Friday, September 25, 2015


The PLUShouse is close to completion - the interior is painted; tile work and a portion of the casework installed, and exterior finishes complete. There is a striking contrast between the exterior stucco, the color of homemade crème fraiche, and the dark bronze roof and window and door frames. The radiant concrete floors are Sarlat-gold, the color of the earth that the house is sitting on, and the interior stairs and casework, built from fumed larch, are a rich bittersweet chocolate with stripes of butterscotch. The form of the house is organic. A sculptural piece awaiting construction of a living fence, glass and steel entry bridge, interior concrete ramp with associated casework, etched glass entry panels (to be installed in the location of the plywood, seen in the image below), and other finish items. A big moment will be when the grand piano is delivered and played– a true test of acoustical performance, a criteria instrumental in the design of the house.
entry facade awaiting glass and steel entry bridge

Building a house is a narrative, a linked set of events. You begin by excavating earth, pouring a foundation, erecting a skeletal structure on top of the foundation, (the framing), and then gradually closing in the structure with plywood, water proof paper, windows, doors, roofing, rough plumbing and electric, insulation, exterior siding, sheet rock and paint. It is a process whereby raw building materials ultimately disappear - the fluidity of the concrete pour becomes a hard impenetrable surface, the framing disappears behind sheet rock, plumbing lines become invisible and the apparent jungle of electric wiring yields to well-placed light fixtures and electric switches (or, in the case of the PLUShouse, a few recessed niches in the wall where an iPad can be magnetically secured, and from the iPod all electric functions are controlled).

pouring the concrete floor, installing control joints

finished concrete floor with Sarlat-gold integral color

During construction sketches and mathematical calculations are frequently drawn on raw materials to convey a detail, to explain a design intent or alignment, to work out a tricky dimension. These marks and drawings gradually disappear under sheetrock and paint. Ultimately, what is inside a wall can no longer be seen. But there remains a secret life inside the wall, a story which is rarely told.
critical dimensions being worked out in field

full sized drawing working out window sill detail

These silent drawings inside the walls document a process but leave no trace. It is the reverse of pentimento, where a previous alteration in a painting is later revealed. It also has tones of palimpsest, where an object made or worked upon for one purpose is later used for another.


pentimento - Arnolfini wedding, Jan van Eyck, 1434
both faces were originally higher
her eyes looked more to the front
each of his feet was underdrawn in one position

painted in another position
overpainted in a third position

palimpset - wall as canvas
Surrey Hill, Sydney, Australia

Another disappearing act which occurs during construction is the unconscious emergence of 'construction art'. These constructs are visible evidence of a process, and are always accidental. For instance, a pattern that is revealed after installing a finish on a product.

pattern left on plywood after spray painting
ceiling vents to match ceiling paint color
pattern remaining on cloth after spray painting
light fixture trim pieces to match ceiling paint color

Every project has a story. As with most stories, time progresses and details are forgotten, sequences altered, moments which initially seemed important are lost. The drawings and construction art remain as silent vestiges of this process.

I love these lost images. They are an essential part of the story, and are integral to the beauty of building. 

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