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Notes on the Indoor/Outdoor relationship, in Architecture and in the City

By Alexandre Marques Pereira, Senior Partner S+A

"Only someone who is well prepared has the opportunity to improvise."

Ingmar Bergman

From the Temples and Tombs in the Valley of Kings and Queens in Ancient Egypt to the Temples and Agoras of the Classical Greece city-states, to the Forums and Squares of the cities of the Roman Empire, or to the Renaissance cities somewhere in the Italian peninsula, their various architectures, more or less public, more or less religious, domestic or military, and of various scales, these architectures that formed these cities or places in the landscape were all, in most cases, full of Arcades, Colonnades, Porches, Balconies, Peristyles, more or less Hypostyle spaces, set in their new topographies, made up of walls, stairs, platforms, and terraces.

All these spaces — with or without a roof —, which were and still are searching for any relationship between inside and outside, with their spaces open to the outdoors and indoors, spaces of sun and shade, that have always materialized in different cultures the essence of Architecture and the City, seeking to create a physical environment to accommodate different ways of living, with multiple possibilities of being and using, whether the indoor or outdoor, and many others somewhere in between, all of them always as a way of seeking a place of shelter and comfort, and its multiple possibilities, as well as a specific symbolic, spiritual and artistic value and meaning, therefore cultural.

This was also what other artistic forms revealed most in their various narratives around architecture, such as painting, literature, and cinema, among others. Painters have been looking for this so markedly since the early Renaissance, such as Fra-Angelico or Giotto, with their figurations of various religious or other themes, such as the Annunciations and their scenes somewhere between the Porticoes and landscapes near or far, to the Impressionists, through the Romantics, among many others.

Moreover, this was also what most cinema has shown and revealed, such as Visconti in ‘Senso’ in the scenes set in Palladio’s Villa Godi, or in ‘Leopardo’ and the beautiful terrace of the house of the Prince of Salinas; Tarkovsky in ‘Mirror’ and its unique and poetic scenes between indoors and outdoors; Jean Renoir in ‘Sacred River’ and its beautiful scenes set around the magnificent porch in the family house, over the garden and the river; Kubrick in the multiple passages of ‘Barry Lyndon’, mostly set around a window, a terrace, a garden or landscape; the Japanese master, Yasujiro Ozu, with his camera 50 cm from the ground and his 50 mm lens, in the fluid domestic spaces in houses and outdoors; the rich and unique insight between Indian and Western culture; or the countless masterpieces of the Indian master Satyajit Ray, and so on.

Furthermore, the co-natural condition of modern art and architecture comes today as yesterday, from being inspired and refreshed by other cultures, times, and ways of understanding life and art, and so it was with Frank Loyd Wright, Mies Van der Rohe, Breuer, Bauhaus, Aalto, Neutra, and with almost all the architects who have forever influenced contemporary architectural culture.

As regards the issues surrounding the indoor-outdoor relationship and its various new possibilities, if it were not for the admiration of many early moderns, such as Wright, Bruno Taut, and many others, for traditional Japanese architecture, and in particular for one of the most sublime works of architecture ever, the Imperial Villa of Katsura and its gardens in Kyoto, there would be no Wright’s prairie houses, the Waterfall House, the Alvar Aalto’s Villa Marea, Rudolph Shindler’s countless houses, and various remarkable examples of the dwelling between indoors and outdoors, which Richard Neutra has designed like no other for several decades, where indoors and outdoors constitute a whole and a continuum.

Modern architecture has definitely brought to our world various syntheses between the past of Western architecture and other cultures, where everything came together in new ways, adapted to modern-day life. As far as the relationship between indoors and outdoors is concerned, modern architecture, through its various authors, has mixed Porticoes, Stoas, Cloisters, Courtyards, Arcades, Agoras and Forums of the Western past with the concept of the ‘Engawa’ and the fluidity of traditional Japanese architecture, as well as its relationship with its beautiful gardens, cities, white architecture, Arab terraces, and gardens, or with the radical architecture of ancient Egypt, to create — from these multiple mixtures — a new world of new possibilities, which still has a long way to go.

In recent times — in this new post-pandemic era that is coming — in this era in which, by force of circumstances, the question of the indoor-outdoor relationship in architecture and in the city has been reborn as a ‘new subject’ for everyone, architects or not. It will be a unique moment to remember the good examples of the past and, above all, to see things in a global and profound sense, and not to remain superficially by balconies and terraces.

The indoor-outdoor relationship is today, as it has always been, a much wider issue than balconies, terraces, or gardens, it is above all a way of understanding living and the experience of architecture and cities. To inhabit in the widest sense, to inhabit the spaces of education, culture, work, leisure, commerce, health facilities, student residences, hotels, parks, gardens, streets, squares, parks, and squares. Whether at night, in the morning, at sunrise or sunset, by children, the elderly, and everyone in between, all those who are all of us, who are all different and who use spaces (indoor or outdoor) in very different ways, with multiple times and ways, our designed responses as architects will have to house — through design and its forms — all these multiple possibilities and the possible and impossible ones, from inside to outside, from outside to inside, far beyond an image, two mirrors of the same reality.

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