Thursday, October 13, 2011

Radical Mix @ Swissnex

We were recently invited to give a talk at the Swissnex in San Francisco as part of the opening of the Travel Exhibition "3 Positions". Introducing the Radical Mix studio, we gave a brief introduction to the evolution of the challenges of the contemporary city and compared the conceptual modernist approach with the spontaneous and impulsive growth of the asian cities:

Vertical Urbanism - A Brief History

To understand where we are, we need to know where we come from. I will begin by revisiting the Plan Voisin by Le Corbusier, a century old, and the evolution of the model in the West and in Asia. The Modernist answer to the question of sustainability at that time.

In the West, vertical cities are envisioned in Order, with impeccable blocks meticulously aligned over a pristine site. Le Corbusier foresaw a shiny city, the vast population secured in airy towers, with Nature flourishing below. A neat rectilinear network of skyscrapers crosshatched with wide highways for automobiles, freeing the podium for manicured parks.

The story of Pruitt-Igoe:

Architect Minoru Yamasaki
Completed in 1956, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

2,870 apartments in 33 apartment buildings on 23 hectares.
Based on the principles defined by CIAM, blocks were raised up to 11 floors to save the grounds and ground floor space for communal activity. The buildings remained largely vacant for years, occupancy never rose above 60%. By the end of the 1960s Pruitt–Igoe was nearly abandoned and had deteriorated into a decaying, dangerous, crime-infested neighborhood

Demolition - 1972-1976

The story of Vele di Scampia (Sails of Scampia):

Architect Franz Di Salvo
Built 1962-1975, Scampia, Naples, Italy

The design with bridges, corridors and sky communal spaces represented the paradigm of a new approach to the social residence. The idea behind the project was to provide a huge housing settlements where hundreds of families can integrate and create a community.

The Sails of Scampia became a major centre for drug trafficking and illegal activities. The buildings are in a state of decay, while two buildings are still occupied by residents. The 2008 film Gomorrah of Matteo Garrone was partly filmed here.

The towering projects speak of a social division, of a life trapped in cages up in the air, overlooking the violence and the void of existence below, peering at the gathering storm of riot police and youths in the streets.

Whereas Asia resembles a Darwinian Architectural experiment in overdrive that bloomed a thousand species.

Le Corbusier did not foresee that the humanity stacked up in his immaculate cruciforests will burst from their fortresses into the free-flowing ground below, hungry for the liberation from the immobility of their vertical lives, luxuriating in the flux of the streets. The towers are scalar fields, the pent-up energy in them disperses by the millions into the podium and streets where fertile mercantile imagination found thousands of ways to capture their fleeting attention, if not their wallets, stomachs, hearts and minds.

The result of the inverse relation of the towers and the streets, the Ville Ombreuse, allows a bewildering number of shadier, tenacious, adventurous lifeforms to flourish and multiply in micro-economies and macroecologies.

As an urban rhizome, connected from its skybridges to the bowels of its subway, networked to near territorial infinity by intricate metro systems and trains, they weave a matrix upon which the prosperous metropolis thrives, by-passing some of the most spectacular nature of South China, mountains, sand and sea, leaving them pristine. Its staggering monumental density belies the fact that this is an unexpectedly sustainable model for millions.

Excluding Hong Kong's high consumption of imports, the actual domestic per capita footprint (17% of its total carbon footprint) generated as a result of this living model is among the lowest for developed countries, at 6.7 tonnes.

The city as a Rhizome:

X-Cities in Asia

What are X-Cities?

EXpedited - Accelerated

“One speaks of an art of tomorrow. This art will be, because humanity has changed its way of living and thinking. The program is new.”

The man has a point. Hong Kong is a vertiginous, postcard perfect conglomerate of diamond-cut towers - a Darwinian experiment in overdrive that bloomed a thousand architecture species.

This is clearest from the heights of Victoria Peak miles above the city. In the clarified air, the unfamiliar blast of ozonic oxygen induces hallucinatory headiness. Below, the traffic of humans and machines resemble ants in a clockwork maze of proto structures - a wonderland of edifice unfolds where architecture periods are shuffled like the cards of a deck and then exponentially multiplied to apparent infinity. En masse, the result careens towards psychotropic chaos than Euclidian geometry, a fantastical, wild, impenetrable labyrinthian fractal garden both realistic and artificial, perfumed by acid.

It is also the spaces in between the buildings and the relationships between them that reconfigure the city. With organized complexity emerge urban webs and social intelligence.

The late 20C urban environments in hot, humid tropical Asia thrive as a result of these microclimatic consequences. Streets and alleys are cooled by the towering shadows, enough to encourage pedestrians to abandon the air-conditioned cocoons of the buildings and the chilled belly of the subway. In Hong Kong, the furrows between edifices, the “terrain vague” at the podium and street level, the voids of Ville Radieuse/Ombreuse hold promise of the possible, of transformation and expectations of human energy.

Parasitical connections, walkways and linkages copulate, fuse and fall in together until the point is reached when everything coalesces into a wanton web. Relationships intensify in parallel - the escalation of traffic attract free-wheeling commerce and nuclei of mercantilism spring up by the thousands.

It is also the spaces in between the buildings and the relationships between them that reconfigure the city. With organized complexity emerge urban webs and social intelligence.

Redemption - understanding that in the liquid torrents of the city, we are in perpetual motion, that we are headed somewhere, that there is a future unfolding, that transition is a state of freedom.

From above the rise and fall of the cityscape, one is struck by the deluge of abundance, of a million scintillating possibilities.

Emergence of Complex Cities at the Edge of Chaos.

Instant Megalopolis X-City - Ville Contemporaine.

Like the undergrowth of a rainforest, a lively, complex street culture thrives in astonishing configurations beneath the Asian Plan Voisin.

The development of mass transit systems freed the wide streets from cars and vehicular traffic, and the subway seamlessly connect one neighborhood to another.

Driven by commercial and economic impulses, the configurations take on the nature of the old neighborhood fabric, their DNA bears the imprimatur of their cultural and societal context despite the modernity of the constructions. The process hits a plateau, however, when the demand for a more ideal micro-climate leads to airconditioning and an envelope, and the podium mall materializes as a result. Designed by a centralized architectural authority, malls become increasingly a closed system that manifest entropy, a state of inert uniformity that metastasized throughout Asian cities.

From above the rise and fall of the cityscape, one is struck by the deluge of abundance, of a million scintillating possibilities.


Pent-Up Energy
Energy Vectors & Flux


Architecture-Urbanism Hybrids

Perhaps our best ideas are like birds, they remain caged until we choose liberty.

Ultimately, through the Transformation of the Design Process, we hope that the students undergo their own Transformation as Architects.

© 2011, ice - ideas for contemporary environments