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.
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.