Monday, November 19, 2007
Superspatial, this collaborative blog, is also a venue for design and competition entries. However this group would be impossible without the internet, as we are a geographically distributed network. For me anyway it allows a path or natural extension of blogging and an interest in active urban speculation to develop into actual work. I was wondering if anything has happened like this before, then I remembered reading an article in AD about Ocean. They were founded in 1992 and restructured in 1998 into OCEANNORTH and was as far as I know the first geographically distributed design network with no clear hierarchy or constant centre. At this time of writing has four nodes now in London, Oslo, Frankfurt and Rome.
They are more of a kind of thinkthank and research group with no actual architectural projects yet realised, yet they were the first to attempt to design across distributed geographical network without a clear single identity. Reading the description of how they designed in the beginning though you can see they were more of a semi-formal travelling network with most of the design being done face to face with members running workshops concurrently in different design schools and running between them to coordinate.
That they are a loose and flexible group is shown by the number of people that have joined and left. The Helsinki node for example was really active with Markus Holmsten, Toni Kauppila Lasse Wagner, and Kivi and Tuuli Sotamaa helping to do some of ON's most notable work, they have all now left, the Helsinki node gone, but still ON carries on.
Certainly their work you could say is reflective of a geographically distributed system with process, local networks, and biological growth more influential on design typology than the local geography. It is interesting in this current climate for starchitects that a much more anonymous, collaborative and distributed design network can exist. Certainly I don't really believe in the Renaissance Architect with his signature on every detail and decision anymore, and although common corporate structure, architectural egos, and the need for a steady source of income probably preclude this type of network from really having a wide impact on architecture, it is good to see that some other types of organisation can exist and make substantial works. Some of their projects are below - click through on an image to read about it. (all images from oceannorth).
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
We submitted an entry to the recent design competition organised by 2G magazine seeking ideas for a Venice Lagoon Park on an area of land at the northern tip of the island of Murano, in Venice.
Inevitably we stretched the brief, to engage in a critical rethinking of the Venice Lagoon. As it is an anonymous competition, we cannot say more, but we will post more details after the results have been announced.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Zaha Hadid has completed the development of the conceptual masterplan for the Zorrozaurre region of Bilbao, (details here and here). Currently a rather shabby and run-down semi-industrial area on a peninsula formed by the River Nervion and a canal, the masterplan extends the canal to make Zarrozaure an island. This will not only assist future flood defences, but gives the island a strong identity, linked to the rest of the city by a narrow causeway and a series of bridges.
I'm fascinated to see how the designs have evolved from the early presentation drawings first seen back in January (there's a great photoset of the original designs here). The design team have taken on concerns from the existing residents of the island (set to grow from 450 currently to over 15,000), to preserve many of the existing buildings, and reduction of through traffic lanes.
The masterplan can be read as an exercise in densification, or the 'Manhattanisation' of Bilbao. The dynamic composition of the original designs may have been diluted, but the result still retains much of the sense of the exploration of high-density urban typologies promised by the initial designs.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Recently I've been watching the superb television series Venice, repeated on BBC4, and also available on DVD and with an accompanying book, as the urbane, aristocratic Venetian architect and historian Francesco da Mosto shows us around Venice, and recounts it's history.
Da Mosto - a white-haired Gianfranco Zola -is perfect for this programme. Venice is his playground, whether it's languidly piloting his boat up the Grand Canale, smoking a cigarette (a very unusual sight on British television) in St. Marks Square, or diving into the water and swimming to the steps of the Ca' d'Oro.
But there's a wistful side to da Mosto too, lamenting the loss of half of his family tree to syphilis during the era of Casanova, or musing upon the over-running of Venice by tourists. With the indigenous population dwindling to less than 50,000, and the oldest average age in Europe, da Mosto worries for the future of the city, as he brings his children up in what has become essentially a theme park for the hordes of visitors that cross the bridge link into the city, or pull up in the huge cruise ships that stop-over in Venice.
The danger for a city as a theatre or theme-park is that it becomes a stage set, a backdrop. This inevitably treats citizens as actors, there for others amusement. This leads to a simulated city as Baudrillard would have it, a city of the hyperreal as Umberto Eco might tell us. What happens when the audience is not there? Visit Venice on a windswept January and you'd probably find a virtual ghost-town - in fact many people have commented that Venice at night is eerily quiet, as almost no-one lives there, and relatively few tourists stay on the main island.
As Richard J. Williams explores in his book The Anxious City, the idea of the city as theatre favours the visitor (the theatre-goer) as a privileged observer, a bourgeois consumer of a 'spectacle'. Williams dissects a number of recent urban developments in the UK, and finds plenty of evidence of the 'staging of the city' masking a profound urban anxiety. Richard Rogers might argue that to 'act' in the city, to drink a cappuccino in a pavement cafe, is to enact the public realm, and participate in the physical expression of democracy. But it is a participation that excludes as many as it engages - just check the price of a cappucino in St. Marks Square.
In the UK, the nearest equivalent we have to Venice in its theatricality is Bath. Stephen Bayley asked recently in The Observer "Is Bath Britain's most backward city?". The Georgian city of Bath seems content to remain dreaming of an era of Nash crescents and Jane Austen novels. There is an antipathy and suspicion towards modern architecture and development (Bayley calls it "a ferocious hostility to productive change") that has recently derailed two exciting projects - an extension to the Holburne Museum and a School of Innovation and Design half-funded by James Dyson - and threatens any future investment and job creation,
But judging from the letters in response to Bayley's original article, Bathonians (Bathers?) seem largely happy living in a heritage time-capsule, while turning their back on the chronic lack of housing, traffic congestion, and shabbiness of many of the streets. But Bath is in danger, as one correspondent says, of turning into "a white, upper-middle class, conservative ghetto.", whilst another writes "The appallingly narrow-minded, fearful and mundane councillors of Bath should be reminded that Bristol is close and getting closer. If they want to be seen as a pretty garden suburb of a thriving city, then they are going the right way about it."
The challenge for all cities with a rich architectural legacy is to find a balance between preserving the historical identity without becoming a slave to it; to recognise that stopping the clocks is to condemn a city to irrelevance, the vicissitudes of fickle tourism, or death.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
I recently discovered a great review of the 2005 Rotterdam Architecture Biennale over at Core 77, which highlights the progressive way in which Dutch architecture, landscape designs and urbanism, is tackling issues of rising sea levels and flood defences.
Under the theme of The Flood, and curated by landscape architect Adrisan Geuze of West8, the biennale was structured to give an overview of how water has historically influenced the Netherlands's architectural and civil engineering traditions, and compared these initiatives with others from around the world.
One of the most intriguing parts of the exhibition was Three Bays, with work by Hidenobu Jinnai (Tokyo University), Marino Folin (University of Venice) and Maarten Kloos (Arcam) comparing Tokyo, Amsterdam and Venice as three cities built by water during a similar period.
As a detailed review of the Venetian portion of the exhibition expresses:
"Reclamation technics, settlement rules and urban foundation dynamics are very similar, sometimes completely alike. Observation of the three cities and their territory shows, between other things, that reclamation through building of coves and sandbanks (the famous Dutch polders) is not an exclusive of the Dutch tradition, as it has often been theorized right in Holland, on the contrary it is common to the three lagoon environments, where it takes, since remote times, surprisingly similar shapes and technologies."
The great stuff coming out of the NAI and the Architecture Biennale only convinces me further that Rotterdam's secret history is as an experimental urban laboratory.
Just nearing completion in China is the Hangzhou Bay Bridge. At 36km, it is the world longest sea-crossing bridge in the world, supplanting the Donghai bridge (32.5km). However, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, at 38.4km remains the longest bridge in the world, for the time being.
The Hangzhou crossing, with six lanes of motorway in both directions, shortens the distance between Shanghai and Ningbo, in the Zhejiang province, by 120 km, and is sufficiently long to merit a service station along it, built on a platform raised above the sea.
At a cost of nearly $2 billion, it is doubted whether this project will ever reap the benefit fo the huge investment cost.
But the advent of these super-long bridges now makes it possible to speculate where else could conceivably be joined by a bridge - it is economics or political whim rather than engineering that dictates. Thus proposals to link Helsinki and Tallinn are touted (approx 80km), and the Friendship bridge between Qatar and Bahrain is on the drawing board, whereas a tunnel linking Spain to Morocco seems unlikely, despite only being 12km. Perhaps one day there will be fixed links between mainland UK and Ireland.
A recent proposal to link Abu-Dhabi to Qatar was quashed by the Saudi's, who objected to a bridge that would cut-across their coastal waters.
The will to connect urban centres is becoming greater than the geography that divides them.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
As found on the Zaha Hadid Blog, 'Form Informing Urbanism - Parametric Urbanism' is an animated film created by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher for the recent Global Cities exhibition at Tate Modern.
"The film presents a range of experimental design solutions for the Thames Gateway regeneration corridor to the east of London, based on “parametric” techniques pioneered by Hadid."
The Thames Gateway, one of Europe's biggest urban regeneration projects, is seen as a unique opportunity to create an urban laboratory for London, and explore new typologies to housing and urbanism, responding to the particular requirements of the site.
From the Commissions section of the Global Cities website:
"Hadid and Schumacher’s project is underpinned by research into the historic permutations of different building types in London and internationally. This information is presented in illustrated bands along the panels in their installation. They examine four main building types: individual villas, high-rise towers, slab-shaped buildings and city-blocks. These can be thought of as points, lines, planes, and volumes. Four rapid prototype models give examples of how each type might be dispersed in a landscape.
"Hadid & Schumacher use advanced computer modelling software to project these four building types over a base map of the Thames Gateway. They have adjusted this model to reflect the area’s current conditions, and used it to speculate on possible forms of future development. They have tested multiple combinations of the different building types, often fusing them to create hybrid structures. The outcome of these experiments is documented in a large-scale image with a range of striking new forms, and an animated sequence which shows the evolution of an intensely urban pattern across the area."
The animation presents an almost hynoptic dance as the four basic typologies are stretched and squeezed to create a range of forms at various densities and building heights. These are then applied to the site constraint and boundary conditions of the London Gateway. This modelling reminds me of the Game of Life, and other generative art experiments. There is an aesthetic Darwinism at work here, a form and function survival of the fittest.
The new Seattle Art Museum Sculpture Park by Weiss/ Manfredi Architects, takes am uncompromising urban brownfield site and turns it into a dazzling, tightly controlled journey. Responding to it's difficult shape and size with a zig-zagging series of layers, and switchbacks that fly over roadways that bisect the site, and present "choreographed vistas" that address the skyline and the waterfront, and into which the various pieces of sculpture help create a narrative journey.
Panoramic views can also be seen here.