If the conditions that address contemporary architectural practice are asking "How do we live in the largest and most complex cities that have ever existed?”, architecture’s apparent answer is “We stare at each other from a thousand yards distant in our well-lit living rooms.”
A progressive field like architecture would ostensibly look to its precedents faced with similar predicaments and critically adapt those techniques that have proven successful. Though the motivations for contemporary ultra-urbanization are nascent, the condition is similar to that addressed by functionalist plans like Corbusier’s Plan Voisin, which sought to address a perceived problem with Paris’s roots in medieval planning by plowing under depressed neighborhoods to make way for cruciform towers that provided light and air for all. Another Corb project, the Unité continued this interest through the use of double-loaded corridors in plan and section to allow cross-ventilation and a double engagement with the building envelope for each unit.
A new tower proposed in the Yongsang Business District of Seoul, South Korea by the New York-based firm REX copies this scheme, but adapts it as a deconstruction of a scapegoated commercial slab-tower and enlarges the central corridor to operate on the scale of an urban void.
The rhetoric for this interest is dually functionalist and culturalist; the architect suggests that this move allows sunlight to reach all units more often, which is easy enough to imagine, and that it creates a community internal to the space. The second claim is intriguing as it suggests that the contemporary issue of living in megalopolises can be addressed through architectural, rather than urban voids. An examination of communities created by architectural voids reveals the dubious nature of this claim.
Stadia are an architectural type that creates communities around voids. However, that void is a spatial expansion of, and genuflection to the event that is intended to organize the space. The community in the stadium does not exist outside the event-time. The social experience of attending an event in a stadium proceeds in a series as local-conscious, collective-conscious, local-conscious as the temporal condition proceeds as pre-event, event, post-event. Essentially, one interacts with a local community (a group of friends that attend together), participates in a collective community (cheering, singing, etc.), and returns to the local community (going for drinks, maybe).
If REX’s tower is essentially acting as a stadium for living, it is a stadium with no event worth attending, where all the seats are separated by party walls, and the ticket for admission is a safety deposit and a signed lease. In fact, the void in the project is so massively out of scale with human interaction that the only possible engagement (even as rendered by the architect) is to stare across to the other units and wonder if their electric bill is as high as yours from having to air-condition an apartment with two fully glazed facades in sub-tropical Korea.
Actually, this presents an interesting social opportunity for the Martyrdom of the Architect. Perhaps if architecture fails more and more miserably to address recurring social and cultural needs, the eventual uprising against architects will create a unified purpose for the enraged occupants of oversized residential towers , which serve a purely functional logic of “Hey, sunlight is good, right?”, to eliminate their common enemy via pitchfork.
Hopefully not, but it would be nice to see a contemporary tower project that conceptualizes a plausible creation of communities. Perhaps by taking a smaller number of units and implementing a cohousing-type scheme wherein it’s cheaper to live in a cool high-rise by “renting in bulk” and the lessors also get an amenity (a garden, a daycare network, singles speed dating lounge, etc.) shared amongst ten households instead of what is essentially the negative of a skyscraper shared amongst a thousand households.
But I digress…
As a student of architecture, academic studies often yield digressions that cannot be examined fully in a scholastic environment. This weblog will serve as an outlet for abstract curiosities in architecture and its related fields. Though the individual entries are not sequential in their discourse, they all occupy a miasma of deeper inquisitions raised by learning in the superficiality of a media-centric world.