harnessed house

Omuli House, Latvia

The transformation of an old Societ collective farmhouse/school into an exhibition space with studios and lodgings for resident artists, as well as guest rooms. The proposal is an experiment in a parasitic tectonic approach to rich historic fabric. It incorporates the theme of horses and is in touch with local Latvian social context and architectural vernacular. A project in collaboration with Dhamintha Wickremasinghe.

Collective farms were dismantled and their resources privatized… Twentieth-century theorists recognized that progress came with destruction, thus producing — rather than conquering — emptiness, both material and existential.

- Dace Dzenovska, 2020
This proposal is informed by the subject of the horse, from research into horse-human dynamics, farming to chivalry, the tools of this relationship, from dominion to companionship.

Specifically, the main inspiration derives from the horse tack, the leatherwork and joints. The existing house is imagined as the horse body which are dressed, with extensions and interventions, They are the augmentation that puts the horse to use, and this use gives it new purpose.

As is in the name, the harness is the main aspect of tack that we have been concerned with, and approached this design proposal following its four designated components to characterise spatial functions: communication | stopping and backing | draft | support.
In the harness, the communication component (bridle, bit, lines) acts to signal and direct the horse, the draft component (collar, hames, traces, trace chains) directs and bears the forces that pull the load, the stopping and backing component (breeching band, quarter straps, pole straps, breast straps) distributes and stabilises forces during acceleration and deceleration and finally the support component (back pad, billets, belly band, spider) connects all these together.

From these roles we assigned functions from the brief, and often their tectonics are linked to the forces and connections of their harness component. Following the brief, the horse/house is not static, but moves forward in time with this design and its phasing. To conjure this image, and as aesthetic motif that finds its way into the architecture, we reference Muybridge’s famous Horse in Motion photographs and the staged mechanisms that were needed to capture them.
The communication component now steers the direction of the Harness House project, the future of the exhibition and artistic programme through interaction and communication with the public. Much of this architecture has to do with allowing the public insight into the artists’ practice through use of walkways, stairways, overlapping routes and overlooking vantage points. The exhibition halls become triple-height spaces that connect carefully with other private and production areas. This architecture has a language of tension, vibration, movement. Chimneys and furnaces become pulley systems that display work in progress from he studio down to the exhibition halls.
The support component is the component that maintains coherence between both the house / horse and the other components. We have designed it as a heavy concrete element that is imprinted with the existing architecture, but extends to reach new functions and ties the other new interventions. It is the unifying feature between new and old, and the basis on which the draft architecture sits (communion / dining cabin). It also has a connective role in terms of heating the vast spaces in the main house, forming a trombe wall which uses passive solar heating techniques with a south facing glazed sun-space in front that collects heat, is stored in the wall’s thermal mass and gradually released over the course of the day.

The design of the museum is spatially planned in accords with the four natural gaits of the Horse; The Walk, Trot, Canter and Gallop. The qualities of these gaits, whether they are diagonal or lateral and the gait speed is associated with certain spaces int the museum. Narrow spaces are designed for faster gaits such as Gallop, with detailing of those spaces are done with regards to the four individual beats.
Project in collaboration with Dhamintha Wickremasinghe