Friday, January 23, 2009

Rural Studio 2

Forrest just sent me a series of comic book inspired panels describing the design and construction process of the Glass Chapel and is graciously allowing me to post them here on _URB_. It is a great set of images giving us a glimpse into the multifarious collection of tasks required by Rural Studio participants--conflict negotiation and mitigation, junkyard pulls, laborious construction techniques, on-the-fly detail design, community immersion, and of course--having fun! Check out the flickr set to look at the images in more detail.
Forrest also sent me the following two pics--the first of me in SubRosa and the second, quite amusing pic of my father whispering sweet nothings to me via the pipe of confidentiality I referred to in my previous post on the Rural Studio.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

aqua.URB.anism || NY Moon WATER Issue

Interactive Map of the Water Systems of Manhattan, via New York Moon

The current edition of the New York Moon, “an internet-based publication adhered to the lunar phases of the real waxing, waning moon,” is dedicated to Water:

It billows in the lower atmosphere; it falls in drops or sheets or buckets or cats and dogs; it is drunk; it is sprayed over the breadbasket fields; it is peed; it slices down sluices, levels locks, tumbles through turbines in hydroelectric dams, courses through cataracts and rumbles over Mosi-oa-Tunya tunneling out its gorges; it vaporizes; it is cried; it fills the vast fields over which tankers and pirates zoom and under which manta rays skate; it gives and sustains Life (see, Fertile Crescent, primordial ooze); it also takes it away (see, Ophelia, Kursk); it is composed of three atoms — Hydrogen, Oxygen, Hydrogen; it envelops Dead Sea bathers, bears away bits of Venice and serves as boundaries to be crossed only if the intention is to helm the Ship of State past the treacherous waters of the shining Cyclades. It runs off.

Thus states the opening page of the issue. A few of the issue’s articles demonstrate the delicate balance between water and urban areas. “The Sick Waters of Voronezh” gives a first hand account of the intimate relationship between a Russian city and its water supply throughout history.

One of the amazing features of the issue is an interactive map of the “Water Systems of Manhattan” demonstrating Manhattan’s natural hydrology with overlaid maps from 1865 and today.

Beneath New York’s lattices of concrete, iron and landfill lie dozens of organic waterways. Using data from an 1865 sanitation map and contemporary satellite photographs, this projection depicts Manhattan as a vascular organ, whose obscure operation has had a powerful bearing on the fate of the city…Created for the department of sanitation, the map was a reminder that natural water systems, entombed beneath modern accumulations, hidden from view, could still have monumental effects on the functioning of city life. Indeed, structural engineers and city planners continue to consult the Viele map as the authoritative survey of Manhattan’s water systems.

Other interesting articles include a story which casts Wall Street as a waterlogged version of Pompeii and a proposal to extend IKEA’s flatpack/fabrication logic “beyond the limits of conventional architecture to the biological construction of fauna inhabiting the watery zones surrounding the city.”

note: found via BLDGBLOG.

See Previous: Water Worlds

Rural Studio || Road Trip

My father and I sat out early on a brisk Friday morning and headed west towards the neighboring state of Alabama. We would drive for a couple of hours before we reached our first destination, the sleepy college town of Auburn, where we waited in one of the only open coffee shops for my good friend Forrest. No, it is not a joke (as my mother initially thought)—I really went to Alabama to meet my friend Forrest (Fulton, not Gump). Ironically the place was called Cambridge Coffee House and I believe the intention, through its name and crimson interior, is that it would remind us of Cambridge, Mass. and the institutes of higher learning found there. Ironically, I say, because it was in Cambridge Mass that Forrest and I first met each other about five years ago where we would bond as fellow southerners. The bond continued to grow as we found ourselves strangely living in the same cities through the years—Cambridge first, then New York, and most recently in Beijing where we both found ourselves working in late 2007. In August 2008, just before the Olympics, Forrest left Beijing to pursue other ambitions which took him full circle back to Alabama.

Early on in our relationship I learned that Forrest was an alumnus of the renowned Rural Studio program of Auburn University. Not only that: he had constructed, along with three other classmates, the Glass Chapel that had long been my favorite project of the program! So for a long time I had been intending to make the pilgrimage from Georgia to Alabama to get a firsthand look at the RS projects. This was the day that dream was finally going to become realized. Forrest eventually arrived and after general greetings the three of us set out once again for Hale County, the epicenter of the Rural Studio program.

The Rural Studio was started in 1991 by Samuel Mockbee and D.K. Ruth, professors at Auburn University, to provide students an opportunity to get a unique educational experience combining construction experience through design/build projects and community activism. Mockbee, a well regarded regionalist with partner Coleman Coker in the 1980s, would give up private practice to found the program and “dedicated his life, as a teacher and as an architect, to the goal of providing 'shelter for the soul'. His inspirational and authentic architecture served to improve the lives of the most impoverished residents of rural Alabama” through the Rural Studio. RS is renowned for its activism and community building, and its progressive, empirical approach to materiality and fabrication. In the Rural Studio, innovation comes through extreme forms of experimentation and pragmatism. Materials are formed and reformed through techniques of recycling, reconstitution, unusual combinations, and atypical selection, the latter often due to availability. Walls are made up of carpet and cardboard; buildings are clad in license plates and windshields; apertures are created out of beer bottles. When normal materials are used, such as brick or CMU, they are exploited to create textures and patterns rarely seen before. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is a story about a road trip.

Hale County is a three-hour trek from Auburn along long, flat stretches of highway that cross the southern portion of the southeastern states of the US. A highlight of the trip, besides noting minute variations in topography and foliage, was passing through Selma, AL, the tragic starting point of the Selma-to-Montgomery March (wikipedia). As we crossed over the Edmund Pettis Bridge, the site of the “Bloody Sunday” tragedy in which law “enforcers” attacked the marchers with tear gas and billy clubs on their first attempt to march to Montgomery, the car grew incredibly silent, and no one would say a word until we reached the other end of the historic town center. I can not speak for the others but I know I was overcome with the weight of history and the promise of a new future.

After another hour we reached the Super Shed in Newbern, AL, the home base of the Rural Studio program and the site of its endless explorations. The Super Shed is basically a giant roof, the likes of which you see on virtually every farm in the southeast, under which are built a series of small buildings for the students dormitory. According to Forrest the concept is based on Jefferson’s design for the UVA Lawn. The Super Shed also serves as the studio’s dormitory and workshop. Many of the program’s most extreme experiments are tested here first, in mockups and the students own housing. Highlights here include the cardboard wall house and the cylindrical brick shower building.

Then it was a short trip down the road to an abandoned house whose lot has been transfigured through a series of earthworks by the studio. Here we found one of the highlights of the entire trip. Subrosa is a subterranean cylindrical space made out of concrete and open to the sky which you reach through a long narrow concrete tunnel. It is one of Sam Mockbee’s last designs and it references the Greek and Roman myth of sub rosa and pledge to secrecy. The structure was constructed after Mockbee's death by his daughter. The oculus in the center of the space is filled with a sculpture made of steel rods and discs which resemble a field of reeds. In the floor is a small pond and on one side of the cylinder is a niche. In the niche is a bench where you can sit and converse indirectly to your neighbor through a tube that starts on one side of the niche, circles around the cylinder, and finishes on the other side of the niche. Sitting back to back my father and I whispered to each other through the tube feeling a little like two kids holding tin cans connected by a thread.

Moving on from there we arrived at the Newbern Fire Station, one of the more recent RS projects and a handsomely constructed building. It consists of a series of wood and steel structural modules clad in metal roofing on the north façade and translucent plastic and wood louvers on the south façade. A little farther down the road in Greensboro we found the Hale County Animal Shelter, a Shigeru Ban inspired barrel vaulted roof sheltering kennels below. In these two projects we clearly see one of RS’ consistent design tropes—the shed roof with dynamic profile.

From there we progressed deeper into the rural areas to Masons Bend, a small dirt road which featured many of RS’ early projects, such as the Butterfly House, the Hay Bale House, and the Lucy House. It also featured Forrest’s creation, the Glass Chapel. The Glass Chapel features one of the most iconic images (for me) of the Rural Studio, a glass façade made out of “1980s GMC sedan car windows salvaged from a Chicago scrap yard.” Its other distinctive tectonic feature is a series of rammed earth walls “containing local clay, cement, and a small amount of water.” The rammed earth is a beautiful material, orangy-red from the local clay, and with a texture like velvet. The only disappointment is that it was a little derelict from lack of maintenance and its usefulness in target practice to the locals. Forrest looked wistfully at his creation and said “there are so many things I would do differently now.” But to me the ambition of four young college seniors—to use a rarefied, labor intensive construction method (rammed earth) and an innovative, never-seen-before material (windshields)—was remarkable and the finished product something to be proud of.

In the end it was a great day—we got to see some inspiring architecture and some beautiful countryside. Unfortunately there are so many projects we were not able to see, including some bathrooms at a park that Forrest said were really great but we could not seem to find despite my dad’s new GPS system and our best intentions. It’s so awesome to see people thinking and working in an original, resourceful, and ad-hoc manner, and doing so much good through design.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Via Archinect I discovered EcoMetropolitanism (EcoMet), and exciting and provocative proposal for a new form of urbanism by Mari Fujita and Matthew Soules of Vancouver. Obviously I find it exciting because it is a concept that is intimately connected to the PHREE_Urbanism concept I have been proposing in my last few posts.

Fujita and Soules proposition consists of seven points to make Vancouver a more wild and exciting place through an intensification of Vancouver’s already existing unique relationship between nature and urbanism. I really like this concept of the hyper-local—finding what is truly native to a place and exacerbating it.* This seems to be the Fujita and Soules’ MO for this and other projects. In Fujita’s blog I found an excerpt of a paper she submitted to the ACSA discussing the notion of several types of urbanity and needing to address places with more specificity, and going so far as to declare Vancouver as a verb and a new –ism. Fujitas declares that Vancouverism is the model of density and diversity within a livable framework. EcoMet, for Fujita and Soules, is a supped-up, accelerated, version of Vancouverism—a Vancouverism on anabolic steroids, if you will.

EcoMetropolitanism Vs. EcoDensity
Hyper-locality involves contending with not only the ecologic specificity of a place but also the regulatory specificity as well, and EcoMet seems to be a direct response to Vancouver’s EcoDensity zoning system which was just put into place last year. According to the Vancouver’s EcoDensity website claims that

Part of the City of Vancouver’s response to these challenges is a new initiative
called EcoDensity. The program will be designed to create greater density
throughout the city, and do it in a way that lowers our impact on the
environment; ensures the necessary physical and social amenities; and supports
new and different housing types as a way to promote more affordability. (
I personally do not know much about the EcoDensity initiative except that it sounds nice as an idea. But Fujita and Soules use EcoMet as a critique of the new program: "It's very much a critique of EcoDensity," says Soules. "There's many different ways in which density can occur, but EcoDensity makes no specific claims really about what form density will take. So EcoMet is an attempt to be more specific about what kind of density can occur." (2) Another way that they directly respond to Vancouver's regulations is by taking Vancouver's existing view cone regulations and invert them.

The following is a description of EcoMetropolitanism straight from the horses mouth, Mathew Soules’ website:

EcoMetropolitanism is a joint research project by MSA and FujitaWork that seeks
to understand, articulate, and visualize possibilities for the hyper dense,
super diverse, and radically optimized cities of the future. Cities in which the
vibrancy of the metropolis is amplified by ecologically designed architectural

The project takes its departure from Vancouver as a city
with a specific and provocative relationship between dense urbanism and natural
environment. The EcoMetropolis can be understood as an accelerated Vancouver. In
building the EcoMetropolis certain performative strategies are instrumental:
Expanding upon received ideas of density to account for broader systems and
populations, inverting and redeploying Vancouvers view cone system, intensifying
programmatic diversity, maximizing building envelopes and creating productive
ecologies inside building interiors.

The Seven Points (all text and images via The Tyee)

Point One: Make EcoMAX
Measure not just simple human density but also plant and animal life and diversity.
Point Two: Invert the View Cone
EcoMet proposes Urban Habitat Cones, Urban Agriculture Cones, Density Release Cones, and Mixer Cones to view our newly exciting city.

Point Three: Intensity Use
Fujita and Soules re-imagine Vancouver's downtown tower-on-podium template to serve much richer and more varied purposes: wildlife corridors slice through the commercial space at ground level; bridges and platforms host bird habitats and micro-agriculture.
Point Four: Exploit Co-Existence
Don't just make a "green roof" that no one can see or feed from; design it as a source of animal food and human entertainment.
Point Five: Broaden Structure
EcoMet augments structure and infrastructure's extant function of supporting humans by capitalizing on their potential to service the city's expanded population.
Point Six: Maximize Envelope
Take the dull, predictable condo tower envelope and fold it, warp it, substract and protrude until you come up with a visually exciting and highly interactive architecture: all those new ledges and crevicess will allow plant and animal integration.

Point Seven: Ecologize the Interior
Soules and Fujita suggest mainstreaming Vancouver's time-tested "interior agriculture" (a.k.a. grow-ops) into new crops--say, hydroponically-grown tomatoes-- that not only provide a source of fresh local food but could also generate a colourful "living wallaper" and other aesthetic qualities for the inhabitants.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sleep Dealer

The images above are stills from Sleep Dealer, a film by Alex Rivera

Robotic construction workers in New York remotely controlled through outsourced operators in Mexico.

A renegade fighting wars in countries he has never been.

A migrant worker who sells her memories of growing up in an undeveloped country to wealthy thrill seekers who do not actually want to experience their adventures first hand.

These are the roles of the three main characters of Alex Rivera’s new film Sleep Dealer, which discusses important political issues like globalization, colonization, immigration, and outsourcing in a futuristic sci-fi setting. I just heard about the film today via an interview with Rivera on Wired. The movie looks amazing—and it has already won some big awards at film festivals such as Sundance.

The movie discusses the same issues that urbanists are also discussing these days—urban migration, network culture, connectivity, situated technologies, urban computing, globalization, etc. One interesting point is that to achieve the futuristic, dystopian look he wanted he had to look no further than places that already exist. The photographs of Edward Burtynsky, the border conditions between US and Mexico (depicted in a still from the film above, which Rivera and his team did nothing to alter for the film), and the markets of Mexico City offered visions and settings for the film.

River says that the film is about connectivity, virtual and real, and whether increased connectivity will bring with it more hope, more justice, or more alienation. As he says, it is up to us to decide which direction it will take.

Check out the interview below:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009



Well, here it is, long overdue--the expanded version of the Guidelines for PHREE_Urbanism. I hope you enjoy. Please feel free to leave any comments, complaints, and suggestions you have.

1. From “Towers in the park” to “Tower IS the park.”
Le Corbusier - Plan Voisin
MVRDV - Gwanggyo Centre, Korea
Daniel Libeskind
I think the title of this one pretty much says it all—in PHREE_Urbanism the modernist concept of towers hovering over and/or around a civilized park (best epitomized by Corb’s famous perspective view showing a luxurious terrace from which the ‘primitive’ nature is to be contemplated) has been superseded by an attempt to turn the tower into a wild, unkempt vegetal structure (that same luxurious terrace now becomes a place to inhabit that ‘primitive’ nature). This narrative excludes FLW’s Broadacre City, an agroUrban conception that is only now, 70 years later, becoming a seriously considered approach to urban design.
FLW's Broadacre City - Decentralized, Democratic (according to FLW), AgroUrban
Minsuk Cho/Mass Studies
Park Towers are now all the rage but I want to draw special attention to three pioneering figures whose vanguard designs introduced us to the idea long before it’s recent popularization: Emilio Ambasz, Edouard Francois, and of course, Ken Yeang.
Emilio AmbaszKen Yeang
We should also throw a nod towards Vertical Farming here as well.

2. Fill the Void aka Green is the New BlaNk

MAD proposes to fill one of the largest urban voids in the world, Tian'Man Square, Beijing
Patrick LeBlanc Vegetable Wall
Have a blank wall on your house? Do it Patrick LeBlanc style and grow some plants on it! Have a boring asphalt roof above your head? Grow a garden! Have an empty lot in the alley next to you? Throw some seeds in it! Through tactical maneuvers such as guerilla gardening (1, 2) and seed bombing today’s PHREE_Urbanists are taking back the streets and alleys and returning them to Mother Nature. Joni Mitchell would be proud.

Hellboy II - Forest Elemental
This strategy reminds me of one of the most striking scenes in Hellboy II: when the giant forest elemental is shot by Hellboy and transmogrifies into a spectacular verdant knoll in the middle of Brooklyn.

3. If you can’t beat them, DESIGN them.

Vicente Guallart - Shanghai Expo pavilion
Greg Lynn - Intricacy
I’m not sure if it is floral inspiration or some sort of flower envy, but architects and designers are more and more often using plants and animals as their muse. Of course we have a soft spot for mimetic design (1, 2, 3, 4) here on _URB_, so we don't mind that architects are designing structures that mimic daisies (see Public Farm post), trees (Guallart), or even venus fly traps (Lynn). In fact, we encourage it. Below is one of my recent faves, a hexi-sexy geometrical riff on a flower by Plan B Architects.
Orquideorama / Plan B Architects + JPRCR Architects

4. Eat Your Home.

Fab Tree Hab - Mitchell Joachim, Javier Aborna, Lara Greden
Planting roots takes on a whole new meaning as homes of the future must be grow themselves. Fixity and stability, characteristics we looked for in a house during the humanist era, are things of the past—now it is all about dynamic flexibility and emergence. To those European architects who used to make fun of our stick-built American homes I can now say “Hey, it was just a part of the evolution baby…that’s how we rolled. And now we’re going to roll hobbit style.” The best part about it? If you get hungry you no longer need to run to the market, just grab some fruit from the ceiling.
“But I’m not really into fruits and veggies” you say. I know. Me too! That’s why I built my guest house out of ginger bread. It tastes great AND it’s biodegradable!

For those carnivores out there, if we can grow ears on the back of a mouse I’m sure it will be no time before scientists create a self-generating, self-replicating bovine protein that can become building blocks for a ‘carne a casa’. Just look at this In Vitro Meat Habitat found on Mitchell Joachim’s blog. A ‘slab of beef’ takes on a whole new meaning.
In-Vitro-Meat Habitat (Damien Hirst, anyone?)
Note: I actually wrote this last part before I wrote last week’s piece on bioengineering, but now I can think of at least one more thing for bioengineers and architects to explore together.

5. Start a Flood.

Micah Morgan - Park Space
Water has been reenergized as a performative design element in PHREEU. Rethinking the role of hydrological infrastructure as a civic space, such as the concrete creeks in LA and Houston, the increased use natural wetlands in landscape design, and the water-logged parking lots of Micah Morgan’s thesis at Rice University are further examples and opportunities for what I have previously termed aquaUrbanism.

6. Get a Pet.

Soon to be seen in classifieds:
WANTED: SWF in search of PUS* for protection against free-ranging zoo animals in adjacent superblock. MUST be big, strong, and ferocious, but cuddly and pettable. Grizzly Bears and Lions preferred. Cats and Dogs need not apply.
*PUS, now unheard of in the classified section, will soon be a commonly seen acronym of the classifieds section meaning “Pets of Unusual Size”
All jokes aside, as Stefano Boeri wrote in “Down from the Stand,” increasing the biodiversity of our cities means experimentation with the cohabitation of different animal species. How this cohabitation occurs is still in question.
Is it through a Jumanji style rewilding of our cities? Perhaps abandoned areas of shrinking cities are turned into experimental zoos: Can you imagine performing a Matt-Clark inspired deconstruction on parts of Detroit to create interesting spaces for wild animals throughout abandoned pancake slab structures and then constructing a Team X/Archigram inspired elevated walkway (surrounded in glass like those used in aquariums to be sure) winding through this forgotten quarter to produce one of the most amazing psycho-geographic-zoological experiences ever??!? The aforementioned City Zoo project by Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today is an example of this kind of proposal.
Or is it through an increase of agrarian livestock in our cities? This is the more likely scenario as it is actually happening. According to a recent NPR segment the American Planning Association has fielded more questions about changing zoning codes to allow chickens than any other issue over the last six months. City life resembles Front Studio’s Farmadelphia proposal more and more every day. We no longer have to move out of town to Green Acres, we can bring Green Acres to us.
Front Studio - Farmadelphia

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bioengineering + Design

Joanna Aizenberg via Harvard Magazine
Like tiny flowers, micro-florets created in Joanna Aizenberg’s lab open and close in response to changes in environmental moisture. These structures, their action controlled by a hydrogel “muscle,” can be used to catch and release tiny particles.

In the latest issue of Harvard Magazine there is an article about the exciting new field of bioengineering which is being explored in an incredible multidisciplinary directive at Harvard University. Bioengineering is “the application of engineering principles and techniques to address problems in biology and medicine” and is a synthetic practice bridging the fields of biology, medicine, engineering, physics, materials science, chemistry, and computer science. In the article’s intro bioengineering achievements include
constructing an artificial liver, altering bacteria to make hydrogen fuel directly from sunlight, [and] determining how the geometry of damaged heart cells leads to coronary disasters.
Notoriously absent from the list of schools and disciplines involved in these new pursuits is the Graduate School of Design (GSD) and the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning and design. I feel that this is a loss, particularly for architecture, but also for bioengineering. In this post I will offer some thoughts of why I think this.

Interdisciplinary collaboration is one of the promises of attending the GSD, particularly among the three disciplines which operate under the school’s academic umbrella. Unfortunately this promise does not extend much beyond the walls of the school. This is not entirely the school’s fault—it is endemic to both the Harvard graduate system and of architecture and design schools in general I believe (in my eight years of design education at both Georgia Tech and the GSD I had only two classes which afforded opportunities for design collaboration outside the normative ‘design’ disciplines). But while I attended the GSD I had one opportunity for this type of collaboration between the GSD and the SEAS in a studio taught by Sheila Kennedy as part of her Portable Light Project. And it was great. The collaboration between architects and engineers from the SEAS forced us all out of our comfort zones into thinking about design and applied technologies in ways we had not before.
The article in Harvard Magazine discusses how combining biology and engineering it combines ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences; the former is focused on quantification and prediction while the latter is focused on description. Architecture can benefit from both of these approaches and provide something unique at the same time.
So from a pedagogical perspective it would be very exciting for the students. This new form of creative collaboration would offer a new approach to both emerging and already familiar problems. It also represents the increasing complexity and convergence of design, science, and engineering disciplines and the need to find new forms of practice to confront the full range of topics that architecture and urbanism must contend with today. So it prepares architects who are well equipped for the collaborative forms of practice required today.


As I have mentioned before, architecture has always been a mimetic practice. Biomimicry has become a hot topic among architects (as well as engineers) and is represented by an attention to biological forms and processes, exhibited by such firms as Emergence and Biothing, among others. Getting involved in the new interdisciplinary field of bioengineering would place architects directly alongside other fields also exploring these interests. People like Joanna Aizenberg, a materials scientist developing new materials inspired by biology. One of her explorations is the development of a “nanofur” whose hair-like projections change properties in response to humidity. According to the Harvard Magazine article, “the ability to change in response to the environment is one of the properties that make biological materials more useful than artificial ones.”
Computer scientist Radhika Nagpal is also inspired by biology. She looks to “understand living processes and then looks for ways to apply those guiding principles to the design of computer systems and programmable structures that have the properties of living organisms.” In a similar vein, scientists like Edward O. Wilson demonstrate that there is a lot to learn about our own civilization and our cities by examining the social organization of other living organisms such as ants.
Both of these explorations could be invaluable to architecture, and in fact there are plenty of architects who are studying these same things. So why are we not being more proactive in working directly with these other disciplines exploring the same issues, developing applications for this work in architecture and urbanism?

At the same time, I think that teaming up with the emerging bioengineering field can inspire us to move beyond mere biomimicry into something even more interesting and productive. Rather than merely mimicking the forms of biology and nature, if we could synthesize architecture, biology, and engineering the possibilities are endless. Pamela Silver has been investigating ways to engineer organisms to produce useful elements, such as hydrogen fuel. “By redesigning bacteria to produce hydrogen or other useful elements from the sunlight, she would like to turn them into ‘living solar panels.’” Iwamoto Scott’s Jellyfish House is an architectural example of how we could use bioengineering technologies to rethink the relationship between architecture, engineering, and environmental/natural systems. The possibilities are endless.
Iwamoto Scott - Jellyfish House


Moving beyond biomimicry might also bring us closer to the type of Cyborg Urbanisation proffered by Matthew Gandy, an urban geographer with the Royal Academy of Arts in the UK. Matthew Gandy states that “If a cyborg is a ‘hybrid of machine and organism’ then ‘urban infrastructures can be conceptualised as a series of inter-connecting life-support systems’. By blurring the boundary between body and machine, as well as nature and culture, the concept of cyborg offers insights into the ‘networks that enable bodies to function in the modern city’ and how we might understand wider processes of urbanisation.” In Gandy’s lecture last year at the GSD he described our progressive understandings of the metropolis—the organic metaphors we used in the late 19th Century to the mechanical metaphors we used in the early 20th Century, and claims that understanding the city as a cyborg offers a new vocabulary for understanding urbanization. The work of many bioengineers, fusing organic and technological sciences, could deepen our understanding of what Cyborg Urbanisation is and its potential.

In the end the question that would probably need to be answered for people to want to invest in this type of collaboration is why is it necessary, what is there to gain from the joining of design and bioengineering? Material science, social organization, transcalar engineering, biomimicry, these are but a few of the potential areas of research that designers could benefit from by joining the interdisciplinary field of bioengineering. Creative approaches to problem solving, the development of new areas for research and application of materials and processes, a history of combining ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences, the opportunity to think about bioengineering at larger scale of application and influence, and an invested interest in environmental and social concerns are things that architects could bring to the table. Most importantly, it is hard, in my opinion, to distinguish between the biological, social, and environmental influences on the world, on cities, and on individuals—they are all intricately interwoven. Doesn’t it behoove us to all work together?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Architecture of Mediation

I was recently asked to contribute a piece for an upcoming issue of Urban China on Creative Industries edited by Ned Rossiter, Bert de Muynck, Mónica Carriço. The result, "An Architecture of Mediation", is now available online at orgnets. I believe the full issue, which I am really looking forward to reading, will be available quite soon.

The piece discusses "architecture as mediation" as a potential third position situated between disparate poles of architectural practice: complicity with the processes of globalization on the one hand an a reactionary critical regionalism on the other. In the article I tried to provide a theoretical background for this strategy (how it has emerged from these polarized conditions) and a few projects by Chinese architects that I think exemplify this strategy, including the work of Standard Architecture and Wang Shu, whose Hangzhou Academy of Art campus I have discussed previously. I have to admit that the piece was written quite hastily and the thoughts behind it are still nascent but hopefully promising. I think there is some resonance between these ideas and Mark Collins' post Iteration City.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

This irreconcilable opposition between progress and resistance, globalization and regionalism, avant-garde and arriere-garde, is the transitional space within which the architecture of mediation seeks to operate. Practitioners such as Wang Shu and Zhang Ke of China, Alejandro Aravena / ELEMENTAL of Chile, Hashim Sarkis of Lebanon, and Airoots in India, are all examples of this emerging position. It seeks to mediate between a number of dichotomous states – a project’s intended scale of influence, i.e. its global and local effects; the conflicting interests of participants, both explicit and implicit; top-down and bottom-up planning systems; formal and informal design processes; and rural and urban contexts, just to name a few.
Mediatory architecture is a complex undertaking and involves an expanded vision of architecture. It is a multi-disciplinary mission which involves communication, media, research, conflict management and design agency. It requires architects to be inventive, adaptive, responsive, opportunistic, active and reactive to complex scenarios. Alejandro Aravena’s concept of ELEMENTAL as a ‘do-tank’ reminds us that action is a necessary condition of mediation. Finally, mediatory architecture requires architects to negotiate the conflicting interests within particular situations.

See Previous:
Wang Shu's CAA 1
Wang Shu's CAA 2
Iteration City : More on Bottom Up