Category Archives: Introductory Notes

Why blog

I’ve done quite a lot of blogging over the years, both personally and professionally, but this is the first time that I’ve kept an architecture blog with a specific focus. It has been my intention that this would be an interesting and appropriate, I am researching architecture and the digital context after all, way to document progress on my thesis project. What I didn’t expect was to learn more about architecture through keeping a blog. This is what I have learnt so far:

Establishing links between things

The nature of a blog, where linking between content places new writing, and hence work, in the context of previous writing, has helped me understand the direction of my research so far. This in turn has helped me establish new lines of thought. Writing about my work has sharpened understand of what I have produced so far and what I still need to do.

Diversifying sources

Traditionally I enjoy reading books as the core focus of my research. I gather that it is something of a joke in the architecture department that I spend too much time both reading and writing, and not nearly enough time drawing. Blogging hasn’t made me draw more, but it has diversified my research sources to include web articles and videos. As for spending too much time writing… *

Greater focus and thought

Believe it or not how I think about the work that I’m producing has changed. This blog is something of a narrative of what I’ve done. In thinking and writing about it as such, I now consider how new work that I’m producing fits in and develops this narrative. I also consider more carefully what the value in each drawing is – it is impossible to write about a drawing without fully understanding what it is about and why it is interesting. Writing has given focus to my thinking.

Considering different things

It is impossible to write anything meaningful about architecture, urbanism, or the impact of the digital context without taking a critical standpoint. Where I may previously have glossed over ideas that do not have an immediately obvious link to my research, I now make an effort to write about them. In doing so I’m learning new things that I may never have considered previously.

The extent to which blogging has influenced my work is probably epitomised in my recent architecture presentation where the addition of graphics of Edinburgh came directly from a post included on this blog. The selection and layout of drawings, and structure of verbal narrative, were both also directly influenced by what is written here.

*What can I say? I really do enjoy writing.

A note on referencing

A number of posts are referenced specifically, many are not.

As a brief explanation – where there are key references that have influenced the direction of the research, studies, and analysis these have been noted. Where the work presented is more speculative, explorative, or an extension of existing research the research basis is noted where appropriate (or a link is provided to another blog post).

Towards block urbanism

The research presented throughout this project largely sits, architecturally, within Rationalist thinking. Unlike Laugier’s speculations on the origins of architecture where he presented the image of the Primitive Hut (1755), perhaps the origins of the Rationalist ‘doctrine’, this is not a great manifesto against the spectacle of ornamented architecture – or perhaps the equivalent today would be the work of architects such as Gehry and Hadid. Rather it is an exploration of the ‘in-between’ realm, seeking a general order for the city at what is ‘the scale of the local organization of urban tissues’ (Panerai, et. al, 2004).

Aristotle in The Nicomachean Ethics wrote that, ‘it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just as far as the nature of the subject admits’ (translated by Ross, 2009). This philosophy is not dissimilar to that or the Rationalist agenda. Viollet-le-Duc, with his Rationalist slant, believed his architecture (Gothic) to be the pinnacle of both structural efficiency, as dictated by Greek antiquity, and functional organisation, as dictated by Roman antiquity (Viollet-Le-Duc and Hearn, 1990). While the Gothic expression of his architecture is not what we would view as the pinnacle of structure and function, his belief in the pursuit of these principles in the generation of buildings remains highly relevant, for economic reasons if not philosophical.

It is these principles of structural and functional efficiency, with a view towards the longevity of the city, that I am fundamentally interested in. The urban block will be structurally efficient, have the potential to be passively ventilated with natural daylight penetration, at a variety of densities to meet varying contexts, and have a functional flexibility that can accommodate the state of flux that is characteristic of the urban realm. Bonta (1979) writes that, ‘buildings can be described only from the view of certain interpretations, which entail value judgements and refer to classes’. Where the functional and structural design of an urban block can perhaps be approached with the precision advocated by Aristotle, the expression of the urban block is less straightforward. As such, this portion of the design process may be given over to respond to individual contexts or urban design codes. This in turn contributes further to the longevity of the urban block; Koolhas (1994) commenting on his drawing, The City of the Captive Globe, writes that this city is eternal because, ‘structures can devote their exteriors only to formalism and their interiors only to functionalism’.

The presentation of my research is both influenced by, and a development of A Pattern Language (1977) where Alexander suggested a ‘toolkit’ for the creation of places and buildings. In turn I hope to present a ‘toolkit’ for the creation of urban blocks, at a number of different scales, that has been created based on Rationalist principles. Unlike A Pattern Language which is a rather large book, it is my intention to put this online – something of a shopping cart for ultra-efficient and ultra-flexible urban blocks.

References

Alexander, C.  A Pattern Language, Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York, Oxford University Press, 1977.

Aristotle., and Ross. D. The Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Bonta, J. P. Architecture and its Interpretation: A Study of Expressive Symbols in Architecture. London, Lund Humphries Publishers, 1979.

Koolhaas, R. Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. Rotterdam, 010 Publishers, 1994.

Panerai, P., Castex, J., Depaule, J., and Samuels, I. Urban forms. Oxford, Architectural Press, 2004.

Viollet-Le-Duc, E. E. and Hearn, M. F. The Architectural Theory of Viollet-le-Duc: Readings and Commentary. Cambridge, Massachusetts, M.I.T Press, 1990.

A brief introduction

Block Urbanism is my Masters thesis project exploring ideas around urbanism, the digital context for architecture, and the urban block. I am interested in the role of architecture within the context of a digitally connected world. What impact does digital infrastructure have on the growth and resilience of cities? Within this shifting infrastructure, how can architecture make a meaningful response? How can technology be used in new ways to shape the future of architecture? More about the direction of my research is available in my research overview.

The anticipated outputs from my research will consist of:

  • A written thesis
  • A website: www.blockurbanism.com
  • This blog, as a log of the research that underpins the website
  • A design presentation, as a demonstration of the potential use of the website

This research is part of an architecture unit at the University of Dundee titled Architecture and the City. For more information, read the research context and look at our unit output for the Guildry Geddes New Architecture Exhibition.

My Background

Previous architecture research projects include: an analysis of Robert Venturi’s Sainsbury Wing in London, writings on the Scottish Enlightenment architect William Playfair, and studies of symbolism and typology in Islamic architecture.

Architecture design projects include: feasibility studies for a new enterprise and employability centre in Dundee (client: University of Dundee) and work on a new centre for entrepreneurship in Aberdeen (client: Enterprise North East Trust).

Please get in touch with any questions or comments about the work.

About

Block Urbanism is an architecture Masters thesis project by Andrew Ng exploring ideas around urbanism, the digital context for architecture, and the urban block.

Find out more about the context and research involved in the project.

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