Provençal House
Living Either/Or



Office  Tornavida Design Type  Concept · Theory Size  110 m² + 122 m² Year  2011‑2018


The formal starting point for this concept is the nineteenth-century dog-run house typology of the Southeastern United States, in which the functions of cooking, dining, and social life are contained in one of two rooms, the other of which is private and separated by a central breezeway. The reduction of functional considerations to these bones – to essentially a live-in kitchen and a bedroom suite – is no doubt influenced by notions of simple living, slow food, and shibumi, if not by solitary stays in a "summer" house along the Aegean in the dead of December when all the accouterments of life were packed away and only the essentials – Nescafé, a bottle of rum, and a warm winter coat – remained.
The separation between the two rooms of the house is deliberate, questioning normative ideas of convenience in architecture and the subtle influence they have over our activity. Like venturing to an outhouse on a brisk autumn night or picking up the newspaper from a driveway in the morning, the walk across the stone dust court to the kitchen to make the coffee or breakfast – whatever the weather – is a conscious commitment to brave the elements – to wake up, as it were… to notice the interplay of silver and gold in the leaves of the olive trees in the low winter sun.
Or to put it differently…

If, as Gottfried Semper postulates, the primary element of architecture is the hearth, a place of refuge and recovery from "the hunt, the battle, and wandering in the desert," the converse has since been brought to pass. The outdoors – the garden, the terrace, or the lawn – is now an appendage of architecture, of interior space, and of modern life. It is no longer a place from which one needs retreat but is rather integrated into the retreat. This design is not a reactionary return to the hearth. But it compels the occupant to bodily confront this dialectic and the either/or of a committed choice – something altogether independent of the "choices" offered by professed flexible or responsive architectures.

In favorable weather, the accordion doors of the kitchen (as well as the bedroom) are open. The interiors are merely enclosed corners – auxiliary, servant spaces – of larger, outdoor living rooms. Taking the lesson of the Danielson Cottage by Brian MacKay-Lyons, these utilitarian spaces themselves become protective, intimate served spaces into which occupants retreat in winter. The winter servant space is then contained within the one-meter thick rear wall (into which storage for firewood, a batch box rocket mass heater, a stove, and a seating nook are embedded), in line with Louis Kahn's original formulation of the term.

Utility and gardening rooms at the rear corners of the guest building can be accessed independently.

A addition made later in the course of the project is a guest house that can be occupied by invited or paying guests and also accommodates ancillary utility and gardening rooms. It is set back and at an angle in relation to the other two buildings, serving as the background of the composition – a field onto which the leaves of the olive trees are projected.

It's pretenseless form, whitewashed walls, high, vaulted ceilings, and symmetrical plan are clearly influenced by the Aegean and Mediterranean vernacular, particularly its agricultural buildings. But this is incidental. The intent is not to reproduce a style or to be inspired by historical or indigenous precedents. The motive is to create modest, coherent spaces that allow some respite from the perpetual motion of consumerism – places that say: "this is enough; you don't have to have anything more." In a way, it is to give a broader architectural form to the vignette on the back cover of Cohen's Songs From a Room.
A traditional dog-run is set perpendicular to the prevailing wind and has a connecting roof, the shape of which creates negative pressure on the leeward side drawing air through the house and the breezeway by Bernoulli's principle. This design dispensed with the roof (and therefore the form of passive ventilation that accompanied it). Nonetheless, because both interior spaces face the same direction, the building is oriented parallel to the prevailing breezes such that smaller openings on the windward side create a Venturi effect, drawing air through the building when desired.
A jug of wine and a bistro table…
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