Saturday, October 29, 2005

Mass Studies

one of twelve images from (a special on the question of regionalism from) last Friday's (28 October 2005) eye candy...

I've been thinking quite a bit about vernacular architecture for sometime now -- or perhaps even regionalism.

Not that the firms in today's eye candy represents a vernacular - they quite possibly represent the demise of a vernacular... They represent an international collaboration that is becoming more and more the norm today. These three firms have collaborated on multiple projects - several of which are represented below. (Though they also compete against one another on international competitions.) Two of these firms are in Korea the third in NYC. The collaborations have primarily been in one general area in Korea - Are they creating their own regionalism?

I suppose that there has been a cross pollination of ideas in architecture for more than a hundred years now... it's not really a new phenomenon. Though with the current world market, international design competitions, books and periodicals (from anywhere you like) and the advent of the internet (and even e-mails like this one) is it accelerating? Does anyone else feel that we are perhaps destroying any sense of place that we once had?

I'm now working in an office that's located in the heart of a faceless, sprawling, car dominated, suburb... it's the poster child for 'the place that has no sense of place'. We've been discussing the fact that the suburbs are now obviously a given and they're not going away. So how do we address them in our work? do we change them? Can we create a 'New Suburban Vernacular'? These are simply some ideas and questions that we're posing.

So I'm interested -- What does it mean to practice architecture in your local region? your city? your country?
-- send your thoughts and I'll compose them (anonymously of course) and send them out in the next week or two.


the following web sites were accompanied by several images of their work: Cho Slade was an eye candy... way back (I can't even find it in the archives).


Blogger eric said...

I must have asked too many questions in my rambling thoughts in my e-mail on 29 October 2005 -- Vernacular, Regionalism, Sense of Place, Suburbs... I admit I had a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head that morning. Most of those who responded just chose a topic and ran with it.

So here are the thoughts, web links, and ideas shared by readers like you.... in no particular order.



Scale. The most important thing is scale. If you are wrong in scale you are very wrong...
One of the biggest problems with the suburbs is the scale is screwed (not to mention the planning)!

The scale in the suburbs needs to respond to both the car (since the car is king) and human scale. Very little architecture today does that. -- Off hand the Univ. of Toronto Graduate Housing project that Morphosis completed a few years back is the only project that I can think of that handles both scales and that project is much more successful from a speeding car than from a walking citizen's point of view.



I was very interested in your E-mail about regionalism because I have also been thinking about it recently. While the globalization is affecting a lot of aspects of our lives, the relationship between global and local has to be reconsidered.
In fact, I am currently working on my research paper on a similar subject. Specifically US/Mexico border regions, the borderlands, El Paso/Ciudad Juarez in particular.

However, it is not clear what is regional about the border towns. Could it be the multiculturism? Maybe but not quite because it still does not address the very issue of regionalism. To help me understand what could be the regionalism in the borderlands, I am going to re-visit the concept of "critical regionalism" proposed by Kenneth Frampton in his book “Modern Architecture”, and expanding its framework. The existing concept is geared towards aesthetics, functions and constructions responding to local climate, geography or traditional construction method, yet using the available modern technology.

The critical regionalism I proposed certainly asks designers to see beyond the conventional sense of design. Along with Frampton’s critical regionalism taking account of regional topology, climate and culture, it includes program, not only playing with the given programs but "creating" new ones. The difficult tasks will be to judge how much architects would involve in the process. The answer is the architects’ role will probably change in each given situations because each region has a peculiar “climate”, whether it is physical or social. However, in any situations it is important for the designer to ask themselves what impact the design would have on a social level and what would be the appropriate design solution to improve the existing condition.

Even though this research deals with quite an extreme place, it is my intention to provide ideas or hints for architects to realize what it means to practice design in this region, what the design represents, or how it functions in the globalized world. The globalization often times takes locals away from the process, it tends to address the interests of non-locals whether it is private corporations or federal governments. Therefore, it seems quite essential to take account of displaced locals into the design to establish the regionalism. It is only able to be achieved through reading not only the physical character but also social, political and economical climate of the region and it was also my aim to illustrate how the critical regionalism will be a helpful framework for it to facilitate the practice creating an appropriate regional architecture.

this research is still in the process... .


(this is from a second e-mail building upon the one above...)
To certain extents, in a way, all architects are obedient to the system of capitalism; after all we all live in the same system (probably even if someone lives in North Korea). This capitalistic system requires efficiency; it requires design and the construction to be done as quick as possible - and is subsequently creating a homogeneous landscape consisting of a series of decorative sheds and boxes.

It is my intention to find out if there is a way for architects to be able to "challenge" the system of capitalism (or our clients) through our designs...

For instance, you talked about Suburban Vernacular. I think it is a wonderful idea and it is quite possible that it could happen. However, the question is how do we find the clients for us to "experiment" the design, other than architects ourselves become the developers?


excerpted from New Vernacular Architecture by Vicky Richardson
'Vernacular architecture,' strictly speaking, could be a contradiction in terms. The vernacular is the unconscious work of craftsmen based on knowledge accumulated over generations — perhaps the very opposite of architecture, which is often considered to involve a premeditated design process with a conscious appeal to the intellect.
Yet the term is a convenient shorthand to describe an approach that adopts the spirit of the vernacular, if not its actual forms. It is not intended to indicate a new style — in fact, many "new vernacular" architects reject the concept of style.

The term instead describes their intention to reflect by "analogous inspiration" the characteristics of local buildings, their scale in particular, whether they have chosen to concentrate on the use of materials, the landscape, the local culture, or even no more than the idea of continuity with the past.

..."Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal."

If the "new vernacular architects" express ambivalence about the Modernist notion of progress in society and see universal ideas only in the most primitive building forms, it is because their views reflect the reality of contemporary society. Vernacular architecture is perhaps the most appropriate mode of expression for an era that lacks a sense of transformative historic change.


lyrics from the Eagles song The Last Resort (Hotel California 1977)

...Where the pretty people play,
hungry for power
to light their neon way
and give them things to do.

Some rich men came and raped the land,
Nobody caught 'em.
Put up a bunch of ugly boxes,
and Jesus, people bought 'em.
And they called it paradise.
The place to be
They watched the hazy sun, sinking in the sea...


I have had similar thoughts about the loss of regionalism, that it is happening. There is nothing to do to stop it I believe, because we will never return to building with stones and producing classical buildings. The world will never operate as it did when there was classical architecture, it simply operates differently now, and as a result regionalism of every kind is threatened and disappearing. I believe richness is lost when there is no regionalism. But there is always the opportunity for beauty and permanence in design and style, so not all is lost. The most disappointing element of loosing regionalism is that there is a trend toward less permanent structures and styles, and most disgustingly a simulation of all things real by using more temporary and artificial materials. We will reach a point where everything is valid and invalid at the same time, it will be without reference. When there is no reference to the past, then we have no past or heritage or culture. With out a past, or traditions, much is lost in the validity of life and living itself, and then life has no choice but to be for pleasure - there is nothing to balance our selves with. There will be a general apathy because anything is fine, and anything is acceptable, and nothing is better, and nothing is good - or bad, ...nothing is relevant and nothing is irrelevant.


"Sprawl has direct and quantifiable costs to our economy and in our individual lives," ...The additional costs amount to some $84 million a day nationwide, the authors concluded.

Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development

– the face of suburbia is a face – the inability to see is the question which should be asked –

[my response] The inability to "see what"? ...that suburbia exists? ...that it is what it is? -- I can except that. What I want to know is: If there's a way to improve it - how do we approach it? Or do we simply stand back and watch it like a science experiment? (I personally think it's interesting to see how the suburbs have evolved from the time the street cars began moving people out of the Central Business District to now). Also - Do you believe regionalism or the vernacular are a thing of the past? Do you believe it's possible to create your own regionalism?

Interesting – I think the idea of regionalism is dead – meaning it still exists and is being done – and done well in some cases – but more importantly, the notion of "a region" is a fossil – it is an ideal of the past – left on the wayside by the technology and globalism in it’s most destructive and constructive modes – I think the new architecture – if it can exist is very, very personal – you know I don’t believe in clients – so to comment on architecture would be hypocritical of me – so I will leave it to architects – I think looking at things is good – but that includes all things – not just architecture – writing, math – god – etc...


adapted from an article about Renzo Piano:,11710,1647127,00.html
He (Renzo Piano) was not surprised by the riots in the suburbs of Paris and he relates them to a misconception politicians have about the function of cities and their peripheries.

After Paris, what can be done to improve the suburbs? This, he says, is the key question. "The big topic of today, and of the next 30 years, will be peripheries. How you can transform peripheries into a town. What is happening today in Paris is happening everywhere. Now people are starting to understand that the real challenge... is to turn peripheries into cities."

"...for a community to work... it must be a place in which people work, and sleep, and socialize and, most importantly, "merge" in some way."

"Architecture in some way has the duty to suggest behavior..."

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooof, I hope this is the right place to email for the ongoing discussion!

You said:

He (Renzo Piano) was not surprised by the riots in the suburbs of Paris and he relates them to a misconception politicians have about the function of cities and their peripheries.

Well, one thing has been left out of the discussion, beyond the possible inferences re: capitalism, and that's good old-fashioned corruption. I think the politicians of Paris knew exactly what they were doing when they marginalized their Muslim population in the awful, ugly, dehumanizing housing on the outskirts of Paris. (In fact, this is the paradigm all over France, and has been for years.) The function of the periphery was to isolate that group of people, just as they are isolated economically. Les hommes politiques knew exactly what they were doing.

Architecture is never an isolated artistic product, and between any building's concept and its realization, many nasty human impulses can come into play--from the use of cheap materials and engineering compromises, to even greater ethical issues. Consequences deserve as much concern as any other factor.


9:19 AM  
Blogger eric said...

....thanks for forwarding the article to me John.

Witold Rybczynski review / commentary on : Robert Bruegmann's Sprawl.

Suburban Despair
Is urban sprawl really an American menace?
By Witold Rybczynski
Posted Monday, Nov. 7, 2005, at 6:42 PM ET

We hate sprawl. It's responsible for everything that we don't like about modern American life: strip malls, McMansions, big-box stores, the loss of favorite countryside, the decline of downtowns, traffic congestion, SUVs, high gas consumption, dependence on foreign oil, the Iraq war. No doubt about it, sprawl is bad, American bad. Like expanding waistlines, it's touted around the world as yet another symptom of our profligacy and wastefulness as a nation. Or, as Robert Bruegmann puts it in his new book, "cities that sprawl and, by implication, the citizens living in them, are self indulgent and undisciplined."

Or not. In Sprawl, cheekily subtitled "A Compact History," Bruegmann, a professor of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, examines the assumptions that underpin most people's strongly held convictions about sprawl. His conclusions are unexpected. To begin with, he finds that urban sprawl is not a recent phenomenon: It has been a feature of city life since the earliest times. The urban rich have always sought the pleasures of living in low-density residential neighborhoods on the outskirts of cities. As long ago as the Ming dynasty in the 14th century, the Chinese gentry sang the praises of the exurban life, and the rustic villa suburbana was a common feature of ancient Rome. Pliny's maritime villa was 17 miles from the city, and many fashionable Roman villa districts such as Tusculum—where Cicero had a summer house—were much closer. Bruegmann also observes that medieval suburbs—those urbanized areas outside cities' protective walls—had a variety of uses. Manufacturing processes that were too dirty to be located inside the city (such as brick kilns, tanneries, slaughterhouses) were in the suburbs; so were the homes of those who could not afford to reside within the city proper. This pattern continued during the Renaissance. Those compact little cities bounded by bucolic landscapes, portrayed in innumerable idealized paintings, were surrounded by extensive suburbs.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "sprawl" first appeared in print in this context in 1955, in an article in the London Times that contained a disapproving reference to "great sprawl" at the city's periphery. But, as Bruegmann shows, by then London had been spreading into the surrounding countryside for hundreds of years. During the 17th and 18th centuries, while the poor moved increasingly eastward, affluent Londoners built suburban estates in the westerly direction of Westminster and Whitehall, commuting to town by carriage. These areas are today the Central West End; one generation's suburb is the next generation's urban neighborhood. As Bruegmann notes, "Clearly, from the beginning of modern urban history, and contrary to much accepted wisdom, suburban development was very diverse and catered to all kinds of people and activities."When inexpensive public transportation opened up South London for development in the 19th century, London sprawl took a different form: streets and streets of small brick-terrace houses. For middle-class families, this dispersal was a godsend, since it allowed them to exchange a cramped flat for a house with a garden. The outward movement continued in the boom years between the First and Second World Wars, causing the built-up area of London to double, although the population increased by only about 10 percent—which sounds a lot like Atlanta today.

It was not only by sprawling at the edges that cities reduced their densities. Preindustrial cities began life by exhibiting what planners call a steep "density gradient," that is, the population density was extremely high in the center and dropped off rapidly at the edges. Over time, with growing prosperity—and the availability of increasingly far-reaching mass transportation (omnibuses, streetcars, trains, subways, cars)—this gradient flattened out. Density at the center reduced while density in the (expanding) suburbs increased. The single most important variable in this common pattern was, as Bruegmann observes, not geography or culture, but the point at which the city reached economic maturity. In the case of London, the city's population density peaked in the early 19th century; in Paris it happened in the 1850s; and in New York City in the early 1900s. While the common perception is that sprawl is America's contribution to urban culture, Bruegmann shows that it appeared in Europe first.

Little boxes on a hillside

Yet haven't high rates of automobile ownership, easy availability of land, and a lack of central planning made sprawl much worse in the United States? Most American tourists spend their time visiting historic city centers, so they may be unaware that suburbs now constitute the bulk of European metropolitan areas, just as they do in America. We marvel at the efficiency of European mass transit, but since 1950, transit ridership has remained flat, while the use of private automobiles has skyrocketed. Just as in America. "As cities across Europe have become more affluent in the last decades of the twentieth century," Bruegmann writes, "they have witnessed a continuing decline in population densities in the historic core, a quickening of the pace of suburban and exurban development, a sharp rise in automobile ownership and use, and the proliferation of subdivisions of single-family houses and suburban shopping centers." Despite some of the most stringent anti-sprawl regulations in the world and high gas prices, the population of the City of Paris has declined by almost a third since 1921, while its suburbs have grown. Over the last 15 years, the city of Milan has lost about 600,000 people to its metropolitan fringes, while Barcelona, considered by many a model compact city, has developed extensive suburbs and has experienced the largest population loss of any European city in the last 25 years. Greater London, too, continues to sprawl, resulting in a population density of 12,000 persons per square mile, about half that of New York City.

The point is not that London, any more than Barcelona or Paris, is a city in decline (although the demographics of European city centers have changed and are now home to wealthier and older inhabitants, just like some American cities). Central urban densities are dropping because household sizes are smaller and affluent people occupy more space. Like Americans, Europeans have opted for decentralization. To a great extent, this dispersal is driven by a desire for home-ownership. "Polls consistently confirm that most Europeans, like most Americans, and indeed most people worldwide, would prefer to live in single-family houses on their own piece of land rather than in apartment buildings," Bruegmann writes. So strong is this preference that certain European countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom now have higher single-family house occupancy rates than the United States, while others, such as Holland, Belgium, and Norway, are comparable. Half of all French households now live in houses.

It appears that all cities—at least all cities in the industrialized Western world—have experienced a dispersal of population from the center to a lower-density periphery. In other words, sprawl is universal. Why is this significant? "Most American anti-sprawl reformers today believe that sprawl is a recent and peculiarly American phenomenon caused by specific technological innovations like the automobile and by government policies like single-use zoning or the mortgage-interest deduction on the federal income tax," Bruegmann writes. "It is important for them to believe this because if sprawl turned out to be a long-standing feature of urban development worldwide, it would suggest that stopping it involves something much more fundamental than correcting some poor American land-use policy."

What this iconoclastic little book demonstrates is that sprawl is not the anomalous result of American zoning laws, or mortgage interest tax deduction, or cheap gas, or subsidized highway construction, or cultural antipathy toward cities. Nor is it an aberration. Bruegmann shows that asking whether sprawl is "good" or "bad" is the wrong question. Sprawl is and always has been inherent to urbanization. It is driven less by the regulations of legislators, the actions of developers, and the theories of city planners, than by the decisions of millions of individuals—Adam Smith's "invisible hand." This makes altering it very complicated, indeed. There are scores of books offering "solutions" to sprawl. Their authors would do well to read this book. To find solutions—or, rather, better ways to manage sprawl, which is not the same thing—it helps to get the problem right.

Witold Rybczynski is Slate's architecture critic.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:36 PM  
Blogger eric said...

I just found this:

It was posted 05 November 2005...

12:43 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home