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Humanity, for Architects

When Pasadena Heights was published in 新建築 in March 1975, the announcement included a statement from its architect, Kiyonori Kikutake.

Now, try to imagine any contemporary architect A) announcing a project six months after its completion and B) that announcement containing

  1. SELF-CRITICAL ANALYSIS of the strengths and weaknesses of the project,
  2. an APOLOGY for publishing a building before they thought it ready, and
  3. an ADMISSION OF RESPONSIBILITY for what they thought were its current failings and what its future ones might be. 

Each of these is a no-go zone for our current bunch who work the all-seeing, all-knowing, infallible god thing. Were impoverished. We’ve lost something important. The point of this post is to remind us of that loss, and reflect upon what counts as project announcements these days, the purpose of those announcements, and perhaps wonder why contemporary announcements highlight the architect’s genius in designing the building rather than the building itself or how well it works. (This is one of the signs of a dysfunctional architecture.) But please read on. This is not about me. This is a piece of history you’re probably never going to read anything like again.  

• • •

遠い都市住宅への道: The Long Road to Urban Housing
菊竹清訓: Kiyonori Kikutake

都市住居のひとつの「かた」としてスタディしてきた段状住居の建築が、三島市の丘陵地に完成した。しかし正確にいえばまだ一部未完成である。この建築があまりに未完成であることに私は若干不満である。たとえば、One of the housing typologies we have been working on is terraced housing and we recently completed a project in the hills surrounding Mishima. However, and to be precise, it is only partially complete and I am unhappy that this is the case. For example:

(1)南面テラス通路の手摺には緑の生垣がからまるはずであるが、半年を経ても1ヵ所も実現していない。The balustrades of the south terrace paths should by now be entangled with creepers but even after six months there is not one place where this is happening.

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(2)ピロティ通路の階段脇のキャンバスは、1ヵ所もとりつけられていない。子供にとって危険があるというのにこの工事は故意に遅らせられている。Canvas was supposed to have been attached to the sides of the piloti passage stairs but again there is not one place where it has been. The attachment is said to have been delayed because of a perceived danger for children.

(3)ピロティ通路の土手にはアイビーを植え込むことになっているが、赤土のまま放置されている。(この実験が1月からようやくはじまった。)The banks of the piloti passage that were to have been planted with ivy are still bare earth. (Test planting finally began in January.)20120108_2317672

(4)最下階のコミュニティ・ホールは、サッシュも入れられぬまま野放しになっており、共同の洗濯室や、子供図書室・遊戯室はつくられていない。The Community Hall on the lowest floor is a shell with neither windows nor doors. There is no laundry room, children’s library or playroom.

(5)中央玄関前には大きな藤棚が設けられることになっているが、着手されていない。 A large wisteria over the central entrance has not yet been planted.

(6)一部凹部には野外ステージを設けることになっているが、簡単な工事なのに、これも着工が延期されている。A hollow in the hills was to have been made into an outdoor amphitheatre but work on it has yet to start even though it is a simple thing to construct.

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(7)各戸の住宅の庭も、いつまでもコソクリートのままで、土を入れて庭づくりをする家はなく、どこもまだ植木1本入れられていない。建築がメタボリズムに従うかぎり、生活のプロセスに沿って、つねにつくられ、変えられ続けて行くものであり、完成の機会は永久にこないというべきかもしれないThe gardens of the individual units seem destined to remain concrete. Not one householder has attempted to make anything of their space. There are no plants. If architecture is a metabolism, then it should be made with and change in line with the processes of living, even if there never comes a state where it can be said to be complete.

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とはいえ、以上の部分は生活環境として必要最小限の部分ではないかと思う。こういう未完成の状態で発表すること自体、相当変則的だと考えたい。住宅は極めて実質的なものであって、無駄な装飾や仕上げはいっさい省かれている。それで私はいいと思っている。それだけにわずかの未完成さが全体の人間的環境化に強い反作用を与えてしまいかねない。これではコソクリート・ジャングルである。That said, all of the above are part of the minimum necessary for an environment in which to live. It is not right to publish a building in this state. The housing itself is extremely pragmatic and has no wasteful decoration or finishes. This I believe is good and insufficient to damn the environment as a whole. For now though, it is a concrete jungle.

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加えて入居時期になって急に庶民の住宅取得のほとんど唯一の方法であった住宅ローンが廃止されるということになり、クラブに波瀾がおこり、入居予定者の一部が追放されるような結果になってしまった。(ただしセカンドハウスとして取得された方がたも一部にある。)住宅にたいするこのような施策の急変は、少なくとも住宅建築の計画的推進を著しく阻害することは間違いない。産業と異なり、住宅こそ長期計画によって経済的変動にあまり左右されず徐々に推進されるべきものではないかと考える。To make matters worse, the [government-sonsored] housing loans that many were depending upon to enter the development, were abolished. This led to a number of intended residents not being able to purchase (although, to be said, some had intended to purchase as a second home). Sudden policy decisions such as this do not help promote residential construction that, unlike industrial construction, needs to be gradually encouraged through long-term planning and insulated from economic fluctuations. 

それだけに、こういう状態で発表しなければならないことに心が痛む。できることなら発表を遅らせたい。そんなことをいって6ヵ月たってしまった。しかし6ヵ月たってもあまり変化はない。恐らくもっと長い時間がかかるのであろう。住人が決まり、それぞれの生活リズムが定着し、コミュニティ生活がにじみ出るまでには、1/4世紀ぐらいは必要とするかもしれないと思う。その意味では中間報告として一応発表せざるを得ないと思う。しかしこうしてみると今までどうして完成するとすぐ発表できたのか、建築は完成するとすぐ発表できるようなものであったのか、そういう疑問がおこってくる。With all this happening, it pained me to have to announce this project in this state. I wanted to delay publication for as long as possible but was only able to do so for six months. However, even after six months not much has changed. It will take longer – maybe a quarter of a century before people here have established the rhythm of their lives and interact with the community. In that sense, this announcement is no more than an interim report. I question why projects need to be published the moment they are completed. I wonder if architecture is something that actually lends itself to being published immediately upon completion. 

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本当はそこに人間が入って、生活がはじまって、生き生きと活動している状態で、はじめて建築のもつ人間環境への貢献を記録でき、それを報告するということで発表の意味も生まれ得たはずではなかったか。人間生活を抽象し、捨象して、空間だけのアブストラクトを発表しようとするのは、人間を疎外する建築の表明であり、人間を拒否する建築の自己証明ではないかと思う。でなくても、人気のない舞台のようなもので、人間の登場しない建築にはスケール感が湧かないし、白じらしい建築として興味が湧かないのは当然である。建築の発表には、できるだけ人物を入れ、自然に使われている状態が報告されるべきものなのであろう。Is not the true meaning of announcing a project to document the contribution of architecture to the human environment once people have moved in and have established and are actively living their lives? To announce only the abstraction of space is to make a statement about an architecture devoid of human life. It is a self-denial of what makes architecture human. It is a stage without actors. An architecture without people permits no sense of human scale. We shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t appear as an architectural background to anything. Buildings should be announced only when people are using them as intended. 

ひるがえって、果たしてこのコミュニティが、住環境としてひとつの成果をつくり出せるようになるには、どのぐらいの年月がいるのであろうか。私にはまったく予想もつかないことである。The question is how many years does it take to make a residential environment into a community? I have no idea. Here are some of my thoughts on the difficulties facing the making of communities.

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(1)日本ではコミュニティがもともと成立していないし、民主的土壌がまだ十分でないという意見もある。もっと積極的に、地縁的コミュニティの存在理由は、今日無くなってしまったというような意見さえある。そういうなかで共有空間をひとつの手がかりとしてコミュニティ環境をつくろうとする考えは、あるいは無謀な試みであるかもしれない。実りのない実験であるかもしれないと思う。しかし既存都市のなかに残る調査に見られたコミュニティの根を私は信じたい。少なくとも次の世代にはそこから芽がふいてくることを信じたい。There are some who say idea of the community is not a Japanese one and notions of equality have not firmly taken hold. More positive are those who say that territorial communities are no longer needed in this day and age. Given such a situation, the attempt to create a community environment as a means of sharing space might itself be reckless, an experiment without a result. Nevertheless, I want to believe in the roots of communities I have seen in our surveys of existing cities. At the very least I want to believe that some seeds from there can be blown to future generations.

2)また、この集合住宅が都市内ではなく、東京から約100km、新幹線を利用して現地まで1時間という位置に建てられたことから、自然環境にはまことに恵まれているが、都市との関係で、どのような使われかたがされるのか今ひとつつかみ切れないものがある。ある人はここに住んで東京に通勤するという。それも可能であろう。Moreover, this collective housing is not in the city but about 100km from Tokyo – or about one hour by Shinkansen. With its beautiful natural environment and its connection to the city, we still do not have any feel for how it is going to end up being used. It is possible for people to live here and commute to Tokyo. 

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(3)120戸という集合住宅の戸数規模の妥当性の問題がある。これで果たしてどれはどの共有施設を負担でき、共有をどのくらい拡大して行けるか、これがコミュニティとして、わが国にあって適切な規模となり得るであろうか、そうした問題がある。現在、最下陰にコミュニティホールが仕上げをしないまま、スペースが確保されている。There could be an issue with 120 units as a viable number for the scale of collective housing.  How much shared facilities does one need as a community? Do we as as Japanese have any specific issues with community space? Currently, with the community hall still unfinished, there is a surfeit of space.

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(4)集合住宅では、つねに問題になるところであるが、同一種類の均質な住宅を連続させたことについて評価が分かれよう。住宅の規模や形式に、もっと変化があってもよかったのではないかという点である。庭の大きさ、左・右の配置、上下のステップバックや、地形に沿った通路の変化によって、住宅が一定のタイプを採用している割には変化が大きいように見える。Collective housing is always problematic but opinions have been divided on having the same type of dwelling repeated. It may have been better to have had more variation in the size and type of dwellings. The sizes of the gardens, the left and right plans, the stepping back up and down, and the paths following the contours of the land all contrive to give the appearance of a degree of variation despite the use of a single plan.

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(5) 地形に沿わせる方法として、ここでは水平連続体で等高線に一致させ、長さ約200m、幅約50m、高さ約20mの構造物が傾斜角度22°で建てられているが、これは移動土量を極めて少なく押えることに有効であった。しかし、果たしてコスト的な有利性と、生活にとってある程度必要な複雑性・多様性が若干おろそかになったのではない。The building adjusts to the topography by its 50m wide continuous horizontal configuration following the contours for approximately 200m. The structure has a height of approximately 20 metres and follows the slope at an angle of 22°. This was very effective in reducing the amount of soil that had to be removed. However, these cost advantages were not achieved to the neglect of a certain degree of diversity and complexity necessary for living. 

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(6)段状住宅として断面でズレていること、各住宅が庭で独立し区画されているため、外壁・天井・床などの表面積が、一般独立住宅と同じくらい大きく、容積と表面積の比は高くなっている。そのため通風・日照・遮音やプライバシーに有利であっても、熱的には外気に影響をうけやすい形になっていると考えられる。そういう住宅の居住性がどうか、今後の測定結果の解析にまたなければならない、その外  The offset sections of these stepped houses and the fact that all houses have an independent garden mean that the surface area of external walls, roofs and floors is almost the same as detached houses. The ratio of surface area to volume is high. This has advantages for cross-ventilation, sunlight, sound insulation and privacy but the internal temperature is easily influenced by external conditions. We must analyze the results of future measurements to judge their effect upon the liveability. Separate from all this, 

(7)管理上の問題として、各住宅に自由に出入りできる南面と北側ピロティ通路のふたつが接しているので、利用に便であると同時に盗難などにたいしては、警備に新しい方法を組み込むことが必要となるであろう。There may be a management problem with the houses being freely accessible from both the paths on the south and the pilotis passages on the north. This is undoubtedly convenient for the occupants but fresh thinking regarding security may be necessary.

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等々、以上のような都市住宅には、それぞれ独特の問題が山積みしており、これらをどう今後調査し、修正し、補足しながら、生活と空間との調整をはかって行くか。またそれでこそ、そこに新しい人間環境が生まれる可能性を大きく秘めているともいえるのであるが、これらを克服して、よく都市住宅の確立に貢献できるかどうか、ひとつの提案の波紋を見守りたい。Etcetera. Urban housing such as the above has specific problems piled one on top of another. How to survey these, adjust these, supplement these in the future is something that has to be coordinated with living and space. Inside all of this is the possibility that a new human environment can be created. I want to watch how the ripples of this proposal can contribute to better city housing. 

• • •

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There weren’t any.

If the community did flourish to become the community Kikutake envisaged, there wasn’t much evidence left of it in 2002. Somewhere, misjudgments were made and some of those may have been mistakes of architectural judgment. Some may simply have become so. Kikutake’s 1975 comment about the surface area and the implication that the houses did not hold heat has a hint of hindsight since, by 1975, the 1973 oil shock must have done a lot to de-aestheticize the very wide comfort zone the Japanese traditionally had with respect to temperature. These are circumstances and Kikutake probably did make decisions that affected how his project coped with circumstances at the time unknown.

I’m just posting this
piece of history to show
Mr. Kikutake was aware of that
and said so

as a matter of principle.

88_5_w370Kiyonori Kikutake!

I was unmoved by your
Sky House,
your Floating Cities
or your Aquapolis, but

  • For writing a press release with sincerity, self-reflection and integrity.
  • For believing architectural media announcements should state the truth and, moreover, convey information of actual worth.
  • For asking questions nobody cares to ask anymore and for reasons no-one can remember.
  • For respecting, and respecting the intelligence of your target audience.
  • For, finally and most importantly,

SHOWING YOUR CONCERN FOR HUMANITY
BY SHOWING YOURSELF TO BE HUMAN
AND FALLIBLE LIKE THE REST OF US,

misfits salutes you!

Architecture Misfit #16.

Waterhouse_Hylas_and_the_Nymphs_Manchester_Art_Gallery_1896.15

Architectural Myths #16: Genius Loci

The ancient Romans believed genius loci was the protective spirit of a place. Here’s genius in the middle, fresco-bombed by a serpent circa 70BC Pompeii. 

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These days we’re too modern to believe in spirits. Instead, we like to think genius loci refers to a a place’s distinctive atmosphere or feel or spirit, rather than any guardian spiri per se. In 2000 years we’ve gone from one type of intangible spirit to another type of intangible spirit. Great. 

Alexander_Pope_circa_1736

Mostly, we have the poet, Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744) to blame for this. He made genius loci an important principle in garden and landscape design with the following lines from Epistle IV, to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington:

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington, is the bloke who had Chiswick House built in Chiswick, W4 2RP, UK in the Italian, pseudo-Greek style usually known as Palladian.

Chiswick_House

Chiswick House had an Italian-inspired waterfall and symbolic grotto inspired by God-knows-where.

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Pope’s Epistle IV was written in 1731. Chiswick House was completed in 1729. We must assume Pope was either asked for or, more likely, was offering his views on landscape design in the hope of a lucrative commission. He didn’t get the job – that poem of his wasn’t the greatest – but Pope did like a grotto as he’d had one installed earlier at his own house in Twickenham.

Twickenham

Pope decorated the grotto with alabaster, marbles, and ores such as mundic and crystals. He also used Cornish diamonds, stalactites, spars, snakestones and spongestone. Here and there in the grotto he placed mirrors, expensive embellishments for the time. A camera obscura was installed to delight his visitors, of whom there were many. The serendipitous discovery of a spring during the subterranean retreat’s excavations enabled it to be filled with the relaxing sound of trickling water, which would quietly echo around the chambers. Pope was said to have remarked that: “Were it to have nymphs as well – it would be complete in everything.”

Sadly for Pope, he died 150 years before the golden age of water nymphs, themselves a Greek myth, but touchingly painted by John William Waterhouse and his pre-Raphaelite brethren.

Waterhouse_Hylas_and_the_Nymphs_Manchester_Art_Gallery_1896.15

If Pope saw business opportunity in Italianate mock Greek architecture in Chiswick and in his spare time built nymph attractors in Twickenham, misfits must conclude that genius loci is a fairly dodgy idea. When the very concept is a moveable feast we can’t expect much better from its invocation. Consulting the genius loci becomes just another way of saying “it’s what I think should be there”.

Our modern approximation of “context” is no less loaded and no less elastic. The grandpaw of modern architectural theory, Sigfreid Gideon, wrote that all architecture is a product of its time and place. (This is proto-Koolhaasian in restating the bleeding obvious as amazing insight.) Gideon told us why, when they built a temple, Heian-era Japanese built Heian temples. In Japan. Or why 1960s international American corporates built 1960s American corporate architecture. Internationally.

Heian-jingū_daigokuden

Every building is and remains a consequence of its time and place – as it must be if Time and Place are to retain any meaning in our daily understanding of the universe. Even this next construction is a product of its time and place for where else but New Orleans in 1978 could it possibly have been built?

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Gideon did not anticipate the language of the global capitalist economy or its various dialects and he did not, for example, anticipate the Internet and how some inconsequential building in Seattle, Shenzen, Singapore, or Sydney would contribute to global architectural debate or what passes for it. In Gideon’s primitive time, the primary existence of buildings was IN THEIR PHYSICAL LOCATIONS. People not in those locations understood them as being SOMEWHERE ELSE and that a photograph of a building was just a photograph of a building and that, if they were really interested in finding out what it was like then they’d have to go to that other place and check it out.

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For better or worse, criticism accepted this too. A person was regarded as having greater critical authority if they’d actually been to see a building before mouthing off about it. This no longer matters. After all, when architects value image over substance why it’s easy to see why the bloggerati and like/dislikerati do as well. People are more sensitive to the purported content of architecture than architects and the people who write their press releases give them credit for. If architecture has become money-shot images of proposed realities, then people are free to like or dislike them as they feel, and to say so as they wish. There’s no need for opinions to be constrained by having any meaningful relationship with reality.  It’s all subjective reactions to images of proposed realities bouncing around in virtual space so let’s keep it real.

After all, an image of some wacky house in Japan is content in Abu Dhabi, Adelaide, Amsterdam or Atlanta but the context of that image is global. The physical context of these houses may be Japan where their neighbours might think whatever of them but, as images, they exist to amuse us when the magazines finally circulate to our desk or when we want to veg out on ArchDaily or Dezeen and not think for a while. In 1966, 15 minutes referred to fame that was short-lived. It’s an eternity on the internet where giving something fifteen seconds of your time is enough to brand it “attention getting”.

In the context of modern architectural theory, genius loci has profound implications for place-making, falling within the philosophical branch of “phenomenology“. This field of architectural discourse is explored most notably by the theorist Christian Norberg-Schulz in his book, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture.

Profund implications! Maybe, but – I’m sorry Mr. Norbert-Schulz – who’s going to care? Phenomenology is the opposite of image-based architecture. Alerting us to a credible alternative isn’t sufficient if it exists in a dimension no-one’s ever going to know exists. Meanwhile, representations of genius loci abound. What could be more right than this next image? The little stream doesn’t call for a “Fallingwater”. There’s no clearing calling for a Farnsworth. The genius loci is obviously saying “keep it simple”. Many other factors were probably “saying” the same thing but do we ever hear about genius budget? genius schedule? genius brief? genii materials and construction?  Unless its owners really wanted a mixed-use high rise, a palace or a cultural centre, this building probably makes its existential best of its site.

01 Hasegawa House_in_a_Forest

The following image is of another black-painted house in Japan, but I like the way it also makes its existential best of its site.

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Here, the architects were dealt a harder hand to play, but they do so with confidence and with respect for this site whose genius is harder to find, if there at all. Compositionally (errr, as an image) the size of the building mediates between its neighbours, but its colour and pattern bring the building to the far right into the composition as well. As for that dark building on the right – you couldn’t make up a pattern of windows like that if you tried.

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http://www.archdaily.com/209688/house-in-aoto-high-land-design/

All too often, the attractiveness/desirability of owning/experiencing a site/property is unfairly factored into our evaluation of the building and the architect’s skill in producing it. As long as only attractive sites are claimed to have a genius loci, I’m inclined to think genius loci, as a concept, is useful only in drawing attention to an architect’s supposed sensibilities for recognising and responding to it. This is how Pope used it. This is how it continues to be used.

I think context affects the design … as clues come from the surroundings. I’ll work with context on a more esoteric level. Our work isn’t meant to fit-in in the conventional way, but to key in and accentuate the energy of what’s around it.
(Zaha Hadid, was quoted on page 83 of Simon Richards’ Architect Knows Best)

zaha_hadid_01

Genius loci is Munchausens’ Syndrome for architects. It’s something they invent in order to draw attention to themselves.

Highland Design‘s House in Aoto leaves the place exactly the same as it found it. It is a simple display of architectural skill that touches the internet lightly. It”s this aspect of it that, by its very nature, suggests qualities more enduring.

36

Career Case Study #3: Glen Howard Small

We’ll skip the early bits.

  • Undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon.
  • Stints with John Lautner in Los Angeles, Smith & Williams in Pasadena, Anshen & Allen in San Francisco and Charles Blessing at Detroit City Planning.

  • 1969-72 Assistant Professor at California State Polytechnic University

With Small’s CV, project dates span actual positions but the following project encompasses his time at California State Polytechnic.

  • 1965-77 Biomorphic Biosphere

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“Biomorphic” is still a media and student preoccupation that’s no closer to being realised now than it was then. With higher resolution graphics and less gender objectification, Small’s Biomorphic Biosphere proposal wouldn’t seem that out of place in 2015.  The project was contemporaneous with Metabolism and its alleged preoccupation with megastructures organised as if  by the principles of Nature (i.e. like a tree). Instead, Small’s artificial structures are places for Nature to take place. In retrospect, this was not a good career move. With all the architectural distractions of Post Modernism, people didn’t have much time left to contemplate Nature but, when they did, they liked it to fit into an architectural scheme, not an engineering one.

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Previously, I’d imagined a group of students and faculty dissatisfied with how and what they were being taught and going off and starting their own architecture school and, in the language of the times, doing their own thing. In a sense this is true, [but how did this work in practice? Did kids tell their parents they’re switching university and they must pay fees again?] Shelley Kappe, wife of SCI-ARC founder recollects something different.

During the summer of 1971, however, when Kappe was not on [California State Polytechnic] campus, the Dean of the School of Environmental Design, allowed more students to be admitted into the Architecture program than Kappe desired, upsetting the balance between Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Planning. Ray Kappe had a meeting with the Dean about the divisiveness this was creating among the three departments, as well as the misinformation the Dean had been giving him. Kappe very strongly stated his disapproval of the Dean’s actions, after which the Dean asked for his resignation

It doesn’t matter – it’s all history now. Nevertheless, the detachment did result in a new institution with a new curriculum designed around cooler preoccupations such as ecology, lightweight structures, social awareness, and political awareness. Remember these names.

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Ray Kappe, Thom Mayne, Bernard Zimmerman, Glen Small, Bill Simonian, James Stafford, Ahde Lahti, and Gary Neville

It’s easy to imagine them all listening to Janis Joplin, Chicago, Rolling Stones, a bit of Led Zeppelin, Santana, Chicago, some Velvet Underground perhaps, and some Beatles and Carole King as a guilty pleasure. Students had to actually building things because computers were still the size of a small planet and, besides, nobody knew what use they could ever be to architecture.

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Small taught at SCI-ARC until 1990 when, according to his side of the story, the baddie who ousted him was Thom Mayne. If true, such a freethinking and radical institution was not beyond some good old-fashioned academic skullduggery.

Flash forward … The funny thing was, my daughter was interviewing Thom Mayne while making her film about me, he mentioned this thing, that I frightened them, that, I had the charisma and attracted the students with my ideas.. Basically, he said, I had that power with students and that was threatening to them (directors) and their ideas and what they wanted to do with SCI-ARC. So, they sure weren’t going to nurture my game there. And they didn’t want anybody there to tell them that stylistic stuff wasn’t too meaningful. No they didn’t want anybody saying that. They had to get me out.

Still, 18 years isn’t a bad innings. Alumni include Greg Lynn, Shigeru Ban, Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss … A website showcasing alumni achievements has a high proportion of large houses for wealthy people in LA. As you’d expect, they look like nice places to be but sustain entrenched architectural and media values rather than changing any.

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Confession. Part of my problem with SCI-ARC was that I thought the “SCI” bit stood for science. Now I know it only stands for Southern Californian Institute Of, houses like the above make sense. It’s just southern Californians building for southern Californians. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. There’s nothing particularly scientific about these projects.

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To be fair, there is some building of solar stuff but that’s nothing special these days. I have trouble reconciling this next image with the two above.

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Anyway, over its 40-plus years, SCI-ARC overcame funding, salaries, accreditation and the other trivia of running an academic institution.

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Despite their differences, Glenn Small did attend Sci-Arc’s recent 40th anniversary bash at LA’s Disney Centre. I can’t find a photo of him with Thom Mayne. Here’s Small standing with Dean Nota.

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Small’s take on the event is interesting reading.

  • 1977-1980 THE GREEN MACHINE

The Green Machine is low-income housing. It dates from Small’s time at SCI-ARC. Interview excerpts are from SCI-ARC alumnus Orhan Ayyüce interview over on Archinect.
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“A fusion of Airstream trailers and nature to form a new human ecology. The trailers cost approximately $5K each at the time the proposal was made (the current price for used Airstreams is not radically different than this).

It’s just possible these days to get a 1965 model for $7,500.

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Small My Father

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I like The Green Machine. It’s representative of Small’s interest in structures that allow access to air and light for people as well as for Nature (a.k.a. plants) to happen. It’s sort of Metabolism meets Walden. The project had a sorry history of funding troubles brought on by a certain Ronald Reagan who had just become Governor of California. Low-income housing was not on the political agenda.

But 1997-1980 is that dodgy period once again. The Green Machine probably got left behind by history for not being ironic enough or iconic enough. With Post Modernism, things had to mean other things in order to be taken seriously and what The Green Machine meant was not good. An Airstream was no longer a cheap living capsule but a statement of mobility, of freedom, of living The American Dream in American Nature.

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Seen through Post-Modern eyes, The Green Machine is thus too good for low-income people. For people on higher incomes it was insufficiently aspirational because could just buy an airstream and do the Walden thing anyway..

  • 1990 House on Mulholland Drive, LA. 

1990 was also to be Small’s last year at SCI-ARC. The Mulholland Drive house took five years to build and wasn’t completed under Small’s supervision because of a falling out between the architect and his clients. In 2009 it was available for rent at US$27K a month.

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  • 1983 TURF TOWN

I have a lot of respect for this project and the reasoning behind it. I’ll let Small describe it in his own words excerpted from his blog, underlinings mine.

THE SITE, THE OLYMPIC PARK AREA WAS AN AREA OF LOS ANGELES THAT WAS A TYPICAL GRID IRON STREET PATTERN THAT IS FOUND THROUGHOUT THE UNITED STATES. IT WAS SELECTED FOR ITS LACK OF CHARACTER AND UNIMPORTANT CONTEXTUAL BUILDINGS ON THE SITE. ALSO IT OFFERED A CHANCE TO BE IMPLEMENTED IN OTHER PARTS OF THE CITY AND OTHER CITIES.

MY CONCEPT WAS TO CREATE A SOLAR ZONING ENVELOPE FOR HIGH DENSITY DEVELOPMENT THAT INCLUDED ECOLOGICAL AND MOVEMENT SYSTEMS. ALL HERE AND NOW STUFF THAT COULD BE BUILT.

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LOS ANGELES DOWNTOWN IS LAID OUT ON A SPANISH GRID. THAT MEANS THAT ONE CORNER OF A BLOCK DIAGONALLY FACES SOUTH. THE THINKING BEING THAT ALL SIDES OF A BLOCK WOULD GET SOME SUN EVERY DAY MOST OF THE YEAR, BUT THE SOUTH CORNER WOULD GET THE MOST. THEREFORE I MADE THE SOUTH CORNER THE HIGHEST. WORKING OUT TO OVER 20 STORIES AND BOTH SIDES TAPERED DOWN TO 3 STORIES. I THEN DREW A DIAGONAL LINE IN PLAN TO THE TWO LOW CORNERS. THE CONTROLLING HEIGHT OF THE SOUTH CORNER WAS A 28 DEGREE SLOPE TO THREE STORIES. THE RESULTING SOLAR ENVELOPE LOOKED LIKE A THREE SIDED PYRAMID.

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WITH THIS CONFIGURATION THERE WERE NO SEVERE SHADOWS CAST ON ADJOINING PROPERTIES AND THE SLOPING ROOF OF 28 OR LESS DEGREES RECEIVED SUN ALL YEAR AROUND. THE STREET FACADES WERE VERTICAL AND HAD CRASS COMMERCIAL SIGNAGE. A HEIGHT LIMIT OF 30 FEET WAS ALLOWED ON ALL SIDES OF THE BLOCK. THE ROOF WAS TO BE PLANTED GREEN AND HAVE PUBLIC ACESS OF WALKWAYS.

• • •

There’s a movie – which I’d love to see but I can’t get Netflix here.

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“Hilarious and heart-wrenching…”My Father, The Genius” has the raw emotional power missing from “A Beautiful Mind”.— Scott Foundas, Variety

“My Father, The Genius” comes up with no definite answers, just richly lifelike ambiguities: that Glen Small has an admirable professional integrity, that he’s not the most well-adjusted person, that he’s a dreamer scarred by reality.” — Paul Sherman, Boston Herald

“…blithe, brilliant, and intimate…a real-life “The Royal Tenenbaums” in which dad comes off as insufferable but nonetheless charming and sympathetic, an uncompromising idealist whose failure to “play the game” exiled him to the margins … Small’s father, Glen, a visionary architect, could make a strong case for the distinction of this title…”
— Peter Keough, The Boston Phoenix

Here’s a review from LA Times. There’s also My Father The Genius II, charting Small’s further adventures in Nicaragua where he currently lives with his “tropical” wife, feverishly blogging with the caps lock on.

• • •

Well my daughter made that movie My Father the Genius and people are aware of that and potential clients watch that movie and they pull back and I figure basically they get frightened of me and think I might be assertive and have ideas and I am going to take their money and they can’t push me around. Like I envy Frank (Gehry) that his clients come to him and say ”˜just do whatever you want Frank because you are the greatest.’ They are not doing that to me. I really think if you know about coffee, if you know about wine, if you know about shi-shi food, if you know about golf and tennis maybe some knowledge of jazz and some knowledge of classical, with that you can literally build any building you want. Because its nothing about the building, its more about making someone comfortable. They go about that stuff all night and that makes them connected you know. They feel that… And I find that stuff nauseating, so I am broke.

• • •

http://www.glenhowardsmallarchitect.com
http://www.smallatlarge.com
http://www.sciarc.edu
http://viewbook.sciarc.edu/#home
40th anniversary party on VIMEO
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Too Clever for Words

There’s a book – The Humument – by artist Tom Philips. What Philips did was take a book, The Human Monument (W H Mallock, 1892) and artistically deface it to make a new story with a new plot and new characters. More or less. It doesn’t matter. Each page is a joy.

[no title: p. 56] 1970 by Tom Phillips born 1937

I’m going to give The Humument treatment to Michael Sorkin’s article Critical Measure: Why Criticism Matters from the June 2014 issue of The Architectural Review. Here’s the full article. Like A Human Monument, it suffers from being a bit long, a bit longwinded, skewed by the author’s preoccupations and prejudices and – most damningly – having no illustrations.  

To me, the point of the article seems to be to position Mr. Sorkin as conscience consultant to the architectural profession. It had to happen I guess as part of the ongoing outsourcing of architectural skills, but what’ll become of those who can’t afford this service? More to the point, what’ll become of us because of those who can’t afford this service?! Will we be condemned to suffer shapes that haven’t passed Sorkin’s critical digestion? Will we even notice?

Another comical theme is to reprimand Zaha Hadid Architects for not setting a better example regarding sustainability.

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I’ve neither the humour nor Philips’ talent so what I’m going to do is just delete the bulk of the text and keep only what amuses me or otherwise suits my purposes.

DISCLAIMERS: For all you Post-Modernists out there, I must state that Mr. Sorkin did not embed any specific text for me to discover. He did though embed meanings but for the most part they eluded me and I’m not sure whose fault that was. But for all you Deconstructivists out there, I should mention that my generated text was never a subtext of any kind. It follows its own path at times contradictory and at times parallel. And finally, if there’s anyone who actually bought into the recent attempt to resuscitate AdHoc-ism, a dictionary does not say all there is to say. Are we good to go?

• • •

CRITICAL MEASURE-1

I began this exercise intending to ridicule excruciating paragraphs such as this next. Make of it what you will. It doesn’t seem a great way to argue for why criticism matters. Oh to be paid by the word!

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In the course of writing this post, I read between and across the lines and paragraphs in more than one direction. I saw and tested many juxtapositions of words and meanings. Some I played for cheap laughs and some I twisted to my own agenda. Some paragraphs I inadvertently paraphrased. The original meanings did not go unnoticed. I agreed three times at least with Sorkin and this I did not expect.

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The Well-Serviced Apartment

Serviced apartments aren’t new. In one of the older parts of Dubai there’s an entire area of these apartment-hotel hybrids. Just like a hotel, your apartment is cleaned and your room made each day. There’s laundry and dry-cleaning services, a newspaper outside your door in the morning and you leave your key at the front desk when you go out.

The apartment bit comes from having a full-sized kitchen with basic equipment for cooking and eating. The financials make this arrangement less expensive than hotels and suitable for stays of, say, a fortnight to six months. For less than a week or two it’s not worth paying the premium for the sake of cooking, and for any stay over six months it’s cheaper to rent.

• • •

I recently wrote about the many services and facilities now being made available as part of the new communal living and, in doing so, putting the fun into Functionalism. This post is about the extended range of services facilities now available for the owners or renters of larger apartments. Let’s take the most upmarket example first – One Hyde Park by joke socialist Richard Roger’s company Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners.

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What do you get for a record-breaking £6,000 per square foot? Naturally, the fittings are state of the art. In the penthouses, alarm clocks can be set to slowly open the skylights to the sound of soothing music, and artworks rotate to reveal TV screens. There is a 22m pool, a sauna, steam rooms, a gym, a squash court, and a golf simulator able to conjure up all the world’s great courses.

The facade glass is “bulletproof”. This is sweet, redolent of Prohibition-era drive-by shootings. But is it sniper-resistant? And no, I’m not about to google One Hyde Park glazing specifications or what the well-equipped modern sniper packs. There are panic rooms to avoid more personal rumblings but where they are on plan is not for me or you to know. I reckon one of those bathrooms is pressed into double-duty. Security are “SAS-trained”, they say.

On the smiley side of life, there’s a wine cellar, and a tunnel to the Mandarin Oriental [and!] through which meals can be served – after appropriate security checks, hopefully. Perhaps the 21st century will see a food-taster revival?

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Candy [of developers Candy & Candy] sees the link-up with the Mandarin, which has 60 staff dedicated to servicing the apartments, as crucial.

We’re obviously not talking about employees on six-month contracts, or even with jobs. We’re talking about people who can have lunch in Mumbai or Doha, aperitifs in Palma and dinner in London. Not your average can’t-cook-won’t-cook. Why have a personal chef making a daily selection of things for whenever you might want to eat, when Heston Blumenthal and his team at London’s Mandarin Oriental can deliver?

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amenities

A nice touch is the private elevators from the car park so your driver can do discreet pickups and/or dropoffs. The lobby is just for show as any true ultra-high net worth individual would have their security OK the car park before making that potentially fatal leap from armoured car to private elevator. Anyone coming though the lobby door off the street is a likely assassin. I expect that lobby entrance door has multiple continuous recording cameras focussed on it, as well as metal detectors, explosives detectors and probably even a radiation detector – even though it won’t detect polonium-210. Still, you can’t be too careful.

Mandarin Oriental’s webpage has a link to its Residences around the world – all serviced by a Mandarin Oriental.

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The principle of safe refuges for flight capital was probably established in someplace like Switzerland, and perfected in London with an array of on-call services for intermittent residents and upmarket refugee housing. One Hyde Park is one large panic room.

An investigation by the Guardian discovered that 80% of the apartments had been purchased by offshore entities based in the British Virgin Islands, with ownership layered through sophisticated tax-avoidance schemes. The Observer revealed that only nine of 62 apartments were registered for council tax, with five of those nine paying the 50% reduced tariff for second homes.

Sheikh Hamad, via a Cayman-registered company, has a triplex on floors 11-13 of one of the block’s four towers. Other residents are Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and a close ally of deposed former president Viktor Yanukovych. He bought one of the more expensive apartments for £136m. Also listed are a number of Kazakhs, including Vladimir Kim, a copper billionaire and former politician; Russians, among them Vladislav Doronin, who is stepping out with Naomi Campbell; Chinese, Malaysians and Nigerians.

What constitutes a safe haven for flight capital is relative. Dubai still looks good to many more moderately monied Middle Easterners and it’s probably Dubai where the money, the land, and the reason to build combine like heat, fuel and oxygen to make the superserviced apartment-hotel combination flare into an architectural type. Offhand, I can think of five developments where a apartment tower and a hotel tower are or were to have been paired for servicing by a hotel operator. I’ll list them in historical order.

2007-ish: Four Seasons Hotel and Residences
Architects: Arquitectonica; Operator: Four Seasons

A hotel tower and an apartment tower joined by amenities at the bottom and an array of lasers at the top. Nice idea. Didn’t happen.

2008: Icon Hotel
Architects: ATKINS

Didn’t happen either. Structurally, this apparent torus was two bended towers connected by a bridge. It had various entertainments top and bottom. [ICON HOTEL pdf] A guilty pleasure.

2013: 48 Burj Gate & Sofitel Downtown Dubai
Architects: Fentress Architects; Operator: Sofitel Hotels

This one’s live, but only after some value-engineering that, to my mind, improved it. The building on the right is the Sofitel Dubai Downtown hotel. The building on the left is offices until the 22nd floor and apartments 23–48. Both are managed by the hotel. Here’s what’s on offer.  

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It’s not just food, laundry and cleaning, but interior redecorating, appliance maintenance, electrical troubleshooting, drain clearing, router wiring and IT setup, and all the usual tasks that owning property and living in it generally entail. The hotel will cook and deliver you any meal, bake cakes for special occasions and at Christmastime they’ll cook you and your guests a full Christmas dinner, trolley it along the service corridor and serve it in your apartment.

Within a 50m radius, two similar twin developments are underway.

The Address Sky View Towers
Developer: Emaar Properties; Architects: SOM; Operator: The Address Hotels + Resorts

It’s coming along nicely.

Burj Vista
Developer: Emaar Properties; Operator: The Address Hotels + Resorts

This one isn’t as far along yet, but it’s the same deal. A hotel tower and an apartment tower managed by the hotel – The Address group of hotels in these last two cases.

• • •

A decade ago, serviced apartments were neither fish nor fowl but they’ve now come into their own as an identifiable type. They’re no longer apartment buildings with a front desk and a gym on the ground floor and a pool on the roof like in that corner of Dubai I mentioned at the start.

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This shift started as soon as hotels and apartments began to coexist in the same building. They may have been on different floors and with different banks of elevators but they were serviced by the same operator. There may have been earlier examples but the original The Address hotel was one such building.

In neighbouring Burj Khalifa it’s more confusing. On the website of The Armani Hotel Dubai, there isn’t much difference between staying in one of the Armani Hotel Dubai Residences and staying in The Armani Hotel.

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The residences are on levels 9–16 and for sale (at market-defying prices, apparently) and the hotel is on levels 1–8. Here’s a plan of a residences level. You can tell it’s residences because of the kitchens physically and conceptually separated from the living space. As foretold, these kitchens are mere alcoves for a microwave and minibar to produce hot water and ice – but not in large quantities.

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This new twin apartment-hotel combo avoids confusion. Guests are guests staying in hotel rooms and residents are residents living in apartments. Both groups are being farmed but, in peak season the hotel can focus on its premium-paying guests. The residents will still be there off-peak and the hotel will still be there as well and with as many amenities and services as the residents wish or can afford at prices 20% less than what guests or off-streeters pay.

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• • •

If you’re keen, there’s always a few Armani Residences on the sale or rental markets at any given time • Click here for more information on Four Seasons residences • Click here for more information on Mandarin Oriental residences • Click here for more information on The Address residences

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The building is not trying to be a mountain

The City of Mishima in Japan is twinned with Pasadena in California. Pasadena Heights is the name of a housing complex in Mishima and designed by Kiyonori Kikutake, completed 1974. I remember it from Japan Architect, the English language version of 新建築.

20120111_2321838 Here it is now, still at 35° 6’53.68″ 138°57’38.37″ Pasadena HeightsIts description on housingprototypes.org doesn’t do it justice. The Japanese language internet has more, and more recent information.

For a large project by the father of all Metabolists, Pasadena Heights is virtually unknown.

This alone makes me suspect it had something of real value to offer the world in terms of how people might live. As the Japanese are wont to say, 出る釘は打たれる。 Deru kugi wa utareru “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” And so it is with media content.

First, let’s get to know Pasadena Heights.  Here’s a plan of an apartment. There are 120.

20120111_2321839Each has two ways to enter. The first is via the 3m wide front path (1) and the terrace (3). entrance

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To the left is a void over the level below. (“Woof!”)

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The other access is from under the building using the rear walkway overlooked by the bedroom windows.

The front door opens into the kitchen that has the bathroom behind. Both are accessed directly from the living room, as are both bedrooms.

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Inside, there’s no circulation space as such. Going from one space to another is a part of life that doesn’t require a dedicated space to do it. In Japanese houses, passing through the living room and saying “I’m going to have a bath now” is what happens everyday. The usual reply is Go yukkuri! which literally translates as “Take your time!” but “Have a good one!” better conveys the sentiment.

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Now – the part of the terrace fronting the living room is lit by a void above.

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This is the garden void you passed by earlier, but of the apartment above, the plan of which is flipped and offset. It’s a confusing but remarkable configuration.

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It’s made possible by the modular plan in which the void to below and next to the path (1) , is offset one path’s width from the inner void above the living room terrace (2) and which is adjacent to the entrance garden of the flipped apartment above. The small bedroom (3) is offset a path’s width from the living room terrace void (2) and, because of that, will be beneath the living room terrace (and terrace void) of that flipped apartment above.

It all fits together like this.

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and seems to work perfectly apart from the smaller bedroom having no chance of direct sunlight.

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Another fault could be the parking. Despite being a resort with many summer houses, the climate of Mishima is warm, humid and wet in summer, and cool and wet in winter.

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Whether you take the high path or the low path to your apartment, it’s a long walk from the car or the bus stop.

Nevertheless, those two functional deficiencies aren’t enough to explain this project’s obscurity. Many far more non-fuctioning buildings with far less to offer are far more well known.

  • It seems like another case of history favouring the famous over the useful. Kikutake is certainly well enough known, but usually for his Sky House and also for his “visionary” stuff like Floating City

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rather than, say, his Aquapolis for the 1975 Okinawa Expo that, having been realised, was no longer a vision. This is the contradiction. Visionary architecture is, by definition, useless and unbuildable. This is its attraction, and its insurance.

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Like Ron Herron’s Walking City, people could safely enjoy “visions” as the provocative media stunts they were – as representations of new thinking rather than actually being challenged or threatened by anything potentially useful that might upset the status quo. To have not been amusingly visionary may have been Pasadena Heights’ downfall. I no longer think or view visionaries in a positive way. They’re distractions, pointless diversions. This, come to think of it, is what the architectural media has become. People’s imaginations are captured by sketches and renderings of buildings, not by actual buildings. As you know, I don’t have a good feeling about this.

  • The idea of a megastructure doing the light, ventilation, social, and community thing is not what people want Metabolism to have been. Instead, Kisho Korokawa’s 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower is consistently chosen to represent Metabolism’s “ideal” fusion of megastructures organised as if by Nature.
  • Perhaps it’s just a case of trees vs. mountains and trees travel better. Everybody likes trees. Napkin Capsule Tower or, for that matter, Isozaki’s 1961 Cities in The Air are trees. They didn’t change anything because they were never meant to.

isozaki c-in-the-air

The Japanese have another proverb. 鳥なき里の蝙蝠 Tori naki sato no koumori. It’s usually equated to “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” but my loose literal translation “In a land where birds can’t fly you get bats instead” is more appropriate for today’s media landscape. 

  • Pasadena Heights has something of The House That Came to Nothing about it. “Insufficiently mainstream to genuinely disturb and insufficiently crazy to entertain” I wrote and this seems to be the case here too. Let’s put this one on the IN-tray for now.
  • Perhaps it’s just too grey, too concretey. This was the problem with Brutalism and it stems from its misfit social agenda of not wanting to waste resources on things like decorative coatings and finishes that JUST DON’T MATTER. Pasadena Heights may have fared better had it been painted white. It didn’t do VS any harm. Even so, the thing about concrete is that it’s concrete – it’s there. Again, you can’t build and be visionary at the same time. As soon as it’s built, it’s no longer a vision. This was the downside of Aquapolis. It couldn’t live up to the vision.
  • Still on the topic of concrete, perhaps there just too much of it? I don’t think so. Suppose we do a reverse-BIG on this project and unconfigure it back to its most compact and conventional? All our apartments now stack vertically, without flips. The rear terrace voids remain but are now horizontal slices of a conventional lightwell. The front terrace shrinks so the front path is now an attached open access corridor. What we have is a conventional five-storey block of apartments on a slope. What’s been lost?

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The front terrace is gone and the remaining side is smaller, darker and less private. The roof of the smaller bedrooms is now the floor of the bedroom above, and the suspended floors of the rear bedrooms are now the roofs of the apartments below. Individual rear access is lost. In fact, there’s no connection to the ground and, because of that, the problem of how to get from the parking area to the apartments is now worse. In all, when you consider what this building would be like with minimal surface area, the additional concrete has been used very well. 

  • 1975 was a time of Post Modernism – the time when things started to mean stuff. Pasadena Heights was never meant to be anything more than what it was. It wasn’t pretending to be a tree, or even a mountain, or even a European mountain village (like Ando’s Rokko housing). This was not, in the idiom of the times, “where it was at”. The building outlived Post Modernism but it’s memory didn’t.

• • •

I’ve just been going through Rem Koolhaas and Hand Ulrich Obrist’s Project Japan once again. There’s lots of rare photographs implying thoroughnes, completeness and access to privileged information and, because of the age of the people interviewed, for the last time. There’s a lot of sky houses and floating cities happening. His 1961 Stratiform is there

06_mack

and so is Kisho Kurokawa’s 1972 Capsule Village

Capsule Village

There’s loads more if you like your structures mega and unbuilt but, as far as the built work goes, we get the usual suspects and no more – a Sony Tower here, a Yamanashi Press Centre there, and Fumihiko Maki’s Hillside Terrace. Although this last is a pleasant and successful piece of urbanism, I don’t see any Metabolism happening.

Hillside_Terrace_A_B_2010

For all their highfalutin’ statements about social change and adaption, the Metabolists didn’t produce much in the way of social change and adaption. If Nakagin Capsule Tower didn’t turn out to be a model for the future then its “visionary” status should be revoked – along with Kurokawa’s.

By overemphasising how “visionary” Metabolism was to the exclusion of all else, Koolhaas and Obrist are making sure any useful built projects aren’t recorded for future generations. Pasadena Heights is secretly archived as a potential good idea. If you think OMA’s Singapore Interlace has some shared DNA with the 1974 Soviet Tbilisi Ministry of Highways, then a similar re-imagining could be on the cards for 1974 Metabolist Pasadena Heights.

But maybe BIG got there first.

20120108_2317672 Mountain_Dwellings_-_interior

5

More Poor Doors

A friend recently emailed to say that something I posted reminded him of Ponte Tower in Johannesburg and asked if I knew it. I didn’t. He included a link to Philip Bloom’s documentary. Ponte Tower is a circular, 52-storey apartment tower with a lightwell in the middle.

ponte_jacques

The lightwell is very photogenic.

Googling around, I found mention of “servants’ rooms” facing the lightwell whilst those of the owners faced the view. Surely not I thought, even in 1975 South Africa? For such a configuration  to be possible architecturally, there’d need to be shared corridors or a lift and stairwell servicing every two double-sided apartments Moscow style. (Ref. The Big Brush)

Sure enough, a plan showed something totally different.

ponte-plan ff3868_ponte_city_johannesburgThis building isn’t air conditioned. All living rooms are cross ventilated and all bathrooms and kitchens naturally ventilated even if they don’t benefit much in the way of light. It’s a good solution when ventilation is more important than light. Moreover, it matters little if the corridor is open or semi-closed.

  • 1975: Completed. When built, Ponte City was seen as an extremely desirable address due to its views over all of Johannesburg and its surroundings.
  • 1980-: During the late 1980s, gang activity had caused the crime rate to soar in the tower and surrounding neighbourhood.
  • 1990s: After the 1994 end of apartheid, many gangs moved into the building and it became extremely unsafe.
  • 2001: Trafalgar Properties took over management of the building and began making numerous improvements.
  • 2007: Ownership changed once more and a project to revitalise the building began (by evicting everyone).
  • 2008: Credit crisis stopped the revitalisation and the building was handed back to the original developer Kempston who, it seems, has succeeded with a scaled down yet more realistic plan to make the building into safe and comfortable housing for people to live in.

The riches-to-rags story of Ponte Tower thus had a final solution that didn’t involve dynamite.

The bit about servants facing the light well is a narrative that, like a virus, attaches itself to an image to generate an image of a building in peoples’ minds. This one began from a story told in comic form and that features a building with a central lightwell and an elite having apartments facing out, and servants having apartments facing the lightwell.

re_doing-dubai-3 re_doing-dubai-5

These images are from the dpr-barcelona blog. I quote.

There is a graphic novel by Wes Jones called Re:Doing Dubai, which proposes a post-critical overview of the real state market in Dubai. Jones designed [in the way of a cartoon] a cilindrical building in Dubai with two layers: the inner space for the rooms of the workers facing to the center of the tower, and on the external face there are high-end developments for tourist and rich people, with views to all over the city.

an-architecture.com tells us the comic was first seen as an exhibit at the 11th Venice Biennale in 2008.

11th

First of all, let’s give Dubai of 2008 a break for, in 2006 I, for one, designed an apartment project with a separate social housing entrance for a project in the UK. I’m not particularly proud of having done so.

1 FLOOR

The long corridor could be split into three, serviced by separate stairs, elevators and entrances. As shown below in green and pink below, the social housing was in the middle of the buildings (where view was worst). All entrances were, however, off of the same path and, although lobby entrances were separate, they weren’t hidden. (With this project, income differences weren’t all that great. All apartments had to be designed to the spatial standards of the social housing in order to receive a building subsidy from the government. The “free” market has no minimum spatial standards.)

HOUSING 1

All I’m saying is that that cartoon wasn’t A) fiction and B) wasn’t a future Dubai. It was a UK reality in 2007. The idea of Dubai tends to make people in other places to feel better about themselves. As an idea of an “other” place, it allows people to vent collective outrage at unsavoury social phenomena seemingly invisible at closer range. Anyway, it’s 2015 now. Let’s see how things have moved on. Dubai’s much the same.

poor door 2 poor door 3 poor door 1

One Tower Bridge

Worldwide property business is looking up at the moment. Here’s a spirited defence of poor doors, on Business Insider.

poor door 4

But let’s ignore that and go back to the comic for a closer look at this bit.

re_doing-dubai-5

Here we have, in true archi-cømic style, an over-excited explanation of how brilliant and wonderful the solution is. For the outer ring people, there’s a virtuous eco-justification for social segregation. It’s all they want to know.

4Meanwhile, the inner-ring people are made to feel grateful for what light and air they get. It’s all they need to know.

5

• • •

There is one good thing about this comic and that is at least the two half-narratives describe two truths that, together, describe why the building is the way it is. Moreover and more importantly, those two truths exist for the respective users. 

This is vastly more moral than the ornamental fictional narratives tailored to media demographic and that are already a feature of our present. Somewhere between 2008 and 2015 we slipped from reality-based fiction to fiction-based reality.