On first principles

From a profile of Friedrich Kiesler in Architectural Forum (1947)

“If Kiesler wants to hold two pieces of wood together, he pretends he’s never heard of nails or screws. He tests the tensile strengths of various metal alloys, experiments with different methods and shapes, and after six months comes up with a very expensive device that holds two pieces of wood together almost as well as a screw”

Reality reduced to a model


Reading through Geoff Manaugh’s interview with Nicholas de Monchaux, author of Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo, I came across this:

“If you lay, side by side, quotations from USC’s discourse on parametric urbanism now and USC’s discourse on cybernetic urbanism thirty years ago, for better or for worse, you can read them as a complete narrative. It’s impossible to distinguish which is which. Both are born out of a fundamental faith in technology and a fundamental notion that, if you feed enough variables into a problem-solving system — now we call it parametric, then we would have called it cybernetic — that an appropriate and robust solution will emerge. I’m not, myself, so sure that’s the case; in fact, I’m pretty certain that it’s not.”

Models are translations of reality, and all translations are partial, reducing some dimensions in order to allow a degree of fidelity in other dimensions. Something is abstracted away in order to concentrate something else: a white paper model might leave out any suggestion of materials to highlight volume; and acoustic properties may be excluded from an electronic model that simulates solar gain. Breaking a situation down into variables and parameters so it can be modelled is no stranger than any other kind of modelling. Problems arise when reality is reduced to the model.

I agree with de Monchaux that appropriate and robust solutions don’t emerge automatically given enough parameters; and appreciate his reminder that, despite a varnish of novelty, parametric approaches are not new.

(Again, I’d plug Adam Curtis’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011) on this topic).

Kennicott on MVRDV pseudo-controversy

Phillip Kennicott, art and architecture critic for the Washington Post, doing his job on the MVRDV pseudo-controversy:

The controversy seems part of a larger cultural effort to make the events of September 11, 2001 somehow sacred, to use the meaning of the terrorist attack for larger, more overbearing cultural control. So now it is being deployed against contemporary architecture, not because there is anything inherently offensive in this design (which may or may not be an intentional reference to 9/11), but because the emotions generated by the attack have been co-opted by one part of the political and cultural spectrum.

MVRDV in the echo-chamber


MVRDV are in trouble for cashing in on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. From Tracy Connor’s report for the NY Daily News:

A mockup shows two soaring skyscrapers connected in the middle by a “pixelated cloud” that evoked the clouds of debris that erupted from the iconic World Trade Center towers after terrorists flew planes into them.

John M. Glionna goes further in the L.A. Times:

Even at first glance, the design renderings for the soon-to-be-built pair of apartment towers here pack a wallop: They evoke New York’s World Trade Center towers in mid-explosion in the terrifying moments after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The reason it evokes it so strongly at first glance is, of course, because the article is headed up with a pair of carefully selected images designed to make the link. Do the reporters or bloggers involved actually accuse MVRDV of deliberately evoking the terrorist attacks to make money? No, of course not. They just reports the controversy. And in the case of Tracy Connor, drum up a little more by poking the images under the nose of random people predisposed to be offended, in this case a retired New York firefighter.

This patently ridiculous claim originates with gossip website Gawker, for whom generating outrage is just another way to get clicks. Currently, they are also headlining “‘Elvis Monkey’ has a Michael Jackson Nose”.

The echo-chamber takes over, with nobody adding or asking anything new, or weighing the insinuations or claims. But then, this is the game MVRDV were playing. As Wouter Vanstiphout points out, it’s a “logical outcome of the global trade in empty images”, a trade in which MVRDV are complicit.

UPDATE: 24hrs later, the same story, with precisely zero new content, continues to echo.

Joseph Gandy’s Rural Essentialism

We’re used to seeing crisp white surfaces as a marker of urbane essentialism—c.f. O.M. Ungers’ Haus 3, or Loos’s Müller House—so it’s a little disorienting to remember that what we talk about as ‘clean’ and ‘modern’ has had quite different connotations in the past. For J.M Gandy (see this profile by Christopher Woodward) in 1805, for example, it was a matter of rustic humility. In his book Designs for Cottages, Cottage Farms, and other Rural Buildings; including Entrance Gates and Lodges (London: John Harding) we find these stark white boxes: windows punched, untrimmed and horizontally oriented; surfaces unornamented; and with minimal overhangs. The images are somewhat surprising, given the sensitivity to materials, light, massing, and detail in his more famous images for John Soane.

Joseph Gandy, Cottage, 1805 (Plate V.)

Joseph Gandy, Cottage, 1805 (Plate XVII.)