I really do not have any answers to these questions that I am about to pose, but I think they are starting to take center stage as thesis research is ongoing. The relevance of the “Italian Radicals” in my thesis has really come up as way of thinking and commenting on architecture and society in different ways. Archizoom, Archigram, UFO Studio, and more all went about it in different ways. Archizoom has specifically been relevant because though my early research I was trying to understand how to describe the generic nature of cities and articulate some understanding of why. No-Stop City creates a world that modernism’s goal is the elimination of architecture. They use the tools and ideas of modernism to then critique it.
The following are two excerpts from No-Stop City by Andrea Branzi.
“The only place where The Factory Model and the Consumption Model are identified is the Supermarket. This is the real yardstick model of the future city and consequently of reality as a whole: homogeneous Utopian structure, private functionality, rational sublimation of Consumption. Maximum result for minimum effort”
“The city no longer represents the system, but becomes the system itself, programmed and isotropic, and within it the various functions are contained homogeneously, without contradictions.”
I think these two excerpts are pretty powerful and they open the door to a lot of discussion about cities now. Pier Vittorio Aureli hints at the first one many times in his writings about capitalism and architecture. In his writing, The Domino-Problem: Questioning the Architecture of Domestic Space he states the Le Corbusier’s domino house is the moment when industrialization overtook architecture (see other blog). I do think talking about the ideas of “maximum results for minimum effort” are being severely overlooked in the world today. That is a capitalist principle at its core, yet architecture design, architecture process, and every aspect of society has embraced it while seemingly attempting to question the impacts of capitalism within our society. I think by making these ties between Aureli and Archizoom it is clear that something within architecture discourse on its role within the city is no adding up. I think it is safe to ask questions like, how does that impact architecture’s role within the city today?
In the next excerpt I see two words, “homogeneous” and “contradiction”. Contradiction, to me, is one of the most important words in architecture. It seems like architecture and architects have no way to even articulate some way to address the contradictions within architecture and society. Those contradictions lead to major issues within the field because architecture claims one thing but does another. When it comes to homogeneous, I equate that to “generic”. Generic is not a new term, but I think it is an easy way to describe the majority of architecture within cities (whether that is good or bad is not the current question). Archizoom takes those ideas of a homogeneous city and proposes it on an endless scale. I think now (in a very general way because this is becoming longer than intended) I have established some terms and ways to describe processes, design, and the market within the city. So, what does this mean for the city now?
I am starting to wonder about a connection between the domestication of the work place and “hyper-programming” of the workplace within tech campuses and that ideology that goes along with startups with the city as a whole. The domestication of the work place is really meant to blur the lines between work and life. Life becomes work and work becomes life, convenience. That ideology is trickling into our urban space with Apple branding themselves as “town squares”. Public space becomes commerce space (private space) and commerce space becomes public space. When it comes to the ideology of Silicon Valley, they want to remove all contradiction and complexity with a yes or a no (0 or 1). An app is designed to solve a problem and its viability is contingent on it solving said problem. Apps view the world as complex, but believe that they can solve for it with convenience. Maximum result with minimum effort could be found in every product description from Silicon Valley. In that sense, architecture is attempting to interact directly with that world, but has realized its viability is only based on a response of yes or no. Does the building have 200 units, 1200 sf of leasable space, and a coffee shop? Is the generic nature of the city the outcome of architecture’s only option to cover for the shortcomings of architecture against a dynamic city full of contractions? To me right now it seems to be. I think there will be larger questions of place and identity asked within these topics but this seems to frame a new crisis. Archizoom targeted modern architecture for its critique and I think this critique targets the architecture of the last twenty years (maybe post Rem and OMA’s Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large). There is a claim of a set of ideals, values, and a future vision, but there has been no creation of a new way forward, just falling in line with “maximum result with minimum effort”.
- Alex Moore
Branzi, Andrea. 2006. No Stop City- Archizoom. Orleans: HXY.
Vittorio Aureli, Pier. Winter 2014. "The Domino Problem: Questioning the Architecture of Domestic Space." Anyone 153-168.
0.2_The City of Nothing
"The elephant in the room here is that in the last thirty years we have lacked a theory of the city. The city has been mapped, discussed, debated, exhibited, and photographed, but not theorized. So now we finally understand why, as early as 1997, Albert Pope opened hos book with the notion that THE CONTEMPORARY CITY IS INVISIBLE. It is invisible simply because we lack a theory; we lack urban conceptions through which we can actively think the city." - Pier Vittorio Aureli
As I have gone through my process I started basing many of my original notions off of reading by Rem Koolhaas. Over the summer that research has progressed and I am starting to put the pieces together with a few architects and urban theorists that begin to overlap on the same types of ideas that I am beginning to have with this project. These writers, Rem Koolhaas, Lars Lerup, Pier Vittorio Aureli, Albert Pope, and Michael Sorkin (to some extent) all are asking questions of the city that have gone unasked. I think their approach is very unique (it goes back to the process that I keep questioning) because they are writing about the city with an awareness of the issues that came from the moment when architecture and urban design broke away from each other. This is important because it no long makes assumptions about architecture's place in the city. Generally they are all against this split, but others quickly assume architecture and the man made environment as the preeminent feature within the urban realm. For me, I am starting to believe that that is not the case either. While I do not know exactly why, I do believe that there is a reason that some of their most timeless writings on the city happened in the mid 90s and early 2000s. My guess is that they were beginning to understand the real consequences of postwar development and the beginning globalization had done and what it was about to do to the contemporary city. Pier Vittorio Aureli does not only say that the city is invisible, but he also says we lack urban conceptions though which we can actively think about the city (which seems like more of a severe indictment on architecture itself). In a simple way I have thought of my studies as "understanding architecture's position within the political and economical realm", but that is assuming that architecture exists there at all. Albert Pope's Ladders may have significantly changed the trajectory for me. The idea of architecture and design being an engine for social, economic, political, and cultural change still exists, but right now it comes from a superficial approach because we do not have a way to actually conceptualize and understand the city. Rem's What Ever Happened to Urbanism and The Generic City ring truer than ever. It is time to attempt to revisit these ideas 20 years later. There is a paragraph in Whatever Happened to Urbanism that still inspires me to chase these ideas.
"If there is to be a "new urbanism" it will not be based on the twin fantasies of order and omnipotence; it will be the staging of uncertainty; it will no longer be concerned with the arrangement of more or less permanent objects but with the irrigation of territories with potential; it will not longer aim for stable configurations but for the creation of enabling field that accommodates processes that refuse to be crystallized into definite form; it will no longer be about meticulous definition, the imposition of limits, but about expanding notions, denying boundaries, not about separating and identifying entities, but about discovering unnameable hybrids."
There is a lot there, but it is one of the most optimistic outlooks on what a city can be for people. The key to it became clear when reading Ladders, because it is not saying that better architecture is the key, actually it is more aligned with Albert Pope in asking architecture to take a secondary role in the environment. To me its no longer about asking questions about "how to better revitalize a neighborhood?" or "how to masterplan the perfect mix use development?" or even the environemntal sustainability issues of the time. Those are important, do not get me wrong, but for this project right now it is really asking about what the city has become and what it could be, the rest is just details.
0.3_How to Make a Project About Nothing?
"It is not built form which characterizes the city but the immense spaces over which form has no control."- Albert Pope
Albert Pope's main argument in Ladders is that postwar development of the city (centripetal and closed) has caused the contemporary city to disappear. He bases his argument off of the implosion of the grid structure that lead to closed and isolated development throughout the city and into the suburbs. This is a good place to start because the grid is foundational. Delirious New York is supposed to be organized and understood as a grid when reading it and the entire book can trace itself back to understanding architecture within the grid of Manhattan. As the grid disappears, the city does too. As the mass production of space within our environment grows (freeways, malls, atrium, etc), urban activity is censured. Inhibiting cultural and social activity has created a city of nothing. Koolhaas's "culture of congestion" and the spontaneous nature of the city begin to align with these same ideas of closed off cities.
I have begun to buy into the idea of the invisible city and control and censorship that the postwar city places on its people. I do not have the answer yet of where this goes, but I do think that it starts with the grid. It think it is time to attempt to conceptualize architecture as a more dynamic piece of our environment instead of slow and stagnant. It is time to throw away the preconceived notions of the separations of architecture and urbanism. It is time to question the process and do accept the outcome as the ultimate truth, but as piece to a larger puzzle of understanding. The canvas continues to become more and more blank when thinking about the city.
Primary Working Research
Ladders- Albert Pope
Delerious New York- Rem Koolhaas
S, M, L, XL- Rem Koolhaas
The City as a Project- Pier Vittorio Aureli
After the City- Lars Lerup
All Over the Map- Michael Sorkin
Exquisite Corpse- Michael Sorkin
Learning from Las Vegas- Robert Venturi+Denise Scott Brown
Omaha will provide a great opportunity to experiment with these ideas, and I think the direction of the current thought continue to fit the city as a site perfectly. The main reason is the distinct difference between the pre and postwar city. Also, current downtown design discussions, the Conagra campus site, Crossroads Mall, the endless suburbs, and more will provide a wide range of opportunity for experimentation and speculation.
0.1_The Generic City
To lead this off I want to start with Rem Koolhaas’s Generic City, which is in his book Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large. Admittedly, this was not the first major Rem reading that I did in this process, but it felt like the one that really could be the main foundation for an idea. The main reason why is because it is exhaustively comprehensive when describing what he calls “the Generic City”, and another reason was that it felt like there were characteristics that described Omaha (which I will get to later).
The Generic City is simply Rem understanding what the city is now. It has become a placeless and paranoid machine of repetitive production of form supported by sprawling infrastructure. The Generic City tries to create an identity, but the more that happens the more cities are universally similar. Identity and history are where the Generic City becomes the clearest. The city can become whatever it needs to be for whatever time it exists in. The market drives the production of space, but understand that only happens in the certain parts of the city. Historic preservation only happens on a superficial level, but once you experience the “revitalization”, identity and place dissolves quickly.
I am not really here to describe the reading verbatim, and even if that was the point of this blog it would not do any good because the reading itself is generic. It describes place, yet is based off of no place. To me, the generic city is the abandonment of the idea that architecture is urban design and a tool in strengthening social structures within society. I will repeat this often on this blog, but our cities are the manifestation of economic and political forces, and architecture is merely the tool they use to build their reality. Even back in the mid 90’s when Rem writes The Generic City it takes the tone of him forfeiting architecture’s place in society. Every city is looking to build entertainment districts that are anchored by bars and arenas, while surround by the ghosts of the industrial revolution waiting to be reincarnated as high end loft apartments. Do not get me wrong, I like going to these places too, but place, more than ever, is driven by economic output. These places become beacons that continuously rise, decay, and rise again, only connected by infrastructure existing in blank space. We no longer understand the city because we zone the city, and within those zones only a small percentage can be slated for added detail. What happens to the rest of city? That’s easy, it becomes a product of mass production repeating itself for the sake of efficiency, just ask the suburbs. Urban planners (not urban designers) have sucked the life from the city with master plans, design standards, faux preservation, and more. The worst part is designers and architects accepted that as fact.
Being a critic of this does feel a bit obvious and idealistic for someone who is just finishing up architecture school. That being said, I am not sure that this is the fate of the relationship between architecture and the city. When people talk about the future city the conversation revolves around sustainability and technology (smart cities). Those are inevitable truths with the future of advancement, but the conversation stops short of reimagining how to rethink our approach and process as designers of space for people. How can we better understand identity of place? How can we better design for human interaction, efficiency, and safety? I do not believe that policy and standardization is the future of design within our cities. Design is uniquely tooled to create a better future because it can be localized, empathetic, and flexible. The notion that architecture and design does not have a role in this conversation is exactly what has lead to the continued proliferation of the Generic City.
The next step is to better understand what that role was, is, and what it could look like in the future…