Arseni Timofejev Mackintosh School of Architecture
Summary This book tells a story of my time at the Mac. Unlike most adventure books, it does not have a clear beginning or end - it is but an episode describing an intensive period of learning and experimentation. This story does, however, show the development of the main character by giving a quick summary of his main deeds over the 3 years. And while some chapters might be better than others, the book is written in hope that it will provide an insightful journey into the world of my architecture.
Contents 3 YEARS
Stage THREE: 04 _ Writers' Retreat in Little Sparta 30 _ Paris Market Lab Competition 34 _ Town Study, Book Factory Stage TWO: 50 _ Making Space 52 _ Salsa House Stage ONE: 60 _ The Basics
Writers' Retreat, The Project Brief
The project asked to create a residence for 6 writers where they could retreat for a year to concentrate on their work, share ideas and benefit from the inspirational surrondings of Little Sparta, a sculpture garden in the Pentland Hills, Scotland, designed by the world renowned poet and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay. Besides providing the writers with accommodation for a year, the architecture should encourage writing, host a large collection of books and celebrate the presentation of written work in a Recital Space. An 'off-grid' building, the Retreat has a strong environmental ethos and should use the resources available on site to provide a comfortable environment with enough light, heat and water. The Retreat is managed by a Director who resides in Little Sparta permanently.
Little Sparta Personal Response
The site, at the very entrance to the garden, became my main starting point and the driver of the design decisions. It posed several questions:
How to create a 'retreat' in the garden's most public area? What 'threshold' building is suitable for Little Sparta? How to turn the challenge of the building being exposed, the first thing visitors will see, into an advantage? The unique character of the garden and its artworks also meant that the building could not just be a series of spaces, but it had to be a large artwork in itself, continuing the legacy of Ian Hamilton Finlay. I was especially interested in the possibility of a dialogue with the garden, posing yet another series of questions that determined the design:
How to engage in a dialogue with the garden instead of trying to design an 'invisible' building that surrenders to Ian Hamilton Finlay's legacy? What can the Retreat do to continue the growth of Little Sparta, introducing more artworks instead of trying to preserve and 'freeze' the garden at its current stage? How can a building manifest itself as an artwork without applying the 'iconic starchitecture' facade effects?
Unconventional solution for the unconventional garden After testing multiple ideas, I realised that the tower typology answered the demands of the site best as it allowed for the writers to retreat up while still maintaining the public presence. By reducing the floor plan and stacking spaces up, the direct impact on the garden was minimal and yet the tower created a bold statement that was bound to start a dialogue.
Instead of hiding in an extremely exposed site, the tower became a beacon visible from far away, creating a sense of anticipation before one's entry into the magical garden. I believe that it also continues the approach of Ian Hamilton Finlay: "Some gardens are described as retreats, when they are really attacks"
Some buildings are described as retreats, when they are really attacks
Multiple meanings of a black monolithic object
The artworks of Ian Hamilton Finlay are extremely successful because they manage to combine several meanings and reference many aspects of Western culture at once. I believe that the tower as a black monolithic object also has that quality. It can be seen as a 'cliff' that, together with the Mare Nostrum sea-forest (Roman name for Mediterranean sea, given by I.H.F. to the trees because of their sound in the wind), creates the legendary Gate of Thermopylae from the battle of 300. The black solid cover to the outside vs light interior is a metaphor derived from the book. Or it could be a Black Monolith from Stanley Kubrick's '2001: Space Odyssey'. Also, a Scottish Tower House; an antithesis to the white columns in the garden; a lighthouse; and so on.
Tower as a new sun dial adding to the collection in the garden
Tall and slender, the tower will cast an ever changing shadow in the New Garden, similar to the many sun dials left in the garden by Ian Hamilton Finlay. This sun-dial shadow can be used for positioning art by the writers in the New Water Garden, where it will be higlighted at specific times of the year. For example, a golden statue of Apollo (headless, referencing the head scultpure further in the garden) can be placed in the middle of the pond where it will shine on Summer Solstice.
New Water Garden By positioning the Writing Tower at the edge of the Front Farden, a narrow 'Gate of Thermopylae' entrance was created 'squeezing' the visitor, followed by an opening of the New Water Garden with a pool and a bridge across to the Retreat; or otherwise a path straight to the garden past the Director's House which becomes the first point of contact for anyone in Little Sparta. The formal, based on a grid language of the Water Garden continues the dialogue with the existing garden though the use of a complimentary contrast principle. Leaving the Water Garden empty creates a possibility for the writers in residence to leave their mark by inhabiting it with their art following the tradition of Little Sparta.
Testing with physical models The ambition of creating a series of interlocking spaces revealed in light while keeping the external cover monolithic (book-like) required constant thinking in three dimensions and resulted in an extensive use of physical models at different scale which became an integral part of my thinking. This helped me develop multiple design ideas, discover relationships between parts of the programme and, above all, test different light conditions which were key to the design. The photo of my studio desk (below) demonstrates the chronological development of the ideas tested with physical models.
Sectional Design The vertical nature of the tower meant that the section was the primary driver for the design. This suited my ambition of creating a variety of environments - after all, buildings are experienced in section, not in plan - and so I was able to introduce a series of interlocking spaces, both intimate and grand, with varying light conditions. The section was extended into the New Garden where it created a ramp and a stepped pool that follow the land contours. The stepped approach enhanced the celebration of the environmental 'off-grid' nature of the building and the New Garden as it allowed for the water and the drying stacks of willow to move towards the tower naturally. The position of the bridge in between the stepped pools brings the experience of falling water closer; it is easy to extend a hand and brush it against the water that will then service the building.
Tight floor plan
My aim was to reduce the physical impact on Little Sparta and keep the tower slender, which turned into an exercise of minising the floor plan while still keeping the spaces comfortable and exciting. To do this, I restricted myself to the somewhat magical 7x7m square floor plan internally, which resulted in 7 habitable levels connected through a series of voids.
Wall of Books In a tower (or any tall structure) circulation becomes one of the most important and challenging design considerations; something I experienced first-hand. On the one hand, circulation took up a large part of the tight floor plan, on the other I felt it had to be made into an enjoyable experience as this is something the writers were going to use regularly. This meant that the circulation needed an unusual approach that could animate and break up the experience of going up the stairs by making it into an enjoyable 'promenade' - after all, the writers on a retreat have nowhere to hurry. I tried to make the experience of using the stairs enjoyable and relevant by introducing a 'Wall of Books' that made the entire tower into a library for the writers to use on a casual basis. New books can be discovered every day while moving between levels, and read there and then in one of the 'Reading Nooks' nested in the depth of the wall, illuminated by the steady North light. The stairase is made of perforated steel which allows for the light to filter down highlighting the books and making the journey even more interesting. In addition, the landings open up to the light shaft.
Essentially, the modular size of the book dictated the size of the tower: books had to fit into shelves, stairs were in turn aligned to bookshelves, stair landings fixed the room heights and the rooms made up the tower.
Introducing support for the perforated steel staircase in collaboration with 2 engineering students during the Interact project; a team competition where our project was selected to be in the Finals
Writing in Light Following my essay research of phenomenology as defined by Alberto Pérez-Gómez, I was fascinated by the idea of poetry in architecture and, believing that the space for writing had to be most inspiring, concentrated on bringing light in different ways to create a stimulating experience.
By providing each of the writing 'alcoves' with a unique set of openings, different light conditions are created. Light is then reflected down by the slanted wall and bounces down in between the 'ribs', delivering diffused and inspiring task lighting. Further research into the requirements for a writing space led me to an understanding that some writers need a view for inspiration, whereas others find this distracing and so individual control using timber shutters was introduced.
Void of Concrete Poetry The light, elevator and ventilation shaft is also used to deliver top light to the recessed Recital Space highlighting the writer and connecting them to the sky. Letters are debossed into the cast concrete creating a connection with the artworks in the garden where words have been carved out of stone. It is also a tribute to Ian Hamilton Finlay's love of Concrete poetry; him passing away has created a Void.
Views into the Void are also open from the staircase and the writers' rooms; as the light brings out the letters new words can appear in the writers' imaginations inspiring them for great masterpieces. Images: 01_plaster cast test of the void 02_debossing letters during a concrete workshop 03_Recital Space 04_looking down the Void
A Room for a Writer
To create a comfortable living environment with possibility of solitary work, I researched several writers and outlined 3 key principles for the rooms
01_ Storage A writer will be coming to the Retreat for a year, bringing a lot of personal belongings. In addition to 'pragmatic' things, storage has to be provided for books and personal belongings that, according to the writers interviewed, help find inspiration. The modular system developed for the Wall of Books is continued in the rooms providing flexible storage.
02_Flexible work environment Having researched the working preferences of several writers, I realised that two types of writing prevailed: 1) with a view to find inspiration; 2) facing a wall, minimum distractions A long corner table was introduced maximising the working area but also providing a choice of enviroment. Top light was chosen for the area with no view (testing with models, left); East/West windows provide views over the landscape and morning/ evening light depending on the working time preference of the writer
03_Bed-workspace The slant of the wall used to reflect light to the communal writing area can be used as a comfortable back support for writers who prefer to read/write in bed (Mark Twain). A window to the light shaft provides natural illumination, filtered and not too bright
A Writer for a Room
To fit the ambitious program into a limited footprint, 1:50 models were used alongside the plan/section drawings for the development of the interlocking spaces. The resulting rooms are compact but allow for flexibility so each writer can make the room their own for the duration of the year. Timber adds softness to those personal spaces, but also makes them more responsive to the needs of the users as they can be heated or cooled for the night quicker than the themally stable concrete walls
quick tests of different rib profiles
The Communal Feast group exercise and the following discussion of the nature of a dining experience suggested that eating becomes more social and memorable in intimate and 'enclosed' spaces. The wish to make this experience of communal eating special developed into experiments with the structural 'ribs' that I felt could serve more than just one purpose of stability. By splitting the load path into two, a space was created in between that felt enclosed and yet offered generous views and sunlight. The structural depth of the ribs allowed for chairs to be pushed back while the dining space itself was kept to a minimum. Tall-back chairs increased the sense of enclosure and celebration, making the dining experience into a small feast where the writers can relax and enjoy each other's company.
looking back to the tower from the Lochan Eck Garden
Market Lab International Student Competition
In collaboration with Kunio Narizumi; Finalist out of 428 entries. Brief: The ideas competition organised by ArchMedium asked to design a new Paris Market Lab experience at the site of an existing Paris apartment building adjacent to the Sain-Germain marketplace. The treatment of the building (or the demolishion of thereof) is not specified. The Paris Market Lab is a cooking school in the daytime where new recipes are created by the Master-chef and the students, benefitting from the proximity of the marketplace. In the evenings, the Lab acts as a new type of restaurant that makes dining into a whole new experience. The judgement is based on a single A1 presentation sheet which should clearly and inventively present the idea and the architectural language of the Lab.
Reaction to Brief: It seemed natural to keep the building because of its sensitive surroundings in the historical centre of Paris, because of the environmental benefit of re-using the functioning facade, and above all because the Paris Market Lab is about an intensive food-related experience that is focused inside, and the building exterior does not add much to it. Instead, interest was created by gutting the insides of the building and replacing them with levels independent of the facade, leaving a gap between the old 'perforated box' and the new 'floating' interior. The dining experience was made into a show by making the student chefs compete in front of the audience; each chef would be judged by the public based on their performance skills and later - the improvised dishes based on the Master-chef's list of ingredients. The daytime lessons with the Master-chef would then become a preparation for the evening show. By the end of an intensive year of study and performance, the chefs would have a reputation among the public that could allow them to open their own restaurant. The competition panel (overleaf) shows the Lab at twilight when both daytime (learning) and nighttime (cooking show) activities take place.
Recycling The experiential model of the town centre (above) sums up my approach to the town study and the subsequent proposal. As time goes by, things that were once relevant, useful and loved become outdated and, although no longer used, are kept unchanged and treasured until this growing baggage of the past starts suffocating the present. It is much better to find a way of re-using those old artefacts; sometimes making bold changes that are at first difficult to accept but in the long run keep the things relevant and used instead of frozen in time. Similarly, making the model out of the book seemed disrespectful of the book at first, but then I realized it hadn't been used for a really long time and was even less likely to be used in future: a Soviet encyclopedia from 1988 with facts that are out of date, written from the political point of view of a regime that no longer exists, its use replaced completely by the advancement of the Internet. Transforming this book into a model only prolonged its useful lifespan.
The same analogy appiles to the town centre of Penicuik that is not using its whole potential, has become stale and lost its relevance as the heart of the community. And while a book can be stored unchanged and not used somewhere on the top shelf, a town centre cannot afford to lose its relevance. This project concentrated on studying the historical development of the town of Penicuik in order to propose a vision for the future that re-cycles the existing parts of town giving them a new use that will benefit the community for years to come.
Analysing history to inform a vision for the future
Small changes, big picture
Proposed By identifying areas with different characters and introducing small changes to strenghten their qualities with a 'big picture' in mind, the town centre overall becomes a focal point of the town once more. For example, changing the road surface to cobbles slows cars down and identifies the town centre as something more special than the current 'drive-through'
Unlike the historical entrance into the town centre via John street which lead up to the High street gradually, the new diverted road brings the driver into the heart of the town immediately after they pass the shop parking and turn the corner; the speed of the car means the town centre is not registered as such. The constant traffic dilutes the feeling of being in a public centre for the pedestrians as well. I believe the current entrance needs a threshold and a possibility for cars to be left in the town 'lobby'
Vision for entrance situation
The proposal introduces a cobbled road surface to slow the cars down and celebrate the entrance into the historical town centre. The 'imposed' shop car parks are used to 'give back' to the town by serving as a parking space for the visitors who can leave the car and enter the town centre on foot; an appropritate entrance into parking is added.
Imposed shop parking
The Square, Reclaimed The study of the historical maps suggests that Penicuik Square has been influenced by the extention of Bridge street South, towards Peebles. Over time, this strategic route through what used to be the town marketplace changed the Square into a less defined space with several 'islands' of green appearing on either side of the road. This, in turn, led to a situation where the Square is no longer perceived as a whole; in 2011 it is rather part of Bridge street with parking spaces on either side, and has little appeal as a public space.
The proposal hopes to reverse the situation to its historical origin by removing the 'islands' and levelling the square out so it is again perceived as a whole. Using the same ground material for both road and the pavement will increase the appeal of the Square as a place not only for drivers but also for pedestrians. During big community events, Bridge street both side of the square can be closed off for traffic which will be redirected along the old Croft street route, with the suqare becoming the main town square (again)
Historically, High Street as the everyday public space
Currently, High Street as a car park with closing shops
Proposed 'islands of activity'
High Street, Redesigned The High Street once used to be the community focal point, but is now barely recognizable as the public space is replaced with a car park. I believe that reinstating the High Street 'widening' as a pedestrian-only zone will help regenerate its importance, but will also trigger further improvements: a place to go to, it will make John Street more public a route as well as making shops (or eaeries) re-open with more customers around.
However, simply pedestrianizing High Street could leave an empty, unwanted space too large to inhabit that would compete with the nearby Square; a decision was made to split it into a series of timber platform 'islands' with different functions catering for a variety of interests; this also allowed to make use of changing levels.
High Street connection to the Book Factory
Book Factory The proposed Book Factory follows the idea of recycling and building upon what is already there by re-using an existing building which is strategically located at the crossing of John and High streets and has an arched 'portal' leading to the Green immediately behind High street. The public nature of the building is enhanced by this strategic location; the proposal attempts to tie the different areas of town using the Book Factory even further.
'destination' from John Street
The upper blond sandstone part of the building facade is kept as it suits the reading function behind it, the more social lower levels are replaced with a contemporary metal (book press) and glass (book cafe) parts further symbolising the connection of the old and the new. The entrance doors open up into the arch which becomes a covered crossing and meeting point.
Reading courtyard The change of levels at the back of the Book Factory is eliminated by providing a timber platform that steps down providing an informal seating area. South-facing, looking out to the Green and the castle over the valley, the public courtyard is sheltered from the noise and bustle of High street by the Book Factory, and is yet located right next to the town centre.
back of Book Factory looking out to the Green
The remains of the old dairy wall are used to create a simple pavilion that acts as a way of learning about Penicuik's papermaking past as images of demolished factories are overlayed on the glass; alternatively the pavilion becomes a stage facing the stepped seating, allowing for community performances or story telling to take place.
01_Storytelling 02_Public Library 03_Hawthorn Press 04_Gallery of prints 05_Book café 06_Meeting archway
Historical backyard The courtyard of the Book Factory enjoys a rich heritage: a variety of gardens, a view to the Penicuik castle ruins and the previous site of the papermaking mill chimneys that once defined the town's landscape. Some of it is gone, but the memory remains and can be passed on generation by generation with the help of the Book Factory and the pavilion with the historical outlines printed on the glass. The Book Factory opens up to a Southfacing stepped timber platform that also becomes an ideal place where to sit in the sun and enjoy the distant historical views thinking about Penicuik's heritage. Further plays and story telling in the proposed pavilion will help create a stronger sense of locale and re-establish Penicuik not only as a papermaking town but also as a contemporary cultural centre. the view of the Green from the Book Cafe
The proposal also re-opens some of the historical routes down to the Bank Mill project as a continuation of the pedestrian line running from John street past the Book Factory. This changes the current situation where the back of the site is perceived as a car park and bin space for select few, instead making the courtyard accessible for everyone; the opening of the path also means it is no longer a dead-end and so the town is more connected and the Book Factory even more central as it ties all the different areas together.
memory of papermaking factories
view of the castle ruins
planned gardens in the 1780s
A closed off historical path because, according to locals, "someone did not like people passing by their garden". I propose to open this path as part of a wider Penicuik strategy connecting Bank Mill to town centre via Book Factory
Current condition of the historical path closed off at both ends
Making Space The images of the Year 2 exhibition that I organised and built with a group of fellow students demonstrate the overall spirit of Stage 2: experimentation, playing with new methods of describing space and doing things that I was not capable of in Stage 1 and would not do in the final Stage 3. A great and invaluable experience. The main project of the year looked at the space created by human activity and tried to translate that analysis into a space that could then play host to the same activity. I concentrated my research on the salsa dance, trying to understand its essence both by taking salsa classes for the duration of the year as well as interpreting the dance architecturally using a variety of mediums. The resulting understanding was used to create a proposal for a Salsa House in Lochwinnoch that is shown on the following pages.
Capturing salsa 01
It is difficult to capture and analyse the space that is changing at quick speed as it happens in salsa dance, so I tried to use a series of architectural tools to try and 'distill' salsa by making a Film Space (01) that was overlayed in time (02); translated (03) into a Collage where the space is shown in plan (04, yellow), elevation (04, red) and over a period of time (04, collage pieces trapping moments of space); reinterpreted as an analytical model (05) and then modelled as a Digital Space on site (06). The results of this process suggested an architectural language to be used for the Salsa House; certain moments of space were also brought back into the building.
experimental building diagram
structural model, 1:50
next page: plan and sections detail of structural glass roof
01_Covered entrance 02_Lobby/ reception 03_Cloak room 04_Stair/ lift 05_ WC 06_Bar with views down 06_Grand staircase/seating 07_Dancing space
01 02 03
The Salsa Ritual The Salsa House takes the visitor on an architectural journey that is meant to get them in the dancing mood as they progress through a series of spaces that are inspired by specific salsa moves, such as the staircase that is designed to recreate the rhytmic salsa step and is shaped based on the analysis of the 'dile que no' move. The movement through the procession of spaces is not rushed but is instead enjoyed as one looks forward to the culmination of the journey and the start of salsa in the Dancing space.
Best way of learning about architecture is by experiencing it first-hand. I was lucky as I have learned an enormous amount not only in the studio but also from the genius of Mackintosh across the road.
The Basics My first encounter with the architectural education was probably the time when I learned in the most chaotic, intensive and fun way, discovering the world around me from a new and exciting perspective. The series of quick Stage 1 projects dealt with the very fundamentals of architecture that have stayed with me ever since, and although the projects have gone on to become larger and more complex, I still go back to those basics of architecture and often re-learn from my first attempts at designing space, in a way that was perhaps naive but based on intuition and therefore honest and pure. The following pages show a summary of Stage 1 projects, not because of their design excellence but rather as a way of looking back reminding myself of my original interests in architecture and how those have developed in my three years at the Mac.
Context remote site
sublime of nature
The brief asked for the design of a one-man structure that would enhance the beautiful landscape of Portencross. With freedom of choice regarding both the activity and the site, I responded to the proximity of the sea and the tradition of meditation in the area by designing a contemplation retreat on the rocks furthest into the sea. The shape of the retreat mimicked the rocks weathered by the waves; this allowed for the retreat to blend into the context but also for the waves to roll over the structure making the noise part of the experience. During a storm, the light slits would allow to see the waves crashing over the structure making it a dramatic encouter with the 'sublime of nature'. A small pool was created in front of the retreat, gathering storm water from the slanted wall. On sunny days, this water would reflect light insude the retreat making the experience completely different. The roof elevated above the rocks offers yet another environment for meditation. This way, the simple structure shaped to work with the context is animated by the environment and creates a space to escape into while still connected with the outside phenomena
one with the cliffs
spiritual light , waves rolling over
views to castle and pier from the roof
Scale The Artist Studio project required constant thinking about scale as it asked to design both an artist studio and accommodation for a painter Martin McInally, within a volume restricted in terms of floor plan and height, between two adjacent buildings. The main inspiration came from the analysis of reoccurring themes in the artist's work that was primarily black and white, simple and geometric, with multiple references to pyramids that the artist became fascinated with during 10 years lived in Egypt; this way, the studio fetures two pyramid-like sculptural elements that define the space qualities.
exterior of 1:20 model
Light as an essential topic for both art and architecture was also investigated; to celebrate its volume in the studio the ground floor living space was made dark which also helped maintain the artist's privacy. dark ground floor, light studio
heavy 'black pyramid' stair, seating and storage
light staircase leads to 'negative pyramid'
Meaning Thinking and writing about architecture is a special skill which, besides the essays, I tried to develop by describing already built spaces that intrigued or inspiried me in some way. Below is one of such early attempts; since I have developed it greatly through my job as a tour guide of the Mackintosh building where I have to explain/discuss some aspects of the spaces with architects and non-architect visitors alike.
Light Since my first attempt of designing a space (right) I have been fascinated by the way light can be manipulated to enter a space indirectly and be used to create a sense of mystery or wonder. By doing the Parallel Planes exercise, I realised how much the light conditions can change through the intoduction of small change - something I have been trying to play with for every following project through the use of physical models that allow for quick but accurate light tests.
Designing a space that will make the user experience certain emotions as they move through this Narrative Space
first ever design task at the Mac: to summarize myself and my interest in architecture with a T-shirt
Published on Jun 11, 2012