Ever since we began sweeping leaves out of caves and packing branches down for a good night’s sleep in the trees, we have been thinking about floors. One could go even further and say that the floor is the only building component you cannot do without: whilst architects and designers have made endless games and attempts at designing buildings with no walls, doors, windows or roofs, it is a struggle to think of a building that does not have a floor.
But the true potential of a floor is just a creative hop skip and a jump away and this week we talk to Max de Rosee of DeRosee Sa Architects and get his view on what makes a great floor:
HC: Max, is there any one floor that you remember most?
MR: Funnily enough, for a long time I used to go around photographing floors as a kind of hobby and I remember I saw this stone courtyard in Greece that was made up of all these old and worn cobbles of all different shapes and sizes. It had this unique patina that stuck in my brain and a couple of years later when we made a book to illustrate our portfolio of work, we used the floor photos to separate the projects and this cobble stone floor ended up being the opening page of that book.
HC: Is there a floor material that you wish there was more of?
MdR: I love terrazzo floors. If properly done, it has a richness that wears incredibly well over time almost as if, given the chance, it could last forever. There should definitely be more terrazzo.
HC: Many of your residential designs use wood as a floor material, is that simply because that's what clients want, or is it because you have a particular view about what materials belong in a home?
MdR: Most of our work is residential and we find that timber tends to be a bit warmer than stone or ceramic and it can be quite versatile – you can use it pretty much anywhere. On the very first project that we did, the client had a very modest budget and we decided to install the same timber floor finish, uninterrupted by any thresholds, continuously and without any changes in direction, throughout the entire house. Almost on its own this created an aesthetic that was quite striking and its something that we’ve continued to develop ever since.
HC: What has experience taught you about using timber as a flooring material and can you suggest any "golden" rules?
MdR: Well, you do hear about these so-called rules of how a timber floor should be laid – for example, whether the boards should be laid perpendicularly to the windows to “lengthen” the room – but I think you have to look at the thing more holistically. I guess the only “golden” rule is that you just have to be methodical about how you choose the wood you want.
Specifying timber floors can be as complex as you want it to be. You can start with the colour or texture that you like but then you have to follow that up with research: speak to suppliers and carpenters and make sure that is going to work across all the areas where you want to use it.
We find that most of the time we can use wood where we want provided we have researched the substrate, size and finishing coat properly.
HC: You have taken Dinesen floor boards and turned them into something entirely different - furniture. Why?
MdR: The Dinesen board is such a beautiful object all on its own and you almost feel that it’s too good to use as a floor! On one project we had a few off-cuts left over and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to let them be thrown away. We had the idea of making some furniture with what we had and so small bits became stools and the larger bits were made into a bench. Now, we are always on the look out for where surplus materials could be useful and on one of our current projects, we are looking at ways to make use of some left over stone.
HC: What do you think is the main thinking behind an architect’s selection of a particular material?
MdR: I think architects are always keen that the materials are somehow expressive of the structural job that the material does, and the role of that material in the whole of the building, rather than just using materials as a way to decorate a space. I think architects look up to people like Peter Zumthor because he takes this approach to the extreme. If we are talking about wood, his Timber Houses in Leis are fantastic examples of where the surface is the structure. The walls of the chalets are made of solid timber and the material you see and touch on the inside is the same piece of wood that you see on the outside and it is the same piece of wood that helps to hold up the building. For an architect, that is the ultimate and yet it is so rare that you get to build like that.
HC: You have a new public pavilion that is getting off the ground in Brook Green. Given it's use and outdoor location, how crucial a part of the design is the floor is going to be?
MdR: The floor is hugely important as it is the means by which the building connects to the land: too often you see park pavilions dumped on a pond of tarmac. We wanted to bind the building to the ground and produce something durable that would weather well and become a natural part of the landscape. In order to achieve this, we will be using the same type of limestone, treated in various ways, in as many different parts of the building as possible, as well as to cover the ground that surrounds it.
It is interesting that you can see traces of both that photograph of a courtyard in Greece as well as that floor we did on our first project coming to bear on this, our latest and in some ways, most important project. The idea here is to push that notion of a continuous, uniform aesthetic to a new level and so even though the design is grounded in our experience of the things we know well, hopefully we will also end up discovering something new.
Architect Max de Rosee was talking to Ryan von Ruben for Harris Calnan