Welcome back. This Wednesday we were fortunate to have Peter Trummer, Head of the Institute for Urban Design & Spatial Planning at the University of Innsbruck, as our speaker and workshop leader over the previous 5 days (we will have a recap posted in the near future). Kristy Balliet, this semesters lecture coordinator and leader of the workshop with Peter, introduced him as an architect, researcher, and urban agitator. Through his work at academic programs, such as the Berlage Institute and Sci-Arc, Peter has been researching urbanism and the ways in which cities develop. The topic for the night was his current research focus on the model of the city as aggregated objects, a focus that came about following a radical shift in how he considers cities.
The beginning of his talk was a recap of some planning history that led to a discovery that was critical to his current trajectory. He began with the process of urbanization, a subject matter first investigated by Ildefons Cerdà, a Catalan Spanish urban planner of 19th century. While being the definer of The General Theory of Urbanization (broken down into technological, legislative, administrative, economical, and political) what stuck out in particular was the parametric model that Cerdà developed of city growth and the understanding that urbanization is as much a formal discipline as it is political. This led him to a project that he performed in a number of cities, the example he showed in Phoenix Arizona. The premise to this project is that when he visited phoenix he discovered that cities were being planned from nothing. A 1/4 miles square area of vacant land was going to become a small city. A historic example he citied was William Levitt, the father of American suburbia. The project began in studying The President’s Conference on Home Building and Home Ownership, a planning document under the Hoover administration. It looked at various ways and patterns the city could grow as a result of varying the “infrastructural units”. You can see two examples in the pictures below. The study went into detail, breaking down housing types and their square foot investment.
His project, following in these tracks, analyzed a range of variables for the chosen site, such as vegetation density and radiation. They also studied current market housing types and then developed their own, based on light and air-flow. This developed into a parametric model of a home and of urbanization, which they then tested out over the site. While the organization may not be as comprehensible and the standard suburbia it’s a really interesting way to look at how the city-as-a-project could occur, very formulaic. He came to realize though that this projects lifespan was short and that cities developed in a much more unplanned fashion. He made the statement that “I don’t believe in planning”.
Thus a change came in his thinking from two trends. Firstly, the concept of Bio-politics, in which “the human species became the object of a political strategy”, so rather than focusing on an ideal and either under or over-mining the city in studies, the focus became on looking at cities as they exist. The second, the emergence of Megaforms, cities within themselves. Thus, we were introduced to the 4 kinds of cities: the circle, the most historical of cities; the grid, a change which occurred as people began to own land; archipelagos, a scattering of dense centers; the solid, a city within itself, consider “the city of the captive globe” by OMA. Understanding this there are two ways into how architecture actually makes the city fabric. Heteronomous architecture, in which individual building are directly next to each other and in doing so create define the streets of a city. Consider the medieval city of Siena, Italy (personal example) and the way in which the winding streets are defined by the wall of buildings. The opposite is autonomous architecture in which each building is its own pavilion as we city in the contemporary grid city of today.
Understanding this we can now get into the meat of the topic. What Peter is concerned with is what is the city of the future, with the relationship to the above 4 kinds of cities becoming his framework. His understanding begins with how do buildings meet the ground. Seeing in the picture below there are a number of historical precedents to look at, but what these all have in common is that their concept of ground is earth. What Peter looking at is buildings becoming the new ground for another building. What he defines as The Aggregated City; buildings on buildings. The first version of this became a stacking and collage of various simple shapes, in which buildings become both figure and ground. For clarity, skipping ahead a few slides he showed us a few slides of the beginnings of this trend, such as a series of villas on top of a shopping mall or a mountain villa on top of an apartment tower. In the same way that an artist might start a drawing with their off-hand to remove any preconceived notions or habits, Peter, after looking at some possible diagrammatic versions, investigated forms in which the floor-plate becomes the new ground, or the elevator, in the context of Los Angeles. The forms are wild and eccentric, but are a technique to study the unique relationships between parts and help us understand what organizations could be possible.
His lecture not only gave many of us a much better understanding of Urbanism, but also an idea of how a city of the future might develop. To see more of this work keep an eye out for a recap of the workshop Peter lead over the past week. Once the video is processed you can find the whole lecture on the Knowlton website (http://knowlton.osu.edu/news-and-events/lectures) and join us next week with Steven Holl.
This blog will be a feeder for recent news, events, and student work occurring at the Knowlton School at The Ohio State University. Posts will typically center around updates from the schools lecture series, exciting projects from recent student reviews, and updates from other school events.