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AR135 – Elements

AR135 – Elements


In a profession with dogmatically prescribed regulations, values and quantifiable measures – with no ideological position, no defining or overarching style, no rhetoric – architects are without a method of practice or design theory to advocate for or to rebel against. Instead, pluralism exists. As noted previously, ‘without a limiting definition of architecture there are endless possibilities, but without any definition there lacks critique’, which leads to the question: what use is criticality to the practitioner? It is unquestionable that new modes of critical enquiry are as essential to the prospering of architectural culture as they are to the advancement of technological methods of production. This issue proposes strategies, critical accounts and identifies the profession’s apparent shortcomings.

This year, many notable academics and practitioners will discuss the elemental aspects of architecture; it is indeed a subject area that has received a certain amount of interest historically. However the core theoretical proposition behind AR135 emanates, not as a result of these discussions, but from a research thread instigated by myself and Marissa Looby – commencing 2009, published online via Domus, 2011. It seems worthwhile to open up the debate and canvas opinion as to the possible role of elements within architectural discourse.

Each element in this discussion, though, should not be viewed as a token gesture in isolation, nor should a building be presented as a part-to-whole of elemental components; instead, what is postulated is that by experimenting with a building’s elemental components, theoretical positions will become visible to not only the individual practitioner but to the wider discipline and beyond.

The crux of AR135 can be found in identifying aspects that could be broken down into conditional characteristics, In Conversation (p094) suggests a new design theory and practice method, focusing on the ‘how to’ or ‘making’, rather than the repurposed. A similar line of enquiry can be found in Yoshiharu Tsukamoto’s two recent studies on architectural elements that are discussed in tandem in In Praise of Mud: Guide to the Earth Walls of Kyoto and WindowScape 2: Genealogy of Townscapes and Windows (p024) – the attention here is very much on the singular component of design in relation to the wider discipline. But what happens if an element as recognisable (and generic) as Apple’s in-store glass stair becomes a patent? As Urtzi Grau notes in Architectural element US 7,165,362 B2 (p034), this dangerously shifts ownership ‘over either the process to design it or the way it works [implying] a complete transformation of the way architectural culture works’.

This issue, however, is not solely centred on the smallest detail or singular component. In On Trial (p020) Débora Mesa Molina and Antón García-Abril suggest an alternative response to urban environments with ‘Supraextructures’, promoting infrastructures as culturally significant and offering them as external, exposed, explicit elements of the city; with the infrastructural and architectural conflation affirmed by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos in Managing the (elemental) void (p038). UNStudio’s directors discuss a number of their projects in relation to the (vertical) void as element. Proposing a ‘hyper element’ that joins all other elements of architecture ‘into one big detail or gesture’.

In keeping with the elemental theme, the projects each take an element as the method of critique, as opposed to conventional project reviews. There are windows, lattice structures, diagrid panels, volumetric boxes, typological mutations and precast concrete. Notable projects are: Owen and Vokes and Peters’ West End Tower (p044), Kengo Kuma and Associate’s Sunny Hills Cake Shop (p052), and Junya Ishigami’s House With Plants (p076). There is also the final step in our concept to completion tracking with a review of the

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) by Woods Bagot. A project first published in AR130—Pawn as Under Construction, returns here as a full project review (p060). Under Construction in AR135—Elements is the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne by John Wardle Architects / NADAAA (p016), with the issue flanked by AR134 revisited in POSTVIEW (p006) and PREVIEW AR136 (p098).

Michael Holt
Architectural Review Asia Pacific

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