Kin-dza-dza

Spend any time on FFFFound, and you'll probably come across this image sooner or later:

Kin-dza-dza

Seemingly defying gravity, an impossible cantilever, a tethered spaceship made from corrugated iron sheeting, a rusting Howl's Moving Castle.

Here's another view.

Kin-dza-dza

The reality is that the original photograph, of an abandoned grainery, near Krasnosilka in Ukraine, was simply photoshopped to remove the other struts. But it's amazing how the perception of the structure is alterated so completely by simple photo-trickery. The enthusiasm of the comments shows just how much people wanted it to be true.

Kin-dza-dza

There's another one here:

Kin-dza-dza

With this series of image manipulations, photoshopper Kyryl has created a new archetype of rural structure. The Germans, of course, have a word for it - lügengebäude - "a building of lies," an elaborate edifice of interrelated falsities.

Is "form follows fiction" the new language of architectural production?

Kropilak

Kropilak

Kropilak

Kropilak

The web site of Branislav Kropilak now features larger scale images of the beautiful parking garages series, and the stunning billboards series of photographs.

In the Garages series, underground parking garages become a secret place of order, rhythm and intense colour. The images appear almost hyperreal - the empty spaces so brightly lit, the surfaces so gleaming, the symmetrical one-point perspective - that they almost seem computer generated.

Similarly the Billboards series, with its vertiginous views looking straight up the stanchions of a billboard tower, each glowing in a dusk sky,present an alien view of a familiar object.

I am increasingly becoming convinced that there is more truth in these 'found' architectures than any of the works that feature in contemporary architectural magazines. If Learning from Las Vegas taught us to think about the separation of sign and container via the casino signs along the Vegas strip, these images invite us to consider the signs themselves as pure structure, signifying nothing but themselves.

Kropilak

Kropilak

Kropilak

Victory City Stories

Victory City

"Investors wanted", reads the link on the website for Victory City.

For over 70 years, the brilliantly named Orville Simpson II has been dreaming of the utopian community of Victory City. Starting with a childhood vision in 1936, and with no formal architectural or town planning training, Orville has been creating blueprints, drawings and residents manuals for his revolutionary, prototype community since 1960, He plans to build the first one just outside Dayton, Ohio, but is having problems finding the $100 million of private investment he feels he needs to create a development corporation.

Orville Simpson II

Each Victory City is a megastructure, up to 102 storeys high, housing up to 332,000 residents in 7 conjoined modules, each holding 47,500, with associated living quarters, workplaces, recreation facilities, and transportation. Outlying farms supply food to support the city. The central concept of Victory City is that by keeping all of these functions in a unified structure, and with radical changes in living patterns that VC dictates, great efficiencies can be made in transportation, energy and waste. Over 30 years of drawing, done on the card table office desk, Orville ("the name means golden city", he declares) has planned, drafted and described in great detail exactly how Victory City will look, and work, should he find the millions of dollars required to build it, and enough people to fill it. As other pioneering urbanists such as Paolo Soleri has discovered at Arcosanti, the road to radical urbanism is a long and fraught one.

Victory City

Victory City

In order to facilitate such a huge megastructure, Simpson has also envisaged a number of novel technical solutions, such as the Circl-Serv cafeteria system that promises to "feed 16,333 people in only 3½ hours." Rather than buy and prepare their own food, Simpson has decreed that all VC citizens will eat in giant skylit cafeterias. Scaling this up to feed 300,000 people results in a series of 9-storey mega food courts with a crazed series of Ferris wheel and Circl-Serv delivery system.

Victory City

Likewise, he goes into great depths determining how the lift systems will work, with a series of Extra-Large Elevators designed to carry 50 people at a time. Still, one can't help but think that a VC resident will spend a lot of time waiting for lifts or standing in them.

Victory City

While Simpson II has thought in minute detail about the intricacies of mass catering and vertical transportation, he is less clear about the bigger picture, How will Victory Cities, with their radical social model, and built form, deal with the rest of the world. Would outsiders be allowed in, and would VC citizens be allowed out? In keeping everything together in a city-state mega-block, citizens' relationship with the outside world is fractured, except for the sanitised exterior landscape - a hexagonal arrangement of lakes, forests, farms, hills, mines and oil wells around a Separate Facilities mega-plex holding an eclectic mix of functions including an airport, a race track, car dealerships and chicken farms.

Victory City

Victory City

Simpson has effectively designed a landlocked prison ship as a pioneering urban community.

The first thing that betrays Simpson's ideas are the crudeness of his drawings, The insane felt-tip colouring-in and wobbly lettering leaves you in no doubt that these are child-like drawings of someone with a child-like simplistic view of society. A millionaire, and he can't afford a stencil and some Letratone? Intense sectional drawings of immense fire-escape structures show the obsession with circulation and procession.

By contrast, the apartments are generally small and pokey - none seem to have windows. On occasions, he has recruited architectural students and artists to create more polished or atmospheric renderings. Inevitably for such a long undertaking, progress on Victory City seems to have had periods of intense activity followed by long fallow periods.

As with most utopian socialists, new building forms are intended to bring new societies, and fix perceived problems with existing society. At Victory City, these manifest themselves in a number of extreme social control measures. Thus in Victory City residents will carry no money. Apartments will be ready furnished. While caged birds and goldfish are allowed, cats and dogs are not - instead larger animals must be kept in a Pet Park.

Simpson's Orwellian vision continues with more residential guidelines:

"Another possibility will be to install a Muzak-type system in each apartment so residents could listen to a central source of music, news and other programs whenever they wanted. All of these programs could be turned off by Victory City between 10-11 PM, and the volume turned down between 9-10 PM in order to enable people to sleep better at night. Separate loudspeakers could be used for emergency announcements, which should be regulated by Victory City, independent of the tenants' control."

It's not hard to see flaws in Simpsons utopian vision. He sees no apparent conflict between the draconian social control he covets, its all-powerful state apparatus, and a market economy. There is almost no space given over to commercial usage - retail or business. The city-state holds a monopoly on everything from catering, home furnishings and postal. There will be no taxes, apparently. Crime and social disorder have not been considered, other than a vague panopticon surveillance.

It's easy to dismiss Simpson as a nutjob in a polyester suit with a nose like WC Fields, but is there really any difference between Victory City and say Broadacre City, other than that they are much better drawn, the social engineering not so boldly stated? While Simpson might be more forceful in his desire to model the citizens of Victory City to his values, all utopian socialists inevitably wish to builld society in their own image. And you have to admire the dedication and hubris of a man who has spent over 50 years dreaming and designing his own personal utopia.

Perhaps Victory City has more in common with Gilles Trehain's Urville than La Ville Radieuse.

Victory City

There is so much great stuff to discover about Victory City, that I can only urge you to visit the website and explore for yourself. As the man says himself: "Victory City is riddled with logic — riddled and impregnated with it. Total logic."


Previously:

The secret life of Robin Hood Gardens

Robin Hood Gardens

(images by Flickr user moreikura)

Robin Hood Gardens, like Euston Arch before it, will take its secret to its grave.

Last week, 'architecture minister' Margaret Hodge sounded the death knell for Robin Hood Gardens when she decided not to list the building, following the advice of English Heritage (described as a "beleagured quango" by the Twentieth Century Society) but ignoring the protestations of many within the architectural profession, including Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid, and an ongoing campaign by Building Design magazine.

Robin Hood Gardens

As the future of Robin Hood Gardens hung in the balance, debate has raged, both in the broadsheet press, and the 'blogosphere', both of the merits of RHG and Brutalist architecture, but also the wider debate about preservation, restoration and resurrection of modern buildings, seemingly only loved by architects themselves.

Reaction to starchitects attempting to defend RHG is generally of the level of "well if you like it, why don't you live there." - see here or here. You might expect the quality press to avoid this school playground rhetoric, but we have the "why don't they buy it and mend it themselves" from Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, and this rip-snorter from Venetia Thompson in The Spectator:

"Robin Hood famously robbed from the rich to give to the poor, but I am certain that he never suggested that the poor should then be crammed into tower blocks like battery chickens in the name of Modernist architecture until they were finally stabbed to death in a deserted stairwell. There is nothing truly egalitarian about the ironically named Robin Hood Gardens in Poplar, east London — except the equality of squalor.

However - wouldn't you know it? - Modernist architects are campaigning to save it. Zaha Hadid describes it as ‘a seminal project of socially responsible architecture from the era of Utopian thinking'. Maybe she should go and live there herself. This is a prime example of the desire for impractical ‘modernity' getting in the way of common sense and human well-being."

Is Robin Hood Gardens really "not fit for purpose", as Margaret Hodge's report concludes? It's one of those horrible phrases, like "EPIC FAIL" or "broke by design" whereby an individual's subjective opinion is presented as immutable objective fact. There's little doubting that RHG is currently not fit for its residents to live in, but this is a scandal that has been ongoing for many years. Poorly maintained, and filled with vulnerable families from the poorest socio-economic backgrounds, it seems that only now are residents being asked what they think of it.

From what I have read, most of their complaints are about building maintainence issues, and overcrowding. That the roofs leak, there are rats, and that large families are living in 2 bedroom flats, are hardly the result of poor design by the Smithsons, of architectural ideology taking precedent over the well-being of its residents. Instead they are symptoms of wayward social housing policies by Tower Hamlets council and central government.

As this article states, some residents are worried about where they will be rehoused:

'Resident Masum Ali: "I've lived here since 2001 and I've never had a complaint about the place. But I've never seen the council do any repairs or painting.

People want to stay here and they want to remain with the council. We're tenants of the council, not English Partnerships or a registered social landlord. The places we've been shown in Bow are very small and you can almost touch the roof.

I've spent money on this house and I want to stay here. It's very quiet and we've got a nice community. It feels like we're being ignored.”"

The article claims that tenants 150 of the 214 units have asked to remain with the council rather than come off the council list and transfer to a social landlord (ie private management company) or an Arms Length Management Organisation (ie private management company).

'Firuz Mirh has been living on the estate for 10 years, and is worried about possible price increases.

He said: “It was a nice place to live, but it's not any more.

"The Blackwall Tunnel is getting busier and there's a lot more pollution. And the building is getting old and there are a lot of cracks appearing.

People moved into these houses with one or two children, and they're still there with three, four or five because they can't afford anything bigger.

A lot of people are asking why the council can't run the new development. They're worried they won't be able to afford to live if the prices go up, especially when you include the gas and electric bills. People are just struggling to survive."'

There is real luxury at Robin Hood Gardens. But it is a luxury of material, of light and of space, both public and private. The flats themselves are well designed and generously proportioned, the density across the site is not that high (only 214 units), and there is a chronically underused open space between the two slab blocks. But it's hard to appreciate this when the lights in the stairwells don't work and there's water coming in.

Spend some time in an around Robin Hood Gardens, and it reveals that rather than being the squalid, desolate crime-ridden ghetto some would lead you to believe, it's actually a rather pleasant place. Rather than a high-rise, densely packed estate, RHG is actually the smallest, greenest part of the local urban fabric, human in scale. But springing up around are looming apartment blocks, with all the trimmings and trappings of upmarket chic London living, only minutes from Canary Wharf.

The demolition of RHG is about greed. A quick look at the Blackwall Reach website shows the plan for English Partnerships to 'regenerate' the area and add about 3000 housing units over the site of Robin Hood Gardens and surrounding area.

The website rather cunningly suggests that it is not possible to build this number of new houses, and generate money to create supporting community facilities, while preserving Robin Hood Gardens. This is specious nonsense, a manipulation of facts to manufacture consent. Unsurprisingly, the list of 'disadvantages' of regeneration while preserving the RHG estate is much longer than the list of 'advantages'. (This point also picked up here).

Robin Hood Gardens could be brought up to scratch for approx £70K per flat, considerably less than the cost of building new. But building new will allow building taller, building higher density, and building into the green space at the heart of the estate.

Regardless of what you think of the architectural merits of Robin Hood Gardens, they will not be knocked down because they are "not fit for purpose", but to fund development.

That Robin Hood Gardens is actually a pair of luxury designer apartment blocks, masquerading as a sink housing estate, is a secret that will only be revealed after it is demolished.


Previously:

Juxtaposed Tatlin

Double Tatlin

At the recent From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy, the piece that was causing the most stirring of the luncherati was the 12ft high model of Tatlin's Monument to the 3rd International. It was interesting to see that it still has the power to shock, bemuse and astonish people today. The original model built by Tatlin housed a small boy inside turning a crank to make the cube, pyramid and cylinder rotate.

[Tatlin's tower] has become the de facto emblem of Constructivism, a visual shorthand, and as such it is often used to illustrate either the grand folly of the Constructivist 'project', the supreme egotism of architecture, and more occassionally a symbol of the radical desire to remake society.

I've come across a number of posts recently that have all used images of Tatlin's outlandish Monument to the 3rd International to compare and contrast against other architectural projects.

Tatlin versus War of the Worlds

Firstly there was Owen Hatherly in the peerless article Delirious Moscow at archinect, putting Tatlin's tower next to a Martian tripod from War of the Worlds.

"Like Tatlin's Third International Tower, whose iron legs and perpetual motion are akin to the Martians' walking tripods, this was something as fearsome, uncanny and technologically terrifying as the alien invasion, and intended to be every bit as threatening to existing society."

Tatlin versus Crystal Island

Next up is The Los Angeles Times, where Christopher Hawthorne sees Tatlin's monster as a precedent to Foster Crystal Island behemoth in Moscow, even if ideologically they are at polar opposites.

"Perhaps its most obvious forebear is Vladimir Tatlin's "Monument to the 3rd International," a tilting, ziggurat-like structure the Russian constructivist proposed as a tribute to the Communist revolution. In Crystal Island's sharply tapering silhouette there are also echoes of later tributes to Tatlin's unbuilt tower, notably Dan Flavin's 1964 piece "Monument 1 for V. Tatlin," which consists of seven white fluorescent tubes arranged in a skinny triangular form. Foster's design finds an aesthetic middle ground between Tatlin's tangle of steel beams and Flavin's spare, ethereal composition."

Tatlin versus Boromini

At aggregat456, Boromini's Lantern at Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza is placed next to Tatlin's leaning tower as examples of 'A Lazarus Taxon':

"Russian Constructivism is a Lazarus Taxon: a species of architecture that though eradicated from previous historical records, reappears once again."

Tatlin versus Novak

Then there's the comparison of Tatlin's Tower with 'paraSurf' by Macus Novak, as examples of algorithmically based generative design.

Marcus Novak's recent 'transarchitecture', existing predominantly in Cyberspace, is algorithmically generated or 'bred' and - like Tatlin's virtual structure - can be interpreted as symbol and agitprop for radical innovation beyond the realm of architecture per se.

Allow me to contribute two more Tatlin juxtapositions:

Tatlin versus Gazprom

Tatlin's Tower against Gazprom tower by RMJM, both seen as threats to the skyline and good taste in their day.

Tatlin versus CCTV

Tatlin's Tower against OMA's CCTV, destined to be the architectural icon of the 21st Century - radical, provactive, and structurally daring.

Tatlin's unbuilt tower continues to exert a powerful influence over contemporary architectural speculation.

Brutalism's last stand

Robin Hood Gardens

(image from sublime photography)

Cedric Price once wrote, (quoted here):

"What is objectionable,is the staggering conceit and arrogance of those who determine just what part of our built environment should be deemed sacrosanct"

With that in mind, some additional thoughts on the Robin Hood Gardens debacle.

I read Margaret Hodge's article in Grand Designs magazine, reproduced here, several times, and still can't work out what she is trying to say.

Hodge, Minister of State for Culture, Creative Industries and Tourism, with responsibility for architecture and the built heritage, seems to be unhappy that her hands are tied when it comes to listing buildings.

"It might have lain derelict and unloved for decades, it might be on the brink of redevelopment to become something of real public value, it might even be just plain hideous: my hands are tied."

It's difficult to establish whether she wants more power to decide whether to save buildings or not, or whether she wants to wash her hands of the whole process. I suspect the latter.

My knowledge of listed building consent is uncertain, and Hodge does nothing to make the process any clearer. If the minister for culture has no choice but to accept English Heritage's decision, then why does she ultimately make the decision?

She continues:

"And they're tied by the good (we hope) intentions of a mysterious and unelected inspector who may be working on the basis of no more than a photograph."

While I agree that the machinations of English Heritage, (an archetypal quango) are opaque, quite possibly full of hidden agendas, and should be opened to much greater public scrutiny, I find it highly unlikely that recommendations to list buildings are made on the basis of a 'single photograph', and certainly not in the case of Robin Hood Gardens.

Hodge concludes:

"Decisions on listing modern architecture should be left to people who are accountable. Who can be booted out if they get it wrong."

As Sir Humphrey might have put it: "That would be you, Minister".

This is Hodge playing the "woe is me" card. One can't help but think she has found herself in a position she feels distinctly uncomfortable in. But as her Wikipedia entry recalls, she didn't exactly shine as Minister for Children, either, and with misplaced remarks about white working class voters, inadvertently became the BNP's best friend, leading to the BNP winning 12 of 13 seats on the council in Hodge's Barking constituency.

Hodge is the ministerial embodiment of the Peter Principle.

Architecture/ the built environment is the Wandering Jew in the UK government. Formely part of the Department of Environment, it now finds itself the unwanted part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Hodge, perhaps hoping for a cushy post watching some opera and opening art galleries has found herself being berated by a bunch of crazed architects, driven bezerk on a diet of Brutalism and Banham, and whipped into a frenzy by Building Design.

Building Design has gone into overdrive with it's crusade to save Robin Hood Gardens, publishing the names of 1000 people who signed their petition to get Robin Hood Gardens listed, and claiming victory in the recent decision of English Heritage to delay making their recommendations to Hodge. But with a circulation of 25,000, the "UK's best read architectural weekly", has only managed to mobilise less than 4% of them to complete the online petition.

Havig being shamefully quiet about the Pimlio School, BD have decided that this is Brutalism's Last Stand, their Alamo.

And listed building consent? The process needs to be made a lot clearer. And while listing may save Robin Hood Gardens from being demolished, it will almost certainly make it harder to modernise into a workable building. English Heritage will need to be involved at every step of any proposals to breathe new life in RHG.

I vacillated before finally signing the petition to list Robin Hood Gardens. Listing might be the worst thing that could happen to the Smithsons' masterpiece, a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.


Previously: