The most widely known effort of the twentieth century to overcome architectural fixity is the Schroder House in Utrecht, by Gerrit Rietveld. Transforming the entire upper floor are sliding partitions that can define or erase the boundaries between four spatial quadrants, converging at a central skylit staircase. Each easily handled partition is made from a lightweight sandwich of bituminized cork faced with sheets of beaverboard. Reminiscent of Japanese sliding screens but lacking their subtlety and sensuous pleasure, each group of panels is arranged in layers and slides within parallel tracks, made by recessed grooves in the floor and a steel T-section in the ceiling, so that each room can be opened to varying extents and directions. The partitions can all be opened at once to create a large collective space, or partially deployed to subdivide the floor into two to four rooms. The movable windows of a shared entry hall around the stair permit the core itself to be open or glazed. An irresistible spirit of mutation extends into other components. Meeting at the iconic south corner are two mullionless windows, hinged to outwardly swing in opposite directions to perceptually erase the seam of enclosure. Furnishings were shaped to stimulate dexterity and intrigue, notably a cabinet in the living-dining area that resembles a Constructivist sculpture, its differently sized painted boxes fitting into a largely hidden framework. Boxes can slide out in varied ways with uncertain directions, turning its volume into a threedimensional puzzle in which inspired play transcends practical merit. Serving more than a decorative role are Mondrian-esque colours applied to each mobile element, a Dutch tradition stretching back through centuries of vernacular building. Primary colours catch the eye and lure the hand, calling attention and bringing joy to what is transformable, with hints of how things might move.
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Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin West (begun 1937), Arizona, contrast of open and closed shutters in passage adjoining the cabaret theatre
While mutability was never a central concern of Frank Lloyd Wright – apart from Ocotillo, his ‘little desert camp’ in Arizona, rigged like a ship with ‘white canvas wings’ spread ‘like sails’ over wood frames, with hinged canvas flaps that ‘may shut against dust or open part way to deflect the desert breezes into the interiors’ – it became a prominent feature of many architectural details.62 At Taliesin West are small features with unexpected motions emphasized by brightly painted colours. A skylit corridor skirting the cabaret theatre also serves as an adjustable filter with long hinged shutters at either side, the outer swinging in and up beneath a skylight and the lower swinging down to open a window onto the theatre. The panels can be closed to isolate the theatre from daylight or distractions, or swung open and out of the way to infuse each space with light and air. This playful freedom reappears in other unpretentious elements, from the cantilevered entry gate to the small square shutters over the openings in Wright’s living quarters, each extolled with Cherokee-red paint.
Glazing takes on a protean role at Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, beginning with the transparent hatch of the living room (p. 90), its promise of adventure strengthened by resemblance to a ship’s hatch and all the freedom of space that implies. Still partly a door in its access to the stair leading down to the stream, but also a window to nature and source of ventilation, the hatch expands creative control through its operable sheets in two different planes: a pair of vertical panes swinging apart and three horizontal panes sliding in tracks. Equally adjustable and full of amazement are the corner windows of two west bedrooms, where six pairs of hinged panes can be swung open to the waterfall and startle the eye by dissolving a corner. Alongside is a vertical casement that swings through a quarter circle cut from the desk, so that altogether thirteen panes can be brought into play in three different folds of the window.
Frank Lloyd Wright, Fallingwater (1935), Pennsylvania, casement windows and vertical window in bedroom
In Paradise Valley, Arizona, six pairs of puzzle-like doors control the marriage of house and desert in the atrium of Wright’s Price House. Each pair of doors meets along a vertical line obscured by surface reflections, while their outer edges are notched along a diagonal zig-zag to mesh with tapered piers of concrete block. Complicating the motion is a vertical pivot placed off-centre to allow each door to fold back against the pier and maximize communion with the landscape. The enchantment of this operation also derives from the way in which Wright hid the pivoting structure to create both doubt and fascination about a mutation that seems devoid of any obvious support or orbit. But it is also due to the facing of doors with a delightful collage of turquoise and gold, which, when in motion, sets off a dazzling sparkle – a mixture of bafflement and delight that is equally present in Le Corbusier’s hand-painted pivoting door at Ronchamp (p. 92).