The word of “tectonic” suggests a constructional craft, anotion which considered modern architecture to be as much about structure as itis about space and form1.
It is mentioned in New Directions in Australian Architecture that Eduard F. Sekler stated-“Tectonic can be defined as a certain expressivity arisingfrom the statical resistance of constructional form in such a way that theresultant expression could not be accounted for in terms of structure andconstruction2.” Tectonic expressionin architecture, Fiedler said in Structurein Art and in Science as “pure visibility”3and Paul Klee called”making visible”4. A tectonic approach expresses the constructionallogic of a building 5. This approach to structures and materialssupports and conforms to the image of what Australian architecture should be 6.
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Like many other well-known Australian architects, Donovan Hill’s and JohnWardle’s work also follow this path. Thefollowing brief essay is an attempt to increase clarity by considering closelyrelated yet distinct concepts which has a particular relevance to discussionsof architecture tectonics7.Donovan Hill, one of Australia’s largest architectural practicesdesigned “The C House” which is an architectural creation and represents thetectonic spatial qualities through its conceptual complexity and sophisticationof its fine construction. The C House has been fabricated mainly of fine-grade concrete,screens and finishes in fine timbers, metals and glass and ceramic tiles8.The use of concrete only “where appropriate” 9 represents adifferent notion of tectonic. The concrete was controlled mix of off-whitecement and pale warm golden sand and impossibly smooth, sharp and accurateinside, it is rusticated with clear and perfect board marking outside.
Thepantry, the walk-in wardrobes, behind the glass splashbacks in the bathroomsare off-form concrete. The double-height Formal Room, a medieval hall, aminstrels gallery and soften its concrete walls and roof, a separated ‘box’ of ‘lightweighttimber’ represents the tectonic frame of building as described by Semper,consists of lightweight , linear components”, assemble so that they retain a “spatialmatrix”10. Each decorative elementwas developed over time with great care and the concern was mostly with theedges and discloses. There is an interest in how a surface is knitted togetheror cut with careful attention to detail as if the surface is a piece of joinery11. Sliding screens are buildings, withtheir own rooms, windows, walls and even small doors and they are always biggerthan the openings.
Together all of these elements add to the space throughutilising tectonic frames. In addition,Semper was not restricted to representing tectonic values through the linear forms andhe discussed that the assemblage of linear elements constructed a tectonicframe.The Kinghorn Cancer Centre Donovan Hill’s another bigproject expresses the spatial qualities of tectonic. When decorative elementsare applied to the basic dwelling elements, it contrasts a tectonic frame fromthe stereotomic base which creates the “essence of architecture”12.
James Grose, national director of BVN Donovan Hill was the principal architecton that project and said that the materials used throughout the Cancer Centre buildingare ‘pretty standard’13. Atthe core of the design, the cancercentre is a transparent atrium which demonstrates a strong use of timber andconcrete and expert control of daylight in creating an atmosphere that isneither sterile, nor institutional14. Timber is the dominantmaterial of choice and in larger projects, reinforced concrete is deployed andthe expression of panel and joint explored15. A monumental, dynamicvertical artwork covers the entire rear wall of the space which responds thecalm recti linearity of the building with its active, splashed, human marks16.All those decorative elements represent a “spatial matrix”17 whichSemper’s priority on tectonic form urges to decorate construction so thatretain. Although, translucent screen, welded metal mesh screening on upper levelsthat creates privacy which strongly presents weaving of fabric or textile. “Thebeginning of building coincides with the beginning of textiles”18and applying textile to the art of enclosure is a tectonic craft”19and that is the process to the weaving of a fabric or delicate construction ofa screen 20.
A tectonic tradition is an essential element in the developmentof future architectural forms and taking this into account would mean a majorre-evaluation of a lot of supposedly modern designs21. John Wardle’sthe City Hill House which is situated an elevated site that is a concrete shellwhich forms a podium for the two-storey structure. John Wardle values natural materials withcolour and grain essential to the material itself. The house engages withmonumental architecture through the “texture and composition”22. Externalsurfaces of Wardle’s City Hill House are carefully selected on the basis oftheir transformation through weathering, copper, zinc, rammed earth and stoneare paired deliberately with combinations of dressed and rough timber23.Semper’s tectonic structure gives an idea on the building’s mass and volumewhich is indication of its spatial qualities. The interiors transform thetectonic element of weaving with an essay on elegant refinement.
After analysisjohn Wardle’s work, Anna Johnson stated that the City Hill House is “inwardlyfocused” where the interior wall bends in plan and the wall is imitatedunexpectedly by a “delicate wicker screen”24and the interior spacesbear rich joinery detailing25. John Wardle often exposes the sculptural working mechanismand enjoys the contrast between untreated and highly finished timbers as wellas the warmth that timber brings to both interiors and exteriors. Massiveverandah timber post structures in Wardle’s Vineyard house pick up the rhythmand orientation of the vineyard rows and they are deliberately “grafted”26but also express organic analogies available to architecture and represent adifferent notion of tectonic.
The wall panels wrap to become ceilings, withsubtle shifting to accommodate light fixtures27. The cut is at an angle in the verticaldimension in this house and as a result, the internal volume and external formare more dynamic 28. Additionally, “metal folds and bends and timberdetails and joinery, the mass of rammed earth, repetition and “rhythm”29strongly indicate spatial qualities of tectonic quality.
John Wardle’s housesreveal a path of design exploration and architectural craft, beginning with itsdiligent relationship to landscape as a significant driver in the architecture.The potential of each material is explored- jointing systems are exaggerated,assemblage is often unconventional and cut ends are positioned to reveal innertexture30. The Vineyard Residence and the City Hill House bothembrace the investment of its “craft”31 and give real warmth to itsperfection32 and creates “spatial matrix”33 and haveaddressed tectonic values to a great extent.Finally, the tectonic represents itself as a mode by whichto express these different states34. Portuguese architect AlvaroSiza stated that “architects don’t invent anything, they transform reality”35.Donavan Hill and John Wardle’s work represents that transformation throughtheir work which is evident of “essence of architecture”36 and haveaddressed tectonic values.