Critical written reflection

The following article presents my semester project as an interview with myself, the architect, after the project has been completed. It presents the project in a mostly chronological order of work done in the semester, starting with the site analysis and moving into the interactive elements and then the form.

The article has acted as a tool for reflection on my work, and also to prepare for the final presentation of the project. During the writing process I found myself asking questions about my work as a prompt for content creation. Presenting the project in the form of an interview allows me to speak honestly and in a direct manner, as if I had the opportunity to engage directly with the reader.

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Odense site analysis

The most striking feature of the new city plan for Thomas B. Thriges Street in Odense, Denmark is also the most unnoticed. Beneath the collection of new buildings and squares is a massive underground parking area designed to maximize usable surface area and eliminate the presence of the automobile from the city square.

How we move from above to below provides a starting point to examine how these transitions occur. Is it a straightforward movement, such as a simple staircase, or can we create an articulated design that captures the essence of our vertical travel? The following pie charts show that the most common way to access the underground are by stairs, and the most significant places they lead to are regional urban areas.

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Cross-referencing my observations with the proposed locations of stairwells at the site led me to focus on three areas where an architectural intervention could occur. The Musikhuspassagen, Overgade and Albani Torv are regional urban areas that bisect the site in different locations. The stairwells in these areas are located within the buildings, and the master is not detailed enough to indicate whether these passages are private or public. A series of passages that are publicly-accessible would provide an opportunity to design forms that are free of the dimensional constraints of surrounding buildings and could be placed at central points in the three areas. The passages could serve to entice people into moving either above or below ground through their form and function.
Central to my concept of three vertical passages is the phenomena of interaction, which creates meaning on multiple levels. Interactive architecture acts as the antithesis to the classical practice of creating a static building as an end-result and instead imbues a certain uncertainty through a constantly-changing form. Applying these concepts to the passages, we construct a network of linked nodes that share information between each other in order to determine their form. In this way the passages act not only as a physically constructed object but also as signifiers of social meaning. Paul Dorish describes this situation as “[a]rtifacts and representations carry(ing) different sorts of meanings simultaneously, and activities are caught up in many different tasks at the same time” (Dorish, 123). Using these concepts we can imagine the passages taking on many functions, perhaps acting as waypoints to navigate the massiveness of the site, or as meeting and interaction points for people. These classifications distinguish between the functions of the passages – on the one hand they are constructed architectural entities with a function of transporting people between levels, and on the other hand they are a collection of embodied actions, events, operations and behaviours.
But what criteria would the passages use to create an interactive architectural system? What environmental data are we interested in observing and exploring? Referring back to Oxman’s criticism of sensing being a post-gestural addition in the building process, we must consider these points before we begin to arrive at an architecture that is uninformed by the dynamics of its environment. The Musikhuspassagen, Overgade and Albani Torv areas are designed as vibrant corridors that bustle with various aspects of everyday city life, including open-air markets, cafés and congregation areas. A quick exercise of examining the site plans and renderings from the master plan and making point-form observations of the activities in each area provides us with the following data:
Musikhuspassagen:
  • Public space connecting music and theatre house
  • Fixtures and fittings inviting individual expression – oriented towards older children/adolescents
  • Green space inviting areas to play basketball, rest in hammocks, parkour
  • Thematic elements to preserve the sense of magic theatre-goers have experienced before returning to “reality”
Overgade:
  • Recreates historic city cross-connection and reconnects shopping areas
  • Historical lines of sight
  • Very busy and bustling
  • Cultural supplement in the form of media/info screens
  • Benches for seating
  • Cycle path runs through the area
Albani Torv:
  • Informal meeting and socializing
  • Ties the valley’s landscape together across the square
  • Grass islands with trees to provide sitting areas
  • Can be turned into an area for pavilions/tents
  • Historic area

 

All three areas encourage interaction, transforming them from simple travel corridors into destination points that offer a range of ways to interact with the site. The process of moving from a series of actions to an architectural form is a linear one:
Activities → Interactions → Architecture
In other words, the activities can be used as the elements that dictate the types of interactions we want to see occur, which then in turn will inform the architecture. An examination of the three sites results in a simplified list of the primary activities I want to look at.
Connections – Each area has an explicit purpose of connecting two spaces together – either through a new connection or by reviving a historical one. Each connection carries a story behind it that can be told through building and interaction.
Congregation – Even though each area is a passage that connects one place to another, they invite the traveller to stay and treat the space as a destination point rather than a corridor. Green areas, benches, hammocks and street-level cafés entice people to stay a while.
Communication – It is logical that with congregation emerges communication. The spaces offer spaces where dialogue can emerge from chance encounters or arranged meetings. Our methods of communication can be affected by how we congregate and where we position ourselves within a space.
Play – Further bolstering the concept of urban passages that entice people to stay are the numerous ways that we are encouraged to play and experience each space – through tactile feeling, small environmental tweaking such as islands of grass, parkour and games, we gain a sense of belonging in our surroundings that excites us in different ways and encourages us to explore.

Odense infographics

I spent last week researching the area around Thomas B. Thriges Street in Odense as a means of locating where I wanted to situate my project. Having a previous interest in information graphics, I focused on the data concerning how people get from the underground parkade to the street level and used it to create a series of pie charts and a usage diagram.

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Location of ramps (orange), stairs (blue) and elevators (red) at the site

The data shows that one of the most common ways to move from underground to above is via stairwells located throughout the site, and that most of these stairwells are located around areas designated as “regional urban areas” – this is the Musikhuspassagen, Overgade and Albani Torv areas:

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Using this information, my aim is to create two or three transition points which will connect the underground to the street level. These structures will be independent of the buildings on the site but their architectural qualities will be informed by their surroundings. Perhaps these transition points will serve as “waypoints” that guide people through the site and will somehow interact with each other. They will most likely contain stairs as the method of vertical movement, but should not be represented in the form of a traditional building staircase. The XBees will feature in the physical model as a method of creating interactive architecture.
My next step will be to create a basic material and structural catalogue of the buildings surrounding each site that will inform these transition points.

A reading of Odense and the city’s new master plan

The current layout of Thomas B. Thriges Street in Odense has been shown to clearly not work. With the advent of the automobile came the expansion and upgrade of roads – once-quiet city spaces were soon overtaken by the roar of engines and horns. In the 1960s a roadway was installed in the heart of Odense to accommodate this new city inhabitant, and it became known as Thomas B. Thriges Street. By placing convenience of privatized travel over the serenity and character of Odense’s central square, city planners bisected the area, creating a disconnect between the two sides.
My visit to Odense last week confirmed what I had learned through research. Arriving at the site, I was immediately struck by the uncomfortable feeling of the street being so close to the area where pedestrians were walking. My first view of Sct. Albani Kirke was arranged through the proximity of roads, concrete and street signs, which did not impress any testament to the history of the site. The extreme conditions of the site made it impossible for me to imagine what stories the site might tell, despite the fascinating architecture of the church. The street, laying directly in front of the church, stopped me from approaching it and disrupted any sense of place the structure should have lent to the site. As I walked along the street, I stepped into the middle to take the “perfect” photo of the church – only to discover that while I was free of nearby taller obstacles, the ugly directional signs for the automobiles still hung directly in front of the church.
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Only recently has Odense has taken steps to rectify the problem of Thomas B. Thriges Street. A new master plan for the area has been developed that proposes to remove the street in an attempt to transform the area into an inviting, pedestrian-friendly place. Starting in the north at Østre Stationsgade and moving southward towards Sct. Albani Kirke and Odense Domkirke, a gradient of buildings will occupy part of the space, with larger, modern-looking buildings progressing to smaller, traditional buildings. The choice of progression is in response to allowing Odense to continue to develop as an important hub city in Denmark while preserving the historical dwellings that occupy the area. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum is a notable place surrounded by a specific atmosphere of old houses the reflects the time of the famous author. Underground parking beneath the buildings will serve to acknowledge the importance of the automobile to a city while preventing a noticeable change to the urban landscape.
My interest in the Thomas B. Thriges Street site lays in the area near the two churches. The area currently contains a small surface parking lot and a cobblestone area with a small historical ruin. The master plan states that the area will be occupied by two new commercial block buildings. I would like to remedy the dichotomy between this new built-up area and the two churches through an architectural intervention. Opportunities exist for an inhabitation of the proposed structures, or a completely new plan for the area.
The present way we build architecture has undergone a major change since the times of simple brick-and-mortar construction. Architects increasingly look to digital computation in the pursuit of novel building methods. One method involves the consideration of how we create forms that are influenced by and change with the environment. Neri Oxman, a researcher at the MIT Media Lab, talks about a separation existing between “what” a building senses and “how” it does so. Often architects will simply embed sensors into a building as a post-gesture rather than considering how the sensors lend themselves to the sensing elements of a building. Designing with attention to material choice can lead to exploring the role the designed material has in the creation of a “sensing” building. Through these exercises we can tweak the formal expression of a constructed space to unite it with another – in this case, the existing churches. Through careful attention to the way buildings and people sense their environment, I want to continue to expand on the notion of creating architecture that is informed by these actions.

Day trip to Odense

https://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=1811922554

The studio group took a day trip to Odense to observe Thomas B. Thriges Street, which is the centre of a radical new plan to demolish the existing roads running through the centre of the city and replace it with a pedestrian-friendly area. The new development will be located near all of the landmarks I photographed, and I think there’s an interesting opportunity to create new architecture that embraces new technologies and ways of building but also harkens back to the traditional designs of churches and government buildings.