wk2 reading response

K Michael Hays, in Points of Influence and Lines of Development, begins to define what Stan Allen meant by “form matters, but more for what it can do that for what it looks like”.  He draws out a very clear argument for how Allen was, from his thesis onward, looking at minimalism in a different light.  He sometimes quotes Allen at length: “I am interested in a minimal language not for its materiality but its immateriality; not in the clarification of form but in its dissolution; not in what is revealed but what is covered up; not in self-sufficiency but in incompleteness”.  He describes for the reader how Allen’s take on minimalism, and its very lack of determinacy produces its own frame, “or better, a field condition”.

I find resonance in this position with my own thesis questions.  It seems most certain that what Hays purports about Allen’s work is that its indeterminate form allows room for active engagement and appropriation of space from the perspective of the urban participant.  This sort of open-ended program is what my thesis is seeking to incorporate.  The question becomes, how can an architecture be generative (an regenerative, if speaking of urban ecology) in a way that allows a simple set of spaces (rules) begin to circumscribe a complex array of programs and activities that may emerge.  This sort of recombinatory urbanism speaks to the complexity of [urban] life.  The architect is not a master planner, and cannot predict and program for every possible activity within a space.  Therefore, he/she must call on creativity and practice to begin to shape the urban environment, incrementally, in a way that lets the ecology of communities emerge.

This sort of appreciative, negotiated stance contrasts the way architecture has been practiced in the past, where spaces, no matter how creative, had clearly defined intentionality.  It seems as though architecture now, without being “soft”, is moving more towards incorporating intentionality insofar as to design spaces for users to make their own in unpredictable ways.  This, for me, is an ecological (or “sustainable”) architecture- an architecture that is inclusive, empowering, holistic, emergent, and engaging.  It simultaneously allows for flexibility in adapting to ever-changing circumstances as well as provides for equality within the power structures that define our society.

Below are several pictures of Stan Allen’s office’s work (stanallenarchitect.com).  Additionally, there’s a video of what I might consider a unique appropriation of urban space (piano stairs, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw), albeit not something the architect designed for…

4 Responses to “wk2 reading response”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    “The architect is not a master planner, and cannot predict and program for every possible activity within a space.”

    Is it possible to define where the line falls between programed and flexible? Is there even anyway to quantify when this balance has been achieved? Some of the most interesting places are those which have been converted from one evidently programmed function into another. Is the result of leaving all spaces flexible and somewhat undetermined boring and personalityless?

    (I like your diagram – I hope that is a self portrait in the center)

    • cpeldridge Says:

      Ha. That is a self-portrait!

      Yea… this is what I am struggling with… I agree completely that spaces shouldn’t be boring, and for that matter, program-less. I think certain programs might elicit more of a response than others. Just how architects design (responding to some context), users of a space need some context to respond to. But I think there are spaces that simply don’t provide for that opportunity, for one reason or another (maybe they are uninviting, mono-functional, socially fragmented). I think the “grittiness” of the city is where the life of the city begins to emerge (patina of age and complexity).

  2. lalynch Says:

    Maybe I am biased with what you wrote because I feel we are struggling with the same issues with our thesis. I loved his ideas of minimalism as “what is yet to be seen.” I feel such a strong desire to want to be very loose with the program, to allow the user to really “own” the design. Isn’t this our “job”, to pass on the work to the users so they can make the most of it?

  3. lukebob37 Says:

    My perception of master planning is the creation of points and connections that allow the city to function on a basic level but the spaces created in between are adaptable to the performative needs of the specific location. These spaces in between the points create a sense of ownership and allow the opportunity for place creation. And Chris how much do you charge to draw portraits, I’ve been looking for someone with your skill set.

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