Joel Sanders Brings the Outside In

Event: 2009 Oberfield Memorial Lecture: Interface: Overlapping interior and Exterior, a lecture by Joel Sanders
Location: Center for Architecture, 04.01.09
Speaker: Joel Sanders, AIA — Principal, Joel Sanders Architect
Organizer: AIANY Interiors Committee
Sponsor: Gensler

Mix House.

Courtesy Joel Sanders Architect

Historically, landscape architecture has largely been viewed as a secondary discipline to architecture — decoration for the exterior of a building — while architecture has been traditionally taken more seriously, stated Joel Sanders, AIA, principal of Joel Sanders Architect. At this year’s Oberfield Memorial Lecture, he countered history and called for the integration of landscape and architectural design, and presented his firm’s attempts to blur the boundary between inside and outside. Sanders claimed that the current environmental crisis is forcing designers to readjust the dialectic between nature and culture. “The organic and synthetic operate as fields of varying intensities across the surface of the Earth,” not as discrete categories, he said.

Through a series of collaborations with landscape firm Balmori Associates, Sanders illustrated the ways integrated design principles can unify the two fields. Their proposal for the 2012 Olympic Equestrian Center in Staten Island incorporated a curvilinear skin that encircled the fields, making the structure continuous with the ground. Seongbukdong Residences, a stepped residential development in South Korea designed with Haeahn Architecture, provides views of mountains in the distance and the neighbors’ gardens in the foreground, while hiding neighboring buildings from one another. And a penthouse on Broadway in Manhattan eliminates distinctions between outdoor “public” and indoor “private” spaces by opening the interiors and enfolding planted gardens within the structure.

Most dramatically, Sanders described a conceptual house his firm designed with Karen Van Lengen/KVL and Ben Rubin/EAR Studio that brings sights and sounds from the exterior environment into the house through a series of parabolic windows and microphones. Called “Mix House,” the design allows residents to set volume levels for various inputs — such as the sound of kids playing in the backyard, or of jets passing overhead.

In all projects, Sanders insists that the design incorporates environmentally sustainable materials and draws elements of the exterior environment into the interior. In this way, he suggested, his firm is attempting to erase distinctions between inside and outside, between natural and synthetic, and between landscape design and architecture.