December 23, 2013

Life, In a Nutshell by 4240 Architecture

Guest blog post by Terra Krieger Mazzeo

“What do I make of all this texture? The texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here...”  - Annie Dillard

In 2009, several colleagues at 4240 Architecture and I entered our first international design competition—a proposal for the sustainable city of the future—for the Nordhavnen district in Copenhagen, Denmark. We started by asking ourselves a fundamental question: What’s needed in order to sustain life here? Struck by the world’s spiking population (coupled with the shrinking available surface area), we founded our proposal on two assertions:
  1. A direct connection to local food, water and energy sources—those things that sustain life—is the foundation of authentic sustainability.
  2. Healthy populations grow in direct proportion to the productivity of the surfaces that sustain them.

This New York Times infographic shows a disconnect between the world’s most-populated regions and those with sustained food production.
We applied these fundamental truths to the design of modern cities, and recognized the importance of increasing the urban surface area. A radical increase in the performance of the urban surface, the theory went, could accommodate rapidly growing populations.

The resulting design proposal was a meditation on texture: the deeper the texture, the greater the urban surface area, the more life this surface could gather and sustain life, via food, water and energy. We analyzed how many calories of food, gallons of water and BTU’s of energy the average Dane needs, and scaled the surface texture proportionally (seen below, from less performative to more performative):

Smooth (Xm2), Bumpy (2Xm2), Loopy (4Xm2), and Super-Rough (16Xm2)
The Nuthouse
We derived these strategies from nature. As an example, a hickory nut we found on the site of a tiny guesthouse became its organizational principle. Two protective outer shells of board-formed concrete protect and camouflage its spiritual center: a reflective pool, central fire, energy storage and living quarters.

The exterior surfaces of the concrete shells are carefully pocked to create right-sized spaces for birds, bees and bats. Through this habitat creation, the Nuthouse becomes an active, organic participant in its site. We discovered the following: when texture contributes to supporting life, it moves beyond mere decoration and toward a moral imperative.

Life gathers in the gaps and cracks…

Terra Krieger Mazzeo is design director at 4240 Architecture and director of Architecture for Humanity Denver. She can be reached at or on Twitter @needles_eye.

Slideshow: Takapuna House, Auckland, New Zealand

Statement by the Architect:The existing house at the beach at No 25 William St sits at the top of a lawn that is open to the Takapuna beachfront. This is now one of the few sections the opens so generously onto the public domain. This is seen as a positive gesture to the public space of the beach front and recalls an historic house type which is now rare in this region. This lawn or green space features a simple concrete path that extends to the beach from the house. The intention is to retain and extend this green space and the axial path from the beach through to the William St address. This strategy involves opening the sites up to each other and linking them with a consistent landscape treatment. There are two significant trees at each end of the combined site. These are to be retained as they are large scale plantings that will book mark the site. Similarly two traditional outbuildings are to remain at either end of the house on the front section.

Linking the buildings on the two sites. An extended pathway from simple materials is to link the buildings on the two sites. The new buildings will be detailed to merge with the land form or , conversely, be strongly defined objects on the lawn and path. They are to be simply clad in robust, weathered hardwood panelling buildings with a concrete base. These materials are found from the existing “bach era” landscape as we’ll as the foreshore and neighbourhood. The minor dwelling near William St at No.27 is to be clad in naturally weathering brass or copper metal panel it is intended to sit close to the retained large Puriri tree and form a detail on the site, a notional gate house or street elevation.

Respecting the local scale. There are to be three discrete house forms. These have a combined plan area which is similar to the two existing dwellings to be removed. The new from adjacent neighbours and occupies the approximately back third of it’s section. The House at No. 25 although significantly larger than the existing bach or cottage will be over 1200mm lower than the existing roof ridge. (At 8m wide it will be over 3m narrower when viewed from the beach than the existing house. It will however be 3m longer that the original house on the site. Relative to the neighbouring houses it is smaller in all dimensions from the neighbours either side.)

December 2, 2013

Raouche Skywalk designed by Ayoub Sarouphim

The Site:
The Rock at Raouche, also nicknamed the Pigeons’ Rock by locals, is located off the coast of Beirut, Lebanon. It is a natural rock formation made of two masses that emerge approximately 45 meters above sea level. These formations have become an iconic natural feature of Beirut’s landscape, and their location near Rafic Hariri International Airport provides a unique vantage point for incoming flights. The sunsets behind the rocks have become quite famous, attracting tourists and natives to this scenic spot. The Rock at Raouche has even become a hotspot for local daredevils with an underground diving competition from the top of the rocks. Currently, the limited amount of land around the Raouche Rocks is overgrown with wild plants and weeds. Visitors have to conquer dangerous terrain near the edge of the cliff to find the perfect spot to observe these scenic vistas.

Raouche Skywalk Concept:
The Rocks at Raouche is one of the few public gathering places in Beirut where divisions that typically define the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants are left aside, allowing visitors from all walks of life to enjoy the peaceful environment. The overall design of the Raouche Skywalk is based on the circle, a symbol of unity. The design includes a transparent walkway that spans over the Mediterranean and provides visitors with unprecedented views of this landmark. In addition to reviving one of Lebanon’s most famous landmarks, this concept will offer a unique stage for public and private events, such as official ceremonies, concerts and other cultural celebrations. It will also include an integrated visitors center and room for exclusive retail, dining and entertainment venues overlooking the beautiful Rock at Raouche.

Design Aspects:
The arch, with its two points of support, provides minimal impact to the site and holds a suspended glass walkway that spans over the Mediterranean. The walkway is made of structurally-sound, custom glass panels that provides unique views of the water below, the cliffs and the Rock at Raouche. A ceremonial central bridge extends from the land to the suspended glass stage, and the glass skywalk is connected to the visitor’s center by a pedestrian bridge. They both rest on stilts to cause minimal impact to the ground below.


Ayoub Sarouphim graduated from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik with a DESA in Architecture and holds a Master’s of Arts degree from the Media Arts & Technology department at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He is currently a principal at RTKL in Washington DC and has been designing projects around the world for the past 10 years.

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