CONTRIBUTIONS: JOSE JUAN BARBA|
This article is 7980 words long.
Key words: Post-industrial city.
REFLECTIONS FOR THE POST-INDUSTRIAL CITY.
by José Juan Barba, Architect
"...I have never doubted the truth of signs, Adso; they are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world. What I did not understand was the relation among signs. I arrived at Jorge through an apocalyptic pattern that seemed to underlie all the crimes, and yet it was accidental. I arrived at Jorge seeking one criminal for all the crimes and we discovered that each crime was committed by a different person, or by no one. I arrived at Jorge pursuing the plan of a perverse and rational mind, and there was no plan, or, rather, Jorge himself was overcome by his own initial design and there began a sequence of causes, and concauses, and of causes contradicting one another, which proceeded on their own, creating relations that did not stem from any plan. Where is all my wisdom, then? I behaved stubbornly, pursuing a semblance of order, when I should have known well that there is no order in the universe...."
"The majority of the cities studied offer a chaotic image nowadays. These cities do not correspond at all to their mission, which should consist in satisfying the prime, biological and psychological needs of their population."(2)
The texts used as a preamble show the basic analysis that we can make of human events, or the analysis for elucidating their deep structure, from a formalization or conceptualization that surpasses idealized semblances of order. In Umberto Eco's text, an understanding of the unknown is renounced, but what if the ambiguities, contradictions or equivocal dualities we perceive in these events were simply degrees of complexity, dressed up in concepts such as chance, contradiction, coincidence...?, phases for overcoming the intimacy of structures, which only with sufficient intuition to analyze them would enable us to see a deterministic chaos that always overwhelms semblances of order in any human activity, as well as in architecture, as denoted by the influence of the geometrization of space since Euclides' time.
Let us analyze, then, the idea of the Post-Industrial City. Taking as a given that the City stopped growing and generating itself long ago, or at least that it quit being understood based on classical structures, let us make a brief analysis of the City and see whether its diverse complexity or complexities allow us to structure ideas to intervene in or generate this absorbing entity that the City, if we can still call it as such, of the end of the 20th Century, has become: the Post-Industrial City.
The City, as a human item par excellence, is made up of its architecture and all the things that constitute the real means of processing nature. Man's need since the Middle Ages to create a socially required space separate from the outside sphere, configuring a microspace-microclimate, controlled by himself, an artificial entity that would transform the world into a response to his needs. Said needs make up the first structures, shapes, types, models, the greater or lesser degree of the buildings' complexity. Aristotle, in writing "Politics", sets forth the following idea of a city: "...the city is a community of homes and families with the aim of living well, of achieving a perfect and sufficient life," although this assertion is qualified on considering the City to be of a nature prior to the home, "...because the whole is necessarily prior to the part," parts that he defines basically as economic production units. Now is not the time to continue analyzing in detail the different stages of the City in history, but the assertion by Aldo Rossi that "thus types are formed according to needs and the aspirations to beauty," allows us to move along fairly effortlessly to the 20th Century.
Traveling quickly through history, this definition could be considered valid until the 19th Century, a period in which the increase in population, in the gradual consolidation of the Industrial City, would determine a number of factors that brought forth and produced a substantial about-face, qualitatively and quantitatively, in its organization.
But let us look at what happened during this period. A number of authors, such as Oren, Fourier and Richardson, would analyze the situation of man and reason as a type independent of all eventualities with a set of scientifically deductible needs, which would condition the crystallization of the City. Ruskin and William Morris were influenced by the romantic idealization of the old world, basing their theories on the analysis of the individual within the group as an irreplaceable cog in a gear assembly, where the harmonic development thereof shapes the City. Engels and Marx in general dismissed types as elements that break away from the globality of their approaches, but they emphasized the capacity of that industrial society to generate universal man, who would generate a new order, a new City. Along the lines of a new city, we have the concept of antiquity or American anti-urban planning, the platforms of from Thomas A. Jefferson to F.L. Wright, who would base his Utopian approaches on the relation of the individual to nature, the search for a state, for a rural city compatible with economic development, "that in itself allows an assurance of freedom, the flourishing of personality."
Detalle. Expuesto en Washington D.C.'94, Montevideo'95 y Barcelona'96.
The summary of all these theories in the physical realization produced and expanded by privacy in history, from the Greek thalams to the bourgeois formalization of the concept of individuality, an artificial concept, and one which consequently generates artifical space, space diametrically opposed to topos, to what is contingent, but which has undergone a process of generalization to all of society and, all in all, to the City as a relational space, which has little by little grown in spatial importance in accordance with the demand for privacy of each individual.
The public spaces of the agora or forum evolved until the Renaissance and Baroque periods, essentially in artistic and cultural refinement. Beginning with the triumph of the French Revolution, the generalization of these spaces throughout different areas of the city enhanced the idea of individual public spaces for each neighborhood, for each urban area, with a minimal character of uniqueness. The schemes for urban expansion of the 19th Century are a clear manifestation of these ideas, which would be supported in their development by the growing technical capacity and the prevailing need, after the order of the existing city was described as chaos, of placing against it new ideal orders, new polis, models which, in practice, are rationalized projections of something imaginary. The concept of a revolutionary city, which marked the image for our cities. The response to a technique, just as at the turn of the century mathematicians quickly reached a barrier of complex calculation owing to an absence of nimble operative systems, similar to the barrier holding back protobiologists lacking in microscopes, or architects themselves, moored to the neos.
The changes that were brewing in the 19th Century and which began to consolidate themselves in this period pointed not to rejecting the notion of structure, but to generating and conceiving of open structures, which would bend in function to the specific realities under which the City was located and developed, where the place was not considered as the frame, but rather as the object itself.
The pre-methaphysical Greeks had a very clear understanding of this notion of topos, of Place; there almost seems to be a mathematical equation, with structure as x and what is contingent as a function of x, the result being: y = f(x). An example of this is the urban planning of the Acropolis, which interpreted what is contingent as forming an almost divine notion of space-place, where everything that was collective or individual in the city, its very aesthetic purpose, was set under almost inimitable conditions, since in its origin there was no intention of leadership or managing bodies, but instead the relation with nature in the shape of myths, where marriage with the territory was one of impregnation.
It is in the first third of the century, where the imagination championed by the avant-gardists was the only thing that advanced in the contemplation of the universe of details, of progressively more subtle ideas, when this idea of Place was reintroduced and a commitment was made to what neoplasticism meant as opposed to classicism, open, dynamic, radical and poetic plastic arts. One of its protagonists, Le Corbusier, was to update Aristotle's initial assertion: "The majority of the cities studied offer a chaotic image nowadays. These cities do not correspond at all to their mission, which should consist in satisfying the prime, biological and psychological needs of their population."
This set of protagonists, the Avant-gardists, with their reflections and proposals, furnished us with the basis, the grounds for structuring, rather than a Closed City developed by classical architecture, an Open City. They provided us with a change in our linear course and presented us with a way out of the loop of the 19th Century. It was up to us to finalize the parameters, create the tools, develop the language that would allow us to give expression to that Open City which we now refer to as the Post-Industrial City. Intuition and imagination were and are available tools, but they are not always a given and they need for architects or urban planners to train them, in order to enable the new city structures, initially rejected as absurd, to be satisfied or accepted as logical.
Something was put forward, but the pre-war period and World War II broke the line of continuity that gave shape to these ideas, prompting an almost total absence of intuition. Afterwards barely a thought was given, but there was an affectation of two or three concepts or ideas, accepted literally. At the end of the forties, fifties and sixties there emerged an era of development, in which those who had not sensed it now did so, a large number of urban planners and architects converted to Modernity to jump on the bandwagon of development policy. The swiftness of this machine caused it to be created without meditation, and there emerged dramatically: The Picturesque City, Alphabet Soup City... Dismantled cities, lacking in structure, arbitrary. Formlessness emerged, as opposed to the Closed City. But the Open City, which should have been the basis for the Post-Industrial City, did not materialize. Growth planned to basically solve the problems of emigration of the more modest social classes to the large metropolises, which justified the use of precarious and speculative economic means, based on a maelstrom of Modernity. An immense cultural vacuum, fed by a few historians and apologists of development policy.
The breeding ground for criticism was ready, and although the initial problems of the new plans for the City proposed by the Modern Movement were not its freedom itself, but rather the tough perceptions with which it was developed, neither did the mechanisms developed from the theories of the fifties allow the tools for the Singularization, the Flexibility of said structures to be created, but rather to return to other still tougher structures because they were closed, monotonous and out of context.
New approaches such as the "Brutalists" criticized the lack of structure in Picturesquism or Empiricism, formulated by superficial, formal or visual structures in the best of cases, which had not resolved the development of the immense isotropic chess boards put forward by the new urban planning, nor their deep indifferentiation. In sum, we have verification of an absence of a Deep Structure. The Modern Movement had expounded a criticism of the classic structure of center or stability, of symmetry, of the graduality in the process of approaching the referential static elements, prompting the loss of Monumentality and any sign of reference, leading to anonymity, absolute indifferentiation, serial production of formless and dismantled architecture.
"Desarollo port-industrial al norte de Madrid. Expuesto en Washington D.C.'94, Montevideo'95 y Barcelona'96."
The experience of the previous decade and the verification of the problems occasioned the sixties to be a foundation for more profound and fruitful approaches. The solutions offered were broader. These included:
- The central focus would be peripheral, with a set of theories on serving and served spaces, the development of which was based on physical communication; new centers that competed among themselves and established a dynamic and unstable framework.
- As opposed to a radial structure that pointed to a center that emphasized the former, exaggerating and congesting the latter to the point of collapse, there emerged a linear structure between lesser poles, which permitted the growth of a central band of primary elements at the same time as that of the predominantly residential lateral bands which it served. The problems of the linear cities, from Arturo Soria to the Constructivists, were studied and analyzed, but what was generated were ramified cities, the results of which, upon causing closure along its limits, led to the creation of the Shortcircuited Linear City, a type of directional grid.
It is in this period when the need arose for a revision that would criticize or meditate upon the abundance of bad examples that emerged in the fifties and sixties, lacking in Poetics, scornful of the treatment of intermediate spaces, and thus Charles Jencks, on the occasion of the blowing up of the Pruitt neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri (1952-1972, Minouri Yamasaki), dared to declare the Modern Style dead. This announcement had been preceded by strong theoretical development of analysis and reflection on architecture and the city. Thus we have Manfredo Tafuri, with his "Teorie e storia dell'architettura" (1968), in which he analyzes each of the architectural methodologies and his opinion of architectural criticism, or subsequently R. Krier, with his open and excessive criticism of the urban planning of the 20th Century in "Stradtraum. Theorie in/und Praxis" (1975), Carlo Aymonino in "Lo studio dei fenomeni urbani," Colin Rowe, etc. But it is without a doubt Aldo Rossi, with his "La architettura de la citt" (1966) and Robert Venturi, with his "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture" (1966), who offer the two most influential treatises of the time, and doubtless of the past three decades.
With greater or lesser importance, intuition or virulence, things took a turn when, in the eighties, primarily Cartesian approaches were developed, constituting a clear Euclidean or checkerboard grid, the basic element of which was a square or rectangle, allowing a closed block of a relatively small size to be formed. The block constituted a closed ring, with a constant background, and a hard, persistent cornice line around six stories. This ring in its interior delineated a courtyard of a regular block treated as a square or garden, underneath which spaces were developed for services and parking. These cells defined a relatively sensitive grid, with larger axes that articulated smaller ones in an arrangement that approached that of the Linear City. A grid with a few niceties based on a diagonal axis and a crescent or a double crescent square or two of the typology of a stadium. A structure that corresponded to logical foundations where the ideal city conferred criteria of reality and need to every type of architecture, where form had its own persistence (classic), which was not reduced to the logical moment. An 18th Century Englightenment approach. The closed structures built ignored each Specific City, appealing to the inexistent Ideal City.
As a result we had a 19th Century scheme for urban expansion, purified since it was more directional and hierarchical. The size of the block was smaller and the courtyards were opened because of their being leisure spaces. Result:
A) A city that was reticulated and controlled but not very real, since it avoided what was contingent (differences in places and times).
B) When the city's scale increased, this was usually solved by quick, perimetrical means, which fenced in these neighborhoods, leading to boundary problems.
C) These boundaries generated dismantled interstitial spaces, patched with parks, public spaces (!?) and large connecting thoroughfares.
This open tensional and directional grid, eminently valid, is the one that there was an attempt to finally use in the last decade, but in a rigid, mineralized form, alienated from its "context," its topos. And yet, since the expansion city of the 19th Century, it is the best execution produced. An entire century of revolutionary approaches to get to here. Is architecture the only activity moored to a social pace whose modes and manners are found in the past? Can it formulate responses to complex organisms of a large size in consonance with its times, or is it only capable of generating works of relative singularity?
It would all have gone well if a century had not elapsed, in which the technical and social pace claims to have found itself at the end of the 20th Century. The nineties should have created or must create the foundations for the Post-Industrial City, it must become destructured, distinguish itself, diversify, placing itself at the service of what is contingent, of Place, leading it to become filled with Modernity, content, reutilizing open-directional grids, recovering invention.
Although the prototype set forward by the Athens Charter made the fantastic contribution of being a primary proposal, early readings were superficial, in most instances leading to schematization and a lack of sensitive coordination, which restricted or prevented the development of the City set out therein. Its schematization and simplification prompted the saturation of its approaches; road organization and hierarchy were not studied deeply, and as a result, the proposals set forth solutions of grids that were too homogenous and isotropic in their primary designs. Simplification in zoning by functions was resorted to (which led to a lack of urban continuity), the designs generally lacked an analysis of scale (lacking in adjustment, without taking pedestrian scale into account, facilitating progressive processes from the whole), the building typology and arrangement were lacking in richness, which generated modules with excessively reductive and rigid models, inserted into global planning in which the free and interstitial spaces displayed defects in the study of the treatments and designs, for which maintenance needs were generally left out. Poetic but reductive approaches, which were truncated in their primary development due to their rigidity and the poverty of their architectural structuring.
With this baggage, despite the pretensions of a few theorists, the distribution of cities is not the object of a rigorous science. What is more, for some time the same idea of scientific urban planning has been one of the myths of industrial society. We can speak of the Post-Industrial City with an understanding of profound baggage and architectural change as regards its sense and meaning. And comprehend the dawning of the construction that has been carried out in the last decades of this century, in a geometric progression of construction that has undifferentiated architectural acts, where cities have been revealed, generating their own generative dynamics, allowing the assertion of the inexistence of global generative approaches and certifying partial surgical performances in the development of cities, in an attempt to change their deformations, convulsions and growths, fleeing from plans, floorplans and planning and acting with strategies or designs that allow one to intervene in chaos.
The proposal is to bend, articulate, diversify the methods of structuring, reintroducing the organization of Linear City schemes and delving deeper into the gradation of its nuances. That is, to move sequentially or, why not?, fractally. Generating and setting forth designs that allow a differentiation and enrichment of the open building elements, without losing sight of the idea of deep formal structuring. One would have to move sequentially, as is necessary in reticulated structures, and consider hypotheses such as the one proposed by Javier Echevarra, in which he hypercontextualizes, in an ideal manner, a universe that is telematic or simply one of digital technologies, "...a new City is being constructed at the end of the 20th Century. Said City is not based, as are the classic cities, on a principle of territorial organization among human beings and groups."(4) It should be pointed out that this dis-territoriality is based on the concept of relations, admittedly basic, but which are generating the presence of things public in things private, and things private in things public, of the development of individuality or else the capacity for the spatial growth of our thalams, or as we have already mentioned: privacy. What is contingent will be conditioned, but at any rate it will always be an "a posteriori" determinant if we interpret Contingent and Topos as inseparable elements.
Integrating and coordinating the new and various urban functions, with the idea of continuity and graduality, taking into account the specific analysis of each situation. Considering that in the future social activities will, to a great extent, depend on the telematic processing of information, thus making the geographic location where the information is processed irrelevant.
Establishing a structure that forms a diversity of scales embracing everything from the global City to vehicle transporation routes and going as far as the continous schemes of pedestrian and business connections, without leaving out the processes of long-distance social interaction, as well as the treatment and design of open spaces. At all times taking topos into account, but never forgetting cronos and therefore the consequences of time.
The City should be subtle, almost minimal, but should not lose its unique quality as a result thereof. Just as the city of the Greeks, the Acropolis, or the Alhambra of Granada, St. Mark's Square or the City of San Gimnignano, they can be functional arrangements (structure as a function of topos). They are examples of harmonies of a whole in less than "ideal" arrangements of their elements, they are not the result of a conceptual framework; this is simply Architecture constituted by exquisite additions free of "a prioris," and not by prejudged division.
Putting forward an individual solution for every specific design problem by means of deep, concrete analysis, which should not be interpreted, as in some previous proposals, as heterogeneous, multi-colored condensations of the City. The persistence and intensity of a slight change of direction could turn out to be as vehement as the most tumultuous arm flapping, and of a greater spatial cadence overall in the City.
This individualization enables the idiosyncrasies of the site and/or the scheme, on a functional level, to develop the dilemmas appropriate to the place's original features and outline, to elude the ideal model, the Euclidean process of rationalization. A complex structure that differs to a great extent both from open design and from the compartmentalization of functions associated with the Modern Movement.
Finally, avoiding and rejecting the importance of the commonly accepted typologies - functional and constructive. We need to regain the stages in this race in which human relations far surpassed their relation with architectural spaces and in which concepts such as telehouses, "Houses without walls. City of cities, whose fundamental infrastructure will be digital technologies,"(5) should not be interpreted as mere technological prostheses; despite the fact that they do not alter the physical structure of the domus, the process of superimposing these social forms does lead to profound transformations.
But beyond approaches that are universal or unique, ideal or contingent, we will always have to deal with habitability. The generation of the theoretical City, and urban planning itself, has all too frequently avoided this reality, with the result of not knowing the nature of the City.
In any case, it is quite possible that the concept of City will lose part of the semantic wealth pertaining to it in the past. Perhaps its role as creator and shaper will be taken over by telematics. We may be witness to the planet-wide proliferation of urban conglomerations, indefinitely extendible, which will cause all meaning of the concept of City be lost, and the impossibility of global actions or of zero genesis will become a reality.
At this moment these entities, called Cities, continue to require interventions for regeneration and growth; thus it is necessary to be aware of the consolidation of a Post-Industrial City in the broadest sense of the term, in the need for the architect to evaluate each era, in a constant process of progression.
Expressing thoughts or making proposals is, then, a process for avoiding the seductive vicissitudes which architectural fashion must confront, while it responds to the substantive transformations that take place in this discipline over time.
José Juan Barba.