Centering a Town: 20th. Effort/Push-Pull

A single brick, in itself, by itself, brings associations:

A brick is an obdurate object of ambiguity that hovers between idea and matter, between life and death. Its texture can be smoothed to glide our touch or left rough and abrade. It can be molded into even shapes for consistent construction or made uneven, presenting individual challenges each time one is laid in a course. The hues can be made consistent, offering an even appearance, or they can vary from one brick to another, presenting more individual challenges. But while it can come close to an ideal oblong shape, it never attains perfection, and it can as much be said that it approaches perfection as it resists it. A brick has the right heft for throwing through a window in revolt. It can also be stacked to encase one solidly. Its color takes on that of blood and the earth from which it is made, or both inseparably combined. Whether it preserves blood or shows it spilled, whether it reveals decay or stalls it—these questions cannot be answered. In spite of its ambiguity, however, we are always aware, in mind and in hand, of its touch, of its mass and weight, of its presence.

From my essay Completing the Mies van der Rohe Brick Country House, An Odyssey.

Combined, they can form architecture of great expressive power.

Fritz Höger’s Chilehaus

Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management

Gehry designed museum MARTa Herford

Most recently, Samira Rathod’s School of Dancing Arches of which she says:

The asymmetry of the arches reiterate that it is not always mandatory to be straight or conventional, but the irregularity at first glance makes the forming mind curious and question. The habit of critical thinking, questioning and breaking away from the convention is what the building echoes. The plan is also irregular to allow for a meander.

Mine is much simpler and quieter, but the general goal is to design a building that distinguishes itself from other buildings in downtown St. Johns, that does not easily fall into a quick, rational conception, and has an openness and unpredictability appropriate for the activities inside. At the same time, it also reinforces the brick used in other buildings nearby, such as the former courthouse and library.

Rear view. Program and layout the same or similar as other designs, with a large—two-story—communal space beneath the classrooms. The rear part of the first floors can be divided into two levels, the second having a view of the common area. I can’t do interiors convincingly. The light gray columns are inside and provide a structure for the roof (and are distracting).

The theme, push-pull, came as an afterthought, referring loosely to Hans Hofmann‘s theory for his best known work, of which he says:

expanding and contracting forces . . . . the picture plane reacts automatically in the opposite direction to the stimulus received; thus action continues as long as it receives stimulus in the creative process. Push answers with pull and pull with push.

Though his effect is achieved with contrasting primary colors. No place takes precedence and there is no hierarchy or focal point in his paintings, as might be found in work based on linear perspective. Here, the brick planes recede or push away from an imagined box with the effect of creating energy from the different depths. The scaffold members before the glass add tension and suggest structural analogies.

Rear corner. Masses of brick work with and against the grids of the windows in their horizontal planes, and, above, adjacent to, with, against the open glass of the first two floors. Each side is different, and I can think of no coherent scheme that explains the different compositions beyond the implied grid for the whole building, from which they take departure.

Side view. The two protruding brick masses work together, creating a downward diagonal.

Front corner. As in many other designs, emphasis moves towards the corner, the focal point, in the center of town and on the plaza.

Front and main entrance. Formal, perhaps the most stable composition.

Background and Previous Designs

Other designs for this project, along with background material and more photographs of site, can be found here and at these posts.

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