Sunday, July 22, 2018

Book Review: Sun Path House and Other Cosmic Architectures

Sun Path House and Other Cosmic Architectures by Christian Wassmann
Koenig Books, 2017
Hardcover, 136 pages

A few pages into this case study of Christian Wassmann's Sun Path House -- a freestanding backyard addition to a house in Miami Beach -- is the architect's sketch of the Great Samrat Yantra in Jaipur, India. Wassmann description of the astronomical observatory makes it clear it had a strong influence on him, both during his education, when he saw photos in a book, and at the beginning of his practice, when he visited it in person. Therefore, the link between the 18th-century sundial in India and Wassmann's aptly named Sun Path House, which is anchored -- literally and figuratively -- by a curved concrete wall that traces the arc of the sun on the summer solstice, is readily apparent. But another earlier project comes to the fore in my mind: Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye.

[Spread from Studio Christian Wassmann Studio | Image source]

Although Villa Savoye needs no description here, its three-story organization is what I hone in on, where I see the link between it and the Sun Path House. Villa Savoye's ground floor is set back, creating a turnaround for an automobile; the first floor "floats" above it, enclosing the living spaces and bedrooms; and the roof terrace features curved walls that create a sense of enclosure beneath the sky and frame views of its suburban surroundings. Likewise, the Sun Path House's ground floor is covered by the cantilevered (no pilotis needed) floor devoted to the client's master bedroom upstairs, while the roof is given over to a solarium with jacuzzi. Uniting these three levels is the curved concrete wall that was born from the solstice sun path and curls tightly to cradle a spiral stair further linking them.

[Spread from Studio Christian Wassmann Studio | Image source]

So Sun Path House can be seen as a contemporary reinterpretation of Le Corbusier's modernist villa, but on a smaller scale and in a different context. Yet I also see Wassmann's house as a convergence of the celestial and the human. With his desire to link his architecture to the cosmos, it's realistic to expect something along the lines of Charles Ross's Star Axis, where the "architecture" is ordained more than it is designed. But Wassmann intersects a rectangular volume (the master bedroom) with the curved sun path, giving the client a functional space for living and creating a tension between these cosmic and human realms.

[Spread from Studio Christian Wassmann Studio | Image source]

Sun Path House and Other Cosmic Architectures is really two books in one: a case study of Wassmann's small yet ambitious house in Florida and a monograph on his young practice (est. 2005). Other projects, mainly art exhibitions and gallery projects, are interspersed with thorough documentation of the Sun Path House. The former are short one- or two-page descriptions, while the latter includes drawings, models, and photos of the building during construction and after completion. Linking the Sun Path House and other designs are a predilection for cosmic and local alignments. The whole is packaged handsomely in a linen cover with heavyweight pages.