news from an (extra)ordinary architecture practice

Month: April, 2021

Space Fictions \ collages

On architectural representations 1/3

It is a difficult moment for architectural representation. On one hand, we suffer the rule of the extreme verisimilitude, as we wrote in our Little Pink Book:

In this passage towards hyper-realism induced by the instruments we use – and by the language that dominates architecture’s homogenized thinking – something subtle but fundamental gets lost, something that it was virtually impossible to lose when the instruments and techniques we used – even skillfully – implied an economy of signs. This is the lightness of the indefinite, of the unsaid, of the evoked. It is the space for indeterminacy that saves us from describing things that we probably are still unsure about, respects that gap between project and reality, and provides the viewer with a subtle power for interpretation and appropriation.
Finally, what gets lost in this pornographic passage to perfect dissimulation, is the imperfection and variety of the real that no tree we may borrow from 3d models libraries will ever be able to reproduce.

Architectural representations, once truly narrative and able to leave room for interpretation and imagination, are nowadays more and more boring – despite and because of their spectacularity – as the last Marvel franchise is.
On the other hand, we witnessed a strong reaction to this rule, an opposition through resistance and the widespread diffusion of different representational techniques aimed to bring back in architectural design images ambiguity, narratives, ideas – but very often removing, with verisimilitude, also some of the most important values of space – light, depth of space and so on. Not to mention that this reaction has in the blink of an eye produced another wave of representational homogenization, symmetrically boring and meaningless as the rule of the rendering.
The extreme paradox of this crisis are all those architects known for their amazing production of digital collages and illustrations, that, when delivering a project for a competition, ask visualisation professionals to prepare the same photorealistic renderings that they have been criticizing through their work – embodying in their practice this split between standardized spectacularization and a representation consistent with specific architectonic values.

Since the beginning of our practice we have been using collages in search of a different kind of realism, because we are fond of what the Situationnist’s called detournement of existing elements, of what we call, detourning a definition from electronics, augmented reality. Again, as stated in our pink bible:

In an architecture that should value the performance offered to its users more than its own form, poetics feeds on the reality one wants to be part of. (…) It collects elements and details that belong more in a hardware shop than in an architectural magazine, and relocates them into a sort of low-tech augmented reality.

Reverberer – Competition collage for the CEVA public spaces in Chene-Bourg

As we know, collage is the most powerful and quick  tool to take something interesting that belongs to our reality, and build upon it an augmented value – different but not alien.

Footprints – X Architecture Biennale in Venice

Every collage of ours is not the project, but rather the result of a process of relocation of something that is existing and belongs to our practices and memories, deploying and empowering its potentialities.

Yakari! – Bois de Batie Competition

Some of these collages can be seen just as found situations, such as the pile of trunks that we transformed in a playground by placing over it two jumping kids – and was the starting point for a park design all based on different interpretations of this stack. Others operate a transformation – slicing, displacement, scaling, repetition – to reveal the potentiality of existing spatial conditions, or to create something new from what is part of our culture. The splitting of nave of a cathedral can thus suggest a building that embraces and celebrate public space in Switzerland, while the gathering of fragments from the mediterranean tell of a building that wants to be a cluster of diverse and identifiable public programs.

Section d’Or – Competition for Chatelaine Cultural Center in Geneva
Collage for the Catino Rugby Stadium

The culture we play with using collages includes references from different disciplines- photography and movies being a constant source of inspiration. Like the hide-and-seek sequence in Una giornata particolare, where Marcello Mastroianni and Sofia Loren play with one of the most beautiful spatial conditions, an open space lightly separated by the white linen on the drying racks. A spatial condition that has been returning frequently as an aspiration of many projects – and mostly exhibition designs and installations, such as Touch Screen, Borderlines, Cross the Streets.

Borderlines – from Una Giornata Particolare by Ettore Scola

Some other collages are just explorations without an end, just fictions that maybe one day will become projects…

Ferdinando Scianna, Los Angeles reworked

These collages are mostly for internal use, except for those produced and shown in the context of an exhibition. They probably shouldn’t be considered architectural representations but rather architectural explorations that gather in a very immediate and simple act a multiplicity of meanings and references, the mundane and the extraordinary, the formal and the political, reality and utopia.

Open forms: playgrounds

Play is one of ma0’s keywords since the beginning of the practice. As Game Zone and Playscape claimed, architecture can be seen as a system of spatial rules that can allow – or impede – movements and gestures, relations and communications, moving the focus of design – and analysis – from the stylistic and symbolic aspects of form to the social and political values of how people and dwellers can perform in a given space. 

Floating Architecture @ Carpi, Festa del Gioco

Again, from our ma0’s little pink book:

If form organizes relations, lays out and defines the modes of communication between spaces (…), architecture is a system of spatial and procedural rules that start a game the outcome of which we can only imagine by establishing constraints, interdictions and obstacles, by offering opportunities and leaving room for interpretation.

This is the performative side of form.

The most interesting aspect of looking at architecture as a playground, is the fact that it stresses its constituent task to order and protect bodies and goods in space and to prescript behaviors, not to mention the fact that play goes against the natural weight, solidity and inertness of building materials. The strategies to evade architecture’s limitations to become playful are manifold, and depend on the situation, context, program, as the outcomes that we want to have.

Temporary installations such as our Floating Architectures are an extraordinary opportunity to escape many of these limitations, inventing light and apparently useless devices devoted to spatial exploration and to “create a temporary crisis in the structure of use and fruition of the city and its architecture, altering its responses to those of the expectations of its users, interrupting the system of anticipation of the user, who is blocked by stereotyped rules” (Orlandoni, Vallino, 1977). Wonder is a fundamental aspect of these installations – produced by the displacement of objects, the use of exceptional colors and materials – to trigger a different attitude from the visitors, to make clear that they are entering a playground where these rules are temporarily and partially suspended.

Floating Architecture @ Tasmeem Doha 2015: 3ajeeb!

Against the motionlessness of architecture, we have been using the lighter elements of space – walls, doors, furniture – as devices to let the dwellers interact and transform space adapting it to different needs and situations.

Since the rotating benches in Bari, we have been exploring in a long series of projects for different occasions and contexts the possibility of opening public and private spaces to a multiplicity of interactions.

Piazza Risorgimento, Bari

The Carousel of the Transalpina Square in Gorizia is just the last of a long series of projects that featured rotating benches and rotating or sliding walls, with its benches moving eccentrically on rails around the center of this public space, on the border between Italy and Slovenia.

Carousel Europe @ Transalpina Square, Gorizia
Diagrams showing the movement of the benches on eccentric rails
Diagrams showing different configurations of the underground exhibition space

These two strategies to make playful and interactive architecture, while opening space to interpretation and appropriation, nevertheless have some limitations, given the ephemeral character of the first, and the limited range of possibilities of the second defined by the device performance.

More challenging is always for us the possibility to leave a blank space in architecture, and to make room for incremental modifications promoted by the dwellers, really adapting architecture to needs that the designer can rarely fully comprehend.

On the lineage of important examples coming from all over the world of incremental architecture – starting from the ‘60s to recent years where this approach has gained a renewed attention for its social and ecological implications – we have been experimenting since the beginning the most radical form of playful architecture, one that leave to the dweller the possibility of completing and transforming the building overtime.

Costruzione di una Scuola, Scuole Innovative Competition in Macerata

From Playscape, the winning proposal to the Europan 7 competition, to the more recent Costruzione di una scuola (II prize at the Scuole innovative competition) and the project commissioned by the Comune di Bari for the renewal of the public spaces and facilities of a school, the solution has been to design open frameworks able to collect in a common structure a multiplicity of interventions, and a future that can be just imagined – but not determined – by these projects. Here architecture makes a step backward and becomes a support – as Habraken named it – to welcome the sedimentation of a diversity of traces, forms and languages representing different identities.

Palympsest, Rodari school renewal in Bari

After using for years the metaphor of the playground in search for an interactive and incremental architecture, we are now broadening this search following openness as keyword, that can literally open the conversation to different genealogies of architects, apparently very distant from us – and from a playful attitude – bringing us outside of the disciplinary boundaries in the relational dimension of the space in which we live.

Openness is the new mantra, but the substance is always the same: make room for play!

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