December 7, 2007

Analogue or Digital: Copenhagen Calls to Question Role of Digitalization in Architectural Research

The European Association for Architectural Education (EAAE) and the Architectural Research Centers Consortium (ARCC ) have invited individuals within the architectural community to submit papers relating to the topic of "digitalization." The Conference describes, "...digitalization has opened a path leading to new forms of representation and new opportunities with regard to developing and handling highly complex spatial and surface forms." As such, architects must now face not only the implication of the "analogue world" but now must also address "architecture and the digital world - dealing with new methods and tools, and with the virtual world as an independent source of meaning."

Papers will be reviewed by a committee including architectural professors from the Oslo School of Architecture, the Dublin School of Architecture, the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture, University of Houston, School of Architecture, Ball State University, and University of Minnesota. Send submissions to The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, Philip de Langes Alle' 10, 1435 Copenhagen K, Denmark, and go to for more information.

March 4, 2007

From the Ground on Up: Architecture for Humanity takes on Leadership in Biloxi Mississippi

Where does architecture cross the line from benefiting only those who can afford its luxury and into the realm of serving those in poverty? While some help the families effected by Katrina in the form of money, medical aid, or food, Architecture for Humanity is commit ed to helping those in need with their greatest tool: design. From re-designing public buildings to community housing, Architecture for Humanity has reached out to offering its expertise where it is needed, and has many projects in progress as well as completed. The organization is a conglomerate of many participating firms all of which are dedicated to offering the most affordable, useful, and sustainable solutions possible. The projects which the initiative encompasses include a vast number of design issues including temporary structures, mobile dwellings, and pre-fabrication.

This pooling of resources represents a shift in the way society understands the true potential of design. Historically, architecture's primary purpose in the public realm has been to create national identity in order to compete with other countries. The largest surges in architectural innovation have been fueled by national pride, and have benefited not any given individual, but rather the invisible entity we call a country a state, a province, or what have you. With increasing global environmental hazards, will architects and planners rise to the challenge of aiding those who have been disaster stricken? Architecture for Humanity shows positive signs of this effort becoming more and more of a reality.

The benefits to in which design has on these areas becomes clear in cases such as the Biloxi Model Home Program. In this program, architects, engineers and other design professionals meet face to face with Katrina victims to discuss simple questions regarding rebuilding on hurricane torn property. The House Fair, which was set up by Architecture for Humanity gives Katrina victims the benefit of choosing from a variety of architects by seeing their designs first hand.

One of these designs, by Studio/Gang Architects, fully represents the imaginative and functional potential of design in areas such as Biloxi Mississippi. The design, (shown in two images above) takes its insiration from the pine cone, where scales open and close to dispense fertilized seeds to be deposited back into the ground. The house, in a similar fashion, is fully breathable to maximize natural breezeways, reducing the need for energy consuming air conditioning, while at the same time being fully modifiable by the inhabitants. Also, patio spaces embrace the lifestyle of the people who may enjoy a peaceful gathering space. The design also incorporates pre-fabricated trusses which allow significant structure to the raised platform of the house. Underneath, ample storage space is available, and also the platform prevents water damage to the interior of the building in case of future flooding.

Other designs, such as the Blox House by Bret Zamore Design incorporates basic issues of raising the house above flood levels. The design concentrates on affordability and adaptability. By making the construction method simple, requiring "little cutting" the house can be rapidly made and added on to. Through its configuration in plan, the Blox House can be modulated to serve many occupants who wish to live in the same immediate dwelling, while at the same time offers a simple livable aesthetic.

With the staggering amount of loss of property (shown at right, click to enlarge), designs such as these represent a shining light for many residents of Bioxi. The House fair is most applicable to those families who have lost their homes completely, however, to those who have faced over 50% structural damage, it may be the case to start over again with the design of a new home. It is truly inspirational to see architects of such expertise working with families to better their lives. With the help of organizations such as Architecture for Humanity, these will once again be able to enjoy their home town of Biloxi, Mississippi once again.

February 26, 2007

Olympic Developments; In with the Old, Out with the New

This week’s post is directed towards plans for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, which, despite their far proximity, have been under continuous review and discussion among the architectural community. With the recent environmental, or “green” push, issues of sustainability have been applied to these future projects. The first of which, the 2012 Olympic Games, to be held in London, is said by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA), to be the “greenest games in modern times.” With innovations such as integrated renewable energy systems, water conservation, and low pollution along with recycling of materials during construction, the Olympic Village is doubtlessly gearing up to represent this popular shift towards sustainable living that the turn of the millennium has witnessed. The proposal for the 2016 Olympics has includes re-using the Los Angeles Coliseum as the centerpiece to the games. Although the design doesn’t add any of the “green” advantages, as does the London Village, the act of reusing the existing structure, is in and of itself environmentally savvy. The comments, posted below, address the balance between the design aesthetic and the intentions towards sustainability of these two projects.

Comment to How Green Will the London Olympics Be?
by Bonnie Alter

I appreciate your point that the environmental standards of the project are being put under tight review and are seen as possibly being not strict enough, while the idea of local indigenous communities being destroyed doesn’t raise concern. This gets into the issue of what is more sustainable: buying a brand new hybrid car, or just repairing the old one in the garage? Although I do believe it is more environmentally sound to take better advantage of existing structures and public spaces than to erect new ones that cause more pollution and create other environmental dilemmas, I do think the creating of a new Olympic Village is vital. Having not seen the full competition documents for the London Village, it is difficult to access whether the design would complement the Olympic Ceremony, but in the past, and in other proposals, the designs for these “global villages” represent international community and promote peace among nations. The erecting of new structures is symbolic of this effort and, without it I believe that the potency of the project would diminish. Given that, by erecting a building that is “green” is by all means appropriate in that it represents the global effort to be more environmentally efficient.

Comment to “Coliseum preps for face-lift; Games plan leaves the historic portion of stadium untouched” by Rick Orlov

My response to this proposal it double edged. I believe it is a great idea to re-use an existing stadium for the 2016 Olympics (as was mentioned, "this will be the crown jewel of the Olympics, as it was twice before”) however, there are glaring issues with the design and with the functionality of the renovation. Before commenting on these let me mention that the notion of re-use is for me the most sustainable process we have as designers. What is better for the environment isn’t to build a sustainable structure at all, but rather use what we have more effectively. However, although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa embraced the plans, developed by architect David Jay Flood, I would like to state my disgust with these purely monetarily driven designs. In short, Flood’s proposal compounds the issue of a lack of student seating by reducing the total occupancy by 13,000 seats, and replaces them with 204 “luxury” box seats. These box seats are by no means luxury, but rather reflect the superficiality, in terms of both of its design aesthetic and structural integrity, that the entire endeavor is imbued with. The design is horribly unappealing, and rather than gearing the renovation towards improving the overall quality of the space, it is rather directed towards facilitating for the select high-dollar few. This move which still doesn’t bring resolve to even the box seats also sacrifices the experience for everyone else. In conclusion just let me add while the intent of some individuals may be interested in "spread[ing] the Olympic spirit throughout the region with events to be held everywhere" in order for this spirit to be experienced in the Coliseum is for a different design to be chosen.

February 20, 2007

Stitching Up the Gaps: The Architecture of Fashion

Skin + Bones, the current exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Downtown Los Angeles, challenges the notion of space making by drawing on parallels between architecture and fashion design. Through a concourse of both architectural and fashion based-projects, the exhibit brings to the surface the pertinence of their interrelation. Although vernacular understanding may place the two trades into disparate classes, work done by leaders in both professions proves that the practices of both architecture and fashion have intersected. However, the identification of this link between architecture and fashion is not new. In fact, the origins of their bond can be traced back to Adolf Loos, an architect and theoretician who was involved in the beginnings of the Modern Movement in architecture during the turn of the 20th century. Loos focused on the role that clothing and dwelling have an individual’s establishment of their own social standing and personal identity. While the ideas that he generated from this association indirectly influenced his architecture, current architecture has taken Loos’s exploration a step further by making more direct references to the fashion world.

The MOCA exhibit begins by stating the strategies in which architecture has adopted from fashion design. Such processes include printing, pleating, folding, draping and weaving. The first segment of the exhibit labeled “identity” features fashion collections that constitute distinct permutations of personal individuality. For instance, The “Defensible Dress” by J. Meejin Yoon from MY Studio, is equipped with latex dipped “quills” that become erect when movement is detected, thus the identity of the dress responds to changes in its surrounding environment. Similarly, the project entitled “Afterwards” by Hussein Chalayan and Marcus Tomlinson deals with the concept of an adaptable identity that also reacts to a dynamic setting. The chair upholstery in the installation can be removed from chairs to become a gown and the remaining structure of the chair can be transformed into a briefcase while the table is extruded from its center and is worn as a skirt. As noted in the gallery, the concepts of Chalayan and Tomlinson’s design “deal with fleeing one’s home and relates to the fragility of both shelter and identity.”

This project is contrasted with architect Jean Nouvel’s “light screen” for the Arab World Institute where metal patterns function as apertures that open and close mechanically to allow varying degrees of light through to the inside of the building. This concept came from the Islamic latticework screen that traditionally is used to prevent a woman inside from being seen. Here social paradigms relating to personal identity and self-expression are mirrored in Nouvel’s design. By beginning the exhibit with projects that are non-traditional, however share such direct similarities; there is an immediate interest in the potential of both fields as well as a curiosity into how the two trades correlate.

More specific similarities are seen as one progresses through the exhibit, making the correlation become increasingly apparent. For example, the shared tectonic principle of “folding” is seen in the fashion works of Tess Giberson, in her Structure One collection, and the works of architects Preston Scott Cohen, and Peter Eisenman. Gibson folds simple materials to achieve elegant and functional designs. The language of these designs is that of honesty in that the process of how the clothing was made becomes apparent. Similarly, in Cohen’s Tell Aviv Museum of Art, a single surface is “folded” to create a functional light well that illuminates the museum space. His design achieves the same sense of structural integrity and grace as does the fashion projects. At this point, the link between the actual processes of fashion and architecture has been confirmed in the mind of the onlooker. The rest of the exhibit expounds upon how additional production methods are used by both architecture and fashion. The portion of the exhibit titled “Structural Skin” shows projects that use this similar design quality. The fashion project by Miyake Issey and Fujiwara Dai attempts to create a pair of jeans in a single production process without using seams. Therefore, the surface material of the product or “skin” is in fact acting as the structure, thus “structural skin.” This same concept is seen in Herzog de Mueron’s Prada Aoyama Epicenter where the structure of the building functions as its skin. In the Prada building, the “honeycomb” moment frame structure is repeated three dimensionally inside the volume of the building to create spaces to serve the varied program. Thusly, the skin of the building is indeed its structure and visa versa.

The ideas made apparent in Skin + Bones represent the cross disciplinary-effort to advance societies notion of perceived space. By focusing on the most current of projects, the exhibit is projecting the direction of the future by identifying the radically progressive state of these fields today. In relating concepts seen in history to today’s high tech society, architecture’s imminent potential as a tool to redefine the urban condition becomes increasingly apparent.

February 10, 2007

Zaha's Performing Arts Center in Abu Dhabi: "Biological Beauty" or "Tourist Trap"

This week’s post is directed towards the recent unveiling of Zaha Hadid’s design for the Cultural Center in Abu Dhabi, which was commissioned by the Soloman R. Guggenheim Foundation and the Tourism Development Investment Company (TDIC). Zaha’s design relates to the surrounding cultural district, which will be populated by four additional institutions including the Contemporary Arts Museum by Frank Gehry Partners, the Classical Art Museum by Jean Nouvel Studios, the Maritime Museum by Tadao Ando, and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum (architect yet to be decided). Two comments (pasted below) to two blog posts from outside sources address issues of the project relating to first, the nature of the process that went into creating the design (and whether “organic architecture” is limited to the language of the signature style that Zaha has developed) and secondly, to the formal attributes of the project and the intent of the design (whether sensationalist or functional). The project is not only relevant to the topic of how the notion of urban space is progressing within the global community, but is also informative as to the role of architects within the socially and politically charged public realm within the Middle East.

Comment to Zaha Hadid in Abu Dhabi: Update from "Deezeen":

I agree that Hadid’s “biological analogy” is effectively applied to bring creative and inspiring solutions to both site and programmatic levels of the project. However, the notion of using “organic/natural” processes does not need to be constrained only to the curvilinear and amorphous formal language seen in Hadid’s work. Yes, the Center’s distinctive expression of form is one way of incorporating ideas relating to biological phenomena into the creation of space, but the processes seen in nature also employ more rectilinear and geometric forms and processes. When it comes down to it, the true test of the architectural process is the quality of the living spaces that manifest as its result. If Hadid only used eye-catching features for a strictly “sensationalistic” intent, than it is likely the spaces will be compromised as a result. However, if in fact the formal language of the project works for the enhancement of the occupied spaces of the building, than it would be unfair to allow the project to be given only to a sensationalist intent.

Comment to Keeping Up with the Jonses from "3 Quarks Daily":

I agree that the TDIC of Abu Dhabi and perhaps the Guggenheim Foundation have commissioned their architects to encourage tourism and to increase their local economy. However, I do not think that this can be seen as a reason to disregard the projects themselves as being of this same materialistic intent. Despite the growing trend of architecture as becoming a commodity used to boost national identity, it is still important to understand what the architecture itself is working to accomplish. Hadid’s Performing Arts Centre, for instance has integrated ideas relating to the circulation of people within the existing master-plan of the cultural center and has absorbed the dominant public corridors, the waterfront and pedestrian pathways. Hadid has used her architecture to embrace this energy and to open people up to ocean views, to views of the Abu Dhabi skyline, and to the rich program of performing arts theatres. Also public spaces have been integrated to the project in order to encouraged pollination between people along fluid pedestrian corridors. The meaning of her work thus goes beyond “destination architecture.”

January 30, 2007

The Frontyard is the New Backyard: Los Angeles Undergoes Urban Rehabilitation

The ability to enjoy the sun and the great outdoors practically year round has been one of L.A.’s strongest selling points since it’s beginnings. Today, this acclaimed feature is being combated with the cities staggering rise in Angelinos, along with the subsequent congestion of transit and the decrease in available property. Southland locals simply do not have enough room to enjoy the fresh air they once did, that is, if we can indeed call the air “fresh” anymore due to atmospheric pollution caused largely by automobiles. It is clear to see the various impacts that the increase in population has on our daily experiences living within L.A. In an effort to counteract such urban problems, design professionals have collaborated with public leaders to strive for creative and effective solutions.

Los Angeles architecture, from its beginnings, has embraced the relationship between indoor and outdoor space. As seen in the case study house project of the 1950’s (pictured at right) as part of the Modern Movement in America, the backyard was viewed as an essential part of every Angelino’s home. As such, the Southern California lifestyle was fully realized; summers could be spent by the poolside, where neighborhood barbecues and simple games of hide-and-go-seek could be enjoyed.

One such avenue by which to solve Los Angeles’s need for public space is the creation of new urban parks. But many might wonder: if there is such a lack of outdoor space, where can we find room to fit new parks? The answer is double-edged. First, there is ample space, if you are willing to get in your car and drive; and second, there is enough space, if the city converts its unused government-owned land. Both of these concepts are at the forefront of the search for public area within the Los Angeles region.

However, it is debatable whether the local climate of Los Angeles, being mostly a desert, was ever able to sustain such a lifestyle. Is the lifestyle previously described the innovation of the Angelino, and in reality foreign to the local climate? The answer is complicated and not easily answered, however, despite the origin of the problems we are facing today, public leaders and design professionals remain committed to their efforts in achieving a balance between satisfying the values of our society as well as developing resolutions that are economically and environmentally sustainable. Looking at one of the cities largest public undertakings in the arena of new urban parks, it becomes surprisingly apparent how the proposed plan fails to respond to the cities economic and environmental constraints.

Landscape artist Ken Smith (pictured at left) has won the design competition for the 1,347-acre park, to be built in Irvine on land previously occupied by an American Air force base. The so named “Great Park” is to be the largest public park in the U.S. Being a flat site, as well as being very hot, the design suggests creating an expansive man-made canyon that serves as the main circulation element. This move also creates microclimates for park goers to enjoy shade, water features, jogging trails and areas for play and recreation (click on the image below to view these conditions diagramed in detail). An additional concept to the design includes a standardized system of transport within the site. “Orange bikes” can be rented for free or nominal charge as is done in many parts of Europe as part of their public transportation system. Also, a guide operated “orange hot air balloon” will take park goers into the sky to experience the park from a completely different perspective. Along with the obvious appeal of this feature for park-goers, the balloons will also serve as a visual cue for those driving to the park from within the city.

This project, although seemingly functional as a public space, and effective in providing an enriching outdoor experience, it is fundamentally problematic in terms of its lack of responsibility to the environment and to socio-economic conditions of L.A. Firstly, due to the project’s location, Angelino’s will need to travel outside of the city into Orange County in order to visit the park. This ignores the already large problem of freeway congestion, and further perpetuates the problem by encouraging Los Angeles citizens to spend more time on the road for weekend or afternoon excursions to the Great Park. Furthermore, because the fact that roadway travel is a requirement for Angelinos to share in the experience of the Great Park, this favors those who own cars over those without cars. Not only is this bias harmful for creating social equity, but will also limit the frequency of visitors to the park. Clearly, the Great Park is problematic in how it is offering resolving L.A.’s problem of having a lack of public space.

As an example of how effective public spaces can be developed within the city, Mark Rios, head of the landscape division at the USC School of Architecture, is working with L.A. leaders to develop public parks in the downtown area. In a recent interview with Rios on local radio station KCRW, Rios noted how the process of “land purification” as well as the construction of such large scale parks can take many years to complete. It is encouraging to see designers such as Rios remain concerned with the creation of spaces that will bring Angelinos of all social and economic backgrounds together, for a worthwhile outdoor experience.

January 28, 2007

Cyber Space: Recent Projects Bridge the Disciplinary Divide Between Multimodal Medias and Architecture

Recent projects bridge the disciplinary divide between multimodal medias and architecture. This juncture represents the willingness of design professionals to seek new ways of defining how we, as a culture and society, perceive the built environment. Within a historical context, this trend can be seen as parallel to the Modern Movement in architecture, which resulted from the radically new methods of production and introduction of new building materials, such as the research done by engineer Henery Bessemer, during the industrial revolution in Britain at the turn of the 19th Century. The current trend in architecture similarly deals with a rapidly expanding scope of new media types that provide today’s artists, architects, and designers with a fresh vehicle by which their artistic disciplines may be advanced.

Once viewed as a linear sequencing of traditional elements, architectural space today is becoming increasingly non-linear. This shift in the way we perceive the built environment, or “space” within the field of architecture is also taking place in various other multimodal art forms. The Labyrinth Project, which has been developed by the University of Southern California’s Annenburg School for Communication, is one such example of how cutting edge media forms influence design and result in increasingly inspiring and imaginative art. As “an art collective and research initiative [focused] on interactive cinema and database narrative,” cultural theorist Marsha Kinder works with “visual artists and writers known for their experimentation with nonlinear forms.”

This project takes the user’s interface with the work as its point of departure. By allowing the user to make choices based on his or her own aesthetic or intellectual prerogative, the user is able to influence the direction of the interactive narrative. The experience of Labyrinth thus enables a more natural progression that is based upon individual choice and preference rather than the authoritarian dominance of the creator. Architecture, in a similar way, however strictly designed by the architect to promote a specific architectural experience, is ultimately contingent upon the choices made by the person who is occupying the space. Thus, the perception of a particular environment, be it a public gathering space, a bustling streetscape in a business district, or the more private quarters of a domestic environment, can all differ from person to person based upon their choices of how to circulate within a building or public space, how they interface with the space, as well as what they focus on as their own architectural points of interest.

When contrasted against classical notions of built environment, it becomes particularly apparent how radically different modern day conceptions of space are. Within his treatise Ten Books of Architecture, writen before 27 B.C, Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius outlined how architectural design should and must be conducted to best support the function of the state as a whole. Vitruvius delineates the architectural process exhaustiveley, whereby methods of city planning, the composition of building facades, and the proportions of design elements, are universally mastered to achieve a preconceived solution and cohesive architectural experience. Modern architecture, I would argue, although casting away the stylistic elements of the Classical schools of architecture as were paramount during the Italian Rennaisance of the 16th century, did not circumlocute the Vitruvian ideal, that embraces a rigid design methodology as the means of achieving an intended reaction by the occupant.

Here is where the advent of multimodal media types, such as interactive media, has intervened. Projects such as Labyrinth are indicating the tendency to move away from the design solution as an absolute or known entity, but rather towards viewing the design as being variable, and dependent upon the choices of the person experiencing the art form. It is exciting that this view is not tied down to one disciplinary field, but instead bridges across professional boundaries: “Labyrinth is committed to creating a productive dialogue between the immersive language of cinema and the interactive potential and database structures of digital media.”

Beyond the scope of interactive media, recent filmmaking has also seen striking associations to architectural notions of how space is experienced. LA Film Forum is one agency that organizes events and film screenings in the Los Angeles area. Recent and upcoming films brought together by the LA Film Forum reveal that the scope of these experimental projects challenge the traditional methods of filmmaking: the presentation of a conflict, the development of that conflict with a character, and concluding in the resolution of that problem. This “linear” concept of conflict-resolution is put into question by newly released films such as Decline and Fall, by filmmaker Erika Suderburg, which is “structured as a historical epic and operates in the frisson between bodies moving through artifact and reinventing the space of urban memory as a lived place.” As part of this system, the sequencing of film clips from socially charged events taken from various locations is used as a method of reshaping the viewer’s perception of their own physical environment. Within this “visual contemplation of these conscious leavings and the bodies that move through and recognize their complicity with the Empire machine,” the film “operates in the interstitials, refusing a comforting explanatory voice-over, a singular location, and a conclusion”.

Here, it is evident that by re-evaluating the standards of traditional film making, recent projects such as Rise and Fall, are re-defining the way in which we perceive of space. Urban space is now being defined by film-makers to not be limited to the physical forms that one may interact with, but have expanded the definition to involve the landscape of memory, and the psychological impact of familiarity with objects and places within the built environment. This added dimension is one which is being used to push the limits of these creative fields in order to reach more imaginative and inspiring works.