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Steven Holl: Urbanisms - Working with Doubt (2009)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A précis by Ochuko Edewor



Steven Holl, who is an American architect, stated that today working with doubt is unavoidable; the absolute is suspended by the relative and interactive and that instead of simple and clear programmes we must engage in contingent and diverse programmes.
He says we should aim for architecture that is integral: landscape/ architecture/ urbanism; architecture of deep connection to site, culture and climate, rather than an applied signature style. Working with openness and doubt at the outset of each project can yield works engaged on levels of both site and culture: many different urbanism, rather than a single urbanism. In the book, he states eleven (11) factors that he believes should be fundamental in the achieving a successful urban space.

GEO-SPATIAL
He talks about Venus which is the Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour and close equivalent in size. Venus once had water but it’s now steam. It has no moon. “His theory is that it once had a moon just as it once had water, both victims of greenhouse heat (effect)”; and that every constructive mark on the Earth’s crust, in relation to natural landscape should be scrutinised.

EXPERIENTIAL PHENOMENA
Few planners speak of the important phenomenological characteristics determining the qualities of urban life - spatial energy and mystery, qualities of light, colour, sound, and smell. The subjectivity of urban experience must be held in equal importance to the objective and practical. Constructed in walls of glass, concrete or brick, the city is as much a subjective experience as it is an objective reality. This synthesis of subjective and objective ought to be central to urban design from the outset. Time, light, stone, history, and urban geometry intermesh to form a unique impression. The intermeshing of these phenomenal aspects yields a visceral, intellectual, and physical experience that demands descriptive words such as amazement, wonder, poetic revelation; words not found in planning documents.

SPATIALITY OF NIGHT
Space is defined by the interrelationship of light, colour and atmospheric conditions. In a slight mist space is liquid. At the Pratt Institute School of Architecture in Brooklyn, shadows of students moving about in the drafting studio can be seen from the glowing light of the entrance court. The projection of light in this new courtyard is a soft wash rather than the regimented light of a streetlamp, a new urban courtyard with a golden penumbra. Urban space at night may have a veiled charm and mystery.
A rural spatiality of night requires restoring darkness. The suburban light pollution is rapidly erasing the stars from our night skies negatively affects animals and migrating birds.

URBAN POROSITY
Porosity is the inexhaustible law of the city, reappearing everywhere. The pedestrian can change direction in seconds; the pedestrian is not blocked by large urban constructions without entry or exit. This freedom of pedestrian movement can be envisioned in different ways for the 21st century.
For larger urban projects made up of several buildings, porosity becomes essential for the vitality of street life. Beijing Linked Hybrid, a project of eight towers ranging from twelve to twenty-one stories, linked by bridges with public functions, is an experiment in urban porosity. Passages from all sides leading into the central space are lined and activated with shops.

SECTIONAL CITIES (TOWARD NEW URBAN VOLUMES)
The 19th century has flat-footed-ground space; 21st century metropolitan space is more active in section (use of elevators/escalators).
Invigorated urbanism of the 21st century has moved beyond the usual ‘X’ and ‘Y’ dimensions. Today the ‘Z’ dimension of the development of buildings yields new experiences in space, light and perception. As urbanists and architects we must think first of the urban sections in our sections. The section can be 50 times more consequential than the plan, especially in metropolitan centres such as Manhattan, Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong.

 



ENMESHED EXPERIENCE: PARTIAL VIEWS
Our experience of a contemporary city is one of partial views, fragmented and incomplete. A fantastic spatial energy resides not in the building as object in itself, but in its relationship to the urban environment.  A revalued understanding of the experiential dimensions of urban design moves beyond the norms of individual architectural intention, toward the indefinite properties of urban assemblage. Enmeshed experiences merge foreground, middle ground, and distant view through partial views.

PSYCHOLOGICAL SPACE
This deals with the exhilaration we find when we walk into the space between or inside certain buildings and it produces a kind of psychological space. The psychological effects of sound must be considered as well as other temporal fragmentations. In this regard, architecture produces desire.

FLUX AND THE EPHEMERAL
The constant flux of information, materials and products dissolve and disperse. This readily influences the metropolis. Open architecture which can adapt to change- like a rock canyon in which material is eroded by the river flow- calls for an architecture of duration rather than one of throwaway space. For example currently most American universities construct 100 year-span buildings for their campuses.

BANALIZATION VERSUS QUALITATIVE POWER
The fact that explosive urban growth yields banalization without architectural quality is no surprise. What is surprising however is the attempt of the current generation of urban theorists to write apologetically for this flattening banality as if we could be immunized to its effects via charts and data.
Our aim is to realise at least some constructions of exemplary qualitative power. Constructed with a plurality of meanings, an intense urban architecture of quality can be an instrument of abstract thought: unforeseen, resistant to banalization, and capable of changing and shaping urban life with phenomenal experiences.



NEGATIVE CAPABILITY
Negative capability is a positive capacity. Negative capability is to be able to take in all the problematic aspects of the surrounding world, to see and acknowledge, to entertain uncertainty and still be able to act. As an architect you go to a site to study every angle available; intuitively you create. Regardless of how unfortunate and difficult elements accumulate in our daily lives, as architects and urbanist it is important to aim with optimism at a long term view.

FUSION: LANDSCAPE/ URBANISM/ ARCHICTECTURE
The fusion of architecture/ urbanism/ landscape can be realised in city fragments when all aspects are conceived integrally. This integration should carry over into texture, material, colour, translucency and reflection. Landscape design ordered as an afterthought cannot effectively fuse with architecture and urbanism.

CONCLUSION
Working with doubt on an urban scale can allow for action, construction, experimentation and enable all involved to think experience and rethink the new problems and challenges. Especially in rapidly urbanizing cultures such as China, whole city sectors containing everything needed for living, working, recreation and education can be realized at once. This multiple building construction is something beyond architecture but not quite urban planning; it is in between.
The 21st century metropolis shouldn’t aspire to be master planned; rather it should be a connected system of inspired fragments.
 
 


 
 

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