Paulo Mendes da Rocha's buildings float, levitate, they are suspended between heaven and earth. Mendes da Rocha is the magician and his buildings the lady in that old famous magic trick. Why do they float. In the earlier projects they seem to float to open up the space around and under the buildings for public use. At the same time that they float the act as ruling devices--providing measure the topography of a place and calling attention to relationships between the landscape that previously did not exist. Particularly recently, as his most recent buildings and proposals have taken on a scale that allow Mendes da Rocha to operate at the scale of a vast territory.
Especially in three of his more recent projects: Conhecimento School Park, 2006, Santo Andre, Brazil; a project for a Student Dormitory for Cagliari University, 2007; and a masterplan for Technological City, Vigo University, 2004. In the last two this strategy of territorial connection is particularly outstanding. The dormitory hovers over two piers and connects the three water bodies that separate them. The masterplan consists of a series of long bridges that float over hills and ravines, connecting the campus buildings. Also in the rendering there are a number of empty structures that seem to create public spaces on the hillside and create framing devices for viewing the landscape. Of course this is just speculation on my part because there is little information on the particulars of the project.
Over on design boom there are two great interactions with Mendes da Rocha - an interview and a presentation by him at last year's FestArch. In a description of the Cagliari dormitory project Mendes da Rocha describes his intention of synthesizing a number of disparate elements in one gesture:
I felt obligated to make a reflection on the spacial characteristics of cagliari and the identity of sardinia in the universe. I thought I have to consider its primordial architecture and its ongoing transformation with 'naturalezza' (in a natural way). I had to consider the city's topographic specificity, its geomorphology, the original difficulty of human settlements, that big repository of all the intelligence and wisdom of architecture... here in cagliari I tried to embed two aspects in in my project: a 'spacial issue' and that of a 'point / counterpoint' position to america. in america's civilization (and in more or less all the occidental civilization and independent from the disaster of colonization...) the development is towards water. the direction has been from the coasts, the seaside, towards the inland. different to cagliari, which started from the inland, from the mountains developing towards the coast. in cagliari, you see all these monumental buildings, the ancient stone towers / the marvelous st. pancrazio with the elephant... I now synthesize the magnificent inventions that have given new opportunities to people: as building in stone and all this complex and difficult constructions in this specific geo-morphological landscape,developing towards the seaside.
He also mentions aerial photography as a relatively recent phenomena which allows this type of intervention to take place when he states "today there is the possibility for architects and engineers to work from maps but also by photos taken from satellites. this does not seem to young architecture students a novel thing, but when I was 30 or 40 and working as an architect, there was no such opportunity for me to base my work on. no aerial views of the landscape, the cities, the buildings..."
Now with Google earth we can conceptually link projects from around the globe which is an interesting concept--from the territorial perspective to the global perspective. It reminds me of a quote on of my professors made about all architects attempting to produce an idealized city out of their work--that their projects seen together as a whole can represent their own personal utopia. But more on that later.
For now, more de la Rocha buildings that float:
note: all images via Design Boom and Land + Living