Ralph L. Knowles: Architecture, Nature and Context

2012/02/23 added Additional Readings

This website contains a fascinating set of papers exploring how natural forces (sun, gravity, wind), rhythms and rituals can be creative elements in architectural design.  Although designing to a context is becoming increasingly popular, it is rare to see a body of work that is as well grounded on an understanding of natural forces and how they interact.   The papers suggest a number of different patterns that would be useful additions to an architect's toolkit. 

I was particularly intrigued by the conclusion to Rituals of Place where Knowles explores the complexity of rhythm and ritual in a village and a city, in much the same way as we observe differences in ecosystem and biological diversity.  Knowles argues that:

"It is the ritual connection to nature, especially to seasons, that has always identified traditional environments and that is missing in most urban settings. This is clear from my earlier examples of historical settlements in North America and now the instance of Prievoz. It is equally clear that modern places like Petrzalka are lacking that coherence. I don't mean to imply that modern urban experiences totally lack essential cadence. Rather, the things people keep on doing in urban places are forgettable. They follow either contrived or monotonous daily rhythms, too simple to excite the imagination. If people don't evolve complex celebrations of both time and season, they cannot fully occupy an environment. They cannot find themselves nor can they pass on the truth of a place to future generations."

Thanks to Josh Stack for the pointer!

Additional reading:

"However, I think it is important to note that the solution presented in the paper was developed for that site, rather than as a blanket solution for Dublin’s urban development. The solar envelope is unknown in Dublin, and the aim of this research was to evaluate its applicability at our very Northerly latitude, without compromising the potential for high density development – which after all is the basis of speculative development and fundamental to sustainable urban design. In my practice we have used the same methodology to inform several other designs in Ireland and Europe – although no project has been completed to date."

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