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Archive for November, 2014

A Vaudeville Act in Yellow

Some old Queenslander-style houses in Brisbane are pretty amazing showcases of self expression.

I like this one for its audacious splash of canary yellow colour. Punctuated with a bit of turquoise and the odd spot of rusty metal hues it is bordered by a dark lime green band. Perhaps it is a satire on traditionalist colour schemata? The traditional vase of faux plastic roses are a nice nostalgic touch, a nod to the past.

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All the corrugated iron sheets and timbers get the same treatment here; no favouritism in the setting of this stage!

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However a peek through the corrugated curtain leads one’s eye behind the scenes to spot the odd errant outlier in the colour regime.

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 An exercise in mixed media cleverly using a juxtaposition of cubic and linear  elements delivers a punch-line where horizontality meets verticality & rectilinear timber meets curvilinear iron!

YellowPaddo-4967A “Mark” & “Jamie” have left their secret mark by the back gate. Does this signpost a rear entry where you can meet a couple of “scratchy” vaudevillian artists who lie in wait behind the barbed wire for a potentially “captive” audience?

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Architectural Activism : Simple & effective responses to building a sustainable world.

Many architects work with aid organisations or by themselves to provide sustainable and positive solutions to ecological and/or social problems. There is strong interest and activity by architects  in the related areas of sustainability, community resilience, social design and activism. Climate change, population growth, war,  poverty, disease and massive human migration shifts have affected some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. Some project examples include safe permanent/temporary shelters, access to basic sanitation and clean water supplies.

Through a travelling exhibition, ‘People Building Better Cities’, that visited my city during September – October 2014, I became aware of other varied architect-led initiatives engaging with disadvantaged communities worldwide. There are many architectural groups (like Community Architects Network) and community led grassroots groups and networks (e.g. ‘Asian Coalition for Housing Rights’) located at many places around the world, all working to address local issues to create resilient, equitable, inclusive and sustainable communities, towns and cities that are variably free of disease, war, poverty, housing shortages, unsanitary water sources, drugs and crime and have adequate waste disposal, education and health facilities, to name a few of the issues that make communities vulnerable.

There appears to be increasing pushback to architecture in which ‘appearance’ or ‘aesthetics’ have been valued over purpose and pressing social requirements, and which has resulted from a lack of consultation with and participation from the affected communities. As concluded in The Environment & Urbanization report:

 ‘The work of community architects in Asia has shown that professionals should stop making all the design decisions and instead, should take on the role of helping translate people’s own ideas for transforming their houses and communities into drawings and models that the wider society can understand.”

An example of an architect who is working on helping his fellow man is Nigerian  architect, Kunlé Adeyemi, who is the principal of NLÉ which is a practice that specifically applies its architecture, design and urbanism practice to rapidly developing cities in developing countries.

Floating primary school: At the waterside slum of Makoko, near Lagos, Nigeria,by Kunlé Adeyemi. The design was conceived following discussions with the local community. Source The Guardian|The Observer Sunday 10 August 2014.

One project that has received broad attention is his prototype, ‘Makoko Floating School’ [Links #1, #2 & #3] in which he attempts to address the physical and social needs of the Makoko/Iwaya Waterfront Community, in the waterside slum of Makoko, near Lagos, Nigeria, who are faced with constant climate change induced pressures of flooding and the problems of building on unstable marshland; (100,000 people in Makoko live in housing that is built on stilts). After talking with the community about these issues he came up with the elegantly simple solution of building a floating primary school using simple technology and community collaboration.

The conceived 3-level structure is basically a timber A-frame 10m high, set on a square 10m x 10m base that is buoyed by a bed of 16 recycled blue 215Litre plastic barrels. This floating structure has a low centre of gravity and is stable enough to support 100 adults even in stormy weather. As it is a floating structure is can adapt to varying water levels and storm surges.

Peak hour : floating school. Source: http://www.nleworks.com

The lower level is purposed as a play area for school pupils (and also as a community space after school hours). The second level is a classroom space (large enough to cater for 60 – 100 pupils), and a workshop is on the 3rd and topmost level. The 200m long building is made up of 16 pyramidal modules that can be joined together. The school was also being used by the community as a social, cultural and economic centre.

Prototype floating structure for the lagoon community of Makoko. Image source: Architecture AU 31Oct 2014

The materials for the base and A-frame were sourced from locally sourced timber and bamboo and the structure was constructed by local builders (thus addressing local sustainability and social employment concerns). The building has also kept to the principles of sustainable development and is designed to reduce its carbon footprint by using renewable energy, recycle organic waste as well as harvesting its own rainwater.

Makoko Floating School : Concept schematic. Source: http://www.nleworks.com

Kunlé Adeyemi is also applying this concept to other areas such as the slums of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where residents are threatened with displacement through government run urban renewal projects. As a solution he hopes that a city of floating homes can be constructed that would provide safe housing for residents while allowing them to remain within their water-based community.

I take my hat off to this architect!

 

 


Way-finding? Not!

Alexandra Lange posted an interesting article about “Architecture Without Signs” in which she questions why architecture needs wayfinding signage?

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She argues that “… architecture needs to work without words. The building should point your way to its entrance without an arrow.” An interesting concept for architecture that has been built with this in mind, but more difficult for historical structures that do not have this design element built in, or if their space is not legible in the first instance! So supplemental graphics are always going to be a required visual element but hopefully not to the extent where they create distracting “visual noise”.

Indeed finding a portal to a public building like an art gallery can sometimes be a bit problematic, especially if a building is approached by other more circuitous routes (e.g. from a train station or errant/random car park). Also how does wayfinding work for those who are visually-challenged? Perhaps different (audio?) design approaches are required?

Entrance, Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, NY

Of course as a reader observed, “Bathroom wayfinding is the most important.” which suggests, that in an emergency, you don’t want to second guess your exit strategy.