Sunday, January 10, 2010

Introduction to Design Concepts

After rendering a loose definition for an architectural folly (see previous posts), I then began my sketch response to the problem put fourth by the Cameron. As I gathered my thoughts and feelings about follies that I knew and discovered in my research, I was particularly intrigued by the presence of certain illusions. While many follies are attached with ancillary functions (a meditation space or honey storage shed, to use examples from previous postings), these uses are often merely labels or excuses to communicate architectural ideas. Many times, this suspect utility is so dominated by allusion and expression that the existence of these structures contradict any type of logical principles they might otherwise represent. Scarpa's floating cemetery meditation platform, while beautiful and serene, creates a space inaccessible by anyone who wishes to keep their pants dry. Blackwell's honey house uses a complex lattice of steel and glass to inefficiently store and display honey in the middle of the woods. In these cases the wish to, perhaps, communicate a metaphor of the afterlife, or to manipulate the forms of nature and agriculture through modern means, places aesthetic and philosophical concerns over any typical programmatic hierarchies. However, the "front" of usefulness is never completely abandoned. These buildings seem to always offer just enough of a cue for us to, if only momentarily, expect some level of the comfort and utility that we usually find in our buildings. It is in this way that follies straddle the line between architecture and sculpture.

In this contradictory and illusory nature I found the opportunity to connect with a familiar set of ideas. In college I had the opportunity to study architecture and urbanism in Florence, Italy. While there, our studios came under the tutelage of the Italian architect Andrea Ponsi. Particularly, Signore Ponsi pushed us to reinterpret and reimagine our environment through drawing and painting. It was through these exercises that I was introduced to the Italian concept of cappricio. In this idea, architectural scenarios are realized through graphic representations of often sublime or fabulous notions. In Signore Ponsi's interpretation, this involved drawing existing urban artifacts in the city of Florence, not with the goal of documentation, but rather morphing the scene to satisfy fantastical conditions spontaneously adopted by the viewer. In his own particular pieces, for example, the Ponte Vecchio becomes a sleek, ultra-modern structure and the famed Renascence facade of the Uffizi is redefined in glass and steel (see In Fig. 1, I have included one of my own drawings from this time. It represents a view of the Castle Vecchio in Florence, as seen from the loggia of the Uffizi. It is near this site in 1993 where a car bomb killed five people. This capriccio depicts the castle’s famous tower super-imposed with armor, a red scar from the bombing still evident. These drawings depict buildings which appear to have been built for a purpose. For example, Signore Ponsi's gestural curtain walls of glass would presumably be adopted and installed to provide light and air lacking in the narrow medieval streets of Florence, or perhaps to encase their precious exteriors and protect them from the elements. However, these structural components were not designed, and were relayed into the drawing spontaneously. They were merely selected and composed together in order to access the emotional notions about architecture of which we are conditioned. Thus, these drawings are, in a way, premature follies. They are obsessive representations of aesthetic and philosophical ideas in architecture, wrapped in the disguise of functionality. Yet, the folly earns its namesake through the act of building.

With these ideas in mind, I began to establish an outline which would become the basis for designing SwitchTower4022. As stated previously, I had decided early on that I would draw heavily on a lifelong fascination with industrial structures and equipment. Concurrently, I began to imagine a life for my folly beyond the six month exhibition period at CAM. I realized that by designing something which could be disassembled and resurrected with relative ease, the folly could be brought back to the Switchyard (the home of Kersting Architecture) and displayed indefinitely. In this way, my design would be a visitor to the CAM site, a sort of ambassador for the ideals for which the Switchyard was created. As I discussed in an earlier post, the Switchyard is an adapted industrial site which sits as an island, surrounded on all sides by highly active rail lines. The new facilities there were conceived to relate to and maintain the industrial nature of the site, while providing a modern incubator in which craftsmen, merchants, and designers work alongside one another.

As I sat amongst these surroundings, I began to imagine my folly as a symbol of this industrial second-life: a sculpture in the form of a building, a sort of beacon to broadcast the character of this place: the in-situ adaptation of reclaimed and repurposed components and spaces, along with the integration of available modern technologies and talents, resulting in a material and aesthetic culture which honors regional and archetypal precedents, not by mimicking them, but by engaging in the ongoing evolution of the built environment through experimentation, in which combinations of time-proven methods and innovations are tested through adaptation.

It would be these ideas which would build the foundational language on which I would build my folly. In later entries, I will discuss the specific design interventions taken to express these first principles, as well as the measures taken to articulate them through the construction process.

Fig. 1- Cappricio depicting armored fantasy of Castle Vecchio in Florence.

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