The New Radicalism

Historically the notion of what is seen as radical within the profession of architecture has been related to the most complex, the biggest and the tallest. Advanced technology and a certain polemic describing what´s next have played a central role in describing future prospects. All of these movements share a theoretical platform based on a linear evolution stating that what once was will become obsolete and replaced. A lot of these ideas are now being challenged by a new generation of architects.

We all know the work of Archigram and how they throughout the 60s presented a series of fictional projects displayed the megastructures of the future cities. The group embraced complexity, technology and consumerism. For instance The Walking City by Ron Herron was a literal translation of Le Corbusier's ideas of architecture as a machine for living. Partner at Zaha Hadid Architects Patrik Schumacher is advocating for a parametric design as the next paradigm in architecture. The following prophecies by Schumacher illustrates this: “there is a global convergence in recent avant-garde architecture that justifies its designation as a new style: parametricism." In the size category the competition for the highest building in the world is still on and is currently being led by SOM and their Burj Dubai skyscraper.

All these examples can be described as a linear evolution describing the next revolutionary step in architecture.

Today walking cities, parametric design and building the tallest building in the world have little appeal in among large groups of young architects. This became evident in the invited competition for the new Governmental Quarter in Oslo. Both Snøhetta and BIG presented a quarter consisting of contextually speaking, enormous pointy towers. BIG even described it with a rather naive mountain metaphor. MVRDV enclosed the old government quarter with an enormous ring made of a low rise but still large and dens building. They all had sleek rhetorics and sparkling images trying to scream the loudest to convince politicians and and dazzle the people.

A group of students from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO) were also invited to submit an entry. One might expect the craziest of ideas from students. The most radical proposals. The jury was surprised to find out that this was not the case. The students had the seemingly most humble project. How could this happen? Has the upcoming generation of students lost the critical and innovational edge?

The answer is no. In the above mentioned example one can argue that the submission from AHO were in fact the only radical proposal. They choose to work with the existing conditions in a contextual manner discussing, history, proportions and by asking relevant questions about the program itself. They even refused to demolish the historically important Y-blokka which occupies the parts of the site today. Regarding the program the students proposed to put some of it under ground and also to reduce it with the argument that how we work are changing and we will not be needing as much space as the program suggests.

Could it be that being radical is not necessarily a linear development of bigger, taller and more advanced? Today we know that this way of thinking has led to a cynical exploitation of natural resources, overconsumption, pollution and a fragile global economy largely based on short term thinking and loans. A lot of younger people are aware of this and want to reverse this tendency by slowing down the pace and work in a conscious and critical manner focusing on often more subtile parameters like proportions, thresholds, history and local awareness both in terms of context, labour and materials. The goal is not to have the tallest building on ones resume, but rather to have the most suitable and appropriate building for that particular site.

Publication in Aftenposten

This is an article i wrote that was published in Aftenposten. It presents some of the discoveries I did while working on my diploma project and urban space in general.

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Static or dynamic environment?

In today’s urban planning the emphasis on dynamic and adaptable structures is great. Social structures and society in general are changing fast. This has opened up for a new thinking towards urban space. And empty building site can be used as a temporary arena for a park, market, exhibitions and so on. Through social media spreading ideas and creating networks for user involvement has become easy. People like John Bela and the Rebar Group represent such a movement. They have been creating small parks on side walk parking slots, and in order to use the park, one has to pay the parking meter. A lot of what they do is ephemeral and changing, both in location and form. I strongly  believe in these kinds of urban planning and user participation. Temporary programs and planning driven by activism are important not just because they enrich the city, but they also form a critical voice. These projects produce hands on examples for possible change, and making physical structures seems to be the best way of connecting with not just the everyday user, but also politicians.

These dynamic projects and structures do have limitations. The ephemeral character often eliminates a certain robustness and predictability. The openness of these dynamic and changing projects also tend to eliminate more specific uses. Within a city it is important to have spaces that are temporal. One should not have to fear that for example the playground or the urban farming development suddenly gets replaced by an office block. In a fast moving world static references are needed. When I visit Barcelona I have this one spot I always visit. It is a cluster of ruins overlooking the whole city, and hopefully I can keep on doing so. Another aspect is that some program simply demand both robustness and a more foreseeable and static environment. A skateboard park can not be built or removed i one day. We have to keep using temporal sites and make guerrilla architecture, while at the same time provide for permanent environments for unorganised cultural and leisure activities.

 Skate park at Marbella, Barcelona: An example of a static urban environment.

Skate park at Marbella, Barcelona: An example of a static urban environment.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere is closely tied to a subjective experience. I might say that a foggy day is mystical and exiting, while others find it dark and wet. Still, there are very specific parametres that creates this foggy day. These can be measured and recreated. As architects we often want to create a specific ambient or atmosphere. As a part of a school project we were given this task: First take a photo, then recreate it. The objective was not to recreate the mere building or room, but also the atmosphere found in the picture. The top picture is a photo of my recreation, and the bottom photo is the actual building.

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Beautiful coincidences

There are lots of strange coincidences that in the end appear to be both beautiful and functional. Often I find these examples more interesting than references found in magazines, books or blogs. It might have to do with the personal experience often attached to these places, but it is not just that. These places usually have a multilayered history to them. They were never intended to be what they are, but someone happened to see a potential.

In Barcelona a lot of climbers go to La Foixarda. This spot is a little bit hidden in one of the excavations on Montjuic, but because of the specialised program, every climber in Barcelona knows about it. It is a tunnel with climbing grips. On both sides of the tunnel it is also possible to climb on rock. By night the tunnel is lit. The strength of this location is its robustness. There are no locker rooms or showers. It is outside and you can play your guitar while watching your friends climb and eat or drink wherever you want. There are no opening- or closing times. You can stay for an hour or five, and it is free of charge.  

Also in Barcelona at El Carmel, you will find what is popularly called los Búnkers. They are ruins from the civil war situated on the highest peak of the city. It was of course never intended to be a park, but with its views, multiple platforms and level changes it is a popular spot for just hanging out or having a picnic. It is a place where you can go alone or with a group of people. If you are alone you can find yourself a little hideaway and read a book. The physical surroundings offer a broad range of scales and possibilities. Today the bunkers form a part of the Museum of Catalan History.

 La Foixarda, Montjuic.

La Foixarda, Montjuic.

Subtile architecture

During the Bloomsbury course (see the HOTEL, Bloomsbury, London project) we all had to do a survey of a traditional work of architecture. I chose to redraw Bedford Square nr. 15 in elevation and section. The elevation gave me a lesson on proportions. There is a huge amount of design only in working with proportions. In modern architecture and also in architecture school this topic seams to be understated.

The second lessen I learned was how the section makes the ground floor more flexible. The sunken down basement creates a buffer zone and a sense of security between the public street and the building.

 Bedford Square nr. 15.

Bedford Square nr. 15.

Feeling special?

This is a photo taken at the new harbour development in Tokyo. It fascinates me. It is so far from what I am used to in Norway. How is it to live there? It might be just fine? The view has to be fantastic.

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