Vibha Agarwala Spring 2011 Honors Thesis The Utopian Society The attempt to define architecture does not give a clear meaning but rather; it has created multiple possibilities in understanding its formation. Some may consider it an art form that allow s for inhabitation. For others, its form originates solely from the function it is intended for. Its formulation may be inspired by the past, with the aid of precedence or it may draw from the present moment, directly from its surroundings. Regardless of h ow the architecture is defined, it carries the consistent role of the betterment of society. The area of concern then becomes how to measure the influence architecture has on society. While architecture strives to form the experience of a space, it does no t have the ability to directly cause a social and political shift in order to achieve a utopian society. defining architecture must be agreed upon. Until 1750, architecture was based upon historic precedent. Since then, architecture has transitioned into becoming a socially determined program. 1 Today, architecture could not exist without social acknowledgement. If society were not there to define its role, architecture would be left alone to define itself. 2 With society being the primary benefactor of architecture, the next question that arises is how does the architect define the architecture with the consideration of its social impact? The architect should 1 Architecture Theory Since 1968 (1998): 226 2
remain concerned with the transl ation of his thoughts into form, however, he must respond to the demands of society. A closer look can be taken at the formation of the architecture of Manhattan in relationship to society. When looking at the city and how it forms a society, it can be br oken down into multiple components. Manhattan can be characterized by its structured grid system and congested culture. However, when a closer look is taken as an occupant of the city; neighborhoods, cultures, as well as architecture help define smaller so city anticipated what would be felt while occupying the city space. Once within the city, each individual experienced the cit y through his or her own senses. Manhattan becomes a prime example of a constantly changing society in which or political shift in the society. While in New York, each day c onsisted of a different itinerary for the class to follow. Each path brought the class to new parts of the city that differed tremendously from one location to the next. Beginning in Midtown, the class was directed on different paths in which different nei ghborhoods, such as Chinatown, East Village, and the meat packing district were experienced. The city varied between residential space, commercial space and industrial space. The scale of these neighborhoods also varied from a few stories to skyscrapers. T he widely varied environment allowed for the class to individually interpret each space. As well as experience the transition from one space to the next. By taking the
subway, each individual emerged from underneath the city into a completely new space. Su ch experiences only emphasize how individual components compose the Manhattan. Since multiple factors play into the progression of the city, it can be concluded that it is not the task of the architect to create a utopia, but rather it becomes the collecti ve effort of all individuals in the society, including architects. Other factors, such as culture and beliefs all play into shifts in society, and it can be seen that Manhattan becomes the main site of laissez faire development. 3 No one component, such as architecture, has the ability to reform society towards a utopian state. Rather, it becomes a collective effort among multiple factors to take on such a challenge. The second design project of the semester deals with designing a New York City block locate d between 44 th and 45 th Street and 10 th and 11 th Avenue. The originates from observing the immediate context that surrounds the site. Even though the surrounding site was taken i nto consideration, it was noted that the immediate context surround the designated city block was rapidly changing. The site was originally occupied largely for industrial use only, but now this particular area of Manhattan demands commercial and residenti al space. Acting as architects in the project, the relationship of the design of the city block with the architect exists as only a small factor of society to aid in the tr ansition of the block 3 Architecture Theory Since 1968 (1998): 321
important, but also a small role when the responsibility lies in the dimension of one city block. The architect does not try to take on the role to complet ely revolutionize the society, but rather adds a small component to a collective effort. The main objective of the project was to architecturally construct an itinerary that allows for the traveler to experience the unique qualities of a chosen path. The formation of the new space on the city block develops from the already existing surrounding context, the idea to reconstruct a promenade in the city within a single city block, as well as the materializing of space based on function. Serving as the archite ct, the project was a collaborative effort with other elements already existing in the city as well as our own design intentions. The design When walking through Manhattan, a notable feature was the placement of advertisements among the facades of surrounding buildings. The presence of such advertisements causes the pedestrian to pause and observe what is being create a sense of curiosity. The phenomenological effect of the advertisements then became the driving force in enhancing the promenade within the city block. Instead of placing actual advertisements along the building facades within the block, places of walks along the promenade, different public spaces are revealed as advertisements through the transparency of the building facades. At each end of the city block also lays an advertised space in or der to draw one in, in order to experience the promenade.
The program of the block is comprised of an elementary school, residential units, office space, commercial space, a cultural center, and a theater. Throughout the promenade, one sees different spa ces of program that are detached from one another but intersect at certain vantage points. The intersection of these spaces creates moments of public gathering, which are revealed as these advertised spaces. The edge of the block has direct contact with th e street edge, with openings along its perimeter in order to allow for the public to enter into the open space within the block. The purpose of the advertised space is to emphasize the relationship between the occupant experiencing the promenade and advert ised space. Within the promenade, one experiences the space he or she is within by viewing another separate space and watching those who occupy it. These people become an advertisement for that detached space, making the individuals want to delve deeper in to the program. Therefore not only is the architecture defining the space but also the social interactions between people. The condition of their occupation is based on program volumes dispersed throughout the city block. The volumes push and pull from eac h other creating seams of public space and circulation. From these seams, the experiential nodes, or advertisements, are viewed and one moves throughout the block. The advertisements directly respond to the promenade, which expands and contracts for diffe rent scales of interaction. The spatial sequence from one moment to the next is comprised of both movement and pause. The promenade offers a wide range of phenomenological characteristics when linking spaces
visually and not physically. It forces the occu pant to view out and experience their surroundings. Since there is not a direct physical connection between the advertisements, multiple paths of circulation exist in order to force interaction between the occupants and also interaction between the occupan ts and space. Through these interactions, the promenade is enhanced as a public space. The development of the city block can then be broken down into three components. The architecture based on the context, the architectural idea, and the materialization of function. The first component, the surrounding context, allows for the city block to relate to the already existing city context. The second idea of the form and how it can be derived from its desired function. The newly constructed city block will change how the original space is conceived due to the be seen here to help influence the betterm ent of society through his ability to translate his ideas and the functional needs into a space. The architect does not carry the responsibility to create architecture that will cause a political or social shift towards a utopian society. After examining different applications of architecture in society, the common factor lies in its continuous role of the betterment of society. The extent as to how the architect does influence society may vary. While its intention is to create a positive impact on its su rroundings, this may not always be the case. Some individuals may relate to the architecture, while others may not experience the space in the way the architect intended. The question then arises as to how
the architect, with a preconceived idea of a space compares to the inhabitant, who initially experiences the space physically. Another question also arises as to whether or not the architect can separate the ideal quality of the space and physically experiencing the space. Such questions cannot be answere d but it from the rest of society. The architect still carries an important role in society, along with other professions that have the same goal of the betterment of society. However, for architecture to take on the challenge to cause a social and political shift in order to achieve a utopian society becomes unattainable.