I previously went into some detail about a D-Crit lecture by Christopher Hawthorn in a post in the beginning of the month. He outlined six themes and current trends in architecture that where mostly extrapolated from exhibits at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale. These themes include: Atmosphere, the Worn, Vacancy, Temporary, Softness and Engagement. These posts are coming rather slowly as I have lots of ideas on each of these topics but it takes some time (which I have little of) to form cohesive summaries. At any rate, here is the second in a series of short articles in which I will attempt to give more context and depth via an exploration of meaning and personal explanation of how I define these pivotal concepts both within the realm of architecture and without.
To recap Mr. Hawthorn conveyed the of Temporary by invoking examples of the Sukkah City: NYC 2010 competition, Coachella and Burning Man where given to demonstrate the temporary theme. In addition, a member of the audience asked about biodegradable/compostable building materials during the Q&A portion of the evening. I thought this was an excellent question but it was received by less than enthusiasm .
My personal thoughts on the temporary aspects of place and architecture are a mixed bag. I recently attended an Architizer event featuring design finalist for the Sukkah City: NYC 2010 competition which was mentioned in passing during the talk. I learned that night that a Sukkah is, “a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot.” (As an aside I chose this event that evening over others happening in NYC because my curiosity was piqued when I passed by the Sukkah Depot early that day while working in Brooklyn, still not knowing what a Sukkah was, I was intrigued at the fact it had it’s own depot.) So the idea of temporary structures has been part of human culture for a long time, I would even argue before modern humans where around (but that is another different yet interesting topic). On a larger scale than huts and dwellings, temporary cities/societies are also en vogue from Coachella and Burning Man to the oldest Bedouin, Gypsy and Indian nomadic societies. Years ago I found an article (now archived on Worldchanging.com) detailing a planning strategy developed for the State of Goa in India which called for, “Enable(ing) a long-term ecological succession from forest to cropland to city to forest” In other words, planning an urban environment for natural succession. This blew my mind at the time and I have been intrigued ever since. I would like to see some follow up reporting about how (or if) these ideas have been implemented.
I have attended a few talks given by Monica Ponce de Leon who’s firm designed new interiors for the Fleet Library at the RISD. In an Architectural Record article she states that, “[The] prefabricated nature not only sets [the new additions] apart from their historic context but implies they could be dismantled and carted away if needs change in the future.” I think this is a better example of the temporary in an architectural context.
Another good idea was brought up by a member of the audience during the Q&A portion of Hawthorn’s talk. She asked if anyone was looking at creating biodegradable building materials – which seems reasonable to me – but the question was almost laughed off with a terse mention of building code and structural integrity. This after showing slides of a plastic bubble room. I must admit, I’ve been hoping someone would come up with biodegradable Netafim for years and I would love to create a vertical garden wall that would decompose as time progresses and cease in being an unnatural element in the landscape and become something completely organic, even if it was “manmade”, I think this idea permeates many levels of architecture and design in general, just look at William McDunough’s Cradle to Cradle certified products, including products that are completely biodegradable or can be recycled, or even upcycled, as a nutrient in the industrial process (not downcycled like most “recyclables”). The product even includes several building materials.
Just last weekend I stopped in the Flux Factory in L.I.C. where they had a Self Destructing Art Show. Notable entries included a cake with mice inside eating their way out, a pyramid made of bars of soap with a constant trickle of water desolving it from above and an old huge puppet of an imaginary animals neck and head that had met its expiration and would be destroyed by nights end. Sometimes taking things apart and the demolition process is the most fun.
I could probably ramble on and on about this topic but in the interest of time and keeping my posts a bit more readable I’ll make two closing comments. I think that the temporary nature of objects has a lot to do with the way we design them and if not for this designed or percieved obsolescence many things, big and small, could be reused and this idea ties in neatly with the idea of the worn which will be discussed at a later date. Maybe I should do another post post about all these themes in architecture and tie them all together or really suss them out as more than the sum of the parts as they are presented here.
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