Spirit of Place

Spirit of Place

New Organic Architecture discussed by Delia O' RiordanIn my previous posts on the relationship between human well-being and our living spaces, I made the point that we are affected at the deepest levels of awareness by our home environment yet most people today live in psychically toxic environments, spaces that are designed and decorated without regard to the spiritual needs of their occupants. Choosing fittings, carpets, and paint colours is the extent to which most of us participate in forming our home environments. I know this will be an up-hill battle but I want to persuade people that even multi-million dollar mansions (no matter how many jacuzzis, tennis courts, garages and swimming pools they may have) are for the most part no better than cookie cutter tract houses. The reason is bad architecture and uninformed consumers. There is widespread evidence that humans want houses to have more ‘character’. Atrocities such as ‘mock Tudor’, pre-fab ‘Victorian’, and all manner of variations on the theme of castle towers take the place of individual soul-centred dwellings. They are a sad attempt to find the human-friendly space that we long for, a place that makes us feel safe and stimulated at the same time, a place to dream in. Humans don’t come pre-packaged and neither should their lives.

Spirit of Place

Nature abhors straight lines and so should we when it comes to our private dwellings. In public architecture, function dictates form and efficiency and limitations on space often require angular buildings. Where they are necessary however, they can also be imaginative, interesting, and creative buildings as I hope to illustrate in future posts. But for today I’m going to indulge my passion for mavericks, those visionary architects and artists who defied convention and public rejection to create unique and inspired buildings that prove we can ‘break the rules’ and be happier for it. Today we will see through the eyes of eccentrics and geniuses who knew that concrete, cement, steel and glass don’t have to look impersonal, not at all.

Nature’s Forms

Do you love sea shells? Ever wondered what it might be like to live in one? Architect Eugene Tsui did, so he decided to build one.

Tsui Shell House discussed by Delia O' Riordan

Compare the soaring shapes of the shell house with the drab conventionality of the ‘normal’ house in the background. Which is more interesting? More…alive?

And then he built another.

Tsui Shell Houses discussed by Delia O' Riordan



Imagine what life would be like in one of these amazing structures. Straight lines exist only for support of the elements like window glass. The rest of the site is a study in curves and meandering pathways; light, water, and earth the only ornament needed to set off what are themselves ‘ornamental’, yet still functional, buildings. These are spaces that welcome human imagination. They inspire a fresh ‘take’ on what a house can be and what life can be when it is lived in such a place.

Organic Architecture For Urban Landscapes

Gaudi discussed by Delia O' RiordanAntoni Gaudi (1852 – 1926) is still regarded as the ‘father of organic architecture. Born in Catalonia, Spain, Gaudi’s exceptional artistic talent was recognised early on. His endless curiosity led him to study nature in depth, forming the basis for his understanding of natural geometry that he later used to model his architectural designs. An indifferent student, he was nonetheless a natural scholar studying every new interest in vast detail and depth even learning the various trades he needed in his work: ceramics, wrought ironwork, carpentry, stained glass-making, mosaic design and execution, how to build with re-inforced cement, and model-making. Although heBatllo Exterior discussed by Delia O' Riordantook a degree in architecture, the head of the school of architecture remarked that he wasn’t certain whether Gaudi would prove to be a fool or a genius.  Less than fifteen years into his career no one seriously doubted Gaudi’s architectural genius. Such was his fame that a Barcelona industrialist, Josep Batlló i Casanovas, commissioned Gaudi to refurbish a building constructed in 1877 and adapt it as the new Batlló family home in 1904.

Casa Batlló (detail of façade above) was completely Gaudi-ised between 1904 and 1906 when the family Batlló moved in. Now the Gaudi Museum, the house is a riot of imagery, colour, and sculpted forms that defies classification. It is whimsical, charming, surprising, and a seeming artifact from a myth all at once. And that was what Gaudi was aiming for.

Despite his increasing devotion to Catholicism, Gaudi’s imagery is largely that of a nature worshipper. If one construes god to be the sourceBatllo Balcony Mask discussed by Delia O' Riordanof all things, there is no essential contradiction in worshipping nature rather than an anthropomorphic version of god for they are the same thing. Religious forms do make an appearance as in the the four-armed cross on the rooftop finial but the building also recalls the  culture of classical Greece in the mask-like ironwork and concrete balconies seen above. The use of mosaic tiles and blown glass ‘bubbles’ reflect a rainbow of colours that change with the light. The genius of this touch is in the scale of the structure of the mask and shape of the floor of the balcony seen from the ground. The whole arrangement is a visual message that invites us to stop and enjoy the visual smorgasbord rather than hurrying by. Gaudi would not let us ignore the moment in favour of concentrating of what might be coming next.

If one surrenders to the experience, the building rewards one’s scrutiny richly.Batlló Chimneys discussed by Delia O' RiordanThere is a dragon on the roof and chimneys shaped like Medieval knights. Every detail holds surprises and delights for the eye. Because the structure is based on curves and crenellations it has none of the static qualities of the buildings around it. The curves create a sense of movement re-inforced by the glint of sunlight as it moves across the roof and front of the building. There is no other way to describe Casa Batlló than as magical. It is a constant reminder that that is how life is meant to be: magical.

For more on Gaudi’s visionary architecture visit Delia’s “A List” Amazon ShopHere.

Photos of Casa Batlló  http://www.casabatllo.es/en/

Photos of Eugene Tsui Houses: Tsui Design and Research Home.

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