Monday, 16 June 2014

Book - Building as Ornament

The ornament is returning slowly to the architectural discourse. It has not really been absent though merely denied, but it is returning as a more prominent topic now.

A key text is Adolf Loos' Ornament and crime (Ornament und Verbrechen) (1908) that was widely interpreted as at the easement of ornament in architecture. More recent interpretations (for example Gleiter, 2012) however is more differentiated. Already the title in which Loos uses and hints at this. Nevertheless ornament was denied a role in modernist architecture and is still a minefield for architects today.

BE the buildings Image taken from designboom / A proposed project spelling out the letters 'BE' for buildings in Brussels by JDS in 2007.

The way for the reintroduction of ornament has been paved by technology interestingly enough. In the late 80ies and especially the 90ies CAD tools have presented the tools to begin to design with patterns including options to manipulate the pattern based on conditions. This has also the been linked to production and printed glass or pierce metals facades or even brickwork layer by robots (Bearth & Deplazes with Gramazio & Kohler, 2006).

This has been accompanied by theoretical writings, exhibitions and journals. For examples the exhibition at the SAM Re-Sampling Ornament in 2008. The architecture journals ARCH+ (1995/2002), l'architecture d'aujourd'hui (2001) or AD primers, Ornament: the politics of architecture and subjectivity (2013) for example have published on ornament during this early phase. Authors who have contributed to the now re-emerging discussion on ornament include Jörg H. Gleiter ((orig. German, 2002. Die Rückkehr des Verdrängten)), Michael Dürfeld (The Ornament and the Architectural Form (orig. in German, 2008. Das Ornamentale und die architektonische Form)) or Farshid Moussavi (The Function of Form, 2008).

The new possibilities in design and production using new technologies have allowed to re-imagine the relationship between design, production and product. Whereas at the time Loos wrote Architecture and Crime the industrialisation introduced the production of exact replicas into the thousands of one single product, the new technologies based around computers allow for a trance dent workflow and individually adapted and styled objects whilst still machine and mass produced. Hence the conditions have fundamentally changed.

What can be observed is, though very slow moving, a shift from an understanding of ornament as decoration to an interpretation of ornament as process in the sense of structure and narrative.

A special take on this is presented by Michiel van Raaij in his new publication Building as Ornament. Whilst van Raaij focuses on iconographic architecture he proposes building as ornament as a term to frame part of this discussion in a new way implying links to a theoretical discussion with references to a long tradition.

Fire station 4 Image taken from 52weeks / The Fire Station 4 in Columbus by Venturi Scott Brown and Associates in 1968.

Van Raaij's idea is to try and focus on the story the architect tries to tell through an iconic building. He argues that "Iconography is the use of images from outside architecture in architecture" and that the focus of the book is on "iconography that explains the function, social status, organisation, load-bearing structure and/or context of the building". He makes the link to ornament using the narrative in the sense of explaining something.

The book brings together over 100 examples to illustrate this notion. This ranges from the Yokohama International Port Perminal by FOA, 2004, to the Bird's Nest Stadium by Herzog de Meuron in 2008 or the People's Building in Shanghai by BIG, 2004.

Whilst the book does not offer a theoretical framework for the introduced terminology or a broader discussion on the theoretical dimension of such a 'new' aspect of ornament in architecture, it presents a conversation. The publication is on one had a collection of projects that fit the description iconographic architecture and it is on the other hand a collection of interviews in which the author van Raaij discusses iconographic architecture with architects and architectural historians.

Signal Box Image taken from / The Signal Box in Basel, Switzerland by Herzog de Meuron in 1994.

The interview partners are, in order of appearance: Auke van der Would, Charles Jencks, Denise Scott Brown, Adriaan Geuze, Michiel Riedijk, Alejandro Zaero-Polo, Ben van Berkel, Steven Holl, Winy Maas and Bjarke Ingels.

All of the interview partners of course have a different angle on the topic and in some conversations the focus is more on icons, narratives, construction or material. Some do specifically discuss ornament as in the recently emerging debate, so for examples the interview with Denise Scott Brown where she discusses aspects of the design for Fire Station 4 in Columbus. She emphasises the very same topics of structure and narrative the ornament discussion is moving towards. Other interviews do however not even touch ornament.

There is loads of material and a very interesting discussion around icons in architecture and iconographic architecture to be found in this book. This is clearly the focus of van Raaij's work and his personal interest. He has been running a blog on iconic buildings for a long time and he knows the projects in this field. The real contribution of this book is definitely to hear the architects, as described by van Raaij as the Generation OMA, to talk about icons and iconographic design processes in architecture. There are some very personal statements in these discussions that shed light on some of the famous icons this current generation of architects have developed. It demonstrates that there is more to the discussion of iconic architecture than it just being a land mark put up by an architect to make a bold statement.

Through out the book the terms ornament and icon/iconographic architecture are used interchangeably. And it turns out that ornament only plays a small role setting the stage in this nai010 publishers book. Even though one could have expected quite some potential in this take on ornaments, not as a complete explanation, but as a special case of ornament on the level of the building. More contextual material would be needed to define a clear standpoint.

However, the chosen title, it has to be said, is very cleverly chosen. It is catchy, provides a lot of historical context, touches the nerve (both of time and architects still hating ornaments, as they have been told to do in architecture school?) and it is simple enough to be self-explanatory whilst allowing room for imagination. Nevertheless for the reader who is looking for the specific topic on ornament it might mean to be disappointed, but not without discovering an interesting collection of personal discussions on iconic architecture.

Building as ornament cover Image taken from designboom / Book cover.

Van Raaij, M., 2014. Building as Ornament. nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Book - Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progress

A very special figure in the architectural history of the Netherlands has finally a architectural monograph dedicated to his work in a new international edition: Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progres.

It is not just the architect Maaskant himself, but especially also the context he was working in and his home city of Rotterdam that makes this a very interesting and insightful book. Rotterdam was the very logic or 'functional' city with its strong focus on the port and its logistics and with this was the ideal context for the rational and functionalist strategies of Hugh Maaskant.

The story is beautifully put together and researched in detail by author Michelle Provoost who spent almost a decade researching and tracing Maaskant's work finally summarising it in her PhD thesis that was originally published in Dutch as Hugh Maaskant. Architect van de vooruitgang (Hugh Maaskant. Architect of Progress).

The new international version of the book is also publisher by nai010 publishers, designed by Simon Davies with Stephanie de Man and also features an essay by photographer Iwan Baan.

Groothandelsgebouw today Image taken from baunetz / One of the court yards of the Groothandelsgebouw (1945-1953) today. Part of the photo essay by Iwan Baan.

Provoost makes it clear that Maarkant was a modern architect and clearly saw himself as a modernist architect. However she ale points out that Maaskant did not share the ideological background with the modernist movement. Provoost claims that in Masaskant's work social criticism is absent and "that he was not a 'critical' architect but a 'consensual one." (p. 13).

Interestingly, it appears that Maaskant did exclusively focus on construction and realisation. He was not interested in theory and intellectual reflection on his own work. He was a businessman with a keen sense for strategy and opportunities without artistic leanings.

Akragon Image taken from fotorob on flickrFlu / Akragon (1955-1970) sports tower in Rotterdam by Hugh Maaskant.

Nevertheless his work is still inspiring today. The clarity of his functionalism approach, the rigour of his style and the dedication to detail and design in his works are part of what makes the fascination. And this fascination is bleed, not only for architecture students, architects or architecture historians. The interest group is much larger. Michelle Provoost's original Dutch publication was sold out within the first year. The interest in this period and Maaskant's work in particular is amazing, his work is still captivating today.

Scheveningse pier Image taken from Wikipedia, article 'Scheveningse pier' / Scheveningse pier (1954-1961) in Scheveningse by Hugh Maaskant.

As Provoost points out in the preface, her work on Maaskant and the wider subject of urban planning in and around the city of Amsterdam has helped to shape a new approach to and appreciation of the past and lead to a number of MAAskant's buildings being refurbished or reused, saving them from being replaced by a new wave of renewal. This kind of continuity might not be what Maaskant's approach to architecture was in his time, but it is what we have learned from his work and what Provoost beautifully demonstrates in this book. It is not about critique but this lesson is about understanding the work in a wider context, commenting it to draw inspiration for the present.

Hugh Maaskant Image taken from naibooksellers / Book cover.

Provoost, M., 2013. Hugh Maaskant - Architect of Progress nai010 publishers, Rotterdam.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Book - Inside Cern Science Lives

What does science look like? This might evoke black and white images of the cities and sixties showing male scientists in white lab coats bent over a table where some assistant has layed out various tools and models. Materials are steel, chrome, glass and colourful plastic. Shown in the background is probably a black board with some formulas and equations written on.

But what does science really look like, today? In a new Lars Müller Publishers publication Andri Pol shows the reader some inside glimpse of one of the biggest scientific research labs in the world. In Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research he has been documenting work and live in and around CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.

Inside Cern 'layered equations' p.233 Image taken from uncubemagazine / 'layered equations' p.233.

Andri Pol is a Swiss freelance photographer with a specific focus on the everyday. This is also how he portraits the places, labs, offices, scientists and atmospheres at CERN, with great curiosity and respect.

There are no pretty pictures to be found in this documentation and there are no glorious moments. Its all about the effort, the struggle and the dedication. Flipping though the pages only unveils a great range of colours and oddly chosen angles or frames. The book does not work that way. The photographs are actually rather complex compositions with a lot of depth each with not just one but often a number of aspects.

Whilst there is a lot of equipment and machines visible there is an emphasis on the people who are involved at CERN in some way. Being this the scientists, indeed sometimes in white overcoats and blue shoe protectors, technical staff or students. People from all over the world come together at CERN working in teams. This is often shown, science is discussion and exchange.

The documentation portraits also the atmosphere at CERN. Beside the highly technical installations there is very little shiny and new infrastructure. In fact most of the facilities seem to be rather pragmatic and often improvised. It is clear the focus is somewhere else. This place is not about design and style, but about customablilty, flexibility and improvisation. That does not mean that self expression is absence. On the contrary the numerous portraits of individualised desks, doors, books and computers themselves tell a story.

Inside Cern 'calibrate' p.243 Image taken from klatmagazine / 'calibrate' p.243.

Only on the last few pages the photographs stet to show some of the machinery of the actual Large Hadron Collider (LHC), photographs that look similar to what is usually circulated in the meadia. By that point the reader is already so deep immersed in the atmosphere at CERN that is seems to be most natural thing to walk past this monster of infrastructure that doesn't even fit on a photograph. In many ways all the other photographs tell a much more telling tale of the LHC than the tons of steel, cable and concrete.

Inside Cern 'thinking' p.249 Image taken from uncubemagazine / 'thinking' p.249.

This being a Lars Müller Publisher publication it does not come as a surprise that this is a very beautifully made book. A lot of care has gone into the design of the book and the selection of the photographs. Even though it is mainly a picture book a real narrative is being told here something that captivates the reader. This book certainly tells a very different story about science today. It is of course documenting science in a unique biotope of research and collaboration creating a special place between Switzerland and France. But what it shows is the fascination and dedication of the individuals working in this field and manages to transport this.

If this is not quite yet enough. Google has collaborated with cern and it features on Street View. Try this link to go on a virtual walk around CERN and the LHC.

Inside Cern book cover Image taken from / Book cover. More details also available on the book website at

Pol, A., 2011. Inside CERN: European Organization for Nuclear Research. Lars Muller Publishers, Zürich.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

3D Printing - the Form 1

Over the past few years printing three dimensional objects has become widely popular with new tools now becoming available at low costs ready to use. Whilst 3D printing has been around since the 1980s only now have consumer gadgets found their way onto the market.

Most of the models currently available are using the extrusion technology where material is liquified and then added layer by layer where it hardens keeping its new shape. Such printers like the RepRap series, the xxxxx or the makerBot are very popular. The main draw back with this is the limitations in accuracy and roughness of the surface finishing.

An alternative is the Form 1 which uses Stereolithography (SL) technology. This process is based on photopolymer that is cured using a laser resulting in very high accuracy and smooth surface finish. It requires however a cleaning process to finish off the model after the printing.

DSC06838 Image by urbanTick / The Form 1 printer is after plugging in and filling up ready to use. It comes neatly designed and is operated with just this one button.

The Form 1 is produced by FormLabs which came out of a Kickstarter project. They managed to secure plenty of funding for the proposed product and have stated shipping about a year ago in early 2013. We have no finally managed to get hold of one of these cool machines and been able to play around with it testing various builds and models.

In short it works great and is very easy to handle. Basically out of the box, poor some photopolymer in the tray and your good to go. The software to send the 3d object to the printer can be freely downloaded at FormLabs. It loads .STL files places them in a virtual cube representing the build volume (125 x 125 x 165mm ) of the printer.

A good place to start for 3D models is either on shapeways or for free on thingiverse. Both are community based platforms to share 3D objects. Users can comment and upload images of their own builds for each of the objects. The discussion often gives hints and instructions if it is a more complicated project.

Once loaded in the software the object can be rotated resized and moved if other objects need to fit in beside. The software also helps with the support structures. These are important during the building process both for stability of overhangs, but also to secure the object in place during the process.

DSC06799 Image by urbanTick / Printed parts hanging down from the build platform of the Form 1.

The Form 1 creates the object upside down. They each hang on the built platform and grow out of the tray with the liquid photopolymer. The laser is based in the bottom of the device beneath the tray with has a transparent bottom. The fancy transparent orange hood of the Form 1 blocks in the laser beam in case it goes off target. It is save to operate the device on your work desk.

Once all the digital objects are in place and each has their supporting structures the model is sent to the printer. After the data is transferred the printer can be disconnected. Very handy, you can prepare the model on your laptop, once ready plug in the printer and upload the model. It will start working straight away on the first layer and once the upload has completed the computer can be disconnected and the printer runs the object independently. Time to prepare the next batch.

Simple small things will require an hour or two, bigger and more complex objects can take several hours. Time ask depends on settings such as kind and density of support structure and resolution and layer thickness. The FOrm 1 offers three resolutions 0.1mm, 0.05mm and 0.025mm. Whilst some extruder based Machines will also print at 0.1mm or 100 microns the SL technology will produce a still smoother overall finish. The difference between the three options is really marginal if considered for rapid prototyping.

DSC06837 Image by urbanTick / Cleanign tray with the required tools and cleaning containers.

Once the printing is complete the objects have to be taken off the build platform und washed in 90% alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) to get of the uncured resin. To get the object off the platform a scraper tool is necessary. This task is still quite fiddly. It sticks often very well and with other objects on there too there is little room to manoeuvre. Getting the alcohol here in the UK to soak the parts can be tricky. If your lucky the chemist down the road will sell 70% isopropyl alcohol. It works too with mane a little longer soaking times. Online it can be expensive and amazon does mainly 99.9% requiring not as long washes. Boots will do something similar 90% ethanol mix, surgical spirit. Seems to be working too, but again a bit stronger than recommended.

Once soaked and washed the parts can be taken out and its time to free them from the support structure. They can easily be broken off or cut with a sharp little tool. FormLab includes all the necessary gadgets including tweezers, scraping tool, pincers and a large pack of rubber gloves to handle the parts during this after print process, very convenient.

DSC06805 Image by urbanTick / Smooth surfaces and a perfect fit are the characteristics of finished parts using the stereo lithography of the Form 1.

Parts coming out of this process are really smooth and detailed. We have been working with clear resin producing some really nice semi transparent objects. FormLabs offer also grey and white resin that can be used depending on the design or further use of the model.

The accuracy is pretty good of the finished models. Lego pieces for example do fit with the original parts, so that figures can be extended or attached to objects. We printed this saddle for Lego figure to ride a HexBug for example. The material is quite sturdy once completely dry. We have printed some bracelets from it. What is much more difficult are movable parts. individual chain links work well but large pieces often get stuck at once end. Not sure how this can be improved in the model or has mrs to do with the printer setup.

The handling of the digital model in .STL format, setting up the print and printing is all straight forward and extremely simple. The cleaning process however can be a bit of a struggle and requires some getting used to. It can also get messy especially if you have a build that failed because it might have not correctly attached to the build platform and fallen off. The handling of both the cleaning liquid and the resin have to be done carefully and both, in their liquid form, need to be disposed of as chemicals, your coal chemist might take them. All this makes the process quite a bit more challenging than the extruder alternative. It requires more planning and greater care. Based on this some comparisons between the two processes of SL and extrusion have often rated extrusion more consumer friendly and easier (e.g. popular mechanics).

However what you get from SL and the Form 1 in particular are beautifully detailed and smooth objects with a very high standard finish.

DSC06861 Image by urbanTick / Polyhedron sphere printed on the Form 1. Model can be downloaded from

Beyond the process of printing itself of much interest is the wider process of production including design. This is really where this new technology and the available tools become interesting. The ways the possibilities might change existing chains of production to the point where some goods are actually manufactured in the end users home. A lot of research is currently being undertaken e.g. at MIT in collaboration with Hyperform. Of interest will also be strategies to integrate options for prototyping in existing workflows and an increased combination of digital and physical prototyping. So there is a lot of material to explore now that the printing works.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Book - Deventer a Story About Project Making

Is architecture real? At times the discussion seems to imply that there is a certain degree of disconnectedness between real live and the abstract concepts architecture is thought of. Does it still have anything to do with real live? The large scale landmark projects of star architects work more for the marketing of location than a real sense of place is often claimed. Glossy magazines and picture books often can't help to shake off such impressions. But a story can.

The story about architecture comes with a lot of context and discussion worked into the narrative. It creates a sense of the current debate whilst not neglecting the plot, the everyday struggle to achieve a sustainable project especially in its social context.

The book is unusual in two points. It comes as a novel and there are only a hand full of illustrations. It sets out to follow two projects an the leading architect in the city of Deventer in the Netherlands telling the story of muddy fields and yellow large scale machinery in rainy weather, long arguments over the phone, the mine fields of different interests and visions for change. Its about everyday live, architecture as real as it gets. It still conveys a hint of glamor and the ghost of cleverness is present every now and then, so not all is lost.

Deventer was published in 2013 by Nai010 publishers and is the fourth novel by writer and editor Matthew Stadler. Stadler has written a lot about planning every since he lived in the Netherland to research for one of his early novels The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee. Later he wrote for the magazine Wiederhall and later New York Times and New York Times Magazine.

Deventer Image taken from / Nederlands: Topografische kaart van Deventer (woonplaats).

There is nothing spectacular about the projects portrait in Deventer, in a design or art sense. They are as normal as could get. What is of interest and concern is the possibilities, the ideas and the process that need to be forged by all concerned parties in order to create something fitting for the community, the location and the owners. Stadler reports on what is happening and continues to weave in contextual information after every other sentence. He lets the protagonists talk about details and everyday worries as much as ideas and theories, thus creating a dense atmosphere where struggle and effort create a sense of suspension capturing the reader.

The book portraits a model of community development and reports on the mechanisms of collaboration, but it is not a guidebook for professionals. It is rather an inspirational tale that has the power to motivate initiatives for their independent struggles to create and strive to change in order to improve their community.

Stadler, M., 2013. Deventer, Rotterdam: Nai 010.