Inspirational Architects and their buildings

  • Oscar Niemeyer’s Casas das Canaos. This curvaceous villa, situated in the Tijuca Forest, Brazil, was created in 1951 as Niemeyer’s own family home and designed to sit within the mountainous terrain. The public areas at the top of the house are an expanse of glass and overhanging flat roof looking out at a focal rock, and across the family swimming pool to the mountain jungle views beyond. The relationship between inside and out is blurred by this open expanse of glass, and by the rock that flows through the living room wall bringing the mountain into the house. The more private areas are built into the terrain as a semi-basement, secluded and embraced.
  • It is often the architecture rather than specific architects that I find inspiring, particularly the concept of using natural building materials. These materials allow a flexibility and a fluidity of development that enables high levels of occupant participation and creativity and leads to highly personal and unique homes. For example, Belle Grove is a self build house in Suffolk, that grew from a series of ideas and available materials – fallen trees and reclaimed fittings – into a unique three storey home constructed from earth and timber.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Prairie House style. The style was synonymous with his understanding of the wide-open landscape and his concept of domestic flow and occupation. Often designed around the hearth as the centre of the home, with geometric plan layouts, usually cruciform or pin wheel. The proportions of his designs are carefully balanced, often with large overhanging roofs to shelter the houses from the heat of the prairie sun without reducing the views across the landscape. By incorporating local natural materials, he furthers the relationship with the landscape.
  • I’m another Frank Lloyd Wright devotee. His Fallingwater is for me, as for many architects and students, absolutely iconic.
  • I was captivated by Alvar Aalto’s architecture. In particular the way he used glass and timber to bring a feeling of nature into his classic Villa Mairea. Narrow columns support the upper floors and act as an interrupted wall to the stairs, designed to reflect the pine trees in the surrounding forest. In his larger buildings Alvar continued this consideration, designing with the occupant in mind, such that at Paimio Sanitorium where he designed the windows with concern for views both for sitting and lying patients, and orientated all bedrooms to benefit from solar gain.
  • I was still in sixth form when the UEA commissioned a young Norman Foster to design the Sainsbury Centre to house Lord and Lady Sainsbury’s art collection, donated to the University in 1973. Now billed as the ‘first high-tech art gallery in the UK’, support for the project was not universal at the time. When Foster came to present his scheme to the wider University, there was a lot of heckling and several disturbances during his talk by those who thought the project a waste of resources. But his presentation, pre-digital age, was memorable, featuring dissolving panoramic slides to deliver his vision. By the end, the entire auditorium was attentive, hanging on to his every word. The clarity and boldness of the design, along with the seamless integration of building services, inspired me like no other building at that time.

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