Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tactile humanism

Last night as part of Wellington Architecture Week, Chris Kelly of Architecture Workshop talked about his work.

A recurring theme is the desire to make building & topography more seamless, and the way that land and built form embrace and slide into one another was evident in his Oriental Bay house, the Peregrine Winery and the Waitangi Park competition entry. If he's keen to blur this distinction, then he's equally keen to explore and exploit others, such as the dichotomy between lightweight, floating elements and heavy, buried ones. Several times he used the metaphor of a "chocolate box lid" to describe how a roof and external walls were conceptualised separately from the heavy structural elements, yet would fit snugly down over them to create a layered building.

The influence of his time with Renzo Piano Building Workshop became quite clear, with several references to Piano. One was the emphasis on homo faber, the maker of things, with a willingness to retain the marks of construction and a liking for the way buildings look just before completion, when the structure and materials are visible in the raw. Another was the dictum that the plan provides order while the section provides beauty: Peregrine is definitely an example of this, and the Waitangi Park buildings have a similar tendency.

Gordon Holden, who introduced the evening, said that if he could sum up the threads in Kelly's architecture, the most important would be what he called "tactile humanism". Holden then said that Kelly's work also had "flashes" of elegance, which could certainly be seen as a backhanded compliment! On the other hand, he does have a point: Kelly doesn't create arbitrarily sculptural shapes or pursue elegance for its own sake. There is, however, a subtler elegance that comes from a considered response to landscape, history and human needs.


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