Archive Page 2

our project: representations of architecture

The representation of architecture has been thoroughly traced and discussed across a broad historical period by architects, architectural critics and art historians alike. For this project, we take as our basis the notion, argued by Alberto Perez-Gomez, that “representation is never a neutral tool” (1998) or a simple depiction of a building, but that architecture has truly been shaped by exploring the tremendous potential and conforming to the inherent limitations to specific mediums.

collage: mixing chamber

collage mixing chamber

This collage depicts the mixing chamber on the 5th floor of the Seattle Central Library, on the top of the floating platform dedicated for meeting rooms. This sort of representations is usually devised not to transmit an actual impression of space, but an intention of experience and atmosphere in a certain space. In this case, we can observe how patrons and librarians interact in a constant flow of interdisciplinary information, creating a stimulating environment of exchange. Upon closer inspection, it is possible to read the dialogues between individuals, which create the basic structure and most important feature of this space, namely social interactions (which can seem odd, given that it is a library). Remarkably this impression is transmitted not only by the serious accumulation of several agents, but also by the creation of small disconnected narratives, which do not follow the traditional linear structure of several different pieces necessarily following one after another to constitute a whole, but the existence of all these parallel (and possibly interconnected) stories create and transmit the notion of diversity and fluidity intended for this space. Interesting analogies to other (familiar) spaces are also embedded in this collage, namely by the positioning of informational screens and bar stools, attempting to translate the innovative idea of a “mixing chamber” by approximation (or hybridization) of other existing spaces.

floating platforms physical model

floating platforms model

In this example, the Seattle Central Library is represented by the conceptual physical model of the organization of its interior spaces, namely the overlapping of the floating platforms of program. This model illustrates the duality of spaces created, particularly the enclosed spaces inside the boxes and the open spaces on top of them, generated by the notion of compartmentalized flexibility. Also evident is the vertical circulation system comprised of several escalators connecting the different floors. Functioning as a linear and sequential system, this sequence of spaces seems comparable to a landscape by the railway. While the train speeds by the surrounding landscape, patrons of the library are efficiently transported towards the top by the escalators crossing the different spaces, creating a similar dissociation between people and the traversed surroundings. However, the experience elaborated for the travelers on the escalators attempts to actively engage with our current mode of perception by offering several views of artworks during their ascent and descent, as well as some glimpses into the crossed spaces. This system of escalators also contributes to the creation of a hyper-connectivity or geographical space within this building, where importance is conceded to the connecting nodes and withdrawn from the spaces in between.

photo: personal snap shot

flickr image fromform

In this image, the Seattle Central Library is illustrated in a personal photo uploaded on the popular photo sharing website flickr by the user fromform taken during the opening of the library. We can observe the playful interaction between the two friends and the metallic mesh on the 5th avenue entrance of the library. Unlike most common photographic records of this building, here the focus is on the people in the photograph and not on the library, which is relegated to mere scenery. However, by engaging with the façade’s net, they offer a new reading of the building, namely by giving a proper sense of the scale of this massive grid pattern of the façade. In this user’s online photo, as well as those of most other users, the viewer is invited to observe a private moment . This level of personal exposure is now available to everyone, and the boundaries between privacy and publicity become ever more blurred, mostly produced by the new business plan of web2.0 sites where users generate the content. This picture which serves to this specific user as a memento of the time spent at the library with her friend thus becomes another way through which this piece of architecture is mediated and exposed to the larger public.

see fromform’s photographic set of Seattle’s Central Library here

NY Times review

The Library That Puts on Fishnets and Hits the Disco

by Herbert Muschamp, published on May 16, 2004

“Quite apart from its strengths in structure, form and space, the building exemplifies Rem Koolhaas’s reliance on the architectural program: the organization of space according to use and function. Because of the clarity of this example, the Central Library’s impact on architecture could be profound.”

“Aesthetics have entered into the design of the building at the earliest stages of planning, in other words, before the purely visual decisions have been made. It is pointless, with this project, to separate formal and social organization. How people use a space is no less a matter of form than the most abstract visual composition. As such, a building program can be subject to aesthetic articulation. “

check the full version of the original review by the architectural critic of the New York Times here

This textual representation of the Seattle Central Library was written by the architectural critic of the New York Times (at the time), Herbert Muschamp. In this review, not only the specific physical spaces of this building are reviewed (and highly praised), but its conceptual framework is further explained. Moreover, in this article this architectural piece is also positioned in the current architectural discourse, in Seattle’s architectural landscape and in the architect’s conceptual ideas. This textual piece constructs architecture as an exercise beyond physical built space, as a discipline inhabiting several other dimensions. Here, the Seattle Central Library is described in a duality of solitary absorption spaces and crowd scenes arenas, where users become sometimes actors and some others spectators, but ends by arguing that it is in the delicate balance and fusion between these elements that art takes shape. In Muschamp’s praise of this building he also sees the importance of this structure not solely in the dramatic and pragmatic program rearrangement, but in the possibilities opened by it, much like the importance of computers not lying in their capacity for calculation, but in the fact that they enabled new generations of media. Like the computer experience, also this library displays a design based on a creative process and undertaken with the user in mind.

our project: virtuality of architecture

As our specific topic, we consider the Seattle Central Library as an instance of architecture, not as a singular building, but instead, following the definition of architecture put forth by N. Katherine Hayles and Todd Gannon:

… we posit that architecture is a function of embodied discourse, that is, discourse instantiated in speech or, more typically, written or graphical documents…. Embodied buildings and embodied documents are physical objects witnessing to architectural acts, but architecture can never be reduced to these objects. Rather, architecture partakes fundamentally of the virtual in the Deleuzian sense, a nimbus of potentialities in dynamic interaction with the actuality of buildings and documents.

rhetoric: the OMA Proposal / Concept Book

OMA’s Proposal for the Seattle Central Library weaves a tale in which OMA intends to “redefine / reinvent the Library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book but as an information store, where all media — new and old — are presented under a regime of new equalities.”

This is the happy ending they propose to the dire tale they begin which imagines that the Library considers itself, like the Prison, one of the “last moral universes” whose reactionary morality is connected to the book, which it protects, like a fortress.

The Library stands exposed at its most outdated and moralistic at the moment that it has become the last repository of the free and the Public.

Libraries housing books are associated with fortresses, prisons and morality – all constricting, which the Electronic and information are public and “free” (apparently even from morality) — this is distinctly rhetoric of the “information revolution” and “information doxa” Andrew Liu identifies and associates with post-industrialist corporate culture.

The Public, refers to the library’s “Social Role,” which, we see via a graphic (p. 18), refers to public service programs such as adult education, art exhibits, remote access, library war service program, to which the Library has “not yet adjusted.” The Library is likened “a host organism overwhelmed by its parasites.”

The key to OMA’s design, or what Manovich might call their algorithm, is the transposition of books to programs, as revealed in the color-bar chart which is the heart of their visualization of the new Library. In this way, they reclassify the library from book-oriented subject areas, to areas of grouped “programs.” They are shifting the model of the Library from a database of material books, to a database of both actual and virtual materials.

The virtual can become the distributed presence of the new Seattle Public Library that users find confirmed in its actual site in the city.

Note the word “user” instead of “patron” to denote a person who would visit in this new Library. As the rhetoric of the entire proposal describes the Library in terms of functionality, organization, and grouped programs (algorithms); it is not surprising that there is no indication of narrative or human subjectivity. Humans are not the subjects of this proposed structure, nor are books. The Library itself — its identity — is the subject. There is no acknowledgement that this identity exists only in human perception.

In contrast, Frank Gehry discussing the Walt Disney Concert Hall:

… I hope that when people attend concerts in the hall, their eyes will wander through the shapes of the building and find that what they see harmonizes…

The entire building was designed from the inside out and was meant to invite people to come inside.

Both of these statements imply narrative, human, experiences of the space as seen through the embodied vision of human eyes.

It may be going too far to claim that the database aesthetic expressed by the Seattle Central Library is anti-humanist (or post-humanist), but the shift in emphasis away from subjectivity to information system might account for many of the complaints about the “arrogance” of the Library and the impression it doesn’t cater to its patrons. (See blog post of visiting librarian).

The only images in the Proposal that posit actual human bodies are purely conceptual collages that do not pretend to represent the planned space of the Library. The collages merely express a pop-culture attitude. The humans are decorative.

[See also SCL as Database]