The five multidisciplinary teams working on projects for the exhibition Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream are halfway through the workshop phase this week. Here they share how they are moving from the research phase into the implementation phase.
“Workshopping to Walls”
Project: Property with Properties
Site Location: Rialto, California
Moving towards the exhibition, we have continued to produce drawings and models at a variety of scales. The misregistration and involution are progressing well beyond the diagram as we execute 1/8″ house plans and sections—allowing the project itself to become increasingly tangible, accessible, and communicative.
We are also beginning to attach hard numbers to our site strategy, exhibiting an increased control over the misregistrations as an operational technique to achieve highly intentional and meaningful results. With this comes an increased coherence in site programming and materiality: circulation, ecological corridors, ownership strategies, zoning, easements, etc.
Project: The Garden in the Machine
Site Location: Cicero, Illinois
Everything we learn about Cicero seemingly opens a dozen new avenues of research to follow, but as with all projects, sooner or later the urge to actually make something wins out over the urge to keep digging. So we have chosen to focus on this question: What does the foreclosed factory have to offer? For Mies and others after the war, the city was tablua rasa for an industrial aesthetic (look no further than MoMA’s current 194x–9/11 exhibiton). Today, instead of war-torn cities, the remnants of foreclosed factories devastated by the financial crisis are our site for reimagining living. We’re exploring how that vacancy might engender a reassemblage of dwelling and working infused with multivalent green spaces.
“The Garden in the Machine” starts from the fundamental suburban desire for green space (i.e. urbanity nestled in nature) and subverts it, asking how the same dream could be fulfilled in the post-industrial landscape of our site: a foreclosed factory nestled between active rail lines. Rather than wiping the slate clean, we’re mining the potential of Cicero’s existing urban fabric—industrial, residential, and transit—to imagine how these formerly productive spaces might once again lay the framework for a thriving network, one composed of new cottage industries, flexible residences that suit the contemporary population of Cicero, and variegated green space that can be enjoyed by all.
We’ve reinterpreted the garden space of the suburb from the singular lawn to heterogeneous gathering, productive, recreational, and restorative spaces. Their scale ranges from small (a private space for meditation), to medium (a playground), to large (a wildlife corridor). These mixtures of garden types are dispersed throughout the site in accordance with proposed densities and their specific roles in forming green infrastructural networks.
By reassembling rather than replacing an industrial structure, and by engaging deeply with Cicero’s existing fabric instead of erasing it, we find we’re able to develop a richer, more interconnected suburb with the potential to become a dynamic arrival city.
Site Location: Salem-Keizer, Oregon
The clock is ticking. As we are approaching D-Date, our projected Keizer site is being replaced by the exhibition room at MoMA, our “real” site. A number of key questions are arising: first is the question of scale: 1/32″ would allow us to show the various housing typologies and their integration with the site’s infrastructure and the nature gradient. Second, what will constitute the static drawings on the wall vs. the videos’ content? Working with Wieden Kennedy, we imagine the videos to be a series of short clips which are more experiential and personal—a series of “day in the life” views of Nature City’s various species. In contrast, the drawings will be more diagrammatic and architectural. Our main hesitation is whether to have a single drawing—an unfolded animated section through which all of the flows will be illustrated—or a series of vignettes.
Project: Simultaneous City
Site Location: Temple Terrace, Florida
I once read that Louis Sullivan had a process of interviewing himself while he worked, asking himself questions that he’d have to answer to narrow his work down. Consultants and partners will do this for you, and for Foreclosed we have worked with Erik Olsen, Zak Kostura, Mark Malekshahi, Brian Loughlin, Peter Hance, Nadine Maleh, and Rosanne Haggerty—all from day one. We had ambitiously tried to not narrow our work early: seeking a conditional fusing of structural and thermal qualities of space in a way that would open a new quality of experience. In the midst of this are Temple Terrace, Florida, foreclosures, and a wider issue of the future of the American suburb. West 8 has also been consulting on landscape and new public zones laced into the city. The urban work we’ve focused on is a nearly two-mile-long strip between Tampa and Temple Terrace; the architectural work has been predominantly seeking a new scale of architecture that would fuse the strip with a building at an in-between scale—too large to call a building but also too small to call infrastructure. In narrowing this down we’ve sought a way to integrate a building into urbanism, but not as a node, but instead as sub-field itself that would have a wide range of housing options and spatial orientations (courtyard houses to narrow floor-through apartments). The scale allows a sense of discrete units, and a form of privacy in the density but also a quasi-urban experience within the continuous structure—you could leave your apartment and take a midnight walk in the compound/field to a store, to a government or public space, or to a friend’s apartment. The structural work suspends the units in a field above public and shared programming and also allows a range of thermal zones (a gradient of conditioned spaces in units that decrease the energy use of a dwelling; that also shade or organize public spaces to make longer walks possible in the Florida climate). Our partners have helped program this and the scale of the work has been set to create something large enough to feel like a field, but also architectural and very immediate in scale. The entire scale was set from a very narrow 34-foot-wide “bar building” that becomes an arrayed field of many other dwelling types. The model we are focused on will be a “core sample” that cuts a 500 x 500′ sector from the overall 600 x 800′ field. Rem Koolhaas’s “Bigness” essay has been in the background: I had read a pre-press copy of the text in 1993 at the outset of moving to Houston to teach at Rice. This work has brought us right back to that time and the essay’s framing of a crisis between the determinacy of urban planning and architecture scales; it’s critical because the potential for the suburbs and for housing dramatically change as the scale of intervention changes. In the end we are very focused on a how a building can become near urban in scale.
Project: Thoughts on a Walking City
Site Location: The Oranges, New Jersey
TO-DO LIST #4
1. Talk with the economic team, need to finalize economic data on infrastructure.
2. Think about writing something on the extra helpings of false choices (unfinished)…. It’s a bad title, we know. We’ll change it eventually. “False Choices” sounds like a melodrama on the Lifetime channel where moral dilemmas offer only tragic, teary-eyed outcomes. But MoMA, like the Lifetime channel, has programmed Foreclosed with a series of imaginary moral hazards. Behind the wizard’s curtain is the nauseatingly cyclical Art/Life debate that has become part of postmodernism and architectural avant-garde practices of the 1960s onward. (Sure, we can understand it through Constructivism, but its current incarnation is rooted in postmodernism.) The Art/Life split crudely divides the disciplines of architecture and urban design. Architecture is Art for Art’s sake, and urban design is about Life and the messy contingencies of the world. (i.e., there’s no urban design department at MoMA….) Architecture is a disciplinary problem and urban design is a problem of management and good stewardship. Of course, these absurdly reductive categories are useful until they’re not. MoMA/Buell, Barry/Reinhold have created a double-headed institution with a double-bind from the very beginning, where architecture exists as something distinct from urbanism. We’re offered the false choice between autonomy and heteronomy—you can only choose the red pill or the blue pill. Do we talk to an academic audience or do we try to be populist? Do we engage the market or try to remain outside of it? Are we critical or practical? Utopia or Main Street? Facts or fictions? Blah, blah, etc, etc…. The best thing to do within this context is confuse the categories, choose “all of the above,” in order to produce frictions and new frequencies through inclusion. It’s as close as we can get to demystification.
3. Delete last week’s text on unstable objects, form, radical inclusion, whatever—the thing about the strange freedoms of architecture. (As a side note: please understand that these are all written in about five minutes before they’re due. Really, how do people find the time to blog regularly?) We just wanted to reiterate something about instability and entropic form. It’s something we’re interested in. It’s part of our office culture. We make software to produce failures and entropic forms, etc…. We prefer rough/base materiality and we believe to operate as avant-hyper-self-conscious architects. You continually dismantle architecture, and instability is one way to do that. That said, what troubles us about the supposedly eroticized liberation of symbolic movement—superimposition, hyperbolic twisting, distortion, mannerism, etc—is that these techniques have been institutionalized methodologies for over 20 years and in the end they produce stability. Institutionalized liberalism isn’t liberalism…. For some generations of architects educated under a semiotic regime of architectural language, the grunts and distorted moans of twisted, folded grids can engender freedom, like the heavy feedback of punk rock, but those of us who were educated through those techniques find no liberation in it. Either you double down and twist the twists or find something else…because its effects are reversed on us. (Punk rock is used to sell cars nowadays.) An example we like to think about is “The Grid.” The grid, as described by Rosalind Krauss in the late 1970s, was a sort of meta-condition, a deductive layer underneath form, outside of history, an attempt at silence. But today the grid has become an image, a commodity filled with references. There’s no way for us to produce architecture through negation or pure positivist logic. It’s not available to us. You can’t remove the endless array of references in the world of Google—all we can do is find ways to produce instability through weird concoctions, oscillating frequencies and frictions.
4. Seriously, we’re convinced not a single person reads this blog. You’d figure we would get a snarky comment or two, or the random insult.
5. Make more and more models, until we’ve convinced ourselves.
6. Finalize the MOVIE footage, start on the narrative…