Winner of the 1995, Young Architects Forum Competition. The award is a prestigious, national award sponsored by the Architectural League of New York. Some of the most accomplished architects in the world won this competition when they were young.
At the edge of a small town there is a precinct that is lined by tall cypress trees that are so densely grown together that the space within is walled off from the rest of the world. Inside is a sanctuary, a garden so beautiful and so elaborate that it is like paradise itself. At the center of the garden is a house, a red house that provides shelter for the sole man who lives in the garden.
The man is a contemplative who spends his days tending to the garden, thinking. At night he retreats to the protection of the house where he shapes his thoughts into poetry. The man’s world nurtures him as much as he nurtures it.
The Red House is a theoretical exploration of architecture. The project investigates the nature of shelter, and what it means to put a boundary around a space. It investigates the creation and containment of worlds and how human beings define themselves within those contained worlds. It explores concepts of enclosed precincts as thresholds to worlds beyond the everyday existence.
On Boundaries and the Making of Worlds: On a beautiful ship made of wood and gilt with gold, lives a man who sails the vast seas alone. The man was born upon the ship and has never encountered land or any other ships. Forever floating on the endless body of water, this is the only world the man has ever known. He contemplates the sea and wonders about the nature of the container that holds it. He wonders what the edge of the sea must be like and what lies beyond it. He questions the nature of the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars. He observes his world and makes a mythology for himself, defining the world and himself within it. Our own world is not so different from the seafarer’s and we are not so different from the man. Once, people believed that the world was flat and that if they sailed to the edge they would fall off and tumble into the unknown abyss. Since the first human imaginations sprang to life, we have sought to define the world and ourselves within it.
The earliest human cultures looked at their worlds with innocence, wonder, and amazement. Their innate and unique human qualities drove them to understand and give meaning to the world. However, their humanness was also the factor that limited their ability to comprehend it. Distributed in various locations about the earth, these early cultures developed essentially in isolation of one another. The physical boundaries of their worlds were determined by their abilities to traverse the earth’s landscape. Within their contained boxes these cultures created great mythologies about their worlds. The landscape of each culture had unique characteristics that contributed to their unique interpretation of the world while similarities such as the phenomenon of night and day, the seasons, and the mysterious cycles of life inspired similarities in the mythologies of the disparate people.
As the early cultures began conquering the physical limits of their worlds, isolated definitions of the world began to mix with one another. New definitions began to form. Today, the world is caught somewhere between one giant container the size of the earth and a labyrinth of containers formed from the intersections of numerous past worlds. As we continue to look outward to discover the universe, the definition of our world and of ourselves within it continues to evolve.
While we are always learning more, it is likely we have just chipped the iceberg of knowledge. So much still remains a mystery, not only about our own nature, but also about the nature of the universe within which our earthly island floats. We do not know what lies beyond the edges of the universe. We do not know what lies beyond the boundaries of our own vulnerable and fragile human existence. So the wonder and mystery remain. The questioning continues to drive us. The questioning gives rise to art. It gives our lives inspiration and meaning. Maybe someday we will learn to travel through black holes to completely new universes with physical qualities we have not even been able to dream of. Maybe someday our bodies will evolve so that we will be able to extend temporally or spiritually beyond our carnal shells, and once again the definition of the world will fold upon itself and the understanding of it and ourselves will evolve.
The physical size of a container within which the human imagination is allowed to exist and define a world does not matter. A world may be contained within a vessel the size of the universe, or that of a desert island, or a small room. Even within the womb, an isolated vessel containing the human imagination, a world exists and is defined by the child within. To the unborn child, the womb is the universe. In essence, our universe is also a great womb. Within it we seek understanding and meaning and attempt to define it and ourselves within it.
The creation of a room is the human-made equivalent to the boundaries created by the topography of the earth for the early cultures. The simple act of bounding and enclosing a space is a powerful act. Within it, a world may be contained and defined.
I propose a bounded world, a container, the interior of which is characterized by the color red. I ask you to look simply, with the unknowing innocence of a child, to forget the world beyond, and to exist within the red world for a moment.
The Red House: A boundary has been drawn upon the earth and a world has been contained. It is a utopia, an island, a h(e)aven. It is a world characterized by the color red. Tall cypress trees form the edges of the world, surrounding a resplendent garden within. Red roses and red flowers of various kinds abound in spiraling patterns.
At the center of the world stands a house, a shelter for the man who lives within the garden. The exterior of the house is made of steel plates, bolted together and painted a deep scarlet. The interior is made of exotic wood that is stained chocolate brown. The center of the house, where the man rests his body to sleep, is a room lined with soft crimson materials. The house provides protection from the elements and a place for the man to do the writing that nurtures his soul. It is a life-giving vessel, but it also has a possessive and rather wantonness side as well. The house needs the man to feel useful and significant in the world. The man, having consented to live within the garden for the extent of his life, honors his relationship with the house and cloaks himself in red garments.
Within the red world, the man lives an essentially self-sufficient life. A (mono)stery of sort, the garden world is able to accommodate nearly all of the man’s needs. In addition to the house, the garden is furnished with a three level, stone utility building that serves several functions. The ground level is used to store food, the lower underground level is a wine cellar, and the upper level is a room where ice is stored. The cool air of the ice storage room drops down through slatted walls to the rooms below. Surrounding a portion of the utility building is a covered work area where tools and wood are stored. Adjacent to the work area is a nondescript opening that leads to a vegetable garden where the man grows food for himself. Also nearby is a door that remains locked at all times. The man is unable to open the door as he does not possess the key. To the rear of the house is a small, hedged area. The hedge is sculpted into several rooms. One of the rooms contains a tiered set of water pools for bathing. Another room is dedicated to washing the red clothes. It contains a well, washbasins, and an area for hanging the garments to dry. A small, circular, white marble building serves as a toilet. Drinking water is drawn from a well adjacent to the house. Throughout the garden are scattered fountains that provide cool and quiet places for rest and contemplation. The outer edge of the garden is sculpted into a series of alcoves. Each alcove houses a sarcophagus. Interred within are the bodies of the various men who spent their lives dwelling in the garden.
The man is a gardener, a contemplative and a poet. He spends his days tending the gardens and his evenings writing by candlelight within the shelter of the house. He never leaves the garden, but he does continue to have needs from, and desires connection with, the world beyond. He desires to share his thoughts with others. On the evenings before a full moon he opens the gates to the red world and the people from the nearby town are welcomed in. The people make their way through the labyrinthine entry and are allowed to wander throughout the gardens, viewing and smelling the flowers and sitting near the cool fountains of water. In exchange, the people bring goods for the man that he needs but cannot produce himself. Later, just before the sun sets, the people gather on the ovular stone plaza, out front of the red house where seats have been prepared for them and the man reads a series of poems. The light from the setting sun ignites the house and it seems to burn with an ethereal radiance. Great fulfillment comes to the man as he reads his poetry and shares his thoughts with the people. He hopes that when the people leave his world they might be able to look upon their own world with new eyes.
On a typical day the man dresses in a simple, unadorned, red smock. He has many of these and they vary in material and weight to address the different seasons. On special occasions, such as the evenings of his poetry readings, or the days of remembering his predecessors in the garden, he covers himself with his most precious article of clothing, his red robe. It is a highly adorned article trimmed and detailed with gold. How the red garments come into the man’s possession is rather mysterious. He does not make his clothing nor does he know who does. In the town there lives a seamstress, a single woman who alone knows the secret to the making of the red garments. The task is passed down from one seamstress to another in absolute secrecy. She is also the bearer of the key that opens the door at the back of the red world. On the evening of the winter solstice she opens the door and places upon the ground four new sets of daily clothing. Only once however, at the beginning of the man’s stay in the garden, is a red robe delivered. The man will use the same red robe all his life. It is kept in a very special inside the house. The robe is never passed on because within this garment the man will be wrapped when he dies and is placed in the tomb. Even in death, the red house possesses the man and the man honors the house that has given him so much.
Throughout the design process, a number of historical images drew themselves to the project. The images informed the ideas being explored and helped shape the project's architectural expression.