Centro de Estudios Avanzados, Viejo San Juan (Antiguo Seminario Conciliar Español)

 Floor Plan and Longitudinal Section (partial, continues on next drawing).

Planta y sección longitudinal (parcial; continúa en el próximo dibujo).

  Longitudinal Section (continuation), Axonometric of principal spatial configuration. 

Sección longitudinal (continuación); axonométrico de los principales espacios. 

 Perspective of the Chapel. 

Perspectiva de la capilla.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frederick C. Robie House

Designed to evoke the expansive landscape of the Midwest, the Robie House characterizes horizontality with its forms, spaces and even construction materials. For example, the proportions and arrangement of the main living room and dining hall (one next to the other, aligned along their longitudinal axis) as well as, the repetition of the vertical windows and doors along these main spaces, underline the horizontality of the residence. Even the brickwork emphasize the horizontal plane. Roman brick (characteristically more elongated than regular brick) is set on cement mortar. However, contrary to tradition, horizontal mortar joints are differentiated from the vertical ones. The former are highlighted with white cement, while the latter are camouflaged with the red bricks.   Needless to say, the highlight of this masterpiece is its spatial sequence, which is exacerbated by the guided tour, although sadly, not by the tour guides. As with every great architectural work, one is guided by spatial elements and can easily traverse the spaces without having to repeat spaces along the spatial sequence.  As it was customarily for Wright, the main entrance of the house is hidden away from the street. Setback from the sidewalk, the entrance allows passage through the northwest side to the under level where a staircase invites you to climb towards the lighted upper level. Once upstairs, the space opens up towards the living room while circling the fireplace that divides the living room from the dining room. From the living room the view opens up towards the street inviting one out to the open terraces. The continuous horizontal band of the wood and stained glass doors invites to the dining room concluding the spatial sequence of the main spaces.        

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois

Until fairly recent I wasn’t a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. For some reason since my days at school of architecture I’ve always rooted against the great masters in favor of secondary-role (thus lesser known) architects. Even if I still root for the underdogs, nowadays — forced in great part by the impartiality required to teach objectively a course on History of Modern Architecture — I’ve come to really appreciate and understand the works of architects such as Wright.

During my trip to Chicago, where avoiding Wright’s work was simply not possible, I visited several of his buildings including his Home and Studio in Oak Park. At first I felt like it was going to be business as usual but there were so many instances in this place to ascertain Wright’s greatness as an architect (even if personally I still believe he was a huge S.O.B.) that if I had just visited this one place I would have felt the same way about his work. The structural achievements, material selections, attention to details and quality and greatness of its interior spaces all attest to his place in history as one of the most influential architects of the century.

Here are a few sketches I made during my visit.

  House main elevation and studio floor plan

 Notes and drawings of the hallway connecting the house and studio and an axon of the dining room, as well as, a detail of the dining room’s glass windows floral motif.

  Axon of the studio.

 Un-rendered and rendered perspective (below) of the playroom.

Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is considering relocating Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House out of the Fox River floodplain. The idea is to move the structure from its original location parallel to the waterway to a nearby site, still along the river, but on a higher elevation. Throughout the years the house has been affected significantly by floodwaters at least three times. The last major damage occur in 1996 and the restoration costs elevated to almost half a million dollars. At that time, the flood broke windows, damaged the travertine marble floors and ruined the teak cabinetry.

The solution of moving the house is not the only one the Trust has juggled in order to protect the house from further damages. Two additional solutions not requiring to relocate the house have been contemplated so far. One — less viable, although favored by Dirk Lohan, a Chicago based architect and Mies’ grandson — requires the installation of hydraulic jacks underneath the foundations to lift the house during floods. A second one, provides to permanently raise the house on top of a 9-foot mound.

Each one of the alternatives entail major impact on the National Historic Landmark and needless to say, has raised many eyebrows not only on preservationists, but also throughout the architectural community. One of the leading voices is Mr. Lohan who was in charge of the 1996 restoration. He argues that moving the structure “…is not in keeping with the design concept of the house, which was a house in a flood plain, close to the river…The river was part of its immediate environment. To move it to higher ground where it never floods would be ridiculous. You would ask: ‘Why is it on stilts?’ It makes no sense to me.” 

Having visited the house for the first time last month I really don’t see the problem with moving it. Arguably, given the nature of the house, an elevated object that relates to the river just by being in proximity to it and not much else, I see no problem in relocating it to a higher site to relieve the enormous preservation pressure and most importantly avoiding escalating restoration costs. 

One knows that the success of the strategy depends on the execution and the careful conditioning of the new site to retain the overall experience. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that regardless of its location the house will continue to inspire future generations if the right action is pursuit, sooner rather than later, in order to move it out of harm’s way.  

two cities, a park, a garden and two urban panoramas

   Brooklyn Bridge Park by Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates.

  View towards Manhattan from the northwest corner of MVVA’s park. 

  Lurie Garden designed by GGN; Kathryn Gustafson, Jennifer Guthrie & Shannon Nichol at Chicago’s Millenium Park 

 Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor; Millenium Park, where Chicago’s skyline is reflected and interestingly distorted as if captured by a wide-angle lens. 

The Poetry Foundation by John Ronan Architects; courtyard by Reed-Hilderbrand Landscape Architects

Designed by John Ronan AIA, the Poetry Foundation is located in a corner lot in West Superior and North Dearborn streets in Near North Side, Chicago. At first glance, the building seems like a solid volume, with its main façades aligned with the street frontage.

However, the building’s skin — primarily built in perforated metal — encloses an interior garden, designed by Doug Reed, that allows the main spaces to overlook the vegetated space through a fully glazed curtain wall that sets back from the street line. Therefore, the garden serves as a transitional space that guards the interior spaces from the street providing a spatial sequence like not to many contemporary buildings.

Despite being surrounded by the metal veil, the garden is visible from the sidewalk inviting visitors to enter freely from the site’s corner. Although trees populate almost entirely the open space, they are carefully placed to provide a path leading to the main entrance of the Foundation.

Although I visited the building on a Sunday, I experienced the spatial sequence of the garden, which gives the building a fascinating atmosphere. In retrospect, the courtyard of this compact urban building (completely aware of the difference in scale and culture) reminds of the Orange tree courtyard of the Great Mosque of Córdoba which offers itself as an oasis for wanderers, artists, and poets to shelter from the harshness of the surrounding context.

The following drawings are my attempt to illustrate and make sense of the spatial sequence of the Poetry Foundation’s garden.

Diseñada por John Ronan AIA, la sede del Poetry Foundation se encuentra en un lote de esquina en las calles West Superior y North Dearborn en Near North Side, Chicago. A primera vista, el edificio parece un volumen sólido, con sus fachadas principales alineadas con la línea de fachada hacia la calle.

Sin embargo, la piel del edificio — principalmente construida en metal perforado — encierra un jardín interior que permite que los espacios principales miren al espacio vegetado a través d una piel acristalada que recede de la línea de fachada. Por lo tanto, el jardín sirve de espacio de transición que protege los espacios interiores de la calle.

A pesar de estar rodeado por el velo metálico, el jardín es visible desde la acera invitando a los visitantes a entrar libremente desde la esquina del edificio. Aunque los árboles pueblan casi en su totalidad el espacio abierto, se colocan cuidadosamente proporcionando un camino que conduce a la entrada principal del edificio.

Aunque visité el edificio en domingo (que estaba cerrado al público), pude experimentar la secuencia espacial del jardín, que otorga al edificio de un ambiente fascinante. 

En retrospectiva, el patio de este compacto edificio urbano (completamente consciente de la diferencia de escala y cultural) recuerda al Patio de los Naranjos de la Mezquita de Córdoba, que se ofrece a visitantes, artistas y poetas, como un oasis para descansar de la dureza del contexto urbano.

Los dibujos arriba son mi intento de ilustrar y captar el sentido de la secuencia espacial del jardín de la Fundación.

Thanks to Virginia Durán (www.duranvirginia.wordpress.com) for sharing her Architectural Guide of Chicago. (https://duranvirginia.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/architecture-planning-a-trip-to-chicago/)

caixa forum madrid _ herzog & de meuron

Designed by the Swiss duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron CaixaForum Madrid is a contemporary art museum and cultural center near Paseo del Prado.

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The architects manage to make an existing brick structure defy gravity in order to provide an open ground floor, a strategy already tested – albeit timidly – at the Tate Modern in London. However, the feat is more interesting for its structural audacity than for the space gained. The free plan allows the building to hover while a stainless steel staircase invite visitors to enter. Nevertheless, due to the sloping terrain the noble intention of providing access from every street is not possible. Thus, the southwest area and the entire west façade are inaccessible since they remain sunken in relation to the sidewalks. One third of the square lies underutilized most of the time despite attempts by the designers to program it with benches and a leaking fountain.

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The opening at the corner of Almadén Street allowed the museum to become visible from Paseo del Prado. The square is complemented by a vertical garden conceived by the French botanist Patrick Blanc.

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The main staircase, along with the entrance stair and the auditorium, is one of the hierarchical spaces of the Caixa Forum. Built in reinforced concrete, the staircase (illustrated above) literally pierce and spatially connects all museum levels. But, at each level the sculpted space is funneled rather awkwardly at the entrances of exhibition space.

Le Corbusier’s (& José Oubrerie) L’eglise Saint-Pierre de Firminy

This is a follow up on our trip to Italy and France last summer where we got the chance to visit the cultural complex at Firminy-Vert. Here are a few quick sketches made on site; a few trying to capture the feeling of the interior space.

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Casa Klumb

The Klumb house, previously known as el Rancho Cody, was acquired by Henry Klumb in 1947. The house belonged to José Ramón Latimer and his wife Esther C. Cody who rented out rooms. In 1949 Klumb remodel the structure which was a traditional pitched-roof wood structure raised from the terrain with a surrounding balcony that opened directly towards the outside.

The intervention instead of consisting of additions to the original layout was more about subtraction as if adhering to Mies’ “less is more” predicament. Klumb eliminated — almost entirely — the enclosing walls to allow continuity between the public spaces of the house and the veranda. Thus, the living room (in the front) and the dinning room (at the back) — maintaining the original layout — were left completely open. The bedrooms remained partially enclosed and large operable pivoting windows allowed for privacy while allowing cross ventilation and when opened visual and physical connection with the balcony.

Klumb, his wife Else and their two children Peter and Richard lived in the house until 1984 when Klumb and Else died as a result of a car accident.

After their death, the house was acquired by the University of Puerto Rico in 1986, but was left abandoned to its current state of deterioration. In 1997 it was included as a Regional Monument in the National Register of Historic Places and in 2012 it was elevated to the status of National Monument by the same entity. In 2014 the house was included in the World Monuments Watch and in March Comité Casa Klumb was created to aid at the restoration of the structure.

Here are a few drawings I made during a visit to the Casa Klumb organized by the committee as part of a series of activities aimed at raising awareness of the house condition and its future restoration.

IMG_1791.JPG The living room

IMG_1792.JPG The dining room

IMG_1790.JPG The dining room table

IMG_1789.JPG floor plan and axon