In their latest book Design for a Living Planet: Settlement, Science, and the Human Future, Michael Mehaffy and Nikos Salingaros examine recent developments in science that will inform and possibly even radically alter the future of architecture. The following is an adapted series of excerpts that summarizes the content of the book.
Architecture has always concerned itself with the future, and with the implications of findings from the sciences — as well as their practical applications to architectural craft. Today we do indeed see very exotic computer-designed aesthetic surfaces, splined forms, and generative schemes. To a non-scientist, this work might appear ultra-scientific and “modern”. We also see the symbolism of a turbulent, fractured Universe, wherein old ideas of meaning are facing anguishing post-modern challenges.
But from a modern physicist’s perspective, this architecture is still mired in the past.
Making Complex Systems Visible: “Between Geometry and Geography” Carefully Uncovers the Layers of Mexico City
I always book a window seat when flying into Mexico City. It guarantees exposing the traveler to the exhilarating immensity of the city and the valley that barely contains it: a blunt encounter of geometry and geography indeed. Braving traffic I arrive to my hotel in the historic center and the first morning, over breakfast and with those aerial images still fresh in my mind, I invariably marvel at the fact that I have just had a hot shower and that I am enjoying, as usual, excellent huevos rancheros. “How did these eggs get here?” I wonder. The thoughts quickly dissipate as one is engulfed by the many renowned attractions of Mexico City.
Felipe Correa and Carlos Garciavelez Alfaro have chosen not to be distracted. Their book, “Between Geometry and Geography: Mexico City”, is an ambitious portrait of Mexico City that avoids reading the city through the singularities of its monuments. They have produced instead a stunning graphic biography of the metropolis, focusing on the infrastructures that have shaped the city and make it function today and speculating on opportunities for future multifunctional infrastructures.
Published by the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile as part of their ARQ DOCS series, “Pier Vittorio Aureli” features two in depth interviews with Aureli, the high-profile Italian theorist and co-founder of design and research studio DOGMA. The book’s introduction, written by Emilio De la Cerda is excerpted below.
The work of Pier Vittorio Aureli constitutes a rigorous effort of thought regarding architectural discipline and the political dimension enclosed by the specificity of form. It is an approach focused on the power of the project, a speculative but delimited tool, which allows overcoming the paralysis of diagnosis and the abuse of diagrams, in order to establish a decisive commitment with the concrete reality of the city.
This line of thought, which is introduced here through two interviews conducted in 2010 and 2012 by Felipe De Ferrari and Diego Grass —architects and professors in our school—recognizes the profound historical and collective tradition of architecture, showing itself distant from those conceptions that see both creativity and the subjective originality of form as a sort of ethical manifest. Far from celebrating authorial genius, Aureli insists in the inseparable link that exists between architectural production and the cultural realm in which it develops.
MARK #53 surveys American low-income housing from coast to coast. Michael Webb provides the historical and cultural context for some recent success stories in affordable development and presents three buildings in California designed by Kevin Daly Architects, OJK Architects and Planners, and Rob Wellington Quigley.
Larger low-income developments in New York and Los Angeles, by David Adjaye and Michael Maltzan respectively, speak to overcoming the challenge of aesthetic innovation on a tight budget. In the southern and western states, we find the Rural Studio at Auburn University and Design Build Bluff at the Universities of Utah and Colorado tackling the low-income housing issue outside the city, realizing rural homes for less than €20,000 each.
Then, it’s time for dinner and a show. Tour MVRDV’s mixed-use Markthal, a food paradise for casual grazers and sit-down diners alike, before talking with Jan Versweyveld, who designed the scenography for a stage adaptation of The Fountainhead.
JA96 takes a retrospective look at the architecture of 2014. 83 projects were chosen to present the best of Japanese architecture, including works by Kazuyo Sejima, Kengo Kuma, Toyo Ito, Tadao Ando and Shigeru Ban.
The issue also features a roundtable conversation between Tomohiko Yamanashi, Satoru Ito and Akihito Aoi about the current architectural design and decision-making.
The following is an excerpt from Keller Easterling’s latest publication, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, which explores areas of infrastructure with the greatest impact on our world. Easterling is a professor at Yale School of Architecture.
The road between Nairobi and Mombasa is lined with, and virtually lit by, advertisements for the mobile phone companies that have entered the region—all promising new freedoms and economic opportunities. With their images of Masai tribesman in native dress phoning from a remote wilderness, the ads employ an essential trope of leap-frogging—the desire for a perfect collapse between technology and nature, tradition and modernity. The billboards express the enthusiasm of a world turned upside down in which not the developed but the developing world has their hands around a majority of the world’s cell phones.
Over the last 150 years, the ocean floor has been laid with thousands of miles of submarine cable of all types for telegraph, telephone, and fiber-optic infrastructure. In the nineteenth century, it took only thirty years for the British cable-laying companies to string the world with telegraph cable, and a little over a decade from the late 1980s to the late 1990s for most of the world to be connected to fiber-optic cable. Yet until recently, East Africa, one of the most populous areas of the world, had no fiber- optic submarine cable link and less than 1 percent of the world’s broadband capacity. A country like Kenya had to rely for its broadband on expensive satellite technology acquired in the 1970s that cost twenty to forty times its equivalent in the developed world. Before 2009, one Mbps (megabit per second) of bandwidth could cost as much as 7,500 US dollars per month against the world average of $200. The monthly cost of putting twenty-five agents on the phone was $17,000 a month instead of the $600–900 that it would cost in other developed countries.(1)
If a building could be thought of as the architect’s manifesto to construction, then the staircase can be seen as the designer’s autograph – a signature flourish that can embody the entire statement of design for a building in a singular structure. Staircases can be flamboyant or understated in design, from refined to rustic in their construction and traditional to unconventional in the materials from which they are built. Whatever their direction, all of the staircases in this collection make an announcement about the building, whether they are intended to subtly blend in with their surroundings or to attract attention and inspire.
This book is a collection of 39 of the most exceptional staircase designs produced across the world over the last ten years. Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design features photographs of the finished staircases alongside technical drawings, illustrating the design and construction of outstanding projects ranging from intricate domestic creations to imaginative public and commercial features and dramatic artistic statements. Each building in this book is conceived by an architect whose all-encompassing vision drives and informs the configuration of each structure, provides a concept that gives direction to the building’s appearance and solutions to each design problem. Every featured staircase should therefore be seen as the distillation of each designer’s approach, encapsulating the motivation and direction of the entire building design. The staircase can be considered as a microcosm of the building.
Black Dragon Press has shared a set of prints and a booklet on Brutalist architecture in London with illustrations by Thomas Danthony, complemented by text from ”Fuck Yeah Brutalism” curator Michael Abrahamson. See Abrahamson’s intro to the booklet reprinted below.
Brutalism is an unusually evocative word. Like the architecture for which it’s used as a descriptor, it can elicit a powerful, bodily discomfort or psychological repulsion. Standard dictionary definitions itemise the materials (exposed concrete, but also brick and block) and describe the physical character (forceful, unadorned, imposing) of this type of building, and would likely also mention the time frame during which it was the dominant tendency in architecture (from the late 1950s to the early 1970s).
The following is an excerpt from Last Is More: Mies, IBM and the Transformation of Chicago. The Langham Hospitality Group commissioned architectural photojournalists Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren to document the transformation of eminent architect Mies van der Rohe‘s IBM Building — the last skyscraper he designed — into The Langham, Chicago. In this chapter, Sharoff and Zbaren provide a more detailed look into the period between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on Chicago’s skyline was at its most pervasive.
The construction of the IBM Building occurred midway through a legendary period in Chicago architecture—the decadelong building boom between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on the city’s skyline was at its most pervasive.
During these years, numerous Miesian structures by firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, C. F. Murphy Associates, and Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett were erected, and the city’s reputation as the founder of American modernism was finally and firmly established. The best of those buildings continue to dominate the skyline.
A+u magazine was recently granted an exclusive interview with the co-founders of Flux, the Google[x] startup whose mission is to harness data to automate architectural and urban design. The discussion is one of 14 essays and interviews from leading urban technologists in the current November issue, Data-Driven Cities.
“We began our exploration with the premise that buildings and the sustainability of our modern lifestyle are deeply intertwined. In addition, buildings – more specifically, housing – is an issue of human dignity. We wanted to find ways to apply Google-scale thinking to tackle these important issues,” says co-founder Nicholas Chim in the interview.
Read on after the break for a+u magazine’s full interview with Flux co-founders, Nicholas Chim and Michelle Kaufmann. And check out the November issue of a+u magazine, available in digital and print editions, which features new essays by Carlo Ratti (MIT), Dan Hill (City of Sound), Alastair Parvin (Wikihouse) and more.
The NSA Muscle, an interactive inflatable structure built in 2003 that responded to touch and presence by changing its shape, is the latest subject explored in the Canadian Centre for Architecture‘s series on pioneering projects of digital architecture. Joining a roster of influential names including Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry and Chuck Hoberman, this e-book recounts a conversation between Greg Lynn and the author of the project Kas Oosterhuis of ONL [Oosterhuis and Lénárd]. The ‘breathing’ structure was covered by a grid of ‘muscles’ that contracted and relaxed in response to external stimulus, combining commercial pneumatics and virtual control technology in new ways to prototype an new kind of interactive architecture.
Discover the story by downloading NSA Muscle for free after the break.
The Modernist is a quarterly journal dedicated to 20th century modernist architecture and design. Published in Manchester – one of the cultural capitals of the North of England – and featuring an esteemed roster of writers and contributors from across the United Kingdom, the journal has been described by James Pallister of the Architects’ Journal as, in spite of its subject matter, “free from the strait-laced rigour of classic graphic design modernism.” Twelve issues later and the liberal, playfully academic tone of this digestible journal has been maintained in this latest incarnation, Departed.
The following in an excerpt from Carter Wiseman’s Writing Architecture: A Practical Guide to Clear Communication about the Built Environment. The book considers the process, methods, and value of architecture writing based on Carter Wiseman’s thirty years of personal experience writing, editing, and teaching young architects how to write. This book creatively tackles a problematic issue that Wiseman considers to crucial to successful architecture writing: clarity of thinking and expression.
Some years ago, a writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education declared, “Too many architecture students can’t write.”  Those students have since gone on to become practitioners, and their inability to write is likely to have had seriously negative professional consequences. Robert Campbell, a Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic for the Boston Globe, condemned in Architectural Record much of what even the most prominent practicing architects write as “pretentious illiteracy.” He went on to attack their coded language as “ArchiSpeak”and warned that “sooner or later, architects (and planners and landscapers and urban designers) must convince someone to hire them or at least bless them with a grant. . . . Nobody is going to trust a dollar to a pompous twit.” 
Why do we make models? From sketch maquettes and detail tests to diagrammatic and presentation models, the discipline of physically crafting ideas to scale is fundamental to the architect’s design process. For architect and educator Nick Dunn, architectural models ultimately ”enable the designer to investigate, revise and further refine ideas in increasing detail until such a point that the project’s design is sufficiently consolidated to be constructed.” In Dunn’s second edition of his practical guide and homage to the architectural model, the significance and versatility of this medium is expertly visualised and analysed in a collection of images, explanations, and case studies.
The October issue of a+u introduces 14 recent works from around the globe. In particular, the issue is focused on architecture that emerged from the relationship with the urban structures or the developmental history of the site. Over time, they influence and transform the surrounding environment. Architects employ diverse “tactics” in order to create such architecture: collaborating with the residents, relating to the neighboring buildings and open spaces, diversifying the building’s programs, and employing intricate construction details. In this issue, we focus our attention on the process of conceiving the projects driven by various tactics. We invite our readers to look beyond a single building and examine the works’ possibilities to be used in a long span of time.
I was recently at a lecture at Rotterdam’s Nieuwe Instituut in which Dirk van den Heuvel mediated a discussion between Kenneth Frampton and Herman Hertzberger. Talking of those who contributed to the Dutch Structuralist movement, Hertzberger lamented the fact that so many have faded into obscurity: “if you make the mistake of not writing” he said, “you’re bound to be forgotten.” Accompanying design with the written word is at the core of good practice, not only because it lends design an elevated meaning by cementing it into a wider discourse, but also because it often uncovers the subconscious significance of the process of architecture.
LOBBY is an attempt from students of London’s Bartlett School of Architecture to anchor in-house research and external contributions in words, “creating both a space we lack and an action we desire.” Their new journal is also a response to the school’s current in-between state as they await their new building in temporary studio spaces. As such, LOBBY will serve as a platform for exchange and discussion in lieu of a physical lobbying space. The first issue explores the theme of Un/Spectacle, offering different layers, approaches, readings and perspectives on the topic of the ‘(un)spectacle’ of the everyday.
Articles on China’s building boom often highlight the property bubble, megalomaniac planners, governmental corruption and private graft, substandard building practices and the destruction of the nation’s cultural heritage.
In Mark #51, we interviewed four Chinese architects on four aspects of China’s building practices to reveal the mechanisms at the foundation of this unedifying image. Li Hu offers his thoughts on architecture, Liu Yuyang on urban planning, Li Xiaodong on aesthetics and Liu Jiakun on construction processes. What can we learn from their experience?
The following is an excerpt from Bill Schmalz’s book The Architect’s Guide to Writing.
The architecture, design, and construction professions are seen, by ourselves and by those outside the professions, as visual and tectonic fields. Architects and designers are trained as visual artists, using two- and three-dimensional means to depict buildings, spaces, and urban environments. We learn how to sketch; to build physical and digital models; and to draw plans, elevations, sections, and details. Similarly, contractors and construction managers are trained in scheduling, cost estimating, and the physical requirements of constructing buildings. These are valuable skills for us design and construction professionals at all stages in our careers. But for most of us, there comes a time when we need to write stuff, when written documents dominate our professional lives. Letters, proposals, reports, specifications, contracts, RFIs and RFI responses, meeting minutes, emails, and white papers are just some of the types of documents that we spend much of our time writing.
Unfortunately, we receive little training in our writing skills. True, our elementary school education may have given us the basics of English grammar and composition. In college, most of us had to fulfill liberal arts requirements that involved writing. But when we entered the profession, we were unprepared to deal with how much we would have to write, and how important it would be to our professional lives.