An incredible symposium this weekend at Berkeley, the inaugural Studio One Symposium organized by Prof. Nicholas deMonchaux. The event was broken up into two days, first an evening lecture by Mark Smout of Smout Allen known for their 'Retreating Village' project with seductive mechanical models of structures that shrink away from rising tides in a global warming context.
The line-up was incredibly relevant, from Smout's fantastical ecology conscious proposals and visually stunning student work to Geoff Manaugh's of BLDG Blog's insightful and playful opinion to Liam Young's Unknown Fields and research at the AA into just about everything.
The symposium was structured with an hour long lecture followed by a brief response. The response to Mark Smout's work from Richard Walker, Professor of Geography at Berkeley was somewhat hostile. He claims that though the images were beautiful and captivating, that the projects are reductionist and do not present realistic solutions to incredibly complex problems. This theme was repeated in the response to Nataly Gattegno's of Future Cities Lab, presented by David Bates. He expressed criticism in the idea of the live model, currently being developed by the firm, with Nataly's partner Jason Kelly Johnson in collaboration with Andy Payne, author of the Firefly plugin for Grasshopper. Bates suggested that authentic models of reality when modeled have the ability to expose relationships in systems that we could not see before. The analogy of the early aerial landscape photograph and hot air ballooning is used as an analogy here, a virtual reality and abstraction of the landscape brought about a change in the way the actual environment was understood.
The ideas presented by Geoff Manaugh were incredibly potent and interesting. An idea of the environmental prosthetic, which was also brought up on his blog in late 2008 as an idea to ameliorate the flooding risk in cities like New Orleans.
A question left lingering in my mind after the days presentations (the question period was condensed and cut quite short) is that of the relevance of 'the architect' as we know it today. The work presented left the realm of building sections and floor plans far behind, much of the most memorable presentation was video of cultural peculiarities, such as the eco-sniper that assassinates the over-crowded goat population on the island of Galapagos. The symposium titled the 'Expanded Field' did bring a more holistic perspective to the incredibly insular world of architecture school. A speaker points out :
"In architecture school, no one can hear you scream."
This is so true, how our discipline can grow to integrate and present realistic solutions for serious and urgent problems is the highest concern for me. There seems to be such a great pressure to create beautiful, aesthetically evocative images that will be republished on the blogs and look good in a portfolio. Rigorous and useful solutions are rarely so sexy.
Ultimately the symposium brought about a well balanced survey of where we are in architectural discourse today. There is a good deal of material experimentation and tinkering with parametrics with the whisper of environmental salvation, and a whimsical, cybernetic industrial aesthetic that is embodied in projects that are unabashedly amateur spanning disciplines from neuroscience to bioengineering and artificial intelligence.
This is most necessary, as we have hundreds of thousands of homes and buildings created every day that set us back thirty years as new production systems overtake the old. Architects must become 'expert generalists' as suggested by Mason White, to conduct and find useful applications for rapidly developing disruptive technologies that will guide a unpredictable professional landscape in the coming decades.
Kyle Buchanan - Student work presented by Mark Smout
Architecture Research Lab specializes in design and construction technology and is located in Berkeley, California - www.archresearchlab.com