As East Asian cities continue to modernize and densify, monotonous and dehumanizing blocks tend to replace the finely-grained, small-scale architecture and urbanism such as Beijing’s Hutong, Tokyo’s small wooden houses, and Singapore’s traditional villages. These “urban ecologies that have evolved over the course of centuries,” as Dutch firm MVRDV explains, foster a social interconnectivity in these communities, forming the basis for a new exhibition currently on view in Seoul, South Korea. MVRDV presents their research on rapid urban transformation in East Asia in Welcome to the Vertical Village at Seoul's Total Museum of Contemporary Art presented through rich audio-visual displays and vibrantly-colored installations of an imagined Vertical Village of more than 700 individual pieces, a solution in opposition to monolithic development while embracing the density it provides. The exhibition describes an alternative model of development that embraces the qualities of dense three-dimensional communities while preserving the diversity, flexibility, and personal freedom present in traditional East Asian villages. The exhibition runs through October 7, 2012.
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Guy Horton, a frequent contributor to AN, here adds his thoughts on the still-steaming controversy over MVRDV's twin towers. MVRDV’s design for what they call The Cloud, a twin high-rise with a connecting “cloud” above the waistline, has resulted in an blitz of negative criticism. Americans who have never heard of the Dutch firm are now phoning and emailing threats and condemnation non-stop—some are personal threats aimed at individuals. They have even been called “Al Qaeda lovers.” From the American point of view, a highly emotional response was probably predictable. How dare they, right after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, right when One World Trade Center (formerly Freedom Tower) is set to reach it’s symbolic 1776-foot mark, at last filling the long-vacant airspace of lower Manhattan? How could these…these…Dutchmen re-animate this trauma buried in the American psyche? Well…the point is that they aren’t re-animating anything. And while the memorial at Ground Zero is buried, the trauma is not. It’s frightening and revealing how close to the surface it is when a single image can spark it. They didn’t do it on purpose. They are just architects, after all, and architects sometimes forget to reflect on their designs in terms of, say, the War on Terror, or on events that transpired ten years ago in a foreign country—our country being foreign to them. In sum, not everything everywhere revolves around what happened on 9/11. It’s not always about us. Furthermore, we don’t require MVRDV for reminders of 9/11. The casualties from two wars, a devastated economy, polarized politics, torture, NDAA, militarized police forces in our cities, the Patriot Act, TSA strip-searches, the fact that if you appear to be of Middle-Eastern decent you are assumed to be a terrorist—the list of everyday reminders expands seemingly like the design of the cloud itself, block by block, forming a storm front around us. A building designed by Dutch architects for South Koreans is hardly relevant when compared to the very real impact 9/11 has had on our democracy and, by extension, our built environment. So, let us leave the Dutch architects alone. They were just being MVRDV, international starchitects, playing with logic as they often do. The Cloud is merely an extension of their obsession with fractal repetition…the potential of monotony to produce something non-monotonous. But this, too, is subjective—just like ghost sightings of 9/11 in an architectural rendering. They have said they are sorry, but the developer has not announced officially whether there are plans to change the early concept design. Nor should they be forced to change it. In a recent blog entry, Aaron Betsky says that because the design is now out there, it has become a poisoned meme signifying all those bad memories and therefore fails as a building. “Back to the drawing board, MVRDV,” he concludes. So, while we can acknowledge that The Cloud is a meme of one sort to Americans, it is also obviously a different sort of meme to others. What is far more troubling is the reaction to the concept design. It demonstrates that we are still a long way from recovery and while the wars are winding down we are still at war with ourselves. MVRDV is inadvertently giving us a small opportunity to look up and just see clouds for a change. As an American, I for one would prefer this to a meme any day. But, as Mr. Betsky notes, memes are hard to escape. Please, MVRDV, help us find new memes! [Guy Horton writes on the culture and business of architecture in his column, CONTOURS on Archinect, and blogs for GOOD Magazine and The Huffington Post. He is also the author of the book The Real Architect's Handbook: Things I Didn't Learn in Architecture School.]
It must have been a rough day at MVRDV's Rotterdam offices after their newly unveiled Cloud tower set to be built in Seoul, South Korea went viral in a bad way. MVRDV envisioned two towers shrouded in pixelated mist, but others saw the image of a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York, half a world away. MVRDV released the following statement on their Facebook page along with an early conceptual drawing showing the inspiration for the tower, in a much more literal cloud:
A real media storm has started and we receive threatening emails and calls of angry people calling us Al Qaeda lovers or worse. MVRDV regrets deeply any connotations The Cloud projects evokes regarding 9/11, it was not our intention. The Cloud was designed based on parameters such as sunlight, outside spaces, living quality for inhabitants and the city. It is one of many projects in which MVRDV experiments with a raised city level to reinvent the often solitary typology of the skyscraper. It was not our intention to create an image resembling the attacks nor did we see the resemblance during the design process. We sincerely apologize to anyone whose feelings we have hurt, the design was not meant to provoke this.Check out all of the renderings over here. What do you think? Is this too reminiscent of the Twin Towers? Do you see a cloud or an explosion frozen in time?