MARK CRUVELLIER: My name is Mark Cruvellier. I'm the chair of the department of architecture here at Cornell. And it's my distinct pleasure to welcome you to the second annual Hans and Roger Strauch Symposium on Sustainable Design, this year titled Sustaining Sustainability, Alternative Approaches in Urban Ecology and Architecture. And for those of you who are used to my intros and my preference for short intros, this may be a bit of an exception. So forgive me.
Before we go any further, I want to take a few moments to thank Hans Strauch, who is a graduate from our BArch program, and his brother Roger Strauch, who a graduate from the engineering program a few years ago, who generously have provided a gift a couple of years ago to the department of architecture in support of both instruction and discussions about sustainable design. The Strauch's gift allows us to hire a visiting critic each year whose work is focused on the role of sustainability in the built environment. And in addition, the gift also funds this series of annual symposia dedicated to the topic and which is open to the entire Cornell and Ithaca community, as well as others who have come from further afield. Once again, we wish to thank both Roger and Hans Strauch for their generosity and support. And Hans is actually here with us this evening after driving in from Boston during the day. And Hans, I'd like to recognize you and say thanks once again.
Now a few words about the symposium, first, regarding the title. Today, using the S word of sustainability has become so commonplace that its use in an event title doesn't necessarily guarantee attracting any attention. And/or it seems to signal that the event is either about the typical topics of green roofs, as we have above us here in Milstein Hall, which is reproduced on the poster-- this is actually the green roof on top of Milstein Hall. Or else it's about LEED criteria. Or perhaps it's about technology-driven solar panels and building claddings and their associated energy modeling and analyses. Not that any of that is off the mark or unimportant.
But to some extent, such sustainability topics have become part of the mainstream and perhaps even come to be considered as just another aspect of building design that one must check off to be successful or else hire a consultant to take care of it. And our ambition here today and tomorrow is perhaps to begin to reinvigorate the discussion and considerations associated with the S word by changing some of the terms of reference.
So to do so, the first thing we did was to double the S word in the symposium title, Sustaining Sustainability, thinking that either seeing it twice would draw much more attention, or that by doubling its use, we would turn it into a form of double negative that cancels itself out and thereby leaves the focus where perhaps it should be, on the subtitle-- Alternative Approaches in Urban Ecology and Architecture. Or it could also just as easily have been titled Alternative Voices in Urban Ecology and Architecture, or perhaps Alternative Approaches to Architectural Design and Sustainability. The consistent and operative adjective in any of these titles being the word "alternative."
You can perhaps see from the list of speakers and their brief bios that are contained in the programs that perhaps you picked up on your way in that we have invited people here from a range of different places, not just geographically-- and yes indeed, we do have participants in this symposium here from the UK, from Norway, from Sweden, Germany, Spain, as well as North Carolina and Seattle, and yes, even Ithaca-- but also from different disciplines, certainly architects, but also from departments of biology, engineering, and even wildlife science. We have people here who, quote unquote, "dabble" in such things as locomotor biomechanics of animals, digital fabrication and energy harvesting systems, raptor and crow population management in urban environments, fundamental studies about biodiversity, experiments with urban farming and living, algorithmic computing and systems analysis, cultural sustainability, and yes, as a footnote, building designs and architectural experiments as well. Each on its own is perhaps a separate, and can even be considered a discordant voice. But we hope that when considered together, these various voices will help to propel both the academic sustainability discussion as well as the practice of building design into the future.
Certainly, one way in which these different voices can be seen to come together is in the notion that until now, one has been used to talking about the impact of the built environment on the natural one and trying to minimize that impact. But it can be argued that we have now reached a point where ecosystems can be fully described that are coincident with the building environment or with the built environment, and that it is not just the human species that inhabits such natural/artificial ecosystems, but that many other species of animals and organisms do as well. And so we must come to the perhaps inevitable conclusion that architecture needs to begin to address this reality as we go forward and not just navel gaze at the human condition, even if only selfishly for our own good.
But this symposium is not just about looking into the future. I think you will find that another common thread that you see running through this event is that if we look into the past, we can also find and relearn many embedded lessons for living and designing buildings more responsibly and sustainably than we have come to get used to.
That's a short preamble to the symposium, which, as you can see on the slide above, will take place in this auditorium both this evening, as well as all day tomorrow beginning at 9:00 AM and closing with a discussion and a reception at the end of the afternoon tomorrow. And I hope you will be able to join us for as much of this event as you possibly can.
And all this finally gets me to introducing tonight's speaker, Michael Hensel. And my apologies to him if my somewhat lengthy setting of the stage for this symposium shortchanges his introduction.
First, I would like to note that Michael is not only the keynote speaker for this symposium, but that he has also been my co-conspirator in pulling this event together, from helping to formulate the symposium theme to selecting speakers to invite. Many thanks, Michael, for that. And I should note that this is yet one in a getting longer and longer series of collaborations between Cornell architecture and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design in the series, which I know is going to continue.
I'm only going to briefly list some of Michael's many accomplishments. Since 2008, Michael Hensel is a professor at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, where he also directs the Research Center for Architecture and Tectonics. Previously, beginning in 1993 and until 2009, Michael taught at the AA in London, where he developed and co-directed the well-known and highly regarded Emergent Technologies and Design master's degree program, of which we have at least a few graduates here today. Over the years, he has also taught at various other places such as Sydney, Rotterdam, Innsbruck, and at Rice University in the US.
Michael is a founding member of OCEAN, capital O-C-E-A-N, an international and interdisciplinary collaborative network that investigates a multitude of themes related to the human environment. He is also the founding chairman of SEA Capital, SEA, short for Sustainable Environment Association, which leads me to wonder what will be the body of water acronym for his next joint and interdisciplinary gathering of experts. LAKE, perhaps, or LAGOON, or FJORD, maybe more appropriately, or perhaps, SWAMP or--
Michael's research interests are incredibly broad. And they include developing-- this is a bit of a mouthful, so I'll try and go slowly. I'm reading directly from his CV just to get it straight-- developing an inclusive and integrated theoretical and methodological framework for Performance-oriented architecture-- performance with a capital P-- towards a non-discrete and non-anthropocentric architecture, also to rethinking the history of architecture with an emphasis on building performance, also to understanding buildings as entities with embedded knowledge, as well as to studying the impact of such research findings on architectural practice. And that's only beginning to hit the tip of the iceberg with Michael. I'm leaving out an incredible amount of stuff. His CV is incredibly thick and dense and small font.
I'm only going to mention a few recent titles of books and journals that he has authored or coauthored or edited or coedited, some of which are still in progress, some of which are published, some of which are being translated. So just to give you a sense of some of his work, some titles are things like Grounds and Envelopes, Reshaping Architecture and the Built Environment, or we have the Handbook of Sustainable Traditional Buildings, or an AD Primer on Performance-Oriented Design, or perhaps Emerging Technologies and Design, a Biological Paradigm for Architecture, which is out in English and is being translated into Chinese, I believe, coming out this year. Form Follows Performance, and I'll just give you one more, Versatility and Vicissitude, Performance in Morphoecological Design. And those are only somewhat a short list of the ones that are even somewhat relevant to the topic at hand for us in these next couple of days. One could go on and on and on, and we could be here for hours if I went through it all.
Michael's coauthored and authored many, many articles. He has lectured very widely. In fact, his CV indicates that he has lectured in 22 countries, and several times in many of them, but never at Cornell.
And so I would like to ask you to help me in welcoming our remarkably accomplished guest speaker this evening to help kick off this symposium on sustainability, that S word that I mentioned to begin with, Michael Hensel.
MICHAEL HENSEL: --introduction, Mark. I have to admit this part of an event where one is introduced tends to be the most embarrassing one. So then it gears one up to try and deliver hopefully well. Before I start, I also would like to take the opportunity to thank Hans and Roger Strauch for facilitating this event. This event is equally dear to me as it is to Mark, because it facilitates us with the possibility to try and let a variety of research interests gel and to do that in a forward-looking, projective manner that will hopefully contribute to our understanding of sustainability.
So I think two questions need to be asked, one of which Mark has already to some extent elaborated. Why Sustaining Sustainability? I don't know about the United States, but certainly in Europe, there is a phenomenon that you might call sustainability fatigue. People just simply shut their ears when you bring this term. And somehow, it is now thought widely that this is the term that you need to paste into your research grant application, but that's about as far as it goes.
Personally, I believe-- and I think I share this belief with Mark and probably all of the speakers who have traveled wide and far to be here-- that we cannot really afford sustainability fatigue. So we have to do something about it. We need to sustain the interest in sustainability. We need to make it interesting to us again, but in such a way that it is most relevant to the wider context of how we transform the environment, in particular through building activities and architecture.
Why the relationship between architecture and ecology? In order to pursue this just for one minute, I would like to bring up a little quote here by Fritjof Capra, who makes a comment on the deep ecology philosophy by the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess. And one of the crucial things he says is that "shallow ecology is anthropocentric. In turn, this will mean if you want to pursue a notion of deep ecology, it would have to be non-anthropocentric. What exactly this means is entirely unclear, at least for architects and those concerned with the making of the built environment. He also says something very interesting there in which he says that "we cannot look at the world as a series of disconnected objects," something we tend to do very much in architecture, "but rather understand things through their interconnectedness."
And if we strip Arne Naess's philosophy about deep ecology for one moment of it's also spiritual content and we just simply go to the core of it, really what is proposed here touches upon the need towards a deep systemic approach, which I believe will be presented by my colleague, [INAUDIBLE] tomorrow and to put it into context for this symposium. But if we go to the core of deep ecology, the real point about putting this forward as a philosophy is that inherent in this notion is the belief that we will also come to sustainable models of economic operation, that we will come to a new ethics that should underlie sustainability. So ecology here is really the vehicle by which, through its interconnectedness, we can test and rethink a whole [? ramut ?] of things that we take for granted or inherit in our education and also in practice of architecture and urban design.
So really, ecology serves as an inroad to develop a far more complex understanding of what it might mean to be sustainable in architecture and how to fold that outwards. And so we are confronted with the notion, or with the understanding, that we have to consider our priorities. And what I put forward here is not a way of saying one against the other. but what we have here is either architecture from within itself to understand what an understanding of sustainability might relate to from within the discipline, something that falls outwards at best, or the opportunity to think about sustainability from a much larger perspective and to see how architecture operates within that.
This book title here, the title page on the right-hand side, is of course from the famous Brundtland Report, again, miraculously, another very important Norwegian person, Gro Brundtland. I think [INAUDIBLE] can tell you much more about her particular history. But she was, if I remember correctly, a prime minister once of Norway. And she was commissioned by the UN to lead a group to write a first comprehensive, if you like, formulation of what sustainability really pertains to and why, and perhaps also how, in the first instance, it might be pursued.
So the first priority that we need to consider-- do we operate from a larger understanding of sustainability and try and formulate an architecture from within that point? Or do we single out architecture from the larger picture and try to see what sustainability might mean in our practice and then pull that outwards? In some way or another, it needs to be a combination between the two, I believe. But we can do it without the larger picture and consideration of what sustainability entails.
The next priority that we need to consider is what we do architecture for. It's a form of self-fulfillment, expression, creativity, formal experiment and elaboration, or its exact opposite-- the deemphasis of the object, its dissolution. And if we pursue either or a combination between the two, what for? And how does that relate to any understanding we wish to pursue from within architecture or from without architecture in relation to sustainability?
I gave a little subtitle here, En Route to a Non-Discrete Architecture. And what I mean to say by that is an architecture that is not entirely self-consumed as the standalone, discrete object that says, I have been designed by XYZ, please admire me, but rather it's an object or a set of relations that lends itself and connects itself to a much larger environment. So while perhaps this particular title concerns itself more with an alternative approach to the figurative to the expressive, maybe it also opens up an inroad to a very interesting approach to sustainability.
And then the question, for whom do we design? What are the priorities? Do we design exclusively for ourselves, for humans, for a client, a singular one, with a particular interest or disinterest, the ideal man, if you like? Or are we designing for a vast plethora of weaker clients that we might embrace?
And this also involves the question then, how we account for what David Leatherbarrow calls authored and unauthored conditions. Each building will participate in conditions that are not entirely controlled by humans, let alone the architect. But it will also participate in a whole series of conditions which the architect can never, at any event, account for, May this be climate, may it be an unexpected event, a social gathering, et cetera. This is where architecture can only make provisions.
But when we set our priorities, we also need to see where we are coming from and more recently. When questions of sustainability are very strongly linked to aspects of technology, material development, and energy questions, we may need to ask has this always been so. And if not, where has it been coming from? And has there been a larger trend that really circles around a very strict separation between an outside and an inside, whether embodied in Ryan [INAUDIBLE] diagram of a tent, which seems to have the ultimately impenetrable membrane, some kind of magical material where neither moisture nor air goes through? And have we, through a whole series of other technical necessities or accomplishments, embraced that so much so that we do not challenge this?
And has this gone so far that when the assembly process of the actual architecture is finished that we need to reorchestrate the exchange between the interior and exterior through a plethora of technical gadgets and through the sophistication of thin material layers in order to maintain the strict separation between an inside and an outside, but at the same time, try and not suffocate in the interior? And we may ask the question whether this division has not made architecture in a way the project of a very thin, total exterior, where it doesn't matter anymore what kind of formal expression there is. It will still not challenge the ingrained relation, or the strict separation between an inside and an outside, because after all, those remain objects, and these objects say, I am separate from the surroundings.
For those that are a little bit familiar with the arguments embedded in Delirious New York and Madelon Vriesendorp's painting there, "The City of the Captive Globe," would probably find it hysterically funny that all those idiosyncratic buildings are becoming the new generic. It's just a note on the side.
And when we have buildings that celebrates so much, their thin exterior, then for an architect to increase the size of the project, the parametric urbanism of today seems to be suitable because finally, you can lay the table cloth over square kilometers. You can pull and push a little bit. Because in the end, it's only the exterior that you manipulate. And in order to maintain a coherent picture of your signature, well, you would do so over the entire site.
But whether we have the pattern book operation of collage, or whether we have the parametric urbanism of today, ultimately, the relationship of the discreteness of architecture to its context is not challenged. This is not to say that there is not potential in here. Having these kinds of forms means that you can orientate building surfaces to particular environmental inputs. You can articulate surfaces to provide opportunities for all sorts of things. And I will touch upon that in a second. But for as long as we do not tap into this potential, this will remain sort of an urbanism that is similar to an extended, nondescript gallery, with nicely designed teapots inside. So that doesn't cut it.
The biomorphic references of the last 1 1/2 to two decades fall flat, simply for the sake of only foregrounding this ultimately thin exterior expression that doesn't really engage in the environment. Whether the biomorphic skyscrapers of today, or even the hyper-articulated buildings that we see, for as long as they do not engage, they remain discrete objects. They remain objects that will merely celebrate themselves.
So where do we go? What do we do? Ecology was already stated as [INAUDIBLE]. So in a way, as architects, it will be surprising, I hope, for you, as it was for me, to learn as the late Ernst Mayr, most accomplished biologist and evolutionary thinker pointed out, biology concepts are very important. Major developments in biology take place through conceptual developments, thinking about things differently. For me, this was a big surprise because I thought it comes through some sort of Eureka moment researching in the field or in the lab, but not so. So we share already a very good contact point with biology. And that is the importance of concept, which means that we have to go back to the drawing table and think about ours. Likewise, we need to understand what kind of concepts are biologists working with today in order to make any meaningful relationship in such an interdisciplinary endeavor.
And so there are some publications here, where two of the speakers tomorrow-- Professor Ziegler and Professor [? Marzluff ?] have majorly put out in front of us some of the core concepts that we need to acknowledge and that we need to elaborate, investigate, and incorporate into the work to ever come to something that may be called a non-anthropocentric architecture, or before that, at the very least, a non-discrete architecture.
The understanding of the importance of biodiversity is key. But biodiversity doesn't stand just by itself. It has already had a major impact as a concept, as a way of approach, to a variety of actions, of human actions, that also modify and regulate our environment. For instance, a lot of thinking has been invested into the relation between agro-ecosystems, agriculture that operates within a certain ecological framework and the notion or the importance of biodiversity within that, or for instance, the question of forestry. I will come back to that in a second. So I will leave that aside for the time being.
Legislation has been elaborated. Emergent or changing or associated biodiversity has been elaborated in studies of urban ecology. And urban ecology is very interesting because it gives us a very familiar top-down view from the very large scale to the small and to see how our transformations on the larger scale and its granularity is beginning to impact on biodiversity. And finally, if we really want to pursue that-- and every intervention in the environment will have an impact-- we need to ask what is actually the core concept for pursuing all that?
And here, I would just like to make a very short reference to the German zoologist, [? Josef ?] [? Eichorst, ?] who published a thorough critique of nature conservationists' prevailing concept. And that is that somehow what we need to maintain is in a dynamic equilibrium. To put this in a somewhat simplified manner, if you today count 3,000 elephants in this area, that's the status quo. That's what you have to maintain. He argues this cannot be so because it leaves out of consideration longer-term developments on an evolutionary timescale, where elephants altogether might disappear. So he proposed something very different. He proposed the model of a stable disequilibrium, where there is only a momentary status quo, but where it's all going, that is very hard to know.
Now, that is a very hard nut to crack for us as architects and as urban planners because we conduct something that is very much a controlled discipline. We want to know how the site will look like in 10 years time. So if we open our thinking out to such a model through this understanding of stable disequilibrium, we have some real hard thinking to do. It is not very easily answered how we should meet this criterion.
So if we operate architecture at the moment as a kind of spatial and material construct that largely divides the exterior from the interior, and the interior is very much focused on our needs as a kind of highly anthropocentric take on how we design and modify our environment, in particular the interiors, and where we make sure that a lot of the exchanges are actually diminished right at this material border and only few are permitted, we see the prevailing model of today. So the question is, what would happen if the material and spatial organization of architecture would be rethought, if we had several exterior skins that are far more permeable to other species that would set up smaller environments, niches, which could be inhabited?
And this actually immediately alerts you to the importance of the question of [? Eichorst. ?] Do you actually make these provisions between a series of buildings skins so particular to a select number of species that you actually try to maintain a given mapped status quo? Or how do you actually begin to think about this if this is something where things evolve into directions that you may not know?
This would be a very different architecture. And this architecture I loosely term performance-oriented architecture. There are other definitions for this notion. But it starts with the problem outlined by Goethe about entanglement, about interconnectedness and interrelations. Where do you start? When one thing influences another, how do you actually get into this at all conceptually, intellectually? How do you begin to unfold it in front of you as a workable instrumental framework?
Pickering made an interesting proposition in which he said we should think of the world as filled with agency. This has certain repercussions, in particular for systems thinking because most system thinking approaches deny this possibility because they link agency with intentionality. And therefore, it can only be related to humans. It is ultimately a very anthropocentric take. But in [INAUDIBLE] network theory, it is actually proposed that agency can be disconnected from intentionality, and therefore, anything in the dynamic world can be seen as imbued by agency. And once we begin to think like that, we can begin to operate like this.
Christopher Alexander made an interesting statement here, in which he talks about interventions in the world that do not interrupt the performance of the environment. How do you do that? Certainly, you will push it aside. You will influence it. You will bring it in one direction. And not always can you know what this direction will be because remember David Leatherbarrow's propositional formulation that architecture also engages in unauthored conditions.
And finally, this very short remark here by Frei Otto, which I'll try and elaborate a little bit later-- "Constructions are an auxiliary means, not an end in themselves." It would be too easy just to relate that to the questions of discreteness of architecture, to the wish for it to be expressive. There's much more to it. He gives an example of a bridge that I will elaborate later on a little bit, in which he says the bridge participates in the road system. It's part of something much larger than itself. And therefore, its responsibility is also much larger than itself. This argument seems a little bit [? naff ?] because it is just the singular relation. I will show you a bridge later on that unfolds relations which are not simply singular.
And so I tried to capture some of this thinking in a simple diagram, which in a way suffers from a graphical problem, namely that you need to lay out information in front of you on a plane, which means that architecture is inhabiting the center here. And I call this the spatial and material organization complex. That's what we do all the time. We organize spaces. We materialize them in some way or another.
And then by doing this, we're beginning to intervene in the feedback relationship between local ecosystems and the local environment. Before we do something, there is unmediated feedback in a way. But the moment we intervene, there is a mediated feedback. So then can we break down-- and this is not a comprehensive list. It's just the beginning of trying to think along these lines. Can we break down aspects in architecture that would allow us to open these aspects again to the environment and to local ecosystems?
So you may think initially when you see this diagram, yeah, but this is anthropocentric again. It has architecture in the center. And it's talking about boundary, envelope, and all these kinds of things. True. But these things can be thought right from the beginning as non-anthropocentric.
Let me elaborate.
First, I want to acknowledge, at the much higher degree than typically done, environmental differences. As you have heard earlier on, I live now in Norway. In our neighbor valley, which is about one kilometer away, less than a mile, the temperature can be different by 10 degrees centigrade. It can be 0 degree in our valley. And about less than a mile further, it can be minus 10 degrees. However, the building regulations for heat insulation of buildings, for instance, are all based on one weather station that measures weather fluctuations and conditions in Norway. If already within one kilometer, you can have such differences, what sense does it make that based on this one measurement of one weather station somewhere, some legislator says your wall has to be 80 centimeters thick? No consideration is given to the fine grading. And we don't even know where to start. How fine a grading should we actually consider?
But then also comes the [INAUDIBLE] question. Architecture also produces microenvironment. It's not just operating within one, it's altering one.
So we have now started a series of test constructions in different places in Norway, where we use Norway as a climate laboratory in which we try to elaborate how we may account for local differences. The climate in Norway does not only vary north to south, but very drastically east to west, from the coast to the mountainous areas. And in some way or another, if you want to engage questions of ecology, you need to account for that.
What I would like to do now is run by you four concepts towards a non-discrete architecture, how architecture can fold itself outwards. And I want to do that through a series of example projects. But do not take these projects too much for face value because really, this is an invitation to generalize some aspects and to see how you might be able to begin to embed them in your design.
One concept is already a relatively well-known modernist concept of the continuation of the interior space into the landscape. But you all know, there's always this nice glass border that prevents this really from happening.
This is the project from 1970s Osaka Expo designed by the Brazilian architect, Paulo Mendes da Rocha. But forget that this is a pavilion. Think of it, for instance, as a house. Well, all the interior spaces are part of a constructed landscape set below it and the [? buffer ?] floating this canopy, which gives a certain degree of shelter here, but at the same time, that's a great [? view ?] of the local climate modulated space and impact on that space.
That's quite interesting because this project is challenging already the notion of how many envelopes, degrees of interiority. You just go through one door and you're immediately on the inside? No, there are a whole series of things that happen. You come from the surroundings into this landscape, may it be found or constructed, and there are a series of ramps which bring you down to a series of spaces. So I think we can talk about a kind of extended threshold here.
A project that does it in a slightly similar way-- this is a more recent one by Francois Roche for a small house in Nimes, France, and designed, or finished in 2007. And this house is set into a grove of olive and other native tree species. And they actual climate skin of the building is this box here. What you see, these funny spaces protruding and doing all sorts of things on the exterior, and what that really is are a series of nets that carve our spaces. And these spaces are increasingly articulated by the growing vegetation to the extent that the house, at some point, is no longer visible. It has disappeared.
The office, of course, has its own particular reason for pursuing that. But if you generalize this, this is a very interesting idea because it means that the extensive parts, like parts of the architecture, begin to orchestrate a relationship between the growth of vegetation and the spaces that reside, of which the vegetation are part.
Some images that give you an impression of how it is to be in that space, where the vegetation is part of the envelope. And some images that showcase a little bit the transition from the interior to the exterior.
So again, we can talk about an extended threshold condition. But this now is an extended threshold condition in which the vegetation makes the space in tandem with very light architectural operations. In the previous example, it was the found or constructed landscape.
The third concept I would like to briefly introduce was termed by Jeffrey Kipnis Box in Box Section, in which the building has numerous envelopes. This scheme by Jean Nouvel has an outer envelope. This is for the National Theater in Tokyo. And it was probably re-used for their scheme for the Tokyo Opera House later on in which these theaters are suspended. So you have the first interior and the second interior. However, we have to be careful with this project. I will come back to that. Because this project has a or fully closed outer envelope.
But this project by Steven Holl for a competition entry for a cinema palace does not have the same feature. Here, the outer envelope breaks open. It produces also within that envelope other encased spaces. But again, you have degrees of interiority and exteriority. This is an opportunity and an invitation to see how perhaps other species might begin to inhabit these spaces.
And the third project from the same time by Bernard Tschumi for [FRENCH] is a conversion project in which existing old buildings were added to within a structure that allowed floating a roof over the space. So again, you have a kind of broken open envelope. And different from the Paulo Mendes da Rocha project, you don't have a found or constructed landscape, you actually have a built environment. But if you look at these roofs and the possibility of inhabiting those, they become, again, almost a possible landscape layer.
So this multiplication of the envelope is really quite an interesting undertaking. But we must be sure that when we do that that we don't produce again a discrete building that says, here, look at me. I'm a designed object. I make a very strong difference between myself and everything around it. Or the kinds of projects that begin to break open parts of their layers and offer them for cohabitation.
And lastly, I would like to show you a project that sits a bit oddly in this argument that I pursue because this one is highly dependent on technology. But I will explore later on an idea how technology might be offset in this case. This is the Blur Building by Diller and Scofidio. I think most of you know that, Lake Neuchatel. And what this building does through a series of high pressure nozzles is to spray vapor in the air. The building itself doesn't really have an envelope. Or the envelope is, in fact, the kind of climatic event of this cloud. So in this case, you have probably the most extreme elaboration of what envelope as climate or generator of climate might mean.
This may be taken to a larger scale. You may ask yourself if this is possible due to the exposure of soil, soil depth, trees, building volume, and so on, how might architecture engage in that and generate one or the other differentiated condition in the environment?
OK. Having done that, I want to take you now through the steps that I have offered earlier on in the diagram that I showed to you on performance-oriented architecture. And I would like to do this from the smallest scale upwards for a simple reason. What I would like to propose is something that matters from the architectural scale, the effort by [? John ?] [? Marzluff ?] and colleagues to look from a larger scale downwards and to understand the granularity of the built environment and to see how species organize themselves within that.
So if we look now from the point of view of a singular architecture, where maybe on that scale we can mess up a little bit less, and we can see what kind of provisions we can make and elaborate them through a variety of projects, we can then work our way up to the larger scale, and perhaps meet the efforts, which are beginning to be very detailed in the domain of urban ecologies.
So the first scale I want to very briefly elaborate is the scale of material performance. This is very important for me because in the performance of materials, we can offset the need for a lot of technology.
Here's something everybody knows. Materials have composition and structure. From this arise material properties. We don't live in an art world. We live in a dynamic world. Conditions around a material change. The material responds. The very basics of that are set in our building standards, where we try just about everything to prevent the effects of this, whereas we do really like it with all the mechanical solutions that we use in order to ventilate heat and whatever our buildings. So if the material can do it, but we don't want it, but on the other hand, we introduce technology to do precisely that, it seems a bit strange to me.
Material behavior, when put to task, can be understood as material performance capacity. A whole host of other scientific disciplines operate perfectly on that. Why can we not do it?
So for instance, when we work with wood, why do we wish so hard for it not to be wood? Why do we have to kill the wood five times so that it doesn't change its shape? Wood is a heterogeneous material. It has directionality, fibers. Wood interacts with the environment in interesting ways. It takes up humidity and gives it off to try to seek a moisture equilibrium with the environment. But because we don't want that, because dimensional variability resides from that, we treat the poor tree, after it has been chopped with chemicals, we seal on the surface. Oftentimes, we chop it even into smaller bits and glue it back together so that by all means, it doesn't behave like wood.
If you were to turn that around, and you were to say, OK, you know, if you produce lemonade with wood, and it is not very happily form stable, why don't you then work with the opposite? If laminates, when treated in a certain way, depending on the number of layers and the fiber rotations and the wood species and the thickness of each layer, tends to buckle and twist, well, that's a very cheap way of forming very complex wooden pieces without having to mill from the solid block or having to chop things up and glue them back together. Well, this is a bit chopped and glued, but not to the extent that you have chip boards and so on.
So all I want to say here, because I will not elaborate this too much further, is that materials have capacity that we make every effort to reduce rather than to work with it. That's a loss in my view.
But in order to pursue this, what fields of knowledge do we need to tap into? It's not just enough to concern ourselves with contemporary fabrication methods to make fantastic shapes. In fact, what we need to tap into is traditional wooden knowledge and craftsmanship, for instance, in timber boatmaking, which precisely operates on that very understanding that each piece of wood is different. And why not look into contemporary scientific knowledge about the articulation of wood over it scales of magnitude and what you might do with it?
So in order to pursue this further, we are now setting up a new research collaboration with the Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, who are also governing the forestry industry in Norway, based on the understanding that the forestry is coming under incredible pressure now to pursue biodiverse forestry in order not to degrade the soil, in order for the tree quality not to become increasingly less, and in order to provide products which are, in a way, desirable. At the same time, we have the pressure from the side of architecture, now embedded for the first time in the policy government by the government of Norway, to use more wood in a meaningful way and to guarantee sustainability.
If we have this pressure on ourselves and the forestry has a certain pressure, we have a match. The difficulty that we have is that we have a whole thick layer of industry sitting in between that don't really want to do any of this. They don't want to go into complicated ways of wood sorting, of treating wood, of differentiating elements, and so on. But they will have to eventually. And if they are taken on board in the architectural research projects in which also the vocational schools, all those craftsmen that will eventually construct in the environment are part of the undertaking, then I think we're looking towards a promising possibility.
We have one problem. That is the time issue involved with changing forestry. We're talking about decades, perhaps centuries. As you all know, oak trees take 500 years to live and 500 years to die. So you cannot really now say, I want this oak tree. It will take a while. But we can begin to think in that direction. There are also fast-growing trees that we might use in much better ways than we do at this very moment.
We move one scale up to what I want to call the active boundary. This scale now very much depends on tapping into material performance. And I will show you examples that I think cannot be considered without the environment. No physicist would talk about an active boundary disconnected from an environment. What would "active" allude to if there is nothing against which something is active?
I will show you two interesting examples-- one of the Persian ice houses that have been built probably from the eighth century onwards. And these houses have a pool with a back wall in which water is stored up to a meter deep. It's an open pool. These houses are placed in the desert, where you have steep temperature gradients. And you have the storage for the ice that is produces.
The ice is produced in a very simple way. Let me first show you how the storage looks from the outside and from the inside. This is where the ice is packed and then covered with ash and straw and so on for insulation.
But the real purpose is in the desert, for as long as you make sure that during the day time, the water body in the pool is not heated up by the sun and not heated up by the wind, the ice will make itself due to radiative loss or cooling through the night sky.
So this is about using the architecture to accentuate a particular exchange between the material and its environment for a grand purpose. This ice was mainly made to cool drinks for the old gin and tonic drinkers in the Persian environment.
The other element I want to show you are the Islamic screen walls. And I start with an image that doesn't show you the screen wall. I start with an image that shows you one of the effects of the screen whirl, namely, the light. Stefan Behling at Foster + Partners called this "the production of a virtual space within an actual one." And by that, he meant the physical surrounding of the architecture and the light generated by the architectural envelope.
So these Islamic screen walls, they are multi-functional elements. They regulate ventilation. They regulate the thermal impact from the outside to the inside. They regulate the amount of light and glare on the inside. They regulate the view from the inside to the outside, and the outside to the inside, all with one element.
Plus, the expression of the pattern is variable. It could be a floor pattern. It could be an Islamic, abstract geometric pattern, which shows to you that form and function are not any oppositional pair here. They are totally integrated. You could not talk about one thing without the other.
But the interesting thing here is that the openings, the interstices, they are actually varied in size. In sitting height, they are slightly smaller in order to avoid glare. And higher up, they are slightly larger to enable ventilation. So far, so good. So we have here a multi-functional element.
But these Islamic screen walls, these mashrabiyas that I just showed to you, along the North African Mediterranean coast, are made from wood. And remember, wood is looking for or tending towards moisture equilibrium. So the wood takes up moisture when it is very humid. And when it gets very dry, it gives this moisture off.
This little bit of moisture that is given off-- this is on our house in Norway. It was a rainy night and then a sunny morning. So you can see just how much vapor there is, how much moisture is given off. This is actually used for evaporative cooling. As the air streams through the screen wall to the interior, when it is very warm and dry, it picks up the water from the screen wall. There is a small evaporative cooling effect. And it is just large enough for this area here, but it can be felt. So in that sense, it's quite interesting.
I would like to ask you to bear this image in mind because I will refer to it fairly soon again.
There are these generally furnished areas here, these so-called divans, these sofas, which point into different directions. Usually, you have a symmetric arrangement, north, south, east, west. And you can see that here in this divan, the situation is exactly similar to this one, except light exposure and perhaps airflow and so on is quite different because it's facing in a different direction, away from the sun at this very moment, perhaps towards the prevailing wind direction. So here, you have the choice. This is not a homogeneous interior environment based on statistical averages with a little bit of adaptation. I think right now, the wisdom is two degrees of fluctuation are OK for people to adapt to the interior environment with their clothing. It's a bit laughable. For these people, it was actually not the case. Now, you may say, this is all good and fine, but it's only for warm environments. I'll try and show you in the course of the next two topics also some relevance for cold environments.
So we're tackling know the combination between the articulated envelope and the extended threshold. And here you have a building that has an interior much like what I just showed you with the Islamic screen walls. It has some [INAUDIBLE] outer envelope with an arcaded space. And this arcaded space is fairly large. This is an Ottoman kiosk in the Topkapi Palace.
And what we consider today primary and secondary space has a fairly interesting proportional relation here because the primary space, the most interior space, is fairly small in relation to the arcaded space around it. But this was given and done to have not only different spaces and the divans here, but also in the meandering wall where you have these setbacks that you have protected spaces here. But they are exposed and protected to different extents because of the difference to environmental exposure. And here, you can see-- this is a miniature that shows the same kiosk-- that drapings of textiles were used in the arcaded spaces to further modulate the environment here.
In the context of the Sustainable Environment Association, we're currently doing a lot of analysis of these kinds of buildings to understand better what the ranges are within which these buildings modulate the climate in the direct vicinity.
Another kiosk, this time from Persia, has a very different spatial arrangement. It has the innermost spaces on the four corners of the building, and the exterior cutting through the center of the building. So this is the plan of the Persian kiosk. This is the plan of the Ottoman kiosk. Both of them have quite different spatial organizations. But both of them try for the same aim, to provide differentiated interior spaces.
Let's come to the cold climate. I want to show you a barn about a kilometer away from where we live. When you look from the outside, the surface of that barn looks fairly closed. When you look from the inside, you see that they a are about 12 to 15 millimeter gaps between the planks. I'm sorry I can't do this in inches, so you have to bear with me. And this barn was constructed in the post-war period, where little wood was available. The structural elements are incredibly slender. These two brothers that were building those must have been extraordinary carpenters because they knew that by having these gaps here, which they needed anyways-- these were hay barns used to dry the hay, so airflow was necessary-- that by providing these gaps, they could reduce the wind load onto the surfaces of the building.
But we were asked to do a survey of this building. And we went up there during the winter storm, minus 20 degrees plus windchill factor. Walking into this building, about half a meter away from the facade, you would feel no air movement, none, in spite of its openness.
Now here, you can see that by having such a layer around to your full climate layer would provide you with a fairly versatile space for use. During the season, some of the weather fluctuates highly, where maybe on the outside it's too hot or too cold, but you would still have this space that you can inhabit with a winter coat on and without being uncomfortable. It's also a space that tends to be inhabited by bats, quite useful for agriculture environments.
Now, we are not in the position to just tear all our buildings down and start from scratch. What do we do with the bulk of the buildings that we have today that might require rethinking, re-equipment? Norway and Sweden, as [? Stronus ?] can tell you in more detail, have a problem with a huge housing stock from the 1960s and the 1970s that is both spatially and environmentally not very good, to say the least. This needs to be reequipped. It cannot just be torn down. There's people living there. How do you do it?
You can add from the outside. That's what I would call second degree auxiliary architectures. It could be a layer. Here is a small experiment at the AA that provides a canopy that is just added to the building to make some of the surroundings similar to what I showed you with the Islamic screen walls or in the example of the barn.
Because we do not have a lot of experimentally derived data to fall back on, there are not books where we can look this up, we need to utilize computational methods to run through a whole series of different variations to see what kind of environment we actually want to produce with this. This is where computational methods come in handy because if small differences should matter, here's how you can regulate it in the design process.
It takes a lot of physical experiments. It takes economizing those, as the biologists would say.
Again, the registration and measurement of the conditions generated by those, and experiments in the full scale. This time, this is actually a layer introduced to an interior of a fairly dark corridor door that is lit in the later hours of the day by the low incoming sun. It amplifies the light coming in from the right from your side, while during the morning hours, shading the space.
And then first degree auxiliary architectures. And here, I'd like to remind you of the example that Frei Otto gave of the bridge that participates in larger systems. I've picked one bridge for you to try and see whether it's possible to illustrate what an auxiliary architecture really is.
This particular bridge is in Isfahan. It was constructed under the Safavid period, I think Shah Abbas I, 1650. And this bridge does not only connect on its upper lever two sides of town, on its lower level, it is also a wheel that helps the sluice gates to regulate the river, and therefore, to irrigate the gardens upstream. So it has already these two functions, that it is part of a larger extensive circulatory system. And it's part of a larger water management system. But it does so also on top of everything else in an opportunistic manner.
You may wonder what those people are doing there that are sitting there at the lower level. They are sitting there because it's, climatically speaking, the most comfortable space in town. The air that streams along benefits from evaporative cooling. And the way in which the lower level of the bridge is laid out accelerates this into turbulent flow.
Again, this is an analysis that we're doing at the moment. You can see here in this top image the air coming in from the site, enormous turbulent flow within the vaulted space here at the lower deck, and the air streaming out.
Well, this is done so well, it is understood so well, that here, where those little corners are cut out, you can put a candlelight, and the flame of the candle will not move a bit, even though everywhere else, the velocity of the airflow is so high that you feel it on your skin. That means probably something more than four meters per second. I'm not entirely sure. So this guy is really having a very comfortable time here, no air-conditioning, no technology. It's the architecture that's doing it.
Another auxiliary system might be seen in the so-called Pigeon Towers in the same area, built around the same time. They house pigeons, sometimes several thousands. They are there to collect the manure to use for fertilization of the fields. It generated a very important economy for Isfahan. It made it possible to grow melons, et cetera, that otherwise was out. These kinds of soil nutrients would not be possible to grow. So this is, in a way, also an auxiliary architecture because it's part of a larger, agricultural set up.
Since I will be talking a little bit more in detail about this tomorrow, I will just show you a few images to do with the orchestration of the [INAUDIBLE]. This is the interior, about 10,000 pigeons in this building. Now here, they talk about semi-wild pigeons. They're not really domesticated. And the manure, the bird droppings, are collected only once a year in order not to scare the pigeons too much so that they wouldn't use this anymore. And you can see the interior temperature is relatively stable throughout rather steep temperature changes in the ambient environment. Moreover, these also work a little bit like these well-known wind towers in Persian architecture. They're actually designed so to have optimum ventilation.
And this is quite interesting. The pigeons enter and leave the tower here, up here through these little turrets. There are these kinds of open brickworks. And we have not yet done a careful enough analysis of this miracle, to me, if you see the acceleration of the turbulent flow here, how the pigeons actually manage to get in and out of these small openings. But some more analysis needs to be done.
And finally, because settlement patterns and processes belong more to part of the analysis that I think John might be talking about tomorrow, I will finalize the talk with some reflections upon the notion of multiple grounds.
In one of these rooms further down here, there's this wonderful map of London. It is a map that comes from a particular tradition. Who initiated, I would say, because mostly it's Nolli who is credited with this kind of development, but there were other people, contemporaries, that worked in the same way, that produced these kinds of maps, the so-called Nolli Map of Rome. And this is still a more sophisticated version. But basically, what is done here is that the buildings occur as black patches set against the ground, which is white. When you survey and depict and plan in this kind of way, you severely limit what you can actually do in terms of urban fabric.
This is not exactly so in plan views of Renaissance citadels. It's actually very hard to draw something because most of what you see here constructed is covered by ground. So there is the building, which should be black. But because ground is on top, it's white. So you can't really do it in this way.
And then there are examples like this, super dense supplements that are super dense for very good reasons. They're super dense because of environmental control.
This is Mardin, a settlement in Southeast Anatolia, overlooking the Syrian Plain on a very steep slope. And what is ground for one building is top to the other. They're very tightly packed in order to prevent excessive heating up in the summer or excessive cooling in the winter.
So the section really looks like this. These buildings are all sitting more or less on top of one another. They're very tightly packed. I ask you, how do you want to draw something like that as a figure ground drawing? You would just have a black patch. Can't really pursue this kind of thing. And what is interesting here in relation to multiple grounds is precisely the fact that this surface here is the top surface to that space, but the ground surface to the next.
In the wake of landscape urbanism approaches of the last two decades or so, some of that thinking came back. What happens if you pull the landscape surfaces over the building, if you embed the building in this? I think we have to do more in that direction. We have to elaborate this question further about the relationship between the ground and the building and also the envelope, which can be ground, as can be seen from a lot of contemporary examples and green facades and so on. A lot can be done in this.
The question is how this may be expressed into a series of sectional planning policies on an urban scale, something that has not been addressed very much because most of the planning devices operate on the plan.
And there are some interesting examples that came up recently, like this one by Foreign Office architect in Istanbul. It's just sitting up here. It's a retail complex and cineplex. And in this particular situation, there is a constructed ground, where a green surface is pulled over the buildings. And this is a bit of a weak drawing here. But partially, the facades are designed similar to these Islamic screen walls.
And finally, on the very large scale, Turf City, this project was the second prize winner in the [INAUDIBLE] Airport Redevelopment Competition. And this project projected an urban plan which practically had a new ground pulled over the entire city, something that was very hard to draw and plan, in which the drawings needed to be accompanied with these kinds of exploded axonal metrics that talked about which feature, in terms of generating this artificial ecology, if you like, is embedded in which. And the diagram that expresses a little bit of that on a building scale--
Well, to me, the point is we can produce any number of green roofs, and it will mean nothing unless we consider that there are very important ecological linkages between things that happen below ground and just above ground that have repercussions all the way to climate, which means that the soil needs to be of a particular composure, and the organisms need to be of a particular mixture and diversity in order to correspond with the surroundings of that space. So any turf city, any [INAUDIBLE] complex with a thin layer of ground like this and just some moss growing on it, in the end, it's just some sort of eco wallpaper. It's not really ecological in the sense that it really begins to engage in deeper processes that have upward cascading effects and scale.
So I think the trick for architects, or the challenge, will be that we need to learn much more about climate. We need to learn much more about the pedospheric regime of soil. We need to know much more about interlinkages between different species, and so on. We need to know more about hydrospheric processes and to see how they link up with buildings. In that sense, it is interesting to rethink architecture as non-discrete, that it folds itself much more outwards to these kinds of processes.
And we need to develop routines for the design. I will just not go into detail here at the moment. But the design process will very much affected by this thinking, which means that we do not only need to stock up in terms of building up a theoretical framework for this kind of approach, but we also need to deliver and develop the working methods for it. Otherwise, it will be very hard to have an instrumental inroad to performance-oriented architecture.
And I think I will leave it at this point. I have just now spoken for a bit over an hour. I think you must all be tired now. And there is probably too much to be asked about this, too many open questions. And I am not entirely sure whether I can answer any of your questions. I can probably only help making your questions more specific because I don't think anybody really knows any answers to any of this at the moment.
I personally believe though that it's the most crucial part of the conceptual work that we need to do. And what I tried to show to you is that this kind of effort can touch upon just about any scale, any interest that you might have in architecture, and might have tremendous repercussions in one scale already before you go to that level of complexity. So this is more an open invitation to try and think further. Thank you very much.
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Michael Hensel, professor of architecture at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design, delivers the keynote address at the 2012 Hans and Roger Strauch Symposium on Sustainable Design, "Sustaining Sustainability: Alternative Approaches in Urban Ecology and Architecture," February 3, 2012.
The symposium was organized jointly by the Cornell University Department of Architecture and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design Research Center for Architecture and Tectonics.