946 9-metre-high cypresses stand still amongst a landscape of ashes. After 5 interminable days of fire in Valencia, Spain, July 2012, a green spot enhances the blackness of its surroundings, where pines, holm oaks and junipers used to be. The mystery of using cypresses as natural fire-breakers goes on. Under the same climatic circumstances experienced by its neighbouring trees, this variety of Mediterranean cypress prevented the flames to spread farther. There seems to be three reasons: the fact that few dry dead branches accumulate underneath because of the acidification of the soil; the thin and dense layer of growing humus that keeps the trunk humid; and compact branches preventing wind to go through.
Flames attacked only 1.26% of the treetops; and only 10% of the leaves in all trees were dehydrated. This has led to wider experiments of controlling a territory by using them as strategic fireproof agents, such as the pan-Mediterranean CypFire research (multiple-rowed cypresses barriers against fires), despite detractors alleging in favour of vernacular species.
[source & image> El Enigma de los Cipreses Ignífugos_Joaquín Gil/El Pais]
There is a circular hole in the wall, about 30-40 cm diameter and perforated at 1 metre above the ground. A man enters through the hole in the wall and a man (apparently the same individual) exits again through the same hole. His mate is standing right next to the hole and seems to be waiting for him. Yesterday I came across these pictures again. The enigmatic hole is the entrance to a room. It is a door that keeps you fit, elastic and flexible, if you want to discover what there is at the other side of the wall. Its dimension relies on the utmost reduction of a bending human body. And the erotic experience of penetrating it is intimately connected both to the materiality of the hole and the earthen texture of the wall. It is an intuitive understanding of a house as the shelter of a woman’s uterus. It requires thinking where to place first a leg, an arm, then a hand and a foot. But even if it looks like a perforation, as if material had been removed out of the massive surface, the hole was indeed already there before the wall was built all around it. It is incredibly mysterious when our iconic idea of a rectangular door mutates and becomes something else that defines a new type of threshold.
Below there is another door of Korongo houses that also fascinates me: the oversized threshold, shaped as a human-size keyhole. One discovers its meaningfulness after knowing that it lets villagers access the room while carrying two large jars with drinking water hanging from a stick over their shoulders.
George Rodger captured in his photographs the everyday lives of the Nuba people in Sudan in late 1940s, their houses, their wrestling combats with sharp-edge bracelets, and their aesthetic scars that adorn their bodies.
[photos by George Rodger in Village of the Nubas. Phaidon 1999]
As magic as easy to install, and as many as you want. Similar to a 55W bulb, but without any electricity costs. It is elemental physics that takes care of refracting sunlight in 360º. A skylight suddenly appears in the ceiling. How is it that nobody had come up with the idea before?
The Solar Bottle Bulb (A Liter of Light_Isang Litrong Liwanag) consists of nothing else than a plastic bottle filled with water (and some drops of bleach to keep the liquid purified for up to 5 years). Developed in 2011 by MIT students and implemented by MyShelter Foundation for precarious housing in Manila, it provides a DIY ecological alternative for electric lighting. The users guide constitutes an open-source architectural manual, which allows the Solar Bottle Bulb to be replicated ad infinitum. It relies on local waste materials and basic skills as a new efficient tool for slum upgrading.
< According to statistics from the National Electrification Commission in 2009, 3 million households still remain powerless outside Metro Manila. And even in the metro, families still continue to live in darkness. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) has reported that a large number of fire-related incidents involve faulty electrical connections. Informal settlements are high-risk areas, since the BFP does not conduct fire hazard inspections in these communities. >
[images> via laformación & Isang Litrong Liwanag]
In Çatal Höyük, there used to be no streets or pathways. Instead, façade walls touched each other without any gap in-between. With a single opening on the roof, each dwelling’s chimney functioned as lighting window as well as entrance door.
Discovered in Turkish Anatolia close to the Syrian border ca. 6,000 BC, it is one of the best-preserved Neolithic settlements. Contiguous constructions made people use rooftops as a very lively public space. The city was an endless building. Dwellers should climb up a timber ladder to get onto the roofs topography; walk along and above their neighbours’ homes, until they found the hole from where to climb down through another ladder into their own.
Every mud brick dwelling provided a piece of public space for people to meet or simply pass by, safe from wild animals. Çatal Höyük was also a sort of fortress or vantage point to watch the surrounding territory. These man-made vertical caves provided optimal environmental conditions throughout the year. Ecology already started with the up to 18 layers of recycled rubble from previously collapsed buildings that configured the foundations of every new house. In addition, there was an open site for collective waste dumping.
Ian Hodder is in charge of the discoveries since the 1990s, approaching them with his pioneering post-processual archaeological method. For him, archaeology is related to the archaelogist’s subjective interpretation and phenomenological approach. “Postprocessualists suggest that we can never confront theory and data; instead, we see data through a cloud of theory.” JOHNSON,M: Archaeological Theory: An Introduction. Ariel 1999
One of the main evidence sources to think of cultural life in Çatal Höyük are female figurines in male and female graves underneath every home. During early hunter/gatherer periods of the settlement, this society was balanced in terms of gender and wealth. Nonetheless, an increase in the amount of burial goddesses’ representations leads to think of a shift from an egalitarian community to a matriarchal society.
There was no public building with a higher hierarchy in the whole settlement, but basic homogenous domesticity. The real public institution in Çatal Höyük was the system of interconnected rooftops working as a mobility network and meeting space. The origins of urbanism relied basically on roofs with holes. In a wall painting discovered in one of the dwellings, there is a fantastic scene of an erupting volcano. Below, we can see one of the earliest floorplans of a town. The painter depicted dwellings as cavities. He represented houses however as completely independent units with a clear gap between walls. This version does not match with the existing building remains, but probably with the painter’s perception of the process of building the city.
American Desert is empty enough to let the bizarre simply pop up. Not only because of conceptual landscape artists from past decades, but rather because of informal interventions achieved by normal citizens, connected to the international phenomena of Marginal Extravagant Sculptural Architectures [Arquiesculturas Margivagantes]
“Leonard Knight tried to sew his own hot air balloon for 14 years to spread the message of God’s love but it just wouldn’t fly. So he started building a mountain instead. His Salvation Mountain is a mass of adobe, hay bales and wood structures encrusted with paint in the desert near Niland, California. It is located in or on the outskirts of an abandoned military compound that has become a haven for RV squatters and dubbed Slab City.There is a palpable sense of anarchy about the whole area.” [meathaus]
He reinterprets local Navajo vernacular construction techniques, mixing them with his own fantastic perspective. But still, it is remarkably interesting that this God’s paradise built on earth is a mountain of recycled waste and over 100,000 gallons of paint. Invented trees are created out of used tyres and flowers out of chemical pigments. A Noah’s Ark altered version from 21st century: instead of collecting all animal species to overcome a world catastrophe, it is as if the catastrophe had already happened and extinguished species needed to be recreated out of memories and rubble.
Salvation Mountain is alive and growing. Wind, rain, visitors and sun are constantly modifying it, so patches and repaints deal with its erosion by reshaping its appearance.
SOMETHING FANTASTIC is about changing the world. But it is also a manifesto by three young architects on worlds, people, cities, and houses (authors: Julian Schubert, Elena Schütz and Leonard Streich, self-printed. Distributed by Ruby Press, Berlin 2010). Somewhere between utopia and activism, they want to approach reality with a perverted unconventional perspective. And somewhere between naivety and pragmatism, it is where they find their sources for their public space actions and dreamt realities: The beauty of our future buildings will be rooted in the poetry of their simplicity.
The book is divided into four sections:
POSITIONS are statements and their wish list for the world to become;
PLANS are actions, dreams and recipes resulting from their manifesto: how to profit from gentrification (see the jet-set houses), how to recycle GDR built relics (see Plattenbau Algorithm), how to enhance green energy public space (see the Dumpling Express)…
CONVERSATIONS is a series of 12 interviews with carefully selected minds, ranging from lightweight construction expert Mike Schlaich to Markus Miessen and his uninvited outsiders theory; Wiel Arets’ virological architecture influencing the environment or firm futurologist Gerd Gerken, among others.
EXCERPTS include those essential quotations that everybody mentions and nobody knows exactly.
They thoroughly deal with ecology, politics, poetics and speculation, but these are to be read between the lines, since these topics melt constantly with each other in the text and in reality alike. The audience of architecture is everyone. And in this same line, they have launched the on-line archive whatwow – an index of re-inventing construction – and an on-going compilation of pedigreed and non-pedigreed collective thinking. It collects unconventional examples of construction techniques, material use, typologies, programs etc. invented today or centuries ago that expand your possibilities beyond the building-as-usual.
The most naïf ideas usually foster the most talented discoveries. This manifesto and its unusual visions inspire both further action and fiction. I do believe that Something Fantastic’s Nighttrain Station with its 6 km long train, moving the equivalent amount of passengers to the whole daily air transit between Berlin and Munich, will someday arrive at the Central Railway Station.
[1 &2> Encyclopedia and The Dumpling Express. Courtesy: Something Fantastic]
After the Romans settled in today’s London, Aldgate surroundings (eastwards from the city wall) were turned into a cemetery. But in the Post-Medieval period, Prescot Street was transformed from an essentially rural situation on the fringe of the City, into a densely populated central district. Among the on-going archaeological excavations at this site, a horn core pit has been discovered, showing the intense industrial activity in the area.
The pit itself consists of a cylindrical void with a perimeter structure built with animal horns as a cheaper alternative to bricks. These kind of industrial memories are often found in areas known for small-scale industry, such as ivory-working, tanning, bell founding and glass making.[...] These pits are sometimes used as soak-aways.”
[source&images> Horn Core pit at London's Prescot St. via lparchaeology]
Soon it’s time to celebrate the Chestnut Season: Magosto Festival; a rooted event in mountainous areas of Northern Spain (El Bierzo).
This peculiar region, mostly inhabited by agricultural-based elderly population, has also come up with the first Cow-Lane in Europe along its paved roads. Similar to sustainable bike-lanes, this eccentric initiative is supported by the European Union with 240,000 euro and will allow locals to easily take their cattle from village to village.
Remote settlements in this area are also popular for their historic traditional Palloza dwellings and their elevated Hórreo-style granaries. Aiming to keep a stable temperature inside, thick walls and thatched roofs in a Palloza provide a sort of sustainable shelter all along the severely changing climate conditions. A form of hybrid home, where circular stone houses used to lodge both people and cattle; the sloping inner floor was therefore basic to evacuate animals’ urine to the outside. Meanwhile, thousand-year-old Hórreos, also to be found in Scandinavia, are ventilated structures with free-standing stairs, so that rats cannot reach the stored food.
Escultecturas Margivagantes (aka. Marginal extravagant sculptural architectures) is a compilation of fantastic constructions in Spain; a mix of follies with a lot of do-it-yourself and a little bit of naturalism. However, there is a lot to learn from these smart inventions and devices, far beyond their extravagance.
Inteligencias Colectivas is a recently launched research lab seeking for these everyday tricks:
“Every region of the world has its own variety of construction techniques. The coexistence of different degrees of industrialization and development allows the mixing of semi-industrial products with old and enduring techniques that remain valid in non-standard environments [...] based in a popular and inherited wisdom, but also revised and combined with a great deal of improvisation in terms of new materials and techniques.”
Among its first archive entries, we can find the fascinating structural elements in Justo Gallego’s self-built oniric cathedral. Not only it is constructed out of recycled and waste materials, but he also invents complex systems from simple available resources. As compiled by Inteligencias Colectivas, he uses a spinning bar to turn wire into springs, which he uses later as a reinforcement for supporting concrete arches.
[source, images & drawings> Justo Gallego's Structural Spring by Inteligencias Colectivas]
The Kingdom of Bahrain, an island nation neighbouring Dubai and facing the Arabian Peninsula, was once completely dependent on the sea through its fishing and pearling activities, but today it has nearly turned its back on it. RECLAIM is an investigation on informal coastal settlements, consisting of fishermen’s huts laying on plots, which were once used as gathering places of pearl divers hosting the first organized syndicates. Today, scattered here and there, at the edge of the reclaimed and soon to be claimed sea, the huts host five o’clock tea sessions and backgammon games; a small attempt to reclaim a zest of leisurely coastal space.
Reclaim rethinks the openness of Bahrain’s waterfront at its Venice Biennale Pavilion, trying to recover a lost relationship, by showing and displaying some of its still existing pile-dwellings. These huts together with the endless land reclamation to the sea, makes the island extend and extend…and also be awarded the Golden Lion to the best National Participation:
“Given the range of vast urban developments that Kingdom of Bahrain could have been tempted to include in this Exhibition, the jury was impressed by the choice, instead, of a lucid and forceful self-analysis of the nation’s relationship with its rapidly changing coastline. Here transient forms of architecture are presented as devices for reclaiming the sea as a form of public space: an exceptionally humble yet compelling response to People meet in architecture, the theme proposed by Exhibition Director Kazuyo Sejima.”
[source and images> Bahrain Urban Research Team & A Coastal Promenade by Camille Zakharia]
…personal modifications, folk innovations, street customization, ad hoc alterations, wear-patterns, home-made versions and indigenous ingenuity…
[images 1,2&3> chinese street cleaner with spinning brooms; army shovels used as cooking pots; self-made truck cabin; all from KK via uonodesign] [image4> self-built truck cabin in India by sephi bergerson]
Among intense incense scents and pilgrims, Tibet can also surprise with enlightened non-pedigreed artifacts. Mobile collapsible mirrors can bring enough power to cook in isolated areas for free; by means of two parabolic reflecting surfaces on wheels, a pot can be easily heated under the extremely bright sun of its 4,000-5,000 m highlands.
Another discovery is its traditional compact earth flooring techniques known as Arka, used in monasteries rooftops. Based on an average of 8 member working teams, Arka’s procedure consists of workers compacting the soil with their feet and a special tool; helped by the strong rhythm of their sung melody, they harmonically step on the humid surface everyday during 1 to 2 months, until it becomes a completely even waterproof flat roof covering. The Tibetan singing terrazo in situ.
[all images> tibetan solar kitchen and compact earth flooring Arka by luis galan]
Broken Embraces is last Almodóvar’s movie from 2009. But far from several disappointing forced dialogues, there are some scenes shot in a magical landscape consisting also of broken embraces.
La Geria is a human invention of extracting any possible vitality from the volcanic island of Lanzarote, in the Spanish Canary Islands Archipelago. After last eruptions in the 18th century, local villagers discovered that they could still grow wine-plants underneath the 1-2 metre deep layer of sands and ashes. The witty system involved digging circular inverted cones until touching fertile soil, where planting would be optimal; the black lapilli sands function as humidity stabilisers, helped by a characteristic broken circle of stonework wall, which embraces the wines and protects them from dominant winds.
A non-pedigreed landscape for Bernard Rudofsky…
“Don’t go outside wearing pyjamas, be a World Expo civilised person”
Apart from the largest metro extension ever built in the world and many new pedestrian-friendly public spaces, Shanghai will also inherit a social burden with the Expo 2010. Before Maoist period, two kinds of citizens used to wear pyjamas in the street: rich foreigners showing off their leisurely lifestyle and happy people to display their entertainment.
During communist times, the habit of wearing pyjamas broadened to everyone. Because of tiny dwellings, residents needed to expand their living environment to the outdoor space, and it was a simple practical matter not to change clothes just to go to the public toilet or to the nearby market. The whole city was conceived as one’s own living room.
However, authorities and some Shanghainese, seem to be ashamed of this peculiar habit of the city, and officially it was recently banned. Justin Guariglia documented this comfortable everyday lifestyle, just in case it does never come back after the civilising Expo. Luckily, local controls seem to be more worried about other issues than chasing clothing trends.
[images> Shanghai pyjamas by Justin Guariglia in Planet Shanhai]