BUILD Blog


3 Relationships of Architecture to the Earth

Years ago, back in school, we attended a lecture by renowned architect Daniel Liebskind.  He showed a series of simple diagrams that categorized built-form into one of three categories relating to the Earth’s geometry.

A. Buildings that have a primary geometrical axis that is a tangent to the Earth’s geometry (thereby touching the Earth’s geometry at 1 point)
B. Buildings that have a primary geometrical axis that is a chord through the Earth’s geometry (thereby touching the Earth’s geometry at 2 points)
C. Buildings which have a primary geometrical axis that aligns with the Earth’s center (thereby touching the Earth’s geometry at 3 points).

Yeah we know… theoretical, heady, academic.  But it’s an interesting way to look at the built environment around us and it offers a different method to compare and contrast built-form.  We’ve rounded up five important examples of each category and an additional category of undecided projects.  To narrow down the possibilities we’ve added a few constraints: the examples had to be built and they had to be architecture (they had to keep the heat in and the rain out), and they had to be recent (realized within the last 15 years).  We’ve put on our black turtlenecks for this one so feel free to throw your theoretical tomatoes at us.  Or better yet – cast your vote for the undecided and post your favorite examples.

A. Tangent

Wilson House in Melbourne Australia by Denton Corker Marshall

[photo courtesy of Denton Corker Marshall]

Markia-Alderton House in Australia’s Northern Territory by Glen Murcutt

[photo courtesy of Glen Murcutt]

House in Bordeaux, France by OMA

[photo courtesy of OMA]

Algarve House in Portugal by Eduardo Souto Moura

[photo from Ten Houses by Rockport Publishing]

Casa Ponce in Buenos Aires by Mathias Klotz

[photo courtesy of Mathias Klotz]

B. Chord

Visiting Artists House by Jim Jennings

[photo courtesy of AIA Architect]


[photo by Joseph Readdy]

Seed bank on the island of Spitsbergen, Norway

Baiao House in Portugal by Eduardo Souto Moura

[photo from Ten Houses by Rockport Publishing]

Royal Netherlands Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by Dick van Gameren

[photo courtesy of Dick van Gameren]

Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Park by Weiss Manfredi

[photo by Alan Berner]

C. Axis

Helical symmetry: Twisting Torso building in Malmö, Sweden by Santiago Calatrava

[photo by Ipso]

Radial symmetry: Agbar Tower in Barcelona by Jean Nouvel

[photo by  Mike Pevsner]

Radial symmetry: 30 St Mary Axe in London by Lord Norman Foster

[photo by WallyG]

Bilateral symmetry: Burj Al Arab Hotel Dubai

[photo by  H.Andras_xms]

Bilaterial & Radial symmetry: The Petrona Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by César Pelli

[photo by Thomas Evan]

Undecided These projects threw us off axis (pun intended) – we couldn’t quite figure out which category they best fit into, or maybe they fit into multiple categories…

London City Hall by Lord Norman Foster

[photo by Purple Cloud]

Geodesic Dome, original deisign by Buckminster Fuller at Parc Parc La Villette by Bernard Tschumi

Nemo Museum in Amsterdam by Renzo Piano Building Workshop

[photo courtesy of Renzo Piano Building Workshop]

Seattle Public Library by OMA

[photo courtesy of OMA]

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8 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Small correction: It’s actually “Turning Torso” and not “Twisting…”

Comment by pontus

It’s an interesting way to think about architecture but I can’t see how these concepts would have an benefit to the process of architecture.
Based on your terms, I think London City Hall is a bilateral chord. Although NEMO has an angled roof it really doesn’t intersect the ground plane at all, so I think it’s still a tangent. The Geodesic dome could be any of the 3 categories. Since the Seattle library seems to be wider than it is tall I’m going with tangent.

Comment by Keyser

Nice analysis and although I question the aesthetic of the geodesic dome, I think architecture could could get really interesting as one hybridizes these categories.

Comment by cschultz

“This house is a tectonic building. It looks as if it was only a roof close to the earth, a strange vertical roof stuck to the rock face instead of a main façade. To enter the house is to slide along the earth like penetrating. It’s funny to read this ulnlikely space with german architect Daniel LIEBESKIND’s diagrams categorizing built-form into 3 relations to the Earth’s geometry as explained in BUILD blog. To my mind this case is a tangent building, we could also even say this tangent building is focusing on the tangential point and following the curve of the earth.”
skip to main | skip to sidebar C’est la vie !”
(C’est la vie ! – From the bubble to the niche)

Comment by C'est la vie !

“Or better yet – cast your vote for the undecided and post your favorite examples.”
(BUILD blog)
http://celav.blogspot.com/2008/10/from-bubble-to-niche-en.html

Comment by C'est la vie !

C’est la vie – we love that house – it’s really tying us in knot as far as the 3 relationships to the earth go, though. I’m going to say the house is tangent with a split personality and that it actually wants to be a chord. For those of you just tuning in – there’s also a good photo of the house at http://www.urbanbike.com/index.php/site/maisons-au-regime-sec-shuhei-endo/

Comment by buildllc

there used to be a great resource on this blog showing different strategies for diagramming. . .is that still around somewhere?

Comment by stlarch

stlarch – sounds like it might be this one:
http://blog.buildllc.com/2007/12/08/re-thinking-construction-documents/
if not, let us know – we haven’t deleted any posts so it’s got to be around somewhere.

Comment by buildllc




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