Oct 25, 2016

Really Practical

I can remember my first thoughts about the project that we had to develop during the semester. To me it was very clear: we needed to develop a house that would be considered “new”, since it would interact with its owner. The house would be an extension of the iPhone basically. It would use technology, being sensible to touch and to inputs. It would collect big data generated by its users, managing their comfort, needs, and in some extent, the space itself. The furniture in this house would
even be ordered and fabricated on demand, online, utilizing 3d printing. The house itself could be conceived as a series of walls made of computer screens, allowing personalization of the space via images, textures, and lighting effects.

Everything really practical. But as I started to dive into research and put my head to work a little bit, I figured that something like that would be pretty boring.

I was reintroduced to Lina Bo Bardi (an Italian-Brazilian architect whom I had studied at some point during college), and was surprised how this reencounter would change my perspective. Her architectural gestures were rich in intentions, reflecting culture and sensations. She plays with elements that were not very often explored, giving her architecture a unique flavor. OLIVEIRA (2006) says that “In Lina Bo Bardi’s buildings various elements are repeated so often and so regularly that we are bound to be surprised. The intensity and strangeness of these elements gives them a certain symbolism, difficult to analyze in terms of their function alone.”[1]

There is a lot of symbolic representations in the design of staircases, water-spouts, and even small details, as mosaic finishing for the floor, most of it related to afro-Brazilian religious themes.  About water-spouts, OLIVEIRA (2006) cites that they are “among the most expressive elements in Lina’s buildings and she always gave them special treatment. (…) She drew them even in her initial studies for buildings, and they were usually shown red. (…) Water, the liquid element, always has a feminine feeling in Le Corbusier’s work, whereas Lina connects water with life. (…) There is a relationship between the waterfalls we find at Lina’s buildings and waterfalls in candomble rituals. [2]

Staircases are treated like “ ‘a dance’ or a kind of ‘organic route’. (…) Lina’s spirals have the sense of being “a thousand tangled thread ends’, a dynamo, a whirl or simply a rapidly rotating merry-go-round where time cannot be measured. Some of Lina’s staircases are fluid – they discharge inside the building, and fertilize the whole space in the same way that water spouts on her buildings do. (…) However, just as there is this flowing movement from the top down, so her stairs also emit the idea of ascending into the infinite. This is usually signaled by her treatment of the lowest steps, which are often bigger than, or a bit different from, the others. (…) They are the ‘invitation steps’ that Lina had always admired ‘since childhood’.”[3]

Through Lina’s perspective, I was able to remember that architecture is about transforming concepts and gestures into meaningful spaces or objects – and how hard it is. Architecture is a profession that is misconceived most of the times; people generally think we just “draw” things in AutoCAD. But it is good to remember the essence of our profession and stand by it. Visions for the house of the future always tend to forget architecture, substituting it with technology. I myself, in the beginning of the semester, was inclined to be seduced by this approach. Trusting so much in technological approaches to architecture means not only the death of a profession, but also the disruption of social structures in a very intricate way. We would probably become very practical, even when dealing with our creative needs.  

We would probably live as this character on the TV show “Black Mirror” (Fifteen Million Merits, episode two, season one). The guy lives inside of a facility (not a house or apartment anymore), where he has access to everything he needs utilizing the screens in the walls of his room. He doesn’t need money; the currency then is some sort of “virtual points”, obtained by spending your whole day bicycling. Other forms of getting points include watching tv (you have a minimal daily quote on tv adds, so you are obligated to watch them). He gets his food from vending machines, so only basic and “healthy” food is available. As any of the people living in the facility leaves the place, they don’t need clothes anymore. A basic uniform is fine, since they are able to customize their own avatar and go places with it. After all, why leave the building and experience the city if you can interact with others using your avatar? It seems extreme, but it is no different than using Facebook to say hello to your friends.

Everything is becoming really practical.

Everything can become really boring.

[1] Oliveira, Olivia de, Lina Bo Bardi, and Mark N. Gimson. 2006. P. 161 Subtle substances: the architecture of Lina Bo Bardi. São Paulo: Romano Guerrra.
   [2] Afro-Brazilian religion

   [3] Oliveira, Olivia de, Lina Bo Bardi, and Mark N. Gimson. 2006. P. 173,179 Subtle substances: the architecture of Lina Bo Bardi. São Paulo: Romano Guerrra.

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