01 January 2012

Le Modulor

        2012 is here. I am not sure how to take it, how to begin this post.... what does it mean to be in 2012? Life continues and the globe keeps rotating I suppose. We need to keep going, to keep the momentum.... remembering the past and perhaps, we could try - for first time - to "remember the future".

Few events have taken place in the last couple of months - putting on a side major political and economical turmoil I perhaps can think of the death of people that somehow had an impact on my life/career. The Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta (1931 - 2011) and Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011). Both have been long influential indirectly - perhaps more than I imagined - influential in the sense of aspiring for a life long pursuit for SMART architecture - a life long effort to perusing architecture and the use of Information Technologies and the Internet. Some stayed in the material world only - some in the virtual world only but the current state of the game is conveying both worlds. Great buildings / great cities is the outcome.

It has been a life long agony to convey my more traditional training in architecture heavily tinted by the work and theories of Le Courbusier directly taken by Mexican architects such as Luis Barragan (Pritzker Prize Laureate 1980), Ricardo Legorreta and my own lecturer Servando Bojorques.

The following images depict objects and artifacts for design used by the 'rationalist'. Perhaps Le Courbusier being the most influential XX century architect with his invention 'Le Modulor' in which the unit of measurement of buildings is not the British Imperial System, the Metric System, nor the Japanese Shakkan-hó...  but "Le Modulor": the unit of measurement is MAN himself! Le Courbusier's Modulor is a spin-off of  Da Vinci's modulor with the twist that Lecorb's intent is to rationalise the space, shape and act of of BUILDING. Man stands at the center - then comes all the other paraphernalia more seen in baroque, postmodern... and current approaches to complex-geometry (ie. such as the work of D. Libeskin, F. Gehry and Z. Hadid) being an antithesis to Le Corbusier's fundamental postulate.

From modernity to present day: Here some artifacts that appeared since Le Courbusier's modulor. Computing power and information storage. Miniaturisation with wearable computing and several terabytes of memory in a box no larger than a pack of cigarettes.

From modernity to present day: Tools to capture our environment have shifted from a chemical processing to digital capture of image information. Information is now safely stored on the web - "in the cloud" - readily available at any time. External back up drives now became secondary.  

In the meantime we human beings [represented by the Modulor] continue having the same genetic code and continue valuing the experiential, remarkable changes have taken place to building regulations such as making buildings user-friendly to all. Not just easy of use such as access and way-finding but also safe to build and operate. This includes a multiple of modulor types i.e. old-folks, children, workers, the blind, the pregnant, the fat, the wheelchair modulor and so on....  Buildings are now checked against "non-handicapping environments" tick-the-box compliance forms.

The Internet is here to stay. We now have it in our phones. The computing power of our phones is remarkably fast and the user interface has evolved from keyboard to touch screen and evolved voice recognition systems to follow. Screen size is the only bottleneck but pads and tablets (roughly A5 size) are helping to overcome such issue. Screen walls and fabrics are next. The VIRTUAL space is now also competing with architecture, along with all other arts. Materiality is not the only world for architects - but the virtual undertake is in some cases more important - as societies interact intensively in such environments. To the extent that "email" is rapidly being overtaken by "social-media" such as Facebook with increasingly interactive, media rich and immersive formats. 

The act of drawing and sketching is less used and understood as a problem solving exercise. Computers are used instead at a cost - the cost of fixation of narrow ideas and mediocre solutions. Time is not what it used to be - everything is not more ASAP but "I need this by yesterday!". The operational style of the isolated genius architect to come up with a brilliant idea is hard to find. Undertaking design is now more like a "digital-round-table" where aerospace models of "concurrent engineering" fall in tune with emerging practice paradigms in architecture. Too many parties involved - most times ignorant and lacking vision - yet opinionated.

Le Corbusier's last building 1960. Heidi Weber Museum Zurich.

POE: Post Occupancy Evaluation surveys are heavily used to measure buildings' fitness for purpose and levels of comfort -  by owners tenants and end-occupiers. This not only carried out at the opening night by journalists (i.e. as in Ayn Rand's 1943 novel The Fountainhead) but time after the building has been occupied as in months and years after. The so called expert clients with deep understanding of buildings have emerged such as the public sector and corporate world who have in-house building operators. This means that a single point of hanging over does not take place at a point in time... but contracts carry on up to 20 years and more. Clients demand a service (ie. learning facilities) ie. instead of a building!

Le Corbusier's chair - designed by his assistant Charlotte Perriand
Herzog and De Meuron, Vitra exhibition building, Basel CH [visit Jan 2011]

Da Vinci's modulor (and by consequence Le Modulor) needs re-thinking. Once size fits all is not longer valid! The design process is now a democratic process where transparency and accountability takes parallel stands to political correctness (non-sense and mediocrity emerges often as consequence) that brings the pain of being inclusive - inclusive architecture. Legislation dictates everything in a risk-adverse society. Technology is here helping architects facilitating briefing data and building information. Building Information Models (BIM) emerges as a translator from data to design outcomes.

End-users of all shapes, sizes and espectations are satisfied - this is due to methods of mass-customisation - where individuals gain control over their immediate environment and personal space at home, the car, the office. Thermal, light, acoustic and other sensors and controls revolve around individuals and not the other way around. The aircraft industry was the first to test these concepts, technologies and philosophies - earliness compete over costumers' experience such as video on demand, food menu options and so on.  Safety while flying is a given!

Mankind invents the city - The city is his greatest invention. Forget landing on the moon!

Sustainability is an issue. Forget global warming, natural resources are running scarce. Fossil-fuels reserves are running to record low! (still, Dubai creates a ski slope in the middle of the dessert).... Cuba might provide some pointers as to how to run a country with little or no resources - their agriculture system is more like hot-desking where veggies and crops share the same patch of land taking and giving different nutrients form/to the soil!

I was originally told at university that architecture is the art of dealing with space "el arte the los espacios" where we had to bring ethereal elements such as light, air and shade to a tangible state such as bricks and mortar. The world has changed since then - where from here? 

"Client-architect relationship" Le Corbusier at La Tourette Fr.  René Burri©1953-59 

References and Web-links:
Charlotte Perriand [Museum Gestaltung Zürich]
Aurelio Galfetti [restoration Castello Grande, Bellinzona CH] 
Steve Jobs [all about]
Ricardo Legorreta [Legorreta + Legorreta]
Diego Rivera [the unofficial site]
Hanka [art editorial]
Carla Barella [architecture historian]

Guillermo Aranda-Mena © 2012