Page C3.2 . 29 March 2006                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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  • Asmussen's Culture House

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    Asmussen's Culture House

    continued

    The 33,000-square-foot (3100-square-meter) Culture House is T-shaped in plan with the 500-seat auditorium forming the stem of the T. The stage is on the east, the free-flowing spaces of a cafe on the southwest, and offices and meeting rooms on the northwest. The main entrance is at the northeast of the building. A stair from the foyer takes one to a conference room and to a deck above that leads to a bridge to the auditorium. The building also houses two art studios, storage spaces, and ancillary spaces.

    The building is designed to reflect Swedish rural architecture in its load-bearing brick walls plastered or covered with wooden siding and painted on the outside with natural dyes. The walls are reinforced with post-tensioned steel cables anchored into an edge beam that supports the roof. The copper seam roofs gave the architect the flexibility he needed to accomplish his design vision. In the foyer and cafe areas, wood posts of varying heights support the sloping roof. The roof of the auditorium is held up by steel trusses.

    Interior walls are exposed concrete, cement stucco, or wooden battens, finished with multiple layers of transparent mineral- or vegetable-based paints. The floors are of wood and marble.

    Form Expresses Function

    The great vault above the stage, being the highest and the most prominent element of the massing, is the building's visual focus from the outside, just as the stage it covers is the focus of the audience.

    Above the south wing, the gently ascending roof form that meets the chimney indicates a space where people are at rest, enjoying the warmth of the fire. Similarly, the long masses of the corridors on either side of the auditorium indicate a transitory space where visitors are in motion.

    Even the building components are designed according to their purpose. A handle to push open a door is designed to accommodate the contours of the human palm. A handle that pulls a door open is shaped for a firm grip of the fingers.

    The handrails of the staircases are designed for easy grip and slide of the hand. The balusters are inclined toward the entry of the auditorium, indicating direction. The arches below the auditorium in the foyer are directional too, with a curious "tilt" toward the entry of the auditorium.

    Harmony with Site

    In his book Erik Asmussen, architect, author Gary J. Coates quotes Steiner: "it is the task of the architect to so deeply enter into the dynamic processes of nature and the life that the building is to contain that one develops within oneself the laws by which one must produce the shell, the building."

    Asmussen, in collaboration with his associate Steen Kristiansen, applied this idea in harmonizing the Culture House with its site mostly flat meadows and the surrounding built environment. The other seminary buildings share a common vocabulary of form, function, and color. The differentiated masses of the Culture House make it seem closer in scale to the other buildings.

    Its subtly sloped roofs curve into the exterior walls, seemingly pushing the building masses downward in an attempt to harmonize the building with the landscape. The great vault over the stage tower also appears to pull down toward the ground. Furthermore, the horizontal rooflines conform respectfully to the flat profile of the topography.

    The building opens out to the landscape in the semicircular terrace on the west, where the meadows and sunset offer scenery and warmth.

    Art, Craft, and Spirituality

    Inspired by Steiner's work, Asmussen and his colleagues celebrated art and craft, especially in the auditorium. The hall seems alive with energy thanks to an elaborate mural on the ceiling, carved wood batten walls, and daylight filtering through artistically etched and stained-glass windows.   >>>

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    The Culture House, principal building of the Rudolf Steiner Seminary, designed by Erik Asmussen.
    Photo: Max Plunger

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    View from the northwest.
    Photo: Max Plunger

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    View from the northeast.
    Photo: Max Plunger

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    Assembly of masses in the south elevation.
    Photo: Max Plunger

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    West-facing window detail.
    Photo: Max Plunger

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    Ground floor plan.
    Image: Susanne Siepl-Coates

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    Upper floor plan.
    Image: Susanne Siepl-Coates

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    Longitudinal section through the foyer and cafe, looking east.
    Image: Susanne Siepl-Coates

     

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