Archive for the ‘Weekly Response’ Category

wk16 reading response

May 5, 2010

MMFX: Klinger and Kolarevic

After Adolf Loos’ book “Ornament and Crime” in 1908, ornamentation became a dirty word.  The fallout of this was three-quarters of a century of shape manipulation, with little regard paid towards materiality.  Now, after a significant pass of time, we are returning to ornamentation, but from a new vantage point, having witnessed the advent of the computer.  This new sort of ornamentation we are privy to is based largely out of algorithmic explorations via the power of the computer.  What is interesting is that it is, up to this point, mostly a surface phenomenon.  This sort of material and manufacturing complexity is applied to and exists within only the surface of buildings.  This happens through pneumatic actuators, sensors, and computational control systems, as well as manufacturing processes.  These mechanical components, integrated together, exhibit a sort of “smart behavior”.  They help to create this new kind of complexity and ornament.

The question that has been raised deals with the appropriateness or relevance of ornament.  Through much of the period of Modernism, it became clear that singular, simplistic form and material was not fit for human habitation.  Humans were not able to really connect with that body of architecture.  Instead, Klinger and Kolarevic suggest that ornament can be engaging, interactive, multi-sensory, and embed in a space meaning that has the potential to evoke emotional resonance.  This type of “ornament” is different than the ornament Loos rejected in the early part of the 20th century.  I suppose it is similar in that, generally speaking, ornament is meant to enhance surface, give scale and texture, and be symbolic as well as catalytic for its place and time.  But this new ornament, called material and manufacturing affects, seems to use previously unavailable technology in a way that 1) is born out of nature, following principles and processes that lead to maximum efficiency (biomimicry) and 2) attempt to reconnect people to place through the potential of interactivity.  This is different from traditional building ornament in that is does not represent nature, as well as the fact that traditional building ornament was static, and didn’t act and react given variable inputs (feedback loops).  This new ornament is “smart”.

The architecture that has come from this school of thought varies widely, but one good example would be the work of Herzog and de Meuron.  Their “functionalist” ornamentation seeks to integrate decoration, structure, aesthetics, meaning, and function all within the skin of a building.  Following notions that E.H. Gombrich set forth (see note below), their work seeks to create a balance between seemingly simplistic geometry and complex ornamentation.  Computers have allowed us to create seemingly complex patterning and shapes from relatively simple rulesets (parametric design).  This is where we are now in terms of using nature to inform design.

The question becomes, though, how can we design in a way that truly integrates all of the aspects of complex environments with human awareness?  How can we be truly connected with nature, and with each other?  This is the difference between pneumatic actuated, computer controlled environments versus the more organic, complex environments James Cameron created in his latest blockbuster, Avatar.  The barrier here seems to be interface and information transference.  Interactive environments are a first step, but still a far cry from seamless integration and unity between humans, nature, and information/meaning.

Note: E.H. Gombrich- “I believe that in the struggle for existence organisms developed a sense of order not because their environment was generally orderly but rather because perception requires a framework against which to plot deviations from regularity”.   Therefore, he says the human mind has a need to create a “careful balance” between complexity and order.  The mind is constantly trying to find the underlying structure within complex environments.

wk15 reading response

April 21, 2010

Abstracting Craft: Malcolm McCullough

Malcolm McCullough says “Hands are the best source of tacit personal knowledge because of all of the extensions of the body, they are the most subtle, the most sensitive, the most probing, the most differentiated, and the most closely connected to the mind”.  Hands are our intellects extension into the physical world.  They allow us to carry out our intentions.  Not only are they explicitly able to interact with the physical world around us, providing innumerable feedback mechanisms, but can also make/use tools to amplify characteristics necessary for interaction with the physical world.  The notion of hands as being a source of knowledge and skill does not exclude the need for our other sense organs that also interact with the physical world.  We too have sight (eyes), sound (ears), taste (tongue), smell (nose) which all aid in our discernment for the world around us.  But it is touch (hands) that has largely gone unnoticed.

What I find more interesting that the medium of the hand itself, or even the tools that it makes to use, is the interaction between multiple mediums that can hardly be quantified.  The eye must see first, for the hand to know what to do.  Each of these biological mechanisms of interaction with our physical world provide a wealth of feedback, all of which is synthesized and made sense of by the mind.  It is within these interactions, and within the power of the mind, that I find real value.  This is what I think true skill is.  It is having a conscious, critical knowledge of how you are interacting with tools, with the physical world that surround, with another living thing, and using that knowledge to progress that interaction in new and unforeseen ways.  McCullough uses the example of the MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) controller in the field of music.  This tool hasn’t made other more traditional instruments obsolete.  Rather, it has provided a new way (an interface) for allowing many musicians to actually design the sounds they want.  It is another tool, not unlike the guitar, that “users” interact with to create, mix, change, reinterpret sound.  It can be critiqued in the sense that it is, out of the starting gate, limiting to some degree because there is a preconceived notion of what the midi controller can do.  That is like saying “over there is an autocad building” and “there is a rhino building”.  But, in fact, it is not the tools that are limiting, but the minds ability to use those tools.

wk14 reading response

April 20, 2010

Architectural Curvilinearity: Greg Lynn

Reacting to the popular deconstructivist approach, Greg Lynn worked to find other ways of combining complex programmes and disassociated elements of particular sites and contexts.  Instead of embodying social, cultural, and physical differences in formal conflicts, he sought to create “folded architecture” that began to both formally and programmatically, aesthetically and tectonically roll and layer discrete differences into a cohesive whole.  The resultant architecture became a continuous language that was much more complex and complete than merely formally juxtaposing incongruities.

“Pliancy allows architecture to become involved in complexity through flexibility.  It may be possible to neither repress the complex relations of differences with fixed points of resolution nor arrest them in contradictions, but sustain them through flexible, unpredicted, local connections”.

The above quote is how Lynn begins to synthesize some of the ideas he appropriates from Deleuze on the nature of smoothness and continuous variations/continuous development.  What I think is so interesting about this quote, though, in the unencumbered way which Lynn applies ideas of nature and living.  Diversity is not a new idea to the biological sciences.  It is a basic prerequisite to life.  Yet it has largely gone unnoticed in the architectural discipline, who has concerned itself primarily with critical form exploration.  Lynn approaches this notion of diversity from an entirely new vantage point.  He doesn’t want to point out differences for the sake of formal definition.  Rather, he wants to design for flexibility, adaptability, in a way that will provide opportunities for unpredicted connections and interactions.  He isn’t simply designing diversity into the form, but is trying to create an architecture that might accommodate or promote diversity, ultimately in a cohesive way.

He tests the ideas of folding, because, as he says, its process of overturning and layering will “mix smoothly multiple ingredients in such a way that their individual characteristics are maintained”.  Additionally, folding allows for the emergence of viscous mixtures.  That is to say “the nature of pliant forms is that they are sticky and flexible… As pliant forms are manipulated and deformed the things that stick to their surfaces become incorporated into their interior”.  What Lynn alludes to here is what some biologists might call adaptation.  Within an ecosystem, each part has an effect on every other part, therefore one small change in the system tends to have a ripple-effect and cause a large change in the whole.  It seems as if this is what Lynn is talking about in regards to pliant forms.  This pliant characteristic of architecture has the opportunity to be excellently adept because the architecture itself grows and changes with a changing environment/context.  It internalizes external forces.  It is never static.  Rather it has dynamic stability.  It is able to quickly make itself relevant again given ever-changing circumstances.

wk13 reading response

April 19, 2010

Universal Architecture: Buckminster Fuller

I would like to talk about Buckminster Fuller’s notion of Universal Architecture as humanity’s supreme survival gesture.  He makes two remarks that seem to speak to each other, but also delineates his thoughts on evolutionary biology and the future of life.

“The whole composition should never be dependent on the relative success of any one unit; and, or positively stated, all units should be independently (flexibly, angularly) aligned to the whole composition of structure, and therefore progressively replaceable by ever more adequate unit solutions, thus making for an evolutionary growth to an intellectually (selectively) refining totality… which later invokes revolutionary, and iconoclastic, replacements of ‘whole old composition’”.

“Life continuity via universal architecture [as an external mechanical aid, structure for survival].  The new universal architecture of a physical-intellectual-scientific external machine holds promise of accomplishing the life balance”.

It is obvious that Fuller is searching for an architecture or framework that might begin to ensure “life continuity”.  What I find so interesting is that he is choosing to do this through what he calls universal architecture.  This, to some degree, seems to go against principles we find in biology.  For instance, the principle of diversity, up to this point in history, has ensured evolution and survival.  Diversity allows for an efficient process of elimination, ensuring the most adept genes get passed to the next generation of species.  What Fuller seemingly suggests is going against the principle of diversity through what he has termed ‘universal architecture’.

I can fathom that what he really meant by universal architecture was not simply one physical solution meant to solve the complex myriad of issues we are faced with at any one time, but rather a universal way of addressing every problem we are faced with, through following principles of life, such as flexibility, adaptability, intelligence, etc.

These thoughts seem particularly suitable for slow evolution, and one might imagine the human race evolving quite nicely.  But looking at contemporary issues, such as nuclear warfare, climate change, solar degeneration, we should also consider how we might promote the continuity of life given catastrophic events that hold the potential to drastically change our environments over a short period of time.  I suppose Fuller alluded to this when he spoke of “external mechanical aid and structure for survival”, given the fact that humans may not be able to adapt internally at a pace fast enough to ensure our survival, therefore we rely on our intellect to promote life continuity.

wk12 reading response

March 31, 2010

On Scarpa/Scope of Tectonic: Kenneth Frampton

Scarpa’s adoration for the joint has much to do with detailing of a space and an acute attention to the parts.  Further, there is importance placed on the interaction and interplay of these parts, rather than the focus placed on the whole.  For Scarpa, this all relates back to the experience of the place.  For me, this has much more to do with how small changes in the details affect much larger processes of the whole (not unlike Lorenzo’s butterfly).

This relates back to ethics insofar as we must “work with the recollections of traditions, with the traces of the past, with the expectations of meaning for the future, since there can no longer be absolute rational deductions”.  If the joint (or details, for that matter) are treated as a kind of tectonic consideration, the meaning of the whole can be found in the reality of the part.  This notion of a new way of seeing architecture can become a great generator for design.  Not unlike Corbusier’s plan as generator, Scarpa’s joint provides the impetus for creation and creation of meaning, based in the reality of experience.

Architecture is born out of a definite past, exists within the present, and will have a future.  Using the joint as a springboard for an evolution of the design doesn’t quite seem sufficient.  I hope, rather, to consider not only the evolution of design, but also the evolution of the built work.  I think the real potential of architecture lies within it becoming a framework for its users to then appropriate the spaces as they see fit, naturally evolving the space over time.  It is here, that the details are critical.  The details must carry forward from history the same language that the whole of the architecture is speaking.  This consistency resonates within the users of the place, promoting feelings of belonging, and subsequently liveliness of the place.  This is the potential I see in Scarpa’s joint.

wk11 reading response

March 29, 2010

Art and Craft of the Machine: Frank Lloyd Wright
On Technology, Form and Industrialization: Mies Van der Rohe

These several related readings present somewhat dated, but nevertheless relevant issues on technology and architecture.  If they can be looked at not within the confines of the early 20th century, but rather across time, we might find valuable lessons from the great masters.  One thing holds true now as much as it did for Mies and Wright in the early part of the 20th century- that is that technology has a great deal of potential for architecture, including the democratization of societies, and we cannot afford to simply dismiss it.  Yet we must always be critical as to how and why we are using technology so that it is not us who get used by the technology itself.

It is interesting to ponder what would have been the trajectory of architecture if the technology of steel had not been accepted in the profession.  Mies Van der Rohe is famous for his critical use of technology (particularly steel) in the creation of form.  Yet, it is clear in his writings that he didn’t lose sight of what was important.  In regards to architectural expression, he said something to the effect of ‘life is the decisive factor, not form for forms sake’.   This speaks to his whole take on technology in architecture.  In order to create successful architecture which assumingly responds to its inhabitants, we must use technology as a means to an end.  Technology is only a small part of the equation.  As humans, we must define technology’s relevance and meaning.

“Wherever technology reaches its real fulfillment, it transcends into architecture.  It is true that architecture depends on facts, but its real field of activity is in the realm of significance.”- Mies Van der Rohe

Frank Lloyd Wright suggests that it is ridiculous to use technology to copy the handicraft of our past, when in fact the present circumstances require from us something completely different from that of the past.  Put another way, he is suggesting that the influence of the machine cannot be overlooked, but that also we must be critical of how we are using this newfound technology to create the cultural milieu of the day in order to make honest expressions of architecture.  He advocates for simplicity, which he defines as “a synthetic, positive quality, in which we may see evidence of mind, breadth of scheme, wealth of detail, and withal a sense of completeness found in a tree or a flower”.  The way Wright saw us achieving this ideal of simplicity is through realizing the potentials of the present and not getting stuck in the nostalgia of the past.  It goes without saying that in order to allow for progress, we must not only study the past, but also incorporate the complexity of the present (of which technology is only a small part).  Only by synthesizing all of this information, in my opinion, are we truly able to be holistic in our approach and therefore honest in our expression of architecture.

What is infinitely interesting is that these ideals do not simply apply to the “soft” sciences such as the arts, architecture, sociology, and the like.  They apply to the whole of our world.  Take our economy, just as a for-instance.  We are seeing the same issues arise today with energy production as Mies and Wright witnessed with the architectural profession’s resistance to new technology of the 20th century.  Coal-fired power plants and oil production companies are living on borrowed time.  The decision makers in these industries must seek a clear path to more viable futures because (ignoring the many other factors within these systems) when coal and oil run dry, the relevance of these companies becomes nil.  They must choose to incorporate technology that will propel them into a better situation ensuring a competitive future.

wk10 reading response

March 17, 2010

Total Architecture: Walter Gropius

“If we establish a common basis for the understanding of design- a denominator reached through objective findings rather than personal interpretation- it should apply to any type of design; for the process of designing a great building or a simple chair differs only in degree, not in principle.” – Walter Gropius

“Total Architecture” has been one of the most interesting reads I’ve ever come to in several ways.  First, Gropius prefaces his thoughts by dispelling any notion that he purports a singular “style”.  After he discusses democracy and diversity, and how they may relate to creativity, he goes on to talk about universal or basic notions of a visual language.  To me, these two thoughts, in relation to each other, provide the basis for everything that is architecture and design, and delineates a clear path for understanding design.  That is to say, for me, there are two main facets that validate all of the design process: each individual having the capacity to synthesize complexity and in turn think creatively as well as there being universally common benchmarks for a visual/spatial language.  Therefore, creativity and architecture representative of a particular time or circumstance is generated through a common set of basic human rules that span across all cultures and all time.

Gropius discusses these issues in relation to the development of the architect, architectural academia, and architectural practice.  He does this not only from the perspective of the Bauhaus, which he notes has been the cause of many labels put on him, but also from the perspective of being the Dean of Harvard GSD.  There are several overarching characteristics that can be interpolated from Gropius’s discussion that assumingly will benefit every person, regardless of whether or not they are an architect, designer, thinker, etc.  Some of these characteristics are the importance of equipoise and balance, contrast/diversity, emphasis on collaborative/cooperative action in concert with individual efforts, an importance of being able to free the mind in order to think creatively (which has much to do with education and exposure to creativity when young), and the importance of learning a visual language that transcends time in order to give visual expression to creative capacity.

Agreeing with Gropius, I do not think architecture has anything to do with “styles”.  It simply is not sufficient to reuse an aesthetic from a different time, much like we would not walk around in period clothes.  Rather, architecture is a process that is grounded in the ability to redefine problems and think creatively through a holistic perspective, not getting caught in the specificity, although being able to jump across scales when need be, in addition to maintaining a critical understanding of visual language.  “Good architecture should be a projection of life itself and that implies and intimate knowledge of biological, social, technical, and artistic problems”.  It is increasingly important to understand architecture (and design) in this way due to the increasingly complexity and dynamism of our environments.  Things are constantly in flux.  It is not sufficient to know “facts and tricks” and use them to reimage styles from another time,

“because they leave the student helpless if he is faced with a new and unexpected situation.  If he has not been trained to get an insight into organic development no skillful addition of modern motives, however elaborate, will enable him to do creative work.”

Rather, we can know the science behind design through training and education.  Certain principles such as balance, repetition, scale, contrast and tension, optical illusion, shape, color, etc. can be taught.  This is the common denominator of design.  Additionally, we can gain comfort in thinking creatively only through practice.  Practice is a very personal experience that defines the way an individual will think, in addition to solidifying and making personally relevant all of the knowledge they otherwise have learned in books.  This is the individual perspective of the creator or artist (based in experience) that, when communicated well allows others to see things in a slightly different way.  In essence, this is total architecture: science and art, holistic knowledge and creative ability, education and practice.

wk8 reading response

March 3, 2010

Toward An Architecture: Le Corbusier

In Toward An Architecture, several issues and positions reveal themselves through Le Corbusier’s dialogue with the reader.  The overarching issue of urgency in addressing a new “modern life” takes the forefront through several different arguments Corbu puts forth.  But all arguments relate back to Corbusier’s adoration for the work of the engineer, of which he says is “like a great art”.  This position seems to penetrate the other issues throughout the book.  He speaks of the work of engineers as having some kind of greater truth, in that they follow generative principles and rules that are in accordance with the natural laws of the universe.  Using the analogy of the automobile, he says several times that he is more interested in the “chassis” of the building than the “coachwork”.

Corbu likens the architecture he is seeking to that of oceanliners, airplanes, and automobiles.  He grasps onto the idea of those artifacts, which must address definite mechanical principles, as being “honest expressions” and in accordance with natural, mathematical laws, and therefore harmonious to the human figure.  Corbu delineated his mathematical design process through positions such as the plan as a generator, as well as using regulating lines as a means for guarding against arbitrariness.  What is apparent and ironic about his position is that he refers to the dwelling as a “machine for living in”, and not a poem culminating its owner’s life.  Looking at this statement, one could assume there is hardly anything harmonious or humane about the architecture that comes from it.

But we, of course, are looking at this in retrospect.  It is easy to make judgments about his ideals.  Corbusier was most definitely reacting to an architecture of his time that was static, stuck in [thoughtless] decoration and ornament.  I wonder if Corbu had any conversations with Adolf Loos?  He was looking for something more, something thoughtful, harmonious, and something that would stir/resonate with the inner human core.  He found this in the technology that was coming into being during the early 20th century.  This technology was innately magnificent because, as the “lesson of the airplane” says, there is certain logic that governs the statement of the problem and its realization.  This technology responded to the definite problems that natural forces posed.  The oceanliner had to contend with the issues associated with long journeys across large bodies of water, the airplane had to address not only mechanics but aerodynamics, and the automobile dealt with evolution and mass-production.  He did not believe that architects of his day were asking the right questions, or posing thoughtful problems.  We could assume that Corbu saw a way of using technology that truly and deeply addressed human needs and desires.  Unfortunately, as the century played out, this was not the case.  The complexity of the human condition required much more from technology that it could provide.

Vers Une Architecture starts out by noting that architecture is “the masterful, correct, and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light”.  Given the last half-century of exploration into new modes of technology, biology, and anthropology, it can be said that architecture is truly much more than simply correct geometry and form that resonates with the human condition.  Rather it is a dynamic, diverse response to an ever-changing complex context.  I think Charles-Edouard Jeanneret knew this, though a language for it may not have existed when this book was published.

wk7 reading response

February 24, 2010

Situationist City: Simon Sadler

Though attempting to remove itself from academia, the situationists longed for a time when they could pursue open-ended experiments.  A response to a dishonest rationalism, it purported that genuine social progress did not subsume the individual but maximized his or her freedom and potential.  This flew directly in the face of rationalism which fostered social progress through the notion of collective interests taking priority over individual interests.  Through the reading, it becomes hard to identify the nuances that made different situationism from rationalism.  Even though situationism seemed as though it desired a very informal, “natural” emergence of places and events (anti-design), it very much tried to formalize these notions of spontaneity, itself becoming a bit contradictory.  This can be seen in Constant’s “New Babylon”.

Additionally, situationists begin to talk about the notion of “the spectacle”, which is the collapse of reality into streams of images, products, and activities sanctioned by business and bureaucracy.  Here, they say, one can discover the authentic life of the city teeming underneath.  But in the same breath, they insisted that the spectacle was merely a manufactured wonderment, a hype that concealed the real processes of exploitation; the alienating one-way battery of goods from capitalists to consumers.  How then, can this environment be authentic?  Again, it seems as though they contradict themselves.

Sociologists of the time noted the complex structure of the city, divided yet interdependent.  But they also pointed out that rationalism, with its Cartesian precision, reduced the intricacies of the city to fallaciously simplistic levels.  Instead of the sterile environments of the rationalists, the situationists pointed to architects who were humanizing the heart of the city through labyrinthine clarity, such as Aldo van Eyck.  This, they said, allows for freedom of choice and for people to discover how they should use the spaces and places.  Situationists wanted to defend the freedom of ordinary people to make their own choices, to expect artists and designers to behave as consultants and providers rather than dictatorial tastemakers, and to enjoy a material world of change and spontaneity.

Timing is everything.  Interestingly enough, the situationists looked to cybernetics theorists, which had formulated their thoughts around the same time (maybe slightly earlier) to try to begin to discover how new ideas coming out of information theory, such as feedback, can act as ways of narrowing the gap between producers and consumers of culture and artifacts.  Walter Benjamin writes that artistic apparatus “is better the more consumers it is able to turn into producers, that is, readers or spectators into collaborators”.  When will inhabitants begin to define their own environments, and how will this follow or break from the rules set in place by power structures?

If “drifting” signified a state in which humans’ actions were still authentic, and their ability to make choices still existed, then our capitalistic society of today with its inherited power structures must have turned us to a “following” state, with no freedom of choice and no will to question.  This is ironic, because, bar the fact that this is a much more complex situation than I am making it out to be, we originally had the choice (over simply being followers and consumers).

wk6 reading response

February 17, 2010

Enduring Innocence: Keller Easterling

The cynical, nihilistic arguments put forth by Easterling were quite convoluted.  If she intended on talking about power structures through the means of capital wealth and warfare, hes notions of this were not clear.  Additionally, I think the reader was bound to lose track of what Easterling proposed was the role of architecture (spatial capital) in all of this, unless she was talking about the architecture of power structures.  Our physical environs emerge out of current context (context that cannot be simplified into “this caused that”), often times in ways that are ironically supportive of those who are already in power.  If this was part of her argument, it what not clear.  Additionally, it seemed she contradicted herself several times.  She says pirating is a response to the powerless environments in which it exists, yet alludes to the fact that large corporations (who are inherently powerful) are the real pirates of the world.

What seems to propagate throughout this reading was the fact that we’ve created and submitted to “falsified” environments (call it spatial products, spatial capital) which really responds to a context that is eclipsed by the notion of monetary gains, and is the creation of very narrow worldviews.  Additionally, she proposes that organizations, corporations, and the wealthy use distortion, trickery, etc in order to protect their power.  Simply put, Easterling is talking about power structures in a global market.  This sort of top-down approach is contrary to life in general.  Life happens in the details and intricacies of chance interactions and moments in time.  Such choreographed spaces and activities cannot possibly produce an environment beneficial to its occupants.  Further, there is no omniscient being who can predict all possible outcomes.  There is no singularity in our complex world.  Everything is constantly in flux, evolving, changing in relation to a context that is never static.  What comes to mind is Lorenz’s butterfly.

Back to the idea that power and money go hand in hand, Easterling exemplifies this fact by attempting to uncloak a well organized system of the dumbing down of the American consumer.  No longer are we a customer with a need that can have a real conversation with a shop owner.  Rather, we are merely consumers who can be coerced through marketing tactics into unjustified or unsolicited consumption.  This is merely a single explanation and example of world trends.

Now to spatial products: Easterling says that (and I am obviously paraphrasing) we build to suit out needs.  For those logistics parks (shipping ports) and Free Trade Zones, this means building with an architecture of efficiency responsive to a narrow context- a context that does not embody the cultural environment of place or social environment of people, but of the economic environment of wealth accumulation.  For me, this is emergent architecture with a small “a”.  It is very interesting to try to begin to decipher these “natural” systems and processes that have developed and evolved over the years out of particular contexts in support of a select few.  But it becomes worthwhile to note that, in my opinion, this is not architecture with a big “A”- a formalized architecture that is responsive and responsible to a more holistic context; an architecture that is un-self-interested; an architecture that is thoughtful.

My stream-of-consciousness and disconnected thoughts embodied in this entry probably relates well to the reading that it is responding to.