Saturday, January 24, 2009

Architecture and nature

Went to Toyo Ito's lecture on Tuesday. The projects he showed were beautiful, but his claim on architecture related to nature kinda bothered me... He said, architecture was too imposing before - a grid system interrupts the natural order. Architecture now should be more fluid and dynamic - closer to nature.

I am not anti close-to-nature architecture. I just think architecture can never mimic nature's order. Nature is so complex and almost mythical that human beings had to invent something called science to try to understand it. What we understand as the order of nature is constructed by scientists. Of course this understanding changes over time. The more we find out, the more complex nature "becomes." But scientist tend to summarize their findings as simple and clear formulas and principles. As a design, which by definition is some sort of manipulation, architecture also needs clarity. Architects seek after clarity to clearly clarify their intentions. That's why it's called "straightforward," not "aborescent-forward" or "rhizomatic-forward." (Yes, a curve is already intellectually challenging.) Bottom line is: buildings are man-made. They are called "constructions." They can never be nature. Nobody can deny that. So just admit it.

As in Sendai, how close to nature is a plan with a bunch of circles inside a square? The seaweed columns can never reach the complexity of natural seaweed - even Ito himself calls them "tubes." See how the street trees are made in the model. They are really supposed to represent nature, right?

The distorted grid (as in Serpentine and Tama) is another strategy for Ito to get closer to nature. But a distorted grid is still a grid. Euclid geometry and Platonic shapes are in fact man-made tools to simplify nature. (Otherwise nature is too chaotic for us to understand!)

Geometry can get complicated too. Whether bent and attached at alternating points (Taichung), or curved at intersections (Berkeley), it is still a grid. The architect still needs some control element to feel more comfortable and reasonable, and moreover, to save the client from tremendous confusion...

After all, this discussion of "order" is fundamentally formal. I think a more interesting (and potentially more meaningful) take on nature should be to see how nature works instead of how it looks. Perhaps that's why I think Ito's idea of "learning from trees" makes more sense than the other claims:
1. trees generate order in the process of growing over time;
2. trees generate order by repeating simple rules; (?)
3. trees generate order through relative relationships;
4. trees are open to the environment;
5. trees are fractal systems.
For the last point, he explained, as trees grow, they create more and more surfaces. By that they create spaces that are hard to be defined as inside or outside.


Ning said...

"To see how nature works instead of how it looks". YES! The inspiration from the Nature is endless, and that is aparently not just what it looks. And it involves so many other disciplines. But the process of learning may have to be little by little. I like Toyo Ito in a way that he is continuously contributing to this process of learning.

Anonymous said...