UIA World Congress 2011
One point of interest was a project to revitalize a rural village that had depopulated from 15,000 to only 50 people. Given a commission to make a gallery in order to attract visitors, SANAA had instead transformed abandoned houses into galleries, with several additions to the old structures.
Wednesday opened with German architect Christoph Ingenhoven's lecture on the theme of "Supergreen," a design philosophy that sees ecological benefits as essential components of architectural practice rather than as secondary outcomes.
To an audience that I estimated in the many hundreds, Ingenhoven started with some apposite remarks about the Fukushima nuclear disaster, telling the audience that this was the inevitable price we pay for this kind of energy source. He then took us through a number of his company's projects in a presentation marked by his affable, slightly serious manner and a wealth of detail.
The highlight of the information-rich lecture was a detailed look at the 30-story, 139-meter- (456-foot-) tall office building 1 Bligh in Sydney, Australia, designed by ingenhoven architects and Architectus. Just finished in August, the building is the first high-rise tower to receive a 6 Star Green Star rating, the highest green-building rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.
Key factors shaping the design were the client's request to make full use of the view towards the harbor — a view that is protected thanks to the presence of heritage architecture — and the unusual street grid of Sydney's central business district, which has a patch of streets aligned diagonally within a larger rectangular grid, a remnant of an abandoned street pattern that aimed to align streets with the colonial governor's residence. One Bligh is located where these two grids meet.
With detailed slides of the design process, Ingenhoven showed us how the plans evolved from a default rectangular plan to an elliptical shape that could better mediate the differing grids. This was then gradually turned to make the best use of the available view.
"What we tried to achieve was the maximum orientation to the harbor," Ingenhoven explained. "At the same time, we had to fit into the complex geometrical situation and make sure that we are part of the rectangular as well as the diagonal grid. We turned the building into the view as much as possible so as not to have a 'shoulder view' to the harbor but a front view."
While the design was suitably elegant, the real story was winning the 6 Star Green Star rating with what is essentially a skyscraper. Ingenhoven's attention to detail was relentless, and by the end of his presentation the audience could well understand how such an achievement had been possible.
The building has a double-skin facade and sun-shielding system to reduce heat gain. It uses an atrium rising to the full height of the building as a climatic reservoir and giant circulatory duct. The tower can be naturally ventilated half of the year by using relatively cool air inducted into the building at night. The air vents that release the air back into the external environment are bladed in order to propel spent air further away from the building and improve natural ventilation.
The building also fully treats its own water, turning gray- and blackwater into drinkable water, and even retrieving sewer water from elsewhere — so the building actually produces more clean water than it uses. Such a detail exemplifies the ethos of Supergreen, which is to create buildings that have a positive ecological impact, rather than just limiting the damage they do to the environment.
The building also adds to the city's public space with a public terrace on top, and a ground floor entirely open to the public that can be used as a shortcut through the city, with building security limited to a small area near the elevators. The building's construction materials include concrete with 60 percent recycled content and steel with 90 percent recycled content.
Ingenhoven's presentation was quickly followed in the same hall by another guest lecture: David Adjaye's talk on "Urban Africa." This was an important way of acknowledging that the next UIA World Congress, in 2014, will be held in an African city. Adjaye's admittedly rather pedestrian lecture was structured around the continent's climate zones and the different cities this produced.
Fumihiko Maki: Metabolism of the Future
One of the reasons the UIA's triennial congress is held in different cities around the world is to expose delegates to diverse cultures and to help them learn about the architectural ideas and traditions of the host country.
At the Tokyo congress, one of the best events in this respect was the third and final keynote speech, delivered by the elderly, dapper, and erudite Fumihiko Maki. His scholarly presentation, "Japanese Modernity: language, scenery and communality," delivered just before the closing ceremony, explored the deeper nature of Japanese architecture and its relation to modernism, which he likened to a giant cloud, shapeless, but receiving feedback from specific local conditions, and functioning like a gigantic medium.
Maki also emphasized the importance of the balance between reason and emotion in the Japanese character, enshrined in the language, which is a composite of imported Chinese ideograms (which he identified as representing reason) and local phonetics (representing emotion).
Perhaps easier to understand from an architectural point of view was his categorization of three kinds of urban development: 1) figure-ground, typical of Europe and characterized by the integration of buildings and streets; 2) figure-street, typical of the United States and characterized by a grid pattern to which buildings are later added; and 3) figure-nature, typical of Japan and characterized by development that refers to geographical features.
The evidence he presented for this included a street map of Kyoto, which he said was oriented toward surrounding mountains and rivers through the placement of symbolic religious sites. The shrines and temples were located in nature, usually on mountaintops, in contrast to Europe, where churches tend to be at the center of urban developments — centrifugal versus centripetal models.
Japanese religion as something partly hidden in nature is one of the cultural elements that Maki has tried to express in his modernist architecture. The best example he presented was his Kaze-no-Oka Crematorium.
Just as a trip to a shrine involves a journey through several gates along a winding path on which the final objective is not visible until you arrive, so does Maki's crematorium take visitors on a similar journey, with visibility limited and the mourners gently ushered from one room to the other by a series of screens rather than doors.
He wound up his speech with a call that echoed the Metabolist Manifesto of 1960, which advocated much greater architectural flexibility to deal with Japan's problems. But Maki pointed out that Japan now faces quite different problems. In 1960 the country's population was rapidly increasing, leading to radical suggestions like Kenzo Tange's Tokyo Bay Project to increase the supply of housing. In the future, Japan's population is projected to sharply decrease — to possibly half of what it is now by the end of the 21st century.
Maki embraced Hidetoshi Ohno's Fiber City proposals to make the metropolis a better place for such a shrinking population. Among the ideas Maki mentioned in his talk were the introduction of more greenery into urban areas to recreate "garden city" areas, like those of the samurai quarters of old Edo, and the creation of many more stations along railway lines, rather like the old streetcars that Maki fondly recalled from his youth.
"Aged people wish to stay in the urban area, so supermarkets should be within walking distance because they can't drive," the 83-year-old architect said in a voice that belied his age.
This was a fitting way to round off a congress that, like Maki's modernist cloud, took much of its shape from the characteristics and challenges of the country in which it was held.
C.B. Liddell lives in Japan. He is the art and architecture editor of Tokyo's Metropolis, and also writes regularly for The Japan Times and a number of other publications. More by C.B. Liddell
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