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<nettime> re:THINK architecture
bc on Fri, 28 Feb 2003 11:42:45 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> re:THINK architecture

re:THINK architecture

[...while waiting for former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani to weigh-in on the
WTC decision, as he is one of the few people, (public official at that)  
who has intelligently addressed the issues surrounding the rebuilding

It has been a strange day, one with a great sense of loss and yet a
groundedness in where things are at, in this space, place, and time.  
This, in regard to today's official WTC design study outcome, with Studio
Daniel Libeskind being chosen by the Mayor of NYC and the Governor of New
York, over that of the choice of the LMDC panel they appointed, who backed
the THINK plan. It should be noted that I thought the THINK plan a more
open, democratic, intriguing, and 21st century architecture. As
architecture, it wins, hands-down. Though, on an emotional level, Studio
Libeskind's design obviously resonates with many. Yet, if considering what
the WTC event brought into question, it should be obvious that this is
still an open-question, and will remain so, until things change. And what
these things are, these are questions. Some are architectural...

THINKs architecture attempted to ask questions that may be unanswerable in
the allotted time-frame. What is a World Cultural Center? Et cetera.  
Only today could I begin to grok what it might be- but it was after a
deeper interrogation of the architecture, trying to understand what I saw
and felt in the design, which was familiar yet enigmatic, dissonant yet
consonant. Maybe it is the word 'world', and not 'global', that's my
latest guess. Meaning, world culture has transformed into a type of global
culture, and culture is, in itself, many many things, many programs,
activities, and ideas. How to make that idea bounded and concrete is
similar to modeling particle physics before all of the equations have come
in. Yes, I thought today, feeling deflated for unknown reasons: there is
global culture, it is in film, in music, in architecture, in writing, in
art, in economics, in trade, in food, in language, in many events, in many
ways. To see, then, THINKs scaffolding (not skeletal) towers with, say, a
screen facade with a movie playing in it, having the reverse image
illuminate the area, or some of these programs occupying this strange
inverted space- it began making sense to me.

Whatever the case, Studio Libeskind has 'won' the 'competition', or
rather, has succeeded in prevailing in the architectural design study of
the WTC. Though, I would wager that architecturally, THINKs entry will be
considered a winner also, for different reasons, and with different
intents. This e-mail will attempt to convey why this is so, as something
odd has happened. Nothing larger than 9/11 could come into an architect's
focus, to cause one to requestion their basic assumptions about
architecture and the world. From students to educators to professionals to
organizations to lay people. And, there may be positives in the attention
given to architecture, its loss, its aesthetic importance, its value both
sacred and profane, its moment of glory, but also its absolute silence. At
a time when there could be a major change in the field, in the profession,
and in the discipline- in the mind's of people- about the basic
architectural question- what has resulted is a type of complacency or some
type of resolve that this is as good as it gets, as far as it goes, all
that can be done. There is little talk of evolution, revolution, or
change. Things are mostly the same, within architecture. Though,
perceptions of architecture have changed, have the perceptions of today's
and tomorrow's architects? Not yet.

In competition architectures of the past there have been glaringly obvious
examples of where time shifts are occurring between the past and a
different future- beaux art designs for early airports are one example,
where an Italian or French classical garden and villa would become the
template for the first aircraft hangers, air-'ports' and landing and
take-off strips. A type, like most other architectures, was approximated
over decades of refinement and experiment and continues to be refined
today, based on those ideas. The question for the first airports must have
been centered around dealing with the airplanes place in the environment
and culture. But what is this now more traditional question compared with
that of 9/11? Is it even the same type of questioning?

The destruction of the World Trade Center towers and complex, now known as
'ground zero' on the date of 9/11/2001 could be considered a type of
discourse in which anti-architectural forces 'unbuilt' an idea, through
force, fury, destruction, and catastrophic power. The event in which
thousands of lives were lost, and tens of thousands more directly
affected, was carried out by an architect named Atta, and a builder named
bin Laden. For people in the realm of architecture, this could become a
deeply personal attack, as the meaning of the events are ever more
personalized through the subversion of architecture into an act of
destruction and warfare and terrorism. Architecture is not benign, and
architectural ethics, not assured. Yet, post 9/11, very little questioning
in the field itself has occurred, outside of a popularly proscribed
resolution of all the issues, all the questions, and to move on, as things
were, vacation...

The architect, and architecture, has failed in its duty to take this
moment and challenge the current methods prevailing in the discipline and
industry, to open up questioning and to ask how things can be done better-
not by refining and defending a mythical traditionalism but through
engaging the present and what is left out of current theories, practices,
agendas, actions, and abilities of people, in the realm of architecture,
through architecture, and by architecture, to question and rearrange and
re-engage and re-think the processes and programs and educational system
upon which this event of 9/11 has met the institution. Education is about
questioning, and learning from things that work and do not work,
acknowledging different vantages that are valid, and trying to work thru
the complexity to a greater understanding of events. The voices of
educators, of students, of organizations, institutes, and architects
though have been, in a sense, quite traditional about this spectacular
architectural question. It is not another event, it is an epoch defining
moment- and the architectural community has, thus far, been strangely
silent and regressive in its ability to address even the most basic of
today's issues. A well known educator has even stated that 9/11 is too
much for architectural students to deal with. This is the past.
Architecture is greater than architects. And education, greater than
administrators, teachers, and programs which may help in limiting

What is needed, now, and continuing, is to question and to experiment with
the ideas of events such as those of 9/11 in lower Manhattan. To do this
will require a change in the mind's of architects, and a change in
institutions, as significant as that which was brought about by the
Bauhaus and its educators.

Today, educational factories produce design form-makers and mediate
experience in primarily aesthetic, and highly-subjective, judgments.  
Often, ideas can be translated in this language, and yet, like with
language, a lot can be written which is unoriginal, uninspiring, or not
fitting for its praise and grandeur. In contrast, so too, sometimes an
idea of building can be written so clearly that it becomes invisible to
the present tense, it works its way in the channels of memory and dreams,
and needs time to be appreciated and understood. It is complex and yet
self-evident, it is odd and yet has gravitas. As architecture. As an idea
communicated architecturally. In this way, the THINK proposal for
'ground-zero' (or, not 'ground zero' but whatever may indicate the
following commonalty) questioned an event that is both unique and yet will
likely be shared by more and more people, in more and more ways, and how
to deal with this in terms of a people, and an architecture, with
different ideas, working together, in an abstract realm where certainty is
never-present yet certitude that something needs to be done is. Every
architectural student should graduate being capable of addressing issues
such as 9/11 through architectural skill and imagination. None should
graduate, nor should any teach, who allow the discipline to turn its back
on this most basic, complex, and vital of questions.

The proposal by Studio Libeskind answered the question of 9/11. The
proposal by THINK questions 9/11 by questioning architecture, and goes
beyond form-making, beyond simplistic understandings, and sheds
false-complexities for actualities. All the while, dreaming, remembering,
trying something new-- that is, changing. Challenging.  Going beyond, to
question, to requestion, and rethink the question.

This rethinking of architecture is what caught me. Enough so that the
troubles of the architectural 'competition' could be put aside, and this
questioning could be considered, and though vague, even after the decision
is made I believe the future of the architectural discipline will be found
in THINKs shared work, not as a specific object, but as a way to question
architecture, events, and ideas - through a process and programming -- and
importantly, an educational dimension, with cooperative efforts, for a
common end (or, new beginning).

Okay, who's going to believe this? I wouldn't. Until the architectural
ideas started to begin. Then, at least it could be a conversation, maybe
this is all or partly wrong or misguided, trying to find meaning where
none exists (counter to conjuring arbitrary meaning through
false-finitudes). Yet, the architecture began to fascinate. I was never a
fan of towers, but concessions aside, there is something very interesting
going on in THINKs project, as I see it. So in an attempt to describe
this, I drew an four-part image, temporarily located at:

rethinking architecture (215k)

For awhile now I've been considering the THINK building in typological
terms, not as a 'ground zero' replacement architecture, as much as an idea
that has resulted from questioning, which may or may not relate to such
future events, but which relates to present day city and urban issues in a
unique and inventive way similar to a building system, a hybrid type (yes,
maybe not a reinvention of the skyscraper, but a morphing of types or
functions or something, what- I am still not sure...)... It has been a bit
maddening as there is an 'atmospheric' sense that the THINK buildings
have, that, if such a structural scaffolding were to replace an ordinary
building on an ordinary city block, of ordinary or greater or lesser
height, that the building would both 'be' there and 'not be' there, in
that aspects of light, wind, air, sensation, all would be changed, so too
would the inter- and intra-building densities, the relationship between
how buildings relate to one another. Such that, a new building may cast
shadows on an older neighbor, upon its construction. Whereas, the THINK
building would not, in the same sense. It would create more light.

The THINK design has been compared to many things. Maybe there are
specific architectures which this is reminiscent of. Yet, as a building
system, a type of structural scaffolding with infrastructures of
transportation, communication, and energy built in, and its programmed
forms suspended or attached to this superstructure, floating or hanging or
hovering - whatever these may be - they seem to me to question the
relation- more specifically- the separation of the structure from the form
of a building. I don't even know what this means, as in a way it is beyond
my understanding. It may be something very common, and yet for me it goes
beyond modernism and blob-architectures, as it is a building-system which
is open, experimental, and can be used typologically to address many
questions which are presently ripe for investigation. No, this is not
another Pompidou Center or Eiffel Tower or Hayden Planetarium on gigantic
stilts. Though it has similarities, it may be an architectural idea
without a finite, or final form. As if it is lifed, through a challenge,
and the THINK project has emerged out of these forces, and for the right
reasons, and with the right questions, and now it is up for others to take
it further, to go beyond where things reside, and to begin to reTHINK
architecture through education.

The first drawing (1) is an Axon-Plan which attempts yet fails to
demonstrate in a diagrammatic drawing an atmospheric effect of an
open-building structure inside a dense city grid. And how public and
private space and place could be transformed by this built experience.

Drawing two (2) is a Section-Elevation which places a THINK-like building
system between two existing buildings. It could be one way that such a
system could be integrated with surrounding buildings, horizontally and
vertically, with different building programs, say a bank headquarters and
a cultural building, at the same time as offering public and private areas
between various networks.

The third (3) drawing is a City-Elevation of this new building typology,
which is reminiscent of an oil refinery with its shapes and scaffolds. It
is meant to demonstrate how the THINKbuilding system could transform a
limited 4-dimensional understanding of architecture, perceived mostly in 2
dimensions, into a greater experiential and conceptual understanding of
vertical and horizontal space, time, and place making. The THINK question
that stays with me is as significant as that of relativity, in that
gravity may make the ground plane primary, but its access and
architectures relationship to it need not be so tied to it-- which
conceptually is the closest thing I've come to considering the equivalent
of the ISS (International Space Station) on Earth-- that is, a modular
structure which is tied to a framework and yet has the ability to be
modified, by design. This is to say, solar panels could pop up on a
scaffolding structure.  Like in vertical construction, special elevators
for this building system, and stairways, could be designed, experimented
with, standardized, and replicated for use in similar building systems.
The role of elevators, bridges, walkways, connectivity, revitalization,
development, and other issues are requestioned through architectural form,
but it is in-formation, and information is needed to better understand
that the THINK proposal has brought with it something unusual, that may be
evident years later, and inspirational in the same sense, if not practical
in ways unforeseen.

The fourth (4) drawing is a closeup of what such a THINKbuilding may look
like, in modified designs, mutations, by others. As a basic building
system of structural scaffoldings holding forms, it may only need two
sides and a third support for buildings/forms which span a traditional
rectilinear footprint. External corners could be used for utilities and
infrastructure, and forms within the scaffolding could be modular yet
interdependent, designed at various phases, for different programs,
self-contained and yet interconnected. Access, and security, may come from
such buildings being 'near' other buildings, for both vertical and
horizontal access (egress) and thus, issues such as 'height' may not be
detrimental to issues of safety should open, horizontal access become
available. This inter-building and intra-building connectivity, at the
level of programming of a building, its development, its feasibility, is
interesting in that the building literally exists beyond itself as a piece
of real-estate. Not as a specific work, but as a way to raise the value of
the built environment around itself, through light, transformation of
experiences, and connectivities that have previously been inaccessible to
humans in their built environments.

In all, in my mind THINK has won the 'design study' by actually
questioning, to a significant degree, architecture as it presently exists,
and its most basic assumptions of space, place, and time.  Whereas Studio
Libeskind has done quite the opposite, and to significant effect. Maybe
they are both 'right' in their own ways. And yet, for architecture, it is
in its rethinking, and the rethinking of the education of architects, to
address past, present, and future 'ground zeros', be they razed
communities or districts after dirty-bomb attacks- that our architects and
our culture needs to be able to address, in all of its real everyday
complexities, without turning its back. It is hoped that whatever comes of
the WTC architectural events, the primary result is a questioning of the
discipline of architecture, and its current system of education which has
failed to embrace and engage and challenge the traditional mindset. If
those architects who had their chance to change the questioning were now
to open it further up to the profession, the organizations, institutions,
and educators - to the core of the discipline, and for this realm to bring
itself into greater question-- through democratic actions no less-- and to
search for new and different ways of approaching recurring questions, to
allow fuzziness and approximations, if they may lead to break-throughs,
and to nurture the architectural imagination, again, to open it up to
ideas beyond yesterday's conceptual limitations, individual limitations,
and to bring it into the present-- then this opportunity will not have
been wasted. By rethinking architecture, culture can be reimagined, and
rebuilt. And peace can triumph over destruction, and the battle against
entropy, of whatever cause, can be embraced by architects of this very
present momentum.


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