A Question Of Scale
Philip Dowson (Arup Associates)


Philip Dowson

©Monica Pidgeon

Arup Associates, of which I was a founder partner, is a multi-disciplinary design practice, and I want to start with a word on this subject. A close integration between the professions is more than ever necessary to co-ordinate designs in our present climate of technical change. The very speed of change I believe requires that designers have both to design new ways of designing buildings, as well as designing the buildings themselves, if these are not to be hijacked by the imperatives of technology; if indeed we are to have an architecture that can be derived from all the sources that can nourish it. An architecture that seeks to develop methods that can compete with the pressures of scale and technology, and try and revalue them in human terms. It is with these thoughts in mind that my colleagues and I practise in the way that we do.


Long Wall House Suffolk

©Colin Westwood

I begin with a small house in Suffolk, built in 1964. It illustrates in a direct and simple way an approach to architecture which is common to all the work I'm going to discuss. Architecture remains about people, and that is why perhaps a house is both so fascinating and so difficult to design. The link is immediate. How, given a site, can we help enrich the lives of those who are going to make it their home? How can a vital relationship be struck between the man-made and the natural, between the small-scale and the large-scale, and between the way of life and the environment, which is at the heart of it all. In this case, the site was an exposed one and sloped gently to the west, with a view for about three miles. Here, I wanted to establish a relationship between the hearth and the horizon; and so the spaces develop, in graduated steps between these extremes. The instinctive place of rest, however, the psychological centre of gravity, if you like, the point of equilibrium, must be the hearth. The house was erected in two distinct and separate operations. The raised built ground and all walls were first constructed in brick, then a timber frame, a kind of timber canopy, enclosed the area of the house itself. Thus the visual weight of the terraces and the walls located and defined the spaces in landscape, whilst a light roof covered a part of it only. In this way, and this is the point I particularly wanted to underline, the manner in which the house was made reflects the spatial idea, and helps to emphasize and to lend weight to the architectural intention itself.

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