Monday, April 23, 2001

Yellow House

Yellow House in Flims, Switzerland by Valerio Ogliati, 1999

Valerio Ogliati's father Rudolph (1910-1995) donated his extensive collection of cultural artifacts to the Swiss town of Flims, on condition that the Yellow House be preserved and used as a museum and cultural center. The elder Ogliati insisted upon a stone roof and white surfaces, two distinctive traits of his work. His son followed his father's wishes almost verbatim, though he transcended the unspectacular design of the existing house through minor interventions that create a surrealist, Aldo Rossi-esque object in the middle of town.


The main elements of Valerio's intervention include repairing the existing masonry; inserting new, deep-profile windows; creating new internal structure and floor surfaces; and adding the required stone roof and whitewash exterior. From a distance the museum/cultural center is an abstract box with square openings, but shadows cast from the rough masonry require further inspection. A closer look makes it apparent the building is a patchwork of materials expressing change over time. The stone facade is interrupted at the top floor with timbers (a previous structural solution to lighten the heavy walls) and at the windows with new concrete frames for the windows, the glass pulled back to the inside face of the thick exterior walls. The monochrome surfaces freeze the building in its current state.


Inside each of the three floors is an open plan with smooth walls, beams supporting whitewashed wood floors, and an off-center wood column (the latter revealing its true intention at the top floor). By locating the column away from the center the visitor is forced to try and comprehend that the space is created by the structure. The symmetrical roof and off-center column's disjunction resolve themselves in a bent pier connecting the roof peak and column/beam intersection. The angled timber is simultaneously playful and puzzling; it enables the column locations below but defies common sense as a structural solution. Inside (space) and outside (roof and walls) definitely do not offer prescriptions for the other.


It is not the interior of the Yellow House that makes it distinctive and memorable; it is the exterior and its white, equalizing color. While painting stone is seen as blasphemous by many, its qualities as a natural substance justifying an unadorned finish, here the act creates a strong statement: "Look at me! I'm the same and different." The Yellow House unadorned is a building of traditional character, though a simple gesture, a coat of paint (the most important of Valerio's design gestures), makes it contemporary. Underneath it is the same, but on the surface it is different.

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