The word of “tectonic” suggests a constructional craft, a
notion which considered modern architecture to be as much about structure as it
is about space and form1. It is mentioned in New Directions in Australian Architecture that Eduard F. Sekler stated-
“Tectonic can be defined as a certain expressivity arising
from the statical resistance of constructional form in such a way that the
resultant expression could not be accounted for in terms of structure and
in architecture, Fiedler said in Structure
in Art and in Science as “pure visibility”3and Paul Klee called
“making visible”4. A tectonic approach expresses the constructional
logic of a building 5. This approach to structures and materials
supports and conforms to the image of what Australian architecture should be 6.
Like many other well-known Australian architects, Donovan Hill’s and John
Wardle’s work also follow this path. The
following brief essay is an attempt to increase clarity by considering closely
related yet distinct concepts which has a particular relevance to discussions
of architecture tectonics7.
Donovan Hill, one of Australia’s largest architectural practices
designed “The C House” which is an architectural creation and represents the
tectonic spatial qualities through its conceptual complexity and sophistication
of its fine construction. The C House has been fabricated mainly of fine-grade concrete,
screens and finishes in fine timbers, metals and glass and ceramic tiles8.
The use of concrete only “where appropriate” 9 represents a
different notion of tectonic. The concrete was controlled mix of off-white
cement and pale warm golden sand and impossibly smooth, sharp and accurate
inside, it is rusticated with clear and perfect board marking outside. The
pantry, the walk-in wardrobes, behind the glass splashbacks in the bathrooms
are off-form concrete. The double-height Formal Room, a medieval hall, a
minstrels gallery and soften its concrete walls and roof, a separated ‘box’ of ‘lightweight
timber’ represents the tectonic frame of building as described by Semper,
consists of lightweight , linear components”, assemble so that they retain a “spatial
matrix”10. Each decorative element
was developed over time with great care and the concern was mostly with the
edges and discloses. There is an interest in how a surface is knitted together
or cut with careful attention to detail as if the surface is a piece of joinery11.
Sliding screens are buildings, with
their own rooms, windows, walls and even small doors and they are always bigger
than the openings. Together all of these elements add to the space through
utilising tectonic frames. In addition,
Semper was not restricted to representing tectonic values through the linear forms and
he discussed that the assemblage of linear elements constructed a tectonic
The Kinghorn Cancer Centre Donovan Hill’s another big
project expresses the spatial qualities of tectonic. When decorative elements
are applied to the basic dwelling elements, it contrasts a tectonic frame from
the stereotomic base which creates the “essence of architecture”12.
James Grose, national director of BVN Donovan Hill was the principal architect
on that project and said that the materials used throughout the Cancer Centre building
are ‘pretty standard’13. At
the core of the design, the cancer
centre is a transparent atrium which demonstrates a strong use of timber and
concrete and expert control of daylight in creating an atmosphere that is
neither sterile, nor institutional14. Timber is the dominant
material of choice and in larger projects, reinforced concrete is deployed and
the expression of panel and joint explored15. A monumental, dynamic
vertical artwork covers the entire rear wall of the space which responds the
calm recti linearity of the building with its active, splashed, human marks16.
All those decorative elements represent a “spatial matrix”17 which
Semper’s priority on tectonic form urges to decorate construction so that
retain. Although, translucent screen, welded metal mesh screening on upper levels
that creates privacy which strongly presents weaving of fabric or textile. “The
beginning of building coincides with the beginning of textiles”18
and applying textile to the art of enclosure is a tectonic craft”19
and that is the process to the weaving of a fabric or delicate construction of
a screen 20.
A tectonic tradition is an essential element in the development
of future architectural forms and taking this into account would mean a major
re-evaluation of a lot of supposedly modern designs21. John Wardle’s
the City Hill House which is situated an elevated site that is a concrete shell
which forms a podium for the two-storey structure. John Wardle values natural materials with
colour and grain essential to the material itself. The house engages with
monumental architecture through the “texture and composition”22. External
surfaces of Wardle’s City Hill House are carefully selected on the basis of
their transformation through weathering, copper, zinc, rammed earth and stone
are paired deliberately with combinations of dressed and rough timber23.
Semper’s tectonic structure gives an idea on the building’s mass and volume
which is indication of its spatial qualities. The interiors transform the
tectonic element of weaving with an essay on elegant refinement. After analysis
john Wardle’s work, Anna Johnson stated that the City Hill House is “inwardly
focused” where the interior wall bends in plan and the wall is imitated
unexpectedly by a “delicate wicker screen”24and the interior spaces
bear rich joinery detailing25.
John Wardle often exposes the sculptural working mechanism
and enjoys the contrast between untreated and highly finished timbers as well
as the warmth that timber brings to both interiors and exteriors. Massive
verandah timber post structures in Wardle’s Vineyard house pick up the rhythm
and orientation of the vineyard rows and they are deliberately “grafted”26
but also express organic analogies available to architecture and represent a
different notion of tectonic. The wall panels wrap to become ceilings, with
subtle shifting to accommodate light fixtures27. The cut is at an angle in the vertical
dimension in this house and as a result, the internal volume and external form
are more dynamic 28. Additionally, “metal folds and bends and timber
details and joinery, the mass of rammed earth, repetition and “rhythm”29
strongly indicate spatial qualities of tectonic quality. John Wardle’s houses
reveal a path of design exploration and architectural craft, beginning with its
diligent relationship to landscape as a significant driver in the architecture.
The potential of each material is explored- jointing systems are exaggerated,
assemblage is often unconventional and cut ends are positioned to reveal inner
texture30. The Vineyard Residence and the City Hill House both
embrace the investment of its “craft”31 and give real warmth to its
perfection32 and creates “spatial matrix”33 and have
addressed tectonic values to a great extent.
Finally, the tectonic represents itself as a mode by which
to express these different states34. Portuguese architect Alvaro
Siza stated that “architects don’t invent anything, they transform reality”35.
Donavan Hill and John Wardle’s work represents that transformation through
their work which is evident of “essence of architecture”36 and have
addressed tectonic values.