Archis 2001 #4

An apparent shift

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Language – the reading, interpretation and writing of texts – has been encouraged as a way to develop architectural projects since the second half of the 1970s. Bernard Tschumi wrote of this procedure: ‘The ability to translate narrative from one medium to another – to translate Don Juan into a play, an opera, a ballet, a film or cosmic strip – suggests architectural equivalences, equivalences that are made through carefully observed parallels.’ Twenty years later transformation patterns, like Tschumi’s Manhattan transcripts – the outcome of a narrative – have become abstracted as a medium by and for its own sake, controlled by the automatic pilot of the design software in the computer.

But the link to language is not really gone, it is only approached from the other side: according to philosopher Mark Johnson the representation of vectors of force functions as a level or notion in between corporeal experience and language. Johnson sees Paul Klee’s arrow-like representation of (patterns of) force and tension in particular as a proto-linguistic basis for the comprehension of expression in general. Instead of some nirvana-like understanding of the infinite cosmos – the notion of abstract forces in the Bauhaus education – the same visual expression can be understood today as one of force, related to corporeal experience.

A perhaps unexpected consequence of this is that two ‘traditional’ kinds of architectural thinking – that have so far been considered to be fundamentally different – may become linked: 1. analogues to the human body in proportional schemes (from Alberti and Michelangelo, to Berlage’s module and Le Corbusier’s Modulor), and 2. the Bauhaus-like understanding of forces and energies that one cannot literally see (according to Kandinsky and Klee). By construing the latter as an interpretation or consequence of corporeal experience as well, the bridge from gestalt structures to ‘pure’ abstraction may become more evident, and the two aforementioned kinds of architectural understanding may all of a sudden be considered as being part of the same world of image-schematic understanding. Linguistic research on the understanding of corporeal experience in the use and learning of language allows us to posit such a direct relationship.

During the past five years I have practised a type of architecture teaching that is based on insights developed by Johnson in The Body in the Mind. Specific and useful references for experimentation turned out to be objects designed for the body, and shaped according to a notion of force patterns. For instance sports shoes, in which firms like Nike have invested a lot of formal research (for the benefit both of corporeal sensations and of associations). In the studio projects I directed at Columbia University (New York), SCI-Arc (Vico Morcote) and most recently at the GhK (Kassel) various students have been able to use such references as a tool to develop a design. Mirco Becker’s project is a good example. In my opinion such an image-schematic approach is an adequate medium for the development of individual talent. Without such development the notion of talent does not exist. Today, it is as easy to produce a folded landscape with the computer as it used to be to make a photo collage with scissors and paste; it looks/looked ‘avant-gardish’, it is easy, everybody can do it, it requires no talent.

But the encouragement of talent is not only a matter of teaching method, it is above all a matter of teaching climate: the integrity of faculty members who encourage debate and who are alive to the teaching profile of a group. In the past, Colin Rowe and John Hejduk were good at generating such a climate and Bernard Tschumi is still doing so today. In Europe most universities have taken far too long to appreciate the true value of this aspect of education, which is what makes the Architectural Association in London such a remarkable exception.

Jos Bosman
Jos Bosman has been guest professor of architectural design at various universities (during the past two years at Kassel) and is responsible for the International Design Studio (a mix of Dutch and foreign Erasmus students) at the TU Eindhoven.

Graduate project of Micro Becker (GhK Kassel, 2000): design for housing for the elderly in an outer suburb (former government area) of Bonn. In addition to the apartments, each of the ten ‘cocoons’ contains a more general function, such as a fitness club, shops, etc. The ‘blob shape’ [‘nugget’] is prompted by considerations of site and meaning, not by computer use or production technology.
Prada shoe
Jos Bosman