One of our seven shared principles is CHOREOGRAPHY. As stated on our web site (under the “Ideas” tab):
Choreography involves planning arranged movement through space. We arrange paths of movement through sequential or serial space to enhance the experience of occupation. We favor mystery over expediency, preferring discovery through visual contrast, tactility, sound, and temperature.
I have always admired buildings and places that reveal themselves through discovery. It seems to me that a bit of mystery is a good thing. Very early in my career I was a young designer at a large firm and my first project was to put the finishing touches on a house designed by one of the principals of the company. His parti was based on a linear axis that began at the front door and flowed immediately out into the backyard through a lap pool that ran inside to out. Overhead was a dramatic linear two-story gallery roof form that aligned perfectly with the pool. The design promised to be a powerful spatial and visual experience and when completed, the real experience very much delivered on that promise. On reflection though I realized that after that first powerful impression, every other part of the house was a letdown by comparison and couldn’t begin to measure up to the entry experience. It was akin to a movie trailer showing all the best parts of the movie and leaving very little for the actual experience of the movie itself. In this house one never had to venture more than five feet in because you experienced all that the house had to offer right there. I later concluded that this was like being flashed…breathtaking and shocking even but certainly not desirable. The metaphor I internalized after this was the strip tease. Reveal things slowly.
This is what choreography aims to do. It invites discovery and even surprise. It rewards you for making the effort and staying engaged. It saves the best for last. Mario Botta is a master a designing these kinds of experiences into his houses and he does this with the most simple of forms. A Botta hillside house will hide the view at arrival and only offer glimpses of it as one winds their way through the whole house. The big payoff happens only when arriving at the most important space in the house. Then and only then is the view fully revealed.
In our work I would have to say that as much as I appreciate these kinds of ideas, they do not always make it into our buildings as fully as I would like. One project that does though is UCSD Housing Dining and Hospitality Building. Here the big feature was the ocean view. On the ground, this view is completely blocked but as one rises up in the building, it becomes more impressive by the level. Our design rewards the climb by placing the most important spaces, an outdoor terrace and a large meeting room, along the top western edge of the building. It is here that the proximity to the La Jolla coastline becomes most apparent and where the shoreline metaphors of the design (battered coastal bluff walls, beach stairs and a rippling glass wall in water colors) makes sense and are explained.
Reflecting on this principal in our work invites us to continue to reflect back on the notions that energized us when we started and keep looking at it with fresh eyes. Here’s to a little mystery in our future.