As the Research Director of CURE, Jesse Keenan leads many of the center’s projects, drawing on his diverse professional and academic background in law, sustainable development, and housing policy to shape a bold intellectual project for CURE’s research. Keenan talked with Volume’s Jeffrey Inaba and Benedict Clouette about the need for an ethical foundation in the practice of real estate development, and the role of disciplinary knowledge in informing the decisions of professionals.
Architecture relies on machines. They make the structures of our cities livable. In their absence, buildings would lack basic services like water and power. There would be no heating, cooling, lighting, fire safety, and elevators. Repairs and maintenance would be impossible; digital and communication technology also out of the question. The capacity to support life would be severely diminished. Architecture would be reduced to basic shelter.
Christian Kerez’s work is best known for the conceptual inventiveness he brings to ageold problems of form and tectonics. What is less known is the architect’s equally refreshing approach to mechanical systems. Here, Kerez talks about the Leutschenbach School in Zurich, and his ideas to integrate the air and other building services into this densely packed design.
Excerpts from an interview with Volume, March 2010.
Originally trained as a mechanical engineer, Michelle Addington, now a professor at the Yale School of Architecture, approaches the field of architecture through the application and manipulation of technologies in terms of discrete environmental systems. Arguing against the corralling of forms and ideas into fixed stations, Addington proposes that, similar to work she was doing at NASA in the late seventies and early eighties, architects should approach their practice as the development of malleable, passing events – that which is material though not necessarily visible. Addington recently co-authored Smart Materials and Technologies for the Architecture and Design Professions (Architectural Press, 2005).
“We are learning how to have abstract conceptions of an environment no longer defined by straightforward output. I think we’re getting closer – through digital models that embed transience – but not fast enough. Technological development starts as a discrete phenomenon or single property. Then, the pushback follows. We, as a profession, are the wrong ones to be deciding what property we need; this is how we have been frozen. We should be generating the proof of concept, by testing and pushing back. Our way of exploring and understanding will open up ideas beyond the normative sequence of technological development, which is parsed down and atomized. The first step is to accept that the existing building, even the new building, is a dumb armature. The building itself becomes dumber, and cheaper and more of a commodity as we are able to focus on changeable and interchangeable technologies.”
“We also need to stop zealously guarding our territory. The more we try to maintain control over it, the more it continues to shrink. Ours is one of the few fields in which the profession (Architect) completely circumscribes the discipline (Architecture). Our desire to have everything defined by professional practice, as opposed to a disciplinary canon, is becoming obsolete.”
“An intelligent environment might no longer be an environment; it might be a set of autonomous and transient and discrete responses that will happen once and disappear. We need to get comfortable with the body as the entity that negotiates with our surroundings. That is our new baseline. That’s an architectural question – it won’t come up in neurobiology or physics or engineering.”
“The mode we should be working in? I don’t know yet. It’s tragic that the kind of open-ended imaginative thinking that I remember from thirty years ago when I was at NASA is pretty much restricted to the military now, to the Defense Advanced Researched Projects Agency (DARPA). Things they are doing with the human body are particularly interesting – it’s open-ended but designed to be implemented soon. This is something that I wish we, as architects, could get ourselves a little bit more involved in.”
This article is published as online part of ‘Volume #24: Counterculture’.
A seminal proponent of sustainable architecture and green design, Sim Van der Ryn approaches architecture as an ecosystem, an ever-evolving, responsive organism. An unruly civil servant – both as Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and as the official State Architect under Governor Jerry Brown – Van der Ryn has published his visions of collaborative design and ecological principles in, among others, The Integral Urban House: Self Reliant Living in the City (The Sierra Club, 1974) with Bill and Helga Olkowski; The Toilet Papers: Recycling Waste and Conserving Water (Chelsea Green Publishing, 1986) and Sustainable Communities: A New Design Synthesis for Cities, Suburbs and Towns (New Catalyst Books, 1986), both with Peter Calthorpe; Ecological Design (Island Press, 1996) with Stuart Cowan; and most recently in Design For Life: The Architecture of Sim Van der Ryn (Gibbs Smith, 2005). Here, Van der Ryn discusses his radical seminars at Berkeley in which he developed a classroom-as-commune approach, eventually leading to the founding of the Farallone Institute and the ‘birth of green’.
Jeffrey Inaba: How do you think that the prevailing ideas about modern architecture played out at Berkeley in relation to the idea of alternative modes of design? Was it a response to various institutions or was it not really conscious?
Sim Van der Ryn: The problem with architectural ideology was that it was ideology [laughs]. But I wanted to know how architecture really related to human beings, and I didn’t see any answers in the ideology.
I wrote an article in Landscape Magazine called ‘Architecture: Art or Science?’ in which I interrogated the existing knowledge about how buildings address people. Most people think buildings are sculptural objects or works of art, but my view has always been that buildings are organisms and ecosystems, and humans make up an important part of those systems. Architecture critics never review buildings in terms of humans.
JI: Can you talk a little bit about the type of work you were doing in the 60s and to what it was responding?
SVDR: In 1961, Berkeley’s new hi-rise dormitories received great reviews from architecture critics. They were great and were modern, but I was really interested in the human response to them. I wanted to create some kind of science, so my research seminar and I implemented simple techniques to get a handle on this very question. We observed and interviewed students over one year and immediately found problems: they had big lounges that were never used, and the double-loaded straight corridor was noisy as hell. We then wrote a monograph of our findings in simple, non-scientific language. I wanted to call it The Ecology of Student Housing, but the head of the Facilities Lab suggested that no one knew what ‘ecology’ was yet – it was too arcane. So we called it Dorms at Berkeley. It was really the beginning of post-occupancy evaluation.
Volume #24: Counterculture
Few people are out protesting in the street or tripping on acid in America these days, yet many of the social principles of its hippie generation are now mainstream. The most celebrated example of the continuing influence of 60s alternative values is in the world of technology. In his book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, media historian Fred Turner describes a group of 60s figures who did not revolt against a menacing, out of touch ‘establishment’ as the familiar narrative tells us, but took a seemingly contradictory interest in defense technologies developing within the militaryindustrial complex. Turner observes that the countercultural ethos of demanding access to knowledge invoked by Stewart Brand and others influenced the development of the personal computer products and network tools that popularized the web and initiated our shift to a society that thrives on information.
Storytelling communicates facts, but it also builds upon real-life accounts to enrich public expectations and elevate beliefs. To these ends, it is worthwhile to get reacquainted with the children’s story. Although regarded as a vehicle to escape reality, the children’s story, and in particular the fairy tale, could again help to elucidate larger social and political storylines. This issue of Volume responds to the global crisis, continuing a series of inquiries started in Volume #9, Urban China 31, Urban China Bootlegged by C-Lab and Volume #19. Here, we present storytelling as a means of understanding our time and constructing a narrative of response.
Maybe it is different in your part of the world, but in the US there is currently an agitation shortage. There is not much work that incites discord with the prevalent views held by the profession. There are few agitators, or figures who rattle the bones of our institutions by challenging established values. And there are few that feel agitated, or irritated, about this as the overall state of today’s situation.
The Valley is not a suburb. It is as economically self-sufficient and culturally dense as major cities. Should the Valley secede, it will be the 6th largest US metropolitan area. It will have the highest concentration of aerospace firms, the 3rd greatest number of entertainment companies and the 6th most manufacturing headquarters. While these statistics […]