urbanopathy
pathology of urban forms
green imperative

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it is important to remember that the architecture and design are social arts par excellence. it is possible to avoid theatre and ballet, never to visit museums or galleries, to spurn poetry and to switch off radio concerts. buildings, settlements and daily tools for living however, form a web of visual impressions that are inescapable.

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ordinary, simple objects of daily use have been until recently always been less aesthetically demanding and less complex, than the productions of fine arts, and more directly satisfying. ever since design and its products became ideologically sacrosanct part of marketing, this has changed in profound ways. unlike paintings or sculpture, design tends to embody social meanings, or serves to make certain social meanings acceptable. we value designed objects for many different reasons, but most are no longer connected with either the use of the object or the original intentions of the designer. the intent of the designer may, in fact be uninteresting or indecipherable to us.
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victor papanek / the green imperative
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beabourg part 1beabourg part 2
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winning the competition for the centre pompidou launched the careers of two world-famous architects. rogers went on to become one of the leaders of the british high-tech movement (along with norman foster) while piano generated an equally successful practice in his native italy and beyond, developing a sophisticated architecture marrying form and fabric.
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centre pompidou, a multifaceted cultural institution, realized for the first time on a large scale an idea that had been under discussion for a decade. prefigured in the space-age and colourful pop visions of the 1960s english group archigram and in projects such as the fun palace (1961) by cedric price, it was theoretically underpinned by the writings of reyner banham. the theory was that buildings change function in unpredictable ways and should therefore be made as flexible as possible. for ease of mass production and ready extendibility they should be assembled from a standard kit of parts. structural spans should be very wide to allow for future subdivision, and services should be stuck on around the outside where they would be easily accessible for alteration or replacement. even the circulation of people was treated this way, consisting of escalators in glass refinery, resulting in the nickname 'pompidolium'.
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because of the design strategy, somewhat temporary looking enclosures had to be built within the main framework to accommodate permanent features such as the libraries and gallery. direct daylighting of the paintings, a priority in other galleries such as louis kahn's kimbell and piano's later menil, could obviously not be managed, so as an art museum it proved less than ideal. but the square next to it became one of the hot-spots of paris, filled with entertainers, and the escalator-ride to view paris rivalled even the eiffel tower as a tourist attraction.
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visitor numbers broke all records and the building seemed a huge success, but paradoxically not for the efficacy of the original concept. it was never extended, the kit of parts was not reused, and it did not become the standard model for arts centres elsewhere. its potential flexibility has never been properly exploited and the late-1990s refit imposed changes against the original concept, particularly an interior stair which short-circuits the escalators on the facade, much to the architects' disdain. despite their efforts, it had not proved flexible enough to satisfy the changes needed only 25 years on, and its popularity is due more to its unprecedented image. it works as a monument to georges pompidou, but it also displays a powerful mid-20th-century idea about architecture as a servicing framework: here it is unrivalled.
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unknown
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i checked out the situation at the louvre - still hopelessly crowded - and instead went to the pompidou centre, which i was determined to try to like, but i couldn't. everything about it seemed wrong. for one thing it was a bit weathered and faded, like a child's toy that has been left out over winter, which surprised me because it is only a dozen years old and the government had just spent £40 million refurbishing it, but i guess that's what you get when you build with plastic. and it seemed much too overbearing a structure for its cramped neighbourhood. it would be an altogether different building in a park.
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but what I really dislike about buildings like the pompidou centre, and paris is choking on them, is that they are just showing off. here's richard rogers saying to the world, 'look, i put all the pipes on the outside. am i cute enough to kiss?' i could excuse that if some consideration were given to function. no one seems to have thought what the pompidou centre should do - that it should be a gathering place, a haven, because inside it's just crowded and confusing. it has none of the sense of space and light and majestic calm of the musee d'orsay. it's like a department store on the first day of a big sale. there's hardly any place to sit and no focal point - no big clock or anything - at which to meet someone. it has no heart.
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outside it's no better. the main plaza on the rue st-martin is in the shade during the best part of the day and is built on a slope, so it's dark and the rain never dries and again there's no place to sit. if they had made the slope into a kind of amphitheatre, people could sit on the steps, but now if you sit down you feel as if you are going to slide to the bottom.
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i have nothing against novelty in buildings - i am quite taken with the glass pyramid at the louvre and those buildings at la defense that have the huge holes in the middle - but i just hate the way architects and city planners and everyone else responsible for urban life seems to have lost sight of what cities are for. they are for people. that seems obvious enough, but for half a century we have been building cities that are for almost anything else: for cars, for businesses, for developers, for people with money and bold visions who refuse to see cities from ground level, as places in which people must live and function and get around. why should i have to walk through a damp tunnel and negotiate two sets of stairs to get across a busy street? why should cars be given priority over me? how can we be so rich and so stupid at the same time? it is the curse of our century - too much money, too little sense - and the pompidou seems to me a kind of celebration of that in plastic.
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bill bryson / neither here nor there: travels in europe
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casa mila
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la pedrera - "the quarry" - was the name an astounded population gave to this completely unique building. it could be compared with the steep cliff walls in which african tribes build their cave-like dwellings. the wavy façade, with its large pores, reminds one also of an undulating beach of fine sand, formed, for example, by a receding dune. the honeycombs made by industrious bees might also spring to the mind of the observer viewing the snake-like ups-and-downs that run through the whole building. in this last secular building which he constructed before devoting all his energies to the sagrada familia cathedral, gaudí created a paradox: an artificial but natural building which was simultaneously a summary of all the forms that he has since become famous for. the roof sports an imitation of the bench from güell park as well as an ever more impressive series of bizarre chimney stacks.
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above all, the house remained misunderstood for many years, and almost inevitably numerous parodies sprang up. but this also shows that, for all the ridicule that the building had to put up with, it nevertheless exercised a certain fascination over the public of its time-a fascination that was based unfortunately only on its external details. what was completely forgotten was that gaudi's design for the casa mila was, as ever, based on practical considerations that were path-breaking; an example would be his forerunner of the underground garage in the basement.
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rainer zerbst / antoni gaudi
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