January 12, 2011

Beyond Program - On Diagram in OMA and SANAA

In "Delirious New York" Koolhaas describes a metropolitan development that is parallel, almost an alternative reality, to the broader modernist narrative. The New York City grid, a repetitive scheme, allows for the city-block to articulate almost infinite iterations only limited by height and set-backs. That is conceptually similar to the relationship between the building and the façade which was separated by what Koolhaas in surrealist fashion refers to as lobotomy. That allows the façade to be a independently articulated and not refer to the interior. The latter however is therefore liberated to adjust to the function of the building. With the downtown Manhattan Athletic Club, the program in particular generates a very distinct interior, where each floor starts to react to the program. Consequently the section becomes more important than the plan. The section becomes a strategy how to differentiate program.

In Parc de la Vilette, Koolhaas and his Office OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), the section literally became the new plan. They used the section of the Downtown Manhattan Athletic Club to create "zones of major programmatic categories". For Koolhaas the diagram is in fact an organizational and strategic tool for program, it is a diagram of program. In Supercritical, Eisenman would call it "Content is Form". The Cartier des Halles in Paris could be used as a good visualization of 'diagram of program'. A redevelopment of a traditional market turned shopping center and huge subway hub and exchange in the center of Paris, close by to the Centre Pompidou. Two diagrams explain the project, one highlighting the current programming. Another one which is the same, just with the difference that the programmatic stripes are altered to outline shapes that OMA inserted into the site for the reason to "overcome schizophrenia beaten underground existence and above ground inexistent". That is basically all you need to understand, to "read" the project, the model is just extra. Contrary to the Downtown Manhattan Athletic Club, the Jussieu Libraries project offered connected floors: "A simple stacking of floors, sections of each are manipulated to touch those above and below; all the planes are connected by a single trajectory, a warped interior boulevard that exposes and relates all programmatic elements". It could be regarded as a critical translation and progression from the Athletic Club. According the Jussieu project extends the urban experience, from the city into the building. Using the surrealist (Paranoid Critical Method), the building becomes the city's extension (like an additional limb). Through the continuous surface the building becomes an "urban scenario". The Royal Dutch Embassy could be regarded as further translation, where a interior circulation ramps up a "disciplined cube". Instead of warped surfaces like in Jussieu, the embassy features a more traditional sequence of corridors and stairs to which the program is attached to; the program becomes an 'extension' of the circulation.
It was however Toyo Ito who coined the term "Diagram Architecture" used it however to characterize the work of Kazuo Sejima, whose work has a "certain clarity in design and legibility and looking at either the plan or the finished work, it resembles a diagram". "(…) a building is ultimately the equivalent of the diagram of the space used to abstractedly describe the mundane activities presupposed by the structure". Furthermore Ito argues that "the strength of Sejima's architecture derived from her extreme reduction (…) to a kind of spatial diagram used to describe the daily activities for which the building is intended in abstract form". The House in a Plum Grove for instance is ver rigorous in achieving reduction, where the plan becomes a diagram. The single-family house offers small functional compartments, where a bed-room for a child perhaps is not much larger than the bed it is supposed to be furnished with. The blackness on a plan, what Eisenman would refer to as pooch, the representation of the invisible structure, is almost reduced to an inexistent minimum – a line. The 'line' of a wall is then translated into a steel-plate construction of 16mm thickness.

Talking to the ARUP Japan's Mitsuhiro Kanada (who works at ARUP Japan and was in charge of structural engineering and design for several project from Zaha Hadid to SANAA and recently Toyo Ito's Metropolitan Opera in Taichung, Tawan) Sejima and Nishizawa, or SANAA, seem to continuously pursue to push the reduction of material properties to an absolute minimum. The Serpentine Pavilion in London, a structure from aluminum and steel was tweaked until the roof was only 2-3mm thin. Arup even developed tiny details to discharge rainwater, but in order to preserve the thinness, the rainwater became in inexistent or ephemeral wall of the structure.


The Rolex Learning Center for the EPFL in Lausanne, which I described in a previous post, is a continuos slab, modest in appearance like a one story high office building, with the difference of an undulating surface, which causes the slab to lift itself and soaringly arch above ground. The President of the EPFL (which belongs together with the ETH Zurich to the ETH-Domain of the Swiss Confederation) Patrick Aebischer explained, that the university was seeking to replace the previous research and library building funded by the watchmaker Rolex with a new building that reflected a modern university campus, where students interact, exchange and learn from early in the morning to late at night. The building is what I would call a 'learning landscape' that sought to generate a creative environment that short-circuits traditional modes of learning. It becomes a new typology and contemporary architectural answer as to how working and learning can be designed and working. The 'line' of the wall is physically and functionally almost entirely immersed into the undulating landscape. Analyzing the building reveals that the program is merely a furnishing and large portions are empty. The diagrammatic quality of the plan is intensified through the diagrammatic programming. SANAA's diagram of aesthetic has overcome program. It is reduced to a tool of perception rather than experience. It appears we have arrived at a state which is beyond program.

Rolex learning Center Diagram

© Sasha Cisar, 2011.
"Delirious New York", by Rem Koolhaas. 1978, Oxford University Press.
"AMOMA Rem Koolhaas I : 1996/2006 : delirio y más = delirious and more", by Rem Koolhaas et. al. Madrid: 2006, El Croquis.
Supercritical / Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas; ed. by Brett Steele. 2010, Architectural Association Publications.
SANAA (Kazuyo Sejima +Ryue Nishizawa) : 1983-2004 : Kazuyio Sejima & Associates, Office of Ryue Nishizawa. - [Ed. conjunta, revisada de los números 77(I)+99+121/122] - Madrid: 2007, El Croquis.


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