Built Into Bedrock

Architecture is often viewed as an art of permanence. Through the use of durable materials like stone, civilizations throughout history have produced works of architecture that have far outlived the civilizations themselves. Foundations play a key role in both the literal and metaphoric expression of  this permanence, with sites containing exposed bedrock offering rich opportunities to explore these issues.

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright is perhaps the most famous piece of architecture to tap into the exposed bedrock of its site. Although a considerable amount of rebar and concrete was required to support the dramatic cantilevers of the house’s main living spaces, Wright visually minimizes the physical connection between the building and the rock while artfully drawing the floating horizontal planes and vertical stone stacks into a harmonious composition with the geology of the site. It’s as if the building is rooted in the landscape while simultaneously floating above it.

In contrast to the harmonious compositional relationships and minimized structural obtrusiveness of Fallingwater, The Pierre House by Tom Kundig can be seen as a physical struggle between building and bedrock. Here, the materiality of the bedrock is celebrated through the imperfections and unpredictability of its destruction. Parts of the building are literally blasted out of the rock with dynamite, resulting in roughly textured walls with unpredictable lines of fracture and traces of the cylindrical drill holes created in the blasting process. Here, the will of man cannot be stopped, but the rock cannot be fully tamed.

The Petter Dass Museum by Snohetta takes an even more disruptive approach to the site’s exposed bedrock. Using precise wire cutting technology used in stone quarrying, a massive cut was made in a granite hillside within which a modern museum structure was inserted. The super smooth, shear granite cliffs provide a literal cross section of the landscape, exposing the true immensity of the geology while simultaneously creating abstract, seamless stone faces that run parallel with the constructed metal and glass exterior walls of the museum.

Villa Aulikki by Finnish architects Erkki Kairamo and Aulikki Jylhä takes a decidedly less intrusive approach to the integration of architecture into its bedrock landscape. The use of standard untreated dimensional lumber that is allowed to ages over time creates a counterpoint to the hardness and permanence of the site’s geology and harsh climate. The softness and flexibility of the wood reacts to the pounding coastal winds; creating refuge while retaining the sense of vulnerability in this fully exposed location. Rather than blasting into the bedrock, the structures are nestled into a natural depression in the rocks, creating the appearance of a piece of driftwood safely wedged within the crevice of massive bolder. Whereas the two previous examples rely on extraction to express rock’s materiality while making room for architecture, Villa Aulikki succeeds in harnessing rock’s inherent qualities without any significant transformations of the site. The result is a building that articulates the permanence of the landscape through it’s own reliance and vulnerability to its inherent qualities.

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