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January 29, 2018 \ Studio
by Karen Nugent

Unlike the horizontal line, constantly in repose; or the vertical line, ever soaring upwards, the diagonal line has a dynamism that is constantly unstable and undecided.

“Diagonal lines are just like any other straight line, the shortest route joining two points. But unlike the horizontal line, constantly in repose; or the vertical line, ever soaring upwards, the diagonal line has a dynamism that is constantly unstable and undecided, evoking a sense of movement, breaking the regular order.”

Applied to architecture, this is as true at the scale of a room, of a house, neighbourhood, or city. In the Eixample district of Barcelona, Ildefons Cerdà’s visionary plan laid out an orthogonal city expansion, cut through with two planned diagonals at what he hoped would become the centre of the new city. The single diagonal that was built, Avinguda Diagonal, cuts obliquely through the city with an energy and vitality, opening up views and creating variation within the grid. The diagonal reappears at the scale of the city block, where the corners of each building are cut away to form small squares at each road junction, places to pause, unload, space to gather at the junction.

Sometimes the diagonal line is drawn by the eye rather than the buildings. At Holmwood House, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson organised the villa volume to achieve maximum impact from the end of the drive. His view published in Villa and Cottage Architecture reveals the pyramidal stack of dining room, parlour, drawing room and stair lantern. The linking wall connecting the  coach house in its extended perspective further amplified the scale of what is a fairly modest house. This imagined diagonal is crucial to the composition, presenting the two principal faces of the house to the viewer, displaying its weight.

We have exploited the power of the diagonal in our own work. At the Museum of Rural Life we created a refined industrial barn to sit within the landscape. A winding route is punctuated at each corner with a large diagonal wall, like the angled jambs in a thick stone wall, the splay funnels light into the interior, while the dramatic glazed-fronted volumes place you mentally in the landscape beyond. At the end of the journey through the museum a final diagonal wall frames a covered terrace that converts this mental connection to the landscape in to a physical one, sending you onwards to the historic farm of Kittochside that anchors the museum in its place.

Our patterned paving at Albert Square in Dundee was a puzzle of diagonals inspired by the buzzing lines of Bridget Reilly’s pop art, it filtered down to radial lines drawn from the buttresses of Gilbert Scott’s galleries to the edge of the square. Drawing on the canvas of the streets to frame and highlight the statues of past dignitaries, lead you to the door, and enliven the street view.

At Fettes Preparatory School we extended this play on the diagonal to both the plan and section of the new building. The diagonal starts outside the building, connecting it to a new entrance on East Fettes Avenue, before extending into the new school building. Here, it forms the circulation route through the building, leading you to the classrooms, each set at diagonally to the route, creating triangular pockets of space for gathering and informal learning. Against the grid, the monopitch roof runs diagonally from corner to corner of classroom, a floating plane above high level glazing, creating open, animated spaces and enhancing the connection back to the circulation route and the gardens beyond.

The stone carving over the lychgate at Rosslyn Chapel inspired the criss-crossing diagonals of the telescopic roof structure over our new visitor centre, echoing the ribs of the vaulting in the chapel. The latest spotting is the diagonal step across the raised terrace at Northumbria Architecture and Built Environment department. Cutting a new route through Sutherland, the civic gateway building on the campus, better connecting the new extension and the listed building.

What connects these diagonals is the way they cut across the rational orthogonal grid, like the short cuts we take across a city park, these desire lines break the regular order, suggesting movement and vitality.

“ The diagonal offers a different way of doing things, forming a powerful and dynamic tool in the kit of the designer.”

The Way In

January 22, 2018 \ Studio
by Eamon McGarrigle

Doorways are deeply symbolic and rich with meaning, and represent much more culturally than simply as a tool to permit or restrict access to a room, building or neighbourhood.