Cold Logic vs. Warm Logic

This first image shows how slaves were packed onto a British slave ship according to the Regulated Slave Trade Act of 1788. This document seems to be proud of the use of mezzanine shelves to allow the transport of more slaves yet still allow space for their entry and exit as shown in the longitudinal cross section. This “solution” is the result of seeing only one dimension of something more complex, and ruthlessly pursuing a solution for that single dimension only. It is an example of cold logic.

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This next image is a render of a permanent construction worker housing facility in Dubai. Unlike the render, the building has minimal visual aspirations. This is to its credit because it really doesn’t matter whether or not the horizontal banding brings any aesthetic delight to occupants or passers-by. It’s simply not a “problem” this building recognises.

permanent labour campThe brief was to house construction workers inexpensively yet humanely. Let’s have a look at the typical floor plan. Rule #1 is that every room must have a window.

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Nearly all of the wall area around the airwells is used for room windows and those portions on the four inside internal corners that aren’t, are used for windows ventilating bathrooms. The outer four internal corners are used for windowless stairwells and are a sensible use of windowless space. The four external corners on the outside of the building are good locations for four more bathrooms since it’s not necessary for any habitable room to be larger than any other, or to have more than one window. The total of seven shafts are probably used for air conditioning. I imagine all plumbing being external. Assuming occupancy at four persons per room, there is one shower, one w/c and one washbasin for every eight people.

accom_1_webIt’s difficult to improve upon this typical floor plan for it was determined solely by spatial criteria. It shows no concern for sunlight paths, wind patterns, view or environmental noise. These factors will combine in ways that are mostly unpredictable, and make certain rooms more pleasant to inhabit than others. However, achieving an egalitarian distribution of pleasantness was not a problem this building attempted to address.

This next building has a name, Abito. It’s by BDP and is in Salford Quays, Manchester, UK. Immediately we can see that some apartments (for it is an apartment building) will have a view of this water body and some won’t. Now that we are in the realm of market forces, we just shrug it off and say one gets what one pays for = no problem = cold logic.

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Here’s a typical floor plan. 36 apartments, two elevators, two garbage chutes, a fire stair and, assuming smoke control, alternate means of escape to that fire stair.

image_2This floor plan is much like the “Do you think this is advancing architecture?” typical floor plan two posts back. It too, is hard to better. Units are placed to fit the site in the most obvious way that even generates four windows for the corridors. The layout can be easily  expanded/contracted/distorted to suit any quadrilateral site but, like the construction worker housing, it shows no regard for aspect. Interestingly, (and like the Marseilles, Nantes and Firminy Unités des Habitations,) the end-of-row units have no additional side windows when they could easily have had. Instead, the front window is given a slight value-adding wraparound.

The unit plan is interesting. It’s about 35 sqm with a 3 metre ceiling so there is a luxury of area and volume. Basically, it’s a miniature Farnsworth House with one window.

Typical Abito Apartment All utility spaces are in the central block. There’s a small kitchen, a bathroom and space for a washing machine. When in use, the bathroom doors (must) swing out and as a consequence block the corridor to create a visually private bathroom space. Essentially, the circulation space of the corridor is borrowed when the bathroom is being used, and returned to the apartment when it isn’t.

This idea of a central services structure is not new. Mies van der Rohe may have used one at the Farnsworth House, but it was Joe Colombo who made the idea of divorcing function and enclosure explicit with his Total Furnishing Unit of 1972.

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In these microflats however, the service riser is central to the apartment and a design feature in itself, unlike in the Farnsworth House where it’s something shameful to be either disguised or concealed.

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What’s more interesting about these microflats is that they have been designed to have two places to be and neither of those places is completely visible from the other. The apartment can’t be fully surveyed from a single position – one has to “explore”. This is normally a characteristic of large apartments and so it makes the apartment seem larger when encountered in a small one. As well as there being two places to be, there are also two ways of getting to them. A third way over the top of the core is possible for light, air and sound. This decadence of the number of travel routes also works to make the microflat seem larger and for the same reason as before. One of those ways is possible by the unpackable bathroom. It was never necessary for the bathroom to be designed to be packable – it could have been designed as a conventional room and the functionality of the apartment wouldn’t have been diminished in any way. It gets to be packed up because it makes the apartment better.

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All of this is a warm logic. It’s something that didn’t have to be done – and nobody would have missed it if it hadn’t been. But it was. Even if it was done because a price could be put on it, and somebody decided it was worth doing, somebody did it. And we like it.

On the other side of the front door, money hasn’t been wasted on fancy finishes in the communal areas (apart from the apologetic artwork that betrays the British embarrassment with anything exposed). This general aesthetic of nakedness could be seen as cold logic, but the diversion of resources to where they need to be used and appreciated more is definitely an example of warm logic. newworld\brave.

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3 thoughts on “Cold Logic vs. Warm Logic

  1. Jonathan Strauss

    Curtis, I hope you are not trying to build up the ratings. I see your interviews are also podcasts. Very useful. I hope to catch one soon.
    Your interview seems like it fits in the jigsaw of my world.
    Jonathan

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