Mies van der Rohe on Form, on Technology and Architecture

“I do not oppose form, but only form as a goal”

Up until this semester, every project I’ve done has been this, bringing together unrelated forms and design elements into a building while only being concerned about how well they fit together. Mies claims that only a living inside has a living outside. He’s not¬†referring to the interior of the building, but the internal idea that bonds all the elements of the building together. A good design must start with life, an idea or concept that relates the conglomerate of materials to our experiences.

Mies believes architecture has nothing to do with forms, but experiences. When technology reaches its fulfillment, it becomes architecture. We have seen how our new technologies are influencing the design process. BIM makes it easier than ever for architects, engineers, and contractors to collaborate. New machines allow us to manufacture materials and systems that can be tailor made for each project. We see how our new technologies affect the construction process and the infrastructure, but how is it changing the way we  experience our surroundings?

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Futurist Manifesto

I found this reading very interesting. The goal of Futurism was to create a set of aesthetic values that were in line with their modern ideal of beauty, much like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and LeCorbusier. The Futurists arrived at many of the same ideals and a desire to move past tradition and establish an architecture descriptive of their time, but to the extreme. They saw architecture as simply practical, anything non-essential was heresy, including historical monuments. This I must disagree with. Though our past cannot tell us who we are today, it can reveal who we were and how we arrived. There is much we can learn from the past, for better and worse, but at the same time, we need to realize how our culture and society, our understanding of the universe, has changed and our art should reflect that.

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The Art and Craft of the Machine

I find the correlations between architects of the early 20th century and those of today very compelling. The inventions of the automobile, the locomotive, steel construction, large-scale printing presses, the assembly line, etc were changing the landscape of the World, much like the internet, information technology, and social networking are doing today. I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s description of the transition from architecture to Gutenberg’s printing press as the main mode of human expression:

“It is human thought stripping off one form and donning another. Printed, thought is more imperishable than ever – it is volatile, indestructible. As architecture it was solid; it is now alive; it passes from duration in point of time to immortality.”

Could we not say the same for the transition from printed thought to the internet? He goes on to defend the machine as the great emancipator of human expression, freeing mankind from arduous labor and allowing more expendable time for reflection. Sadly, most of us don’t take advantage of this.

Later in the paper, Wright describes an Arts & Craft Society. Artists working with manufacturers and fabricators to learn the operation and capabilities of the new machines. He talked about the need to collaborate with public workers with interest in the arts. All these would need to come together under a common ground of ignorance and a desire to be instructed while freely talking with and reaching out to those with the special experience required. I thought this description pretty accurately described our studio, at least the ignorance and desire to be instructed anyway.

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Tools of the Imagination

The first half of this paper called The Invisible History of Erasing gave some really interesting insights into how technology has changed the design process. The ability to remove a mistake on paper lead to moving lines around on a computer screen and eventually to deleting/saving and recovering entire virtual buildings.

The second half, Retooling the Architecture Machine, was about how new technology is influencing architecture and the construction process. The ability to directly share large amounts of information over incredible distances has radically altered the design process. As we saw in our last project, we can relatively easily share concepts, images, technical data, etc with partners in New York or Chicago. Granted, its no substitute for live interaction, but it opens us to an entire world of knowledge and technical skills that these professionals have that we otherwise would not have access to.

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