The Alvar Aalto Museum has launched an online journal of research papers about Alvar Aalto. It should act as a hub for researchers on the works of Aalto. All the papers are free to download and read. Go to alvaraaltoresearch.fi.
This book was one of those pleasurable of reading experiences where my brain felt like it was being subtly rewired as I was reading it. I loved this book and what follows isn’t really a review but a summary with an awful lot of quotes. A set of notes for myself. I’ll try to make a faithful outline of what Strategic design is and what it might mean to the Architect without the examples that Dan gives. Also Strelka press should be congratulated on a nice series of e-books.
Thanks for this brilliant review of what remain one of my favourite buildings also.
Just to play devils advocate for a minute a number of apparent contradictions you bring up in your review could be resolved by reading the building in Baudrillard’s Postmodern way.
Lloyd’s actually really is an oil rig or rather an insurance rig. It symbolises the Lloyds market much better that the clasisist buildings it replaces. The image of the old fashioned, insurance man or banker is actually the fake and the ‘oil rig’ the real Lloyds. It expands or contracts with the ravenous market it houses. Sometimes growing in good times when it hits seam of easy insurance money and sometimes almost engulfed by the waves of unforseen risk like a huge wave of asbestos litigation for example.
The insurance men living the lie of the stuffy responsible reliable middle age underwriter naturally rebel against this exposed reality and seek refuge in keeping their trinkets, a bell here, a dining room there, all struggling against the deep truth they can barely acknowledge…that this unsatiable market and indeed themselves are perfectly represented by Rogers’ design.
RH: This reminds me of something you said in a lecture at the Architectural Association: “If architecture can claim to solve problems, then it’s only logical that it can also be blamed.” So you can’t have it both ways.
WV: That’s right. You can’t say, “I can solve problems, but I’m not to blame if I cause a problem”, it’s impossible. If you can use a knife to cut a steak, you can also use a knife to stab someone. So it’s a choice you have to make, and it’s a funny philosophical choice that architects have never really made. For example, the whole discussion about Robin Hood Gardens, where even Zaha Hadid says, “this is important architecture and we have to save it”. I find this so puzzling, because all these visionary architects said that the architecture could not be blamed for the problems happening in Robin Hood Gardens. So if architecture cannot be blamed, then it also cannot be thanked. And therefore as an architect you can’t claim to create a social transformation through your own architecture.
RH: Robin Hood Gardens is an interesting example because the Smithson’s rhetoric was so community-oriented and so utopic, but one which has so radically mismatched the results. So is the lesson then for architects to just be more humble?
WV: I am seriously and deeply ambiguous about this whole question [laughs]. On the one hand, of course architects should be more humble, but on the other hand if they are humble, what good are they?
A friend loaned this book to me and before I hand it back, long overdue, I thought I’d write a few things about it. I read it through once, at the beginning of my loan from cover to cover, then again coming back and dipping when the book happened to appear on my radar as it did from time to time.
Three weeks ago I attended my office Spring day at the Dipoli1 building in Otaniemi. It was my first time visiting this slightly less well known Finnish design classic. At the time it was built it was apparently controversial and a ‘brave’ building. I couldn’t really see it form the outside. It has a kind of Elementalism a raw natural aesthetic of rock and tree cover, at least that was my interpretation. Something maybe between Brutalism and Romanticism where you can see these ideas, cross over to good effect. Anyone even vaguely familiar with Finland will realise these are themes played out in public and private in Finnish society and their art and as such it’s really nice to see them so clearly referenced and effected in a building.
The Amondawa tribe in Amazon discovered in 1986 have no concept of abstract time according to a study from the University of Portsmouth and the Federal University of Rondonia in Brazil.
We’re really not saying these are a ‘people without time’ or ‘outside time…Amondawa people, like any other people, can talk about events and sequences of event,….What we don’t find is a notion of time as being independent of the events which are occurring; they don’t have a notion of time which is something the events occur in.
Evidence for this includes that the people do not refer to their ages, but that they take different names at different stages of their lives or as they achieve different status within the community.
Other theorists are not so sure however. When a tribe with a limited vocabulary refers to things in the external world time might not be mapped onto it. In other words the Amondawa might well experience and understand time as we do, its just that it isn’t or can’t be articulated within the language…..(via)
by Graham Dunstan Martin
Homage to Bachelard (1884-1962)
Architecture has at least two sides: it’s a science; and it’s one of the arts. It’s akin to technology; and it’s akin to poetry. This is why architects find Gaston Bachelard’s books interesting. He was Professor of Philosophy of Science at the Sorbonne and the rational & creative sides of his mind worked equally well. He published about 9 books on philosophy of science, about 9 on the poetic imagination. Believed: ‘the masculine, workaday consciousness (animus), which strives towards scientific objectivity & the rectification of concepts, must be complemented by the nocturnal, feminine consciousness (anima) which seeks poetic subjectivity, reverie, imagination.’ I shall not refer to Bachelard again. But, as you see, he’s an excellent kicking-off-point.
Everyone’s mind has those same two sides. Though often one dominates over the other. And I question whether it’s right to label them male and female.
Seeing Nature as a Mirror
Many years ago an ex-student of mine paid me a visit. It was a cold day in winter, he came into my office, sat down, and we started to talk. Since leaving University, he told me, he’d had a nervous breakdown — but now he was cured. ‘But,’ he said to me, ‘if I’d still been ill, when I came in this morning I’d have thought you were angry with me: because the gas fire is on (bright red); that poster on the wall is crimson; and you’re wearing a scarlet tie.’
This is poetic thinking: my student in his illness was thinking everything around him was targeted deliberately at himself. He was taking the world personally. Every detail in his surroundings was aimed at him.
There is a term in lit crit: the ‘pathetic fallacy’ (Ruskin). This is when an author is writing a novel: he comes to a sad chapter – so he makes it rain; or a violent chapter – so he gives us a thunderstorm; or his characters are having a happy love affair – so he makes the sun shine into the bedroom. But it’s neither pathetic nor a fallacy, really: because we are in the world, we relate to the world, we depend on the world, we see it & need to see it in terms of our needs and purposes. (And remember, our ancestors were in the World long long before we were human at all, or anything like human.)
So how do we see the World? We don’t just have a logical, utilitarian relationship with the world, we have an emotional relationship with it. This is shown in the words we use about it. E.g. fires ‘rage’, waves are ‘angry’, trees ‘whisper’ or ‘weep’, rocks are ‘dangerous’, mountains are ‘majestic’, a stone can be ‘obstinate’, a rock can be ‘threatening’, a cave can be ‘welcoming’. We have this tendency to attribute intentions & emotions to our surroundings. It’s useful to see things this way: if you see fires as ‘raging’ or waves as being ‘angry’, it warns you not to get too close.
Stone is a fellow-inhabitant of our human world. We relate to it, and it relates to us. Of course, you will tell me I’m speaking ‘metaphorically’.
The STX shipyard in Turku, Finland has just delivered the world’s largest cruise liner ever built. Called The Allure of the Seas it’s capable of housing 6,300 passengers and 2,100 staff, and at approximately five times the size of the Titanic, it is in effect the largest self contained mobile town in the world. Everything about it is big, one lifeboat alone from this ship can hold 370 people, it’s 17 floors ranks it as one of the tallest buildings in Finland if it was only on dry land. Just check out the twin apartment blocks facing each other with sports facilities on the roof (stand up Corbusier’s Unite de’Habitation).
Charles Holland in a great short article about the Sterling Prize talks about the problem of Architecture versus Building.
There is an enormous gap between the process of designing and the physical reality of building. Architects get so used to equating drawings and models with buildings – despite the vast scale, material and factual differences – that they assume an equivalence between them. Perhaps it is this sense of equivalence that allows them to gloss over the work done by other consultants and contractors and claim sole authorship. This equivalence affects architectural education in particular, where buildings and images are discussed as if they are literally interchangeable. -(via)
Provisional – Emerging modes of Architectural Practice US by Elite Kedan, Jon Dreyfous, Craig Mutter (Princeton Architectural Press 2009)
This book takes nine practices from the U.S.A which are by their nature different from a standard architectural practice and look at how they work.
Some things are about the practical building relationships during a project for example LTL have revised contractual relationships to retain quality control. SHoP retain a financial interest in some of the projects they design. Servo are a little similar to Ocean which has a strong connection to Helsinki.
Otherwise mostly these practises are in some way using computers, their methodological use of them and transformation of them to open up new possibilities, the work of Chris Hoxie with his various collaborators is a good example. But that’s more of a subtext to the wider enquiry of how Architects work and how that might change in the near future.
It’s not strictly a book about the buildings which these Architects make but about the processes that the Architects use in order to arrive at the buildings. This then is quite a rare book in that it looks at the process of Architecture and is not much focused on the end result.
This book could be seen then as a cross section in that it is organised by type, eg into essays, images, interviews, even construction documents. Its also a cross section by intent, meaning it gives you a deep insight into how these contemporary Architects work today, and by implication how we all might work tomorrow.The interviews succeed the best in shedding light these designers processes , the drawings and photos provide some background flavour but don’t go much beyond that.
This is an optimistic book one where it’s subjets are all in different way changing the process of architectural design itself some more and some less on the edge of traditional idea of an architectural practice. If you aren’t an Architect or Designer this book is of limited value and won’t sit well on a coffee table however if you are then this is a book that is worth diving deep into.
Note: The following post is by my Father Graham Martin. He sent this to me after a conversation we had over the phone. I don’t remember exactly what we started talking about but we ended up with Dad telling me about this passage by a famous French author about the Eiffel Tower which had been newly erected in his beloved Paris and had enraged him so. I really wanted to know what he said, it seems so many of the worlds great landmarks start off life being despised. Being a retired French lecturer of course helps a little when you want to translate some french so here it is with my dad’s comments of course.
In Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, a Quechua Indian told me that everything one does in life involves looking forward while going backward simultaneously. This I didn’t understand. I said, ‘What do you mean, going backward?’And he said,’Well, it’s very simple. For us, for the Quechua, the past is in front of us. It’s in front of us because we know the past and we can look at it. And the future is behind because we don’t know what it brings so we move into the future, but we move backwards.’ The expression is ñawpaman puni. -David Tuchsneider 1992:63-64
A beautiful concept that we are facing backward while moving forward that seems enshrined as it is in the Quechua language a quite deep insight. But I note now while I’m studying Finnish in my spare time that languages have many and subtle differences in their attitude to space and time and grammatical systems are by nature going to constrain your thinking about space if you rely on them.
Thirty years after the premiere of Star Wars, the strange chimpanzee crossed another threshold. For the first time in fifty-five hundred years of building cities, more of humanity now lives in them than in rural settlements. In the coming years there will be countless master plans for new mega-cities in Africa, Asia, and South America. We can only hope that these plans will be drawn by disciples of Jane Jacobs, students of Robert Morris, admirers of Robert Smithson, and fans of Star Wars. (link)
by Iain Borden
Iain Borden effectively tells the history of the rise of skateboarding, board and boardpark history and the evolution of skateboarding itself. Lefebvre‘s The Production of Space is the main jumping off point for this book but necessarily reinterpreted through the attitude of skateboarders to the city. Actually its better than that because it really well explains how space is a personal production by necessity in a city whether actively engaged in or not.
The effective telling of skateboarding subculture also gives this book the edge and authority to challenge the politics of city planning at the most basic level. I like it particularly because its theory rooted in practice, not just a post-modern abstract philosophical theory bootstrapped onto architectural thought like so many post-modern theories over the last 20 years. Its not often that this tightrope between theory and reality is so deftly navigated in Architectural discourses and the result is a book that has something to say to everyone.
Nightlands Nordic building by Christian Norberg-Schulz.
A tip off from a reader of this blog sent me to this book for which I will be eternally grateful. First I should start with a warning you that this is not a coffee table publication, the pictures are sparse and in black and white. However if you want to really get a feel for Scandinavian Architecture, indeed to really get under the skin of the differences between Scandinavian Architecture and the rest of the world then this is the book to start with. Not only does it give a convincing picture of ‘northerness’ but it paints a credible narrative of not only the primordial origins of Scandinavian Architecture but the differences within the Scandinavian countries too. It’s theory but unlike much Architectural theory it strives to be to the point and understandable. It’s well written too with some great, almost poetic texts. If you like theory but may not be immediately interested in Scandinavian Architecture get it anyway as it is often able to eloquently speak of the universalities of Architecture, for example;
Architecture, in other words, is a form of understanding of the given environment. As such, it consists in explanation of the unity of life and place, in order that we may understand where we are, how we are, what we are. When successful, architecture becomes the art of building and thereby representation of an inhabited landscape.
This books grand conceit is the construction of a narrative of the different Architectures of the Scandinavian countries, and that it basically succeeds in its aim to show the unifying and differing gestalts in Scandinavia is a credit to the author.
One question that arises, that the book doesn’t cover, is what about in this post-modern age where Architects roam a lot more freely across national boundaries and Architectural internships are often served abroad how are national architectures affected? Finland for example seems very much inward looking still, with almost all of the emerging Architects offices having served out their apprenticeships for better or for worse in Finland. But what about Denmark for example which seems so influenced at the moment by Dutch Architecture with people like Bjarke Ingels having worked for Rem Koolhaas in the Netherlands? The sort of national architectural historical arc that Architects are described as being within in this book may already be about to be a thing of the past.