Tuesday, 16 July 2013

I think, therefore I dwell

Forgive the pathetic attempt to invoke both Descartes and Heidegger in the one catchy title.  It was prompted by the current front page of Architizer.com announcing that MVRDV has recently won the Feldbreite competition to design an apartment block in the Swiss city of Emmen.  Well, not exactly an apartment block.
"The Dutch firm deviated from the expected by delivering designs for 95 units across 16 different housing typologies ranging from apartments to townhouses. These are grouped around common gardens planted with fruit trees, giving a sense of community while each unit is painted a different color to emphasize individuality community."
And they did it in an unmistakable throwback to the Cartesian exercises of mid-twentieth century modernism, the variety and interest a painless outcome of the infinite opportunities of a thoughtful use of the three dimensional grid. I guess liking it makes me an unreconstructed modernist. But I stress that it is the modernism of the late le Corbusier, the one who remembered the lessons of his journey to the east, and polemicized not the universal sterility of the International Style, but the more satisfying, more organic forms of buildings and settlements.
As usual, this was brought home to me not by the main focus of the page on the MVRDV scheme itself, but by the headline in the same issue: Finally! Zaha Gets Her First New York City Commission, drawing attention to an image (and I use the word advisedly) which couldn't be a greater contrast.

It's a dead give-away of my 1960s training, that I look at 'negative space' as a diagnostic of successful composition, of what might be said about a building in terms of its urban design engagement, of whether it is a manifestation of anything more than a 'look at me' syndrome.

And so I see in Hadid's lumpen curves the acres of shapeless glass as an ephemeral separation between the goldfish interiors and nowhere.  MVRDV's design, in contrast, appears to create all those fractal layers of the most engagingly public through to the most intimately private, while apparently not needing any more 'interest' than a few splashes of forgivingly renewable colour.

One scheme speaks eloquently about sustainability, without having to mention the word, while the other brays its disdain for anyone but the irresponsible few.  I wonder which will get the more breathless exposure in the design media? 

For more on the MVRVD housing scheme, including plans and schematics, click here.
For more about Hadid's condo for the Don Draper lifestyle, click here.  But you will find only the usual drivel, graced by a photo of the woman herself, bigger than that of her proposed building.

I'd love some feedback.

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