Minimalism: a timeless architectural trend
When we make reference to the minimalist trend in architecture, we are talking about a style that can be described as timeless. Paraphrasing its first representative. the great architect and industrial designer Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe: “architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space”. And since its emergence in the 60’s, passing by its maturity in the 80´s and arriving to our days, the minimalist trend has never lost validity: continues to represent the will of our epoch.
One of the greatest achievements of minimalism is, according to the British industrial designer Jonathan Ive, “to inspire spaces and products that are durable, and that lack the fragile appearance of throwaway programmed obsolescence”.
Although this architectural trend emerged in United States in the 60´s, its European roots can be traced by the end of the 1930´s in the first ideas of the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who elaborated his thoughts while acting as Director of the School of Arts and Design of the Bauhaus in Germany. Shortly after, and due to the second world war, he emigrated to the United States taking advantage of the fact that he was already well known as designer and architect there, and thus, he adopted the American citizenship. During the mid 60´s he participated in the movement of the minimum in geometric and visual arts in New York where his version of rationalism and later of functionalism, become model for other designers.
Minimalism is to achieve the most with the least and express as much as possible, with the greatest economy of resources. This austerity, this economy of ornaments, does not imply that the works of this trend aren´t moving: good design is always moving.
Van der Rohe seeks to prove that the essentially good needs no ornaments or formalisms, that from the point of view of architecture harmony happens when it is not necessary to add or remove anything. Also, and thinking about architectural practice, for him, anything that is hardly functional cannot be called beautiful. That’s why the work of van der Rohe is notable for the absence of ornaments, but this does not mean it does not have a subtle elegance given by the use of perfect shapes and noble materials.
Without a doubt, the fact of having been the son of a sculptor, and having assisted his father with his workshop from an early age, taught him to handle both the volumes and its spatiality, and to respect the stone and marble that would in the coming years provide unique presence and elegance to many of his works. It is said that together with Adolf Loos, van der Rohe was of the few architects of his time able to use marble surfaces with absolute naturalness (e.g. murals of the German Pavilion for the Barcelona Exhibition of 1929 and the interior of the Tughendat House in Brno built between 1928 and 1930).
The minimalist trend is also characterized by being imbued with spirituality. Van der Rohe for example, manages to transfer his philosophical and theological thoughts to the architecture. In a lecture given in 1928 about the requirements of architectural creativity, he warns the need to cultivate more the spiritual knowledge –without disregarding of course scientific knowledge- in order to contribute to the development of a more human architecture.
This underlying spirituality in minimalism receives the influence of Zen and Taoist traditions during the 70´s thanks to its adoption by architects like Tadao Ando. Nurtured by these elements, minimalism not only adds to its aesthetic oriental elements, but benefits from its philosophy of “sinto”, meaning the search of what the location “wants for itself”. And in this way, the architect becomes an interlocutor between the construction site and its “will”. For this reason the “site” – as a son of life that turns to be something separate from its creator- becomes a space with a”soul” of its own.
The minimalist trend has earned an important place in contemporary residential architecture. Its functionality coupled with the feeling of peace and contemplation that radiates has made from it the natural choice for many families when building their homes.
Here we provide three examples of the minimalist trend applied to particular residential works masterfully executed by three architects that can be identified with three of different stages of the development of the minimalist trend: Mies van der Rohe – its predecessor-, Tadao Ando – key to nurture this trend of an oriental/Taoist vision, and Antonio Campo Baeza – ‘ to highlight a Spanish representative of the new generation of architects that applies in his work the minimalist precepts , even in its orientalist version.
Mies van der Rohe and an enigmatic and controversial construction: the Farnsworth house
Van der Rohe architectural works follow an orthogonal geometric compositional order which provides a spiritual satisfaction by its serene proportional relationships in whose simple appearance, he sees beauty.
Like Ford or Chanel in their respective fields, he had as a basic objective the simplicity, and the elimination of the superfluous. This has a sense of “manifesto”, as is seen as a way to democratize and demystify the use of objects.
Within the series of houses of a single plant that van der Rohe projected moving the pillars to the outside and releasing in this way interiors as a free layout, stands out the Farnsworth house.
This type of structure that liberates interior space was already used by Le Corbusier in his prototypical House Dom-Ino (1914) built in reinforced concrete. Mies van der Rohe refined this concept in the Farnswort House, which is still studied by its impeccable technique and is appreciated for its particular beauty.
This work, together with the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier, and the House of the cascade of Frank Lloyd Wright are the paradigms of the modern housing and models that have served as inspiration for countless architects.
Farnswort House is located in a meadow between large trees along the Fox River, in the village of Piano, in Illinois, about 90 km away from the city of Chicago.
The only elements that stand in the construction are three horizontal planes that form the terrace, the floor and the roof of the house, supported in the perimeters by pillars that do not cut the plains.
The pillars are fundamental not only from an aesthetical point of view but because of their double functionality: they are used as exoskeleton to release the housing structure free, and are also used to make construction stand upon them generating the idea that the house is “floating”. The omission of an access path reinforces this idea of flotation, and makes the hose look as if it was landed there from the air. Although the height the house pillars consider possible flooding of the River Fox, on 3 occasions, the height was not enough and the house became flooded.
ARCHITECT: Mies van der Rohe
NAME: Casa Farnsworth
LAND SURFACE: 25.000 sq. m
BUILT SURFACE: 206 sq. m
LOCATION: Piano, Illinois.
Tadao Ando: Azuma House
The self-taught Japanese architect Tadao Ando – which we have already mentioned in our other blog about the minimalist architectural trend – designed in 1976 in his native Osaka, his first private housing project called Azuma House (also known as Row House).
Tadao Ando, expresses in this work, not only the minimalist trend but his own conception of nature and his Japanese spirituality
At first glance the house presents a strong contrast with the surrounding wood houses, typical of the neighborhood; in fact, Azuma House was built to replace a wood house, similar to the neighbouring ones.
Its almost 65 sq mts. are divided into equal parts between two floors and an interior patio. On the ground floor are the living room and kitchen separated by a courtyard which has the role of being the heart of the home. There is also a bathroom which should be accessed through the courtyard. This plant also includes a staircase that leads to the upper floor where the bedrooms are located.
The central courtyard is not only the source of natural light in the house, but the nodal point of the house circulation. So important is this courtyard, that there is no form of circulating from one part to another without going through it. .This is the way Ando has chosen to merge architectural space with nature. Instead of looking for the climate control of the house, his objective was to create a home where the weather could be “lived”. He was criticized because of this, but Ando defended himself, saying that “courage is required to make good architecture”.
Seen from the outside, the construction seems like a concrete box, whose function you can just guess thanks to the front door. The main material used is reinforced concrete and its punching is the only form of ornamentation the façade shows
ARCHITECT: Tadao Ando
NAME: Azuma House o Row House in Sumiyoshi.
LAND SURFACE: 57,3 sq. m
BUILT SURFACE: 65 sq. m
LOCATION: Sumiyoshi, Osaka, Japan
YEAR: 1975 – 1976
PRICES AND RECOGNITIONS: Ando was recognized by the Japanese Association of Architecture for this house in 1976.
Alberto Campo Baeza: Casa Gaspar in Vejer, Spain
This architect born in Valladolid, Spain, is a Professor of the School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM). He has also taught at both European and American universities and has received numerous awards, both for his work as an architect, as for his performance as Professor of architecture.
His works have achieved global recognition: examples of this are the houses Turégano and Blas, Madrid, Gaspar House, Asencio House and the Guerrero home in Cadiz, Rufo House in Toledo, the Moliner House in Zaragoza and the Olnick Spanu House in Garrison, New York. In what refers to institutional works we can mention the Centre BIT in Inca, the public space Between Cathedrals in Cadiz, the Savings Bank of Granada, the Memorial Museum in Andalucia and the Home of the Infinite in Cadiz.
Campo Baeza is also the author of books on architecture that have been republished and translated into several languages: “The built idea”, “Thinking with your hands”, “Principia Architectonica ” and ” Poetica Architectonica “. In his writings he express his conception of architecture: he believes in Architecture as a Built Idea. And he believes that the principle components of Architecture are Gravity that constructs Space and Light that constructs Time.
His Gaspar House, in accordance with the minimalist philosophy, actually manages to maximize the emotions, with a great economy of resources and making use of the play of light and perspective.
By express request of the customer, the house is geared towards inside, which gives it some air of mystery. This is reinforced by the own outward appearance: its overwhelming volume embraced by a perimeter wall that contains only two openings, the corresponding to the front door and the garage door.
In a square base of 18 x 18 m defined by 3.5 m high walls, the inside of the construction is divided into three equal parts. The central space is the highest, rising 4.5 meters. At the point where the low walls meet with high walls, there are four openings of 2 x 2 meters. Is through the openings in the horizontal plane that the floor covered in stone seems to expand, so that one can effectively get a sense of continuity between the inside and the outside of the house. Services (kitchen, bathroom) are located at the sides.
The monocromy of white predominates in the surfaces of this minimalist house, whose subtle effects of light and shadow, reminds of an abstract sculptural work. For those who can appreciateminimalist precepts this house has a lot to offer from every angle and moves by its simplicity despite being a work based on the minimum, as the minimalist precepts command.
ARCHITECT: Alberto Campo Baeza
NAME: Gaspar House
LOCATION: Vejer, España