When Renzo Piano completed his Shard of Glass in south London in 2012, it broke records for height and floor space – not to mention audacity. But in reinterpreting the legions of church spires it now dwarfs, the pyramidal tower also bucks an architectural trend. Some 4,600 years after the first pyramids topped out, architects are turning the classic bottom-heavy silhouette on its head.
Top-heavy architecture has been a mainstay of high-profile projects for some years, but as a strategy for residential architects, it is only now coming to the fore. It draws on a recent history of clever cantilevers, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house in Pennsylvania and He Jingtang’s China Pavilion for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, whose succession of overhanging eaves earned it the name “the Oriental Crown.” But while that pavilion had all the bombast and heavyweight backing of a starchitect, the top-heavy style is more commonly an innovative solution for a tight budget or shortage of space. In big cities, especially, where some of the only ground-up development takes place on residential infill, top-heavy buildings represent freedom from a meagre footprint.
Some of the residual effects of the top-heavy model – privacy, better light and self-shaded gardens – are becoming the prime motivators for architects. Particularly since advancements in precast construction and improvements in load-bearing materials like high-performance reinforced concrete, steel trusses and tension rods have made building cheaper and easier for a new market of style-savvy clients. In pockets of Europe and the Far East, where the middle classes are less prone to nostalgia and architectural upstarts are keen to experiment, upending the traditional home layout is not so much a subversion than common sense. When you can get smashing views from the top floor, why wouldn’t you maximize that space and share it. It gets lonely at the top.
We got in touch with a few architects whose recent residential projects caught our eye.
Fujizakura House – maximizes views
Juso House – maximizes space
Italian architect Stefano Riva collaborated with Portuguese practice ARX on a house with a tiny, 3,229-square-foot lot in Aldeia de Juso, outside Lisbon. The architects built to the outer limits of the plot, letting the garden eat into the ground floor and benefit from the built-in shade of the overhanging top storey. “We used the heavy top level to indicate the limits,” says Riva. “In this way, we created an occasion to introduce another kind of lighting and spatiality.” They supported the structure with prestressed concrete ring beams and pillars below. As the upper storey extended right to the edges of the property, the architects surrounded it in a private concrete shroud, so it’s like a private suite, with sunlight travelling in from above. Conversely, the lower deck is “like an open space, using the garden as part of the house.”
House in Horinouchi – overcomes development restrictions
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