Specificity in Architecture – Shared Principles

All of our work seeks to be idea driven – meaning we hope to bring something beyond program, budget, schedule and site constraints to each design challenge. Our website includes a tab that describes 7 ideas that have inspired us for more than two decades. To conclude our blog series on these ideas – I offer a few thoughts on “Specificity”.

Specificity recognizes that every site is unique and demands a particular response. While we remain interested in architectural typology – we seek to imbue our work with the idiosyncratic, the special and often the romantic. We are inspired by both myth and fact – by daily rituals and spontaneous happenings. Sometimes we start with the local or the tested or the familiar and then attempt to offer it up in a way the invites fresh inspection. This can be at the scale of a detail or material or even a program. I offer three examples below (by others) of what I think we are driving at.

Donnell House in Sonoma

1. The Donnell House Swimming Pool (Sonoma, CA)
This pool designed by noted landscape architect Thomas Church in 1948 is regarded as the “mother” of all kidney-shaped pools. If one studies the photos of the pool – it is possible to make out a series of vernal pools off in the distance. The organic shape of the pool links itself to these shallow mirrors of water down in the valley below. The design makes a direct link to its setting. Church didn’t simply design “a” pool – but rather he created “the” pool for that site.


Eileen Gray's "Occasional Table"

2. Occasional Table (Eileen Gray, 1927)
Part of a group of pieces designed for the seaside love shack (Eileen Gray’s E-1027 House) she shared with Jean Badovici – this iconic little piece of furniture illustrates the power of specificity brought down to the level of a simple side table. The table was originally designed for Eileen’s sister (an occasional guest) who enjoyed breakfast in bed. Adjustable, lightweight and movable – the offset base allows one to pull the surface bed or chair- side. The table also folds down to allow for easy storage. It is as simple and functional as a good Shaker designed piece.


Thomas Jefferson's "Chambersea"

3. General Thomas Jefferson Chambers House, “Chambersea” (Anahuac, TX)
Perfectly adapted to its site and setting – this diminutive 4-room dwelling is one our favorite touchstones. Broad roofed porches on the north and south sides offer additional seasonal living space while shielding the rooms from direct heat gain. Vertical circulation (a spiral stair) is outside on the porch to leave rooms open and flexible. The decorative lattice on the west buffers against the late afternoon sun. The dwellings narrow section and opposing windows invite cross-ventilation. The owner’s love for Texas is proclaimed in the star shaped window.

Do you have any examples of “Specifity” in architecture and design??

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2 Responses to Specificity in Architecture – Shared Principles

  1. Pingback: The Sundial as a Marker of Time and Place | THRESHOLD

  2. Penney says:

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but you’re definitely going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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