Reuse, Refuse, Recycle : Architecture Edition

In a way architecture can be seen as garbage. Some things go fast to the bin never to be considered again, others we don’t want to trash, but can’t utilize further either, so they remain unused until ultimately taking the leap to the litter. And then there are those which thankfully get reused or recycled.

Recycling materials is not a simple and straightforward process – it is technically complicated and involves modern facilities, expertise and even then it is not an entirely productive process. On the other hand, in order for an object or resource to be reused it takes a lot of ingenuity, creativity and knowledge to realize such product.

It is not easy, but we have to do it, for our planet.
Same is valid also for architecture. But this time it is our culture that’s at stake.

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Humans and Space

Since the middle ages the human perception of space has changed as dramatically as merely everything else. Improved transportation and technology have been widening the horizon of mankind since the invention of the wheel in faster and faster paces. Today the digital domain causes a rapid shift in that perception and takes a progressing larger role in our lives. More and more often people describe themselves as cosmopolitan or global citizens and seem not to be bound by geographic locations. So is the connection of humans to their places expiring?

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Humans and Time

“[…] for the clock is not merely a means of keeping track of the hours, but of synchronizing the actions of men.”

We are equipped with many senses in order to interact with our environment and survive and adapt to even severe conditions. We can measure temperature with our skin, luminosity with our eyes and sound with our ears. Time however is something a human cannot detect or measure purely with his body, despite his life being ultimately dependant on it. Through the ages we have come up with various methods and mechanisms to rationalize and measure time. In his infamous book “Technics and Civilization” Lewis Mumford argues that it was the invention and utilization of the Clock that started the first technological revolution. The conceptual separation of a day into abstract bits that therefore separate another abstract entity – work, into sizable units, allowed for rationalization of days and enabled processes such as planning or measuring efficiency. This kicked off a series of decisive inventions and progress was accelerated.

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Grief in Architecture

There is  little doubt that buildings of cultural and historical significance need to be restored and protected for the future generations, both as monuments and documents of the past. History however is not always a tale of successes, glorious discoveries, pride and celebration. Every country has a piece of its past that is hurtful, shameful or regretful and also the architecture to bear those memories.

When dealing with that reoccurring struggle in architecture, communities, government and architects search for local solutions despite the global aspect of the problematic. Is it possible to create a framework and strategy for overcoming that sensitive issue or is the historical and cultural background too important with its nuances to allow for a ubiquitous solution?

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The History of a City is Written in its Slums

Currently around 1 billion people worldwide live in slums. Between the years 2000 and 2010 the number of slum dwellers has increased by six million every year. The prognosis is that this growth will pinnacle around 2050 when over 7 billion people will live in slums, which makes every third person on Earth.

Slums seem to be our future so it might be worth it to take a closer look at the characteristics of these fascinating urban dwellings. In this article I argue that by examining their social and spatial structures, one can read a history of a city, with its past, present and future, hiding in its slums.

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On the Evolution of Ideas

How does an idea go through a tool to become a project

Thinking is the most complex cognitive mental process, which consists of reflecting essential properties, features and regularities from reality. Through this process we can create models of the world and represent it according to certain objectives, intentions and desires. The main forms of thinking are observation, analysis and synthesis (rational discourse).

In those three forms certain knowledge also goes through different kinds of consciousness or media and with every step it is abstracted and therefore gains a different kind of meaning.

In the paper Entering a Risky Territory: Space in the Age of Digital Navigation Bruno Latour1 analyses the evolution of mapping and it’s radical transformation since the digital age. The reason for depiction, the means of gathering data and their representation has developed over time  parallel to our society. Typically, following a scientific discovery, the newly aquired knowledge shifts the general understanding of our place in the world and artists are fast to grasp those new notions and interpret them subjectively. Later that change further reflects also on our everyday life. So if in his work Bruno Latour is focusing on the shift of pre-digital and post-digital age and the different notions it gives, the text The New Plasticity by Sanford Kwinter2 from 1986 follows much deeper the transition of knowledge from one area to another. The process starts with the publishing of the relativity theory and the revolution it caused in terms of new understanding of time and space followed by the interpretation in the arts, described by the paintings of Boccioni and the Futurists, and ends in architecture with the project for La Citta Nuova by Antonio Sant’ Elia and his visions. In both texts, as well as in many other interpretations, it is easy to follow the tendency of knowledge to morph its concept as it transitions through different medium. As Marchall McLuhan  famously concluded – The media is the message. However, this conclusion leads to the question – now that we are equipped with such powerful tools, tools which are creating themselves just as actively as we are, how does that change our designs and understanding of our environment?

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Ghost in the Smart Home

The new movie by Rupert Sanders, based on the hugely popular anime Ghost in the Shell by Musamune Shirow opens with a haunting preface. It is set in 2029 and observes as the boundary between human and machine becomes more and more blurred. In the time it has become customary for people to choose to “enhance” themselves by replacing a limb or an internal organ with a synthetic one, therefore also one with many new high-tech features. In that context, one private company works on blurring that boundary even further by creating the first “synthetic full-body prosthesis augmented-cybernetic human” – Major Mira Killian. She has an entirely robotic body except for her human brain. Therefore the story argues that by keeping the brain the soul, or the ghost, remains unaltered independent from the body, or the shell.

Now the obvious question this setup poses is where the boundary between human and machine really stands – how far can one go on altering and enhancing  before one turns to a cyborg? All that further leads to the discussion what is it that defines a human at all.

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Cities and Memory

One of the most peculiar and mysterious features of a city has to be the way it collects, stores and shares its memories. Memories of big and small events, moments of  personal drama or of national upheaval, someones and everyone’s stories seem to intertwine in the curious fabric we call a city’s identity.

A city’s memory can be its greatest charm. Walls soaked up in love and romance smell of perfume and lure lovers century after century. Memory of power empowers and memory of courage inspires. Other times this memory might be the one poison slowly draining the life out of a city until it remains all but a memory itself. Some city’s strong and glorious past prevent them jealously from having a future while others, heavy under the weight of their history seek for a different tomorrow of forgetfulness and hope, thus risking their identity and purpose. And then there is the third type – the cities with artificially induced memory. Those cities which were built to represent something they are not. They stay frozen in time as in a never ending coma and leave their visitors with a sense of unease and confusion – for even a beautiful lie remains a lie and it is very difficult to built a future upon an unsteady ground.

Studying cities I am studying the ways a past can define a present or how it can forbid it. How something so temporary as a feeling can become something as eternal as a city and how it is the small stories that contribute to the big history of us.

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Lessons from the Past of the Future

“Who can still believe the opacity of bodies, since our sharpened and multiplied sensitivity has already penetrated the obscure manifestations of the medium?”¹

Nowadays it is common to talk about the revolution that technology caused in our lives and its profound influence in every field. Of course we mean mostly the digital technology and the revolution that happened in the last decade – the unique circumstances and consequences that surround it. However this is by far not the only technological revolution that our civilisation has seen and neither are its consequences unique.

When in the beginning of the 20th century railway and motor cars entered our lives for good, the entire perception of space, time and mainly speed changed. Science explained it, but it was artists who first expressed the altering sensitivity and worldview that was soon to infect us all.

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