Saturday, April 4, 2009

LaDallman Lecture

The lecture given Friday by La Dallman was entitled 'Sedimentation, Strata, and Other Stuff', although I would argue that simply 'Other Stuff' would be sufficient to describe what was presented. I left the lecture surprised and confused by their work for a number of reasons. Let me attempt to frame my thoughts and analyze them in the context of emerging contemporary design.

On material and craft:
Grace described a situation in which panel ties for the cladding system were not placed in the concrete wall with sufficient accuracy. These ties are the crucial link between the heavy CORTEN sheets and the structural walls of the house. Their imprecise placement seems to be not the result of negligence of the construction worker who placed them, but rather an unavoidable byproduct of manual process in which they are placed. Rather than embracing this emergent behavior, it was deemed a mistake. A system of lasers was quickly employed to 'correct' any of these mistakes made in construction. This presents an particularly interesting and troubling scenario to the contemporary designer in which mass customization is used in the pursuit of achieving sameness. In this light, we as designers appear to be apologizing for the lack of precision that is inherent in hand craft and materials. There seems to be two roads to go down from which we must choose. The first has already been described. This is life of abusing the technological power that is now available to us in the name of form. The second requires the designer to listen and observe what is physically happening and extract the best qualities. If we embrace this way of thinking, we do not dogmatically have to accept all of these potential 'failures', but it does offer us a flood of new opportunities. In this case, it seems as though La Dallman missed one.

On meaning and metaphors:
In the Levy House: Peeling the finishes off at particular moments in the interior to reveal the structure somehow connects the occupant to nature. The idea of floor plates stacked on top of one another somehow being reminiscent of the ground plane. A structure that sits as an object in the landscape, but through its form is connected as well, maybe?

Why? Why? Why?

What does any of this have to do with anything? La Dallman describes their projects in a metaphor-rich fashion, but fail to ever take a stance on what they believe. Is a metaphor able to hold meaning in and of itself in the first place? In a formalist tradition it seems as if the building is put in place first, and meaning is applied like a band-aid at some point in the future. There was little to no mention of any of the spaces entrained within any of the firm's projects, which was disappointing. I wanted to know the feeling they were trying to achieve with the marsupial bridge as it wound its way through the ancient ironwork underneath Holton Street, and what about the Levy House that they thought made it so great [other than its shiny finishes, vast swaths of glass, and overhanging floor plates of course...]

I was equally disappointed in the meaning behind the use of materials, although maybe not so much in the arrangement of the materials themselves. In saying that, what I mean is that I think the form and shape of the house are ok aesthetically. They are perhaps a little conventional and boring, but that.s not the point of my analysis [im striving for a not so subjectivist approach to this all]. I was hoping that the title of the lecture implied some sort of research that had a direct effect on the way that firm thought about materials. Perhaps the study of strata would reveal unique and interesting ways in which different materials engage one another. Or how the immense forces inside of the earth push and pull on sedimentation creating beautiful patterns. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case. Rather, a fairly conventional house was constructed on site, and there is nothing wrong with that. I do think its absolutely ridiculous to design a house in that manner and label it a fabricated landscape. Not allowed. I couldn.t help but feel like I was sitting through a sophomore review as I was, piece by piece, walked around the house. The house is just that, a collection of pieces that seem to lack any greater meaning now that they are in place sitting on site.

Let me just say that I am not cutting down any of the work that La Dallman has done. Rather I think we are better off for it. They are pursuing innovative production methods, and seem to take on the types of projects that other firms would scoff at. Its empowering for us as contemporary designers in Milwaukee to be able to not only analyze but also improve upon the quality of architecture in our fair town and beyond.


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