April 2, 2009

Architect Team Emphasizes Calm and Continuity

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An elegant woman takes the seat in front of me to talk to a man. She is sharply dressed, the dark combination of her clothing offset by a perfectly coiled blonde bun, red lipstick, light skin and the sharpness of her cheekbones.
“Why are you sitting all the way back here?” the man asks her.
“I am just here until I dance,” she answers.
For a brief moment, she blends with the energetic hum of students seated in the Sibley lecture hall. But when the lights begin to dim and the projection screen blinks with light, I realize she is, in fact, Sofia von Ellrichshausen, one half of the architectural team called Pezo von Ellrichshausen, who will be delivering the night’s lecture, “Selfsame.” She and Mauricio Pezo, the other partner, work out of Concepción, Chile, notably crossing the production of art and architecture and wrestling with other challenging dualities.
Their work is, quite simply, a delicate dance of balance.
The lecture pressed questions of the actual process of their projects. Pezo argued that explaining the process can be problematic, because it is “by nature circular, not linear.” Each separate installation, home, building, or project continues where its predecessor ends.
Their Poli House on the Coliumo Peninsula in Chile, for example, is nestled into a towering cliff which overlooks the lapping waves of the ocean and a silently majestic stretch of shore. The setting in and of itself is alive with an inherent force. To introduce a man-made structure into the powerful hands of such a setting is to grapple with a canvas of God. The pair does not shy away from the vibrant forces of nature, and succeeds brilliantly with both a humble respect for and a deep understanding of the complexities of such a challenge.
Pezo noted at the lecture that the team “wanted to insert the house into the landscape, create something strong enough to have its own autonomy but be able to be comfortable in nature. It has its own rules and doesn’t interrupt the landscape.”
The granite of the cliffs also constructs the outer façade of the structure. Sliding doors within the edifice help to conceal and reveal necessary internal elements, allowing it to oscillate easily between its dual function as residence and cultural center. Unique window structure allows the energy of the surrounding nature to enter and egress at will. Poli House is a powerfully beautiful mirage which does not obstruct the movement of the sky or the invisible breath of air — it allows the world to breathe easily through the granite walls.
Parr House, in Chiguayante, Chile, is another such example — the problem of successfully integrating what was a vision for a home much larger than the surrounding neighborhood into the mix of smaller residences. The answer was a one-story house which extends with ease over the property. Patios act as a regulator of light and also facilitate the extension of the building into the landscape. Smaller rooms grow with light through strategically placed transversal connections. A palm tree peeks out from the center of the structure — sunsets seem to roll off the strength of the leaves into the very core of the house.
The conception of continuity introduced at the lecture’s opening was emphasized by the consistency with which Pezo von Ellrichshausen aims to employ their visions. Laughing, Pezo cited a quotation on art: “One must do the same thing, but differently.” Throughout their talk, the architects emphasized the fact that continuity in form, project and material are important philosophies.
Perhaps there is something of priceless value to be learned from the vision of Pezo von Ellrichshausen — to exist within chaos and remain as steadfastly peaceful as these structures, allowing tumultuous winds to move through us without allowing the hurricane to remain within.
We travel and move like ephemeral streaks through the winding terrain of this “University on the hill,” rarely pausing to notice the shapes and forms of the buildings through which we move. This is the chaos that Pezo Von Ellrichshausen Architects aim to quell, through a brilliant negotiation of the storm outside and the serene self within.