Case Study: Maison a Bordeaux

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Bordeaux, France

Architect: OMA, Rem Koolhaas Location: Bordeaux, France Client: Family (husband, wife, 3 children) Year of Completion: 1998 Engineer/Consultants: Ove Arup A wealth French family wanted a new house, but their simple dream was disrupted when the father got into a car accident, which landed him in a wheelchair. The house now had to accommodate his physical limitations and provide a stimulating environment that would “define his world.� Koolhaas proposed a design of three vertically stacked houses connected by a lift, functioning as an office, for the father. This movable room connects with each floor to complete the space and leaves a void in its wake. The bottom house, carved into the hillside, contains private family living space and opens towards the courtyard. The top house, a concrete mass, is punctured to provide pre-picked views from the bedrooms. The middle house is sandwiched between the two masses and creates an infinite space by connecting with the seroundings through minimized structural obstructions.

East - West Section


West Facade: Driveway and main entrance. Note structural beam and tension cable.

Structural Diagram

South - North Section

Top house

Description of Structural System In order to achieve this open middle house beneath the closed and massive top house, Koolhaas, together with Arup and Partners, devised a cantilevered system which minimized the number of structural components. This minimalist support system consists of four main elements: an aluminum cylinder, a large I-beam, a thin cable, and a U-shaped steel member. Middle house

The cylinder, which contains the staircase, supports the west end of the building. It is offset to the north, creating a need for a structural counterpart to balance the cantilever. The designers choose not to add a fourth compressive leg, but instead to counter act the weight of the cantilevered structure through the use of a cord in tension on the same side as the compressing cylinder. Through an I-beam, attached to the cylinder, the weight of the cantilever is channelled to the tensile cord, which then pulls on a concrete block sunken into the earth. The U-shaped steel member supports the east end of the structure. This is composed of two columns attached to a beam through moment connections.

Bottom house Page 1

This structural system has three legs which act in compression, pushing on the earth. These three legs would work as a tripod, but due to the placement of the cylinder, the legs do not balance the weight of the building. The introduction of the cable pulls the entire building into balance, making this smallest member the keystone of the structure. Christine Hoff & Karen Costello ARCH 150 | Case Study


Spatial Analysis

Description of Attributes of Structure and Space This building incorporates many of the different attributes of structure and space, but with its dualistic nature, it plays with the intuitive interpretation of these attributes. The main structure of this building is exposed. The cylinder goes through each level, or house, and in the middle house it becomes part of the outside porch. The I-beam, which rests above and connects to the cylinder and the top house, is completely exposed. The tensile cable, also completely exposed, stretches from the garden up to the beam. The U-shaped steel member, on which the top house rest, is also completely exposed. These main structural members, save for the cable, are relatively large. Yet, the smallest member, contrary to intuition, is the most important. The duality of both small and large structural elements creates a complexity that is first understood when the structure is analyzed further. This building contains both global and the local geometry, but again inverts some preconceptions we may have. The global geometry, which one can see in the structural diagram, is in no way on a grid, symmetrical, or constant through every level. The cylinder is the only structural element which passes through every floor, but the Ibeam, cord, and u-shaped member are crucial to the physical coexistence of the three levels. The local geometry, on the other hand, follows a grid pattern, but this pattern is different for each level. The positive shapes to the space between structural elements are highly differentiated and change as one moves through the building. This differentiation of positive shapes is created by the dualistic nature of the structural members, each having a shape that contrasts the others. This building has variation and hierarchy of members’ shapes and sizes, yet as was mentioned before, the smallest and thinnest member is the keystone. One must invert ones intuition to understand this dualistic structural system. The strong dependence of all the larger member on the smallest member, the cable, can also be seen as an analogy to the husband’s full dependence on his wheelchair and house. The shape of the structural members themselves may be contra-intuitive to the untrained eye, but on further analysis, one can see the genius and necessity behind these shapes. For example, the cable can be so thin because it never has to resist compressive forces, and the beam must be so tall because it must resist bending. The connections between the structural components are all specific to the reactive forces needed at that connection. For example the cable is attached to the beam with a pin connection, just resisting the up and down and a little side to side motion. The Ushaped member, on the other hand, is made up of a beam and two columns attached by a moment connection, or a fixed connection, preventing rotation. Some connections are the inverse of what they seem to be. For example, the beam seems to be resting on the top house, yet the top house, on its cantilevered side, is actually hanging from the beam. The actual fun of this building is in the inversion of our intuitions which it accomplishes in its dualistic nature.

Bottom house

Description of Spacial System Formed by Structure The structure and character of space are integrally intertwined in this house, spatial flows influenced the structure, and structural needs influenced the space. The three houses represent three different structural styles, and create three different types of space. The bottom house- carved into the hill and opening only to the private courtyard, creates a space that is both isolated and connected. Isolated because the whole thing is actually below ground level, separating the space from the local environment and the rest of the house. Connected because this space opens to outside, which gives the space a communal feel just because of the courtyard. This combination of isolated yet communal space is perfect for the family area of the house, creating a place that is inclusive to all within, but still separate from the town at large. The middle house- cantilevered and opening to the surroundings creates a space that is both free and constrained. Free because of the cantilever created by the three legs, which creates an unimpeded view of the surrounding French countryside, and gives the user the illusion of being in a space unconstrained by walls. Constrained because of the giant mass above this area which presses down on the panorama, limiting the world view and reminding the father of his own limited perspective. This space creates the illusion of freedom and endlessness for the handicapped client, while also making sure his world is controlled and accessible. The top house- a concrete mass punctured to show snapshots of the world, creates a space that is ideal for private living. Allowing the user a large amount of privacy because of the concrete block structure, and yet connecting the user to moments in the world through these round portholes that puncture the skin of this house. The space is mostly self-contained which is necessary for sleeping, dressing, and the like, but also allows the user moments of connection with the outside, but never enough to take in the whole.

Middle house

Top house

Sources and Citations: Jacques Lucan, “OMA - Rem Koolhaas: une Maison a Bordeaux,” AMC no. 91 (September, 1998): 58-73. “Rem Koolhaas: Maison a Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France,” GA Houses no. 57 (August, 1998): 54-75. “Rem Koolhaas: Maison a Bordeaux,” GA Documents no. 51 (April, 1997): 52-53. (09.09.07) (09.09.07) Page 2

Christine Hoff & Karen Costello ARCH 150 | Case Study

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