Friday, February 15, 2008

cuba's national art schools

these images are from a campus in cuba that was designed by roberto gottardi, ricardo porro, and vittorio garrati. parts of the campus are in ruin. some buildings are overgrown with vegetation, some are still working.

all images are from john loomis' cuba's forgotten art schools: revolution of forms

campus for the arts

the schools of art were designed in the midst of early cuban utopianism. they were constructed in a seized country club between 1961 and 1965. afterwards, the schools and the buildings that housed them were marginalized by the communist regime.

school of ballet, garrati

the school of ballet had a performance theater, three dance pavilions, classrooms, a library and admin services. garrati used layered, catalan vaults to connect domed pavilions. the spans of the dance pavilions exceed 17 meters. the span of the dome for the large performance hall is 34 meters.

school of ballet, garrati

school of ballet, garrati

the school of music, also by garrati, is sited on a hillside. its scheme was designed primarily in response to its site. program includes- classrooms, practice rooms, rehearsal hall, and lecture rooms. the scheme was initially designed, although it was never built, to include a symphonic concert hall, an opera and admin services. the program is arrayed in terraces along a spline that travels from the top of the hill to its bottom.

school of music, garrati

school of ballet, garrati

school of plastic arts, porro

school of modern dance, porro

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.

"...She was terribly frightened, because she realized she was going to die. She was just a young girl, so it is excusable, after all. But even grown men carry on like that sometimes, which is, of course, inexcusably weak-willed of them. Behrens knows how to deal with them, he can strike just the right tone for such cases."

"What sort of tone?" Hans Castorp asked with a scowl.

"'Don't make such a fuss!' he says," Joachim replied. "At least that's what he said to one fellow recently--we heard about it from the head nurse who was present to help restrain the dying man. He was one of those types who makes a dreadful scene right at the end and absolutely refuses to die. And so Behrens simply dressed him down: 'Would you please not make such a fuss,' he said, and the patient quieted down at once and died quite peaceably."

Friday, February 8, 2008

three excerpts

Michael mentioned in one of his comments that he is writing a piece for publication in Verb. He agreed to lend me his paper because its argument is applicable to my project.

The following excerpts are taken from Michael's submission.

"...the quote un-quote parametric work being produced today fits within an evolution of so-called postmodernism, concerning the image and referent although the parametric is the tautological modulated image of quantity; the indexical referent is itself and analogous systems. To the extent the profession has utilized parametrics today, there is very little instigating complexity other than a mind-numbing image of complexity, falling far short of its rich potential to correlate multivalent processes or typological transformations, parallel meanings, complex functional requirements, site-specific problems or collaborative networks."

"...but no matter how patterned, totalizing and parametric it is, architecture is inevitably a fragment, a disfigured orphaned object, even if it is a field or in a field. It requires differentiation for it to become Architectural, and it is the socio-political that allows it to escape the emptiness of objects. Architecture requires social engagement; it requires cultural/social relevance."

"...we're guilty as charged - formalists, specifically interested in fields of formal relationships. For us, the persistent architectural narrative of formalism has evolved so that the specificity of use is more important than the instantiation of form for its own sake. However, the instantiation of "use" should not be misconstrued as a simply pragmatic or functionalist narrative, but rather as against the simplistic and totalizing solipsistic internalization of architectural production. Use is about the performance of architecture: the double entendre of performance, both of utility and theatrical value/relevance."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

two directions

we met with timothy hyde yesterday for our first prep workshop. he outlined three types of thesis projects- those that are technical, those that are social and those that deal with the discipline of architecture. we spent a little while talking about how or if the profession is relevant to those that we design for and a little while talking about architectural academic and theoretical discourse.

im not sure how to define my project within the margin of the three types of projects listed by timothy. my proposal seems equally technical, social and disciplinary. in the end, it will probably be an argument on agency--technical solutions that address certain opportunities for the profession. see previous post. but in terms of design, for the most part, i have two competing agendas. one that is interested in form and one that is interested in performance. for example i love, both because i think they are beautiful and because i think they are underutilized, projects that use simple logics to achieve aesthetic and performative complexity. see almost every project in verb-natures.

shohei matsukawa

there is enormous potential, from the design end, in determining the properties of a unit and its logic for growth and aggregation.


i like the 'ridges' project by ijp corp/george legendre. uses a really simple generative logic- the sine curve- to handle program, structure and form. the sine curve when applied in both plan and section forms a pillow shape. he halves the pillow and pulls the top half from the bottom to create space for shading and to derive curvature for structure. the effect is beautiful i think, and particularly encouraging because like some of these projects, the simplicity of their design logics translates well into fabrication and construction.

ijp corporation

the serpentine pavilion is beautiful for its legibility. a one-shot, comprehensive design proposal that combines clarity in form with an innovative structural solution.

toyo ito, serpentine pavilion

i do not think however, that the potential of these projects has been thoroughly explored. these projects have achieved a certain aesthetic performativity- a formal language that expresses its process, method of construction and fabrication in the complexity of its composition. these projects have achieved a certain complexity built on logic that i find laudable and worthwhile. it seems though that this design strategy (if i can group a whole lot of projects in a poorly defined category) is apparently disinterested with, or at the very least underutilized in, addressing a more social agenda. by this i mean that these projects, for reasons that i am unaware (but that i can probably guess- prohibitively expensive, reluctant governmental support, et cetera), are not designed for clients in low-income contexts or for problematic and hazardous sites. i find this noticeable mostly because these design strategies (particularly those that use rapid prototyping to fabricate simple components from simple design logics to create complex forms) are well suited to structural innovation, programmatic specifity and relative low-cost.

there is already a deep history (and some theoretical discourse) that deals both with social idealism and design that incorporates rigid geometrical logic. the idealism in buckminster fuller's work is evident, both in its social aspiration and in its design proposal. he takes a geometrical unit and through its manipulation and aggregation, proposes architectural solutions that are as pure formally as they are structurally. his work is often dismissed or neglected in architectural discourse because it is ostensibly engineering- work that privileges structural performance over design sensibility. im not sure if i agree.

studies for tensegrity, buckminster fuller

my issue with buckminster fuller's work is that his proposals, though beautiful in their geometry, intelligence and social aspiration, are lost in their generic idealism. his proposals are not very flexible and have difficulty adapting to site specificity, to program, to reality.

cool collage, buckminster fuller

what i'd really like is to take the virtues of buckminster fuller's work, or work like his (in terms of geometrical/structural intelligence and social idealism), and combine it with the virtues of work that use simple logics to achieve complexity, and better, specificity. i'd like to use those two agendas to temper the other-

on one hand, to compromise the structural purity of buckminster fuller's work to achieve greater performative specifity

and on the other, to use social aspirations to condition an aesthetic agenda that is charged with dealing also in structure and siting.

to be clear, i'm not trying to make an argument on some moral imperative. i'm not trying to devalue aesthetic contribution. i am all about making something beautiful. and if what i've written comes off as judgmental or dismissive of aesthetic ambition, it is unintentional. i think that would be arrogant and pretentiously didactic. it would be the same kind of sermonic rant (that in a way i respect but am wary of) that led so many to dismiss fuller's work.

i am not trying to suggest that projects about 'complexity' or that aestheticize Fuller are any more or less valuable because of their social agenda, lyricism, or aestheticism. if a project cares about addressing a social agenda or if it does not, i do not think that necessarily determines the project's merit.

clearly, i am invested in aesthetic, or formal ambition. i want my project to suggest an opportunity (rather than a failure) in the discipline of architecture, an unexplored terrain in its discourse. i think that those design agendas that pursue aesthetic performativity can use the knowledge from that pursuit in new ways- in ways that can redefine the influence and reach of the profession.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

lack of

agency- new cities, particularly those codified 'nonformal', present a variety of public health problems and quality of life issues to design professionals, medical practitioners and others.

recently, UN-Habitat's global census found global urban populations exceed global rural populations. this new reality is explained in part by burgeoning birth rates and increasing life expectancies. for the most part however, global urban growth is due to a mass migration from rural towns to urban centers. contemporary urban centers are ill-equipped for large population influx. this has left migrants destitute- without proper access to health care, housing, public infrastructure and civic program (schools, hospitals, parks and recreation...). see map below

map of public program, Caracas, Venezuela (gray=barrios)

particularly in the developing world, cities are built out to the extent where those most bereft, impoverished and unhealthy are displaced to urban peripheries. these urban peripheries lack not only customary urban infrastructure, but also site conditions adequate for conventional foundation technologies.

Jose Felix Ribas Barrio, Caracas, Venezuela

many latin american cities are shaped by peripheral steep slopes that site 'nonformal' squatter settlements. these settlements comprise makeshift housing whose tenants hold extralegal land tenure. land distribution protocols often involve the subdivision of state-owned, public or ejido land. the land is usually protected by government code from construction because the soil is unstable, the land is too steep, or it rests in marsh. because of the mass urban migration, the lack of space and the inability to grow in sprawl, municipal governments distribute parcels of hazardous, protected land to illegitimate developers. these developers then subdivide the land and charge rent to migrant families. very quickly, large settlements form without provision for infrastructure, housing and transportation.

aerial view of Caracas, Venezuela

jose castillo defines nonformal:
"development that takes place outside of the legal, planned regulated channels of city-making. Usually it is characterized by indiscriminate occupation of land, lack of [explicit] official approval, lack of property titles, makeshift housing, and an absence of utilities and human services."

in these contexts the architect finds him or herself with diminished agency. its a shame i think, because until recently it seems that the profession of architecture, and in turn, the academy, has turned its interest from a population that stands to benefit from thoughtful architecture and planning. without existing infrastructure, or at least conventional infrastructure, and without standard siting, the architect is effete. in this context, the architect's province can include infrastructural dominion, design sensibility and an innovative approach towards hazardous siting.


seems like i should try to outline, at least provisionally, the scope of my preparation:

several lines of inquiry-
first, in certain contexts i am interested in the faculty of iterative design to address an apparent lack in the profession. a lack of agency, resolve, and intention.

second, i'd like to conduct a typological study on hillside construction. steep slopes pose many problems, or limits, in terms of programmatic distribution and form. extreme site conditions usually yield interesting solutions. that premise seems to condition most of 1st year core.

third, i'd love to research the potentials of design that use generative units to perform on multiple scales: infrastructure, massing, structure, detail... how do i recondition and in doing so reinterpret those elegant models proposed by otto, nervi and bucky to adapt to certain socio-economic realities and problematic siting?


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

more images:

some gridshells.

the detail meeting the foundation walls are tricky on steep slopes. i havent seen anything that successfully details a gridshell, or really any large spanning shed/shell/dome on a hazardous or steep site. but these are really cool

mannheim multihalle-otto

mannheim multihalle-otto

two images from nervi

expressive lines of force

for research:

getting really into metabolists, shells, sheds, nervi, bucky...

i think the potential of each movement, type and architect might be worth reconsidering given the relatively new and powerful capacity for iterative design and fabrication. call it parametric, maybe, but that might be an awful name. i did a formal and programmatic analysis a while back with luis on kurokawa's helical city.

the analysis would be much better if it were speculative. how might kurokawa's proposal benefit from iterative design? different generative unit. different module shape and size. potentials for greater flexibility in terms of form, structure and capacity for growth.

same with some other things i've been looking at.

tensegrity dome- bucky

da climatron- bucky

farshid showed us this yesterday