Gaps and Silences

Published 14 July 2023

Written By Joel Benichou

It’s what happens in-between the architecture that counts.

Photography - Elephant Rocks by Mauro Palmieri

The push toward the Anti-Commodification and placelessness of Architecture

In the age of instant media, volatile trends and effortless global interaction, designers are exposed to a deluge of architectural imagery and content. Shallow adoption of ideas based on this content is widespread, often leading to stylistic imitation and the homogenisation of design output. The pressure on architects to produce innovative and popular schemes has created a new mode of rapid cultural appropriation and promoted a scenographic approach to building design.

Increasingly, contemporary residential projects are required to present the public with an amplified brand and be presented as a marketing object. Clients are looking for the viral ‘Insta’ shot or gimmick that will sell real estate and architects are obliging in an effort to sedate the client and grow their practices.

As designers, we should strive for an architecture that pushes back on shallow façadeism and objectification. The most important elements of architecture do not translate into imagery and a projects architectural identity should not be found online. Buildings need to be rooted in their geographical and cultural context and highlight the uniqueness of the region and the users.

The experience, sensation and feeling of space is what remains once the pornography of airbrushed architecture fades.

Photography - Mauro Palmieri

Gaps and Silences

The concept of ‘Gaps and Silences’ hold a significant place in literature, where the omission of certain elements within a text often carries profound meaning. It is said that these missing fragments, seemingly insignificant, possess the power to unlock the most essential aspects of a narrative. They invite readers to forge their own connections and embark on a journey of heightened imagination, enriching their overall reading experience.

Similarly, in the realm of architecture, the full understanding of a building cannot be solely derived from its visible façade or external form. Just as no text can lay bare the intricate details of an event, no combination of physical elements can fully encapsulate the essence of a dwelling. Buildings are intricate compositions, comprising diverse systems that flex and adapt to accommodate the ways in which people live. It is within the spaces between, the spaces and ‘gaps’ between the architecture, where profound experiences often emerge.

A well-designed house evolves and reveals its identity as occupants explore its inner workings. It unveils unexpected domestic moments and memories, offering delightful surprises. These revelations emerge within the interconnected spaces surrounding the physical structure. Buildings become the foundation of our memories, and architects have a profound responsibility to shape spaces that create lasting impressions. Designing buildings, streets, and public spaces can evoke emotional responses and leave a lasting impact on our memory. Our goal is to consider this impact, creating functional spaces that are also meaningful and memorable. By resonating deeply with people, these spaces contribute to a shared cultural narrative, shaping a sense of identity.

Consider the Salk Institute, a remarkable illustration of a space that gains immeasurably from what was deliberately left out. Originally, Louis Kahn envisaged filling the interstitial spaces between the buildings with trees and gardens. However, it was the persuasive argument of another architect, Louis Barragan, that led to the creation of an open plaza adorned with a water feature, resonating harmoniously with the spirit of the location. This void, this empty internal courtyard, now stands as an undeniable testament to the project's greatest triumph.

In his influential work "Building Dwelling Thinking," Martin Heidegger introduces the German word "Raum" to contrast the Latin or ancient abstract concept of space as an infinite continuum of evenly divided spatial units. Raum signifies a place that is prepared for habitation, a space with defined boundaries. Heidegger emphasises that a boundary is not merely a point of cessation, but rather, as the Greeks recognized, it is the starting point from which something begins its existence.

In both literature and architecture, the significance of the gaps and silences is profound. They serve as conduits, inviting the reader or user of a building to embark on a journey of discovery, bridging the gaps with their own interpretations and building their own understanding of the place. By applying one’s own narrative to a body of work, true placelessness and relevance can be found.

The true story of architecture is not found in its form or image, it is just under the surface, lurking in the gaps, waiting to be unearthed by those willing to explore.

Photography - Elephant Rocks by Mauro Palmieri

Critical Regionalism

Critical Regionalism is an architectural response to placelessness and lack of identity in the International Style and excessive ornamentation in Postmodern architecture. It aims to ground architecture in the modern tradition while deeply rooting it in the geographical and cultural context in which it resides. Going beyond vernacular architecture, critical regionalism mediates between global and local influences, creating contextually sensitive and intellectually engaging spaces. It rejects generic architecture, emphasising site-specific design. By reflecting a place's unique history, culture, and climate, critical regionalism fosters a sense of belonging and connection. It navigates the tension between universal principles and local particularities, forging a distinct regional identity through a thoughtful integration of modern architectural elements.

With the balance of tradition and innovation, critical regionalism strives to create buildings that resonate with their surroundings while contributing to the broader architectural discourse. Ultimately, critical regionalism represents an intellectual and artistic endeavour that aims to transcend the limitations of generic global architecture. It celebrates the uniqueness of each place, recognising the profound influence of context on the built form. By embracing this approach, architects envision a more meaningful and sustainable future, where architecture becomes a reflection of local heritage, a catalyst for cultural expression, and a bridge between the global and the local.

Critical Regionalism and the concept of gaps and silences in architecture are interconnected. In critical regionalism, the gaps and silences have an opportunity to capture the essence of a place, reflecting its unique context. They invite exploration and interpretation, allowing occupants to actively engage with the space. Just as in literature, these gaps enable personal connection and imagination. Embracing gaps and silences in critical regionalism acknowledges architecture's role in cultural expression and local heritage, bridging the global and the local. They shape meaningful connections with the built environment, emphasizing context and user engagement.

Photography - Mauro Palmieri

It’s just the vibe of the thing…

Often, as architects and viewers of architecture, we become fixated on the physical aspects. We pour over the façade, tiles, paint colours, roof pitch. However, as discussed, we must not forget the essence lies in what happens between the architecture itself. It is in these interstitial spaces that memories are forged and the true experience of space emerges.

Peter Zumthor proposes that upon entering a new space, we are instantly greeted by an atmospheric impression. This impression is not created by any single element but by an ever-evolving combination of tangible and ephemeral factors. Light, texture, aspect, smell, volume, occupancy—these are the elements we, as architects, seek to harness. Understanding, predicting, and crafting the overall impression of a space is among our most vital roles.

Salk Institute by Louis Khan - Sourced from the Balthazar Korab Collection

While the mechanics of the floor plan and the flow of spaces are critical for functionality, it is the combination of innovative function and awe-inspiring, emotive experiences that truly showcases mastery in the art of architecture. With every project, regardless of scale, our aim is to create these moments. A double-height space, a seat basking in morning light, a window inviting in the refreshing summer breeze—each of these elements converges to shape our architecture, and in turn, to shape the experiences and memories of those who inhabit and encounter it.

At the end of the day, it is the memory and experience of the space within that lingers in our mind.

We offer deep respect to the traditional custodians of this land and honour their ancestors who have nurtured and cared for this country for thousands of years. We pay homage to the living cultures, languages, and knowledge systems of the Noongar, Wurundjeri and all Indigenous Australian peoples.