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“The city no longer represents the system, but becomes the system itself, programmed and isotropic, and within it the various functions are contained homogeneously, without contradictions.”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.
The concept of revivalism in architecture is not a new one. It has returned time and time again as architects try to capture the purities and order of the past. Then reflecting these ideologies through modern detailing and materials. Living and working in Omaha I had the opportunity to visit multiple Midwest cities this summer I began to find a common theme or vernacular expressing itself within the urban fabric. Newly constructed buildings were designed to resemble old industrial buildings. Formal proportions were not met however the detailing of the projects reflected a turn of the century building that had been updated into trendy lofts and office space.
The desire for these midwestern cities to be constructing buildings such as these pose a unique question. Why is there a desire to reflect industrial buildings within our cities?
I believe the answer to this is rooted in history. American Modernism in accordance to urban planning and the future of our cities was filled with false promises. In Lebbeus Wood's Blog post "Haunted" he discusses the ghost of American modernism.
"It is the ghost of a once-upon-a-time promise of a better life for everyone, a promise that never delivered. The convenience stores sell junk food that makes us fat. The service station dispenses endless fuel for our gas-guzzlers poisoning the atmosphere. The franchise restaurant is everywhere but belongs nowhere. The pawn shop may be easy, but it reminds us of our, and others’, desperation. The promise haunts us and its ghost lingers at the edges of night, dreamlike and restless. Then we come to the little-illuminated house. How cheerful it is! But the ghost is there, too, mocking our optimism and good cheer."
Modernism promised us grandeur and cities of the future so much that the public, city officials, city planners, and architects bought in. We went as far as pushing "city regeneration" projects to level entire city blocks. In Omaha, the destruction of Jobbers Canyon was supposed to give way to a mix used downtown regeneration that included a marina, office space, and public connection to the river. Instead, the city received a Conagra office campus and a chlorinated pond contaminated to the point that fish are unable to survive. All located 100 ft from the Missouri river connected by a singular bridge. In Minneapolis, city officials leveled over 40% of the central business district in the name of "regeneration". Only to leave behind a vacant city with 40% more parking lots and abandoned lots in the urban core.
The concept of Industrial Revival is a reaction of these failures. It is an unconscious decision that is driving the demand for these buildings. As a culture, we understand the gravity of what we have done to our cities. We understand the great loss and gap in history that was created by our futuristic ideals. However, there seems to be a desire to recreate the past and hold onto the beginning roots that originally created these cities. The hallucinogenic cloud created by the recreation of these brick buildings brings forth a false sense of security and reminiscent past of the good old days. Blinding us from the reality that our cities are growing exponentially with a constant influx of people, culture, technology, and money.
Industrial Revival will no doubt continue and slowly fill in the gaps of our cities as we push for more walkable and livable cities and downtown cores. While I believe in creating these livable cities I question the motives and theory behind Industrial Revival as an architectural movement and aid on the side of caution. These projects should stand as a reminder or memorial to what was or could have been. They remind us of the lessons we learned from American Modernism and their lessons should be used to build and construct more meaningful cities. However, this movement should not define the future of our cities it should not act as a band-aid or reflection of the past. It is an unconscious response to the wrath of American Modernism. The ghosts that have been suppressed by the construction of these buildings will not be fully dissolved until we learn and focus on creating a definitive vision for Midwestern cities.