AR

AR 140 – Small Spaces

Launching a new direction for AR, our first guest editor Joe Rollo comes to AR with a deep knowledge and extensive experience of architecture.

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Chris Rennie, Publisher

Over the past 40 years AR has seen many editorial changes and our transition from Michael Holt to a new editorial team is underway. During his two-year tenure, Michael brought his own style and passion to this journal, and incited another level of discourse within the profession. In the coming issues we are working with a selection of guest editors, with the explicit intent to bring a diverse range of voices to the fore. Our first guest editor Joe Rollo comes to AR with a deep knowledge and extensive experience of architecture. His approach is a diversion from the past two years but continues the traditions of the magazine, stimulating debate, provoking ideas and inspiring action. Our aim is to engage you with a unique set of elements that reflect the current state of architecture across the Asia Pacific region. We hope you enjoy the new sections of the magazine and its continuing evolution.

Joe Rollo, Guest editor AR140 – Small Spaces

Hello. Most mornings I have coffee with a good friend, an architect, at a cafe on Spring Street, Melbourne. The location is as good as any I can think of. Parliament House stands across the road, terminating the long vista along Bourke Street, while trams trundle by. The Princess Theatre is just along the street, and the former ICI House, Australia’s first skyscraper (all of 20 storeys tall!) all glass and reminiscent of Lever House in New York, is just off to one side on Albert Street. Peeking through the treetops in the gardens alongside Parliament House are the spires of St Patrick’s Cathedral, and off ice workers spill from below ground at Parliament Railway Station, like ants fleeing a nest.

Tables and chairs are arranged on the sidewalk, under plane trees, while up a couple of steps from the pavement is a small space leading to the swing doors of the cafe. It is a kind of portico, no more than 4.5 metres by 2.5 metres. Three tables and eight rickety bentwood chairs. It is often crowded, more walkthrough than salon; wait staff busily serving coffees and breakfasts, patrons angling for a table. But it is the very nature of the space, the worn timber floor, the black chalkboard, the near shoulder-to-shoulder tightness and the fact that it serves as a kind of stage from which to watch the morning’s tableau that makes it special and most coveted. On a blue-sky morning, with the sun casting its dappled rays through the trees, there is no better place to sit and reflect on how beautiful Melbourne truly is.

Which brings me to this issue of AR, devoted to the design and notion of small spaces in architecture, to which I’ve been asked to contribute as guest editor. Successful architecture need not be large to impress. Sometimes it is small spaces – studios, lakeside retreats, personal libraries, small retail spaces, a backyard pavilion, a house on a car park-sized lot, a tiny apartment – that make the most interesting and inventive architecture. Small buildings, I think, challenge the architect’s skills most.

Good architecture does not always result from the size of the budget and the size of the project. Good architecture is the product of creative minds prepared to understand the requirements of their clients. Good architects listen. Good clients question.

In his essay, ‘The Room, the Street and Human Agreement’, Louis Kahn said that ‘the room is the beginning of architecture’. Kahn spoke often about the elements of silence and light in architecture, and there’s a room in his last work, the Yale Centre for British Art (1974), which explains this more clearly, perhaps, than anything else he ever designed. The room is an interior court, three storeys tall, with walls of oak panels set within an exposed concrete frame. Diffused light tumbles through the space softly, like snowflakes from skylights. At one end of the room stands a massive concrete cylinder, which carries a stair. It sits silently, not as an intruder, but as a form playing off gently against the other elements of the room and brings just the right amount of movement and power to the space. If the building contained this room alone, it would rank as a significant building of its time.

And so to AR140–Small Spaces. Nearly all of the projects featured concern themselves with the idea of a room and how you best inhabit space. A crude and tiny beach shack in far north Queensland, an addition to an 1870s cottage in Melbourne, two machinery sheds in a rainforest in the hinterland behind Byron Bay in northern New South Wales, a 75-square metre apartment reimagined in central Melbourne and the intimate and diverse workspaces within a large bank headquarters on the Auckland waterfront. In most instances we have asked the architects to provide their own raison d’etre, because we want to ‘hear’ their voices. I hope you find the projects selected special and interesting. Each says much about the art of architecture and space making.

For a diverse look at the practices, projects and people shaping the profession, subscribe to Architectural Review Asia Pacific here.

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