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Theory And History: The Latest Architecture and News

Creating Architectural Value through Aesthetics

Humans try very hard to make the inexplicable understood. Our spirituality becomes religion. Fairness becomes law. And what delights us becomes aesthetics, and aesthetics are dumbed down to “style” in fine arts and architecture. The description, then definition, of aesthetics enables us to judge, and hopefully, control what thrills us: "Styles may change, details may come and go, but the broad demands of aesthetic judgement are permanent". -- Roger Scruton

But the instant delight we sometimes feel when we hear, taste, think or see parts of our experience is unreasoned in its apprehension. We try to create value in our outcomes by defining them beyond experience – that is aesthetics.

The History of the Penrose Stair and its Influence on Design

Stairs in architecture are oftentimes a design focal point- the heavyhandedness in creating something that moves us from one level to the next, up and down repeatedly, something so simple and familiar with a twist is what makes the experience of traversing a stair so unique. Our obsession with stairs and the level of illusion that they create in architecture perhaps stems from the way that they’re able to twist the optics and perceptions of space. We understand that they transport us in one direction or another, but can stairs ever be circular? Is it possible to go up and down for eternity? 

Tactical Urbanism: What are its Limits in the Public Realm?

Today, one of the most popular initiatives regarding public space, participatory design and activism in the city is the so-called citizen urbanism or tactical urbanism. The approach proposes to trigger, through limited and low-cost interventions, long-term changes in public space, i.e. short-term action, long-term change (Street Plans, 2013).

The strategy used is to create temporary scenarios that make visible a specific problem and the formation of specific interventions to solve it, seeking to incorporate the community to give it relevance and promote its sustainability over time and, in this way, raise the discussion about the benefits of the projects for the quality of life in the context in which they are inserted.

Why Francis Kéré Won the Pritzker Prize?

Francis Kéré, 2022 Pritzker Prize Laureate . Image © Lars Borges
Francis Kéré, 2022 Pritzker Prize Laureate . Image © Lars Borges

Last Tuesday, March 15, Francis Kéré became the first African architect to win the Pritzker Prize, the most important award in the architecture discipline.

The election of Kéré is not only symbolic in a time of identity demands, where the institutions that make up the mainstream are required to more faithfully represent the social, cultural, and sexual realities that make up our societies, but it also confirms the recent approach of the Pritzker Prize jury.

Gando Primary School / Kéré Architecture. Image © Siméon DuchoudGando Primary School Extension / Kéré Architecture. Image © Erik Jan OuwerkerkSerpentine Pavilion / Kéré Architecture. Image Courtesy of Kéré ArchitectureStartup Lions Campus / Kéré Architecture. Image Courtesy of Kéré Architecture+ 8

The Building That Moved: How Did They Move an 11,000-Ton Telephone Exchange Without Suspending Its Operations?

In November 1930, in Indiana, United States, one of the great feats of modern engineering was executed: a team of architects and engineers moved an 11,000-ton (22-million pound) telephone exchange without ever suspending its operations either basic supplies for the 600 employees who worked inside.

Mapping Improvisation: The Role of Call and Response in Urban Planning

Congo Square, E.W. Kemble. Image
Congo Square, E.W. Kemble. Image

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

New Orleans was designed by its early settlers in 1721 as a Cartesian grid. You know it as the famous French Quarter or Vieux Carré. Such grids are named for the Cartesian coordinate system we learned to use in algebra or geometry class, perpendicular X and Y axes, used to measure units of distance on a plane. The invention of René Descartes (1596–1650), these grids reflect his rationalism, the view that reason, not embodied or empirical experience, is the only source and certain test of knowledge. William Penn used a similar grid in 1682 in selling Philadelphia as an urban paradise where industry would thrive in the newly settled wilderness. And just as the massive buildings of Italian Rationalist (i.e., Fascist) architecture express authoritarian control, so, too, Cartesian grids implicitly say: Someone is in charge here. We’ve got this. Trust us.

Design Ethics: Rethinking Practice in 2021

Ethical practice spans all parts of architecture. From intersectionality and labor to the climate crisis, a designer must work with a range of conditions and contexts that inform the built environment and the process of its creation. Across cultures, policies and climates, architecture is as much functional and aesthetic as it is political, social, economic, and ecological. By addressing the ethics of practice, designers can reimagine the discipline's impact and who it serves. 

© Stijn Bollaert© Adli Wahid© CO Adaptive Architecture© Anne Fougeron+ 13

The Spatial Stories of Ousmane Sembène

When examining the world of African cinema, there are few names more prominent than that of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène. His films ‘La Noire de…’ and ‘Mandabi’, released in 1966 and 1968 respectively, are films that tell evocative stories on the legacies of colonialism, identity, and immigration. And whilst these two films are relatively slow-spaced, ‘slice-of-life stories, they also offer a valuable spatial critique of the setting where the films are based, providing a helpful framework to understand the intricacies of the post-colonial African city, and the contrast between the African and European metropolises.

Courtesy of Janus FilmsCourtesy of Janus FilmsIbrahim walking in the wide-laned streets of Dakar's more affluent areas. Image Courtesy of Janus FilmsCourtesy of Janus Films+ 13

Forensic Architecture’s Samaneh Moafi on Tear Gas Use in Chile: “Toxic Gas Is Not Only Colonizing the Public Space of Our Cities”

On October 18, 2019, a 4-cent increase on Santiago's Metro fare caused an uproar on the streets of the Chilean capital. The citizens' anger escalated quickly, leading to demands of immediate structural changes in the Chilean economic and social system. Alongside the people's call for change, daily clashes between protesters and the police led to excessive use of tear gas by the latter across the country.

Even though the use of tear gas is banned in warfare since 1925, police worldwide are allowed to use it for the sole purpose of scattering protesters, as had happened in Chile. The most iconic example can be seen in Plaza Dignidad (Dignity Square), previously known as Plaza Italia ahead of the social outbreak that erupted in the country: everyday, a camera records the activities around the iconic roundabout, capturing the constant and excessive use of lachrymatory gas every Friday.

Before “Colonial” There Was Immigrant Architecture in North America

There is an architecture of the migrant. It is survivalist, built with what is available, made as quickly as possible, with safety as its core value. Americans romanticize that architecture as “Colonial”: simple timber buildings, with symmetric beginnings, infinite additions, and adaptations. But “Colonial” architecture is not what was built first by the immigrants to a fully foreign land 400 years ago. Like all migrant housing, time made it temporary and forgotten.

We Already Have Viable Models for Quality Affordable Housing

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In this week's reprint, author Walter Jaegerhaus explores the U.S. housing challenge, drawing a timeline of the evolution of different architectural solutions, from around the world. Seeking to "inspire designers today to create new housing options", and hoping "that the U.S can again embrace its experimental origins and try out new ideas and methods", the article highlights examples from Europe and the Americas.

Habitat 67, Montreal, by Moshe Safdie.  . Image Courtesy of Creative CommonsSchlangenbader Straße Housing, Berlin, by Georg Heinrich.   . Image Courtesy of Creative CommonsCube Houses, Rotterdam, by Piet Bloom. . Image Courtesy of Creative CommonsInternational Building Exhibition, Vienna. Via Der Tagesspiegel . Image Courtesy of Creative Commons+ 17