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Architecture with everything good but good design

A winner in the 2014 Building Of The Year Awards from ArchDaily, which calls itself a “source of inspiration for architects,” is a dubious pick. And it’s not because it’s a treehouse.

Treehouse by Luis Rebelo de Andrade
Luis Rebelo de Andrade

Designed by Luis Rebelo de Andrade in Portugal, this house in a wood has all the latest industry innovations: sustainability and ecology, reinforced insulation, heating systems, water reuse, water solar panels, and the low consumption lighting system using LED technology. But you’d never think that by the way it looks. (More about that in a moment)

As you might guess from the enhancements, Rebelo de Andrade’s treehouse is not the kind that kids make of plywood planks nailed together and reach with a rope ladder. His is a studio apartment up in the trees, complete with a bathroom and kitchen. And such amenities are nothing new in treehouses now. A kind of escape hatch for adults who like to hear leaves moving, it has grown in popularity in recent years. There are even treehouse resorts.

But here’s the thing. Besides good function, architecture needs good form and for a house of any size, at the very least, it needs to look hospitable. Rebelo de Andrade’s example doesn’t. Set on spindly legs, it looks wobbly, even ramshackle and hardly welcoming.

Usually when architecture fails, the form is good, but it doesn’t function well. I’m thinking of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava who designs gorgeous sculpture-like structures, but disregard function, like designing an opera house with obstructed views for 150 seats.

Frank Lloyd Wright also is guilty of this disregard. His Falling Water is a weekend waterfront getaway in Bear Run, PA that no one can swim from or launch a boat from or even look at the waterfall from. What’s more, the famed four concrete floors jutting over the waterfall were in danger of collapsing from the day they went up in 1936. It also leaked like a sieve and needed an $8.1 million restoration in less than 30 years.

As I say, this winner in the 2014 Building Of The Year Awards is a dubious pick.

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