30 November 2010

Suggestive Proposal: Public Nookie

The nook is not just a waste of space, argue Daisy Froud and Geoff Shearcroft (of AOC) in their 2005 essay 'Suggestive Proposal: Public Nookie'. Taking their research on the nook in domestic architecture as “clearly defined recesses of no prescribed purpose, rather than left-over or in-between space” they say observe that nooks“contrast with and heighten the qualities of adjacent areas.” They put forth an argument for the transplantation of the domestic nook into the public realm so that people can retreat to a more familiarly scaled space. Central to this argument is the belief that “people take pleasure in temporary territorialisation of shared space, from the arrangement of their bodies, to the placement of possessions” - nooks, potentially, would allow this. In these spaces people can gather their thoughts before emerging back into society, the crowd, and reengage with it afresh.

Intimacy is something the crowd offers to society but it is more than often unwanted (as described by Jonathan Raban in Soft City) what the nook offers is a self-intimacy achieved through changes in scale and difference. These spaces are not wide and expansive but small, subjective and open to interpretation, where people can “slot into.” What a nook has the chance of offering is a sense of the familiar in an increasingly disorientating world.

Public space today seems to be preoccupied with controlling the masses, moving them through it and keeping them safe, it no longer gives its' users a reason to stop and look, to think and observe the goings on around them. The spectacle of the city, once championed by movements such as the situationists, is lost. Perhaps a recess in space is what is now needed to reinvigorate the public realm, adding a new layer to it. Of course the chances of this happening in the UK appear slim, any such space would most likely be deemed inappropriate under some guidance such as Secure by Design - large open spaces, with CCTV cameras, are deemed far easily to control.


Froud, D. & Shearcroft, G. (2005), A Suggestive Proposal: Public Nookie, Made, wsa Journal, pp40-1, Issue 2

26 November 2010

Fragment: Notes on Metamodernism

I recently stumbled upon an essay entitled Notes on Metamodernism by two academics from the Netherlands - Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker. The essay proposes a new condition that is neither modern nor postmodern - metamodernism. The essay is part of a wider research project "documenting current developments in politics and aesthetics that can no longer be explained in terms of the postmodern" that grew out of an international conference 'Nu-Romaticisim' at the University of Reading. I am currently interested in theories of post-postmodernism ("What next?") having grown increasingly frustrated (and equally inspired) by a range of texts on the modern vs postmodern city and cultural experience and their relevance to today. I  am currently digesting the entire essay and will be following up a more in-depth analysis in the coming weeks, but in the mean time I thought I would share one particular paragraph that resonated with me.

"CEOs and politicans, architects, and artists alike are formulating anew a narrative of longing structured by and conditioned on a belief ("yes we can", "change we can believe in") that was long repressed, for a possibility (a "better" future) that was long forgotten. Indeed, if simplistically put, the modern outlook vis-a-vis idealism and ideals could be characterized as fanatic and/or naive, and the postmodern mindset as apathetic and/or skeptic, the current generation's attitude - for it is, and very much so, an attitude tied to a generation - can be conceived of as a kind of informed naivety, a pragmatic idealism."

The idea of pragmatic idealism is one which I think you can see increasingly in projects by Architects globally but increasingly those whose influence/education lies in the so called 'Super Dutch'. I am reminded of The Why Factory's Visionary Cities with it's very 'modern' "Calling all visionaries!" - seeking utopian ideals that are visionary but remain weighted in the issues of the everyday.

Yes Is More. An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution by BIG (Taschen 2009)
In Yes Is More, Danish practice Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) set out a manifesto that shares many similarities with the description Vermeulen and van den Akker use for the current metamodern climate.

"Historically the field of architecture has been dominated by two opposing extremes. One one side an avant-garde of wild ideas, often so detached from reality that they fail to become something other than eccentric curiosities. On the other side there are well organized consultants that build predictable and boring boxes of high standard. Architecture seems entrenched between two equally unfertile fronts: either naively utopian or petrifyingly pragmatic. Rather than choosing one over the other, BIG operates in the fertile overlap between the two opposites. A pragmatic utopian architecture that takes on the creation of socially, economically and environmentally perfect places as a practical objective."

The emergent of pragmatic utopian/ideal approaches in Architecture has the potential to reinvigorate a profession and perhaps provide the toolkit for a healing process. Where this sits in the wider framework of a globalised consumer-as-producer society though seems to need more questioning.


Vermeulen, T. and van den Akker, R. (2010), Notes on Metamodernism, Journal of Aesthetics & Culture, Vol. 2
Maas, W., Sverdlov A. and Waugh, E. (Editors) (2009), Visionary Cities (The Why Factory), 1st Edition, Amsterdam: NAi Publishers
Ingels, B. (2009), Yes Is More. An Archicomic on Architecture Evolution (Bjarke Ingels Group), 1st Edition, Koln: Evergreen

19 November 2010

Modern Terrace Housing (1946 Research Proposal)

In 1946 a paper examining ‘Modern Terrace Houses’ was released - complied as research by Arthur Trystan Edwards on behalf of the Chadwick Trust, its purpose was “to investigate the question of the maximum ‘density’ per acre for small houses with gardens suitable especially for the intermediate and outer zones of large towns, having regard to the amenities essential to a comprehensive town planning arrangement.” (Edwards 1946) In the paper Edwards puts forth a series of possible terrace housing types and master plans for built-up areas in large towns, rather than large blocks of tenements – as was being proposed at the time and championed by the Modern movement.

Perspective of Terraces facing onto Public Space.

Edwards (1884-1973) was a Welsh Architect and Town Planner who's interest in architecture and civic design, following a 12-year interlude in the Navy, work for the Ministry of Health in the 1920s - the departments responsibilities included at this time, housing - where he became associated with Sir Raymond Unwin. His 1924 book, Good and Bad Manners in Architecture, urged architects to respect the context in which they were designing. His 1946 research into the density of houses in large towns was met with wide spread criticism upon its publication, commentators of the time arguing that the densities he proposed we too high.

Proposed master plan of 200 people per acre.

The terrace house had become associated with slums (most notoriously the ‘back-to-back’ houses) but Edwards pointed out that it was “unfortunate that the protagonists of ‘open development’ had consistently ignored the earlier and more reputable examples of the terrace house.” (Edwards 1946) He draws his inspiration from the larger terraces of the Georgian-period and focuses the arrangements around large public spaces. His proposal for a permeable street network was just the sort that would be championed two decades later by Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities, whilst the arrangement of housings around public squares echoes that of the modern day new urbanists. Furthermore, Edwards argues for a mixture of one, two and three storey developments and of no greater in height, so as to not detract from the importance of local civic buildings which surely has it's origins in the Garden City movement of Ebenezer Howard.

Proposed section through Terraces, with second storey balconies.

The Terrace House as a typological solution to creating urban living at higher densities has, over the past two-five years, received generous press coverage and has to been seen to be undergoing somewhat of a 'renaissance.' Studies like those of Edwards reaffirm that these are not new ideas and how cyclical the 'fashion' tastes of architects, planners and urban designers are.


Modern Terrace Houses: Researches on High Density Development, A. Trystan Edwards, 1946

10 November 2010

Beyond Beyond Building, Venice Architecture Biennale 2010

At this years Venice Architecture Biennale a series of talks called Architecture Saturdays have been held where directors of past Biennale have been invited back to hold "conversations" in front of a live audience. On Saturday 31st October Aaron Betsky, curator of the 2008 Biennale 'Out There: Beyond Building' took part in a panel discussion with Wolf Prix (Coop Himmelb(l)au), Winny Maas (MVRDV) and Hani Rashid (Asymptote Architecture) entitled 'Beyond Beyond Building.'

Left to Right: Winny Maas, Aaron Betsky, Hani Rashid, Wolf Prix

In his opening address Betsky, speaking to the large audience in the Teatro alle Tese, summed up the 2008 Biennale (which I must admit I did not attend) as a response to how "... buildings were no longer adequate to achieve the effects, the realisation, the ways in which we could critically experience our world of which they, if they have ever been capable of, were no longer today." During this prologue to proceedings he also attacked the 2010 Biennale, questing why Kazuyo Sejima (SANAA) had been selected to direct the Biennale (thoughts echoed in a recent Review in Icon Magazine). The tone set was one of questioning the relevance of the material exhibited this year and how exactly it demonstrated the title 'People Meet in Architecture.'

Following the introduction, each of the three contributors were invited to give a brief presentation on what they had been working on the in the two years since Beyond Building (hence the title Beyond Beyond). As is often the case when Architects are given a captive audience to speak to the presentations were not brief but this does not mean that they were anything less than lively, interesting and highly informative.

Rashid gave a whistle stop tour of the practice's work starting with the installations designed for the 2008 Biennale and ending on the Yas Marina Hotel, scene to the closing race of the 2010 Formula One World Championship. The work shown reflected the practice's rapid evolution from the experimental to large-scale built projects, all of which employ the technique of 'digital sketching.'

Yas Marina Hotel, Asymptote Architecture

Maas gave a self assured presentation in which he focused on his new venture - The Why Factory. Racing through two projects to have been published by the Think Tank that has grown out of the prolific practice MVRDV and a collaboration with Delft University of Technology - Visionary Cities and Green Dream. Maas called for an end to the suffix 'Re' to words so that "instead of (re)generation there is only generation ... no more (re)thinking, simply thinking."

Visionary Cities by The Why Factory
Prix touched lightly upon several projects during his segment, lingering longest on the Mini Opera Pavilion recently built in Munich, however it was his analysis of what exactly Beyond Beyond Building meant that was most memorable. He began by saying how he found the term very negative until he thought how a "minus and minus gives plus so that means its positive." Prix felt we should "think that beyond beyond is not the end of architecture, maybe its the start of a new one" and explained how he doesn't "look for the next because looking for next and next and next reminds [him] of a wheel which is spinning so fast that it looks [like] its still standing. We should be aware that still stand is death. Only going forward means life."

The panel discussion that followed was really a series of questions posed to each individual architect by Betsky as a response to the earlier presentations. There was however one lively debate where Betsky attempted to define each of the Architects in a 'modernist' box placing them in either Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe camps which sparked off discussions as to whether or not these two alone summed up architectural styles of the past century. Ultimately it was hard to find a common thread running throughout the event that constituted something that was Beyond Beyond Building.

If the 2008 Biennale had been a reflection of the excesses of the past decade, with the growth in iconic buildings and the fantasising of a future based on far different economic circumstances that we find ourselves today, then the 2010 Biennale reflects the present or the very near past - neither of which are Beyond Beyond. For something to be 'Beyond Beyond Building' today needs to reflect the current conditions (socially, economically, etc) that the present world inhabits, perhaps a middle ground between the two Biennale's would represent the ideal - visionary and progressive but rooted in the 'real' and achievable.