Author : Luke Douglas Erickson

University : Cornell University, School of Architecture

Status : Master of Architecture, 2015

Award: Richmond Harold Shreve Thesis Award

Advisors : Tao DuFour, Val Warke

Title : Anachronous Trajectories

1: Introduction

“If we willed and dared an architecture according to the kind of souls we possess (we are too cowardly for that!), the labyrinth would have to be our model!”

Friedrich Nietzsche,

Morgenröthe, 1881

[ initiative ]

Ephemeral architectural qualities such as path, confusion, discovery, and locality are being sterilised through prescriptive wayfinding means and code-driven design. By challenging traditional circulation notions with an intention to get lost, a heterarchy of spaces can begin to replace established hierarchies. This endoscopic design process (in a world turning rapidly to the exoscopic) can saturate architecture with contemplation, emotion, mystery and memory.

Cold and pragmatic top-down design choices form a chain reaction from urban planning to the architectural scale. Undoubtedly, over-simplified urban planning dulls the quality of space in architecture. Quoting John William Reps in “Delirious New York”, Rem Koolhaas writes:

“The Manhattan Grid. Advocated by its authors as facilitating the ‘buying, selling and improving of real estate,’ this ‘Apotheosis of the gridiron’ – ‘with its simple appeal to unsophisticated minds’ – is, 150 years after its superimposition on the island, still a negative symbol of the shortsightedness of commercial interests.”

Contemporary planning and development techniques disregard the visual complexity of the human experience and fail to understand the tedious effect of such structured directives. Some mid-century architectural thinkers, such as Kevin Lynch in “The Image of the City”, questioned these procedures and proposed instead wayfinding that was more closely linked to perception in use. Nikolaus Pevsner in particular takes a stand in “Visual Planning and the Picturesque” for a tactical, sensitive and additive methodology to city planning, one in which pleasure and delight in the urban experience dominates pragmatic concerns.

Given the rapidly expanding growth of cities, it is time to revisit and revise these theories by specifically examining sprawling, ordered metropolises that formed around centuries old city-centers. The juxtaposition of the gridded “new” against the sinuous “old” can certainly inform our current practices at many scales; from city planning to circulation within a building. Lynch’s research focused on the American cities of Boston, Jersey City and Los Angeles while Pevsner’s research was limited to relatively small English “townscapes” such as Bath, Oxford, and Cambridge. Furthermore, both theorists restricted their explorations to simply clarifying and documenting that there was more to our experience in cities than “buying, selling, and improving of real-estate”. By focusing and re-applying some of their research methods to a single cityscape I aim to not merely record these conditions, but write and design for a new “Image of the City” applicable to the 21st Century. The influence and apparent necessity of speed as a factor in city planning, while exciting, has caused the inevitable development of design methodologies lacking in value what they gain in efficiency. In Parametricism and Pied Piperism: Responding to Patrik Schumacher, Eric Owen Moss suggests:

“Speed isn’t necessarily conducive to thoughtfulness. What you list as assets are simultaneously assets and liabilities. The tools made the world different. Now it’s our job to say what’s better and what’s worse, in order, perhaps, to make what’s worse better.”

Movement through contemporary cities and buildings has grown stale in its purity and hierarchy, but intentional displacement can undermine mediocrity. This displacement is a form of anachronism, voiding uniformity through heterarchy. New anachronous trajectories through space avoid inciting what other critics of modern planning might deem “slow architecture,” and are rather an architectural process that appropriates contemporary tools for maximum phenomenological potency while enabling growth. Imbuing architecture with experiences from the unplanned historical districts will stimulate delight, discovery, and locality within the contemporary urban landscape. How can architects, as Nietzsche exclaims, design for the soul? Michel Foucault writes in “Des Espace Autres”:

“We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed. We are at a moment, I believe, when our experience of the world is less that of a long life developing through time than that of a network that connects points and intersects with its own skin.”

The development of this methodology will manifest through a series of scales. To begin with, through rigorous first-hand mapping of paths, interviews, and photographs comparing experiences of historic districts to new developments, I will construct a comprehensive process for understanding the delight inherent to movement in the city. Utilizing this information in the design of alternative wayfinding means establishes a bridge between the urban experience and that of a building’s circulation. Just as complex urban situations create compelling spatial sequences, the incorporation of wandering circulation provides provocative associations. Through a perspectival approach to design, the architect can bring architecture back to the forefront of conscious experience. Paths of confusion and complexity within a labyrinthine structure of visceral chaos present opportunities for new programmatic and spatial localities. Programmatic limitations should be drawn, however, as this design methodology remains unfeasible in certain circumstances. In spaces requiring expediency and clarity, such as hospitals and government buildings, a labyrinthine solution will hinder delight and elicit anger. The application of this design mechanism to appropriate programs, on the other hand, will enhance the architecture. Given its theoretical foundation in the urban experience, the ideal employment of such anachronous trajectories remains broad. It will take form though an alternative visual rhetoric for a city of the future, a city that resonates mystery and begs daily discovery. The design for such an endoscopic architecture requires new forms of representability; combining process work, construction drawings, mapping and certain aspects of the graphic novel format to inform as much as inspire. The aesthetic of the polemic confronts someone viewing the documentation of the architecture with his or her own expectations regarding legibility. Moreover, the worm’s eye view of architecture embraces the confrontation between tradition and legibility. Apart from the inherent interior orientation of the view, the worm’s eye also contradicts the contemporary emphasis of the heroic bird’s eye view. Representation should encourage multiple interpretations, referencing multiple layers of consideration.

Accordingly, Karsten Harries claims with regards to Nietzsche’s labyrinth that,

“Such an invocation of Nietzsche, however, calls for a more careful consideration. It is one thing to insist that Descartes failed in his effort to show us the exit from the labyrinth, quite another to want to be shown the way back into it. Someone who wants to enter the labyrinth – a desire that invites questioning – must think himself outside.”

In the current professional climate, I consider myself among many outside that labyrinth with a fervent and “questionable” desire to enter in search of a better paradigm. Furthermore, it is important to note for clarity in understanding this document the role the “grid” and “labyrinth” play physically and symbolically. While some gridded metropolises harbor delightful experiences, and some sinuous cities accommodate sterilized experiences, here they are abridged to represent certain qualities that either enhance or challenge the status quo. “Grids” symbolize the reduction of the human architectural experience to measurability, while “Labyrinths” symbolize concrete worldly conditions, emotions responsive to context and ambiguous for interpretation.

The representation methods of this thesis intend to defeat current trends of oversimplified, diagrammatic architecture by replacing conventional representation with a humanized illustration containing more value and enigma than a shiny heroic view. The performative relevance of tabula rasa has concluded, and now architecture can exhibit anachronistic tendencies.

[ premise ]

This thesis will introduce a subversive and tactical fragmentation to the urban fabric of Boston, Massachusetts thereby revealing a new urban reality. The lens of a re-evaluated future urban plan of the city allows for a more critical understanding of the status quo. Boston is a modernized and expanding urban center in its region with a traditional “old town” juxtaposed with contemporary and historical sectors of growth. Although Boston is renowned for it’s winding streets and contextual planning, certain developments such as the “Big Dig,” the Back Bay landfill, and the Downtown redevelopment provided the opportunity for gridded and sterile environments to infiltrate the urban fabric. Five centuries of growth provide the analyst with an insightful example of the struggle facing the profession of architecture today. The process described in this thesis re-positions the trajectory of the city’s development towards a more enigmatic future, with my modification four areas of interest begin to reflect the effects such urban gestures have on architecture. While each place exhibits the unique qualities of its context, a similar attitude incorporating anachronism, path and discovery encompasses the design process of all four. Constructing this enhanced experience of the city in an architectural microcosm shifts common understanding from the assumed “pragmatic efficiency equals progress” paradigm. Visitors and locals alike encounter the direct link between the urban and architectural event.

The architectural representations presented reconsider that link. How can the delights of exploring a city, lost, translate to wandering through a building? Thom Mayne contends that,

“Architects can and should deal with urban problems in projects of any scale. Our work has always been embedded in its urban circumstance, reflecting its layered and fragmented nature.”

“In keeping with these new conceptual frameworks, urban formation is now understood as an accumulation of spontaneous, nonsequential elements that overlap and fragment into integrated networks along with finance, migration, communication, and resources, all of which evolve and mutate at precarious whim.”

Freedom of the individual to journey instinctually among a heterarchy of spaces allows for an unconscious development of a personal hierarchy founded in interest and experience. Each zone functions as a metropolitan embassy representing the cultural geographies, history and future of the city in a non-romanticized way. Seeking to embed itself into the core identity of the city without the incongruous disruption typical of civic architecture, each site appropriately integrates into its surroundings. These four sites provide a physical, anachronous trajectory into the psyche of the city.

Interview

S//A : What's the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Luke Douglas Erickson_ Anachronous Trajectories addresses a few aspects that I feel the field of architecture continues to struggle to come to terms with:
1: The role of representation as design, analysis, and communication tool, and not the product of an oversimplified visualization process.
2: The historical topography of a city as neither romanticized or vilified.
3: The mundane circulatory hierarchies within urban design.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
LDE_ Illustration, poetry, writing, film, sculpture, photography (not necessarily in that order)

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
LDE_ Self-confidence

S//A : Describe your dream project
LDE_ An urban intervention that is permitted to challenge the routine hierarchies and typical circulatory notions without erasing or romanticizing the historical sediment of a city.