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.


Out House

Florian Busch Architects has recently completed a house of interesting proportions; 72 feet deep by 15 feet wide, of which the client said they wanted the house to be "open" to the exterior, so that they could  breathe in the middle of the dense city of Tokyo.  The solution is an interesting play with one of the most common features of urban housing, and simultaneously offers a commentary on Japanese notions of "place".

The architects made the not unreasonable decision to open the house to the sides, which given the length of the site seems to make sense, and which helps to alleviate the tube feeling such a site might be prone to.  Whats interesting is the device used to open the sides; as you can see from the image above, on the ground floor the north wall is open, on the second floor the south wall is open, and finally on the third floor the north wall is again open, this accomplished through the use of a folded cast in place concrete plate that weaves in and out.  This plate appears to be non committal as to whether it's a floor or a wall, as the thickness is cleverly maintained in both conditions.

It's important to note the proximity of the neighboring buildings in the image above; though not touching, they are very close, and their height makes them appear to be closer than their actual distance apart might be.  From this perspective, the folded plane might be considered a "party wall"* of sorts that has taken "both sides"; separating both the south and north buildings from each other and paradoxically creating a new "place" from this separation.  As such, the house has no formal reason for being; it is a wall, an apartness that claims both sides equally, but makes no claim of its own.  In this sense too, there is no unified living in this house.  Each fold is it's own claim with no sharing.  To move from one floor to another, one bores through the folded party wall:

The house has no place; it's a machine for borrowing, borrowing space from its unwitting neighbors.  This lack of centeredness, or more accurately occupying multiple centers, is a very Japanese tendency, as noted in an earlier post (Japan Musings 6) and by Roland Barthes in his book "Empire of Signs", where he discusses the role of the train station in Japanese cities (emptying center).  The "center" in this house is nothing more than the space one is currently occupying, and entirely consistent with Shinto tradition and, for that matter, the layout of Japanese cities themselves.  One is out when in, in when out.

The section is the elevation.

Nice use of curtains to separate space uses.
The curtains seem to be just a step removed from traditional Shoji screens.  They create a soft division of the long tubular space into the necessary uses.  Their transience is latent as opposed to that implied by the translucent glazing of the "open" sides of the house.


Roof Deck
All Photographs © Hiroyasu Sakaguchi AtoZ
*Party wall: A fire separation between two buildings that usually extends above the roof lines of each.


Industrialized...knowing? 2.3

There is a sense that we, as creatures, must be different from all others because we have a sense of ourselves and, above all, a sense of our mortality, something we're quite sure isn't shared by any other creature.  Our existance, apart from all others on this planet, is one that collectively gathers intelligence through time, and is therefore dependant upon a level of connectivity between our members through time not required by any other.  Imagine if we all had to begin from scratch what we all have available to us upon birth, and had to invent our own crescent wrench, unicycles, pasta recipes, oil paint, cell phones on and on, we would be instead another species, one that makes due with whats available upon birth and perfectly able to do so with no penalty to its ability to survive.  We must be different.

This reasoning makes it clear we're different from all other species.  But aren't all species different from each other?  Does our difference equal superiority?  Our difference is no more than that between any of the other's, and equal in the sense that it is the means about which we go about our survival; its articulation, always on our terms, is nothing more than a distraction from the only thing life "cares" about, which is  to further itself, to extend its existence. The centeredness of our selves, and all selves, means that each is less likely to reach a complete understanding of what it means to be alive with respect to other species, and for most species this is sufficient, as their primary concern is the survival of each individual member, the extension of which ensures the propagation of the whole.  They kill what needs to be killed, and breed.  Our wondering and ponders, our endless consideration and deliberation, unique among species, leads us to places not immediately obvious as requisite of survival, but in the end, for us, completely required of it.  For it's in this consideration and pondering of options that we choose our way forward, rather than the programmed need that drives others to not look around so much, but focus on a target and measure for threats, with the immediacy of instinct.

We think we're hot shit.  Steamy risings from the meadow?  Perhaps.  But we're definitely not hot shit.  Thanks to our huge, considering brain, we claim to "know", but true knowing is precisely what we lack.  Our knowing exists outside of true knowing, but gives the appearance to us of being the only "knowing" there is.

One might say there are three states, or varieties, of "knowing": A true knowing, common to all other life forms, and probably identifiable to us as instinct; what might be called "scientific knowing", based on empiricism and causality, and as written about by Kant; and finally "belief", which is knowing only to those who believe in the belief (god) at hand.  Our being offers just two ways forward in terms of knowing, those being the last two identified above.  Our decision making apparatus doesn't permit option 1, and so we are left with only a fork in the road as to the issues and concerns we face day to day (or more precisely, present to future), without our even thinking about how this might relate to our ability to survive.  The industrial says we're fools to believe in belief, to imagine our knowing should declare us something apart from the mostly empty and cold blooded nature that is the universe.  The industrial says we have no business believing for a moment that we're any different than any of the other differences out there, and that to do so is to wander down a path of delusion, a path seeking exceptionalism for this species where none exists.  To "believe", to put your faith in the 3rd knowing, is to live a life of delusion that may have as a consequence the extinction of this species.

But what good is this knowledge if it doesn't make me feel good?  Doesn't that invalidate it?  Where is salvation?  Next.


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