Objet trouvé [06] : Stirling and the vane of the Florey | Rodrigo Almonacid

Vista del patio interior del Florey Building, con el escenario central elevado.
Sight of the interior court of the Florey Building, with the central high scene.

In the moment to project the building Florey for the Queens College (St. Clements, Oxford, 1968-71), James Stirling already had seen finished two of his better works: the School of Engineering of the University of Leicester (1959-63) and the library of the Faculty of History for the University of Cambridge (1964-67). Three projects constitute his already mythical “Red Trilogy”, name that he them identifies as a series of buildings constructed with this color in only a decade.

A structure of concrete of great very visible scale raises and separates the body of student apartments of the level of street. A hard reddish skin (of ceramic platelet and not of brick, since habitually it is thought) defends and isolates it of the bland surrounding exterior, trying a peace in the interior court that is not far much of that from a cloister of the classic university colleges of the city. And a few wide glazed surfaces, of volumetric qualities, evoke distantly with his transparency and the vertical break-down of his carpentries to the perpendicular Gothic English, but in key and contemporary customs1.

Evidently, this simplified description would reduce notably the depth of his architectural exposition, since it overcomes with much his mere one (and the most interesting) materiality. Without enter his magisterial composition formal and geometric terms, it does not fit doubt that the Scotch teacher wanted to conclude this trilogy with a piece of marked symbolic character2, reinforced by an introspective character that him comes very well to the project in his location to the shore of the river Cherwell.

The building is strange, even more then that now. It is twisted on yes same, and does not agree to chamfer the corners as in Leicester or Cambridge but here quite it is a concatenation of enormous bevels. Almost a trace suggests ochavada incomplete, which lacks only 3 of 8 sides due to a drastic cut before the imminent presence of the creek that it delimits the north side of the lot. This way solved, to level tipológico answers more to a Greek theatre that to no other: his radial form orientates the graderío (bedrooms be read) towards the landscape opened of the meadows that they surround the oriental zone of Oxford, and places his orchestra in the center of the concave space where the human activity will develop, though in this work it is really scanty3.

Axonometría del proyecto y vista del patio desde uno de los apartamentos dúplex del edificio Florey, con la veleta en su centro.
Axonometría of the project and sight of the court from one of the duplex apartments of the building Florey, with the vane in his center.

The space of the court is surrounded by a blind wall of brick that annuls the sights from the street. In fact, the level of the court is raised with regard to the peripheral corridor that passes under the volume of the bedrooms, limiting furthermore the fluency hospitalizes of the central enclosure. In the side opened of the river the court rises furthermore with 9 steps forming a central “scene” to which all the looks go from every window of the building. And, simultaneously, it allows to hide below and discreet the volume of the dining room and his kitchen in an intermediate level between that of the court and that of the fluvial walk.

The absence of collective life in the court is compensated by the strange activity of a vertical element of certain anthropomorphic character, which occupies the most anticipated vertex of the high scene, a disconcerting objet trouvé. His presence is so notable that even curved the peldañeado, turning it into a visual pivot that concentrates the whole attention. Following the dramatic metaphor it might say that she is an actress in action, so, though unable to move his feet, it does not stop waving his arms: it is a question of a vane moved by direct action of the wind in the place or for the evacuation of smokes that it contains in his central mast (from the ceiling of the kitchen on the one that one agrees). It supports a great disc of intense green color, with what probably it could be interpreted as a luck of “mechanical tree”, the only chink allowed by the architect to her naturaleza4 in the latter work of his red series. His ironic presence is not, despite everything, exceptional since already in Leicester Stirling it played with a pair of chimneys to emphasize his links with the engineering, and in Cambridge it brought down the appliance to turn to the gondola of cleanliness of the glass in a sculpture constructivista in projecting defying to the gravity. Nature and artifice, a dialectics not overcome from the Modernity…

Rodrigo Almonacid [r-arquitectura] · doctor arquitecto
valladolid. november 2016


1. Brown also alludes to the “Gothic” aspect of the Engineers’ School of Leicester on having analyzed this first piece of the “Red Trilogy” Stirling’s (magazine Forum, April, 1972).

2. Rykwert manages to say in the matter that “though it is seemingly his simpler building, there is, on the contrary, that of more conscientious composition” (a magazine Domus, in November, 1972).

3. Francesco dal Co criticized precisely that in this Striling’s building the community life was reduced to his simplest form, and, therefore, it was showing a certain incoherence between the innovation in the formal exposition and the “step backwards” in terms of collective use of the space.

4. In the last years the ceramic red pavement of the court has been replaced with lawn, losing this idea of artificialidad that had in his origin the court, probably for constructive problems (always it has been this work object of numerous complaints of good constructive practice and of functioning) or, more probably still, for his lack of use.

[Images taken of the monograph: ARNELL, P. y BICKFORD, T. (eds.): James Stirling. Obras y proyectos. Barcelona: Ed. Gustavo Gili, 1985.]

(Teruel, 1974). Licenciado en Arquitectura (1999) con premio extraordinario y Doctor “cum laude” en Arquitectura por la Universidad de Valladolid (2013), compagina su actividad académica como profesor doctor de la E.T.S. de Arquitectura de Valladolid con la profesional al frente de su propio estudio [r-arquitectura]. Es autor de dos libros: Mies van der Rohe: el espacio de la ausencia (2006); y El paisaje codificado en la arquitectura de Arne Jacobsen (2016). Colaborador habitual en blogs de actualidad y crítica arquitectónica.

Proyecto edificios singulares y sostenibles en mi estudio [r-arquitectura] desde el año 2000 con la colaboración un equipo multidisciplinar de especialistas de acreditada experiencia profesional. [Especialidad: Sector Terciario].

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