I am currently sitting in a retrofitted warehouse recently converted into a bar. The bones of the space are authentic and the newly installed bar is what I would classify as synthetic (added paint, synthetic material selections for longevity , ect.) I am using the term synthetic in this case as an object without history. It does beg the question, at what point does the synthetic become the authentic? I carry this question forward to experiences as well? Looking around I realize the wall mounted directional oscillating fan has roughly the same amount of accumulated dust as the roof structure holding up the standing seam metal roof. The two have morphed into a new class, one simply classified as retrofit.
This Covid-19 pandemic has created quite a few interesting circumstances for everyone. On a call with a contractor earlier today, it was stated to us the price of lumber has gone up 300% since January (less than 6 month). As you can imagine, projects we would typically construct out of wood are blowing way passed their initial estimates. With prices being so obscene, we are seeing a major turn in the construction material of choice (at least temporarily). Concrete will be dominating the market as the go-to building material of choice and I believe it will create a short term era of modern brutalist style architecture.
58,936, the number of people counted as homeless in 2019 according to the LA Times. 619 million dollars was spent on homelessness in Los Angeles County in 2019, this is the equivalent of having spent nearly $12k on every homeless person. Yet not only has there been zero improvement but there appears to have been a turn for the worse as Covid-19 rages persist. I don’t bring this figures up as a means to point out how ineffective government can be at times; I almost don’t blame them for following the guidance of the loudest activist in the room. Nor do I blame the activists; what heartless man/woman can look at a person sleeping in the street (regardless of the reason) and say to themselves “thats ok”.
However the unfortunate reality is this problem has become your fathers boat project. A never ending money pit, constantly taking up more space then should be allowed. Again I don’t bring this topic up as a means to promote capitalism, or socialism; rather I bring this topic to point out an irony. We are currently living through a period of time in Los Angeles county where the average starter home is exceeding 1/2 a million dollars; when 5 years ago the same home was hovering in the mid 350’s. The average 1 bedroom apartment is exceeding $2k a month in rent and a less desirable unit in a less desirable neighborhood hovers around $1,500. I cant help but ask myself the question “if I were homeless (I’ll define it as being without permanent residence in a fixed building; the fixed building is more relevant to my point) but still had a full time job making my full wage, and the stigma attached to homelessness weren’t so prevalent, would I be better off”.
Imagine if tomorrow I decided to take the same $12k the city spent on homelessness without much to show for it and built a tiny house on wheels, or I decided to build a homeless shelter capable of being sandwiched between freeway retaining wall and the edge of the sidewalk. Imagine I designed it in a postmodern fashion with a sprinkle of mid century modern. What would the dialogue be like from the public? Imagine parking the thing next to a home where the tiny house on wheels outshined the homes in the neighborhood.
I imagine the following. On one hand people would be in awe, and astounded by the ingenuity of such a precious gem. In the same hand I would have a viable business model, build tiny homes on wheels and sell them for a profit. On the other hand I would be pointing out how ridiculous it is the City is not only incapable of producing a solution as simple as this but would thus reject the idea in its entirety. They would find every excuse to terminate the idea from the public sphere. On another hand, I would be pointing out how ridiculous the idea of spending so much money on housing in Los Angeles actually is. On another hand, I would be doing the equivalent of showing up to a soup kitchen in a Ferrari and then sitting down next to a frequent customer in a 2019 Hugo Boss suit and chowing down on my take Sashimi from down the street.
Within the realm of self interest, there hasn’t been an idea more oppressive to architects, yet more beneficial to the field, than the SuperEgo. Yet it is hard, if not impossible, to separate the most famous of architects from the pursuit of perfection; to attempt to satisfy the ego not from the confirmation of colleagues, or clients, or the community, but rather the self. How do many of us find ourselves in the conundrum? We cried out the unfairness during our university years at the known difficulty of the profession relative to future financial earning compared to our fellow classmates in different educational departments. Yet our egos used the challenge as a tool to further drive us deeper into a rabbit hole few were brave / cowardly enough to escape.
It drives us to work hundred of hours more per year than we should, at no additional pay. It drives us to work dusk till dawn, and sometimes dawn to dawn in the pursuit of satisfying a craving we are incapable of satisfying. It drives us to constantly think of our work regardless of the situation we find ourselves in.
We know from practice, a project is never complete but rather the pen was physically removed from our caffeine enriched grasp. Therefore I ask, what do we gain out of such a strange split in our personality? Is there a benefit in striving to achieve an impossible to achieve feat? I doubt it, but even knowing so, there may be little if any point to the effort, is the point itself.
What gives a location a sense of place?
Is it the coordinates at which the place is located? Is it the views one can witness in this particular location? Is it the history/memories created on location? Does it need to be unique? Does it need to be something grander? Is it due to the structure currently or previously residing in the location?
We designers often struggle to come to terms with whether or not a building needs to be influenced by the surrounding environment as failing to do so can periodically create the spaceship effect. However if taken to the other end of the pendulum, we can find ourselves in a situation where a new building lacks character, it fails to contribute to the conversation buildings have with the environment they sit in and the world in which it resides.
If you have ever visited Paris you have the tendency to feel like you are trapped in a snow globe. The new simply does not exist as it has fallen victim to maintaining the old however the sense of place is impeccable. Is there room for architects to contribute to its sense of place, or have we simply been displaced from such regions in the world?
Burning man; a massive annually held week long music festival is known as place but has been relocated several time throughout history, and is short lived. A few months prior to the festival, and a few weeks after the festival, the land on which the event is held is nothing more than a scathing patch of dirt located in a sea of sand.
We as architects should not attempt to answer the question(s) but rather use it as a guide; a broken compass. To design not what something should be but rather hold a mirror to those that interact with the project and ask “will I remember this place?”.
The typical strategy for designing a home in Los Angeles starts by asking the following questions: what is the width and length of the lot, what types of homes sit in the neighborhood, what are the setbacks, where is the road, how many bedrooms and bathrooms do you wish to incorporate into the property. What if we could approached Los Angeles architecture from the inside and work our way out?
Let’s instead start by identifying the most important room in the home. Let’s say the room in question happens to be the bedroom but beyond the bedroom the entire experience of moving through the home begins with waking up from bed. We start by laying out the size of the bed we would like to place in the room. The rest of the home is designed around the functional transition between getting up and leaving for work. How much space is there on either side of the bed? How high are the windows relative to the night stand? Where is the restroom? How large of a closet do you need rather than want? Where is it relative to the restroom?
In this scenario, the setbacks don’t matter; rather they are simply a not placed on the plans to prove you are complying with the city’s requirements. In this scenario, the outside face as seen by the neighbors is secondary. How you enter the home is disregarded. What kind of home do you create?
I often ponder how much of what we do as architects is a direct result of liberated creativity vs attempted statements or rather a dialogue comparative to either the environment the structure we are planning to erect is inhabiting or the global conversation of buildings.
Let’s take a second to imagine a world where you had the means to buy a thousand acres of land, you also had the means to build any house of your choosing, and you had the means to design the landscape how ever you saw best fit for your ideal dwelling. The only catch to all of this is nobody else would ever have the ability to see it, feel it, know of it, see photos of it, and know it would never have an impact of Architecture as we know it. What would it look like?
Would the building follow the terrain? Would the environment matter more than the dwelling? Would it be a reaction of the future inhabitants personality? Again I will point out, nobody will ever know it ever exist or existed. To you the reader and to I the creator I must ask, what is it that really matters?
At it’s absolute core, in this scenario I would argue the function supercedes all. If we do not know what the buildings primary use will be, no building could ever be designed. Therefore all aesthetics become secondary; form, style, and color.
Of all of cultures scattered throughout South East Asia, Singapore was undoubtedly the cleanest of them all. The clean culture translated directly into many prominent environmental and architectural features. They adopted many Korean and Japanese features as their own. Crisp clean lines, perfectly intercepted joints, and smooth material transitions.
This is undoubtedly the result of a culture dominated by business relationships, where chaos is subsided and order dominates. Unfortunately it’s greatest strength falls as a victim to its greatest weakness. One finds themselves feeling sterile as they navigate an environment as though they were navigating the labrynth halls of a high end hospital. The city struggles to find an identity unique to itself beyond the extravagant. A struggle to break free from the synthetic is in itself Singapore’s identity.