For the City from the City

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The Architectural Association City Cultures Research Cluster 2008/2010 FOR THE CITY. FROM THE CITY. Chris Lee and Sam Jacoby To define a position on the city as architects is to make a claim for architecture’s relevance for the city. Our position is concerned firstly with the contemporary city as the overt site for new architectural knowledge and secondly, with the conjectural impulse of architectural experimentation to produce ideas for the city. This ambition to re-empower the architect in the context of architectural production in/of the city is founded on the realisation of three crises facing both the profession and academia. First, the relentless speed and colossal scale of urbanisation of cities today has resulted in a condition whereby both the profession and academia merely respond to these rapid changes and challenges in retrospect and in a fragmentary piece-meal fashion. Secondly, the form of urbanisation in emerging cities and the reconstruction of existing cities have departed tangentially from the Western models of centralised organisation and planning. The separation between architecture and urban planning into segregated domains has left both disciplines impotent to deal with the ruptured, decentralised and fast changing context. Lastly, the resultant architecture of this urbanisation, fuelled by the market economy, further marginalises the disciplinary knowledge of architecture to only serve the regime of difference in search of novelty. Thus, the architect’s growing inability to confidently and comprehensively describe, conceptualise, theorise and ultimately project any new ideas of the city must be confronted. To do this, we propose three hypotheses: 1. The city is embodied in its Dominant Types. From Cerda’s housing blocks of Barcelona, Georgian and Victorian terraces of London to the skyscrapers of Manhattan, cities can be understood, described, conceptualised and theorised through their own peculiar dominant types. Through Rossi, we learn that a singular building as an element of ‘permanence’ is able to act as the repository of a city’s history, construction and form within its type. For Rossi, type is independent of function and therefore pliable as the city’s repository. Thus, to understand these types, is to understand the city itself. This possibility of conceptualising and theorising a city through a singular dominant type that is an expression of particular cultural conditions also led Koolhaas to mythologise New York as the ‘culture of congestion’ - all embodied within the Down Town Athletic Club. Here, the skyscraper is recast as the apotheosis of metropolitan culture, a building type made up of a stack of autonomous, richly varied programs coexisting in a singular tower that is made possible by the introduction of the elevator. Today, the reliance on a singular type to envision and brand new cities is evident in the iconic high-rises of Dubai and Shanghai. Here, the dominant type (high-rise) is no longer utilised or valued as a formative element of the city, but is deployed to lubricate the marketing machinery of capitalism where novelty and excess is the prerequisite for a city’s global status. These value and historically free dominant types mirror the culture of the global city, where the homogenising culture of global capitalism finds its expression in the iconic high-rise - generic yet differentiated through value free formal redundancy. Thus, the culture of the city and its raison d'être finds its ultimate expression in the dominant type(s), which have contextually specific cultural, political and economic characteristics. 2. Type is the operative disciplinary knowledge of the city. With building types being the elemental part of the city and the dominant types the architectural embodiment of the city’s culture(s), typology as a method for architectural reasoning and experimentation for the city forms the disciplinary knowledge of architecture. Working typologically is to consider, evaluate and to project in series, by harnessing the cumulative intelligence of types. This process involves precedents, repetition, differentiation and the evolution of the type to instigate a typological change. The reinvention of architecture within typological changes involves a critical reasoning for the qualitative change and the syntactic modulation of the deep structure of type to achieve inclusive pliability that engages with the complexity of today’s cities. The manner in which type utilises the diagram as an indexical tool makes it both diagnostic and prognostic. Its goal is not to search for novel forms or shapes through diagrammatic abstraction but to harness the intelligence of the deep structure of types towards new typological solutions. Working analytically and projectively with precedents relies on a body of knowledge that is coherent, systematic and repeatable, thus constituting a disciplinary knowledge that enables architecture to operate in the context of the city. 3. The city is the overt site for architectural knowledge. Besides the question of the empowerment of the architect our interest in the city also lies in its potential to offer ideas for the reinvention of architecture. The ideas of the city, once conceptualised, can be abstracted and transposed as architectural ideas. This is evident in Rossi’s seminal works, the Gallaratese housing and

Modena Cemetery, where the idea of the city is understood through a singular architectural artifact. That is to say, the dominant type is and can still be a mnemonic structure for the city. Rossi’s idea of the city rest in his assertion that the city can and should be understood through its architecture as a whole and that the city is a gigantic cumulative construction over time, embodying its history and memory. He cites Palazzo della Ragione in Padua as an example of an architectural artifact and architecture of ‘permanence’, able to absorb different uses through time. This suggests that its deep structure (structural elements that gives rise to organization) is independent of function and is an element of permanence in the city. This reading of the city enabled Rossi to use the fragments of the city or historical urban archetypes as set pieces for a present context, denying a linear and singular historical narrative and meaning and yet maintaining an ambiguous continuity with the historical city. This is evident in his use of typical tenement housing as columbaria and ossuary in the extension for Modena Cemetery and the exaggerated porticos in Gallaratese housing. In these two projects, the reduction and repetition of typical elements and the stripping away of commonly associated functions to the building type in question, enables an architecture that is able to contain new functions, embodies new meaning and associations and yet maintaining a continuity with history. Similarly, the seminal section of the Downtown Athletic Club became the didactic diagram for Koolhaas’ subsequent projects where the traditional clarity of the figure/ground and building/city idea is recast as an architectural idea based on the denial of the ground. In these projects, the neat divisions between functional zoning, site and building, ground, solids and voids, are dismantled to conjure up the culture of congestion. Similarly, emerging cities today offer us many fertile ideas to rethink normative architectural ideas. Be it the possibility that a single dominant type as a punctuator that is independent of intended programmatic effectiveness could regenerate a city through excessive novelty and contextual contrast, as in the case of Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao. Or, in the example of the airport as a type that has mutated and expanded to a city in its own right. The Aerotropolis offers, among many others, an idea of architecture as a new type of mat building, a type with extreme flatness, and depth of programmatic diversity - a hyper-large architecture as a city. To surmise, the idea of the city and the idea of architecture are interchangeable and transposable if the city is understood and conceptualised through its dominant type(s). It is this constant engagement with the city through the disciplinary knowledge of architecture, via type, that will enable architects to ultimately answer the question ‘why architecture?’

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