Antoine Predock on Strata, Motorcycles, and the Building Skin

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Antoine Predock Architect’s Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (Aaron Cohen/Canadian Museum for Human Rights)

Despite his reputation for designing buildings with aesthetically and technically interesting envelopes, Antoine Predock, who will deliver the opening keynote address at next month’s Facades+ Dallas conference, does not spend a lot of time thinking about the facade as a separate entity. “I never use the term facade, because I work spatially,” he said. “I work from an inner process; then all of a sudden, whoops, there’s a facade.” Rather than designing from the outside in, Predock digs deep. “I talk about strata—like geologic strata,” he explained. “Every project has layers of meanings and understandings that finally culminate in this physical thing, but there’s all these strata below that.”

Highlands Pond House. (Tim Hursley)

Highlands Pond House. (Tim Hursley)

Atlantis Hotel and Casino. (Robert Reck)

Atlantis Hotel and Casino. (Robert Reck)

“I want to go as far back as I can to remember that this building has a responsibility to a far deeper time, than even before human habitation,” he continued. The point, said Predock, is to avoid superficial formal gestures. “I start with the underpinnings, with the investigation of the cultural layers that occur on the site rather than buying into some stupid style. It’s too easy to do that—so I make things really complicated for myself because I think there’s more meaning when you do that.”

In accordance with Predock’s distinction between style and substance, the facades designed by his eponymous firm do more than protect the interiors from the environment. “The goal is to keep away from the facade as a mechanical thing,” said Predock. “Instead, the facade is a poetic thing; you want to keep more of that edge.”

Predock, an avid motorcyclist, uses the example of two famous bike brands to illustrate his thoughts on the function of a building’s skin. “Harley Davidsons have decent engines. They’re these iconic elements that, for me, embody the idea of a Souljah,” he said. “Then there’s a bike like a Ducati, with really out there technical intentions, because they’re proven on the racetrack.” The skin on a motorcycle, continued Predock, may have had its origins in aerodynamics, but also serves aesthetic ends—he cites the Ducati 916, “which was just a total breakthrough of what a motorcycle could look like,” because its skin covered the engine. “My point is, if you’re going to make a skin on something, whether it’s a bike or a building, then what is its content? What is it besides a high-performance assemblage?”

Facades with power beyond their tectonic responsibilities, said Predock, appear as apparations, mystifying the observer. “Some people look at my building and think it’s a UFO base,” he said. “The exciting notion of a building having an ambiguity in its appearance and not being completely understood is a good thing, a plus.” In the best cases, the experience can be transporting. Take Predock’s Venice House, which features a vertical slot window set into a concrete recess in the beach-facing wall. “When you put your eyeball up to it,” said Predock, “it’s sort of a threshold to another realm.”

For more information on Facades+ Dallas or to register, visit the conference website.

Venice House. (Courtesy Antoine Predock Architect)

Venice House. (Courtesy Antoine Predock Architect)

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