Category Archives: Things Architects Do

repeating patterns in the behaviour and career paths of architects

Clarity & Consistency in Architecture

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary, I re-read Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.


First published in 1966, and since translated into 16 languages, this remarkable book has become an essential document of architectural literature. A “gentle manifesto for a nonstraightforward architecture” [.]

But what exactly is an essential document of architectural literature? Is it something that still has something to teach us, or merely something that is famous for having been famous once? If so, when did it become irrelevant? Did anyone ever refute it? Is it beyond criticism? In short, was it a good way for things to go?

In 1977 in a note to the second edition, Venturi himself answers some of these questions by saying he wished the title had been Complexity and Contradiction in Architectural Form. He also suggested “the book might be read today [1977] for its general theories about architectural form but also as a particular document of its time, more historical than topical” but YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS! All books are destined to become particular documents of their time and the same goes for their contents. However, it is possible to read (or even mis-read or mis-understand) something historic and discover something new and of relevance. I hope that will be the case but I don’t warm to the opening sentence.

“I like complexity and contradiction in architecture.”

Everyone has the right to an opinion but, more importantly, when attempting any kind of intellectual exploration into architectural aesthetics, trying to first make some sense out of what one likes is a reasonable and obvious place to begin. Three paragraphs in however we begin get a clearer view of where this is going.

“Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture. 

Is MoMA on some sort of mission to publish books reducing architecture to questions of visuals every thirty-five years? If so, we’re well overdue for another. One thing the Post-Modern era taught us was to beware the quotation mark.

I like elements which are hybrid other than “pure,” compromising rather than “clean,” distorted rather than “straightforward,” ambiguous rather than “articulated,” perverse rather than impersonal, boring as well as “interesting,” conventional rather than “designed,” accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than “simple,” vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear.

We now know hybrid turned out to be “hybrid,” compromising to be “compromising;” distorted, “distorted;” ambiguous, “ambiguous;” perverse, “perverse;” boring, “boring;” conventional, “conventional;” and redundant, “redundant.”


Here’s a column with some “redundant” structural capacity.

Complexity and contradiction turned out to be “complexity” and “contradiction” as contrived and predictable as the “simplicity” and “straightforwardness” they set out to replace.

Just as Modernism had done fifty years earlier, Venturi was proposing a “new” way to continue the churn of style replacement that stands for progress in architecture. For that, he and his book were rewarded with everlasting fame. What Venturi offered was the easiest option available at the time. Googie was a growing force but it was insufficiently pretentious – it was popular instead of “popular.”

[c.f. Architecture Misfit #16: Douglas Haskell

As early as 1937 Haskell had published pieces such as “Architecture on Routes US 40 and 66” and suggested that designers could learn “in the country of the automobile,” by studying places that “are growing with the people themselves”. 

1937–: Haskell observed the architecture of popular culture
1952: Haskell identified Googie architecture
1958: Haskell claimed Times Square was all right
1966: Robert Venturi claimed in C&C “Main Street is almost all right”
1972: RV (now with Denise Scott-Brown) claimed things could be learned from Las Vegas.

Around the same time, dissatisfaction with the status quo was about to produce experiments into temporary and biomorphic architecture at SCI-ARC. [c.f: Career Case Study #3: Glen Howard Small]

Inflatable architecture was a reaction against the rigid lines of what Modernism had become but it was attractive to all the wrong people.

And some of it was just weird. This is the 1967 Dyodon experimental pneumatic house by Jean-Paul Jungmann. I think I remember this building from UK House & Garden report on the 1969 The House of Today competition. If I remember rightly, Richard Rogers came third with the Zip-Up House he’s been showing us ever since.


Over in Japan, the Metabolists were doing their thing but they were big on ideas but short on buildability. Plus, they were East not West.

UK’s Archigram always seemed to promise more fun than they were capable of delivering.

America simply wasn’t interested in Brutalism, or in houses built from concrete. [c.f. The House That Came to Nothing]

Over in Venice in 1953, Ignazio Gardella had designed Casa alle Zattere, a studiously polite house contemporary commentators such as Reyner Banham were at a loss to explain as it was neither Modernist nor Historicist.


Significant mid-sixties buildings didn’t propose the future Venturi was seeing in the past.


What was needed was something cheap and cheerful, didn’t threaten the 2×4 industry, was achieveable rather than visionary, and carried some authority. It all sounded like a job for … HISTORY! – or at least trickery with arches, columns and cornices.

“Like all original architects, Venturi makes us see the past anew.”

Vincent Scully didn’t backtrack in the 1977 update to his original introduction. It’s all good stuff and I agree wholeheartedly – until the bit highlighted.

The book itself is organised into chapters with the following titles.

  1. Nonstraightforward Architecture: A Gentle Manifesto
  2. Contradiction and Contradiction vs. Simplifiction or Picturesqueness
  3. Ambiguity
  4. Contradictory Levels: The Phenomenon of Both-And in Architecture
  5. Contradicatory Levels Continued: The Double-Functioning Element
  6. Accomodation and the Limitations of Order: The Conventional Element
  7. Contradiction Adapted
  8. Contradiction Juxtaposed
  9. The Inside and the Outside
  10. The Obligation Towards the Difficult Whole

Ambiguity deals with questions such as those posed by Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye.  “Is it a square plan or not?” Venturi asks to anyone who cares and, in 1966, many people probably still did.


Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier are mentioned with the reverence accorded the recently deceased. Alvar Aalto and Louis Kahn were the new greatest living architects used to represent opposite architectural positions now both closer to the middle. Venturi occasionally used Le Corbusier’s projects to illustrate what wasn’t good, but mostly to illustrate what was. Villa Savoye alone is capable of supporting or contradicting most thoughts about architecture but, as ever, its prime function when referenced in architectural discourse is to show one is talking about Architecture.

  • In Chapter 4 (p23) on Contradictictory Levels, Villa Savoye is mentioned as being simple outside yet complex inside, as if it’s the first building that ever was.
  • In Chapter 6 (p41) on The Conventional Element, “the Villa Savoye accomodates the exceptional circumstantial inconsistencies within an otherwise rigid dominant order.”
  • In Chapter 7 (p52) on Contradiction Adapted, “the exceptional diagonal of the ramp is clearly expedient in serction and elevation and allows Le Corbusier to create a strong opposition to the regular order of column bays and envelope.”

The desire to use dubiously revered examples to justify mundane statements is a major fault of this book. In Chapter 5 (p34) on Contradictory Levels Continued, Le Corbusier’s “Algerian project” gets a mention for “contradictorily” combining an apartment house and a highway.

Venturi praises the P.S.F.S. building for the functional honesty of its various volumetric articulations despite part of the office space being given an expression befitting the hidden elevator shafts. He also gets excited about the sign on top.

The fact it can’t be seen from the street is a plus because it’s a bit like van Brugh’s Cloth House in Bruges which, apparently, relates to the entire town from afar (as big things tend to do) but has a violent change of scale with the lower levels that relate to the square. [What does “relate to” mean, anyway? It seems to be being used as shorthand for “a size appropriate to …” – or are we talking about scale?] Going by this photograph, I’d say it’s not just the lower bit that’s “relating to” the square.

cloth house.jpeg

I wondered how far was afar? This next image is from 250 metres away, although the houses wouldn’t have been there in 1280 when the original building and tower were built. The octagonal upper part of the tower was added in 1486. There was also once a spire destroyed in 1493 and in 1741 for good. The points Venturi makes still stand, but it’s wrong to imply this building is the result of a single mind at work. Extensions to buildings are contradictory by nature.

coth hall bruges.jpg

The sheer number of heavyweight examples over the following fifty pages either bludgeon one into submission or compel one to resist. I formed the impression anything can be used to mean anything. Let me illustrate using what’s on my table at the moment.


  • The binoculars have a shape that is directional but they point downwards, intruigingly.
  • The surface of the table is there but not there at the same time!
  • A laptop is not atop a lap. Why?
  • There is a plant in a pot – or is it a pot with a plant in it? Such tension!

Now let’s try to make some sense out of it.

  1. When we look at the binoculars and laptop and make those observations, we do so with a knowledge of what those objects are. A person who didn’t know what binoculars were or what they did would see no complexity or contradiction. As a theoretical construct, an architecture of complexity or contradiction is never going to be inclusive. The smug elitism of Post-Modern architecture derives from this. [Remember that highlighted bit in Scully’s notes to the second edition?]
  2. Moreover, when we look at the plant and the pot we assume we’re not looking at some work of art demanding we question the nature or validity of its existence. The potplant is no Duchamp nor even a Koons. A theory of complexity and contradiction only works if things are posited as complex or contradictory, i.e. as art. The pretentiousness of Post-Modern architecture derives from this.
  3. Finally, when we look at the table we are seeing or, more importantly, choosing to see more than one aspect of its existence at the same time. I may appreciate its shiny reflectivity but may not when it’s reflecting glare back at me and, even then, I may still appreciate it stopping things falling to the floor when I let go of them. Venturi recognizes the value of pluralism not just between different observers but even for the same observer at different places or times. He repeats Paul Rudolph’s observation that Mies van der Rohe’s buildings are great only because Mies chose to solve only the few problems he felt required solving. What Venturi is proposing is worse in that there are now infinite variables to set up any problem one wishes to show one has solved. The moveable feast that was Post-Modern architecture derives from this.

Overall, I found it bizarre that Venturi could look at innumerable historic and not-so-historic examples of architecture and make what is a wealth of obaervations yet never mention the very same things in unpretentious buildings not considered architecture. The only worth he sees in the circumstantial is in its capacity to produce an intentional effect. This may be intentional, or it may just be how architects looked at things half a century ago. If the latter, it needs putting right. 


This lighthouse is not a tower in order to appear more imposing when seen from afar but to ensure its beam of light is visible farther out to sea. Yet, [“intruigingly, bizarrely”] it also has small windows to light the stairs so a person can access the beacon room. There’s no contradiction of the type Venturi sees in Lutyen’s unrealized project for Liverpool Cathedral, for example. 

We shouldn’t be amazed to be told people are smaller than buildings. Ah, but it’s still a difference of city scale and human scale you may say. Indeed, but even the glassiest of curtain walls has those same two differences of scale.

glass curtain wall

Sadly, my own counter-investigation into the Baroque period isn’t as thorough as Venturi’s. I have only one example to show. Earlier, I mentioned Ignzaio Gardella’s 1953 Casa alle Zattere in Venice.

Casa alle Zattere.jpg

This 1703 etching shows two buildings on what was to be its site. Their facades aren’t in the same plane as there is a 5° bend where the two sites meet.

Le fabriche, e vedute di Venetia

Sometime not long after 1703, the two sites were combined and the buildings remodelled to create a single building with a symmetrical tripartite facade as was fashionable at the time.

Ceriani 1992-p158-1

A continuous facade was created but the angle remained. The former party wall was extended upwards to make it easier to construct the roof. Venturi would draw our attention to how the continuity of the facade is contradicted by its non-planarity and also by the discontinuity of the roof. However, this building is not trying to be complex or contradictory.  The problem of producing a tripartite facade has been solved. The problem of roofing the building has also been solved. The rooftop altana works against the facade symmetry that’s been set up. A drainpipe draws attention to the very angle the symmetry seeks to downplay.

Speaking of drainpipes, an other example of mine is this building you’ll recognize from Misfits’ Guide to Venice as the Palazzo Fondazione Masieri, the interior of which was remodelled by Carlo Scarpa.


[You might also recognise this paragraph.] The position of the drainpipe highlights the symmetrical part of the facade, suggesting we disregard the additional bit on the right, but where else could it go? The midpoint of the gutter is the most practical but least-wanted place as it would not only split the building in two but discharge over the entrance. Placing the drainpipe at the end of the gutter would gutter creates practical problems of gutter slope. Three shorter gutters avoiding the chimneys would each require a drainpipe. This minor functional element is doing something of crucial visual importance for Venturi but I doubt whoever put it there gave its placement a second thought.

In both these examples I see not complexity and contradiction but a clear and consistent approach towards the solving of real problems. In both examples, the simplest and easiest way has been chosen and the result is far richer than seemingly contradictory problems selected and studio-farmed for the expressive potential of their “resolutions.”

• • •

Venturi was of the opinion that complexity and contradiction made for buildings that weren’t boring. This single personal preference of one person implied buildings had a duty to entertain and this is how “delight” has been interpreted ever since. Post Modernism was ultimately discarded for its inability to delight outside of its host culture. It was unsuited to the burgeoning global market for trophy architecture by rich rulers and property developers in non-Western countries. Something meaning less to more people was what was required and Deconstruction stepped up to the plate. 

Nevertherless, Robert Venturi and Post-Modernism have a place in the history of architecture’s meta-aesthetics for reducing architecture to a style toolkit once again and kicking the architecture can a bit further down the road. 

What I can’t abide is Venturi representing the inherent honesty and beauty of ordinary buildings to enable an architecture not remembered for either its honesty or beauty. Ordinary buildings were the losers as nobody gave them another look. Job done.



blagoustroistvo (literal: well-establishment) – site enhancement, including grading, road construction, building of communication, sewage, water, energy infrastructure and measures to clean and repair a territory, control air pollution, protect water bodies and soil, conducted to make a given territory habitable and adequate for the decided use, to create healthy and comfortable conditions for the population. (Technical Translator’s Handbook)

synonmys: order, decorum, propriety, comeliness

Blagoustroistvo is an amusing sequence of letters and an endemic architectural design notion used in any place where Russian is spoken. It is an umbrella tag. Blagoustroistvo covers a broad set of design and construction work done to improve quality and habitability of a building site.

Buildings had always had patches of land between them, some walkways, and maybe paved spots. This makes blagoustroistvo’s emergence harder to track. After all, it’s a notion we can adjust to work in different eras. How it was born is a secret to me.

The 1900s-1910s stand out, with larger buildings built in Moscow and Petersburg maybe having some gardening in the yard, designed by the architect. Smaller buildings lived without these. There was no split yet, and urban environment was formed locally as a pre-machine vernacular. Scope of design projects never exceeded property lots and public-private divide was quite pronounced, but not in a “mine/not-mine” drastic split.

1920s saw the calamities of revolution, civil war, military communism and attempts at restoring order in civil life back into a stable state. 1920s gave us kommunalka — the original co-living where families of apartment owners were forced by police into a single room and every other room housed a family. The unrest in housing has left a permanent and documented mark in the national identity. All building activity sourced austere material to heal it even a little. Architects turned to industrial construction techniques to deliver residential buildings tailored for a gradual resolution of indoor overpopulation. That wasn’t  the time for gardening not agricultural.


1930s were when “socialist realism” in gypsum decorum brought comely façades to the now established socialist state, and the people were abandoned to fend for themselves in barracks, pits and labour camps. This is the time blagoustroistvo matured into a means to deliver the “complex experience that is architecture to the land of the proletariat”. Its means were unsurprisingly conservative – symmetrical compositions of lawns adorned with vases and gypsum sculpture. Socialist paradise turned out to be poor man’s Versailles.

It’s still with us but remained the status quo until the utilitarian shift under Khruschev. Industrial construction finally was set out for, and patches of new towns emerged over or next to settlements. Blagoustroistvo became “land development”. The only focus of this retroactive urbanisation was laying road networks and providing basic walkways where there used to be grass. It was the blagoustroistvo for the 21st century. The sheer amount of land-development eliminated any ideas of alternative approaches. People became used to abandoned greens inbetween their 5-story slabs. Gardening became inconceivable.


My hunch is today’s blagoustroistvo was born out of massive residential construction in the 1960s where newly built towns in previous greenfield were just dropped onto wilderness which is not the most useful space to have between your buildings.

Stitched Panorama

Some discipline had to engage in the process of making baseline useable space out of voids in arrays of repeated dwellings. The description in the header has a strong utilitarian tone, and it sounds very mid-century. The intensity of required site improvement helped blagoustroistvo to become a dedicated aspect and notion. Soon it sunk in and no one could imagine living without it. All activity of this type is now done by developers providing the same dreary drieways and playgrounds.

But it was about 2010 that blagoustroistvo began to be seen less as an utility land treatment, but as another face of a property project that boosts quality of its appeal and serves as a marketing vehicle. Architecture adapted quickly, and soon specialized blagoustroistvo bureaus emerged within the scene. Bureaus-of-all-trades joined the feast too, as is the following case. This is part of an interview (in Russian) with Sergei Trukhanov of T+T Architects.

To this date, one of the largest of your projects is blagoustroistvo for “Savelovsky City” residential complex. What stage is it now?

We have been working with this object for several years. Made an accomplishment of the first stage of construction, designed the interiors of the entrance groups of office buildings – both are already implemented. Now the project of an accomplishment of the second stage is ready. The territory is not easy: you need to place a lot of functions, and the area itself is not only small, but also fragmented, spaced apart from each other.


Therefore, it was very important for us to tie all the logistics into one whole, so as not to violate the logic of the territory. We built a promenade boulevard, which runs along a detached parking lot and connects 2 construction stages. Stringing on it all possible functional zones and points of interest, this solution additionally visually breaks the long promenade, makes it more comfortable to perceive.


Also, we have specially installed the island’s retaining walls with landscaping from the multi-storey parking lot, to visually isolate it from it, to create a landscaped array at eye level. 


We paid attention to what the future residents will see from different points. So, for example, we thought about residents of a tower where 6 lower floors face a car parking building. We discussed this issue with developer and decided to put neon signs with quotes of great jazz musicians onto the car park.

Their sufficient portfolio is basic.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, accumulated wealth created demand for quality public space for demonstrative consumption. The firm Wowhaus are the new masters. They reconstructed sheds at Isle Balchug where Strelka Institute is now. The construction story focussed on how they worked with a media tycoon and decided to “promote education for people” thus “europeanizing moscow”, leaving an aftertaste of a thick neoliberal ideology lurking.


“Best New Place” Arch Bienalle 2010

Years 2011-2012 saw an unrest in the streets of Moscow, and blagoustroistvo was a part of taming strategy, augmenting scary police storms with sweet lawns and wooden sheds to drink ridiculously priced cocktails at and look picturesque. Haussmann’s method of crowd-control was straight avenues fit for raking fire.


Soon after Strelka was completed, a little up the Moscow River Wowhaus redesigned the Crimean Embankment (Крымская набережная) for Moscow public with mostly the same civil agenda. It’s a schizoid trait to resist being systematized into boxes or “models” which may reproduce you but, in 2015–16, I was in any of those parks and pergolas watching theatrical cinema trying to not fall into those intricate marketing mechanisms. Then, out of boredom, I buy a beer and join the show. 


Then there are the faces. This is a fragment of Wowhaus’ roster of people. 

wohaus people.jpg

The reassuring man in the check shirt is a spreadsheet specialist. The lady third in the top row is a 30 year old executive director from outside the profession. The founders to the left are mature and established people from the state television designer circuit. They started the firm not out of a need, but as a pet project. The bureau’s public debut was at Strelka, but its founders established themselves in Moscow’s artistic elite decades ago. It’s not a surprise they were commissioned for a Channel One television studio pavilion in Gorky Park, fronting the Moscow river.


What we ended up with is stage designers from a state TV outlet utilizing their skills to build stage settings where our cities were.

The fact we find these stages lovelier than what they replaced is even more disturbing.



The Things Architects Do #12: Pull Out All Stops

“Pull out all stops” is one of those many curious English-language idioms that seem to exist to torment learners despite hardly anyone ever using them. This one is derived from an organist pulling out all stops on a church organ in order to deliver the full force of its sound. The stops are those knobs on the left and right of the keyboards of this organ at the 1876 First Reformed Episcopal Church at 551 Madison Ave, New York.


In passing, this is the 4/380 Möller Church Pipe Organ installed in 1911 at the Cadet Chapel at West Point Military Academy. It’s a beast. It’s easy to imagine a terrifying fury shaking one to the heart of one’s very soul. Or whatever.

In practical usage, pulling out all stops means doing everything one can possibly do and that’s what Zaha Hadid Architects were doing on August 25 when they uploaded to YouTube a video explaining the logic underpinning their revised design for the New National Stadium in Tokyo and why they should continue with the project. It’s a fascinating video document. We get to learn about all the bits ZHA have gotten into the habit of never mentioning when they present their projects.

It’s neither unkind nor unfair to say that the general public’s perception of ZH is that she plays by her own rules, ignoring the science bits and the money bits in the name of higher art.

This carefully cultivated image has come back to bite and so ZHA the ruthless commercial architecture firm has had to come forward and justify its proposal in terms of everything architects less stellar hold dear. Sunlight. Illumination. Crowd control. Climate control. Structure. Sight lines. Visual impact. Versatility. Reusability. Sustainability. Project management. Delivery.

ZHA might’ve had an easier ride in Tokyo if they had cultivated a history of directly and clearly communicating the logic underlying all their other projects.

• • •

Let’s go through that again and see what humble skills ZHA have been forced to admit possessing and using. We need to remember the video appears to be addressed to some unspoken powers that be in Japan, but the real audience is English speakers with some capacity as opinion formers. These may or may not be the same people but, for the purposes of media management, it’s you and me. We need to accept that uploading a video to YouTube is now a primary means of architectural communication. And we need to question why this video was made for us. We are complicit.


To hammer home the same point, Japanese is not the primary language of this video because (and without getting all autopoietic about it) Japanese is not the primary language of the audience these architectural communications are directed at. We don’t get to see things like this very often but I hope it’s the beginning of a new honesty in architectural presentations. It’s still baby steps for ZHA and we must forgive the odd lapse like the succession of highly contrived money shots six seconds in.

cherry blossoms.jpg


Old habits die hard. In the second viz see how the lens flare indicates the batter’s circle and tells our eye where to start? Our eye goes directly up to the pitcher’s mound highlit by shadows from a different sun prior to the more tumescent building beyond. Once there, infernal but obliging birds and backlit cloud continue the sweep of the roof into the landscape. After that, a short drop down to first base and that diagonal line back to the beginning. It’s a satisfying picture. A baseball could conceivably travel that very path.

Did you notice the cherry blossoms recycled from the first image? I don’t think the sun in Tokyo during cherry blossom season sun sets due north but what am sure of is that those cherry blossoms will cut no ice with the Japanese. Only the most uncultured and insensitive glorify the vulgar and showy display of full-bloom. We’ve been here before.

But who cares? Themoney shots fade to Dame Zaha saying a few words about the importance of the project won in an international competition after two years of hard work by their team. The choice of location/set is intriguing. The visual message of “I’m doing fine without you” is at odds with the act of saying it.


I’m less sure why their team has to be introduced as “credible” [it means even less in Japanese] unless it’s to slight their competitors.


Other than this, we hear no more of Dame Zaha. It was a good call to not have her say too much or Patrik Schumacher say anything. The remainder of the video is delivered in English by what sounds like a robot. Robot says things like:

“ZHA have experience working with clients to deliver projects on time and within budget.”


Media spin: Much is made of ZHA’s experience with stadium design and with the 2012 London Aquatic Centre. Its undersizing is presented as a triumph of legacy planning.

“The project was successfully redesigned to achieve a revised budget.”
“The project has since become very popular and well used by the public.” 

well used.jpg

ARUP’s stadium experience, however, is vast, as is Nikken Sekkei’s. You probably couldn’t ask for a better concentration of engineering and construction expertise.


There is no mention Qatar or the 2022 World Cup. We don’t have time to dwell on it because of this next bomshell.

ZHA can generate PoMo meaning stuff if they have to!  


“The site is the site of the  Tokyo 1964 Olympic Stadium and is an appropriate place to build a building that aspires to exceed mere function and become a symbol of Japan’s renewal and long-term optimism for the future.”

The only purpose of a sentence such as this is to mean whatever people want it to mean. Other sentences prime viewers to appreciate the images they accompany.

“The basic components of stadium design are extrapolated to connect the stadium to its specific context of Gai-En, and beyond to Japanese culture as an expressive but efficient design.” 


“The design is derived from the articulation of structure and circulation, where structure is required to provide roof cover over long spans without columns and a lot of circulation is required to safely move 80,000 people in and out of the stadium.”

design 2.jpg

The second part of this sentence couldn’t be said more clearly. Its suspicious surfeit of illumination is obviously meant to blind us to the iffy first part. It begins to get messy.

Proposed for practical reasons, the primary structure of two keel arches, have a similar intent in silhouette and symbolism to traditional Japanese landscape bridges,

so that the new stadium is based on a key motif from traditional Japanese landscape design

and an appropriate addition to the sports landscape of the Gai-En area.”

keel arches.jpg

Who’d have imagined ZHA would one day be making popularistic associations of location and culture to whip up support?  It gets worse.

“With cross ties, Nature is further embodied in the design where the expressed structure creates a distinctive flower petal geometry so familiar in Nature and to the Japanese public who have a close affinity to Nature and the passing of the seasons.” :o<<

cross ties.jpg

You get a real sense for the mighty having fallen when it comes to this next. This is as low as it gets.


We have this flower petal geometry to thank for the elevated walkway that is an “extension of the Gai-En pedestrian area and allowing extended walks and elevated views over Tokyo.


“All of these public walkways are lined with Japanese timber, giving a tactile familiarity to the stadium which ties it back to the fundamental material of the Japanese environment and experience.”


“The majority of the facade is broken down by the petal geometry and clad in Japanese timber louvres so that the overall effect at pedestrian level is a subtle interplay of Japanese timber cladding giving the experience to the visitor of a direct resonance to the tree-lined landscape of Gai-En, and Japanese culture. 


“The majority of roof structure is provided by catenary beams which resonate the innovation by Kenzo Tange with its catenary beams for the Yoyogi National Gymnasium.”

I’ve got a strong stomach, but this is sacrilege. Even the grammar of that sentence is fighting against the meaning it’s being asked to convey.


“We aspired to make the new stadium connect visually and symbolically with this Japanese icon of optimism so that Tokyo 2020 leaves Tokyo with a stadium as well conceived and as beautiful as this stadium from Tokyo 1964.”


“The roof covered in transparent lightweight fabric will allow daylight in allowing good turf growth whilst allowing spectators to experience the pleasure of daylight as they watch the events.

“At night, the roof will glow and take on the appearance of a Japanese lantern.

“Together, the arches, catenary beams and lightweight fabric combine to create an overall effect that represents the traditional craft and modernist innovation of Japan.”

So much for the design, or at least the bits people react to. That’s the most uncomfortable part of the video over, but also its most illuminating part. ZH/ZHA aren’t used to justifying their proposals but facile cultural associations are just that. The only excuse for making them seems to be that, on some level, they’ve come to be seen as sufficient.

❀ ❀ ❀ 

Time schedule comparison: The video moves on to say “starting the design from scratch is an unnecessary risk that we think the government should reconsider if its aim is to achieve a lower price than ¥250 billion.”  


The solution is to “introduce more competition between the contractors yet not lose the benefits of the design.” It’s true that “the basic requirements of seating capacity and support facilities will remain the same.”  This is what a stadium is. They’re the important bits people pay money for.


We’re told the current design is based on the brief the client has been asking for all this time. If there was ever any doubt, this is proof this video was not made for Japanese. “We gave you what you asked for!” is not something clients enjoy hearing or, for that matter, architects say.


The basic conflict is one between Olympic face-saving and legacy cashflow. Athletics would win because it’s the IOC that sells the television rights worldwide. It’s a rock and a hard place for the Japanese government although, on an ethical note, I don’t see why anyone should care if the IOC can sell rights to suitably illuminated HDTV content worldwide in 2020? Justifying a building in terms of IOC’s potential for profits vs. FIFA’s potential for profits is not a strong argument, let’s face it.


The economic case: At 9:07 you will hear the word “sustainable” which is a first for ZHA. To be fair to their reputation, they use the word in its lesser sense of financial sustainability but THE WORD HAS BEEN USED. From now on we can say that ZHA care about sustainability* (*suitably redefined). What follows is a lesson in the basics of stadium design. We learn that size, cost and sustainability are all linked, and that a stadium unable to shrink for football will compromise financial sustainability. I know I know. Let’s let them first get used to using the word.


We learn that lighting for HDTV “requires” lighting racks 50m above ground but I imagine this is something the IOC demands. Graphic comparisons with Beijing and London are useful and informative but ultimately show there’s more than one way to solve the same problem.


As for the roof, we learn that “the Tokyo summer is hot and humid and that the roof should provide as much solar protection as possible to make the spectators comfortable.”


The serious point is that if one is going to have a roof then it should work for both football and athletics.

And, just in case the government was thinking about shifting the facilities outside like HOK Sport did for London’s Olympic stadium, a plausible economic argument involving travel distances is made against doing so.

“The current design, is designed on this basis, and it should be sustainable not only in terms of usage but in terms of revenue generation.”


The remainder of the video thrashes out options for temporary seating and reasons for not doing it although this too is not ruled out as an option. Again, it all makes sense despite perhaps overestimating the success of the temporary seating at the London Aquatics Centre. My default stance is always to not believe any publicity emanating from this practice, but I was convinced of the rationality of the design of the bowl, seating and facilities. I also appreciated the helpful comparisons.



Environmental impact card + Revenue card: Caught up in this lovefest, I was sustainably surprised to be told the swooshy silhouette is not some design whimsy but the direct result of trying to maximize the number of seats that can be sold at a premium. A maximum height of 44 meters and an apparent low of 24 metres at the ends is a fortuitous side effect .


On the dark side, it also seems to be an opportunity to poison the ground for fellow Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito and his proposal that looks like a breath of fresh air – albeit it not in a good way.


Around the 17:00 mark of the video we start to bring it all together and wrap it up. The structural concept for the roof is now presented as having been chosen so its construction can proceed in parallel with that of the seating bowl, thus saving time. I have a lot of respect for whoever thought of finding and presenting the time and cost advantages of the structural design. It’s something useful we can appreciate. Imagine. We almost never would have known.


Just when you think it’s not possible to move any further away from “I like curves” as necessary and sufficient design justification, the construction efficiency and cost of the keel arch design is compared to other designs employing the same principle. It’s convincing. Less convincing is their explanation of those costs but again, this is meant to convince us, not the Japanese government. I’ll follow the traffic signal conventions to indicate how much of this next I’d accept on trust.

“The determining factor in the price is the market and the demand for materials and labour. The design is not the determining factor in these circumstances. Rather, the design should be seen as the only way to achieve value for money in the market. Without a designer’s contractual commitment as regards time and cost, there would be considerable risk of achieving value and the return on investment. Giving the design responsibility to the contractors means that there is no real definition of value or quality except for a price and a time schedule. A new concept design submitted with a price cannot be trusted after [only] five months of design work. It takes much more time to determine a new design with complete price certainty and by the time that certainty is achieved it will be too late. The Japanese public will get less for their money with this approach. So why take the risk? There is a design that will achieve quality, and it can be changed to meet a new budget.” 

There’s a lot of talk about “the design” but do they mean the sensible bits that seem to work well? Or the flower petals? The first part of this final salvo makes us think they mean the fundamental configuration but the final sentence lets us think they mean DA ROOF

Just before the video ends is some extended criticism of the London stadium. It’s overly long but, to be fair, probably justified. Despite this barrage of negativity, the concluding summary is good and I almost found myself feeling sorry for ZHA. All in all, the video makes some very good points that have been obscured until now.

Specific suggestions for cost reductions include ditching the Skything and the air conditioning [!] for the seating area. It’s hinted that even the roof can be redesigned. Suddenly it’s only a roof after all and it’s the other stuff that’s important. I can’t help feeling this is all a bit late. The most beneficial legacy this project can have on future architectural projects is more honesty about the things that really matter. Truly, we never stopped believing they were the things that really determined a design.


I don’t know who I’m being called upon to tweet my indignation to or solidarity with. Despite whatever positive things I’ve said about this project and the intermittent outbursts of honesty in the video, the real function of this video is to alter how this project will be thought about in the future. Regardless of the actual outcome of the project, this video is intended to remain in our view histories forever proclaiming what will come to be presented as some sort of moral victory.


My fascination with this whole story centres around the valid point that “the design” – if we’re talking about the roof – “should be changed now to get certainty on costs.” This is another sensible suggestion. It also means ZHA are willing to go through another roof redesign in order to keep this job going. Already it’s gone from this


to this.


It might not yet be over. Personally, I hope ZHA does get to continue the project. They themselves have admitted that all that you see in this next image was the brief.


What ZHA have stopped short of admitting is that these bits are “the design” that shouldn’t be changed, and not the flower petal bits. This is disingenuous for they well know which bits can be easily disposed with and redesigned in a flash. Nothing to do with the Skytrail is necessary. With the roof, the main support trusses are essential. The cross bracing is too, but not because it looks like a flower. Whether it needs to have the hell formed out of it like a foam bicycle helmet is for contractors to decide, but now seems to be a good time to explore methods of cross bracing less architecturally expressive of costing a fortune.

For many people, very little of what they once liked about this project will remain. It will all have been disposable. It was all unnecessary to begin with. 

I sincerely hope the result shows to the world in HDTV that the best possible stadium comes from 1) getting the important bits right and 2) less architecture obscuring them.

The Things Architects Do #9: The Dating Game

There’s a lot of lonely architects out there, beginning and ending their days alone. Nobody knows they exist. They look at their weekly calendars and see complete elevations of windows for lunches unlunched, meetings unmeetinged. They never set their mobile phones to silent.

Many businesses have sprung up to help solve this problem and team up lonely architects with their fantasy clients.


As with any dating site, the only ones who make any money out of it are those that run them.


Lonely architects upload photos of how they want to be seen, and hope someone will fancy them. Comments are invited. Typical comments are “Beautiful!” or occasionally, “Ugly!” ArchDaily users have to filter so they can head straight for Houses if that’s their thing or to Public Buildings if they’re into that. If looks aren’t that important, they can head straight to Articles where they might meet someone equally desperate to have those long conversations.

 • • •

There’s many traps for clients in this dating business. Despite wanting their love, some architects are only in it for the short term. Some are only in it for the money.


For some, it’s all about being in control.


Equally, there are also traps for architects. Some clients just want to be seen with a piece of architect candy.


Sometimes both sides simply can’t admit they need each other.


• • •

Speaking of neediness, this past week, DEZEEN has been harassing me to vote for them so they can win a Webby award. I don’t actually care and can’t help but wonder what their state of mind must be if they feel I ought to.


In passing, Dezeen’s watches are spin-off merchandise. As with chairs, it’s easy to design dubious value into a watch. Watch mechanisms and designers are cheap, watches have a high design to volume ratio, don’t take much space to store, require little packaging, and postage or delivery costs are low. They’re the ideal internet earner.


The trouble with websites is that they attract all the wrong sort of people. You never know who’s looking. What architects are really looking for is somebody like themselves. The competition circuit is the speed dating of the architectural world. Your project gets put in front of real people. Possibly even for a minute.

• • •

Currently in my inbox is an invitation to participate in the INSIDE awards. Pass.


What’s this? BREAKING NEWS!! Reduced-rate early bird rate of US$660 to enter for INSIDE ends this Friday. After that, it’s $698. Better hurry!

earlyl 2

A few days ago was a notification from Architectural Review to make sure to submit my project for their annual house awards.

AR house

Prizes are:

  • The chance to donate £50,000 worth of content
  • The chance to be in an online video
  • The opportunity to have your building analysed in both print and online versions of AR.

• • •

And what’s this now? A quick reminder from WAF before I even get to write about them “Reduced-rate early bird rate of US$660 to enter for INSIDE ends this Friday”.


This next reads like a scam preying on the needy and vulnerable.

Untitled Untitled 2

WAF’s earlybird rate is US$880 went up to US$930 yesterday. Here’s the full price list.

early b ird

These are the people who will want to see how sincere you are. Seriously?

• • •

It’s common knowledge that some of internet’s biggest businesses don’t generate any of their own content. And that the search engines and social media sites cream advertising revenue off user-provided content. I don’t see that much difference here. No architectural website needs 70,000,000 page views per month.

It’s obviously not about architects swapping useful information on how to make buildings better as there’s simply not that much new information OF WORTH that the world of architecture can process, let alone supply, every month.

In some whale and plankton kind of way, these sites and competitions must function as advertising in the traditional sense as architects email each website mention to their entire client base as if it were somehow equivalent to sending signed monographs as indicators of accomplishment. And good luck to them.

• • •

Meanwhile, the pressure to hook up continues without interruption or mercy. New competitions raise new hopes the next one is going to work.

• • •

misfits’ advice for lonely architects

 Happy ending!
the end

The Things Architect Do #11: Cherry Blossoms

And so, as Japan’s 2015 cherry blossom viewing (花見) season draws to a close , it’s time to reflect upon what these flowers have come to mean to us. 

A cherry blossom is the flower of any of several trees of genus Prunus, particularly the Japanese Cherry, Prunus serrulata, which is called sakura after the Japanese (桜; さくら). Currently it is widely distributed, especially in the temperate zone of the Northern Hemisphere such as: Europe, West Siberia, China, Japan, United States, etc. (ref.)

Cherry blossoms are getting to be widely distributed in the virtual world as well. Here’s four renders of W57th Street, courtesy of BIG/Glessner Group. “Yikes – they’ve got the joint surrounded!” 1297114794-w57-image-by-big-10-1000x625 img_glessnerA_06-2 cherry West-57th-Street-by-BIG-ARCHISCENE-net-06 Glessner and BIG have history. Here’s their 2009 VIL School With Cherry Blossom.


That same cherry tree went on to have further adventures in America . seeing double

London also has its fair share of cherry trees, most recently those associated with Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street death-ray generator. bbc-car-2

It’s risky enough on the ground but radioactive cherry blossoms in the Sky Garden up top are a sinister infra-pink.


Eternal spring beats grim realities. We know we’re being cheated, but more on this later. maxresdefault

Here’s some cherry blossoms from a virtual Italy. No vertical forest is complete without a cherry blossom farm.


Render for Bosco Verticale

Just as a side-note, before and during cherry blossom viewing season, Japanese people often make polite conversation about the stage of cherry blossoming they most prefer viewing. It’s taken as an succinct indicator of character type whether one prefers 1) the fresh beauty of barely blossoming and full of promise, 2) the splendrous beauty of promises fulfilled, or 3) the fading memory of promises fulfilled. There’s added kudos for appreciating those sexually charged moments between 1) and 2) or the varying degrees of inevitable pathos between 2 and 3), and yet more kudos for articulating the appreciation of some tertiary stage even more fleeting. But Japanese will be Japanese, aestheticising everything. For us in cherry blossom render land, it’s always full-on.

But cherry blossoms in Arizona – really? This next image has the contrivedly balanced colour palette of a Chinese poster. It may not be accidental.


poster_baby30 copy

This one’s from


You’ll remember this turgid scene from The Third And The Seventh. Or maybe not. roman2

Sensing demand, CGI specialists share their triumphs and notes on how to best render cherry blossom trees. This is Tech Plaza Changsha (claimed to be) “for Austrian architectural company COOP HIMMELB(L)AU in 2013”.


Here’s one from Snøhetta for, it seems, a new kitchen for a French laundry in California.

Snøhetta and friends MIR are responsible for this next. It has a dreamy, surreal whimsy.


Not unlike a Chagall. But overall less gloomy. And with more pink.


Heatherwick (“Best of Class”) Studio isn’t beyond adding what seems to be cherry blossom as the eleventh of Bombay Gin’s famous botanicals although, to be fair, at this distance, it could be an almond tree.


It seems unfair to call this next building a “roadside café” but that’s what inhabitat did. These images are unique in that the cherry blossom trees are real. Imagine that!Mirrors-Cherry-Blossom-Cafe-Bandesign-Japan-2

* * *

On the zero–to-ten scale of EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG IN THE WORLD it’s not that important but have you noticed ArchDaily doesn’t make any distinction between photographs and visualisations? It’s all “photographs” to them. This is not right. The architectural marketplace has been slow to adapt to online selling but is now beginning to fully embrace it like anyone else with product to shift, hoping to convert likes into sales. In ignoring the distinction between reality and image, ArchDaily are going with the flow. In blurring that distinction, they’re really just lowering standards of content and therefore facilitating the flow of imagery from producers to consumers and, in the grand scheme of things, maintaining their advertising revenue.


I don’t know how this advance of the cherry blossom trees is going to end but I have a bad feeling. Like Macbeth had about the forest.

In a last attempt to work out what this all means, I avoid the haiku poets’ poet Bashō, and instead consult poet-for-the-people, Issa Kobayashi (1763-1828). He wrote about 20,000 haiku. Which is quite a lot. Though none are very long.

And what did I learn? Inconclusive conclusions, but I sense a trend. In haiku, cherry blossoms often indicate an ethereal beauty or the transitory nature of existence. Or both. Or something else.

末世末代でもさくらさくら哉 (masse matsudai demo sakura sakura kana)

the world is corrupt, approaching the end of days … but cherry blossoms!

[ how easily we are distracted from what desperately needs putting right ]

米袋空しくなれど桜哉 (kome-bukuro munashiku naredo sakura kana)

I know my rice sack is empty but just look at those cherry blossoms!

[ people stupidly prefer pleasure to nourishment ]

大かたは泥にひつつく桜哉 (ôkata wa doro ni hittsuku sakura kana)

most of them end up trodden over in the mud … those cherry blossoms

[ we choose to not see the bigger picture ]

神風や魔所も和らぐ山ざくら (kamikaze ya madoko mo yawaragu yama-zakura)

their divine wind makes an evil place less evil mountain cherry blossoms

[ renders of shit buildings look better with a few cherry trees ]

The Big Brush

The Big Brush is the practice of treating apartment housing as 20-25 metre wide lines drawn across a site 3D. The 20-25 metres comes from the 10–12 metre maximum depth for a habitable room backed by a non-habitable room plus an extra 2 metres for a double-loaded corridor. Here’s Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Apartments. Detroit, 1956.

Lafayette tower

Here’s SOM’s Lake Meadow. Chicago, 1961. These plans are from that wonderful site, housing

lake-mead-typ-plan_03BThe Big Brush is a winning formula and difficult to improve upon. Here’s an example from Dublin in 2001. Pay no attention to the second entrance lobby on the first floor. The drawing doesn’t appear to have been checked by anyone.


Nevertheless, blocks configured like this can look rather samey


and the corridors can be a bit gloomy.


One solution is to combine short blocks to make A New Shape.


Remember Frank Gehry Beekman Tower?


Here’s a plan of levels 9-22.

“Geez, Frankie, for a supposedly luxury development, those internal corner apartments are f**king nasty!”

Especially M0F and M0G.

“Couldn’t you, with your infinite knowledge, wisdom and benevolence, have combined them into a possibly okay 1-bed apartment?”

From this plan, it’s clear Gehry was just the window dresser. Sure, people can see some sky as they wait for the elevator but the developer knows exactly how much that window is costing. This is another quietly ruthless building. It obviously fulfils some kind of housing need but that aspect of its existence receives no coverage. It’s not the kind of thing an office puts in a press release. It’s innovation is superficial. Window dressing is, sadly, all too accurate.

All that mediacized windy-effect curviness does nothing for the occupants – especially those poor internal corner people. In passing, out of twenty apartments, there is 1 x 2-bed apartment, 12 x 1-bed apartments and 7 x studio apartments. None are any nicer than they need to be. “Architecture” exists in a different dimension, a parallel universe. The reluctance of traditional media outlets to say or publish anything in the form of criticism is deeply disturbing.

To summarise. The Big Brush lets you paint in lines,


around corners,


in curves [one from the personal archive!],


make shapes,



or any random squiggle you like. This next one’s that easily-excited shapeist Oscar Niemeyer’s bootylicious Copan building.

It’s true – there’s no visible advertising in Sao Paulo!

But just look at that unexploited roof space! Whether Pune or New York, we know what to do with that!


Here’s a newish twist! The monetised roof space that is the terraces and balconies, is made to appear as a twisted wall instead of a terraced roof. It’s a brilliant way of disguising a truncated courtyard block. This excellent image is from the website of Allesandro Ronfini.


Here’s a plan. Dits.


It’s actually a bit of an untruth to say all residents have a view of the Hudson River, but this plan is the hardcore application of tried-and-tested property development principles. It’s a predictable shame all the attention will be diverted to the “let-the-roof-be-a-roof” roof.


There’s some more recent pics here.

BIG does have a history of playing down The Big Brush and why not? There’s no need to destroy one’s image as a creative. Developers instinctively understand The Big Brush anyway for anything else is lower return on investment. When Bjarke Ingels says Yes Is More, he’s showing developers he gets it. The real art is is to disguise the strategic commercialism underlying it. This isn’t criticism. As I’ve said, “the history of architecture is full of buildings that got built because the numbers stacked up”. Most of those buildings are famous for the wrong reasons. Let’s check BIG’s back catalogue for The Big Brush! This is the World Village of Women Sports 2009. The above W57 project doesn’t seem such a surprise now.


BIG take The Big Brush to its logical extreme is Yes is More, ever escalating.

If you believe BIG, The Big Brush is the solution to social housing, transportation problems and entertainment voids. As long as buildings have to be built on ground, it can’t get any more extreme. Here’s where MVRDV step up to the plate.

Technically, this isn’t The Big Brush as there’s only one double-loaded corridor at the top where the width finally permits. It’s A Small Brush, in mid-air, extruded.


You can find a full set of plans in the current issue of MARK magazine.

rotterdam market mark

This next photo hints at exciting new property development possibilities once people such as that mother (not to mention the child) think of this as normal. =(

Untitled 2Other rooms on the other side of this double-sided apartment face a conventional outside but here we have a quasi-public space being used to add value. The Big Brush no longer has to have outdoors on both sides. This moves it on a bit from BIG’s so-yesterday perimeter block monetizations premised on two outsides. What we used to know as space-enclosing walls is now money-earning real estate. Respect, MVRDV.

Rather than merely enclosing space, walls have been monetised.  Rather, why not exploit the structure that encloses the space to exploit the property? Brilliant! Why didn’t we think of this before? Why has nobody called it for what it is?

Shopping malls are good candidates for this sort of development. Any atrium could just be extended up a few storeys and the view from it monetised.



Dubai Airport, United Arab Emirates

Hotel lobbies.


Railway stations.


This could be be the final nail in the coffin for Modern Architecture and that schtick about “internal space” as the new subject of architecture. Space was only ever just poor mans’ land anyway not that we weren’t grateful to own a few square metres of it. Now that any large space with a bit of activity can be marketed as a value-adding view, the agenda for architecture this century might be about the monetisation of the enclosing elements themselves.

I have a lot of respect for large global commercial architecture enterprises such BIG and MVRDV. They continue to invent and develop new ways to exploit property space and now, it seems, building elements to secure profits and prestige for their clients and themselves. 


The Real Function of Form

The kickoff for this post was an infovertisement in June’s Architectural Review. Ostensibly, the issue was about criticism but there wasn’t much on show. Elsewhere, Michael Sorkin contributed a very long article criticising criticism. I’m still trying to digest it and when I do I’ll write an article criticising that. If ever it’s proved that architecture is actually a giant system of communications, I hope we also come to realize that most of it is bullshit. For now, I’m finding this article particularly offensive.

style and substanceIt’s the kind of non-information that shows how print people and architects have to collude to shift units of their respective products. 

Evidence? Well, for a start, it’s called an interview but it reads like the interviewer and/or her people have supplied answers to a set of email questions. There’s nothing really wrong with that except they haven’t gone to much trouble to supply answers or information that are in any way interesting. It’s an interview-by-numbers as part of communication-by-numbers. This might be a new trend. By recently describing his De Rotterdam as “a vertical city”, Rem Koolhaas showed he couldn’t be bothered to properly pull the wool over our eyes anymore. Anyway, it’s an ugly transaction. Here. Read it all and have a shower after. Meet you back here.

Much reference is made to Harvard, seminars, students, research and previous publications. Let’s backtrack a bit to the first book, The Function of Ornament.

  • The Function of Ornament is a primer for the digital age, with Foreign Office Architects Farshid Moussavi demonstrating how the computer is as fine a form generator as any pattern book. —Wallpaper Magazine
  • A remarkable array of forms. —Metropolis Magazine
  • Undeniably powerful. — Architect’s Journal

You can go to your library or download a pdf (not that I’m condoning that) and in it you will find the following theory on all of thirteen pages. It’s an end-of-term paper. Here’s all 2,405 words.

The Function Of Ornament

Farshid Moussavi

Architecture needs mechanisms that allow it to become connected to culture. It achieves this by continually capturing the forces that shape society as material to work with. Architecture’s materiality is therefore a composite one, made up of visible as well as invisible forces. Progress in architecture occurs through new concepts by which it becomes connected with this material, and it manifests itself in new aesthetic compositions and affects. It is these new affects that allow us to constantly engage with the city in new ways. 

This is wonderful rubbish, with its A-K-so-therefore-P logic. I couldn’t find a rating on Rate My Professor but there is a Harvard bio. Anyway, two dubious claims follow as well as an apparent grammatical error. She must have gotten some stick for that (for there’s a clarification in Vol. 2: The Function of Form). Basically, she’s using the word “affect” as a noun like Delueze used to. Or was it Spinoza? Let’s remember that English wasn’t their mother tongue either, but it will grate – I promise you. Basically, the function of form is to affect us and the way in which it affects us is an “affect”. Sad thing is, she got reviewers doing it too.

  • A compelling study of affect manifest in clearly presented case studies with savy representations of various architectural techniques. – Documents
  • A thoroughly and beautifully illustrated book that gives a broad overview of the various affects achieved by mostly contemporary buildings. – Archidose]

Just go with it for now. We’re still not done with Vol 1 so best save our strength.]

The aesthetic composition of buildings has been explored in various ways in history.

[What is the point to this sentence? “The sun will come up tomorrow”, but what’s the point saying so?]

In the twentieth century, Modernism used transparency

[It did not for it was never possible to begin with. However, it was always possible to spend a lot of money to attempt to create the appearance of transparency – or “floating”, for that matter.]

to achieve a “direct” representation of architectural elements of space, structure and program. But recent history contributed to making the use of literal transparency obsolete, prompting a discussion on the expression of buildings. Postmodernism used décor, and Deconstructivism used the geometry of collage, as styles in place of transparency

[Did it really?].

But style cannot easily adjust to changes in culture.

[Does anyone know what this might mean, apart from making you think that style perhaps adjusts all too easily? I suppose that if you had a culture of building office buildings or houses quite inexpensively and efficiently then attempts to make inefficient and expensive office buildings or houses would meet with a lot of cultural resistance. There’s also the separate question of should style do any adjusting at all?]


[I always distrust that word.]

a number of conditions require us


to reevaluate these previous tools for constructing building expressions.

[uh – why?]

These include a growing number of building types that are “blank.” Department stores, shopping malls, cineplexes, libraries, and museums do not require any relationship between inside and outside.

[Maybe we like them being blank. Maybe blank is good. Maybe blank needs a theory? Give blank a break.] 

Contemporary technology and the need for sealed and controlled environments necessitate bigger service voids, plant rooms, storage spaces, and server rooms, increasing the size of these buildings. In addition, the architect’s role is becoming increasingly specialized in the design of the outer shell, leaving the interior to other designers. This is particularly true of speculative developments where the tenants are not known at the outset of a project. New environmental regulations designed to achieve greater energy efficiency further contribute to this new condition. Glass alone is unable to provide effective levels of environmental control, and needs to be enhanced through layering or by providing areas of opacity that increase its thermal performance. This alters the use of glass in buildings in such a way that pure transparency cannot produce the building expression. 

[I think she’s obsessed with some image of transparency that never really existed. We argued about the supposed transparency of the Louvre Pyramid back in the day. Fifth Avenue Applestore is fairly transparent but it achieves this THROUGH AN ALMOST TOTAL LACK OF CONTENT. Transparency was a red-herring, an effect impossible to achieve no matter how much money you threw at the building. The Applestore is proving this. Here’s a recent image. Although I say lack of content, the only real content is the Apple logo for us to see and this is of course the point. Mousavvi has no choice but to object to this because it is branding at its purest and it does not involve the skills of an architect. The branding expression depends upon the building, but it isn’t about the building. It’s not going to work for your average department store in Leicester.] 


In all these cases, architects must


in effect give the building an expression that is independent from the interior yet contributes to the urban setting.

[This tells us that Moussavi thinks of urban settings solely in visual terms. The Fifth Ave Applestore is not much to look at maybe but in terms of city it is somewhere new for more people to go.]

The role of architects need no longer involve the entire fabric of buildings.

[err why not?]

It can now address in lesser or greater depth the synergy between the interior and the exterior, from the surface of the envelope through to the entire fabric.

[I don’t really understand this. Is she trying to say that architects don’t have to bother about everything as long as they understand the synergy between the surface and everything? I think we’re going to be hearing more about surface next.]

This radically alters the expression of buildings. Liberated  

[This is wonderful! Remember it. To ignore a problem is to liberate your solution from having to deal with it. It’s an unusual but attractive way of looking at things.]  

from representing the interior, the opportunity is to find tools through which architecture can engage with the urban setting. It is clear that in a multicultural and increasingly cosmo-politan society

[Yes please!]

symbolic communication is harder to enact as it is difficult to gain a consensus on symbols or icons. Representational tools are less coded and unable to produce convergence with culture.

[I thinks some notion of representation is still contained in this new word convergence.]

Ornament as Contingent: Décor and Communication

Communication can be framed historically.


The relationship between the interior and the exterior of buildings range from the poché space of the Romans to the theatrical effects of the Baroque, from Gottfried Semper’s theory of ornament to Adolf Loos’s opposition to it. For Semper, the functional and structural requirements of a building were subordinate to the semiotic and artistic goals of ornament. For Loos, on the other hand, ornamentation was a crime.

[ornament? ornamentation? Am I missing something?]

In his view, ornament was used in traditional societies as a means of differentiation; modern society needed not to emphasize individuality, but on the contrary, to suppress it. Hence for Loos, ornamentation had lost its social function and had become unnecessary. Modernism brought to architecture an obsession with transparency.

[It’s kind of interesting how Modernism or some contemporary perception – or some impression of what a contemporary impression of it is – is still being used as a reference to make all sorts of wild statements as if nothing worth reacting against has happened in the past 100 years.] 

Transparency was meant to make architecture more “sincere,” in sharp contrast with the bourgeois practice of decoration. Architecture was no longer supposed to disguise functions, but to make them visible and to render the city and its buildings immediately readable. Such was the paradigm that dominated architecture and urban design well into the 1960’s.

A critique of this approach was formulated in the decade that followed. In the first instance, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown denounced the Modernist paradigm as cynical and dull, and proposed to replace transparency with décor.

For them, décor helped to integrate buildings within the urban realm and give them meaning in the eyes of the public. Their proposal endorsed a radical break between buildings as function and buildings as representation, accepting as a creative factor the contradiction between space, structure and program on the one hand, and representation on the other. Venturi and Scott Brown argued that architects, intent on generating expression out of the internal orders of buildings, ignored the “ready-made” cultural expressions that would enable architecture to communicate with a wider public.

However, Postmodernism fast became obsolete.

[Why are we reading this? How old are her students? That’s almost 10% of her 2,405 words since the beginning of this section.]

In the absence of a common language or system of understanding, the kind of communication proposed by Postmodernism could not reach the wider public.

[Of course now we know now that it was never meant to.]

Inherited symbols remain dependent on a particular cultural moment or context and cannot survive changing conditions. If architecture is to remain convergent with culture, it needs to build mechanisms by which culture can constantly produce new images and concepts rather than recycle existing ones. 

[I take the phrase “convergent with culture” to mean “to not disappear up its own arse”. So let’s see what she’s proposing.] 


Ornament as Necessary: Affect and Sensation

Many buildings of the twentieth century continue to effectively relate to culture by creating sensations and affects.

Similar to Sigfried Kracauer’s


suggestion that ornamental mass movements in a stadium “bestow form to a given matter,” these buildings

[the ones that will appear later in the book]

produce affects

[here, there’s absolutly no difference from the approved verb, effects]

that seem to grow directly from matter itself. They build expressions out of an internal order that overcome the need to “communicate” through a common language, the terms of which may no longer be available.

[Objection – conjecture!]

It is paradoxically in this way that building expressions remain resilient in time. 

[Objection – conjecture!] 

This book documents some of these experiments carried out by architects in constructing unique affects. These affects may start with found imagery or iconography as raw cultural material. However they do not remain as pure acts of consumption

[yeah right]

but rather are disassembled and reassembled to produce new sensations that remain open to new forms of experience.

[This dissassembly and reassembly is what occupied all this Harvard brainpower. Here’s what it looks like. Sorry, I was going to show some sample pages of The Function of Ornament but they’ve all been pushed off the internet by sample pages of The Function of Form. Same deal.



This then, is what she had her Harvard students research and draw. She seems a bit touchy about it in the Architectural Review “interview” for she takes the trouble to set the record straight.


Books don’t make themselves, you know! Somebody’s got to put their name to it! I suspect Moussavi must also have gotten some stick for the sheer lightweightness of TFoO (2006) – physically, not just intellectually – because The Function of Form (2009) is pre-Autopoietic in scale with 515 pages and at least 21 pages of writing that isn’t project description. It’s actually 55 more sides of paper than TAoA/Vol.1 (2011). Princeton lad then escalates with 774 pages for TAoA/Vol.2 (2012). To be fair, most of his pages have words on them.]

It is in this way that they are contemporary and committed to progress. Operating through direct sensations, they bypass the need for the codification of language and are able to shift across space and time.They may produce indirect analogies, but their primary purpose is to render the invisible forces in contemporary culture visible.

[”    “]

For example, recent experiments with data, diagrams, and other non-representational methods are effective in exploring an unmediated process to visualize technology as a cultural force.

[So ultimately, it’s all about representation. Making client companies or cities feel good about themselves.]

The cases studied in this book reveal an in-built sense of order, a consistency against which we can test our experience. Against the symbolic interpretation
of culture by Postmodernism, the dynamic nature of culture requires that buildings each time define their own ground and develop an internal consistency.

[What can one say?]

It is precisely through these internal orders that architecture gains an ability to perform relative to culture and to build its own system of evaluation. These orders are therefore not about “pure architectural expression,” removed from culture, of the kind that was dismissed by Postmodernism.

[I’m no fan, but isn’t that what they did?]

They are not about being pure, but about being consistent. They do not aim at being disconnected but, rather, contaminated with culture. Louis Sullivan proposed such a need for consistency and organicity in building expressions. In Sullivan’s buildings, like all the cases documented here, this organicity leads to ornament that grows from the material organization and is inseparable from it.

[We shouldn’t be surprised that Sullivan’s name gets invoked. I’m on Loos’ side.]

Ornament is the figure that emerges from the material substrate, the expression of embedded forces through processes of construction, assembly and growth.
It is through ornament that material transmits affects. Ornament is therefore necessary and inseparable from the object. It is not a mask determined a priori
to create specific meanings (as in Postmodernism), even though it does contribute to contingent or involuntary signification (a characteristic of all forms).

[This is telling. Whereas in Postmodernism, the author was smugly (and supposedly) in control of the meanings evoked, with this new ornament of meaning it’s all supposed to happen AS IF by accident.] 

It has no intention to decorate, and there is in it no hidden meaning.

[It is a popular ornament that is what it is – it’s free of all those ponderous and elitist double meanings but IT’S STILL ARCHITECTS WHO ARE PUTTING THEM THERE.]

At the best of times, ornament becomes an “empty sign” capable of generating an unlimited number of resonances. Whereas décor and representation promoted by Postmodernism correspond to a self-limiting movement from the possible to the real which cannot create anything new, ornament is in line with non-representational thought and the creative actualization of the virtual. Decoration is contingent and produces “communication” and resemblance. Ornament is necessary and produces affects and resonance. 

[I’ve just underlined those bits to come back to them later.]

Drawing Affects

The research in this book aims to show that ornaments [sic!] are intrinsically tied to architectural affects.

[I know, I know ….]

The Seagram headquarters carefully attaches I-beams to its cladding layer to build a vertical affect. The Ricola Laufen factory uses slats of different heights on its exterior cladding to build a weighted affect [sick]. The Prada Tokyo store uses a diagrid with carefully selected concave glass panels to give a quilted affect [ – ] to its exterior. The 30 St. Mary Axe office tower introduces a diagonal ventilation system, a diagrid, and two colors of glass to contribute a spiral affect to the form. None of these specific decisions are crucial to the operation of the building interior, but they are vital to the affects  

[Please excuse me.   :-o<<<] 

they trigger in the urban landscape. Frits, laser-cut sheets, glass tubes, pleated floor plates, perforated screens, complex tilings, and structural patterns are some examples of our contemporary ornaments.

[Probably – they’re cheaper than carving rocks. When are we going to talk about department stores?] 


Our initial phase of researching the cases included here revealed that they have conventionally been documented in two opposing ways. At one end of the spectrum, there are glossy architectural magazines with exquisite photographs, which display the affects created by these buildings without showing why they are produced. On the other hand, there are sophisticated magazines that document the construction of buildings in detail, [see what she did there?] but rarely with any explanation of the motives that led to the specific choice or the resulting affect. The graphic approach to this research [my bold] aims to bridge this gap, discussing the construction of buildings and the production of affects as a seamless continuity, as two realms that are interconnected.

Each case is discussed over four pages on two double spreads. The first double spread is dedicated to the affect, while the second double spread is devoted to the material used to construct these affects. The “section perspective” is used to reveal the relationship between material and affect in each case. We have ascribed [:-o<] examples to three main classifications:

[You can skip the rest – in orange – if you like. It’s not very interesting. Unfortunately it’s the conclusions. I’ve added some images if you decide to go for it.]

The first classification is that of depth. It orders building components from the deepest to the thinnest: Form, Structure, Screen, and Surface. Ornament can relate to depth in a number of ways. It can work with the entire form, with the load-bearing structure, or exploit the sectional depth of the cladding. The Form category includes those buildings where the entire building organization is used to produce the resulting expression. The Structure category includes those cases that use the load-bearing structure. The Screen category includes those cases that operate through layers inserted between the interior and exterior, main- taining some visibility of the interior. The Surface category includes those cases that add an independent layer entirely detached from the building interior.

The second classification is that of material, ordered from the most intrinsic to the interior content, like program, to the most extrinsic, like branding. This reveals that architecture’s materiality includes visible as well as invisible forces. The manipulation of material in response to these forces structures the ornament.

The third classification is that of affect. The interplay between depth (form, structure, screen or surface) and a specific material (such as program, image, or color) produces the ornament (for example complex tilings, perforated screens, or structural patterns) which transmits unique affects in each case.

The research has revealed a number of tendencies:

[for which there are no doubt very obvious reasons we shall not be hearing about. This last bit is sort of interesting, but not on the surface. For me the only interest was wondering why this needed to be said, wondering what the argument was leading up to. It led up to descriptions of buildings followed by illustrations of buildings and the end of the book.]

Factories and retail typologies are mostly found in the Surface depth category. The IBM Training and Manufacturing Center,


Usine Aplix,

large_ap_ext_01_gf_2f208and Ricola Mulhouse


are all factories which, due to the radical disconnection required between interior and exterior, exploit the micro-depth of their surfaces to produce unique affects.

Towers are mostly found in the Form and Structure depth categories. In the same way that Sullivan suggested that towers need intrinsic expressions, Marina City is vertically fluted; the Capsule Hotel is aggregated; 30 St. Mary Axe is spiraling; Johnson Wax is banded; the Seagram headquarters is vertically decorated.

Same material can produce different affects depending on the ornament it creates. The Banque Lambert headquarters and the Beinecke Library, both of them designed by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM in the same period, have a similar “lattice” construction system on the exterior. The Banque Lambert

ing-marnix-(2)prioritizes structure over enclosure, setting back the glass and exposing the cast structural members to produce a directional tapered grid as ornament which emphasizes a latticed affect. Beinecke Library


clads the structural members in granite sheathing and marble panels to construct a translucent box as ornament which contributes to a textured affect. Two different affects are transmitted from two different ornaments that are generated from two different processes.

New systems of production have opened up possibilities for differentiation and customization. These are explored through investigations of patterns in the Structure, Screen and Surface chapters. These create different affects in each case. The Aichi Pavilion


is modular and is based on the geometry of the tile. The John Lewis department store is based on the seamlessness of a pattern at the edges of a simple square patch (very much like Escher patterns). Federation Square is based on a regular 2D geometry that is confused and masked by a series of extrapolations in 3D. The Serpentine Pavilion is based on a regular algorithm that produces an irregular pattern that is then cropped.

Differentiation is a contemporary affect repeatedly explored in many cases through different material. These materials include tiling, color, layering, pixelating an image pattern…

Examples in the four chapters of the book show a progression from historical to contemporary examples: 4 out of 6 cases in Form are pre-1990 (66%); 6 out of 9 in Structure (66%); 4 out of 16 in Screen (25%), and 3 out of 11 in Surface (27%). This reveals the specific emphasis in each period — on formal and structural expressions in Modernism, and on screens (especially) and surfaces in contem- porary examples. The screen category is larger than the others, perhaps because it lies closest to contemporary conditions, where architects are responsible for a smaller depth of the building. The “screen” might be the most contemporary category through which building expressions currently emerge. 

All that was 2,405 words of Harvard sanctioned and published research so it must be true. I started off marking up things I found particularly objectionable but skimmed the last bit. You probably did too.

* * * 

So then, apart from the books, what’s to show for all this research? How has it – as architects are wont to say – “informed the projects”? This was one of the questions but it’s more illustrative to look at the illustrations of the headlining building that accompany the interview.

Of all the problems in the world that someone with some architectural knowledge might research and contribute a more elegant or more efficient or less expensive solution, Moussavi chooses the problem of apartment balconies overlooking each other.

She uses Marina City and Aqua to illustrate the problem and the (her) Montpellier apartments to illustrate the solution.

the problemLooking at the Montpellier image on on the right, the lower left and upper right balconies appear to be shared so her stated advantage of the lack of dividing walls is an untruth.

curved balconies

These captions seems fair enough but, on the 1-10 scale of human misery, overlooking balconies don’t really register. Over the page is the science.


In F it still looks like two balconies are shared. Maybe there’s no dividing wall? After all, if it’s shared, it’s not “overlooking” – it’s just looking.

looking up and downTrue enough. But wait for this.

alternate copy

Here’s some floor plans I found on Dezeen. In these next plans, the dark grey bit is covered by the floor above, and the white bit is covered by the floor two up. After an hour messing around with multiple Photoshop layers I gave up trying to reconcile the various floors with the plans supplied. What I do know is that there’s quite a bit of lateral looking going on this floor (and again four floors up).

unit layout 4

In this next plan (again repeated four floors up) the top right and lower left apartments don’t have balconies at all.

unit layout 2On these two floors, the top left and lower right apartments don’t have balconies at all. unit layout 3And on these two floors, four apartments share two balconies whilst the fifth apartment doesn’t get one. unit layout 1

Here’s the plan used in the Architecture Review spread. It’s different again.

ARYou’ll notice there are five apartments here and the two upper ones and the lower middle and lower right look like they are sharing the dark grey (covered) balconies. This can’t be right. My guess is that the dark grey balconies are actually shown for the floor below, yet possibly covered by the floor above (and corresponding to the “uncovered” balconies in this next image).


Therefore, from what I can make out Moussavi has solved that stated problem of laterally overlooking balconies by

  1. not giving 20% of the apartments balconies
  2. worsening vertical overlooking and
  3. by providing curtains (which would have solved her stated problems with the two case studies).

Untitled 2

The disconnected relationship between indoor and outdoor due to the indoor being rectilinear and the outdoors curvy can of course be solved by having a rectangular room and a rectangular balcony.  But that’s not the point.

If my interpretation of the plans and geometry of this building is correct, then

  1. eight out of 36 apartments have an overlooking condition that is no better than usual,
  2. eight out of 36 apartments have to share a balcony,
  3. maybe eight out of 36 are directly overlooked from above, and
  4. ten out of 36 apartments don’t have any balcony at all.

In other words, Moussavi has added value to ten out of thirty-six apartments, not added any value for eight, and reduced the value of at least another eight, possibly sixteen. Well done! There’s also some abysmal planning on show. I’ve just marked up a few things here.

The planning’s probably been done by anonymous minions but someone’s gotta put their name on it.

* * *

In the same way as people say “It’s not the system that’s corrupt – corruption IS the system,” I see more skill in Moussavi’s design and construction of her media profile than in the buildings supposed to validate it. This is another symptom of the sickness. When I read that Sou Fujimoto had also won a competition to design an apartment building in Montpellier, I thought that perhaps the competition had gone a bit Iraqi but no. There were two different competitions for two different buildings. Sou Fujimoto’s is very overlooky. Despite their superficial differences both buildings say “Look at me – there’s some architecture happening here!” And that, I’m afraid, is the real function of form.


(4,710 – 2,504 = 2,305 words)