Thursday, 29 July 2010

Dealing with Density – The Images of Christoph Gielen

On a recent trip to the fabulous Las Vegas, before a weekend of decadence and debauchery begun, I was able to fly over parts of the Nevada desert and experience from 20000 ft some of the interesting patterns employed in some of mankind’s attempts to deal with the density of human habitation.

From that height and in the confines of a pressurised steel fuselage, cities and towns appear quiescent and peaceful. The underlying organizational principles of these places, that may have once started life as a few lines etched on architect’s drawing board, are also clear to see. Some of these strategies work in sympathy with the landscape whereas others attempt to dominate and control it; some are simply subservient and out of balance.

As I had deliberately forgotten my camera, not wanting any pictorial evidence from the possible events of the forthcoming weekend, I was unable to capture these beautifully clear views and was happy to let them pass into memory to wait for a moment of reflection. A few weeks later whilst sitting at my desk, I turnarounded to see one of my colleagues, happily procrastinating on the internet to some beautifully captured images of those very views I had seen from 20000 feet.

The photographic work was of Christoph Gielen, and he has been documenting suburban housing formations and its accompanying infrastructure across the North American continent for a number of years. His work is an insight into our continued and unrestrained growth into the expansive landscape of our planet. His micro light aerial views reveal a lack of balance in our monoculture development and prompt us to question how we use our ever dwindling resources. These images are a sobering and poignant reminder of our dissonance with the natural world...particularly when you’ve has just returned from the excesses of Vegas.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Decay and Complexity

My non architect friends often enjoy teasing me about my taste in architectural dexterity by joking that I always like things that look like they’re on the brink of collapse. And they’d be right, I am often allured and seduced by buildings that have been the victim of a neglectful relationship, that are no longer able to resist the earth’s gravitational pull or that have been led astray by the roots of a feral neighbour. As long as I have not been involved in the design and procurement of a collapsed building and do not live in one, they are easy to admire as there is a fascination, a beauty, and a poetic romance about a building that has been gently teased apart by the gradual processes of time.

We are often stirred and excited by the complexity, and its resultant ambiguity, of slowly accumulated patterns of decay. Like growth lines in a tree trunk or strata in a rock formation, the complex patterns of decay reveal personal biographies and intimate stories of a building’s life, and it is the speculation and interpretation of these events that captivates the imagination.

Buildings in decay can be a beautiful photographic subject. Just type ‘buildings in decay’ into a Google image search to see the extensive catalogues of numerous photographers around the world who capture these moments of deterioration. Below is a collection of one such search.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A Reverential Ecology

At a recent RIBA lecture Satish Kumar, a prominent Indian philosopher and ecological theorist argues the importance of coupling a genuine and sincere philosophical approach with our technological advancements when asking how to live sustainably. He argues that climate change is a consequence of our actions and that it is imperative that we deeply examine the root causes - our attitudes and the way in which we relate to the natural world. The current paradigm that exists is leading to climate change, the exhaustion of fossil fuels and depletion biodiversity and we appear solely dependant on technology progression as the solution. In making the required paradigm shift Kumar encourages us to take responsibility and ask ourselves if we are living in fair, sustainable and joyful way in relating to the natural world.

He calls the required relationship with the natural world a ‘Reverential Ecology’: ‘Everything we receive from nature is a gift; whether it is food, water, sunshine or anything else; everything is a gift. This is the symbiotic relationship which equips us with, humility, wonder and reverence. Nature is not there to be plundered or exploited rather it is there to be cherished and celebrated.’ It is through this ‘friendship of mutual understanding and respect’ with the living environment that a sustainable way of living will naturally emerge.

Many architects are beginning to question the existing conceptual framework for the production of the built environment and are finding answers inspired from the natural world. Here I show two buildings that to me represent a ‘Reverential Ecology.’ I find them both beautifully sustainable, and I doubt neither architect was ever guided by BREEAM assessment or Sustainable code of practice to produce them.

They are both chapels set in idyllic locations, one is by the Hungarian ‘Organic’ Architect, Imre Macovecz and the other is a creation of Peter Zumthor. Both capture the imagination, and pay homage to their surroundings, without the use of grandiose views and marvellous vistas but instead they do it in an intimate and private way, which encourages the energy of the landscape to assist with the quiet contemplation of the chapel’s users.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Manufactured Landscapes of Edward Burtynsky

This incredible collection of images depicts the huge industrialised processes that are driven by mankind's untethered desires for consumerism. They echo the sentiments of Godfrey Reggio's film Koyaanisqatsi, a hopi word meaning 'life out of balance', which beautifully depicted man's changing relationship to his environment as our technological advancements begin to replace the nurturing habitation of the natural environment.

Edward Burtynsky's large format images are beautiful representations of an uncomfortable truth that points to our need to immerse ourselves in technology and the artificial, perhaps as a result of our insecurity in struggling to understand the basics of the human condition. The great Cedric Price once asked 'technology is the answer, but what is the question?'