Thesis text: "Architecture undone"



This thesis statement is an attempt to describe my motivations and concerns about architecture and the design process. The following will be more about the questions I am asking rather than about providing answers. I see this document as a snapshot in an ongoing process of learning and my aim is to understand the design process. This is not an absolute statement but an accumulation of thouhts, concerns and questions that are of interest to me. My objective with this statement will be to somehow connect and pull together these multiple thoughts and questions into a necessarily heterogenous but hopefully coherent picture.

I am interested in architecture that allows for individual engagement rather than predesigned pattens of restricted usage and restricted functions, spaces that are unfinished or incomplete until a person or a group of people engages with it through occupation, thus altering or adapting the space. The space is then redesigned according to the moment. Would not such architecture question the largely accepted norms and enable the occupant to create his/her space?

Would not such an architecture enable the individual to question the largely accepted norms and to take the initiative to create his or her own space? Imagine: a space that provides freedom rather than restricting it and that allows for active engagement by the user. Architecture that does not reinforce institutions but aids and serves the individual occupant to bring about changes of the system and rules.

"... the mandate of today is not the control of change but its invention." Lebbeus Woods.

The experience provided by architectural space can thus be a catalyst to rethink or reconsider set standards, like rules for behaviour or ways of thinking or, worse, not thinking, it can be a possibility to question those patterns and rules that others set up and not to not just follow the flow without ever looking at it critically... A chance to find your own answers -  or more likely your own questions. This will ultimately open up individual freedom, freedom to change, develop and progress.

Traditional architecture reinforces and establishes traditional institutions, like for example the monumentality of a standard municipal building does not encourage you to perform like the individual, (der muendige Buerger), that democracy is build on and depends on but rather lets you know that you are ina realm of a higher power and not an active and essential part of decision making that is going on. Does not architecture and its preconception have to shift in order to make  change possible, in more than just a political setting?

These questions ultimately lead me to "rethink architecture", to "architecture undone and redone".

Architecture undone: Traditional architecture seems based on the idealized user which, in the western world, is the rational thinking, educated white male, alias Mr. Spock. his does not seem appropriate today with a world that becomes smaller and smaller, moves faster and faster, exchanges more information more efficiently every day and brings together a variety of cultures and people. The occupant of today is "a being/becoming who is at once infant, child, adolescent and adult, who is at once female and male, who is at one and the same time rational and irrational, empirical and mystical."

This  multi-vocality and ambivalence is not included in the traditional design process with its rules for decision making and the concern for legitimizing decisions following a rational and logical pattern and proceeding ina linear sequence.

How can I allow the irrational, the mystical to inform the design process?

"... the best work of the contemporary spirit comes from the irrational, while what prevails in the world, what dominates and often kills, does so in the name of reason.", Daniel Liebeskind.

Traditionally architecture focuses on lgical and rational patterns for the design process. This to me seems no longer appropriate considering the multiplicity of influences on the design process, the decision maker, the architect. Of course there are rational restrictions of technical, legal or historical aspects. But only considering those is forgetting the architect as a whole person and his or he various influences, like memories, that also determine the process and make the project.

Life itself is not linear or rational. The built environment can not be complete without taking the irrational into account. I think the irrational or metaphysical is always a part of an architectural project; for example the architects personal response to a problem is always part of a project. The links the architect finds within the layers of the project reflect an intellectual standpoint or define an ethical or political view and find their way into the work. Through attempting to encourage and promote he presence of these influences I hope to find a project that addresses multiple issues at once; a project that is accessible - mentally and physically- by a variety of occupant and users and used in more that one way.

The process should contain investigations on multiple levels while each layer can potentially address more than one issue at a time, (historical, general, personal, political...). The layers are intertwined and can be nested within each other. It is part of the project and work to identify and establish these interconnections.

The investigation about the site should attempt to cove multiple levels. It should address an urban scale and the aspects of transportation or movement through space, the historical meaning, the connecting tissue and the potential influence of the surroundings onto the project and vice versa, its significance as a possible origin for the spurring of events or changes within the urban context. Spurring meaning a range or series of effects coming from or through the intervention the project potentially provides, effects of the intervention that could have a wider reach than just the neighboring site. Within the urban layer multiple scales can be addressed.

At the same time the site can be explored by observing site conditions on a micro scale which will contain a manifestation of the large context of the site and often reveals he conditions of the surrounding, the historical aspects and possible social and cultural significance. A small part of the system should contain information about how the larger system works. In the past one very important tool to me in this investigation of the site was the camera that often revealed micro situations to me that reflected the history or state of the place.

Another level would be the historical significance of the place, its layers of usage and meaning over time and a speculation about the future possibilities and tendencies. Again I see a micro and a macro scale which can inform eachother and the process. Liebeskind for example looks at he historical significance of Berlin and at the same time chooses to look into the work and personal history of ceain individuals. By connecting the general knowledge of history with certain personal histories, (the choice here is connected to the person of the architect!), the knowledge about the project becomes more precise and much clearer.

The cultural aspect can be contained in all other aspects and one might have a stronger connection to the person of the architect. Depending on the person of the architect seemingly arbitrary and irrationally selected pieces of micro information can be brought into play to help to understand the project. The investigation of highly specific cultural issues and the architects personal response towards these provides further insight into the project on a larger scale.

Dissecting the problem or project into multiple layers and drawing information into it from seemingly outside - for example Liebeskind´s musical layer - will potentially lead to an X-ray of the project and at the same time show possibilities for connections and complexities that provide meaning and the necessary insight fro a project which operates on multiple levels, is non-static and achieves to reach a variety of people.

"The configuration of interweaving; of intertwined; of interconnected notes are... film stopped... stopped into a frame of silent time... a state of exact present of time... ", "Shards of memory lie everywhere... exposed... dare we pick them up? Those fragments can cut deep... they have an internality. Perhaps they be acupunctures of the soul?", "It is a projection of how the after battlefield of the bio-sphere could look like? Are we looking at the first X-ray of the ´city of the mind´? Yes, our mind-soul must look like that...", "A dissection is taking place. The scattering of species. There can be no trees in this garden... all chlorophyll has been extracted... a celebration of the essence. The umbilical cord of architecture is shown. dare it be cut?", "Old building elements are always in the present. It is our minds that speculate on architectural futures; knowing full well it is a helix spiraling in space, moving from a darkness to a darkness...", Hohn Hejduk.

Te challenge for the designer is not only to find an determine the investigation of these layers but to analyze the results and to pull the information together to a central theme that runs through all scales and acts as a connector between the different layers. In bringing the parts together the project itself becomes a tool of investigation rather than just the result of one. The architecture then becomes a facet of the spectrum of investigation and an attempt to relate to all levels of understanding. Architecture then hopefully addresses the today as well as the past and future, the personal as well as the general, the individual as well as the public..., and provides a more appropriate surrounding and space for today´s multiple occupant. Architecture that not simply installs a pattern or system but acts as a tool or enabler for the user ina time of radically fats development and changes.

Arizona 1995

Maja Siska