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Accentuating The Interesting
What makes life enjoyable and worth living? For me, it is moments and things that stimulate my mind and senses due to their difference to the standard. Whilst routines are brilliant for efficiency and achieving a lot, unexpected experiences create memories and spark new perspectives and ideas. By increasing variation within our lives and constantly shifting our perspective, we can become more creative, empathetic and make previously unseen connections which further increases our understanding of complex problems.
In my opinion, the best buildings are those which accentuate their unique aspects. Frank Gehry said “98% of what gets built and designed today is pure shit”, and whilst I believe he is exaggerating, his criticism is fair. Ironically, because almost every building now tries to be a “statement” building, they end up all looking the same. Due to budget constraints, laziness, interior climate control and a raft of other aspects lots of architecture today is boring. The forms are dull, the layouts are copied and pasted, and the materials are the same no matter if the building is in a barren desert or next to a tropical rainforest. We should expect and demand more than this from our buildings, after all, they last for decades and we spend most of our lives inside them.

So, how can the industry overcome this issue? How about some original thinkers, who go against the grain and think more deeply about the architecture they are creating. I think the two key points for architects to consider, in minute detail, are as follows:
  • How is this building perfectly designed for its users?
  • How does this building accentuate its interesting aspects to positively impact humanity?
Whilst I will speak about how to answer those questions in a student project (if you engage fully it’ll get you a good mark, I promise) in another article, in the rest of this post I want to highlight a real project that perfectly responds to the second bullet.
This restaurant created by Swiss architect Max Dudler sits in the saddle room of a 17th Century castle. Saddle rooms are not historically spectacular, however the architect has thoughtfully realised what makes the space different, and then used creative design to accentuate these differences and create an elegant and rich aesthetic and experience.
The most interesting aspect of the building is the sheer thickness of the walls. Most walls in modern buildings are approximately 30cm thick, whereas in places the castle walls are 200cm. To focus attention on this fact, Dudler has used slender framing and furnishings along with minimal interior design. The modern additions largely fade into the background whilst the strong, thick enduring walls visually push themselves forward. Another engaging feature of the walls is their tactility. In a world where walls tend to be smooth and uniform, irregular and rugged sandstone blocks are exciting and out of the ordinary. Their dints and marks that have been etched by history are begging to be touched. Dudler has cleverly left the walls bare, they don’t need decoration as they provide the interest themselves.
Another interest that the architect has accentuated is the nook in the wall of the restaurant. The use of the nook is unspectacular, it holds the toilets… However, the way that Dudler has hinted at the presence of a nook enhances the experience of visiting the toilets, making it more memorable for diners and adding some joyful variation to their lives. From a distance, the internal cherry wood facade makes it clear that something is behind the panel other than stone, and it is only when you are close up that you realise it is the toilets. The most intelligent move in this case though is that you still don’t know what the space behind the panel is like. You want to go through and explore, so the architect is teasing and encouraging you to engage.
The final simple yet brilliant touch by the architect is the exquisite detailing of the junction between old and new. Detailing can elevate a building from being good to incredible because it accentuates special moments in the architecture that one will only notice if they pay close enough attention. It plays a huge part in accentuating interest, and it is no coincidence that many of the world’s most astounding buildings are beautifully detailed. To accentuate the contrast between old and new elements, Dudler has used a shadow gap between the castle and contemporary floor, and carved the edge of the wooden facade to fit with the worn and sinuous sandstone blocks.

As you can see by this wonderful case study, there is no magic “one size fits all” solution to architecture. However, I think creating fantastic buildings can be relatively simple. All it requires an acute understanding of what makes a scheme unique, alongside a dedication to thinking creatively and originally. These ingredients can enable an architect to design in such a way that stimulates the mind and senses, contributing to memorable and engaging architecture that has a positive impact on humanity.

You can read more about the restaurant and see more of Max Dudler’s work here.