Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's been brought to my attention that the Eisenman debacle, which I described in a previous post, is a bit more extensive than I expected*. In addition to his lecture at the AA, he has apparently made reference to GreyMatters on several other occasions. In an introduction to Anthony Vidler's Histories of the Immediate Present, Eisenman writes the following:

Of all the terms in the architectural lexicon, or, for that matter, those of painting and sculpture, the one most laden with social and political opprobrium is formalism. To be a formalist is to be a target for everyone who feels that architecture is a social project full of rhetorical symbolism. Yet I was struck, while on a recent jury at a prestigious East Coast architecture school, by the pervasive influence of a new, perhaps more virulent breed of formalism, more virulent because it was posed under the banner of a neo-avant-garde technological determinism. The nexus of this formalism lay in advanced computer modeling techniques generated out of complex algorithms that produced parametric processes of enormous complexity and consistency, replete with their own variability and distortion. The range, variety and energy of this work should have appealed to me personally, not only because of my memories of that particular institution as a bastion of intellectual conservatism, but also because this cutting-edge-process work was close to an idea of autonomy inherent in such authorless processes. Instead, I felt that something was radically wrong, something that speaks to a more general problem of architecture today. It was an autonomy freed from any passionate or firm ideological commitment.

He goes on to describe a more satisfactory definition of autonomy, which can be categorized under the rubric of the word "formal," and which he differentiates from a passionless and voided sense of "formalism." "Any internally generated forms," he writes, "that are part of a critical system in one sense could be considered as autonomous, independent of social or market forces, while still offering a critique of these forces." In other words, Eisenman clearly sees the value of autonomous systems within architecture, and respects them as a formal device with the capacity to react and respond to non-formal issues surrounding the discipline. Perhaps he is imagining these systems as a kind of grammar or visual language that indexes these non-formal issues and changes according to a predetermined set of controls. I might be misinterpreting his definition of autonomy as such, but oddly enough if it in fact has anything to do with indexicality, it seems that he has incorporated a more recent line of architectural research into a line of thinking that he established as far back as the beginning of his academic and professional career.

To stay on the topic of autonomy, I cannot contradict Eisenman's definition, especially with regard to a critical formal autonomy. But I would like to argue against the notion that the present line of digital research in architecture lacks an ideological commitment, or that it is laden with a technological determinism. In the right hands, this kind of autonomy can be tied to a true architectural criticality and a passionate intuition. The only impediment to accomplishing this ideology is the author's experience and fluency with digital technique, similar to any architect gaining fluency with the generative tools and intellectual media of his or her time. A clear ideology can only be expressed with control over those tools and an experience with those media. More importantly, a recognition of this ideology requires one to be able to discern between those with this ability and those without it. These two skills, experience and recognition, are inseparably tied to each other, both requiring curiosity, passion, ideology and, of course, practice, practice, practice.

* If anyone has access to a video archive of Princeton's lecture series, apparently there is another reference in a recent lecture he gave there. Thanks to EG for sharing her colorful memory of that event.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Photos have recently surfaced showing the present condition of the Ordos Project. What was originally conceived as an urban development, including residences, municipal facilities and cultural institutions, now seems to be hanging indefinitely in the balance, while all things political and economic sort themselves out. The experience of seeing these images is two-fold. On the one hand, the natural reclamation of architecture by sand and wind is alluring. While the decay and open parcels is simultaneously disappointing, especially as we have so much to look forward to in the designs from many young offices, including residences by I|K Studio, Studio Rocker, MOS and Scott Cohen. Let's hope the trade winds reverse their direction.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Excerpted from Peter Eisenman's lecture at the Architectural Association, February 5th, entitled "Lateness and the Crisis of Modernity":
What you find at least with students in America, and that’s why State of the Union, basically, the people that I deal with, the younger generation, is they’re beginning to behave like computers and they begin to believe that they are a computer. They have lost a capacity to intuit and to intelligently respond to conditions in a way to develop grammars. And the grammars that they have come out of the computer. So, we’re now tied to computer programs which weren’t designed for space-time architectural environments. The algorithms were for animation, for other kinds of issues, for media, and not for producing space and time in an architectural sense. And we now have something which is a disease, the parametric process disease, which, you know, has taken over in all leading institutions.

And, I was at a review at Harvard last spring and I met a very bright student, I was on his review. And it’s a year-long project at Harvard. And I said, “what did you do?” He said, “I wrote an algorithm that could produce any x-amount of variation.” I said, “oh my god, x-amount of variation. How do you choose?” He said, “choice is no longer the issue.” Right? I said, “oh, ok”. “Any one will do.” And of course, all of these things looked like weird chicken coops, when you see parametrics operating, right? And they all look the same. And so I thought, well, here I go, I’m going to be Mr. Genius Loci, I’m going to ask, you know, “what’s the function?” Or, “what’s the site?” And so I said, “so, there’s this great parametric process.” And then he showed all of the variations, all of them chicken coop, you know, punch surfaces, Alejandro. Right? Since you’re one of the problems in this area. Well, he’s going to be teaching with me, so I’m happy that I have somebody to play with - the source of the problem. In any case, I said to this young student, “well, what was the site?” He said, “oh, it was a wonderful site in Hong Kong Harbor.” I said, “oh, that’s nice, on an island in Hong Kong Harbor.” And I said, “because it’s in this island, you can choose any one of these chicken coops, since there’s no place, in a sense, but there is.” And I said, “well, what’s the program?” I couldn’t believe it, you have to understand, a year at Harvard, right? $50k for this. And he said, “my project,” hear this, “is a golf driving range.” I said, “a golf driving range?” I said, “what kind of social program is this?” He said, “well in the east, in Hong Kong, golf driving ranges are really important, there’s no place for people to play golf, so they go to golf driving ranges.” And he said, “you know what’s amazing about these chicken coops,” sorry, he didn’t use the term, “is that you can drive the golf balls out into the bay, because there’s no limit to how far you can hit the golf balls. You can hit them through different holes. You can have different size holes. You know one makes 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, etc. depending on the surface.”

And I just, I gave up. I said, “I can’t deal with this. This, to me, isn’t what architecture is about.”

Maybe none of you have that problem yet, but the State of the Union in America, we call it the University of the North, where I live, but anyway it is a disease that is certainly spreading. And students today, for example, some of the students that I know at Yale, are afraid to take courses with people like Greg Lynn and others because they don’t have the computer skills. And they say, “well if we don’t have the computer skills, how can we do a Greg Lynn studio?” So I think one should be aware of this kind of thing.

I'm flattered that somehow my work made him question the discipline's limits. The only thing I ask is that he not give up. Keep up the good fight!

NB: Excerpt taken from the mid-point of the lecture. Thanks to Volkan for bringing it to my attention.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Prora, an architecture of walls, not too dissimilar from Le Corbusier's plan for Algiers. According to Wikipedia's entry on Prora:

The massive building complex was built between 1936 and 1939 as a Kraft durch Freude (KdF) project. Designed to provide affordable holidays for the average worker, Prora was designed to house 20,000 holidaymakers, under the ideal that every worker deserved a holiday at the beach. All rooms were planned to overlook the sea. Each room of 5 by 2.5 metres (16'5" x 8'3") was to have two beds, an armoire (wardrobe) and a sink. There were communal toilets and showers. Hitler's plans for Prora were ambitious. He wanted a gigantic sea resort, the "most mighty and large one to ever have existed", holding 20,000 beds. In the middle, a massive building was to be erected, able to accommodate all 20,000 guests at the same time, plus two wave-swimming pools and a theatre.

As with any residential mega-project, such as Corviale outside Rome or Karl-Marx-Hof in Vienna, the images of Prora are sublime. Just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Hamburg, and you can be on the walls and beaches of Prora in no time.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal
Pier Luigi Nervi
New York City, 1963

I would like to think that the root of problem solving in architecture is in some way tied to the notion of a structural module. The reason for this is that the structural module, if it is carefully designed as such, implies an understanding of depth, from perimeter to the center, and from space to space. And by this it potentially mediates a transition between conditions, which is itself the root meaning of problem solving. To allow the transition to occur is not necessarily a solved problem, yet if the transition puts forward a productive exchange between the two conditions, as in the problems solved by mathematics or biological species, this is the point at which architecture achieves a productive interaction with its context and discipline.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

The new Studio Office site is up and running. A temporary placeholder for an even newer site (currently being developed), this one has some new media content and an interface that serves to link the network of the other Studio Office identities scattered about the web - including the blog, JD homepage, contact info, etc.

Enjoy, and please send feedback!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vornoi study by TheVeryMany/Marc Fornes

Is architecture capable of problem-solving, or simply a symbolic representation of problems being solved? In other words, do the formal systems we deploy today - in both the digital or physical world - go beyond spatial and material organization, and into the realm of productive problem-solving?