Walmer Yard, W11



Conceptualising the House Museum

Posted on 08.10.2022

Walmer Yard’s Keeper Laura Mark recently took part in this event in partnership with The Mosaic Rooms and the Architecture Foundation in which she discussed Walmer Yard in the context of her research on house museums.

This conversation with artist Mahmoud Khaled and researcher Nadine Nour el Din, looks at ongoing research into house museums in London and in Cairo. Mahmoud focuses on his art practice which makes proposals for house museums while Nadine highlights the Mr. & Ms. Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo.

The Architecture of the Bed

Posted on 08.04.2022

On 19 July 2022, the renowned architectural historian Beatriz Colomina gave a talk at Walmer Yard which discussed how our bedroom spaces are evolving and how modern lifestyles and technologies have given the horizontal architecture of the bed a new significance. Followed by a discussion with architectural historian and curator Shumi Bose, it explored the new role of the bed as the epicenter of labour, post-labour and love in the age of social media. 

Here we share a recording of that talk and discussion. Click on the image below to play the video.

Dialogue: Lily Bernheimer

Posted on 08.17.2020

The fourth in a series of podcasts from Walmer Yard.

In this series we talk to those, often from fields outside of architecture, who are using different means to explore a deeper spatial understanding of the buildings which we inhabit.

In this episode we discuss how the spaces we inhabit shape our identities with the environmental psychology consultant, researcher and writer Lily Bernheimer.

The podcast is also available on Apple and Spotify.

Dialogue: Kate McLean

Posted on 07.22.2020

The third in a series of podcasts from Walmer Yard.

In this series we talk to those, often from fields outside of architecture, who are using different means to explore a deeper spatial understanding of the buildings which we inhabit.

In this episode we talk to the artist and graphic designer Kate McLean about her work recording the smells of cities through mapping and smell walks.

Walmer Yard · Dialogue: Kate McLean

Learning from Japan (Part two)

Posted on 07.03.2020

Our last event before lockdown was a talk with the Japanese architect Akihisa Hirata and Walmer Yard’s architect Peter Salter. Both speakers discussed one of their own housing projects in relation to craft, materiality and the interpretation of home.

Here we share an edited transcript of Peter Salter’s discussion on his early work in Japan and how that led on to influence some of the ideas at Walmer Yard.

Peter Salter: Influences from Japan

The projects which I did in Japan were the result of Arata Isozaki and Alvin Boyarsky, who invited me to go there with my partner, Chris Macdonald. It is interesting because this was in 1990, and up until that point, not many architects went to Japan.

There was a whole earlier period of the Metabolists and Archigram but then there was a kind of gap. Isozaki came and asked Boyarksy, who was the head of the Architectural Association (AA) at the time, if he could recommend people to make a series of follies in Osaka. And so we were chosen, alongside Peter Wilson and all of the people basically teaching at the AA in those days, like Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid and then some others from America.

Drawing of the folly for the Garden and Greenery Expo, Osaka

This is our folly for the Garden and Greenery Expo in Osaka.

Plan of the folly for the Garden and Greenery Expo, Osaka

The plan changed very often but basically in the end we made four lumps of earth. Those pieces of earth acted like bouys, which you navigated around.

The structure of the folly

In the end we couldn’t make the structure because it was cold moulded timber – a bit like the yurt structures on the top of Walmer Yard. There is a kind of family of forms that you use again and again. It was made of canvas held in form by a set of timber struts, which were done in the same way as a Japanese Minka house. There are very large pieces of structure, and then they are infilled with these smaller, finer pieces.

The main thing I want to talk about is the earth. When you go to Nara all of the precincts around Nara are made from rammed earth. They are constructed by putting a new layer of 75mm of rammed earth on the walls each year. Whereas we made ours in 19 days – it was very quick.

I’ll tell you about things we didn’t know about when we did our rammed earth. We ran out of clay, which is why there is all the striped clays. It was August in Japan so it rains a lot so we put a tile course in. The terrifying thing was the water content that came out of it. It sort of leached out of the rammed earth and as it did great lumps of earth came out too. So we were a bit desperate – we were worried it wasn’t going to last the Expo. Anyway, some wise person said don’t worry about it because gradually the water content will evaporate and the rate of erosion will go down.

The thing that’s nice about this project is that – which is really nothing to do with us – it was one of the coolest follies in the Expo because it had all this water leaching out of the earth. People went in there because in August it is really hot. So they would go in there with their umbrellas and stand and sit there cooling down.

Drawings of the Thai fish restaurant

This is the Thai fish restaurant in Tokyo, which I did for Toyo Ito in 1995. He asked me to make a fish restaurant in one of the floors of what he told me was his first public building.

Once you entered there was a little pavilion and you went through right to the back of the site. There was a kind of bar and a place for more formal eating. Then if you really wanted to be expensive, you could hire a dining vessel, which you entered though a kind of folding staircase.

We were so constrained by the really deep beams and heavy structure. The columns were 1m in diameter – we were dealing with a really heavy structure because of earthquakes. So I used the notion of trying to clog up this space of all this structure with great lumps of timber.

From the windows you see there are two volcanoes. And all of the settlement was around the volcanoes – they weren’t active. This notion of the settlement from the volcano, and then the settlement around these lumps starts to come to play.

Akihisa Hirata talked about the space inbetween, and it is all about the space inbetween. You walk all the way through the thickness of the building, and then you arrive, and then life begins in a way. So it’s not quite the space inbetween but its certainly trying to work with the thickness and the length of the space.

The Mountain Pavilion, Kamiichi, Toyama

In 1995 we were invited to do another Expo – Expo Toyama. It was up in the skiing resorts of Japan. I made a building which is 30m tall, because it literally gets 12m of snow.

One of the things they do in Minka houses is they put up structures specifically for the snow so that you can walk in this inbetween space and the structure which has all the snow loaded onto it. So I used this notion of making a boat with the shells of the boat keeping the snow away. The pavilion is a boat and the snow is its water. Inside it you have a set of rooms – one of which you can see the peaks of Mount Tateyama.

Above is a picture from a Minka house which shows you the kind of very formal, very beautiful rooms and how they sit with the exposed structure above and it gets darker and darker. Then to the left is an image of the back of the shell and this is one of the rooms in the pavilion. You are literally walking in very dark circumstances in the space inbetween.

The plan of the pavilion in the landscape

It was about how you arrived when you first saw the building and then when you got into the building, you had to move in a very determined way.

The other thing, which is very similar to the yurts at Walmer Yard, is that it was done with diamond copper tiles, because the structure is quite varied. The faceting is very soft, very gentle, like at Walmer Yard. In order to retain that faceting we used copper tiles as you couldn’t do it with straight standing seam copper. The tiles bent around the facets of the building.

I suppose my greatest influences are the Japanese Minka houses with their kind of delicacy and strength mixed together.

An image of a bedroom in Venice

All of those projects were all about a kind of gloominess. Above is a picture of a bedroom in Venice. What is so beautiful about that picture is the light is just bending around the wall. And it’s working very softly with the bedspreads and the curtains. It’s just beautiful. I wanted to make all the rooms in Walmer Yard have a similar quality.

How the light gets into these rooms is quite important. Most of the light is from the top ranges of windows, which spreads light on the ceiling and the ceiling then reflects the light into the interior of the room.

In the Minka house, the floor defines the space. We step up into the kitchen area and then again onto the tatami matted floor. The whole thing about thresholds, which you’ll see at Walmer Yard, is very similar. You step up onto the floor and then you know that you have arrived.

A photograph of one of the bedrooms at Walmer Yard showing the light coming in through the different windows

This is my favourite bedroom at Walmer Yard. What is interesting about the Minka houses is the kind of patchwork of different clays and paper screens. I just think that it is so beautiful. So in Walmer Yard we try to make a patchwork of different materials. In the image below you get in-situ concrete, brown clay and white clay. We use the white clay sometimes to try and get more light into the room or to enliven a dark corner.

The patchwork of materials at Walmer Yard

We remade a lot of silk kimonos to make these bedspreads. And you can imagine that if we had to have food on the floor that we would cover ourselves, our knees with these bedspreads.

This is sprayed lacquered resin and in some instances you can’t tell the lacquer colour – which is an indigo colour – from the steel. Steel is black, the lacquer is blue and the two things start to merge and you can’t tell the form. These are curved forms just like the bathrooms are curved.

Inside a Minka house

This is another Minka House. One of the Minka houses I went into where the person would pass through this little corridor space every day for 50 years. The clay had worn off and the colour had leached from it. I really like the idea of how the thing wears.

These are two images of the yurt upstairs, where you can see the chopped straw and how the light catches the chopped straw so that you get the darkness against the bright yellow strands.

We were always taught that when you looked at vernacular buildings, what you did is you took the principle but you didn’t take the image of it, but it’s really difficult not to get caught up with that.

Dialogue: Hirata and Salter was originally held at Walmer Yard on 21 February 2020.

Learning from Japan (Part one)

Posted on 06.22.2020

As we move more of our programming online, we thought we would revisit some of our past lectures, talks and discussions, that have taken place as part of our seasons on The Lesser Senses and Domesticity.

Our last event before lockdown was a talk with the Japanese architect Akihisa Hirata and Walmer Yard’s architect Peter Salter. Both speakers discussed one of their own housing projects in relation to craft, materiality and the interpretation of home.

Here we share an edited transcript of Akihisa Hirata’s lecture on his project Treeness House.

Akihisa Hirata: Japan-ness in Architecture

Yamamiyasengentaisya, Fuji

I’d like to begin with this picture, which shows a very ancient type of shrine beside Mount Fuji. In ancient times, there was no building – the void space is the shrine. The mountain is mystical, so the shrine doesn’t have to be a concrete building, but has to have some space to see the mountain. It shows the relationship between the natural and artificial in Japan.

Japanese roofscapes
The mountain

This is a picture from my book, which shows the roof, and the picture below shows the mountain. I think they are very similar to each other as the roof is made to make the water flow on the surface and then the mountain is made by the flow of rainwater. So, in a sense this mountain is the same as the roof. An architect thinks that they are designing the roof, but actually, what they are doing is part of nature. If you look down from the sky, the activities of human beings, are almost like the activity of a microorganism on the surface of the ground. It is like part of the natural movement. Thinking about these similarities between the natural and artificial, is very key to Japanese culture and there are some specific words which relate to it and are very striking to me. One is Shakkei, which means borrowed scenery.

Entsuji Temple

This is a photograph of the garden in the Entsuji temple, north of Kyoto designed by the ancient emperor Go-Mizuno. This garden is designed just to look at this mountain to the north of the city. It is very surprising because by making this view, the mountain – the natural thing – becomes almost artificial.

Honpouji Tomoe Garden designed by Koetsu Honami
Drawing of Honpouji Tomoe Garden

Another type of thinking about the Japanese garden is inclusive order. The image above shows the Honpouji Tomoe Garden designed by Koetsu Honami. I visited this temple with some of my students at Kyoto University with the garden designer and he showed us how he designed this type of garden. He recommend that we throw the colour on the drawing only on the part where there was existing stone and by doing this we could see the structure of the garden. Even if the plants were changed or replaced by another plant in 100 to 300 years, still this garden would be the garden by Honami because the configuration of the stone makes the garden original.

Akihisa Hirata’s students at the Honpouji Tomoe Garden
Saihoji Temple Garden designed by Muso-soseki

This type of structure is seen in many gardens in Japan. The photograph above is of the Saihoji Temple Garden designed by Muso-soseki. The structure of the garden is made by the pond and the stones. Most of the grounds will be changed over a long time span but the main structure of the garden will still be there.

I think there are similarities between my architectural thinking and this Japanese garden thinking. The diagram above is from my book. It shows the fish roe tagging on the seaweed, and this seaweed is tagging on the ocean. There is a hierarchical system to this order. It is very architectural. Looking at this, it is almost like a rock in the garden and these smaller elements are like the plants or the moss of the garden. If we could use the structure of the architecture to make this type of order there would be an inclusiveness in the architecture. Making architecture is like making a garden.

The above photographs are of the typical Japanese teahouse – Joan, designed by Urakusai Oda. It shows the scale and savageness in the architecture of the Japanese tea house. It is very small – just 2m x 1m, with a height of 2.5m. But inside this small scale and limited space, we have many types of smaller scales and materials. And also, there are natural elements like trees and soil. So even though this tea house is sophisticated, there are elements which come from a savage situation. It makes the whole thing really interesting.

The main space is 2m x 2m and there is a fireplace where the master sits. There is a recessed space called the toko where decorative items are placed. People coming from the outside come through an entrance, which is called the nijiriguchi. This is really small – almost 1m lower in height and smaller than 1m x 1m. You have to crawl through it and it is like the visitor is being born when they enter.

The angawa space at Kohoan, designed by Ensyu Kobori

Another example of Japanese space is the intermediate area between interior and exterior, which is sometimes called angawa. It is an inbetween space – between the inside tatami space and the outside garden space. It is a floor which connects these two elements. In my architecture, I dream of making something like this angawa space. In traditional Japanese architecture it is a very two dimensional space and I am trying to make an inbetween space which is three-dimensional – like butterflies flying inbetween branches or flowers.

So these butterflies are flying, enjoying this type of inbetweenness.

Treeness House by Akihisa Hirata

What I was trying to do in Treeness House was to make it as if the occupant is flying inbetween the flowers in a three-dimensional garden.

The word ‘Treeness’ comes from the three sides of the project – the trunk, then the branches and the leaves. I tried to combine these three different types of order in a hierarchical way and in a way suited to the urban situation.

This house and gallery is situated in the downtown area in Tokyo. The ground floor consists of rock-like elements which are boxy, concrete shapes. The gallery itself is a 6m x 6m x6m box that can be connected by a large door to the void space and the outside.

Plans of Treeness House

As you move up the floors of the building it gradually incorporates more natural elements with a mixture of inside and outside space.

The view through from the dining space to the living space

The photograph above shows this mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. The dining room is in the front and then we see the living room in the distance but inbetween these two spaces there is a void which faces onto greenery. It is a bit similar to the scale of the teahouse where you can sit in an intimate way and spend time in a private space.

I was looking at the idea of using pleats in architecture and I adapted the pleated geometry to create the windows of Treeness House. There are 17 different types of pleated windows. They were made by using 9mm-thick steel panels welded together, and were made in a factory and then brought to site and connected to the concrete base.

The scenery of Tokyo has a flow of grand buildings and smaller buildings almost like a forest. I think it is really interesting that this three-dimensional house adds to the continuity of this scenery.

Dialogue: Hirata and Salter was originally held at Walmer Yard on 21 February 2020. Part two, which will be Peter Salter’s lecture, will be published later this week.

Revisiting Proposal B

Posted on 05.28.2020

In the week that the Venice Architecture Biennale would have been opening, we take a look at Proposal B by Peter Salter and Fenella Collingridge which was displayed in the Arsenale in 2018.

Proposal B in the Arsenale at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

This intimate chair also speaks of a time post-pandemic when closeness was a possibility. It is designed with social interaction and courtship in mind.

The design takes form from a number of influences – the medieval ‘poche’ window seats of Stokesay Castle, a place from which to view the outside, away from the formalities of the aristocratic hearth, and the traditional kissing gate, which allows people, but not livestock to pass through.

Combining a table which moves on skateboard wheels, sliding lacquered chairs, felt blinkers and hoods, the moving parts encourage playfulness between two people.

As Peter Salter describes: ‘It acts in a similar way to the sofa in a living room, a place in which to ponder, argue or make-up, a centre of family conversation in the home.’

‘In Venice, the piece was always in use as a meeting place for people to celebrate a relationship, a place for selfies and smiles’, he adds.

The piece plays upon the spatial condition, where furniture becomes architecture and the ways in which we can manipulate space and with it the intimacy of a situation. The chairs’ occupiers can be brought together but also separated with a sweeping act of movement.

In Venice it challenged the normal social codes of conduct of an exhibition or gallery space, inviting you to touch, to sit, and to interact.

Axonometric drawing of Proposal B by Peter Salter

The curators of the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara of Grafton Architects, described it as ‘bringing to mind works by Jean Prouve, Pierre Chareau and the inventions, machines and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci’.

From the 317m-long, 21m-wide 16th century assembly hall of the Biennale’s Corderie to the 4m square space of House 2’s Media Room, where it temporarily resides, the chair now sits in a different scale of place and the intimacy becomes even more apparent.

Proposal B is a place for gossip and for chat, for sneaking a quick kiss, for the rub of a shoulder as the chairs come together. In a time when closeness, touch and intimacy are so challenged, relooking at this piece becomes increasingly poignant.


Design: Peter Salter and Fenella Collingridge
Construction: Daren Bye
Photography: Ste Murray and Jim Stephenson

Dialogue: LionHeart

Posted on 05.07.2020

The second in a series of podcasts from Walmer Yard.

In this series we talk to those, often from fields outside of architecture, who are using different means to explore a deeper spatial understanding of the buildings which we inhabit.

In this episode we talk to the poet LionHeart about his work recording emotional responses to architecture through poetry.

Walmer Yard · Dialogue: LionHeart

ZoomedIN Festival

Posted on 04.27.2020

Last week the Baylight Foundation and Walmer Yard’s Keeper Laura Mark curated a day of ZoomedIN Festival – a new virtual festival celebrating photography and architecture.

Our programme looked at how we experience the more sensual qualities of architecture when we can no longer visit it.

If you missed the events, you can now catch up with them on the festival’s Youtube channel or through the videos below.

One building, three takes

Walmer Yard is one of London’s most architecturally revered new buildings. It has been shot by a number of different photographers and although at first it seems instantly photogenic its developer Crispin Kelly has often remarked that it is difficult to get a photograph that really portrays the essence of the buildings and their internal spaces.

Our public programme is based on the experience of the buildings – either through visitors staying here or through events which explore a deeper connection to the architecture. In this talk we used photography and film to ask whether a building can truly be experienced without visiting it.

It included a screening of three short films/videos which portray Walmer Yard in very different ways followed by a discussion with those who have shot here on capturing the experience of the building in their work. Speakers included keeper of Walmer Yard Laura Mark, architectural photographers Hélène Binet and Jim Stephenson, and musician Haich Ber Na.

No Touching Please

How do we experience architecture when we can’t actually visit it? How do we express the sensual qualities of a space – be it through touch, sound or smell – when we are viewing a building via a screen?

As galleries, places of worship, museums, shopping centres, and other public spaces across the globe are closed, this discussion explored how the global pandemic will change how we visit buildings and spaces in the future and how we still capture the experiential nature of a space when we can’t collectively be there.

Speakers included Bompas and Parr founder Sam Bompas, Space Popular founders Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg, architectural visualiser David Deroo and photographer Ben Blossom, chaired by keeper of Walmer Yard, Laura Mark.

Dialogue: Simon James

Posted on 04.16.2020

The first in a series of podcasts from Walmer Yard.

In this series we talk to those, often from fields outside of architecture, who are using different means to explore a deeper spatial understanding of the buildings which we inhabit.

In this episode we talk to the sound artist Simon James about his work recording the hidden sounds of architecture.

Architecture for the senses

Posted on 04.03.2020

Today we are sharing a short film by architectural photographer and film maker Jim Stephenson, which explores the architecture of Walmer Yard.

The film focuses on the incredible light that passes through the houses at various times of the day, and of the wider sensory experience they offer.

It was first shown as part of Assemblage: The Lesser Senses, held at Walmer Yard on 26 October 2019.

'The personal encounter turns architecture into experience.'

Posted on 03.27.2020

Pallasmaa, Collingridge and Binet in conversation

The atmosphere of the yurt in House 1. Photograph by Hélène Binet

As we move more of our programming online, we thought we would revisit some of our past lectures, talks and discussions, that have taken place as part of our seasons on The Lesser Senses and Domesticity.

The first is a discussion between the renowned author of Eyes of the Skin Juhani Pallasmaa, designer Fenella Collingridge and architectural photographer Hélène Binet.

The conversation, which was chaired by writer and curator Vicky Richardson, explored the role our senses play in the understanding of space, innocence in architecture and the framing of architectural imagery.

Light and shadow in the master bedroom of House 2. Photograph by Hélène Binet

Read an edited transcript of the discussion below:

Vicky Richardson
Is it a more instinctive thing for you about feeling the atmosphere of the space?

Hélène Binet
Honestly, the first impressions for me are about walking, thinking, looking at how the light changes. It’s about putting together my emotion with what is the rationale. Architecture has a huge palette of expression, but I come from photography.

Vicky Richardson
Juhani, for a long time you have been thinking about and writing about architecture perhaps from a more unconscious or sensory side. Why is it so important for us to talk about this now?

Juhani Pallasmaa
My interest in sensory and sensual aspects of the world derive from my childhood as a farm boy. Nowadays when I am introduced as an architectural phenomenologist, I always feel a bit uneasy because my phenomenology is a farm boy’s phenomenology, which is concentrated on looking without preconceived theories and then trying to understand what I’m seeing.

It is only since I started to write I that I realised that the way phenomenological philosophies are defined is as pure looking. My eyes at the age of 83 are still a farm boy’s eyes. I look at phenomena with innocence.

I’m often introduced as a theorist, but I would object because I don’t even know what architectural theory could be. Architecture is much more a manner of personal expression than arising from theory. So, I’m confronting phenomena in the world and then reporting on what I see. I never theorise. It is always grounded on personal experience.

I have become really interested in architecture as experience. Only the personal encounter turns architecture into a poetic of architectural experience. I have been developing an understanding of architecture as experience fundamentally based on the great American pragmatist John Dewey who published the book Art as Experience.

Most architectural photographers photograph the building as an architectural object. As I understand it, Hélène photographs the building as her experience of it, which is a completely different thing.

Fenella Collingridge
There was one moment when she was photographing a window seat at Walmer Yard and she said ‘When I photograph a seat I sit in the seat to sit and then I get up and I take a step back and that’s when I take the picture.’ It was really lovely.

Window seat in House 3
A window seat in House 3. Photograph by Hélène Binet

Vicky Richardson
I love what you said Juhani about this idea of innocence and coming to architecture in an innocent way.Perhaps the architecture world – of academia and professionalism – desensitises us. Maybe we are over theorising and over rationalising what we see and experience. We have to make some kind of relationship between the senses and the brain. How do we do that without losing our innocence?

Fenella Collingridge
It is understanding the basic principles of how something is carrying loads or lit depending on what time of year it is – those interpretations aren’t really intellectual. They are almost intuitive. When you do make an intellectual interpretation, it is to do with organisational rigour.

Hélène Binet
I come from having to deal with translating the multi-sensory experience of a building into a visual experience. I see that from very early on humans had the necessity to frame the visual experience. Did the frame celebrate or kill the expression?

Juhani Pallasmaa
In my view architecture all around the world is in great trouble. This is for two reasons: it has already lost its innocence, both cultural and artistic, and it has turned into a kind of rhetoric instead of having an existential grounding. Architecture is fundamentally, as all arts are, about the world and human life within the world. It is not about architecture itself. Today’s architecture is dominantly about architecture as a discipline and a closed world. We are increasingly living in a scientific world which is detrimental to architecture. Architecture still has the task of bringing us back to myths and the unconscious world.

My favourite philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, says: ‘we come not to see the work of art, we come to see the world according to the work.’ It is a beautiful formulation. This is the key in the loss of the relationship of architecture in our life world. It has become too much a professional, closed world.  

Vicky Richardson
From very early on we have a drive to draw and to represent what we see. It happens in architecture as much as in art. For many centuries the idea of architecture carrying meaning has been very much part of the practice of architecture – even before we had architects.

Juhani Pallasmaa
I define architecture as a means of framing our view of the world and our existence in the world. Architecture does that at its best in a very humane and poetic manner.

We experience the world differently when experiencing it through architecture. Good architecture looks at the world for us. A good building, for instance, selects the aspects of the landscape and opens a window toward the mountain top or towards the apple tree in the garden.

Vicky Richardson
Architects have to go out and win arguments with clients and build things which answer a variety of requirements in a brief, often dealing with an extremely complex set of circumstances. Do architects need to rise above all that and do more?

Fenella Collingridge
At Walmer Yard we were gifted a good client, so it wasn’t such a big problem. If you really believe in what you are doing, then it is incredibly convincing to people. That sort of power usually enables you to win around the people who are sceptical or don’t want to do it that way or have a quicker, easier way. That goes right through from the client all the way through to the builders. That belief pulls everybody with you.

Lionheart (from the audience)
I am currently exploring the poetics of space and using poetry as an amalgamation of architecture to affect mental health. Juhani spoke a lot about ocular centres in Eyes of the Skin, is there ever going to be a time when we start centring emotions in space?

Juhani Pallasmaa
That has been my mission as a writer – to reveal our relationship with the world and how architecture rises from that relationship. I want to emphasise here that my background is as a practicing architect. I have one of the biggest architecture offices in Finland – I have 54 assistants. I am not speaking as a theorist at all.  

‘Architecture needs two things – innocence and autonomy.’

Juhani Pallasmaa

Architecture needs two things – innocence and autonomy. Both of these are lost. The autonomy of architecture as an artistic expression is lost. We have become a service profession in most parts of the world. The architectural profession has to fight back its role as cultural agent instead of being connected with the business world.

From the audience
Is there a difference in the way that we experience and represent spaces that have been adapted from historic buildings or ruins and new build spaces?

Vicky Richardson
It makes me think of why it is that reused buildings make such great spaces for art and the role of memory in terms of the senses. Memory being intimately linked to our senses.

Fenella Collingridge
It is about things being worn, you can see how things were used, how the materials have aged. If you do something new, if you consider the grain of what you are building with then you get the same intimacy as something that has worn and weathered and carried a different set of memories.

Hélène Binet
Of course, to have a palette of materials which are both new and old is immediately rich, especially for composing an image. But it has to have a reason – that is what matters.

Juhani Pallasmaa
All architecture projects are contextual. They are always in dialogue with what exists. This is the same with renovation and with new buildings. The architect’s responsibility is to improve the human landscape. A responsible architect makes even a mediocre or bad piece of architecture look good.

Vicky Richardson
The contemporary interest in image seems to be heightened by the technology that we have access to now. It is like we are now incapable of making our own memories unless we can take a photograph of what we see. Is this the current thing because smartphones are relatively new or is this part of a wider urge, we have to document our lives?

Juhani Pallasmaa
There is a competition for architectural images. It is a completely wrong orientation. From its very beginning the art of architecture has been a relation of art. Buildings have related us with something else – cosmos. Relating us to the world, to other people and to other buildings, that has been the essence of architecture, but it has been lost in the competition for the image.

Hélène Binet
We almost don’t have enough distance to completely understand where we are going. My first wish would be to have a new name – that photography is one thing, and snapping is another. I don’t want to be moralistic about what is wrong and what is right, but I want to make a difference between the two.

There is nothing more important than time in experiencing an architecture of a landscape. This new tool doesn’t include time. What can we offer to recreate that thing? We still all biologically process our experience in the same way. We need to reintroduce time.

Vicky Richardson
To defend snapping, I’m a great fan of Instagram. I love seeing the fact that everybody photographs the same thing. This season the number of people I know who have been taking pictures of leaves on the pavement. Instagram is just full of leaves on the pavement. That is rather beautiful that we can create these kinds of connections.

Fenella Collingridge
Is it more beautiful than the leaves on the pavement though?

Juhani Pallasmaa
There is also a difference that many of the people who photograph the leaves on the pavement, don’t look at the leaves so much.

Vicky Richardson
There is looking, and then there is looking.

Takako Hasegawa’s choreography in Walmer Yard. Photography by Yiannis Katsaris for the Royal Academy of Arts

Takako Hasegawa (from the audience)
Coming back to emotions, could you talk more about choreographing emotions and how the space speaks to you emotionally. As a choreographer I think about how eyes travel, how the surfaces feel on the skin, and how spaces invite me to navigate. How does Walmer Yard speak to you in an emotional way?

Juhani Pallasmaa
Good architecture accompanies us. From the moment that you see the building it begins to have an effect on our behaviour. Architecture really takes us from one place to the other. Good architecture imagines on your behalf. When you have a desire to look out, the architect has placed a window right there. When you become interested in the floor above, a good building has the stair right there. It is a delicate choreography of human expectations and movements.

At Walmer Yard spaces are via longer circulation routes. Photograph by Hélène Binet

Fenella Collingridge
In this building – because the site is quite small to fit four houses on – a lot of the circulation is slightly extended, and you walk around something and through a shadow before you come to a room or a window. That gives a much more ritualistic and choreographed way of moving through it. Every time you enter a room you step up, which is an influence from Japan. Your body is registering these little increments.

Juhani Pallasmaa
That is one of the nicest details I have noticed during my stay here. You enter from the stairway on a concrete floor and then the wooden floor of the bedroom space is raised up. At the point of entry, you are in the world out there but when you take your shoes off and step on the wooden floor, then you are at home. It is a very good example of the subtlety of altering and conditioning our moves through the building.

The concrete floor in the foreground leads to the step up of the timber floor beyond. Photograph by Hélène Binet

Fenella Collingridge
The intimacy of people’s lives is so important in architecture and we often forget that.

Hélène Binet
I want to go back to the issue of perception because for me to do something, that is what I need – to feel the building on a different level.

I feel people have more of a horizontal or vertical perception of space. We want to feel the horizon. When we look and we move it is not always what we see but what also may be behind us.

Our experience of the horizontal is more significant. We have more sense of wanting to protect us from something which is around us.

Juhani Pallasmaa
The answer is very clear, good architecture prepares you for what is to come.

Architecture today has become so surface oriented that this emotional and experiential effect of what is behind a wall is somewhat lost.

Architecture is a totally plastic expression which doesn’t stop at the surface. Even in a room, good architecture maintains your consciousness of where you are. While you are in the intimacy of your room you are aware of the landscape and the city.

Architecture is an epic artform in the sense that it tells really deep and meaningful stories. Modern architecture in the last 20 years has lost this particular epic dimension – think of Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn or Le Corbusier’s work, they are all epic works, like novels.

Crispin Kelly (from the audience)
Is the digital world of the future something which you feel will enhance our experience and connections in the world or do you feel it is a negative thing?

Juhani Pallasmaa
The digital world has made information more available but the important things, in the world and in life, are not information. That is the problem with the digital world – it tuns everything into information. It detaches it from its context and it detaches things particularly from the lived and emotive context.

So, although I would be a fool to say the digital world has no value – of course we wouldn’t have air traffic and up to date medical care without computers – but computers can be misused. They are much misused in architecture to replace human imagination particularly in architecture schools. Students should not be permitted to use computers in the first two years until they have passed a test which shows they have learned to imagine and feel through their imagination.

‘No technology is innocent.’

Juhani Pallasmaa

In today’s world we tend to think of all technologies as innocent. No technology is innocent. There is a study in Finland looking at kids around six to seven years old who have used digital technologies all their lives. They have lost their capacity to recognise human faces and to read human emotions. These are really serious things which are not thought about or talked about.

From the audience
Modern architectural photography often adds to the mythology of architecture through the image. What are the difficulties posed by architecture photography with or without people in it?

Hélène Binet
I am more interested in you entering the space which I have created in my photograph. You can then layer on to the image your own dream or perception or reference to something else. Not having a human figure in the image helps that process.

From the audience
When did we notice a change in architecture? Do we really agree that it is for the worse?

Juhani Pallasmaa
We are changing ourselves. One very important change is that we are increasingly becoming creatures of focused vision as compared to what we may have been tens of thousands of years ago. We ourselves are changing not only our architecture. We need to make a decision whether we wish to support these changes or fight against them.  

Vicky Richardson
A lot of students are interested in the social engagement of architecture and the role of the architect as an activist. The desire to change the world through architecture is a very current concern and I wonder how this fits with the mission of architecture as an art form.

Fenella Collingridge
Social engagement is exactly an understanding of context and peripheral changes.

From the audience
Is the state of being able to stay innocent a privilege that not everyone is lucky enough to have?

Vicky Richardson
Is it a luxury to indulge our senses in architecture? Who has time for innocence?

Juhani Pallasmaa
I don’t see those two things as opposites at all. It is the innocence of poetry that opens up entirely new worlds for us.

From the audience
What is architecture?

Vicky Richardson
I recently read an essay by Susan Sontag called Against Interpretation which she wrote in 1964. She is calling the art forms to return to the senses and at the end of the piece she says: ‘we need to see more, feel more, hear more.’

What she is really saying is that we have become so reliant on interpreters in the arts. This is so relevant today. Not just in architecture but when I go to art galleries it feels like we are becoming ever more reliant on the text interpretation to guide us through the work and almost to tell us what to think. It is like we have lost out confidence to make a judgement.

It feels like we have decided there is a need to explain architecture, but we don’t do that with music. We don’t need to have the experience explained to us.

Hélène Binet
When you are at high school you learn the basic criteria for music, the history of art and literature, but not architecture. I have always wondered why. It is only a rare case that you are confronted with the complete set of tools to make architecture.

Juhani Pallasmaa
I teach around the world and usually when I begin a workshop, I start by telling my students: ‘I’m not even going to try to tell you what architecture is. I’m trying to make you understand who you are.’

Current education ignores the self, but the self is the ground of all understanding. We speak of architecture as something objective, but I believe architecture is more a matter of personal confession than anything rational or scientific. It is all about learning to understand who you are as the basic condition for creating architecture.

Dialogue: Pallasmaa, Collingridge and Binet was originally held at Walmer Yard on 26 November 2019 and was organised in collaboration with Architectural Design (AD) and in partnership with Arup.

A new book on Walmer Yard

Posted on 07.09.2019

We have launched a new book on Walmer Yard which has just been published by Circa.

This book documents the evolution of the project through Peter Salter’s pen-and-ink drawings and Hélène Binet’s remarkable photographs combined with essays by key members of the team and others close to the project.

Buy a copy from our online shop.

An interview with the Keeper

Posted on 03.24.2019

Our Keeper Laura Mark was interviewed by the Architects’ Journal about her new role at the houses and her plans for Walmer Yard.

Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Where have you come from and what is your role at Walmer Yard?
I was previously the architecture projects manager at the Royal Academy of Arts and before that I’d held many different roles at the AJ from intern to Architecture Editor. I’m now the keeper at Walmer Yard. It’s a slightly odd title which is more common in arts institutions where historically the keeper would be a curator looking after a specific area. At Walmer Yard I look after the building and its day-to-day running and I am also responsible for curating the public programme that will happen there and running the Baylight Foundation – the charity which is now based at Walmer Yard.

When did you start in the role and what have you been up to since you started?
I joined Walmer Yard in October and I’ve spent the last few months really getting to understand the spaces and working out what we might do in them. It’s been great getting to know the whole team, too, from Peter Salter to the contractor Daren Shaw and Fenella Collingridge, who worked with Peter on the design of the houses. Fenella is a real fount of knowledge on anything about Walmer Yard. Since I started I’ve been working on a book telling the story of the project from start to completion, giving tours of the buildings to architects and students, working on our public programme and developing the direction we will take all the things we do at Walmer Yard – from rentals to film location shoots.

What are you hoping to achieve?
It’s a unique place to work. It’s a real privilege to be given the opportunity to put my own stamp on what will happen at Walmer Yard and to be somewhere right from the beginning. I hope to develop an interesting programme which challenges the perception of architecture while opening up conversations about how we live and allowing the public to experience something different.

Read the full interview on the Architects’ Journal website.