Af/sc workshop: field

presentation of workshop results, 2011

“Form matters, but not so much the forms of things as the forms between things.”
Stan Allen: Field Conditions, first published in Stan Allen’s Points + Lines, 1999

Architecture is commonly perceived through the notion of “object” - a physical, built structure, tectonic complex – and its form. Even today houses are thought of and built on the premise of their “buildingness,” although for a long time in architecture, and in a theoretically precisely elaborated sense since the 1950s and the first critiques of modernism, design approaches have dealt with phenomena or concepts like “openness,” “variability” and “indeterminacy.” Such approaches distance themselves from the “dominance of the architectural object,” and try to reveal ways in which to develop an architectural design that would function as an adjustable and ambiguously “open work.” It is perfectly clear that any architecture or any urban planning disposition, to a greater or lesser extent, has the potential of variability and adjustability and can expect unplanned or uncontrolled events. However, “open architecture” in fact is trying to establish a position according to which the relationship between the physical structure and the event the structure houses is not based on instrumental causality or “solving the problem”; instead, the design should imply multiple possibilities and potentials of space articulation which are not known in advance. Such an approach, of course, does not imply the necessity to dismiss the commonly accepted building elements or suggest that architecture must necessarily adopt radically new ways of articulating space. On the contrary, the topic of openness is conceptual by nature; it is about changing the design sensibility that perceives architecture primarily as a catalyst or mediator for a spontaneous turn of events.

An intensive one week student workshop organized in the Gallery of the Zagreb Student Centre, from the 2-8 of May 2011, by the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Zagreb and under the guidance of Petar Mišković and Mia Roth-Čerina, focused its research on the subject of “fields” - a term often used in recent architectural theory and practice as a signifier for architectural systems based on relationships between elements that colonize and structure a particular territory. The assumption is that these relationships suggest, but do not define, events and that the “field condition” is a concept within which the structure and the events influence and stimulate one another. Especially important is the role of various contexts (the pre-existing condition, social dynamics) that become an integral part of the field and an active element of the design.

In Allen's words, field conditions “move from one toward the many, from individuals to collectives, from objects to fields... to generalize, a field condition could be any formal or spatial matrix capable of unifying diverse elements while respecting the identity of each.” (Instead of identity, it would be better to conclude that they maintain “the properties of elements."). Among twelve student designs we chose five. Each of these designs presents a different viewpoint on the subject of “fields,” each exploring concrete or generic spaces and suggesting exact ways architecturally to interpret and articulate the pre-existing conditions or assumed situations. The students were expected to approach the research subject with sensitivity and empathy, to employ an inventive and investigative approach unburdened by standard or normative architectural morphologies, but still technically precise enough to avoid the trap of “formalist utopia.” What all the designs have in common is the effort to encourage and cultivate architectural intelligence capable of recognizing various aspects of the social reality - from the completely subtle and “marginal” to those regarding some of the leading phenomena of contemporary life - in order to transform them into open, operative, and critical spatial models. Platitudes like “energy sustainability” and “socially aware architecture” are thus challenged by
an approach that pays respect to the pragmatic logic of architectural elements but rejects the fetishism of the closed architectural form.

Maroje Mrduljaš