Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Concrete Flesh Workshop, part I

I’m on my way to Gothenburg, Sweden, to attend the largest and most ambitious workshop on fabric formwork that I’ve been aware of so far during my interest in fabric formwork. Invited researching architects and structural engineers and 100 students from schools in Scandinavia and England will attend the two week workshop at Chalmers entitled Concrete Flesh.

The more I think about the better I like the term – even if I can’t discuss it with anyone at my office at the contractor’s and keep a somewhat serious appearance – (it’s hard anyway being an architect in those hallways). As the subthemes below indicates, Flesh is related to the structure of the body - seperating the containing and protective skin from the structural bones. Flesh is like matter itself; and from Biblical references discusses becoming of Architecture and its--- resurrection - well...

Unfortunately I couldn't locate an online program to link to but basically the theme is devided into four parallel explorations:

Flesh and Skin - explorations of the concrete surface;
Flesh and Bones - reinforcement and pre tensioning, fibre reinforcement, etc;
Flesh and Creation: the cast vs the designed form, on casting impossible forms in possible formwork;
Flesh and Resurrection: cradle to cradle perspectives tested through reusing concrete.

Tomorrow is the first day of the workshop and will feature lecturers from the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, Canada whom I'm very excited to hear and meet again: Mark West, CAST; Nat Chard, Dean; and Nada Subotincic. 

[Natalija Subotincic, Freud at the Dining Table – Incarnate Tendencies, plexiglass and bone]

I know that Nada has been working with themes on Flesh and bone. Another reference about bones is my old hero Miguel Fisac whose Bone Beams will be featured among these pages soon!

I'll better pack - off to Sweden in the morning. Come to think of it - it's written nowhere that the workshop will include a single piece of fabric... but, hey - Mr West will be there - I'm pretty sure Ms Fabric will too!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Johan's Book of Space

 [Image: cartoon by Jimenez Lai]

At the end of his presentation at Constructing Knowledge Jimenez Lai describes a project or ambition to leave the frames out of his cartoons and let the pages become actual architectural sections – I'm looking forward to seeing future works coming from Lai.

[Image: Book of space, 2009, Johan Hybschmann] 
The image of the frame as the section made me think of a project of architect, Johan Hybschmann who graduated from the Bartlett in London this summer of 2009. In his thesis project the section is a frame, well actually a lasercut perspective image. Hybschmann created an entire book with images lasercut in each page forming a spatial representation of the single, highly choreographed 90-minute shot that is Alexander Sokurov's film Russian Ark. I'd love to see the work irl, it's introduced beautifully here.

Johan once offered me to use the alias Louis Beton (Beton means concrete) which he came up with. Obviously a pun on a certain producer of high end bags. The name also suggests an ambiguity or bastard features that comes when mixing a brand name of a highly exclusive image with that of concrete - the most mondane building material of them all - bound with a cultural image as heavy as - well yeah...

Jimenez Lai - cartoon as a weapon of choice


Jimenez Lai’s presentation at the Constructing Knowledge conference was the very last one but entertaining and thought provoking. Jimenez borrows his title (this and that) from Victor Hugo who claims that Architecture is dead and was killed by the printing press. Jimenez Lai is fighting the aparent uncoolness of architecture outside the academies and claims the cool. Using the power of ideology and narrative methodology, Jimenez draws architectural narratives in graphic novels with sceneries of direct references to architecture theory of fx Rem Koolhaas in this story – the tower of Babel (Delirious New York) in which Central Park is extruded to the limits of the stratosphere.

[Image above: Cartoon by Jimenez Lai]

[Image: Phalanstery Module (2008) designed by Jimenez Lai, Photo by Scott Mayoral ]

Another project is derived from travelling in space for generations in order to get to distant planets where the human race can live...When weightless in space Jimenez considers how plan and sections must constantly change. Jimenez has built a physical model for a capsule for weightlessness during which the object and/or user will rotate and all elevations of an object become plans. As such, all surfaces can be inhabited. The pavillon turns 360 degrees in one hour. Here's Jimenez web site Bureau Spectacular.

Imagine a House - the movie


Joanna Zawieja is a Polish/Swedish architect whose contribution to the conference was a movie screening and a poster about the movie. The 14 minute long movie Imagine a house - investigating narratives of domesticity (2007) was Joanna’s thesis project from the KTH.

Joanna writes this about her movie: “Taking the emergence of the bourgeois interiors in the 19th century and its image-based condition as a starting point, this video looks into the making of the modern home during the early days of British industrialisation. An empty house in East London is the scene. 
   A story of Victorian domesticity is played out in the house where fallen women are trained in the art of homemaking and working class men are taught political consciousness.
   By dissolving the distinction between building and storytelling Imagine a House presents an act of rebuilding, where the story told by each repetition slowly transforms the abandoned house.”
From www.joannazawieja.com 

The movie is beautiful and a nice patchwork of Joanna's voice telling historic facts from her research on the place; bustling sounds from the street; images model shots and stop motion animations. All put together as an intricate weave of before and now.

View the nice movie here in Quick time

Venturi Effect - acquisition of Architectural Knowledge in situ


The poster at Constructing Knowledge by New York based architect and teacher at New Jersey Institute of Technology Matt Burgermaster discusses a not so simple footnote in the 1977 2nd edition of Robert Venturi’s seminal book Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture:

“I have visited  Giovanni Michelucci’s Church of the Autostrada since writing these words, and I now realize it is an extremely beautiful and effective building. I am therefore sorry I made this unsympathetic comparison” p. 19.

In the book two churches by Alvar Aalto and Giovanni Michelucci are compared, categorized and judged. The first appointed attributes of ‘complexity’ and ‘contradiction’ as being positive, the latter presented as an anti-thesis. The footnote makes it obvious that Venturi had visited Michelucci’s church only for the first time between the two editions of the book. The experience of the church made him change a major point in the book.

Burgermaster writes: “This essay appropriates Venturi’s revision as evidence of a significant, but often overlooked aspect of how architectural knowledge is constructed, evaluated, represented, and distributed. It focuses on the acquisition of knowledge in situ as a disciplinary practice that has historically used observation-based methods of research to evidence its claims but has rarely recognized the subjectivity in the representation of this evidence.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Constructing Knowledge, part II

The hard part in participating at a conference on Knowledge is of course that the question of Knowledge gets addressed to myself – how do I generate knowledge, what is it, at which part of my work does it ‘arrive’. Yikes – not that easy – but the question of knowledge is a framework to look and reflect on my production during the thesis work until now.

3 knowledge generators
Hmm – I have three references to look at from the past six months: a workshop with 60 first year students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture; the chairs experiment described here; and the full scale cast in Vermont introduced here and here. This post will get into the 'chairs' because, in a way the chairs experiment is a sort of physical summary of previous literature studies. Literature, objects, images and lectures on the topic of fabric forming all remain theoretical. Only by testing techniques and adding some personal thoughts on details or function do I or anyone generate knowledge – I know  
you can describe the techniques and the feeling and even show it – not until you actually try it do you get an idea of what this could lead to - sort of like kissing.

Except, and thank you Rikke-Julie for that note - when it comes to the knowledge of kissing, that’s a pretty straight forward goal to pursue, you pretty much know what you’re searching for. When it comes to the architectural exploration of a completely new technology it really doesn’t seem all that simple. What is simple is that the continuous exploration of form and matter – more than just access to sources of descriptive knowledge and reflection and more than experience alone, creates something – let’s call it knowledge – great, so this is what all designers and artists do and have done forever.

An extra point of entry comes when the physical object exists with all the layers of reflection and acquired knowledge hidden behind the actual presence of something… it calls for a reaction from others than the maker – reactions, associations, references, discussion, more knowledge – and only because it exists. This shared knowledge is created by an actor network I guess – this is a theoretical approach to the world that I’m still not sure of how to use or if I really want to use but in these lines it does make sense.


Experimental tectonic practice
A sort of finish in this weaving post is that this might just be the beginning – experimental tectonic practice which is the method of my thesis work - is all about generating knowledge. And like getting the knowledge of kissing, practice is fun!

Constructing Knowledge, part I

I’m on my way to a conference in Aachen, Germany with the broad title Constructing Knowledge. The conference is a celebration of the inaugural (first) issue of a new peer reviewed architectural journal – CANDIDE. Journal for Architectural Knowledge. The name is taken from a fictional character of Voltaire, Candide who travelled on an eager but often disappointed search for knowledge. For now, I'm yet eager and really quite excited about the journal – and the fact that the theme is knowledge and not research; this has the potential of really opening up for a wide range of interesting entries, methods and media which again could generate a wide audience amongst architects and others interested in the field.

What is knowledge in architecture?
So – the opening conference has the title Constructing Knowledge and some open question regarding what is knowledge in architecture and architectural production – what is research by design (or should I say knowledge?); “Do we search for or generate architectural knowledge?”; and not least: “Why should architects write when what they do best is design?” with subtitles: “Architecture, fiction and other stories” and “The digital turn after the ‘end of history’” the black box is open.

Knowledge and fabric forming
The next post will be on knowledge and fabric forming. I'm presenting a poster at the conference and out of four main topics my contribution has been labeled under three of them already - by the organizers that is - I'm not sure myself either to which part of the Knowledge Construction the practice of experimental tectonics belongs.