Monday, December 15, 2014

The building does not end at the façade

When someone thinks about a building the first image that usually pops up is the façade. But what is really a façade? The simplification that we normally come across is that it's the main surface seen by the street. In many buildings it is easy to define the façade and the limit between the street and the private (or interior) space. Nevertheless, there are some other buildings that provide different perceptions to pedestrians and a closer relation to their environment.

Our cities are full of careless buildings whose only aim seems to be to impress and to sell a one-time-only idea. As we mentioned in previous posts, these constructions do not interact with their surroundings and, consequently, do not interact with people. On the other hand, some buildings set out interesting situations where the actual limits between the construction and the city get blurry.

Abteiberg Museum, Monchengladbach.

Hans Hollein

Therme Vals, Vals.
Peter Zumthor

That blurred area is what makes the difference, and the main character (usually) is the façade. Therefore, talking about the façade as a space upgrades the discussion to a three-dimension issue and architecture is sometimes represented in only two dimensions. The moment that we think of a three dimensional element, the façade turns from a plane face to real architecture. There are many examples where it is really difficult to determine the exact limit of the building, but this becomes less important when the building allows us to talk about public space, the street and the interior space as much more than a mere room.

Hans Hollein’s Abteiberg Museum, in Monchengladbach, is an excellent example of architecture breaking its own limits and improving the neighborhood. The goal of this project is far beyond the programmatic solution and the innovative interior design. The way Hollein designed the upper plaza in relation with the existing park, and the way the visitor approaches the building is fabulous, a real architectural promenade

Opera House, Oslo.


Also in Peter Zumthor’s thermes in Vals and in the Norwegian Opera House by Snohetta, it is barely impossible to say which is the main façade or even if there is a common façade. In both cases, nature (the fields and the water) is the main character and the architecture doesn't just build a shape but transforms it into a better place to be.

This does not mean that a façade should always be so complex; however, simple decisions can affect our perception of a building. All these reflections make us think that when we design a normal façade we are changing a little part of the city, and in comparison to other disciplines' interventions, ours might last longer.

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