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 31 January 2012

TU/e's Day

MA A+U are very glad to welcome a group from the Architecture, Building and Planning department of the Technical University of Eindhoven TUe. The students are in Manchester to study the architectural response to de-industrialization in Manchester and the reuse and redevelopment of urban areas, issues which are also pertinant to the city of Eindhoven. 2010 MA A+U graduate Ed Cutler and Eindhoven student Denny Chen made presentations about their work.

The visiting group is led by Professor Pieter van Wesemael (pictured above) who will also be accompanying them to the 'Theatre of Dreams' to watch Manchester United v Stoke City.

(Final score 2-0)

Friday 27 January 2012

Mancunian Way

MA A+U student Tuğhan Toz has proposed a transformation of the Cambridge Street Junction of the Mancunian Way as his contribution to the 'Lost in Space' project. His design provides amelioration of the hostile environmental conditions, and appropriation of the underused public realm as external studio space for the adjacent new home of the Manchester School of Architecture

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Pomona Palace

As part of his project for 'Lost in Space' MA A+U student Edward Patton has reconstructed the legendary but long-vanished Pomona Palace which provided entertainment for Victorian Manchester. The building was destroyed in a chemical explosion which contaminated the surrounding land for decades. You can follow Edward's work here

Thursday 19 January 2012

The Explorer's Manual

We are pleased to announce that MA A+U student Damien Woolliscroft has had his work selected for the forthcoming exhibition at The Portico Library in Manchester. The exhibition, entitled Curious Pursuits, has been curated by Porter & Jenkinson and will be open to a discerning public between 3 - 29 February 2012. Follow Damien's work here.

Monday 9 January 2012

Manuel de Sola Morales: A Matter of Things

A book review and commentary by Simon Carder

The purpose of this review is to provide a narrative summary of the content of the Manuel de Sola Morales (MSM) work and provide a conclusion regarding its effectiveness, and possible applications
It would seem that the intention of this volume is to provide a helpful work to facilitate a more dynamic, appropriate and informed response to challenges peculiar to that of the urban condition from centre to periphery. In an effort to be as clear as possible the book is split into digestible portions that try to describe Manuel’s comprehension of the city, giving summative subtitles' in an effort to further clarify the point for each section.
Projects are grouped under three headings;
1. To Create a Place (Things Invented)
2. Condensed Form (Things Overlapping)
3. Heterogeneous Accumulation (Things in Conflict)
There are three commentaries that follow each project set;
1. The Strategic Gaze
2. The Compulsive Gaze
3. The Anxious Gaze
These commentaries go some way to encapsulate the methodology, the way we can comprehend, see or look, at the urban fabric.
Sola-Morales compares his actions in the urban fabric to one who practices acupuncture or surgery, making precise moves. He then proceeds to ‘show’ how he has resolved complex challenges with reference to projects that he has tackled.

‘Historical Periphery’ relates to an intervention that connects disparate elements of the city, namely the local town and a disused submarine base from WW2 in Saint Nazaire by connecting the concrete roof of the base to the town over the intervening traffic by the use of a wide elongated bridge and free up the internal space for a number of commercial uses.
‘Strategic Frontality’ relates to a competition to provide a solution for a hard and broad industrialized port facility rubbing shoulders with a successful marina just along the coast. The solution, to bring the frontage of the city up against the coastline in a similar fashion to that in many other European coastal towns with a supporting artery for traffic strengthening motion and increasing access and interest, with obligatory greened areas providing visual relief and much appreciated shade in this Italian extremity bordering with Slovenia.
‘Water Topography’ relates to a similar challenge to that encountered in Saint-Nazaire, that of disparate areas, a public park and sea front to be connected across a large coastal highway in Porto, Portugal. Again a connecting bridge provides transition into an appropriately open building that provides both access to amenity and view of the coast from the urbis and another route flowing under the motorway providing a more level access to the water front.
‘Urban Balcony’, in Genoa Italy, as the name suggests is an attempt to visually unify an element of the cityscape by creating a contiguous element using the coastal road as the basis for a multilayered elevated highway from which the city can be experienced and the vista of the ocean appreciated. This creates a kind of spatial bridge between existing city and water front increasing visual connection and dynamic experience through movement.
‘Size is not Scale’ relates to operations on comparatively restricted part of the urban fabric in Gronigen in the Netherlands. A cross roads of canals provides the setting for a length of curvilinear benches terminating in a blue frame through which one can observe a selection of the view and a viewing platform that allows the participant to stand over the water providing an unencumbered view down the canals or can act as a stage for performers.
‘Unfolding Sections’ in Den Haag involves viewing the periphery of the urban fabric in section and developing a smoother transition from one section to another without losing identities along the changing coastline.
Alcoi - situated on a steep site has its houses remodelled and services simultaneous. 1 make use of topography, 2 separation of traffic (people and vehicles), 3 complexity through standardization (simple interchangeable forms in varied combinations), 4 Standardization of repetitive elements (windows and doors).
The project at Leuven presents a tangled web of paths and nodes developed and complicated over the years by the demands of a growing urban population focused on a large town plaza holding a sizeable monument at its centre. Manuel’s solution is to identify the paths, nodes and needs presented in that space and then proceed to untangle them and resolve the conflicts. The powerful part of this solution is that instead of focusing on the existing surface fabric of the city he creates new levels below ground to create additional layers of space to be used for certain previously conflicting circulation and parking.
In the Sant Adreu project several architects come together to produce their response to social housing within pre-defined parameters' and, as usual, create a variety of unique solutions that enrich the whole. To activate the pavements connecting these blocks Manuel recommends that in place of the communal entrance to individual blocks most commonly used, that a number of doorways connecting fewer apartments be used to increase the foot traffic coming and going to the apartments across the pavements. There have been a number of studies showing that increased foot traffic is key in increasing feelings of security and lowering crime in a city.
In the Arnham project MSM suggests the implementation of a number of blocks that, while using repetitive forms individually, differ in height, fenestration, form and colour providing a visual variety for those passing through the area. Continuity without uniformity or repetition is the phrase used here, the spaces creating the feeling of continuity as much as the buildings around them.
Manuel waxes lyrical in his opening paragraph for ‘The Compulsive Gaze’, by way of explanation of how the urban fabric changes its shape with changes in mass and density.
‘The city is a heavy magma that flows or seeps like a sea or sand bank, rising and falling according to the energy of its own interior mass. Its sensitivity to the gravity of urban forms finds meaning and beauty in the density of events, buildings, open spaces and volumes in the urban landscape.’
To comprehend these flows it is necessary to develop an appreciation for the processes involved in urban development and the changing interactions of those individuals that provide the life blood of the city.
Alexanderplatz in Berlin; In some ways this project is similar to that in Lueven but dealing more with distances rather than paths the point here is to intensify the density and frequency of use in an effort to generate greater activity in a critical space.
Alexanderpolder; Here MSM considers the extent to which one can go with regards to how close buildings can get to each other, the roads that separate them and how their relationship alters with these changes in distance. He terms this, ‘designing the void’ a seeming oxymoron. Yet creating textured ‘space’ is at the core of what architects seek to accomplish as discussed in some depth by Bernard Tschumei. We are basically creating containers that effect and affect the spaces that they encapsulate striving to provide interactive experience for people using and passing through those volumes.
In Het Eijlande MSM deals with this area of Antwerp in a similar way to the old London dock areas during the 1980’s and 90’s; changing the use of old warehouses into offices and apartment bringing life and vibrancy (not to mention money) into the area.
The Operaplein presents an opportunity to demonstrate manipulation of a number of factors to highlight the unique difference of the opera house in a linear facade/space and liberate adjacent spaces to pedestrian traffic by sinking four lanes of traffic below street level. MSM suggests using the full scope of space, subterranean as well as surface techniques, to provide a variety of views and spatial textures to enrich and enhance the area.
Torrnsana addresses the periphery of urban development touching on the possibilities to be exploited there, noting that the ‘urban limit’ is not necessarily where density ends in a wall of greenery. Interpenetration of urban and verdure become vital in generating dynamic space with contrasting views from within to help activate certain spaces within the city and creating mystery and invitation from outside the city looking in.
In the Poble Nou project in Barcelona MSM discusses and demonstrates the importance in accepting and making provision for that which has been, that which is and that which may yet be with the anticipation that from the continuity of this dynamic process that new and varied, promiscuous, relationships become welcomed, even planned, and the resultant transformations received gladly.
In Thessaloniki, a much earlier project, MSM emphasizes the opportunity that presents itself in those open spaces that often occur in the city, how to link them and intensify their use along the naturally occurring bay providing both visual and dimensional connection.
In his summary ‘The Anxious Gaze’ MSM seems to be saying that what is really needed is a compulsion that moves the urban designer to create something to change the current status quo at whatever the cost.
‘In order to operate in the modern city we need to think about adding, complicating, insisting....It is not enough to mix uses and functions'; sometimes it will be necessary to create conflict and congestion....’(p143)
Although seemingly adroit in the application of his particular brand of urban intervention Morales fails to provide a work that engages the reader clearly and concisely, in the same way that Gorden Cullen or Christopher Alexander do. He tries to elucidate critical elements in the city but fails to provide the same level of clarity found in the works of Kevin Lynch.
‘The issues they [his projects] undertake to address are singular, and demonstrate an attention to questions beyond the realm of the usual...questions that...are so alien... these projects are inseparable from my own activities as... a teacher about cities and a combatant against the verbal diarrhoea which consistently trivializes the urban...’ (Morales M 2008 p9)
It is too easy to be a critic. With little knowledge and a modicum of wit one can decry almost anything and any one and that is not my intention here, rather to provide subjective observation.
My initial attitude to what I read was one of scepticism as Morales seemed to be expressing high opinions about himself and indicating what an exceptional architect he considers himself in all extremely challenging urban situations. Several times he suggests that the ‘ordinary’ challenges found within the design of urban architecture are boring to him and he seeks difficult problems to create opportunity to explore the extremities of architectural intervention.
Perhaps this is akin to developing formula one racing cars. At the extremity of any professional endeavour is where we seek and hopefully discover solutions to such specialist problems that when they reoccur later we have already tried and tested our prototypes to a point where the science therein is certain and so becomes commonplace or even routine. This would certainly explain MSM’s presupposition that his target audience is already conversant with many of the founding fathers of urban design, Vitruvius, Sitte, Garnier et al, as he seems to be aiming higher than development of utopian cities.
Having not read all of Morales works I am not in a position to comment with certainty that he has not built upon a foundation of a plethora of past solutions to seemingly ordinary urban challenges. However, there is no doubt that MSM carries considerable professional respect evidenced in the projects that his practice has completed and those that he has been commissioned to fulfil. Several countries have presented him with some of the most difficult areas for an architect to operate in. Morales therefore must be self confident to act in such decisive ways over so many varied situations. Having been successful in so many instances would also serve as a contributory factor in what can come across as arrogance. By contrast Morales seems to have no key signature in his projects which is unlike many architects who develop a particular style that can quite quickly be identified by the public as theirs, this then point to a seemingly contradictory humility.
By way of conclusion then, the book was a little difficult to find useful quickly, it had to be reread. It may well have served better if there were fewer projects presented in more detail and explanations given to increase clarity. I would have liked to have read something along the lines of ‘these were the problems, so we finally decided to do this and this because doing so provided that benefit and this, thus improving what had previously existed there.’.
This approach does not facilitate true learning, which after all, especially in the case of architecture and urbanism, is where the greatest number of individuals may benefit from the expeditious implementation of that learning. It may be that the longer one spends in academia that the excellence of each individual’s vocabulary is merely an instrument to better facilitate effective communication within those circles. In ‘A Matter of Things’, I occasionally found this an obstacle rather than a help.

As with many architectural publications it can be difficult to effect the level of clarity necessary to truly enlighten readers of modest understanding to the remedies applied to an individual project of the type of complexity and difficulty demonstrated in the projects discussed in ‘A Matter of Things’. So to attempt to do so adequately with nearly twenty projects in such a small volume seems, at best, hopeful.
There are points to be drawn from these projects however, that can direct the individual to consider a wider scope of options when looking for a solution to urban conundrums. How to ‘activate’ remote or disjointed spaces throughout a given section of the city, in this publication many along the coast, has in many cases remained the holy grail of urban designers. Many have tried and few have had lasting successes after the novelty of the initial architectural intervention has faded into the commonplace.
One approach, highlighted in the project in Leuven, is to consider designing space below the ground plane when looking for solutions to untangling complex intertwined pathways. Here MSM separates bus lanes, domestic and commercial vehicles from pedestrian pathways reclaiming a monument previously neutered and a space made dead to all but the metal and rubber of vehicles. MSM has successfully reclaimed and re-established the public space, replaced the monument as the dominant structure there and provided increased pedestrian traffic for those businesses that edge the square no doubt improving their financial viability, so important to the vitality of a city.
Not only is this a bold move, but this is one that has been successfully implemented to the benefit of all parties, truly a difficult task to accomplish. It is a comparatively simple task to be creative in solutions for the city yet far more problematic to see idea turn into reality and that work. Examples abound of urban intervention that have critically failed to the chagrin of the architectural profession where our education in such matters should be exemplary in this most public of realms.
Another method that is successfully demonstrated is that of transitional architectural intervention as demonstrated in the project at Porto, Portugal. Here an arid city edge, fronted by a multilane highway against the sea shore, presents an opportunity to increase the local verdure by introducing a newly landscaped park which connects under the freeway whilst an elongated bridge provides transition from urban to coastal via an almost translucent building.
This transitional architectural intervention is designed to be as visually permeable as possible, whilst providing a winding decent/ascent to or from the beach facilitating gradually changing views which enables a kind of visual acclimatization before actually making contact with the starkly different but now linked spaces. The lesson here is rather than a building becoming a demarcation it can become a place of transition, providing an opportunity for visual acclimatization between two very disparate environments, the crowded urban to the uninterrupted view of the sea’s horizon.
Seeming less successful, at least in its presentation as a project in this work, is the conversion of an old world war two submarine base established by the Nazis’ in the port of Saint Nazaire. The port area is hard and poorly connected for the use of visitors and locals alike. Although a new car park and a long transitional ramp, similar to that found at Porto, provided to the roof of the submarine base seek to create an opportunity for some sort of vista it looks like a very bleak outlook and one hardly worth the effort to visit more than once.
By contrast is the cavernous interior of the base that has the benefit of large lengths of water where submarines once sheltered from attack below the monolithic concrete structure that now allows that particular type of light reflecting from the water below to play on the ceilings above. However the interior interventions are lost in the scale of structure, floating as it were, in the spaces in a similar way to its previous tenants. Unless you are a fan of type of oppressive environment beautifully illustrated in the underground lairs of ‘The Matrix’ this space is particularly unattractive. Even MSM seems to be at a loss as to a definitive use for this new space.
In addition to the projects there are a number of narratives that attempt to clarify how MSM has approached his grouped projects. The way in which he sees/comprehends the urban fabric and possible solutions are termed as a ‘Gaze’. So we have the Strategic, Compulsive and Anxious Gaze. These explanations, or overarching narratives, are not sufficiently succinct to provide really useful information or insight into how MSM is operating, and this may be due to the fact that many design decisions are more intuitive rather than scientific in their origin.
In conclusion then, here is a work that does provide some thought provoking material but finding that which is of value is a little like panning for gold. If fewer projects were interrogated in more depth and more material including images were provided this may have helped greatly. Add to this an accompanying narrative to outline the purpose of actions taken in each project and the reader could have an interesting publication for future reference. As it stands ‘A Matter of Things’ provides a showcase for some of Manuel de Sola Morales impressive projects but requires a certain degree of diligence on the part of the reader to extract what useful information he can.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Architecture + Urbanism recommends 'Bata-ville: We are not afraid of the future'

A special screening of the film Bata-ville: We are not afraid of the future
The Manchester Modernist Society present a screening of the award-winning Bata-ville at 6pm on 26 January 2012.
Written & directed by Northern Art Prize Winners Karen Guthrie & Nina Pope, Bata-ville (90mins) is a bittersweet record of an English coach trip to the origins of the Bata shoe empire – the Moravian town of Zlin - a place described by Le Corbusier as a "shiny phenomenon".  Against the backdrop of economic regeneration in their communities, former employees of two now closed UK Bata factories are led by artist / directors Pope & Guthrie on a unique journey through Bata’s legacy and across a changing Europe.

What begins as a free holiday soon becomes an opportunity for a collective imagining of what Tomas Bata’s inspirational maxim, “We are not afraid of the future” can mean in twenty-first century Britain.

The screening will be preceded by Hush (10mins) by Lynne Pettinger and Will Montgomery.
Register in advance for this free event here
The screening will be in the MMU John Dalton Building on Oxford Road, Manchester.  Please use the main entrance on Oxford Road (virtually opposite the old BBC building) and follow the signs.

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