I spent yesterday evening at the Royal Geographical Society where Farshid Moussavi shared her design philosophy through two housing projects and one museum.
The lecture began with Îlot 19 La Défense (pictured above) which provides 96 apartments and 92 student rooms on the outskirts of Paris. Through scissoring the floor plates, Moussavi has emphasised the connection with the 'Axe historique' (La Grande Arche de la Défense is easily viewed from the homes). She alternated balconies and loggia at opposite faces of the building so that each home has both, giving residents a choice in privacy levels. Arguing that the nature of neighbours today has changed, she eliminated communal corridors to further increase privacy. This project aims to empower users to reconfigure their apartments by leaving the interiors as unfinished as possible and making the floorplan flexible and open.
La Folie Divine is an affordable housing scheme and the first of a series of ‘follies’ to be built on brownfield sites in Montpellier. In a way, she has continued the history of follies by introducing a playful (almost foolish) shape that then diverges from the traditional sense of the term by also being functional. She’s pinched the corners of the building to encourage cross-ventilation and then experimented with horizontal and vertical inflection points in the curvilinear envelope and balconies to avoid overlooking by neighbours. As in the previous scheme, she has reduced shared circulation space as much as possible and left internal arrangements highly flexible yet varied.
She concluded with a project I’ve actually seen in the flesh, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Cleveland. The original brief was two-pronged: to create an urban living room and a flexible destination for changing exhibitions (the museum has no permanent collection). The main stair was designed to save space and subvert typical separation between art and non-art spaces in a gallery. The exterior cladding reflects sunlight on the pavement to create a transient landscape and the footprint of the building was shrunk to allow for a public plaza. Five entrances, paired with 'switch elements' which create spatial variability, allow the structure to be divided up for all sorts of exhibitions and performances.
As diverse as these three projects were, they shared common themes. Users change the building but so does light and colour – its appearance changes due to weather and your view – and Moussavi often inserts ambiguous spaces. There is no doubt that architecture is an assemblage and often experienced element by element, and it is through this exploration at the micro level that buildings can offer different experiences, thoughts and activities. Connecting all these projects is her desire for buildings to liberate users in small yet powerful ways.