Thursday, 10 June 2010

Gaudi a Holotect?

First of all I would like to invite everyone (not just architects, engineers, artists, builders) but everyone, to enjoy the greatness of Gaudi once again, take another look.

A good way to do this would be to watch the BBC documentary on Gaudi called “Gods Architect.” Watch the whole thing, start to finish, and all seven parts, here’s a link.

The architect Antoni Gaudi is for sure underrated around the world for all his excellence. There were a few crazy ideas that came to the mind of some individuals that we should give up on Sagrada Familia and change it to a rail station or something….! It has been also known that Gaudi has been mocked for his “kitsch” aspects, and his “spiritual obsession,” however; these are all insults that are weak and they will die easily while Gaudi’s architecture will still be considered paradise for many and should forever stand strong in the face of history.

The question I wish to focus on is: Is Gaudi an example of a Holotect?
I believe miracles are seen in the designs of Gaudi. He certainly went beyond what people were ready for. Owners of buildings designed by Gaudi consider them to be the most special place on earth.

I often repeat to myself that if Gaudi was alive today he would easily collect the Pritzker prize (the highest award for architectural achievement in a life time). But Gaudi goes beyond the Pritzker...every building of his seems like a life time achievement and when was the last time a present day Pritzker nominee left behind something like Sagrada Familia? A piece of architecture way beyond our cultural ambition to finish, in fact even with all the technological experts today it’s super hard to finish it without him.

I believe holotects take action towards building something which gives out a message. This message can be of many; love, joy, hope…but the message has to be built and delivered creatively from many different perspectives. This must be done without having to fill it up with post-rationalized French philosophy or Jewish mysticism which purely concentrates on selling something “for the moment” (It is very tempting to give out examples of architects who do this, but I’ll hold my self).

I think the true infinity in a holotects work of architecture is seen in the many beautiful interpretations of the designs message.

Holotects reach out towards a message beyond their own skin by sharing beautiful biographical experiences in the built form. This is to say that it is important to balance the two equally important molecules…one of personal artistic experience and creativity…two the more functional needs of other human beings. What clients will continuously need to understand is that the collaborated vision of beauty is important for the successful growth of a project as is the buildings rational function.

Now lets break this down (we’ll get back to Gaudi in a second)…

Modernism or minimalism: Mies van de Rohe’s “Less is More” seems like functionalism…a very rational placement of architectural elements. But this soon became too boring for us to live in; to an extent that I would even say it would permanently damage our society with an ultimate lack of vision and ambition.

Post-modernsim: Robert Venturi’s “Less is a bore”…so now we started to attach things on to the box…giving shallow meaning to architecture but truly just camouflaging the modernist, minimalist and RATIONALISTIC mistake.

But Gaudi designed architecture that made decoration and organic form a function, he made architecture an extension of nature...the building is one, one with Gaudi, one with its inhabitants, one with nature, one with Spirit…and Gaudi within his architecture expresses ”Life is More”…and he won.

For this I believe Gaudi was a Holotect

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Calatrava - the Romantic and the Rationalist

I was going through my notes and came across some scribbles dated from 18/10/2007. It was the day we three brothers gathered together at the concrete institute in London to listen to Calatrava speak.

The crowds gathered to hear this man  for a very good reason – he has sculpted some of the most fascinating structures of the last couple of decades.  At this presentation, Calatrava himself presented his design philosophy and several case studies of his own work.

Firstly, Calatrava praised the properties of Concrete for the freedom they bring in developing his forms.  The word itself in Spanish “hormigon” means “with form”. It can take any shape, it is very humble, it has texture and natural pigmentation ranging from grey to brilliant white. It is also is extremely economical.  It is not surprising that such praises should be sung at a presentation given at the concrete institute. However, his works do back up such claims.

One of his works is the La Rioja, Bodegas Ysios in Laguardia, Álava, Spain (below).  This winery fits seamlessly into its surroundings.  Indeed Calatrava is quoted to have said during the talk that he sees no difference between Engineerign and Landscape.  Concrete allowed for such a dynamic form to be adopted, and no doubt offered the necessary thermal mass for the strict climatic conditions required for the wine making process.

Another building mentioned was his “twisting torso”, or the HSB Turning Torso building in Malmo Sweden (below).  The building was to provide a symbol for the city, replacing the crane used for shipbuilding that used to sit near the current site.  Calatrava makes no secret of the analogy between his building and anatomical form.  Being both a Sculptor and an Engineer, his forms are grounded on solid structural logic - in this case deriving inspiration from the human spine. With all this structural integrity, elegance in form is still retained.  This is extremely well summed up in this quote from the New Yorker: “Louis Kahn once referred to the Seagram Building as a beautiful lady with hidden corsets, because its bracing was tucked behind Mies van der Rohe’s exquisite façade; Calatrava’s lady has confidently removed her dress.”

The twisting torso concept started as a sculpture, and was then adapted to a high-rise building under the encouragement of the developer – even though Calatrava never built one before in his life!  Indeed Calatrava enjoys much popularity amongst developers, often being the one holding the cards rather than the other way around. 

However, this similarty between his sculptures and his buildings is not with out contention.  He is often criticized for this over emphasis of what the building looks like from afar rather than from within.  The twisting torso is no exception - no wall is straight and no window vertical.  This is also extremely unconventional for a highrise building, where assurance of its static stability has traditionally been the focus.  Another breach of convention is in his architectural emphasis.  Most architects focus on how the high-rise building meets the floor, or meets the sky.  To Calatrava it’s what’s in the middle that counts, with an emphasis on the design along the whole of its length. Can a human sized sculpture truly be scaled to  hundreds of meters of tower? Is the spine, designed for flexibilty and motion truly a sound structural model for a static highrise? Perhaps such non-conformities can be forgiven in the light of such sculptural genius?

The last building of considerable note from the talk is that of the Chicago Spire.  Only a proposal to date, the spire will be the tallest residential building in America, featuring a slender twisting design.  The slenderness of the tower provides grounds for a more romantic interpretation of the skyline than the bulkier buildings that have dominated to date. Indeed, the New Yorker claims “Calatrava is both a romantic and a rationalist, and his gift lies in his ability to find equilibrium between these two poles.”


What if Leonardo da Vinci got to take an international flight?

I travel a lot. As I am about to depart on another flight from Poland to London I take my seat, fasten my belts and I’m ready to go. Raindrops start hitting my glass window and the pilot prepares for takeoff. Its grey and the dark colored clouds make the earth’s surface gloomy. We are taking off. The seconds of take off fascinate me. The smooth levitation of a heavy steel 150 passenger Wizzair aircraft…it looks so simple, so easy. The houses, cars, trees all get small and we come closer to the dark purple clouds. The moment of climbing through the clouds is beautiful. The clouds get lighter, purer and blue sky exposes itself more and more until finally we are there, the open fields of clouds and sky.
And I’m here writing comfortably in a little seat looking through my own little window.
What an experience!
I have seen this so many times, yet today this is special. It is special because of how far we human beings progressed. Its special because I discover the realization of dreams. Leonardo da Vinci in his studio draws and dreams, struggling to invent a wooden flying machine and talks about the inspiration one can get from even the clouds. But what if he got to see this?
What if he got to see the heavens beyond the clouds...what would his next step be?
Would he go beyond the heavens?
There is absolutely no doubt that my view outside my little window is a miracle.
But we take it for granted. We fail to notice these things. We grow numb through the constant ignorance. The women to my left reads about a celebrity couple canceling their wedding once again…the man next to her is playing a PSP video game. Even I normally just drift off to sleep forgetting about how lucky I am to live the life I’m living and live surrounded by the miraculous earthly creations. But today is different.
Today I want to live because this view made me feel more alive. Today I want to move, react and take action, continuing to build our cultural ambition. Today I am thankful.
Thankful of my little view outside my window, thankful to dreamers like Leonardo da Vinci (Who kind of made ideas like flying happen). Last but not least I am thankful to the almighty creator who was there since the very beginning shaping with his hands each and every cloud making my personal view outside my window possible.