Authors : Qing Hong, Ningxin Huang, Siu Yoon, Zihao Wang, Jingyi Liu, Kun Fan, Ting  Su, Xichen Zhao, Lian Lei, Sedar AYDIN, Ziyao Liu, Xianming Sang

University : Architectural Association Visiting School

Status : Shanghai Summer School, 2015

Advisor : Gilles Retsin

Programme Director : Tom Verebes

Visitor School Director : Christopher Pierce

Title : Structures & Stratifications | Unit 2 Prototype Plot

This 8-day intensive studio at the AAVS Shanghai was interested in the  [ geological model of strata ] as an inspiration for computational and urban models, rather than a biological or organic model. At a certain moment in the sixties, early computer experiments by artists such as Frieder Nake, Michael Noll and Vera Molnar coincided with the [ radical architectural  ] proposals by a group of architects which were later  categorized as Structuralists. These group of architects included Aldo Van Eyck, Herman Hertzberger and metabolists like Kenzo Tange. However, these two movements never intersected with each other, and only recently there is a renewed interest in the legacy of their work. The studio looked at computational models developed by these early group of mavericks, and translated them into [ highly structured ] , an-organic, architectural models. Different from early sketches, students were able to update models with time-based, adaptive qualities which are able to absorb and respond to external parameters.

Students worked with a library of initial [ Processing sketches ] to recreate some of the code of Frieder Nake and Vera Molnar, afterwards they further developed the code into [ simulations ] of urban models. Information from Processing was streamed to Rhino/Grasshopper, where the more outspoken geometric side of the projects was  developed. In the development of design propositions, there was  a specific focus and discussion about figure-ground translation of the computational models. The interest in a [ stratified language and character ] for the projects suggests a precise relation between customised and standardised elements, an interest in heterogeneity resulting from discrete computation.

Students were asked to develop a specific area in the French concession neighbourhood of Shanghai, as a prototypical urban plot of 600 x 600 m.  During the first few days, students  were  introduced to Processing and experimented with initial samples of code to familiarize themselves with both the work flow and the architectural potential of the design methodology. Participants then further developed rules for urban formation which turned the initial procedures into meaningful simulations, hand in hand with experimentation with figure-ground diagrams and specific building topologies. The final output aimed for the production of a highly heterogeneous urban fabric, yet with a deep underlying structure and highly economical layout. Although heterogeneous and morphologically unrelated, the different elements of each prototypical plot interact with each other, feeding off the same base data. Rather than understanding the city as a continuous field, the different projects understand the city as a mere aggregation of architecture or buildings, with the agency of the architect restricted to operating on object-object based interaction.

Initially 3 teams of students developed discrete plots of 600x600m, which were combined into speculative “megaplots” towards the end of the workshop. Some of these megaplot were developed as 20.000-pixel drawings.

About the Summer School:

The 9th annual AA Shanghai Summer School will focus on issues related to the unprecedented extent and rate of urbanization in China, and more specifically, on Shanghai, as a laboratory of one of the preeminent twenty-first century cities. Given the legacy of twentieth century models of assembly-based repetitive production, the effects of standardization on cities today include their universal monotonous, generic similitude. Balancing an agenda concurrently pursuant of spatial coherence and heterogeneity, and hence the distinctiveness of cities, the aim of this visiting school programme is to investigate a toolbox with which to confront the prevalence of default spatial and material modes of production. As an intensive nine-day studio-based course, clusters of tutors and students will engage experimentally with advanced computational design and, and the materialisation of differentiated serial prototypes. Students will apply code-based and time-based modelling, morphogenetic generative techniques, and physics-based simulation, towards multiple, variable and recursive urban and architectural systems.

As part of the events organized within the Architectural Association Visiting School’s 9th annual Shanghai Summer School, a large group of architects, urbanists, educators and theorists participated in an afternoon symposium. Formatted as a series of brief presentations and salon conversations, some of the leading experts shaping China’s urban future come together for this event.

Given the unprecedented speed and seemingly unstoppable pace of city building in the 21st century, a paramount challenge to overcome is the convergence of sameness among cities worldwide. The legacy of twentieth century models of assembly-based repetitive production has left enduring effects of standardization on cities, notably their universal monotonous similitude. Balancing an agenda concurrently pursuant of spatial coherence and heterogeneity, and hence the distinctiveness of cities, presenters in this event will confront, from a variety of approaches, the prevalence of default spatial and material modes of production shaping cities in the twenty-first century. Within this transitional urban and industrial context lie questions as to the ways in which the qualities of cities can be amplified and differentiated, to become identifiable rather than indistinguishable, during the most prolific era of urbanization ever to occur. A call for the specificity of cities stands in opposition to the proliferation of generic and ubiquitous urbanism, biasing the specific and unique, over the general and reproducible.


S//A : What’s the most important aspect of this project that we should be aware of?
Gilles Retsin_ It’s a speculative project, touching on fundamental ideas of heterogeneity, structure, computation, assemblage, and it was done in barely 8 days by a group of very talented students who initially only knew about sketchup and photoshop.

S//A : What other fields outside of architecture interest you?
GR_ Product design, art, computation, politics, philosophy and business.

S//A : Most important thing you learned in architecture school?
GR_ To always do the opposite of what your teachers say, and what your fellow students do.

S//A : Describe your dream project
GR_ An extreme house, pushing current technology, somewhere in a beautiful landscape; including the design of all furniture, appliances, surrounding garden as well as the car.