When the landscape flows backwards, so to speak

Cleveland Place (The Door Through Which New Ideas Enter) ©MAIERMOUL
Cleveland Place (The Door Through Which New Ideas Enter) ©MAIERMOUL

I depend entirely on concept diagrams, I consider them my secret weapon.

They allow me to move afresh from one project to the next, from one site to the next. If I approached projects with a fixed vocabulary, I would be exhausted by now; I would have lost my interest in architecture long ago.

Finding an initial concept for each project that captures the essence of the architectural opportunities unique to that project is, for me, a way into it, the door through which new ideas enter architecture.

Though many if not most people who appreciate my work seem to focus on its experiential or phenomenological qualities– the light, the use of materials, and so forth– for me, what is important is the idea.

My first sketch [of the Stretto House] simply explored the light and the heavy. I then developed that sketch into a diagram by drawing an analogy with one of Bartok’s works. The music was in four movements– heavy, light, heavy, light– characterized by a stretto.

In the diagram I took the idea of the stretto and tried to turn it into a spatial dance. We stayed very close to the diagram; it directed the development of the whole house, even the construction techniques.

Not only do the forms that compose the house work like instruments, but the landscape also acts as one of the voices in the stretto. Notice for example that when the landscape flows backwards, so to speak, you get the flooded room, the phenomenological center of the house. For me, the concept is the very meaning of the house.

– Steven Holl, Idea and Phenomena