“When the imagination surpasses the limits permitted by the institution of culture, one speaks of poesie, utopia. When critical thought attains and surpasses its limit (which are much more severe than those of those of the imagination), one speaks of deviance, folly, a critical error, an overly theoretical system, a free-floating vision, etc. When the event attains and surpasses the limits permitted by the law, one speaks of revolution. Or of histories for daydreaming.”
– Rene Lourau
If you have read posts from this blog you will know that I love visionary architecture, not for the utopic qualities or the futuristic aesthetic but I am drawn to the thought of making the impossible possible. Visionary architecture, for the most part has only existed on paper and more recently in CAD, the proposals were either too large in scale (megastructure), or deemed impractical (either technologically or gravity defying) or socially utopic and could not be built. During the heyday of visionary architecture (60’s & 70’s), there was a belief among many architects that ‘visionary architecture’ was a frivolous and useless practice and could not contribute to solving ‘real’ urban issues. Archigram, in particular, were ridiculed by many of their colleague, even though they were achieving cult status amongst artists, students and the cultural counter revolutionaries. On a practical side, Archigram’s visions were fantastical, utopic and in many respects impossible mobile propositions. However, looking back forty years later, we see a lot of imaginative, creative and innovative ideas that have been and are being incorporated in contemporary architecture. As technology continues to change in how we can build and develop structures, architects are pushing the limits in the built form every year. I strongly believe that without the fantastical proposals of the past, current realities could not have been developed. True innovation can only come from unadulterated creative vision that is not restricted by certain perimeters, cost factors, and bureaucratic bylaws.
I sometimes wonder to the extent of the speculative projects that Archigram designed. Did they really think that a city could either walk or be moved by hot air balloons and relocated to new designations. Or instead where they floating around the idea that cities should be more malleable, resources and social services could be mobile and maybe houses could be more portable.
In Canada, our current government has been making news headlines with the censoring of scientists especially around the environment. A mayor change in the direction of governmental funding for scientists is the support of projects that are actively supported by industry or can lead to strong economically benefits. The major concerns amongst scientists is that this type of funding doesn’t allow for or acknowledge that experimentation leads to new discoveries. Discoveries that might not have been the main purpose of the research but could provide us with knowledge to solve other problems. I was recently listening to a radio show on CBC and this sentiment was reiterated by super star astronaut Chris Hadfield, who stated that without the quest (and funding) for moon exploration in the sixties many of our hospitals would look quite different today: radiation therapy, MRI and CAT scans, pacemakers, and EMS communication systems are just a few technologies that were developed by NASA for space purposes but we have all benefitted from the ‘space spinoff.’
I regularly look at architectural blogs and lately so many of them are filled with gorgeous designed modern structures, some veer from the traditional and incorporate interesting forms (and I am not referring to the over used Zaha Hadid organic forms), but most are not new. However, there are some structures that really are pushing the limits and conventions of architecture and I love it. In Port Moody, we are getting an extension of the Evergreen line which will bring access to downtown Vancouver by 2017. Our City council has produced a community building plan and it is so lack lustre – completely derived of any creativity, innovation or convention. Even when community members have tried to suggest new configurations at council meetings, the typical response has been “this is how it was done in the past, and this is the only way we can solve it now.” Why does density have to conform to a prescribed North American convention instead of looking at other places for inspiration. Why is ‘because it is easier’ a valid reason to excuse members of council and development companies to produce mediocrity? It has been so frustrated hearing the development plans that will offer no real distinction from any other suburban city around Vancouver. That is not why I relocated and I choose to live here.
I wanted to look at some artists and architects who are playing with form, making unconventional structures because I feel that in these visionary forms, some of our solutions could be resolved not by the impossibilities of form but the experimentation that got them there.