Introduction Le Corbusier’s first Unité d’Habitation
The Marseille Unitéd’habitation which literally means unit of habitation is the first of the series of experimental and futuristic housing blocks developed by the Architect Le Corbusier after WWII. It became one of the most influential Modernist buildings of all time with countless iterations tried by other Architects all over the world and developed in different directions and with different levels of success.
Corbusier himself built four more Unité d’Habitations in Europe. The Rough concrete he used ‘béton brut’ became the signature of the style known as Brutalism. Simply put if you are are interested in Modern Architecture or the History of Architecture this is one of the buildings you should know.
Kristo Vedenoja a Finnish Photographer runs a beautiful website Helsinki Facades that allow him to showcase his photography talent. Helsinki is a great subject for an urban photographer as it contains so many different Architectural styles and geographic conditions. Kristos manages to give a great flavour of the city.
Today I went to The Helsinki Design Week Design Market in Kaapelitahdas. It’s billed as the largest design stock sale in the Nordics and its a great place to get a sense of what is going on in the Finnish Design scene. Mainly fashion and product design but food, interiors and jewellery etc was there to see and it was great to see how many future worldwide brands could be bubbling up here.
I found a project by Joel Simon called Evolving Floorplans (via Kottke) which is all about the algorithmic generation of floorpans, specifically in reference to a school design. Evolving Floorpans is the first time I have seen a clear visualisation of an algorithmic architectural design, it’s quite beautiful.
Firstly I should note I’ve no experience in the writing of code such as for the alogorythm that Joel wrote and only an interest in the experimental zone of 3d architecture printing, so having said all that some observations;
Just programming for efficiency of circulation gave a remarkably ‘organic’ plan structure but maybe this is not be surprising given how things are designed ‘bottom up’ in the natural world.
The plans, optimised for traffic flow didn’t translate at all for classroom use, building usability or internal legibility. Square up the classroom sizes a bit and use something that errs towards more modern classroom layouts like joined classrooms etc and lab spaces. The structure was not addressed, and we probably shouldn’t kid ourselves that new structural materials or techniques will either come soon or deliver greatly enhanced results than right now. The hierarchy of the room types could also be factored in, ie. the gym and cafe of larger volume, environmental site factors accounted for. Joel already understands much of this though,
‘The metrics could be expanded to include terrain maps, sun paths, existing trees and other environmental input, allowing the buildings to be highly adaptive to their context. The physics simulation could force certain boundary shape constraints.’
If developed further this could easily inform outline design and progress until some baselines and agreements in the basic design have been set. It could provide very soon a tool to help the design team and Architects, how much further it could go I don’t know.
Nasa hosted a 3d-printed habitat competition for Mars (video) (via things)
My home town of Helsinki dropped off the top10 most liveable cities list down from 9th in 2017 to 16th in 2018. (ref) though I’m not too sure about how these things are calculated I think that they do give a good general indication. Although I would say I think you can potentially live anywhere being rich. I would love to see an index that attempts to show how well you can live in cities as your income goes up or down. Quality vs income then the gentler the slop up or down might indicate a better place to live.
Added Urbanfinland.com to my blog list in resources. Some great writing and research here by Timo Hämälainen. I hope to go over some of his ideas in a separate post soon.
Archidose #1007 has some pictures of a Sweets Hotel (Weigbrug) in Amsterdam. The Sweets hotel chain turn old bridge houses into apartments in a kind of distributed hotel. I saw Archoses post while I was thinking about writing up my visit earlier this year to Amsterdam. It’s a city I love, I lived there for some time and met my wife there, and its a great city to talk about from many angles. This is just one project which gives a taste of the interesting urban innovations alive and well in the city.
Early in this Autumn last year I went to see a photography exhibition by Heikki Willamo in the Finnish Photograpghy Museum called The Mythical Journey or Myyttinen matka. It’s Nature photography at its best but this exhibition was a little different. It was photograpahy from Finland and Scandinavia by Heikki but trying to capture the ice age Hunters experience of Nature and the Landscape. Images of animals as they were seen by Ice age peoples.
Heikki had long been interested in the rock paintings the oldest dating from forty thousand years ago. Until the bronze age and the beginning of a farming culture these images, made by hunter-gatherers appreciated the world in animalistic terms where the great animals took center stage.
“Of the animals, the large mammals were especially important. They had powers and had a connection to the spirit world. They were perhaps the mythical ancestors of clans, spiritual guides for hunters, and familiars for shamans. Images were created of them deep in the ground – in the depths of the caves charged with powers.” – Heikki Willamo
As hunter gatherers became farmers and the bronze age dawned then animals faded from center stage and animal images in the form of property of people became common as man as the subject of art took center stage. The way we saw the animals and our relation to them changed fundamentally. Heiki tried to recapture a feeling of how they were seen during the birth of man, when we too were one of the animals hunting, eating, living in the same landscape and in much the same way as them. When the world was made of a primordial space full of magic and the sounds of the animals were of the Gods calling!
One day in early spiring this year I was in Tampere for the day and had a couple of hours to spare so I thought I would revisit a great modern building that I feel is often a little neglected, maybe because it’s a little out the way or maybe because Aalvar Aalto casts such a long shadow over Finnish Architecture or maybe a little of both.
Kaleva Church by Reima and Raili Pietilä the result of an Architectural competition in 1959 won by Reima Pietilä and Raili Paatelainen and built in 1964-66. The building sits on a small hillock at the head of the convergence of two large roads both with postwar apartment blocks lining them.
The plan is immediately surprising and consists of a series of high and narrow concrete wings made from 17 35m high hollow concrete u shapes, with full height windows in-between. Each of these concrete u’s are slightly different.
Malcolm Quantrill has written that the Kaleva Church is derived from the Christian fish symbol, generates a daring interior space, with the single-volume nave capturing a powerful, medieval sense of monumentality. I agree it captures a medieval like sense of monumentality but not about the fish symbolism. The fish symbolism appears to me to be a sop to the Christian church it houses, highly organic in nature it looks much more like a leaf. Look at the early sketches from the Pietilä’s and I think that seals it.
Foto: Simo Rista / MFA
The massive concrete walls were meant originally to remain as bare concrete but I think that someone lost their nerve some part of the way through and pale sand coloured ceramic tiles were used to cover the building instead in an attempt to play along better with the apartment blocks it sits among. It looks a little like a poorly disguised Brutalist construction though I don’t think that label sits completely comfortably for this building. The central space and how it is conceived seems so inspired by nature and pays much attention to the play of natural light and space inside make it an exceptional building, one that inspires a feeling much like that in a medieval cathedral, although perhaps lighter and more naturally flavoured.
I know this building in Finland was a little controversial when it was built, some thought it to ‘natural’ and not modern enough or functional enough for the Finnish Architectural brand but as a church part of its function is to inspire and I find it does just this.
Structures and Architecture: New concepts, applications and challenges´ edited by Paulo J. da Sousa Cruz’
Finnish Architecture and the Modernist Tradition By Malcolm Quantrill
The subtitle of this book is Living More with Less and its an examination of a post materialistic future for our society today.
Taking the book title of Stuffocation James Wallman shows that in developed economies we have started drowning in too much stuff. Then he looks at different movements and how they address this problem. From Minimalism, The Simple Life, The Medium Chill to the Experientialists. The experience economy and a new view of whats important in our lives is what this book finally comes out in favour of.
The Minimalists who cut out more and more ruthlessly their material possessions can maybe be a little to ascetic for James’ taste. The Simple Life followers who follow Henry David Thoreau who tells in his book Walden of getting back to nature for two years also comes up short, it’s often too hard, Thoreau himself only lasted two years and then went back to the city.
The medium chill a sort of midway between following a completely aspirational life and chilling out is what many people might be doing already and anyway it’s not that aspirational is it?
Experientialism is James Wallmans’ answer to the materialist society and the economic never ending chase of raising GDP and I think I agree and see something to be taken from all these ideas.
One thing that kind of rubs me though is that as an Architect it is easy to see a sort of minimal style that just drips opulence. This shows itself in interior design, art, fashion and I think I detect it also in some of the minimal lifestyle guru set. It’s rather easier to cut out the things you own if your socks count as one thing or you ripped all your cd’s and dvd’s to your laptop. If you only own three sets of 250 dollar jeans, and can buy another in a heartbeat, how is that not fully partaking in materialistic Western society? This type of minimalism somehow doesn’t seem that much more than a different type of ostentation, one that leverages the feel good factor of youtube and facebook as you sit atop your influencer network while sipping your fruitshake on a Bali beach (Instagram moment!). The book to be fair does touch on this subject but only just in passing.
I do also see the point in a kind of empowering minimalism when it comes to personal finance. Mr. Money Moustache to take one example shows a way of looking at finances and savings, possessions and even experiences which I think can really empower people. Again this personal finance side of the coin is not touched on in the book.
So overall I really like Stuffocation and it does really make you think about your life and provide a jumping point for further reading and maybe action in your own life. You should definitely read it, but just don’t stop there!
My new favourite blog misfits’ architecture posted about Yemeni traditional housing under the title The Inflexible House.
You might know about Yemeni buildings from famous photos of cities like Shibam or Al Hajarayn, where 500 year old medieval skyscrapers rise up with tapering walls clumped together often on rocky outcrops. Nothing looks quite like them and also on the inside they are perhaps quite different than how you might imagine1.
They have no spatial hierarchy on the inside just essentially the same plan repeated upwards. Ground floor is for storage of food and 1st floor with main reception room and kitchen off of it, above that are the floors for the family but there is no hierarchy, no ability to subdivide just larger and smaller sized rooms stacked onto of each other. Its inflexibility of plan opens it up to a different type of flexibility which a standard modern western house lacks;
There’s much that’s good in the Yemeni convention of building a house having all floors the same plan and deciding later how to use those spaces. Some patterns of use are more established through custom or necessity but the spaces can still be reallocated to suit temporary situations such as the visit of a relative or longer-term changes such as an eldest son marrying. This is simply how these houses are lived in and part of it is because they can be lived in this way. Changing the use of a room involves no architectural trauma because the houses weren’t planned to have a hierarchy of spaces. – misfits’ architecture
The apartment building designs I have been involved with in Finland over the last few years are all about culturally arbitrated spaces designed for specific purposes. An eight floor Finnish apartment block will have a sauna block on the entrance floor with a bomb shelter space in the basement both of theses generated from specific Finnish cultural assumptions, fear of imminent attack by the Russians and a culturally required love of the Sauna.
Apartments within the block must all have balconies though not necessarily bedrooms at all, with wet room bathrooms, larger apartments will have their own Sauna and the biggest apartments are on the top floors to maximise price per meter. Kitchens and Dining rooms as separate spaces from the living room have virtually ceased to exist. All this means that the main living space is super flexible within certain spatial bounds and that apartments can’t really accommodate much more than couples or nuclear families living in a certain type of way with a certain set of contractual obligations (a mortgage!) as there is no privacy within these types of apartments.
Other types of living, co-housing, lodgers, multi generational families even kitchenless housing don’t fit at all into these programmed plans. I’m not saying that any of these ones are better than what we have now only that these different programmes and housing types could inspire different more practical and more flexible ways of living and in turn adding variety and value to our cities. The Yemeni inflexible house could inspire more flexible planning in modern housing still.
Update 22.10.2019 – The Guardian catalogs the toll of the last five years of War in the Yemen on the Architecture and Historical heritage of the Yemen.
Al Hajarayn by Dan
Sana old town
See Misfits’ amazing post about Yemeni Architecture here [↩]