Expanding Architecture…Shrinking Concepts

Opinion

The speed of development, the time constraints of production and competitive economic growth have led us to a scenario where, concepts in architecture would either approach dissolution or emerge as recombinant.


Prologue 

Architecture and art have always needed patrons, those who encourage this practice. 

Architecture has always been effected by economy of the place. 

Architecture reflects the society. 

Architecture is constantly adapting to change in culture and Culture is adapting to architecture. 

Architecture has the ability to encompass within it aspects of varied natures… 

It is function, it is form, it is philosophy, it is theme, it is technology, it is culture, it is everything we experience. 

Architecture and its concepts have been constantly layered with every paradigm shift in thinking, although the generator of these shifts have varied from economic crises to the industrial boom, technological advances to multi-media and social networks etc. 


Copyright : Ankita Chachra

In recent years the world has seen an unprecedented urban growth. There is a need for progress in the third world nations and developing countries in the East. The rapid urbanization in China has induced interest and curiosity in the nations of the West(i).It has brought curious speculation, debates and discussion to the world of planning and design. Result of this rapid urbanization, is the impetus for development, placing a primary focus on settlement support systems that are mainly infrastructure and housing. In developing economies, the growing demand has led to fast paced construction which is constantly outpacing the planning process. Gurgaon, and emerging mega city in India, (The Economist – September 2012),serves as a prime example where speed of construction outpaces planning . This rapid demand accelerates the production of design and outpaces the speed with which design is conceptualized.

While most offices struggle to keep up with an accelerated demand for designed buildings, compete for commissions and race against time, thereby essentially leaving no room for the development of new architectural thinking or building upon previous concepts. One begins to question if the relationship between concept and architecture still exists? Is it in a stage of dissolution, or are the current conditions setting up a platform for architecture concepts to remerge, to combine and thus be altogether recombinant?

At one end, architects are struggling with speed and the other, the economy associated with land costs and construction is inflating the bubble of speculative market, it has no real end user in place, it has no patron to impress. The mode of communication to the masses is a mere image. This image is then propelled to the status of a brand in order to attract potential end users. The concept has been simplified for the client; it is image based and basic. These image oriented designs have in fact encouraged analogical concepts like the Birds Nest in China by the Herzog de Meuron or Toyo Ito’s TOD’s Omotesando representing the concrete tree.Panic_Stock Exchange Crash

 

It has been proved over time and again that architectural thinking is often pushed in times of lull or economic recession. The ‘deconstructivsm’ exhibition stands witness to limits of modernism that were pushed due to the economic depression caused after the New York Stock exchange crash in 1987 and the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989(ii).The newly developed concepts either become applicable to the needs of the society or the society adapts to the new models that are presented. In times of need and desperation, where buildings are mass-produced to meet the demand, there emerges dissolution of concept or architecture is reduced to mass culture. Going back to ‘Critical Theory,’ Theodor Adorno in his essay ‘The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception,’ observes, after immigrating to the United States, that high art is reduced to mass culture and commercial propaganda. The formation of a culture industry does not push the boundaries, understanding and development of the arts. Similarly, when we look at the Domino house model developed by Le Corbusier of the Modernist approach towards manufactured components finding their way into everyday life, a strong conceptual development unveiled itself. This model then later became most suited and immediately applicable to support the housing demand that arose after World War Two. Again, in this case the mass produced built product was devoid of conceptual thinking and architecture became mundane.

Daring to call the typical cookie cutter approach taken in new cities of the east like Gurgaon, India or Wuhan, China that erect towers in park as non-architecture, the idea of autonomous repetition can still in some aspect be affiliated with Moneo’s ideas of typology. The difference is that in this situation, it is being practiced by developer driven and profit -oriented mindsets, hence it is Non-Architecture or dissolution. It is what is being termed as ‘post-critical’, that is easy and relaxed, non consequential and without theory(iii).

The most essential way to communicate Architecture is through the Built. Yet in today’s day and age of mass media, architecture has been reduced to an image. The ‘concept’ becomes the selling point of the building rather than the driver of architectural thought. Branding, which is the new concept (or rather the dissolution of concept) generates imbecile forms that resemble pedestrian symbols, which the mass can identify with. Emphasis on the visual, even though it is an effective communication tool, propagates the visibility of the architect as a celebrity and a public figure. Bjarke Ingels Group‘s (also recognized as BIG architects) 8 House in Copenhagen or the Big Pin in Phoenix , both projects accede this dissolution.

This situation of dissolution of concepts is further aggravated by the recent virtualization and highly advanced digital modeling. Form does not follow function, it follows data and codes. Data and codes become concepts of buildings rather than mere information that supplement the modeling tools. This is no way suggesting that the tools are not important to improve the building performance and help push the manufacturing process. The reliance on these tools produces functional objects that don’t push architectural thinking. The digital tools make the approach towards architecture highly singular and everything else becomes an afterthought. This is often seen in ‘skin architecture’ or ‘blobitecture’ where every other aspect of architecture is forcibly moulded in the form generated. The designer and especially the ‘hand’ have become alienated from the product. Digital tools breed digital manufacturing, resulting in the loss of skill, both skill of an architect to draw and model and skill of the craftsman to sculpt and build.

Nevertheless, the use of parametric and form generating software have helped increase time efficiency and reduced production time. It might be considered apt for this situation where time is scarce and commission possibilities limitless. Their use also induced a shift of expected skill set in new interns and fresh graduates. Today, when hiring, architectural firms are more interested in the facility a person may have with digital tools rather than his/her capability as a designer. The time gain provided by efficiency, is spent on producing the glossy image or what can even be termed as ‘the money shot’. The emphasis on the image can be traced back to the likes of Hejduk, Eisenman, Hadid and Libeskind, who took a stand towards validity of architecture representations and drawing. Whether it were the experiments of the axon by Hejdyuk or the paintings by Zaha Hadid, each emphasized the mode and importance of representation. Yet, it was an abstraction and not a painted dream; it did not sell a pseudo- hyper reality. With ‘Branding’, the notion of concept is reduced to an image, towards propaganda and publicity.

On one hand one may critique the dissolution of concepts in architecture, but there exists a duality, which can be explained through Koolhaas’s briefly construed theory of ‘Bigness’(iv). He presents the complexity and the possibilities relating to the scale of architecture. He explains the double polemic of integration and concentration; and the contemporary doctrines that question the possibility of whole and real. The possibility of whole is intriguing because the building is no more a single entity; instead it starts to act as a city. It amalgamates, it layers and it combines. Expanding further on the notion of amalgamation, the teams that work toward its completion diversifies, new expertise are required, highlighting the emphasis on integration. This integration however is not dissolution, but a shift that is generated due to the need of ‘bigness’. Similarly architecture itself has expanded in the way it needs to be perceived. Concepts and studies of past reflect itself in a saturation due to lack of the new architectural concept.

Stepping back in the past, we refer to Venturi and Scott Brown’s exemplary work ‘Learning from Las Vegas’(v) that instigated a paradigm shift in our understanding of the role of architecture, it exceeded the premise, exposing architecture as something beyond form and building. It was about identity, experience and communication.Exposed notion of Venturi and Brown, conjured with the theory of ‘bigness’, presents architecture as the ultimate integration of multiple concepts at an issue-based and contextual platform.

Architecture has always been a deep ocean of knowledge. One is expected to have common knowledge of every field that converges into architecture. Each student entering the field is expected to know the working of services, structural systems, material application, human psychology, climatology, geography, social aspects, art and architecture history, visual representation and much more. It has always been ‘big’ not just pertaining to physicality and scale but to application. Initial experiments of Coop HimmelB(l)au or the theory of the Situationists, both reflect the extension of architecture and thinking beyond the scale of built. Architecture is capable to encompass within it aspects of varied natures.

In the essay ‘Toward an Urbanistic Architecture’, Mass(vi) talks about architecture reaching its saturation and urbanism is losing its allure. He critiques the current situation and instigates to take a critical stand on the present situation. One may agree when he explains the present criticality for a movement of change under the pretext of Growth, Migration, Mobility, Specialization and Climate. The situation at hand, which can be accused towards dissolution of concept in architecture, brings forward an opportunity for another paradigm shift, the opportunity of Recombination, and the opportunity of a hybrid concept. The time constrains, economic triggers and a lack of patronage may not allow for new design concepts to be developed, yet one can read subtle indications of different concepts and ideologies from the past resurfacing.

Considering these dualities, there are only two point to where what architecture will turn, one where it becomes a business, a commercial enterprise where money, profits and image rule, that which is feared with the acceptance of the ‘post critical’ or the other where the theories and thought that this field had undergone are merged and recombined. Architecture has collected a vast knowledge of extreme conceptual practices. The speed prevents time to invest in new thinking or ideas but amalgamation and layering of concepts in architecture could help define a field which itself is layered and whole.

Who can imagine what recombination of concepts of typologies, ideological envelopes, autonomous, contextual, symbolic, minimal and even embracing the return of decoration beyond the post critical would be. But this lack of time and speed can only further pressurize the need to develop the new paradigm and prevent it from becoming mundane and a mere image, lacking substance. The fast pace does not encourage development of new conceptual premise and theory, but should we really accept that ‘the latest theory is that theory doesn’t matter’(vii)? Architecture is neither neutral nor casual; there is nothing in architecture that should not matter. It is responsible and political. It adapts to culture and culture to it. The new theory should be theory of Recombinsm, amalgamation and recreation. It should be ‘big’, something that encompasses within it all the past knowledge, critiques and theories.


Author :  Ankita Chachra 

References:

i LSE, Urban Age Conference Publication   http://lsecities.net/publications/conference-newspapers/shanghai-the-fastest-city/

ii Jodidio, Philip. New forms: Architecture in the 1990s. K ln [Germany: Taschen, 1997]

iii Martin, Reinhold. “Critical of what? Toward an Utopian Realism.” Ed. Willam S. Saunders. The New Architectural Pragmatism 2007: 104-09.

iv Koolhaas, Rem, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. “Bigness.” S, M, L, XL: Small, medium, large, extra-large. New York: Monacelli P, 1998. 495-517.

v Venturi, Robert, Brown Denise Scott, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas: The forgotten symbolism of architectural form. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1977.

vi Maas, Winy. “Towards Urbanistic Architecture.” The state of architecture at the beginning of the 21st century. Ed. Bernard Tschumi and Irene Cheng. New York: Monacelli P, 2003.

vii Eakin, Emily. “The Latest Theory Is That Theory Doesn’t Matter.” The New York Times [New York] 19 Apr. 2003

 

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Gated Communities

Provocation, What if...

An emerging trend in most developing nations is this pseudo idea of security through enclaves and gated settlements.  This case study from India‘s National Capital region Gurgaon , sheds light on the effects which  gated communities have on the society and lifestyle.  For Gurgaon, the foundation for gated development was laid in the 1990’s when Haryana government changed local legislation, to allow private companies to develop land.  The private real estate boom continues today, as each developer nourishes his exclusive high-end housing development with community amenities like shared pool,  club house, sporting facilities, convenience commercial etc. The developer then  publicizes the greens inside this enclave and of course, the idea of security and privacy are further embellished.  This development is limited to the ownership boundaries, what happens outside remains the local authorities concern, in Gurgaon’s case it would be HUDA‘s. 

In most cases, the public realm fails to develop,while each authority plays the blame game of ownership outside the property of the developer. Gated communities have not only led to crime ridden and unsafe zones by preventing  the idea of ‘eyes on street’  (contested by Jane Jacobs) but also led to a car oriented urban environment  that is unsuitable for pedestrian movement.  The City of Gurgaon primary consists of enclaves, malls and car congested high-speed roads. I wonder if one can call this a city when it lacks basic streets and urban life. While the privileged have their enclaves to entertain them , the not so privileged deal with dangerous roadways and hard paved traffic signals as their only public space. At such instance, should one defend the idea of POPS ( Privately owned Public spaces)? For a situation like Gurgaon, is it the only way to ensure the availability of a public  realm?

Obviously, it is naïve to expect a sudden change in the mentality of  residents or developers, or to radicalize the idea that all  gates and fences be demolished. I thus present to you an idea/ experiment (explored with a peer, Reihaneh Ramezany ) to retrofit the current situation with not only design guidelines but with law and policy changes that hold developers more accountable and lead to a more inclusive fabric.

OVERVIEW: 

Context : Where is Gurgaon?

Land Ownership

Gated Communities

Resident Point of View

Safety Stats

EXPLORATION: 

This case study zooms into a neighborhood scale, situated on one of the most traveled roads. M.G. Road, not only connects Delhi and Gurgaon but also has an overhead metro line running parallel to it. On closer analysis of the selected area, we concluded that streets are the only public realm left after excluding all developments. The question is, could a zoning law be applied to streets, similar to land use and zoning code. Could the developer be encouraged to develop the street zone with added F.A.R incentives? Slide7Slide9Slide19Slide18Slide17Slide21Slide23Slide25Slide26Slide16Slide27 Slide28 Slide29 Slide30 Slide32Slide31

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IDEA DEMONSTRATION:

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Peripheral Investment : East New York, Brooklyn

Design

Team: Ankita Chachra, Eiman Alsakha and Ryan Jacobson

For more detail on the project visit : http://www.msaudcolumbia.org/fall/spatial-mixology/

Spatial Mixology: Investment in the periphery from Ankita Chachra on Vimeo.

 

12/18/12 4:00pm : 

Project mentioned in Brownstoner !