Corner conditions are an unavoidable part of design. Corners occur in both interior and exterior conditions. Architects have all studied the corner in some capacity either during school or in practice drawing a detail or confronting the corner condition when materiality is applied to a drawn 2D detail. The corner can be looked at as both an object and as a concept.
A corner defines the convergence of non-parallel forms. Within every corner there are two distinct and often opposing conditions. A corner’s interior tends to unify space, while a corner’s exterior can divide space along its edge. Many inherent characteristics of a corner contribute to the corner operating as a system within its architecture. Materiality, form, scale, spatial and social effects are all corner characteristics that influence the treatment of the corner. But what does the corner and/or corner problem mean in current practice?
The word problem in the phrase the corner problem is problematic. The problem isn’t really a problem but rather a condition that requires additional intellect, consideration and discussion for how it should be treated. If so desired, the corner can be seen as an opportunity and a variety of solutions to the corner problem exist. As can be seen throughout architectural history, the corner problem has been solved by a variety of architects in a variety of ways. In current practice there is an aversion to turning the corner. The corner problem has now become how NOT to turn the corner. The meaning of this corner is to expose the layers of construction, to reveal the enclosure.
The following examples demonstrate this treatment of the corner as an intentional architectural strategy:
Left: Earl Carter, City Hill House
Right: John Wardle Architects, The International Centre of Graphic Technology
At John Wardle’s City Hill House, rather than turning the corner, the outer enclosure continues unabated and is gently peeled back to expose its edge. This intentionally makes the glass end appear unframed and foregrounds the transparent end. At the International Centre of Graphic Technology, the north and south ends of the building are treated as cut ends that reveal the interior characteristics of the building.
Left: John Horner, Melbourne School of Design
Right: John Horner, Newton House
At NADAAA’s Melbourne School of Design each corner of the building expresses a unique way to execute junctions between materials and reveal the architectural intention of expressing construction.
The layers of construction, are pulled back and revealed explaining the relationships between materials. Structural members are left in their unfinished state while room interiors are finished and refined. NADAAA’s Newton House also expresses construction at the corner, exposing the filters and frames of the house at the edge with the architectural intention of showcasing the landscape.
Left: Kengo Kuma and Associates, Shizuoka International Garden and Horticultural Exhibition
Right: Kengo Kuma and Associates, Prostho Museum Research Center
Kengo Kuma skillfully makes heavy, dense materials appear soft and light in how he handles the corner. At the Shizuoka International Garden and Horticulture Exhibition Pavillion, Kuma uses the corner to expose the regular grid of suspended bamboo sticks. The bamboo sticks blend together into a veil that provides the temporary exhibition structure. At the Prostho Museum Research Center, Kuma references the Japanese system of Cidori, to uncover the corner and the joining system.
Left: Liao Yusheng, Caltrans District 7 Headquarters
Right: Liao Yusheng, Caltrans District 7 Headquarters
At Morphosis’ Caltrans District 7 Headquarters, the corner or edge reveals the layers of the skin. Morphosis breaks the traditional vertical wall by continuing the skin down to form a canopy. This exposes the mechanical nature of the skin, which intelligently reacts to its environment – changing opacity throughout the day based on temperature and sunlight conditions.
Left: Halkin Photography LLC, Sidwell Friends School
Right: Inga Saffron, Cellophane House
KieranTimberlake’s Cellophane House uses the corner to expose and express the connections and tectonics of the prefabricated architecture. Due to the nature of its factory made connections, the house can be built or taken apart in pieces that range from large to small. KieranTimberlake also reveals layers and materials at the corner of its Stewart Middle School Sidwell Friends project. The corner exposes volumes enclosed by screens as well as the façade’s sunshade.
Left: MAD, Cultural Center of Harbin
Right: MAD (Dezeen) Ground Floor Plan
MAD Architects purposely avoid turning the corner at the exterior of the Harbin Opera House as the buildings’ ribbon-like panels undulate and wrap the building. The design intent was for the building to appear as if sculpted by wind and water, seamlessly integrating nature and topography. Ma Yansong, founding principal of MAD Architects states that, “The curvilinear façade composed of smooth white aluminum panels becomes the poetry of edge and surface, softness and sharpness.”
Left: ArchiTeam, SANAA, Rolex Learning Center
Right: © Rolex Learning Center Rolex Learning Center, Interior of Rolex Learning Center
SANAA also attempts to avoid turning the corner by making it disappear at the Rolex Learning Center. The glass corner is a means of enclosure, but no more than that. The Rolex Center is a perfect rectangle when seen in a plan view, but the emphasis is not on the exterior box but on the curves and slopes which define the interior space and give the building a totally organic look. The corners are meant to vanish and give emphasis to the building’s interior.
Left: Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), Diller Scofidio + Renfro Rendering of Elevated Cafe
Right: © Iwan Baan, Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center / Diller Scofidio + Renfro
At Diller Scofidio and Renfro’s Vagelos Education Center for Columbia University the Corner becomes the site for exposing the “study cascade”. A network of social and study spaces distributed across oversized landings preference the corner. Here the corner is not turned but extruded, wrapped and peeled away to reveal spaces and highlight their significance within the building.
As construction techniques, design tools and materials advance, there are new ways to look at how the corner is treated. In contemporary practice we are more interested in NOT turning the corner. Today architects cut, slice, feather, end and reveal the corner as well as expose the edge, instead of making a TURN.