Lasting impression

In Praise of the Slightly Imperfect


One of our main interests is in sourcing materials that will age gracefully, looking better after a decade or two than they will at completion. As part of a research visit, we went to Ennis House (1) in Los Angeles by Frank Lloyd Wright (1924), which uses handcrafted concrete panels in repetition to create highly tactile external elevations and interiors that are comfortable and warm. Our Lanterna building at Fish Island in Hackney (2018, CQ 266) owes something to this approach: the moulds are handcrafted and the retardant, used to expose the basalt aggregate, was applied by hand, giving the occasional wavy line to the panels’ herringbone grooves. It just makes it all a bit less sharp and more human, creating the impression that the building has been there for a long time already.

Another crafted, tactile building is Louis Kahn’s monumental Salk Institute (2) (1960), at La Jolla on the Californian coast. While a friend of mine was working there, I had the opportunity to spend long days exploring the faculty buildings. Kahn used a pozzolanic concrete with volcanic aggregate to give the concrete water resistance and a pinkish colouring. Teak panels sit within the structural frame which, in combination with the imperfect in-situ concrete, softens the elevations and provides places of quiet contemplation for Salk’s professors.

The Teshima Art Museum (3) by Ryue Nishizawa (2010) on Japan’s Seto Inland Sea is a similarly contemplative space, but demonstrates a very different way of using concrete: a pure 60m-wide droplet-shaped structure without any internal columns to support it. The building hosts a single artwork by sculptor Rei Naito, with droplets of water trickling out of the ground, coalescing into shallow streams, and interacting with the concrete surface, rain, snow and insects. The concrete must have a repellent on it, as the water has a mercury-type quality. The result is mesmerising and magical, with no explanation as to how the gradients were formed or the water conduits cast.

Simon Goode is co-founder of Lyndon Goode Architects

Photos 1.Marmaduke St. John / Alamy Stock; 2.Simon Goode; 3.Iwan Baan