Architecture: Bright ideas for walls and facades (1)

(June 2010) Topographical description for the savvy: Highway 318 connects Tibet with the Chinese Province of Sichuan. Approximately 20 km from Brahmaptra Canyon is the area designated for the Niyang River Visitor Centre: wedged between Mirui Road and the banks of the Niyang river the architecture of the tourist centre had to accommodate facilities for ticket sales, dressing rooms for wild-water rafters and toilets and simultaneously pay tribute to the surrounding landscape and local culture.

Standardarchitecture-Zhaoyang Studio of Beijing were commissioned with this tall order. Zhao Yang chose local quarry stone to construct the 60 cm-thick supporting vernacular walls lending the single-story complex an aura of caves carved into a mountain range. The complex carries a roof of 150mm thick layer of Aga clay, a vernacular waterproofing material used extensively in the Tibetan Highland area for such purposes.

Colour is a crucial element of Tibetan culture. So Zhao applied bright yellow, cobalt blue and carmine red local mineral pigments to the stone surfaces on the building’s interior wall surfaces. „The local mineral pigments are directly painted on the stone surfaces“, he writes. The angular slant of the window bundles sunlight and concentrates the rays penetrating the interior thus creating interesting simultaneous colour contrasts. Standardarchitecture-Zhaoyang Studio.

Two types of basalt are mined from the volcanic region of Germany’s Eifel mountain range, namely Mendiger and Mayener basalt which found their way into the construction of the Melia hotel in Luxembourg. Here, too, the stone used is of local origin, the colour, however ranges from grey to black. But this lends business-suit elegance to the exterior, which blends in well with the glass skyscrapers of the European Union complex. Planning was done by the Luxembourg based Atélier d’Architecture et de Design Jim Clemes. The stone was supplied by the German Mendiger Basalt Company. More on the hotel on the multilingual webpage.

Basalt was also the stone of choice for Architects of the apartment complex at Viviendas 137 in Granollers, in the Spanish province of Barcelona. Its monolithic appearance is only interrupted by glass windows and verandas on the ground floor. The almost stringent, puristic black basalt squares are interspersed with Viroc-Fibre shutters optically similar to the natural stone façade, nevertheless distinct in character. Letters are spread across the façade as decorative element. HArquitectes

Vertical window indentations in near rhythmic arrangement define the façade of the Jiangsu Provincial Art Museum in the Chinese city of Nanjing and create an illusion of faux-storeys while reinforcing the monolithic impression the museum building itself. The modulation is further enhanced by tin elements jutting from the window slits. Travertine was the material of choice. KSP Jürgen Engel Architekten.

Horizontal lines define the structure of the new Federal Ministry of Consumer Protection in Berlin. The horizontal olivine-basalt structures are clearly defined through recessions and protrusions. The stone was supplied by the China-based Xiamen Nonmetal Minerals, a point criticized at the press presentation. A representative of Anderhalten Architekten pointed out that the building costs would have been too high if local natural stone had been implemented.

The use of decorative design as a means of focusing attention on material is impressively demonstrated by the Saint Symphorien-based French Firm Somebat near La Rochelle: its office complex is clad in a stone wall detracting from the drab tin façade of the production complex behind. It is a demonstration of the attractiveness of a variety of surface structures and possibilities of building with massive stone.

And now that we’ve reported so extensively on facades: a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) based scientist sees a whole new range of possibilities for the use of cladding, (Video, 1) making media facades (1, 2) look almost anachronistic.