The Future That Is Now – Essay by Stan Allen

This essay, as a history of contemporary architecture and its theoretical base by Stan Allen, is particularly interesting to me as I am currently reading William Gibson’s book of essays “Distrust that particular flavour” – Gibson, who has been one of my seminal influences, is relevant to the discussion of the recent past as his concepts of a futurity rooted in the present, ( “the futures already arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed yet”) is the inevitable fate of architectural and most built environment design which must fit into the current reality and by the time it is built, designed in the recent past yet its influence will be felt it the near and somewhat more remote future, as it is rather persistent in both its successes and its inevitable and much publicized failures, from this perspective its  “navel gazing”, theorizing,  of its recent past  seems laughable. From The Design Observer

Architecture studios at Harvard University, Princeton University and Cornell University. [Photos by Lou HuangShih-Min Hsu and Adam Kuban]

And it’s always interesting, I think, to see how the future, or rather the forward-looking form of any discipline, always carries within it the seeds of its own triteness.
— William Gibson [1]

Among the participants in the first ANY (Architecture New York) conference, organized by Peter Eisenman and Cynthia Davidson in 1991, was the novelist William Gibson, author of the cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. Published in 1984, Neuromancer captured the anxieties of a dystopian world in which technology has penetrated all aspects of everyday life. In Gibson’s early novels, unprecedented physical mobility and the fluidity of personal identity enabled by digital technologies reshape individual subjectivity and the physical space of the city alike — which is perhaps why the author found himself in Los Angeles at the beginning of the 1990s speaking to the group of architects, philosophers, literary critics and architectural theorists assembled by Eisenman and Davidson. Like the film Blade Runner two years earlier, Neuromancer had become an early touchstone for imaginative speculation on the urban and architectural consequences of digital culture.

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Landform Building: Stan Allen & Marc McQuade

More investigations on the origins of Landscape as the source or basis of architecture and its divergence form the precepts of Landscape Urbanism and its closer alignment with Mat -Building as I commented in recent article: Diller Scofidio + Renfro Beat Out Strong Competition at Aberdeen City Garden Project the thickening of the land into a multilevel connected landscape is the antithesis of New Urbanism and other reactionary ideas of how we build the cities fabric, integrating existing fragments, infrastructures, retail clusters and green spaces into a new vision of public to private space as a set of nested hierarchies within a dense urban context, : embedded “heterotopias”  a la David Graham Shane’s  Recombinant Urbanism and Urban Design since 1945 or in semi rural “natural” environments,. such as the visitors centers, experiential museums and restaurants built at historical or “natural wonder” sites,  which in their nature use are still actually very urban.

A book review by Ethel Baraona Pohl from Domus

In their recent book, Marc McQuade and Stan Allen analyze the evolution of the critical relationship between architecture and landscape

Landform Building

Stan Allen and Marc McQuade, eds. in collaboration with Princeton University School of Architecture. Schirmer/Mosel, 2011 (416 pp., US $65)

The common link between landscape and architecture can be defined by the concept of megastructure, or at least this is the first message perceived when opening the book Landform Building and flip through its pages. But this close relationship has been changing fast in the last ten years, from the biological to the geological; the desire to make a responsive architecture is now fulfilled with references to landscape. As Stan Allen points, now a parallel trend looks not to the biology of individual species but to the collective behaviour of ecological systems as a model for cities, buildings and landscapes: “Architecture is situated between the biological and the geological—slower than living but faster than the underlying geology.”

Image: Vicente Guallart, a Barcelona-based architect whose work explores the mineralogical remaking of whole terrains – including how to make a mountain

The start point of this new way to understand architecture was in the early 1990s, when the emergence of Landscape Urbanism was focused on experiments on folding, surface manipulation and the creation of artificial terrains. Mostly all of these strategies can be related with some avant-garde projects of the 1960s, such as Hans Hollein’s Aircraft Carrier City in Landscape or Raimund Abraham’s Transplantation I; a time when architectural proposals included per-se the transformation of landscape, better explained by Erwin Rommel [quoted by Marida Talamona], “Any work of architecture, before it is an object, is a transformation of the landscape.

Natural tectonic can be understood as the architectural reconstruction of nature, as pointed by David Gissen and it could be a positive approach if we start thinking again on the idea that architecture can also bring nature back into the view and experience of the city. We want to end quoting Gissen: “Through this lens, we understand “nature” as something that was (past tense) in the city. By bringing it back, we reconstruct the former reality of the city but also acknowledge the end of nature as we understand it.”

[1] Landform Building, Architecture’s New Terrain. Conference at Princeton University School of Architecture [visited on 29th August 2011]
[2] Thinking big. John Rajchman talks with Rem Koolhaas [visited on 29th August 2011]
[3] Michael Jakob, “On Mountains, Scalable and Unscalable” MS [4] Reyner Banham, “Scenes in America Deserta”. The MIT Press, 1989.
[5] Fumihiko Maki, “Investigations in Collective Form.” 1964. PDF available. Visited on 29th August 2011]
[6] Kenneth Frampton, “Megaform As Urban Landscape”. University of Michigan, 1999.

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Diller Scofidio + Renfro Beat Out Strong Competition at Aberdeen City Garden Project

From Archinect a multilevel interconnected web surface is created as a structural response to the multiplicity and heterogenous needs of a dense  urban area brings an integral thickened surface – Stan Allen’s ‘Mat Urbanism: The Thick 2-D” With a now familiar idea diagram from a rubber band  the design displays D&S’s out of the box thinking.
Aerial view of the winning proposal by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Keppie Design and OLIN (Image: Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants)
Aerial view of the winning proposal by Diller Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Keppie Design and OLIN (Image: Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants)

Diller Scofidio + Renfro have won the Aberdeen City Garden Project design competition which seeks to transform the center of Aberdeen, Scotland. New York City-based DS+R collaborated with local Scottish architects, Keppie Design and landscape architects OLIN, on this project and emerged as winners from a head-to-head race with another finalist team led by Foster + Partners. —

Image: Courtesy of Malcolm Reading Consultants


Malcolm Reading, the competition organizer, commented:

‘This is such an exciting outcome and a great coup for the city. This ingenious and inspiring design for Aberdeen’s key public space gives the city a new social landscape but one rooted in its extraordinarily rich heritage and natural assets.

‘The runner-up concept, by Foster and Partners was outstanding, elegant and thoughtful, but did not, in the end, persuade the Jury that it could match the promise of connectivity, excitement and spatial diversity of the winning scheme.’

Check the Bustler article to also see the projects of the five shortlisted teams led by Foster + Partners, Gustafson Porter, Mecanoo, Snøhetta & Hoskins, and West 8.