The presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the reality of the world and of ourselves.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

100 MAJA/ HOUSES #La Biennale di Venezia

POPULATION 1 370 000

Architecture is encountered by people throughout the built environment. The experience of architecture is part of everyday life, divided between many spheres and contrasts: public/private, physical/virtual and modern/classical. One of the initial stages in the experience of architecture is the life environment, which provides personal impulses that affect everyone. The private residence has always been a favorite topic for modern architecture, illustrating in its compactness and simultaneous complexity, people’s relationships with their environment and the way to shape it. The creation of private residences is also one of the most intimate forms of architecture, in which the client’s relationship with that which is being created is indivisible. Private residential architecture with it multifaceted nature raises many questions by graphically reflecting the society and its operational mechanisms. (Karen Jagodin, editor and curator of the Estonian Exhibition in the 12th Venice Architecture Biennale)

Present-day professional residential architecture is highly valued in Estonia as it is in the Nordic countries. However, if factory-built standardized solutions are very popular in the Nordic countries and relatively few unique projects are commissioned from architects, in Estonia the construction of private residences based on unique projects has been relatively popular throughout the period of re-independence. In Estonia, the architectural and structural quality of catalogue houses is relatively mediocre, and therefore, the majority of local professional architects have received a large number of commissions for private residential projects. The new Estonian residential architecture provides a cross-section of the trends of local architectural practice since the restoration of independence. (Karl-Dag Liege)

Architecture – and private residences among them – create and shape the relationships between people, as well as people’s relationships with space. The quality of architecture is not hidden in the fact that it conveys reality, but rather in its ability to arouse our imagination. (Triin Ojari)

You can view selected projects or download full pdf-catalogue from Estonian Architects website.

[Photo by Tiit Trummal from catalogue 100 MAJA/ HOUSES ]

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

City of the Mind, City for the Mind

The article "I walk in dreams and I can change them" by Tristan Priimägi, Estonian pop culture enthusiast as he calls himself, brought my attention to few of the recent discoveries and inspirations.

In this article he recalls that according to his friend there has always been an exception in the film production course in the audiovisual media department in the University of Tallinn - the sketch or a story can not take place either in the psychiatric clinic or in dreams, as in the above named places there is no need to seize the narrative structure. Indeed who of us does not remember that writing an essay on a free subject actually always turns out to be one of the most impossible tasks you have ever had to do in your life. As if some restrictions were always necessary...

Once Plato imagined a place where a group of people who had lived chained in a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall, known as the Allegory of the Cave. The people watched shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them, and began to ascribe forms to these shadows. The shadows were as close as the prisoners get to seeing reality. However in Plato´s vision, once the prisoners were freed from the cave, they would come to understand that the shadows on the wall were not constitutive of reality at all, a perceived true form of the reality, but rather the mere shadows seen by the prisoners.

We construct worlds daily whether we call them invisible, hidden, parallel societies, imagined landscapes or anything else. But what if there were no limits to our imaginations? How many of us would be able to construct completely unseen world not using and/or copying elements of the seen?

That´s something Christopher Nolan has pointed out, against some academics belief that narrative subject needs to be limiting, in his new film Inception. The description of the movie would seem shallow in the paper, the content incomplete and maybe even somewhat comical. But the movie has few angles that keep haunting and inspiring me : "(...) you gotta draw from stuff you know right? (...) never re-create from you memory, always imagine new places (...) it is pure creation."

Mapping a city in film has been exploring relationships between city, urban space, moving image and memory for centuries. Why am I inspired? Inception, one of the few latest blockbuster movies, does not describe cliche worlds, but rather tries to question the limits as well as ethics of our imagination and is therefore something intellectually challenging, at least for me...

Monday, 2 August 2010

Trafalgar pops green, again...

Last night a hedge maze appeared in Trafalgar Square, London. According to the organisers (West End Partnership) this green labyrinth aims to encourage Londoners and visitors explore West End  beyond their usual paths. The maze consists of hedges over 2 metres high with lanes within that 30 by 20-metres puzzle named after famous West End streets. Taking some time to get lost in a green labyrinth is worth an effort, however one would also expect local partnerships to take a step beyond of just creating another temporary art and advertising installation - to actually take time and study people and their behaviour  in order to create better permanent open green (?) places for rest and play (see also intervention in Trafalgar in summer 2009).

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Heightened Level of Realism

"Our society tries to understand its own structure, and builds its physical extensions on the earth's surface, guided by blank slate hypothesis. City planners believe that people's taste for green, for functions, is just social construction. We do no not inhabit architectural space simply for shelter. We do so because we need the experience of space." (Salingaros; Jane Rendell "Critical Architecture")

When the space can understand what it is what we appreciate about it, that space can sustain, replicate or even enhance the aspects that make it special on a personal level. When architectural space has a true communicative capability, it can foster a heightened sense of attachment.

"It is a well known saying that you see your habitat anew through the eyes of a stranger. It's a cliche so it must be true. Take a guide of your own city. For once try to follow its instructions and become a tourist in your home town. Everything will be different. First of all, the aesthetic experience becomes central, instead of functional and emotional ones. One must keep in mind though that there are more reasons than one to keep on searching for characteristics and qualities that do not only conform the aesthetic tourist or commercially successful image." (Arjen Oosterman; Volume #4 2009)

A guide is not only a program or a manual for making decisions. It might also show realities that are influenced by design decisions and other interventions. Exploration of the city does not need to start from the idea of continuously aligned streets, but looking at the "blocks" behaving independently. 

So what about taking Google Street View a step further and looking at those immersive spaces with panoramic video? Not only recording stills of streetscapes but exploring the interactive inner lives of city blocks? As Marshall McLuhan has once said: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” - our experience of the space.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Spotted by Locals #1 alias In Response to Greed

“There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”
The real estate around downtown Hamburg is in some opinions some of the most expensive concrete you can walk on in Europe. Historically built around the harbour, Hamburg has greedily imbibed influences, ideas as well as investments arrived by the sea. However Gängeviertel is not necessarily a place where you share the footpath with suits and business types running late for networking lunches or glass towers and polished metal rods reaching towards the sky. 

It is a district of 12 buildings that was bought by developers to sit down on and wait for the real estate prices to rise. Except that before the desired rise the district was squatted by locals who in collaboration with city officials have engaged themselves in the development of the area. Overseen plenty of bad developments in the city, locals had by that time become suspicious of the power of money. In short time some of the spaces have been transformed to parks, hostels, people´s kitchens (known also as volksküchen) and galleries. If the project (and the engagement with city council) works, the whole area would in the future become an inner-city for artists: "Awarded be the "developers" who are not only interested in the profit, but also in the welfare of those living in the developments."

Spotted by Locals is a sequel of thoughts and observations that has occupied my mind since the last blog post.Through the eyes of the locals I try sense how living in cities and dealing with city life in society is seen, imagined but also intervened with.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A return to the polis by Swyngedouw

"What is at stake, then, is the practice of genuine democracy, of a return to the polis, the public space for the encounter and negotiation of disagreement, where those who have no place and are not counted or named, can acquire or, better still, appropriate voice." 

Erik Swyngedouw, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2009.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Designing for Patient Dignity

For the last months our team (Slider Studio, Azhar Architects and manufacturer Grant Westfield) has been involved in the programme "Design for Patient Dignity" - the Department of Health asked the Design Council to bring designers, manufacturers and frontline NHS staff together to see if they could come up with new ideas that would help the NHS improve hospital environments and the experiences of patients.

Our brief
Design a more dignifying toileting and washing experience in hospital.

Using the toilet and bathroom in hospital poses a particular set of problems and potential embarrassments for many patients, and is often cited as a key argument in the case for same-sex accommodation. If facilities are difficult to access or use, it can make patients feel that their dignity is compromised.

During various hospital visits we found that toilets and bathrooms in hospitals are extremely stressful places, contributing to an undignified experience. To name some of the problems: no mirror above the basin, but instead a visually cluttered space with various soaps, towels, bings etc, no place to put your personal things. Slider Studio developed a Mirror in parallel with ongoing research into ambient assisted living technologies while Azhar focused on prefabricated washrooms. 

In short, the Smart Mirror reorganises the washbasin space in hospital bathrooms and toilets into one prefabricated product that can be retrofitted. It has a large mirror to bring domestic familiarity to the hospital environment, slimline wall- hung storage, integrated lighting, a shaver socket, a waste bin and a grab rail that can also function as a towel hanger. Storage for soap, conditioner and paper towels is integrated and an electronic indicator tells cleaning staff what needs refilling. The exhibited prototype marks our first step of the journey.

Capsule Washroom and Smart Mirror from Design Council on Vimeo.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Loose Space Encounters

"In urban public spaces around the world people pursue a very rich variety of activities originally not intended for these locations. Sometimes these activities occur along with the primary, intended uses. Many of the activities that generate the looseness are neither productive nor reproductive - being instead a matter of leisure, entertainment, self expression or political expression, reflection and social interaction. Loose spaces allow for the chance encounter." (Franck, Stevens 2007)

Cities variety of public space extends the right to carry out one´s desired actions while recognizing the presence and rights of others (Lynch 1981; Carr 1992). Right to the city encompasses the right to freedom, individualisation. Different groups have various perspectives on the use of public space, sometimes resulting in tension and conflict. However tension is not always conflictive or necessarily bad while it provides an opportunity for awareness of the relationship between different groups concerning public space. 

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Qualities that define Public Space

I am currently reading Ali Madanipour´s new book "Whose Public Space?" (2010, Routledge). The book in general investigates the making of public space through analysing the process of urban design and development. It is argued that public spaces should be accessible and developed through inclusive processes. Public spaces need to support certain qualities such as physical access, social access, access to activities and discussions, or inter-communications; and access to information. The first and second quality are most obvious - physical access refers to physical environment which everybody is entitled to be physically present; and second quality, social access, involves the presence, suggesting who is, and is not welcome in that space. The social image and ambient of the place can make the space more welcoming, less intimidating to wider range of groups. The third quality refers to place where the activities and discussions on its (public space) development and use processes are open to all. Thus it can be said that the "public space" is the place where public authorities are responsible for guaranteeing the existence of arena where citizens can express their attitudes, assert their claims etc.Through this function the arena enables the meaning of public space to express needs, interests, negotiate and understand. And finally the fourth quality - access to information - allows us to define the the public space as the place where information regarding its development and use processes is available to all members of society.