Monday, 21 December 2015

Peter Land Lecture

Peter Land was the coordinator of PREVI Project. The first 15 minutes of the video (link below) are on Spanish but then the lecture of Peter Land is on English (minute 18). The 24 house models from PREVI project are presented.

Peter Land Lecture - Universidad de los Andes

Friday, 18 December 2015

How Buildings Learn - Examples of housing in Previ

The evolution and progression of buildings has been the subject of many books and reports but none as significant as that of Stewart Brand, in his 1994 publication "How Buildings Learn: What happens after they are built". Underlying his approach is an argument for standardised systems and layouts, low-cost materials and non-expert building techniques all to support the added utility of flexibility and adaptability over the long-term.
Cover of "How Building Learn" with a visual example of matching buildings transforming over time. 
The ideas formed the basis of a BBC TV series in 1997.

The ethos and ambitions are similar to the initial project brief for the Previ housing experiment and have lead to us begin to research and model the chronological development and progression of several of the housing typologies to see what has happened to them over the last 40 year period and as importantly to understand who has been responsible and involved in these changes.

The first set of properties below is based on existing published materials for Lotus Architectural Journal and later by García-Huidobro (et al 2008) that we have extracted and animated to show the chronology of changes. They show the original work of the architects Van Eyck (the development of the property of the familia Garcés) and James Stirling (the development of the property of the familia Zamora).
The development of the property of the familia Garcés.
The development of the property of the familia Zamora.
Here there are two examples of distinctive modernist architecture transforming over time into a local vernacular housing types. 

References: Brand, S (1994) How Buildings Learn: What happens after they are built (Viking Press, New York). García-Huidobro, F., Torres Torriti, D., Tugás, N. (2008) iEl tiempo construye! El Proyecto Experimental de Vivienda (PREVI) de Lima génesis y desenlace, (Gustavo Gili, Barcelona).

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christopher Alexander on Codesign

One of the originators of codesign as a collaborative design process; albeit under another name of the ‘methodology of unfolding’ and ‘pattern language’; was the architect, urbanist, academic and innovator Christopher Alexander. The reflective environmental design theory of Alexander and his practice is hard to summarise but is broadly characterised by participation; valuing indigenous knowledge as a collective and contextual approach to design; and the resultant process innovation. Following this theory, physical form and housing layouts emerge from the design process[1]. When the process involves user participation, cultural differences being considered, unique links between site, climate and materials being celebrated and construction and management costs being critical, then it also reflects real-world complexity. Indeed, the underlying philosophy of his work; rather than the mathematical patterns described in his key publications; is a recognition of complexity[2], complexity theory as applied to urban design[3], dependent upon the starting positions and context; the physical site, political, economic; and how it can bring clarity to the idea of integrated design when considered as a process.

'Pattern language' is about ‘rule-based’ process innovation that can be used for project management and reporting methods. Alexander explicitly stressed the important of procedural aspects of sustainability and recording / reporting the process and being clear about your ‘working out’. Indeed some urban designers suggest that using a 'pattern language' is necessary to support multidisciplinary and complex urban development projects[4]. Following this ‘pattern language’ leads to the need for an agreed collaborative process that can be accepted and understood by the scope of stakeholders. So the approach has given rise to certain levels of criticism that it is a deterministic approach[5] and too rational for a creative discipline[6]. Yet at the heart of any critique is still the need for an agreed collaborative process, grounded in structuralism or ‘rule-based’ design theory[7], versus an individualistic and elitist ‘black box’ design process.
Beyond these criticisms of Alexander promoting a deterministic process, or a vernacular or time-based style[8] (in seeming rejection of the international / modernist style) it can be understood as an early comprehensive and integrated process of design that explicitly and actively involves occupants / participants. This degree of active participation, explicit in his pattern language, has made him and his methodology of significant interest to political theorists[9]. Here there are transferable lessons in how active involvement in design stages leads to more active citizen involvement, civic engagement and local management. There is also a growing interest in his theory and projects arising from the emphasis of sustainable and participatory design processes[10]
His grounded theory has made him a reluctant cause-celebrity for the democratization of planning and development. His approach to sustainability is about reconstructing generative systems. Good design; indeed local character and appropriateness; emerges from the collective knowledge and decisions of multiple agents rather than top-down professional views being imposed. It is an example of the ‘wholeness’ principle in action that delivers functionality for the community in the short-term and empowerment over the medium to long-term. This process has a growing influence over patterns and problem solving in programming[11]. Indeed emergent patterns, described as a sequence of tasks in an appropriate format with a strong graphic bias, also have applications for technical communication and computing, with commentators arguing[12] that Alexander’s 'pattern language' is in effect a type of algorithm that can be used to structure and organize the connections between technical communications.
His ‘process-orientated urban design’ lessons continue to be applied in projects through the developed and developing worlds[13] from housing layouts to the neighbourhood design scale[14]. The methodology of ‘pattern language’ and the idea of ‘design sequencing’ is also changing approaches to environmental education. There are a growing number of educationalists teaching the process of design[15]; as much as the theoretical underpinning; as a process suitable for ‘non- experts’ that is also a replicable process[16], that is in effect a description of what goes on inside a designer’s’ head and their thought process. They are beginning to ask the same sort of questions we are attempting to address in this project, namely ... What are the critical principles of codesign or generative design? ... How can we apply and improve on these by learning through the process in this context?[17] Simply by attempting to articulate, capture and link the steps undertaken in the design process we should begin to see some of these patterns.
Nowhere are the impacts of Alexander's ‘pattern language’ more evident than in the approach taken to his entry for the Previ international housing design competition in Lima, Peru. Some early reflections of his involvement in the project and the competition process have been published[18], but out intention is to re-investigate this project and Alexander’s involvement forty years plus after the commencement of the scheme.

[1] Alexander, C. (1977) A pattern language: towns, buildings, construction. (Oxford University Press, New York).
[2] Alexander, C (2003) The Nature of Order (Centre for Environmental Structure, Berkeley).
[3] Portugali, J., Stolk, E (2014) “A SIRN view on design Thinking – An urban design perspective”. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 41(5) 829-846.
[4] Doorn, M., Stimac, S., Schik, W (2013) “Process innovation in the Netherlands: Using pattern language for complex sustainable development projects”. Journal of Integral Theory and Practice 8(1-2) 106-118.
[5] Bhatt, R. (2010) “Christopher Alexander’s pattern language: An alternative exploration of space-making practices”. Journal of Architecture 15(6) 711-729.
[6] Dovey, K (1990) “The pattern language and its enemies”. Design Studies 11(1) 3-9.
[7] Elsheshtawy, Y (2001) “Searching for theory: Christopher Alexander’s intellectual roots”. Architectural Science Review 44(4) 395-404.
[8] Kalb, J (2014) “Life in design: Christopher Alexander and the nature of order”. Archnet-IJAR 8(2) 94-98.
[9] Walker, B (2003) “Another Kind of Science: Christopher Alexander on Democratic Theory and the Built Environment”. Canadian Journal of Political Science 36(5).
[10] Mehaffy, M. (2007) “Notes on the genesis of wholes: Christopher Alexander and his continuing influence”. Urban Design International 12(1) 41-49.
[11] Quillien, J., Rostal, P., West, D (2009) “Agile, Anthropology, and Alexander’s Architecture: An Essay in Three Voices”. ACM SIGPLAN Notices 44(10) 529-545.
[12] Price, J (1999) “Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language”. IEEE Transactions on Professional Communications 42(2) 117-122.
[13] Hanson, B., Younés, S (2001) “Reuniting urban form and urban process: The Prince of Wales’s urban design task force”. Journal of Urban Design 6(2) 185-209.
[14] Park, Y (2015) “The network of patterns: creating a design guide using Christopher Alexander’s pattern language”. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 42(4) 593-614.
[15] Hadjiyanni, T (2005) “Beyond concepts: A studio pedagogy preparing tomorrow’s designers”. International Journal of Architectural Research 2(2) 41-56.
[16] Steenson, M (2009) “Problems Before Patterns: A Different Look at Christopher Alexander and Pattern Languages”. Interactions March/ April 20-23.
[17] Pontikis, K (2010) “Teaching Christopher Alexander’s Theoretical Framework in a Capstone Interior Design Studio”. Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal 4(3) 407-425.
[18] Alexander, C., Neis, H., Anninou, A., King, I (1987) A New Theory of Urban Design (Oxford University Press, New York).