Sunday, April 12 marked the first day of 2015's National Architecture Week. Architecture is often thought of in styles; is it tudor, is it modern, or is that art deco? However, architecture is much more exciting when viewed as a solution to a question or design problem. Once architecture and design are evaluated on their merits of answering a question, you may find that a new appreciation forms. Your aesthetic preferences might even start to change. We've decided to celebrate National Architecture Week by highlighting five architects whose work successfully answers the question:
Q. How do architects and architecture impact and improve our daily lives?
Charles & Ray Eames were pioneers in experimentation to validate design's worth. From the 1940s to the 1970s, this husband and wife designed and fabricated everything, such as objects, furniture, graphics, films, and even houses. They set a new tone of modern architecture and showed us that design is for everyone.
Project Worth Talking About: Powers of 10. While this isn't a piece of architecture, it's used in architecture schools as a reference. Charles and Ray Eames worked with IBM to take cutting edge technologies and communicate complex scientific ideas in a very understandable way. Powers of 10 has been used as a tool for understanding scale for almost 40 years, and remains as relevant today as it did in 1977.
What's it to ya, Asheville?: This film is a simple reminder that it's good to keep a sense of scale in check. All projects are made better when they "zoom out" enough and consider how they relate to adjacent buildings, or down the block, or down the river. In addition, it's a classic short film to talk about at your next happy hour.
Kunle Adeyemi is looking at less than acceptable living conditions and figuring out a way to improve through architecture. The firm NLE shows us this can be done with regional materials, simple construction methods, and low budgets as long as there is creativity on hand.
Project Worth Talking About: Makoko Floating School. This floating elementary school exists in an above water shanty town near Lagos, Nigeria. There are three stories to the floating school. The lower level is the largest and acts as a community space when school isn't in session. Overall, the school gives each student adequate space and access to daylight; two factors that affect learning.
What's it to ya, Asheville?: Our region has incredible natural and cultural assets, but we also face real issues like homelessness and hunger. Is there a cost effective housing solution that acknowledges the needs of its users with respect? Are there other problems where design thinking can compensate the lack of adequate funding?
Thinking Beyond Sustainability.
BIG finds opportunity to improve the environment, not just provide shelter. Firm Owner, Bjarke Ingels is transforming the definition of architect. The Danish design firm looks at a typical building proposal and requires them to be more and do more that just house people.
Project Worth Talking About: The-Waste-to-Energy Plant. The team at BIG was asked to design a new power plant for the city of Copenhagen. They went beyond the traditional thinking of what a power plant is, and created a building that functions as a power plant and also a civic space. Although the interior is a power plant the roof is an artificial ski slope! The top blows out giant 'smoke rings' of the water vapor every time 250 kilograms of CO2 is released as a reminder to residents of their carbon footprint. Bjarke Ingels says of the building, “The new plant is an example of what we at BIG call Hedonistic Sustainability – the idea that sustainability is not a burden, but that a sustainable city in fact can improve our quality of life. The Waste-to-Energy plant with a ski slope is the best example of a city and a building which is both ecologically, economically and socially sustainable”.
What's it to ya, Asheville?: What if we rethink traditional building typologies and design them in a way that could improve the ecology, economics and social aspects of Asheville? Could it be a new brewery that takes rain water runoff and gives us an indoor place to kayak in freezing January? Can apartment housing be affordable, reduce the carbon footprint of it's inhabitants, and be a giant park for our city? We need to expect more of our buildings and willing to make it a priority.
Sam Mockbee proves that architecture should be available to everyone. As founder of the Rural Studio at Auburn University, Sam Mockbee (1944-2001) influenced a generation of designers to advocate that everyone, rich or poor, deserves the benefit of good design.
Project Worth Talking About: Hale County Animal Shelter. Since 1997, the Rural Studio has created dozens of projects for rural Alabama. Students respect the history, culture, and people for whom they are designing. Mockbee and the Rural Studio honor the regionalism of design. In 2004, the Rural Studio recognized that good architecture can benefit the lives of animals as well as people. The Hale County Animal Shelter is constructed with every day materials and uses a simple form that results in quality daylight and living space for rescued cats and dogs.
What's it to ya, Asheville?: With new people touring and moving into Asheville each year, it's safe to say that Asheville's unique, authentic charm plays a significant role in it's popularity. New buildings and growth is inevitable, but that doesn't mean it has to be without character or a sense of community. What happens if we demand that designers do not simply mimic the city's appearance, but use research, insight and thoughtfulness to create new, genuine buildings?
The Living merges technology, biology and architecture to create never before considered buildings and spaces. David Benjamin leads the firm with a design approach that parallels the scientific method. The firm's projects typically start with a hypothesis and attempt to solve an ecological problem while engaging individual behavior as part of the solution.
Project Worth Talking About: Hy-Fi. This project was a temporary installation for the MOMA Queens Courtyard in 2014. As winners of the PS1 Competition, The Living took crushed up corn and real mushrooms to create a completely organic, compostable brick. The entire structure is 100% organic and completely biodegradable. The Living took something as simple as a brick and questioned if it could be made just as durable, but in a way that was better for the environment.
What's it to ya, Asheville?: We live in a city where an appreciation for art and nature happily coexist. Could we challenge architects, designers, artists and contractors to make our infrastructure beautiful and carbon neutral? Could we do it in a way that is fun, and actually begins to change people's behavior about sustainability?