ARCHITECTURE AND THE STRUCTURE OF BEING Stefany Amasifuen
I. Introduction The glass leaves hang on to the steel branches. The concrete trunk holds it all in place. It creates our shelter. The tree, at its most basic form, provides a natural space for being. Humans are natural beings. Therefore, why must our living environment be anything but natural? The urban city has grown in an artificial parallelism with nature. It has imitated the forest. Buildings seem to compete with one another; monotonous tall boxes rise to the sky only to undergo the urban cyclical process of demolition and reconstruction. One after another, they stray away from the individual experience and have been designed to accommodate the masses. It has been transformed into a shelter for occupation and not a shelter for being. Architecture in the artificial forest has changed its course of intent. Demand, a byproduct of technology, has become the catalyst for design. With it, the natural has diminished and individual experience has been lost. II. The Artificial Forest People's fascination with technology has led design to be completely imbedded within it. Technology has overtaken people's desire to the point that it has altered their reflection on reality. Coney Island serves as an example to this, it mutated from a natural oasis (see fig. 1) to the complete opposite a place of extreme technology and artificiality 1 (see fig. 2). The island became a breeding ground for new technology and people's increasing demand along with their desire to exploit this new source led to the 2 1 Koolhaas, Rem., Coney Island: The Technology of the Fantastic" In Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto of Manhattan 21-64. (Oxford Univ. Press, 1978). 24
creation of a surreal architecture. Consequently, the island's design was altered to one that was synthetic; it embodied the exploitation of technology. Coney Island has essentially created a new architectural realm that purely serves the demand of masses. In the same manner but at a smaller intensity, Manhattan has done the same. Manhattan has been noted as a "miniature" version of Coney Island 2 This urban city has become a place for architectural invention 3 that deviates away from what is natural. Figure 1. Seneca Ray Stoddard, "Coney Island Bathers". (1880) 3 2 Ibid, 23 3 Ibid, 63
Figure 2. "Night in Luna Park, Coney Island." (Detroit Publishing, 1905) Manhattan's surreal architectural realm and its artificiality is in the type of environment it creates. We can begin to understand the city more through a bird's eye view rather than the actual physical experience (see fig. 3) of walking through the city. This presents a problem. How can the overview be better than the occupation? It is due to the city's lack of responsiveness towards the individual. For instance, when one is traveling through the city, certain parts are almost undistinguishable from one another due to the same repetitive and detail-less characteristics that make up all the adjacent buildings within an agglomeration. When one is not able to identify themselves within their surroundings and create a place from it, then that is when they can understand it. The architecture in the urban city comes to be composed of tall monotonous buildings in 4
which identification and place is lost 4 This is realized through the occupation of the surreal and artificial architectural realm. Figure 3. NYC Project. Experience through a visual journey. Figure 4. NYC Project. Analysis of the extent that built form dictates experience. 5 4 Koolhaas, Rem, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. The Generic City ." In S, M, L, XL 495-516. (Monacelli, Press, 1998), 1248.
Figure 5. Scott Hudson, "Commercial Cartoon...Slice of Times Square". (2008) However, certain places within the city serve as markers of location. The arrival to one of these places lets the occupant be aware of where they are. Although the arrival translates to awareness, the occupation doesn't translate to a person's understanding of their environment. For instance, Times Square (see fig. 5) is built out of a series of advertisements that strive to differentiate themselves from the other and there is no other place like it within the city. Therefore, when one arrives to this superficial place, they immediately become aware of their location. However, because this does not only serve as a landmark, but as a place, making sense of the environment becomes almost impossible even when occupying it. The characteristics 6
that define the space are abundant to the point that they all become blurred together to look the same. Thus, one area to the next become indistinguishable from one another even though the whole, the sum of all the spaces, makes a distinguishable mark upon the city. III. The Cyclical Design Like the natural forest, architecture in the urban city grows vertically only to be demolished after a set period of time. How is one to find a place within an environment that is constantly changing? How can one find a place that is always out of place? The construction of architecture becomes a process of prediction and foreshadowing. Buildings that were once built with a partial response to the buildings surrounding it become irrelevant when those disintegrate. Once this process continues to develop, the end product becomes singular. Design focuses more on the object that it is creating rather than on the nature of its creation. Due to the indecisive nature of the architecture in the urban city, nothing is ever stable or permanent. Therefore, this type of design is almost unavoidable. The architecture takes shape of a singular element and multiplicities of these elements create an architecture of agglomeration which then later becomes to be perceived as place'. These agglomerations begin to lack definition. They were were all designed through the same underlying process of prediction. For instance, tall buildings that were once built become short buildings once others have been demolished and replaced with 7
taller ones. It becomes a series of the same element, and although they may vary in height, they lack a statement. The buildings become generic and monotonous due to the cyclical process of demolition and construction. Figure 6. NYC Project. A paralleled process of demotion and reconstruction as a mechanism for design. IV. Singular vs. Plural Scale In the urban city, architecture becomes a rational, yet fictional realm of storage units. A shelter needs to serve people, both plurally and singularly. It is not natural for a space to be scaleless. Nevertheless, during the process of large urban design, the 8
individual scale is lost and in turn, generates an vague and unidentifiable space. It is no longer about the personal experience, but rather the movement and localization of the masses. When scale is lost, identity is lost. A singular person is not identified, instead the plurality is acknowledged, they "are identified only on entering or leaving" 5 The building is designed with a fictional scale. It only pretends to deal with the singular person. Hotels in the urban city serve as a prime example. In concept, they serve an individual; this type of shelter temporarily provides a place for living. Therefore, although it is obvious that the design of the spaces should be singular, they are not. The design is primarily focused and structured around spaces of multiple occupants: the lobby, the vertical circulation, and the pathways. When looking at a section of an urban hotel (see fig. 7), the actual singular living space, the one that defines program, becomes a series of spaces that have been copied and pasted over from one floor to the next, the same way a storage unit is designed. The individual units of occupation are exact replicas of one another. 9 5 AugÂŽ, Marc. Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. (Verso, 1995), 111.
Figure 7. Ten Arquitectos. Hotel Americano, Manhattan, NY. The plural scale can be identified in a design through its circulation. For instance, if a building is designed with large elevator cores as the main focus 6 then it is identified as being designed at the plural scale. There is no singularity to the project if it is thought of as being a shelter of movement that serves the masses. There is no factor or element that can be identifiable to a single occupant with the single building. It can almost be seen as mass production in design. The plural scale becomes an act of directing; it's 10 6 Koolhaas, Rem, Bruce Mau, Jennifer Sigler, and Hans Werlemann. Bigness ." In S, M, L, XL 495-516. (Monacelli, Press, 1998), 500.
main purpose is to take groups of people from one space to the next trough a series of large spaces. Figure 8. NYC Project. Skin openings address the needs given the individual's occupation of a singular space. It is because of this that the design never attends to an individual's spatial experience at the scale of one (singular), but rather, at the scale of the multiple (plural). There is no intimacy or relationship; the singular occupant and the plural space can never naturally come together due to their difference. The act of being becomes artificial. It is not the scale of the space, but the scale of design that becomes distorted. Architecture in the urban city has been straying away from the individual experience to accommodate for masses. Buildings are created to orient a group of people from one place to the next to the point that they become markers for different activities. They become the shelter of occupation rather than a shelter of being. A shelter of being is one that sympathetic of the singular human scale and shapes existence in accordance with the space. 11
The dense concrete forest is therefore reflective of the density of its residents. However, the architectural design has taken a different course in which it responds to the needs of occupants but neglects to identify the singular occupant within the design. V. Living in a Non-Place We have built an environment that is different from what we have normally perceived as natural. We have created something artificial. Most, if not all, time is spent in non-places. To be in a place should be natural. Yet, instead of being in a place, we merely occupy the space. Design guided by demand results in a design fitted to the interaction of masses. The result is a uniform experience for every individual and it only changes collectively through the progression of such design. The design voids a personal interaction with space due to the lack of place. It is experienced equally amongst all. It holds no significance and no sense of belonging. What can be seen in the urban city is the attempt to create a space that resembles place. However, the environment can no longer function as it once did since the urban city has become synthetic. To bring the sense of belonging and the feel of a natural environment, we need to create an architecture that evokes natural movement (see fig. 9) and place of being. That way, we can create a place within the monotonous gestures of urban space. 12
Figure 9. NYC Project. Morphing and folding the ground plane to create its own identity in order to evoke movement and activity for the elements that occupy it. Architectural design within the urban city has been mostly driven by fulfilling the needs of program in accordance to the densities of people 7 It is this programmatic design that has led a false sense of place to occur within the city. People should be part of a space that is scaled to their own experience. This way, they can identify themselves within an environment and find a sense of place. Dwelling within a place must therefore be more than the simple act of occupation. VI. Illusion of Rationalization 13 7 Hajer, Maarten. Theory, Culture, and Society Vol. 16. ( Oxford Univ. Press, 1999), 141.
Architecture in the urban city has responded to the demand for a multitude of space within a restrictive footprint, letting the form extrude upwards from its roots. Rationalization has become a tool for design. Buildings are composed and guided by the concept of technology and efficiency. Design through rationalization prohibits expression and instead dictates occupancy. So although rationalization is seen as an efficient way to meet the demands of people in an urban city, "reason becomes instrumental, an unquestioned means to the end of mastering the environment and fellow human beings." 8 This rationalization can perhaps be due to the belief that the world is a naturally structured system. The conflict with this is that although the natural environment is organized and structured, it was not created through reason but rather became to be naturally. "such a conception puts the validity and authority of reason above place and time, in a purely ideational realm, not in being as we actually experience it through our bodily perceptions." 9 Efficiency has become one of the main motivators in design in the urban city. It goes hand in hand with the use of technology, specifically within large architecture. New characteristics of design have developed and transformed into parameters. Some of these include gross square footage and the distribution or localization of spaces. These are thought of as rational ways of creating a hidden infrastructure that guides yet still 14 8 Perez-Gomez, Alberto. Introduction to Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science In Architecture Theory Since 1968 edited by K. Michael Hays. (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2000), 462. 9 Ibid, 462.
secretly underlies most design. They have become a product of rational and efficient thinking, yet they are merely responses to the demand of occupation. VII. The Rational Grid It is difficult to break away from the use of rationalism as a tool when the site has already been arranged to dictate placement and occupation. Movement has already been mapped out and predetermined. The grid allots us a space to dwell in with no modification or personalization. The edges of the streets and buildings appear to reveal the extents of different places, but really become another non-place. They become repetitive elements in which people are not able to identify with due to their bigness. The rational grid even becomes an impediment to the creation of an occupant's identifiable journey. The grid dictates the repetitive pattern of the buildings, allowing the only free contextual viewing space to occur at intersections. Therefore, when traveling between intersections, there is no experiential space. What is left from the grid and it's occupants are the walls that they have built up alleys that define movement. VIII. Conclusion Furthermore, technology has allowed the fulfillment of desire and pleasure. The essence of what is real has been fogged in design. The urban city has to become an artificial place and building have become a vehicle for accommodation. To create a strong sense of place within the urban fabric will lead to the creation of a place for being, one where both the individual and the context is defined by a relationship and not through the interdependent existence of both. However, the artificial architectural realm 15
that has been created in the urban city is made to be that way by underlying factors within design such as the grid. Additionally, functionalism and rationalism have been seen and used as effective' methods of design when in reality, it lacks reality. The nonexistence of a singular scale creates an architecture that is not intended for the occupant (thus, lacking reality), but the product of the city. It is this product of the city, demand, that has driven design to one that is not natural but rather acts as a service or compliance to needs of the city. A person's nature is to inhabit and occupy a space 10 therefore that space must be one that is natural and not artificial to comply with that natural need. 16 10 Le Corbusier. Ineffable Space". In Architecture Culture 1943-1968: A Documentary Anthology, edited by Joan Ockman, 64-67, 1945.( New York, N.Y.: Rizzoli, 1993), 66.
Figure 10. NYC Project. 17
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