Wednesday, 30 January 2013

What of opacity today ?

Groupe Architecture Principe, 
Eglise Ste. Bernadette-du-Banlay,Nevers,1963-66

Going back in the history of architecture, following a brief stay in the trees and in the caves: there is the wall. 
The wall and its manifold turns upon itself gave birth to the enclosure, the first protection against aggressions of all kinds. And the first expression of land ownership. 

We may consider, then, that the wall and its openings constitute the first among the initial principles of architecture, and the only one surviving today
The miracle is that, despite sociological and technological upheavals, it is omnipresent and dominant in the minds of those specializing in human settlement on the planet. It is therefore legitimate to raise the essential issue, that of opacity as the fundamental principle of architecture.
Indeed, in our times, aspirations to dominance are coming from two quarters. 

Transparency, through glass and its substitutes. Stretched membranes, which act as translucent surfaces or as sieves.
SANAA + Imrey Culbert, Louvre-Lens museum, Lens,2012
In arbitrating this confrontation, one criterion should be decisive: how to let solar light into inhabited places.
Architects thus automatically find themselves in charge of this arbitration, this choice. Through the artifices they invent, they determine how light is conducted.
Accordingly, they are free to determine the new fundamental of current architecture. The object of this debate between fundamentals is to formulate one’s preference, to state which manipulation should be used to arbitrate between opacity and transparency.
Claude Parent [ on Spéciale’Z , May 2012 ]

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

                                                                             Gabriele De Vecchi: URMNT _1961                         

"According to the [T] group, the socialization could occur through the kinetic, replacing the static work with the process  referring to the union of space and time."
G. De Vecchi 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Gilles Clement: jardinier et écrivain

[The principles of biological evolution and those of economic evolution are not-overlapping.

 - Growth, developpement, represent the dynamic of an economic system, inasmuch accumulation. 
 - Growth, developpement, represent the dynamic of a biological system, inasmuch tranformation. 

The Third Landscape, a territory of diversity, therefore of evolution, produces invention, opposes accumulation. 
From a cultural point of view, the Third Landscape is referring to an organized territory and in opposition to it.]

The ruling power, undermined from inside, attempts to regain its wavering balance menaced by its own drift. A multitude of counter-powers exercises pressure from the outside and weakens, to an even greater extent the monolithic edifice based on the belief in a unique economic and social system.
In spite of efforts to consolidate the architecture of a system built on the sole mechanics of material exchange and consumption, it crumbles.

[ - Consider the un-organization of the spaces of Third Landscape as a vital principle, thanks to which, each organized system lets itself be passed through by flashes of light. 
 - Consider the growth of spaces of Third Landscape originating from an organization of the territory as necessary counterpoint to it. 
 - Consider planetary mixture - a mechanism inherent to Third Landscape - as an  engine of evolution.
 - Promote biological growth and developpement, in opposition to economical growth and developpement.]

In crumbling, it joins the autonomous structures that contributed to its fall. It amalgamates and undergoes a transformation at contact, helpless to impose its rule and model, henceforth obsolete. This dispersed entity corresponds to an atomized society obliged to invent new models of exchange, sharing and distribution for material and immaterial goods.

During its life cycle, the tree returns to the environment the energy it removes. Symbiotic man , by adopting this model of operation, answers the question posed by the Planetary Garden: « How to exploit diversity without destroying it? »
While the image of a tree represents a strong model, stable and lasting, that of grass is closer to the fragile model, unstable and short-lived. In reality, the two figures function in the same manner with regard to the environment: by constant recycling of energy with no accumulation of waste other than decomposable organic matter. (Vegetation, autotrophic, produces its nourishment from solar energy and minerals resulting from the deterioration of organic matter, rocks, etc.)

[Declare the territory of Third Landscape as a privileged place of the biological intelligence: an inclination to constantly reinvent oneself.]

The totality of these autonomous systems forms a « Milky Way », insuring its autonomy by guaranteeing, for each entity:
-a short circuit of production and distribution of goods of greatest necessity
-one or several local production centers for energy permitting  the systems to operate independently of any other such system.
-Systematic recycling, direct or indirect, of by-products resulting from the function of human society.
Furthermore, each system exchanges with its neighbors, near or far, all immaterial (or highly necessary) goods impossible or difficult to find locally, necessary for the cultural enrichment of this atomized society. Such a series of distant exchanges, with regard to immaterial goods, and, to a lesser extent material goods impossible to find locally, appears in grey on the drawing, tying the remote systems together.
These two models of exchange - near and far - correspond to a new economy functioning on the model of trees and grass where all taken in nature is restored with no qualitative deterioration, no matter what the form and level of transformation of this restitution. This new economy is characteristic of symbiotic Man.

A dead leaf on the ground is not waste , it is food.


G. Clement; Le Manifeste du Tiers-Paysage (2003)

G. Clement; L'homme symbiotique , commentaire de six dessins  (2009)

Friday, 19 October 2012

] Cubism does not want a banal description of the psychological meaning of bodies and events from a specific external standpoint, rather it wants life itself! The cubist artist is in the middle of things, they surround him, their abundance brings him happiness, their never-resting, ever-moving, puzzling, autonomous life is like an intoxication. No positivistic result, no explanation, no moral and no application or a lesson - rather glorification, admiration, adoration[

A. Behne_ 'Biologie and Kubismus'

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Do we need ignorant masters?

“Architecture lives both in the world of art and in the world of technological performance. And from this face comes not only its bimodality but also its anomalous and marginal character and its uneasy status in universities. Architecture is a stranger in the modern university, a throwback representing an epistemology of practice no longer dormant. Architecture experiences real tension because of the place it occupies. On the one hand, there is a strong pull to join with the rest of the university in adopting the model of technical rationality; on the other hand, there is the self-protecting mystique of design.” [i]

Is it  really fair to look for an essential or leading paradigm in the discipline of Architecture? When necessary, critique provides a satisfying intellectual reading to justify each of them. Thus, let's consider all of them as unuseful, yet necessary.The word un-useful brings no negative connotation, it just means that, because of its present complexity, architecture has overcome the simplifying dictates of functionalism; thus issues of functionality and efficiency are not anymore considered, in themselves, as the main goals of a good project, but occur as necessarily embedded in a broader discourse that relies on contributions from different disciplines and research fields.
In the last decades also a considerable amount of theory about the linguistic, theoretical and formal content of architecture has been produced, side by side with practices demanding an intellectual support, to reinvent new identities opposed to the modernist establishment. As a result architecture has grown more complex and trans-disciplinary than ever and architectural research has moved beyond building practice.  This, somehow, affects the role of the architect and the future of the profession, since the skills requested are increasingly growing. Effects of this fast development are particularly evident when looking at the world of architectural education where students, too often, are still subject to inadequate or stuffy teaching, when not otherwise committed to an excessive technicism or to the pursuit of a digital virtuosism. The latter, sometimes, proves to be naive when lacking of a proper education. So, what is the state of the architecture today? and, what should architectural teaching be concerned with?
It is true that today the aesthetics of architecture has become an essential factor and, that real estate recognises as an important feature. This implies that a huge amount of both theory and practice has been, with a good reason, mainly devoted to studies on aesthetics and the emergence of form. Otherwise, architecture has been merely concerned with a, sometimes rather dull, quest for technological efficiency that matched scarce results in terms of poetic quality of space. Except for the ecological, and almost eschatological, concern for green architecture and the reduction of energy waste (which on the other hand has led some designers to a sort of environmentally-aware fanaticism) architecture seems no more concerned with users and their needs. Delving into the question, we find out that a number of issues have influenced this evolution, from the end of the Fordist age, that has marked, not only a shift in the paradigms of production, but also radical changes in politics and social behaviours. In addition, the spread of a sense of panic and vulnerability (probably also a consequence of the worldwide shock that occurred after the enormous display of terrorist power of 9/11) has spurred the flourishing of a number of dystopian visions and, as often happens in an age of crisis, the architectural world has witnessed a divorce between theory and practice. Escaping from a too complicated reality, architects have withdrawn to the virtual world, a garden of delight for avant-garde ideas, away from an often frustrating building practice. Based primarily on digital design and mainly inspired by themes borrowed from fictional scenarios, as well as from biology and natural sciences, this attitude has driven architecture to a sort of dislocation of the virtual from the real and, ultimately, to a solipsistic isolation of the discipline. We have nevertheless come to the point where architectural fictional imageries have surpassed the concept of avant-garde, widening the gap between the possibilities of the virtual image and the actual production of architectural artefacts.  Follows that, an excess of design (and excess in design) has been, in some cases, interpreted as a lure to divert minds from the state of crisis from which architecture is suffering. On the other hand architecture’s main duty is still to question about its commitments towards society and the actual value of its strategies, especially within the context of advanced societies whose milieux have been radically modified by the massive use of web devices that have altered traditional notions of distance and proximity and, consequently social relations. Therefore, architectural design should be concerned with empowering communication within the built environment in terms of affective forms of human interaction, that is to say inducing a stimulation of sensorial perception through a sensual encounter between people and spaces. 
“Built upon love, architecture engages the inhabitant as a true participant, unlike the remote spectator of the modernist work of art or the consumer of fashionable buildings-cum-images.” Whenever a space reaches a considerable communicative power, meets the user’s expectations and acts as a boost for reactions on the subjects moving through it. This quality marks the difference between a trendy design and the authentic value of architecture, and comes out as a mix of an excellent knowledge of architectural languages with subjective skills and sensibility that actually transcends both linguistics and technicisms. [ii]
Going back to the issue of architectural education, is remarkable that its current state has been, recently, the focus of many debates involving both academic institutions and influent personalities from well-known professional practices. The argument is twofold; on the one hand, the attack towards an educational system that is accused of pursuing unrealistic scenarios and fails in producing profitable knowledge; on the other hand, the ambiguity of certain attitudes towards extreme design, considered as equally questionable, when the actual pertinence to practice is overcome by a quite arbitrary exercise of experimental tools. 

 “The (best?) students of the current generation as well as their teachers seem to think that the ordinary life processes of contemporary society are too boring to merit the avant-garde’s attention. Instead we witness the invention of scenarios that are supposedly more interesting than the challenges actually posed by contemporary reality. The points of departure for the majority of projects are improbable narratives with intended symbolic message or poetic import.”  [iii]
Robots of Brixton, winner of RIBA President’s Medals 2011      
"People of an older generation, like Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, or Jacques Herzog, look at the computer as a tool, as a vehicle, and say, ‘Okay, what can this thing do for me?’ I think the younger generation, or least those in my position, say, ‘What can I do for you?" [iv]

Marjan Colletti; CyberBaroque and other DigiTales, 2008    
Concerns are also addressed to the very nature of architectural education and the necessity of a liberal education versus a technical training, which is accused to be too much professional oriented. Historically, architectural education has always been considered a liberal one, whose goals were not only to provide a kind of technical knowledge, but also to pursue a broader cultural education, which wasn’t focused exclusively on architectural practice.
“The nobility of architecture has always rested on the idea that it is a social art , whose purposes include, yet transcend, the building of buildings. Architects, in short, are engaged in designing the physical features and social spaces of our daily lives, which can shape how productive, healthy, and happy we are both individually and collectively. The profound and permanent impact of the architecture profession demands an education non only highly technical and practical, but broad and intellectually liberating as well.” [v]
Recently, probably also due to the shrinkage of the market that bettter sustains a more affordable well-trained expertise to the detriment of qualified and over-educated figures, architecture is liable to turn from being a liberal discipline, to a merely technical profession. Such an outcome is not desirable. It is clear that, due to the complexity of the discipline, architectural education should neither stress too much on technical knowledge nor overdoing on formalism for itself as most of a conceited, exuberant and ultimately vacuous, design does. Rather, students should benefit of a trans-disciplinary education by means of which they should be able to deal with different cultural issues, get engaged in research teams together expertise from other disciplines and become able to manage all the elements which can help projects to succeed, not only in meeting people's expectations, but also in suggesting new ones. That is to say, schools should be concerned with educating students in both architectural discourse and techniques, within a democratic combination of methodological mastery and free development of personal skills.

OMA/AMO; CRONOCAOS, Venice Biennale 2010
“We divide the entire field of architecture into two parts: one is actual building, mud, the huge effort of realizing a project; the other is virtual — everything related to concepts and "pure" architectural thinking. The separation enables us to liberate architectural thinking from architectural practice. That inevitably leads to a further questioning of the need for architecture, but now our manner of questioning has changed: first we did it through buildings; now we can do it through intellectual activities parallel to building.” [vi]

Another controversial issue concerns the relationship between masters and students, which can be also extended to the plays of roles between a débutant trainee at the beginning of the professional career, and his/her expert supervisor. The effects of both methodological teaching strategies and independent contributions in the development of the subject’s autonomy, focusing in particular on the process of interference on the master’s side and on the possibility of a full mutual comprehension within the creative process, are taken into account. 
Henry Bergson says that knowledge is given to humankind in two ways. The first possible knowledge is analytic, meaning that it relies on the symbolic ground and is acquired by means of comparisons with other known objects with which it shares some qualities. This knowledge is relative and always open since "it multiplies without end the point of view in order to complete a representation which will be always incomplete". Nevertheless, it is the only knowledge that can be shared and communicated, transferred from one subject to another. On the other hand, the veritable knowledge is only given by intuition; it is absolute and ensues from an immediate coincidence between the subject and the object. "Seen from the inside an absolute is something simple, but seen from the outside, then it is relative to another, it becomes in relation to those signs that express it.  Now, what lends itself at the same time to an indivisible apprehension and an inexhaustible enumeration is, by definition, an infinite. Follows that an absolute cannot be given, if not by intuition, while all the rest depends on the analysis. Intuition, we call here, the sympathy by means of which one is transported within an object, so as to coincide with what it has unique and consequently, inexpressible. The analysis, by contrast, is the operation that brings the object to elements already known, common to this object and others. Analysis consists, therefore, in expressing a thing as a function of what it is not." [vii]Therefore in the creative process the absolute is in no way transferable from a subject to another.  In this process, absolute knowledge is given through the immediacy of the subject’s figurative intuition, which applies directly upon a subjective knowledge of the object.  By means of this intuition the object itself is modified by the subject’s projections. Since this process is not transferable as an absolute, can’t become  object of teaching. The only possible communication goes back to the field of relative knowledge. A very distinguished contribution to pedagogy comes from Jacques Ranciére. In his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Ranciére questions the principle of the construction of knowledge. He claims that any individual builds up knowledge through the same educational process   by which he has learned his mother tongue, that is in fact considered to be the condition of any other apprenticeship. Therefore, equality between the two intelligences, the one of the master and the one of the student, is the starting point and not the final aim of the educational process. In fact, the role of the master is not that of “closing the gap” between the ignorance of the student and his/her own mastery, but that of fostering the student’s own intellectual growth by means of developing his/her own equal intelligence. That pedagogical distance between a determined ignorance and a determined knowledge is in fact a metaphor. It is the metaphor of a radical break between the way of the ignorant and the way of the master, the metaphor of a radical break between two intelligences. The master cannot ignore than the so-called “ignorant” who is in front of him knows in fact a lot of things, that he has learnt on its own, by looking and listening around him, by figuring out the meaning of what he has seen and heard, repeating what he has heard and known by chance, comparing what he discovers with what he already knew and so on.”[viii] This analysis of the educational process seems to be particularly appropriate to architectural education since it is a teaching engaged in a creative a process, that is to say it implies a continuous dialectic between an initial idea of the student  (one that he/she has developed of as a sum of intuitions and analytic knowledge) and the notions delivered by the master. But, if the master considers the ignorant as a subject completely devoid of any significant previously acquired knowledge and ability, he will end up disregarding, if not suppressing, the student’s own contribution, eventually impeding the development of his equal intelligence.  “The first knowledge that the master owns is the “knowledge of ignorance”. It is the presupposition of a radical break between two forms of intelligence. This is also the first knowledge that he transmits to the student: the knowledge that he has to be explained to in order to understand, the knowledge that he cannot understand on his own. It is the knowledge of his incapacity. In that way, progressive instruction is the endless verification of its starting point: inequality. That endless verification of inequality is what Jacotot calls the process of stultification. The opposite of stultification is emancipation. Emancipation is the process of verification of the equality of intelligence.”[ix]  The master who pursues stultification instead of emancipation, in fact  is not only responsible for the underdevelopment of the student’s skill, but  he is also guilty for impeding him in the creative process.  Therefore, this kind of education turns to be a limitation of the original possibility of the ignorant to learn by his own means. Finally it can be considered as a process that produces subjects qualified to work only on the execution of other’s prescriptions and not properly trained to set up and verify their own knowledge’s constructions. This explains the necessity of research, speculation and debate within the educational system.  Whether the teaching process relies on the personal skill (that is the absolute knowledge of the master which he will always try to communicate in vain) or on the automatic delivery of his acquired technical knowledge, the student's outcomes will be, with a good chance, extremely poor and insufficient; eventually promoting a subjugation of an intelligence that can’t produce any advancement in society. The master who pursues instead the emancipation of the students tries to operate in order to encourage them to reach the best synthesis between their creative intuition and the analytic research.  To operate this way the master will recognise that his own knowledge is incomplete, just as equally insufficient is a strict disciplinary specialization. “The distance that the “ ignorant” has to cover is not the gap between his ignorance and the knowledge of the master. It is the way between what he already knows and what he still does not know but can learn by the same process. To help him to cover it, the “ignorant master” needs not to be ignorant. He only has to dissociate his knowledge from his mastery. He does not teach his knowledge to the students. He commands them to venture forth in the forest, to tell what they see, what they think of what they have seen, to check it and so on.”  The only kind education that can prevent students from subjugation and/or from a mere collection of fragmented knowledge is the one that promotes trans-disciplinary discourse and a free development of individual skills. Only by means of a liberal education and cultural debate, the educational system can be able form emancipated individuals provided with the awareness and abilities which are necessary to foster an authentic development of the discipline, then an advancement for society.

[i] Ernest L. Boyer and Lee D. Mitgang; Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice: a special report; ‪Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1996
[ii] Alberto Pérez Gómez";  Built Upon Love: ‪Architectural Longing After Ethics And Aesthetics ; The MIT press, 2006
[iii] Patrik Schumacher;  Schumacher slams British Architectural Education; The Architectural Review, January 2012
[iv] Hernan Diaz-Alonso ; My Work Is Like Salt , interview with Jeffrey Inaba, C-Lab Columbia Laboratory for Architectural Broadcasting  (
[v] Donald A. Schön; The Architectural Studio As An Exemplar Of Education For Reflection In Action, Journal of Architectural Education, 1984
[vi] Rem Koolhaas: interview with Jennifer Sigler; Index Magazine, 2000. (
[vii] Henri Bergson, Introduction à la metaphysique ; Revue de metaphysique et de morale, 1903
[viii] Jacques Ranciére, Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l'émancipation intellectuelle; Fayard 1987[ix] Jacques Ranciére, Le Spectateur émancipé, La Fabrique, 2008

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Panic-architecture: a reading of the Jamarat bridge

Most works of architecture can be read through the distribution of their inner pathways both in terms of user's cognition of their spatial structures and in terms of easiness and efficacy of the covered distance . This analysis can be assumed as an extremely important information in the particular case of building which are the actual transposition of its pathways.  
former Jamarat bridge
The Jamarat bridge is a very peculiar example of pathway architecture. It is a pedestrian bridge built in Mina, near Mecca, one of the main destination of the Hajj where the stoning of the devil ritual is performed each year by an huge number of pilgrims. The first bridge, built in 1963, was a viaduct whose aim was to drive pilgrims to an upper level so they could throw stones to the three jamrah pillars according to the ritual. In the span of about 40 years more than 1000 pilgrims got killed because of the incredible crowding conditions. In 2004, after about 346 pilgrims got killed and 300 more injured, Saudi authorities decided to demolish the bridge.

The new Jamarat bridge is a multistorey building with sun protection tensostructures for pilgrims walking on the roof terrace.  A bottleneck system and monitoring devices regulate all entry points and separate walkways have been developped for entrance and exit. 

A new project was arranged to be designed taking into account studies on pathways and advanced studies on crowd dynamics. The research conducted with the help of Crowd Dynamics Ltd. are based on the construction of a virtual model of the bulding on which simulations of different crowd situations are performed by means of parametric agent-based modeling. Parameters considered for this kind of analysis rely upon informations about crowd's composition (number of people, average age and gender) and behavior (density, orientation capability and decision time, walking speed etc.) collected in the years during the major stress event and under the worst case of crowding (about 100.000 people equally distributed on the bridge's surface). Smaller crowds with non uniform densities and walking speed are also taken into account to guide the optimal design solution. 

Video analysis of pressure's increase in the crowd

Agent-based simulation of the worst crowding condition
The Jamarat Bridge can be considered one of the most dangerous piece of architecture ever produced. An infrastructure of death where the accident meets the ritual. The stoning of the devil's ritual is actually connected to the myth of Abraham and his opposition to the devil's attempts to prevent him from sacrificing his son Ismael as an offering to God. Ismael was eventually substituted with a sheep as a award for Abraham's faith. On the Jamarat Bridge the ritual of stoning has been  performed  for a long time paying the highest price in terms of human sacrifice. This would have been assumed as a proof of the actual risk of which each islamic pilgrim who's undertaking the pilgrimage must be aware of. The Hajj is indeed a proof of the pilgrim's preparedness to die as was Abraham's preparedness to kill, and ultimately represents a ritual simulation of Jihad.  An architecture which provokes stress conditions, panic and even danger is one of the strongest means of cultural transmission and indoctrination. In this perspective the decision to demolish the old bridge in order to rebuild a safe structure by means of the most advanced technology and of an intelligent design approach, is not a mere eventuality. It marks a more or less conscious but still fundamental shift from religious to secularized architecture. An architectural paradigm based on safety control replaces the former one which relied on the power of the panic-induced control. Therefore, the "be prepared" message of Hijj is eventually performed exclusively as a symbolic ritual. 

readings and web:
S. Truby, EXIT-ARCHITECTURE design between war and peace (Wien, 2008)