Blurring the Boundaries
AIA DESIGN THEORY-June 2010
Edited by Rebecca Falzano
Photography Trent Bell
Theodore and Theodore explain how architectural design can create the illusion of space without building it
Arrowsic-based architect Steven Theodore and his partner Wiebke Theodore believe every move in an architectural project should fulfill more than one function. For them, alchemy exists when a floor doubles as a radiator, a wood-slat ceiling doubles as an acoustical baffle, a wall doubles as a window, a stair doubles as a bench, and a storage system doubles as a room divider. Here, they explain to MH+D how architects give the illusion of more space without actually building it, and how design connects inside space with outside space.
Q: What are some techniques architects use to make a room appear larger than the actual dimensions of a room?
A: The simple placement of windows and doors in a room can do that. Entering a room on a corner rather than the middle emphasizes the diagonal length and makes the room seem larger. The placement of windows in a corner connects the space more strongly with the outside, and makes the corner disappear. Locating the sill of windows close to or at the floor level increases the dynamic quality of the room and blurs the distinction between inside and outside. It also brings in more light by making the floor a conduit and reflector. This works for a window placed directly next to a wall in a room. There is no shaded area between window and wall. The opening is not a punch in the wall. Windows that open wide increase the connection to the outside. Exterior doors with glass panels allow for more visual transparency. Canvas awnings and wood trellises lay halfway in between a solid and void. The filtered light provides both shade and light.
The ability to see through a building from one end to the other also increases the flow of space. An open plan with the kitchen, dining, and living spaces connected to the outside makes the organization of the house more clear. Narrow, slender one-room-wide spaces allow for light to enter in on at least two sides and sometimes three or four. Having windows on more than one wall gives the sense of a passage of the sun through the day. This also connects the occupants with the outdoors and the natural cycle of the seasons.
Q: How can architectural design encourage an interaction between inside and outside?
A: A light, porous building with multiple openings, windows, vistas, porches, and decks encourages that interaction. These transitional spaces provide outdoor rooms, which are under cover but exposed. You can sit outside when it rains without getting wet. There is a pleasant confusion between inside and outside. Partially enclosed, recessed, or covered spaces erase the boundary between landscape and building.
This idea can also be accomplished by using the same material on interior and exterior walls or ceilings. We have used cedar shingles on both interior and exterior walls and used the same cypress slatted ceiling in a living room and on an adjoining exterior porch ceilings.
Exposed structural beams, which extend through a wall to the outside, also extend the dimensions of a room. An exposed concrete floor in a room that opens onto a similar-color stone terrace also makes the space flow from inside to outside.
The ability to see one part of a building from another increases the relationship of the structure to the site. Either through building shape or layout, a building that forms an “L” implies an outdoor room either in the shape of a courtyard or door yard. A series of setbacks along a building perimeter also allows the view of one window through to another and engages the building and the viewer with its surroundings.