Tag Archives: Architectural history

Michael Vidalis | aSocial Architects

via Academia.edu

Social Spaces by aSocial Architects?
Deciphering the Proliferation of Contemporary Heterotopias

By Michael A Vidalis
Registered Architect, MArch – Athens, Greece
PhD Candidate in Urban Sociology

Kitagata Housing project, SANAA Architects [wikimedia commons - Raphael Azevedo Franca]Kitagata Housing project, SANAA Architects. More at Google Images

We are in a new era, setting forth another perception of urban space: A totally subjective, idiosyncratic view of space.

It is supported that architecture in synergy with sociology could produce “better” architecture. Architecture that is socially functional will have an added value. Thus, a new level of meaning can be added to architecture, enhancing the quality of reading of the urban space. Additionally, a holistic and continuous dialectic juxtaposition of all perspectives (absolute, relative and relational space), produces meaning in regards to the space and its transformations.

Vasilis Avdikos (2010) notes that “The view that space has also a relational dimension, fills that void, establishing the human is, as an equal part of a relation. A dialectical relation between the structures/infrastructures and superstructures of a society, between its signifier and the signified. The relational view of space cannot function independently of its absolute and relative view. Only a holistic and continuous dialectic juxtaposition of all these perspectives, produces meaning in regards to the space and its transformations”.[1] Defining superstructures as the meanings, ideology, logic, culture, feelings, consciousnesses, values, traditions and memories, that arise as a result of the operation and use of the structures (market, laws, justice, political parties, school, etc.) and infrastructures (the “built” or man-made environment: buildings, squares, streets, technology and the like). In short, as Avdikos observes, the superstructures operate like a mirror image or reflection of the absolute and relative space, within which specific spatial frames are formed.[2]

In 1999 I was invited to present a paper in a conference; In “Towards a Social Architecture”, I supported the view that we must comprehend and address the social aspects and priorities of architecture. A short time thereafter, a journalist visited my office, surprised for the ideas presented. I replied laconically that it is surreal to think otherwise, regardless if the architectural community in the western world had abandoned the idea of a socially responsible architecture a few decades ago.[3]

It is reminded that the new architecture of the Modern Movement promised to promote or foster social change, in order to alleviate the misery of the working class in the industrial city; or, to at least ameliorate the quality of their lives. Initially the Modernists had the best of intentions for a socially responsible architecture, although they failed as their plans often contravened reality.

Nathan Glazer observed that architects did a 180 degree turn and renounced the social ideals of the Modern Movement, disillusioned with the failure of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project and similar projects. Realizing that they were incapable of addressing social problems, they abandoned the initial enthusiasm of a social agenda and decided to focus on what they undoubtedly knew best: Design. To be specific, design as a solely artistic form.

The demolition of Pruitt-Igoe (1976) would essentially mark the beginning of a new era, setting forth a different perception of space for architects: A totally subjective, idiosyncratic view of space. Sociologist Robert Gutman often noted that humans and their needs are not within the main interests of architects. In short, architects no longer concern themselves with what sociologists or social scientists have to say.

As a result, today’s spaces designed by starchitects, imbued with elements of sensationalism, surprise or disorientation, with an emphasis on escaping reality through heterotopias (Michel Foucault, 1967), etc., should come of no surprise. For architectural space produced today has as its point of departure the aforementioned negation of the social agenda; in this light, today’s architecture appears entirely logical as faithful to the new creed. Space, especially urban space, where most of humanity now resides and communicates, has become idiosyncratic, becoming a monument to its designer.

To prevent any misunderstandings, this is not to negate the entirety of contemporary architecture or imply an inferiority of the new aesthetics; but to suggest that architecture in synergy with sociology could produce better architecture. Architecture that is socially functional will have an added value. Thus, a new level of meaning can be added to architecture, enhancing the quality of reading of the urban space. For the social dimension will not limit or harm the architectural aesthetics, as some practitioners may fear. On the contrary, a holistic perspective will redefine space and its associated aesthetics, as the absolute, relative and relational readings will coexist.

As architecture is undisputedly considered an art form, the definition of art surfaces, reminding us of the feelings evoked upon reading or viewing a subjective creative work. When the social parameter is absent or suppressed, as is often the case today, the feelings produced will most likely be negative or indifferent at best. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that society often perceives architects as non-practical people, relative to the use of space by humans, i.e., in reference to the social dimension.

As a consequence of the above limited standpoint, we are often hearing architects talk amongst themselves, getting the impression that they view their profession solely as the practice of whimsical art that earns them monies; regardless of the rhetoric. A rather cynical view, by a profession that designs human space, because this is what architecture essentially does…

I don’t think that architecture is about solving human problems at all. Psychologists solve human problems, sociologists solve human problems, economists solve human problems. We’re none of those things. We do culturally necessary projects to me, which have a value for the culture in general. What should the architect do in society? I don’t think the architect should do anything, frankly. Peter Eisenman [4]

FOOTNOTES
[1] Vasilis Avdikos, “Space as relation: Methodological approaches and research framework”, Geographies, v. 17, 2010, p45 (Hellenic journal).
[2] Ibid. p42.
[3] Interview to Aris Karer. The paper was published in its entirety in Express, April 1999, Health section, p17. The title given was “Residences for … humans” (Hellenic economic newspaper).
[4] David Basulto – ArchDaily. Interview in 2011 in: http://www.greekarchitects.gr/tv.php?category=291&video=475#first_division (January 9, 2015).

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Frampton, Kenneth. Modern Architecture: A Critical History. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992.
Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press, 1998.
Harvey, David. Social justice and the city. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1973.
Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1991.
Massey, Doreen. Space, Place, and Gender. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.
Sassen, Saskia. The global city: New York, London, Tokyo. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton: University Press, 2001.
Soja, Edward. Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory. London: Verso, 1989.

SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates) is a multiple award-winning architectural firm based in Tokyo, Japan. It was founded in 1995 by two Japanese architects Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世 1956-) and Ryue Nishizawa (西沢立衛 1966-). In 2010, Sejima and Nishizawa were awarded the Pritzker Prize. Examples of their work include the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion in Toledo, Ohio; the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, NY; the Rolex Learning Center at EPFL in Lausanne; the Serpentine Pavilion in London; the Christian Dior Building in Omotesando in Tokyo; the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa; and the Louvre-Lens Museum in France. Read more

Kitagata Housing project, SANAA Architects
The apartment building is part of a large scale public housing reconstruction project located about 15 minutes from Gifu City by car. Four women architects were selected under the coordination of Japanese architect Arata Isozaki to execute the projects. This L-shaped Wing designed by architect Kazuyo Sejima sits on the south-east part of the site where the idea for the overall layout of the development was to run the buildings around the perimeter. Sejima: “Given that this building is made up of rental apartments, it could be assumed that various types of families would live in those units. In other words, we imagined that forms of co-habitation would not be restricted to the existing standard family, but that different types of groupings of people should be considered…”
In the project master plan, the courtyard lies between the four separate housing blocks designed by Akiko Takahashi, Kazuyo Sejima, Christine Hawley, and Elizabeth Diller. Because of the diversity of architectural design found within the project, strong site imagery and geometry have been created for the courtyard to unify the distinct parts of the project and to give the project a memorable identity. See more at http://gifuprefecture.blogspot.co.nz/

Gifu City - Japan. Kitigata Housing project - Terrace1 (1)

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

*Images: Kitagata Housing project, Gifu City, Japan – (top) Wikimedia Commons: Raphael Azevedo Franca; (bottom) via gifuprefecture.blogspot.co.nz

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Otago Museum: H D Skinner Annex + returning exhibition!

Otago Museum H D Skinner Annex - from reserve 2### ODT Online Sat, 4 Jan 2014
Museum to keep annex open all year
By John Gibb
Otago Museum is planning to keep its recently redeveloped H D Skinner Annex open to the public throughout the year, to allow increased community use. The recent ‘Heritage Lost and Found: Our Changing Cityscape‘ exhibition, displayed in the Postmaster Gallery at the annex, had been “very well received” by the community. This show, which was developed with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, would now be reinstalled, and, in response to “public demand”, would return to public display from March. Read more

Otago Museum H D Skinner Annex (building background and facilities)

Comment at ODT Online:

Lost and found
Submitted by ej kerr on Sat, 04/01/2014 – 11:03am.

The significance of the recently closed exhibition for local residents and city visitors was perhaps, at the time, under-appreciated by the exhibiting parties. Dunedin City has formerly lacked such an insightful, rational and easily grasped interactive exhibition on the historical layers of the built environment – signposting the form and change to our cultural heritage landscape and urban context, for better or worse since early days.

This is a planned city (thank you, surveyor Charles Kettle) – we should always honour Dunedin’s uniqueness and intricate textures representatively and graphically; know the ‘before and afters’, the losses, additions and discoveries; be able to quickly recount how the cityscape has evolved, with just these type visual aids and new evolving IT. ‘Heritage Lost and Found’ exactly captures the spirit of where we are!

It’s great news the exhibition is set to continue – in a broader sense, the exhibition is something to build on and develop into the future as a permanent visitor display worthy of any sensitive location for public education. It can take special refreshes and add-ons as research into the merits and quirks of the architecture (our collective legacy) continues through the work of New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Dunedin City Council, Otago Museum, related city archives and collections, archaeologists, building owners, researchers, and professional architectural historians of the calibre of Peter Entwisle and David Murray. The combined effort, its coordination, contains so much power, potential and publishing opportunity. Boggles the mind, then there’s the overwhelming ‘pasture’ for design excellence to cover the brief…
[ends]

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Former Dunedin North Post Office [commons.wikimedia.org] Photo by Benchill 27.9.09 (1)Dunedin North Post Office (McCoy and Wixon)Former Dunedin North Post Office before work started, photo by Benchill via Wikimedia Commons. (below) Proposed building redevelopment rendered by McCoy and Wixon Architects, 2012.

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Links to earlier stories copied from another thread:

● ODT 11.7.13 Museum annex set for opening [after delays]
The $1.6 million redevelopment of the former Dunedin North post office as an Otago Museum exhibition area is nearing completion, and the first display is expected to open next month. Titled ‘Heritage Lost and Found: Our Changing Cityscape’, the first exhibition to be displayed at the annexe was developed in partnership with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. The display would showcase “important aspects of Dunedin’s built heritage that have been demolished or redeveloped”.

● ODT 7.7.13 Work near end on old Post Office
● ODT 18.5.13 Museum’s ‘old post office’ annex nearly ready

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

*Image – opening graphic, view from Museum reserve by Whatifdunedin

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Otago postal history

“It’s a record of the postal history of post offices in communities when the post office was the social-contact hub of the community. So it shows the changing lives of our communities.” – Sharon Dell, Hocken librarian

### ODT Online Fri, 16 Dec 2011
Postal history research gift
By Nigel Benson
A postal delivery which took more than 40 years was given a stamp of approval in Dunedin yesterday. More than [70] supporters and staff of the University of Otago’s Hocken Collections attended a function for veteran Dunedin journalist, historian and publisher George Griffiths. Mr Griffiths spent more than half a lifetime deciphering the post code of provincial Otago post offices and recently donated his 84 volumes of research and photographs to the Hocken.
Read more

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

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