3.03.2012

Build the Diagram!

Over the years, I've come to notice a number of "high design" architecture firms that employ an intuitively appealing process for presenting their work. When I dug further, it was clear what the reasons were: 
While there are other reasons that Rem's professional progeny have succeeded, these two reasons deserve some attention. That Koolhaas nurtures these young fawns so they can eventually go out and fend for themselves reminds me a lot of the Belichick or Parcels coaching trees. From one trunk sprout innumerable branches. It's actually mind boggling and another sign of genius. Their work might speak for itself but the success stories coming from their hallowed halls speak even louder. What strikes me is hiring and creating a culture that seems to spawn an eventual ambition for independence. The turnover must be a constant HR dilemma. 

Cheers to Metropolis for creating this. . . diagram!?


But let's not forget the primacy the architectural diagram plays in the whole PLOT. For Rem and his progeny the diagram is the tour-de-force arrow in the architect's quiver. A simple visual expression of a spatial idea. And often times for these firms, they BUILD THE DIAGRAM. This approach is intuitively appealing, something I noticed as a designer but obviously has been noticed by clients as well. Here's why:
  • For one, the diagram is very intuitive and visually digestible. It tends to isolate one factor and illustrate it with a cartoon-like simplicity. Not something Edward Tufte would suggest, but nonetheless useful for connecting with a broad audience.
  • The often chronological sequence of diagrams makes the architecture seem as though it has come to be. On its surface it makes the designer's process readily transparent and not preordained. 
  • Almost invariably the diagramming involves program -  that is to say the client's perceived spatial needs. This program often gets re-aggregated and appears to be the driver of form. So in that sense, whatever the formal outcome, it seems to have its genesis in the client's needs, not the architect's whim. Huge slight-of-hand there. 
  • With many of the firms, like BIG, JDS, MVRDV, REX and MASS Studies, the diagramming includes the idea of external forces influencing form, which is why the buildings are almost never clean modernist boxes. But implicit in that is the idea that the external environment, be it wind, views or even NIMBY neighbors have participated in the making of the building.
  • Finally, an important aim of the exercise is the ridicule of the conventional. It's a not so subversive technique where the diagrams start with a boring formal solution to program and then reveals a transformation that renders the boring box as obsolete. 
The take away here is an individual and a method of production that have been hugely influential. Of course there are issues with taking a diagram and making it a building, literally (REX/OMA did it in Seattle). But almost every single offspring of Rem are larger than life personalities that make for great salesmen and have the audacity to actually do something different. I've run across a few myself and look forward to hearing the grand poonah himself speak at the GSD on Monday


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