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TitleConstructing Architecture: Materials, Processes, Structures
File Size50.5 MB
Total Pages479
Table of Contents
The importance of the material
The pathos of masonry
On the metaphysics of exposed concrete
Wood: indifferent, synthetic, abstract – plastic
Why steel?
The “invisible” building material
Glass – crystalline, amorphous
Building underground
The wall
For and against the long window
The doubling of the sky
The roof
Flights of fancy
An attempt to classify horizontal and vertical space development
Structural issues
Preparation of drawings for buildings
Plinth, single-leaf masonry
Single-leaf masonry, rendered
Hinged door, external – wood
Hollow clay block floor
Pitched roof – warm deck
Document Text Contents
Page 2


Page 239

STRUCTURES Forms of construction


In t roduct ion

inadvisable for reasons of proportions. Therefore, the
basilica was an early form of one-room building whose
multi-bay arrangement cleverly distributes the loads: the
horizontal component of the thrust which ensues from
spanning the nave is resisted by the aisles. This measure
produces not only a large, coherent interior space, but the
distribution of the loads enables a construction with more
slender members – the loadbearing walls were essen-
tially resolved into colonnades, as in Gothic churches. The
spectacular interiors flooded with light are paid for with
a row of flying buttresses which, placed on the outside,
guarantee the necessary equilibrium of forces and return
the external form to earthly reality.

From the compartment to the conglomerate
The addition of further compartments produces a con-
glomerate whose parts can be composed to form a com-
plex whole. Everyday needs trigger this type of horizontal
development: the selection of spaces available has to be
expanded. At the same time, there is the option of dif-
ferentiating the individual spaces, e.g. to suit various
functions, because the additional compartments need
not have the same form nor the same dimensions. It is
therefore conceivable that a ring of ancillary spaces could
be arranged around one central, main space. If this latter
space is open to the sky we create a courtyard house, a
type of building design that had already been fully explored

by 2000 BC. Or the individual spaces of a conglomerate
can be grouped in a tight sequence of varying proportions,
dimensions and types, e.g. Hadrian’s villa in Tivoli (118–
134 AD), where this principle is artistically and enthusias-
tically celebrated, particularly in the small thermae.

Characteristic of such conglomerates is their tendency
to be flexible with regard to further extensions, which
Hadrian’s villa demonstrates in exemplary fashion. The
Roman Emperor Hadrian built a huge country retreat on a
raised piece of ground covering about 300 hectares. The
villa comprises four complexes with four different axes. As
the external form of such a complex built in phases is not
determined by restrictive conventions such as symmetry,
in principle every new addition can change the configura-
tion of the building completely.

The situation is of course much different in an urban
context, where the perimeter practically prescribes, or at
least severely influences, the external form. In this case
the development will not be additive but rather divisive:
starting with our external form the building is divided into
individual spaces depending on the respective wishes
and utilisation requirements. Incidentally, this method is
even found in ancient one-room houses whose volume
has been subdivided into separate rooms; sometimes,
though, the walls do not extend up to the underside of the
roof but instead are merely partitions reaching a certain
height. This observation brings to light a structural phe-
nomenon: buildings conceived with a divided interior are
frequently built with solid external walls but an internal
structure which owes its origins to filigree construction.
This was the case with the castles of the Middle Ages,
whose defensive walls were supplemented internally by
relatively lightweight timber constructions. These days for

Fig. 3: Cross-section through basilica with
double aisles
Earlier building on site of St Peters, Rome (I),
4th century AD

Fig. 4: Plan of small thermae
Hadrian’s villa, Tivoli (I), 118–134 AD

Page 240

STRUCTURES Forms of construction


In t roduct ion

reasons of fire protection party walls still make use of solid
construction, while the inner construction is less strictly

In structural terms the linking of individual compart-
ments is interesting because there is a direct relation-

ship between the openness principle and the construc-
tion system. In solid constructions the openness of the
rooms with respect to each other, but also to the outside
world, is severely restricted, although techniques have
been developed here that allow the walls to be reduced to
loadbearing columns. The solid walls are the dominating
element and openings have to be – figuratively speak-
ing – punched through these subsequently. By contrast,
in filigree construction openings and connections of any
size are possible anywhere, provided they do not break
the logic of the loadbearing “ skeleton”. We could say,
somewhat exaggeratedly, that in filigree construction the
spaces do not need to be connected with each other, but
instead individual spaces must first be created by means
of separating elements because the structure provides
merely a three-dimensional framework.

The example of additive interior space development is
based on the assumption that individual compartments,
independent in terms of layout and structural factors, are
joined to form a conglomerate. However, this results in a
doubling of the walls, which in reality does not take place
of course because this would represent an uneconomic
use of resources. Consequently, the extensions, in struc-
tural terms consist “solely” of wall segments of all shapes
and sizes. Only in conjunction with the existing space(s)
do they produce additional spaces and achieve the equi-
librium of forces necessary for load-carrying purposes.

In principle, the flowing spatial concepts of De Stijl
or Mies van der Rohe‘s design for a brick country house
(1923–24) could be interpreted as a radical further devel-
opment of this method. The self-contained structure of the
intersecting wall segments has been resolved and walls
not required for loadbearing purposes have been omit-

ted; the plane, L-shaped and circular segments are free-
standing and define the spaces in between only loosely.
But the covering over the spaces is realised differently. Al-

though in traditional building every compartment is often
spanned individually for practical and economic reasons,
the Modern Movement roof acts as a coherent loadbear-
ing structure which permits cantilevers to a certain extent
(e.g. platforms of steel sections or flat reinforced concrete

Fundamental types of simple coverings over spaces
Back to the simple compartment. Its structural arrange-
ment will now be investigated in somewhat more detail in
relation to the system chosen for covering the space, and
by means of a) vaulting, b) domes, and c) plane systems.

The choice of one or other type of roof over a hut in
early times was governed by the materials available, and
even to this day the material properties determine the

maximum span possible. The material also prescribes the
constructional and the stylistic arrangement of the cover-
ing: heavyweight domes exhibit other properties to those
of stressed skin structures or floors in timber and later
in steel; yet further options became available in the 20th

century in the form of reinforced concrete slabs. Vaults
and domes are usually associated with a solid form of
construction. As ancient examples illustrate, these forms
of loadbearing construction are also feasible in filigree
construction in terms of style (however, not in terms of
their structural action).

a) Roofing over a compartment with vaulting results
in a directional construction because the load of the vault
is transferred to two of the four enclosing walls. Conse-
quently, the structurally irrelevant end walls can be pro-
vided with large openings or even omitted completely,
provided the transverse stability can be guaranteed in
some other way. This simple shear wall principle can
be further resolved by reducing the walls themselves to
arches, then to columns.

b) A square single space with a dome as the roof
is often described as a “non-directional” construction,
which, however, describes the actual situation rather im-
precisely. It would be more correct to say “bi-directional”
because the thrust from the dome is transferred equally

Fig. 5: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe:
brick country house project (1923–24)

Page 478


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .382, 391, 396–398, 408
window frame. . . . . . . . . . . . . 115, 180, 200, 233, 381
window reveal. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176
wood welding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
working drawing . . . . . . 184, 325, 326, 335–340, 387,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .388, 393
workmanship . . . . . 28, 37, 48, 52, 53, 140, 278–280,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .282, 290
work size . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37

zinc . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .116, 211, 481


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