Monday, December 12, 2011

Architecture trilogy

I've been saying this for more than a year now. For me, an architect is basically doing three things: study the program closely, come up with an interesting shape, and then put on a nice skin. Along the way, cultural/historic/site context, structure, and material would come into play to either inform or strengthen the decisions on those three main elements. Innovation in any one of the three is enough to make the project shine. If you got all three? It's a classic!

Recently, Jim mentioned the three reminders to architects by Le Corbusier: mass, surface, and plan. I started to feel that the two trilogies were surprisingly analogous. Perhaps I was influenced by Corb unconsciously. But at least the three reminders gave me a chance to reconsider and set my thoughts in context.

Corb said, "The plan is the generator." My understanding is that by plan he actually meant use. "Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and for the city." Even if we say modernity is history, the contemporary condition still demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of architecture and urbanism. "Collective necessities" create new program, and thus generate new types and new forms.

Corb advocated for simple forms - carefully calculated and engineered. Our time is full of weird forms. No matter how weird they are, the more successful ones are still the ones that make sense. Shape shouldn't be arbitrary. It is a tool of communication, a concrete expression of an abstract idea. Ultimately, "our eyes are constructed to enable us to see forms in light," and our brain wants to understand what we see.

"A mass is enveloped in its surface." Corb made simple forms, and at the same time he cared a lot about geometrical constituents on the facade, such as the directing and generating lines. He linked the surface to pragmatic aspects such as engineering and construction. Certainly, skin is not just about aesthetics. Our skin performs: it protects, senses, regulates heat and evaporation, and it breathes. The same should happen with the building envelope.

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