Madrid’s architects are not worthy.

Martha Thorne -Dean of the IE School of Architecture and Design- and Edgar González -who leads the Bachelor in Design program at IE School of Architecture and Design- were tasked with managing the competition for the renovation of the financial district of Madrid, known as Azca district.

Behind the competition, is a conglomerate of private companies, called (or branded) RENAZCA.

Recently, the competition has been in the eye of the storm because of the fact that only international architecture firms were invited to participate. No Spanish firm has been invited to participate in the competition. And if this alone is not shocking enough for you, know that the slogan of RENAZCA is:

UN LUGAR PARA TODOS Y QUE PONGA A MADRID EN EL MAPA INTERNACIONAL.”
(A PLACE FOR ALL THAT PUTs MADRID BACK IN THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE)

1964, approved plan for Azca

You can read that again if you want, and re-read it as many times as you care, the irony will not disappear. The brief calls for Madrid to be put back in the international scene, but without their input or talent, please, Spanish architects will have to sit this one out and learn from those who knows what’s best for Madrid and it’s citizens. Even though they are not part of the ever changing urban realm, its vectors, relationships and developments.

Thorne -who is also director of the Pritzker award- and González wanted big names, so that the project can attract funding partners. But, is that the correct order of factors? Is architecture brand-dependent to such levels? Thorpe and González seem to cling to the old notion that in order to have a well establish and round project, you need to have a name (brand) behind it. This is absolutely false, as young and establish Spanish architecture studios can prove, like Selgascano , Langarita-Navarro, Nieto Sobejano or Andres Jaque.

The shortlisted architecture firms are:

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Heatherwick, MVRDV, OMA and West 8.

An open letter by studio TORRES NADAL to Thorne and González (in spanish) puts things into great perspective, if you want to read further.

Personally, the biggest question dancing in my head is: why are two people who don’t believe in madrileños in charge of changing Madrid?

Paris Reality Show

Quite possibly, one of the most interesting debates in the architectural realm in the last decade, that is not related to energy efficiency, has been brought to us by a simple building necessity: as a result of a tragic fire, Notre Dame needs a new roof. The debate and the competition that followed, brought forward incredible proposals. And some, that were radical looking for the sake of shock and publicity of the general public. A common MO in young practices and solo architects to bring attention to their portfolios and, maybe, land a job.

And all of that for Macron to end up deciding that the roof should be reconstructed exactly as it was.  Exactly as the builders of 1345 left it. 

Vincent Callebaut Architects Notre Dame

Unfortunately, this whole process doesn’t bring a better understanding about architecture to the general public, nor a better understanding about the design process and intent of our designs, or the whole process of building, of adding to the cities we all live in. Resistance and low expectations are surely to be expected. Dialogue and reasoning tends to be quieter than the volume at which images speak. Most of the reasoning behind the designs for Notre Dame have been proven to be routes for shock, through imaging that hardly represents the interests of the inhabitants that will end up living with the designed building. Nothing more.

Perhaps technology should be tamed before putting to use, perhaps austerity of means and design could have created the clarity the French people so much needed and didn’t receive. 

Bwm6-kHFHlD-png__880

Waterworld

A research paper published last year, describes how natural continental shorelines might already be something of the past. An offsetted man-made line that, with sharp angles and straight segments, make up for all shorelines nowadays. The total estimated area of seafloor claimed for ports, wind farms, tunnels and bridges reach an estimated 1.0– 3.4 × 106 km2 . This means our continental plates are extending into the sea to supply space for new infrastructures, required for the relief of overflowed supply chains of food industries, energy, tourism and ground transportation.

If this continues for long enough time, would we be able to take a train from India through South America? Would borders be erased and the world become a single country?

Is this a human endeavour to reconstruct Pangea?

Regardless of speculative scenarios, the displacement of marine flora and fauna is sure to become a new front of battle in the fight to reduce the Anthropocene footprint, to degrowth the supply chains that overexploit our resources and planet’s ecosystems.

In addition to this, the impact on the water’s quality of the seas and oceans, close to the shorelines, are sure to become more harmful than what they already are for beach-goers and small fishing enterprises, which won’t be able to compete with big vessels that can operate far from land for weeks or months.

Read more getting the research paper here.

Source:
Current and projected global extent of marine built structures
A. B. Bugnot, M. Mayer-Pinto, L. Airoldi, E. C. Heery, E. L. Johnston, L. P. Critchley, E. M. A. Strain, R. L. Morris, L. H. L. Loke, M. J. Bishop, E. V. Sheehan, R. A. Coleman & K. A. Dafforn 

The human constellation

I recently went camping for the first time in many years. Once the lockdown restrictions for travelling within the UK started to lift, we decided the safest bet for getting some rest from London, would be to be in close contact with nature somewhere near. Travelling with our own tent also allowed us to select our site on the camping pitch, and keep distances with our fellow campers so that everyone remained safe. The site we chose to visit was the New Forest National Park, in southwest England. Once we got to site, we chose our pitch according to the SAS guide as much as we could, and set up our tent with a line of trees to the back of the tent, and our door facing an open meadow. The tent set up only took a few seconds, thanks to Quechua , I needn’t flex my architect’s muscles, nor I got a chance to do so. And so for the rest of the day, we got our backpacks and went hiking in the beautiful surroundings.

After said day of hiking, we came back to camp and joined the rest of the campers around us, also tired down from a day in nature. We started a fire in our iron, raised fire pit and sat back, relaxing in the breeze. The sun went down quietly and the sound of birds and horses slowly started to disappear. Cows persisted for a bit longer, but also disappeared in the night. The only sound left was the wood, burning, chipping in the fire and the murmur of shy conversations somewhere close by. We were exhausted at this point and decided to turn in and try and to sleep to recover our energy for new hikes the following day. Falling asleep was never so easy. It was around 2am, when my girlfriend had to use the toilet blocks, and promptly woke me up to inform me. When she stepped outside our tent, a ball of cold air suddenly rolled inside freezing my nose almost instantly, and before I was able to confront her about this discomfort from my zipped up sleeping bag, I heard her awe in sudden, astonishing, wonder. I sat inside the tent and leaned forward so that I could see what was taking her attention so much, and understood her reaction instantly. I joined her in wonder and awe. From down there, I saw one of the most incredible night sky I had ever seen. 

pexels-photo-631477.jpeg
Photo by Neale LaSalle on Pexels.com

Unfortunately, the preceding nights were not so exquisite, clouds rolled in and humidity also raised, preventing us to see the stars again. The memory of that night still lingers on, so spectacular that in a small way, also frightened me. Back in London, reading some news I began to wonder. Is the night sky the last piece of nature’s spectacle that will remain completely untouched and unconquered, forever? Will one day, everyone from the planet be able to see up to the sky and find clearly defined human made structures floating around? There’s a striking scene in the movie Elysium, when Matt Damon’s characters looks up to the sky and he can clearly see in the day a massive space station structure orbiting Earth, where well-off people live having left derelict earth to the poor working class masses. From the space station, the star gazing remains untouched, unlike from the earth. Do we want to have those things increasingly floating between us and the stars in the future? The dark sky vista always seemed to be impossible to conquer due to its massive size. We also cannot rearrange the order in which the stars show up and we cannot eliminate nor prioritize a single star over the rest of them, that would be ludicrous, hard sci-fi stuff.  But as obvious as this might sound, we have been able in the past to anthropomorphize other landscapes for our benefit. We were successful to redirect the course of rivers, shaved off entire mountains for resources, eliminated forests, extincted animals and even manipulated the weather to change arid landscapes into more agricultural friendly soils. Dubai’s government was considering creating a fake mountain to stop clouds from escaping into the sea and, thus, increase the annual rainfall in the region. Why couldn’t we alter the night sky as well? City lights already obscure the light of stars, which pushed for the creation of dark sky areas, where artificial light is measured and controlled during night to preserve star gazing. But, beyond this simple administrative preservation, the vastness of space and the galaxies and the universe, the scale at which the universe operates its too much for us to even start to comprehend it. Its simply out of reach physically and mentally and widely immutable, only a cataclysm in the scale of the universe can generate and destroy what we see through telescopes. What we could do, nevertheless, is colonize the lower orbits of our planet and begin a slow process of obscuring the stars beyond with our satellites and junk. 

More than half a million pieces of junk are currently orbiting the Earth. This not only represents a logistical problem for rocket launches and orbit settlements, but a detriment to our night sky. In addition to the privately own satellites and junk, there’s a plan to launch around 40,000 satellites with the altruistic and good objective of providing everyone with reliable, high speed internet connection. Of course, I’m talking about Starlink. Elon Musk’s SpaceX efforts to provide internet to the whole of the planet deploying tens of thousands of satellites – or satellite constellation- at a height of 550 km above the planet. Astronomers and sky lovers received the idea with wary thoughts and hearts. After the initial satellites were launched, astronomers saw their long exposure pictures of the sky disrupted by the lights of the passing by satellites, the effect of the long exposure by the satellites generated what looks like prison bars made of light surrounding our planet. Apparently the highly reflected metal the satellites are made of reflect light which is then showed in picture, and their radio signals interfere in radio astronomy research as well.

An image of the NGC 5353/4 galaxy group made with a telescope at Lowell Observatory in Arizona, USA on the night of Saturday 25 May 2019. The diagonal lines running across the image are trails of reflected light left by more than 25 of the 60 recently launched Starlink satellites as they passed through the telescope’s field of view. Although this image serves as an illustration of the impact of reflections from satellite constellations, please note that the density of these satellites is significantly higher in the days after launch (as seen here) and also that the satellites will diminish in brightness as they reach their final orbital altitude.

Space X replied quickly to various statements by astronomic associations, and re adapted their satellites so they wouldn’t interfere with the work of astronomers. A new coating was applied to the newly deployed satellites, and are already in orbit. But this is just experimental, as Gwynne Shotwell -President and COO of SpaceX- says. Its a “trial and error” type of situation at the moment, according to her own words. What are the odds here? If it works, great. Astronomers, professional and amateurs will continue to wonder of the night sky uninterrupted. Everyone at SpaceX will be able to breathe again as the community of sky watchers releases some pressure. But what if it doesn’t? Are we going to populate the sky with satellites with faulty solutions until we strike luck? This might be very simplistic of me, but it does raises my anxiety to think about the things we are doing in a fast pace mode. This solution sounds like someone proposing to create a line of volunteers, and then one by one, we task them with driving a car into a wall at 70 mph until we find a way for people not to die on impact, creating iterations of the previous, not successful solutions which might include changing the color of car, of the leather seats or using a diesel model instead. This amount of sacrifice and thinking process doesn’t seem to correlate with the level of technology being deployed. And if that is the case, are we ready to deploy such technologies without really being able to control its downturn results? Are we not moving too fast chasing the market position benefits of being “first”?

Below you can see the register of a meteor shower, photo-bombed by Starlink satellites at 2:12.

It is ironic that in order to make -or build- our world, we seem to be obsessed with destroying it, change it to a point beyond belief and not looking back after we are way passed the point of no return. In the case of the Starlink, this irony is only enhanced by the fact that the promoter of a this lattice or constellation of satellites that resemble a net capturing our planet and encapsulating all of its inhabitants within, is also the biggest promoter of interplanetary life. If the things we are so dependent on are forcing us to destroy our environment, shouldn’t we reconsider those things we are so dependable on?

We can’t build anything without incrementing entropy, that is the reality of our incredible universe. Its an unavoidable, unidirectional shift in all things, no exceptions. But it is in our control not to make Newton’s third law a construction mandatory behavior as well. Construction and progress should not equal less preservation and more destruction, that would be a paradox.

The change ahead

Sometimes, usually while I’m occupied with a mundane activity such as pulling my groceries up the stairs or washing some dishes, I find myself thinking on just how weird the past three months have been for everyone, everywhere. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, or COVID, has struck the world and has brought disruption, chaos, unemployment, isolation, tragedy and, of course, change. The world, as a collective, has changed more significantly in the past six months than probably in the last decade or more.

We all have learned a lot about viruses: how they spread, how they affect our bodies, and how to prevent them. It’s not an unusual scene nowadays to find people wearing masks at parks and walking down the high streets all over the country, you can find all sorts of designs for masks inside buses and trains, different colors, patterns or cut typologies. Although new to the majority in the west, people have been wearing masks outside, and even inside, in some Asian countries for decades. We are now more conscious than ever about the air we breathe in and how our interior spaces affects it and, in result, how it affects our bodies. The hidden part -for the most part- of architecture and buildings has been brought to the forefront by urgency, and no bird-eye, golden hour rendering can be striking enough to remove the concerns that this pandemic has made more relevant than ever about the constrains interior and exterior spaces place on our health. Mechanical, electrical and plumbing services, sensors, CCTV, are all crucial in moving forward and obtaining our normal life back, when they were before downplayed or thought of as a commodity beyond the minimum code requirements, a hidden network of services that provides us with everything, without shining.

Sustainability guidelines are also now in splendour, when before they were just seen as an avoidable reason to increase costs. We have seen an increase in preoccupation by architects and architecture associations to work against the speeding climate change emergency. The COVID pandemic has accelerated this process and has brought forward the importance of the strategies we sometimes have to work so hard for, in order to avoid their disappearence in a VE exercise. Natural ventilation, natural light, biophilic measures and access to nature, energy and internet accessibility, close-by retail, parks and gardens accessibility within a close walking distance and the possibility to cycle around the city are all things that help our health keep in check, and our cities more sustainable, and healthier. During the last six months, when we were most of our time secluded inside, all of this became dire to us more than ever. We wished we had that green and clean city sustainability experts have been proposing for so long.

horizontal-icons

We were requested to work from home during this challenging times, when possible. To merge our office life, or persona, with our domestic life, our home persona, the one who wears slippers all the time and dress for comfort and not for acquiring business. For many people around the planet this meant isolation, they were in solitude with their belongings and their interior spaces and nothing more for months. Digital means of connecting with others raised to the issue and, suddenly, we were in the company of someone sitting far away, maybe in a different country, waving and talking to us from a flat 15inch screen in our living room, but still, many have found very difficult to find refuge in their city, that urban fabric infamous for its density, bursting with people constantly, but also ironically, where trends show an increase in isolation. From this group of people living alone, very rare few had the possibility to still contemplate at the world from a balcony or step outside into a small garden to labour and be, in full-body, outside. The majority had only the benefit of an open window and, maybe, a park within a 15 minutes walk.

Our spaces changed, radically. We improvised office spaces where we could, we created diaphanous spatial separations with sheets where possible, we filled our domestic space with foreign stationary supplies and printers and A4 reams of paper and screens, and cables and WIFI repeaters. Suddenly, working from home was not such a utopia, a delirious desire of people too lazy to dress up and show up, but a great relief from unavoidable pressures by politics not properly designed. Our homes also became nurseries, schools, bakeries and care homes. 24/7, we were testing the resilience of our homes, flowing from one activity to the other: from a videoconference with people sitting in the US, or Spain, to cooking lunch for our family, to reviewing contracts and putting kids to nap and then dinner. We were obliged to flow within one single environment between many different programs, uses that we used to experience spread throughout the city, and that used to consume our time and energy by going from one to the other, and used to contribute to our stress peaking and unhappines, streets congestion, dirtiness, frustration and a whole lot of emissions to the atmosphere. The resilience of our small spaces was proven right, humble workers for our comfort, we’ve made our homes the ultimate mixed-use building.

And it had huge benefits for ourselves and the environment. We’ve all seen the images and charts showing the drop of pollutants in the air a few weeks into the lockdown, worldwide. And recently, it was published that a single day working from home can save up to 84,000 tonnes of CO2 in New Zealand. To have a reference of the huge impact that this could have in our environment: in a year, The Shard building by Renzo Piano emits 4,780 tons of CO2. That means that a single day of working from home in New Zealand, would save the equal amount of CO2 tons of 16 Shards towers, annually.

_methode_times_prod_web_bin_245ca392-a0db-11e9-a6f9-8847b0c7b91c

Also, in Japan, suicides dropped by 20% in April this year, and it is attributed to the fact that people had more time to spend with families, less time commuting to work, where they spend long hours every day. The social pressure of work was released.

_111650956_airpollution-nc

The way forward is going to demand changes to our social contract and changes to our buildings and cities. This pandemic has proven that a 15-minute city typology is strong in times of crisis, its a typology that works hard for its inhabitants. Our behaviour inside buildings will be monitored differently too and we will interact with buildings differently. It has been proposed that in the case of office buildings this interaction will begin during breakfast when we will be notified via a phone app, of the air quality inside the office, availability of workspaces while respecting social distancing measures, total population or if a lockdown is in place. Technology refit is underway by many landlords and developers across London, in a bid to remain an attractive offer for the future entrepreneurs looking for a healthy office space. The location, location, location mantra will not be enough anymore since we have proven that any remote location now works. We can be productive and conduct meetings and acquire business from our couch.

In this sense, buildings could become storers of big data, but not of work emails and pdfs, and model backups, but about your vitals. Your medical history could be linked to the health history your building has accumulated of you through sensors, cameras and AI. Your levels of stress, temperature, BMI, and other types of measurable vitals could be comprehensively measured and accumulated. Maybe, in the future, an AI could inform you, before you even know it, that you have a new mole in the back of your neck that needs checking, or that your levels of stress have risen recently to severe, unhealthy levels. Maybe your building will be able to send you home to rest before allowing you in back again? Like a HAL9000, an artificial intelligence controlling the whole of the building and with access to our vitals, we could be denied entry at the doors with a robotic voice coming out of the PA systems: “I’m sorry, (your name). I can’t do that”. Of course, this is all very speculative out-loud thinking. But nevertheless, some building managers appointed by office space landlords are already receiving a power increase over their tenants. They can conduct temperature checks and, based on their readings, they will decide if people can come in or not. Open-plan offices are also under scrutiny, even since before the pandemic when a Harvard team analyzed the impact this type of order had in office interactions. Social distancing measure might be the tipping point for offices to reconsider a model with cubicles, or other type of more private spaces.

tron1

Cities will need a refit too. For most people living in cities during lockdown, a supermarket or grocery store or a park was within a short walking distance. But people living in the suburbs were challenged by the sprawl of houses and were pushed to drive more often for their daily needs. A trip to the groceries store first, then another one for a takeaway and then one more to buy some aspirins at the pharmacy. All of this used to be accomplished with a single trip to the city when driving to work, people would do their shopping on the same trip rather than multiple ones. Monocentric type of cities has long been debated and used as an example of unsustainable development because of this and many other reasons. Making everything farther away will of course force you to use more of your private car, and walk and cycle less. In the polycentric type of city, your work, your stores and recreation spaces are all located within walking distance from your home or are easily accessible by cycle or public transport. On the other side, density has been always linked with disease and the adverse city effect of temperature raising during summer, crime and increasing isolation, abandonment of failed retail followed by derelict no-go zones in fast intervals. Both models have benefactors and detractors, haters and lovers, but it is clear our urban centres need to facilitate interaction in a safe way from now onwards, clean transportation, places for people to gather and form a community and interact with each other. Solidarity played a huge role during this pandemic in cities, because they facilitated the reaching out for others. In cities, you are more likely to be aware of who your neighbours are and which ones would probably be shielding. It is easier to positively affect many their lives when they are living in the same building as you are, or the next one, than if they live somewhere in the suburb you need to drive to. Myself, many times since March, I received offers of help in my letterbox by volunteers, searching for senior citizens shielding. They were offering help to bring groceries or company. It’s hard to imagine the same impact walking around in a suburb, placing flyers in letterboxes that belong to a single-family.

rb420f1

Other changes will include how tourists arrive, explore and experiment with our cities. And how we can go back to being tourists. How migrants and the gig economy can cope with close borders and lockdown is another question that will require long thinking. COVID might have the effect of creating a more local economy rather than a globalized one, which will impact the city dynamics of work, work seekers and international work bidding.

It surely won’t be last time I will be thinking about this post-COVID new normal. New ideas and innovation will continue to sprout from this crisis as more information is available, and a new layer will be introduced in the design process and considerations of buildings and cities. And I think it will be for the better.

Forced Design

An article recently appeared in the Failed Architecture blog, which covered an open letter written to Jean Nouvel to try and stop him from “revitalizing” the Algiers Casbah neighbourhood. Said letter was written by the Funambulist, a Paris-based magazine, and you can read it here.

Despite the purity and elegance of the language displayed on the visuals promising an inclusive and affordable future, the narratives that they transmitted of a better life, being all of it a package put together by a studio so renowned as Jean Nouvel´s, the disconnection with reality is clear and stubborn. The term “revitalization” itself refers to a different objective that is opposite to the actions promoted, it has lost its semantic value thanks to the continuous repetition by Architects, usually appealing to its strength and charge of hope when trying to make a case for new icons. The same process followed by Andy Warhol, repeating the faces of the most iconic famous people of the time until they had lost of their interest and icon status.

“Revitalization” is the clean word for “Replacement” in the wrong hands.

Life is happening in Casbah as it is, organically. Life develops and evolves in cities in many different ways, spreads out in layers that overlap or cantilever above each other, and that generates the mosaic of identities that our cities are becoming in this century, that is where heritage come from and from where the future should come, there’s not a single or correct way of being a citizen and, therefore, there’s not a single way to create interior space.

Rich, diverse, inclusive, technological, boiling pots of opportunities and happenings are situations easily find in Casbah with, most surely, more than one person preoccupied, curious and interested in Architecture and Urbanism, yet, their opinion is not considered nor kindly requested. The revitalization of the place where they grew up is not up to their merit.

What happened to that modus operandi which started with understanding the site, the location and the synergies of a site? How come the majority of Architects will wait anxiously for the renderings and visuals of this new and exciting project, but are not anxious about the gentrification and massive displacement of people that this will signify? What about the Architectural heritage that is being left behind and qualified as worthless? And what about the living conditions of the current inhabitants? Isn´t Architecture and design about solving problems?

The war on slums, replacing them for the common and overused adjectives of the western architect´s productions such as “modern” “luxury” “quality” and all its variables, is the greatest expression of the branded architecture era in which we live in.

Branded Fake-ism

Deconstructivism was a movement of postmodern architecture characterized by the fragmentation of the scholar and established building elements and its formal strategies into an arrangement that would make the building un-associative, un-aligned, fragmented and seemingly dissolved. The procedure of creating this unintelligible new meaning for “building”, thanks to the introduction of new composition strategies that would make intuitive order disappear and, later on, new technologies that would make 3D formal control in the design phase easier and efficient, was accompanied by a semiotic reasoning supported by the ethos which represented the office or architect involved in the design. Combined, this scenario created a meaning-building architecture, promoter of the fake-ism and excessive branding that derived in the Star-Architect era of Iconic, superficial developments. Paradoxically, this process of meaning-building is common in the constructivist schools of thought.

Following the previous train of thought, however, and with constant repetition of this formula and the execution of marketing plans, a set of architecture offices became brands that embodied the symbols and methods of success, of what is to be considered appropriate design, of future, unique, versatile technology application and status. Young architects then got lost in the dream of the algorithmic aesthetics, aspiring a place of their own in the architectural world, replicating once more what they have seen published, raised and prized, without apparently noticing the sterility of becoming the derivative of a brand, multiplying the fake-ism dogma of: brand first.

pic_1414145408

The ambition of understanding our habitat’s possibilities and the exploration of different new ways of living and composing our lives, was replaced by the creation of a multiverse of brands that operates, each one, in a very specific, distinct and recognizable way. The aesthetics of their designs would be inscribed forever in the public’s unconscious, attached to a successful brand that was given permission to lack in quality when it came to real tectonic application as long as the semiotic justification and the formal effects where within the brand limits. Just mentioning any of these firms would automatically bring to our thoughts a pattern of work, a misty image, maybe, but a definitive, recognizable strategy and the elements that would make it  differentiate one from the other.

Nevertheless, in reality, the spaces which are product of these architecture school are all one and the same; the spatial configuration for our living and working spaces are the sames as those from centuries ago, no matter what the formal exterior-interior look brings onto the public. No matter if the finishes are fluid, curved and inclined or rectilinear and sober, the living spaces and their interrelationality, their logic, remains the same, hidden behind a futuristic aesthetic assumption that it’s only formal and that could have been a product of either explicit or computational design methods. Homogeneity wins battle after battle hidden under a gratuitous complex process in order to achieve that recognizable, superficial shell ingrained in the brand. And those who advocate heterogeneity keeps repeating themselves with a discourse that more often than not justifies “a-posteriori” the project’s development with the efficiency that brings something as trivial as the usage of KUKA robotic arms fabrication or algorithmic processes, scripted and sealed.

We are approaching to the exact opposite of what it is advertised as the golden era of technology and its applications to design. We are closer than ever to easy-architecture: an established formal status quo approach hidden under a complicated shell or form; a branded architecture to which markets react positively due to their sterility, repetition and lack of design risk.

My understanding or the approach that I wanted to share in this article is: I feel like nothing should be assumed nor should be considered fully understood in order to achieve an innovative design that would create knowledge, new compositions, radical concepts and true progress. Our conscious effort should be directed in rediscovering what our natural environment is, should be and could be by the means of technology, material innovation, understanding of nature and our ever-changing necessities and ways of living. We are not simple non-evolving creatures. We aspire to colonize Mars and research on in situ construction methods, while on Earth we settle for an everlasting, depressing repetition of branded buildings that only aspire to keep brands alive in a repertoire of conservative execution, hidden below a complex process and decorative adjectives of desire like “luxurious”, “bespoke”,”unique”, etc. Fighting against the established and sales-efficient, to break into the realm of what we don’t know but what could be, shouldn’t that be our primary concern?. Chaining our intentions to the definitions of past schools will only provide with easy-architecture solutions of new but already caducated systems to make brands survive, rather than quality breakthrough architecture.

solofujimoto_02

Successful innovation, versatility and flexibility in many different scenarios is what we should all be striking for, with a different array of tools and philosophies, a different result every time we put our pencils down while always accomplishing a harmonic insertion of our built proposal in the environment, and not acting like a brand, presenting the same burger every single time. Unlike Schumacher’s thesis proposes regarding “Parametricism”, architectural styles are dead, there are no straight line methods or unique ways of operating. That’s how brands operate.

The old notion of styles is death by technology.

City of the Future

Selling properties and advertising developments from a vantage standpoint from where the future is crystal clear, understandable, and tangible and secure has been exploited throughout history; and with the uprising of all-the-time accessible media, this selling methodology has reinforced an untrue idea in the collective of our society: that we know enough about the way we live our lives and all its possible alternatives: our ideal habitat, as species, has been understood. That the concepts and ideas that have been established by developers and architects so far in housing and master planning are so strong that they have become eternal, encoded in the fabric of the universe and never-changing, frozen. That our mission was always to reach out for 100% efficiency, and never to question what could and should be our habitat and the spaces of our daily routines.

I came across recently an article regarding a new development that promised to embody “The City of Tomorrow”, and I remember that in the last few years, I read the same promise over and over again in different locations around the globe. The problem with this type of headlines is that, living in today’s world, where exponential technological advancements are only months apart, the so called “City of Tomorrow” is something completely and absolutely unintelligible for us. To begin with, are we even able to determine from our current understanding of structural behaviour, material’s physics and general physics, and knowing that the exponential curve is getting stepper and new research papers and experiments are pointing into unknown but plausible scenarios, what would the formal result of buildings be in the future? Or the city layouts? How will the scarcity of metals and other resources be made evident in the final design of our cities and buildings? How will the role of AR and VR in our everyday life affect the way we go on our daily recurrent spaces and the space planning requirements of certain programs? What role might smart dust take in shaping our context? I think we are at a standing point where we can confidently even suggest that our routines will be completely different and that a shift in our values will definitely makes us more appreciative of certain givens of the present.

retrodriverless

The reality is that we don’t know much about the city of the future, because we stopped asking what that should be and how should we arrive to that result. What is it that we are trying to achieve? What is it thats gonna be renew, abandoned and rethink? We shifted our interest towards the technological upraise and the aesthetics of computer generated tectonics that guarantees a more efficient work process, and we forgot the simple most important questions. Before the question of efficiency, comes: efficiency of what? And that “what” is the most important concern to design. What exactly should a house be in 2018? and 2020? and 2460?

sou-fujimoto-architects-iwan-baan-final-wooden-house

The only thing we can do when guessing the future, is review the evidence of the past, what has worked with a certain percentage of approval, and what we assume the future will then be in relation to all the upcoming industries and their inputs to our physical world. Unfortunately, this kind of assumptions are left in the hand of those who are working within the market’s interests and are not trying to generate new real knowledge or true new ways of operating. And, unfortunately again, many architects have blindly joined their crusade that advocate to technology in the search of pure efficiency without scrutiny of the ontological potential that this era has to offer. A house is what it is after a deep and strong reinforcement process, a decision, a thought. Redefining that independently from the austere efficiency model, and redefining it constantly, is what makes for ground breaking ideas and architecture.

 

Slab City

In the desert of Niland, California, USA, there’s a city that was not planned: Slab City. The intervention of Master Planning professionals, Urban planners and Architects, city inspectors and bureaucrats was not required nor were never approached. This city is not connected to electrical power, sewerage systems and it has no running water. It has no paved streets, no public transport, no local government, no police force.

09

From the leftovers of a Military base from WWII era, the slab of the buildings, the population that makes today Slab city started creating their own place. The first settlers were known as “snowbirds”, which refers to citizens living in the north of the USA, who migrate to the south, sunny belt States during winter time to avoid freezing temperatures. Most settlers live in RVs and others have built their houses from scrap materials that they were able to obtain.

The land on which Slab city is settled belongs to the State of California, since the military returned it once the war was over. Nevertheless, the State of California has no influence or say whatsoever in Slab City. Their inhabitants resolve their disputes the ways they consider fair as a community.

slabcity-eastjesus-1200x853

Should a place like this exist or not? Should the Government take action in a way whatsoever regarding this use of land that was not programmed by them? Or, on the other hand, the Government should leave this settlers in their found haven of peace. Without the inhabitants of Slab city, certainly this portion of land would have had no use at all, and the settlers seem to be happy and free to come and go. But this was not designed. This is an organic settlement, a community. Centuries ago this is how cities started. Should California recognized it and provide support somehow? Would the inhabitants want that? Should they be left alone?

SlabCity-26,medium.1498726738

It is interesting how this case highlights so clearly how the market is the only driven force for city growth nowadays and how faulty-a-system that is. You can’t please everyone, but the market-driven expansion of cities and, therefore, architectural language, has become the sole power behind design efforts all over the globe, hurting the quality of design for the broad fraction of our societies. Slab city is a great example of how needed diversity is and how little of it the market-driven proposals are, how we are evolving into fit-for-all design that are actually fit-to-some.

But, in the worst case scenario. How does a city like this fit in our shared community guidelines, principles, laws and infrastructure operational methods? Does it need to fit somehow or can evolve independently and teach us something new about how to manage our resources? Definitely, I would rather the experiment option, the one where this is taken as an opportunity the learn new ways of doing outside the general understanding and its a great standing point to fight against the ferocious market that drives young professionals away from cities.

The Temporary and The Universal: Market or Sustainable

It appears to be that what has been regarded and renowned as sustainable architecture has lost momentum and, in the eyes of media, was just a wave adopted by such a huge amount of subscribers that would justify the release of stories of this type of building, systems and strategies; a temporary mix of situations, claims and reports that caught the eye of architects, prospective clients and audiences in general that has finally decayed. We are all, in the end, the reason for Architecture to be the way it is, like the old say condemns countries to the political class they deserve, we are tightened to the buildings and cities we ¨deserve¨.

sustainability-venn-diagram-300x286

Unfortunately, as it is the natural condition of waves, the highlights of the movement is temporary, has an expiration date that could be represented as a midpoint between the maximum height, or maximum interest, and the rupture point, the disintegration of what was previously a mass with force moving with decisive pace, strong enough to be destructive and ruthless that suddenly turns into a disperse, low, broken foam and water mix that barely reaches to shore and fearfully climbs a few meters into the mainland, wetting the sand and some feets.

There has been many examples of this behaviour in the Architecture industry, many popup styles and extremely brief substance-lacking experiments around the behaviour, the aesthetics, the new wave and the modern so-called qualities of a building, many times impulsed by an economic recession or the opposite, a period of technological and economical renaissance that invited one to dream about the future free of chains, futurism of iron robots and rocket-propelled trains. But, to be fair, Sustainable Architecture is everything but that. Everything but an exercise of breaching out to over amplified technologies and their possibilities or science fiction writing. Building, and doing so in a sustainable way, are two concepts rooted in the same cause and the same common sense practices. It is something that with enough education everyone would agree upon.

Lobbying has for long taken care of hiding the benefits of renewable resources across several different industries, but thanks to the greatest resource of information of our time, the internet, information is back to its natural flowing state. Pressure from both sides is strong and decisive, a well established business man from the energy industry will argue in terms of efficiency and running costs: market issues; a more open minded Architect would argue in much more simple terms: universal terms, unbreakable laws.