A rectillinear Tatlin’s Tower in the Himalayas.
Upon the passing of the housing bill, was reminded of this:
It may be slightly cheating to make an entire post out of a quote, but here is Jeremy Till in the 2005 article: The Negotiation of Hope. Bold areas are mine..
“Paper architects brought theory and practice together in the arena of art galleries and lecture halls, but this convergence ended when the market regained momentum and building commenced once again. Consequently, theory remained in academia while practice followed the money. Now we’re left with an academic discourse that produces ideologically (anti-capitalist) charged theory for a practice operating in hyper-capitalist conditions. While practice is driven by market opportunism, all theory can suggest is for practice to negate the market.” Edwin Gardner
This text has been a long time coming. As we enter into the summer of 2015, the London housing crisis remains in the minds of many of the residents of the capital. The results of the general election mean that the effects of austerity will be felt by an ever wider section of society. What does this have to do with architects, or architecture even- after all, the realities of property development, land ownership and the planning system have no relationship to the art of architecture, form, geometry, material and design. This attitude of architects towards the residents of the existing built environment creates a feeling of revulsion towards the profession. As one of many potential designers of buildings with anti-capitalist tendencies, this text is an attempt to unify some architectural theories which reinforce my conviction that it is impossible to stand aside and watch whilst the city is populated with bland, inferior designs, pushed through the planning system with no regard for the communities which they are destroying in the process. Firstly, David Leatherbarrow writes in Architecture Oriented Otherwise:
In “ways that better buildings have been oriented or inclined beyond themselves“ I read that solely having a physical understanding buildings is inadequate. A holistic analysis of a building could include the design and the building process, the relationship that the materials have with the environment, how the building relates to the context. Reaching out beyond themselves, these elements could involve other aspects of spatial value analysis which are usually neglected or avoided- a socially oriented building could be read as social housing.
Leatherbarrow goes on to say:
Another architect/theorist who has a history of engaging with the city is Bernard Tschumi. In The Environmental Trigger, an essay written in 1972, he asks how architects can use their knowledge as a instigator for change. Rather than passively working to serve the current powers in place, Tschumi describes three roles for architects, which I think could be seen as increasingly relevant today.
I believe that the only route currently open to practicing architects is the third, although the word revolutionary probably would raise some eyebrows. As stated by Edwin Gardner again:
There are plenty of intellectuals in academia who are perfectly situated to unveil new courses of action, and there are some who are proving him wrong and are interested in doing so, however there appears to be a lack of awareness within architectural offices that practising architecture is a political act, especially when involved in contentious regeneration projects. This is all the more reason for raising awareness of the need for change.
Tschumi writes of “Exemplary Actions” – acts designed to respond to the crisis ( he calls it the environmental crisis ) by combining everyday life with awareness. In November 1971, Tschumi occupied the disused Kentish Town railway station with his students from the AA. An example of a current exemplary action would be the political occupations of the Carpenters and the Aylesbury estates. “But above all, the purposes of the exemplary action are demystification and propaganda; it means to reveal that the capitalist organisation of space destroys all collective space in order to develop division and isolation” Following from exemplary actions is the strategy of “Counterdesign” – “ By being the devil’s advocate, counterdesign is aimed at creating an understanding in the people concerned by implications of such developments on their everyday life, and at leading to their active rejection of such planning processes.”
After a time, Tschumi grew weary of the problems posed by direct action, and reverted to subversive analysis in the hope that through spatial design, the process of change could be accelerated and have an influence on society. He also warned of the capabilities of capitalism to subsume countercultures and turn resistance to it’s own advantage. However, I think that he failed to anticipate how relevant the above arguments would become for architecture.
My previous thoughts ended with the question- can natural building provide a space within the architectural discourse which addresses formal, social and ecological concerns?
What would be the appropriate form for such a discourse? Existing natural building practitioners are conspicuous by the simplicity of their conceptual design- self builders and communities, architects who are not applying theory to their practice- in the sense of not having developed conceptual architectural tools. The focus on materiality in natural building is acting to restrict the architecture to only being about the materiality, which in turn highlights the ‘natural’ in the building, which leads to the emphasis on the non-standard behaviour of materials such as timber, straw and mud and their tendency to decay, warp, and react when exposed to changing temperatures or levels of humidity in the air or soil. The perceived unpredictability of natural materials in comparison with manufactured materials from the construction industry leaves them vulnerable to criticism from multiple angles, for example, increased construction costs, difficulty in financing mortgages, less durable and associated with low design standards.
Michael Hensel, in his book ‘Performance Oriented Architecture’, documents a number of projects from his university students which harness the properties of wood, changing shape according to the level of moisture in the air. The approach which is taken in this case is primarily scientific, examining in detail the hygroscopic properties of in this case thin veneer plywood.
This approach has the potential to counter the aversion to the lack of rigour and inexactness in natural building, but it could also be seen as quite limiting as it is based upon an unnatural level of climatic control. When graded or thickened thresholds are added into the equation, there is potential for increased climatic control without the restrictions of modern building envelopes – i.e a solid, thin, formal yet essentially cosmetic “wrap” around the buildings functions.
So, to return to the question- what would be the appropriate form for such an architectural discourse? Can the current level of material knowledge in natural building be harnessed in an acceptably rigorous fashion, using the specificities of site and program, using conceptual tools which meet a certain level of architectural theory or criticism, without trying to push the material boundaries as such, but push the conceptual boundaries using natural materials.
I think that everyone should read at least the introduction to “A New Kind of Bleak” by Owen Hatherley formerly of Nasty Brutalist and Short ( as far as I know, before he got published).
For such incisive insights as:
And for a wholly rounded view into how far gone we are into this mess…
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