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Crafting the façade

Structures in Building Culture

Crafting wood (2014)

Introduction

Essays

Maintaining European Building Culture

After an extremely fertile series of Erasmus Intensive Programmes during the previous decade, conceived and coordinated by the Institute of Architecture and Planning at the University of Liechtenstein and conducted with seven European partner universities from various countries, the final workshop of the series took place in August 2014 in Liechtenstein itself. The materials have always been the central subject and driver of architectural design. The laboratory context of individual universities was deliberately abandoned, to test built experiments in a real environment at 1:1 scale. Log house construction, traditionally rooted in the Liechtenstein Alps, now became the focus, being reinterpreted in the Tuass and Münz settlements above Triesen at an altitude of 1400 and 1700 meters respectively above sea level. (1) Four exemplary buildings were to be constructed there, which were capable of accommodating both the topography and weather conditions, along with the architectural heritage of the surroundings. Due to the lack of time, it proved impossible to finish the huts together with the students, which were then continued and completed after the end of the workshop by Liechtenstein carpentry apprentices.

The impetus for the project came from Christoph Frommelt, lecturer for timber construction at the Institute of Architecture and Planning and Managing Director of Frommelt carpentry in Schaan. He accompanied the entire process until completion as a log house construction expert. The completion of the huts by carpentry apprentices, in the form of an apprenticeship project, was likewise a result of his initiative. The interior finishing was carried out by the different buildings’ contracting clients themselves. We are especially grateful to AIBA (Agentur für Internationale Bildungsangelegenheiten), who generously supported the project throughout.

The interesting thing about the hay hut settlements was that the original construction method focused on essentials. Everything served the simple purpose of storing hay from the common alpine meadows until winter, when the transport into valleys was made significantly easier by sledge. A design in terms of beauty or even prestige was appropriate neither to use nor the remote, high altitude location. Yet this is exactly the huts’ appeal today, the knowledge of the necessity of the means employed, and the significance of each individual blow of the hammer. In the cluster of buildings, wrested from the steep slope, which value shelter and the communal above solitary location, the settlement develops its very own power. This highly concentrated form of the whole is reflected in the construction of the huts.

The Internal Tension of Log Houses

Is there a more graphic construction method than log house construction, where the timber is still immediately reminiscent of the grown trunk? Nothing is concealed, everything is pure construction. Here the term tectonics comes into play, “the art of assembling rigid, rod-shaped elements into a single robust system.” (2) Log house construction is inevitably based on the addition of its building components within an understandable logic, it is tectonic in itself. However, the simple stacking of the timber deceives the eye significantly, since the corner joints of the stacked timber possess some inner complexity. The carved nodes ensure the interlocking of the building components and consequent stability, but are nevertheless concealed by the stacking of the timber. The wall obscures the inner workings of the components. What we have learned from traditional Japanese log house construction, in which a very complex joining of posts and beams achieves a pure simplicity in the assembled state, is rediscovered in local log house construction in a metaphorical manner: the frequently elaborately worked joints disappear in an almost lapidary construction, which ultimately does not reveal the secrets of its construction. This “inner tension” of log house construction is what we have attempted to trace.

Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, Or, Practical Aesthetics, Los Angeles, 2004

Recessed cross lap joints in timber construction (Josef Durm, Hermann Ende, Heinrich Wagner, Eduard Schmitt, Handbuch der Architektur, Stuttgart, 1900)

Recessed cross lap joints in timber construction (Josef Durm, Hermann Ende, Heinrich Wagner, Eduard Schmitt, Handbuch der Architektur, Stuttgart, 1900)

Make, Reflect, Remake – the Spiral of Making

In order to develop a maximum amount of creative energy within a short period of time, we worked with real materials from the outset. Timbers in a few basic sectional shapes were available. The designs were not developed through theoretical concepts or drawings, but rather by prototypes of joints at a 1:1 scale – a method of working, which had already been cultivated and further developed during the entire series of the Erasmus Intensive Programme. What had been produced during the day was then presented each evening, so that the development of experiments could be considered. The prototypes were dismantled or entirely rebuilt the next day. The spiral-like motion of this revolving process charges the results with meaning, the process of repetition lending the end product increased precision. This physical sketching, using the building materials themselves, permits a great immediacy in the design. Without knowing the exact effect the cabin will have as a whole, expression emerges from the detail, from within the core that already bears the form within it. Gaston Bachelard in his wonderful text on the miniature describes the detail as follows: “The details of a thing can be the sign of a new world, … Miniature is one of the refuges of greatness.” (3) In this refuge the timbers, which in future wiil have to form the wall, interlock in a sophisticated but nevertheless concealed manner. Constructed once, discarded again, reassembled, dismantled again, in order to achieve an ultimate result, the corner solution contains the form of the whole.

Urs Meister
Carmen Rist
Institute for Architecture and Planning, University of Liechtenstein

 

Footnotes

  1. The impetus for the project came from Christoph Frommelt, lecturer for timber construction at the Institute of Architecture and Planning and Managing Director of Frommelt carpentry in Schaan. He accompanied the entire process until completion as a log house construction expert. The completion of the huts by carpentry apprentices, in the form of an apprenticeship project, was likewise a result of his initiative. The interior finishing was carried out by the different buildings’ contracting clients themselves. We are especially grateful to AIBA (Agentur für Internationale Bildungsangelegenheiten), who generously supported the project throughout.
  2. Gottfried Semper, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, Or, Practical Aesthetics, Los Angeles, 2004
  3. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Boston, 1994
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