Template House was one of ten interiors designed for an exhibition called Infinite Interiors and constructed within at a high-rise Condominium building in Phoenix City for China’s First Architectural Biennial. My goal was to create a living environment that served as place of escape; a quiet, contemplative oasis in the midst of Beijing’s tumultuous racing modern growth.
As an architect from the United States, having the opportunity to design and build in the People’s Republic of China was a great and exciting challenge. Working within any foreign culture I have always tried to situate myself within the daily lives of my clients, using my heart to ground myself while establishing a respect and understanding for the local culture and customs.
For this project I harnessed the principals of the ancient practice of Feng Shui to guide the process of design. Feng Shui is a discipline focused on achieving harmony and balance through the orchestration and arrangement of spaces. Acting as a natural filter to arbitrary or impulsive decisions its precepts function to divide all things into complementary dualities linking man to the heaven and earth. The Chinese believe that the Ch’i, the life force or spiritual energy pervading all matter, determines each individual’s movements and actions. Intrigued by these mystical principals I submerged myself in this belief system with the hope of creating a space that would be suitable to the Chinese nature.
The design for the house was developed in two parts: the outer container, which was the existing concrete building and the inner container which was the Template House. Like the body, both spaces were composed of many parts. The individual elements had to work together to insure the balance and health of the organism.
Our initial presentation of non-accurate line drawings to the carpenter initiated our exploration of the template. Involving more about the nature of the lines than what they were describing, the manner in which a line was drawn, its thickness, its errors, and so on, became determinate factors in the generation of shapes, guiding the process rather than defining.
As a result of the construction documents’ inherit limitations, templates developed as a crucial tool in our ability to move the construction process forward. Prepared by the Chinese carpenters with a basic bendable wood spline and a pencil the templates were simple site-fabricated translations of the designer’s drawings. These prototypes were then given to the other carpenters and while they were cutting the complex shapes of the formwork more templates were constructed. Once the formwork frame was complete, the process of installing the cladding began. The sheets of plywood were formed to the frame created by the templates sheet by sheet the form took shape with each successful panel informing the profile of the next.
In its final form the Template House challenges our expectations regarding structure and the process of construction producing a fluid space where everyday activities can occur with a minimum of resistance and clutter. Unifying the floor, walls and ceiling with the flowing wood “skin.” the design result was in continuous space able to accommodate all the functions and technical necessities of the living organism. The template is not fixed. Flexibility is introduced into the design through shiftable materials and moveable partitions allowing an infinite variety of spatial reconfigurations and permitting the rooms to be divided and modified according to the evolving needs of the inhabitants.
A continuous secondary skin, interrupted only at certain points where panels of white and pale green Venetian plaster are allowed to peek through, is constructed from clear-finished cherry plywood flows throughout unifying the living spaces. The only counterpoints to this treatment were the kitchen, and the bathroom which is enclosed on one side by a glass wall with a floor tiled with deeply colored glass pebbles.
Like one container nested within another, the secondary skin embodies the idea of the vessel. The shape of the container influences the activities of life which form its contents. Gathering distinctly separate architectural elements with a sense of unity the experimental design of the Template House results is an open spacious layout within a warm protective atmosphere.