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.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

But first a quick word from Denise Scott Brown ...

Denise Scott Brown recorded at the inaugural meeting of the European Architectural History Network at Guimarães 18 June 2010

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Hive Minds: Future Proofing Manchester

Films from the MA Architecture + Urbanism Hive Minds Symposium are now available on the symposium blog
This film features the first speaker Phil Griffin introduced by Dave Haslam

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Body // Space

Ed Cutler has been developing a project based on the interface between the real and the digital. See a selection of his films here or follow his blog here

Saturday 12 June 2010

Urban Futures

Urban Futures presentation by Parvinder Marwaha

To follow the response to Parvinder's zines visit her blog

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Alison (1928-1993) + Peter (1923-2003) Smithson: The Charged Void - Urbanism

Reviewed by Anastassia Kolpakova

The book “The Charged Void: Urbanism” is the second volume to “The Charged Void: Architecture”,and the two publications comprise the complete works of Alison and Peter Smithson. This volume features a wide range of projects built and unbuilt, with architectural and urban designs organized in fourteen thematic chapters. Each of the projects are illustrated, assessed and given a commentary. The major works included in the book are he Team X Doorn Manifesto with its worked examples, the Closed Houses, Fold Houses and Terraced Crescent Houses; large scale urban projects such as Berlin Hauptstadt, Hamburg Stieilshoop and Kuwait Urban Form Study; projects for London with a triangulated net of road junctions and, of course, the most enduringly successful and conservative project The Economist Building; all projects illustrate their response to the urban fabric and specifics of each situation while exploring other themes.

Alison Smithson (1928-1993) and Peter Smithson (1923-2003) together formed an architectural partnership, and are often associated with the movement of the New Brutalism. Peter and Alison were also core members of Team X, a group of young architects who were challenging CIAM doctrinaire approach to urbanism. The first chapter of the book named “Cluster” introduces a search for identity in housing groups in London in the 1950. The proposed study shows that community should be built up of the cluster of involuntary/voluntary association of elements such as the house, the street, the district and the city.

The aim of Doorn Manifesto (1954) was to demonstrate that a specific form of habitat must be developed gradually for each particular situation. Patrick Geddes’ Valley section demonstrated the relationship of the communities to their habitat. It also makes clear that the same housing estates were to be found all over Britain regardless of the local climate, traditions or the nature of the place. There were various examples to help to demonstrate the proposed Manifesto.

A few chapters are dedicated to large-scale urban projects such as Berlin Hauptstadt with its’ concept of mobility and “streets in the sky” in which traffic and pedestrian circulation are rigorously separated. A similar theme appears in the Hamburg Steilshoop project: mobility, the inverted profile to the centre and urban form elements that can accept possible growth and change. The particular “pavilion-and-route” urban arrangement of the Economist Building (1959-64) originates from the Berlin Hauptstadt project. Similarities are seen in the organization of vehicular and pedestrian routes. Separate geometries at different levels form two overlaid nets. Without a doubt the Economist is the most successful of the Smithsons’ buildings.

Another urban study which I was particularly interested in was the Kuwait Urban Study and the Mat-building project. The idea of inter-visibility and interchangeability seem very straightforward and natural. The existing mosques in the old city of Kuwait were used as “fixes” within the new urban fabric overlaid with the mat-building. Series of identifying inter-visibility “galleria” (after the Galleria in Milan) were cut through the mat-building. The idea of the mat-building as an urban form moves away from the idea of individually designed building to one of repetition. The new urban form allows for pedestrian freedom of movement away from the sun and traffic noise. The Rampart Garages over the main road have several functions rather then just for car parking. The line of the garages defines the extent of the old city by spanning and shading the road as well as cutting down the area of naked road in the greenbelt that has replaced the old wall. This study can be taken as a new interpretation of the essence of an Arab City.

A chapter which I found rather interesting was about Holes in Cities. The Smithsons were very concerned with this problem and as response to it they developed their own attitude and proposal which can be followed in some of their works. Holes in cities are made by the abandoned sites, industrial dereliction, demolished historical centers and new connective systems that cut into the urban fabric. There can be few solutions or responses to the problem; holes in the city should be thought of as open connective spaces for the use of the citizens. The idea of “greening” speeding the work of nature can be a simple response to the problem of holes. The remaining historical monuments can be used as “markers” on which a new grain can be based and offered to the citizens. The much talked about Robin Hood Gardens project is brought up as an example in this chapter, the central green mound of which was planned as a “stress-free zone, an area of quietude”. The Smithsons’ hoped that designing a big green mound in a busy area of London would offer a remarkable experience for the residents.

An interesting thought on “poetry of movement and sense of connectivity” are presented in the works in a chapter named Cohesion. The Smithsons identified that cities were too dense and needed to be loosened up with public spaces expanded. The road is seen as a way of controlling intensity, which can help to loosen up the texture of the city. In the project The New Ways for London (1959) suggest that the motor ways, roads are routed to provide a series of recognizable anchors at the places where the relationship to the city structure can be observed. The system of “triangulated net” is a three-way junction motorway at two levels (high and low).

The Smithsons’ lifelong interest in climate response takes its place as an essential part of their overall view of architecture. Throughout their work we see extensive studies of sun angles, north points and environmental studies represented in the drawings of the projects such as the 1989 competition entry for the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Cairo. The environmental analysis are translated into form and detail with clarity and elegance.

The book is beautifully produced and illustrated, with images that range from simple sketches and working details to photomontage and photographs of models. There are many touches of gentle humor in the authors' comments. This volume makes a significant contribution to the understanding and improving needs of people, the environment and its response to historical, traditional and physical constraints.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Simon Sadler: The Situationist City (1999)

A review by Natasha Gershfield

Simon Sadler was born in the West Midlands in 1968 and is currently a Professor of Architectural and Urban History and a Chancellor's Fellow at the University of California. He researches the post World War II history and theory of architecture and urbanism and has since taken a strong interest in the Situationist International group.

In 1999 MIT Press published Sadlers' account of the Situationist International's efforts in his third book; The Situationist City. He puts forward his opinions of the accomplishments and more so; the supposed degradation of the group amid their most prominent years between1957 and 1972.
The Situationist International were formed by a merging of revolutionary groups, such as The Imaginist Bauhaus and The Lettrist International, whose members had the joint opinion that capitalism, professionalism and mass post war production had led to the sterilization of the works and threatened to wipe out any sense of spontaneity and playfulness. They were enchanted by places and buildings that seemed to bypass religion, modernization and capitalism.
The book introduces readers to the Situationists ideas of psychogeography, detournement, drift, situations and unitary urbanism. The vision that people would not be seduced by the city of corporate power and capital and would seek their own utopia by “cutting up” the original and putting it back together to see it in a new perspective. The drift encouraged people to wander the cities in search for events and areas unspoiled by the spectacle, traffic circulation, unsuitable and monotonous post war architecture and functionality. It was meant to be playful, cheap and surprising with a sense of organised spontaneity.

After reading The Situationist City, with little previous knowledge of the subject, the Situationists could be seen as unproductive; making little impact and giving up before they executed their ideas. However, this could be argued it gives people a warped, negative view of the group. Readers may find it difficult to admire any of the Situationists theories due to the narrator of the subject. Although Sadler originally seems to give the impression that he will convey a rather objective view, he appears to believe that the Situationists were incompetent and inept, and this opinion comes through strongly as he seizes every opportunity to discredit them; using rather provocative terms such as; “overambitious”, “preposterous” and “schizophrenic” to describe them. The fact the Sadler uses the term “Situationism” throughout the book, regardless of the fact that the Situationists were against this term, emphasises how little respect he has for the group. He again seems to be belittling their theories. He justifies his use of this term stating:

“Of course, Situationists knew full well that there was such a thing as Situationism... The situationists' caution about a “Situationism” was a clever way of reminding themselves of the dangers of becoming “academic” in their procedures.”
Sadler seems to promote this idea of drift: “If we wish to know more, we must descend to the streets ourselves,”. However, he has not carried it out and does not sound as if he intends on trying. He also has not conducted interviews with any living members of the Situationalist International such as Constant.
Simon Sadler discusses the ultimate goal of the Situationists; to reconstruct the entire city. He talks of their promise to one day revolutionise everyday life and introduce experiment, anarchy and play, with ever-changing and high-tech features. Sadler considers that members of the Situationist International seemed to be unsure whether their Situationist City would be produced using detournement or a New Babylon. He believes that the Situationist International could not decide on how to construct situations and would therefore be unlikely that they could agree on how to transform the the city itself. He speaks of how they retreated from the ambition of a new utopia, and professed Situationism as an analytical metaphor or an ongoing experiment in living, which could be envisaged by detournement.
The Situationist City depicts Sadler' sview that the abandonment of imagining utopia was a devastating decision to the Situationists, yet probably one of their greatest contributions to the history of avant-garde; the recognition that in changing the world, avant-garde art cannot replace the popular redistribution of power. Others believe that their ideas and objectives are still influential even to this day. Sadler makes only two very brief references in the book to the “revolutionary events of May 1968”. Not only does this oversight seem to assume that all his readers know all about it, but also makes the event, like all others he talks of, seem insignificant, yet mentions it as if it was an important incident.

This book is rather difficult to get into, with an over complicated introduction and the author's assumption that its readers have a rather full background knowledge of the subject.

Sadler seems to criticise the Situationists because they were not builders, and were only really interested in detourning existing routes and buildings. However, they were not architects and they did not aim to attract academics and rational thinkers.
“Occasionally the 'rightness' of the place, people and understanding would be like that moment when the reader of a complex text, suddenly grasps the content of what is being read, only to descend again into the maelstrom of words.”
Although here Sadler is describing the detournement that the Situationists carried out, it seems to fit how this book could be interpreted. Situationists, Debord and Jorn, created maps such as the “Naked city” of 1957, which highlighted urban areas, threatened by redevelopment, retaining the parts that they believed were still worth visiting and disposing of the bits that they felt had been spoiled by capitalism and bureaucracy. They called this method of mapping detournement. It seemed as though this book too should be dissected and collaged back together; highlighting sections that gave a broader knowledge about the Situationists, retaining the parts that introduced their theories and ideas, and disposing of the bits that had been impaired by the authors conservative attitude.
Simon Sadler seems to focus on what the Situationist Internationals planned to do, yet does not communicate what they actually achieved, making its readers assume, as he did, that they did not actually accomplish a significant amount.

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