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Complex Context 2012: Assignment 1

September 2012 Olivier Bouvais Pia Grung Dan Dorocic

the architect tree



September 2012

Mind after Matter The placement of a building on its site -the contextual spectrum, can depend on any number of parameters. No matter should a project concern itself with the topography or ecology of the landscape, the programmatic landscape, the cultural or historical depth of a site, it needs to justify it’s context for itself. The placement of a constructed object on the landscape always needs to communicate with its site in a clear manner. In this paper we will evoke the work of Enric Miralles, Bendetta Tagliabue, and Carme Pinos and that of Foreign Office Architects, the office of Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Farshid Moussavi in order to break down their particular ways of dealing with context. The idea of ‘mat-building’ is used as an entry-point and as a theme of comparison between the two Studiod. This essay will explore the operative framework of these architects, how they create a dialogue with the local through envelope, or the skin of their building, how they transform the site into a constructed landscape, and how they deal with it by manipulating the structure to speak.

Mat-buidlings were first developed by the members of Team X, a revolutionary group that came out of the break up of CIAM. Alison Smithson article “How to recognize and Read Mat-Building” (1974) set up didactic ground rules for an applicable agency in architecture. Enric Miralles was attracted to the Smithsons for the reason that each project is a new proposition in an unfolding dialogue. When looking at recent development;s in architectre, Smithson’s article seems newly relevant today. A brief overview of recent work demonstrates the persistence of mat building effects at the scale of individual buildings. Foreign Office Architects’ Yokohama Port Terminal, for example, creates a porous mat of movement and waiting spaces by means of warped and folded steel plates. In this project, there is only minimal formal distinction between garden spaces and the waiting areas of the terminal. Garden and building are simply differing intensities of occupation occurring along a more or less continuous surface. Conceived as an artificial landscape, minimal sectional variation seperates and smoothes traffic flows at the same time that it activates complex programmatic variation. Working with a very different architectural vocabulary, the 1997-1998 project by Enric miralles and Bendetta Tagliabue for the reconstruction of the Santa Caterina Market in Barcelona responds to the constant flux of demolition and rebuilding in historic city centers. EMBT inscribe new traces, and overlay new uses, without erasing the old. This aspect of mat-building persists as an organizational strategy. Mat building is antifigural, antirepresentational and antimonumental emphasizing the organizational over the formal. It is based on operative realism regarding the architect’s design control creating a field where the fullest range of possible events might take place. Performative functions and events configure spaces rather than the architectural frame, which remains relatively neutral. Mat buildings are characterized by the promotion of interstitial spaces outside architecture’s explicit envelope of control. The performative effects of architecture such as circulation, connectivity and emergence and the organizational principles based on the “stem” or cluster” patters. By paying careful attention to these surface condtions – not only configuration, but also materiality and perofamnce – designers can activate space and produce urban effects without the weighty apparatus of traditional space making. The natural ecology and topography of the landscape is not only a formal model for urbanism today, but perhaps a model for process – mat-buidlings are never finished. They create a directed field for the occupation of the site over time – a kind of loose scaffold. 1

A.+P. Smithson’s Diagram for a flexible architecure



EMBT/ EMCP Enric Miralles worked on a number of large-scale projects the bulk of which were built in the mid to late 80s, the 90s and up to the present. While most of the deconstructivist were still only working in the theoretical and paper realm, Miralles saw many of his projects built in the 80s. With some pride in this era, during which the works we will be looking at in this research were constructed, the EMBT office of Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, worked under the slogan ‘under construction’. This title also reflects the duos perspective on a work and Miralles was known to really enjoy the flexible dialogue with the clients and the landscape which would be underway during the construction process. Once finished, the project stood there collecting the dust of the ages, and although the aging process was acknowledged- this fate wasn’t one which Enric favoured in the design lifetime. The agency of his studio was one of constant dialogue. The architect in EM’s mind was just a transmitter of ideas. And to keep an open dialogue through drawings, words, pictures and models was the architect’s fundamental role. The process of EM is one of immersing deeply with the landscape, to not strive to create monuments or emblems in the city, but rather to bring out the qualities of the site. Over and over again, we see the projects nestled on an escarpment with the architecture framing the landscape and the views into the surroundings. The arrangement of the architectural bodies in space is one taken on like the arrangement of flowers. The natural character of the local is strived for in order to be captured, embodied in the curving lines of physical structure. The construction drawings themselves are layered over and over with information, with details, material, doors, views, and important corners. The methodology of EMBT is best encapsulated through their working table, the ‘Ines Table’. Literally meaning ‘unstable’ in Spanish, it is an unstable, folding construction which through its folding changes the usage of a room, creating new views at whatever is sitting on it, thereby creating the possibilities for progress.

"This is a table that explains a certain way of working in which the things themselves become actors, in which the ocupation of spaces is attentively studied, and in which the idea of time passing is played with". (...) "The table can be folded and moved to assume different positions, almost becoming a landscape that can change daily" Images and text from Enric Miralles : works and projects, 1975-1995 / edited by Benedetta Tagliabue Miralles; introduction by Juan José Lahuerta.


Miralles & Moussavi (1996)


FOA Much like EM, Alejandro Zaera of Foreign Office Architects (FOA) sees his agency in architecture as an ever-evolving process. In the book Phylogenesis, the chronography of their works, each project is described through numerous characteristics in order to be classed in a phylogenic tree.

It is not simply a formal exercise, but a relational one. How does the studio progress and simultaneously construct its identity? The goal of FOA is to develop alternative forms, by overcoming a singular style and authorship - the natural evolution of a specific culture of practice. The pattern language developed in Phylogenesis counts through the projects showing the multiplicitous nature of an architects work. The methodology is broken down into taxonomy through differing function, changing faciality, changing balance. The only fundamental constant is that the operativity of the architect is always local. Alejandro Zaera-Polo had an unusually early involvement as a theorist, writing for El Croquis from as early as 1987, where he identified and theorised the work of the current generation of established architects. In the essay “Mind after Matter” , Alejandro talks about a reconfiguration of “the ground”, the justification not coming a posteori but the creation of a “new ground” during the metamorphosis of the site. The projects in essence become platforms. They enable alternative operative systems. The context is interpreted as an operative system itself rather than a ‘site’. Thus, the building process optimally results in charging the domain rather than being used for neutralization and erasure. The philosophy could basically be symbolized in the ‘virtual house’ being a potential not yet actualized. 3

Although FOA’s methodology and approach is quite different throughout the design process, the interests in mat-buidling links it to the work of EMBT. The cover of FOA’s book ‘The Yokohama Project’ shows a circulatory diagram which was used as the central programmatic for the logic of the project.

Zaera&Moussavi (2002)



“The River of Life and Death” The Igualada Cemetery Project by Carme Pinos and Enric Miralles

Miralles’ first teacher to make an impact was in fact Rafael Moeno. He encouraged Miralles to link the work of Le Corbusier into the work of later architects -to see the pattern and through it to look for new ideas. In his youth Enric forged a friendship with Peter and Alison Smithson and was inspiration by their writings and also his conversations with Manfredo Tafuri. The notion of the cycle of time is of great importance in Miralles work. The idea of the passage of time and a return to origins were both fundamental factors in the concept of the Igualada cemetery. Miralles thesis , ‘Things seen to your right and your left without your glasses.’ was a reference to Erik Saties’s 1914 chamber symphony, and was itself an investigation into the origins of creativity. His architecture can thus be considered a humanization of the programme in Igualada and an appreciation of the topography- that is, the visible physical landscape as well as the memories contained in it. 4 In the Igualada project, circulation is the defining architectonic feature of the site. The cemetery embodies a path in the escarpment. The cemetery wall, which is for the loculi, frames a promenade in the landscape along which the visitor walks. This wall, a physical border between life and death climbs slowly up the escarpment as it meanders seemingly with the topography. The circulation pattern is the main manipulation of the site -there is no actual building up. Rather, the site is manipulated through the excavation of the ground. The circulation – the movements of the user who descend into the site to discover a series of walkways lined with trees and dynamic sculptural forms – the humanizing factor - the harmonizing of bodies in space. The site provides a stillness, where one can contemplate and pay respects to the dead. It provides a space that allows for a multiplicity of ways of seeing and using the architecture. The site becomes the place of interactionarchitecture as living art to which the user can personally and physically relate. As the path zig-zags up the slope, it evokes images of the city of the dead. These empty ‘streets’ and the open spaces aren’t typical of cemeteries. The setting of La Igualada in the Spanish countryside outside Barcelona with its urban characteristics is designed to provoke thoughts and memories of life and death. This memoryladen project is aided by its apparent natural adaptation to the site. Miralles strives for the history of the buildings not just as the history of their own construction, but as the history of the site. The history of the building thus starts before its construction inherent in the history and the memory of the land. The work merges with the ground, a temporary state of the land and can approach site-specific sculpture, creating tensions and visual forces of energy between the site and construction, rather than attempting to maintain an architectural contextualism. In essenc, Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos have “humanized” the brief and with their appreciation for topography and both the cultural and natural landscape - so creating an enterprise of culture rather than a monument to the souls that have passed. 4

Zabalbeascoa, 1996



The Igualada Cemetery Project

Cut-out photographs were the most natural way of redrawing the project for the cemetery at Igualada when, after 5 years the time came to build the chapel. The first cut-outs were the ones corresoponding to the service building. The process practically yielded the pre-construction drawings, which illustrated the intent. In this way we returned to the initial character of the building, tying together the distant stages of beginning and end, re-establishing the direct relationship that exists almost independently of the development of the work. These cutouts give the project a fluidity, they allow us to establish connections – to express the ironic character of the cross-doors at the entry to the cemetery cut, to create a particular vision of the common graveyard, to evoke links between the empty tomb, the passage, the enclosure and the door.

Plan of the ‘cul de sac’ at Igualada Cemetery

The idea of borrowed cenery or “Shakkei” , is used insofar the placement of the cemetery in relation to the surroundigns. The project faces away from the industrial zone which is perched on the mesa-top of the escarpment. It looks down into the valley below and in this way creates an imagined space of contemplation. Views of the landscape, the path, and the loculi are in Miralles harmnious relationship framing views all the way down into the valley where the visitor is captued in a gully.

Sketches showing the logic of the circulation and boundaries of the Igualada cemetery.


The Cut-Out Process Igualada was the first project to reveal the essential role of the cut-out photograph in the work of the Miralles studio. The photomontaging of elements from previous projects onto the future sites and the flattening and simplifying of the site into a photo in Enric Miralle’s view is imprtant in the mapping process.

“Cut-outs fulfill the same purpose as the pages of a notebook at the outset of the design. They give the work a sense of immediacy. They emphasize certain moments, removed from the indiscriminate view of the photograph. Like a note or a sketch , they fix things so that they can be observed. By creating a distance from an excessive complexity of reality, they make it possible to focus on one point.” 5


EMCP Sections showign the promenade for the living framed by the boundary of the dead and the elevation of


Miralles & Tagliabue (1995)

The Skating Minister

The Parliament Building in Edinburgh

Process sketches for the concept/plan f the Parliament

“He looked at the Canongate and the Palace and talked about a building that could grow there emerge from there, and not having to impose it on the site….”

Donald Dewar, Prime Minister of Scotland

The project is located in Edinburgh, Scotland. Enric Miralles won the competition to design the new Parliament Building in the late 90s. Miralles tied in the questions of building a national identity into a special site. The location of the Parliament isn’t in the center of Edinburgh. It is not a monument to Scotland and it doesnt try to stand out by being loud. Instead it tries out to bring the inherent qualities found in the site. By using repeating motifs that he used in the brief (the leaves) and finding new local ones such as the ‘Skating Minister’ and the upturned fishing boats, Miralles conceived of a building which would become a national emblem.

“The project could be interpreted as if the land has become part of the new Parliament. The new building opens up to public space, not to a specific city, but to a more general concept of the Scottish landscape…It is not difficult to imagine a pensive walks outside of the building, with thoughts running through one’s mind … seeking the help of a lonely walk during a reflective moment. The orientation of the building towards the park with the distant views of the nearby hills… it will characterize the way of working.” Enric Miralles

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch better known as The Skating Minister (1790s)

the Historical as Inspiration

by Sir Henry Raeburnt

An MP remarks: “Miralles gave us all “contemplation chambers”, or “thinkpods”. The idea is that you’ve got somewhere to go and sit and think. When I’m in mine, sitting on the window seat, it reminds me of being on a big wheel because it sticks out of the building and is suspended. Every worker should have one.”

9 communities

Miralles, like many other postmodern architects, has a preference for piling on the motifs and ideas: upturned boats, keel shapes, deep window reveals like a castle, crow-steps, prow shapes, diagonal gutters, 'bamboo bundles' and above all the dark granite gun-shape that repeats as an ornamental motif at a huge scale. Everywhere broken silhouettes compete for attention, just like the alleyways next door. That's fine, and contextual, but it's quite a meal. As a result of the complexity, the parliament is really a kind of small city, with much too much to digest in one short three-hour sitting. The Scottish parliament will take time to judge: maybe not 50 years but three or four visits, long enough to absorb all the richness and get used to those jumpy black granite guns, the most arbitrary of several questionable ornaments.6


Jencks (2005) 10

Running through the Trees

Location: Rua Oporto 1, Vigo, Spain Date of Constuction: 1999-2003

Lecture at the University of Vigo

The project focuses on the configuration of the entrance to the campus of the University of Vigo. The project has transformed the place into unified constructed landscape. One of the access ways to this landscape is by way of the sports area and this includes a wide sweeping reforestation of the terrain as well as an installation of a series of ponds. The visitors go through the complex by way of a woodland, and the students can exercise among the trees. The area also consists of a commercial area and resident halls that conflate with the topography. The blending is partially accomplished by penetrating the open plaza with a metallic mesh canopy held up by columns and roofed in tropical wood. The opaque facades of the different buildings are covered in concrete faced in granite. The many roofs, also concrete, serve as home for the restaurant, accessed by the central staircase of the assembly.


(Re)Arranging nature Miralles use of Diagrams

In numerous projects, Enric Miralles used naural forms as an inspiration. Not only in the colours, material and shapes, but even to the point of using leaves, twigs and flowers on small scale plans for an intial concept for the planning and situational description of his projects. In some instances, the contextual inspiration was more superficial, as we saw with the use of the Skating minister. Another instance is that of the Barcelona’s Santa Caterina Market. Here the archutects use the market’s product as the paint for the canvas. In terms of programing, the urban landscape is left mostly unscathed under the roof. This methodology of working with cut-outs, flowers and natural forms as inspiration leads Miralles to create architecture that is in harmony with the land that it sits on. In another instance the Edinburgh Parliament project, Miralles uses the remains of the old buildings, the spoliation, to fill his gabion walls used in the landscaping and foundation of the site. This deep belief in the narrative of a site, and the life of site before the building is what makes the poetics of his projects.


Process sketches for Park Diagonal Mar Location: Barcelona, Spain Date of Constuction: 1997- 2000


and views

the surroundings

Yokohama, Japan Competition: 1994 Competed 2002

“ The Synthesized Ground” The Yokohama Port Terminal (Osanbashi Pier)

In this project, the circulatory diagram(shown on pg. 5) is the spawning principle for all later design decisions. In terms of the flow and transgression of people in the open space of the building’s interior, it is interesting to compare it to the Igualada project. FOA have an kept an extensive tab on the work produced by their office, and through a biological phylogenic classing system have tracked their development as an architectural practice. It is as much a work of research on their formal experiments as their development of an “identity” and operativity as an architecture practice. They claim their goals are to overcome styles and authorship and to develop a specific culture of practice. 7 A fundamental constraint is that they try to achieve a constantly local ‘operativity’ and to construct their building as an intergral part of the landscape. For the Yokohama Project, the generating organistaional form always refers back from the circulation pattern. As in other projects, the circulation pattern is the seed in the development of their idea of hybridization between a ‘shed’ an ‘undetermined container’ and a ‘ground’. This could be thought of as a ‘form follws function’ project -the circulation organized and the ‘architecture’ deployed on the circulation diagram after. The circulation is used in this instance to shape the space. The building becomes a field of movement with no structural orientation.The two main moves for the project were, first to set the circulation diagram as a structure of interlaced loops that allows multiple return paths and, second to not make a gate on the semantic level. To not make the building into a sign, but rather make the building into a “ground”. The materials are picked from a reduced palette to preserve the main features of the spatial and geometrical determination of the project: the continuity across levels and between inside and outside.The devil is in the details – it is a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’. Details such as the handrails, thick glass panes, wood finishes all feed into the homogeneity of the structure. FOA claims to have explored the possibility of a new architectural paradigm on the architectural order upon nature but it is evident in their work that they have ties to the great contextual masters of Spain. One of the philosophies of FOA is the creation of “new ground”. Their work is a creation of platforms and operative systems rather than sites. Their work is not aimed to erase the pre-existing, but to charge it. Like Miralles, Alejandro Zaera-Polo believes that good architecture doesn’t get rid of the old to bring in the new, but should frame the existing and bring out and infuse the context it is working within. 8 7 8

Zaera& Moussavi, 2002 Cohn, David. Young Spanish Architects/ Junge Spanische Architekten. Basil: Birkhäuser, 2000. Print. 14

Projects Yokohama Osanbashi Maritime Terminal “This is a project that we never planned to win”, say Farshid Moussavi and Alejandro ZaeraPolo in the introduction to The Yokohama Project, published in 2002. Some ten years later and looking back, Zaera-Polo continues: ‘The Yokohama project was the origin of my practice. And the opportunity to crystallize a type of investigation that I believe involved a whole generation of architects, and to test it with reality. The hybridization of infrastructure, landscape and architecture, the integration of computer-aided design into the practice of architecture, and maybe the exploration of a global practice were tested through this project into a real building. And of course, it was a huge personal experience.’ Rem Koolhaas, one of the original members of a jury that included Arata Isozaki and Toyo Ito, stated after its completion that the competition deliberations took a fascinating turn: in a jury divided between professionals (architects, planners) and non-professional members, it was the non-professional section that insisted on two key elements: uniqueness – the project had to be a landmark – and adventure – the project had to be an architectural experiment. Emboldened by this spirit, the winning design the jury selected, corresponds to the two criteria: It is unique (there never has been a pier like it), and it is architecturally an experiment: an investigation in a new, more fluent way of organizing flows – no longer ‘everything put in its place’ but a freer language that can make the familiar exciting again. 9 The association between the circulatory logic and the structural origami is extraordinarily important for the project, as it brings the structure and the circulation system together to form a complex whole, effectively achieving the primary goal of making the circulation directly affect the spatial definition. FOA call their strategy a surface-complex architecture. The project can be seen as an Input-output device : less a gate and more a field of movements. The architects worked under two auspices: 1. a circulation logic “the no-return diagram”. 2. a formal logic :the building should NOT appear in the skyline – avoid the building becoming a sign.

An organization that hybridizes pure enclosure with a topography turning the project into a flat building. And eventually turning the building into a ground.10 A building without stairs or columns.

Origami inspirations.

Structure out of a warped system


Zaera& Moussavi, 2002



London, UK Competition: 2003 Completed 2010

The Political Envelope Ravensbourne College

Many architects tend to remove themselves from the world of politics because it might not be the safest or most lucrative environment to take a stance, and in their readings of architecture theory (such as Deleuze & Guattari), built projects tend to be biased towards Bergosian and Spinozian rather than Marxian interpretations. Yet recently, Foreign Office Architects have introduced into their agenda a social aspect to the Deleuzian concepts of ‘smooth space’ and the ‘fold’ into the program for Ravensbourne College at North Greenwich Station in London (completed 2010). Zaera-Polo, one of the FOA chief architects, embraces this vein of thought that architecture’s role is to position itself within the complexities of contemporary culture so as to ‘manipulate’ it from the inside. The brief for the project is one where ‘ space, technology and time will work together to create a new and flexible learning landscape that will support ongoing expansion and exchange, as well as narrowing the gap between an education and industry experience’. Zaera-Polo argues for the power of the rhizomatic heterachies within the programming of the building all the way from starway circulation through to the symbolism, iconographies and architectural language found in entirely detached facades- architectural envelopes that are ‘freed from the technical constraints that previously required cornices, pediments, corners and fenestration- where all of their structural function is removed’ . The membrane becomes a mechanism for “political expression”. In this project, architecture is used to produce the spatial complement of a ‘learning landscape’ designed around patterns of circulation, connectivity and informality. In this project, the contect is fundamentally simplified down to a form. The building bends to acknowledge the neighbouring O2 Arena. Aside from this, it is introspective. FOA tried to interalize the activities by putting up a facade that scatters and distorts. It has very little to do with its geographical context. The tiling pattern is borrowed from tradtional Islamic architecture and the motif is modified parametrically to fabricate the seemingly randomly assembled facade. However the problem remains – how any architecture which makes a strategic allegiance with the market, even when it at the same time disavows the market’s practices and tries to critique it, can be progressive or advanced, in other ways than just advancing the cause of the generalization of the market form itself. How can the architect serve the interest of the greater good, rather than just the greater good of the market economy?


Istanbul, Turkey Completed 2007


public space



The Ground-Shed Meydan shopping square Meydan is more than a commercial property. Its transparent structure, and its adaptation to the topography create an artificial landscape where it is a pleasure to be. The center of this ensemble of shops, cafes, restaurants and movie theater complex is like the piazza of a central European town that has grown over centuries.The roof of the complex is extensively covered with vegetation, and some parts can even be walked on, creating a small park. In the middle of the square is a water feature that has a fountain in summer, and can be used as an attractive skating rink in winter. Meydan is Turkish for a market place or meeting place. Since the “Meydan” opened in Istanbul in late summer, as the first ever “shopping square,” it heralds a new generation of shopping centers. It is the green center and the soul of a newly created district of the city on the Bosporus.The square can also be used for other sporting events like beach volleyball or inline skating, and maybe even for Turkish weddings. The bright terracotta-red of the floor slabs reflects the natural color of the red loam earth in this area.The edges of the square are vertically bordered by a continuous glass skin, behind which the store operators can show their wares towards the square. Daylight floods into the shops through the extensive glass areas, and the shops are visually open to the square.The highest point of the shopping center is the movie theater complex; its perforated brick façade can be seen as a landmark from afar and is also lit up at night. Text from developer, Metro Group Asset Management

structural logic

situational plan



Bibliography Allen, Stan (2002) Mat Urbanism: The Thick 2D. In Sarkis, Hashim CASE: Le Corbusier’s Venice Hospital and the Mat Building Revival. Prestel pp 118-126 Cache, Bernard et. al. Phylogenesis: Foa's Ark. Barcelona: Actar, 2003. Print. Cohn, David. Young Spanish Architects/ Junge Spanische Architekten. Basil: Birkhäuser, 2000. Print. Jencks, Charles. The Scottish Parliament. London: Scala, 2005. Print. Jencks, Charles. “Identity Parade: Miralles and the Scottish Parliament: On the Architectural Territories of the EMBT/RMJM Parliament Building.” Architecture Today 154 (2005): 32-44. Print. Miralles, Enric, and Miralles Benedetta. Tagliabue. Enric Miralles: Works and Projects, 1975-1995. New York: Monacelli, 1996. Print. Miralles, Enric, and Benedetta Taliabue. EMBT: Enric Miralles, Benedetta Tagliabue : Work in Progress. Barcelona: Actar, 2004. Print. Miralles, Enric, and Benedetta Tagliabue. Enric Miralles: Mixed Talks. London: Academy Editions, 1995. Print. Smithson, Alison. “How to Recognise and Read Mat-Building: Mainstream Architecture as It Has Developed Towards the Mat-building.” Architectural Design, September 1974. Zabalbeascoa, Anatxu. Igualada Cemetery: Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós. London: Phaidon, 1996. Print. Zaera, Alejandro & Farshid Moussavi, and Albert Ferré. The Yokohama Project. Barcelona: Actar, 2002.


Research Paper  
Research Paper  

Complex Context 2012 Diagrams of Operativity