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HIGH-RISE

Movies are high-res imagery of elaborate fictions and thus fit naturally into this new media landscape where everything is architecture. It’s not even necessary for a movie to be set in or around a building but, when a movie like High-Rise comes along with a lot of people in a building and one of them’s an architect, it’s like content from heaven. Unfortunately, most of the people in that building behave badly and kill each other and, on the surface, it looks like the fault of the architecture.

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This is a big problem for, in this post-depth world, people only pay attention to the surface of things and people might think a building full of corpses reflects badly upon the magic and mystery of architecture. The challenge then, for today’s architecture media content providers, is to write about a movie in which most of the characters end up dead, but in a way that keeps that magic and mystery of architecture alive. Let’s see how they do.

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The Architecture Foundation‘s sole concern is how architecture is represented to the general public. It has some unnamed writer giving us a string of trivial observations such as the improbability of the off-form concrete and the organisation of the development itself, and basically dismisses the movie as poorly-researched and poorly-styled fluff.

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Questions such as the effect a building or its typology may or may not have on people are simply ignored. OK it’s true there’s no evidence good buildings produce good people or bad ones produce bad people, but faith in architectural determinism one way or the other still remains the basis for much architectural activity. The Architecture Foundation doesn’t care if exposed concrete and ducting cause social degeneracy, embody an architectural one, or symbolise a soon-to-be not-so-latent human one. It objects to it as cliché.  

Colin Martin, writing for ArchitectureAU, under the promising title of The Brutality of Vertical Livinggives us a movie review with two closing paragraphs saying something about Brutalism to link back to the title. Martin’s interest in Brutalism also goes no further than the degree it impinges upon our consciousness as a style. Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock would be proud.

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Martin’s quick to link the nastiness depicted in the film with Brutalism and thus reinforce the painstakingly-fostered and maintained negative associations that Brutalism has come to have with post-war British council housing. Thought: half a century on, why is this continual vilification necessary? After all, people don’t continually remind us to associate Post Modernism with shoddy construction, Deconstructivism with bubble economies and Parametricism with the hollowing-out of architecture. I sense politics is at work. The never-ending demonization of Brutalism serves to validate not only the destruction of social housing, but to ensure that social housing as a concept is dead and stays buried. We’re meant to think social housing was just an aesthetic fad we grew out of.

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Image by Sandra Lousada, 1972 © The Smithson Family Collection

Dezeen quotes the director, Ben Wheatley as rejecting the suggestion the set and the egomaniacal architect character Royal were a direct comment on late Modernism. “The film is not a criticism of post-war architecture,” he said. “It’s more that the building is a metaphor.” 

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This sounds like it could be true but metaphor can be used with critical intent. [I wouldn’t want Wheatley to be my lawyer.] “I think whenever you try to take a god-like view and try to force social stuff [!] on to people and have an overarching idea of how people are going to live, you’re opening yourself up for trouble,” he said. “Not to say you couldn’t get it right, but I wouldn’t be surprised when you got it really, really wrong.” This to me sounds like a criticism of attempts to provide “social stuff” like social housing.

A few reviewers mentioned Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower as a symbol of Brutalism the style but not as the gentrified council housing it is now. The high-rises of Colin Lucas, Brutalist in both apperance and social function, are not remembered.

The Barbican doesn’t get a mention either despite being most definitely Brutalist and of the same vintage but it was housing for the middle classes. It is a recognizable inspiration for the set design and it’s right that it should be. To ignore The Barbican is to miss the point of the book.

In his 2014 introduction to the iBook edition of High-Rise, Ned Beauman writes that the book would not shock if council housing tenants descended into barbarism for this would only confirm what many want to believe anyway. It only works, as Lord of the Flies did, because we believe, also falsely, that the middle-classes are more civilised. He finishes by saying that “any time in human history that two or more households have tried to share the same space, they have lived in the High-Rise.”  In that sense, High-Rise is a very contemporary British novel about the inability to share, especially when times get tough. Societal decay begins in shared spaces such as corridors, elevators and stairwells, and comes to a head in scenes set in the shared amenities of supermarket and swimming pool.

A.O. Scott reviews the film for the New York Times without any mention of Brutalism, Britain, or British housing policy.

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Zach Mortise, writing for Metropolis 2 (May 24), offers a solid synopsis of the film and notes how the balconies refer to those of the The Barbican.

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His closing thoughts emphasise how the architecture of the movie is inspiring but incidental to the thrust of the plot. There’s a lack of Brutalism bashing and attempts to negatively associate it with British council housing.

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Shumi Bose steps up to the plate one month later to rectify this deficiency, and delivers Metropolis Magazine‘s second review of the same film, and which is immediately broadcast by ArchDaily.

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Despite being in Metropolis’ Culture section and not its Architecture section, Bose’s article has much description of buildings already well illustrated. Let’s not forget that these buildings are someone’s imagining of buildings described in a novel. As I think I mentioned, they’re no less real or less architecture [sic.] than what gets presented to us as architecture anyway. Seen worse.

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Instead of hearing about The Barbican, we get given a history lesson on Britain’s post-war housing policy. The word Brutalism occurs only once in the header but Brutalism the style and Brutalism the ambition are conflated and the implication is that Brutalism and social housing are both things of the past.

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I doubt we’ll recognise ourselves. The idea of different socio-economic classes inhabiting the same building is unthinkable now. [ref. Poor Doors]

Julia Ingall, writing for Archinect, unsurprisingly sees the high-rise building as a WYSIWYG allegory and her review is given the racy title Devastation is in the Details. For the first time we learn the interesting fact that the movie was filmed in the real-life Bangor Leisure Center designed by Hugo Simpson in Belfast, Northern Ireland”. Uh-oh. 

Chris Hall, writing for The Guardian noted that Ballard’s most psychologically fulfilled characters look to transcend their physical surroundings, however hostile, by embracing them. … Ballard argued that “people aren’t moving into gated communities simply to avoid muggers and housebreakers – they’re moving in … to get away from other people. Even people like themselves.” In this way, Ballardian environments actively select for psychopathic traits and it’s the egocentric Laing who is best adapted to the high-rise who ultimately survives all the tower can throw at him.” 

Wilder: “Living in a high-rise requires a special type of behaviour .. aquiesent … restrained … absolutely slightly mad. The ones who are the real danger are the self-contained types … impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life … professionally detached … thriving, like an advanced species in a neutral atmosphere.
Laing: I am sorry you think that.
Wilder: No you’re not.
Laing: Perhaps you’re right.

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Laura Mark in Architects Journal wasn’t given much space but she managed a good summary and to also link its message to contemporary society.laura mark

This is a new and refreshing slant. I’m glad she noticed EVERYTHING WAS FINE UNTIL THE LIFTS STARTED TO FAIL. If we buy into the hierarchical allegory and the superior classes being at the top, then failing lifts mean no prospects for social mobility. But without such overthinking, the novel and film could easily be read as a cautionary tale arguing for backup systems and better maintenance regimes for residential buildings. Sadly, this doesn’t make for good novels, movies or architecture media content. It’s a shame, because we have one well-documented precedent for poor maintenance leading to the breakdown of societal norms, and we were taught the wrong lessons from that. 

Pruitt-Igoe was demolished three years before High-Rise was published. Well before 1975, inadequate maintenance was a thing. Had it not been demolished, Pruitt-Igoe would surely have been repaired, refurbished and gentrified by now. The site still lacks replacement buildings of any kind. Anyone who achieves anything on this site that’s been systematically stigmatized for decades deserves more than some miserable Pritzker.   

As it remains with Brutalism even now, what happened because of the absence of backup systems and ongoing maintenance is wrongly thought of today as an aeshetic failure. This over-concern for the aesthetics of social housing projects seems confined to the English-speaking countries. It’s as if their occupants aren’t allowed aesthetics of any kind, let alone decent maintenance. The elevators in The Barbican seem to work fine. Stylistically, some of Brutalism’s architectural ideas such as raw finishes and the absence of ornament weren’t bad ones but it’s the social optimism of Brutalism that really needs keeping going. It’s precisely this that’s under continual attack. 

Patrick Sisson, writing for Curbed, was the only person who wanted to see more of that optimism before the movie revels in its unravelling.

• • •

In the closing scenes of total social and mechanical breakdown within the building, the Wilder character [one of the lower-floor tenants] makes his way to the penthouse where he kills the architect he sees responsible for the dysfunction. His assault on the integrity and authority of the architect is swiftly avenged by those still in thrall to his magic and power. This observation seems to be mine alone but you try saying something less than completely praiseworthy about any renowned architect living or dead, and see what happens.

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• • •

FUN FACT 1: Nearly all reviews mention the architect character living in the penthouse. Some mentioned the architect Erno Goldfinger who famously lived on the top floor of his Balfron Tower – but only for two months, as some troublemaker mischievously repeated.

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FUN FACT 2: Not a single reviewer mentioned the architect Ian Simpson and his fantastical apartment at the top of the 47-storey Beetham Tower he designed in Manchester, 2004. This’ll be it.

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Two-hundred year old olive trees were helicoptered up there one by one, I remember reading at the time.

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• • •

29/09/2016: An article, published on the same day, encouraging us to consider Brutalism as a style devoid of social content or application.
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/sep/28/grey-pride-brutalist-architecture-back-in-style

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Architecture Misfit #25: Ernst May

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Ernst May
[July 1886 — September 1970]

New Frankfurt [in German, Neues Frankfurt] was an affordable public housing program in Frankfurt started in 1925 and completed in 1930. The mayor of Frankfurt hired Ernst May as general manager of the project to bring together architects to work on it. The goal was housing that could be rented for no more than 25% of a person’s monthly income.

May’s developments were remarkable for their time for being compact. The 60 sq.m. area of a typical three-room apartment was fifteen sq.m. less than the standard for the time. Economic pressures led to two-room apartments for four people having an area of 40  sq.m. These were known as transitional minimum subsistence dwellings. The plan was to later combine them into larger units.

The housing units were semi-independent, well-equipped with community elements like playgrounds, schools, theatres, and common washing areas. This is admirable.

May used simplified, prefabricated forms for the sake of economy and construction speed. This shows a comprehension of the scale and urgency of the problem.

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The settlements were planned to have new ideals such as equal access to sunlight, air, and common areas. This was most progressive.

The settlement layouts and the dwellings and their spaces were highly functional. This was not the pursuit of functionalism as a style, but a means of not wasting space and the building materials to enclose it.

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The development of the Frankfurt Kitchen in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky was one of the offshoots of their joint research. It was the first unit kitchen.

May was responsible for the production of approximately 15,000 housing units between 1925 and 1932. This is a huge achievement for any person in any country in any era, but was in Germany during a period of INCREASING POLITICAL TURMOIL – a period that, as it happened, coincided with the heyday of the Bauhaus.

Here’s what happened.

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Estate Höhenblick, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927

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Estate Bruchfeldstraße (Zickzackhausen), Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1927

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Estate Praunheim, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1928

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Estate Römerstadt, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1928

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Estate Bornheimer Hang, Frankfurt am Main, 1926–1930

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Estate Heimatsiedlung, Frankfurt am Main, 1927–1934

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Estate Westhausen, Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1931

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Estate Westhausen, Frankfurt am Main, 1929–1931

Johnson & Hitchcock have nothing to say about May, save for this parenthesised reference on p233 of The International Style. 

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Others however noticed. May achievements were recognised at the 1929 CIAM conference. This brought him to the attention of the Soviet Union.

In 1930 May took virtually his entire New Frankfurt-team to Russia. … The promise of the “Socialist paradise” was still fresh, and May’s Brigade and other groups of western planners had the hope of constructing entire cities. The first was to be Magnitogorsk. Although May’s group is indeed credited with building 20 cities in three years, the reality was that May found Magnitogorsk already under construction and the town site dominated by the mine. Officials were indecisive, then distrustful, corruption and delay frustrated their efforts, and May himself made misjudgements about the climate. May’s contract expired in 1933, and he left for Kenya (then British East Africa).

May’s reputation thus went the same way as Architecture Misfit #1: Hannes Meyer and Architecture Misfit #23: André LurçatMay is not mentioned much in the history of modern architecture. It’s not just because he went to the Soviet Union when other German architects were busy brushing up their English. May was a professional who, when given the problem of providing housing for the country’s population, didn’t see his role as developing prototypes for mass production, but to actually make it happen. And he did. 15,000 of them. And they’re still lived in.

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Despite existing from 1919–1932, the Bauhaus contributed little to solving Germany’s housing problem. Gropius’ Dessau-Törten Estate of 1926–1928 provided 317 dwellings with areas of 57–75 sqm but it was a job on the side, independent of his 1919–1928 stint as Bauhaus director. Gropius put the experience to good use and, immediately upon leaving the Bauhaus in 1928, won a competition for the design of Dammerstock Colony. In 1934 he was to leave Germany and its mass housing problems behind him forever.

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For the period 1926–1928 at the very least, Gropius was involved with both architectural education and the solving of real-world housing problems but, for a person renowned as an educator, the thought that education might be about training people to solve real-world problems never seems to have crossed his mind. He kept education and real-world problems very separate. It didn’t do his career any harm but, if we were to ask when the rot set in, it would be here. I use the term architectural education loosely, as Gropius must have on his CV, for it was Hannes Meyer who added architecture to the Bauhaus curriculum. And it was Meyer who connected architecture with the solving of real-world problems, only for Mies to separate it again. What happened afterwards – and, unfortunately for us –  is not history.

It’s often said Hitler’s preference for pitched roofs was responsible for the dissolution of the Bauhaus. Perhaps it was, but Ernst May still managed to get 15,000 flat-roofed housey things built before leaving Germany in 1930, four years before Gropius and eight years before Mies. May’s leaving was the greater loss for Germany. In 1954 he was invited back and began work at the planning department of the City of Hamburg.

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Ernst May!

for knowing what had to be done in order to deliver,
and doing it.

misfits salutes you!

Version 2

Misfits’ Guide to MILAN

The 20th century chronology of attention-getting buildings is over represented by America. It was only Le Corbusier who presented a sustained individual challenge to total American architectural dominance. Sustained national challenges were mounted by Scandinavia, Japan and Italy but, whether we were paying attention or not, Italy never ceased being a source of architectural intelligence and construction excellence. In Milan, I will look for evidence to back up this claim.

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1915–1925

Ca’ BruttaVittorino Colonnese, Giovanni Muzio, Pier Fausto Barelli, 1922
Via della Moscova, Milano

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This perimeter apartment block was one of the first reinforced concrete frame buildings in Italy. It had underground car parking, and heating and hot water were centrally provided. It lack of ornament borrowed from the Secessionists in reacting to Art Nouveau but earned it the name ‘Ugly House’.  What ornament there was was variously accused of being inconsistent, playful, ironic, a detachment from reality, a primitive mysticism and a reaction to rationality. Decades later, bizarrely and without irony, post-modernists would scour this pre-modern building for proof they were right. Papers would be written. 

Palazzo dell’ArteGiovanni Muzio
Viale Alemagna 6, Milano
 

Another Muzio building. Whether by coincidence, contemporaneity, association, design, or sheer bad luck, this building gets described as fascist architecture even though masonry arches with little or no decoration are typical of Muzio whose style seemed fully formed with his 1923 Palazzo dell’Arte and wasn’t noticeably different thirteen years later with his Palazzo dell’Arengario in Piazza del Duomo. I think I’d prefer to see Ignzaio Gardella’s 1934 proposal there instead. Either would be unthinkable now.

1925-35

Casa Toninello, Guiseppe Terragni
Via Perasto 3, Milano

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The upper floor has been filled in but this building is still doing what it was meant to do.

1935-40

This period was the one where Rationalist design met urban verncaular construction to became mainstream. This suggests that Rationalism and its emphasis on structure and configuration was a more useful way of understanding the same technical advances than was style. The result is that many of these buildings look very ordinary today. They’re easy to pass by. This is either a virtue or a failing, depending on what you expect of buildings in a city.

Casa dei GiornalistiGiovanni Muzio
via Appiani, 23-25, Milano

This is the third of five Muzio buildings here, all except the Palazzo dell’Arte being within a few hundred metres of each other and each on a prominent intersection. This suggests a close connection with a local landowner. Note with this one how the end windows are slightly larger. We find this strange, as if expression and denial are the only two choices.

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Casa Rustici-Comolli, Giuseppe Terragni
Guglielmo Pepe 32, Milano

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Check those paired side balconies executed as a reinforced concrete truss. We’re looking at an idea we are to see again in Casa Rustica.

Casa Ghiringhelli, Guiseppe Terragni, 1933-35
Piazzale Lagosta 2, Milano

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Here we see the protruding central portion of the previous two Terragni buildings, as well as paired central balconies on the symmetrical main facade. The top floor is again set back and defined as was the original roof on Casa Toninello. The same pieces are being continunally rearranged according to site, program and budget. There’s no compulsion to be inventive beyond that. These four buildings are in the same corner of town, again suggesting either a single landowner or word-of-mouth referrals between local landowners.

Casa LavezzariGuiseppe Terragni, 1934-35
piazza Morbegno 3, Milano

This one’s a favourite, and for that reason.

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Following the streets allows rectilinear construction except for the elevator lobby and entrance hallways where it is an asset, and for the stairwell where it doesn’t matter.

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Casa al Villaggio dei giornalisti (House in Milan)Figini & Pollini, 1933–35
via Perrone di San Martino 8, Milano

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This is all we get to see of this house that previously appeared in the Pilotis post. You can find more information and the plans on www.ordinearchitetti.mi.it.

Casa Bonaiti, Giovanni Muzio, 1935-36
Piazza della Repubblica, Milan

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These apartments are of the same time as Muzio’s other ones and solve much the same problem using a symmetrical layout with various adjustments. It was here I first began to notice the Milanese love for balcony planting. You’ll see many impressive and sometimes extreme examples.

Partly because of this and partly because Stefano Boeri is Milanese, I began to warm to his Bosco Verticale, a building I’d previously thought overly tricksy. The planting on this building is only slightly more outrageous than much of what you will see on balconies around town. I noticed that taller trees are prevented from blowing over by ventical cable stays suspended from the balconies above.

Bosco Verticale is part of a much larger new commercial centre development called Porta Nuova, west of Repubblica.

Off to one side of the park area beside Boscso Verticale is this building that looked rather interesting and built to last.

Casa Rustici, Pietro Lingeri & Giuseppe Terragni, 1935
Corso Sempione 26, Milano

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There’s not much rusticity on show at Casa Rustici. The building is urban and urbane. It’s parade of balconies have more than a hint of Terragni’s Casa del Fascio completed the following year.

Villa Pestarini, Franco Albini, 1937-38
Via Mogadiscio 2-4

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The top floor is an addition but I get the feeling Albini would have approved. Here’s what it looked like in 1938.

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Edificio per abitazioni e uffici, Luigi Figini & Gino Pollini, 1947–48
via Broletto 37, Milano

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Much of what you see in Milan will just look ordinary and decent – in a good way. Figini & Pollini were well-known architects but this looks just like any other sturdily-built 1930s building in Milan. On the other hand, it’s often the case when walking you’ll see buildings such as this next one that look like you ought to know who it is by. If someone had told me this was Terragni from 1928 I would’ve believed them. Instead, it’s just the natural result of architectural innovation and vernacular construction both having something to give each other to become the new normal.

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Casa AlbergoLuigi Moretti, 1946-1951
via Corridoni, Milano

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Why am I mentioning this? It’s an example of a post-war apartment hotel designed as a city-in-a-city with a entrance lobby, access corridors, a restaurant, library and shared amenities in a podium linking the twin high blocks and the single lower one. The building was designed as a repeatable typology with the shape of the podium altering to suit different site geometries. It’s good contemporary thinking. It’s 1946.

Casa Tognella (Casa dal Parco)Ignazio Gardella, 1947-54
Via Jacini Milan

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It’s often mentioned how the design and construction of this building took seven years but, considering its location on a single block of land overlooking Milan’s most central and largest historic park, seven years seems surprisingly short to sort out permissions. Either Gardella had a gift for dealing with municipalities or the clients had some serious money and influence. The alternate name Casa dal Parco is not wrong, but seems somehow diminutive.

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Internal planning has the strict public and private division typical of the class and era but is relatively relaxed regarding staff and occupants sharing corridors and stairs (but not elevators). The service areas of the apartment are zoned, rather than compartmentalized. The lady of the house might even enter the kitchen.

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There’s little reason to break the rectilinearity, apart from getting more south light bouncing off the master bedroom wall, and getting more west sun into the living and dining room. Gardella took a Rationalist approach as the starting point for many buildings, but adapted it as circumstances dictated such as with Casa alle Zattere in Venice four years later.

Condominio di v. Marchiondi a Milano
Ignazio Gardella, Roberto Menghi & Anna Castelli Ferrieri, 1949-1953
via Marchiondi, 7, Milano

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That’s it in the back. It faces a private park and is completely hidden at the back by other buildings and at the front by trees.

The planning is clearly Gardella’s – it’s beautiful! Only he can plan elevator lobbies and entrance halls like this, and extract maximum effect from angled walls whether he’s forced to or not. They never result in peculiar or wasted spaces.

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Edificio per abitazioni ed uffici (mixed-use building)
Mario Asnago & Claudio Vender, 1950
Piazza Velasca 4, Milan

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A ground floor with three floors of offices above, four floors of apartments and what looks like a recessed top floor. The offices have a stone facade and office windows, the apartments have a brick facade and apartment windows. The office window grid aligns with the upper left corners of the apartment window grid, but that grid isn’t regular. We don’t see the trope of lining through windows and masonry with adjacent buildings. Instead, identical floor heights are maintained and the buiding naturally assumes a complementary scale regardless of wind0w size and proportion. It’s subtly and quietly brilliant. Asnago & Vender buildings are ego-less architecture and, as such, near invisible.

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Quartiere Mangiagalli, Ignazio Gardella & Franco Albini, 1950
via De Predis, via Jacopino da Tradate

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The intelligent use of external angles immediately marks this building as one of Gardella’s.

So does the planning. He would normally have narrowed the stair landings towards the entrances but instead has made a screened void to keep the access balcony away from the bathroom windows. Once inside however, the entrance hall characteristically narrows towards to the living room and the living room narrows towards the view. The only internal triangular space created by the unusual geometry is used to widen the passage from living to kitchen. Note also how the bedrooms have their own corridor, separate from the entrance corridor? And how that circulation space below the bathrooms can be configured to make either two x 2-bed apartments, or 1 x  1-bed + 1 x 3-bed? Clever.

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On the way there from Lotto (M1) Station, you’ll probably pass by this development on via Roberto Sambonet. It’s worth a look.

Corso Italia Complex, Luigi Moretti, 1951 & 1956
Corso Italia 13-17, Milano

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The two office and residential towers at the rear of the site came first in 1951 and the two front blocks later in 1956. The pointed one overhanging the street and containing three apartments per level is perhaps the most wilful of all the buildings so far. [Plan from archidiap.]

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The mixed-use building is a common typology in Milan and, like the 1950 Asnago & Vender mixed-use building, effortlessly combine the two. There’s no logic to those three well-placed subtractions on some of the balcony ends. Moretti has that gift we call ‘design flair’.

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It’s also evident in the subtle bend of the north side having those balconies. Moretti pulls off that difficult feat of making the unnecessary seem right.

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The four grouped flues at the end of the building don’t appear to be original but they’ve been added in a good way.

Pirelli Tower, Gio Ponti, 1953
Via Fabio Filzi 22, Milan

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This building remains as idosyncratic and elegant as it was in 1953. Gio Ponti achieved international fame with this building that’s the only one of his I’m going to mention here. He “put Italian architecture on the map”, as they say. This was good for him and good for us because modern buildings in Italy became Italian architecture worldwide. It wasn’t necessarily a good thing for Italians as architecture wasn’t a local activity anymore. Italian architects now had their eyes on international recognition. The more Italian architecture became, the less concerned it was with Italians. In short, it lost its innocence, albeit not all at once and not across the board. Career Case Study #7: Gio Ponti is forthcoming.

Torre Velasca
BBPR (Gian Luigi Banfi, Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, Enrico Peressutti, & Ernesto Nathan Rogers) architectural partnership, 1954
Piazza Velasca 5, Milano

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This 1954 building is also claimed, in hindsight, to be a precursor to Post Modernism because of its alleged historical reference to Milanese towers, the closest I suppose being the tower of the Castello Sforzesco but I’ll save that thought for some other time. I’d never really noticed the offset windows before. It might be the result of different internal layouts or it may be totally gratuitous for all I know. For now, it seems to be another case of someone making no effort to either hide something or express it.

The history of accidentally or contrivedly offset windows now goes back to the 1950s. Curtain walling doesn’t feature largely in Milan and there aren’t that many examples of the contemporary type we’re so familiar with.

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Casa del Cedro, Giulio Minoletti, 1951-1957
via Fatebenefratelli 3, Milano

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Having earlier admired the architectural insouciance of Asnago & Vender, I was prepared to dislike this proud little building but couldn’t. For pushing 70, it’s looking fantastic and in good health. I’d be surprised if it has any solar gain, thermal bridging or waterproofing issues.

1955–1965

Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista alla CretaGiovanni Muzio, 1956-1958
Piazza S. Giovanni Battista alla Creta, 11, 20147 Milano

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This is a curious little building – Muzio again! He always had a feel for brick and now he’s making something that’s obviously decorative yet can’t have been Post Modernism because Post Modernism wasn’t supposed to have been around in 1956. I find it easier to think of Post Modernism as a resurgence of what there was pre-Modernism. Muzio was always a bit behind the times but then the times went back to meet him, as with Ca’ Brutta. I’m not sure if any Italian architect has ever been a ‘modernist’ but at one stage Figini & Pollini, the authors of this next building, were very identifiably Rationalists.

Edificio per albergo e abitazioni (mixed-use building)
Luigi Figini & Gino Pollini, 1961-1965
Largo Augusto 2, Milano

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I include this to show how Figini & Pollini became less shy about decoration as the century progressed. I have no evidence, but wouldn’t be surprised if the decorative balconies have a Venetian ancestor for they recall the ones Gardella was to use on Casa alle Zattera in 1958. Here, the absence of balconies from one floor seems irrational and difficult to justify as design flair despite it being the dominant aesthetic decision.

Torre Turati, Giovanni Muzio, 1966

Via Turati 40, Milano

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This is the last Muzio building here. That’s it on the left, forming one half of a gateway to Piazza Repubblica. The building cantilevers out to provide increasingly large balconies to the upper apartments but this is not obvious when seen from along the street.

These two buildings show two different ways of working to the same rules but the one on the far side extracts maximum volume from the cantilever concession. It also produces that building-on-top-of-another-building effect that found recent popular affectation.

Edificio Residenziale al GallarateseAldo Rossi, 1969-1970
via Enrico Falck 53, Milan

If Gio Ponti put the new architecture of Italy on the map, Rossi was the Italian face of Neo Rationalism that was, rightfully or wrongly, presented and understood internationally as Italy’s spin on post modernism. People saw whatever they wanted to see in it. Italians presumably saw the rational side and non-Italians saw a kind of classicism stripped down even more than Muzio’s as this time there were no arches. The most disturbing new development is Theory. In Rossi’s case, the theory was about urban artefacts being responsibile for the essential nature of the city. This is a convenient truth for an architect to claim but my perception of Milan is that it is not the sum of its landmarks but the sum of everything else.

This one project is all I have to show of Rossi’s buildings in Milan, and even with this there wasn’t much to see.

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The famous elevation on the other side is now completely obscured by planting, somewhat oddly as the building faces a park, but I suspect it’s to deter the architectural paparazzi.

I remember the building more from the endless graphics that announced it.

The apartment layouts however, are archetypal.

I preferred the neighbouring Aymonino Buildings [Via Cilea 34, Via Falck 37], designed by Carlo Aymonino & Studio Ayde (Aymonino & Rossi), and constructed between 1967-74. We can at least see them as they look over the street to the playing fields and parks beyond.

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To be fair, the Rossi’s Gallaratese Apartments also did at one time and he’s not to blame for their current vegetative state. Nevertheless, his famous building exists only for its occupants and even then not how it does in our collective imagination. This can’t be a good thing.

The entire area around Bonono station however is a delight. On a late summer’s afternoon, the dream of high-density buildings set in parkland seems to have been realized. There’s an abundance of well-kept towers, grassy areas, parks, sports grounds, and people walking dogs. It seems like a nice place to live.

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Edificio Polifunzionale in piazza San Marco, Ludovico Magistretti, 1969 – 1971
piazza San Marco 1, Milano

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This also seems like a nice place to live but now there’s external ornament that places these buildings firmly as self-conscious, post-modern Italian architecture. Its very clever with its revealed frame and its various rhythms but that cleverness is what now dates it. Despite that, life goes on.

• • •

I’ll stop it there. The only buildings I’ve mentioned are the ones I can put an architect’s name to. What struck me most about all of these buildings was how many of them were produced by local architects working within a very small radius. There’s no building here that can’t be visited with a day pass on the Milan metro. Terragni did most of his work in Como and Milan. Gardella worked mainly in Milan even though one of his early successes was his 1938 Dispensario Antitubercolare 75 km to the south-west in Allesandria.

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As his reputation spread, Gardella worked as far east as Venice and as far West as Genoa, neither more than 300km away. If I’d extended my range to Seveso 20km to the north of Milan I could have included Terragni’s Casa Bianca.

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If I’d gone on to Como another 20km north, I could have included Terragni’s 1936 Casa del Fascia, and if I’d gone the extra mile and a half I could have included Cesare Cattaneo’s 1939 Casa d’affitto a Cernobbio, a favourite.

But they can wait for some other time. What I like about Milan is that architects working locally had access to connections and knowledge and perhaps sensitivities others didn’t. It explains the buildings of Asnago & Vender that give shape to unspoken expectations so well that we don’t even notice them doing it. There’s client loyalty.

Local architects are more likely to have an innate respect and affection for a place that’s their home town. They’re unlikely to grandstand. For the first time in my life I had a feel for the ‘fabric’ of a city as a tapestry of old and new, of adjustments and allowances for materials and technologies that, though they may appear different, are still being used to for the same ends. It’s a rare thing to appreciate and a tricky thing for an architect to aspire to, let alone achieve. I leave Milan thinking that designing buildings for people is an honorable thing to do.

• • •

Since the 1970s, more Milan buildings are being designed by architects who aren’t local and whose first architectural obligation is not necessarily to the city or its citizens. In the image below, the building on the left is by Asnago & Vender whom we shall meet again in Architecture Misfits #26. The building in the distance is Generali Tower by Zaha Hadid Architects.

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• • •

tripadvisor: http://www.ordinearchitetti.mi.it/en/mappe/itinerari/repertorio

• • •

 

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Living the Dream

This is a utility vehicle, an RV – a recreational vehicle. Depending on how you look at it, it’s a vehicle with some accommodation added, or some accommodation that’s mobile. It can move from place to place and perhaps hook up to some infrastructure when it gets there. Here’s a quick guide to RV terminology, courtesy of Happy Camper.

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This next is a top-end motorized called an XP Camper.

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Utility vehicles aren’t architecture for they don’t – can’t – articulate the possession of property. It’s something to do with them having wheels. What utility vehicles can do however is have an excellent use of internal space. Interiors are tightly designed to accommodate specific functions. Life boils down to sitting, shitting, showering, cooking and sleeping. Some have separated bathrooms and some like one of the above right have pop-up roofs for improved aerodynamics.

Planning-wise, the trend seems to be towards less multipurposing. A table and chairs might morph into an extra bed-space but not the main bed. This is good. It makes going to bed special although, in all honesty, there’s little else the space above the cab could be used for. Sometimes things work out how they should.

In terms of accommodating basic life functions, you’re better off in an RV than a Nakagin capsule. You’ve also got more windows.

 

Several current trends seem to be converging on the R in RV coming to mean Residential rather than Recreational. These trends, in order of how much they’re in-our-faces, are …

The glamorization of tiny houses.

 The architectural assimilation of tiny houses.

The private monetization of tiny houses.

The corporate monetization of tiny houses.

Tiny house co-housing filling a real housing need

vs. the corporate monetization of co-housing.

Tiny houses meet the representation of a mobile lifestyle

vs. tiny mobile houses meeting a real housing need. 

Vehicles have no problem escaping the tyranny of property. That’s what they do. The downside is that it’s difficult to sustain a concept of architecture if there isn’t any property to articulate possession of. While it’s unlikely utility vehicles will ever be considered architecture, they can still be used to represent its traditional signifieds.

They can be functional and aesthetically austere like this one that’s widely misrepresented on the internet as being the sole home of origami artist Won Park.

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Or they can be post-modern utility vehicles laden with meaning even though nobody’s sure what it all means.  

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My guess is that the ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ aesthetic popular with tiny travel trailers is all about using a representation of a building to represent having the rights to enjoy land as if one were a landowner. It’s a desperate look for desperate times. Our new mobile lifestyle didn’t turn out how visionary visionaries of yore envisioned it. Two decades ago though, and not knowing why, I scanned this next image that nailed it. Rear porches seem important. If you just woke up and went outside and stood on the porch with the mist clearing and the early morning sunlight filtering through the trees, it’s quite possible you could suspend disbelief for a few seconds.

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This next image, also from decades gone, could be our future suburbia.

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The principle is already a reality in Los Angeles as both legal initiatives and as not.  It’s an issue, and designating car parks as temporary campsites seems to overcome it. Unsurprisingly, there’s considerable local resistance.

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There’s no such problem with these artists-in-residence who are doing much the same thing, except not for real. People can smile or smirk, and go by.

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Some people however, are already living the dream with neither compromise or affectation. Decades ago, the elderly were early adopters of co-living. Retirees are now early adopters of mobile living. There’s a few reasons.

Cost: A decent parked RV house costs about $30,000.

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Job Mobility: Retirees don’t have to worry about job mobility and, if they don’t want to live the full-on gypsy life, can drive from one RV camp to another according to season and whim. Living in Wisconsin or Cape Cod in summer, and Florida in winter is a popular choice.

Property tenure: Park model mobile homes are still classified as recreational vehicles which means they can be set up on leased sites in campgrounds and RV parks and used as weekend retreats or seasonal vacation dwellings. There’s already a legal framework for understanding this as a way of living. This is one of the properties run by Yukon Trails Camping.

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This type of vehicle parked on land in leased campgrounds is not without its disadvantages that include depreciation of the ‘vehicle’ itself, lack of actual mobility, lack of control over what happens to the land, and laws that favour landlords over tenants.

These risks are reduced by limited equity housing cooperative in which residents don’t directly own a piece of land that’s theirs alone but instead have a membership in the corporation that owns it. This makes them both lessees and owners entitled to a long-term lease and a vote in how the corporation is run. They have control over the rents and have a vested interest in community upkeep. Importantly, the risk of redevelopment by profit-driven landlords is reduced. Judging by how nicely the hillside has been mown, I’d say this below is a limited equity housing cooperative but I’d be wrong – it’s a field monetised as a tiny mobile house hotel farming campers.

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It’ll always happen, but the rules are gradually changing to bring part-time Recreational Vehicles into play as full-time Residential Vehicles. Social acceptance isn’t changing as fast but a sea-change isn’t required. We’re more than halfway there anyway. This last image is Quartzsite in Arizona, US. The town is a popular campsite for RV owners. Its permanent population of about 5,000 temporarily increases to about 1.5 million in January and February. Thanks to Daniel [of OfHouses] for letting me know about this. It’s very relevant.

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• • • 

just one RV site on Pinterest
silly stuff
more silly stuff
A 06 Sept. NYT article on ‘long-term parking’ at LAX  (Nice timing!)

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Architecture Misfits #24: Rural Studio

A 308 sq.ft Katrina Cottage can be delivered for $70,000 including construction. That works out at $227/sq.ft.

The affordable IVRV House designed by SCI-ARC students for a low-income Los Angeles neighbourhood was constructed for $200,000 ÷ 1,185 sq.ft = US$165/sq.ft.  

The 2015 house designed by Yale architecture students as part of the Jim Vlock Building Project was 1,000 sq.ft and had a budget of $130,000 – excluding labour which was provided by students. Assuming labour at 60% of the cost-in-place, that’s $217/sq.ft. (*1)

The ÁPH80 transportable house by Madrid firm ÁBATON offers 291 sq.ft of living space and sells for €32,000 (US$40,000) which is $138/sq.ft. 

Diogene by Renzo Piano Workshop is 81 sq.ft. and sells for $45,000 which represents $555/sq.ft. A deluxe model with rooftop photovoltaic panels costs $75,000 and works out at $926/sq.ft

Rural Studio’s 20K House costs US$20,000 but, they explain, it would have to sell for more in order to pay a living wage to builders. Materials cost $14,000. At 500 sq.ft the $20K represents $40/sq.ft.

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Rural Studio have been attempting to perfect the 20K house since 2005.

These houses aren’t the end product of a journey of aesthetic discovery but represent twenty years of research and the refinement of the design approach and of prototypes.

The 20K House program evolved out of frustration at starting from scratch each year on each client house. The new program’s current instructional model is to test typologies, rather than producing idiosyncratic individual houses, which allows us to build iteratively on previous and concurrent work. In fact, each year’s 20K House outreach team passes on a book of information for the following class, exemplifying Rural Studio’s founding premise of learning both by practice and from reflection. [Slate 19/05/2014] 

This house below is a refinement of the 2009 (v8) Dave’s Home which itself is a refinement of the 2006 (v2) Franks’s Home. 

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Rural Studio’s 20K houses look low-tech but associate director Rusty Smith says “They’re built more like airplanes than houses, which allows us to have them far exceed structural requirements.” This I believe. I’ve mentioned before how the aircraft maker Sukhoi treats every aircraft as a prototype for the better performance of the next one. Iterative design aims for perfection rather than preconceived notions of beauty.

The Sukhoi S-47 [on the left, below] proved impractical to develop and maintain as a production aircraft. The T-50 [on the right] that succeeded it is the 1985 SU-27, substantially modified. Engines are the 117S derivative of the economical and high-performance AL-31 engine. The T-50 is economically efficient, low maintenance and has a planned service life of 35 years.

In the same way and for the same reasons, Rural Studio made the decision to test typologies but concentrate on building iteratively on previous work. Such an approach still requires high-level and densely-packed design intelligence. In the case of residential buildings, it amounts to a conscious process of vernacular design accelerated over decades rather than centuries. We can all learn from this. Some of the rules can be identified from decisions made.

Economy of means

The self-imposed cost limit of $20K forces attention towards the cost of every element and design design. Windows are a major cost item. “We are very precise in the placement of windows of doors,” says Andrew Freear, studio director. “Typically, we can afford two doors and seven windows, and how do you use those the fullest? Cross-ventilation, bouncing light, putting a window near a table as a reflective surface. In Joanne’s House, in the kitchen, the refrigerator is perpendicular to a window and bounces natural light into the space.

A single waste pipe runs beneath the porch to link all wet areas. The layout is determined by this as much as anything else. Siteworks are a major cost item and cantilevering the floor joists past the foundation piles reduces the area of sitewaorks.

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Maximum efficiency of each element

Cantilevered floor girders act more efficiently as beams, making smaller and less expensive timber sections sufficient. Floor joists are cantilevered from the girders for the same reason.

Conventional technologies and standard parts

Standard components are easier and less expensive to source, maintain, repair and replace.Windows and doors are more obvious examples of standard components but the 2×4 framing system is itself an example of conventional technology and standard parts. It’s a construction system and, once the cladding is on, a structural system as well.

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In passing, the 2 x 4 construction system is also a technology with minimal waste as the log is sawn to leave little waste timber.

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There’s also little waste within the system as cutoffs can be re-used as jack studs or nogging.

Design without waste

In my previous post I mentioned how Rural Studio were the only US practice invited to participate in the 15th Venice Biennale 2016, and how they used the money they’d been given to purchase local products to create a theatre that could be dismantled and its components used elsewhere afterwards.

It is possible to eliminate building waste by regarding every component as something with a potential future use. Native Americans famously used every part of the buffalo they hunted – meat for food, bones for implements and weapons, hides for clothing and so on. It’s no accident that this is called being resourceful. Resourceful cooks can save money and resources by making a meal out of scraps and leftovers.

Identifying Inefficiencies of Process

It’s often the case that new and better ways of doing something bump up against resistance due to instituional inertia, psychological resistance, or perhaps due to simple lack of knowledge. This last can be overcome by taking the time and making the effort to explain and educate. Rural Studio found that more effort needs to be made to change local zoning laws that regulate against small houses. They also noted that banks charge the same for a loan regardless of whether that loan is for a small house or a large house. This makes loans for less expensive houses proportionally more expensive.

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Without the $20K cost limit forcing scrutiny of all cost items, no-one would ever have known this or thought it relevant to the provision of housing.

• • •

The process of edcuation should not stop there. If design intelligence has been spent tweaking minor things to make them more efficient or to multi-task some component, then the general public and the world of architecture at large, also needs to be educated to appreciate that design intelligence and the benefits it can bring.

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As it stands now, Rural Studio are widely admired for doing what they do but are destined to exist outside of mainstream architectural consciousness. For one, Rural Studio is not a practice. It is an undergraduate program of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University in Hale County, Alabama. You can read more about its history here.

The program for low-cost and socially-useful housing was begun by Dennis (D.K.) Ruth and Samuel Mockbee in 1993. Andrew Freear became director upon Mockbee’s death. This coming semester, Xavier Vendrell will be Acting Director while Freear goes on sabbatical. Rural Studio has a director but no figurehead. It is not personality-driven. It is not media driven.

Rural Studio are ineligible for a Pritzker Prize, for what it’s worth.

  1. Mockbee died in 2001 and Ruth in 2009. The Pritzker Prize is awarded to a living architect.
  2. Not only that, the Pritzker Prize is awarded to a living architect who has produced a singular body of work. The output of Rural Studio is a singular body of work that has consistency and development and many other qualities that mark it as the output of a single consciousness. It is not awarded to a team, let alone an amorphous team that includes a ever-changing roster of students. This condition seems particularly unfair when starchitect practice figureheads routinely curate and claim authorship of ideas generated by an intern farm.

In our current cultural landscape it is usual for architects with any degree of fame to rush into teaching to extend their media reach, ideally at an Ivy-League university. Rural Studio is doing things the other way around. It is in Alabama not New England. It is not staffed by architects who teach but by teachers who build. They are teaching us as well, as their direction of twenty years has now been appropriated – perhaps maliciously so, but time will tell – by architecture at large. Rural Studio’s presence at VB2016 shows they are continuing to do what they do as best they can and guided by what they think is right.

• • •

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Rural Studio!

to all of you whoever you are at any given time

for your ceaseless work of genuine benefit to fellow human beings,
for showing us how to make things better by making better things,
and, most importantly, for making it about building,

misfits’ salutes you!

• • •

their site
their 2015 newsletter
Slate article

*1 Thanks CBW!

header2016

Waste in Venice

Waste was one of the ‘fronts’ Aravena identified in his opening statements for the 2016 Venice Architecture Bienalle. wasteBy now we’ve all either seen or seen images of the exhibition entrance features – you know the ones. 

You’ll probably also have been told those installations were made from 10,000 sq.m of plasterboard and 14 km of metal studs from the previous Biennale – the one curated by you know who.

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What Aravena has done is turn old waste into new waste and, in the process, make it represent waste as well. He’s also wasted his time and ours. The plasterboard might have been more reusable if it hadn’t been cut into tiny pieces, as might those metal studs if they hadn’t been bent. If this is the best the best of architecture has to offer, then sooner or later we can expect to see the aestheticization of waste as architectural ornament. It was sooner than I expected, for immediately outside was another example of someone arranging stuff into a pointless representation of waste. What does it mean? What does it do? Why did they do that? It’s more cutting-edge contentless content. 

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Aestheticizing something by making its representation more important than the thing itself is one of architecture’s many dysfuctions stemming from the belief it’s an art. Arty however, is much better at aestheticising raw materials because that’s basically what it does – it takes materials and uses them to represent something independent of those materials. It also adds value, albeit a highly subjective one.

At the Prada Fondazione in Milan is an exhibition of works by Edward and Nancy Nienholz who assemble found objects into rather disturbing collages.

This most definitely is art. Something new and having a different kind of value has been created. Their intention was never to reduce some global oversupply of disused carnival paraphenalia. Elsewhere at the Prada Fondazione, unwanted art is being repurposed into new art.

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The Pirelli Hangar Bacocco in Milan currently has an exhibition titled Architecture as Art. [Grrr.]

One of the works on display was this ‘architectural’ space made out of shredded books. You could climb it and find a space to – what else? – read a book.

This isn’t a response to some global surfeit of shredded books but nor does it pretend to be one. Who knows what will happen after? Perhaps it’ll become part of a permanent exhibition somewhere, or perhaps it’ll be reconstructed elsewhere from different trash at some later date.

The fashion industry is currently attempting to come to grips with recovering fabrics (at the level of fibres) and remaking them into high-value garments. This is good in that land can be used for things other than growing cotton but it’s bad if the main object is to maintain a high churn ratio even if at lower environmental cost. Getting more wear out of clothes is a sensible idea. Geting rid of the concept of fashion and its obsession with trends and novelty is a better one.

Outside Hangar Bacocco is a temporary pavilion built out of the packing crates artworks arrive in. It will be eventually dismantled and its pieces distributed to where they can be put to use.

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The pavilion is a structure with a limited degree of utility and no small amount of artistic/architectural pretension but there is at least a plan to use it for something else afterwards. It’s a better way of doing things. Its designers understand that the best way to generate less waste is to give things a purposeful next life and prevent them from becoming waste in the first place.

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This thinking is evident at the Austrian pavilion at the 2016 Architecture Biennale.

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The first room contains piles of posters depicting refugee housing projects at three locations in Vienna. In the second rom is a large display table that, after the biennale, will be divided into three parts for re-use at those locations. There’s an exhibition website and a comprehensive exhibition newspaper.

The Austrian pavilion isn’t the only one having this it’s-not-waste strategy. The Portuguese pavilion contains hardly anything and is in a building that, after the biennale, will be purposed as housing. The exhibition has stopped the building from being waste.  

The space is sparse, the only installations some projection screens, models of the projects shown, and plinths with handouts. Maximum effect was extracted from next to nothing, mainly due to the engaging films of Siza talking to the occupants of three of his housing projects.

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Rural Studio is the only US ‘practice’ to have be invited to exhibit at VB16. Having never worked outside of Alabama in their twenty years, they must have been bewildered at having been invited to exhibit. They chose to show The World two things. The first was some videos of who they are, what they do and how they do it. These videos were presented in a small theatre delineated by suspended bed frames and with stacks of insulation panels as benches. The Theater of the Usefull, they called it. 

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Rural Studio used the money they’d been granted to purchase things that, after the Biennale, were to be given to the Assemblea Sociale per la Casa association that provides shelter for the homeless in the Venezia-Mestre-Marghera area. Again, this eliminates waste as a concept and also happens to do maximum good. Besides being a simple and honest thing to do, it’s consistent with the Rural Studio ethos. It’s also worth noting that, compared with some of the more high-profile set pieces, it was all done with zero air miles.   

The same connection between medium and message was there in the German Pavilion I mentioned in the previous post. The visual content of the exhibition was just posters and text on the walls, supplemented by a book and a comprehensive website that’s also a database/resource of housing projects. Again, this is low-impact, low-cost, and you find out stuff. Note that the furniture is not custom designed and made.  

The little pavilion at Hangar Barocco, Rural Studio’s Theater of the Usefull and the Austrian Pavilion at the Biennale are preventing resources from becoming waste by planning for a degree of utility for different people further down the line. This isn’t the case with Aravena’s installations. I’m curious. Didn’t Koolhaas have had a refuse management plan? Does all that stuff just lay around until someone decides to throw it away? Or did Aravena say, “no, don’t throw it away – I have a point to make”? We’re definitely being asked to reflect upon the amount of waste a bienalle generates and I most definitely am. Aravena’s just kicked the can two years down the road to when this waste might well be in our faces again as something useful. Or it might not.

Not that it matters. You can probably learn more about waste management from just walking around Venice.

  • The buildings are designed and made to last. Their life-cycle is set at Forever.
  • People and what they do fit into the buildings available.
  • New buildings are never frivolous.
  • There is none of the aesthetic churn characteristic of architectural activity elsewhere.

On a different level, every day and night enormous quantities of food and drink are produced and consumed yet all the waste just seems to magically disapppear.

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VESTA (Venezia Servizi Territoriali ed Ambientali) is a limited company of Venice Municipality and is responsible for drinking water supply, urban and industrial wastewater treatment, waste collection and treatment, public and private cleaning, management of green areas and cemeteries, and environmental reclamation work. Veritas is responsible for rubbish collection.

  • Dry waste and wet waste is placed in tightly closed bags of any kind, that can be given directly to the rubbish collector or left near the outer door of your building between the hours of 6-8 am.
  • Paper, cardboard, tetra-pak is placed into paper bags tied with string and collected on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Glass, plastic and cans are placed in plastic bag marked with blue stickers and collected on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Collection, management and recycling are all good but some there are also cultural factors that work to limit the amount of waste and prevent things from becoming waste in the first place. These are the things we’re currently rediscovering.

  • Footpaths in Venice have very few wastebins yet there is no litter. If people need a drink or something to eat, they sit down somewhere and order it. People don’t generate trash as they move throughout the city.
  • Restaurants purify and gasify their own water in refillable bottles.
  • Fabric tablecloths and napkins are still the norm.
  • Much of what you eat will have been cooked from raw, unprocessed ingredients that have never been wrapped, packed, bottled or canned.

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Venice is of necessity a water supply and waste management hotspot. This year the city will be hosting the Water Technology and Environmental Control Exhibition & Conference September 21-23.

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Since 2006, Venice has also hosted the biennial International Symposium on Energy from Biomass and Waste.

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One hot topic is the generation energy from lagoon agla caused by inadequate waste management in the first place. Tackling the same problem from the other end, organic waste from the many kitchens and restaurants is collected and sent to a mechanical-biological stabilisation plant at Fusina not too far away.

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What happens there you can read about here.

• • •

Further reading:

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house moving

Downmarketly Mobile

It’s always been the case that wealthy people own a number of houses or apartments in various places around the world and spend time in them according to the season or whim. Some don’t even use them – they just like to know they could and high-end apartments in Western capitals suit them quite nicely.

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People of lesser wealth might have a vacation house in another country or perhaps a summer weekend house in the countryside. Timeshare ownership of property in other countries and the relative ease of travel have made living across properties, climates, cultures and landscapes more accessible to more people.

Co-living in any city in the world for a fixed monthy subscription is a development of this trend and makes this type of living more accessible to more people. Typologically, it’s what Youth Hostels Association (YHA) has been offering for decades to student travellers albeit not in a joined-up way around the world.

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So hats’ off to ROAM for identifying an existing type of residential use and marketing it as a value-added form of co-living. “Sign one lease, live around the world.” They have some decent endorsements.

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ROAM is a network of global communal living spaces that provide everything you need to feel at home and be productive the moment you arrive. Strong, battle-tested wifi, a co-working space, chef’s kitchen and a diverse community.

It sounds very attractive, better than some places I’ve called home over the years, not to mention the clean sheets and towels.

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This angle – for it is an angle if generic functionality is being remarketed for the same purpose it always was – circumvents the argument that co-living implies student living. It doesn’t. The “Learn by living somewhere different” suggests gap years for all but the claim you can “be productive the moment you arrive” implies a new attitude to moving around – you take your work with you but the hardware remains the same. A single system of tenure spanning different locations is what’s new. In principle, there’s no reason why a similar system couldn’t be applied across multiple properties in the same city.

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In principle. If such a system were applied within countries or cities, it would be abused by people refusing to move on and make room for others. To discourage this, the price point has to be more expensive than conventional tenancies for the medium term, and cheaper than conventional hotels for the short term. So far, the best suggestion has been to add a surcharge for ‘expensive’ cities such as New York and London but this only fuels the strong suspicion that co-housing is hotels in disguise. It is in some cases, but the disguise is what’s at fault, not the living in hotels.

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It’s not that living in houses has become unattractive, it’s just that the likelihood of ever owning one is slipping away.

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Now that owning property is less likely, it’s difficult to know whether any forthcoming ideas will be visionary solutions, expedient workarounds, or simply a race to the bottom with new methods for the old exploitation. Permanent ownership of fixed houses is a burden if people have to relocate, and relocating across town, the country or the planet for employment is already a fact of life. The idea of mobile living crops up periodically but never actually comes about.

Here it is again, this time called Kasita. 320 sq.ft.

This Forbes article suggests it’s what you’d get if you crossed an Airstream with microhousing and parked it in an automated parking garage. Not unlike this by Glen Howard Small (1977-1980)

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crossed with a bit of the following.

This can’t be economically sensible since the structure for stacking and the structure for enclosure and integrity are different. Shipping containers have a single structure for both because they’re designed from the outset to be stacked. This means structural redundancy if there aren’t eight or nine stacked above it  but different configurations at different times shift that redundancy to other containers. You can’t have it both ways.

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It’s thus a good idea for a dwelling to have an optimised, dual-purpose structure. In the past, demountable and transportable houses delivered by helicopter or off a truck implied permanent ownership or long-term tenancy of land and were solutions to the expense of mobilizing construction labour rather than any direct amenity gained from the mobility itself. The house was moved to some new location and connected to utilities.

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Transportable homes are another variation. This company will either sell you a house or you can rent it by the week. Either way, they’ll deliver it to your property and all you have to do is connect it to utilities. This is their open plan studio for NZ$40K (US$31K).

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Their two-bedroom w/pergola is looking good.

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The loftcube did the circuit not too long ago. Same idea, but with added architecture and pretence.

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Here’s the Eco-Capsule, with updated design affectations and added eco-stuff.

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All these designs are transportable homes. With the new Kasita development, you buy and have your pre-designed pod transported to some property and connected to utilities including wifi [which is perverse, given what wifi is]. The difference is that the property is now stacked. It’s a Dom-ino house where the entire house is now freed from the tyranny of structure. The innovation bit is that the house can move with you but it’s not clear why you should want it to if they’re all identical. You can think of this as as freedom from packing and unpacking your suitcase, or perhaps as travelling inside your suitcase and living in it when you get there.

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Mobile homes, on the other hand, aren’t designed to be stacked. Their dual structure for enclosure and self-support has no structural redundancy and can therefore be optimised. Mobile homes are not designed to remain in the same location forever and so have wheels to enable towing from place to place. This becomes redundant mobility when used as permanent housing.

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Unsurprisingly, mobile homes imply temporary homes and, as such, don’t articulate the possession of land that is one of the fundamental and historical concerns of architecture. This is more than a simple problem of language. It’s a matter of historically ingrained prejudice. The mobility of mobile homes is something to be ashamed of and disguised when they are used as permanent housing.

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Yet, the wheels and mobility of micro houses are flaunted when they are used for recreational/unnecessary housing. This is what you get when you cross a trailer with a tiny house.

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Both types of structure are the same animal but, in the first situation we have actual housing with its mobility disguised whereas, in the second, we have a vehicle representing housing and its mobility flaunted. The fact nobody questions the right of mobile tiny houses to be called tiny houses suggests our perception of mobility is changing faster than our notions of ownership and tenure.

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Grouping tiny mobile houses around shared facilities is even seen as attractive and novel if they are rented out as hotel rooms. In this next image we see the gentrification of gypsy caravans and hobo fire barrels.

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As usual, architecture always moves in the direction opposite that of greater utility. It’s up to people to invent new ways of living and these naturally collide with existing regulatory frameworks, as they did with Dignity Village and other spontaneous tiny home settlements.

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Here’s another idea borne out of necessity.

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This initiative brings together tiny houses and a mobile lifestyle. We might just be looking at a new way to live.

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The only thing architecture can do is give representation to the shared amenity bits, as is already happening in this recent masterplan for Nanjing in China,

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or these two high-rise developments.