Watervilla De Omval

What is it?

First seen on an Inhabitat post, Watervilla De Omval is a floating 2-bedroom house on a canal off the Amstel River in Amsterdam. Designed by Dutch architecture studio +31 Architects, the houseboat is permanantly moored and has no means of propulsion, but does rise and fall with the tides and also has a jetty off which the owners can launch a small boat.

It has an elongated plan with the majority of living spaces, kitchen and master bedroom on the “ground” floor, with a second bedroom, study and ancillory spaces underwater. A roof deck over the master bedroom provides views across canal life, as does the expansively glazed canal-facing facade.

What do we think?

Whilst we imagine the main living areas and roof deck are a pleasure to inhabit, we suspect this may not be the case of the underwater spaces, since there do not appear to be many windows and, tellingly, the architects have not published photos.

Thematically, the design of Watervilla seeks to incorporate both residential and aquatic influences. Whilst its stair design, lighting and general materiality are resolutely domestic, its filleted corners in form and across many of the details make it difficult to mistake this houseboat for merely a house. Likewise the recessed lower level and expressed ribbon around the long facades confirm aesthetically what it is already doing functionally, that is: floating. As such, it strikes a healthy balance between architecture, nautical- and product-design.

Of particular interest to us is the inherent ability of this project to withstand the impact of rising sea levels. Whilst entire underwater cities have been proposed by more than one architect of late (most recently by Alanna Howe and Alexander Hespe of Arup at the Australian Pavilion of the 2010 Venice Biennale – see our post on the topic here), this is the first project we’ve seen actually executed. Surely the Netherlands, with the majority of its landmass below sea level, is the most suitable place for such architectural experimentation to take place.

Despite one or two shortcomings, we can happily imagine Watervilla De Omval being a prototype for many other similar projects along Amsterdam’s canals.

Sublimely utilitarian: Joseph Joseph utensils

The objective:

This is the second in a series of posts showcasing the sublimely utilitarian. To qualify, a product must understand and address its purpose perfectly, must comprise nothing that isn’t essential. But it must also go beyond the expected – it must suprise, pleasure and delight. It must respond to this great saying: “Only do something if it is necessary, but if it is necessary, do it beautifully.”

The product:

Joseph Joseph Elevate kitchen utensils.

Its qualifications:

  1. Each utensil comprises a built-in stand that keeps its head elevated and the kitchen bench clean.
  2. The plastic handle is weighted, shaped well for the hand and has just the slightest squishiness to make it a pleasure to hold.
  3. The plastic head is robust, durable and doesn’t scratch non-stick pans.
  4. Holes in the pasta spoon and spatula are sized to make cleaning easy.

Our verdict:

Joseph Joseph produces a lot of kitchen items, most with well-considered and useful additions, all of them beautiful. This is an enterprise clearly interested in thinking about how to improve the objects we use in simple daily activities – the built-in stands of the Elevate utensils aren’t about to revolutionise the way we cook, but they work.

Pixar

What is it?

Pixar is a CGI animated film studio started in 1979 as the Graphics Group, creator of films like Finding Nemo, the Toy Story trilogy and, our personal favourite, The Incredibles.

What do we think?

Having recently watched the third installment of Toy Story, we remain amazed at and impressed by the consistently exceptional quality of Pixar’s films. Toy Story 3 is just as good as Toy Story 2, which is just as good as Toy Story, the original. True, they are based around a recognisable structure, but one cannot say that they are formulaic. Each one delights, surprises and exceeds expectations.

Animated films from other studios are sometimes of equal quality to the Pixar offerings (Kung Fu Panda and the first Shrek film for instance), but more commonly they pander to their audiences and leave us feeling disappointed.

Pixar’s films are beautiful to look at, draw us into fresh and exciting worlds, and incorporate strong character development and believable relationships. But perhaps what’s so consistently engaging is how they masterfully combine multiple strata of humour, each aimed at a different age group, but none exclusively so. As experienced film-watching adults, we can appreciate the complexities of marital life in The Incredibles or the genius of a vast warehouse of doors in Monsters Inc., but we still get a giggle out of a dancing Spanish Buzz Lightyear.

Pixar deserves every accolade they receive – they are clearly a studio dedicated to creativity, originality and, dare we say it, the pursuit of fine art.

Now and When

What is it?

The Australian exhibition at the 2010 Venice Biennale, open these past three months and closing in just 3 days.

Curated by the well-known architectural photographer, John Gollings, together with architect, Ivan Rijavec, it comprises two spaces of stereoscopic projections accompanied by a haunting soundtrack by Nick Murray and Carl Anderson. The first space, Now, contains nighttime aerial photography by Gollings, of Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast, interspersed with daytime aerial photography of West Australian opencut mines, Kalgoorlie and Newman. The second, When, contains a sequence (designed, directed and assembled by Floodslicer) of possible Australian futures proposed by 17 Australian architectural studios including the likes of John Wardle Architects, Brit Andresen, BKK Architects and Edmond & Corrigan.

What do we think?

Since we were already over in Italy, we volunteered to assist at the Australian Pavilion, manning the front door, counting visitors and selling catalogues for a week in late September / early October. Thus we had ample opportunity to study the Australian proposals as well as offerings from other countries spanning the globe. With the closing ceremony of the Biennale just around the corner, we felt the time was right to contribute our thoughts to the general discourse.

To begin with, we can confidently state that the Australian Pavilion was one of the most engaging, beautiful and technologically advanced at the Biennale this year. Its use of stereoscopic imagery was a masterstroke, capturing the excitement of the increasing availability of, and contention surrounding, 3D feature films. Gollings’ essay included in the exhibition catalogue, Aerial Photography in 3D, is a must-read, describing with fascinating clarity the troubles he experienced in going from the idea of stereoscopic photography to its unexpectedly difficult execution.

But the exhibition surpassed the gimmick of its technology, succeeding in not only establishing a datum of the current urban condition in Australia, courtesy of Gollings’ mesmerising photography, but in also crystallising a surprising uniformity in the concerns contemporary Australian architects have for our country’s future. Themes of water management, population growth, housing availability, identity and general ecological devastation recurred across each of the 17 proposals.

Terra Form Australis by HASSELL, Holopoint and The Environment Institute would likely draw strong (and valid) objections from environmentalists and aboriginal landholders, but its central idea of flooding Lake Eyre and creating a second, internal, ring of cities recognises the inherent limitations of modernising Australia’s pre-industrial cities and offers a tangibly exciting opportunity to start afresh.

Saturation City by McGauran Giannini Soon, Bild + Dyksors and Material Thinking comprises a series of semi-independent ideas dealing with rising sea levels. Brilliantly utilising the video format, one’s view starts from ground level, amongst the trees surrounding Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, only to rise up into the air over a flooded world, where valuable monuments like the Shrine are protected from the waters by gallery-like dam walls. Further afield, organic-looking agglomorations turn out to be entire suburb-worths of stacked detached housing.

Multiplicity by John Wardle Architects extends Wardle’s well-understood formal language into a thorough rethinking of Melbourne’s urban planning, extending from underground transport links, through a car-free ground plane and up into airborne, undulating superstructures that remind us of the Relical from Aeon Flux, housing new farmland, waterways and inhabitation.

What did we learn?

Whilst its connection to the Biennale theme proposed by japanese architect and Biennale curator, Kazuyo SejimaPeople Meet in Architecture, was at best tenuous, the Australian Pavilion was nevertheless successful, confirming Australia as a country with a powerful and diverse creative identity.

The three proposals described above are but a limited sample of what’s on offer at the pavilion. All of the proposals realise strongly-considered, well-designed and immaculately rendered ways of addressing the problems of our future. They speak with voices that are simultaneously individual and collective, shaping Australia as a country with an uncertain future it’s true, but also as a country possessing the creative minds to tackle any problem that arises along with many that never will.

Working for a week at the front door of the pavilion, we were proud to be architects and proud to be Australian.

Ark Hotel

What is it?

A 15-storey hotel in Changsha, China, built in a total of 6 days – check out a timelapse video of its construction here.

What do we think?

ArchDaily, where this video was posted, notes that the building is “level 9 earthquake resistant and incorporates some sustainable practices”. From what we can see, the latter is limited to wall insulation and thermally-broken window frames, further let down by a wholly uninspiring building form. Neverthless, it is undoubtedly an impressive feat of construction, facilitated by clever use of pre-fabrication processes. We particularly like the continuation of construction during the night – clearly the developers just weren’t satisfied with a 12 day building programme.

A Forest for a Moon Dazzler

What is it?

A house in Playa Avellanas, Costa Rica, by architect Benjamin Garcia Saxe for his mother. It was presented last week at the World Architecture Festival, deservedly winning its category.

What do we think?

The plan and section are both straightforward and easy to understand, the former shaped by use – living, sleeping and courtyard – and the latter by the tropical climate. The structure is lightweight steel, the exposed bracing at the corners of each roof likely the influence of Saxe’s other job with Richard Rogers Partnership. Small glass-covered oculi at the peak of each roof ventilate hot air gathered between the two roof layers, a masterful example of synergetic design as they also provide glimpses of the moon as it passes through the night sky. But it is the use of bamboo as the predominant cladding that provides an identity for the building, delighting the eye and, according to Saxe, in strong weather also the ear as the individual pieces move around on their pins.

What did we learn?

A Forest for a Moon Dazzler is a powerful reminder that much can be achieved with little. With a construction budget of $40,000, Saxe has crafted a simple yet evocative sanctuary, balancing his mother’s craving for safety with an easy sense of place and connection to the land.

Sublimely utilitarian: Samsonite luggage

The objective:

This is the first in a series of posts showcasing the sublimely utilitarian. To qualify, a product must understand and address its purpose perfectly, must comprise nothing that isn’t essential. But it must also go beyond the expected – it must suprise, pleasure and delight. It must respond to this great saying: “Only do something if it is necessary, but if it is necessary, do it beautifully”.

The product:

The Samsonite Skywheeler luggage case.

Its qualifications:

  1. The case is light yet strong, maximising the weight of belongings that can fit inside.
  2. The external shell is made from two half-moulds of flexible polycarbonate joined by a continuous zip. The flexibility inherent in the material, together with the uninterrupted zip, provide impact resistence without the risk of cracking.
  3. The interior of the case has no secrete areas, reducing hassles from customs officials.
  4. All elements beyond the shell – the wheels, the lock, the hinge and the handle – are bolted on, thus replaceable if needed.
  5. Both ends of the zip lock into a single lock, simplifying security.
  6. There are three legs along the side of the case, rather than four, enabling it to rest sturdily on an uneven surface.
  7. Excepting the smallest, carry-on version, the case has four wheels, all of which rotate freely, enabling the user to slide it rather than drag it, reducing fatigue.

Our verdict:

The Samsonite Skywheeler looks and feels like it is the result of many decades of research and development. It does what it needs to do without troubles and lasts for years. It is unique amongst most luggage cases, including others within the Samsonite line-up, in that it has no extraneous features, nothing that isn’t essential.