Great Compositions: Heavy and Light

Contrast is the most powerful of layout tools. The genius lies in the way and when to use it. It is often said that music is born from the distance between the notes. In the same way, architecture is not found in the creating of stuff, but in the residual distance between those items. The philosopher Lao Tzu wrote, “moulding clay into a boat we find the utility in its hollowness … hence the being of things is profitable, the non-being of matters is”

I am considering the edges of chambers, the distance between spaces, and also the mass of walls. The edge condition has a profound impact on the character and utility of architectural area. It can be porous or solid, translucent or opaque, thick or thin, etc. The action of creating contrast is the purposeful juxtaposition of items to reveal and amplify the existential qualities of both. Below are a few amazing homes that use contrast as the primary design tool.

Jay Hargrave Architecture

This home in Texas creates a striking figure on the land. At a glance it appears like a reinhabited primitive destroy or a archeolgical site encased in glass. A great sheltering roof hovers above a delicate frame anchored into the solid bulk of brick walls punctuated with decorative openings. The design is mysterious, heroic, reverent and convinced. I dream of homes similar to this one.

Hufft Projects

I wouldn’t ever imagine seeing this from the American Midwest, but it’s. A sleek dark grey brick serpentine wall slides in and behind a red bamboo wall. The color and substance contrast is bold and dull. Nothing is an afterthought. The opacity of surface begins to split in the gauziness of Ipe wood screens.

And here’s a look inside the inner sanctum of this chemical on the personal side of this Ipe screen wall layered upon simple posts encouraging a level plane overhead.

Bercy Chen Studio

Ever since Pierre Chareau constructed the Maison de Verre in Paris in 1928, architects are smitten with the use of glass block as a monolithic expression. This home in Austin, Texas utilizes glass block along a wall facing a hillside for faceted feel, light, solidity and translucency. Just the right amount of timber and nature complement the palette, and the result is amazing. I am imagining the darkness of night with a million candles lit on the mountain.

Webber + Studio, Architects

Here’s an Acropolis-like manifestation of a thick plinth where springs a temple. A raised glass home with a view of these trees will be grounded to a good masonry garage beneath. A delicate slatted canopy crowns the makeup very efficiently and balances the floor plane.

A very long wall on one side anchors the contrasting glassy walls which spring from it towards the landscape. The lines of timber roof purlins extend the rhythm of window mullions, and a good foundation in a neutral tone merges together with the rock patio.


Salvaged wood for this particular garage door makes a wonderful textural contrast with the Corten-steel wall cladding.


Corten steel, also a kind of weathering steel in which rust actually protects the steel to the very long run, is used very efficiently in this layout as a frame around a big window and as a perforated skin in the front of the other glass opening. The deep rich color evokes a minimal and monumental presence in this urban streetscape.

Nic Darling

Again, perforated Corten steel creates a gorgeous veil such as privacy scrim over this glassy urban facade slipped between two traditional masonry buildings.

Fatima McNell

The ever-changing disposition of nature paints the walls of the gallery connection into a house outside in a good illustration of contrast at its finest.

Narofsky Architecture + ways2design

Just squint your eyes for only the basis of the house, and you’ll notice it looks as rock destroys as the darker infill recedes. As from the first picture, the poetic narrative of a reclaimed and reinhabited destroy is a powerful architectural essay in heavy and light.

Contrast in design may just be the secret ingredient that makes something good into something unforgettable.

More Great Compositions:
Lower-Cost, Low-Tech Modern Homes
The Dogtrot House
The L-Shaped House
Light and Personal Courtyard Houses

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