Monday, November 10, 2008

Towards a GeoURBanism

”The highways crisscross through the towns and become man-made geological networks of concrete. In fact, the entire landscape has a mineral presence. From the shiny chrome diners to glass windows of shopping centers, a sense of the crystalline prevails.”
Robert Smithson, The Crystal Land

Since my posts on Geo-mimicry a while back I’ve been thinking that the concepts of geo-mimicry and the “new geographies” could be combined into a full-fledged geoURBanism. I have been thinking that because geo-mimicry, at least in the formalist incarnation adopted by most designers, is too limited an approach to apply to every design problem. The combination of the two would open up designers to a more fulfilling repertoire of techniques and devices for researching, understanding, and designing buildings and cities.

GeoURBanism, in this nascent stage, has four basic tenets:

Design as geology :: imitation of the processes and forms of geological systems and geological formations, such as geomorphology.

Design as geography :: the setting up of relationships that enable a deeper understanding of a particular location or the world.

Designers* as geologists :: Develop an understanding of a given situation through its dynamic processes of formation; its microscopic structure; and its stratification.

Designers* as geographers :: Develop an understanding of a given situation through its territorial relationships; its topography; the precise dimensions of things as they exist.

The last two points are hard for me to define in a bullet point and as I have been thinking about them the only way to distinguish them from one another is through a kind of dialectical approach, meaning that my understanding of one primarily came about through contrasting it with the other. Here are some of my initial thoughts:

A geographical approach is concerned with the present condition as it currently exists on the ground. It uses techniques of cartography and aerial photography to describe a context from the top down. It is concerned with surface, topography, relationships between objects and themselves and the landscape, and precise dimensions.
A geological approach will want to explain how a condition came to its present state: where do phenomena come from, what forces (global and local) caused it to come about. It examines dynamic forces, processes, tensions, movement, time and history from the bottom up—it begins with the micro structure (i.e. crystals/minerals) and works out. I think it would be more topological than topographic, more dynamic (i.e. fluvial systems) than static.

Questions I still have are how does a geological understanding of a place differ from a geographical understanding? How does a geological project differ from a geographical project? If you have any thoughts please leave some comments!!
Obviously the difficulty in differentiating the two come from the intense overlap in the two fields, at least as they relate to architecture and urbanism, creating a Venn diagram where the overlap is the most substantial portion. Perhaps actual geologists and geographers would be appalled at the idea of overlap—not knowing either a geographer or a geologist I’m not sure how much turf-ism there is in the two fields. I also think that designers and researchers, as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, need to utilize the techniques implied from each field to gain a more rich and nuanced understanding of the condition that is being intervened upon.
Ok…more to come.
Note: All images above from The Collected Writings of Robert Smithson, and are the work of Smithson. Smithson's SITES and NON-SITES are inspiration for geoURBanism and examples of potential techniques for new forms of research, analysis, and design.
*I have a hard time defining myself as you may have noticed, and sometimes use architect, other times use urban designer, and other times urbanist. For this piece, and probably from now on, I have substituted designer as a catchall for all design disciplines: architecture, urban design/planning, landscape architecture, etc.

1 comment:

namhenderson said...

One key concept which you included in third tenent but didn't seem to discuss in your "text" is teh concept of awareness and analysis of stratification. this to me seems the key different between a geologic and geographical approach to design. Partially because it then leads to issues of time (both past, present and future), while at least in my own mind geographic seems more static? Perhaps that is my own misconception...