By Laurène Bachand, Architect
I am reading the book, Architecture for babies to my daughter (I know, I know… eye-rolling)
The architecture depicted in this book is so playful and colourful – it’s so fun.
Image: Architecture for babies from Baby 101
See how fun that colourful city is? Green. Yellow. Purple. Ferris wheels… Happiness.
Don’t you wish our real cities were that much fun? I do. Especially now.
When it comes to architecture, we most often associate fun with buildings that are exuberant and gaudy, often standing out from their surroundings. Some even believe that the modern meaning of the word gaudy comes from the Dr. Seuss-like designs of Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí.
Images: The exuberant architecture of Antonio Gaudí from The Culture trip and Architectural Digest
It doesn’t have to be this way. Fun doesn’t need to be ridiculous. It can be clever, playful or quirky. It can put a smile on your face when you see it and can again when you tell others about it later. Buildings that introduce elements of fun allow people to better engage and interact with their built environment. They can make us feel like a part of the city. Whether we realize it or not, the buildings that surround us can change how we feel. If we introduce a little fun in our designs, they can make us happy.
As a designer it takes a lot of courage to be fun. It’s not easy. It’s as if our education pushes us the other way, towards austerity, and seriousness. Architects are notorious for wearing black and shying away from adding colour to their designs. Fortunately, fun can take many forms, and can be included in design at different scales, in different ways.
Fun is subtle.
Fun can be in the details – a window frame, a playful sign, a cladding pattern – the cheeky signature of our dearest friend at Number TEN, architect Ron Basarab.
Ron was a master at fun. He hid many little gems in our city, with the intent of putting a smile on our faces, in the middle of our day, out of nowhere, unexpected. There is nothing better than unexpected smiles made of concrete.
I will always remember entering the National Technical Library in Prague, Czech Republic, and smiling. Completed in 2009 by architects Projektil Architekti, the project is a good old university library filled with 1.2 million books. It was supposed to be anything but playful. The response from the design team, however, gives us an unexpected experience. Signage and graphics are playfully used throughout the building. As if lifted off the architectural construction drawings, strings of dimensions light-heartedly indicate the building size on the façade or across the stairs. A bold colourful floor contrasts with the formality of the space. The central atrium, filled with natural light, features amusing, childlike doodles scribed on exposed concrete walls. As a visitor your only lament is that you don’t have time to read them all.
Image: A central atrium filled with natural light, a bold colourful floor and childlike doodles from Archjourney
Image: Strings of dimensions on the façade of the National Technical Library from Archdaily
Fun is bold.
Fun can be assertive. Completed by Bjarke Ingels Group in 2019, the Amager Bakke power plant, also known as Copenhill in Copenhagen, Denmark, is a recent and obvious example of form follows fun. I don’t need to say much about it. The building speaks for itself. In a perfectly flat country, a factory that makes energy out of garbage was built in a shape that allowed an all-season ski slope to run down its side. Sure, maybe it doesn’t exactly fit into its context, but what industrial powerplant does? It is impossible to deny that it makes everyone smile. We can’t deny how clever the solution is to a not-so-sexy problem. A building type that is usually hidden away and forgotten about is now hidden in plain sight, towering over the city, constantly reminding people of their energy consumption habits, while keeping them active and…happy.
Image: A serious waste-to-energy plant functional program leading to a ski hill in Copenhagen from Archdaily
Image: A skier enjoying a sunny day on Copenhill from Archdaily
Fun is colourful.
Colour is embedded in Mexican culture. It has been used to reinforce the identity of different areas in the country. Architect Luis Barragán used colour beautifully, as did Ricardo Legorreta. Winnipeg could use a bit of Barragán to redefine itself – to make it a happier city. I am not saying to start painting the City bright colours, but maybe we could use creative new approaches to urban landscapes and building claddings. Maybe we need to dare ourselves to incorporate colour a bit more. Wouldn’t a bold pink wall be a pleasant relief during a white-out snowstorm?
Image: Use of colours at Barragan’s equastrian estate by designboom
Image: Camino Real Hotel from The Architectural Review
One of my favourite artists is Turkish photographer Yener Torun (@cimkedi). He plays with building façades and transforms them into beautiful colourful works of art. Istanbul is anything but a playful city. The use of concrete and the rigidity of the structural grid result in a monochromatic city. By emphasizing the rhythms, patterns and lines, and playing with colours, Torun creates an alternative reality – like a city seen through a child’s kaleidoscope. He puts a smile on your face, with every single photograph. See for yourself. I bet you'll smile! https://www.yenertorun.net/
Images: Bold colourful photographs from Yener Torun
Fun is everywhere.
So, in these weird times, what building, detail or space makes you smile? Share some fun with us.
Here is mine. Anything with googly eyes really...
Laurène is an Architect and Residential/Commerical Studio Lead at Number TEN Architectural Group