Friday, September 30, 2011

Vitra or What is the Role of the Avant-Garde?

A few weeks of this summer we dedicated to a research trip in Europe on medieval construction methods (soon more on that), a rather peculiar interest, not at all relevant.

Yet as we were back to Europe already, we also didn't fail to visit some of the latest iconic and avant-garde buildings, the architecture world talks about. We headed to Basel and successively to Weil am Rhein, where Vitra has used its campus to invite well known architects to contribute to a 'themed production headquarter'.

It clearly demonstrates the state of the art of construction and innovation at its particular period in time: Frank Gehry's and Zaha Hadid's elemental dynamic shapes, Herzog de Meuron's integrated dependent structures. We were fully prepared for the avant-garde. And we found it. They look great on pictures, every time I revisit them (even now as I put it up on the blog). It appeared like a recipe of what avant-garde is: Be different, challenge everything, push beyond everything, everybody has ever thought of - and that on as many levels as possible. It has been a revelation on construction and formal strategy. These appeared well positioned in what you would expect from the leaders of the architectural discourse.

Yet being there was like a coitus interruptus - we felt like losers. Spaces failed to move. In fact, space didn't exist at all. We were irritated by the few lonely people, trying to sit on the bench that was a result of the squashed dependent A-frame structure. They felt as uncomfortable as the structure itself. Finally spaces wanted us to leave.
Not touched at all, rather annoyed, we headed back to Basel. We strolled through the old town and arrived finally at the Muenster - one in a zillion European churches. The typology offered what we expected - striking engineering and a well known typology. Yet the moment, that puzzled was when we took the turn towards the cloister courtyard. It was supposed to be an enclosed, internalized courtyard with covered arcades. Yet the architect engaged the view over the Rhine with large scale windows and therefore completely changed the meaning of the internalized patio as an introverted, privatized area of contemplation. It hit us completely unexpected, yet it was very powerful (yet not photogenic) and left us puzzled.

It was that moment, when I was rethinking role of the avant-garde? Must avant-garde reinvent the wheel over and over again, use new technologies and the dynamics of the contemporary social and economic developments to generate a dip into the unknown? Or does avant-garde mean to maintain a critical alignment within the cultural context, yet challenge specific conditions based on context and opportunity? Is avant-garde the achievement of the seduction of a photo/rendering or the obsessive memory of a rather banal challenge of a near cast-in-stone principle?

Obviously in our practice we are also torn between the sensation of the new (avant-garde!) as we are confronted with clients who want something new every time, and the cultural lineage (avant-garde?) which has been our professional's main question of who to serve.

Yet I have to admit, that this trip has puzzled me more than moving to Asia eleven years ago. And we are glad to maintain that struggle a little bit further.

© 2011, ice - ideas for contemporary environments

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What makes a Mixed-Use Development?

We conducted this research in 2010, in order to understand the complexity of the most common contemporary typology: The Mixed-Use Development. The introduction of this typology with a podium-tower-configuration has radicalized and transformed the use of the city over the past fifty years. What we were interested in is what kind of programs make a successful development, how is the programmatic distribution influencing the typology and what kind of circulatory systems are used to activate such a complex and large scale development. The action field of our research was Hong Kong, where the urbanization has radicalized more than in other cities in terms of density, hybridization of program and innovation in typological mix.

Various developments have been analyzed based on the programmatic mix, the vertical distribution of program (Podium-Tower) and the vertical circulatory system. The result of this research is a compendium of mixed use typologies and their content:

The interesting aspect is, that the architecture of such mixed use complexes is rather irrelevant, as they develop an internalized microcosmos of architectural urbanism. Interior has replaced architecture as a form of cultural identity. Program has replaced space as a form of social identity.

As architects, a strong and blatant emphasis on economic and commercial activities of a development makes us feel hurt in our self esteem. The core knowledge of our discipline as the masters of space doesn't apply here. We feel threatened and ignored. Yet these developments create life in a much more powerful way than our understanding of space could ever give birth to. And indeed, we should feel threatened by the fact, that not the architect is the one who determines the vibrancy of the urban life, but the developer and the business consultant.

As those developments are extremely successful throughout the world in terms of generating life and urban activities within themselves, they are worth a deeper theoretical architectural investigation. What they can teach us is a lesson that we could apply back to the core city, a lesson on how to activate the city through the hybridization of architecture and urbanism.

Team: Ulrich Kirchhoff, Louise Low, Chak Pui Chuen, Chan Kam Fung, Chan Wai To, Cheung Wan Tao, Lai Lok Sung, Lau Ming Yan, Lee Lit Hei, Lloyd-Evans Jane Louise, Lui Kam Fung, Woo Yin Shan, Yan Kit Man, Yuen Suet Ying

© 2011, ice - ideas for contemporary environments

Friday, September 16, 2011

ICE around the globe

Heating up the office activities with two construction projects in China and a few planning projects in Vietnam, two architecture projects in Vietnam and Hong Kong, we are on top of it busy with academic and theoretic investigations as well. While we are all flying around the world, trying to sync our schedules, we want to share some interesting links on the latest developments of ice - ideas for contemporary environments:

Louise Low is currently hosting the event 'Urbanization around the World' in San Francisco as part of the exhibition '3 Positions in Architecture' (presentation coming soon), which is based on the Radical Mix in Hanoi Book and Exhibition series, which take place in Venice last year:

Thanks to the great works of Ludovic Balland, our Radical Mix book has been awarded at the Swiss Design Awards. It was a great collaboration and we are very pleased for Ludovic to be awarded such an important prize:

Claudia Wigger is teaching at Michigan Taubman College in continuation of contemporary typologies and the potentials of programmatic synergies as activators of urban life in downtown Detroit:

and Ulrich Kirchhoff is continuing his series ComplexCity at the EPFL, investigating the potentials of urban infrastructures as urban activators for Lausanne:

© 2011, ice - ideas for contemporary environments