Noticias de Arquitectura

Elemental architecture
marzo 22, 2009, 4:54 pm
Filed under: analisis

By Clare Dowdy, Julie Earle-Levine, Gwenda Brophy and Michael Fitzpatrick

Published: March 21 2009 01:19 | Last updated: March 21 2009 01:19

It’s not only fashion that gets its fads. Architecture and design dip into certain looks too. And this can often be accomplished with materials alone. A home clad in green-tinted copper, a cellar lined with pockmarked wood, a hall of glittering mirrors, lights in fissured stone: they provide character, history, visual tricks and tactile stimulation. From basic elements come exceptional style.



In times of hardship, structures must wear their age well. And, according to Michael Weinstock, academic head of the UK’s Architecture Association, the best solution is façades and roofs made of non-ferrous metals, including aluminium, brass, zinc and especially copper, which changes colour over its lifetime.

Gordon Talbot of Ian Ritchie Architects in London clad a Glaswegian housing association building in copper because “the wet weather gives it a rich green colour”, while Spaniard Jose Luis León at Bernalte y León architects did the same with Clip House in Madrid because it “complements the garden and integrates well with the colour palette of La Mancha”, the plateau south of Madrid.

Architect Augustin Rosenstiehl at French practice Atelier SoA also wrapped his Villa Montrouge, outside Paris, in copper, so it stands out from a dark-brown-brick neighbourhood. “Building with bricks is expensive so I used copper to connect between old and new,” he says. “It’s also a question of seasons. When the copper turns green, the house and garden will be married.”

According to the European Copper Institute, there are now six versions of pre-finished copper on the market, including patina green, warm brown, metallic grey and golden yellow. And, says Johannes Hucke at Pott Architects in Germany, who clothed his Haus W in Lichterfeld in staggered flame-brown copper panels, the fancy finishes are partly responsible for giving the material a new lease of life. “The processes that enable pre-patina sheets of copper to be made have resulted in its revival,” he says.

Copper is expensive and, in sheet form, it requires specialist craftsmen to install. But it has non-aesthetic attributes too; it is lightweight, waterproof and recyclable. “It doesn’t rust and needs no maintenance,” says Sandy Harrison, chairman of the UK committee of the European Copper in Architecture Campaign. More than 40 per cent of Europe’s copper usage is met with recycled material. A copper roof weighs half that of a lead one, which means “it doesn’t need such a solid structure underneath”, says London-based metal roofing specialist Guy Keenan.

Keenan says he’s come across any number of what he calls “weird-shaped roofs” in the material. “With the metals, you get a curved shape that’s difficult [to achieve] with slates and tiles,” he explains.

Inside the house, London architect Jonathan Tuckey has also used copper. “It’s a beautiful material, particularly next to chrome taps,” he says. “We experimented in bending it with plumbing equipment to form elegant spouts and taps. We waxed it with furniture wax; it’s slightly dulled over the last three years and now has a mottled appearance. It doesn’t require endless polishing but cleaning it is therapeutic.”

He acknowledges that man-made materials such as stainless steel are more eco-friendly than those mined from the earth but says there will always be a place for “things that age well”.

Weinstock agrees. “In general, metals hold less promise for the future than new materials and composites [but] they recall the tradition of architecture and are evocative.”

Or, as Augustin puts it, “copper is alive”.

Clare Dowdy


Reclaimed wood

Architectural designer Todd Shultz searched for more than a year to find the perfect wood for his client’s basement wine room. The heart pine he found in a cotton mill in Eatonville, Georgia had a golden colour, tight growth rings and blue veins – signs of its authenticity and age.

But when the client saw the beams, he was horrified. “He was like: ‘What are these dark black marks? Can you get rid of that?’,” Shultz recalls.

It was only after the man heard about the wood’s history – the marks were caused by a rare mould that had formed in the tree more than 200 years before – that he became enamoured with it.

The story is a familiar one to Richard McFarland, who co-founded California-based TerraMai, a reclaimed woods company, in the 1990s. Homeowners appreciate the aesthetics and eco-friendly credentials of his products, he says, but mainly “it is the story behind it that they fall in love with”.

Finding the wood, processing it, then building from it can take years. Once a source is located, the beams are photographed and their history researched. Every piece is sorted, cleaned, graded and then de-metalled and possibly re-milled. “The first reaction of someone is: ‘There is a lot of damage to this stuff’. But once it is re-milled and the spike holes are plugged, the overall effect is stunning,” McFarland says.

He says about half of TerraMai’s projects are residential, including houses in Florida, New York’s Hudson Valley, Nevada’s Lake Tahoe and Aspen, Colorado. The wood is not cheap; flooring made from 100-year-old exotics sourced from as far afield as India, South America and south-east Asia cost about $15-$25 per sq ft, about 30 per cent more than floors made from new or “virgin” wood.

But McFarland insists that “people will pay for quality”. “Because it is reclaimed, old-growth tropical hardwood – among the hardest wood on the planet – will last much longer,” he says. “With proper care, these floors can last generations”, compared with about 20 years for just-cut alternatives.

Plus, the reduced environmental impact cannot be ignored. “With every foot of reclaimed wood, you are offsetting destruction of a forest.” Yes, there is a carbon footprint in securing the beams, he acknowledges, but specialists say it is insignificant compared with cutting down new trees.

Shultz grew up on a farm, where he was taught to recycle everything. “You didn’t tear down a barn because it was 100 years old, you painted it and fixed it,” he says. “Nothing makes me sicker than seeing a dumpster full of wood. I’m the one pulling up my truck and grabbing the stuff.”

Any surplus wood goes back to his studio to be repurposed for other projects, he adds. “It is not really for cost. It’s for karma.”

Jim Ruig is another reclaimed wood specialist whose business, Australian Salvage, harvests wood from old wharves, French oak wine barrels, old buildings and industrial factories. His first purchase was 10,000 tonnes of wharf timbers, which took 400 semi-trailers to deliver to industrial land he had bought on Brisbane’s outskirts.

But since then demand has been strong. He recently sold A$3.5m (£1.6m) of reclaimed wood to actor Hugh Jackman for his health resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast and outfitted singer Jack Johnson’s seaside home in Byron Bay. He also works with developers eager to add complexity to their building interiors, as well as exporting to the US. Clients choose from a “menu” of recycled timbers, including native blackbutt, spotted gum and ironbark, then decide the finish – raw, lime washed, oil, smoked or antique.

Given the popularity of reclaimed wood – more than 40m board feet is sold a year in the US, five times the amount sold a decade ago – some are concerned about supply. But McFarland is not one of them. “Yes, it is a limited resource but the timber will be recycled again,” he says. “There will be new stories to tell – so many lives from one tree.”

Julie Earle-Levine


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