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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

AE12: Hairy Facades

Thatching is traditionally used as a roofing material, where reeds, straw or some other vegetable material is used for the outer roof covering, usually held in place with stones, ropes or poles, and interspersed with layers of mud. One thinks of both the British Isles and tropical regions, a testament to the versatility of the technique and the abundance of the materials in various contexts. Today the use of thatching is departing from its traditional form, being used as roofs but also walls, what I'm calling hairy facades.

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[Reed thatch | image source]

One example that retains the roof-only aspect of traditional thatching, but scales it up so it blurs the typical distinction between roof and wall, is a new building at Plaswijckpark in Rotterdam by Drost + van Veen architecten. The oversized roof appears to float above the glass box below, unlike traditional applications in northern climes where the roof and (usually stucco) walls or more closely integrated.

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[Plaswijckpark by Drost + van Veen architecten | image source]

Another project by the same architects, housing in Blaricum, also in the Netherlands, takes this blurring of roof and wall via thatching even further. Here the thatch covers all but the ground floor, like a cap of dried vegetation is placed atop the building and openings are cut for windows. Here the technique and material are used for sculptural effect, a bit strange but appealing.

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[Blaricummermeent by Drost + van Veen architecten | image source]

A built example of a hairy facade is the Laren House in the Dutch town of the same name, by Monk Architecten. Actually compared to a hare in the recent book Inspired by Nature: Animals, the design utilizes thatch on the walls and standing seam metal for the roof, though the two surfaces are seamlessly integrated in an asymmetrical vaulting from one side to another.

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[Laren House by Monk Architecten | image source]

Here one can touch the hairy facade, the thatching that is traditionally found overhead. The foreground of the photograph below illustrates the aesthetic potential of using thatch on walls, though one must ask, can another material achieve such effects?

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[Laren House by Monk Architecten | image source]

My first response would be straw bale, which is finding a renewed interest with sustainable architecture today. But with poor performance as an exterior material (usually it is covered by lath and stucco), straw bale is found behind polycarbonate panels, in designs like Felix Jerusalem's Stroh Haus.

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[Somis Hay Barn by SPF:architects | image source]

One project that is able to exploit the potential of straw bale as an exterior, hairy facade is SPF:architects' Somis Hay Barn in Somis, California. Here the straw bale is stored on the exterior until it is used as feed, therefore it is able to be left exposed. Color variations throughout the year, as well as the tetris-like stacking, allows for an ever-changing appearance.

The above examples illustrate what I'm calling hairy facades, an architectural element of sorts that finds traditional materials in atypical applications. More materials may be found achieving similar ends in the future, where a more sensual and rustic appearance trumps over the now prevalent slick and polished.

5 comments:

  1. The Plaswijckpark is gorgeous - elegant in its appropriately simple thatch detailing,

    The next two projects are poster children for the misuse of technology - "new/ different/ yellow" does always not equate to "new / different / BETTER" - architecture still requires common sense.

    But the barn is just brilliant! Beautiful, and different with a reason. The image of the horse feeding is also beautiful in the explaining the design concept.

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  2. thank you for publishing this, its brought up all sorts of memories from my grannys old cottage in england.

    and for whoever is interested there is a great story in a book published by lonely planet called LOST JAPAN about how theres only one guy left in this small town that knows how to thatch, and amazing stories about the whole process.

    thanks again, great pictures and resources i really love this site and variety of topics

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  3. the thatched roof concept is really cool. i came across another gallery showcasing a green roof using all natural materials - check it out: http://mygreenpalette.com/projects/detail/94

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  4. These are wonderful! Such good news. And I love your term hairy facade.

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  5. Thatched roofs require periodic maintenance/replacement, correct? I'm curious to see how well these hairy facades will be taken care of.

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