‘City and region, agricultural land and forestbecome human works because they are an immense repository of the labour of ourhands. But to the extent that they are our ‘artificial homeland’ and objectshave been constructed, they also testify to values; they constitute memory andpermanence. The city is in its history.
‘ 1 The quote by Aldo Rossi, is used as a starting point to develop ideasand theoretic positions presented in this study and is developed in conjunctionwith the collective artefacts which are used as a tool to explore ideas aboutthe development of the contemporary city informed by the urban theory outlinedin the Architecture of the City2. The evolutionof the urban environment has been and still is broadly discoursed by theoristsand architectural practitioners today. The post-modern era has sought todevelop new ideas of how the city should evolve and regenerate a greater senseof value and meaning through typological and historical references. Lavish newforms decorate the twenty first century city with notions of new technologiesand prosperous economies and as a result the ideologies proposed by Rossi foran architecture of permanence and continuity within the city are not fully realised.The research studies the urban theory of Aldo Rossi, In the context of place, memory,permanence and typology and further investigates the work of Caruso St John andSergison Bates as contemporary practitioners in search of a new kind ofurbanism particularly influenced by traditional use of material and constructiontechniques. Finally, the work of furniture maker Tim Stead and traditionalScottish vernacular furniture is researched, as a basis for forming thethinking machine. This project seeks to questionthe influences of tradition as a signifier of meaning and value in society.
As societyconforms to a constant demand of newness and a throwaway based culture as a resultof planned obsolesces, the evolution of the contemporary city raises thequestion of what does constitute value and meaning and can this generate artefactsof permanence? The architecture of the city was written by the Italian architect andtheorist Aldo Rossi in his early thirties. The text was considered radical forits time as it proposed ideas of a new form of urbanism in opposition to themodernist era. In rejection of this style, Rossi sought an architecture thatwas concerned with the history, geography and structure of the city and basedon the values of traditional European cities. Aldo Rossi depicts the city as aman-made object, constantly under construction, it is in its construction thatthe city imbues its value in time. As the city evolves its gains greatersignificance and meaning through the collective and cultural activities thatevolve within it. The city can beobserved as an individual whole, but can also be seen as an ensemble of objectsor as Rossi refers urban artefacts.
The ‘Urban Artefact’ is recognised or symbolised elements of culture and history of the city. It is considered a work ofart, that expresses the symbolic representation of the individuality within thecollective. Considering the importance of the artefact, how does it becomemanifest in place? Since it ismost probable that men first lived in isolation and later seeing that therewere advantages in getting help from other men to obtain those things whichmight make him happy, he naturally came to desire and like the company of othermen. So, groups of houses became villages, towns, and in them there were builtthe public places and buildings.’ 3Individuals seeing that there were advantages inthe skills of others joined to form collective settlements. Architecture andculture are synonymous of each other. Although architecture can be definedindependent of culture, culture can be seen as manifest through architecture.
It is in the coming together of society the realisation of public and privatespace emerged. Within these public domains societies form and as a result theindividuals become aware of their own responsibility, referred to as the ‘collective consciousness’.4 Based on Durkheim’s theory, Quintus Millerdescribes the city as ‘an expression of a collective structure based oncooperation within the community. In constant transformation, it grows out ofwhat is present and existent and adjusts to the circumstances of the time.’ 5 Suggestingthat the collective forms an identity in the city through its communalversatility, further creating a sense of pride and investment in belonging toplace.
Rossi addresses the manifestation of collective communities, responsiblefor the formation of the city; through the definition of locus he alludes to the connection between place, material and theprocess of construction, that the city is a product of the ‘physical and mental labour’ of itsinhabitants.6 Urban artefacts have been considered anddesigned at one point in time and each owe to the identity of place or ‘locus’.7 The locus is the relationship betweenbuildings and place, read as both individual and whole. 8 Throughthis definition he suggests that the location of building, can have a profoundeffect greater than just a physical presence. The key importance ofarchitecture and place is also emphasised by Patrick Geddes, in his drawing ofthe ‘Valley Section’.
9 Hedepicts key connections between Work – Place – Folk, derived from French sociologist Frederick Le Plays theory “Lieu, Travail,Famille.” Does direct reference or relationship to a place evoke a greatersense of value and meaning to the artefact? “One can saythat the city itself is the collective memory of its people and like memory itis associated with objects and places.” 10 Rossi suggests that the architecture of the city becomes independent ofits physical matter, as it is perceived through memories and experiences of thecollective. Collective memory is the shared memory between people and place,passed between generations it is the fragments of histories that become themost valuable through their passing in time, it represents the most meaningfulelements of the collective. As a memory, it is reconstructed perceptions ofcollective society that can change over time and is not necessarily accuratedepictions of reality.
The associationof memory with objects and places embody its value and meaning, influenced bysensual and atmospheric experiences that are more resonant if they make us feel a certain way through theirassociation with past experiences. The collective memory of the city isdifferent to the memory of the individual, and through this can be perceived indifferent ways. The individual memory is inherently more related to personal sensualexperiences. Whereas the collective memory is more engaged with the overalleffect of the experience, and therefore could be considered less personal. QuintusMiller, on writing about collective memory suggests ‘building is a vehicle of memory in human culture’.
11Through this explanation he deduces that the culture and way of life ofinhabitants of a place can be read through the spatial arrangement of itsarchitecture. He further makes the connection of sensual experiences and theirassociations to past experiences, as a result of this Miller, questions whetherthe material or the idea should take priority in the conception of a design. ‘Architecture obtains its memoria, its spatialpower and its character from it’s material.’ 12 The quote by Deplazessuggests that material has considerable impact on the atmospheric experience ofspace and is there for the most important association in memory andarchitecture.
To an extent Deplazes depicts the image of material as a physicalliving thing, with its own character and power, drawing on Louis Kahn’s view ontruth to material. Rossi’s reference to the construction of the city alludes tothe value that can be obtained through the experience of space, formed andenclosed by material. The power and experience of material has significanteffect on its users, evoking feeling and associations with past experience.These associations determine the positive or negative effect and can evokedifferent reactions from individuals. Can material, that in itself belongs to placeand has evidence of history and life, evoke a greater sense of value in itsuse? Rossisuggests that architecture of meaning is the beholder to architecture ofpermanence.13 Although our memories associate spaces withfunctions, it is the adaptability of these functions and character or’experience’ which can ensure its permanence within the city.
‘The past is partly being experienced now.’ 14 As a method of analogy to understand theurban structure of the city, Rossi deciphers its history as its greatest formof research. The definition of ‘permanence’ is traditionally viewed as thequality of lasting or remaining unchanged. Commenting on Poete’s theory of ‘persistence’s’,Rossi determines key connections between monuments of permanence and the layoutand plans of the city.
These artefacts of permanence are linked to the originaland historic plans of the city, entwined in its fabric. Permanence can beconsidered as either ‘pathological’ a monument that although is no longer usedfor its original function, is representative of the city and contains a meaningdeeper than purely its function and is therefore inherent in its character tomaintain its place in the city, or secondly, a ‘propelling’ permanence, thatadapts to new functions of the city but still remains representative of pastforms, instilling a greater sense of value in place. Permanence’s differentiatethe past from the present but can also inform the growth of the city by buildingin relation to existing artefacts.
John Tuomey, makes reference to the idea ofpermanence in line with Rossi’s view describing that ‘Permanenceand change are closely connected.’ 15The connotations of thepermanence of artefacts is linked to its ability to represent the experience ofthe city, to this extent the artefact of permanence has its place inarchitecture as a representational piece and is not necessarily applicable toevery building ‘type’. Does historical reference of form and relation to place constitute anarchitecture of permanence and can the adaptability of function further ensurethis idea? ‘The acceptance of tradition, in some form, is thecondition of architectural meaning’.16 The question of typology, is Rossi’s most controversial ideology of thecity, as he uses the basis of type to raise issues about form and function.
Rossi proposes the conception of type as being manifest in the construction ofthe first civilisations, these buildings were formed through both functionaland aesthetic aspirations. The first vernacular settlements were rooted inplace and relied upon the nature of the land. Therefor in constructing thefirst types of building, with the available resources of the time, naturallythe constructions that follow would bear similar qualities and form a basis oftype influenced by place and culture. In Rafael Moneo’s text ‘On Typology’ thedefinition of type is described as a group of objects with commoncharacteristics.
In his study, he conceives the architecture of the buildingfrom two viewpoints, the first as a unique object, characterised by its siteand place and consequently unrepeatable and alternatively, type, as a series ofelements assembled to create a whole and as a result repeatable.17 The question of type and typology, raises thequestion of authenticity, if a form can simply be repeated, why is thearchitect required? In this argument, Rossi’s stance is not promoting of arepetitious architecture, rather it is derived from the idea of collectivememory and the notion of type as a way of conceiving architecture of greatermeaning or value. Ernesto Rogers touches on this idea by describing the issueof typology as a constant comment on the past and based on the prior knowledgeand experience of built work.
18Suggesting that rather the image of type is a basis for interpretation of anexisting working model, or a lesson to be learnt from one that has not worked. Typeis a basis of past forms and inherently interpreted through past traditions ofplace and memory that can give works of architecture value. Durand’sdevelopment of typology opposed the notion of traditional forms associated withuse and proposed typology as the formation of elements based on a grid,influenced by geometry and axis. This type is independent of function,adaptable and continuous. 19Moneoconcludes that if each work of art can be assembled of the typologicaldifferent elements, these can be suggestive of use but not necessarily singularin its use, allowing for greater adaptability of space. If these associationswith place, memory and experiences are inherent in the different elements of a’type’, does this give the artefact greater value? Caruso St John uses thetheory of Rossi as a basis for interpretation of traditional forms to which hedescribes ‘The promise of Rossi is to put to good use in work that uses typology torediscover a purpose and a place for architecture in the city: buildings thatemploy ‘normal’ construction techniques to extraordinary artistic end.
‘ 20 ‘Vernacularbuildings are much less self-conscious about technique, they use the techniquesthat are available, they have enormous power because of the ingenuity withwhich they apply a restricted technology, a technology that is very deeplyunderstood. These structures can also be profoundly engaged with the culturefrom which they emerge.’ 21Traditionally vernacular architecture, relied on natural resources andthe labour of the collective to build, as depicted in both Violet Le Duc andLaugier’s drawings on the ‘Primitive Hut’.22 Thedrawings emphasise man’s relationship to earth and instinctive nature to build.The natural resources of earth, stone, metal and timber are still primaryconstruction materials in architecture today, despite the emergence of newtechnologies. Materialand construction are closely considered and discoursed in the work of Caruso StJohn; they believe it has poetical language that can offer greater meaning intothe atmosphere of spaces.
23 Similarto the ideologies of Aldo Rossi, they believe the ingenuity and compositionalelements of a space can equate to a profoundly more engaged and meaningfulexperience. It is this experience ofspace, that leaves its impression on our memory. Caruso St John’s designmethodologies consider traditional forms and processes of construction as a wayof creating architecture with a ‘formal and material presence.’ 24 Theyfurther describe their work as showing physical evidence of its construction asa way of evoking atmosphere. Suggesting that it is the process of constructionand not necessarily the technique that holds value and meaning in space. ‘Impressions emerge as a reaction to atmosphere… Such impressions arerecorded as part of a process of associated thought and subsequently givenvalue and meaning…This understanding has led in our work to a persistentpreoccupation with place and an acknowledgment of the significance of memoryand the familiar.’ 25 Similarly, the work of Sergison and Bates is also interestedin the conception of atmospheric spaces as a result of material andconstructional experiences influenced by associations to place.
Their text discussesthe ‘wall effect’, structure and ornamentation as an imbue of meaning tospace.26Suggesting that meaning is transposed through reference to history and culturalmemory. ‘Expression is given precedence over technique and materials aretransformed through their configurations to intensify meaning.’ 27 Analysing Semper’s writing who deciphers thatornamentation traditionally is not engaged with structure but is vital to theinstil of meaning.
They believe that it is the composition of structure,materials and surface that portray meaningful effects in the experience of space.An architectural peer who has influenced both Caruso St John andSergison Bates’s work is Sigurd Lewrentz. It is said that in his design of theSt Klippan church he purposely made evident the nature of its constructionthrough the expression of craftsmanship and as a result, has become a part ofits context with deeper meaning and value than other new additions of the samematerial.28 Thebrickwork was intentionally left rough and the mortar joints thicker thanusual, this ‘imperfect’ finish of the material, enhances and emphasises itshand-crafted nature and process of making.
The composition of the brick as anindividual object multiplied into a weaving fabric of a whole, signifies theparts and exemplifies the individual nature of each brick. Zumthor enforcesthis idea describing ‘Construction is the making of a meaningful whole outof many parts.’29 Everymaterial has a set of inherent properties of which can be expressed orsuppressed by the maker. It takes a skilled and experienced craftsperson to understandthe material and how best to work it and it capabilities. The later work ofSigurd Lewrentz is considered to be his greatest suggesting that hisaccumulated experience of construction and lessons learnt from previousprojects had enhanced his knowledge of the process. ‘Tradition cannot be inherited and if you want it you must obtain it bygreat labour.’ 30 Rossi’s image of the city made by man refers to the work and ‘labour of our hands’ acknowledging theindividual work of man; he alludes to the contribution and value of theindividual craftsman in the forming of the city.31Similarly TS Elliot, alludes to the sense of self-worth and value that can beachieved through working.
Frampton’s research discusses the dignity of labourand loss of value as a result to the demoralisation of the maker.32 Basedon Hannah Arendt’s text ‘The Human Condition’ Frampton makes the distinctionbetween Labour and Work.33 Determining Labour as processual, private,impermanent andWork as static, public, permanent. 34 The distinctions between these draws parallels with Durkheim’s theory ofcollective consciousness.
Arendt further defines the work of the homo faber,the concept of human beings able to control their fate and their environmentthrough tools, and animal laboron a species that sets itself apart from the animalsnot by its thinking, but by its labour. What Arendt and Frampton enforces, isthe lost value to the craftsmen through industrial production. As a consumersociety, quality has lost priority to quantity, or rather, in Frampton’s words ‘The modern age has sacrificed the ideas ofpermanence and durability to the abundance ideal of animal laboron.’ The essay draws connections between a loss ofidentity through industrial production, suggesting that the lack of identitywithin the collective has caused a loss of value and a throwaway culture thathas resulted in a lack of meaning.
The labourof man has become a ‘means to an end’ rather than the proposed appreciation of the making of the city by manas suggested by Rossi in the formation of the city. 1Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City.New York: MIT Press. p.
342Rossi, A. (1984). The Architecture of the City.New York: MIT Press.3Palladio quoted in Feilden Clegg Bradley.(2009). Dwelling Accordia.
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33Hannah Ardent quoted in The Status of Man and the Status of his Objects writtenin Frampton, K. (2002). Labour, Work andArchitecture.
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