Sunday, March 29, 2009

Studying Human Habitation

In her response to Ted’s recent post, Jessie says: “This is perhaps why I have such a problem with the "simplicity" of this next project 4: You can never separate yourself from experience or from the outside city world while considering an active and passive life. Nothing is so simple that it can be expressed without reaction to other things, or be isolated from psychology or personal history.”

Regarding narrowness of the exercise: Many folks are probably feeling the same way. It is a very narrow exercise, isn’t it? (Well, not really. I hope you will discover ultimately that it is not narrow at all.) What does narrowness imply in a studio exercise? It could indicate a desire in a teacher to restrict creativity and experimentation. Well, I certainly don’t want to do that. Narrowness can also arise from a desire in a teacher to help students see something they normally take for granted. In this case “narrowness” is a preconception, one that the teacher hopes to help students overcome. Consider for example Project 1. The material study often seems very narrow to students at first – an extremely constrained exercise. But once students engage the exploration, they realize that the role of materiality in architecture is far broader and deeper and filled with vastly more creative potential than they had previously assumed. A new realm of creativity is opened, and what seemed narrow reveals its vastness.

Regarding the city: Is it true that we pursue the active life or the contemplative life only when out-and-about in town? Why would such pursuit be limited only to an urban context? Why can’t a person engage in active doing or in focused contemplating while inside one’s own abode or workplace? If this fundamental aspect of life (doing or contemplating) is limited to the outside of architecture, then what is left to the inside? It seems that the inside would be in danger of becoming irrelevant. I hope for the sake of everyone that inhabits architecture that the inside – the stage for the vast majority of human activity – has the capacity to influence the active life and the contemplative life. We sure need it to.

Regarding context: It is true that in order to act, we must act in a context, which I think is part of what Jessie is trying to say. The outside world (i.e., the city) provides part of this context, but not all of it. A person’s psychology and personal history also provides part of this context, but not all of it. Project 4 asks you to consider part of the context that is normally overlooked, neglected by designers as too narrow, too mundane. The context of Project 4 is a person’s interaction with the material framework of architecture – its walls, doors, windows, floors and ceilings. But more precisely: the question is how this material framework filters and constructs a person’s interaction with his own work (Scenario A), other people (Scenario B) or the natural surroundings (Scenario C). Each of these is in fact a crucial part of the context of human habitation.

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