Swamp Hut: Embodying Hearth

Working on the Studio project this semester has brought on many challenges. The project I was assigned, The Swamp Hut, has proved to be more than a simple house located in Massachusetts, Boston.

Through various explorations during the first half of the semester, I decided to focus on the concept of The Swap Hut as a reinvention of the Laugier’s Primitive Hut model. And in particular, focusing on Gottfried Semper’s model, where he characterizes the four components of architecture: the hearth, enclosure, and mound.

PerspectiveFrom this, I decided to focus primarily on the Hearth, as the original design revolves around this area both programatically and structurally. However, the original design only utilizes this space as a central threshold, where the inhabitant pass by the platform to move to the other side. This prevents them from fully experiencing the true warmth of the hearth, and no special consideration is made to how the space is used in the original design.

The idea of reinventing the hearth would bring a new meaning to The Swamp Hut. Each hut already had a specific function, such as the sleeping hut or washing hut, the design of the enclosure reflecting its function. The central platform would then be transformed into a new, usable space, that embodied the concept of the metaphysical and physical aspects of the hearth.

Full Composition Drawing

As documented in the previous post, the idea of elevating the hearth proved to create an isolation between the existing platform, and the above addition. Therefore, a new concept of creating a sunken space in the central platform proved justice to my concept. Other ideas such as redesigning the addition to become the new entrance to the Swamp Hut, and stairs ascending to the raised platform became very key aspects of my design. I thought about these various ideas that would create the overall design of my addition, while keeping in mind how the detail would be incorporated into it.

The combination of the Shou Sugi Ban burning technique along with a metal connection design fully embodies the element of fire into the material, as both are formed by this element. The designed metal connection would serve as an intimate detail that combined the charred wood members, and create a system. In “The Eyes of the Skin”, Pallasmaa talks about fire in a very revealing way. He describes the warmth and presence of fire as something we can feel against our skin. The design of this addition aims to capture that sensation, by not only containing the flame itself, but also integrating the feeling or presence of the fire.

Ultimately, the connection detail became a stair system that would ascend the dweller from the sunken pit to the above platform. Each individual system formed a T like shape, which would be hardwood, and the treaders as soft woods. Both wood members will be charred at different spectrums, with the bottom most steps the most burnt, and the higher ones less.

This effect creates a subtle yet incredible juxtaposition in the space. The pit comprised of charred wood creates a very dark area, which contrasts greatly to the daylight present at the upper platform. However, during the night, when all else is dark, the pit is beautifully illuminated by the fire and creates a bubble of warmth to comfort the inhabitants.

Furthermore, the very intricate gaps created by the treaders and cladding system creates a very dramatic effect as the sun is rising and setting. It is illustrated in the video by the sun studies in the sunken pit. The angled sun seeps into the pit, creating soft rays that project against the dark walls of the space.

Up CLose PitEach individual treaders also serves as a different level to experience the fire. The dweller can choose to sit in the sunken space right around the bowl off fire, on the stairs, or stand underneath the treaders, which also serve as protection from above.Sitting by the Fire2
This addition really becomes a celebration of the hearth, as tries to create a new central axis around this space. These various ways of interacting with the warmth of the fire allow the person to really appreciate the hearth.

The entrance to the new redesigned Swamp Hut is now located on the sunken platform, as opposed to the upper deck. This threshold of the previous design was hidden away, and its location had no purpose, other than allowing the dwelling to access the space. By relocating the ramp to the addition, a spiral path around the hearth is created, and thus the emphasis of the hearth as being the central axis of the architecture is further developed.

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Overall, creating this addition has been a very challenging task. Nonetheless, the results have proved to be very enlightening and rewarding. Initially, there was difficulty envisioning an additional space in The Swamp Hut design, as the form was very symmetrical and rigid. Reading back on the first blog posts reveals how indifferent I was about the assigned house, and has allowed myself to reflect upon the entire semester.

Looking back, I gained many valuable skills and knowledge through the explorations and ultimately creating the addition. Practical skills such as intricate wood and metal-working, learning to weld, and the Shou Sugi Ban technique were very interesting fields that I wish to master in the future. However, aside from these practical skills, the project this semester has taught me to think critically and creatively.

The biggest obstacle was creating the detail model for our addition before creating the actual space. Because my idea has not yet been solidified when I was designing the detail, it was hard to grasp the final concept. Nonetheless, this method of process definitely contributed to a better project as it allowed me to explore various possibilities and create a very intricate detail. Ultimately, this one detail became a very complex system that completely dictated the form and function of the addition. In addition, it helped me move away from the initial concept of having the space elevated above the hearth, as the detail did not play a large part in its design.

This semester has proved to be a very important step in our educational journey, since it is the first architectural project that we formed with our own ideas. It has most definitely created a greater flame in my ambition to pursue my goals.