In Detail: Building Simply
Minimalist tendencies resurface at regular intervals in architecture,bringing with them a return to the simple form. Today, in a time of pluralistic diversity, these tendencies are confronted with other, sometimes contradictory movements, stances and approaches, which exist together in parallel. The exuberant sculptures of a Frank Gehry or a Zaha Hadid, or the numerous blobs inspired by biology, stand in contrast to the retrospective consideration of the simple form, as it expresses itself everywhere at present in the shape of the reduced box. At the same time, ornamentation is being rediscovered, supported argumentatively by Semper’s clothing theory, and being staged with relish.
At the same time, such inherently opposing tendencies as simplicity and decoration quite often appear together in the works of a particular architect, or even mix in an individual building. Decorated boxes are an example of this, the most radical exponent being without a doubt Herzog and de Meuron’s forestry science library in Eberswalde, whose facade is completely covered in photographic images. But is it not just the answer to a screaming world of colourful images, to the flood of stimuli and sensual impressions, which lead to minimalist trends? Or the answer to an increasingly complex world, whose deeper lying connections can no longer be recognised by the individual?
Minimalist trends regularly are often linked to ethical questions or at least to a particular mentality. However, they sometimes arise (as do many of the sculptural forms) purely from the wish to attract attention or at least to stand out from the loud, heterogeneous environment.
The formal simplicity resulting from aesthetic endeavours is rarely also really simple in a technical or economic sense, however. The perfectly reduced form can often only be attained with greater effort. This effort can manifest itself in more extensive design work, but also in an enormous amount of work on hidden details, as is often found beneath the smooth outer surface of a multi-layered wall construction (see also page 10ff.).
In contrast to this, building simply in the sense of traditional construction methods means, above all, making do with the locally available materials; that is to fall back on whatever building materials the landscape has to offer, in order to save on transport costs and transport energy. It also means, however, that the load-bearing structure and the construction should be designed such that the available resources can be used as economically as possible and, if possible, that the energy equilibrium is also in order. Building simply in this sense does not necessarily have to mean doing without all ornamentation, as is demonstrated by the lovingly decorated old farmhouses, which are firmly rooted in their surroundings and whose ornamentation was usually derived from a practical purpose.
The examples in this book are principally concerned with small and predominantly economical constructions. It lies in the nature of the matter that many of these have been designed by very young architects, (some of whom were still students at the time). Other examples demonstrate that well established design offices are also taking up the issue.
In some cases, the simplicity of these buildings results directly from the brief: in the case of an unheated market hall, for instance, or a workshop building, or a wine store. In other cases the simplicity is more formal. A further group of examples stands out as providing particularly economic solutions to the specified requirements. This is demonstrated by the minimal houses in Andalusia, which the building owners and occupants were able to construct under the direction of the architects without having to provide capital resources, thanks to the simple design and reduced details. The small houses in Dortmund, Dresden and Ingolstadt are also examples of this.
What they all have in common is their stance, their concentration on the essentials and their renunciation of any unnecessary miscellany.
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