The generous room to manoeuvre derives in part from a huge concrete armature, or structural framework, used to support an additive complex of building units on the south side, away from the highway. The result is a hilltown-like cluster of loosely conjoined and differentiated volumes, whose patios step down to the ground. But unlike a hilltown, whose topological form rises from geographical features, the building is folded into the earth and airily interspersed in the sky, with its innermost core hollowed into a multilevel atrium. Set within this open-air cavern, extending the full height and length of the building, are the communal areas of the campus – classrooms and laboratories, cafes, terraces, library and dining hall – their opportunities linked by a rich complex of bridges and stairs, and pedestrian streets as full of adventure and human decision as Giancarlo de Carlo’s for Urbino.
Grafton Architects, University of Engineering and Technology (2015), Lima, schematic model; sectional study of space and mass; transverse section (clockwise from top left)
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Maurice Smith, Blackman House (1963), Massachusetts, ground-floor plan The Massachusetts houses of Maurice Smith carry implications far beyond their modest size. Each forms a city-like structure stimulating to human action, and so rich in projects and deeds that it defies description. At every location in space emerge new and multiple points of command, inciting us to endeavours in every direction, beginning at the outermost point of arrival and extending through the entire house, and then fingering back out to the landscape along porticos and retaining walls. With appealing lures spread out before us in all directions, any manoeuvre is going to entail instantaneous choices for and against, becoming a truly self-creative act.
The foundation for these branching opportunities at the Blackman House is a carving of the ground itself, and its vertical extension through interfolding walls of concrete block. Solid walls are never allowed to totally enclose any room, but instead commingle as incomplete pockets and corners, varied in size and complexity. These slight havens run over the hillside in jigsaw-like volumes, poking above or dropping below neighbouring walls. Rising from and interlocked with these broken shells is an equally manifold timber structure of framing and roofs, which form intricate webs over the masonry, in some locations left open as screens and others glazed for privacy or weathering. The result is an open cell structure abundant with chances for cozy retreat and energetic adventure, their possibilities gleaned by peering into spatial fragments that keep percolating into others beyond.
Another technique employed by Smith to ensure ongoing space is the passing connection: wall planes in section often terminate below the ceiling and rise or fall to varying heights, and in plan stop short of or slide past one another, as Mies van der Rohe had done at Barcelona and for his projected Brick Country House. Each wall thereby allows the detection of space beyond, whose presence and future are signalled by poking into view. Essentially the spatial boundaries are shuffled and interspersed, so that every point in space is linked to the edges of further possibilities, deepening and widening the scope to manoeuvre while intensifying its uncertainty. Rooms never seal up and become inert, but flow and interact with space beyond.
In a similar manner the external envelope of the Blackman House projects and recedes to tangle with nature, interleaving the two realms (pp. 256-7). The view out a window might reveal a wonder or threat in the landscape, and then continue back inside through another glass wall to disclose several nearby rooms and their occupants, and then through an interior window to find something of interest in a space beyond, before continuing back outside or along the perimeter, sandwiching together many spatial layers and their chances to do something that could make a difference. The result is a building, both as a whole and in its parts, which eludes being grasped as an object or image, volume or mass, and only appears as a superabundance of possibilities.