Architect (and Archidoodle author) Steve Bowkett looks at an alternative and exciting future for our cities – one that allows citizens to take a more active approach to their environment…
Recently I have been thinking about why activity books like ‘Archidoodle’ and ‘Archidoodle City’ are attractive as an idea for public consumption and how they are a product our recent fascination with commodities that are 'unfinished'. One of my intellectual mentors, the great music and cultural icon Brian Eno, has suggested that ‘the Future is Unfinished' stating that new culture-makers (artists, designers etc.) will move away from providing “pure, complete experiences to providing the platforms from which people then fashion their own experiences.” He stated that “this is not just confined to the arts but can be seen in all manner of products that we buy and adapt like computers, music systems” and now this is happening even at a scale of buildings and architecture with their partially formed kit of parts.
Eno suggests that this forms “a new philosophical landscape” where the divide between the producers and so-called 'passive' consumers has narrowed to allow active engagement in the evolution of the product/entity or even to the extent of one's own identity. As both a designer and a teacher I find this evolutionary approach very appealing and one that could be described in educational terms best summed up by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott as an 'Unrehearsed intellectual adventure'.
The Spanish Pavilion at the recent Venice Biennale dedicated its whole exhibition to the notion of ‘Unfinished’, showing examples of partially completed buildings awaiting an evolutionary opportunity to be bestowed upon each structure’s (uncertain) future. Whilst these incomplete projects came into being due to Spain’s economic crisis, the curators have viewed this as an opportunity to develop a different kind of programme for these contemporary ruins by directing “attention to the processes more than the results…in an attempt to discover design strategies generated by an optimistic view of the constructed environment.” In other words, these buildings would now become a servant of society rather than the kind of individually-driven vanity development that initiated their construction in the first place.
As Inaqui Carnicero states in his introduction to the exhibition, this notion of the unfinished ruinous object offering an opportunity for creativity is not a new one. He sites the engravings of Piranesi as an example of architectural fragments from antiquity being juxtaposed and adapted as a “starting point to define a dream city enormously rich formally and spatially.” Other early examples reveal the English Architect Sir John Soane commissioning his perspectivist Joseph Michael Gandy to present his built work in the form of a series of ruins, a vision that alludes to the relic as nobility worth preserving. Each of these is an example of Architecture of transformation, evolution, hybrid and continuum and one that reveals the trace elements of its history. “In every thing that nature makes, nature records how it was made. In the rock is a record of how the rock was made. In man is the record of how man was made.” In the context of ruins, this makes absolute sense. The architect Louis Kahn stated that: “Ruins are records of nature's intervention in a building”. Kahn’s interest in ruins went beyond a mere observation and historical reflection; their sense of timeless monumentality became central to his oeuvre: “So therefore I thought of the beauty of ruins...of things which nothing lives behind...and so I thought of wrapping ruins around buildings; you might say encasing a building in a ruin so that you look through the wall which has its apertures as if by accident.”
In his book The Raw and the Cooked, the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss described the perfect metaphor for how one might perceive architectural expression within contemporary buildings. At one end of the spectrum ‘the cooked’ suggests the end of a process and one which should not be tampered with, whereas ‘the raw’ gravitates towards the notion of unfinished, to be extended, to be completed.
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