Architecture of Analogy

Notes on Andrew Melville Hall as a transitional work in the architecture of James Stirling.

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on December 22, 2014

Standing in the shadow of Modern masters such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, the generation that graduated from architecture schools in the extended decade after World War II – Robert Venturi, Oswald Mathias Ungers, Aldo Rossi, James Stirling to name a few – were critical of the social and urban effects of Modern architecture. Yet they were reluctant to abandon Modernism altogether. Instead, they put forward a critique of Modern architecture and in doing so searched for an architectural language that might extend, overcome or break free of Modernism.
On one hand there was a tendency to extend the technological and functionalist approach of Modernism as is evident in projects such as Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Bay proposal (1959) or the buildings of Paul Rudolph in America. On the other hand there was an approach that rejected Modernism and put forward a stylistic mimesis of historical architectural form exemplified in BBPRs Torre Velasca tower in Milan (1956-58) or the “Townscape” aesthetic in Britain.
James Stirling questioned both of these tendencies as can be seen in his University projects such as the competition proposal for Churchill College for the University of Cambridge (1959), the “canonical” Engineering Building for Leicester University (1959-63), the History Faculty at Cambridge University (1964-67), the Florey Building at Queen’s College, Oxford (1966-71) and Andrew Melville Hall for St Andrews University (1964-68). While the Engineering Building, the History Faculty and the Florey Building are broadly similar in their formal and material language – using faceted glass walls, brick and tile units in horizontal bands, building mass articulated as distinct volumes composed centripetally implying spatial force is directed from edge to centre – and remembering that Churchill is a square plan court within a court principle, Andrew Melville Hall departs from this language.

 

James Stirling, Andrew Melville Hall (1964-68), Redrawn by Cameron McEwan

James Stirling, Andrew Melville Hall (1964-68), Drawing by Cameron McEwan

Andrew Melville Hall is a student residences in St Andrews on the East Coast of Scotland around 80 km north of Edinburgh. It is a picturesque town, and rather conservative in appearance and ethos. Stirling intended two pairs of identical buildings for the edge of town site, however only one single building was completed.
The building itself is composed of two slab-wings of unequal length – one rotated off the primary axis – extending from a central block, which creates a large outside court. An enclosed stair is adjacent to the central block. These distinct parts are connected by a glazed promenade gallery.
Andrew Melville Hall reads as composed centrifugally with implied spatial force stretching outward. We see this in the slab-wings which extend out in one direction, in the enclosed stair which extends in the opposite direction, and in the glazed promenade gallery which cuts through the building.
Furthermore, Andrew Melville Hall is not a unified mass but an assemblage of distinct volumes – slab-wings, central block, enclosed stair and promenade gallery – in formal and spatial dialogue with each other through shifting axes, rotations in plan and interpenetrations of opposing elements. The building departs from the language of Stirling’s prior University buildings and should be viewed as a transitional work that points obliquely toward the spatial complexity of his museum and gallery projects of the coming years in particular for its centrifugal composition.

It is interesting to remember that Andrew Melville Hall was completed in 1968 at the end of a pivotal decade in which seminal architectural texts were published including Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), Aldo Rossi’s L’architettura della città (1966), and Manfredo Tafuri’s Teorie e storia dell’ architettura (1968).
This period and the years into the 1970s were a greatly productive period for architecture when architects engaged with the history of the discipline and viewed their role as a crucial contribution to architectural and intellectual thought more broadly. It was for sure the last major period in architectural culture when architecture was recognised as a significant intellectual pursuit.
Studying the era has a dual effect. It brings into relief the present condition of architectural production, which often seems weak, diffuse and committed merely to general consensus; yet simultaneously the projects of that period – theories, books, architectural designs – provide critical reference points from which we might project beyond the current architectural impasse.

This post condenses ideas from a longer essay entitled “An Archaeology of Fragments” commissioned for Scotland + Venice 2014 under the direction of Neil Gillespie of Reiach and Hall Architects, and published in the paper “Outsiders” at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

See here for full details: Outsiders

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Island: A recent exhibition by the AE Foundation and a note on the category of authorship.

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on December 12, 2014

In November the AE Foundation put on an exhibition at Whitespace in Edinburgh of eight new house designs for the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The exhibition, curated by Samuel Penn and Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde, included designs by, amongst others, Christ & Gantenbein Architects, Raumbureau, Raphael Zuber, and Pascal Flammer.
The project, entitled “Island,” revisits the tradition of using a client to advance the formal and conceptual preoccupations of an individual architect through the design of a private house. The main purpose of the project was to challenge the formal preconception for houses designed for the Highlands and Islands.
Accompanying the exhibition was a book that compiled the house designs and an essay (authored by me), which appraised each of the eight designs then briefly reflected on the category of authorship. My analysis focused on space and form rather than style or experience and was intentionally abstract rather than figurative because this was a way to discuss the shared characteristics of a series of spatially and formally varied designs.
Crucially, another shared characteristic of the architects in the exhibition is their belief in the status of the architect as singular author. This position – the architects authorial role – has suffered in recent years particularly since the turn of this century due to participatory tendencies and of consensus driven design decisions.
What is at stake in current architecture is not new forms (although the production of form is clearly a quintessential critical tool of architecture), but rather the atomisation of the architect-author and the fundamental cultural value of architecture itself. The point here is that the architects social purpose, their intellectual role as critical thinker and their contribution as form giver to society is now replaced by a technocratic and managerial role within the weak pluralist ethos of today.
As the history of architecture shows us, we need committed individuals – uncompromising architects – to produce strong architecture to develop the discipline with a view to overcoming the current architectural impasse.

 

For details of the exhibition and essay see here: aefoundation.co.uk

 

Eleven Canonical City Plans and a Note on the Conceptual Practice of Architecture: A few reflections on a recent teaching project

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on December 5, 2014

The city itself is the concrete embodiment and the collective historical sum of manual and mental human labour. The city plan – whether theoretical or as built, a precondition of the city, or not – is the representation of singular values, common beliefs, critical sensibility, and a manifestation of a particular way of looking at the world, and of ways of living.
With this position in mind, we assigned our students a canonical city plan as a lead-in to this years Rooms + Cities Masters Unit. The selected city plans were the following: Filarete’s Ideal City of Sforzinda (c1460), Giambattista Nolli’s La Pianta Grande di Roma (1748), Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Campo Marzio (1762), Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Hochhausstadt (1924), Le Corbusier’s Ilot insalubre no. 6 (1937), Archigram’s Instant City (1969), Rem Koolhaas’ Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture (1972), Oswald Mathias Ungers’ (et al.) Berlin: A Green Archipelago (1977), Costantino Dardi’s panel for Roma Interrotta (1978), Bernard Tschumi’s Street in The Manhattan Transcripts (1978), and finally Pier Vittorio Aureli’s Stop City (2007). Each plan, in different ways, analyses the city and sees something in it – features, qualities, forms, objects, events, geometries – that was not seen by others. Once seen, the particularities become the basis for project thinking and design.
Most of the city plans are theoretical projects by architects motivated by the possibility of influencing the urban condition through architecture’s formal potential by means of framing and representing the space of confrontation and coexistence, which is the city; and who take the view that architecture is a conceptual practice and intellectual pursuit.
The emphasis on architecture as a conceptual practice – as a theoretical project – is important because it is by being presented as theory – a category autonomous yet in dialogue with design – that architecture goes beyond the art, craft or pragmatic construction of building to propose an intellectual contribution that addresses the potential for an alternative future urban life.

 

Image credit: A fragment of Piranesi’s Campo Marzio plan of Rome (1762), re-drawn by Jessica Coxon (September 2014).

Image credit: A fragment of Piranesi’s Campo Marzio plan of Rome (1762), re-drawn by Jess Coxon (September 2014).

 

After being assigned a plan, each member of the Rooms + Cities Unit was required to produce a series of diagrams that describe the formal, conceptual and organisational principles of their plan, and to delineate a room within their city plan. Then a representative area of 500 metres square was redrawn at the scale of 1:500. Accompanying these drawings was a short explanatory text to historically situate the city plan.

The purpose of this project can be summarised in the following three ways. First, the act of redrawing the city plan is itself a form of architectural inquiry by means of architecture’s quintessential critical tool: the drawing. For this reason the drawings produced should not be viewed as illustrations of a canonical plan (although they are that as well), but as critical examinations into the ideas that underline each city plan and therefore produce knowledge about the particular plan.
Second, by discussing the principles of each city plan a conceptual vocabulary was developed to help describe the relation between room and city. Theoretical categories particular to each plan were debated – including “cell,” “event,” “bigness,” “limit,” to name a few – as well as categories common to all plans, including “enclosure,” “context,” “type,” and “the other.”
Third, the city plans act as critical reference points to be manipulated and transformed, and which can be used to generate ideas and city forms for the studio projects that follow.

 

 

This project is developed with Lorens Holm in the Masters Unit entitled Rooms + Cities at the school of architecture in Dundee.

Notes on Architecture and Cultural Production

Posted in Discourse by Cameron McEwan on May 18, 2014
Montage of Rossi (1976) La città analoga; and Serlio (1545) Scena Tragica. On the left, Rossi places a standing figure into the city making clear that the city is the result of human labour, both manual and mental. On the right, Serlio emphasises the street as a public space defined by a wall of buildings.

Montage of Rossi (1976) La città analoga; and Serlio (1545) Scena Tragica.
On the left, Rossi places a standing figure into the city making clear that the city is the result of human labour, both manual and mental. On the right, Serlio emphasises the street as a public space defined by a wall of buildings.

 

While it is clear that architecture is not autonomous from culture, it is possible to understand architecture as autonomous in relation to culture because architecture is a discipline with its own rules, values, formal and conceptual principles which are put forward in theories, drawings, built and unbuilt examples. Yet architecture gives concrete form to culture and came into being with the first traces of the city. Architecture is rooted in the formation of culture and civilisation so that the history of architecture, which is the city, is also the history of culture. Architecture, culture and the city are therefore relational and co-determinate. The purpose of the following notes will be to briefly reflect on these points.
“Mind takes form in the city;” said Lewis Mumford in The Culture of Cities “and in turn, urban forms condition mind.” Mumford’s words remind us of architecture’s formal condition and that the city embodies the sensibility, attitude, and dominant worldview of any given culture. Then, urban forms – architecture as such – condition the sensibility of any given culture because the architecture of the city is both a human creation of manual as well as mental labour and the willed expression of power, whether in the name of the state, religion, corporate patronage or some other authority such as a single figure. The city thus embodies private passions and desires, shared beliefs and needs, as well as the conflicts of a people, which always results in both the construction and destruction of the city. Think of the construction of great arches during the Roman Empire to celebrate war victories; or infrastructural projects like Haussmann’s Paris boulevards that destroyed vast areas of the city to represent an affluent Paris as a crucial centre of Europe; or the production of “iconic” buildings in the 1990s and 2000s that attempted to turn relatively unimpressive cities into global tourist attractions. By understanding architecture and the city as the embodiment of culture – of shared beliefs and needs as well as common sensibilities and attitudes – we can ask what is the culture of our current condition and how is this formalised in architecture?
There has been considerable recent discussion by commentators who describe culture today as a “crisis of social imagination.” [1] Let us note two examples. According to Paul Virilio, “Progress has become excess.” In the past, progress was the shared improvement of living, working, and education conditions. As Virilio states in The Administration of Fear progress is now excess. For Virilio, excess means the proliferation of unnecessary objects so that we are saturated with images, sounds and words. These are produced at an excessive speed with the purpose of feeding our desire for immediate satisfaction. The excessive speed of contemporary culture and the constant speed of post-industrial society has caused the fragmentation of rhythm, whether daily and habitual, seasonal, or something other. Virilio extrapolates this to various scales including human, city, and military. He comments that society accelerates at all times and without pause for reflecting on our desire for new things. The planned obsolescence of technologies such as phones and computers (as well as cars and new homes) is an example. We dispose of them at a quicker rate because they are produced at a quicker rate so we endlessly consume. Virilio reminds us that the need to constantly update our Facebook and our Email is another example of the acceleration of reality. The implication of the desire to “update” is that we are always behind where we need to be: behind on work, family, and friends. Because of its banality the sense of “being behind” goes unnoticed as a way of controlling our sensibility that results in deep feelings of anxiety. Lastly, Virilio reminds us that modern culture equates progress with economic expansion and the excessive proliferation of facts, figures, percentages, profits, and statistics, which is what Virilio calls the “mathematicisation of reality.”
Let us recall another example. In Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity Gerald Raunig says the following: “Knowledge economy, knowledge age, knowledge-based economy, knowledge management, cognitive capitalism – these terms for the current social situation speak volumes. Knowledge becomes commodity, which is manufactured, fabricated and traded like material commodities.” Here, contradictory keywords are conjoined: knowledge and economy, knowledge and management, cognition and capitalism. Knowledge is understood as collectively produced shared thinking and is founded on human cognition which is immeasurable and cannot be controlled nor quantified. By contrast economy, management, and capitalism represent mass-individualisation, extreme competition, and hierarchical control. In Raunig’s reflections, we can read the struggle between the human value of knowledge versus its gradual commodification by dominant power.
The points made by Virilio and Raunig on the quantification of life and knowledge help frame the following architectural examples which can be read as symptomatic of a deeper cultural pathology that increasingly rejects the human sensibility for critical and creative imagination. Koolhaas’ (et al) Mutations, although now a dated text, is worthwhile recalling because it is the model of numerous recent texts. It surveys contemporary global urbanisation from cities and city-regions in Europe, America, and Asia. The text measures cities through statistics and indexes, and is illustrated by countless charts. Significantly, Mutations opens with a series of page spreads that comment on global population trends. The first reads: “At the outset of the twentieth century, 10% of the population lived in cities. In 2000, around 50% of the world population lives in cities.” This is a tiring statistic which is constantly repeated.
Another text, Content, is a history of OMA/AMO since S,M,L,XL of 1995 and situates Koolhaas’ practice within the scope of global culture. In the chapter entitled “An Autopsy” global culture between 1989 to 2003 is charted in relation to the production of “iconic” buildings and the Dow Jones Financial index. It makes clear the link between architecture and its commodification within the framework of economic markets. In the photomontage that illustrates the chapter, we see buildings by Zumthor, Gehry, Foster, and SOM amongst many others. We also see photographs of Kofi Annan, Princess Diana, Bill Clinton, and images of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, as well as art exhibitions such as Damien Hirst’s in MOMA, New York. Comment should also be made on the objecthood of the book: a small, thick, glossy paperback magazine, saturated with images, photomontages, ideograms, advertisements, essays, interviews and statistics about global culture. It is an analogical reflection of the loud consumerist ethos of our age. Yet, to qualify this, Content still asserts the role of culture and understanding the city as a prerequisite for the production of architecture. While these are only two examples, we can cite many others to indicate the recent emphasis on quantifying the city, architecture and culture via technological-scientific language. For brevity, a few book titles should suffice: Weak and Diffuse Modernity, Recombinant Urbanism, The Endless City, A New Urban Metabolism.
The preceding examples – from the critical reflections by Virilio and Raunig on the implications of “mathematicisation of reality” and social imagination, to the quantitative analyses of Koolhaas and others – serve as illustrations of our current cultural condition and its interplay with architecture in general. To end, here is the crucial point: instead of constructing complex mathematical models to “measure” architecture or endlessly analysing the city through “data,” we should remember that architecture is a form of cultural production and based on human sensibility, which is of immeasurable importance. Let us remember that architecture is an intellectual inquiry that questions urban life as such by putting forward alternative ways of living and critical interpretations of existing conditions.

 

[1] See for example the following: Franco Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012); David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2014); Eric Hobsbawm, Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century (London: Abacus, 2014); Antonio Negri, Art and Multitude: Nine letters on art, followed by Metamorphoses: Art and immaterial labour, trans. by Ed Emery (Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity, 2011); Paul Virilio and Bertrand Richard, The Administration of Fear (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012).

 

This essay can also be found at http://issuu.com/level6portfolio

 

Thinking about collective memory as material reality

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 7, 2013

Typology in architecture gives us an apparatus to study the history of architecture, which can also be understood as a way to examine the collective memory of the city. As can be seen in canonical texts since Vitruvius, such as those by Alberti, Serlio, Palladio, during the Renaissance, to Durand during Enlightenment, Hilberseimer in the early twentieth-century, Rossi in the 1960s and others, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. Although not all of these works use the word typology, or type, the concept is implied because each use classification, description, and historical precedent to formulate a position. For example, in De re aedificatoria Alberti distinguished between public and private buildings in the city, assigning the Orders to certain classes of building. Serlio’s books on architecture catalogued buildings from Ancient Rome in plans, elevations and perspectives, before describing the typological-form of temples: circular, square, six-sided, eight-sided, oval and cruciform. Palladio’s Four Books organised the Orders, private buildings in rural and urban settings, then public buildings and, buildings of historical significance. In Durand’s books, the Recueil et Paralléle, and the Précis des leçons d’architecture, the former catalogued existing works of architecture from different cultures and historic periods at the same scale. While the latter was divided into three: on architectural elements, on composition, and on analysis of building types. Hilberseimer’s Groszstadt Architektur was organised into ten chapters with the first two and final describing the urban condition and proposing a response. Those inbetween address in succession the building programmes of the city from residential, commercial, high-rises, halls and theatres, transport, industrial, trade construction.

I have noted these texts because as Rossi wrote in The Architecture of the City, the concept of type became, “the very idea of architecture,” a fact attested to by both practice, he says, and by the treatise. Although in this sketch of a few texts that deal with theories about type, an emphasis is seemingly placed on type as it relates to classification. It should be made clear, however, that the idea of type is a dialectical principle, because it always reacts with, say: form, construction technique, site irregularities, means of production, cultural particularities, history, and also, the autobiography of the architect. Later in The Architecture of the City Rossi discusses the concept of collective memory, via the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who wrote that historical memory reaches us through written and visual records. The concept of collective memory and of type are closely interrelated, because collective memory relies on material reality. A material reality which is manifest both in built form and as images in treatise. Built form because buildings witness the evolution of the city. Images because they embody values, experience, ideas. What is important is that type constructs a link with history, and produces transmittable knowledge. Accordingly, architecture communicates its own history through typological ideas.

 

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Montage with plan by Palladio

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Study montage with plan by Palladio [Montage with photographs and CAD drawing]

One of the premises of the AE Foundation is to understand the history of architecture as central to the education and practice of the architect. Undertaken within the framework of the AE Foundation Graduate Programme, the project opposite is for a school in the Lochee part of Dundee. The typological approach has been to distinguish three volumes that articulate three conditions of the site. The tower fronts the street edge and contains the entrance, administration, dining, gym hall, and a nursery. Classrooms are arranged around a courtyard which opens into the school grounds. Between the courtyard and tower is a rectangular volume which holds a library and an art studio. In order to leave and to arrive at the classrooms, children (and teachers) must always pass through the art and library spaces. The spaces of creativity and of knowledge.

 

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Site plan and long section through entrance [CAD line drawing]

McEwan C (2013) AE Foundation Locus, Site plan and long section through entrance [CAD line drawing]

For further information about the AE Foundation, an open and independent forum for the discussion and exposition of architecture, see http://aefoundation.co.uk/

Forgetting Fundamentals

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on September 19, 2012

McEwan C (2012) AE Foundation Forgetting Fundamentals Montage Panel. [From top: Basilica by Vitruvius, illustrated by Cesariano (1521), Holl (1980) study of H-Type building, Serlio (c1537) centralised plan (left); Schematised plans of eleven of Palladio’s villas (c1570) via Wittkower, Piranesi (1761) study of Roman ruins with temple]

Established in May 2011, the AE Foundation provides an open independent forum for the discussion of architecture. The Foundation brings together an international community of practitioners, academics and graduates who wish to pursue architecture seriously with a view to contributing to and disseminating architectural knowledge and understanding. To, “promote the significance of the discipline, to encourage scholarship and foster an active architectural culture, in partnership with individuals in practice and academia – and to be a centre ‘par excellence’ for intelligent dialogue and debate in architectural theory, history and practice based in Scotland.”

One such discussion was undertaken during the Spring months of this year, 2012, under the general question: can we talk about fundamentals in architecture? Our exchange was at times flippant, at times philosophical, and at times biting of each other’s position. Some of us decided to formalise our thoughts in short essays. What follows is a summary. An extended version of the essay can be found on the AE Foundation website.

I started with Aldo Rossi’s rumination on the alternative title for his book A Scientific Autobiography,

Forgetting Architecture comes to mind as a more appropriate title for this book, since while I may talk about a school, a cemetery, a theatre, it is more correct to say that I talk about life, death, imagination.”

It links the building types: school, cemetery, theatre; with their conceptual analogues: life, death, imagination. In this space of association type in architecture is both material and idea. In a theory of types, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. That is, from Vitruvius, De architectura, Serlio and Palladio’s books during the Renaissance, to Durand’s manual which codifies buildings, Venturi’s manifesto, and the pamphlets of Holl. In Rafael Moneo’s 1978 essay On Typology, republished in a 2004 edition of El Croquis he writes that typology raises the question of the nature of the architectural work itself. In my view, it is therefore legitimate to postulate type as one place to begin a discussion about fundamentals in architecture.

For the first part, type is a way of thinking in groups, which is, analysis through classification. In architecture, the most common theories of classification by type have been according to use: national monuments, town halls, prisons, banks, warehouses, factories, as can be seen in Nikolaus Pevsner’s 1976 A History of Building Types; and according to form: centralised plan, linear arrangement, courtyard. Aldo Rossi tell us that the former understanding is limiting because the use of a building is independent from its form. Buildings evolve over time, so a warehouse becomes an apartment block, an apartment block becomes an office block, an office block becomes a brothel. Or as, for example, Atelier Bow-Wow show us in Made in Tokyo, all of these can be contained as a hybrid, so that above the warehouse is an apartment block, which is below an office, and the building terminates with a penthouse brothel.

Rossi’s quote, “I would define the concept of type as something that is permanent and complex, a logical principle that is prior to form and that constitutes it,” is significant for its location within The Architecture of the City. It mediates between a quotation by the Enlightenment architectural theorists Antoine Chrysôthome Quatremère de Quincy and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Both Quatremère de Quincy and Durand acknowledged, in different ways the relationship of memory and history in the idea of type. Quatremère de Quincy linked type with that which is archaic, elemental and primitive, and we could say to memory. Free from this metaphysical speculation, Durand’s technical understanding geometrised history. And as Rossi has said, history is the material of architecture. Thus in the adjacency of each quote we get the opposition between the conceptual and the material once more. Rossi’s quote then, mediates between the “permanent and complex,” which is archaic and elemental, something “prior to form;” and of the “logical principle,” which is that constituted by a reading of history.

And of forgetting, Rossi writes,

“In order to be significant, architecture must be forgotten, or must present only an image for reverence which subsequently becomes confounded with memories.”

Freud tells us that in forgetting, we commit something to the unconscious, where it is worked over during regression, which is an impulse to the archaic; and then to surface again when remembered, only now transformed, and reverent. The type is worked over within the collective history of architecture, to be transformed by a kind of temporal and formal regression.

 

McEwan C (2012) AE Foundation Forgetting Fundamentals Montage Panel 2. [From top: Durand (1805) Elements of Building, from the Précis, Rossi (1970) Gallaratese elevation, plan, photograph, Canal side tenement in Milan, Quatremère de Quincy (c1832) study for a gateway]

 

After Geddes: The Valley Section

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on July 16, 2012

“Town plans are thus no mere diagrams, they are a system of hieroglyphics in which man has written the history of civilisation, and the more tangled their apparent confusion, the more we may be rewarded in deciphering it.” (Geddes, Cities in Evolution, 1915)

A transect drawing made for the Geddes Institute for Urban Research at Architecture, Dundee. It represents Dundee and its environs from the agrarian north toward the Cairngorms, through to the post-industrial city, and water edge of the Tay. The rail bridge and oil rigs are ghosted in.

 

McEwan, C (2012) After Geddes The Valley Section [pencil and chalk on paper]

A Model School: Aldo Rossi’s School at Fagnano Olona

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on May 3, 2012

The recently established Foundation for Architecture & Education is an independent forum for the exchange of ideas about architecture and founded by Samuel Penn and Penny Lewis, who tell us, “Architects work within a rich canon. Defining the position of contemporary work in relation to the vast body of work that has gone before it is important.” The Foundation for Architecture & Education organises events, produce publications and coordinate a post-graduate course in architectural studies. The premise of which is to provide a framework in which each participant can develop their understanding of the discipline through the study of built work. The year long course is split into three parts: Model, which involves the study of a building that exemplifies a particular idea about architecture; Axiom, which demands that participants develop a clear position on their own practice in the context of a broader appreciation of shared concerns for architecture; and Locus, which offers the opportunity to design a building in a specific location. The building chosen to study in Model provides the building type to design in Locus. Each year, a new question is asked, which will be returned to in all of the work undertaken. This year is the question of size: what size should a building be?

This post is about term one Model, which concludes with an Open Review this Saturday 5th of May after a talk and presentation by architect Raphael Zuber and Christoph Gantenbein on Friday night. The building selected to study is Aldo Rossi’s school at Fagnano Olona, a small town, 40 km northwest of Milan. Designed in 1972, Rossi had built only the Segrate town square in 1965 and the Gallaratese housing block in 1970, completing the school at Fagnano Olona in 1976. Thus, it is considered one of Rossi’s early works.

Rossi A (1972-76) Fagnano Olona Elementary School [Photograph: McEwan C 2011]

The selection of this building is: first, Rossi is regarded as a significant architect and Fagnano Olona school is recognised as significant in the development of Rossi’s built and theoretical work. Second, when published, it is often illustrated in plan only and as with all of Rossi’s projects, is accompanied by beautiful sketch studies and photographs. However, the site context and sectional drawings are almost always missing. Third, the building type is sufficiently complex to use as a base for term three, Locus. Finally, and from a personal point of view, Rossi forms the foundation of my PhD, and as readers of this blog will know, there was really no other choice…

Fagnano Olona school is defined by its courtyard plan-form and axially-arranged accommodation. The elevation is punctured with large square openings set in line with the internal wall thus articulating the shadow that falls on the external surface. One enters underneath a large clock, and with the adjacent conical brick chimney (containing the plant), it is like walking into a painting by de Chirico or Sironi. When I visited (see this post), it was the Summer holiday so the school was empty and the association of de Chirico was perhaps intensified by this. The chimney marks the entrance and primary axis of the school, which is organised northeast to southwest between an assembly hall and a linear pergola. Within the courtyard, wide steps lead to the double height gymnasium on the northeast, from which one can look toward the cylindrical library with its glazed roof. Double-corridor wings surround the courtyard and contain twenty-two classrooms (over two floors), staff facilities and a dining hall.

Rossi A (1972-76) Fagnano Olona Elementary School [Re-drawn by McEwan C 2012]

It is interesting to note a recent AR. The February 2012 issue has a short section on schools, in which Christian Kuhn offers four attributes for the building type: flexibility, clustering, common core, and connectivity. We can analyse Fagnano Olona via these attributes.

Kuhn’s attribute clustering, is the division of the school into a hierarchy of smaller clusters. We can see this at Fagnano Olona in the blocks that extend outward from the central courtyard. The longer ones contain four classrooms with a corridor that is 2.5m, and repeat over two floors. The shorter ones contain three classrooms and a room off the corridor (the courtyard end), used as an informal teaching/learning space. These cluster blocks are a single storey with a 2m corridor. The blocks frame an external space with trees and grass.

Flexibility is about the granularity of room sizes and not necessarily about open-plan layout. At Fagnano Olona, the classrooms are repeated units, arranged within the four linear blocks. The other two block contain staff rooms and the dining hall. There is variation in this. At the end of each block the final classroom extends to the width of the corridor. A further subtle variation exists in the northwest end classrooms because the corridor is widened to 2.5m, from the 2m width of the southeast block. Thus, there are three classroom forms, although a fourth informal one exists as the teaching/learning space, which is roughly half the size of the small classrooms and constitutes both circulation space and space for learning.

At Fagnano Olona the common core is the central courtyard with steps. A playground, assembley space, town square and theatre. But also the informal teaching/learning spaces act quite readily as an indoor meeting place.

The final attribute that Kuhn offers is connectivity: the school as a node in a wider network of learning. He cites other learning institutions including secondary/primary school, nursery, and library at the local level; with ICT connections at the global level. At Fagnano Olona, the school includes a library, the circular element in plan, which is also part of the courtyard and adjacent to the entrance. One imagines this space to be used by the community as, for example an exhibition space.

The significance of Rossi’s work is in it’s associative links and typological investigation. Fagnano Olona is no different. A de Chirico clock and chimney mix with the pergola as a reference to the archetypal hut. The courtyard is a typological form, a town square, its steps like an amphitheatre. The library which looks like a baptistry. At Fagnano Olona my interest is in the clarity of composition and investigation of repetition and variation.

Although Rossi is often attacked for dismissing human scale, studying Fagnano Olona in detail reveals the opposite. From the over-scaled square windows which contain four smaller-sized square windows within, to the subtle difference in corridor width, the modest teaching/learning spaces and in particular I was struck by the ledge at the entrance vestibule where children can sit and shelter from the rain, peering, and thinking about that strange chimney, framed by a large square window.

Alliance & Rebellion: An exhibition curated by The Paper Gentlemen

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on January 28, 2012
From left to right: scale model by Stephen McCullough; mixed media drawing by Cameron McEwan; painting by Christy Yates.”]

The Paper Gentlemen is a collaboration between three MArch students from the Material Unit at Dundee School of Architecture. Alliance & Rebellion is the first of a series of exhibitions which, according to the Gents, “aims to reactivate a dormant space and encourage collaboration within our varied arts community.”

The exhibition is currently on show at The Faircity Auction House, First Floor Gallery, 52-54 Canal Street, Perth.
The drawing continues the After Architect Aldo Rossi series. A montage of the twelve projects that illustrate Rossi’s A Scientific Autobiography, more of which in a forthcoming Post.

 

Continuing the After Architect Aldo Rossi series.”]

 

The Architecture of the City at IUAV

Posted in Discourse, PhD by Cameron McEwan on November 2, 2011
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First published by Marsilio in Padova, Italy 1966, Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary this year with a new 2011 Italian edition. In honour of this, the IUAV University of Venice organised an international conference and exhibition, supported by the Fondazione Aldo Rossi, the MAXXI Architettura, Rome and Casabella, the journal that Rossi first wrote for and then edited.

Aiming to promote an open and wide discussion on all things Rossian, the conference first recalled the original context that generated the text; then mapped the network of translations that The Architecture of the City undertook; and finally it investigated the contemporary threads of Rossi’s legacy.

Alberto Ferlenga, Director of Doctoral Studies at IUAV and author of many texts on Aldo Rossi, introduced the conference by stating that The Architecture of the City was conceived as an, “in progress synthesis of a particular time period for urban studies.” He said that the matters mentioned by Rossi are still only partly developed and waiting for further consideration by an architectural community looking for theoretical orientation. Ferlenga compared the text to one of those “unfinished works” that Rossi continuously re-worked: a sketch, a plan, a building.

Many presentations emphasised the importance of Ernesto Rogers and Casabella had on Rossi. Serena Maffioletti, and others, said that the journal was the first to publish Rossi’s writings and was among the first to publish his designs. The individual writings for Casabella were thus the route towards The Architecture of the City. The book, then is a collage. Diego Seixas Lopes considered the fragmentary nature of The Architecture of the City to be a collage-like construction. He noted that the wide range of sources from disparate fields intertwined with mentions to Milizia (Enlightenment architecture), Poete (French geography), de Saussure (linguistics) and memories of cities walked by Rossi. Showing preliminary photographs of the making of the book, it looks similar to the way Rossi makes the Blue Notebooks. Freehand writing, with sketch drawings and photocopies of “things” pasted together.

The Verbal and Non Verbal”]

I learned via Elisabetta Vasumi Roveri that the alternative title of The Architecture of the City was to be The City Planning Manual. Uncannily timely, my own contribution noted the alternative title of Rossi’s second book A Scientific Autobiography was to be Forgetting Architecture. I used the article by Adam Caruso titled Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture and published in AA Files 2009 as my starting point to investigate a lineage of Analogue Architecture from Aldo Rossi to the contemporary Swiss architects Christian Kerez and Valerio Olgiati. I outlined the article by Caruso, who offered a concise section on Aldo Rossi’s two tenure’s at ETH Zurich in the 1970s (Kerez and Olgiati are one step removed from being students of Rossi), and then considered the opposition offered by Carl Jung to Sigmund Freud on analogical thinking. Jung said that analogical thinking was both verbal and non verbal, which invites speculation on the relationship between writing and built form. I suggested the image mediates. Similarly when we speculate on Rossi’s alternative title, Forgetting Architecture, the opposite of forgetting is remembering; and via Freud it is mis-remembering that mediates. Equating these two mediating principles, I offered an analogical reading of Kerez and Olgiati, and suggested thus the contemporary state of Analogue Architecture. A controversial implication. The title of my own contribution was rather cheekily Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture? Perhaps I should drop Caruso an email…

and Caruso A (2009) Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture [article title] Mis-remembering the Image. Somewhere between the verbal and non verbal”]

Now for the exhibition. The publishing history of The Architecture of the City was presented as original books, artefacts; around which, a timeline according to Rossi’s Blue Notebooks was charted. Extracts of which were scattered as loose fragments. A little bit lost looking.

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The publishing history reads: Italy 1966, Spain 1971, Germany 1973, Portugal 1977, Italy 1978, France 1981, Spain 1982, USA 1982, Greece 1987, Japan 1991, China 1992 (2 of), Brazil 1995, Italy 1995, Portugal 2001, Italy 2006, and the new 2011 Italy Edition. It is interesting to note the front covers. For example, the first edition of Italy 1966 superimposes a Renaissance Ideal City over an aerial landscape; Italy 1978 shows the Mausoleum of Hadrian (later transformed into the Castel Sant’Angelo). While France 1981 the Analogical City appears five years after it was first presented, then Japan 1991 the Mausoleum again after it was used by Eisenman in the 1982 USA introduction where he juxtaposed a drawing of a labyrinth, setting up ideas about journey and transformation. The China 1992 shows the Analogical City for the second time. The new Edition for 2011 is from an ArtForum article titled Fragments and depicts a storyboard dated 1987 New York.

And those enigmatic Blue Notebooks. Text-based notes, diagrams of objects and projects, self portrait sketch studies, fragments of train tickets, photocopies of newspapers and photographs of views are pasted within. Indeed, I took pleasure in finding out that the Notebooks measure 220mm by 175, when laid flat.

These are just a few highlights in a short Blog Post. The conference was dense with knowledge, intensely focused and in true Rossian style, it was both lucid and murkily ambiguous. I am grateful for the opportunity to share such a platform and thank those who selected my proposal. Indeed, especially to Eamonn Canniffe who forwarded me the Call for Papers and Graeme Hutton for allowing me the short leave. My only criticism is that there was very little questioning of Rossi in general, and considerably less questioning directed at the speakers, in particular. Perhaps this is okay but resistance is welcome, and criticism directed at the individual research presentations should have been encouraged.

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