady, Smith & Associates, 1961

CASE STUDY HOUSE #23A - Killinsworth, Brady, Smith & Associates, 1961

The Case Study houses were a fantastic exploration of housing that genuinely pushed the conventions of what a home was of the time.

 

  SALK INSTITUTE- Louis Kahn & Luis Barragan, 1963

SALK INSTITUTE- Louis Kahn & Luis Barragan, 1963

This building can be described as the ‘Taj Mahal of Brutalism’, and it does not disappoint an avid lover of the movement. Nothing could quite prepare you for standing at the top of the travertine courtyard looking through the treeless space towards the ocean vista that opens at the end. There is nothing but concrete, timber, glass, water and sky.


VENICE HOUSE

 

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The Venice beach house designed with the idea of individual pods, each with a corresponding outdoor space. The Venice house is not connected in the way traditional dwellings are; with corridors and walls but by letting the outdoors in; To move between the central living space you have to walk through beautifully landscaped courtyards.

Upon entering the house from the street you are greeted with a blackened timber screen that allows a glimpse through into the first courtyard space. You are directed to traverse a series of areas that get darker and quieter before you are expelled out into a calming courtyard space with a huge tree towering over.

Once you have made your way through the garden, you can then enter the home by pulling back a stacking bifold door, and you are suddenly inside. feeling immediately comfortable, and welcoming, and like you have arrived at ‘home.’

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PALM SPRINGS

The Californian desert city, palm springs boasts one of the best collections of modernist architecture in the world. Significantly expanding following World War II, when a movement of optimism inspired creative people in many fields. Architects in Palm Springs were eager to innovate and work in the modern approach, liberated from the usual design restrictions as well as the pressure and specific demands that a primary residence required of the time. Architects took full advantage of the leeway granted them.

Ensuring that nature and culture exist in harmony single story homes were favoured so that all residences looked out into the vast land. The houses were inspiring, and we were in awe of this city. Stepping back in time we saw some of the best homes of the time…

 

  ALEXANDER HOMES - Designed by architect William Krisel FAIA of Palmer & Krisel Developer/builder George and Robert Alexander of Alexander Construction Company

ALEXANDER HOMES - Designed by architect William Krisel FAIA of Palmer & Krisel Developer/builder George and Robert Alexander of Alexander Construction Company

In clusters around the city are the Palm Spring tract homes, built in 1956 - 1959, which are essentially what we would call project homes, done as a development. All homes had an architect involved which is a true testament to why these homes have outlived many. The Alexander Homes explored scale and a restrained material palette which come together to let the life that happens within and around them be the showcase.

  Guard House at Desert Palisades (a planned gated community in Palm Springs).- Designed by architect Sean Lockyer 2016.

Guard House at Desert Palisades (a planned gated community in Palm Springs).- Designed by architect Sean Lockyer 2016.

A new addition and planned gated community in Palm Springs, the guard house is a representation of the calibre of the homes that will be within. The materials were chosen to complement the desert environment, and the aesthetic was to reflect both the nature and thrusting of the hillside slopes surrounding.

  One of the ALEXANDER HOMES in Vista Las Palmas neighbourhood - Designed by architect William Krisel FAIA of Palmer & Krisel Developer/builder George and Robert Alexander of Alexander Construction Company

One of the ALEXANDER HOMES in Vista Las Palmas neighbourhood - Designed by architect William Krisel FAIA of Palmer & Krisel Developer/builder George and Robert Alexander of Alexander Construction Company

You can not get more quintessentially Palm Springs than this, with the palm trees, the mountain range in the background, the Krisel designed house and the vintage car!

The buildings and homes we explored on our trip were designed and built at a time of great optimism. They were designed not to maximise floor area, or to be easily built, or to last only 20 years or so like buildings now; they were designed to stand the test of time, to be beacons of architecture for a lifetime. The materials were hardy, like concrete, steel and glass, and they took craftsmen to build. And while many have fallen in and out of favour with people in general, those that survive will always return to be valued for what they are, true modernist design at its finest.

Beauty through brutal simplicity by Nerio

 National Library of Australia

National Library of Australia

Brutalism in architecture is a concept that is not widely known outside of design circles, having never gained the international momentum that others enjoyed. Born at a time when Modernism was morphing towards Post Modernism, a small group of architects moved to introduce a particular type of honesty to their buildings. This innocent pursuit questioned the way designers approached their buildings and provoked one of the greatest questions about ethics of design. It suggested we allow an item be it a building, clothing or jewellery to stand and be seen for itself, and not to be one thing whilst pretending to be another. And so, the Modernist obsession with not dressing a material unnecessarily, coupled with the belief amongst some that form follows function developed into a movement all of its own. This movement celebrated the way concrete as a material could form not only the functional requirements of a building but also provide beauty through its own rough weightiness. 

It has been said that one of the most intriguing elements of the movement, comes not from the buildings themselves (although their unapologetically hard, heavy appearance certainly has its appeal) but rather that the movement’s name is so weirdly appropriate. The term brutalism was born not from a reference to the movement’s often hefty, somewhat overwhelming nature, but rather to the use of concrete in its natural, unadorned form. The movement is thought to have had its earliest appearance when master architect Le Corbusier referenced the chosen material for his Unite d’habitation in Marseille (1952) as being formed of beton brut, French for raw concrete. From here, others started playing with concrete as a material and celebrating its innate ability to take on the form of its mould. 

 Unite d’habitation in Marseille (1952)

Unite d’habitation in Marseille (1952)

Architects rejected concrete designation as structural columns that needed to be encased in a material more aesthetically pleasing. In response, they started creating large rounded forms and leaving the concrete to shine in its natural state.

Enjoying a scale that often dwarfs the mere humans that inhabit it, brutalism was usually reserved for public architecture which demands a certain level of presence. In Australia, we are lucky enough to have many great examples of the style, with concert halls, government buildings, and law courts amongst them. The most iconic to my mind is the Sirius building in Sydney. Nestled at the very foundations of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sirius building epitomises the struggles that have so plagued the movement itself. People either love or hate this building, and despite its incredible history, notoriety and architectural significance attempt to demolish it continue to this day. More about this can be found here.

It should come as no surprise that Canberra, a city rich in design history and appreciation, has many examples of the movement including The High Court of Australia, Canberra School of Music, Cameron Offices in Belconnen, and The National Gallery of Australia.

 National Gallery of Australia

National Gallery of Australia

For me personally, the beauty of the Brutalist movement comes not in its historical significance but rather in the way such large, brutally simple structures confront and assail their inhabitants. As a society, we are very used to things being made beautiful for us. I am guilty of it. As an architect, I often find ways to soften a corner, a roof form, or the scale of a building when viewed by a pedestrian on the street. Brutalist buildings have none of this and I think this speaks to their true place in the world, in a wholly urban landscape. 

Whilst some find the sight of the Sirius Building offensive nestled beside the Harbour Bridge, imagine it sited adjacent to your neighbourhood park. Everything about it suggests it belongs in the city centre, a place where people gather in larger numbers, where festivals and protests also find their home. These buildings offer an innate sense of foreboding, perfectly suited to the highest court in our country, or the safekeeping of our most treasured pieces of art.  

The question of human scale in architecture is brought to great significance when you consider the different uses of the structures we build. For me, one of the great joys of architecture is the differing scales that different buildings and functions demand. In a past life I designed school buildings, we designed with a firm belief that the scale of the building should increase as the scale of the student does. Put simply, a child starting school for the first time, who’s most profound architectural experience has usually been their home, should be introduced gently to the wider world of bigger and bigger buildings. 

The campuses start with preschool buildings that are residential in scale and grow as the students using them progress through their formative schooling years. By the time a student is ready to venture forth as an (almost) fully fledged adult, they have grown accustomed to a scale of building more akin to that of an office building, or a university study hall. That way, students are not left shell-shocked when thrust forward into the urban scaled buildings they will likely inhabit for the majority of their adult lives.

 Cameron Building

Cameron Building

At the forefront of all architectural endeavours, I have a profound desire to protect, revitalise and restore our natural environment. I relish in the way in which brutalist architecture restores the deep human experience found in the natural environment. Never was a 100-year-old eucalyptus so beautiful, as when viewed in juxtaposition to a solid, overbearing and not just a little overwhelming immovable concrete form. There is a place in this world for authentically designed urban landscapes full of big buildings, cars and sounds. And their presence only serves as the most precious reminder of the true beauty to be found in nature.

While brutalist architecture has seen a revival in recent years, its confronting nature lends itself to being reserved for only the bravest of inhabitants. It's brutal honesty, however, is an idea that in my humble opinion, more designers should aspire to. Love it or hate it, the true merit of a brutalist building is not in its size or use, but it's inherent honesty, pretending to be nothing other than it is, a voluminous concrete form.

Article by Shannon Demicoli Battisson
Images by Samuel Broomby
First appeared in Big Ink Magazine

A home for a family to grow into for years to come by Nerio

A new block in an old town, surrounded by historic gems.

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This project started when we were approached by a young couple who had bought a new block in old Bungendore. While the houses on one side of the street are all new, and the other side are all older, all of the existing homes had a very country feel about them. They were in love with this style, however, wanted to add a sense of themselves, a modern twist of traditional Australian living.

Instead of forfeiting one love for the other, they merged their love of their town and their modern style; this idea became the seed that grew into the home we now see, Introducing modern living elements into this old town.

Making the project all the more lively and engaging, the clients managed to happily combine some of life’s most significant milestones into the two-year design and build period. Welcoming their first child and getting married all during the build was undoubtedly ambitious, but kept the true meaning of the project at the forefront for the whole duration. The project was to be a beautiful, warm, and welcoming family home for the young couple to grow into for years to come.

The first requirement of the home, lead the direction of the entire design. On a slim block, the clients needed a house which included vehicle access from the front and rear entrances of the home. To ensure maximum benefit could be gained from the small northern outlook, a garage was done away with in preference for a lightweight carport, part of which can be driven through to gain access to the rear yard.

A pavilion style home rose up next to the carport whereby the living areas were housed within the widest part of the home, and large clerestory windows were installed to allow light to bounce around the main rooms, despite the carports north presence.  

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The central pavilion would then become a welcoming bridge between the front public gardens and the private rear yards. From the moment you move beyond the entry room, your eyes are immediately drawn to the generous rear deck and yard beyond.

Mixing traditional design with a modern style this welcoming family home included features regularly seen in older houses, however, were essential to the client.

The mudroom is the main feature, while the home enjoys a generous sun filled formal entry for guests, with space to sit and remove shoes and coats, the family enter through a more relaxed mudroom. Allowing them the freedom to drop the remnants of their day (bags, shoes, and jackets) and enter their home relaxed.  

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A quiet nook was introduced into the north facing master bedroom, overlooking the garden and quiet country street and beyond. The modern take of the window seat features Clad in COR-TEN steel, explicitly designed to rust and age with time, the solid boxlike structure belies the soft, custom upholstered seat within. The result is a wonderfully quiet, sunny spot, to read in the sun, to watch the life of the street beyond the house, to hide away.

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The central living pavilion of the house has a beautiful raked ceiling with clerestory windows that ensure sunlight reaches the most southern corners of the space. The high ceiling was raised to allow space for the clerestory windows which also adds a beautiful sense of drama and visual interest to space.

As the windows allow for your eye to move around the room following the light, the kitchen stops you and is the modern touch the family wanted to introduce into their Bungendore gem.

An ultra matt black finish meets the edges of concrete and timber for an incredible result and a kitchen that juxtaposes the traditional elements. This home is a hidden gem, a mix of the old and the new, a home for a couple to grow into for years to come.

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Photography by Adam McGrath - HCreations

The home that lets light in. by Shannon Battisson

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It started with the need to replace a dishwasher, which led to a desire for a new kitchen and ended with a complete renovation of a traditional family home. 

When we met on site to discuss the brief, it was clear that whilst the clients loved their home, and had invested significant money in the now established landscaped gardens, the house itself failed to meet their needs and wants.  With a young family, the hardworking couple desperately wanted to introduce some light into the living areas which were currently dark, cold and disconnected from the beautiful garden spaces surrounding the dwelling. 

Once we understood their needs and knew that the introduction of light was a necessity we provided multiple concept designs to ensure that all possibilities were considered. Starting with an option that changed only the kitchen, the next was the living spaces and the last was a complete renovation of the current home.

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The client was onboard and ready to make some major changes to the way the house functioned, and in so doing actually reduced the overall footprint of the house! This is a strong example of why extra floor area does not equate with better quality spaces.  In this instance, a pop out dining nook, which was too small and badly placed to be useable, was blocking all natural light from both the kitchen and family room. 

Removing the pop out made way for the introduction of the 6m wide stackable sliding door.  And when combined with three operable skylights, this formerly internal and dark space was suddenly opened to both the sun and the garden beyond.

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The other great change was the relocation of a series of box-like rooms that ran the length of the house, blocking access to the garden, light and cross ventilation.  Moving one bedroom to the south, and a study to an internal space with a large skylight, allowed the placement of a new north facing living room, dramatically improving both the energy use of the house and the general amenity of the spaces.

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And finally, we removed a feature common to houses in new estates from the 90’s onward, the entry portico.  This heavy masonry structure added little aesthetic value to the house but contributed to the complete lack of natural light within.  Removing exterior structures allowed the introduction of a beautiful timber solar pergola which provides weather protection for the front door, shade during summer months, and vital sunlight during Canberra’s winter. A home that lets light in.

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Photography by Adam McGrath - HCreations