Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, by Robert Smithson

Image available here

In September 1967, land artist Robert Smithson took a tour over Passaic in new Jersey* and created a short photo-essay to report his journey, entitled “A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey” later published in “Artforum” magazine, December edition. Interestingly, he names profane objects such as pipes and derelict spaces as monuments:

The bus passed over the first monument. I pulled the buzzer-cord and got off at the corner of Union Avenue and River Drive. The monument was a bridge that connected Bergen County with Passaic County (…) Along the Passaic River banks were many minor monuments such as concrete abutments that supported the shoulders of a new highway in the process of being built (…) As I walked north along what was left of River Drive, I saw a monument in the middle of the river—it was a pumping derrick with a long pipe attached to it (…) Nearby, on the river bank, was an artificial crater that contained a pale limpid pond of water, and from the side of the crater protruded six large pipes that gushed the water of the pond into the river. This constituted a monumental fountain that suggested six horizontal smokestacks that seemed to be flooding the river with liquid smoke (…) The last monument was a sand box or model desert.

Read the full Smithson article here

Smithson, says Maarten Overdijk in his ‘Monuments and Mental Maps‘ article in OASE 98, rejected conventional ideas about perception and cognition precisely because they did no justice to his experience and offered him no method to analyze or describe it. Instead, he had a preoccupation with space and the changing relations of place, location and map. In his ‘literary’ narrative of the Passaic, continues Overdijk, Smithson attempts a montage of descriptions; observations and reflections while shifting between different layers of time: “the psychological time of the individual, the social time of culture and its symbols, and the time of geological change.”

* Ellen Mara De Wachter revisited the locations captured in the photo-essay through a short film

Light as a service: the ‘pay-per-lux’ system

Image available here
Schipholl Airport, Lounge 2: The specially developed sustainable Philips luminaires, which hang in an attractive pattern in the transfer hall above the passenger’ heads, comply with the stringent requirements of the circular economy concept. These luminaires have been specifically designed to allow fast and easy repair or replacement.

Turntoo developed Light as a Service and Circular Lighting for Philips: a service in which you buy light without an investment, but with the best products and hassle free. The installation remains Philips’, who is motivated to the utmost to create products they can reuse: a closed system for used materials. Philips retain ownership of the lights and take care of the reuse, refurbishing or recycling to ensure customers get maximum value from the lighting system. For customers this results in potential maintenance cost savings of 60% and 20% more cost effective upgradability.

For more click here and here

Overview on bio-based building material made with plant aggregate by S. Amziane & M. Sonebi

hemp shiv (the woody core of the stem of the hemp plant) is probably the most widely used in alternative or eco-friendly building materials in Europe and is also representative of most of the aggregate coming from the stem of an annual crop. This is usually mixed with a lime-based binder and the resultant bio-concrete is known as hemp-lime
Image available here

(…) plant based materials have a valuable benefit for health, ecologic, comfortable habitat (moisture management, thermic and acoustic) and sustainable materials (…) can be qualified as environmental-friendly and efficient multi-functional (…) The use of crushed hemp (shiv), flax and other plants associated to mineral binder represents the most popular solution adopted in the beginning of this revolution in building materials (…) in particular, for hemp, for which the corners of the market are as varied as fibers for the automobile industry, foodstuffs for the grain or indeed the wood of the stem for construction (…) Indeed, many projects aim to create construction materials using one or more forms of lignocellular matter as a reinforcement to the structure rather than as a lightweight aggregate with an insulating purpose (…) More recently, projects used various sources of bio-aggregates, such as wood, coconut, sisal, palm, bamboo, or bagasse (…) Bio-based aggregate are coming from the stem of plants cultivated either for their fibers (hemp, flax, etc.) or for their seeds (oleaginous flax, sunflower, etc.)

Full text available here

Agro-concrete: “A mix between granulates from lignocellular plant matter coming directly or indirectly from agriculture or forestry, which form the bulk of the volume, and a mineral binder”

Hempcrete is a mixture, in very changeable proportions, of two very different components: a plant-based granulate and a hydraulic and aerated setting binder. It exhibits multiphysical behaviour which is unusual in the domain of construction materials. Indeed, the particles of hemp wood are characterized by a high degree of porosity which results in a high capacity to deform, absorb sounds and have hygrothermal transfer ability: this is one of the essential characteristics which set hempcretes apart from tradition mineral-based concretes for which the granulates are considered non-deformable (…) the variability of the behaviour depending on the formulation enables us to adjust and optimize the performances of this material for diverse applications as a roof filling material, in walling or as flagging (…) It can undergo differential compression, contraction or dilation with no apparent cracking (…) Hemp-based materials are considered as phase-change materials (PCM): the thermal behavior reduces the amplitude of the variations in the ambient air temperature, whilst improving the thermal comfort by bringing down the surface heat of the material. Thus, the use of such materials is an excellent means of passively regulating the indoor temperature, and thereby decreasing the building’s energy requirements (…) these materials are able to improve summer and winter comfort, and stabilize the indoor temperature between day and night, whilst preventing the phenomena of condensation and dampness on the walls (…) 1.8 tons of CO2 are sequestered for every ton of hemp shiv used (…) there is a favorable impact on the greenhouse effect; the hempcrete wall constitutes an interesting carbon absorber for a duration of at least 100 years (…) Some studies have shown that wetting/drying cycles, used to simulate natural variations of humidity, had an influence on the mechanical and thermal properties of hempcretes (…) fungi may also appear at the surface of materials

Full text available here

Cedrik Price: the architecture of the individual and its social relatedness, The McAppy Project

In 1973, following the strikes that beset the British construction industry during the early 1970s, Alistair McAlpine commissioned a design program for his construction company, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, that aimed to increase production efficiency and improve labour relations. Cedric Price’s proposal took the format of a two-volume report and a Portable Enclosures Programme (PEP) which, while presenting a critical view of building sites, also demonstrated his ambition to go beyond the immediate brief, employing architectural knowledge and thoughtful design to respond to pressing societal issues and human necessities.

Excerpt from the 2017 CCA Exhibition Catalog entitled: What About Happiness on the Building Site?
Image available here

The project emphasizes “the social role and responsibility of the architect by rethinking traditional field practices and pursuing strategies to initiate social progress through critical research, new tools and experimental attitudes” (Domus, 2017). The designer becomes the moderator of social activity (Herdt, 2016).

To qualify labour on building sites, Price acknowledged the need to reframe the relations between the multiple actors involved, from government to service suppliers, from technical staff to workers’ unions. He often stressed the importance of communicating to everyone, from the workers to the administrative personnel, the purposes and goals of the report, introducing “a participatory form of Company planning” and resisting the tendency for decision making to be “too top heavy.”

Full text available here
Image available here

Oslo Architecture Triennale, Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth

Image available here

The theme of the 19th Oslo Architecture Triennale, Enough: The Architecture of Degrowth plays with the explosive power of this word to open up new debates into how much the pursuit of economic growth has damaged the environment and of the need to try out new solutions in architecture (floornature). The curators (Matthew Dalziel, Phineas Harper, Cecilie Sachs Olsen and Maria Smith) argue that “architects are mistaken if they believe they can confront the climate crisis by merely rethinking the way they design buildings. Instead, it is the economy and the very armature of our civilisation that requires a rigorous redesign.” (AR)

You must be brave to peel back the skin concealing the ugly ribcage of our economic system, its guts ingesting gas, coal, trees, animals, minerals, water and clean air and flatulently defecating an endless stream of clothes, plastic bags and neat packets of processed food. (AR)

The program develops in the “Academy,” the “Theatre,” and the “Playground,” until November 24. (Official site)

Architecture and Silence, by Christos P. Kakalis

I am so delighted to have been part of this book my dear friend and collaborator Christos P. Kakalis has edited so beautifully. The chapter we co-authored (Chapter 7), discusses silence in architectural education. I hope you’ll like it as I am very proud of this work and the people who made this happen.Thank you Christos for trusting me with this!

From the Routledge official webpage

This book explores the role of silence in how we design, present and experience architecture. Grounded in phenomenological theory, the book builds on historical, theoretical and practical approaches to examine silence as a methodological tool of architectural research and unravel the experiential qualities of the design process.

Distinct from an entirely soundless experience, silence is proposed as a material condition organically incorporated into the built and natural landscape. Kakalis argues that, either human or atmospheric, silence is a condition of waiting for a sound to be born or a new spatio-temporal event to emerge. In silence, therefore, we are attentive and attuned to the atmosphere of a place. The book unpacks a series of stories of silence in religious topographies, urban landscapes, film and theatre productions and architectural education with contributed chapters and interviews with Jeff Malpas and Alberto Pérez-Gómez.

Aimed at postgraduate students, scholars and researchers in architectural theory, it shows how performative and atmospheric qualities of silence can build a new understanding of architectural experience.

blu Marble V finch3d

Video available here

I only bumped into this artist because of a post he made on Instagram I read about on Dezeen. Influenced by the group finch3d and their Adaptive Plan 3d algorithm for designing houses Sebastian Errazuriz urged architects through his post to “continue to think and design “architecture” for more abstract systems” in fear that the nature of the profession is changing and fewer architects will be needed in the future.

The finch3d tool is actually pretty fun to watch: a house plan keeps changing while someone presses/slides different buttons of a grasshopper code. Yet I fail to see how that changes architecture. First of all, someone did write that code, probably an architect, choosing what parameters can be changed and how. The very choice of what can be changed is already intentional; it expresses the hierarchical thinking of its designer. By transferring this intentionality to a potential client you only allow him/her to think within a framework that is already set. Unless the client himself/herself writes this code, finch guarantees no more freedom in planning than before.

And by allowing/promoting the use of such tools to the greater public do we really think that we are being deprived of designing? Hasn’t it always been the case in anonymous architecture? US building code for example allows people to freely build their houses on their own as long as they comply to state regulations. So what if that person used the finch tool? And why is the finch tool any different in its conception that the state regulations? They both perceive design as in keeping up with predetermined rules.

So, do I think that architecture is an endangered profession? Do we really risk our jobs by evolving and expanding into new realms? Not really. Experimenting with different design tools has always been a core activity of our profession. But designing is not just designing space, is it? Because then, a code like that could definitely jeopardize what we do. We don’t design space: we design spaces for the people who use them. And it is the elusive nature of human thinking and being keeps us afar from any certainties. It is this incompleteness, the lack of a single answer that drives us and will keep on driving us to explore what it means to be fully human.

Image available here

And then I see Errazuriz’s breathtaking installation: a led lit image of the earth set in an urban void, an unexpected surprise event that invites viewers to contemplate on the “fragility of our existence.” (artist’s own words). And then I think: “go ahead and make as many codes as you like. You will never be able to codify the feeling/the sense of fragility of existence.”Because there are qualities and values in architectural designing that can not possibly be expressed algorithmically.

Architecture can never be generic, nor abstract. In that case, it isn’t architecture, it’s just building. Architecture in my understanding is site-specific, it is contextual, it is a means of communicating who we are not just in terms of our physical existence, but also in relation to others, it is transcendental, just like that earth image suddenly hitting you as you walk by. And if there is ever a code that does that, hell, I am gonna be the first to use it.