Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reinventing Architecture in Digital Domain

There is an extremely new domain being constructed,
Which partly undermines architecture or eliminates the reason for being or architecture
—the electronic domain.
Now is an existential moment for a discipline that will decide whether it will be a dinosaur or whether it will be reinvented.

by Rem Koolhaas

To Be Authentic

I am not trying to be different, absolutely no interest in that.
To be an authentic person,
To be a real person,
To be able to somehow integrate your world,
Your internal world,
And the world around you,
And that has to be one of the most difficult things for human beings.
If I am talking to my boys, that would be the first conversation.

This is the difficulty in growing up.
How do you maintain some authenticity of your person,
Including finding out who you are, by the way,
Because there is no authentic person,
You build your own history,
You live in you brain,
You invent who you are.
And matching that with the world, especially this world, today?
Tough one.

by Thom Mayne

Constant Evolution

All my projects reflect an evolution,
Related not so much to taste
But to the idea of architecture as a cultural and formal presence.
An idea of architecture as determining space.
I would say I design objects in relation to space rather than the other way around.

I admire people who were system-builders like Johann Sebastian Bach.
But I am not like them.
My example would be like Picasso or even Frank Lloyd Wright,
People who evolved throughout their lives,
Relating to time and its passing.
You have the Wright of the turn of the century,
And then you have the Wright of Art Deco
And the Wright of fifties’ modernism.
He was always himself,
But he never failed to respond to the problems of his time,
The same goes for picasso.
They were travelers as opposed to system-builders.
Some things in my workd are systematic,
But as far as form goes, I like to be constantly evolving.
I try to avoid worshipping an ideal style,
And am always trying to escape my own mannerism
—which can be difficult.

by Christian de Portzamparc

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Good Architect Works Slowly

No matter what machinery you devise there are quite simply no shortcuts one can take in the process of finding solutions for architectural problems.
The wealth of mutual relations between all the different aspects—for instance, the precise articulation of spaces—that is something that does not just happen by itself.

A good architect works slowly.

As far as I’m concerned, when I think of architecture, I think primarily of stability, serenity, and presence.
You have to define your position in the midst of this glut of information. The more information I can assimilate, the more serene my architecture becomes.

by Alvaro Siza

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning from the Swiss Master

Peter Zumthor’s studio is located in the village of Haldenstein in the Swiss Alps, 100 km south of Zurich. It is surrounded by the rocky slopes of the Calandaberg. Here in this unusual idyll, far from city life, his staff of around 20 works on his much-discussed projects. The hectic nature of the international construction projects is nowhere apparent however: the pure alpine air and the studio garden filled with Japanese cherry trees give a misleading impression of calmness.

Zumthor’s small 'campus' comprises two buildings, both designed by him: a timber studio structure dating from 1981, and a U-shaped concrete studio-dwelling located a stone’s throw away and completed in 2003. The proximity of the private and work spaces characterises the life of Peter Zumthor and of his staff. Many come from abroad and have their rooms or homes close to the studio. Since this rural canton offers little in the way of distractions – apart from occasional receptions, farewell parties, raclette evenings and Christmas dinners – staff have little choice but to concentrate on their work while they’re there.

In the first weeks of my five-year sojourn, Zumthor made it clear to me that I had better quickly forget the Dutch 'academic' way of working I’d picked up while studying in Delft. He couldn’t do anything with colourful concept ideas or programmatic analyses. In Haldenstein you design in a pragmatic manner using elevations, plans, sections and details. From the outset, you design in a visual and constructive manner. ‘Thinking architecture’ as Zumthor calls it. And thinking is done not with the computer but with an empty sheet of paper and a soft 6B pencil.

The architecture of Zumthor is consistent and honest. The structure and form of construction are legible and a logical follow-on from the design idea and choice of material. A good design, says Zumthor, convinces in all its manifestations: as a building and a structure, yet also on paper, in section and in its detailing. The hallmark of his architecture is a carefully considered, almost aestheticised treatment of materials and accumulation of elements. He can talk endlessly with staff about the tiniest details. Many colleagues are exposed to a new dimension of perfection in this way. Even matters that later remain hidden are carefully thought through: ‘Der liebe Gott sieht alles!’

At the start of the design process Zumthor searches for an 'atmosphere'. He tries to find the right words to express a visual image for the assignment at hand, defined in terms of space, colour, light and sound. The architecture is described as precisely as possible in structural elements, materials and construction methods. In these discussions with team members, Zumthor stresses the importance of using the correct terminology. As a result, Swiss colleagues turn out to be true vocabulary fetishists. The lingua franca of these design discussions is German. And that’s good thing too, for there’s probably no better language to express his architecture than German, in which everything is so wonderfully direct, concise and precise.

Zumthor shares his thoughts with the team and explains the design to his architects using 6B pencils and paper. Models are then made. Interns are constantly making models of all sizes and sorts out of cardboard, wood, foam, plaster and wax in the basement of his studio-house. Zumthor can stand for hours at the models as he questions, analyses and refines all facets of a design. It’s a process that is only allowed to be disturbed by his tennis lessons or by an appearance of Roger Federer on television. This design phase can last weeks and only ends when all alternatives have been weighed up and everyone agrees about the approach to the design task at hand. He searches for der harte Kern der Schönheit.

The office is organised in a traditional, hierarchical manner, with architects, interns and draughtsmen. The last group makes the digital construction drawings. Working drawings are also prepared by the office. In elaborating the details, when the aesthetic ideals often clash with practicality, Zumthor displays as much determination as he does during the design stage. He possesses unlimited reserves of patience in encouraging his architects find ways to build something as it was designed. In this phase, too, the design is regularly adjusted and improved. Even during construction, Zumthor trusts his architectural convictions to such a degree that he’s willing to defy all the rules of the building process. His uncompromising attitude demands a lot of understanding and loyalty from clients, contractors and staff.

Despite the numerous job offers, Zumthor does not want his studio to grow. Architects work in small teams on the different projects. Calmness is needed for his patient, atmospheric design methods, and his uncompromising way of developing and detailing projects demands control and order. He selects his commissions on the basis of their architectural potential, his personal interests and the time available to him. A perfect idyll.

by Serge Schoemaker

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Freedom from Fear

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it. Most Burmese are familiar with the four a-gati, the four kinds of corruption. Chanda-gati, corruption induced by desire, is deviation from the right path in pursuit of bribes or for the sake of those one loves. Dosa-gati is taking the wrong path to spite those against whom one bears ill will, and moga-gati is aberration due to ignorance. But perhaps the worst of the four is bhaya-gati, for not only does bhaya, fear, stifle and slowly destroy all sense of right and wrong, it so often lies at the root of the other three kinds of corruption. Just as chanda-gati, when not the result of sheer avarice, can be caused by fear of want or fear of losing the goodwill of those one loves, so fear of being surpassed, humiliated or injured in some way can provide the impetus for ill will. And it would be difficult to dispel ignorance unless there is freedom to pursue the truth unfettered by fear. With so close a relationship between fear and corruption it is little wonder that in any society where fear is rife corruption in all forms becomes deeply entrenched.

Public dissatisfaction with economic hardships has been seen as the chief cause of the movement for democracy in Burma, sparked off by the student demonstrations 1988. It is true that years of incoherent policies, inept official measures, burgeoning inflation and falling real income had turned the country into an economic shambles. But it was more than the difficulties of eking out a barely acceptable standard of living that had eroded the patience of a traditionally good-natured, quiescent people - it was also the humiliation of a way of life disfigured by corruption and fear.

The students were protesting not just against the death of their comrades but against the denial of their right to life by a totalitarian regime which deprived the present of meaningfulness and held out no hope for the future. And because the students' protests articulated the frustrations of the people at large, the demonstrations quickly grew into a nationwide movement. Some of its keenest supporters were businessmen who had developed the skills and the contacts necessary not only to survive but to prosper within the system. But their affluence offered them no genuine sense of security or fulfilment, and they could not but see that if they and their fellow citizens, regardless of economic status, were to achieve a worthwhile existence, an accountable administration was at least a necessary if not a sufficient condition. The people of Burma had wearied of a precarious state of passive apprehension where they were 'as water in the cupped hands' of the powers that be.

Emerald cool we may be_As water in cupped hands_But oh that we might be_As splinters of glass_In cupped hands.

Glass splinters, the smallest with its sharp, glinting power to defend itself against hands that try to crush, could be seen as a vivid symbol of the spark of courage that is an essential attribute of those who would free themselves from the grip of oppression. Bogyoke Aung San regarded himself as a revolutionary and searched tirelessly for answers to the problems that beset Burma during her times of trial. He exhorted the people to develop courage: 'Don't just depend on the courage and intrepidity of others. Each and every one of you must make sacrifices to become a hero possessed of courage and intrepidity. Then only shall we all be able to enjoy true freedom.'

The effort necessary to remain uncorrupted in an environment where fear is an integral part of everyday existence is not immediately apparent to those fortunate enough to live in states governed by the rule of law. Just laws do not merely prevent corruption by meting out impartial punishment to offenders. They also help to create a society in which people can fulfil the basic requirements necessary for the preservation of human dignity without recourse to corrupt practices. Where there are no such laws, the burden of upholding the principles of justice and common decency falls on the ordinary people. It is the cumulative effect on their sustained effort and steady endurance which will change a nation where reason and conscience are warped by fear into one where legal rules exist to promote man's desire for harmony and justice while restraining the less desirable destructive traits in his nature.

In an age when immense technological advances have created lethal weapons which could be, and are, used by the powerful and the unprincipled to dominate the weak and the helpless, there is a compelling need for a closer relationship between politics and ethics at both the national and international levels. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations proclaims that 'every individual and every organ of society' should strive to promote the basic rights and freedoms to which all human beings regardless of race, nationality or religion are entitled. But as long as there are governments whose authority is founded on coercion rather than on the mandate of the people, and interest groups which place short-term profits above long-term peace and prosperity, concerted international action to protect and promote human rights will remain at best a partially realized struggle. There will continue to be arenas of struggle where victims of oppression have to draw on their own inner resources to defend their inalienable rights as members of the human family.

The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit, born of an intellectual conviction of the need for change in those mental attitudes and values which shape the course of a nation's development. A revolution which aims merely at changing official policies and institutions with a view to an improvement in material conditions has little chance of genuine success. Without a revolution of the spirit, the forces which produced the iniquities of the old order would continue to be operative, posing a constant threat to the process of reform and regeneration. It is not enough merely to call for freedom, democracy and human rights. There has to be a united determination to persevere in the struggle, to make sacrifices in the name of enduring truths, to resist the corrupting influences of desire, ill will, ignorance and fear.

Saints, it has been said, are the sinners who go on trying. So free men are the oppressed who go on trying and who in the process make themselves fit to bear the responsibilities and to uphold the disciplines which will maintain a free society. Among the basic freedoms to which men aspire that their lives might be full and uncramped, freedom from fear stands out as both a means and an end. A people who would build a nation in which strong, democratic institutions are firmly established as a guarantee against state-induced power must first learn to liberate their own minds from apathy and fear.

Always one to practise what he preached, Aung San himself constantly demonstrated courage - not just the physical sort but the kind that enabled him to speak the truth, to stand by his word, to accept criticism, to admit his faults, to correct his mistakes, to respect the opposition, to parley with the enemy and to let people be the judge of his worthiness as a leader. It is for such moral courage that he will always be loved and respected in Burma - not merely as a warrior hero but as the inspiration and conscience of the nation. The words used by Jawaharlal Nehru to describe Mahatma Gandhi could well be applied to Aung San:
'The essence of his teaching was fearlessness and truth, and action allied to these, always keeping the welfare of the masses in view.'

Gandhi, that great apostle of non-violence, and Aung San, the founder of a national army, were very different personalities, but as there is an inevitable sameness about the challenges of authoritarian rule anywhere at any time, so there is a similarity in the intrinsic qualities of those who rise up to meet the challenge. Nehru, who considered the instillation of courage in the people of India one of Gandhi's greatest achievements, was a political modernist, but as he assessed the needs for a twentieth-century movement for independence, he found himself looking back to the philosophy of ancient India: 'The greatest gift for an individual or a nation . .. was abhaya, fearlessness, not merely bodily courage but absence of fear from the mind.'

Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one's actions, courage that could be described as 'grace under pressure' - grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.

Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. The most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a person conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might be right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man.

The wellspring of courage and endurance in the face of unbridled power is generally a firm belief in the sanctity of ethical principles combined with a historical sense that despite all setbacks the condition of man is set on an ultimate course for both spiritual and material advancement. It is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes man from the mere brute. At the root of human responsibility is the concept of perfection, the urge to achieve it, the intelligence to find a path towards it, and the will to follow that path if not to the end at least the distance needed to rise above individual limitations and environmental impediments. It is man's vision of a world fit for rational, civilized humanity which leads him to dare and to suffer to build societies free from want and fear. Concepts such as truth, justice and compassion cannot be dismissed as trite when these are often the only bulwarks which stand against ruthless power.

by Aung San Suu Kyi