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5 Two Houses John Meunier 14 Foothold A Conversation between John Meunier and Patrick Lynch 2017-18 27 Chadwick Hall Simon Henley 39 The British Landscape Tradition and the Neo-Liberal City Will Jennings 45 Silver Forest Rut Blees-Luxemburg and Lynch Architects 53 The Monumentalisation of the Provisional Hermann Bauer (trans. Claudia Lynch) 58 Architecture and Life: The Arts in Mutation Luis Fernรกndez-Galiano Ruiz 69 Still Life Patrick Lynch 80 Poems Steven D P Richardson
Editor’s Letter Patrick Lynch
Shortly before his death in 1926, Rainer Maria Rilke, a great lover of landscape and architecture, asked a question: “Earth, is it not this that you want: to/rise/ invisibly in us?” (Duino Elegies, 1923). Manmade and natural features commingle in the Ninth Elegy: “Are we here perhaps for /saying: house,/ bridge, fountain, gate, jug, fruit tree, / window - / at most:/ column, tower...” Material Culture is mixed with angels in “this space of Being / a little darker than the surrounding green”, and with Rilke’s “Beloved Earth”, in an image of a divine landscape blessed with love. Such an extreme contrast, to what he called “the streets of / Grief-City”. Urban life has long been derided as corrupt, systematic and unnatural. In The Meaning of the City (1951, published in English, 1970), the French Protestant theologian Jacques Ellul links urbanity to Babel, claiming, pace Calvin, that salvation cannot be found in Good Works and the philanthropic culture of Civic Pride. Modern architecture has a long history of ambivalence towards cities. The Saturnine aspects of technology are redeemed in the innocent compact of modern architects (Aalto, Le Corbusier, etc.) with Mother Nature, Flora Samuel and Sarah Menin claim. Their work revealed however, some inevitable tensions in these architects’ attempts to find redemption in bucolic reverie (Nature and Space, 2002). In the villa tradition, both in antiquity and at least since the 15th century, the ancient link between beauty and goodness remained more or less explicit. Riffing on Virgil’s exultation of natural poetics in The Georgics, Petrarch took great delight in the twin meaning of cultivation: cultivation of selfhood and of the land. This is one reason why the villa became important in the Renaissance as a locus amoneus. A country house is a place where these two meanings of culture, literally and figuratively, overlap and refine each other—via wealth—in the creation, and profound embodiment, of The Good Life. Architecture might be defined then, in the example of a villa at least, as refined landscape. A house in nature remained a practical and ideal proposition for most of the 20th century. John and Dorothy Meunier’s beautiful brick house, in the village of Caldecott outside Cambridge, provides us with a vision from a seemingly distant past. It is a a salutary (if not shocking) reminder of a time when a young university lecturer could borrow money from their employer and build a home for their family (on what is known as Village Infill) —uniting body and mind in Arcadian equilibrium. The Meunier House is a first-class example of Alberti’s notion that architecture is lived imagination, Second Nature. David Grandorge’s photographs, concluding this edition, reveal that the world is still beautiful. If it still rises in us though, the world is expressive now of intentions that we hardly understand, and have little time left, to continue to ignore. 3
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© 2018 Canalside Press and the authors. All rights reserved.
h e r m a n n b au e r
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is a historian. He received his doctorate in 1955 with a thesis on Rocaille. He has taught art history at Salzburg University and Munich University and has published numerous works on European art of the 16th and 17th century. rut blees luxemburg
All opinions expressed within this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily of the publisher. Editor: Patrick Lynch Designed by Emma Kalkhoven Printed by KOPA, Lithuania British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data. A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library. ISSN 2516-9165 No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders, but if any have been inadvertently overlooked the necessary arrangements will be made at the first opportunity. Photography credits: Matthew Bullen p40; David Grandorge p32, 37, 45, 48, 50-51; Robert Harding p39; Wooseop Hwang, p55 and 57, top right; Nick Kane, p28, 30-31, 34-35; Tom Lee, p25, 26, 27; Claudia Lynch, p57, bottom right; Patrick Lynch p16, 20, 21, right; John Meunier p24, Henk Snoek, courtesy RIBA Photo Collection, p7, bottom, 11, 21, left; Observer Magazine, p10, Nikita Shergill, p49; Nigel Young, courtesy Foster and Partners, p58, 63, 64, 67 Thanks to all the contributors, and to Niamh Darlington for invaluable help with this publication. Thanks to Jay Merrick for his editing skills.
Cover images: photographs by David Grandorge. Previous spread: Organisational prose poem diagram for Wendon House by John Meunier and Barry Gasson
is an artist. Her work deals with the phenomenon of the urban, ranging from large-scale photographs to public art installations and operatic mise-en-scène. She is a reader in urban aesthetics at the Royal College of Art and co-director of FILET—a space for experimental art production. Her new work The Lesson of the vine is a public art work in Leiwen an der Mosel, Germany that integrates photographic representations of the vine plant into architecture, manifesting the relationship between nature and culture, labour and pleasure. luis fernández-galiano
is an architect, chair professor at Madrid’s School of Architecture, ETSAM, and editor of the journals AV/Arquitectura Viva. Member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, he is an International Fellow of the RIBA, and has been Cullinan Professor at Rice, Franke Fellow at Yale, a visiting scholar at the Getty Center, and a visiting critic at Princeton, Harvard, and the Berlage Institute. President of the jury at the Venice Biennale and of the Aga Khan Award, he has also been a juror in the competitions for the National Library of Mexico, the National Art Museum of China, the National Library of Israel, and the Noble Qur’an Oasis in Madinah. Among his books are Fire and Memory, Spain Builds, and Atlas: Architectures of the 21st Century. dav i d g r a n d o r g e
has made photographs of buildings, cities and landscape—documents of things, places and situations in the world—since 1995. Over time, as opportunities have presented themselves, he has undertaken extensive visual surveys of landscapes subjected to significant geopolitical pressures. His photographs are most often characterised by visual austerity and laconic expression. He is concerned with pictorial and compositional precision, but welcomes the intrusion of the imperfect, through the depiction of latent occupancy and the exploitation of technical mishaps. His work has been published and exhibited internationally, including the Prague Biennale of 2005, the Venice Architecture Biennales of 2008, 2012 and 2016. He has held solo exhibitions at Rake Visningrom, Trondheim (The World is Still Beautiful) and Peter von Kant, London (Without Sun) in 2013 and at Six Second Gallery, London (Landscapes of Variable Temperature) in 2018.
is an architect. He studied at the University of Liverpool (1986–1992) where he was awarded the Reilly Medal in 1992, and at the University of Oregon, USA (1990–1991). He combines practice with teaching, writing and research, and is the author of The Architecture of Parking (Thames & Hudson, 2007), which won the RIBA International Book Award for Construction in 2008, and Redefining Brutalism (RIBA Publications, 2017). Simon is a postgraduate unit master at Kingston University, London, where he has also embarked on a PhD by Practice. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Brother of the Art Workers Guild. Simon is a principal of London-based architecture practice Henley Halebrown. Completed works include Talkback, St. Benedict’s School, Hackney New School, the Akerman Health Centre, De Beauvoir Block, Junction Arts & Civic Centre, Copper Lane—London’s first co-housing scheme— and the Chadwick Hall student residences. Chadwick Hall was shortlisted for the 2018 RIBA Stirling Prize. 2018 also sees the publication of a monograph reflecting on Henley Halebrown’s work by Swiss publishers Quart Verlag in their De Aedibus International series.
is an architect who studied at the University of Liverpool’s School of Architecture in 1953, from which he graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in 1959 having done over a year of practical training in New York with Marcel Breuer in 1957-8. He went on to pursue a Master’s degree at Harvard University. He, and his wife then went to Munich where he worked for two years for a Professor at the Technische Universitat. He was then appointed to an Assistant Lectureship the University of Cambridge, where he taught for 14 years. During that time he was also a practicing architect responsible, together with Barry Gasson, for several published buildings including the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. In 1976 he was appointed Director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati. In 1987 he became Dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Arizona State University, a position he held for fifteen years. He has been Emeritus Professor of Architecture there since he retired from his professorship in 2017. His interests, reflected in print and on television, have been the architecture and urbanism of desert cities, and intricacy as an essential characteristic of architecture and the arts.
is a London based visual artist with particular interest in the built environment and how it relates to wider collective histories, social concerns and politics. He has just completed a Research Masters in Architecture (Reading the Neoliberal City) at the University of East London and was a prominent campaigner against the proposed, and cancelled, Garden Bridge development in London. (née murin) studied Mathematics and Physics at Humboldt University in Berlin, before studying architecture in Dresden, Liverpool and London. She worked for Michael Wilford and Partners, and then Van Heyningen and Hayward Architects, before joining Lynch Architects as a partner in 2005.
c l au d i a l y n c h
d o u g l as m u r p h y
is an architect. He studied at The Glasgow School of Art and at The Royal College of Art. He teaches at the RCA and at Central St Martins. Until recently he was part of Lynch Architects, where he was the project architect in charge of the detail design and delivery of Silver Forest. He is author of the book Last Futures (2016) and The Architecture of Failure (2012). He is currently Architecture Correspondent at Icon magazine. He writes for a wide range of publications on architecture, fine art and photography, and lectures widely. He is author of Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson (2017). d o u g l as pa r k s
is a poet. pat r i c k l y n c h
is an architect based in London. He studied at the universities of Liverpool and Cambridge, completing his PhD at The Cass with Peter Carl, Joseph Rykwert and Helen Mallinson in 2015. He has taught at The Architectural Association, the University of Cambridge, The Cass, and since 2017 has been a Visiting Professor at Liverpool University. He established Lynch Architects in 1997. Recipient of numerous awards, their projects have been widely published and exhibited at major events, including The Venice Biennale in 2012, the Irish pavilion at Venice in 2008, and the Milano Triennale in 2017. Patrick is the author of Civic Ground (2017), Mimesis (2015), and The Theatricality of the Baroque City (2011).
steven d p richardson
is a Scottish writer, editor, and explorer. His rather curious career has involved working on fishing trawlers, tutoring medieval history at the University of Glasgow, employment as a numismatist, and as an associate producer in arts and history television for the BBC. He is currently based in London.
Two Houses John Meunier
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Two houses by John Meunier, and Barry Gasson and John Meunier when they were assistant lecturers at Cambridge University, School of Architecture. Both houses are now Grade II Buildings listed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, on recommendations from English Heritage. Although both houses share square plans, and are both built with loadbearing masonry—common bricks in one, concrete blocks for the other—they are remarkably different. The Meunier House is horizontal and extroverted; the Wendon House is vertical and introverted. They are architecturally ambitious, and were widely published. The Wendon House was selected by the British Council to be exhibited at the 1967 Vth Paris Biennale, along with the house designed by Richard Rogers for his parents. Before appointment to the Faculty of the Cambridge University School of Architecture John Meunier and Barry Gasson had undergraduate degrees from British universities—Liverpool for John Meunier and Birmingham for Barry Gasson. Both had graduate degrees from American universities—Harvard and Columbia respectively, and both had spent time in the offices of eminent United States based architects, Meunier with Marcel Breuer and Gasson with Philip Johnson.
When John Meunier was appointed in 1962 he learnt that Cambridge University had a policy to make available second mortgages up to 100% of the estimated value of a home purchased by a new faculty member. This made it possible for him, despite limited resources, to design and build as the general contractor, a new home. The University had also relaxed the minimal distance from the centre of Cambridge within which faculty had to live, which brought into play economical building sites in the nearby villages. An acre of old orchard was found, nearly eight miles west from Cambridge, in the small hamlet of Caldecote. An existing small chalet was removed from a place close to the site selected for the new house, which was in the north-east corner of the land, giving the opportunity to open the main living spaces, and outdoor terrace, towards views to the south-west. The final concept of two intersecting cubic volumes sitting on a square platform evolved from an initial idea of a terrace embraced by an L-shaped plan, not unlike some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses. The forces of that evolution were: first, a concern about entry into the back corner of that L needing greater generosity of size and welcome; second, a search for strong formal clarity that recognized appropriately contrasting scales between the open and generous living spaces, and the more intimate sleeping spaces; third, a search for simple, clear, and economical technical systems both of structure and services. The internal spatial budget was one thousand square feet. The interior of the original house with its young architect, as published in The Observer Sunday newspaper in the late 1960’s in an article about architects and their own homes. This house was built of Fletton common bricks, glass, and Columbian pine for £5000 (equivalent to about £80,000 in 2018). The interior of the house, including the Bertoia chairs, is unchanged, with the exception of an opening to a new wing through the previously unpenetrated north wall, now repeated on the north of the extension. In 2004 the house was extended by adding a Master Bedroom suite.
After considerable reflection it was decided to use the same formal and technical language. The previously unbroken north wall was penetrated to give access to a gallery leading to the new bedroom. The extension is separated from the original house by a slot that illuminates the Gallery. The new bedroom is big enough at 15ft square to be a boudoir as well. The closets and vanity separate the room from the new bathroom. The original bedrooms have now become a guest wing for visiting family and friends, plus a study. The axis of entry is up the stepping stones from the garage forecourt into a narrow hallway, from where the view out to the orchard is blocked by the chimney niche, opening as you enter the main space. Architecture should always offer a rich array of experiences that challenge the senses. Modern architecture enriched the options by including reflection and transparency, along with hard and soft, rough and smooth. The orchard site and the longer views are reason enough for this house to be extroverted.
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The Wendon House is inwardly focused around the family room, and the rooftop courtyard above, around which all the other spaces are gathered. The client, Mr. John Wendon, was English, with an American wife and three children. He was a businessman who had purchased a license for an electric radiant heating system from Scandinavia. He wanted a modern home that would incorporate the system and act as a demonstration/advertisement. He was referred to us by Professor Leslie Martin, Head of the Cambridge University Architecture School, and after visiting the Meunier House he decided that we were the innovative architects who could meet his needs in a way that would also attract some attention through publication. The electric radiant heating system required a compact, highly insulated, envelope. So the concrete block cavity walls were pumped full of 10
urethane foam. When that foam was pumped in it should have been a continuous process, but in this case it was not. That resulted in cracks in the foam through which water penetrated from the outer leaf of the cavity wall through to the inner leaf. A cause for a lawsuit. A mediator was appointed to develop a settlement. It so happened that that mediator was also a stringer for House and Garden magazine. To cut a long story short, that was the beginning of a pattern of publication that ultimately led to the selection of the house by the British Council as a part of their exhibit at the Vth Paris Biennale in 1967. Diagrams and sketches done to facilitate conversations with the client about the translation of the program of a family house into a set of design ideas, first focusing on elements of the program such as the living room, the kitchen, the dining area, and the children’s rooms, and then moving towards
what Viollet le Duc would call a “chief ruling idea”. Plus the rectilinear discipline of concrete block, timber beams and joists. The last owner, Viren Sahai, head of design at Cambridgeshire County Council, added a glass dome as a studio to the rear of the house. His additions of a dome studio and a new entrance were carefully, and appropriately, adjusted to the original house. Houses have a life and should not be resistant to growth and change, but it is important that that growth and change to an initial design of some architectural quality should be done with sensitivity and care, whether they are in sharp contrast with the original, as with the glass dome, or are in a similar formal and technical language—as with the new entrance to the Wendon house, or the new bedroom addition to the Meunier house.
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Foothold A Conversation between John Meunier and Patrick Lynch 2017-18
1 0 j u ly 2 0 1 7 pat r i c k ly n c h :
I think that you are the missing link between a large number of famous British architects, and easily as good as most of them—indeed much a more talented and better designer than a lot of self-publicising polemicists from the late 1960s and early 70s. I can only understand your departure from this scene, emigrating to the US and becoming the head of an architecture school, (Director of Architecture and Interior Design at Cincinnati) and then Dean of the College of Architecture and Environmental Design at Arizona State University, as a love story of great optimism and hope. 1 1 j u ly 2 0 1 7 john meunier:
As one lives one’s career, you never know the consequences of the choices one makes. I love making architecture, teaching and thinking about architecture, and the challenges of creative leadership within academia, but it has always been difficult to keep them in balance, particularly when faced with the other normal demands of family and community responsibility. We briefly discussed this while you were here. Cambridge had led me to believe that combining teaching and practice, including even academic leadership, was a reasonable option. Leslie Martin was an exemplar. But my move to the States shifted the balance in favour of teaching and academic leadership, with only the occasional opportunity for practice—see attached my photos of the house I did in Cincinnati. But I have always thoroughly enjoyed the multiple chess game of the design studio, where, as the instructor, one mentors the development of multiple designs and designers; and that has gone a long way to avoid my being a frustrated architect; and every now and then one has the pleasure of seeing something you have designed becoming a realised building or space. You will have seen the note I wrote to Ben [Derbyshire]. e m a i l t o b e n d e r b y s h i r e , p r e s i d e n t o f r i b a , 10 j u ly 2017
One of the many reasons that led me to give up my tenured position at Cambridge to go to Cincinnati in 1976 was because I saw some similarities between the Co-operative education system that they were so successfully pursuing in Cincinnati and the so-called “thick-sandwich” system that the polytechnic architecture schools were following in the UK. I had been on several accreditation visits on behalf of the RIBA (I was on the Board of Education and Practice) and had developed some admiration and respect for that system. In Cincinnati they had developed a highly sophisticated cooperative program where the students spent three months in practice alternating with three months in school from the second year through the fifth year of a six-year total professional degree program. Very importantly, students were paid during these eight quarters in practice, and the firms (the better firms from all over the United States and a few from abroad) vied to attract the best students, many of whom eventually joined these firms. In fact, some firms used the system to build their personnel. If you were interested I could fill in the details of the system. I often tell the following story: When I was still a relatively new Director of Architecture and Interior Design at Cincinnati I met with
a group of students to discuss their education. They were very frank and told me that they often felt that they learnt more during their three months in practice than they did during the three months in school. On reflection I concluded that this was not too surprising. In practice they were working on real-life projects with real-life architects, and getting paid. In school they were working on fictional projects with part-time architects and paying for the privilege, however much fun they were having. So I asked myself what to do, and came to the conclusion that the secret weapon of academia could, and should, be intellectual stimulus. And so I set about building a faculty of very bright young recent graduates from the better universities in the States. In fact, I hit one very productive seam of recent editors of Yale’s Perspecta Magazine. Architectural education, historically, was an apprenticeship system, occasionally augmented by some time either in a conservatory, university, or “club” like the Architectural Association. As it has developed the academic component has become dominant, but with unfortunate consequences, particularly financial, for the students. Also, the emphasis on esoteric funded research within the universities in the UK has taken innovative architectural practitioners out of the ranks of full-time teachers. When I taught at Cambridge all the faculty, including me, Barry Gasson, and Brit Andresen, as well as Sandy Wilson and Leslie Martin were published practitioners, but that is no more. So my sense is that we need to recover a richer relationship between education and practice. I was delighted to find myself discussing this with Patrick, and would be pleased to continue the conversation with you. 12 j u ly 2017 jm:
Thank you for the great photographs you took of our home. I really enjoy your focus on telling details, and I recognise it now I have had the chance to review the book you left us on your own work. One of my working definitions of architecture is “buildings worthy of contemplation”, and that is exactly what your photographs are doing, as, of course, it is what you are attempting in your own architecture.
12 j u ly 2017 pl:
Perhaps it’s a similar eye for how a tectonic joint can scale up to be part of a rhythm of a whole? Like you, I like very hard Architecture (and the Baroque)—sharp contrasts, volumetric situations, tectonic order, not just “space”. I’m pondering how we might publish the photos with some sort of text and drawings in the new journal. What is your instinct? You write something about the biography of the house? How the university gave you a mortgage etc? Plus something about the project economy and details in particular and more genealogy about meeting Barry and the atmosphere in the department at Cambridge? How important it is as that young lecturers build and built significant work? This would introduce the other topic of “cultured building” as pedagogy and administrative culture—as a form of creative organisation i.e. another manifestation of civic order? Alberti emphasises this in his Vita Civile and Della Familglia before he got to Architecture as humanism.... 15
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3 1 au g u s t 2 0 1 7 j m : I Iike the idea of an interview, particularly if you are the interviewer. You might then be in a good position to explain why you think these old houses might be worth publishing and discussing.
2 1 n ov e m b e r 2 0 1 7 p l : Current Burrell matters aside, can you remember how you went from small house projects to winning the competition? What was going on in your mind? What had you and Barry been discussing together and in the department?
2 1 n ov e m b e r 2 0 1 7 jm:
Houses were the starting point, and my own was a hugely important ‘calling card’ leading to the desirable situation when clients were not just looking for a young and malleable architect who could execute their wishes, but had some understanding of where one was coming from and would hire you because they liked and admired what you did. From houses we graduated to relatively modest designs, and less modest studies, for academic institutions; notably several of the Cambridge Colleges such as Gonville and Caius, Trinity Hall and then eventually New Hall.
Opening spread and above: Meunier House
Eventually we got out of Cambridge, and did an athletics pavilion for the University of Essex. While all this was going on, Barry’s and my own academic paths diverged. We had both been hired on short term, five year, closed ended contracts. His was not renewed, whereas mine was, and I began to take on administrative responsibilities both within the school and within the profession (the RIBA Board of Education and Practice). It was in that setting that Barry decided to take on the First Phase of the Burrell Competition, on his own, but then asked me to help with the final phases of the presentation. It was only for the second phase that we resumed our partnership with which we won that Second Phase. That, however, was not the end as the commission award was not automatic, and that was awarded to Gasson and Meunier, who had a portfolio and a track record, plus whatever status I had gained as a tenured faculty member at Cambridge. To be honest I cannot recall when Brit Anderson became a part of the team. I remained on the team until the end of Design Development when Barry and I parted company. Barry and I had worked together for several years, as a compatible partnership, trying to do good and innovative work, building on each other’s ideas. Barry’s then wife, Liz, was an American artist, and that helped to sustain a relationship with fine art as well as a fresh eye. We obviously were affected by being in Cambridge working closely as academic colleagues with Leslie Martin, Peter Eisenman, and Sandy
Wilson, plus all their interesting acquaintances. Both of us came from the North Midlands, me from Liverpool and the influence of Jim Stirling, Barry came from Birmingham. We had both studied in the States—Harvard and Columbia—and both worked for distinguished architects in New York—Breuer and Johnson. I cannot say that we had long philosophical discussions about architecture, but retrospectively the one thing we shared was a commitment to the site and the programme, and a determination to find in them what Viollet le Duc called A General Ruling Idea as the architectural springboard for the building. That was the common denominator in all of our projects, at any scale, whether a house or the Burrell. On top of that were other issues like a strong geometric form, and a very direct and economical approach to materiality, construction and structure. Obviously there was a lot going on in British architecture at the time, some of it very much affected by the USA (Eames) and of course the great giants, Le Corbusier, Mies and Aalto, but although I have to admit to being a great admirer of the Eames House and Aalto’s Studio, we were not interested in emulation. Le Corbusier’s Modulor and Wittkower’s work on Renaissance proportional theory were important. I had stumbled on P.H. Scholfield’s Theory of Proportion in Architecture of 1958, his MA Thesis at Liverpool, (recently republished), and found it eminently sensible and convincing as a way to secure the unity and diversity essential to good architecture. It had a big impact on the design of my house. I had seen the This is Tomorrow Exhibition of August 1956 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, which had a great impact, particularly the Patio and Pavilion exhibit of Paolozzi and the Smithsons. Their idea of “dragging a rough poetry out of …” was particularly important, and certainly resonated with making an ambitious work of architecture out of Common Bricks not usually exposed to view. I could obviously go on and on, but let’s stop there. Besides it’s lunch-time.
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Was not familiar with Liam MacCormick though the plan for the Donegal Church does have an elegance I admire, if not the section and the roof. You are correct that for me the elegantly resolved plan, probably a Liverpool thing, has enormous appeal; but I do not buy into the dismissive “diagram” argument. They are not the same thing, and I have always resisted “diagramming”, that some instructors love as an intermediary to a plan. “Bubble diagrams” are dangerous, and for weak architects can too quickly become ‘thin’ plans. I also insist that the section (plan) is often as important, or more important, as the ground plan. The clumsy layer-cake of the Donegal Church I do not admire at all, and I could not have ignored the interference of the columns with the sight lines. Irresponsible! One person I forgot to mention is Christopher Alexander. We got to know him well when I was at Harvard. I worked with him and Serge Chermayeff, as well as Serge’s son Peter, on Community and Privacy; Towards a New Architecture of Humanism during the summer of 1960. Chris was/is an extremely interesting person, the first typically Cambridge graduate that I got to know well; entering Cambridge with a scholarship in another intellectual field, and then bringing that discipline to architecture. Lionel March was another from whom I learned much. Both had backgrounds in mathematics, and the mathematical idea of an elegant resolution informs my thinking about ‘good’ plans. From Chris I learned that you must start with the parts, and make them good first. Welding those parts into a good whole needs to be difficult, but should end up feeling inevitable. Start the design of a house with a good entrance, kitchen, bathroom, eating place, etc.; do not just fit them in. Too much. 18 a p r i l 2018 pl:
2 1 n ov e m b e r 2017 p l : Yes, Stirling spoke about “organising the hierarchies of the program into a plan”, and Rowe of course famously compared a “plan form” to a “diagram”, thus dismissing Sao Paolo as a “built diagram” i.e. not architecture. Moneo makes a similar point about OMA, and Koolhaus “not being interested in design”; which I think is an allusion to “disegno”, the Renaissance theory of architecture as order, what Alberti called “concinnitas”. It’s a Liverpool trait I think, to see the plan as a thing of beauty. And to try to reconcile geometric and structural order with a complex program into something that is something like a poetic economy of means. I wonder if you know of Liam McCormick, another LSA alumnus? His churches in Donegal are exceptional, and like your work, exhibit exemplary control and compositional audacity. It’s an unusual aesthetic, not Mies or Aalto, i.e. the usual antinomies, but an ascetic yet playful architecture operating within a strict sense of tectonic elegance, and a material sensuality derived from logic, or at least from a serious command of language and a sense of the game... Does this resonate?
I’m very glad to hear that the chemotherapy is over and that you are feeling a little better. Let’s pick up that dropped thread again, John. English landscapes: your work around Cambridge, in particular your own house, seems to me to be utterly rooted into the ground there. Where precisely did you grow up? Was the terrain similar? 18 a p r i l 2018 jm:
Delighted to get this note from you about picking up the dropped thread. So let me have a go at responding to your first questions. I grew up in Southport, which is north of Liverpool, at the beginning of Morecombe Bay. The landscape in that area is very flat, not unlike the Fens north of Cambridge, but in Southport we talked about The Moss. But that flatness set up a delight in a more articulate and hilly landscape. I still recall with enormous pleasure my childhood summer holidays in the Lake District, and much later travelled in Greece with Scully’s The Earth the Temple and the Gods tucked under my arm. So the site where we built our house is in the folded landscape of the Bourn Brook Valley with views across the valley, focusing on the village of Kingston as a picturesque piece of “borrowed landscape”. 17
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You are correct: the landscape was very important and the house was designed to incorporate it as an extension of the living areas. When we designed the house the original acre was an orchard with mostly a grid of old apple trees. We took out one line of the grid to open up the view from the living room. Wind and age have taken out many more trees over the 54 years of the house’s existence, opening up much more of the distant views, and we were able to buy our next door neighbour’s acre to extend the lot. Brick, of course, is the material of Cambridge. The extension to Scroope Terrace designed by Sandy Wilson, which is where my office was, was not only built out of second-hand Cambridge brick but was also one of the major influences, along with quite a few other buildings, on my design. But I had a very tight budget (the house completed in 1965 cost less than £5,000 with me as the General Contractor) so I decided to use Common Flettons, made in Bedfordshire, as the cheapest brick. I was initially going to paint them but Barry Gasson’s first wife Liz pointed out that they encompassed the Colour Palette of the floors and the ceilings and I was completely persuaded to leave them unpainted—one of the best decisions I made on the house. Keep the questions coming. 19 ap r i l 2018 p l : Thank you, that’s a lovely description of your design process. Yes, the house feels very grounded, and of course your beautifully witty device of the barely articulated plinth delicately emphasises the joyful equilibrium between concept and materiality in the house. I disagree with Peter Eisenman’s comment that it’s a B+ project: understood as
a whole, the integration of house and garden and extended landscape situates it very precisely in an English tradition of cultured domestic architecture. It’s a highly tuned intellectual exercise I mean, but also very physical architecture. In contrast, The Wendon House, the other house that you showed me last summer, arguably is a landscape, and is a premonition of much recent work (including Eisenman’s) where the roof becomes a sort of extruded ground, the section all circulation, a “non-determinate landscape”? The whiteness emphasises its conceptual urgency perhaps? Can you speak a little bit about how the design evolved? It was your first collaboration with Barry Gasson, no? 19 a p r i l 2018 j m : John Wendon, who was a local businessman married to an American wife with three kids, a boy and two girls, was directed to me by Sir Leslie Martin. He came to see my house and then invited me to be the architect. Barry Gasson had just joined the faculty and we had become friendly colleagues, so I invited him to collaborate as I have always enjoyed the experience of working with others. Wendon had the license for an electric ceiling heating system— embedded wires in a plastic sheet that was pinned to the underside of the ceiling joists, radiating downwards. He wanted not only a family house but also to use it as a demonstration and advertisement for his system, so he was attracted to the idea of innovative form. He had purchased a lot on the edge of the old village of Barton, halfway between our house and Cambridge. Behind was an old thatched
cottage but adjacent were a row of developer houses of no great interest. This affected our decisions about siting the house, as did a few old apple trees that we felt could define an entrance drive. The program included a relative novelty for English houses, but not American ones, a Family Room separate from a Living Room. We interpreted that as a space around which the children might gather, while the living room would be more for the parents and adult activities. As you will gather I had become fascinated by Viollet le Duc, initially through the title essay in Heavenly Mansions by John Summerson and then by learning how important he was to Frank Lloyd Wright who claimed he was the only theoretical source an architect might need. He states that the key generating idea is not a preconception but must grow out of the careful consideration of the parts. So we started with the living room and began to think of it as really a couple of connected spaces, one for communal gathering and the other for more individual private reading. These spaces might then have the slightly different scale, which might be leant by a change in level. This was the springboard for the key generating idea, which, after discussion with the clients, turned into a spiral ramp connecting many levels, culminating with a roof terrace with a view out over the old village. Obviously the Villa Savoie was somewhat in our minds. I had been to see it (in a dilapidated condition) on a trip to Paris in about 1954, which was also when I was able to visit the brand new Jaoul Houses, which was another influence on my own
house. The ramp in the house is actually the same angle as the Villa Savoie, 1:6. The design process was interactive with the clients. We would take our sketches mounted on boards to meetings with them and take them through our thinking, inviting them to participate. Money was, as always, a critical factor and caused a fairly major rethinking of the built design. We worked closely with Davis, Belfield and Everest, Quantity Surveyors, who did a preliminary estimate on the cost of our initial design, which was not acceptable to our clients. So there were quite a few changes, including the loss of an external ramp—replaced by stairs—approach to the entry, which is in the middle of the sequence. We were intrigued by Sandy Wilson’s use of the White Forticrete Concrete blocks on his own house and office and decided to use them too, which introduced a new dimensional system. This time we used a brushed finish on the joints, as opposed to the bucket handle joint I had used on my house, as we were less interested in the individual block. Initially the house was not painted white but that became necessary as a part of solving a water leak problem caused by the pumped-in urethane foam insulation leaving bridging between the outer and the inner leaf. I think that the white over-paint has actually been an improvement as the Forticrete block eventually stains and grows mould, as you can see if you visit Sandy’s house on the Grantchester Road today. Much more to say but this is probably enough for now. On another occasion we might discuss my fascination with the geometry of squares.
Opposite: Meunier House. Above: Wendon House
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20 ap r i l 2018 pl:
Yes, in both houses, and in your work in the states I think, geometric form, and its role in generating both a proportional system, and an overall macro and microcosmic sense of harmony, seems to be almost the essence of your architecture. You’ve already mentioned him, and I imagine that Wittkower’s work on Palladio was incredibly interesting and exciting for your generation? And his student, Colin Rowe, was in the department at Cambridge, more or less directing Peter’s PhD around this moment too I think? Tell me more about your interest in squares. Did this evolve whilst you were in Marcel Breuer’s Office in 1957, or as a master’s student at Harvard? Did any of Colin’s teaching at Liverpool (of Stirling and Maxwell et al) linger after his move south, and was his “mathematics” part of your education there? 20 ap r i l 2018 jm:
You are absolutely correct about Wittkower and Palladio, but I actually displaced Colin Rowe at Cambridge (taking over his lectureship in 1962) so I missed him then, although Peter Eisenman was still around finishing his doctoral thesis. When I was Director at Cincinnati we invited Rowe as a Visiting Professor for a few weeks and I got to know him well, but not at this point; but his Mathematics of the Ideal Villa was around. Proportional theory was a big deal for me, as I said, and I later came across the book by Paul Scholfield, an alumnus of Liverpool, written in 1958 about the Theory of Proportion in Architecture that I found that I agreed with. I gobbled up Le Corbusier’s Modulor and was fascinated by the conjunction of Anthropomorphism and Anthropometrics but did not fall under the spell of the Golden Section. The square, with its ambiguity of primary and secondary axes, as well as the implied 45-degree axis was enough. I also, later, found myself just as fascinated by the root 2 rectangle (see the lecture). Scholfield did not fall for the magic numbers but saw that proportional systems were an answer to the challenge of reconciling the age-old problem of Unity and Diversity. I was also interested to discover that Le Corbusier did not invent regulating lines, which were well known in the 19th century, and a guy called Robinson had written a book on Architectural Composition in 1909 that showed how to use them, not only for organizing the rectangles in the elevations of the design but also by making them explicit with the roof angles. At Garches Le Corbusier did that with the angle of the exterior stair. When I was a student at Liverpool there was very little discussion of proportion, even though Scholfield must have been writing his book at the same time. (My dates were 1953–7, 1958–9 with Breuer in the break). I’m sure that Dewi Prys Thomas, who taught theory must have covered it but it made no major impression on me then. It was also not a major subject of discussion at Breuer’s. I guess it came to the fore for me when I went to Cambridge and found myself teaching First Year Studio and Theory when I argued that architectural form had three origins: use, technology, and the examination of form itself, beginning with the square/cube, and the circle/sphere/cylinder (good old Plato). I guess I never got beyond the rewards implicit in the square and its sense of resolution. (My Cincinnati house is a little more complex). 20
But you are absolutely correct in identifying a sense of harmony and resolution as the ultimate goal. 20 a p r i l 2018 pl:
Recent scholarship by David Leatherbarrow and Robert Tavernor suggests that the role of geometrical and proportional composition (lineamenti) in design, is always complimentary to the adjustments made by Palladio and Alberti of perspective, topography, decorum and use. I’ve written about the tension between ideal and actual architecture in Civic Ground. You’ve also been very interested in climate as well as topography, having lived and worked in the deserts of the American West. I’m very critical of Eisenman and Rowe for having confused design with drawing, and for ignoring the role of the sun’s energy as an essential form of rhythm in architecture, not to mention the rhythms of everyday life, custom, habit, civic culture as festival, etc. Your work at The Burrell Collection seems to me to unite all these themes with another dimension of time, history. What’s astonishing for me is how the building situates fragments from the history of architecture in relation to antique artefacts, placing a chronological narrative in tension with Pollok Country Park, both its historic and natural setting. I love the audacious modesty of simply reusing things on the one hand (the archaic power of the entrance gable that you come across like a fragment of a dream); and then the frank confrontation of ancient objects and the verdant forest. I’m aware that this sounds wildly pretentious and sycophantic John, but the project reveals I think the analogical character of memory and imagination, and says as much about how we see the world as any cubist painting or philosophy of time. It’s a profound contribution to culture, I mean. Can you say a little about the thought processes behind its creation, please? The quite complicated procurement and collaborative design process isn’t that well known. I’m also very interested to know something about the intellectual climate that you and Barry et al we’re operating in, what you were talking about, reading, etc. 20 a p r i l 2018 jm:
When I was a student at Harvard, 1959-60, I took a course with Siegfried Giedion, for whom I wrote an essay on the significance of the segmental curve in Le Corbusier’s architecture and Purist painting, and I cross-registered at MIT to take a course with Louis Mumford. Giedion’s books Space Time and Architecture and Mechanization Takes Command were a big deal. He was in the Germanic tradition of seeing architecture as a manifestation of culture, a position I strongly hold. After I took up my position at Cambridge in 1962 the book everyone was talking about was Intentions in Architecture by Christian Norberg-Schulz, a delightful man who came to visit us. He was a follower of Martin Heidegger and went on to write what was for us another influential book Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. The copy of Intentions in Architecture that is on my shelves I now discover originally belonged to Barry and I find that he wrote copious handwritten notes in the margins, so he clearly took it very seriously. This is from the later book’s introduction:
“Existential foothold” and “dwelling” are synonyms, and “dwelling”, in an existential sense, is the purpose of architecture. Man dwells when he can orient himself within and identify himself with an environment, or, in short, when he experiences the environment as meaningful. Dwelling therefore implies something more than “shelter”. It implies that the spaces where life occurs are places, in the true sense of the word. A place is a space which has a distinct character. Since ancient times the genius loci, or “spirit of place”, has been recognized as the concrete reality man has to come to terms with in his daily life. Architecture means to visualize the genius loci, and the task of the architect is to create meaningful places, whereby he helps man to dwell. Another Scandinavian I found myself very influenced by was Steen Eiler Rasmussen, whose book Experiencing Architecture has been a constant presence in the bibliography for my Introductory Theory Courses, as I insist that the students must not only see architecture but experience it with all their senses and their minds. I have always been very influenced by reading Vitruvius and Alberti and examining all the work that they spawned from Brunelleschi to Giulio Romano, Inigo Jones, and Vanbrugh. Historical buildings,
Left to right: Cincinnati house; Frank Lloyd Wright inscription at Taliesin West, taken from the Taoist mystic, Laotse.
including Gothic, Romanesque, Chinese, Japanese, and Islamic, as well as Renaissance, are still very much alive for me, and filled with lessons. Which is not to say that heroes of the modern movement, Aalto, Mies, Corbu, Rietveld, etc., and their successors, have not been my teachers. There was a time when Jim Stirling seemed particularly interesting, the time when he built the Leicester Engineering Laboratories. It may have been Liverpool as a common denominator between us, or more likely the recognition that he had been looking hard at the British building stock of the 19th century. When I was a student at Liverpool we still did measured drawings, but Quentin Hughes had us measuring the cast iron and glass buildings of 19th century Liverpool. The influence of Stirling might perhaps be seen in the Burrell. Glasgow has a lot in common with Liverpool as a west coast industrial port city that grew mightily in the 19th century. We definitely wanted Glasgow to be present in our building through all kinds of resonances. We also wanted the building to interact with the site, and let as much of the weak northern light in as was feasible, given the sensitivity to light of its contents. So the building faces south and north, with the sunshine passing through the stained glass, and the woodland to the north modifies the exposure to potentially damaging radiation. The juxtaposition of the art works with the woodland is vital to the character of the building and the experiences it offers, just as seeing stained glass against daylight and walking through ancient archways and gateways are critically engaging interactions. 21
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Finally, in both the houses that we visited together, and at The Burrell, experience of the architecture involves becoming exposed to much bigger scales of time i.e. the landscape, the natural world, etc. This experience is an intentional spatial narrative I think, designed to make one recognise and witness something specific—an existential (phenomenological?) architecture in fact, made up of moments, thresholds, pauses, changes of atmosphere, as you suggest. This “communicative movement” is why the plans by John McAslan + Partners for The Burrell, to create a new entrance, a “Hub” etc. in the centre of the plan, are so destructive. Whilst there would be minimal changes to the fabric of the building, the spatial sequence would fundamentally change, from a carefully calibrated encounter of historical artefacts in a natural setting, to a simply quantum increase in “space”? 23 ap r i l 2018 jm:
Two things are raised here: the notion of connection to the larger world both in space and in time; and the notion of structured sensory and intellectual experience as the goal of architecture. They are both very important to me. I am lucky enough to live close to Taliesin West and also to have had a long relationship with members of that community. Several years ago I was asked to give a talk to the students there and I chose to pursue the argument that architecture was not just a question of intriguing (and photogenic) built forms, but rather an orchestrated set of meaningful experiences, and, of course I was able to use
Opposite and following spreads: The Burrell Collection Above, left to right: View of Camelback Mountain from the Meunier residence in Phoenix, Arizona; view of the spire of St Mary Magdalene, Caldecot, from the driveway of the Meunier House
Taliesin itself as exemplary. Those meaningful experiences need to be related to the rituals of life in that setting, and again I was able to refer to the rituals of the daily, weekly, and seasonal lives of those fortunate to live, or be invited as honoured visitors in that amazing place. More recently I was invited to participate in a symposium there by the new President of the School, Aaron Betsky, who was at one time a new teacher in Cincinnati when I was the Director. Although Taliesin West is barely a half-hour drive from my home I asked to be able to spend the night so that I could experience it around the clock, and as an honoured guest. I should not go on about Taliesin West, although it has been a major enhancement to the architectural quality of my life in Arizona, but I am sure you know it well enough to recognize its relevance to the two issues raised. My first photo attachment is from where we currently live in Arizona where we have a daily reminder of ancient time and place with our view of Camelback Mountain, the reason we chose this modest little ranch house in the desert. The other attachments are simply to confirm what you have already recognized, that the Caldecote house is firmly nestled in its setting. We always guide people to it by telling them that our driveway is directly opposite the tower of St. Michael’s 13th century church, which is next to a 19th century Vicarage that embraces a smaller medieval house. One of the attachments is the early morning view from our Master bedroom where you may be able to see the teapot that brings us morning tea in bed where we sit up and enjoy watching the sunlight wake the birds in our orchard; the ritual that starts our summer days. This note is going on too long but needless to say I find myself in strong agreement with you. The tragedy of the Burrell is a product of the architectural ignorance of the decision makers, and the lack of willingness by the architect to stand up to them.
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Chadwick Hall Simon Henley
The completion of the Chadwick Hall student residences for the University of Roehampton in London coincided with the publication of my book Redefining Brutalism (RIBA Publishing, 2017). The new university project included in the book illustrates how Brutalism lives on in architecture both ethically and aesthetically. Its survival in this way also helps explain the current interest in post-War architecture. As I conclude in the book, “Modern buildings can and should, like the Brutalist architecture, point to a strong public life and a commitment to social values, and to an architecture of solidarity as well as individual sensation.” The scheme is set in parkland, at the head of a vale, in the gardens of the eighteenth century Georgian villa Downshire House, and on the edge of the London County Council (LCC) Architects’ Alton West Estate. Both are now designated as historic monuments. In the twentieth century the LLC’s architects sought to co-opt the villas, like follies, into their utopian housing community overlooking Richmond Park. Chadwick Hall is the third intervention on this landscape. The scheme provides 210 ensuite student bedrooms. These are accommodated in three separate buildings, the work informed by both the Georgian and Modernist traditions. Each residence employs a distinct plan type; two are domestic villas, the third takes the form of a pinwheel plan. Two are paired around an existing sunken garden, framed to the north by an early twentieth century neo-classical summerhouse and to the east by a sequence of gardens walls, dating from the same period. The first of these, West Court (pinwheel plan), is set at the level of the garden; the second, North Court, is situated in an elevated position, behind the original garden walls and a new terrace, its tripartite plan forged by its relationship to these walls. Together, the two buildings frame the new court. The third, South Court, lies on axis with the sunken garden to the south of Downshire House (approximately where the lost south wing of the house had once stood). The masterplan takes the pre-existing landscape features—the sunken garden and the west-facing terrace of Downshire House—and uses their cranked axial relationship to compose relationships between the three new buildings and the original house. By comparison to the often unrelenting slabs and towers of student housing, here typology serves to link the individual, the institution and the landscape. The construction encases conventional, concrete-framed structures inside freestanding, loadbearing brick walls. Interiors are therefore wrapped in heavy “ruins” that create the space for balconies mediating between the common ground of the garden and the private
realms of the rooms. The ruins play down the performative aspects of the walls and instead, in these liminal spaces, heighten the perceptual dimension of experience. More than any other element the window offers generosity. Each façade is loadbearing brickwork, the geometry of the wall generating a variety of apertures and balcony configurations. The first, a French window and Juliette balcony is set behind the wall, and is deployed on North and West Court. The second, a bay window, is used on the north facade of South Court to capture east and west light and on the south façade to mitigate overlooking. The third inverts the form of the bay window and uses broken “arrowhead” brick piers at 3m centres to form recessed half hexagonal balconies. The brickwork itself is flushpointed. Stringcourses, entablatures and parapets are precast concrete.
View over the landscape from the bay window
Inside, rooms are clustered into apartments and townhouses for groups of 6 to 12 students. Living spaces, depending on type, mark entrances or command fine views. Staircases eschew function alone; for example, the one in South Court recalls a lost stair in another nearby Georgian villa, Parkstead House, designed by William Chambers. This architecture of walls, trabeation and deep structural openings purposefully emphasises the monolithic and enduring properties of architecture—and so, too, the characteristics of the academic institution itself. If this work belongs to a Brutalist revival, suggesting permanence, it also recalls the Arts and Crafts architect William Lethaby’s substitution of the word architecture with the idea of ‘reasonable building.’ As I argue in the final chapter of my book, Brutalism is not a style. It is a sensibility which addresses the timeless aspects of building. 27
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Site Plan - First floor - 1:500
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The British Landscape Tradition and the Neo-Liberal City Will Jennings
“As a fetishised commodity, landscape is what Marx called ‘a social hieroglyph’, an emblem of the social relations it conceals. At the same time that it commands a specific price, landscape represents itself as ‘beyond price’, a source of pure, inexhaustible, spiritual value.” —W. Mitchell, ‘Imperial Landscape’ Landscape has been for many centuries as managed, cultivated and represented as the narratives derived from it: chalk figures, stone circles and earth mounds sit in ancient landscapes; trees formed the materials to navigate the oceans; the scale and aesthetics of vernacular architecture were shaped by the size and amount of timber available; and the Charter of the Forest of 1217 codified our political relationship to the land and how citizens could use it. Vast treescapes that had taken root in the late glacial period and covered the island over the next 7000 years (forests which Roger Deakin calls the site of our “feral, childhood selves”) had themselves been transformed into managed countryside by 1000 AD, by which time less than 20% of British land was still wooded. Increasingly subject to boundaries for grazing, separation of uses and management, the remaining wooded areas stood as isolated pockets. Enclosures Acts applied from 1604 onwards, although the process had begun in the tenth century, dividing unutilised land into three categories. Fragmented wastelands, often in awkward locations, were perceived to have little value, allowing landless peasants to utilise them for grazing, fishing or sourcing natural materials. Common land was controlled by the lord of the manor, with certain community usage rights. In larger open-field areas, tenant farmers could cultivate strips with collective control, but further Enclosure Acts saw these increasingly fenced off, centrally owned, controlled and profited from. Remaining wooded areas were increasingly cleared for grazing and coppiced for timber, notably from the mid-18th century. While taking away rights, these new systems of land management did lead to improved productivity and more reliable food supply, which supported a rapid increase in population from 1760, coinciding with the peak years of enclosure. As enclosures increased, so did pressures on land-use. The most extreme of these occurred in the 18th and 19th century Highland Clearances when landowners, advised that they could get greater returns from sheep than agriculture, began an aggressive depopulation process, burning cottages and evicting tenant farming communities. Starvation and mass migrations to the Americas turned historic farmed landscapes into barren hillsides sporadically covered with sheep.
As Raymond Williams outlines (1973, pp. 122), the separation of enclosed private land from publicly accessible land was not a new phenomenon. The enclosure of common lands for hunting and other privately profitable use had existed since the tenth century as natural landscapes were transformed into economically productive ones, with capital returns largely in the hands of feudal landowners and the aristocracy. From the 16th century, country houses were replaced by palaces and the process of enclosure proliferated, often “at the expense of whole villages and cornfields that were cleared” (Williams, p.122), and frequently to create space for recreation and personal gratification, rather than working the land. Meanwhile, as 17th and 18th century Grand Tours of Europe began to encourage fashionable displays of taste and wealth, the enclosed spaces closest to great houses began to be re-shaped into gardens which offered landowners vast canvases to display wealth and impart suggestions of classical and romantic knowledge. These were the landscapes and clientele that Capability Brown worked with, creating over 170 gardens on British estates. Hills were levelled, villages relocated, new valleys cut open, and lakes and flowing water appeared from nowhere. Though created with huge physical and financial efforts, Brown’s landscapes deliberately sought an appearance of effortlessness, timelessness and aesthetic harmony—a simulated version of nature intended to be more realistic than the naturally formed land it replaced. Brown’s aesthetics were a development of European garden designs, including those by André Le Nôtre, who created Louis XIV’s gardens of Versailles, typified by rigidly enforced, clinical geometry with a matrix of formal planting. Brown’s approach picked up on the vistas and scale of Le Nôtre, fusing the formal garden at the house with distant flowing landscapes, conveying the great wealth and taste of the landowner. Brown created visual continuities between nearby formal gardens and distant, faux-wild landscapes by using devices such as the ha-ha, a ditch that was the boundary between formal and informal landscape and could not be seen from the house; thus, the gaze merged the nearby and distant areas into one. These landscapes were designed to give a feeling of being in nature, while actually creating a scripted route through spaces that were tightly programmed, managed, and cultivated. The faux-wild elements were designed to produce a commodified experience; they offered the sensations of a oneness with nature that was controlled and safe. A circuit through these meticulously arranged landscapes, beginning and ending at the great house, also provided set pieces—follies, temples, grottoes and water features; visitors’ gazes were, in effect, directed. 39
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Brown’s designs, which re-presented landscapes as romantically pastoral, with a direct lineage to Eden and ancient Greece, became less popular after his death in 1783: there were uprisings and revolutions in Europe and the British ruling classes feared that the disturbances (particularly in France) could develop in a British population which they increasingly considered as a mob in need of control. Economic inequality and rising costs of living, in part due to rural enclosures forcing people into the growing cities, led to riots and new forms of political organising, such as Chartism. How the ruling classes received this new situation is evident in the ways in which landscapes were re-shaped following significant reactions to the paternalistic, manufactured vistas Brown was designing, and to the writings of Uvedale Price, an Etonian, baronet and landowner who did more than any other to promote the aesthetic of the wild and unruly applied to landscape through his ideas of the Picturesque. Located between beautiful and sublime, Price acknowledged the aged characteristics of trees, paths and walls already in situ as opposed to Brown’s tabula rasa and simulacra approach. Historian Ann Bermingham suggests Price considered Brown’s approach of remodelling land to create long views as equivalent to
Previous page: Cerne Abbas Giant Above: View of Capability Brown’s landscape at Chatsworth House
European governments clearing the possibility of revolution from social landscapes. Post-Price, the controlled rigidity of Brown gave way to landscapes with rougher edges and the limiting of expansive, open vistas with growth, allowing space for existing nature and objects. This ostensibly ensured a sense of honesty, truth, and less of a controlling hand. In reality, of course, these landscapes were as carefully shaped and crafted as Brown’s, and still designed for visitors’ gaze and the display of the owner’s wealth and fashionable taste. in the industrial city
“A good landscape is that in which all the parts are free and unconstrained, but in which, though some are prominent and highly illuminated, and others in shade and retirement, some rough, and others more smooth and polished, yet they are all necessary to the beauty, energy, effect, and harmony of the whole. I do not see how good government can be more exactly defined.” —Uvedale Price in A. Bermingham, ‘System, Order, and Abstraction: The Politics of English Landscape Drawing around 1795’ By 1850 nearly all agricultural land was in private hands, leaving huge numbers of rural poor to migrate into urban centres to the benefit of factory owners in need of cheap, large workforces. The
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political elite, who had spent such energy sculpting landscapes into personal romantic or aesthetic products, considered the same devices as they moved into the cities. Similarly, with the newly formed Parliament, the political elite was also centralising their power in London; and they retained some of the approaches, structures, and aesthetics of modelling landscapes when considering the shaping of urban forms. The densely packed old streets of the emerging European metropolitan centres were perceived as overcrowded, chaotic and unmanageable wild spaces which needed political and aesthetic order. There was already a long history of opposition between the countryside and the city, dating back to ancient Greece, with ideas of “wilderness” representing disorder and uncivilised culture. When Walter Benjamin wrote of the flâneur botanising the asphalt of early 19th century Paris, he was just the latest of many artists comparing crowded cities with wild natural settings. The connection between Le Nôtre’s long vistas and Haussmann’s boulevards of Paris as mechanisms of control and surveillance has long been recognised, not least by the Situationists. Whereas Le Nôtre’s geometric avenues were interested in the control of nature and a show of ownership, Haussmann’s Parisian urban interventions drove long, straight divisions through the old centre of Paris, not least to facilitate cavalry movements, strategic sight-lines, allow for the use of long-range weapons, and to manage and control the masses. These new linear prospects revealed parts of the city that had been hidden in the depths of labyrinthine streets, allowing class differences and urban squalor to be seen and accessed from the boulevards. They were also harbingers of grandly commodified experiences—presenting department stores and turning the urban poor into a consumer spectacle for the exotic pleasures of the bourgeoisie who could venture from the streets into the alleys on an urban safari. In London, Sir Christopher Wren’s great plans to impose scientific logic on the City of London following the great fire of London in 1666 never came to fruition, and while John Nash did inject a great deal of urban-Picturesque, the capital didn’t have the same topdown restructuring as Paris. However, the city did import notions of landscape design through the development of parks and spaces for recreation. England’s first public park, the Derby Arboretum designed by John Claudius Loudon, opened in 1840. Aesthetically inspired by Brown’s nearby Chatsworth estate and the Price-esque, ruggedly Picturesque landscape surrounding the town, the Arboretum was commissioned to offer a natural place of retreat away from the smoky factories. Loudon hoped to make a small simulacrum of Derbyshire landscape, with hills and winding ridges, an imitation of the naturally Picturesque for mill-workers to appreciate on their weekly day off work. While there may have been genuine paternalistic interest in improving the town for all classes, the park’s design was drawn from approaches developed in the ruling class’s estates. It was considered that what was good for the individual landowner, with all his knowledge and aesthetic understanding, would be good for the middle and working classes.
In 1813–14, Loudon went to Russia and visited the Jeremy Bentham-designed prison in St Petersburg, and he drew inspiration from both Bentham’s panopticon principles, and Brown’s vistas for the Arboretum’s long straight paths, some of whose perspectives terminated with sculptures and fountains. Other paths followed a serpentine route around the fenced periphery, passing objects, planting, and landscaping tropes; and a pamphlet offered a suggested tour route. Price would have approved of the fact that this circuitous approach manoeuvred around existing trees and slopes without any Brownian levelling; nevertheless, the naturalistic planting required iron rods embedded in stone to support what was still a fundamentally unnatural scheme. This approach to the design of urban parks spread rapidly across Britain’s growing towns. New parks were carved out of open space to facilitate urban expansion, with a by-product of profit for developers; another approach was to enclose existing commons or public space, as civil acts of improvement. This is the case at Kennington Common, London, which had been a political rallying point for hundreds of years and the site of the huge 1848 Chartist rally, which warned the ruling classes of possible revolution.
Kennington Common, 1776, Samuel Hieronymous Grimm
Within four years of the rally, the common had been enclosed and renamed Kennington Park. What had been boggy, unprogrammed space used for social and political gatherings, and popular sports, had been improved for organised and civic purposes. However, at a time when urban form was being reshaped to cope with new political, economic and social power relationships, such changes to public realm came at a social price to the crowd, community and bottom-up agency which had been developing. An interesting commentary on the paternalistic control which parks and urban landscaping could have on citizenship comes from Frederick Law Olmsted in his publication, Public Parks and the Enlightenment of Towns, in 1870. In his plans for the American city of Boston, he categorises a “large congregation assembling for the purpose of recreation” as “childish, savage”; but when the “number coming together is small and the circumstances favourable to the exercise of personal friendliness” it is termed “neighbourly”. In observing the young men of Boston’s “lounging attitudes rudely obstructing the sidewalks”, Olmsted asks if it is possible to make 41
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“public provision for recreation of this class”. His solution was to create parks where the public could “bivouac…without discommoding one another”, “stroll for an hour”, have Sunday school events, or play “a fiddle, flute and harp” within “a pleasing rural prospect”, with “bread, milk and ice-cream at moderate fixed charges.”
earmarked it for redevelopment as “a new estate, fit for its time”. Critics argue that the prime location, bordering Brockwell Park, and potential windfalls for partnering private developers are the actual reasons for the threatened demolition. ac t s o f e n c l o s u r e
in the neoliberal city
“If the city is ‘capitalism’, an increasing amount of centralisation of capital and people, then it is so because the mode of production first established in the English rural economy which produced the characteristic effects of capitalism: increased production, a re-ordering of the environment, displacement of people and their habitations, a proletariat.” —Simon Pugh, Garden, Nature, Language The neoliberal aspects of our politics have developed rapidly since this quote from 1988. Post-Thatcher and New Labour’s free-marketisation of urban centres, London’s cityscape in 2018 responds to Brownian and Price-esque landscape principles in a far more nuanced way than 30 years ago. The principles which served both the politics and aesthetics of the 18th and 19th centuries continue to perform a function for 21st century neoliberal politicians and developers. Nineteenth century cities were compared to wild forests because they were slow organic changes of territory caused by many different individual processes rather than directed by large-scale plans; and strategies using both garden design and urban planning relating to Le Nôtre, Brown, and Price were employed to shape the function of the city and those within it. How, then, has that approach influenced the evolution of the neoliberal city of today? t h e c a p i ta l c l e a r a n c e s
There is a trace of the Highland Clearances in modern urban planning, most obviously with the wholesale decanting of post-war social housing residents. The campaigners, Architects for Social Housing, list over 170 housing estates in London in the process of having their communities displaced by local authorities, in partnership with developers keen to regenerate these mainly large, central sites. Claims that these developments will improve strategically valuable areas bear comparison with the observations that clearances from Scottish agricultural land would improve productivity and farming processes. As discussed, there were improvements, leading to 18th century population growth, but benefits were unequally distributed, and created large numbers of forcibly dispossessed people. The promise of improvements to urban estates disguises the fact that they have been increasingly left to decay by local authorities keen to reduce expenditure. It is a process of managed decline, which is then used to legitimise claims that the estates are failing and need help from free-market developers. Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth exemplifies this process. A post-war social housing scheme of celebrated architectural design, incorporating mixed density units and an inter-generational community, is under heavy pressure from the council, which has 42
Developments that spring up across London, frequently on regeneration sites, often operate as enclosed private spaces. Gated communities, with walls, fences, entrances, and CCTV have been part of London’s modern landscape since the 1980s, notably in the growing Docklands developments. This approach, imported from the US, was offered as a more secure way of living and has spread into developments of highly secure luxury apartments, coinciding with the increase in new property being aimed at higher-end buyers and investors. The writer and psycho-geographer Iain Sinclair has described contemporary London as a city of post-enclosure, with developments increasingly designed to be better embedded into the city fabric, rather than bounded by rigid thresholds and visible barriers. This is especially so with commercial and office destinations, where open space is often created to respond to a development’s Section 106 Agreement, a planning permission clause requiring a benefit to the local environment. However, these remain private spaces which offer concessions for public use that often come with rules, a degree of security, and preferences for specifically transitory users. This is also increasingly the model for large-scale urban shopping precincts, which have gradually evolved to take the form of enclosed malls or out-of-town destinations. They are direct descendants of Benjamin’s arcades, and are frequently constructed to appear as if they blend into existing street networks, with a “seamless” transition from public to private property. Liverpool One, covering 34 city centre streets, and Bristol’s Cabot Circus, are notable examples. Acting in a similar way to the ha-ha on country estates, the eye is fooled into reading two disparate spaces as one smooth transition; closer inspection reveals the legal notification and threshold which marks entry into a commercialised private estate. More London, on the South Bank overlooking Tower Bridge, is the home of City Hall, a large scheme of offices, cafés, and a theatre. While allowing public access, it is a surveilled private estate owned by a Kuwaiti sovereign wealth fund which manages the site with strict regulations. For example, it took London Assembly politicians eight years to be granted permission to conduct TV interviews outside their City Hall. labyrinthine control
In The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin described the city as built manifestation of the ancient labyrinth myth, in which Theseus killed the monstrous Minotaur in a Cretan maze and found his way out by following the path of a string he’d laid down as he made his way in. Benjamin suggested that, without realising it, the flâneur is devoted to this path, and in Central Park, one of his final essays, he described the labyrinth as “the correct route” to the destination of the market. This raises a question over how much personal agency the city-user has in
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their navigation of increasingly privately-managed spaces which are primarily interested in consumption rather than citizenship. The labyrinth, however much it may present the impression of getting lost in internal space, is ultimately a singular route of tightly designed progression. How much of our wanderings through urban space has the appearance of self-navigation and free will, when in fact the invisible systems of persuasion, control, and navigation may be guiding the walker? A city designed spatially and philosophically around creating and controlling consumers is not one in which free agency or social commons can flourish. s i m u l at i o n
In some cases, nature is deployed as a decoy to offer a greenwash skim over the neoliberal city’s underlying machinery. In a city designed for the commodified gaze, as with the Brownian landscapes and the Picturesque approach to spatial arrangements, nature is deployed to present spectacle, draw people along a particular path and give impressions of oneness with the natural world. The proposed, and now cancelled, Garden Bridge project was to have been a spectacular pedestrian crossing in the centre of London incorporating paths with planting and trees.
Thomas Heatherwick’s unbuilt Garden Bridge proposal
This would have been a simulated experience of nature in the manner of Loudon’s Derby Arboretum, complete with “visitor hosts” in place of Loudon’s pamphlet-cum-guide. The Garden Bridge can be read as an overblown reimagining of the paternalistic Victorian park model. Rules, CCTV, security guards, and its own enclosure would have ensured that only acceptable people used the bridge’s landscape, and in the right way, with initial plans even requiring pre-booking for access by groups. The real function of the project, was, arguably to funnel a constant stream of consumers from the tourist-dense South Bank towards an area north of the Thames managed by the Northbank Business Improvement District, with a whole swathe of new commercial and high-end residential developments gaining huge financial uplift from the publicly subsidised private attraction. In effect, the Garden
Bridge would have been an unfolded labyrinth, a single path leading consumers straight to the destination of the market. rebranding the existing
An irony of the Garden Bridge was that to construct this artificial pedestal garden an existing community-owned green space of comparable size would have been concreted over with a commercial unit with a queueing system for access to the bridge on its roof; a huge amount of concrete and engineering would have been required to support what amounted to two pots of small trees—a satire of the green or sustainable intentions which mirrors the way English landscape design replaced actual working countryside with an imagined, ideal, and private simulacrum to satisfy a commodified gaze. This process is repeated throughout contemporary urban development, reflecting the neoliberal tactic of absorbing oppositional forces into its own expansion. This can also happen linguistically, such as when the Brutalist Milton Court, the first component of London’s Barbican, was controversially demolished in 2008. The replacement glass tower of offices and luxury apartments took the same name, Milton Court, which traduced rather than celebrated the memory of the original building. At London’s Elephant and Castle, the vast development scheme which saw the demolition of the Heygate Estate, following the managed decline of thousands of units of postwar social housing and the dispersal of existing communities to far-flung places, also incorporated a method of rebranding which already existed. The 1970s slab blocks were arranged around a vast wooded area referred to as London’s “urban forest” of 458 trees, of which around two thirds were removed, along with the homes surrounding them. This followed a hugely profitable Lendlease development which also saw open space squeezed or removed, with much of the “new” space constructed on raised pedestals accessible only to residents of the new properties. The area has been renamed Elephant Park, with seductive CGI imagery suggesting a oneness with nature, thus creating a myth that the scheme has improved a downtrodden concrete jungle in part of the city. This appropriation of an original identity repackaged as a value-added feature of a newly marketable urban area is emblematic of neoliberal urban development; and it has parallels with Brownian improvements of nature and the methods used by Victorian park designers to control the image and use of urban open space. t r a n s d e f o r m at i o n
In English landscape design, paths were routed to create sudden moments of spectacle. Similar tropes are employed in the modern city. These elements of organised awe were noted by the Situationists who, as described by Sadler, “insisted that the spectacle was merely a manufactured wonderment, a hype that concealed the real process of exploitation”. This recalls the Picturesque movement in British landscape design, which concealed the actual processes of labour and appropriation in its creation of hyper-real versions of that which it replaced. This is apparent in Coal Drops Yard, a “curated” shopping destination which emphasises its connection to Kings Cross’s 43
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industrial past, proudly promoting “cobbled streets and industrial architecture” which offer “an atmospheric backdrop” for high-end shopping. The designer, Thomas Heatherwick, has taken existing industrial sheds and spectacularly extruded and contorted the rooflines to create a visual focal-point and a modernising transmogrification which, according to the developer “captures all the drama of the historic architecture and setting—accentuating and enriching it”. It is an approach that “celebrates” the existing landscape by creating a visually hyper-real, post-historical, selfie-friendly experience for visitors. This can be read as a product of London’s positioning as a world class city, the neoliberal process by which cities across the world compete against each other in the free market for image, status, and jobs across the service, commercial, financial and tech sectors. As post-war London transitioned from a largely industrial landscape to a neoliberal free-market world city, it began to become shaped in a way that Guy Debord would term a “spectacular consumption that preserves past culture in congealed form”. The re-appropriation of former industrial spaces has been exemplified by projects such as Tate Modern, the wharves of Docklands as a faux-Venetian setting for US-inspired corporate architecture, the new Apple HQ relocating to Battersea power station, and the ongoing development of Kings Cross, where Coal Drops Yard is located. They all signify a shift from architecture designed around function to its repurposing as a marketable aesthetic and marketable brand identity. In spaces like Coal Drops Yard, the consumer is also the consumed. Just as Olmsted intended to bring together small gatherings of socially acceptable people in settings of organised and approved activities where they could experience a simulation of nature and commodified views of each other, so in these recent shopping environments our views of one another is as much a draw as the view of the high-end products on offer: a scene of pleasing prospects, and ice-creams at a moderate charge. t h e s u r f ac e
Capability Brown moved whole villages if they were in the way, and admirers of Haussmann suggested that “historic buildings could simply be moved out of the way” of progress and potentially be rebuilt in a singular location “as a sort of open-air museum” (Sadler). This process can be witnessed in façadism, with developers retaining the historic architectural skin of buildings, while ripping out original interiors, functions and history. Spitalfields in London has experienced this on a huge scale, from Norman Foster’s transformation of the market buildings, behind whose retained outer envelopes lie floors of offices. This has removed all the original community functions; this process is also evident in the ongoing disembowelment of the London Fruit and Wool Exchange, its front elevation delicately balanced as the city behind it was reshaped. Just as the visitor to an 18th century country estate would be presented with the composed appearance of nature, so a visitor to Spitalfields gets an impression of historic vernacular, but one which is purely a surface with all deeper historical truth erased. It exists purely for the gazes of tourists looking for signs of authenticity, which ultimately serve commercial or lifestyle ideals to inflate financial returns. 44
The Parisian model of replicating Le Nôtre’s structured approach to landscaping within an urban environment wasn’t the London way, which has experienced more irregular and piecemeal changes. The English landscape approaches of Capability Brown took the ideas of Le Nôtre but softened and shaped them, reflecting an ideology of classicism, a biblical and pastoral rootedness sought after by the wealthy and landed as grand acts of display. The threats of mob disorder and potential attacks on the rule of capital, politics, and land, which were growing in Britain towards the end of the 18th century (and had already developed more strongly in Europe) led to a new Parliament-centred politics which slightly widened the enfranchisement, giving the impression of reduced top-down control. This theoretical shift in the political system was mirrored in the way the ruling and landed classes shaped private landscapes. This move, initiated by Price’s reaction to Brown’s tightly ordered approach, allowed a slightly more overgrown appearance of rural roughness into the frame, and is directly related to this shift in politics to present at least a semblance of democratic dialogue. However, the aesthetic shift was purely an effect, with whole sites still carefully managed for personal gratification and maintaining control over nature. Similarly, the political situation maintained the status quo, which primarily supported the interests of decision-makers, new industrial factory owners, and existing landowners. And as wealth and power moved from the countryside to the growing urban centres, established design approaches to private rural landscapes migrated into the new parks and approaches to the design of urban greening. The devices and approaches of the English landscape aesthetic can now be read in the neoliberal city, which has developed as a continuation of the capitalist-led growth of the early post-industrial revolution cities. In the early instances of landscape design the control of natural landscapes are staged demonstrations of human imagination and wealth. Today, the same approaches are directed against people, rather than trees, in urban cityscapes and this has become clearly evident in Britain’s commercial, residential, and public spaces as neoliberal politics and free-market functions change the shape of the city.
Silver Forest Rut Blees-Luxemburg and Lynch Architects
All along, mainly almost nothing. Except: suspicion and hope; sense and awareness; need and desire; urge and drive. Yet none of them have any original cause or focustarget, only ever themselves and their own rawness and purity, always self-sustaining and persistent force. Until search and quest discover and even invent hidden and disguised well and best kept top-secret. Compression and flatness. Forever nearby, conveniently local, accessible, at-hand. Whilst in-fact being some completely different elsewhere altogether. Far distance and vast depth. Infinite and eternal. Beyond and within that side over there, awaiting and dormant, lies unknown landmass, world, cosmos and reality. Reaching outwardly, straight through, for escape away. During and after mutual exposure and impact, every single thing, place and body actively absorb, explore, influence, create and evolve each other. Both also stealth attract, lure, invite and swallow those who approach up-close, as well as auditioning and recruitment from random passer-by turnover. â€”Douglas Park, Silver Forest
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a r t i s t ’ s s tat e m e n t
The Silver Forest in Victoria Street is the result of a close collaboration between myself and the architects, hi-tech craftsmen, developers and city planners. The starting point for the Silver Forest was a 5×4 analog photograph I made on an autumn night in Beijing in 2011. I had taken my large-format camera with me to China and whilst trying to get a sense of the transformative dynamics taking place in Beijing I stumbled upon a contaminated yet somehow resistant urban silver birch forest on the edge of the city. The scale of the site for the public work measures around 30×7 metres, which prompted me to think about the transformation of the photographs into something as material and three-dimensional as the glass-reinforced grey concrete relief. The solid materiality of the ‘photographic concrete’ has the inverse effect and makes the photographic representation less solid, less up-front, less tangible and more dreamlike, blurry and vague, like a halfforgotten memory. The Silver Forest refers to the Renaissance painting The Hunt in the Forest by Paolo Ucello, where perspective leads us deeper into the woods. The representation of the hunt is understood as an allegory for courtship in the Renaissance. Today, the importance of the encounter with ‘another’ or an unexpected, disruptive idea should still be possible in a city. Lynch Architects have forged a public space, a ‘court’, which
allows for the chance encounter, that is an important marker of civic life. In my earlier work Liebeslied/My Suicides, which is a kind of love song to London, I centred on the liquid-fluid elements of the city: the river, rain puddles and spillages. The relationship between the city and nature is complex, the city remembers and destroys nature. The idea behind the Silver Forest is towards an understanding of what the connection between nature and city can be. The forest introduces ideas about regeneration, finding refuge but also awe and trepidation. Being lost in the woods or finding reprieve in the open are both possible threads connected to the forest. The silver birch forest in Tarkovsky’s film Ivan’s Childhood is the regenerative labyrinth that is outside the dehumanising narrative of the war. The Silver Forest in Victoria is collected together from urban forests, which are under intense environmental strain, yet manage to survive. The silver birch is a very resistant tree—a pioneer species, as one of the first trees to appear on bare or scorched land. The Silver Forest artwork in Westminster responds to the daylight, the image reflecting and oscillating depending on the direction of the sun. Here the photographic image is a back-drop, a concrete façade, to the everyday urban occurrences, but at the same time the photographic representation can be an entry-point. It can activate a latent memory
or can represent something that is emergent, not yet fully formed, like an idea that has the potential to shift into something real. I wanted to create a tension, not just an immersion, hence the shifts between closeups of the ground and the alluring perspective of the forest avenue. And in between is an abandoned, mysterious sack so heavy that it split. Photography is equivocal, cryptic, open to differing interpretations and its meaning can shift from viewer to viewer. The enigmatic sack in one of the panels could contain an emergency kit, or the incriminating evidence..! In any case, the sack speaks of amassing, and that is the dominating narrative we see in London at the moment: the frenzy of accumulation. The abandoned sack in the forest is the crucial allegorical reminder, the split symbol of the dominant developmental thrust of London at this moment in time. —Rut Blees-Luxemburg
Opposite, clockwise from top left: Silver Forest by Rut Blees-Luxemburg The Hunt in the Forest by Rut Blees-Luxemburg Still from Ivan’s Childhood by Andrei Tarkovsky Uccello’s The Hunt Above: Elevation of Silver Forest Overleaf: Photograph of the entrance of King’s Gate with The Birdstane by Timorous Beasties and axonometric drawing of King’s Gate Walk Following pages: Photographs of Silver Forest
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Silver Forest runs the length of a new open space that has been created by the construction of Kings Gate and the Zig Zag Building. The building that stood upon the site previously, Kingsgate House, stretched without break across the length of the site. The new development creates two new public spaces, one in between Kings Gate and the Zig Zag Building, and one in between Kings Gate and Westminster City Hall. In creating this latter space a large expanse of the City Hall’s party wall was uncovered by demolition, and Silver Forest covers this exposed flank wall. The artwork represents an image of ‘urban nature’, creating a small garden passage connecting the nearby Royal Parks and the River Thames. The artwork is part of a larger development comprising a complex of two buildings built over a shared basement. The project creates two new public spaces: Angela Hooper Place (named after a local politician) sits in-between the two new buildings and has external public seating and a number of bars and restaurants; in contrast, Kings Gate Walk, 48
where Silver Forest is situated, is a quieter passage connecting the northern and southern parts of Victoria across Victoria Street. Kings Gate Walk also accommodates the entrance to a residential building, Kings Gate, a 14-storey stone tower with 99 private apartments set above retail units. Colonnades define the entrances to the various programs within the new buildings, and also line the new public spaces, creating covered semi-internal territories and layered ‘civic depth’. Silver Forest is part of a faux colonnade that lines the newlyexposed flank wall of Westminster City Hall, establishing a degree of material continuity between the original 1958 building and the new colonnades. Based on images by the photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg, Silver Forest is a concrete wall, 30m long and 8m high, abutting against Westminster City Hall. The wall is divided into a series of seven ‘picture frames’ comprised of concrete pilasters and lintels fixed to a steel frame, that is itself is fixed to Westminster City Hall. Six of these frames surround the photographic
images, which are cast into concrete panels using an innovative relief technique developed and executed by Graphic Relief, while one bay is filled with a louvred screen that hides ventilation for plant equipment inside Westminster City Hall. Lighting design was by Firefly, and the landscape was designed by Vogt. A tall, cruciform, black granite column, The Birdstane, marks the entrance to the apartments, adorned with an ornamental design by Timorous Beasties. At this point, the series of images within the artwork align with the entrance to the apartment building, revealing a path through a birch forest that is glimpsed in-between actual trees. At other points, the fragmented and differently scaled images of trees and the shadows of the actual trees coalesce in the form of an animated, multi-dimensional spatial montage. At the larger scale, the images of birch trees become pure texture—pixelated digital bark, concrete poetry. —Douglas Murphy and Patrick Lynch
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The Monumentalisation of the Provisional Hermann Bauer (translated by Claudia Lynch from Baroque: Art of an Epoch1)
Baroque architecture was potentially a vehicle for festivals, and many buildings have their origin in ephemeral festival architecture. The best-known example is the “Zwinger” in Dresden, built between 1711–1728. The area had previously been used for festivals, marches, tournaments, and in 1709—in honour of the visit by the Danish King— a wooden amphitheatre had been erected. August the Strong’s desire for an orangery between the old Schloss and the fortress compound, became the beginning of the Zwinger court made from stone, for which he himself prepared a sketch2. The design, begun in 1709 by the architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, was by no means complete when construction of the northwestern half commenced two years later in 1711, as further buildings were to be added to the orangery and the Zwinger terraces. The plan form of an Omega was established in 1716, with single storey buildings for the orangery, the Wall Pavillion at the apex and the French and mathematical-physical pavilion as southeasterly conclusion. In 1718 August the Strong made another vital decision. He ordered, “that the Zwinger garden based on the approved plan, is to become a separate work, not in symmetry with the Schloss”3, which meant that a festival square is to emerge independent from the Schloss, enclosed by its own independent court buildings. The impulse for this decision was most likely the festivities planned for the marriage of Prince-Elector Friedrich August with Archduchess Maria Josepha von Habsburg in 1719. It went without saying that the festivities should take place in this festival square, as it had already been the stage for a festive reception in 1709. And just as the wooden amphitheatre with its arcades acted as the setting then, so the stone gallery and pavilion buildings—even as yet incomplete— would fulfil the same purpose now. However, as the southeastern enclosure was still missing, Pöppelmann came up with the unique and ingenious solution for an axially symmetric repetition of the northwestern building group, with the central axis running through the Kronentor, which had already been started in 17134. The festive character of the Zwinger reinforced the intention for a connection between the opera building and the redoubt. The connection with the redoubt was established via a temporary wooden construction for the Stadtpavilion and parts of the southeastern gallery. Only in 1728 was the construction of the Zwinger in its current form broadly completed in stone. The enclosure on the side facing the river Elbe was also ephemeral architecture—a wooden platform. The intended representational castle wing was never completed. In its place the gallery building by Gottfried Semper was built between 1847–1854. Art historical research might lead to platform structures that were erected at the French Court for Carrousel festivals. The Omega plan form also has a precedent—the Trianon de Porcelain in Versailles
(1670-72), which was destroyed around 1687 to make space for the Grand Trianon de Marbre—, referenced by Pöppelmann for the Zwinger plan and adapted through repetition of the form to create an enclosed whole. The list of possible precedents could be extended to include Italian garden architecture, influences from Decker’s Fürstlicher Baumeister or Viennese palace architecture5. Insight into the meaning of the Dresden Zwinger provides the fact that something was to be created on the side of the river Elbe, something that in similar undertakings would have already existed: a castle. The realization of this was never achieved, and never seemed a priority. In Dresden primarily and most importantly, the open-air festival space was built. Not only does the extreme example of Dresden shows something ephemeral and provisional, it is inherent in Baroque architecture in general. At the time there was a love for improvisation connected with it the notion of magic. “In order to give his Queen a unique party, Count of Artois created the small castle Bagatelle almost over night… For a similar reason a small castle in Salzburg was named ‘castle for a month’… The impatience of Ludwig XIV to see Versailles, the impatience of Urban VIII to see St Peter completed, is well known… The Baroque is an impatient culture. It can’t wait. It can’t bear the distance between design and completion. Rather, one builds unstable. Mere stage sets, which can be erected in a day, are preferred to solid buildings…”6. This characterization by Richard Alewyn describes a typical feature of the Baroque—impatience, under which primarily the artists had to suffer, who often justified imperfections with this “fa presto” method. The substitution of solid buildings with improvisations or stage sets manifests the desire to interchange “appearance and reality”, which is an essential feature of theatre and therefore also festivals. And as festivals were always due, there was always urgency to build and to decorate. In reverse, these festivals were the actual implementation of the architecture. The speed of the preparations was sometimes themed. When the Russian Grand Duke Paul and his wife Maria Feodorowna visited Stuttgart in 1782, Phillipp Hetsch painted the marble hall in Stuttgart to a design by Nicolas Guibal in 21 days (destroyed 1944)7. The concept was witty: geniuses and cherubs are shown in the process of installing a “quadro riportato” within the oval ceiling, which depicts the personifications of Virtembergia and Neckar paying homage to the Russian Grand Duke. The painting was not quite in its final place yet, eternalized is the moment just before its final positioning. Towards the end of the epoch, the speed of the preparations and the provisionality of the images were not only themed, they were now also reflected upon. 53
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Verdute, views of castles or pleasure palaces, painted or distributed as copperplate engravings, were mostly unreliable records of their original state. They either recorded as reality what was only planned, or they illustrated provisional forms as permanent buildings. In Nymphenburg for example, whole parts that were shown in Disel’s engravings around 1722, were only built after 1733 or not at all. For a festival with illuminations in 1729 on the canal, the square in which only four houses were built was “completed” by a further six houses and walls formed from timber frames. At the same time the flight of steps towards the city was also made from timber, albeit painted in stone colour. Where circumstances prevented architectural realization, say for a church consecration festival, the intended architecture could be replaced by a painted version. When the decoration of St Ignazio in Rome was about to proceed in 1684, an older problem became pressing once more. The neighbouring Dominicans of Santa Maria sopra Minerva had previously succeeded in suppressing the construction of a crossing dome on the church of the Jesuits. But as the desire for this essential form of grandeur remained, a competition was held for the illusionist painting of such a dome, which was won by Andrea Pozzo. His design for this famous solution still exists8. The make-believe dome, painted on a flat canvas, despite being damaged several times, is still in place. It has been repeated by Pozzo himself 9, included in his repertoire and copied manifold. Although this type of Quadratura is in itself not a new invention—one precedent was Agostino Tassi’s stone dome of the Sala Terrena in the casino of the
Villa Lante in Bagnaia in 1615–, the specialness of Pozzo’s makebelieve dome for St Ignazio lies in the fact that the ceiling painting has stabilised and established what was originally intended as something provisonal for a festival. Under the sign of the festival, the representation, and not the thing itself, has become permanent.10 1
Barock. Kunst Einer Epoche, Hermann Bauer, Dietrich Reimer Verlag, Berlin, 1992, pp.
“Der Dresdner Zwinger”, M. Kirsten, in Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann. Der Architekt des Dresdner Zwingers, H. Marx Hg., Leipzig, 1989, pp.148-174.
See also: Der Zwinger in Dresden, F. Löffler, Leipzig, p.48ff.
10 There is a long tradition of this illusionism, which goes back to antiquity: see for example, “Zur Inszenierung des Privatlebens des hellenistischen Herrschers”, H.H.Schmitt, in: Hellenistische Studien. Gedenkschrift für H. Bentson. J. Seibert Hg., Münchener Arbeiten zur Alten Geschichte 5, H.H.Schmitt Hg., München, 1991, p95.
Das grosse Welttheater. Die Epoche der höfischen Feste in Dokument und Deutung, Hamburg, 1959, p.11f.
Barock in Baden-Würtemberg, Bd1., Karlsruhe, 1981, p. 95 (Exhibition Catalogue).
Andrea Pozzo, B. Kerber, Berlin-New York, 1971, p.54ff.
The dome of Vienna University is developed from Pozzo’s tracts, Op. Cit., p.94.
Opening page: Dresden, aerial photo before 1945. The Zwinger (left), Semper Opera (top right) and Catholic Court Chapel (bottom right). Opposite, from top to bottom: C.H. Fritzsche, Aufzug der Wagen und Reiter zum Damenfest am 6. Juni 1709, 1710; Bernardo Bellotto, Zwinger in Dresden, 1752, State Hermitage Collection.
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This page and previous: Images of Der Zwinger and Dresden Opposite: Architecture as fecundity. Bacchanalian Stone Figures bursting into fruit on The Wall Pavilion at The Zwinger.
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Architecture and Life: The Arts in Mutation
Luis Fernรกndez-Galiano Ruiz
A Man-Made World: The Artificial Around Us m a n u f ac t u r e d e n v i r o n m e n t . p l a n e ta r y f r o n t i e r s
We live in a fabricated world. Under the human impact, the planet has transformed to such a degree that geologists propose a new name for the age that begins with the Industrial Revolution: after the Pleistocene and the Holocene, the Anthropocene—a term coined by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Paul Crutzen—would be the third epoch of the Quaternary Period, characterized by the radical anthropic modification of the Earth’s crust. The actions of our species, which since the time of the Neolithic Revolution and the appearance of agriculture 8,000 years ago have been responsible for considerable alterations in ecosystems, have accelerated vertiginously in the past two centuries. Through the consumption of fossil fuels deposited over hundreds of millions of years, humanity has multiplied its capacity to shape the globe to satisfy the growing needs of an ever expanding population. In doing so we have altered the carbon cycle in the same way that artificial fertilizers, without which the planet would not be able to feed 7,000 million people, have radically modified the nitrogen cycle. Through great works of engineering, urban construction or mining and agricultural exploitation, we are reshaping a world where already nearly everything is artificial. How could we possibly speak of architecture today without putting it in this context? On the planet today there are more planted trees than wild ones, and there is more biomass in humans and cattle than in all the other large animals combined. A single engineering project can move more ground than rivers drag with them to the sea, and our actions are transforming the morphology of the coasts, the hydrologic cycle, the chemistry of the oceans and the fluctuations of climate. In a remote past, changes in the availability of energy brought on substantial mutations in the way the world functioned, and leaps in the level of atmospheric oxygen 2,400 and 600 million years ago gave rise to the appearance first of complex cells, then of large organisms. The Anthropocene could well be the third great oxidation of the planet if the collective intelligence of humanity manages to bring on a transition from fossil to renewable sources of energy, and continue the process of reshaping the world through geoengineering. But while this visionary project materializes, we would do well to try as much as possible to maintain the conditions that allowed the stability of the Holocene, as the scientists concerned about ‘planetary frontiers’ advise, and prevent the gradual, barely perceptible changes from exceeding thresholds or limits beyond which mutation is sudden, irreversible and probably catastrophic. In this endeavor, the role of urban construction and territorial engineering is essential, because the artificial environment we inhabit is shaped in great part by the nature of these practices, by their disciplinary foundations and by the processes through which they are executed. c h a l l e n g e s a n d r i s k s . f r o m c l i m at e t o e n e r g y
Humankind’s formidable capacity to alter the environment has come with huge challenges and huge risks. Climate change caused by carbon dioxide emissions, by now much documented with solid scientific proof, is the most notorious of them, but not at all the only one. The
progressive depletion of fossil fuel reserves is another of the risks that constitute a challenge, in this case of a colossal dimension considering how industrial production, the urban model and transport systems all critically depend on oil and gas. The two processes are closely related, to be sure, since the emissions responsible for climate change are associated with the use of fuels, and in turn the melting of Arctic ice produced by the rise of temperatures is opening up new maritime channels in the north of America and Eurasia, creating access to large reserves of fossil fuels. In the short run, the mutation of the climate will benefit the northern zones of our hemisphere, but to a larger extent bring harm to the millions who live in the deltas of the great rivers, which will flood with rising sea levels, and to the countries with more temperate climates such as Spain, which will suffer desertification. But in the middle run, the growing scarcity of fossil fuels will force everyone to look for transition formulas that work to lead us from the current economy dependent on energy deposits to one reliant on energy flows, and therefore to the progressive shift from using up reserves to tapping renewable sources. Carrying out this process, which requires profound transformations in production and in the territory, and doing so in a way that would ensure the planet’s capacity to maintain 10,000 million people—ten times the world population at the start of the Industrial Revolution— is a challenge loaded with risks, because while it excludes a bucolic return to a romanticized preindustrial past, it demands certain instruments of planetary governance that have yet to come into existence. What we have come to call globalization has created a tight network of material and immaterial webs—from production and transport to finances and communications—that make us all interdependent, but it has not yet forged the political and institutional mechanisms that would guarantee the stability of the system, threatened as it is, as much by the geostrategic mutations brought on by the decline of the West visà-vis the emerging countries of Asia and the rest of the world, as by the deterioration of ethics and responsibility in most ruling elites. Although the process will indeed have winners and losers, the dramatic likelihood of convulsions sparking military conflicts makes it now necessary to concentrate on preserving a stable and sustainable global system. t h e s c i e n c e o f h e at . p r e s e r v i n g t h e e x i s t i n g
The effort to prevent the planet from losing its balance probably requires an acknowledgment of the physical limits to growth, which have an important energy dimension. Definitely both demographic and economic growth are limited by the availability of food and prime commodities, and the supply of both has a significant spatial component because cultivation and extraction—like transformation, distribution and consumption—must be interpreted in territorial terms. Nevertheless, the food fed to people and the raw materials fed to industry could be seen as solidified energy flows, and even space lends itself to quantification in energy terms if we consider the force necessary to defend it and the work needed to build the communication networks that make it accessible. In this way, energy presents itself as an analytical tool with which to evaluate the cost of products and processes, and in this way estimate the limits set by the availability of renewable sources. Thermodynamics then emerges as a scientific instrument at 59
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the service of social planning, and even as a new paradigm that modifies the landscape of thought by introducing entropy and irreversible time. The building and maintenance of the physical environment, which requires enormous quantities of high-quality energy, ought to be the object of special attention because territorial infrastructures, as much as urban fabrics, are costly artifacts in the thermodynamic balance. We are often reminded that the heating and cooling of buildings and the fuel of vehicles—two variables closely related to urban and territorial models— are responsible for half the energy consumption in contemporary industrial societies, but rarely is it mentioned that both city building and the construction of transportation networks require using huge amounts of energy, which accumulates in them like a valuable thermodynamic capital in need of protection against the erosion of time, obsolescence or abandonment. Regenerating what already exists—for which a collective appreciation based on custom or beauty is indispensable—seems to be an efficient energy strategy as it uses part of the thermodynamic gain to maintain the capital deposited in the structures built by previous generations. In fact, even the monetary capital or the social capital incorporated in institutions and habits can be interpreted as immaterial deposits of energy invested in the past, extending to the symbolic domain the thermodynamic pertinence of conservation, which spreads beyond the material terrain to subtly penetrate the intangible sphere of the virtual. d i g i ta l h e y day . p r o j e c t a n d pa r a d i g m
In the final decades of the 20th century, the extraordinary development of computers and information science has justified the frequent use of the term ‘digital revolution’. In fact, the digital has come to offer itself as a referential framework replacing the mechanistic as intellectual tool and technical scape. The oil crises of the 1970s proposed the entropic pessimism of thermodynamics as a scientific paradigm of response to the epistemological and material ruin of the mechanistic, but the optimism sparked by the end of the Cold War and the proliferation of cheap money at the close of the century led to looking to the digital for an alternative paradigm, which, still newly coined, would suffer the erosion brought on by the bursting of the dot. com bubble, the real estate bubble and the loan bubble. Even so, and despite the difficulty of sustaining the virtual utopias engendered by the mirage of transcending the realm of need, the digital has brought about substantial mutations in production, communication and visual culture, which alter the technical universe and the relation between designing and fabricating the artificial. Although the current crisis of political and economic governance has silenced the hopes raised by the explosion of the virtual, its radical alteration of the material and mental environment remains in force, and deserves a brief commentary. As Mario Carpo has pointed out, modernity introduced the making of identical copies, the Industrial Revolution made it possible to produce them en masse, and digitalization opens the door to interminable variations that bring us back to preindustrial craft and its ever unique objects. These three successive technical eras, characterized by manual, mechanical and digital fabrication, map the rise and fall of modern visual culture, which is based on the repetition provided by the printing press, and also mark the transformations that have taken place in the arts Left: and in the concept of authorship. The architect as author, for example, 60
did not fully come into being until Alberti separated construction from design and attributed the latter with the aura of originality, reducing the material execution of a building into a mere reproduction of something already defined in the project. Nelson Goodman has held that all arts are born autographic, physically made by those who have conceived them, and in time some become alographic, meaning conceived by their authors and materialized by others: such is the case in architecture, and nowadays also in certain fine arts. The digital puts this modern authorship in a state of crisis, based as it is on the production of objects that are identical to an original, and introduces both the variability of customization without limits and the most intimate connection between design and fabrication through computers and information programs. t h e v i r t ua l a n d i t s l i m i t s . o d e t o m i m e s i s
The digital universe, which so many have hailed as a miraculous cure for the tribulations of the material world, nevertheless has limitations deriving from our human condition, or better, our biological condition as thermodynamic organisms that need a flow of negative entropy to survive and reproduce. We are not yet virtual beings, and true as it is that man does not live on bread alone, our own symbolic food requires flows of energy to be conceived and distributed, so the same system of the arts cannot be maintained without a material base that after all is also an energy base. Rudolf Arnheim brilliantly wrote on the relation between art and entropy, and his essay on order and disorder uses the psychology of perception and the theory of information to defend the evolutionary advantages of structural order, and propose it in the field of aesthetics as a defense against the confusion of the world, where the catabolic erosion of form is in conflict with the anabolic construction of cognitive life and material techniques. As he points out, homeostasis alone is not enough, because a meaningful life requires something more than organic balance, but without that thermodynamic primum vivere, nothing can come about. The proposal for a tension-reducing formal order seems to be bring art to the Freudian pleasure principle, a perhaps anachronistic task if placed in the framework of contemporary convulsive beauty, let alone in an intellectual landscape that denies legitimacy to any kind of activity or object lacking in subversion or provocation. Momentarily leaving aside the question of whether art that soothes or consoles is plausible in our times, the near oxymoronic nature of useful art that we attribute to architecture allows us to examine this discipline independently, and to consider whether it should aspire to express the turbulences of the times or, on the contrary, build orderly places that provide protection and shelter in an inclement world. To go for the second option is to advocate an architecture of high formal clarity and rigorous continuity with the existing, where simplicity and economy of means reduce its impact on the planet’s limited resources, and where the determination to reuse what already exists and what we have already learned has no qualms about using discredited mimesis as an information and thermodynamic tool. In the face of the material and energy waste of capricious disorder or interminable experimentation, the gradual improvement of the orderly forms that are reproduced through mimesis have an economic, social and intellectual logic that makes a persuasive realism out of its abstraction.
architecture and life
Our Horizontal Babel: The Sprawling City a n u r b a n h u m a n i t y . t h e b u i lt g l o b e
Already more than half of humanity lives in cities, and the urbanization process advances at so vertiginous a rate that we will soon be able to describe the planet as a built globe, with its population agglomerated in metropolises and the surrounding environment transformed into an artificial landscape. The city, that extraordinary invention of our species, has grown and multiplied under the pressure of the demographic and productive explosion brought on by fossil fuels, without the formidable development of telecommunications—as Edward Glaeser has stated— diminishing the convenience or the desire of living close to one another. Crucibles of scientific and technical innovation, and to the same extent scenes of intellectual and artistic mutations, cities are our most valuable heritage: a wealth that rests not only in its buildings but also in its people, because even more valuable than its urban fabric is the dense social tapestry that weaves together the interests, ideas and affections of its inhabitants. In this network of connections lies the essence of the urban, and from this mesh of relationships comes its potential and lure, manifested in the territory like a magnetic field that is irresistible to rural populations, a multitude of iron filings dragged beyond remedy towards the metropolitan magnet. These centripetal forces responsible for the migrations from countryside to city are expressed in the exponential growth of both the urban dimension and the pathologies associated with scale, provoking the contradictory emergence of other centrifugal forces that push large sectors of the population to remote suburban peripheries, where the qualities of civic life are denatured or weakened. At the same time, the dispersal of constructions degrades the natural environment, altering its morphology by modifying its uses, and colonizing the landscape by filling it with irreversible works of engineering and architecture. What elsewhere I have called horizontal Babel, formed by sprawl, is thus neither real city nor countryside, and yet the contemporary exuberance of energy has allowed it to spread through the five continents, driven by metropolitan malaise and the nostalgia for nature while undermining civic virtues and pastoral beauty. The tension between the urban gravitation that brings us together and the centrifugal urge that pulls us toward the peripheries produces a vibration of the essential fiber of the debate on territory and landscape, which has its ominous protagonist in that boundless and characterless city, and the most visible cause of our environmental crisis in its planetary metastasis. ecosystems and flows. suburban processes
In ecological terms, the conventional interpretation of the city is as an organism that feeds on its surroundings. Inscribed in a long tradition of biological metaphors, but equipped in this case with a solid analytical and quantitative base, the description of urban organisms that crystallizes in the studies of Howard and Eugene Odum presents these as receivers of a continuous flow of energy and materials that enables them to feed their populations, heat and cool their buildings, and transport people and goods—besides building and repairing
their physical fabrics—, and also as emitters of waste and heat; in thermodynamic terms, as receivers of negative entropy or negentropy that gives them the capacity to maintain their form or, in Spinoza’s formula, ‘persevere in being’. This organic view of the city, which in likening it to a living being holds that it must have nourishment—or in physical terms export entropy—, requires an exact definition of its limits, something unfortunately less precise in the urban than in the biological sphere, where the skin of an animal or the membrane of a protozoan forms a relatively clear-cut boundary between the individual and the environment that sustains it. Naturally it could be argued that living organisms should not be understood exclusively as individuals either, because they are an inextricable part of populations and these in turn subsist in dynamic equilibrium with others of different species in symbiotic or trophic relationships. All told, contemporary sprawl, along with the colonization of interurban space by huge transport, production and consumption infrastructures—from airport cities, container ports or logistical centers to industrial complexes, commercial centers or theme parks—, have turned cities into organisms with blurry edges, not even nodes of communication networks, and can only be described as higherdensity zones in a built continuum. The first conurbations have given rise to vast territories that are compactly occupied, fogging the boundaries of cities and making urban ecology give way to territorial ecology in the search for a larger-scale field that allows a better understanding of the material and energy bases of the sustainability of human settlements: a scientific, economic and social endeavor that turns our attention from urban fabrics to the infrastructures that organize the territory. s pac e o r t e r r i t o r y . k e y i n f r as t r u c t u r e s
If the modern eye focussed on spaces that could be repeated indefinitely by mechanical means and the postmodern one preferred places that were depositaries of unique qualities, perhaps our era calls upon us to turn our gaze toward the territory, to be contemplated as the stage for the quantitative logic and dimensional ambition of civil engineering, and simultaneously as a realm in possession of its own geographic, bioclimatic and even historic specificity. Thereby reconciling modern quantity with postmodern quality, the priority given to the territory puts built objects in the larger framework of artificial ecology, allows thinking of architecture as urbanism (while lending itself to considering urbanism with the intellectual tools of architecture), and reconstructs architecture’s dialog with engineering, which was silenced for a time by architecture’s confinement in the leper colony of signs and symbols: a period, incidentally, that has been paradoxically described as a ‘semantic nightmare’ by a notorious author of iconic works, Rem Koolhaas; but a period that also purged the discipline of both the docile subjection to the iron laws of technique and the demiurgic insistence on indefinite growth, thus reviving the spirit of the place, the pulse of memory and an awareness of limits. In the new centrality of the territory, infrastructures play a clearly essential role, articulating the landscape, as they do, by constructing a voluntary geography that frames uses and channels movements. 61
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The great networks for transporting people and merchandise— by land through highways and railways, by sea and air with ports and airports—, for supplying water—from dams to purification plants—and for providing electricity, gas, telephone connections and fiber optics—with power plants, wires and pipes—form a territory also sprinkled with dump yards, vehicle scrap yards and deposits of chemical and nuclear residues, in addition to an immaterial communications mesh that spreads out heterogeneously. This physical and virtual system of networks and nodes serves to channel flows and exchanges, determines concentrations of resources, energy and information, and ultimately defines the patterns of occupation and density of urban landscapes. Programmed to last a long time and forced to combine the necessary continuity with the inevitable change, infrastructures are a register of our past and a mold for our future, so the decisions that are made in this field take on particular importance, conditioning urban models and architectural types. h e a lt h y d e n s i t y . t h e c o m pac t m o d e l s
When we consider the city under the ecological prism, in the current context of energy scarcity and climate change, no parameter is more decisive than density. The compact city, which is not so much the metropolis of skyscrapers as it is the classical Mediterranean town, is the territorial occupation model most readily described as sustainable: that which incurs fewer material and energy expenditures in raising urban infrastructures, which because they are shared by many, are less costly; that whose buildings consume less non-renewable energy and resources, both in construction and in maintenance during their useful lives, thanks to the advantageous shape coefficient that compactness gives when the relation between the area it encloses and the volume enclosed is reduced; and also that whose density reduces the time and the cost of vehicular commuting by providing the direct contact that is the sign of urban life and the engine of the intellectual, artistic and interpersonal communication that makes cities drivers of social change. The sprawling city, in contrast, which historically arose from the garden city, associated with a return to nature, paradoxically turns out to be less green than the compact one, precisely owing to the greater material and energy costs needed for its vast infrastructures, inefficient constructions and long commuting times. All this is not to say, of course, that the compact city can do without taking non-renewable resources and energy from the environment, whatever way we set the limits between them, or without dumping residues and emitting carbon dioxide into it. The dream of self-sufficiency, which once nourished so many anti-urban utopias, now comes true in projects for new cities like the wellknown Masdar, which the team of Norman Foster is building with the aim of making a town that produces its own energy, recycles all its wastes, and emits no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—thus avoiding consumption of non-renewable resources and global warming—, but it will take some time before all the objectives are met. While we wait for that day to come, cities will have to continue exporting entropy (or importing negentropy), and the familiar compact town will continue to be our best option for communal life: 62
a solution that is perhaps still suboptimal in the ecological sphere, but probably unsurpassable in the social and cultural, providing spaces for intense and spontaneous interpersonal relations of the kind that make ideas circulate and stimulate innovation, attracting financial capital with its dynamism and human capital with its opportunities and quality of life, all of these being characteristics intimately linked to density. t h r e at e n e d c o m m o n s . l a n d s c a p e s i n f l u x
Beyond its enormous economic and energy cost as well as its negative impact on the ecology of the planet, sprawl has had the side effect of reducing the public sphere, cutting down on the collective spaces that characterize the compact city. These are the places where shared values are expressed chorally, but also those where individual paths meet and fuse, and this double function enriches cities with a social capital of connections and confidence that is hard to replace with a judicial architecture of laws and contracts. Both the growing privatization of residual natural spaces and the commercial administration of urban and suburban places dedicated to leisure transform the public domain, and this process, which affects the entire territory by fragmenting it and extracting its pieces from the collective sphere, has an even greater impact on the city, whose civic nature requires vertebration through shared spaces, which in traditional urbanism have always been of a physical nature, and which contemporary sprawl has sought to replace, so far unsuccessfully, with virtual spaces, whether those of the media or those of the emerging social networks, whose penetration in current society brings with it both promises and fears. Although it seems to have become routine to say that the new generations simultaneously inhabit the immaterial labyrinths of the web and the physical precincts of their biological existence, the truth is that all movements engendered in the digital womb have ended up manifesting themselves, gaining visibility and acquiring legitimacy in the worn public space of the traditional city, whether the fashion trends that scouts look for on the streets of Tokyo and New York or the political mutations that young Arabs have brought on with their presence in the squares of Tunis or Cairo. No doubt we are faced with a landscape of technical and social changes, but it cannot be ascertained that these mutations will be expressed only, or preferentially, in virtual realms. We inhabit material spaces, consume irreplaceable resources and degrade energy to maintain our social organization and our own organisms. In this historic crossroads, the digital revolution will not save the furniture of the physical city, which must progressively abandon the model of the horizontal Babel lest it endanger the future of our species on the planet, and embrace the alternative—density—as something that, freed of its negative associations with pollution and traffic, can effectively offer a more responsible and sustainable way of inhabiting the world: a way of living close together that is more economically efficient, more culturally stimulating, and more gratifying in terms of interpersonal relationships.
architecture and life
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architecture and life
The Age of Spectacle: From Cries to Whispers m e tas tas i s o f i c o n s . h i g h a r c h i t e c t u r e
The physical and social fragmentation of the contemporary world, which has fractured urban fabrics and community ties, has engendered the self-withdrawn culture of narcissist individualism, replacing a dense mesh of political, intellectual and artistic references with the fleeting glimmer of spectacle. This ‘society of the spectacle’ that Guy Debord theorized on is articulated around a galaxy of images that are in permanent renewal, sprinkling the anomie of its landscapes with memorable icons that seek to fix themselves to people’s retinas by competing in the din of offers, and that often barely manage to be noticed before vanishing like a drawing in the sand. The insatiable appetite for the new devours the torrent of images, and the eddy of novelty drags events, works and people towards an abyss of oblivion: nothing seems able to escape this collective amnesia. Because of the permanent character of its constructions and the painstaking nature of its processes, architecture would seem immune to this empire of ephemerality, but in the long run it too has succumbed to the law of spectacle, and from preliminary sketches to finished works its images have provided symbolic fuel for media-savvy governments and corporations, offering numerous city-branding icons that generate tourist income and collective pride. Like haute couture and elite competition, what we might call ‘haute architecture’ has in the past decades produced media icons that naturally have historic antecedents—no need to go back to the Seven Wonders of the ancient world to establish a chain that has its inevitable links in the New York Guggenheim, the Sydney Opera House, the Pompidou Center and the like—, but never proliferated so dramatically, becoming references for every single small town or modest institution that wants to increase its visibility by joining the frenetic carrousel of spectacle. Nevertheless, the profuse multiplication of icons devaluates its symbolic and even publicity content, making it lose value like money issued in excess, and diminishing its impact like a scream in a yelling crowd. So even objects of extraordinary beauty get lost in the cacophonic labyrinth formed by a multitude of works competing for the spectator’s attention, and this authentic metastasis of icons ends up being perceived as an ailment afflicting the physical body of cities and the doctrinal body of architecture, helpless against the invasion of strange organisms that challenge its normative condition, and that if able to be absorbed as exceptional occurrences, become toxic when multiplied without control. v i s ua l f at i g u e . t h e tac t i l e d i m e n s i o n
Overwhelmed by the abundance of images, architecture questions the protagonism of the visual, which at some point I have described as the dictatorship of the eye. Visual thought has always been very present in the work of architects, who interpret the world, appropriate places, and conceive their works through the gaze. In fact even metaphors taken from other fields, such as Schopenhauer’s much
repeated aphorism by which architecture would be ‘frozen music’, ultimately refer to a rhythmic condition that in buildings is perceived not with the ear but with the eye. But this hegemony of the eye has often been criticized, and no longer simply because architecture is a three-dimensional art—for the perception of which the moving eye of the observer or the camera suffices, as in Le Corbusier’s celebrated promenade architecturale—, but because we are talking about a habitable art, and its intimate connection to the human body is impoverished if we reduce it to the exclusively visual. Adding to this phenomenological criticism nowadays is the visual fatigue that results from the oceanic inundation of fleeting images, and both circumstances call for a sensorial expansion that could put an end to the monopoly of the eye. Many intellectual and artistic currents converge in this revision, but perhaps the most significant ones come from Heidegger and his skepticism towards modernity, which as we know infiltrated architectural discourse through Norberg-Schulz and comes down to our days through the historical and critical texts of Kenneth Frampton, where recovering the tectonic and the tactile is a strategy of resistance to modern anomie and the phantasmagoric invasion of images, which are associated with the corporate logic of late capitalism and the seduction of the spectacle in media culture. This phenomenological revision, whose most defining element is the shift from indefinite space to unique place, and thus from quantity to quality, is summed up in the defense of the genius loci against the Zeitgeist, or the spirit of the place against the spirit of the time, but it also has an anthropological dimension that values archaic materiality and its structural expression as much as multisensory perception, and more specifically the tactile one, no matter how often this condition is visually expressed in textures that evoke the touch of a hand, materials that bear the mark of a foot, or else colors associated with thermal sensations: in the end, a hybridization of visual thinking and expanded perception. t h e r m a l a e s t h e t i c s . at m o s p h e r i c a r t s
Visual obsolescence and the contemporary climate and energy crises have together brought about a movement of aesthetic revision that seeks to face the arts with the dilemmas of the world, and at the same time awaken in them the desire to express the state of our times. This aesthetic, which Bruno Latour has described as atmospheric, endeavors to reconcile the humanities and the sciences, mixing these two cultures to connect social values to natural facts, and proposes a new conception of politics that gives a central role to elements like territory, infrastructures or landscape where society and nature meet. With its delicate attention to climate control, to the tactile and to the thermal, atmospheric art enters into resonance in architecture with a long critical tradition that has explored the physiology of buildings, avoiding the priority usually given to anatomical considerations: a tradition where air or water is as important as stone, glass or steel. Naturally this gaseous or liquid architecture does not preclude the material solidity of buildings, but it shifts emphasis towards services and utilities, supports of thermal comfort as well as foundations 65
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of energy sustainability, and therefore physical bases of both a thermodynamic aesthetic and an ecosystemic ethic. Reyner Banham must be mentioned in this section because The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment pioneered a field of study that would be much present during the oil crises of the 1970s, to fall into oblivion during the decades of cheap fuel and return to the fore of debate in our years of energy and climate crisis. Making a virtue of necessity, atmospheric architecture tries to use scarce resources responsibly while recovering the tactile pleasure of thermal fluctuations, environmental humidity or air movement, abandoning costly and narcotic modern homogeneity for a return to traditional building procedures that, with less technical complexity and lower energy consumption, maintain comfort without ceasing to provide sensory stimuli to bodies that had forgotten the joy of feeling the sun or the breeze on the skin, preferring lukewarm shade to the blinding brilliance of mechanical reason. l e s s b u t b e t t e r . t h e n e w au s t e r i t y
Like all crises, the one we are currently experiencing carries seeds of change. Occasionally lost under the smoke and mirrors of catastrophic information and always hidden by the suffering and anxiety that the dislocation of expectations and habits causes, these seeds encapsulate a possible future, one that is formed in the tribulations of the present but that is perhaps more desirable with respect to collective morals and individual happiness. This responsible and austere future, which we may not even choose because it is imposed by circumstances—or by awareness of the limits to growth in a finite planet, which amounts to the same thing—, does not necessarily have the form of an ascetic and penitential desert. On the contrary, the renunciation of superfluity in architecture and in life can be a source of beauty and pleasure: beyond economic and thermodynamic logic—if after GeorgescuRoegen we can still separate these disciplines—, the depuration of demands and desires is an aesthetic and ethic gymnastic that yields healthy fruits in both the physical and the immaterial sphere. This is why we are fascinated by anonymous architectures that are daughters of necessity, or ethnic arts where matter and wonder crystallize in essential forms. The younger generation, inserted in a landscape that is at once laconic and hedonist, needs few calls to an austerity that its members experience in their own lives. For them, doing more with less is not a proposition but a fact, as well as a trait that is almost inscribed in their DNA. Both their interest in development projects—working in environments marked by scarcity—and their readiness to accept the limitations set by sustainability trace a panorama of adaptation to the demands of crisis that is very different from that of their elders, who are immersed in the winter of their discontent and incapable of spotting opportunities in a scenario that they perceive to be cluttered with the ruins of their hopes and projects. Whether we like it or not, a period of collective mutation brings social fractures and individual suffering, but it can also give rise to a better city, more refined architecture and more relevant arts. Doing less but better can be a desirable motto for administrations with budget problems or companies undergoing cost-cutting restructuring, but it is also a 66
maxim applicable to creative paths or personal lives. There is no need to recall Mies’s ‘less is more’ to praise the virtues of streamlining; but we would do well to keep that in mind when austerity is presented to us only as deprivation: storms clear up the air, and with ruined expectations, the miasmas that have made the stale atmosphere of our times almost unbreathable will disappear too. o r d i n a r y a n d m o r ta l . t r ac e s o f l i f e
Docile or rebellious acceptance of the planet’s limits could be an intellectual exercise preparing us for the more difficult and painful acceptance of the temporary limits of our own life and the perishable nature of our material works. We describe architecture as a threedimensional art, but we should really situate it in a four-dimensional space because in the end, time is as important as the three axes of coordinates that place works in the world and regulate balance in our inner ear. Time—that fourth dimension which ‘also paints’, in Goya’s words—‘also builds’, giving buildings the patina of age and eventually eroding structures as it wears away our organism, in a process that we can decelerate through the maintenance and constant repair of works and bodies, but which we do not know how to stop other than by freezing persons or projects in soulless urns. Even so, it is easier to accept our mortality, however unfathomable the idea that the individual conscience disappears, than it is to accept the mortality of our works, and thus that of architecture itself, because we hold on to the conviction that we leave marks in the world, engraving our vital paths on the planet’s memory. But the globe is an amnesic sphere where entropy imposes its obstinate law, ruining constructions, decomposing materials and erasing footprints, which in a wink of geological time will have vanished like a trace of smoke. Although some might in this hear the Baroque echoes of Valdés Leal and his Finis gloriae mundi, this reflection would on the contrary like to see in the fragility of life a motive to participate in its brief path more intensely. In the blink of an eye, in ictu oculi, we disappear, as do our works and footprints; but in this ephemeral bat of an eyelash are effort and sloth, affection and indifference, decency and indignity. The Horatian carpe diem taught us not so much to seize the day as to harvest them, and I think that this ambushed parable of the talents remains pertinent to societies and individuals, torn between the anthropic Scylla and the entropic Charybdis, between a world shaped entirely by man and a time that inexorably destroys lives and works. Our works and our days have no other grounds than our mortality, and yet we must go about life as if that sure extinction did not form part of our own vital horizon. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught our generation to live in the world etsi Deus non daretur, as if God did not exist, and maybe today we ought to rewrite his maxim by affirming the need to live as if death did not exist or, better still, Clausius pemitting, as if entropy did not exist, etsi entropia non daretur.
Images of Foster + Partners’ Masdar Institute
architecture and life
Still Life Patrick Lynch
Opposite: Siq al-Barid I 2017
What we call Landscape is, of course, often conflated with a view of the land. A landscape painting is a framed aspect of the world, an aesthetic judgement, a decision, a still life. The human tendency toward selfcongratulation leads us to assume that if we made the view, then we made the land too, along with nearly everything else. David Grandorge’s Arctic photographs, taken in 2007 and collected in his new book Still Beautiful (Canalside Press 2018) are a form of witness to what is now a lost world. In 2017 he recorded the effects of mass migration—of global politics—upon the water levels of the Dead Sea. The relationship between truth-telling and beauty in the history of Representation is obviously complex. A belvedere in a Renaissance garden offered not only a beautiful view, but also a view of what people found beautiful, and, by implicit and direct inference, what they considered good. Arguably, the idea of the reciprocity of human cultivation and goodness, is kept more or less intact in the modern notion of “the creative life”. The metaphor of creativity and life pervades modern design culture. Yet the seemingly innocent maternal metaphor, Mother Nature, discloses some profound disquiet in the relationship between humanity and the world, between psyche and physis today: something that David Grandorge’s photographs lay almost unendurably bare. The complicity of modern technology and surveying techniques with the industrialised consumption of natural resources, is of course pretty obvious. Its connection with reconnaissance, in a military and economic sense, is equally clear. Photography played a central role in the exploration and exploitation of the earth. Dalibor Vesely, who taught David and I when we were contemporaries at University of Cambridge in the mid 1990s, drew explicit parallels between Martin Heidegger’s term “enframing”, and the problematic elision of technology and aesthetics in modern architecture and design. Vesely was critical of “the science of poetics, known better as aesthetics.” For him, aesthetics “left the creative principles of making unaddressed”. In contrast, what we need now, he argued in 2004, is “a new form of knowledge, that can indicate how to reconcile genuine creativity and creative spontaneity with the productive power of contemporary science (technology)”.1 David Grandorge’s photographs are arguably an example of this new form of knowledge. They are, as such, a troubling and uncomfortable reflection of the outward appearance of the modern world: the camera lens acting also, I fear, as a mirror of the world’s soul. The images call into question the ancient idea of beauty as the outward manifestation of goodness, whilst retaining its capacity to illuminate, in new ways, what we see; revealing that there is, after all, still life.
Dalibor Vesely, unpublished manuscript, part of a draft of Architecture in the Age of Divided Representation: The Question of Creativity in the Shadow of Production, MIT Press, 2004.
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Images in order of appearance from above: Svalbard (Timber Crane) 2007 Siq al-Barid III 2017 Auvere I 2016 Svalbard (White) 2007
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Images in order of appearance from above: Svalbard (Coal Mountain) 2007 Svalbard (Snowbreak) 2007 Ignalina I 2015 Zokniai Airfield XI 2015 Dead Sea (near Wadi Mujib) I 2017
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Poems Steven D P Richardson
f r ag m e n t o r ( f o r l u c y s k a e r )
But you should come down to the sea, come to the shore edge where hill water from lily tarns marbles in cobalt green and the moon-tide sweeps back the salt drape over the oyster beds, and curlews cloaked in speckled umber pipe a sea-rich song begging us all, but especially you my darling, come down to the brim and listen:
there was no end to the possibilities of the new machine, which she had used to calculate the break-up of all things
there is silence between the wind in the bracken and the waveâ€™s last draft
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Issue two of the JoCA brings together a series of essays and visual essays that consider the theme of Landscape, or more precisely, the role...
Published on May 4, 2020
Issue two of the JoCA brings together a series of essays and visual essays that consider the theme of Landscape, or more precisely, the role...