Yacht House Crimea: Man and The Natural World

“On this little earth
I live immensely.
Unbounded horizons
battle with my heart.”
Curzio Malaparte

The peninsula of Crimea offers many architectural wonders, from the Khan’s palace of Bakchysarai to Edward Blore’s Vorontsov Palace. It is also the site of such masterpieces of late Soviet architecture such as the Corbusian Hotel Yalta and the futuristic Druzhba sanatorium. Close to the site we were offered are the ruins of 17th Century Genoese fortifications that today mainly consist of towers in the landscape. The closest port is Balaklava which boasts restored white stucco houses and the museum of what was once the secret base of the Red Fleet’s submarine deployment.

The site is itself is a steep slope at the edge of the sea, not too distant from the seaside town of Foros. Foros is positioned on the most southern tip of Crimea, it rose to international attention just before the fall of the Soviet Union as it was in its proximity that Gorbachev was kept under house arrest in his dacha during the first attempted coup to his reformist leadership.

Inland from the coast and visible from it are the Crimean mountains that culminate in the peak of Ai Petri at 1234 metres height. This dramatic mountain face is rich in dolomite rock which gives it a light greyish pink colour.
Nature is all around, and the site is also subject to strong winds and storm waves in winter. Due to its proximity, the dominant natural presence in the site is the sea, with its wide horizon that meets the sky in ever variable ways: some days it is a clean crisp line, others it is a fading between sea and sky, an other days it is a patchwork of sunlit spots against a perforated ceiling of clouds. The Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto has explored this theme of the meeting between the sea and the sky in many evocative black and white images. The other variable aspect is the sea’s colour, as this can vary from emerald green to cobalt blue during the day and between moonlight silver to black at night. It is this horizon that the building opens up to, revealing it in all its magnificence, drama and variability. The 9 metre wide windows frame the most admired work of art known to man: nature itself. From prehistoric cave paintings of animals via ancient Greece’s Zeuxis’ painterly representation of grapes so real that birds would fly against the painted surface in the hope of a peck at the illusion of a grape, only to be surpassed by Parrhasius painting of a curtain that fooled Zeuxis, man has always tried to imitate nature in his art. Architecture does not need to imitate nature; it can allow the transformation of the natural world into an art form simply through the device of framing.
During the passing light of day the white interior lends itself to reflecting the daylight hues of pinks, yellows and bright blueish whites. If all blinds are kept open, although shaded by projecting terraces, the sunlight in the interior can be so intense at midday in summer that it is preferable to wear sunglasses, which further reduces the difference between the experience of inside and outside. The windows fully open and slide to the side which allows the interior to become a fully shaded exterior. Porthole windows, reminiscent of the openings in ships, allow a controlled cross ventilation of the living spaces in this windy location.
A roof terrace, flat and open an all sides, allows a 360 degree panorama and reveals the tall mountains inland. This is an ideal place for dinners that start at sunset and allow the starry sky and moon to reveal themselves over time.
A large room at sea level serves as the winter storage of a 13 metre boat. There are blended boundaries between the experience of being on the boat and in the building, such as the views of the sea, the coast, and also a continuity of materials and colours that make the building more boat like in its interior. The platforms are like decks, and the bedrooms are like cabins with their oak floors striated with white lines and their round porthole windows. The detail of the boat’s wind shield with transparent glass and a circular section stainless steel hand rail is continued at the edges of the deck like terraces. White leather seats near the windows are reminiscent of the captain’s chair. Placing these pivoting arm chairs near the large windows resulted in an ideal spot for viewing passing schools of dolphin across the wide seas.

Architecture is really about nature and its relationship to man. Through man made architectural devices such as floors, walls and windows, the experience of living in the natural world can be reinforced and intensified. By intensifying the relationship between man and the horizon, by coming into contact with stars on the roof terrace, we wanted to allow man to sense eternity from his own home, rather than fleetingly and sporadically outside if it as is customary in Western culture. The presence of the natural world has to be sensed on a continual basis in order for its power to be renewed within us, this is a lesson that the Japanese have applied through the creation of moon viewing platforms, Zen gardens in even the most minimal urban spaces and in their constant attempts to relate space to the natural world. In Foros Yacht House we aimed to achieve this through the proximity of the sea, the devices of the framed horizon and the nature viewing platforms.

Nature also forms the unifying root to many different cultures, beliefs and religions, which without it could drift endlessly apart. Architecture should facilitate the experience of the natural world as it can form the basis of a shared communal experience. After visiting the building the owner of the land around it commissioned us to find a location for a new chapel. Followers of a world famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher also have chosen Yacht House as their home. This is in the spirit of Crimea itself which has been the home of many different cultures and like the land it sits on Yacht House aims to add to this fertile ground of inhabitation by different people, all of whom can and must lay a renewed claim to our fundamental relation to the natural world.

If there is one idea behind the project of Yacht House in Crimea, it is to give the user the ability to perceive how different the presence or absence of the line between the sea and the sky is every day, and at different times of the day. The project is ultimately all about perceiving the horizon and feeling the resonance of that sublime element of the natural world within one’s own emotional landscape.