29 October 2011


Doug Joyce: Shanghai, Pudong

We think of our cities as a series of individual occurrences (buildings), arranged in a linear manner along roads and streets. We perceive the city as if it was always viewed by looking down on an architectural model, individual buildings situated on individual parcels, accessed by streets and roads. After all, the shelter we build is situated on platted land; on it are buildings with surface area all around, with interior spaces inside each. The collection of these buildings on plats makes for the political districts in which we live and work, which ultimately comprises the physical manifestation of our society.

But that's not how we experience our greater environment.

The streets and the other places 'in-between' are very big rooms, with the special characteristics of being exposed to the elements and by being much more vast and limitless then the spaces experienced in the buildings that line them. They are spaces- the floors are the surface of the earth, with pavement, planting, or water as a finish. The walls are the natural features of the trees and earth formations, or the buildings that we build. The ceilings are the sky. This space is dynamic with its changes in temperature, sound and light. The most dynamic thing about is that we move through it much of the time. We experience the space as part of our 'procession'.

All of our waking moments, and even in our dreams, we exist in, or are moving through spaces within the buildings, or within the great outdoor room. From the smallest room inside one of our buildings, to the grandest and most open of outdoor spaces, we live in a series of spaces.

These spaces in which we live, from the smallest to the most vast, have a collection of elements, some of which we control, and some we have no control of whatsoever. Designers and architects try to exert control, to limited effect. People don't use spaces quite they were originally thought of when they were designed. Buildings, pristine in their original concept are combined and clashed with in their competed state. Yet somehow, sometime, the whole thing works, forms and details colliding in planed and unexpected ways to make a great street. Each design effort subverting or complimenting the one next to it, and the one down the street from it.

So these aren't just a series of buildings, pure and uncommunicative. They are forced to talk to each other. The original act of will (the design of the building), gives way to the experience of the conversation of a group of designs, made at different times, for somewhat different reasons, and with different levels of resources. It is an experience because the conversation can be so unexpected, and because it's mixed in the with the quality of movement, our procession though the the outdoor room. The fronts of buildings, collected in sequence, and positioned as walls in the space you are traveling through. These fronts can certainly have the quality of being flat or rather shapely, creating a dynamic in their flatness or in their collective sculptural forms. Distractions abound, light and shadow, movement both subtle and obvious fill the space. Every element, the buildings, the trees, the people, cars, birds, signs, sounds, smells, all separate, but inseparable, play a part. The Experience.

Designing to context has a two-dimensional connotation to many architects, certainly to many of the stars, because it dilutes their brand. Yet the best that even they can hope for is a good setting, a good jewel box for their work. What they have done is unavoidably pulled into the larger picture, becoming a 'mere' participant in part of the larger experience.

I suggest that the design that seeks to understand how it fits in the larger picture of the city is, when done well, is the far more nuanced solution to city design. Design for the experience, for that is what your design will be a part of.

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