Terms of Art: New Language from Contemporary Architecture

Terms of Art: New Language from Contemporary Architecture

Scott Geiger
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Sensory performance ascribed to a building or space. Some contemporary architecture appeals to the senses through pattern, materiality, light—what times past would have called “ornament” before it was starved from architecture by modernism. Affect resists interpretation. It bears no message. Instead, affect conveys a resonance between space and program, building and site, surface and sunlight. The screen facade of the New Museum in New York City, for example, affects mutability: the building looks either rugged or diaphanous depending on the time of day, quality of light, and your perspective from the street.
Read on: The Function of Ornament by Farshid Moussavi; “Ornament and Crime” by Adolf Loos.


An older idea about typology finding new life in emerging economies, that a building can be a city unto itself. An example from Steven Holl, who has explored hybrids since his 1977 Gymnasium Bridge proposal, is the Linked Hybrid building completed last year in rampantly urbanizing Beijing.
Read on: Anchoring by Steven Holl; Urbanisms: Working with Doubt by Steven Holl.


The latest aesthetic exuberance in architecture. Take a look at Zaha Hadid’s National Museum of 21st Century Art (MAXXI) in Rome. Analog and digital tools alike have typically represented objects: handrails, columns.The new parametric modeling software enables designers to work with the complex interrelationships between objects. So, a building becomes a circuitous equation studded with variables, each representing an object or condition in the project. But the potential for parametrics grows more interesting the further it travels from immediately practical applications. If the software allows us to engage any system of relationships, what’s to stop designers from undertaking an ecosystem or weather event?
Read on: The Autopoiesis of Architecture by Patrik Schumacher.

Passive House

Dwelling that splits the difference between advocates of high-tech sustainability and peak oilers who clamor for a return to primitive house constructions. Known to its German innovators as Passivhaus, it’s a super-insulated house whose form, limited fenestration, and airtight construction create a very stable interior temperature. The limited heating and cooling that are required come from a single mechanical unit that silently circulates air inside the house. Electrical usage can be 70 percent less than that of conventional American homes. Astonishingly, as of 2010, there were only eleven certified Passive Houses in the U.S. In Europe, there were thousands.
Read on: www.passiv.de


Flirting, surgery, laboratory tests, sunbathing, eating spaghetti, Pilates, sleeping—activity measured in square footage, a means of quantifying necessity. How will this project be used? What will that use require? The goal is high functionality: more-efficient trading floors, more- flexible broadcast studios. But really sophisticated programming can also drift toward irony. Clever representation of program—as dancing, colorful cuboids, say—is now almost expected. The iconic form of the Seattle Central Library arises from OMA’s arrangement of stacks as a spiral and the offsetting of its reading room to capture views.

Voronoi Waffle Slab

Like the geometry of a dragonfly’s wing, expanded to the size of a building’s floor plate, and cast in concrete. An advanced mathematical concept uniting a building’s structure to its architecture, the Voronoi Waffle Slab allows designers to see a building as a material field in which physical forces can be traced. From floor to floor, this kind of slab offers significant variations but also opportunities for stylish expressive elements.
Read on: Atlas of Novel Tectonics by Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto.


“Artfully shaped snow landscape,” according to Sergio Lopez-Piñeiro. The assistant professor of architecture at SUNY Buffalo set out to photograph forms of snow piles in parking lots throughout his city. These were later published on Design Observer with an essay discussing how architects might “artistically exploit the spatial conditions defined by these usually overlooked piles of snow.” Some of the coolest ideas in architecture today are arriving in the form of scholarly research, journalism, and art.
Read on: www.bldgblog.blogspot.com; www.m.ammoth.us; www.designobserver.com

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