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J Mayer H prioritises weather to understand, intervene in, and build for space

From installations to public buildings, the Berlin-based J. Mayer H. experiments with interventions that perform a new kind of design responsive engagement.

by Aastha D.Published on : Jun 02, 2021

J.Mayer.H is an architecture and design research studio in Berlin, founded in 1996. Keeping up with the interdisciplinary approach that is a necessity today, their work constantly strives to experiment at the intersections of architecture with new tech and material innovation. The firm works across scales; from urban planning schemes, through single family homes, objects, installations and material research. With this expansive milieu of projects, emerges new spatial practices that push the understanding of how human bodies interact with and occupy structures when subjected to new technology. Their recent newsletter entitled “Weatherized” is a keen derivation from the more commonly acknowledged global concern of the building industry: climate change. A collection of projects (spanning scale and location) are enlisted, apparently designed to respond to challenges posed by weather—the short lived symptom of climate.

Pitter.Patterns at Ostfildern, Stuttgart | J.Mayer.H | STIRworld
Pitter Patterns at Ostfildern, Stuttgart Image: Courtesy of J. MAYER H.

Pitter Patterns: Stuttgart, Germany

Straight out of a sci-fi movie, ‘Pitter Patterns’ is a computer animated artificial sheet of water, projected from a cantilevered roof such that one has to walk through it to enter the StadtHaus in Stuttgart. A digital skin of sorts, the ‘water curtain’ takes different forms of pattern—falling clouds, frequency shower, pixel pour, sinus drops, rain code, rain beams, zig zag— to appear like an interruption to the movement of people into the structure. A form of algorithmic art, the movement of people is the invariable external output that produces patterns using a random generative process. Light and water animations remain an integral part of the interiors of Stadt Haus, a public building whose program unifies various municipal functions—civil services, library, art gallery, school, multipurpose hall, office spaces, sports facilities, etc.

Pitter Patterns at Ostfildern, Stuttgart: a computer animated rain curtain | J.Mayer.H | STIRworld
Pitter Patterns at Ostfildern, Stuttgart: a computer animated rain curtain Image: Courtesy of J. MAYER H.

Meteo: Poitiers, France

An intuitive structure that is designed to be modular and versatile, this single-family home in France is a dynamic structure with movable elements. The modularity of these elements allows for a playful flexibility in the spaces and their orientation, and opportunity for the inhabitants to vary their usage, span and effectiveness of the spaces. Capable of deflecting wind, shading harsh sunlight, and allowing for views that caution the inhabitants of imminent weather, the house went through diagrammatic mutations that are site responsive and adaptive to its adjacent context. While such an approach seems to generate more microcosmic ideas of private spaces, as opposed to being integrative with the locale, on the flipside it does allow for more agency of the structure through its users.

Model for Meteo, France | J.Mayer.H | STIRworld
Model for Meteo, France Image: Courtesy of J. MAYER H.

Weather House

Breaking the conventional planning of a home dictated by program/activity—living, dining, kitchen, bath—this house centers weather conditions and its mapping across areas and spaces to determine program. The program is instead defined by what kind of clothing—regular, light, none—is required to be donned in which part of the house, taking from existing data on thermal comfort of the human body. The house responds to strong wind currents by breaking, interrupting and deflecting them, keeping the indoors dynamic yet balanced with an optimum degree of light and ventilation. This approach pushes the more static anthropometric approaches that have informed the design of spaces and objects, and prioritises human movement. As the daily effects of climate change—weather uncertainty—become more frequent and intense, an interrogation into parameters of thermal comfort becomes essential and more elaborate. Weather mapping of smaller spaces within homes seems to be a natural progression of sun, wind and precipitation studies that have dictated programmatic layouts up until now. The house serves as an effective case study of the evolution of building science fundamentals as a response to the growing urgency of climate change. As a way of integration into design pedagogy, the ‘Weather House’ is part of the permanent collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) and was presented at the inaugural exhibition of SFMoMA’s newly expanded museum building in 2016.

  • Drawing for Weather House, 1994 | J.Mayer.H | Collection SFMoMA | STIRworld
    Drawing for Weather House, 1994 by J.Mayer.H Image: Don Ross, Courtesy of J. MAYER H.
  • Jürgen Mayer H., Drawing for Weather House, 1994 | J.Mayer.H | Collection SFMoMA | STIRworld
    Jürgen Mayer H., Drawing for Weather House, 1994 Image: Don Ross, Courtesy of J. MAYER H.

Weather’s ability to establish routine, and also disrupt it, has been a contested space for governing architectural research, especially in the face of climate and energy crises. This space is, however, no stranger to architect Jürgen Mayer H., who in 2010, along with Neeraj Bhatia, published research entitled arium: A guide to Weather Architecture. More than a decade since, the questions posed by this publication still deem productive when examined critically—

Is the weather the last refuge in nature in the city?
Does the power of weather systems hold the key to solving the energy crisis?
Are instability and disorder something that can be designed?
Is the weather the nemesis of architecture or its best friend?
Is the weather becoming the ultimate form of cultural difference?
Is ecological awareness used for economic interests?

What do you think?

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