Stacking Green 3.4

Modernism seems obsessed with expressing the continuity between indoors and out, but in the tropical region of Vietnam, this was not a new concept, as traditional urban houses are often open to the street, such that the business interests of the occupants often offers a view into their living room; the division between public and private is a blurry one, as is that between indoors and out.

In this house by Vo Trong in Ho Chi Minh City, one finds the expected blurring between interior and exterior, but also an unexpected blurring between built and unbuilt, new and ancient, and a blurring of the line between ruin and occupied.


Ancient Cham ruin
Photo © G.

The facade isn't really a facade.  It's ambiguous as to whether the thing is built or planted, as the planted takes up an equal amount of space, and the built doesn't seem to connect to other built, it exists as bands of material equal in prominence to the green, planted beds.  Vietnamese cities are devoid, for the most part, of greenery, and the houses lack yards, though one can often see plantings hanging from balconies or windows.  Vo Trong's planted facade offers an interesting take on this dilemma of urban Vietnam.

Stairwell, back of house

Views of the light well 

All photos © Hiroyuki Oki
Plan level 2

Binh Duong School 1.4

Me face has lately been covered with flapping salmon over the recent architecture of Vo Trong Nghia Architects, of Vietnam.  Partly i have a bias of interest since visiting the country and being awed by the place and people, but also i appreciate that this architect has been able to put a local/regional face on modernism that i wish were more pervasive (i.e. China, where the endless skyscrapers and museums by western architects could be anywhere on the planet, despite thousands of years of local place-making and precedent).

i've made a blog pile of a sampling of my favorite of their works to date.  This is the first of 4.

Binh Duong School

While in Vietnam i was really taken with their schools, of which i saw a few elementary level ones.  The schools in the US are like garrisons nowadays with their rampant security measures and isolation from the surroundings, so it was quite a pleasure to see the openness of the Vietnamese schools, of which no less a part is the climate, but regardless i saw an openness and communal quality that i've not seen in American schools (i used to do school work as an architect in New England).

Anyway, this school epitomizes the openness of the Vietnamese elementary school, with it's flowing spaces and ingenious "S" curve that allows for the building to both open to the street with an initial courtyard that then opens to a second, more private courtyard that opens to the landscape, where recreation is held.  You can see from the image above the urban courtyard opening to the second, landscape courtyard beyond.

Site diagram
Site Plan
i think this is a beautiful synthesis of what a school should do; engage with the community while creating community among the students, and exposing them to landscape and fresh air and light.

Open corridor

Landscape courtyard

Precast concrete fins create enclosure and openness together

The pavers are both town and landscape.  Such a nice opening to the tree..

Landscape courtyard
All photos © Hiroyuki Oki

Viet Gathering 2.4

The Dai Lai Conference Center is part of a resort outside Hanoi, located between Dai Lai lake and the mountains.  The conference center sits alongside the entrance road to the resort.

One would expect a conference center to gather people together of shared interests to teach and learn from their peers.  Upon arriving at the Dai Lai center, one is confronted with a great arcing stone wall, the form of which inherently suggests a circle, the ultimate collective, gathering geometry, and one that reiterates the curve of the road upon which one arrives.  The stone wall, being stone, also suggests protection, shelter, separation, and connects to our shared primal history of stone walls as defensive constructions for towns and cities and provinces, such as the Great Wall up north.

The hilly landscape is manipulated to offer a dale of sorts, which becomes the entrance to the Center, as you can see below:

The surprise comes upon entering, where one finds not stone and rock, but the brick and bamboo of traditional Vietnamese villages, and the expected circle of stone turns out to be only an arc, and one only partially occupied by the center.  What one finds, then, is that one was brought together not just with other people of similar interests, but after venturing out to the back of the complex, with the much larger rolling landscape collected by the arc, of which we are only a part, and a subservient part at that.

Thatched roof with brick walls and encircling stone wall

The landscape around the Conference Center, gathered by the arcing stone wall
All photos © Hiroyuki Oki


Section, with the stone wall to the left


Beaching Strandbeest's

Dutch artist Theo Jansen has been building creatures for over 20 years, though i only recently discovered his work.  If you listen to him talk about his work, (which you can find here) you'll find that his interest is in creating a new life forms, and in the process finding out how evolution might have worked to result in you and i putting on fireman underpants this morning.

His work is truly beautiful and inspiring, and amazing.  i can't imagine the ingenuity required to figure out the hinges he's come up with to simulate the leg movement of his strandbeests.  Among the interesting facets of his creatures is their lack of body (aside from the larger creature above, which he "clothed"); they are almost all bones or, as he would probably insist, muscle, and in this sense are almost completely devoted to movement, or registering movement (wind).  They don't really have a brain, though he has simulated decision making with his "liar" device that you have to watch the video link for to understand, and so seem to have more in common with insects than animals, though i can think of similarities to jellyfish as well, in the way they are dependent on their element for movement.  They reminded me of those freaky silverfish you find in the basement and sometimes your bathtub (screaming sound), and both creatures' affinity to water reinforces this.  In both there is ambivalence to front and back, though the silverfish seems to know which way to go despite each end looking similar.

i appreciate that Mr. Jansen has located his creatures on the beach, where it reconciles his new life forms with the origin of land life as we understand it, primitive organisms that made their way from the sea to the land, though his strandbeests seem to be more enjoying themselves than searching for their first land meal.

Ferris Jabr recently wrote an interesting article in the New York Times on the nature of life, where he references Mr Jansen's strandbeests.


Industrialized Salvation 3.3

If one "is", one knows "is not".  They are intrinsically linked, as you already know.  The same train of thought allows that the grand curse of knowing is not knowing, and where we have certainty we have doubt.  This paradox is at the core of our species definition, and is the prime obstacle standing in the way of the success of our human survival project.

Our self sense conflicts with our collective sense with far more grievous consequences that the same conflict in other life forms.  Despite all we know, or imagine to know about our self sense, we yearn for the collective, the sense of belonging to more than our own lonely, fragile bodies, and so we move  to one while we flee another, making a choice.  This, then, is the prime human dilemma; we are a species of choices circling around an origin of "knowing" (see Industrialized Knowing 2.3), the first choice of which is choosing what "knowing" is.

"Knowing" not-knowing is rooted in our sense of mortality, our sense of limited time on this planet, and this awareness of an edge to our existence has has put us at a disadvantage with respect to the "unknowing" species, of which are all others.  Though all species have some sense of their finite time, and hence their efforts toward survival rather than death, we are the lone one to ponder this end, to put into play the multitude of choices available prior to our unavoidable, choiceless destiny.   This preoccupation with our mortality and choice has given rise to the world's religions, which attempt to ween us from this fear of the greatest unknown with promises of salvation if only this or that path is the one chosen.  Despite all the promises offered by religion, they have failed to alleviate the fear most of us have of death.  After all, Christianity says that after you die, you can be with your family and friends, provided they (and you) lived a life on the path prescribed by the powers that be.  What could be better?  Thus the success of Christianity and Islam, just as Coke satisfies.

If we could know even an element of truth about his subject, we would live as if death were but an extension of life, for we would know that ones death is but an offering to another life of one form or another.  We would know that we should be consumed by another creature so that creature's life may be extended until it too is offered to another.  We see this acting out on all levels of life outside our own, yet we exclude it from our possibility of being.  Why should this be?  How can it possibly be that we are outside the life of all others that have been occupying this planet for millions of years prior to our evolution (and from which we came)?  Is this not a choice we made?  Is it not a function of belief, the poor 3rd state of knowing, carrying the day over the scientific, 2nd state of knowing?  The industrial says that we must kill in order to live, that life depends on the consumption of other life in order to sustain itself, yet we've isolated our being and imagined an exception to the rules of this life, as if we were special and exceptional, making our way to heaven or hell when in fact we'll rot on the ground if not stored beneath.  Enjoy your doughnut lads!

The central role of choice in the human condition results in the multitude of flowers we petal to each other, and for many this results in the joy of being alive.  The choice of which form of knowing is the one about which we make decisions is the perilous one that has us contemplating the dark future endless reproduction and the chasing of capitalistic progress has us lined up for.  Industrial thought says that nothing matters aside our survival, but to ensure it we need to recognize the 2nd form of knowing over the 3rd; scientific, empirical knowing over belief.

What do we gain if we accept the concept of the industrial?  What form of salvation does it offer the masses?

The opportunity i see, and one i understand to be important and central to all ideas about our selves, is to offer this simple idea of salvation, with thanks to philosopher Luc Ferry for providing the context for thoughts about salvation and the central role it has in the history of philosophy.  This version of salvation offers that by understanding that all life forms are equal in their shared state of being alive, with survival and propagation our sole purpose on this planet until our time as individuals expires, we aren't a more special life form than any other.  It offers that our life will be given to others, across species but within the life force as it exists as an entity of the universe, with the rocks and gases, shared among all the living and helping with the common goal of the survival of each within the collective survival of all, such that we may live in a state of harmony with the cosmos, the life force, the industrial.


Slide Energy

Is that Christina?  ©BIG

Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) have recently updated their proposal for the Amager Bakke Waste-to-Energy plant, the ground breaking having been March 4th.  I'll admit to being partial to these guys...they are very smart and disciplined about how they go about their work, and i love the consistency in their presentation diagrams.  I have yet to work for a firm that could produce a single coherent diagram, much less one for every project ever worked on.

The project is for an energy plant near Copenhagen to generate electricity from municipal waste.  The idea was to taper the volume of the plant to conceal to some extent the waste stack, and use the resulting sloped volume as a cross training facility of sorts, with skiing proposed for the slope, rock climbing for the walls, nearby sailing and water sports, etc.  The single stack, visible above, would signal to the world that 1 ton of CO2 had been produced by producing a single smoke ring.

What's so clever about this is the symbolism of human physical activity used to embody the building's function as a power plant.  To look at the building, once it's finished, and see people skiing or doing whatever activity might take place on its surface, is to understand the meaning of expending energy in a way not otherwise possible.  That people enjoying themselves in leisure activities can become synonymous with a power plant is completely unexpected, and brilliant.

Aerial view  ©BIG
Smoke ring ©BIG
Little Mermaid ©BIG


Perot Museum of Science

©Roland Halbe
Construction has just been completed on the Perot Museum of Science in Dallas, Texas, designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis.  It combines a number of previously separate museums into one new science museum.  It's an interesting project for a number of reasons, but one aspect of it that i find intriguing can be seen in the image above, where the rational cube is seen sitting above an undulating plinth in the context of sprawl Dallas.  There is a juxtaposition between the rational and irrational, which i find interesting in the context of Texas (where irrationality regarding science runs rampant, see Governor Perry's positions on global warming and teaching creationism), and which make an interesting comparison with the Guggenheim Museum in New York.  The two can be seen as inverses of each other, with the Guggenheim assuming a rational perimeter for it's setting in the grid of New York, and the Perot choosing an irrational plinth for the sprawling ill definition of Dallas, so apparent in the image above.  Both perimeters act as plinths of sorts, and both use opposing geometries to distinguish these plinths from the captured volumes that define the centers of these complexes.  In both cases, one climbs to the top of the volume and then drop down to circulate through the exhibitions.  The rational perimeter of the Guggenheim is contrasted with a somewhat irrational inverted cone (of sorts) down through which one circulates; the irrational perimeter of the Perot is contrasted with a rational cube, through which one moves in a different, bumpy kind of spiral.

©Jonathan Savoie
The undulating plinth of the Perot contains usual museum amenities such as cafe and bookstore, as well as an auditorium, things that can be seen as providing another kind of foundation for the museum itself, which resides in the cube.  From a narrative standpoint, the plinth can be seen to be a landscape, or rather, our landscape, earth, and the cube can be taken to be our understanding of that in which we inhabit, science.  In this context, it makes sense that the materiality of both are the same, and i'm glad the architects resisted making the cube another material from the plinth.  Both are precast concrete, which is at once an organic material composed of the very earthy elements of sand and water, and a very "constructed", manmade material that must be mixed in very precise batches along with portland cement.  That science is understood as having origins in "nature" is a nice way to articulate the idea that we don't exist apart from nature, but belong to it as all else, and are helped by our attempt to understand it on it's terms, rather than apart from it's terms, as does religion.

Cube understood as having origins in plinth, as they share materiality and surface.  This is the entry court.
©Iwan Baan
 The cube is not Villa Rotunda, supremacy sitting on a hill, overseeing our realm.  It is a flawed, imperfect cube which seems to declare both our limitations and conflicts, as well as the perils of ignorance, which we are free to follow.

View of earthen landscape.  ©Iwan Baan
Note reluctance of plinth to engage with Dallas "context".  ©Iwan Baan
As can be seen in the images and section below, the underside of the cube can be seen as an extension of the surface of the plinth, such that the void of one assumes the materiality of the other; that they have an inverse relationship to each other that is at once both detached and engaged.

©Iwan Baan
©Iwan Baan
Ceiling appropriates surface of plinth.  ©Morphosis
The cube is a distressed one...©Morphosis
Morphosis diagram.  The cube floats in a sea of wonder, doesn't engage with city grid.

Undulating plinth and context.  @Arch Record

Appropriately,  this project looks like drought, as does much of Texas and the American midwest.  As in much of Morphosis's work, there is little optimism in the jagged forms and eroded ideals of a once idealized geometry, and in our current political situation of science deniers holding the rest of us hostage, this project seems to be projecting a more foreboding future for us all.


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