Reading educates 04
Manual for spaceships
Ever since people have been able to think they have designed sci-fi worlds full of strangely futuristic buildings and ingenious machines – in their heads, on paper and for some time now at the computer. Slowly, it seems as if these future visions are being realized: Be it ever more gigantic high-rises, such as were still quite imaginary in Fritz Lang’s movie “Metropolis” and now adorn the skylines of New York, Beijing or Dubai, or the Spaceship Enterprise, that now seems to have come to Earth and landed. At any rate, this is the impression one might have when viewing buildings by Zaha Hadid Architects, Coop Himmelblau, MAD Architects and UNStudio. Alongside the usual rectangular concrete boxes and steel-and-glass towers stand gleaming, biomorphically shaped structures that are shrouded completely in aluminum and glass at glitter in the sunlight during the day while at night they are spectacularly illuminated. These edifices tend to derive from computer programs, graphics and mathematical formula that have transformed dynamic spatial concepts into massive buildings. Ben van Berkel, founder of Dutch architecture office UNStudio, is the real champion of this technology. It is not surprising then that all his buildings look as if they popped out of a 3D printer.
In the latest monograph created by UNStudio and entitled “Knowledge Matters”, which has just come out courtesy of Frame Publishers, the entire range of opportunities that computer-assisted design offers is presented quite vividly. The volume constitutes a catalog of the studio’s efforts, whereby selected buildings from the last 20 years are discussed in terms of four categories, so-called “Knowledge Platforms”: “organization”, “sustainability”, “materials” and “parametrics” form the foundations of the UNStudio projects and the toolbox for design work. While in contemporary architecture parametric design gives rise to completely new shapes and building structures, the results can often be disappointingly tedious. And in the book, the elaborately illustrated diagrammes and detailed isometric outlines often remain enigmatic and unclear.
UNStudio describes its architectures as infrastructures that stand out for their complex spatial configurations and diverse structural elements. The organization of the structures is viewed as part of the design process in which the various structural and functional elements of the architecture are fused to create a performative overall concept. One needs think only of Villa NM in Upstate New York, made in 2007, where the rectangular spatial elements are swiveled in opposing directions such that the walls tilt to slit levels arise reminiscent of hills or small rises. This twist is also to be seen in larger UNStudio designs, such as the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, constructed in 2006, or the Arnhem Centraal station, which went turn-key in 2015.
Computer-assisted design leads to thought models and fields of science merging that once seemed incompatible. But does this automatically create buildings that fulfill their archetypal function of functioning in the urban context and meeting the growing standards users set? Ben van Berkel certainly believes it does and creates an entire manual on parametric design.
Nick Roberts (ed.)
Knowledge Matters. Ben van Berkel & Caroline Bos
400 p., pb., text english
Frame Publishers, Amsterdam 2016.