Supporter's Column: Ethan Loo & Takeshi Hayatsu

The architect, among other things, is a bricoleur who masterfully creates delight in a buildings imperfections.

Precise Imperfection: Constructing a house for Peter Doig and his family 


Familiar to all architects conserving and adapting existing structures is the uncovering of traces of time, and the marks of the building’s past makers. From mason’s marks and bricked-in windows to shoddily built studs nailed onto floorboards, we are constantly reading and reacting to the actions and decisions of the past, whilst through our own, adding details, alignments, and often literally layers of fabric that contribute to a shifting narrative, to hopefully be read in future. In seeing how things are put together, we are searching for a (humanising) connection to those who have come before us.

We noted in these situations the impossibility of perfect alignment, plumbness, or smoothness. We have learnt that the CAD drawing, with its degrees of accuracy to the thousandths of a millimetre, though a crucial tool, when confronted with the site becomes merely a model, or imperfect simulation, of the real thing. Hence the architect always plans for tolerance: for overlaps, shadow gaps, packers, EPDMs. The meticulously set-out wall lining and floorboards, when met with a wall that has been thickened to become plumb, or others that have somehow shifted, or, as is becoming common, with a sudden lack of supply, assume an adapted logic that is determined on-site or on short notice.

We find that in these situations we by necessity become a bricoleur, making do with what is presented to us and compromising with a necessary imprecision. Yet this spirit is also what allows us to delight in the ‘imperfections’ of reality, or to encourage it: just as a beam misaligns as it runs along a crooked wall, we revel in the textured marks where a trowel has moved, in the amorphous finish of trencadis tiling or rendered haunching. It reminds us of shaping things by hand, like moulding pottery with clay, or cutting tiles by hand. Predictably, we delight in textures, and things which reveal the nature of a material, like the unpredictable patterns of straw embedded in clay plaster. We delight in spaces which feel at once meticulously planned and thought-through, yet seemingly accidental and relaxed. Perhaps the thoughtfulness of the builder and designer is revealed most directly when at the scale of the hand, at the details, where most of the decisions on-site must be made.

Yet in becoming functional, the imperfections must fit within a wider system which aims for perfection: plasterwork must be contained within beading; or to speak from a recent project, recycled lathes used as door slats, though revealing their beautiful crookedness, must terminate at a plumb, straight, end. We find this compromise interesting. We realised too that this is analogous to projects where the public participate in physical making: where community members are repousse hammering patterns onto tin discs or local schoolchildren painting onto timber shingles, the variability of each individual piece meets the fixed parameters of size, material and colour that have been decided in consultation with the architect. Though standardisation is sometimes a result of budgetary and material constraints, or the ambition for a consistent whole, we see the resulting effect as a controlled randomness which hopefully takes on architectural qualities, a texture that, viewed from afar, affects the formal consistency of the whole, softening and rounding it. Drawing closer, these objects bear the marks and variations of each maker, symbols of personal and collective effort; an imperfection which tells a story.


This article was written by Ethan Loo and Takeshi Hayatsu as part of the Architecture Foundation's Supporter's Column.