The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Friday 30 April 2010

Hive Minds: A Review

The inaugural MA Architecture + Urbanism Symposium with the theme Hive Minds: Future Proofing Manchester took place at CUBE yesterday as part of the Manchester Architecture and Design Festival 2010. The student-run event was excellently presented with banners and an interactive sculpture that recorded contributions from the audience.

Chairman Dave Haslam kicked off the day’s debate by reminding the audience of the pleasurable origins of the symposium in Ancient Greece and contrasted it with his current situation with ‘a room full of architects – feel my pain’. His remarks on the co-operative qualities of creative cities led naturally into the first presentation by Phil Griffin. He responded to the exhibition of works by Jean Hobson but raised the general question of whether future proofing was truly feasible or an academic luxury. Recent urbanism had seen the development of cities as a focus for property speculation. He predicted the return of the modest recycling of buildings and a suburban fightback as the trends to watch for the immediate future.

Dave Carter of the Manchester Digital Development Agency outlined a distinctly technological future happening now, with open source facilities being key to ensuring that the inequalities in digital provision do not impede the creation of a smart city. Inclusivity was outlined as the major motif of a 50 year vision. In contrast to this virtual world Jean Hobson reflected on her artistic life, looking at the decaying city and opening the eyes of the young to the urban environment around them.

The afternoon session commenced with Tape showing their short film of the inner life of Hornchurch Court in Hulme, a 1960s high-rise block within sight of the Manchester School of Architecture and a testament to the utopian past. Philip Cooke of The Destination Marketing Group presented an interesting analysis of the challenges of the economic crisis, and talked around the potential of tourism and the experience economy to reverse urban misfortune.

While enjoying refreshments ancient symposium style the audience heard the final presentation from guerrilla gardener Richard Reynolds who discussed his activities in subversive planting. Hailing the virtues of provocation, and also those of bulbs for long term impact, he suggested that attention should be turned on the often-neglected margins to transform the city.

In summing up the day Dave Haslam asserted that ‘It is good to take away more questions and challenges?’ But one thing was decided. The event set a bar for future debates within the academic context and most importantly between the often estranged worlds of research and reality.

More information on the Hive Minds blog

Monday 26 April 2010

Colin Rowe (1920-99) and Fred Koetter: Collage City

Published in 1978

a critique by Ed Cutler

‘Collage City’ presents a critical analysis of the origins, ideologies and shortcomings of Modernist city planning through studies of the attempts of Modernism’s opponents to solve the resultant issues through their antithetical proposals. The messianic Modernist movement had striven to start afresh and build the new Utopian city. However, Rowe and Koetter argue that a “retarded conception of science and … reluctant recognition of poetics”1 led to the failure of these urban design proposals. In a Post-Modern reaction to this ‘total-design’ approach, the authors propose that urban design must be considered through fragmentation, ‘bricolage’ and metamorphoses of interpretation to produce a functioning network of pocket utopias.

Following the introduction, the book is split into 5 chapters – Utopia: Decline and Fall?; After the Millennium; Crisis of the Object: Predicament of Texture; Collision City and the Politics of ‘Bricolage’; and Collage city and the Reconquest of Time. They conclude with an Excursus of “possible objet trouvés [to be used] in the urbanistic collage.”2

‘Utopia: Decline and Fall?’, after a quick mention of modernism and a few of its protagonists, introduces the history of Utopian visions with a brief explanation of the ascetic, Christian values of the Classical Utopia, and the transformative Platonic Utopia founded more in activism than the ephemeral. Flying through history and notable examples of ideal city designs, the authors eventually land back in the early 20th Century, in the Ville Radieuse. The chapter illustratively demonstrates the ambiguities and contradictions of Modernist urban planners and discusses why their visions were so highly influential but doomed.

After the confusing journey through Utopias, ‘After the Millennium’ starts to clear up what issues the authors would actually like to deal with. With fewer citations and name-drops than the previous chapter, this chapter is a discussion of the first major reactions to Modernism after its stagnation through the ‘40s and ‘50s. Through comparisons of Disney World and the work of Superstudio, they look at the 2 extremes seen in the contemporaneous critique of the Ville Radieuse. The hyper-rationality of Superstudios egalitarian utopias and the picturesque artifice of Disney World both find themselves so extreme that their theories do not make their way into reality outside of the photomontage or theme park. The authors ask “why should we be obliged to prefer a nostalgia for the future to that for the past?...Could not this ideal city…behave, quite explicitly, as both a theatre of prophecy and a theatre of memory?” – a theme revisited in later chapters.

‘Crisis of the Object: Predicament of Texture’ finds its way back from the fantasy world and into the realised city. Public space (and its appropriation) and the texture of the urban fabric are the main themes explored through this chapter. Dismissing the ‘continuous void’ of the Modernist tendency to place “towers in parks” (à la Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin) the authors suggest that the ‘mystery of what is beyond’ brings more life to the city. “Speculative pleasure” of the city walker creating his own narrative to spaces that are inaccessible to him allows for a more connected experience to be had, rather than allowing free reign to meander across every open space in the city. However, the Modernist view of buildings as objects is not disregarded in its totality. Their proposal suggests that buildings should act both as space occupier and space definer – maintaining an individual presence whilst providing continuity to the urban texture.

Further compromise is found through ‘Collision City and the Politics of “Bricolage”’ where the authors turn their discussion towards those who design and create the spaces rather than the spaces themselves. As discussed in earlier chapters, Utopian ideals have always relied on an engineered ‘total design’ or ‘total architecture’ in order to realise their prescriptions, but this monistic reactionary approach to problems causes only more problems due to its reliance on data which can quickly become obsolete. Adversely, the ad-hoc nature of Levi-Strauss’ ‘bricoleur’ – piecing together instant solutions from a limited palette of tools – does not achieve workable results either, with solutions acting for the present and not necessarily continuing, with much effect, further into the future. Rowe and Koetter suggest (again) that architects and urban designers should aim for a middle ground, somewhere between the scientific engineering and the ad-hoc bricolage, to produce solutions which can be both contemporary, efficient, but flexible enough to move with the times and adapt to future situations.

‘Collage City and the Reconquest of Time’ sees the authors drawing together the fragments of argument presented in the preceding chapters to form a conclusive proposal to apply to future urban designs. The outcome: a proposal of Collage City – a city of fragments from the past, present and future, taking inspiration from working examples in existing cities; some scientific, others picturesque; some antique, others contemporary; some may be rational, whilst others disordered. Collage city would offer the poetics of Utopia, but the juxtaposition and layering of smaller designs into a whole (rather than a totalitarian, fresh slate approach) would allow for the city to be free of the unchangeable finality of Utopian politic. A post-modern composition – lacking prescription – of remembrances, shifted contexts, recycled meanings, metamorphoses… allowing the city to create itself, to read itself and to form its own meanings from borrowed fragments

As an example of what some of these fragments may be, existing and historic urban objets trouvés are presented to the reader in ‘Excurses’ – an appendix of urban objects to be implemented into the urban collages (hopefully) designed by their audience. Memorable streets, Stabilizers, Potentially Interminable Set Pieces, Splendid Public Terraces, Ambiguous and Composite Buildings, Nostalgia Producing Instruments, Gardens – all utilised correctly and in moderation, can go towards an effective application of the Collage City proposal. Some may argue that many contemporary cities, due to the nature of their development over time are already collages of historic fragments and epochs. But the nature of Collage City is that the fragments are applied strategically and affably so as to allow the city to develop and nurture itself, free from prescription which may still linger in cities already containing said fragments.

The final paragraph reads: “Utopia as metaphor and Collage City as prescription… the disintegration of modern architecture seems to call for such a strategy…; and, possibly, even common sense concurs.” And, I think that, although their argument at times can be hard to follow through the ambiguity of the paragraph length sentences, common sense does prevail through the proposal of Collage City.

Monday 19 April 2010

Student Feedback

MA Architecture + Urbanism students MARWA, NIMA and PARDIP feature in this video about the Manchester School of Architecture

Thursday 15 April 2010

Hive Minds: Future Proofing Manchester

On 29 April at CUBE Manchester the 2010 cohort of MA Architecture + Urbanism are organising a symposium as part of the Manchester Architecture and Design Festival

Follow the Hive Minds blog


Image by Vincent Walsh

Thursday 8 April 2010

Aldo Rossi (1931-97): The Architecture of the City

First published as L' Architettura della Citta in 1966

A précis by Nima Dibazar

The Evolution of Urban Artifacts
In further study of urban development, Rossi emphasized on Bernoulli’s thesis. Bernoulli focuses on two principal issues that he believes constitute a strong constraint on urban development. The first concerns not only the negative character of private property ownership but also the harmful consequences of its extreme division; the second sheds light on the historical reasons for this situation and its consequences after a certain point for the form of the city.
Division of the urban land initiated from French revolution in 1789, when the large estates of the aristocracy and the clergy were sold to themiddle class and to farmers. The monopoly on land was transformed into private ownership; land became a remarkable entity like anything else. In other cities, this phenomenon occurred with similar consequences. In Germany, Berlin's financial law of 1808 permitted government land to be used to liquidate government debts and to be transformed to private ownership.
Rossi criticized Bernoulli's explanation and believed the breaking up of the land promoted city development. The division of the great states, expropriations, and the formation of a new land registry system were all necessary economic phases in the evolution of western cities and what varies from city to city is the political context in which this process came about.

The Urban Scale
The change caused by industry is characterized historically in three phases:
The first phase and therefore the origin of the transformation of the city, is marked by the destruction of the fundamental structure of the medieval city, which was based on the identity between the place of work and the place of residence, both being within the same building. In this way began the end of the domestic economy as a unified entity of production and consumption. Workers' housing, mass housing, and rental housing appeared; only at this point the housing problem emerged as an urban and social problem.
The second phase was characterized by a progressive expansion of industrialization. It created a separation of house and work place. Parallel to this evolution was the separation between the work places that produced merchandise and those that did not. Production and administration were distinguished and the division of labor in its most precise meaning began. The central administration of an industrial complex tried to have banking, administration, and insurance as neighbors rather than production places and this concentration came about in the center of the city.
The third phase of the city's transformation began with the development of means of individual transportation and the full efficiency of all public transformation to the work place. The citizen moved into any part of the territory he wished, giving rise to the phenomenon of the commuter.
In the sense of new urban scale, it is conceivable that a change in scale modifies an urban artifact in some way, but it does not change its quality.

Primary Elements and the Concept of Areas
The theory of Zoning was first advanced scientifically in 1923 by Robert Park and Ernest Burgess with respect to the city of Chicago. In the study of Chicago, zoning came to be defined as the tendency of the city to be disposed in concentric residential districts around either a central business district or a governmental core. In this description of this city, Burgess indicates a series of concentric zones which corresponded to well-defined functions.

Rossi’s metaphor of the city as a giant artifact
This giant house comes into being through a double process. One process is that of production, in the sense of the city as a work of manufacture (manufatto), an object literally made by the hands of men; the second process is that of time, which ultimately produces an autonomous artifact.

The Structure of Urban Artifacts
Description of the city is concerned with its form and the architecture of the city summarizes the city’s form and from this form we can consider the city’s problems.
Camillo Sitte in his research for the laws of the construction of the city took full account of the “beauty” of the urban scheme. “We have three major methods of city planning. The major ones are the gridiron system, the radial system and the triangular system. All three are concerned exclusively with the arrangement of street patterns. A network of streets always serves the purpose of communication, never of art, since it can never be grasped as a whole except in a plan of it.”

Monuments and the Theory of Permanences
The theory of permanences is in some respects related to the hypothesis of the city as a man-made object. One must remember that the differences between past and future, in large measure reflect the fact that the past is partly being experienced now, and this may be the means to give permanences: they are a past that we are still experiencing.
Poete presents a historical theory centred on the phenomenon of the “persistence”. These persistences are revealed through monuments, the physical sign of the past, as well as through the persistence of a city’s basic layout and plans. Cities tend to remain on their axes of development, maintaining the position of their original layout and growing according to the direction and meaning of their older artefacts.
Persistence in an urban artefact often causes it to become identified as a monument. A monument’s persistence or permanence is a result of its capacity to constitute the city, its history and art, its being and memory. In reality, we frequently continue to appreciate elements whose function has been lost over time; the value of these artefacts often resides solely in their form, which is integral to the general form of the city.

The collective memory
One can say that the city itself is the collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is the locus of the collective memory. The value of history seen as collective memory is that it helps us to grasp the significance of the urban structure, its individuality, and its architecture which is the form of individuality.

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