E.1027 is small modernist house on the French Riviera that after many years of neglect has been restored and opened to the public. Two things make this building special, first it is a wonderful and early example of a modernist house and secondly its story illustrates the tension between integrity and reputation and what this can lead to.
This book reads as a follow on from the book The Eyes of The Skin by the same author. While The Eyes of the Skin is a beautiful text on the importance of the other senses, apart from touch, on design The Thinking Hand expands this observation and builds around the same themes to provide an overall theory of design practice and thinking emanating from the human body and all the senses.
Every chapter pretty much could stand on its own having their origins in separate essays. Each has its own closely argued references all given at the end of the chapter so although the writing is dense the argument is clear and it is fairly easy to go one chapter at a time.
I have enclosed the notes I took on each Chapter as I want to give a fairly detailed overview of the arguments presented. I hope this gives a good feeling for the style and substance of the arguments in the book. Then I will offer an overall conclusion. But in short I highly recommend this book and think it offers the design student much to ponder.
A friend loaned this book to me and before I handed it back, long overdue, I thought I’d write a few things about it.
I read it through once at the beginning of my loan, then again many times just dipping in now and again when the book happened to appear on my radar as it did from time to time. This is how the book is really meant I feel as a small handbook of inspiration not as a read through.
A couple of things recently came up on my radar that coincided and that I thought I would write about.
Firstly was a list made by Patrick Collison called fast which is about projects which were made quickly enough to appear anomalous and impressive. This hyperlinked list is really nice and I have already spent some time clicking through and reading.
The Centre National d’Arts et de Culture George Pompidou or The Beauborg opened in 1977 designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers with Ove Arup Engineers. Located in the center of Paris within 1km of the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral, it lies on the edge of the historic Marais quarter.
It Neighbours Les Halles one of the old Parisian indoor markets now demolished and replaced by the shopping center Forum des Halles itself partially demolished and rebuilt in 2018. Les Halles was previously one of the locations of the May ’68 uprisings. The authorities wanted to provide much needed cultural services and bring these as close to the people as possible. They also wanted to reinstitute a cultural relevance and importance for Paris in the fine arts that they felt had been lost to New York.
It was to embody the new pluralist cultural policies of the French state after Georges Pompidou became President. An Academic, he took over from General de Gaulle and took the project under his wing. It is a litmus test, therefore, for the way Architecture relates to culture as it is a building dedicated to bringing that culture to the people of Paris and it’s visitors.
If you want to really get a feel for Nordic Architecture, indeed to really get under the skin of the differences between Nordic Architecture and the rest of the world then this is the book to start with. Not only does it give a convincing picture of ‘Northerness’ but it paints a credible narrative of not only the primordial origins of Nordic Architecture but the differences between the Nordic countries too.
The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses by Juhani Pallasmaa
This book is a short but beautifully crafted argument for an Architecture based less on the sense of sight and more on the other senses, and about how touch is the core sense from which the others flow. It argues we have gone too far in holding sight above those other senses, particularly in Architecture and that there is a better, deeper way to understand and shape the spaces we design.
Pallasmaa wrote the argument out as an essay and lecture, then turned it into a book first published in 1996 which quickly became a classic of Architectural Theory. Amazon has it at 130 pages long but my edition is only 80 pages! Either way it’s a short and fairly quick read provided you are familiar with the references Pallasmaa makes. If you don’t you might find it hard work to digest.
The skin is the oldest and most sensitive of our organs, and touch is the sense that became differentiated into all the other senses. The understanding of our external environment is much more co-dependant on all the senses. But vision is the sense that is increasingly dominating in Architecture. Pallasmaa sets out the case for the tactile senses in the experience and understanding of the world and in the design of buildings and cities. That the pre-conscious perceptual realm, that of peripheral vision contains the quality of architectural reality much more than a focused image. The quote below joins up these associated ideas and expresses them beautifully.
‘I confront the city with my body; my legs measure the length of the arcade and the width of the square; my gaze unconsciously projects my body onto the facade of the cathedral, where it roams over the mouldings and contours, sensing the size of recesses and projections; my body weight meets the mass of the cathedral door, and my hand grasps the door pull as I enter the dark void behind. I experience myself in the city, and the city exists through my embodied experience. The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me.’
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.
A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh. (Amazon us/uk).
Welcome to the world of the Burglar, its a different one from the world we live in. To them the buildings we live in and use as we are supposed to are full of possibilities, treasure, secret entrances, underground exits, alternative uses.
A Burglar’s Guide covers a historical spread of daring heists, the exploits of George Leonidas Leslie, The hole in the ground gang, and the Roofman1 to name a few. It looks at the art of lock picking, talks to burglars who know the fire codes so well they can read the apartments inside from looking at the fire escape stairs.
“burglars are idiot masters of the built environment, drunk Jedis of architectural space.”
― Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar’s Guide to the City
We also see the people pitted against the burglars, from the LAPD helicopter patrol pilots, the designers of saferooms, the burglar trap houses built by the British Police, and in the process we get a flavour of the ever evolving game of cat and mouse they play.
This book could neatly be placed alongside Mike Daviss’ City of Quartz, Hollow Land by Eyal Weizman, Ground Control by Anna Minton, and theorists from the Situationists onwards and its a punchy and worthy addition to this reading list.
Geoffs insight is that with Architecture comes the Burglar and also those that try to prevent burglars. This ‘misuse’ of Architecture is also another way to see design and the built environment. Its a fun snapshot of many interconnected ideas and it could be another way to explore and think of the city for all of us.
I particularly like the Roofman as he breaks into MacDonalds Restaurants using his knowledge of their layouts and procedures. As MacDonlads follows the same formulae in every place he can make the same burglary again and again! His burglaries are Simulacrae of the perfect Macdonlads burglary that would work in every MacDonalds on the planet maybe? [↩]