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- 06/15/13--14:36: _Qatar Plans To Acco...
- 06/18/13--07:04: _Spanish Architects ...
- 06/25/13--09:19: _Architecture Studen...
- 07/08/13--07:08: _Zaha Hadid Designed...
- 07/10/13--13:10: _Most US Architects ...
- 07/14/13--14:24: _Why Modernism Is Th...
- 07/22/13--13:55: _The 6 Most Impressi...
- 07/23/13--10:30: _This Electric Car-C...
- 07/27/13--10:57: _What Is The Best Pl...
- 07/30/13--13:03: _Is New York City La...
- 08/09/13--12:52: _The Rise Of Cycling...
- 08/19/13--09:35: _It's Time To Rebuil...
- 08/22/13--10:40: _We're On The Brink ...
- 08/30/13--13:26: _How Architects Can ...
- 09/09/13--11:35: _Supertall Skyscrape...
- 09/17/13--17:06: _An Architecture Lov...
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- 10/08/13--07:41: _Yale Architecture S...
- 10/15/13--10:18: _These Cool Diagrams...
- 07/08/13--07:08: Zaha Hadid Designed A 'Revolutionary' Pair Of High Heels
- 07/10/13--13:10: Most US Architects Are Old, White, And Male
- 07/14/13--14:24: Why Modernism Is The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Architecture
- 07/22/13--13:55: The 6 Most Impressive New Buildings In Great Britain
- 07/23/13--10:30: This Electric Car-Charging Station Is A Work Of Art
- 07/27/13--10:57: What Is The Best Planned City In The World?
- 07/30/13--13:03: Is New York City Landmarking Too Many Buildings?
- 08/09/13--12:52: The Rise Of Cycling Could Change How Cities Are Built
- 08/19/13--09:35: It's Time To Rebuild Detroit As A City For Urban Living
- 08/22/13--10:40: We're On The Brink Of A Fourth Era In Architecture
- 08/30/13--13:26: How Architects Can Fix America's Terrible Prisons
- 09/17/13--17:06: An Architecture Lover's Guide To Tel Aviv
- The Pagoda house / Alexander Levy, 1925
- Levine House / Yehuda Magidovitch, 1924 (Renovated by Bar Or Architects)
- Bialik House / Joseph Minor, 1926
- Beit Ha’ir (First City Hall) / Moshe Cherner, 1925
- Nordau Hotel / Yehuda Magidovitch, 1925
- The Great Synagogue / Yehuda Magidovitch, 1926 / 110 Alenbi Street
- Dizengoff Square / Genia Averbuch
- Esther Cinema (Cinema Hotel) / Yehuda Magidovitch, 1938
- Rubinsky House / Lucian Korngold, Renovation: Bar Or Architects
- Biggelman House / A. Cabiri, 1934
- Recanati Building / Ya’akov Orenstein, 1935
- Soskin House / Ze’ev Recheter, 1934
- Tel Aviv Museum of Art – Extension / Preston Scott Cohen, 2010
- The Peres Peace House / Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, 2010
- Tel Aviv Port / Mayslits Kassif Architeccts, 2008
- The International Bank Building / Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners
With Nir – Kutz Architects 2009
- Azrieli Towers / Moore Yaski Sivan Architects, 1999
- 09/23/13--12:39: Why Architects Should Design With Cyclists In Mind
- 09/30/13--15:03: Here's The Plan To Move An Entire Swedish Town Over Two Miles
- 10/08/13--07:41: Yale Architecture Students Built A Modern Family Home In New Haven
- 10/15/13--10:18: These Cool Diagrams Map Out All Of The Meth Labs On 'Breaking Bad'
In response to the mounting criticism of Qatar’s ability to host the 2022 World Cup, the “tiny Gulf Arab state” is considering developing floating hotels, luxury villas and a water park off the coast of Doha called Oryx Island to house the influx of visitors that will need accommodation during the games.
As stated by the WSJ, the island would be developed by Barwa Real Estate Co, a local firm partly-owned by the government, at a cost of $5.5 million.
The concept of the floating hotel can be developed as a space-saving, energy-efficient structure that will provide off-shore hospitality. In addition to amenities featured at hotels constructed on land, the floating hotels of Oryx Island are proposing to provide electrical vehicles, water taxis, ferries and private boats to transport its 25,000 visitors to the mainland. The hotel will have an independent sewage treatment plant, power generation and recycling possibilities, freeing it from the limitations of the infrastructure in the surrounding area.
The project is slated for completion in seven to eight years, well within the time frame for the upcoming Qatar 2022 World Cup. The development is expected to expand the country’s GDP and provide economic growth for years ahead.
Stay tuned as we hear more about this project.
As if architects in Spain weren’t struggling enough – what with the Crisis closing half the country’s studios and putting over 25% of Spanish architects out of work - a new law could now render Spanish architects effectively unnecessary.
A preliminary document reveals that, if passed, The Law of Professional Services (LSP) will modify labor regulations in order to allow engineers, or really any one “competent” in construction, to take on the work of architects:
“Exclusivity is eliminated. Architects or engineers with competency in construction will be able to design and direct projects, including residential, cultural, academic or religious buildings. [...] If a professional is competent enough to execute one building’s construction, it is understood that he/she will also be capable of executing other kinds of buildings, regardless of its intended use.”
A council meeting of Government Ministers in April, which promised to shed light on the status of the law, left many Spaniards dissatisfied, as the LSP was only tangentially mentioned. The council members are expected to meet again later this month; the law will be approved or dismissed by the end of this year.
Unsurprisingly, Spanish architects have risen up against the law.
Not only have physical protests been sparked across the country, but numerous Twitter (#noalaLSP) and Facebook campaigns have helped to call the architecture community to action (for a full list of social media pages/hashtags see here).
Even Pritzker Laureate Rafael Moneo has, along with his famous colleagues Ricardo Aroca and Fuensanta Nieto, spoken out against the law, which will supposedly “liberalize” the definition of the architect:
“I don’t think ‘liberalizing’ everything is the cure-all solution. [This law] should mirror a real state of affairs, where construction professionals produce change in a way that’s efficient, without it becoming a competition between professionals,” Moneo told El Mundo.
His sentiment is echoed by many architects, who note that their grievance is not against engineers, but rather against the government that has failed to recognize the important role architects play. As blogger Rafael Gomez-Moriana put it in his blog:
“I have nothing against engineers. The only airplane I will set foot in is one designed by an engineer. But by the same token, I don’t want my child attending a school designed by an engineer. There are good reasons for specialists in a technologically complex society. Why the current government of Spain wants to change this is beyond any comprehension whatsoever. The argument is that it will make Spanish professionals “more competitive”. But judging by the record of Spanish architects who have won international architectural competitions, this argument is ridiculous. C’mon: what’s the real reason?”
Beyond raising the question of the government’s motivation for the law (which is supposedly economical), the law also raises a more important question. As ArchDaily reader Irene Garrido Villalobos pointed out to us, the real question is: ”Is it possible to have Architecture without architects?”
Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Designed by architecture students, Ian M. Ellis and Frances Peterson, their proposal for the North Brother Island School for Autistic Children in New York City aims to provide a necessary resource for the Bronx, which is heavily underserved in terms of school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The project is also designed with the intention that it will dissolve the negative stigma of the island, stabilize its naturalized growth as habitat for the birds, and introduce research and education programs to provide a cutting edge learning environment for the public, parents, and children.
This project is a proposal for an inclusionary learning school for Autistic children on North Brother Island – an abandoned medical facility in New York’s East River. Since 1885, the a 20-acre island has been a quarantine zone, hospital for infectious disease, tuberculosis sanatorium, container of Typhoid Mary, site of a disastrous shipwreck, drug rehabilitation center, and housing for World War II soldiers.
The Island’s functions ceased in 1963 – abandoned since. Due to its seclusion and over 50 years of natural decay and growth, North Brother became the home for many colonial water birds, notably the Black Crowned Night Heron. Vegetation has aggressively taken hold of the island and its buildings. However, the nesting habits of the birds have decreased, if not vanished entirely. The birds are, on the other hand, still nesting on the much smaller and adjacent South Brother Island.
This unusual mix of program, site, and clients (neuro-typical children, autistic children, researchers, educators, and birds) actually reinforce and enable the success and growth of each other, reacting to the various needs of hypersensitive or hyposensitive occupants – human or bird.
Arriving by ferry available several times throughout the day, the school is situated in the center of the island, taking advantage of the high ground and avoiding the historical nesting areas along the eastern and southern shores. As well as restoring 5 of the islands existing buildings for reuse by the school, the structures further south toward the habitat are reused as field offices for the New York City Parks Department, Cornell University Department of Ornithology, and the Audubon Society. Just as autism isn’t a predictable or similar disorder, the school and its designed landscapes are unique and crafted to be best suited for different types of users. Hypersensitive children need control, similarity, predictability and a safety. Hyposensitive children seek discovery, texture, sound, and sensory experience. The school responds to this with three clusters of classrooms looking out onto three unique courtyards. The West cluster is for children that are somewhere near the middle of the spectrum – hypo or hyper. This courtyard is strange yet safe, allowing for discovery and exploration near the safety of classrooms, the library, and break area.
An existing structure in the middle of the garden is stabilized and adapted as a play area. The central cluster is the most protected and designed for hypersensitive children. The garden here is symmetrical with surface materials and spaces geared towards safety, transition, ease of use, and of low sensory phenomena with the exception being the middle. The children are encouraged to plant vegetables and flowers and experience textures, sounds, smells, colors on their own terms. The eastern cluster is for hyposensitive children as it is the only group which is exposed to the outside world, the public realm of the island, and where vegetation and trees are allowed to grow as they have been since the island’s abandonment.
The classrooms are identical for ease of construction, yet the structural roof and gardens provide the variably systematic environment that benefits educators as well as students. Isolated and group learning spaces are provided, as well as escape spaces for when a child becomes overwhelmed or just needs to step away from everything for a minute. The roof is an upside-down scissor truss, with members and dimensions fabricated to maximize the capture and redirection of natural light throughout the year. When natural light isn’t appropriate (too much, too little, or detrimental to the particular type of hyper/hypo classroom), electrochromic glass which can be electrically switched from clear to opaque is used in conjunction with field induced electroluminescent film to generate and control light and views out.
This lighting strategy is intense, but reduces glare and dispels the irritating hum and flicker or fluorescent lights. The roof reaches upward on the exterior of the school to the scale of the existing structures and eases downward towards the interior gardens for a more private and comforting learning space. The exterior of the island sees many changes as well in its overgrown vegetation. Winding paths entice visitors to explore the island without disturbing the habitat for children – the school – or the habitat for birds. Open park spaces create meeting areas between public, school, and research functions.
The previous decay of the island is taken as a design guide as the existing hard edged sea wall is broken down by groynes and living cribs (timber grids that collect plant material and sediment over time, decaying and stabilizing themselves) to establish tidal flats – a necessity for the Island’s bird population to forage and nest in. Just as the school prepares students to establish themselves on their own back in the city, the groynes and cribs establish habitat by maintaining sediment and developing micro-refuge area for wildlife. Some of the groynes are accessible to people, allowing a glimpse into the extraordinary habitat and fostering an appreciation of wildlife and stewardship of the land.
Design: Ian M. Ellis and Frances Peterson
Location: North Brother Island, New York City
Site Photos: Ian Ference
Interior Area: 116,000sqft
Garden Area: 34,000sqft
Zaha Hadid is no stranger to the marriage of architecture and fashion.
On her quest to feed a constant desire for experimentation and innovation, she has turned to the world of smaller-scale objects in order to work out new fabrication techniques and possibly even redefine formal relationships.
Her latest foray into fashion—designing shoes in collaboration with Rem D. Koolhaas’s brand United Nude— brings her architectural style to the feet of ladies willing to shell out $2,000 USD for a pair of daring, cantilevered heels.
Launched July 4 at United Nude’s Paris store, the nOVa shoe draws on structural principles, letting it stagger over a height of 16cm (6.25 in) and creating the illusion of an “unsupported” high-heel.
United Nude claims that the digitally-designed footwear (made of vinyl, rubber, fiberglass and leather) is not only comfortable but revolutionary: “the NOVA is the first shoe in history to employ rotation molding, which is the only molding technique that allows for such a smooth and seamless result.”
On her collaboration with “the original shoe architect,” Rem D Koolhaas, Hadid says, “I have always appreciated those who dare to experiment with materials and proportions. Our collaboration with United Nude reinterprets the classic shoe typology; pushing the boundaries of what is possible without compromising integrity.” You can pre-order the limited-edition shoes on United Nude’s site.
Figures released last month by the National Endowment for the Arts offer telling insight into the architecture profession across the US, with a helpful breakdown of the representation of various demographic groups.
The data, collected between 2006-2010, reports the number of architects in each state and their race, gender, age and income. The data reveals which states have the highest/lowest income, the best/worst gender discrepancies, and also offer insights into the average age and races of architects, per state.
The commonly held view that New York and California are the twin epicenters of US architecture is reinforced by the statistics, with the states sharing over a quarter of the nation’s architects between them (9.81% and 15.51% respectively). However, the survey also compares the number of architects in relation to population size, which uncovers a few surprises; while New York and California are ranked 4th and 10th in this category, Hawaii actually comes in at number 2, with Massachusetts at number 3.
The District of Columbia, included as its own data set, is also an interesting point of comparison as it is the only entirely urban entry. The number of architects in comparison to the population size is almost four times the national average, putting DC way out in first for this category. DC architects are also younger, better paid and more racially diverse than states which cover larger areas and contain a greater portion of rural communities.
Nationally, one in every four architects is female. While this is fractionally better than in the UK, it can hardly be considered progressive. Some states, though, are ahead of the curve: in Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, and Delaware this number is around one in three. At the other end of the spectrum, Arkansas, Wyoming and West Virginia have one female architect in about every ten; Arkansas sets the low-tide mark for inequality at around one in fifteen (6.5% women).
A similar pattern emerges in the racial demographics – nationally around 80% of architects are white, and, with the notable exception of Hawaii (48.5% Asian and only 32.1% White), at least two architects in every three are White in each state. In fact 38 of the US’s 50 states are less equal than the national average of 80%; if it weren’t for the more diverse, populous states (California, Florida, Texas and New York), then the average might be much higher. Once again Arkansas and Wyoming take the spotlight as least equal, this time along with both North and South Dakota: 100% of architects in all four states are white.
In some places, the statistics describing the age of architects give a further dimension to the equality statistics: in Wyoming, for example, a third of architects are in their Sixties, with only 8.3% under the age of 40. In North Dakota a different pattern is emerging: 40% of its architects are under 40, in line with the national average, but there is not a single architect between 40-49. At the other end of the age range, an impressive 11.4% of North Dakotan architects are 70 or older.
Finally, the statistics on wages may prove useful to any architects considering a relocation. Interestingly, Mississippi seems a good state in which to start a young career, with not a single architect earning less than $25,000. Those wishing to earn big money might consider New Jersey, Hawaii, California, or Connecticut and avoid Vermont, Montana and West Virginia.
Cite: Stott, Rory. "Study Reveals US States with Highest Pay, Most Equality" 10 Jul 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 10 Jul 2013. <http://www.archdaily.com/400935>
Nikos Salingaros is unafraid of a controversial statement. A professor of Mathematics and Urban theory, he has been using his scientific approach to study architecture and urban environments for years, and has come to a conclusion: Modernism is just about the worst thing that happened to architecture.
As Salingaros explains, not only is it impossible to have any “Green” architecture within a modernist framework, but, moreover, Modernism encourages us to deny our biologically-evolved senses and embrace an unnatural, inhuman built world – and why? Because there’s a whole lot of money and power behind those “modernist boxes.” As Salingaros puts it:
“Architectural Education ever since the Bauhaus, and continuing to the present day without interruption, teaches students to interpret built forms according to very peculiar abstract criteria, and not through their own biologically-evolved senses and cognitive intelligence. This is radical training in sensory denial: desensitizing people so that their interpretation of the world can be defined by others with an agenda.”
I interviewed Salingaros to get to the bottom of his theories and understand his anti-Modern crusade.
AD: Can you describe what you mean by your term “Architectural Myopia”? How has Architecture Education passed on this “condition” through generations?
Michael Mehaffy and I coined this term to describe the curious (and alarming) phenomenon whereby someone who has gone through architecture school can look at a horrid, inhuman structure, and declare it to be great architecture. Such persons literally cannot see what is right in front of them. The corollary is also frightening: those same people look at older historical and vernacular structures and totally miss their intense degree of embedded life and humanity. To such people, “old” means useless, shameful, and is marked for elimination.
Architectural Education ever since the Bauhaus, and continuing to the present day without interruption, teaches students to interpret built forms according to very peculiar abstract criteria, and not through their own biologically-evolved senses and cognitive intelligence. This is radical training in sensory denial: desensitizing people so that their interpretation of the world can be defined by others with an agenda. But because of this architectural myopia, a large group of people happily accepts the conditioning and doesn’t realize what’s going on. And they don’t understand why others disagree drastically with them.
AD: Do you think that the recent movements in Architecture Education — the rise of interest in public-interest design, design-build programs, etc. — could be hinting towards a shift in the way Architecture Education forms architects’ minds?
Absolutely. All of these developments are moving architecture in the right direction of becoming liberated from modernist dogma. Of course, the core problem is not yet touched, but maybe that’s coming as well. However, it is possible for the entrenched image-based way of thinking to permit minor changes at the periphery while fiercely protecting its core (which consists of a fundamental dogma and not a body of discovered results) from any revision, because that would lead to catastrophic implosion of the system itself. The system is adapting for its own survival, not by becoming more adaptive to human sensibilities, but by using fashion to keep up appearances.
Whenever I teach a course at my Architecture School (not every semester), my students are surprised to discover that other instructors cover none of our material, nor does it even appear in the textbooks for their other courses. This means that what I consider as the core body of architectural knowledge (see, for example, my book “Unified Architectural Theory”, 2013) is not taught on a regular basis. And in most schools, it is never taught at all. Therefore, we are producing architecture graduates who are ignorant of the basis of their discipline (other than technical knowledge on construction and materials), yet have been misled to believe they are educated enough to build for humanity. This is an alarming situation that would not be tolerated in any other professional or academic field.
AD: One could call you a one-man crusader against Modernism. Why, in your opinion, is Modernism so damaging (in both “developed” and “developing” nations)? Why the crusade?
That’s not true. I’m certainly not alone. I’m simply one of many who refuse to conform to the cult of industrial images and who speak out for a more human alternative. Ever since the 60s and 70s serious critics of modernism have been actively building, writing, and lecturing. The establishment in power takes care never to mention us, and denies our existence. Today there is a sizable network of architects, urbanists and thinkers who argue for more or less the same things as I do. I am part of this larger movement.
Modernism is damaging to all cultures, yet those that are wealthy can and do periodically escape its suffocating effects. They possess other sources of emotional nourishment. But it is the economically impoverished cultures dependent upon the industrialized West, and those that are subjected to “soft oppression” by the dominance of the global media, that suffer most deeply. They have no way out. Their own elites are forcing the modernist dogma down their throats.
A crusade? Not really. Simply an educational effort to let people know they don’t have to accept this century-old cultural hegemony of a banal inhuman style to shape the built environment, and that their own feelings, which rebel against the modernist dogma, are in fact valid. Yet it’s very sad that, even when people realize the truth, and actually glimpse the liberating potential of our ideas, they are still captive to accepted opinion and are reluctant to speak their mind. They are terrified to risk change.
AD: Although you are an urban theorist, you are a mathematician by training. What does architecture stand to gain from mathematic and/or scientific principles?
The only way to startle global culture so that it stops following a sterile movement is through reason. Science is based on reason, so this is a way out, possibly the only solution to get us out of a real cultural muddle. Non-adaptive architecture and urbanism have been perpetuated by entrenched power and the opinion of a small elite group, and, to a large extent, through a benign but ultimately disastrous conformity. Human beings find it natural to conform, but conforming to emotionally stultifying design and building practices does not do the world any good: it just perpetuates a monumental mistake. You need to shine the scientific light of reason on the damaging consequences of this conformity to break out, and even then it’s not easy.
In science (but unfortunately not in society) a correct fact can overturn a flawed but accepted practice that is being followed by the majority. Minority scientific opinion really carries enormous weight because of a system that has strict guidelines for validation. Society is not scientific, however, but power-driven. Either the manipulated majority rules, or a tiny elite in power rules, even if those are leading society towards its own destruction. We see this continually in human history. But since the Enlightenment, the world has embraced scientific training as part of general education. Has it made any difference? We’ll see.
AD: Could you describe what role ornamentation plays in architecture?
Ornament is the key to understanding the process of life, both biological and architectural.Ornament generates ordered information. It adds coherent information that is visual and thus immediately perceivable on a structure. Successful ornament does not stick something on top of form: instead it spontaneously creates smaller and smaller divisions out of the whole. Just like biological life, which is all about information: how to structure it, how to keep it together as the living body, and how to replicate it so that the genetic pattern is not lost forever. But without ornament, either there is no information, or the information is random, hence useless.
The loss of ornament is the loss of vital architectural information. Ever since that fateful moment in history, there is little life in architecture. Unornamented forms and spaces are dead, sterile, and insipid, defining a sort of cosmic “cold death”: an empty universe where no life can exist. But for a century, this empty state has been the desired aim of architects: to remove information from the built environment. New design developments may seem to be re-introducing information, but this is deceptive in that it is random. Components do not align; forms have no connectivity; there are no small-scale sub-symmetries; all the key informational patterns are missing. The complex informational coherence of living structure is deliberately avoided.
AD: Why is it that so much “Green” architecture is anything but? And what is the problem with “Green” ranking systems such as LEED?
When people try to create life within a framework that is meant to eliminate it, the result is disappointing, to say the least. Green architecture cannot be generated with the modernist/industrial rubric that so many architects are working in today. It’s simply impossible. That’s why the results are frustrating. LEED is a rich society’s certification, improving the energy properties of buildings but always within the high-technology approach. I don’t see how it can possibly serve a world where the majority of buildings are self-built out of local and scrap materials. A truly green architecture needs to be low-tech and low-cost, by definition. Otherwise, it is just meant for one tiny segment of the construction industry.
LEED for individual buildings works to improve the modernist glass box with techno-fixes. It starts with that unstated pre-condition. But we really should abandon the glass box altogether as a monstrous misunderstanding and stop worshipping it as an article of faith. On the other hand, LEED Neighborhood Development is a far broader and more intelligent approach, and I have hope for genuine improvements here. The focus is on urban complexes, their distinct scales, interactions, paths, open spaces, etc. and not on individual glass boxes. Just paying attention to movement reveals the complex nature of living spaces.
AD: What would be examples of actual green or sustainable architecture?
Everything built before the industrial age had to be sustainable or else it was not used. An energy-guzzling typology was simply too wasteful to survive. Cities evolved to optimize energy use and human interactions. So we can look around at all the older structures and learn our lessons on how to build for passive energy use. Sustainable architecture is there right in front of us: but disdained and bulldozed because it does not look “modern”. Add some of today’s technological gadgets, and we can create marvels. Again, we cannot expect people in the developing world to rely upon imported high-tech components: that’s a recipe for disaster. Some people actually wish to create this dependence, for their own profit, but it does not serve society.
AD: Are you familiar with the work of Neri Oxman, an “anti-modernist” who studies natural systems in order develop multi-functional materials? Is this a kind of approach to architecture that you would support?
Yes. Neri Oxman is doing similar work to my friends at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia. They are studying how biological forms are generated, which is great. For the moment, people are working with 3-dimensional cutting and molding machines, which are the stuff of architecture schools. But there are profound implications for the real world. Once the generative process is better understood, it can be applied to use affordable local materials to build adaptive forms, just like in the millennial practices of vernacular architectures. No longer cute models with fancy materials, but real buildings. These important experiments are leading us out of the glass box.
I have to caution, however, that this experimental approach to form making is not hijacked to generate inhuman buildings. Experimentation and research should be applied towards adapting to human needs and not usurped to further promoting abstract, inhuman architecture. We already see designs for ridiculous forms having an interesting complexity, but which are totally unsuitable for actual buildings.
AD: Just as you believe that Modernist architecture is unsustainable, so too do you suggest that Modernist-planned cities are non-resilient. What would a resilient city look like — would it be the result of non-design? What role — if any — should architects play in planning cities?
I’m shocked by urban monstrosities proposed almost daily, coming from the offices of starchitects and from younger starchitect wannabees. Those schemes are so oppressively anti-human, so totally malevolent; and yet they are the products of good intentions and the most prestigious architectural training. There is something dreadfully wrong here, when young architects wishing to do good propose inhuman prisons of unspeakable horror. For this reason, I would be extremely reluctant to employ an architect to design a city, or a portion of urban fabric, unless that person also has training in the topics I write about.
It’s not that we don’t know how to design cities fit for human beings: many of my friends certainly know how to do that. I myself have developed and published extensive practical guidelines. But because the product of adaptive, resilient design looks like a traditional city (without wishing to be a copy of anything), it is attacked as “not modern”. Clients at the highest levels all seem to want inhuman cities because those look “modern”. It’s all about look and starchitect image branding: not about use, nor human adaptation, nor resilience. And governments and planning committees seem unable to break out of that destructive behavior pattern.
AD: You once suggested that architects could, in theory, change the system: “the small towns, smaller design and planning firms, and individual traditional architects — could, in principle, counter the trend of the vast monolithic power of the globalized engineering firms tied to starchitects who work for third-world regimes.” How could this come about?
I don’t know. I’m not optimistic nowadays. In theory, the bottom-up approach should work, letting small-scale practice and innovation run free in the classic entrepreneurial model. It works with technological development, for example. But we face two serious problems. First, with the mind-set of all the schools and the media. They simply will not accept the required innovation. Not only do they ridicule through direct intervention whatever does not conform to stylistic dogma (again, it’s the image); but also more subtly, because the population at large has come to expect certain images promoted and sold by the starchitects. Therefore, the small independent architect cannot sell a truly adaptive design to a client.
Second, even if the client desires human-oriented architectural and urban innovation, and is willing to oppose the status quo, the bank and insurance company will not approve a project because it is “unusual”, and the local building codes will block it. An inflexible construction industry used to doing things the old (modernist) way will create problems. Builders and subcontractors prefer simply to continue with what they have been doing all along: it makes a profit, so why change the model? The market has become totally dominated by industrial types of images, and the construction/finance industry has aligned itself to reproducing precisely those images. In this extremely restrictive climate, no true innovation can ever occur.
RIBA awards its annual Sterling Prize to the building that has made the greatest contribution to British architecture that year.
It is considered an extremely high honor in the world of architecture.
This year the prize will be presented on Thursday, September 26 at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in London.
The six contenders are...
Astley Castle, Nuneaton, Warwickshire by Witherford Watson Mann
Newhall Be, Harlow, Essex by Alison Brooks Architects
SEE ALSO: The Best Architecture In Shanghai
Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA), the forward-thinking Los Angeles-based architecture firm led by architect and USC professor Alvin Huang has recently won an international competition to design a rapidly deployable pavilion that will simultaneously showcase and charge Volvo’s new plug-in electric hybrid, the V60.
Volvo’s “Switch to Pure Volvo” competition, organized by international architecture magazine THE PLAN, called for an innovative and original design for a temporary pavilion that expressed a “strong and creative identity” to showcase the car at fairs and open air presentations in Italian squares. SDA’s approach was to use the car’s design as a flexible and sustainable vehicle as the basis to reimagine the typical trade show pavilion.
SDA emphasized the qualities of dynamic form, interactivity, visual impact, functionality, and efficiency to create a novel temporary structure that, while iconic, also offers high performance. The design integrates structure, form, and performance by utilizing a continuous organic form composed of HDPE mesh fabric with integrated photovoltaic panels tensioned over carbon fiber rods. In fact, the digitally designed contours of the mesh fabric are what bend the rods into their curvy forms. The result calls to mind the image of an elegantly diaphanous orchid.
The jury felt SDA’s solution was the strongest and most original of over 150 submissions from around the world. According to jury statements, the pavilion embodied “visual impact”, “high quality”, and “the advancement of technology through form, materials, and functionality.” They appreciated that the pavilion also functioned as a “photovoltaic shelter”.
“This competition presented us with a unique challenge as architects,” says SDA principal and founder, Alvin Huang. “It addressed issues we are constantly working on and offered the potential to address sustainability as something much broader that can also encompass issues of identity, contemporary culture, materiality, permanence, and personal mobility.”
The pavilion itself is highly mobile. In SDA’s proposal, it is shown arriving on site in the back of a V60, completely collapsed into a small tent bag.
“It was important that it be easy to deploy, break down, and move around,” says Huang. What is truly remarkable about the design is that once assembled it looks like one continuous smooth surface without the usual expression of components.
For SDA it was important that the design be imbued with the same vision of energy efficiency and sustainability as the V60. With its embedded photovoltaics the pavilion functions as “charger” for the V60 on display, with the charging cable concealed within and peeling away from the tubing. The use of lightweight high-tech materials and photovoltaic power generation makes the pavilion extremely cost-effective for fabrication, transportation, and setup.
This was another factor the jury considered when making their decision. It does not require a large crew, the use of a truck, or other additional equipment for installation. In a broader sense, the pavilion expresses SDA’s ongoing exploration of integrating performance with dynamic forms and pushing the boundaries of materials and geometries to create compelling and moving spatial experiences.
Engineering firm Buro Happold is providing structural engineering. As Greg Otto, principal of Buro Happold Los Angeles says, “Membrane structures present numerous challenges in converging architectural intentions with engineering first principles. Our engineering team will refine the geometries prepared by SDA using proprietary software based upon dynamic relaxation to optimize the form, design the structural boundary conditions, and ultimately pattern the fabric.”
Architects: Synthesis Design + Architecture (SDA)
Design Team: Alvin Huang, Filipa Valente, Chia-ching Yang, Behnaz Farahi, Yueming Zhou, Joseph Sarafian
Structural Engineering: Buro Happold Los Angeles (Greg Otto, Stephen Lewis, Ron Elad)
Client: Volvo Italy
Developed by: Fabric Images (Chicago)
Competition Organizer: The Plan Magazine (Italy)
Opening date: September 15, 2013
Program: Rapidly depoloyable pavilion to showcase the Volvo V60
Area: 36 sqm
Materials: HDPE Mesh, Photovoltaic panels, Carbon-fiber
This discussion on Quora, entitled “which is the most well planned city in the world?” certainly got us thinking; not only because of the interesting and diverse answers to the question, but also because of the different reasons which were used to support these answers.
Currently the most popular answer seems to be Zurich, on account of its excellent (and obsessively punctual) public transport, organized waste disposal and numerous public drinking fountains. Other cities which are commended for their public transport and cleanliness are Singapore and Seoul. But other contributors seem to have a very different idea of what makes a well-planned city – read on to find out more.
Amsterdam is cited for its ability to maintain 17th century charm without feeling old-fashioned, integrating new and old into its well-planned canal system. On the other hand, cities such as Brasilia, Chandigarh and Canberra are commended as 20th Century, logically planned cities that still adhere to the original vision. Along similar lines, Chicago and Salt Lake City are offered as examples of cities where the gridded road systems adhere to a relentless logic.
Yet more contributors think that the golden age of city planning is long gone, claiming Machu Picchu is the best planned city in the world. Indeed it’s hard to argue with the logic – a terraced, perfectly irrigated city built (without the the wheel) on the peak of a mountain is surely an amazing achievement.
There’s also a nod to Auroville, an experimental town in India which is not only meticulously planned spatially – as a spiral of different districts with its ‘peace zone’ in the center – it is also a planned social experiment bringing together people of different nationalities who share the same worldview.
Finally, even Minas Tirith is mentioned – though strictly this city can at most claim to be the best planned city in Middle Earth.
So what, in your opinion, makes a city well planned? Is it order, rules and regularity? A single guiding vision? Is it combining new and old in a way that enhances both? Leave your opinion in the comments below.
REBNY is challenging the Landmarks Preservation Commission, arguing it has too much power when it comes to planning decisions, and that by making business so difficult for developers it is stifling the growth of the city.
Yet not three days before releasing this study, president of REBNY Steve Spinola said in an interview with WNYC that “if you ask my members, they will tell you [the twelve years of Mayor Bloomberg's tenure] has been a great period of time for them.” The conclusion of WNYC is that the past decade has actually been a period of increased growth for developers, rather than a period of stagnation.
It would be easy to echo the opinion of Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, who believes the actions of REBNY come down to greed, even comparing its members to Gordon Gekko, the anti-hero of the film Wall Street. But is greed really what's behind this attack on the Landmarks Preservation Commission?
Architecture historian Francis Morrone provides a more balanced view, saying that the growth that was enabled by Mayor Bloomberg’s policies was part of an attempt to keep pace with other global cities. But he believes this attempt has a serious flaw: instead of improving the city, this investment is pushing up prices and forcing all but the richest citizens to leave New York altogether:
“The city is going to survive. The City is going to thrive,” he cautions, however, that “Not all the people in the city are going to thrive, or even continue living here.”
This approach begs the question “what is a city for?”
Edward Glaeser’s book Triumph of the City places people at the centre of a city’s purpose. Cities provide opportunity and prosperity to the people who inhabit them, which isn’t available in rural areas. Glaeser believes that by bringing together people of diverse backgrounds with different ideas, and placing them at close proximity in dense living conditions, cities afford chance encounters and cross-seeding of new ideas, and therefore create the innovation which drives economic prosperity.
When we look at the new global cities – most notably in China and India – we see that their explosive growth over the past decade has been fuelled by an unprecedented urban migration. Furthermore, the expansion of these cities has entailed an attitude to preservation which would probably horrify most New Yorkers.
In a city such as Shanghai, the population has yet to peak, increasing by an astounding 40% between 2000 and 2010. The population now stands at over 23 million. As a city which still has its best years ahead of it, the existing buildings are willingly sacrificed, with the understanding that their replacements will be more representative of their aspirations for the future – for lack of a more precise word, the new buildings are assumed to be ‘better’.
Because New York has already been through this process, during the industrial revolution and the earlier part of the 20th century, the numbers involved are lower: the population of New York peaked just short of 8 million in 1950 – a figure which it only returned to and finally surpassed around the turn of the millennium, now reaching about 8.3 million. As a result, the majority of its significant buildings, which form part of its cultural history, date from before the 1950s, and many of these are the jewels in the crown of the landmarks commission.
Very simply, Shanghai is at a different stage in its life cycle, and when it does finally stop expanding it could conceivably be four or five times the size of New York. For the city of New York to put such an emphasis on competing with Shanghai economically at this point would be pure vanity.
This sentiment is echoed by Michael Kimmelman in a recent article about the proposal to re-zone East Midtown: “New York can surely never win a skyscraper race with Shanghai or Singapore. Its future, including the future of Midtown real estate values, depends on strengthening and expanding what already makes the city a global magnet and model. This means mass transit, pedestrian-friendly streets, social diversity, neighborhoods that don’t shut down after 5 p.m., parks and landmarks like Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building.”
For New York, whose growth is to some extent restricted by a geography, infrastructure and culture which would never support 20 million or more people, a much better plan would be to stop competing and to thrive on its own terms. How could it go about doing this?
To return to the current argument between developers and preservationists, in simple economic terms, real estate developers are on the supply side of building. In a city such as New York, which is currently suffering a housing shortage, development would be expected to decrease costs as the supply of living space increases.
Preservation, on the other hand, limits new supply and also creates a ‘cultural commodity’ of preserved buildings, both of which would increase the cost of living. How is it, then, that Francis Morrone cites new development as part of the problem, rather than the solution to rising costs?
Quite simply, the members of REBNY are building the wrong type of development: where developers do get the opportunity to build without restriction, they are too often building luxury apartments that are only an option for the super-rich. This may be good for their short-term profit margins, but it is bad for the long-term vitality of the city, as those who are not astoundingly wealthy are forced to leave – and the city becomes less diverse and less productive as a result.
The Real Estate Board is right in arguing that preservation of buildings can cause stagnation and inflation, but it forgets that preservation adds value to the surrounding neighborhood and the city as a whole. What developers need to do is make this cultural commodity available to all by building a greater variety of new buildings, particularly when it comes to apartments. This will diminish their returns in the short run, but will generate gradual yet sustainable growth in New York, in turn ensuring a more sustainable revenue stream for the members of the Real Estate Board of New York themselves – and they still have 72.3% of Manhattan to do that in.
The 2010 launch of the “Boris Bike” – London’s cycle hire scheme, named after mayor Boris Johnson – was the clearest indication to date that cycling was no longer just for a minority of fanatics but a healthy, efficient and sustainable mode of transport that city planners wanted in their armoury.
There are now more than 8,000 Boris Bikes and 550+ docking stations in Central London. And the trend’s not anomalous to London: Wikipedia reports that there are 535 cycle-share schemes in 49 countries, employing more than half a million bikes worldwide.
However, the real question is: will cycling actually change the city? Will it result in new urban forms or, as the title of Australian academic Dr Steven Fleming’s new book predicts, a “Cycle Space”? Like Fleming, I believe so. I believe that cycling might just be the catalyst for a 21st Century urban renaissance.
Recently I took four weeks out of the office to cycle from Chicago to New York and to visit cities along the way. My 1,300 mile trip was part of a group expedition called P2P that went from Portland, Oregon to Portland Place in London (read more about it onportlandtoportland.org). The objective was to report back to the UK and London in particular on American city-cycling culture and the political initiatives that are emerging in the US.
What impressed us was the speed of progress. When we were in Chicago at the end of June, the city launched its own bike share scheme. New York already has one. The docking stations bring tangible cycle infrastructure to the city streets. In-carriage and separated cycle routes have begun to proliferate. Disused railway lines are being harnessed as leisure trails, and in some cases these were working well for commuters too. Indianapolis had recently completed their “Cultural Trail,” an active transportation loop linking the five central city districts.
Towards the end of my trip, it occurred to me that this explosion in cycling, ought to be put into an historic context, in order to enable the politicians and the public to recognize the scale of the opportunity, the change it might bring to our cities and our lives.
Take London in 1667, a year after the Great Fire of 1666. An Act of Parliament was passed that introduced building inspectors to ensure that buildings be built from brick and not timber (a law which predated the fire, but that hadn’t been enforced). Of course, the fire and resulting devastation meant that much of London had to be rebuilt, and that these buildings would be brick.
In the Twentieth Century, Corbusian Modernism eventually had a monumental impact on London’s streets and skyline. Again the catalyst was in part a disaster – the havoc wreaked by the Luftwaffe and the need for rapid reconstruction – and the solution was political. The dilapidated terraced houses with their back yards and privies were associated with poverty and poor living conditions. Modernity, and the mass production of homes demonstrated optimism, and a commitment to those who had survived the war. It was a tangible dimension of the newly established Welfare State.
Of course, the tabula rasa model wasn’t necessary. It was ideological. But it brought with it flats with fitted kitchens, bathrooms and toilets. This prompted the gradual gentrification of the remaining streets. Indoor toilets were fitted, and bedrooms and sculleries were converted into bathrooms and kitchens in the surviving 19th century housing stock.
But it’s the work of Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, that stands out to me – not just for its contribution to public health but also for its potential parallels to Cycle Space. For much of its history London had been associated with poor living conditions and disease. By the late 1850s the scale of the city was making things worse: London’s sewage was deposited into the River Thames, out of which the city’s drinking water was being collected. Bazalgette’s solution was to construct a series of sewers that would run parallel to the Thames, both north and south of the river, collecting the sewage and ensuring the drinking water that was drawn from the river was clean.
This monumental feat of engineering offers us the best precedent for the impact the bicycle might have on London or any city for that matter. Cycling offers us, for the first time in more than a century and a half, the chance to build an infrastructure that will bring with it significant public health improvements. In our auto-centric world, we have unprecedented levels of health problems – obesity, diabetes, etc – all associated with our sedentary lifestyles. Cycling should mean a fitter population and a longer life expectancy, which would take pressure off the National Health Service and bring huge economic benefits. It would of course also reduce energy consumption.
From an architect’s perspective though, the question remains: what will Cycle cities be like?
The day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral at St.Paul’s Cathedral gave me an indication. For security reasons, much of the Square Mile was closed to vehicular traffic; the streets were preserved for the pedestrian and the cyclist. What I remember about that day was the sense of calm, how quiet it was, and how generous the streets actually felt. For a brief moment the public realm was uniquely different. Imagine: whilst it may not be possible to ban the car outright, it ought to be possible to keep HGVs and delivery vans out during the day, when their impact on the physical environment and the safety of pedestrians and cyclists is most evident.
Imagine that the Boris Bike docking stations outside railway stations and in key public spaces might incorporate general cycle parking. Thus the Cycle City would bring with it a new building type – the multistory cycle park. Fietsenstalling, a multistorey cycle park outside Amsterdam’s Centraal rail station, with its Escher-like pattern of steel decks that suspend over the canal, is a dramatic model. Its very presence is didactic. It is persuasive.
And imagine if – instead of London’s Cycle Superhighways, currently only blue-painted tracks on the side of the road – London’s cities and villages were linked by a series of segregated active transportation routes?What might these be like? A scheme our firm designed in response to a competition in 1998 could serve as a good model. At the time, “Park + Jog” was treated as a curiosity; we still describe it as a “ utopian scheme.” But nowadays, it seems less and less fanciful.
It envisioned a 1km stretch of dual carriageway between Salford University and Manchester city centre as a 4-lane linear Park. One lane is grassed, another a water channel, another sand and the last a running track. Commuters leave their cars in a multi-storey Car (P)Ark. The interchange also incorporates a suburban train station, cycle docking station, stables, and a boathouse and changing rooms. From the Car (P)Ark commuters head east into Manchester walking, jogging, cycling, rollerblading, horse riding, swimming or rowing. The Park terminates at a Suit Park where commuters can shower, change and get a coffee. (The word “suit” refers to the business suit). Eight hours later, on their way home, commuters deposit their clothes and return through the Park, to the interchange to collect their car or catch a train. The scheme could be extended to each of the radial routes into Manchester and at intervals these Parks could link, completing a comprehensive green commuter infrastructure.
What is striking about these parks is the positive impact they can have on their surrounding neighbourhoods, particularly when one considers the alternative. With roads, be it a dual carriageway or a street, comes heavy traffic, noise and pollution, at the expense of those who live and work around it. In the case of a High Street we forego certain types of shops, cafés and restaurants that engender a street life. At the scale of the dual-carriageway the A40 that tears through west London illustrates beautifully how dramatic the blight on homes can be, as this Mid-20th Century residential avenue has been transformed into a slum wrapped around a congested commuter road. These zones lack the ‘density’ of the city centre and the space of the suburb. And, each successive wave of Greenfield development adds to the expanse of this grey space.
Active transportation routes and linear parks, on the other hand, regenerate their surroundings, bringing activity and value to blighted sections of the city. They also radically alter the political situation for the suburb and its inevitable commute. Of course, the creation of these green networks need not be at the expense of the motorist. On the 10th July London’s Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy launched a study for London that envisaged burying sections of the North and South Circular ring roads, and stretches of road close to the Thames. The initiative would create linear parks overhead, much as the Big Dig did for Boston.
Although originally conceived for Manchester, I believe that Park+Jog may be adapted to any city worldwide and serve as an example for how Cycle Space could lay the ideological foundation to change our cities for the better. Combining new transportation methods that encourage the principles of a healthy life style with traditional roads can raise land values, attract investment and activate the urban environment. The social revolution that Bazalgette offered London in the 19th Century, Cycle Space might just bring to London and our world’s cities in the 21st.
Simon Henley is a teacher, author of the well-received book The Architecture of Parking, and co-founder of London-based studio Henley Halebrown Rorrison (HHbR). His column, London Calling, looks at London’s every-day reality, its architectural culture, and its role as a global architectural hub; above all, it will explore how London is influencing design everywhere, whilst being forever challenged from within. You can follow him @SiHenleyHHbR and be a fan of his Facebook page, HHbR Architecture.
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There is an intimate connection between people, power, poverty and place and there is no better city in the world to see this than Detroit. With the impending bankruptcy we cannot lose sight of the human issues that face our city.
For decades money and power have moved away from Detroit’s center. The complex reasons for this are well known so there is no need to rehash them here. Even in the face of city government’s failure to manage its assets properly, this is changing. There is slow and halting movement back to the center.
The movement back to the center is a good thing for many reasons. It will help bolster the tax base and that is the basic financial problem the city faces. But more importantly it will create a stronger spatial connection between power and poverty that we haven’t had in this region for a century.
Power will see poverty and poverty power. They will feel each other’s existence. They will see the humanity of each side and be nudged to recognize the shared responsibility caring for this shared place. This is how successful vital, dense urban cities operate. There is an acceptance of diversity on all levels. Barriers are reduced and human interaction encouraged. This is how creativity is bred. Exposure to diverse people, places and ideas excite and promote the imagination and a sense of the common good that includes everyone.
Of course, there are no illusions here. The rich and powerful are not likely to hang out on the street corner. That would push human nature beyond its current state. But, like New York City and other dense urban places, there will at least be a shared common place that people, whether powerful or impoverished, can work to improve.
For so long developers and their architects have planned and designed segregated communities outside and inside of Detroit’s limits. They have built gated housing communities, distant suburban single family housing developments, they have built office and industrial parks with warehouse like work space detached from any other amenity, they have built shopping malls surrounded by a sea of parking separate from the homes of the shoppers that drive there. The innate fear of the other, the desire to protect and separate ourselves from difference, the mere convenience and simplicity of developing on unspoiled land, has created a development model where one class, whether poor, rich or middle, have been isolated in one place, separate from the other. It was a profitable model for some but detrimental to our overall culture and economy.
In much of this country and in Detroit specifically, we have lacked the option of a vital dense and diverse urban life. Many of us see and hope for a safe city that we can walk and live in with diverse people and places to enjoy. We long for the benefits of living in a socially and economically diverse place. This desire is now being recognized.
Developers are seeing the demand for urban living in Detroit, but the change is slow. Hopefully bankruptcy does not dampen this progress. Kurt Metzger of Data Driven Detroit points out that the “Greater Downtown housing stock is full. Employment (Downtown) is increasing but the population will need to await new housing. The trend has begun and the momentum is definitely there. Rental rates will need to rise a little more to convince banks and developers, and appraisers, that the market is ready.” I think there is no doubt. The market is ready. We are ready.
Architects are working with developers and the community to help bring this about. The first job of an architect is to envision a better built world. Beyond the details of construction or any specific building style or type we work with our clients and the community to bring about a shared vision of how we want to live. Then we provide the technical and artistic skill to make that vision a reality.
The signs are there to make this happen. Recently architects and other designers contributed almost 200 entries to the Hudson’s Site competition sponsored by Opportunity Detroit; over 200 (also not all architects) entries in the Hart Plaza International design competition sponsored by AIA Detroit; AIA and other architects like Dan Kincaid and Dan Pitera of U of D Mercy are participating in and leading the Detroit Works Project; AIA Detroit’s urban priorities committee organized young architects and others building pop-up retail for the “Jazzin on Jefferson” event in June; and, of course, architects are working with private clients on large and small projects that will ultimately fill in and make Detroit a wonderful urban place.
The great bones of this city, the soul and creativity of its citizens, whether living in Detroit proper or the surrounding communities make it possible to rebuild this place in an authentic way. From the beauty of the Detroit River to the Woodward city plan established in 1805, with its quirky hybrid spoke street grid combination, to the wonderful iconic historical buildings that fill our skyline, we have the makings of a great place here.
For citizens, community leaders and architects alike there is a critical ingredient that we cannot forget. This is a shared adventure. It’s not a private enterprise. Whether poor or powerful we are the people, together, recreating this place and we can only be successful if everyone is included in its vision and encouraged to participate in its construction.
Frank X. Arvan is president of AIA Detroit. This article originally appeared on Model D as “Opinion: Despite Detroit Bankruptcy, Architects Must Imagine A Better Built Environment“
When New York City architect Curtis B. Wayne first started talking about “The Fourth Architecture,” it was clear he was not doing so to make friends. You do not write manifestos to make friends. You write them because of some perceived urgency, because the time is right.
As a long-standing practitioner, radio host, and graduate of Cooper Union and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, he already has a lot of friends. What he’s interested in is saving architecture from the current orthodoxy of form-making over substance, or “sculpture you can live in.” “We are too wise for this,” writes Wayne.
In fact, I can go further. Judging from the little red book that has finally emerged from Wayne’s brain, appropriately titled, The Shape of Things that Work: The Fourth Architecture, I’m almost certain he set out to piss people off. But not without a purpose.
In Wayne’s conception, the First Architecture is the Hellenistic, the Second is the Gothic, and the Third is the modern – up to and including our contemporary, formal experimentation with software.
To get to the Fourth Architecture, as Wayne himself will tell you, architecture needs less self-congratulatory back slapping and more holding of feet to the fire, more self-criticism within our ranks.
In the book, he quotes his former professor and mentor, John Q. Hejduk: “The fundamental issue of architecture is that does it affect the spirit, or doesn’t it? If it doesn’t affect the spirit, it’s a building. If it affects the spirit, it’s architecture.”
Wayne argues that the present state of digital form-making is akin to mere decoration and that architecture needs to return to “shapes that work” – shapes that constitute responses to real environmental, economic, and social forces. Otherwise, as Hejduk would assert, it’s just building.
“Are architects the natural and logical integrators of the artistic with the technical? It can be argued that owing to our training we—above all other professions—“should” be the master builders, the master integrators. But instead we see the profession fractured by the self-identifying trends of so-called sustainability; the intrusion of pure form, driven by the complexities of shape-making made possible by computational generation; and the relegation of discussions of urbanism and social function to the “soft” professions of the social sciences. And yet, we architects can and should include all these aspects in our practice; we must, else we are merely makers of decoration.”
What then counts as Fourth Architecture? To begin with, it helps to look at what it is NOT. For example, the Morphosis-designed New Academic Building for Cooper Union. Wayne calls it “an exemplary failure” because its signature enveloping screen system, designed to be computer-operable, does not work, and has thus been reduced to mere manually-operated decoration, a static façade.
For Wayne, true architecture is missing when form-making takes precedence over function and performance. The Morphosis case is an interesting one because it is an example of good intentions that ultimately failed. The building desperately wanted to be part of the Fourth Architecture, but fell short.
“The integration of functional form with the beautiful is as elusive as a conclusive definition of beauty itself,” says Wayne. This may be why there are so few examples of successful Fourth Architecture candidates. But looking back in time, he finds a few to illustrate his point: George Fred Keck’s Crystal House, RMJM’s Glaxo-Wellcome building, and the Helicon Building by Sheppard Robson Architects.
Wayne also looks at something called the HeliOptix Integrated Concentrating Solar Façade, developed by the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology and currently part of a proposed design by SHoP Architects for New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. Wayne defines this as a wall determined by its intended function, a wall that works, as he would stress. The wall is comprised of pyramidal water-cooled modules that rotate and track the sun. Lenses concentrate sunlight onto photovoltaic cells.
The Fourth Architecture, then, that which expresses functional responses to the environment and human needs, doesn’t position style as a driving element – it is “style-less.” Though it could be argued this constitutes a style in its own right, it is style not for style’s sake, but as the result of integrated priorities.
Mr. Wayne’s little red book neatly crystallizes some of the major design issues confronting practice today. With the ability to make almost any shape or form through scripting, computation, parametrics, or simply push-me-pull-me and other plug-ins, he is arguing for a reason, for “shapes that work,” a return to architectural forms that have a purpose.
If this were the case, would we lose anything? What would we stand to gain in this post-parametric world? Or perhaps this is the highest potential for parametricism – and the form-making we have been seeing over the last few years is merely the first phase toward something new, toward The Fourth Architecture. Let’s hope so.
Guy Horton is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to authoring “The Indicator”, he is a frequent contributor to The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and The Huffington Post. He has also written for Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. You can hear Guy on the radio and podcast as guest host for the show DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW out of Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.
We’ve recently covered the topic of prison design on a number of occasions – more specifically the work of Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, led by Raphael Sperry. ADPSR is campaigning to have the AIA forbid its members from designing prisons; however, we have previously questioned the effectiveness of this tactic, with other professionals, such as engineers, often willing to design prisons in the absence of architects. In another article on the topic, we suggested that the problem lies not with the ethics of architects, but with the US prison system itself.
This raised the question of how architects might actually change the system – are we stuck with the political landscape we are given, or are we capable of leveraging our expertise to make positive changes to society?
It turns out that Deanna VanBuren of FOURM Design Studio is doing exactly that. Through her designs, as well as workshops and events with the public and with prisoners, VanBuren is championing restorative justice: a form of incarceration centered around rehabilitation rather than punishment. We interviewed VanBuren to find out how she is encouraging people to accept restorative justice above punishment.
ArchDaily: First off, I’d like to know in more detail how you’re engaging both the public and those in prisons, for whom you run workshops. What is the format of the design workshops, and can you give some examples of how they have affected participants?
Deanna Van Buren: One way we are currently engaging with the public on the issues of restorative justice, design and incarcerated spaces is through lectures and workshops at critical conferences. These conferences cover the key stakeholder groups which include: restorative justice practitioners, peace and justice advocates, architects & designers, mediators, social workers, and those working in corrections. My partner, Barb Toews is a PhD candidate in social work at Bryn Mawr and we are doing these individually and separately at the following: The National Restorative Justice Conference, Peace and Justice Studies Association, International Institute of Restorative Practices, Canada National RJ Symposium, Virginia Mediators Conference and the American Society of Criminology.
Inside the institutions we have done and will continue to run design studios and do evidence-based design research in Chester Prison and various jails around Philadelphia. We are developing and setting up a series of two-day workshops we hope to hold in San Quentin, Graterford prison where Barb has been working for a long time and two additional women’s prisons, one on each coast. In order to do these we have developed a toolkit that meets the strict security requirements of many institutions. We will create a website where stakeholders can access these tools but will also be creating a hard copy version, since incarcerated men and women do not have access to digital tools.
The format of the workshops include key readings across design and restorative justice that accompany handouts for seminar style discussions using a circle format. These tend to be quite intense discussions on everything from “does architecture punish” to how city planning and gentrification impact their communities. The second half of the classes or workshops involves teaching design tools that enable the students to engage in a final project where they redesign the spaces they live in. We had a final presentation the last time the supervisor and some staff attended. They also sat on the review panel with us.
AD: Currently, the general public in the US tends to view incarceration as predominantly a punitive exercise – do you believe that this is a particular challenge to your work, or do you find that most people change their opinions when confronted with evidence, such as the example set by New Zealand (where restorative justice has been in place for 20 years and has proven to be very effective)?
DV: To date these attitudes, along with ignorance of restorative justice or what designers do, has made this work challenging. Those working in criminal justice may become defensive as their role within the context of the system appears to be under threat – or if ideas about designing spaces for refuge and rehabilitation conflict with entrenched ideas about crime and punishment. Both are often seen as soft options. Examples of New Zealand are intriguing to people and sometimes helpful in advocating for restorative justice, but often what is more impactful are the stories of our interactions with the men and women in prison. It helps people to see them as human… which of course they are.
AD: The response in comments on ArchDaily, and in other places regarding the work of ADPSR, generally has a progressive outlook on incarceration. In your experience, do you find architects as a group to be more progressive when it comes to incarceration?
DV: I think in general we are a more progressive bunch [...]. I do think we tend to stay in our bubbles and don’t get out to places where people have a very different point of view or just haven’t met anyone doing things differently. It’s important that we also reach out to those that disagree with us even though it can be not so fun!
AD: Can you give any comment on why it is you think the US justice system has come to take such a hard line on criminality?
DV: I am in agreement with Michelle Alexander that the hard line on crime we see now is coming out of a political strategy started by the Republican party under Nixon as a way of getting the low-income white vote which had traditionally been democratic. In order to do so politicians began criminalizing the civil rights moment and black America as a public safety issue through veiled racial rhetoric. The great slogan “getting tough on crime” was born out of this and became necessary to advance this mission and generated a lot of fear of the other. By the 80s the “war on drugs” became a major campaign to support this. White flight, disinvestment in our cities and the moving of jobs overseas only contributed to the climate of fear in this country as our urban cores declined. The film The House I Live in and Chapter 1 of Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow outline this progression very succinctly. The Race to Incarcerate by Marc Mauer is also a good resource for looking at crime and punishment across decades (including democratic contributions to our current problems).
AD: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the ultimate goal of what you do is to change a political landscape. With designs for restorative justice requiring a client willing to pay (in other words needing political backing), how do architects effect this change?
DV: I think it requires a great deal of education and campaigning to change our view of crime and will need both grassroots leaders and those at the top to participate in this. I am a very strong advocate for education and awareness building on all these topics from design education to awareness of the punitive system and its effects.
As part of the Public Interest Design movement my practice and partners are supporting these efforts at the moment by locating non-profits such as The National Council on Crime and Delinquency or the Center for Court Innovation who have respected track records innovating within the system and outside of it. We ask them to team with us to create spaces for restorative justice and peacemaking as a holistic model for change, such as our design for the Mediation Womb. We are in the early stages in that we are currently applying for grants to do these projects. In some cases we are looking to get funding that will create a vision to accompany program expansion and will then take that to the politicians at the top as a more comprehensive approach to addressing the prison industrial crisis. Many of my clients are also looking into social impact bonds which may be a way to fund more of this work.
Ultimately we use billions of our tax dollars on our punitive justice infrastructure so I think it will be easy to make the case to deflect some of the money into creating new prototypes like opportunity network centers and restorative justice centers that will cost a fraction of the price and support a process that will reduce crime – and also of course the obscene amount we are spending on punitive architecture.
My partner Barb would also add that its important to inspire people to think about the design of spaces and give them basic knowledge and skills to make their own changes, including changes that require little or no cost. For example, social workers can move their office furniture around so that clients have a view of the outside during sessions. In some ways it is a question of the different ways in which political landscapes can change – it requires small grassroots incremental stages as well as larger, top-down changes.
Ever expanding population growth coupled with the continuous development of urban centres mean that buildings, in general, will continue to get taller.
With the topping out of One World Trade Centre in May this year the worldwide competition to construct towers with soaring altitudes doesn’t seem to be slowing, especially in China and the UAE. The question on many people’s lips, however, is how much of these colossal buildings is actual usable space?
The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), who recently named the Best Tall Buildings for 2013, has published an article tackling the concept of Vanity Height, or “the distance between a skyscraper’s highest occupiable floor and its architectural top.”
The results demonstrate that many super-skyscrapers have surprisingly uneven ratios between habitable and non-occupiable space.
The CTBUH Height Criteria defines a building as supertall if its height to the ‘architectural top’ is above 300m (984ft). To give some context, the Empire State Building is measured at 373m (1224ft), whereas buildings such as Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which is measured at 828m (2717ft), are leading the way into the Era of the Megatall.
According to the CTBUH, as of July 2013, there are only 73 supertall and 2 megatall buildings in existence.
Dubai’s two tallest buildings both offer interesting statistics. The Burj Khalifa’s total vanity height is 244m which, on its own, would stand as Europe’s 11th tallest skyscraper.
The Burj Al-Arab, on the other hand, has “the greatest vanity ratio of any supertall building” with 124m (39%) of its total 321m height “devoted to non-occupiable space above the highest occupiable floor”.
The average vanity height in the UAE is 19%, making it the nation with “vainest” supertall buildings. In the USA, the Bank of America tower in New York has an occupied floor height of 235m, leaving 131m (or 36%) non-occupiable.
The CTBUH predict that once One World Trade Centre is complete in 2014, New York City will be home to three of the world’s top ten vanity heights.
Although we’re yet to see a building hit the 1000m mark, Emporis have compiled a list of the top ten tallest skyscrapers currently under construction.
Three of the tallest in the collection are being built in China, whilst two others (including the Kingdom Tower which is set to hit the 1000m mark, and the Makkah Clock Royal Tower) are in Saudi Arabia.
Whether Vanity Height ratios will grow as buildings around the globe compete to be the tallest will be something to watch.
This ArchDaily Architecture City Guide is dedicated to the vibrant city of Tel Aviv, originally established as a garden-city on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean in 1909.
Although widely known as “The White City” for boasting the world’s largest collection of International Style Buildings, Tel Aviv is not merely a monochromatic Bauhaus colony: it presents a rich mosaic of locally interpreted styles, from Eclectic to Brutalist to contemporary, which are the result of foreign and locally-born architects who adapted to the local cultural and climatic conditions.
The Pagoda House and the Eclectic Style
Built in 1925, The Pagoda House is one of the most impressive examples of eclectic architecture in Tel Aviv.
The three story house integrates elements from several architectural styles, time periods and motifs; its form is inspired by a traditional Chinese Pagoda, combined with load-bearing, Islamic arches and Greek Doric Columns.
Today, the house serves as a residential home for a Swedish investor, who purchased and renovated the house in the 1990’s, following years of neglect.
The Pagoda House is one of nearly 800 Eclectic Style buildings constructed in Tel Aviv in the 1920s, characterized by ornamented and colored facades, symmetrical divisions, domes, arches, and hanged balconies. The Eclectic style in Tel Aviv merged East and West to form a new architectural language and identity for the newly-born city, whose population grew from 2,000 in 1920 to 34,000 in 1935.
Dizengoff Square and the International Style
Located in the heart of Tel Aviv, The Dizengoff Square holds a rich significance not only culturally, as a well-known center of theaters, cinemas and nightlife, but also architecturally.
Originally designed by Genia Averbuch in 1934, the square was aligned at street level and contained a shaded public plaza, encompassed by four International Style white plastered-structures, characterized by horizontal windows, flat roofs and deep, curved balconies.
The square was remodelled in 1978 to accommodate traffic flow by elevating pedestrian circulation via ramps that connected to adjacent sidewalks; the result was a new, unshaded plaza that halted the visual continuum of Dizengoff street.
For this reason, the square is inhabited mostly after sundown, when the hot Mediterranean sun sets and the lights of Ya’akov Agam’s “Fire and Water Fountain” colorfully illuminate the newly renovated International Style houses that surround it.
Due to the over 4,000 International Style buildings constructed between 1930 and 1954 by European architects of Jewish origin, who emigrated Europe following the rise of the Nazi regime, the “White City” was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2003. These architects, who studied in Germany, Paris and Russia, were the crusaders of modernism in the new colony.
The new functional and economical architecture, characterized by simple geometry and a lack of ornamentation, accommodated the need for rapid, low-cost construction, and most of all suited the ideals of the new socialist and nearly-utopian society. However, the European-educated architects realized adaptation had to be made to the Middle Eastern climate: large glass windows were replaced by small and recessed ones, deep covered balconies provided shady spaces for residents, and city houses were raised on pilotis to allow the sea breeze to flow and cool them.
More examples of the International Style:
The El Al House and Brutalism:
The El Al House was designed by the father-son duo Dov and Ram Karmi in 1963. Containing 12,000 meters of office space, which span over 13 floors, The El Al House was the first office building constructed in Israel and is considered one of its first skyscrapers.
Thanks to its panoramic views of the Mediterranean, the El Al House soon became a prime real-estate office space; more importantly, its exposed concrete, iconic spiral staircase, and rigid, geometrical repetition made the building a Brutalistic landmark in the city.
The El AL house showcased the emerging new style applied by the second generation of Israeli architects, born and educated in Israel, known as “Sabras.”
Unlike the Diaspora-born architects, who favored the white-stucco cover of the International Style, The Sabras preferred the coarse, exposed concrete of Brutalism, which not only expressed the international zeitgeist, but was also a manifestation of a sobering society, whose idealist and utopians visions were scarred by World War II and the War Of Independence in 1948.
Iconic projects in Contemporary Tel Aviv
In the 1990’s Tel Aviv evolved into the city we know today. The latest phase of the city’s construction has been characterized by iconic landmarks and skyscrapers, far more appropriate to the rising liberal economy, which replaced the country’s early days of socialist idealism.
Today, as vast restorations of Eclectic and International style buildings are being carried out adjacent to luxury condos and glassy office buildings, the city of Tel Aviv presents an unusual juxtaposition of old and new.
It has also become home to the most wanted residential real estate in the country, attracting students, artists, entrepreneurs, and young families who utilize the city around the clock, hourly illustrating just how Tel Aviv has earned its nickname: the “non-stop” city.
More examples of contemporary projects:
If Henry Ford were reincarnated as a bike maker, Le Corbusier as an architect of buildings and cities for bikes, and Robert Moses as their bike-loving ally in government, today’s bike plans would be far more ambitious in scope. Ford would be aiming to sell billions of bikes, Corb would be wanting to save the whole world, and, even if it took him a lifetime, Moses would be aiming to leave a permanent mark.
They would want to give bicycle transport a leg-up, like the leg-up the motorcar received from farmlands being opened for suburban development. So who are our modern-day, bicycle-loving Le Corbusiers? And what, exactly, is their task?
In any era, the preoccupations architects share with planners stem from whatever mode of transportation is on everyone’s minds. The Cooper Union Professor of Architecture, Anthony Vidler, describes the first half of the twentieth-century as a period when architecture derived its authority from machines; if we read Le Corbusier, we see ships and airplanes, but most often cars.
Designers were fascinated by cars for at least forty years, beginning with Le Corbusier’s 1925 plan to rebuild much of Paris, with towers in a park and sunken freeways. Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Buckminster Fuller and others designed car-centric buildings, and even some cars themselves, at a time when mass car ownership, freeways and sprawl, were still only fantasies.
Designers are at a similar juncture with their thinking about cycling today. Today it is mass bicycle transport that is a fantasy, but that doesn’t stop architects – including Ron Arad, West-8, Carlo Ratti, Bill Dunster, NL Architects, Atelier BowWow and Bjarke Ingels – from designing bike-centric buildings, and even some bikes.
Consider the similarities between Corbu and Bjarke. Le Corbusier was an associate of the carmaker Gabriel Voisin and would take his own Voisin car to photograph it in front of his buildings; Bjarke Ingels is an associate of the designer of Biomega brand bikes, and has made numerous media appearances riding those bikes.
Le Corbusier didn’t design his Villa Savoye for cars to be left parked in front, but built a U-turn within the structural volume of the villa, for the enjoyment of driving inside a building; Ingels could have left bikes at the base of his Danish Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 Expo, but instead built a ride-through spiraling building, with bicycle parking up on the roof.
And when BIG took on the giant 8-House apartment complex on brownfields south of Copenhagen, they also designed a spiraling building that allowed residents to ride from as high as their tenth story penthouse, past all their neighbors, and down to the street on ramped access balconies.
And Bjarke is not the only one. In February 2012 British Prime Minister David Cameron called in architects Richard Rogers and Thomas Heatherwick (along with Bjarke Ingels) to give him their thoughts about cycling. In November the Netherlands Architecture Institute convened an urban bike night with speakers (current author included), an exhibition of bikes, and city bike tours. In 2013, New London Architecture (NLA) organized a fact-finding bike ride from Portland, Oregon to Portland Place, London, after already hosting a conference on cycling in late 2012; they were welcomed with receptions and speaking events as they went, culminating with talks at the AIA Center for Architecture in New York (where I was delighted to be invited to share my own research).
The cycling agenda will go forward much quicker now that architects are lending it weight, and would be further advanced had they done so much sooner. In architects’ defense, bicycle transport has looked for a long time like a problem for road engineers. So long as architects labeled their plans with a few bike racks—or bike rooms if that would earn some more LEED points—the traffic engineers would do the actual work, copying proven Dutch road design standards.
The sands have shifted though. Bikeways are now happening on architects’ turf. While cycle tracks along main streets in metropolises around the world have taken the headlines, a farther-reaching boon to bicycle transport is the ongoing conversion of rail routes, towpaths, docklands and factories into non-vehicular corridors and entertainment-based redevelopment sites. Former industrial lands are evolving, organically, into territories that Nietzschean supermen like Ford, Corb and Moses would want to be in control of, if they were alive and championing bikes.
Most cities have redundant industrial sites, interconnected by bulk-haulage routes. Any time a bulk haulage route through a city is turned into a greenway, and housing is built on the old factory sites flanking that greenway, a city gains bike infrastructure serving hundreds of households. Bike infrastructure did not go to people. People moved to bike infrastructure. But that’s how infrastructure works. It leads the way. Freeways were built to the farmlands before houses were built either side.
Also of interest, are the kinds of bold, sculptural buildings appearing on brownfields. Like the new EYE Film Institute Netherlands, which shouts to the people of Amsterdam that Royal Dutch Shell’s former testing site is now somewhere to eat out, or better still, buy a luxury flat. On their bikes people come to sites just like this one, in every post industrial city, via the same waterways and rail corridors that originally made them suitable sites for industrial functions. Only now, the railways are bikeways, and the commodities being moved around are these educated minds we all have, in advanced post-industrial nations.
For established bike nations such as the Netherlands, brownfields are an opportunity for bicycle highways, completely removed from motorized traffic. In non-cycling nations, meanwhile, old rail corridors and canals are the best opportunity yet to build inviting bike routes that won’t cause a political backlash from drivers. In many cities, bike users’ secret networks of underpasses and derelict bridges are already being dusted off and given nice names like the “Midtown Greenway” in Minneapolis, or the “Beltline” in Atlanta. In other cities they still need exhuming. No matter what, the former industrial lands of our cities are where cycling has the opportunity to become our dominant mode of transportation.
My last book, Cycle Space, was an invitation to architects to throw their art behind the ascension of cycling. My next will urge architects to take a lead role. As we do with any large project, we should work out and present some proposals. And I don’t mean for bike racks. I mean grand, Corbusian, Moses-level design schemes. All this gives architects a weighty agenda to deal with. It’s an agenda with ramifications for urban mobility, global warming and public health—all the things bicycle transport, and the architects behind it, can give to humanity — and, frankly, must.
Dr. Steven Fleming is an academic at the University of Tasmania, Australia and the author of the book Cycle Space. He consults building industry professionals and government agencies about building for bikes. Find him on the web at cycle-space.com and follow him on Twitter @behoovingmoving
Everyone is familiar with the stresses of moving to a new house, but the residents of Kiruna, a small town of 18,000 in Sweden, face a more daunting task: moving their entire city.
For more than 100 years, residents of Kiruna have developed their city center around the world’s largest iron mine, operated by the state-controlled company, Luossavaara-Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB). In 2004, LKAB determined that to continue extracting iron would mean digging deeper, unsettling the ground beneath 3,000 homes as well as the city hall, train station, and century-old church.
In response, city officials have decided to pack up and move their downtown two miles eastward.
Learn more after the break…
The unprecedented moving expense will be paid for by the mining company, who are planning to set aside upwards of one billion dollars — a fraction of LKAB’s profits — to cover the demolition of condemned buildings, the dismantling and reassembling of local landmarks, and new design and construction costs.
“The difficult part is walking into people’s homes and telling them that they have to move,” says Anders Lindberg, information officer of LKAB.
In March of 2013, the‘Kiruna 4-Ever’ proposal, by White Arkitekter and Ghilardi + Hellsten, was selected from a range of entries speculating the reorientation of the city for the next several decades. The proposal envisions a new location for the 3,000 displaced homes, several hotels and two million square feet of new office, government and commercial space, which would inject economic diversity into the city’s current “mono-functionality.”
Kristina Zakrisson, commissioner of Kiruna, is ready for the move. “Ideally, we would close downtown on Friday and open in the new location on Monday. This may be unrealistic but our ambition is to make it as coherent as possible.” Local shops, however, realize it is not that easy, fearing moving too early may cost them their loyal customer base. The plan would give stores a ten-year window to migrate.
The massive undertaking comes in light of a global trend towards density-driven city development. Krister Lindstedt, architect at White, understands this to be an opportunity for the city to start over. “Kiruna has built a city that people don’t really want,” suggesting that the low-density fragmentation of the city has done nothing to grow a sustainable population. This may be incentive enough for them to move.
Planners project a complete migration in 20-25 years. In the meantime, a new city hall will be completed by 2016, serving as an anchor for future expansion.
Most architects have to wait years to see their first project realized – but if you’re an architecture student at Yale University, you may just have to get on campus.
The Jim Vlock Project, established in 1967, gives first year graduate architecture students the opportunity to design and build a single family home in New Haven, Connecticut.
The most recent iteration of the program, which investigated prefab design and construction, will be dedicated today at Yale University.
The program has experimented with a wide range of construction methods, styles and materials, in a large set of locations. Early projects included campsite structures in Connecticut and community centers in Appalachia, but recently they have focused solely on New Haven, where Yale is located.
This year, students assembled elements of the prototype, including floorboards, rafters, stairs, and exterior walls in a warehouse on Yale’s West Campus, seven miles from where the project was to be installed. The pieces were then shipped to the construction site, where the building was assembled and completed.
These partnerships give students the opportunity to experience working with a client and to understand the challenges of affordable housing and urban infill. The program aims to give students not just an intimate understanding of tectonics and the mechanics of structure, but also a lesson in how architecture can give back to the community.
The Golden Age of Television has made way for shows that run counter to the traditional, expected narrative model. In the course of its five-year run, Breaking Bad has effectively transformed its protagonist into an antagonist, placing its hero/anti-hero in a distinctive landscape.
In this sense, the use of space and location in Breaking Bad, filmed in Albuquerque, is noteworthy, from the use of actual locations that serve as the backdrop for businesses (car wash, Los Pollos Hermanos) to constructed sets that are used for characters’ homes (Walter White’s house, Jesse Pinkman’s house).
In our analysis, we focus on the three different spaces where Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) cook meth: the RV, Superlab and makeshift labs across Albuquerque. These spaces, much like the character of Walter White himself, a chemistry teacher who uses his teaching as a cover for his new life as a drug lord, disguise themselves with their exterior appearances, blending into their surroundings.
The following diagrams all show a moment when Walter and Jesse cook meth. These respective spaces are based on the episodes “4 Days Out” (RV), “Fly” (Superlab) and “Hazard Play” (the makeshift labs). In addition to representing the different locations where Walter and Jesse cook, each diagram focuses on different steps in the process: measuring (RV), cooking (Superlab), and waiting for the meth to dry (makeshift labs).
The RV, a 1986 Fleetwood Bounder that makes its first appearance in the first episode, and indeed the very first shot of the series, is very much a defining aspect of Breaking Bad. It’s where Walter and Jesse first cook meth together, but it’s also a space that brings these two characters together throughout the series.
The RV camouflages itself as a moving vehicle, hiding the meth lab that has been constructed inside. The RV provides them with the freedom of moving around while cooking, making them “evasive.” Walter and Jesse cook in secluded areas, in the middle of the desert As owners of the vehicle itself, the two are their own bosses and can take their lab virtually anywhere.
Their “rolling meth lab,” however, is far from professional. It’s made into a decent working space because of Walter’s knowledge of labs, but the two are essentially restricted within this space and are limited in their workload.
There were two RVs used for Breaking Bad; one complete vehicle for exterior shots and another that was stripped down and constructed on a stage. This provided complete freedom during filming; removable walls allowed the production crew complete control.
In “Más,” we learn more about the background of the RV, including the fact that Jesse bought the RV from Combo, who stole the vehicle from his mother. In “Sunset,” Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) links Jesse to the vehicle, as Walter has a junkyard destroy the RV as a way of severing their connection to the RV. In doing so, we learn that this “space” is expendable — unlike a physical building — a vehicle can easily disappear, if necessary.
The junkyard owner comments that the RV will be destroyed beyond recognition and will be shipped across the Pacific and sold as patio furniture in China. Even after being completely destroyed, there is still a purpose for the RV. Of course, none of the original RVs were actually wrecked during this scene; in fact, the RV appears once again in a flashback in “Ozymandias.”
In our analysis, we analyze the space of the RV in the episode “4 Days Out.” In this episode, Water and Jesse are stuck in the desert after the RV’s battery dies. This episode confines the characters as well as the audience to the space within the RV. Although we spend the entirety of the episode in a meth lab, we focus on the relationship between the two characters, rather than the meth.
The Superlab, a physical location, a multimillion-dollar laboratory facility located under an industrial laundry business, is a significant upgrade in terms of space for Walter and Jesse. At this point in their careers, Walter and Jesse are now part of a complex drug empire, and it’s more than just their workspace that has been upgraded. The RV reflected the blandness of Walter’s life; as he moves up the ladder and becomes a drug lord, his workspace reflects his role in the drug empire.
In this sense, Walter and Jesse become “official” cooks, rather than amateur cooks. They are now employees for someone else. The Superlab makes its first appearance in “Más,” an episode in which Gustavo offers Walter a tour of the facilities.
It’s interesting to note that the RV is destroyed immediately after we are introduced to the Superlab, as if the two spaces cannot coexist. In this sense, the Superlab has replaced the original meth lab as the primary location.
The Superlab is constructed by Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) with the help of Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) for the purpose of manufacturing industrial amounts of methamphetamine. The meth is then shipped out through Los Pollos Hermanos trucks.
The Superlab is an extremely clean, modern, and professional workspace that meets Walter’s standards. However, it remains hidden due to its exterior appearance as a business.
Walter and Jesse, however, are no longer in complete control of their workspace. This is further emphasized in “Madrigal,” when Gustavo installs security cameras in the lab and monitors their activities. Gustavo also has a close associate of his, Mike (Jonathan Banks) or Tyrus (Ray Campbell), present during all batches. Walter and Jesse are now being watched and have lost their freedom. They have become the “lab rats.”
The lab consists of a staircase that leads down to the main workspace. In the first appearance of the lab, all the equipment is still in bubble wrap, emphasizing the fact that the lab was created solely for Walter’s use. Gustavo comments on the space itself, noting that the filtration system is state-of-the-art and will vent nothing but clean and odorless steam, through the same stacks as a laundry. This provides us with the sense of how impeccable the space is — from its design to its construction to its obscurity, the Superlab is undetectable from the public.
The Superlab is destroyed in “Face Off.” Walter assassinates Gus and wrecks the lab with Jesse by disabling its sprinkler system. In this episode, flammable chemicals damage the lab. Walter and Jesse cover their tracks by wiping their fingerprints as the lab burns. The lab makes another appearance in “Live Free or Die” as Hank Schrader and Steven Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) investigate the remains.
The Superlab was constructed in a stage at the Albuquerque Studios (Q Studios). The exterior shots of the Superlab were filmed in an actual location, Delta Uniform & Linens. The name of the laundry business in the show, however, is Lavandería Brillante.
In our analysis, we analyze the space of the Superlab in the episode “Fly,” which is dedicated to the entire space of the lab. In this episode, Walter and Jesse desperately search for a fly in the lab. This episode once again confines the characters and the audience to their workspace, and like the RV, we remain in the lab as a way of further understanding the relationship among the characters.
The Makeshift Labs
In the final season of the series, Walter and Jesse begin cooking again as a way of salvaging their earnings. Mike joins Walter and Jesse in a new partnership. Their new venture consists of cooking in people’s homes, disguised as a pest control company known as Vamonos Pest Control.
In tenting people’s homes for fumigation, Walter and Jesse also construct a tent in their living room and start cooking. These “makeshift labs” are significant in terms of space because, unlike the RV and the Superlab, these labs aren’t in a single location. These short-term, “provisional” labs are on the go and used for a few days only.
The makeshift labs also provide us with a space within a space. The labs are constructed inside a tent that is placed inside the living room of a home. In this sense, this space is once again hidden because of its exterior appearance as a house. It’s also noteworthy because its homeowners are oblivious to the meth lab that is being set up in their homes. The makeshift labs first appear in “Hazard Play.” This episode offers a look into the construction and subsequent deconstruction of the labs.
Walter and Jesse are once again in control in this workspace. They work for themselves and are their own bosses, but they lack physical control of the space because they are limited to the space of the house and are working against time.
In an aerial shot of a neighborhood, we see tents being placed on various houses, emphasizing how their work (and the meth itself) is spreading into people’s homes. The houses used for the scenes with the makeshift labs were actual homes used for filming. In our analysis, we analyze the first instance where Walter and Jesse cook in a home.
Interiors is an online journal, published on the 15th of each month, in which films are analyzed and diagrammed in terms of space. It is run by Mehruss Jon Ahi and Armen Karaoghlanian. Check out their Website, Issuu Site and Official Store and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.