Tag Archives: dodgy logic

The Things Architects Do #7: Brand Recognition

This is Barcelona’s old bullring, Arenas de Barcelona, completed 1900 in the then-fashionable Moorish Revival style.

foto antigua2

It has or had history, was part of a culture, the people, who they were, etc. Befitting a leisure and entertainment centre, it bordered the important transport hub of Plaça d’Espanya. In 1914, a better bullring was built nearby but Arenas de Barcelona continued to function until 1977. After that, nada.


Whilst the building was deteriorating, the site continued to increase in value but resisted all redevelopment attempts in the run-up to the 1992 Olympics. In 2000, Barcelona-based developer Sacresa appointed RSH+P to redevelop Arenas de Barcelona into a leisure and entertainment complex. I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind why the scheme was taken over by another developer, Metrovacesa, who stayed the distance until completion in March 2011.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the developer offloading had something to do with anticipated return on investment as the city council had imposed a height restriction and also decided the façade should be retained. The reason I think so is the extremes to which RSH+P went to cram as much value into the permitted envelope. Here’s what they did. ¡Ay, caramba! 


Within that facade and height limit are 47,000 sqm of moneymaking including 115 shops, restaurants, a gym, twelve cinemas, a multipurpose event space and Barcelona’s very own ‘Museum of Rock’. A separate four-storey building adds more retail and office space outside the facade but perversely hides perhaps 40% of it. An elevated terrace and walkway is the giveaway attraction to get the people in. There’s a return-on-investment calculation behind this for even if those sightseers don’t spend anything, they make the place more “vibrant” for those who do. Architects like vibrancy [sic.] It’s vibrance, surely? Clients value it. Interestingly and with neither shame nor irony, RSH+P index their projects by it. 

vibrancyDezeen provides its usual reportage along with a project description by the architects.


Even turn-of-the-century bullrings had their own return-on-investment calculations. Arenas de Barcelona was built on an artificially constructed hill so most seats could be inexpensively constructed amphitheatre seating.


Circulation was straightforward and designed to get people in there as smoothly as possible. These things don’t change.

before arenas

Bullfight operators wanted bums on inexpensively constructed seats but contemporary leisure, retail and entertainment operators want maximum exploitable volume. The hill had to go. Simple. Here’s how these economic facts on [in? under?] the ground get reported.

The original 19th century bullring was raised above the levels of the surrounding streets with ramps and stairs within the surrounding plinth providing access. However, the redevelopment – which involved the excavation of the base of the façade and the insertion of composite arches to support the existing wall and create new spaces for shops and restaurants – establishes a new, open public realm around the building providing level access to a wide range of retail facilities.

Here’s a better look at those composite “arches”.


The historic facade has been severed from its foundations and is now supported on exposed underpinning of precast concrete beams post-tensioned to clamp the facade. Basically, an alien structure tames an existing one, in the manner and style of orthodontic braces and to similar visual effect. It’s structural goosing –squeezing from under in order to make the building jump.

Inside is a 67-panel display describing the complete “transformation”.


Check that last image and the section and you’ll see how the post-tensioned concrete clamps are supported on the red V-shaped columns supported by a ring beam [hello!] supported by a transfer beam between columns supporting the retail and parking levels. Fuck.


As for the solution RSH+P settled on, I’m not sure what exactly it does that extending the existing supports downwards to a simple ring beam below grade wouldn’t have done more efficiently, cheaply, soundly, quickly, elegantly and, I might add, prettily.

This is precisely what RSH+P have done for the main entrance and, to be honest, it’s the only part of the existing building that has any dignity left.


You’d think replacing columnar extensions with ground level high-technics would create more openness to the street and yes, you’d be right. But let’s do a quick 270° to see what openness there is. As mentioned, the office/restaurant building and associated compound block 40% of the ground level facade from view and surrounding pedestrians. That’s over one third gone.

Three entrances and four shopfronts account for perhaps 30% of the two thirds left. Two of those shopfronts are opaque. What’s left is taken up by mesh-covered fire-escape exits. As an exercise in openness, it doesn’t wash but it is wildly successful as an excuse RSH+P retro high-tech grandstanding.


Keeping the facades in place was less important than showing us how hard they worked to keep them in place. Here’s some facade stability details. Arcelor Mittal tells us the facades are fully structurally independent. I believe them.


Once the facade was dealt with came the more pressing business of cramming value behind it, under it and on top of it. RSH+P decided four different structures would be just the ticket. Visit Dezeen to find out how clever it all is. More on structure here.

A strange sentence on the architects’ website says

All the constituent parts – the facade, the roof-level spaces, the four internal segments and the adjacent Eforum are structurally independent, allowing for future flexibility and change to encourage a wide variety and changing rotation of activities to take place, including sports events, fashion shows and exhibitions.

It’s a bit of a conceptual leap from independent structures to a variety of events (that are basically the same). The real purpose of this sentence is to remind us that Richard Rogers has built a career on promises of flexibility and change. Mostly broken.


The building works itself out to its grisly conclusion. Towards the top, there are 12 cinemas, the multipurpose space and the deck, all blocking natural light to the intensively cultivated punters below. Richard Rogers is the man whose hagiographies typically refer to “his beloved socialism”. Let us not forget that Las Arenas is contemporaneous with One Hyde Park 

– a building for which few are willing to make excuses. Billed by its brokers, the Candy Brothers, as the world’s most expensive apartment block, the multi-storey west London development perfectly embodies London’s out-of-control property market, distorted by a global oligarchy who use international property hotspots to bank and grow their savings. A similar scheme alongside Tate Modern, NEO Bankside, which deploys decorative structure as a form of brand recognition for investors – ‘you too can have your own Richard Rogers’ – suggests the firm’s socialist roots have long since been ploughed over.

Decorative structure as brand recognition is how to understand Las Arenas. It explains the red V-shaped ornament. It explains the compulsively yellow structural intrusions inside. It explains the precast circular walkways with round glass insets. It explains the triumphal escalator that shows you all this structure.

It doesn’t really matter what the decorative structure supports but, as it happens, it’s supporting more decorative structure


and ultimately the roof.

IMG_1407Along the way, we get to see some RSH+P crane, those eternal symbolisers of Achigramesque change,crane

a nice cluster of RSH+P ventings
IMG_1403some RSH+P window cleaning balconies for walls that don’t have to be opaque windowsIMG_1410 some RSH+P glass elevators on the insideP1010614

and two RSH+P glass elevators and “communications tower” on the outside which, for 1€ will take you to/from the promenade.

This tower of course reprises RR’s famously carbuncly National Gallery extension. As with all the other tropes, architecture solution as brand recognition demanded its presence
from the very beginning – although one should never trust architects’ “concept” sketches.


* * *

Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. Barcelona’s last bullfight was held at Bareclona’s other arena, La Monumental, in September 2012.


La Monumental’s approx. 20,000 seats make it suitable for large outdoor events such as concerts. It will probably be spared the indignities Arenas de Barcelona has suffered.

la monumental

But let’s wait and see.

* * *

Further information:




more pics

more visuals



The Demise of the Green Roof

PHASE 1: Cost-effective building performance (more from less) This is an Icelandic turf house. They’ve been around for say, 1,000 years – about since the time of the Vikings, let’s say. The turf provided better insulation than wood or stone which were difficult to get enough of anyway.


Technically, I suppose, we’ll have to include dugout buildings and cut-and cover buildings such as these since they do make use of the insulating properties of soil and vegetation.

If we do that, we’ll also have to include dwellings such as these yaodong in Northern China. This image is from Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects: A Short Introduction to Non-Pedigreed Architecture and, thanks to Pinterest, is famous once again.  (The principles of yaodong date from 200BC btw.)


These munitions bunkers are part of the Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) which is a sea fortress built in 1748 before the invention of reinforced concrete. The bunkers are covered with a layer of earth to dissipate the force should the ammunition explode. The grass isn’t there to look pretty but to keep the earth in place.


PHASE 2: A pretend garden, but better than nothing. Ahh, LC’s 1930 De Beistegui apartment garden is always a laugh. It looks like a green roof, non?


Green roofs of this type are really just gardens for biophilic or other enjoyment in places where otherwise there would be nothing. 

PHASE 3: Sundry enviromental benefits Even if a rooftop garden has no direct benefit for humans apart from prettifying some open space, birds and bees and other insects can still do with additional habitat. Here’s one designed for bugs.

green roof for bugs

In addition, soil required to grow plants may slow down the runoff of rain. The presence of soil and vegetation instead of concrete will lessen the heat island effect. Here’s one doing all those things on top of Chicago City Hall.


PHASE 4: Symbol of global environmental benefit These next three buildings are all feature domed structures partially covered with grass. The first is a greenhouse so it must be good for the planet.

This next one is Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Sciences.


And this is a biogas production plant which, as symbols go, I far prefer to the greenhouse. It’s doing something more useful than simply coercing plants to grow in locations they’re not meant to.


Ultimately however, it’s cosmetics, even though I don’t think producing biogas is anything to be ashamed of.

biogas plant

Here’s a volcano shaped building – the Volcano Buono – with its shopping mall, outdoor theater, restaurants and a hotel all covered in green roof.  Yes, it’s probably better to have this roof than to have a concrete one as far as heat island effect is concerned. Cheers Renzo! Now what about that car park?


PHASE 5: Symbol of general social decline Further down the line, we have green roofs like this. This particular one has done a lot to hasten the demise of green roofs generally. For all the press it’s garnered, there’s no mention of anything this green roof having any agenda other than inspiring dubious claims to fostering creativity.

A Swirling Green Roof Tops Gorgeous Nanyang Technical University in Singapore


If art school was in our future we might opt to study under, or on top of, the amazing green roof at the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, designed by CPG consultants. This 5 story facility sweeps a wooded corner of the campus with an organic, vegetated form that blends landscape and structure, nature and high-tech and symbolizes the creativity it houses. Read more: A Swirling Green Roof Tops Nanyang Art School in Singapore | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.

PHASE 6: What can we expect next?

green-roof-high-school-franceorganic-underground-hotel• • •

Further Resources: EPA Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies: Green Roofs www.epa.gov GreenSave Calculator. Compare the cost of green roofing with conventional roofing systems. www.greenroofs.org

Architecture Myths #6: Maximising Views



watermark (3)

That’s about US$400,000 for a 900 sqft. one-bedroom.

Infinity Tower is due to be completed this October and was featured in the recent 2013 Cityscape Abu Dhabi Magazine.

Designed by global architecture and design firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), the tower includes luxury residential units, parkng, and retail outlets. Its most distinctive and visually unique physical feature is its twisting, helix shape. Infinity rotates gradually through ninety degrees yet maintains a consistent floor plate throughout its height.

The key challenges involved engineering the tower to make it economical to construct.

The structure steps and each floor have the same shape so that all of the concrete formwork is [lifted and] rotated around the cylindrical core by 1° and used again.

On the inside, the structure of the tower has been designed so that all of the interior elements are orthogonal, with right angles and straight walls. Ross Wilmer (SOM’s) Design Director says (quite rightly) that

this makes it easier to place furniture, kitchens and bathrooms, and install interior finishes more efficiently.

It needs to be. Here’s an interactive Flash site where you can travel up and down the building checking out the internal orthogonality of this structure-rich building.


The shafts for the mechanical and plumbing services were arranged to run vertically so that their installation could be accomplished in a conventional way

Another good call. Regular openings around the core suggest that these shafts are contained within it. (pic: skycrapercity but I suspect originally from Imre Solt and his magnificently obsessive Dubai Construction Update blog.)


Door positions on the apartment plans don’t move so I imagine there’s a circular corridor around that core – like on the upper, half-penthouse floors. (Image courtesy of palma-re and fyi AED 12,500,000 for Size: 5,645 Sq. ft = $2,214/Sq. ft)

Q:DEVELOPMENTINFINITYLAYOUTSArchitectural Drawings as of 11

All good. SOM seem to have gone about it the right way IF one wants to build a twisting building, but why would one want to do that?

The twisted form of Infinity Tower originated from a desire to maximise the tower’s potential views at all levels. The lower portion of the tower is oriented towards the exciting waterfront promenade of Dubai Marina, while the upper floors are rotated to face the Gulf.

I smell an untruth. Whether twisted or not, some of the windows would have faced west towards the Gulf anyway, and some would have faced south towards the promenade which, in the following image, is in front of the front line of buildings, most of which nobody has thought worth modelling. In fairness, Infinity Tower is not at the arse end of Dubai Marina but I seriously doubt the “exciting waterfront promenade” can be appreciated from any window at this angle, let alone this distance.

dubai marinaWhat bothers me more is that I simply can’t extract any meaning from the phrase “maximising the tower’s potential views at all levels”. Clients and architects alike are well aware that views sell. They know what they mean and it sounds to me like the architects have simply recycled their client pitch for general readership. Indeed, the tower does “face” south at the bottom and west at the top but this doesn’t maximise views for the tower (whatever that may mean) any more than it does for its apartments collectively or individually or for the hypothetical viewers inside them.

Whatever criteria one uses to evaluate “better view” and “poorer view”, some people will have paid more for a better view and others less for a poorer one. With these twisty buildings, if more apartments have a partially good view, then more apartments  will have a partially poor one AS A CONSEQUENCE of said twisting. With Infinity Tower, floors 5 to 48 have the same floor layout as the floor plate shifts from south-facing to west-facing. All this tells us is that two one-bedroom apartments with a coastline view sell for more than a two-bedroom without.

one bedroomBottom line is that if someone gains somewhere, then someone loses somewhere else regardless whether or not the building twists. On the upper levels, there’s less to lose as there are only two apartments and, on the uppermost floor where there’s only one, there’s no loss or gain, no better or worse. There’s no floor plan for this apartment because it’s irrelevant – it’s just space for what-ever–they-want, placemaking for the 21st century.   

dm2Ultimately of course, it’s of little consequence for anything really, what some building in Dubai does at its base and at its top. If we buy the view story, we’re left with the question of why a building needs to be sucked into shape by the various virtual value-adders around it. We already know the answer to this. As does Rem Koolhaas. This video featured in Celebrity Shoot-out, but it’s worth a revisit.

He’s saying the site at 425 Park Avenue is “pulled” in two directions, before going on to state the obvious. Jesus. I mean, c’mon.

If it were a little bit more to the north it would be closer to Central Park and if it were a little bit further to the south it would be more effectively a part of Midtown …

… and then we then began to look at shapes that were perhaps expressing that … articulating that “double pull”.


Here we have the same twisted reasoning, and articulation of that reasoning, once again. The only difference is that the OMA building must obtain maximum floor area at its base where it has no choice as only higher up can it be “drawn” towards the view, presumably adding a modicum of value to those levels. 

But whether the value that view adds is real or imaginary, what we have are buildings purporting to be architecture, being directly moulded by the criteria of real estate. Rem Koolhaas knows that but does not say it, instead coyly giving the clients an opportunity to use his lazy language of pseudo-insight to justify what they wanted anyway. Bjarke Ingels’ inventive step is to be less coy about it.

Architecture has a long history of “responding to”, “taking advantage of” and “exploiting” views but, over the past 30 years or so, this language has become increasingly strident. Whereas “responding to” a view might would have been considered as nothing more than best practice, the verb of favour is now the one normally associated with profits. “Maximising views” is but a euphemism.

The Venus Project

The John Gray who wrote “The Silence of Animals” and the John Gray who wrote “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” are two different people.


The book’s tantalizing tagline is “on progress and other modern myths” and that is what this post is about. Recently, in this blog, the words architecture, progress and evolution have been occurring in the same sentence rather frequently of late – mostly to do with The Autopoiesis of Architecture. It seems we’re always being told we need a new architecture like it’s some new gadget that’ll help us better cope with modern life or  functionally differentiated society or whatever you call it. Admittedly, for the lower end of the market, there’s some truth in it if people like SANAA can forge a reputation and a new architecture from a few boxes and some alleyways. Essentially, they’re telling us to make do with less so we can be modern and happy. (Recall that a century and a half ago, Chicago department store owners were modern and happy at not having to pay for truckloads of expensive stone ornament.)

The upper end of the market, however, constantly needs a new architecture to represent this supposedly progressing and evolving world and show how progressive and evolved they are. Or, to put it another way, architects need to convince the upper end of the market to pay them to represent this new and functionally differentiated world. Architecture may have some sort of double code of function and beauty but the mix varies according to client dosh.

the venus project

Patrik Schumacher isn’t the first person to think we need a new architecture every time the world changes a bit. With his endless endeavour, The Venus Project, Jacques Fresco also believes in progress and things evolving and that we need a new architecture to show it. There’s not that much difference between their two stances.

The Venus Project recommends that the present state and aims of architecture be redefined to fit the evolving needs of individuals in this new, emergent culture.


Great – but who’s going to pay for it? This is where Fresco’s concept of a resource-based economy comes in.

It is a holistic socio-economic system in which all goods and services are available without the use of money, credits, barter or any other system of debt or servitude. All resources become the common heritage of all of the inhabitants, not just a select few. The premise upon which this system is based is that the Earth is abundant with plentiful resource; our practice of rationing resources through monetary methods is irrelevant and counter productive to our survival. In a resource-based economy all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people, thus eventually outgrowing the need for the artificial boundaries that separate people. This is the unifying imperative. 

Sounds good huh? The Venus Project is based on some rather big assumptions with some rather sinister subtexts. For example, for better or worse, one of the things artificial boundaries currently do is demarcate sovereign states with the sovereign rights to exploit whatever resources they have. Fresco seems to think this is selfish. For him, for example, the Gulf Wars were supposedly just America’s way of telling Iraq to share their oil for the good of all. As if taking is the new sharing.

Foreign policy determines how America conducts relations with other countries. It is designed to further certain goals. It seeks to assure America’s security and defense. It seeks the power to protect and project America’s national interests around the world. [Constitutional Rights Foundation]

Dave@whenthenewsstops also has problems with the idea of a resource-based economy. But forgetting for a while the not inconsiderable problems involved in the very basis for his project, Fresco just goes ahead and designs a new world to show us how great it’s going to be. I did The Venus Google for you. You get the idea.

the venus google

Clicking on any image or any link will take you to the same future and when that future is not being relentlessly white and curvy, it’s being relentlessly white and oblique. Moreover, the climate is temperate, the landscape is green, the oceans blue and skies ornamented with Little Fluffy Clouds. Relentlessly. This is one of my favourite images.


Military grey machines with caterpillar tracks and painted letters position prefabricated pods in a double-helix tower that’s a curious combination of Matti Suronen’s Futuro House, Kurosawa’s Nakagin Capsule Tower and Niemeyer’s Niterói.

The Venus Project itself is an escape from reality but so is the project website. Check out the new movie, catchily titled “Paradise or Oblivion” (Did you see what they did, Corby!?)

I confess that, years ago – 2009? – when I first learned of The Venus Project, I found it a bit of a guilty pleasure looking at all the retro-future buildings with their Tracy Island aesthetic.

Tracey_Island_01 The site’s page on housing is always a good first stop.

The architecture and individual dwellings of future cities will evolve on an entirely different basis from today’s houses. With the intelligent application of humane technologies, we will be able to provide and allow for a wide array of unique individual homes. Their structural elements will be flexible and coherently arranged to best serve individual preference. These pre-fabricated, modular homes, embodying a high degree of flexibility inconceivable in times past, could be built anyplace one might imagine, amidst forests, atop mountains, or on remote islands. All of these dwellings can be designed as self-contained residences with their own thermal generators and heat concentrators. Photovoltaic arrays would be built into the skin of the building and into the windows themselves. “Thermopanes” would be used to tint out the bright sunlight by variable patterns of shading. All these features could be selected by the occupant to supply more than enough of the energy required to operate the entire household.

I’m not finding The Venus Project so amusing these days. Its huge assumption is that there are and will be enough resources to go around if we just share them. As you just saw in Fresco’s future, land continues to be wasted building detached houses catering to individual fancies and whims – “Another three feet on the balcony dear?” Nowhere is there any mention of using less resources or altering patterns of consumption. The biggest problem this future solves is how to keep everything just the same. Energy is generated invisibly but nowhere is there any mention of using less of it. Rather than incorporating even the most basic principles of passive design into these buildings, windows can be the wrong size or position because “thermopanes” will sort it out. By assuming that continued faith in the tenets of American foreign policy and technology can and will solve everything, Fresco shows himself and his project to be creatures of the 1960s.

* * *

img00592I worry sometimes. I really do.

The Things Architects Do #3: SANAA

Recently I came across a 2006 project by SANAA for 176 social housing units in Paris. I’ve coloured the typical floor plan so you can see better how the building is organised.

typical plan

The first thing to notice is how inept the apartment planning. Japanese kitchens can be small but using them in social housing in France is – how shall I say? – both culturally and socially insensitive. Other things I take issue with are the position of said kitchens, lack of defined entrances to apartments, the number of bedrooms accessed directly from living rooms (and the resultant lack of wall space), the poor useability of what space there is (because of the curves creating triangular spaces), the closeness of some of those opposing windows … And so on. These are all negatives.

So what are the positives? For what benefits has the apartment planning been compromised so? The answer is in the ground floor plan and the image following it.

groundfloor plan sanaa paris

SANAA seem to have been working to emphasise some blobby open area that is half landscape and half undercroft of a building supported by very slender columns – perhaps an omage to Corbusier and pilotis?  Stranger things have been known to happen. Here’s how they finally did it for the 2009 Serpentine Pavilion in London.


It’s their only architectural idea. In Paris, the single-mindedness of carrying it out is responsible for the cores being see-through. In the plan, the blobs within blobs at ground level are bicycle cages that are also trying not to be seen in this elevation.


Only in this perspective is any cross-bracing visible. Once.

ground level view

SANAA were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2010.

For architecture that is simultaneously delicate and powerful, precise and fluid, ingenious but not overly or overtly clever; for the creation of buildings that successfully interact with their contexts and the activities they contain, creating a sense of fullness and experiential richness; for a singular architectural language that springs from a collaborative process that is both unique and inspirational; for their notable completed buildings and the promise of new projects together, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa are the recipients of the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize. See <a href=”http://www.pritzkerprize.com/2010/jury”>here</a> for what else the jury said.

English: The 2009 Summer Pavilion at the Serpe...

English: The 2009 Summer Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens. The pavilion is designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the architecture firm SANAA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They explore like few others the phenomenal properties of continuous space, lightness, transparency and materiality to create a subtle synthesis,” the jury citation said. “Sejima and Nishizawa’s architecture stands in direct contrast with the bombastic and rhetorical. Instead, they seek the essential qualities of architecture that result in a much appreciated straightforwardness, economy of means and restraint in their work. (New York Times)

Their blob+skinny column combo has been given another/a third dimension with their recent Rolex Learning Center for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. It looks like it’s been a struggle to make it useable/DDA compliant.



The next project I’d like you to have a look at is their Moriyama House/s from 2005. In the photo below, you’re looking down the first vertical corridor from the left, in plan.


If the stairs are drawn correctly, then two of these apartments have basements. One of them (the one with the double doors at the bottom of this plan) doesn’t seem to have a bathroom. Does the person who lives there not shit or bathe? I thought they might share the bathroom of the people immediately left, but there’s a wall of plants in the way. (This all may seem a bit strange but in the rural cities and even the older parts of Tokyo, it’s not unusual in the evenings to see people dressed in yukatas carrying their shower gel and shampoo on the way to the public bath. These houses are at Tokyo-to, Ota-ku, Nishi-Kamata 3-chome, 21-5. It’s not that central, but not that out of the way either.)


Even if there is a public bath nearby, there’s still no w.c. …

Sanaa plan moriyama

There’s a certain amount of DNA in common with the French project in that it’s possible to claim that the emphasis is on “the spaces between the buildings”. Which it probably is, but it still doesn’t excuse the poverty of the spaces within the buildings. For six detached dwellings, there’s a disturbing insufficiency of toilets although the shared, glazed communal bathroom above the centre-most large tree is guaranteed media attention in the more uptight cultures. Just when Japanese were finally getting used to washing machines inside their houses and not on their balcony, Sanaa have provided a couple of external washing machines.

In Japan, and contrary to what these plans imply, the actual paraphernalia of living is collected and organised into a million and one different types of plastic storage units that are stacked and hung wherever they can be because there’s just never enough space in a kitchen to store things like banana holders (available at your nearest DAISO).

gimg_01All in all, for a practice formed in 1995, SANAA haven’t done too bad for themselves. From zero to Pritzker in 15 years, it seems. And good for them.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded annually to honour “a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”. [W]

But “consistent and significantly contributes to humanity and the built environment”?
I still have doubts. Here’s their 21 Century Museum of Modern Art (2004). There’s a good description of it here.

21st_century_museum_of_contemporary_art1304831276028 3941967972

Others have picked up on an interest with views into and out of the site/building. Another descriptor I’ve frequently come across is “ordered chaos”. With this project I can see what they mean. And in this next one too – the Kunstlinie from 2006.


The Kunstlinie was designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of the Japanese office SANAA. The office took part, in association with Onno Greiner Martien of Goor Architecten, in a limited competition organised by the municipality of Almere, which they won in 1999. The collaboration ended there. The scheme was eventually elaborated and executed according to a Design & Build contract by Ballast Nedam for 43 million euro. Ballast Nedam says it implemented a number of changes. Dimensioned for Japanese people, the design was rescaled to suit the longer Dutch physique. The whole complex was raised by 40 cm when it was discovered that there was a real risk of flooding. The slender design didn’t take sound insulation or stability sufficiently into account. [thanks Archined]

Now, SANAA won the competition for this building in 1999, four years after the practice began so it made their name so to speak.  The Pritzker jury gave it a special mention.

They often opt for non-hierarchical spaces, or in their own words, the “equivalence of spaces,” creating unpretentious, democratic buildings according to the task and budget at hand. One example is the Almere project in the Netherlands, with its many simple classrooms and workshops, all presenting privileged views of the sea.

I wouldn’t say that ALL of the many simple classrooms and workshops have privileged views of the sea, but I get what they mean about the non-hierarchical spaces. This, I think, is one of their selling points or at least it was in 1999.


Using one room to get to another room leads to increased spatial efficiency as long as there aren’t too many doors  – such as in the case of the apartments in the French social housing at the beginning of this blog.  Another bad point about the French social housing project was presenting views into the site as a asset.

SANAAAA_1To me, this says a lot about their priorities. This next project the Okurayama Apartments says the same thing. Here’s a plan courtesy of openbuildings and here’s some text from the architect. I invite you to have a walk through the plans.


Internally, the curved walls give each unit a unique profile and private views. The irregular shapes work because the apartments aren’t subdivided into smaller rooms, but to make furnishing them easier Sejima gave each room two straight walls. For Naoko Kawachi, a resident of the building, the nonlinearity is a space-planning advantage. “Put­ting a table or placing shelves against the curved wall creates angles in the room that are a natural place for having dinner or reading books,” she says, before offering the ultimate endorsement for Sejima’s design. “The curves in the glass make the boundary between the garden and the room ambiguous, so you experience the outside and indoors closely  together. [metropolismag]

This endorsement sort of takes the steam out of my “doing right by the occupant” argument but this is not social housing. Indeed, there are some nice interiors – pre-occupant, of course.

new tenant waiting for her stuff to arrive

But if we put this photo from <a “href=”http://dashmark.wordpress.com/page/2/”>dashmark

dsc_1430together with this one, then I think I know what they’re up to.

Here’s my possibly pretentious meta-reading, my way of understanding what SANAA are offering the world of architecture (if not humanity) and why they’ve been fêted for it so readily. It’s basically an extension of the misfits view of architectural history.

At the end of the 19th century, the market for architecture was dying out. There simply weren’t enough rich people for all the large country mansions architects were skilled in designing. Luckily, architecture, architects and the owners of department stores found each other. Houses for rich people got smaller. The new rich people wanted to live closer to the city anyway. Architecture’s role as an ornament in a landscape became less important as there was now a new preoccupation as “space” suddenly became an object of architectural interest and pretence. So much for the 20th century.

Now we’re in the 21st century, people can’t aspire to looking at anything like a view from their windows. The old trick of full-height glass (to bring the outside inside) only works when there’s an outside worth bringing inside. We can probably forget about interior space. In my view, the French project and the Moriyama house/s reveal a preoccupation with forcibly creating exterior spaces to compensate for the miserable spatial allocation we will no doubt feel lucky to have. Sanaa are showing us that we’ll only get enough internal volume for us and what stuff we own and that’s it. It won’t be worth photographing. What will be worth photographing is the cutesey communal property and circulation space between these boxes. Basically, they have invented value-added alleyways. The focus of architecture is now circulation space that is all the better for not being enclosed. We’ll learn to live with this and, someday, actually come to prefer it in much the same way as we did open plan kitchen-dining-living rooms.


The Autopoiesis of Architecture: Volume 1 Chapter 2.5 – The Necessity of Demarcation

THESIS 9: Any attempt to integrate architecture and art, or architecture and science/engineering, in a unified discourse (autopoiesis) is reactionary and bound to fail.

Even though Luhmann, the guy who put all these ideas in the author’s head, said that architecture existed within the great social system of art, in this sub-chapter (p148), the author says Luhlmann only implied that architecture exists within the art system. Either way, the author is having none of it.

This treatment of architecture has to be rejected today. It reflects the traditional classification of architecture among the arts.

Hardly a powerful argument. Another reason it is not true is because the theory says it isn’t.

It is one of the central, historical theses of the theory of architctural autopoiesis that this treatment of architecture under the umbrella concept of ‘the arts’ is long since an anachronism – at least since the refoundation of the discipline as Modern architecture during the 1920s.

And here’s some more “proof”.

A sure empirical indicator for the factual, operational separation of art and architecture is the total absence of double careers. While Michaelangelo and Raphael, and even Schinkel, could still count and convince as both artists and architects this possibility seems to be excluded today.  Examples such as Le Corbusier’s paintings and Hundertwasser’s buildings are no countexamples but only confirm this impossibility.

That’s a bit bitchy but, yes, Corbusier’s paintings weren’t that great.

LC, defacing Eileen Gray's E1027, 1939

LC, defacing Eileen Gray’s E1027, 1939

And, although some people love them, neither were Hundertwasser‘s buildings. You know them.


hundertwasser (Photo credit: twicepix)

But I’ve always thought there’s something very dodgy about architects who pick up a paintbrush, especially if they say they use their “2D” work to “think ideas through”.


Will Alsop © image: Jason Alden


Zaha Hadid. Photograph: Alberto Heras

Karl Friedrich Schinkel - Schloß am Strom - Go...

Karl Friedrich Schinkel – Schloß am Strom – Google Art Project (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Schinkel actually comes out of this quite well. The author seems to be saying that architects are better at architecture than they are at painting, per se. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt an architect to have artistic pretensions. Most architects are content to just adopt the language and terminology of art  – “avant-garde” anyone? – especially when talking about “form” – and which is a lot of the time. But instead of being good at both architecture and art or even attempting to be good at both, some architects simply outsource their artistic pretensions to artists and achieve artistness by association.

7350177384_671408027e_zIt’s a two-way thing.

Herzog-de-Meuron-and-Ai-WeiweiBut going back to the text. Michaelangelo and Raphael were mentioned on page 146 and then I sort of blanked out for a while until they were mentioned again on page 148.

While during the Renaissance and Baroque figures like Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and Borromini simultaneously worked in the domains of architecture, sculpture and painting, no such unifying careers exist today.

This is true on the surface, but we do have architects who go out of their way to make a name for themselves in designer goods. We’ve talked about this before. Designer goods are better than dumb sculpture and painting because they are reproducible. And if that somehow lessens their appeal then their price can be easily inflated by limited edition reproduction. It is true that not many architects go into art with the expectation of selling much, there are plenty who willingly attach their names to designer goods with the expectation of extending their brand and making a bit or a lot on the side. The author talks much about how architecture is different from “art” but similar to “design”. I see both art (then) and design (now) as opportunities for architects to extend their market reach. Would Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and Borromini bother with art and painting when they could be designing tables, chairs, jewelry, shoes and silly things for Alessi?



This sub-chapter is all about defining boundaries but the discussion of differences with art takes up nine pages, differences with science take up four pages, and differences with engineering take up only three. The author is at his most amusing when he manages to convince himself.

Techniques like the construction of perspective were shared by architecture and painting, while marble was the material of choice for both architecture and sculpture. The increase of dynamic plasticity from Renaissance to Baroque is simultaneously observable across the domains of architecture, painting and sculpture. Today the defining distinctions, themes and problematics of each discipline have become incommensurable. Contemporary innovations in architecture (for example, the introduction of parametric modelling and scripting – comparable to the discovery of perspective in the Renaissance) have no counterpart (and therefore mean nothing) in the visual arts.


Architecture and the visual arts have to be described as independent autopoietic systems.

I’m always a bit wary when words like “clearly” are used in sentences in which the logic isn’t clear at all.

While the statues on top of a triumphal arch function hand in hand with the arch itself (early 19th century), it is less clear what societal function the design of an Art Nouveau style department store shares with a Symbolist painting (late 19th century). There is clearly a gap opening up between art and architecture.

Anyway, the author’s strongest argument for the separation of architecture and art comes from an unlikely source. This blog has spoken much about Hannes Meyer, so here I will only include a quote from page 151 here.

The development of the Bauhaus during the 1920s was characterised by a progressive shift of focus away from artistic practice towards a functionalist focus on industrial design and architecture. Finally, at the end of the decade, the new director of the Bauhaus, Hannes Meyer, was calling for architecture to radically distance itself from art and artistic practice: ‘all things in this world are a product of the formula: (function times economy). All these things are, therefore, not works of art: all art is composition and, hence, is unsuited to achieve goals. All life is function and is therefore unartistic.

This is not an argument for separating architecture from art but an argument for eliminating art from architecture.  Another reason architecture is different from art is that

Art experiments in a space that is bracketed off from the immediate pragmatic concerns the other function systems have to face and cater for.

So what’s it going to be? Now architecture is concerned with pragmatic concerns, after all? This isn’t what I was reading in the previous two sub-chapters. All in all, this is a confusing sub-chapter as conclusions seem to come before their arguments. Sub-sub-chapter 2.5.2 is about the differentiation between architecture and science but there isn’t much more to say apart from repeat what was said on p 101.

Scientific claims are regulated by the binary code of true vs. false (code of truth). Design decisions are regulated by architecture’s double code of beauty and utility: functional vs. dysfunctional (code of beauty), and formally resolved vs. formally unresolved (code of utility).

I would love to unpick this word by word, but I’ll start with the second sentence, ignoring the Jenckspeak “double code”. Essentially, what we have is this – I think.

  1. Design decisions are regulated by beauty and utility.
  2. Beauty is what is dysfunctional, as opposed to what is functional.
  3. Utility is what is formally resolved, as opposed to what is formally unresolved.  

I’m taking special care here because the word “beauty” is getting tossed around and I won’t admit to accepting the author’s meaning until I know what he’s talking about. Basically, he’s arguing that architecture and science are different.

Science and architecture/design are subject to two rather different systems of codes. The incommensurability [grrrr] of these codifications implies the incommensurability between scientific communications and design communications. There is no way that the beauty of a design solution can attain the status of a verifiable (or falsifiable) truth-claim.  

I wondered about this. How about crap/not crap? Anyway,

A scientific claim cannot be supported by appealing to beauty or utility … In turn, no scientifically verified truth has any bearing upon aesthetic judgements that address the code of beauty.  Things are different with the code of utility. Although utility is distinct from truth, scientific observation can be utilised for the assessment of specific aspects of functionality.

Basically, this means that science can tell you how much energy your building is wasting but it can’t tell you if you are getting aesthetic value for your money. The differences between architecture and engineering get discussed, but there is not much of interest.

The key difference between architecture and design on the one hand and the various engineering disciplines on the other is that the engineering disciplines lack the concern for articulation, ie, the concern for the artefact’s outward appearance (as communication).

Frei Otto gets a mention, but Calatrava and Balmond and their over-concern for over-articulations don’t. Here’s two true sentences (p 162).

The engineering discipline that is closest to architectural concerns is structural engineering. The primary loadbearing structure is often a key factor in the basic constitution and phenomenology of any building.

But then the author goes and wrecks it …

As far as the structure has a phenomenonlogical presence in the buildling, it enters the domain and perogative of the architect.  The extensive discourse around the concept of tectonic form/order, aiming at the legible articulation of the structural and constructive logic of a building, belongs to architecture and has no place in modern engineering. 

All the architect can do is perhaps choose between the various solutions offered by the engineer, if more than one solution is indeed offered. The architect has no final control over the engineering solutions. He is positing its initial problems.

I think that says it all.

Skip 2.5.4 and head straight for 2.5.4 The Specificity of Architecture Within the Design Disciplines. (Footnote 140 – “The fact that the author is an architect accounts for the privileging of architecture among the design disciplines.”) These final four pages argue for the architect’s right to get paid for designing anything that has a shape. Page 167 uses the word “incommensurable” three times and the word “commensurable” once.

Although the object domains of the various design disciplines – despite the identified zones of overlap – are quite distinct, there is no doubt that the various variants of the design discourse are fully commensurable.

Remember what I wrote about art vs. designer goods?

The oeuvre [art word!] of Zaha Hadid Architects moves from urban masterplanning, via buildings and interiors to furniture, and includes alls osrts of products from cars to cutlery, as well as fashion items such as handbags, shoes and jewellery.

This seamless move across the boundaries that separate the various design disciplines is possible because they all follow the same lead-distinction of form versus function.

Who knows what Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and Borromini would be designing for us if they had been alive today? We will have to wait until Section 3.4.1 to find out about more about The Lead-distinction within Architecture and the Design Disciplines. For now, just remember that architecture is special because

architectural design is concerned with a category of artefacts that are marked out by the fact that they are somehow enclosing, that they can be entered into, and that they introduce the difference between inside and outside.

* * *

Now, when I’m approximately 3/8ths through this book, I should mention that I’m reading the paperback version and the binding is falling apart. The now-loose pages are falling one by one from the front like a paperback on the beach. Equally annoying is the number of times the word “incommensurate” was used in this sub-chapter. But I will  continue. It’s somehow comforting to feel I’m not that crazy after all. I’m getting more and more glimpses of the intellectual world the author inhabits. I can see how it must all make sense to him.  But then, to another person, so does Klingon.


Like any other language, the Klingon language has its own alphabet, vocabulary, grammar, and rules of syntax. Internally, it’s no more or less logically consistent and/or inconsistent as many other languages. It’s possible to express thoughts in it and have conversations in it. It works – yes, but I can’t help thinking there’s something about it that’s fundamentally flawed.

The Autopoiesis of Architecture: Vol.1 Chapter 2.4 – Architectural Research

This book is taking a while to get going. I’m somewhere between a third and half-way through volume 1 and have concluded that taking it sub-chapter by sub-chapter is probably the best way to do it. Fortunately, sub-chapter 2.4 is a particularly rich one. It may even be the turning point of the entire book.

THESIS 8:  The avant-garde segment of architecture functions as the subsystem within the autopoiesis of architecture that takes on the necessary task of architectural research by converting both architectural commissions and educational institutions into substitute vehicles of research.

Like many things to do with this book, it seems straightforward but what does it mean? To summarise the story so far, the avant-garde   Sorry, I’m still having a problem with this self-labelling as avant-garde. There’s something not right. It doesn’t ring true. In previous posts I’ve suggested reasons why the author might have chosen this word but I’ve just thought that the real reason might because he didn’t want to use the obvious word “starchitect”. It’s a bit too popular. It’s a bit too descriptive. It’s a bit too closely linked to fame and fortune. But I’ve no such prejudices so, from now on, I’m just going to use the word starchitect instead of avant-garde architect. You won’t notice the difference.

Anyway, starchitects are the only architects daring enough to experiment and research and come up with different solutions that other people copy and keep architecture EVOLVING. We should thank them. However, they can’t do all this experimenting on their own. (Why not?) They need clients to fund their experiments because buildings are big and complex things.

One might therefore have expected that a dedicated, collective research effort would have been institutionalised within architecture, as a subsystem within the autopoiesis of architecture.  

However, neither as publicly funded university research nor in the form of research departments within the big architectural firms does there exist a clearly demarcated domain of architectural research distinct from design as application of such research.  Instead the discipline relies on two substitutes for explicitly institutionalized research : High -profile architecture schools and practising starchitects.

Now this could just be an example of “telling-it-like-it-is” or it could be an audacious attempt to justify and perpetuate one’s two major income streams. I suppose one’s entitled to do that. I just wish there was more outcry. Sub-chapter 2.4 is short but it’s as if this book has finally, belatedly, come alive. Perhaps the author supposes that anyone who has read this far will believe anything – the claims become more outrageous. This next is typical of an opening statement of a sub-sub-chapter. It makes one expect an explanation is forthcoming.

2.4.1 It is the avant-garde segment of architecture – comprising starchitects, theoreticians and teachers/students at high profile architecture schools – that can take on the necessary task of architectural research.

Similarly, the closing statements of sub-sub-chapters are strong yet vague statements that give the appearance of logical conclusion.  2.4.1 ends with

These lessons have been learned in architecture too – architectural avant-garde practice testifies to this – even if it has never been as clearly articulated.

This bookending is of course a writerly device but let’s look and see what’s inbetween. For once, the sandwich has some meat.

The commissions of starchitects have to function as vehicles of architectural research. Such commissions must afford a playing field for formal research and spatial invention where both functional and economic performance criteria are less stringent than in the ‘commercial sector’ of mainstream architecture. This is possible within a special segment of the architectural market – high-profile cultural buildings. In these special, mostly public landmark buildings, the discipline of architecture becomes conspicuous within society. Here society appreciates architecture as a contribution beyond the mere accommodation of the respective substantial function. Here society also recognizes the legitimacy of an extra investment over and above what technical necessity dictates.

This is a wonderful paragraph. The author seems satisfied that he’s amongst friends now, and can say what he really feels without feeling the need to fake humility anymore. The author is seriously saying that, because starchitects are the only people who can fulfil the allegedly important role of architectural research, then they have a natural claim to the most lucrative sector of the architecture market. There are many things wrong with this,  not just ethically.

The design of landmark buildings demands a certain type of architectural firm and a mode of working that is not easily adapted into the mundane mass of projects. The division of the profession into starchitects and mainstream is thus also reinforced from the architectural supply side:  there are starchitect firms and there are mainstream firms. It requires a world market of cultural project opportunities to feed a 100-200 strong crew specialized in creative work. This in turn, reinforces the globalization of architecture, the creation of a unified world architecture. 

Reading a book hasn’t made me feel this unclean since Bret Easton Ellis’ “The Informers”. True, there are more important things in the world to worry about than where ZHA’s three directors are going to get their next million.


The starchitect’s right to be successful has been mentioned in previous chapters and I’m certain it will be mentioned again.

The author is claiming that, because the autopoiesis of architecture is the way it is, the starchitects can ignore functional and economic constraints and design buildings that have no social use other than confirm their right to do so.

Does anybody else not have a problem with that? I’ll just quickly list some thoughts before moving on. 

  • Why should commissions of starchitects have to function as vehicles of architectural research? Nobody is asking them to do it? What’s in it for them?
  • And what exactly is this research anyway? I think we should be told. Is spatial invention really such a worthy topic for architectural research? Are there not more worthwhile topics? I accept that if it is a topic for architectural invention then it is probably because there’s a market for it. The good thing about research is that even if it never influences a single building, it can still be monetized as lectures, mediatized as marketing and branding, and consumed for its entertainment value as architectural imagery. Like Rem Koolhaas’ conveyor-belt booksies, it’s an end in itself.
  • Why should architectural research only flourish in an environment where functional and economic performance criteria are less stringent than in the ‘commercial sector’ of mainstream architecture? Shouldn’t our best and brightest brains be made to occupy themselves with more pressing problems? No, it seems. There should be no prizes for solving unrealistic problems. I think it may have once been said of the Farnsworth House that “perfection becomes possible when so few problems are considered.” (I’ll save this thought for some other time.) 
  • The use of the term “high profile cultural buildings” is telling. Why is it that the imagined spatial and expressive qualities of cultural buildings alone is insufficient – these cultural buildings have to be high-profile as well? It seems to suggest that media value is a factor.
  • The author sees the value of this in terms of society but neglects to mention that high-profile buildings are of enormous value for corporate marketing and branding. These special landmark buildings are not just conspicuous within the communities they serve. A simple music hall becomes an Opera House. Real buildings for actual users become the vehicle for virtual fame elsewhere. 
  • And all this is claimed to have the blessing of society for “contributing beyond the mere accommodation of the respective substantial function” and, again tellingly, for costing more than your average building. Does it matter how much a landmark music hall costs? The need it fulfils is not a local one, but one of city branding on a national or international level. This is nothing new. We all know this. We all agree 1) that there is a globalization of architecture, 2) that a unified world architecture is happening and 3) that a certain number of starchitects are hogging the market for the buildings that the new power-clients of ‘politicians’ and property developers demand to stroke their egos. Nothing much really changes in the world of architecture.
  • Besides, what exactly is it that society is appreciating?
  • It may require a world market of cultural project opportunities to feed a 100-200 strong crew specialized in creative work. I don’t know, but I am sorry for the people ZHA had to sack in order to improve their bottom line. (See image above). Other companies deal with this by developing new products suited to less profitable but stable markets. Just saying. Actually no – I’m not just saying. The notion and language of evolution constantly appear in the text. If an organism or company evolves to fit a specialised niche environment and that environmental niche disappears, then we all know what happens. It’s happened before. The market for Victorian country houses died so what happened? Commercial and transportation buildings became worthy subjects of architecture. Suburban houses became worthy subjects of architecture. Currently, high-profile cultural buildings are the last surviving ecosystem in which starchitects can survive. The particular value a starchitect adds cannot be justified in, say, an airport since the functional and economic performance criteria are more stringent.

All in all, I’m reminded of that proto-starchitect Ludwig Mies claiming $30,000 in architect’s fees for the Farnsworth House that, when he accepted the job, was not to cost more than $40,000. The Edith Farnsworth Journals make fascinating reading.



Anyway, back to how starchitects ignore functional and economic constraints as they exploit their clients for the sake of ‘experiment’ and ‘research’.  I’m not taking any of this out of context. In fact, it’s all repeated again on page 134.

The responsibility of architecture is split according to the division of labour between starchitects (high art) and mainstream (commercial).

The sole responsibility of starchitects is to mutate [sic.; invent mutations, presumably] and give innovation a chance.

His/her [ =) ] work is a manifesto, its value transcends the immediate task of the building at hand.

The starchitect turns his/her commission into a vehicle of research, resulting in a built experiment or built manifesto.

Architectural  principles, values and criteria of architectural progress dominate over the idiosyncratic [!] interests of the particular client.

To this extent the starchitect has to exploit the client’s resources for purposes that lie beyond the client’s narrow, private interest.

The client’s immediate interests are served only inasmuch as they coincide with the new, generalizable interests of contemporary civilization that the starchitect exploration tries to address.

In the absence of this coincidence, the client might find some compensation by exploiting the innovative thrust of the project for the promotion of his reputation. [Hey – who’s famous these days? OK, let’s get them!]

This kind of indirect funding of architectural experimentation via (private or municipal) marketing investments has the advantage of allowing formal research to reach the stage of built experimentation before its full potential has been realized.[I’m not really sure what this means, or could mean.]

However, it has the disadvantage of over-determining formal research in the direction of image production and sensationalism. This undeniable phenomenon has somehow obscured the profound importance of radical formal research.

That, my friends, is really the crux of 2.4.1. It is little wonder that starchitects have such contempt for their idiosyncratic and narrow-minded clients wanting only to satisfy their own interests. Those clients choose starchitects for their branding value and not for their innovative research and experimentation. Those clients may not care for innovation, experimentation or research, but they are prepared to pay for status of funding an expensive thing as long as the designer good retains that status value. Both parties are using each other, so to speak. And if the clients want image production and sensationalism, then that’s what gets delivered. The parasites outside this closed loop and who eagerly consume the sensational images and are profoundly impressed by the radical formal research are put to work generating the “fame” that attracts the rich clients (or rather, their advisers) and so sustain the food cycle.

Sub-chapter 2.4.1 is a joy. I’ve quoted extensively from it. It’s a sub-chapter that just keeps on giving outrage after outrage.

Experimentation requires a certain distancing from immediate performative pressures and the demand of best practice delivery.

I found that 2.4.2. ARCHITECTURE SCHOOLS AS LABORATORIES was more rewarding to read whilst wondering who pays who for what. The problem with clients is that their aren’t enough of them and the briefs they have are not sufficiently inventive. Universities (and their students) can therefore be exploited

to find architectural problems and define briefs even if no client has yet articulated them. This updates the agenda of architecture and thus helps architecture to anticipate challenges rather than waiting to be pushed by the client. …

Such research leas to the expansion of the general solution space available to any architectural design effort. Initially such research should be independent of any stringent brief or strict  criteria of instrumentalization.  The task is to chart potentials that might inspire the search for problems on the basis of discovered ‘solutions’.

There follows a discussion of whether solutions should go in search of problems or whether problems should go in search of solutions. Columbia University (Patrik Schumacher) and The Berlage Institute (Alejandro Zaera-Polo) were used to illustrate this contrast before concluding that both are okay. The AA Design Research Lab (PS)

established design research agendas that would allow the ‘solutions’ that were evolving within an ongoing formal proliferation effort to find appropriately circumscribed programmatic problematics [great term!] to demonstrate their performative prowess.

I recently read an article on International Art English as a type of insider language. A sample:

IAE always uses “more rather than fewer words”. Sometimes it uses them with absurd looseness: “Ordinary words take on non-specific alien functions. ‘Reality,’ writes artist Tania Bruguera, ‘functions as my field of action.'” And sometimes it deploys words with faddish precision: “Usage of the word speculative spiked unaccountably in 2009; 2011 saw a sudden rage for rupture; transversal now seems poised to have its best year ever.”

Presumably the use of such language in architecture is all part of the great system of communications. Misfits has written about this before. 

Page 140 offers the curious example of one particular design research agenda that attempts to link new management theory (?) with new architectural theory (!).

Recent corporate headquarters point towards the need for ever higher levels of overall spatial and visual integration. The insatiable demand for internal connectivity is catered for by the concept of a continuous office landscape. 

Rolex Learning Center EPFL sanaa

Rolex Learning Center EPFL sanaa (Photo credit: agallud)

I’m imagining something like Sanaa’s ROLEX effort, now made usable and legal with all sorts of disabled ramps and level work platforms. But when I see management theory and architectural theory in the same sentence I automatically think of solutions that are in need of CLIENTS. To my knowledge, all this research did not bring ZHA a rash of corporate clients. Rem Koolhaas is a more successful example of pre-emptive theory. Remember when theory was all about airports and shopping? 

The author’s example of corporate organisation spans four pages. We are presented with concepts such as simultaneity (spatial interpretations indicating the overlap of domains of competency, for instance departmental organisation overlaps with project organisation), multiple affiliation, smoothness and ‘space of becoming’ (some sort of ‘time-based space-sharing scenarios or similar demands for flexibility) .


carefully sequenced work method is crucial to any work claiming the title of design research

and, as the closing sentence for this sub-chapter

These formal principles have since been formalized and promoted under the banner of Parametricism.

So there we have it. I feel like skipping the next 300 pages and heading straight for Volume II but I won’t. I’m glad I read these pages but still can’t believe what I read. The author is not convincing me that starchitects fulfil some socially useful role. Sub-chapter 2.4 has increased my resistance tenfold. However, it’s become easier to see how the author might believe his perception of how things are – or even if he doesn’t believe it, how it would be to his advantage to want us to believe it.

“Culture spreads by proclamation”
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe