or the 100tth Monkey Effect

J.G. Ballard once stated that the uneasy marriage of reason and nightmare which dominated the 20th century gave birth to an increasingly surreal world. Being part of this increasing madness it should be important for us to re consider things that we have taken as a given up until now. With a fragile, almost collapsing economical structure upon us and a mounting social tension, one comes to question what should the position of architecture be today, as a contributing form of science.

To cut a (really) long story short, the scenario of this thesis is the deformation and substitution of principles that would follow in the aftermath of a systemic collapse and the subsequent evolving process that would arise. Of course despite the immense questions (a.k.a. opportunities) that would come out of a situation like this, we have constrained ourselves only to a small part of the spatial enigma. According to David Harvey, it is easier for people today to conceive a future on Mars than a future not under Capitalism. So we made it our difficult task not only to imagine a different future but also to position architecture in it.

If the creation of the Soviet Union in the early 20’s was equal in importance and magnitude with the discovery of a new continent, then we can safely assume that the pilgrimages of the era were the newly invented Social Condensers. There were supposed to be the up most important elements in a society that would not structure itself around the market but around its interrelationships. As we know it didn’t take more than a decade to bring all this utopian thinking and acting to a flaming end.

But this is the point of our departure. We are imagining a world that could come into peace with the Marxist confrontation of the city versus the countryside. In the process of doing it, we are showcasing the re actualization of Manhattan as a contemporary urban intensification node, and main Capitalist stronghold to something completely different.

In order to do so, we are using the same spatial pilgrims the Soviets invented. This time around, they are not the sturdy, uneventful ancestors of their originators but they themselves have evolved. As we argue, the “human condition” is a constantly changing one, and our spatial elements should also be able to follow up. This feature is a key ingredient of our final outcome as a material totality and as a way of thinking.

It is our firm belief that things are a changing. It falls on us to choose the paths to follow, to be influenced and finally to influence. History has taught us, that we cannot change society through spatial formations alone, but we can still try to influence it. On the other hand, our desired outcome is based on the amazing unpredictability of introducing a new perspective into this world. So in plain terms the end goal here is to come up with a set of tools rooted mostly into the spatial realm, although the influences are coming from a vast variety of sciences (psychoanalysis, history, physics, geology etc), and give the opportunity for a new social order to use it and abuse it for its own scopes and purposes.

After all “freedom can only exist as a necessity”. (K. Marx)


we can live without architecture

“Architecture never touches the great themes, the fundamental themes of our lives. It remains at the limit and intervenes only at a certain point in the process, usually when behavior has already been totally codified, furnishing answers to rigidly stated questions. Even if its answers are evasive, the topic of their production and consumption avoids any real upheaval. […] Architecture presents no real proposal since it uses instruments accurately predisposed to avoid any deviation…”


“If design is merely an inducement to consume then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of the bourgeois models of ownership and society, then we must reject town planning and its cities[…] Until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs, until then design must disappear. We can live without architecture… "

Adolfo Natalini (1971)

“The problem is not to furnish rooms and not even to produce objects both amusing and perishable… The problem is to furnish deserts, to awake consciousness from long dogmatic sleep and force backward the monster created by the sleep of reason…”

“House of Calm Serenity” SUPERSTUDIO

Superarchitettura (1966)

Superstudio or SUPERSTUDIO as the team preferred to name itself, was an avant garde architectural team created in Italy in 1966. The founders were Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia both architects from the famous Architecture school of Florence. Along with another architectural and design team of the era and closely related to them even in terms of spatial proximity , the ARCHIZOOM ( an association by Andrea Branzi, Gilberto Corretti, Paolo Deganello, Massimo Morozzi; and two designers Dario Bartolini and Lucia Bartolini), they formed what was coined as the Radical Architecture Movement.

We will not go in depth into the history or the implementations of their work, because this is firstly easily traceable throughout the internet and secondly it is not the goal of the project. Instead we want to investigate some elements that this radical movement explored and see if we can also rely on their interpretation to further enhance our projected goals.

One of the first elements of their work that we are interested in is the way the SUPERSTUDIO and the ARCHIZOOM use the grid formation. We focused on two projects (one for each team), the Continuous Monument (SUPERSTUDIO) and the Non-Stop City (Archizoom).

Although these two projects share a lot in common they also have a lot that differentiates them. Common is the utopian perspective of them and the use of the grid as a starting point, also similar is the ideal that they have upon commenting on their contemporary consumerist society.

Almost everything else is contradicting one another. In the Continuous Monument the ideal of a society held together only by a thin grid (or grid structure), that can supply them with their necessities, is central. In Non-Stop City, the inhabitants of this limitless urban (?) formation are actually depending on a multitude of newly invented pieces of furniture and their houses that are completely self-enclosed and artificially air-conditioned. There is much more in this comparison and we will not address it here. What we are really interested is the use of the grid (the similarities and the differences) and the way that the two revolutionary thinking teams regard its relationship with nature; and of course Mies…

.the grid

In the Continuous Monument, Superstudio use the grid and the grid structure to create an overcoat that would make the totality of our planet habitable. In the graphics that follow their utopian project we can see the spatial formation that is constituted by a rectilinear grid, literally in every environment found on our planet.

In one of the very few (and early) sketches we can take a glimpse of what is happening inside this grid. We can see structures like the ones we are used to inhabit today, stacked one on top of another, like a linear city of humongous proportions. In this case we understand that the grid and its spatiality create the environment for the city structure (urbanism) to invade everywhere. Inside of this seemingly uniform grid, everything can be happening. The exterior façade of this project in no way is able to depict or even interact with what is happening inside of it. But in a very strange way, the exterior is the only way for the interior to exist.

This is in very close proximity to the Miesian way to think about a façade.

Furthermore, in another set of envisioning the team sketches out an entirely new condition for the grid. Here we can see a family of inhabitants roaming around a open plane field that is constituted by a never ending grid. According to the team this grid is the ultimate provider of the needs that those people have. What is really interesting to us at this point is the way that this particular grid interacts with nature and the native ground.

In the collage we see the grid plane covering the whole extent of the field. In the same extent there are parts of the grid that seem broken off and reveal the reality that it was protecting us from. Even the presence of the cactus as a natural element, is indicative of the team’s attitude against nature.

In the same way, when we take a closer look at Mies work (Farnsworth, Seagram, Stadtgallerie, Lake Shore drive etc), then we realize an important similarity between the two. When the grid wants to host a natural element, it does not distort its presence, it doesn’t even react, it just opens a whole wide enough for the element to fit in.

It is not a reactionary measure it is an involuntary one.

The same can be said about the Non-Stop City project; although here the moves are more randomized and the set of rules seems a lot more figurative and free. The natural element has no continuity, and it is still encased in the grid. The grid here is much more two dimensional, and all of the focus is being laid on the architectural objects themselves.


Having these great examples to look up to, we had a hard time realizing the difficulty of the process we elected to follow. The diagrid formation that will cover our structure, is not two dimensional or three dimensional per se. It relates upon the elements it encounters, and it formulates itself accordingly. It never breaks or subsides, but it can be taken apart when need.




Clearing Out.

In response to the midterm review it has deemed fruitful to think over the commentary that took place from the critics. The main problematic focused in the linking between the final result and its predecessor.

This text aims to regain the linkage between these two phases and while doing that to strengthen the approach on the work of Mies van de Rohe. The main questions that will be answered here concern firstly the choice of the actual site (why the Seagram bldg, why Mies) and then will move forward through an in depth look in basic Miesian elements to (re) discover the linkage that seemed lost.

So why the Seagram’s bldg? What it could possibly have that would interest us so much, as to place it as the ground zero for our scheme?

In late 1999, just before the millennium entered our way, there was a major public vote in New York City. Those days, as in every other big or small settlement people got the millennium frenzy. That meant that everything around them had to be reevaluated in order to be accepted into the completely advanced and new era (or not so). So the frenzy included a mass public participation in all kinds of voting contests that all had in common the millennium reference. In those days everything had the denomination 2000’s or “of the millennium”, as if people in a massive scale were reevaluating their life’s work and surroundings.

Of course, not eluding this mania, in New York City there was a rather extensive competition organized by the New York Times in order to find out what was the millennium’s most important building. The result was rather (or not) surprising. The then 42 year old (now it is 52 years old) building surpassed every other major construction in NYC, and was voted first. What is impressive is that the bldg itself has been overly criticized through the years from almost everyone. Even Rem Koolhaas once stated his disappointment when he first came to the big apple, excited to see it but was left discouraged and strangely disaffected.

Still, even today it remains the most expensive piece of real estate in NYC and one of the ten in the western hemisphere. The name and the figure of the building is one of the most recognizable in the history of modern architecture whilst it has been copied more times than any other. This love to hate structure has defined the skyline of the modern cities more than any other man made element of construction.

In all honesty, no matter how subjective somebody is, there are other impressive projects around us that have existed the past 40 years, many of which were more radical, utopian, even more extravagant, but none had ever proven to be so successful. This success is a key point to understand why we wanted it to be a main figure in our transformation. When the game is changing nobody wants to deal with the losers because it doesn’t really matter. On the other hand, taking down the competition’s head may as well lead to a paradigm shift.

This is not the only reason. Furthermore, in the Seagram, people can witness one the most successful fusions of classic and gothic elements that have ever been erected. On the one hand, the classic elements easily spotted in the absolute symmetry, in the balanced massing, the raised plaza, even the triple division of the tower into the base, the shaft and the crown. In addition to that the same goes for the stable repetition of the columns and the beams. Some critics have also made the linkage with antiquity because of the presence of bronze.

On the other hand, the gothic elements can be traced to the materiality of the selected components, the pink marble, the travertine, the bronze. Even more in the relations of the working elements of the construction, the glass wall (reminding us the great gothic churches), and the steel frames…

Ultimately this means that messing with the Seagram means taking on thousands of years of western architectural taste being balanced between the classical and the gothic tracery.

So that is why the Seagram’s and no other.

In this second part we will have to analyze the Seagram’s in order to show the obvious and the not so obvious traces that link our end result to it.

.the grid

The first obvious thing that we want to discuss is the grid and the way it functions not only in the particular example but in most of Mies work. This is one of the most elemental components that the architect was basing his projects and subsequently, is the key in understanding our transformations later on.

In most of his mature work Mies van de Rohe was using the grid as a key ingredient not only for his programmatic manifestations but also for the final realization of his projects. The grid that was used obeyed most of the times to two rules. The first one was the span of the given structure and the actual length that could be accommodated according to the given materials, technical solutions or even desired effects on the ground (i.e. the Neue Stadtgallerie). The second rule was the configuration of the grid to be fitted into the site, or the necessary portion of the site that was linked to the project.

Those two main parameters, when combined, gave the architect the necessary base for the introduction of the final compositional grid. Based on that particular grid where all the rest steps of the procedure.

The clue here is not only to understand the significance of the above statements but also to trace this procedure into the course of time into Mies work. From the time that the grid was introduced as a design decision maker there has been practically no significant change until the Seagram’s. It didn’t matter if the project was a warehouse, an institution or a summer house; furthermore it made no difference the volume, height or even the placing of the construction.

So as we can see the Seagram’s obeyed the same rules the Farnsworth did. The only addition was the fact that the plan was repeated in height as many times as needed. In essence what we have in hand is an absolute two dimensional grid.

The two dimensional grid, so profoundly praised by Mies, for its ability to create such an agile environment (open plan), is only partly successful. All of the open space created and the consequent “functional mobility” in the operational plan, is heavily constrained in the X, Y plane. Even if we multiply this in the Z axis in order to create the skyscraper formation, then we still keep the design constrained to the same axis. That is the situation that occurs for every bldg Mies has ever made and is more that a floor in height.

The easy way to witness this is by tilting the Miesian high structure on the side and evaluating the result. The tilted construction resembles a completely different ideal than its previous state. Here we have a weird analogy between the height and the width of the floors; some kind of traditional Dutch housing extravaganza.

This exaggeration helps us define the element of our research. When the slab met the two dimensional grid the result is deceiving. The supposedly open space falls victim to the constraints of the plane. That is why we say that the two dimensional grid that Mies operated on is only the bearer of the signal to the road of open and fully functional space. Still in the project plans that were made for most of the constructions we can sense a secluded will to break free. We are mostly referring to the plants and supporting elements that were drawn on them. Many other architects at the time, as they still do today, present the surroundings rather minimally. Mies on the other hand did not. The trees elude in the grid invading it and making them distinctively obvious for the observer in most of his finished plans (take a closer look at the plans for the Farnsworth house, the Toronto bank, the Lake Shore drive, the Bacardi bldg etc.)

In our design the slabs give their place to another grid in order to form a completely three dimensional spatial realm. As arbitrary as it might sound, the element that bounds all of it together is that of the Soil. It is the form in which the grid lives and operates. In order for the grid to fully progress in the three dimensional environment and because antigravity machine remains fictional, materiality is needed. Every grain of sand is in its own relative position a point in a vast extent of gridirons. Furthermore this gets even better when the Soil itself can be continuously re-appropriated, allowing the unending construction and destruction of unending grid patterns.

The Z axis is now free to intermix with the rest of the parameters set by the given functions and demands. The only constraint here is in reality the human imagination and its consequent drives. Paraphrasing Mies we can surely agree with his trademark quote “Less is more”, if only less is all it can actually become.

.the frame

The second element of the upmost importance for the definition of our work is the frame and its use in Mies work. Most of the bldg structures he created in his mature stage were containing a given hierarchy. This given hierarchy firstly placed the grid, then the functions and then concluded with the skin of the enclosed environment.

This skin was used mostly to segregate the interior from the exterior but also to visually connect it. This connection came in the form of transparency of the frame. Starting from the first glass skyscraper that he presented as the future of the urban settlement, right to the end (his last built work the Neue Stadtgallerie in Berlin), the glass (transparency) has always been a key element.

In the same degree what also mattered was the way he was making the frame part of the façade and consequently relating it to the built volume.

The exterior façade always comprised of a multiplication of similar elements masterfully resolved to create a unity. This multiplication is especially obvious in the Seagram bldg and is what constitutes a great deal of its character. He called the frame as a “reflexive architectural ornament” but in real terms we do not see this happening.

One of the rare moments that something like this takes place has been infamously called “the bank joke”.

“…building the Toronto Dominion Bank he had to model specific partitions in order to block his transparent windows, or else everything would become seeable (sic).[…] So he made a display of everything and nothing and vice versa.”

What we have here is a case when instead of making the frame and the façade react to the needs he evades the action. Instead he creates a supplementary move to counteract with his unwanted transparency. The same move has been done in the Seagram bldg when we take a look at the sides of the construction that host the main circulation core.

Transparency here in not needed but instead of giving away the uniformity of the façade system he prefers to enclose an opaque element (in this case the marble) to counter it.
We really are interested in this activity, but we want to take it a step further. As with the grid (passing from a 2d grid to a 3d one) we would like to transform a non reactive façade to one that can really participate into the creation or host the volume it confines.

In order to do so, we also will follow Mies first steps by taking as a façade base a simple element that would create our unity via multiplicity. In our case, this element is the most agile in terms of spatial mobility in the 3 dimensions, the triangle.
By using the triangle we succeed into creating the diagrid. The diagrid is a planar formation that can (depending on the resolution of it) recreate any geometric shape or condition. Following the conditions that we set, this diagrid is going to be created by a light, waterproof material that also has the ability to stretch. This material is called elastic polymer and it has an added benefit to it, it is translucent.

The translucency will give us the lighting conditionality that we want because it would be able to allow light in but obstruct the eyesight. When vision is needed then the material is removed as a whole. In addition to that the structural system we have created to host our surface, is capable of doing that.

In this way the flexibility of the plan and the section is not being followed by the façade.

.the sculptures

Continuing on the analysis of Mies work on Seagram we come into a very interesting point, the sketches. While Mies was working on the bldg, he created a series of sketches in order to think about things that he was interested in.

What is fascinating about his sketches is that he did only 2 documented sketches of the Seagram and the Plaza. On the other hand, there are more than 15 pages of documented sketches that deal with the sculptures that would be hosted on the plaza. That is an indication of the importance that the architect gave to the specific element.

Maybe the elements that act as depots for the surplus soil can be the sculptures of Mies. His ideal of a plaza able to host a vast variety of sculptures will be revised and revived.


"To whom you might ask does Mies "belong"? The architects, the artists, the warlords? Or to 20th century itself?[...] I cannot hide my own bias and I will affirm it here, today.

Mies is a problem for the 20th century, and to this infinite process that is our century no witnesses may be justifiably excluded"

S. Kwinter.