Posts tagged with "Nature":
Diana Agrest explores geology through representation in Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture
“Representation, theater of life or mirror of the world.” Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
Presented as a 9-by-11-inch hardbound volume of full-color drawings, this sumptuously produced book includes interviews and writings alongside Diana Agrest’s design research as demonstrated by the work of her M.Arch II students at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City over a period of nine years.
Agrest is known for work that spans theoretical discourses in architecture, urbanism, semiotics, and gender. Her approach to semiotics has been neither purist nor essentialist; rather she takes a mediated view that argues that shifts in textual meaning are based on shifts in cultural context. In the 1970s and ’80s her view was also a kind of mediation between the Whites and the Grays, treating representation as a form of artifice, reflexively commenting on architecture’s inability to do more than this.
The Architecture of Nature exhibits (at first blush) a big pivot, with a new arena of investigation, if not perspectival view and methodology. The focus on nature, seen through geologic data (point clouds and weather data), is new to Agrest, yet the representations it produces are familiar as the aura and language of Cooper Union through multiple eras (under the leadership of Hejduk, Vidler, et al.).
If there’s a through line between Agrest’s early and late career, it rests here, in the primacy of (a particular type of) representation as the number one tool of architectural practice, with theory and building coming in a distant second and third. Less easy to appreciate is how this new territory relates to Agrest’s intellectual foundations in language, architecture, and urbanism.
The drawings make geologic space seductive, in an ambient way. The works are more diagrammatic than spatial, more planetary and notational than human. They work through abstraction; delamination of layers; and schematic, atmospheric sections producing geometrically complex artifacts that are difficult to apprehend, yet in their finest moments, verge on the mystical. In their elusive effects, they seem cultivated like an endangered species to demonstrate the Cooper design imaginary and unique skill of the architect in re-presenting (in this case) science to the world.
In an interview with Agrest, which forms some of the finest content of the book, art historian Caroline Jones and science historian Peter Galison suggest that the work exemplifies “an embrace of the constructed nature of the image and how it comes into being.” Jones then offers the following critique: “It’s a sort of nature without us, except that the drawing is completely human in the way it is conceived.” The paradox Jones points out is this: Whatever “nature” is, we’re part of it, made of it, embedded in it. “Yet we can only ‘get to it’—that is, produce it as some kind of object for contemplation—by modeling, by presenting, by analogy, by metaphor, by externalization. We are of course a part of it all. But we have to pretend we aren’t, just to be able to think about it.”
Agrest’s stated ambition is not to be metaphorical but rather to visualize space-time. Jones suggests that avoiding metaphor is not possible (and possibly not desirable), suggesting Donna Haraway’s notion of “witness” as a more apt concept to engender complex ideas of entanglement. Agrest responds by invoking the transdiscursive and then “the process by which knowledge builds at the boundary.” In ecology we call this ecotone, but here it seems like getting caught in the dialectic of Jones’s caution.
In his interview with Agrest, science historian D. Graham Burnett suggests the work is “best understood as a kind of cataloging of contemporary gestures in the direction of a program—call it the ‘neo-sublime.’ This new program trades heavily on the aesthetics of information. In these cases, what we stand before that occasions a moment of negatory vertigo is not a big cliff or a deep cave but a colossal mass of data.” Burnett’s point is a salient one that this reader wishes had been further explored by Agrest. It’s part of a discussion that’s been percolating.
The material would also be enriched had Agrest made connections between the work she’s known for and this more recent design research less tacit—for example, the ongoing investment in notational design. Or to articulate ideas of gender and nature (if they are indeed still important) in her pivot to investigations of nature. She presents a too-simple discussion of “nature-gendered-female” in the introduction, and there’s no evidence of this thread in the design research.
Is it too far a reach to suggest that for Agrest, nature is the new object of the gaze, the so-called “scene of history” that in her previous work referred to the city? It’s one way to interpret an interest in the geologic past. Shifting focus from urbanism, Agrest has set her gaze away from the city and toward nature, and geology in particular. So it might follow that her previous articulations of a street—“Street: A scene in movement. The street is the scene of struggle, of consumption, the scene of scenes; it is infinitely continuous, unlimited in the motion of objects, of gazes, of gestures. It is the scene of history”—are now being transmuted to the immersive experience of geologic, or deep time. However, this is pure conjecture, so the reader is left to wonder if Agrest intends reinvention, recalibration, or promotion. The decision to include the 1991 essay The Return of the Repressed: Nature seems designed to place a golden spike in the calendar, a moment at which she began investigating nature. The essay, however, adds little to the more nuanced discourses with Jones, Galison, and Burnett in the book.
Given Agrest’s commitment to the transdiscursive, especially in the context of a body of work premised on an engagement with nature, it’s curious that the discipline of landscape architecture bears no mention, and in particular, the topological work coming out of the ETH in Zurich under Christophe Girot, as well as the work of Bradley Cantrell at Harvard and more recently the University of Virginia. Or the burgeoning interest in geology over the last 10 years or so in architecture, including Stan Allen’s Landform Building and the work of Design Earth, to name a few. This absence of peer context suggests that the real context for the book is not so much contemporary discussions about nature, but rather the legacy of representational virtuosity associated with Cooper Union’s School of Architecture.
Cathryn Dwyre-Perry is a landscape architect, adjunct associate professor at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture, and coprincipal of experimental design practice pneumastudio.
"Our ambition was to design a house adapted to the site and the nature."Ulla Alberts and Hans Murman, partners at Murman Arkitekter, have designed and built a vacation house in Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic sea, serving as a summer and weekend retreat. Fondly named Juniper House, the building is cloaked with a large format graphic print camouflaging the structure into its natural setting. Friends and family of the architects assisted in the assembly of the purposefully economical, easy to construct, functional design. Simple, locally-sourced materials are prioritized in the project. A natural wood cladding treated with turpentine, tar, and linseed oil serves as the primary facade material, while the foundation is a conventional concrete slab on grade, and a roofscape that is flat clad with tar paper. Despite this conventional residential construction assembly, Murman says the project was an opportunity to attempt something out of the ordinary for Gotland—a playful commentary directed toward restrictive local planning regulations: “This is an experiment and investigation in what you see and do not see of a house and how this affects you and how you experience color, texture, surface, material, transparency, through the facades. For us as architects, it is an important experience.” The building is approached via a cul-de-sac that ends in a sheep fence leading to open land framed by a backdrop of large juniper trees. It is in this glade of trees that Alberts and Murman have embedded their building. “The house is barely visible, like a mirror of its own surroundings. We wanted it to be experienced as being part of the area it stands on.” This dissolve into nature is as much a part of the interior experience as it is on the exterior. Planned views on the diagonal through the interior of the structure lead to a wall of glass from floor to ceiling, providing uninterrupted views into the landscape. “From the master bedroom there is a lot of sky visible, due to the glass partitions from floor to ceiling. Through a low placed window beside the bed, one can spot wild rabbits in the morning from bed.” The patterning of the printed graphics consists of a base photograph of juniper trees from the site. The vinyl cloth material was custom tailored at over 100 feet wide by 10 feet tall, and wraps three sides of the building, extending into the landscape to provide screening for an outdoor shower. Supported by a galvanized steel framework, the fabric is offset from the building envelope by 16 inches. The architects enlisted the support of an graphics firm working in advertising and the film industry to optimize and fabricate the large format graphics. The architects credit the printed facade concept to an early preservation project they worked on over a decade ago for the Boston Consulting Group’s Stockholm office renovation. In this project, the structure of the building was not allowed to be modified, so the project team designed a series of fabric shelled rooms within the historic structure. Murman says the assembly of the retreat was assisted by neighbors and family members, who have all become a part of the project. Colleagues, visitors, and even the local authorities will visit during the summer months. Their take on the project? “Fascination is the most common reaction.”
Though it sits within Shanghai's Jing An Sculpture Park, the building is designed to be more than inhabited art. It recycles rainwater through its green roof and minimizes solar gain using an intelligent building skin, while its oval courtyard pond helps cool the building. Geothermal energy regulates the building's temperature.The museum's collection comprises some 290,000 samples, including a complete, 140-million-year-old skeleton of the dinosaur Mamenchisaurus, and species which cannot be found outside China, such as Yellow River mammoth, giant salamander, giant panda, and Yangtze Alligator. Situated in Shanghai's Cotton Exchange Building since 1956, the natural history museum leaves its historic home for a building with 20 times the exhibition space and a design that looks forward, as well as back through the eons.
Domination implies taking over. If we had it our way, natural systems would dominate entirely. Natural systems operate in perfect efficiency. Humans are both part of those natural systems and also somehow separate (by choice). The further we stray from connections with nature, the more alien we become.The installation is part of sustainability-minded Keen Footwear's "Recess Revolution Tour" and represents a collaboration with Green Roofs of Colorado and the Fabric Lab. All of the office equipment from chairs and tables to an old copy machine was purchased from second-hand stores and was donated back after the installation was complete. Plants were also reused in the community. (Via TreeHugger.) Click on a thumbnail to launch the slideshow.