THE APARTMENT HOUSE :
Reinforced concrete was in full throttle use after the 1870s. It proved to be well-suited to the creation of open-plan work spaces with large windows where fire had been previously a danger. The material offered possibilities of high-raising apartment houses which contained many blocks of similar houses. Apartment houses are called flats in many countries.
Auguste Perret (1874- 1954): Flats, 25 bis Rue Franklin, Paris, 1902
The apartments designed by the architect Auguste Perret at 25 bis rue Franklin in Paris in 1902 is of exposed reinforced concrete framework. They were based on the potentials of a trabeated, rectangular concrete –frame construction. The building stands in a row of vertical , rather gaunt , greystone neighbours, with fine views down towards the Siene and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Perret maximized these views by making the window openings as large as zoning laws permitted and by the effective device of placing the statutory light-court in the front of his building, instead of at the back. The building was polite and well-behaved towards its neighbours , and respected several of their visual conventions. For example, the plan conformed to the standard expectations of middle-class households like the placement of salons at the centre of the façade. At the same time it also introduced new departures, especially in the enlarged proportion of windows to the supporting masses of concrete. For instance the concrete- frame system allowed thin wall partitions and some saving in space. This potential was most obvious at the ground level where the Perret firm moved its studio, and where appeared in free space, in a way, signaling the pilotis that was so important to the architecture of the 1920s. Perret exploited the setbacks on top of the building and the flat roofs provided by the constructional system, to create a roof terrace. Till then, sloping roofs, especially mansard roofs were popular in France.
What made Rue Franklin flats a work of architecture and not mere construction was the way these practical intentions were given a clear form. The lowest storey was emphasized as a separate unit, higher than those above it; thus appearing heavier than the ‘masses’ above. The next six storeys were distinguished by slight overhangs and a variable placement of window depths within the U-shaped recesses. The underlying rectangular frame was not exposed directly, but its presence was suggested by contrasting colours and textures in the tiles of the façade. The ideas of infill, non-load bearing (non-weight bearing ) panels was suggested by the recessed floral-designed ceramic surfaces. Perret’s careful and calculative attention to proportion, detail and interval had resulted in a building of great sobriety, dignity and repose. The significance of this building lies in the way it announced the potentials of a new material, yet be rooted in tradition.
The Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, 1951 by Mies van der Rohe
The Lake Shore Drive consists of two identical 26- storey blocks of flats; It is a skyscraper apartment ; and the first of its kind.
The twin Lake Shore Drive apartments – each built on stilt – stood on a triangular lot with views across Lake Michigan. They consisted of two interrelated vertical blocks with the steel structure accenting the verticals. The towers were linked at the lower levels by hovering steel overhangs. As is customary with Mies the structures are built on a module. The two twenty six storeyed apartment buildings were the same in plan and size, but disposed on adjacent sites so that the oblong forms faced different ways and were perceived in constant tension. Elevators rose through the centre of each block. The transparent entrance lobbies were finished in polished steel and marble.
The uniformity of the interior plans was expressed in a repeated bay system on the facades. However there were minute variations in the dimensions of the window bays at the end of each horizontal row of four, where vertical structural posts passed up the façade. This resulted visually in an emphasis on verticality. The main structural posts were clad in concrete fireproofing which was then further wrapped in steel. The corners where the facades came together, the introduction of I-beams produced a sharp visual emphasis on the theme of two attached planes linked to an underlying armature. The finely finished industrial elements, the I-beams were smooth black against the glint of glass and silver chrome themselves machine – produced and enhanced further the visual effect.
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