Research Task: Intangible and Tangible

Examining the first image; would you like to live here? What makes this house interesting, what makes you want to live here?

I love the buildings’ location, the building is set in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, California, a little piece of tranquility amongst the hectic built up environment of the concrete jungle, the city. The flat roof and glass windows make it a simplistic design as a piece of architecture, perfect for this environment because it has a 360 degree view of the landscape it sits upon, yes I would like to live here. The view would change with the weather making it an interesting place to live. At night time I can imagine a blanket of lights as the city lights up, I would get lots of inspiration for my designs if I was fortunate enough to live somewhere like this.

Fig. 1 – Pierre Koenig, Case Study House #22 (1959) 

I approached the second image with the same questions; I have a different view of this building. I would prefer to live in the building above. The second image is of the same build in terms of the corner windows and flat roof, but is far less attractive and sits in a completely different environment as far as I can see from the image. After further research online, I now understand more about this building.

It’s one of Britain’s largest collection of postwar prefabs that can be found at the Excalibur Estate in Catford, southeast London, where 187 homes were built by German and Italian prisoners of war. Their design followed a strict Ministry of Works template: detached 600sq ft bungalows with two bedrooms, a living room and kitchen, indoor loo and bathroom plus a bit of garden. Several dozen of the tenants later exercised the right to buy their prefab. However, following a 10-year conservation battle, with the Twentieth Century Society siding against Lewisham council, the major part of the site planned to make way for a new estate of 371 houses and flats built with housing association L&Q, the council’s development partner. There will be a mix of private sale, rented and shared-ownership homes. Existing owners and tenants have priority to buy or rent a new home. Six prefabs will remain, plus a sheet metal barrel-roofed church from the same era. They have been listed by English Heritage and will become community buildings. (Spittles, 2017)

Having read this page I am pleased that some of the homes will remain and are listed by English Heritage, it’s so important that we keep buildings as parts of history, we can read about these but to actually visit them we can get a better idea of how the architecture and building make us feel, this will help when making good choices for future design.

Fig. 2 – Excalibur Estate, Catford (2014)

Continuing with this exercise, I have found and compared some images that show the tangible and intangible qualities of an interior space. I have done some visual research online and in books and found 3 pairs of images to compare. For each pair of images I note the physical similarities and differences between the two, and list any built elements that evoke an intangible feeling, and also what that intangible feeling is.

Known as the coin building, the Al Dar Headquarters, Abu Dhabi comprises of two circular convex shaped facades linked by a narrow band of indented glazing. It is completely circular and fully glazed.

The groundbreaking building represents a fusion of tradition and modernity, with the striking circular shape symbolising unity and stability. The building’s diagrid concept largely eliminates the need for internal columns, which would compromise the aesthetic appeal of both the external building as well as the views from within. The project also adopts a subterranean vacuum Waste collection system which transfers the waste directly to a local waste transfer station for recycling and compacting, eliminating the need for refuse collection vehicles. This system is the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi. (Arup,s.d)

Fig. 3 – The Al Dar Headquarters, Abu Dhabi

My first reaction to this building was how different it looked to other buildings I have researched, a circular building but in a vertical position is a first for me. Digging further into what led to this design helped me to understand that it’s the first ever circular building of its kind in the Middle East. It was developed following the principles of the American system of classification of U.S. Green Building Council LEED and built in a new area on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi. The architect Marwan Zgheib wanted to create a simple object, with a bold and powerful presence that was able to compete with UAE’s already iconic architecture, creating a sense of belonging and identity to the area. Inspiration came from the clam shell that has a deep meaning for Abu Dhabi with its maritime heritage and so the geometric round shape evokes that sense of an open shell. Such a simple concept that has developed into a magnificent piece of architecture for the business district to enjoy.

My second choice of similar buildings is the Sunrise Kempinski Hotel that sits near Beijings city centre which is said to look like the rising sun, whilst looking at it from the side it appears to resemble a scallop, which represents fortune in Chinese culture.

Fig. 4 – The Sunrise Kempinski Hotel, Beijing

The building is a luxury hotel that sits on the shore of Yanqi Lake, surrounded by the rolling Yanshan mountains. An international team of designers from the UK, Italy, Spain, the US, Holland and the Philippines worked on the design, a critical view from people outside of China was needed to broaden their ideas and showcase Chinese culture. Inspired by nature, the top of the building reflects the colour of the sky, the middle of the building reflects the Yanshan Mountain, and the bottom of the building reflects the lake. The entrance of the hotel is shaped like the mouth of a fish, symbolising prosperity.

“We need the architecture that can represent the soul of Chinese culture, namely the idea of learning from nature. We not only have to consider the ‘connection’ between the main building and the environment, it is a hotel complex that also involves a private island, so, a vivid visual needs to be created for the guests – resulting in, when a guest looks at Yanqi Lake Kempinski from Yanqi Island, it will really give our guests the beautiful picture of sunrise and sunset,” said the leading Architect. (thedesignsociety, s.d.)

Chinese people believe the sun reflects the core values of Chinese philosophy and that mankind is an integral part of nature and in order to be harmonious, nature should be respected. In China, a circle means the start and the continuity of the life, it only seems fitting that this building takes on board all of these points and represents the sun rising upon the lake.

Both circular buildings have physical similarities in both style and shape as they are both built with glass whilst both resembling seashells. The first building doesn’t have internal columns, it’s made up of a complex external structure of diamond-shaped steel, called diagrid, a framework of diagonally intersecting metal beams, whereas the second building is made from reinforced concrete and all-glass exterior so built differently.

They both evoke a feeling of meaningfulness, even before reading their stories I felt they had a more symbolic meaning behind them. The shape of them evoke a sense of nature, both designed to resemble seashells, and they both give that feeling of importance because of the size of them sitting on the landscape.

The first building, the Aldar Headquarters evokes that feeling of importance and wealth because it is enormous standing 121 metres tall and the only building of its kind in the area. It also evokes power as it is singled out on the landscape and that feels, to me, very intimidating. If the environment surrounding it has other buildings alongside it may not seem so terrifying.

The second building, the Sunrise Kempinski Hotel also evokes that feeling of importance but with cultural meaning behind it. It feels less threatening than the Aldar building, maybe that’s because it looks more organic. Still standing enormous at 97 metres high it seems the environment surrounding it softens the building slightly, the mountains and sea compliment it and it seems to fit in better.


(Spittles, 2017) (accessed 9.10.22)

(Arup,s.d) (accessed 9.10.22)

(thedesignsociety, s.d.) (accessed 9.10.22)


Fig. 1 – Pierre Koenig, Case Study House #22 (1959) Photograph by mbtrama on Flickr: Creative Commons. (accessed 9.10.22)

Fig. 2 – Excalibur Estate, Catford (2014) Photograph by diamond geezer on Flickr: Creative Commons. (accessed 9.10.22)

Fig. 3 – The Al Dar Headquarters, Abu Dhabi (accessed 9.10.22)

Fig. 4 – The Sunrise Kempinski Hotel, Beijing (accessed 9.10.22)

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