Sunday, January 19, 2003

Terroir & Buildings

I talked with Cynthia, another student at ProtoTista, last week. She is exploring an expanded meaning of the term terroir, and asked me how it could be applied to buildings. Here are some early ideas on the topic:

First, some definitions of the term:

Terroir: The overall environment within which a given variety grows. Derived from the French word for earth, terre.

Terroir, "soil" in French, takes on considerably more meaning when used by the French wine trade. It refers not only to the soil but the subsoil, drainage, precise geographical location, topography and microclimate of a vineyard. "Terroir" then includes things like the vineyards sun exposure, slope, proximity to a river or stream, etc. The vines "must see the river" is a famous saying in Médoc. Simply stated, "terroir" refers to the obvious, that every vineyard (and for that matter, every vine) exists in a unique environment. It is therefore impossible for a wine such as Mouton-Rothschild to be produced elsewhere in Médoc, or the world, because no other place in the world has the same "terroir" as Mouton. "Terroir" is an argument of exclusivity.

Then how it can be applied to buildings:

Materials / Nutrient Cycles
Use of local, natural and less-processed materials, and also local cycling of the natural/technological nutrients through composting and reuse. This contributes to a sense of connection and belonging to the place, and reduces need for transportation.

Use of a design that reflects and fits in with local traditions (including the pre-columbian traditions).

Use of a design that fits in with and reflects the forms of the natural landscape.

A design that reflects and is appropriate to the local climate.
Ex: Tick and heavy walls in hot and dry climates. High surface-to-space ratio for good cross ventilation in hot and humid climates. Low surface-to-space ratio (compact) design in cold climates. Design for solar gain in cold to moderate climates.

Natural Elements
Design with the local natural elements. Channel/focus or disperse/divert natural energies.
Ex: Solar for energy and heating/cooling. Wind for ventilation. Blocking of strong/cold winds and warm season sun.

Rootedness / Connections
Facilitate a sense of rootedness and connection to the place through all of the above.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

Timeless Buildings

I am reading Christopher Day's Spirit and Place - a wonderful book by one of my favorite designers.

It reminds me of an intuitive sense I have about timeless buildings. They seem to share several key characteristics.

Timeless buildings tend to be close to nature - in materials and design. They use natural or less processed materials. Their forms often reflect/mirror organic forms - including those of the local landscape. They draw attention to community and nature (not to the design/designer).

For these reasons and more, we are likely to experience these buildings as nourishing and appropriate to place.