2014/15 - Becoming-Ever-Different

Image ©Jose Miguel de Prada Poole

Image ©Jose Miguel de Prada Poole

Mollie Claypool & Manuel Jimenez Garcia

Today just over half the world’s population lives in cities, with the majority of all travel taking place within metropolitan areas. The UN World Urbanisation Prospects Report wrote this year that in 2050 it is estimated that 66% of the world population will live in cities, with the amount of travel in urban areas tripling.[1] The world will soon, within our lifetimes, become the most dense, mobile and temporal it has ever been. As the edge of the so-called ‘city’ continuously grows, shrinks and, at times, becomes blurry and undefined, its inhabitants are more likely to need the city to be able to adapt to change than ever before.

It is this condition that Unit 19 is interested in exploring; where the architecture of the city begins and ends, shrinks and expands simultaneously. While it is difficult to determine the approximate edge of a city, we can use categories beyond solely an area’s population size – such as mobility infrastructure and density – as a way of determining the boundary of a metropolitan area. The categories of density and mobility will frame the investigation this year in a continuation of the unit’s design research agenda of deployable housing. 

The inhabitants of megacities are will not be treated solely as users acting within a static built environment, but as stakeholders that hold agency, and act as catalysts for an architecture that can adapt to changing material, environmental or ecological demands. Unit 19 pursues living spaces that are ‘becoming-ever-different’ and have an in-built wildness[2] that enables them to be inhabited in multiplicious, surprising and novel ways. We will design architectures that can respond to fluxing densities of inhabitation, that are mobile and deployable. Always aiming for projects that address contemporary issues of inhabitation in the megacity, each student will search for edge conditions, either blurry/undefined or interstitial, in which they will deploy their project; one that exists now or will in the near future. 

We must look backwards and learn from the past in order to confront the problems of the near future. Unit 19 continues its gaze back to the architecture of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, where experiments in living were pushed to the limits of design techniques, materials and fabrication techniques/methods. The promise was the ability to deploy, erect, suspend, hang, inflate, deflate… all with automation and ease. Ultimately, this was the failure of this era: architecture that was deployable, mobile and able to adapt, change and deal with flux was a dream that couldn’t be reached. An emblem of this era, the Nagakin Capsule Tower by Kisho Kurokawa lays today in ruin, slated for demolition after his vision for a plug-in and sustainable architecture fell into disrepair.

Now, with recent advances in technology and design, including new materials and digital fabrication methods, we can begin to dream Kurokawa’s dream again. 

And so we go to Tokyo, to learn from those who tried to imagine a world of the near future: the Metabolists, including Kurokawa, Kenzo Tange and Kiyonori Kikutake. Tokyo is currently, and projected to continue to be in 2030, the most dense city in the world. When Tange wrote his “A Plan for Tokyo” in 1960 he had predicted that without a clearly articulated plan for growth, the future would see a Tokyo with uncontrolled sprawl – this is now very real. We will study these architects visionary ideas for growth and novel ways of capsule living in the megacity as well as traditional and contemporary Japanese house design. We will visit Toyo Ito, Festo’s robotics group and explore 3 zones of different edges/densities in Tokyo – the suburb that has now been absorbed into the city, the limit of Tange’s proposal for Tokyo Bay and where the city becomes hinterland. 

[1] http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Highlights/WUP2014-Highlights.pdf                                                       [2] Kwinter, Sanford. Architectures of Time, The MIT Press (2002), 4.