Constructing solid space
For a while I was only familiar with their quirky project the Truffle. I like the conceptual approach to constructing space and structure. Bales of hay is used to construct the solid space, so to speak, and then concrete is poured all over it. - the main quirky part is the use of a neighbor's calf to feed off the hay and thus excavating the interior space over the summer. The cow grows as does the space.
[Image above by Ensamble Studio, 2010]
[Film about the cow Paulina and the project, YouTube link]
[This way of constructing space can be compared with the Bruder Klaus Kapel by Peter Zumthor. Here the space is constructed by wooded laths, cast in what appears to be a pisé technique - and finally the space is revealed by a fire burning away the wood.]
According to a lecture with an Ensamble Studio architect, the Truffle House was a prototype for another and much larger project to be cast in place and in which the different functions were conceived as spatial blocks connected by concrete pour. The studio did not win this competition but it would be great to see a scaled up version of this conceptual approach to casting, which is so bound to the process of construction and of very small projects.
Other projects use prefabricated and huge concrete elements, tectonic use of concrete sticks. - the Hemeroscopium House (2005) is pretty radical in its use of elements laying off eachother. And that's it - no cold bridges dealt with - and looots of concrete. I have seen images of livable spaces of the house. Images of the web site are more structural.
[Hemeroscopium House (2005) with the 'G point' rock on top. Via]
The office describes how: "It took us a year to engineer but only seven days to build the structure, thanks to a total prefabrication of the different elements and a perfectly coordinated rhythm of assembly. All of our effort oriented to develop the technique that would allow creating a very specific space. And thus, a new astonishing language is invented, where form disappears giving way to the naked space. Hemeroscopium house materializes the peak of its equilibrium with what in Ensamble Studio we ironically call the “G point”, a twenty ton granite stone, expression of the force of gravity and a physical counterweight to the whole structure."via
[Hemeroscopium House (2005) with the prestressed 'swimming pool profile' element. Via]
[4 minute movie of the construction, YouTube link]
Transformation of space and program
Reader's House is my favorite project and is the transformation of an old market hall to a cultural purpose. Here, long pre-streesed U-shaped elements, introduces a different orientation of the space, as well as the opportunity of a variety of programs on these bridge-like slabs. The slabs span the entire space in a simple and remarkable way.
[Images of the Reader's House, via]
"The Reader’s House project is the result of a competition that took place in 2006, in which Ensamble Studio won the first prize. The purpose of the competition was to restore the warehouses 13, 14, 17b and 17c of the Old Slaughterhouse to incorporate a new educational program.
The proposal made by Ensamble Studio maintains and enhances the original character of the industrial complex, by imposing a new order to the one of the pre-existent buildings. The confluence and relationship of the new system and the existing one forms a new space.
Two physical, perceptual and activity levels are defined forming a mutable scenario. The upper level, constructed with precast concrete beams of 40 Tons each, is a space for research and study. These beams are bridges, aerial streets, vectors of activity. In opposition to the basilica-like structure of the warehouses, longitudinal, light and metallic; the new structures are inserted through the windows and sew the space transversally, giving unity to the complex formed by the warehouses 13 and 14, which were previously independent buildings. The lower level participates, without losing its essence, of the rhythm marked by the upper level. Dynamic and mutable, this level will host the educational and cultural diffusion activities, enabling their future redefinition."From the Ensamble Studio website
[Building the Reader's House, Youtube link]
Watch this video of the construction process - It's hard to explain and hard to believe the simplicity of the construction process, really - the accompanying music plays on this in Buster Keaton type way, I guess... I mean, Keaton and Ensamble do have some high precision planning in common if you think of this famous movie clip.