Cornell University (Kumar Sebastian Coors Atre)



Feb '05 - Aug '06

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    By KumarAtre
    Nov 28, '05 6:20 PM EST

    This project reexamines the typology of the Health Club by mixing it with that of the Dance Club on the site of a large-scale development at the intersection of two subway lines in Manhattan. It is a test, a question, a challenge - a proto-typology.


    This project is a reframing of the Health Club typology. It takes the hypothesis of program mixing from the Downtown Athletic Club and formats it for operation in a contemporary setting awash with sexy images.

    The Health Club is thus confronted by and united with its cousin, the Dance Club. It moves from Health Club to Club Health. (Naked men wearing boxing gloves and eating oysters are sexy, but sex has changed)

    Club Health is the name chosen for the observation that seems to be on the tip of Manhattan's tongue: that there is now room for a consolidated center of image culture.

    Such a facility would present - in the same space - all manifestations of the relationship between our desires, ourselves, and each other. The health club is essentialized as the infrastructure needed for the embodiment in ourselves the physical form we desire. The dance club is the space needed to test the efficacy of such attempts on external objects of desire. Both programs involve explicit comparisons of the self to the other (male to female, or vice versa, male to male, female to female, anyone to anyone). The comparison yet to be made is that between the two spaces of this culture. This is the contribution of Club Health: the synthesis of the health club and the dance club.

    Club Health argues that the difficulty of such a synthesis, while being at once physical and emotional, is superficial. That is, that it has more to do with the aesthetic of the space than the use thereof....


    Club Health approaches program mixing with a focus on the concept of synergy: that the joining of disparate programs in a common space is justifiable only when and where the combination is greater than the sum of the parts. Specifically, that the economies of space are not as successful or interesting as economies of psychology (those based on the use of space). This is a qualitative, un-testable economy; its currency is emotion, it's an economy of desire.

    As stated above, an economy of desire takes as its basic assumption the relevance of image culture - the abstract, spectacular, hyperreal wish image of advertisement hoarding - to any urban-scale architectural application thereof. This desire is sexual, everywhere. It is abstracted on billboards and in glossy magazines. It is the seductive life of the two-dimensional. It is the challenge of the project: the reason it can and needs to exist. It is a medium - a medium that limits the project and that is exploited by the project to generate a critique thereof.

    Thus, the image will not be negated, but reappropriated. The deterritorialized will be confronted by a more severe, more immediate iteration of itself. It will be reconciled with human bodies in motion, with minds racing and blood pressures rising.

    The project states as its goal to choreograph a confrontation, and organize, almost as a scientific experiment, a laboratory of emotions.

    A choreographed confrontation: the ingredients are all-too present, but have yet to be assembled. Their assembly - into a cohesive, digestable package - might clarify the issues at hand. By presenting the fullest iteration of the medium allowed by that medium, Club Health could potentially objectify itself, forcing the user to generate a new understanding of his relation to the system. This would allow a critical user to generate his own way of interacting with it - and simultaneously allow for the complete immersion of those still lacking criticality.


    Anyone and everyone with eyes, reproductive organs, and a membership. Everyone who lives his life in two dimnesions, as a vector-man.

    This does not preclude emotion or self-consciousness, but rather self-awareness.


    The site chosen by this project has also been chosen by the Avalon Bay Corporation. It is the first of a three-stage mixed-use development: retail the first three floors, 25/75 (??) housing above*. There are twelve (9?) floor slabs serviced by one cluster of four elevators at the east end of the site.

    The site brings into view the possibility of another program; the intersection of East Houston and Second Avenue (and Chrystie St.) is also the intersection of the F, V train and the future Second Avenue T line. These two lines, and the conditions they imply, constitute the third program.

    The elevator and subway relate by similarities inherent to the type of transportation they provide. Specifically, this project views the elevator as a vertical subway. Both enclose the passenger, hiding from him everything between point A and point B (and C, D, X, W, Z). The elevator-subway doors open to constricted spaces requiring signage to communicate location. the elevator-subway moves in ways unnatural or impossible for humans: underground, up, fast, necessarily, blind, with ultimate efficiency, and in straight lines. The elevator-subway is unaware of the datum of the sidewalk.

    Indeed, the elevator-subway is the ultimate contrast to the experience of the city streets. The realm of the pedestrian is flat, with fluid transitions from neighborhood to neighborhood, limited by surficial obstacles: buildings, people, dogs, fire hydrants, potholes, psychogeographers, trash cans, cars, etc. Occupiable and programmable, it is the space of the unexpectable situations that make the city what it is.

    And what is the city? Club Health understands it as a productive density: a horizontal density. It is the horizontal plane that stages and catalyzes strange adjacencies and interfaces, thus generating the multitude of coincidental collisions of individuals that can be productive... of course, not without the precondition of a limitation of space.

    Manhattan, and most other urbanities, has reacted to the limitation of space in the manner of the Downtown Athletic Club - by stacking, by isolating eclectic activities with the elevator. This is an economy of space. An economy of desire - an economy I desire - would offer Manhattan a new understanding of verticality: a more contiguous, fluid, legible type of layering: a reaction against the ten-foot floor slab-space: a newly integrated interaction between the subway-elevator and the horizontal:

    ...if the subway is excavated, exposed to the air, and the lower levels of a new building project are erased, a stage is created for the playing out of the fullest interaction between the subway below, the elevator up, the ground plane, and the repeated horizontal planes above. The sidewalk, no longer bound to the street, is brought like a bridge through the site. It dips down to the subway, arches up to layers of housing, and reaches to the opposite anchoring. City streets remain in place at the zero level, but no longer rest on the earth directly; they too are turned into bridges. The elevator stitches subway, sidewalk, and floor slabs together.**

    These re-mixed transportation infrastructures - subway, sidewalk, elevator, floor slab - create a matrix of collisions and connections, a puzzle of remainder-space pieces all eager for programming.


    A productive way to formalize concepts of fluid transitions might be a study of the fold. Wire and strips of wood were folded together, touching at some points, distant at others, and never free one from the other.

    When folding, the question is one of adaptation of the folded gesture into architectonics. In a method of form by adaptation, folding is transferred literally to an architectonic device with an implicit gravity vector. This transference in based on the understanding that form has both physical and metaphysical implications; the double-packing of meaning is problematic in the disjuncture between the two. The folded surface always risks being misread as having no depth. Its greatest challenge is to become site-specific.

    An alternative approach could be called form by derivation. Here, the basic geometric operator of the fold, the tangent, is in essence reductive. In order to create understanding, it simplifies curvatures and changes points of inflection; its analysis is a dissection and a pixelation: a devaluation of the gesture.
    Its distance from the metaphor of the gesture is contradictory in that it is based on (derivative of) the metaphors physical forms. It takes seriously not the meaning, but the physical expression of the gesture.

    Yet third option is form by metaphor, in which, by some a-physical understanding of the gesture, an architectonic device is generated (chosen) with no formal connection to the fold. This device is necessarily normative, seeking to recreate conditions of the fold without folding literally. It is a realization of the possible - not an actualization of the virtual. As such, it derives no value from the gesture.

    If these three possibilities seem disappointing or unfulfilling, it is perhaps because of the assumption that the word form can be taken for granted. Shape (explain?), rather, may have more productive results. Shaping, rather than forming, is automatically and necessarily specific - to site, program, and (perhaps) the willfulness of the designer***. The site is loaded with forces eager to shape this project. Shape, then, will be the site's influence on the program's desire to be folded.

    By including some percentage of low income housing (for families of four with a collective income of less than $30K/yr) the development company enjoys tax benefits from the city.

    There are, in fact, a series of narratives that can describe the interaction of the elevator-subway and the horizontal:
    1) If the subway is the precondition of the built site, the subway can generate super-ficial presence with the extension offered by the elevator (tokyo depato).
    2) If both the subway and some building already exist, the building can reach down to the subway (underground shopping-malls).
    3) If the subway outgrows its underground space, it can reach up into a preextant building and reappropriate/reprogram above-ground levels.

    It is not employed as post-rationalization, even less as excuse-making, but rather as a way to impose discipline.


    • bricabrack

      I like the last image of the subway.
      Do you have any diagrams relating to the programatic relationships or the "matrix of collisions and connections"? Is economy of desire the same as more desirable?

      Dec 5, 05 2:07 pm  · 

      good questions, love.

      programming is spatialized via architecture, not photoshop or text - that not included here.

      the "economy of desire" is a torquing of value systems I use as a (necessarily blunt) disclaimer for the project's goals.


      Dec 6, 05 11:55 am  · 

      m. arch students at UNLV are interested in your club health as we are investigating the concept of mash-ups and their applications in architecture...what kind of new architypes might be generated by a reevaluation/rethinking of current architectural programmes and how would you interpret the architect's changing role?... 'perhaps, from designer to dj?' [school vs. prison, church vs. casino, gym vs. club, barn vs. factory] - glenn np nowak

      Feb 21, 07 4:42 pm  · 

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