The rise of the Slow Space Movement in Architectural Design
by Bridgette Ford
The world is fast. Acceleration, in terms of speed and growth, is the conduct of our modern age, and success has come to be synonymous with speed. Speed implies progress, so in turn, slow holds the implication of stagnation and unproductively. We live in a time where designs are accelerated and architecture no longer stands still. Poor quality, made with cheap materials, bloated with fillers and chemicals, depressing to be in, built fast and without a thoughtful design. (Aamodt/Plumb. 2018.) – This could well define the current circumstances of contemporary architecture and construction practices. Wooed by the charm of increasing speed, we overlook the inherent slowness required for design and craft. Constantly hurried, we lack the intellectual space for reflection and perspective and the temporal space for experience and skillbuilding. This fast-paced tendency is mirrored by modern society in general, with faced paced lifestyles and the search for quick gratification, not allowing for meaningful connections to be built, to deepen experiences.
You can think of contemporary architectural development as being like fast food – designed fast and built even faster, to satisfy our need for immediate gratification, feeding into our fantasies of a glamorously modern life, not one that’s necessarily easy to live in or easy on the environment. – (Aamodt/Plumb. 2018.)
The Slow Movement is a quiet resistance to the fast-paced pressures of modern life, a cultural shift to slow down life’s pace and revive the sensual pleasures of a sustainable and healthy existence. When applied to architectural design, the slow movement has shifted to the Slow Space Movement, a concept that fundamentally, promotes the highest quality buildings, made with clean healthy materials and built with fair labour, experienced craftsmanship and has a holistically healthy design approach.
Slow Space is for the built environment, what slow food has done to the food industry; what slow sex has done to sexual stigma; and how slow living is adjusting our contemporary lifestyle.
The following examples will uncover the immense potential in utilising the slow space movement principles into architectural designs, and the implications that the slow space movement has on the present and future of all facets of human-orientated design.
The Modern Texas Prefab home by Aamodt/Plumb Architects is situated in Texas, USA. The design concept for the prefab home come from the Aamodt/Plumb’s notion of creating rich, beautiful spaces through simple forms, materials, and procedures. The design is authentic and straightforward, letting the form be inspired by the nature of the site and the functionality be designed for user happiness and enjoyment.
“The Modern Texas Prefab home is based around the idea of slowness, to create a space that elevates the modern problems of stress and overwhelm, for a positive human experience within.” – Aamodt/Plumb
The rich materiality of the project is visible in the aesthetic qualities of the build, with minimal, quality materials showcased authentically, giving a timeless, minimalistic feel to the design. Spatial intrigue appears in the interplay between volumes and the use of simple, warm materials. The design incorporates the eco-conscious traditional, Japanese technique of burning (Shou-Sugi-Ban) to char the surface of the external timber cladding.
Internally, the home incorporates locally sourced, sustainable and chemical-free materials, finishes and furnishings, from the bones of the sustainable sourced building frame, right down to the ornamentation of repurposed woven floor rugs and vintage furniture. The use of sustainably sourced, natural and repurposed elements of the design not only physically showcase the slow space movement, but the architecture begins to take on a harmonious spirituality and more human-like qualities.
The building, like a body, has bones, skin and systems. Interior decoration is clothing; it is fashionable and mutable. The space inside is the soul. It is the intangible feeling that is difficult to describe and impossible to photograph.’ – Aamodt/Plumb
What has been achieved through a holistically slow design process, is a home which encompasses the qualities of good, clean and fair, into a design that challenges the stigmas of slow-paced construction practices, while not costing the earth.
Dreamt up by Australian designer George Gorrow (founder of Ksubi) and model/creator Cisco Tschurtschenthaler, The Slow is a immersive experience of island-luxe design, slow culture and artistic celebration. George & Cisco’s creative and holistic lifestyle backgrounds are woven into the tapestry of The Slow, which weaves itself into the Canggu, Bali community.
The pair collaborated with GFAB Architects to create an interpretation best described as ‘tropical brutalism’. The Slow was intended to be more than just somewhere to rest your head, instead, it’s an all-immersive experience. Serving the community through common, semi-public spaces, as well as and private accommodation, the slows doubles as a retreat style resort and community hub, embracing a new wave of living slow.
‘(It is) a place to rest your bones, stir your senses and expand your mind’ – George Gorrow
The communal spaces are where The Slow’s concept thrives, from the gallery spaces, a slow fashion and sustainability concept store, and Eat & Drink, and an all-day dining venue inspired by the slow food movement. Simple, usable public spaces allow retreat guests and locals alike to congregate, switch off or be inspired. The spaces are multifaceted, allowing each user to respond differently. The striking repetition of the native Bangkirai hardwood screen facade envelopes the individual spaces into a whole, while repelling the tropical climate.
“It’s somewhere you can go, disconnect and reconnect …get here fast and take it slow” – George Gorrow
The eclectic interiors are created through the balance of rigid, exposed, concrete and stone structure of the building, and the softness and warmth of native and sustainably sourced timbers, and textiles. The emphasis on locally sourced materials is further reflected in the local sand mixed wall renders and tiles, complemented by the polished concrete and exposed block-work. Locally produced homewares and fixtures, alongside the designers’ personal art collection, finding an aesthetic and cultural harmony between the site location and the personal aesthetic of the designers.
The slow is the antithesis of the fastness of the modern world. It subtly pulls the user into a stage of rest, unwind and peace.
Palace Electric’s Hopper Street Apartment renovation in Wellington New Zealand is an ideal example of taking the movement of slow space, and implementing it on a small scale. When it comes to the success of such a major shift to slowness in the design and construction industry, operating at an intimate scale can have a major impact over time, as small, successful projects gain recognition and respect from the architectural community.
Somewhat of a protest to the current development norms, Ben Daly, the architect and founder of Palace Electric, created an apartment with emphasis on quality, involvement and intimacy. The aim was to create a home that others would feel drawn to and appreciate for its bespoke, handcrafted style and intimate feeling that a building only obtains through a thoughtful design and construction process. Daly sees such a process as a sustainable version of development, what he considers to be the foremost principle of slow architecture.
“Everyone’s into trying to do something where you have more involvement with the process. For me you should do that in every way now, not just what you eat, what you drink, what you wear, but where you live, and how you live.” – Ben Daly
‘Slow’ is a movement, that when considered in a holistic sense, begins to embody one’s ethics, outlook and routines, which in turn redefines how one lives in and engages with the spaces they design. Daly’s attitude towards human orientated design is mirrored in the apartment, with the thoughtfully detailed interior spaces being created with such understanding and empathy for the human relationship within minimal space.
All new building work is seen as a rich palette of locally sourced timbers, while existing walls were paired back and painted white, to exhibit contrast between the old and new. The repetition in the ply timbers and sawn pine boards, give a harmonious, calm and quaint feeling throughout. Any additional materials needed for the project were either collected from local producers, local merchants or found secondhand. The attention to sustainable detailing and specifying of not only the materials but the finishes is a testament to the design’s dedication to sustainability, with paint finishes being low VOC (low-chemical), floors sealed in a natural oil and terracotta tiling. Furthermore, much of the building work was performed using hand tools, with limited used of electric devices, limiting the embodied energy in the materials and construction.
The three projects showcased are prime examples of how when the principles of the slow space movement are used unanimously and are ingrained in all elements of a design, the architecture takes on a richness, that can only be achieved through utilising the contemporary sustainable technologies of the present, and the rich fundamental knowledge of the past.
“Fast and Slow do more than just describe a rate of change, they are shorthand for ways of being, or philosophies of life.” (Carl Honoré, In praise of slowness, 2010)