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Technology opens the door to the future. It is one of the main essence that shape and changes the way society behaves, as well as trancends the surrounding to suits the way society lives. Nowadays, the effect of new technology has reached almost every level of the society, and one of it is modern building technology. It has great implication in the creation of space in architecture and interior design. Since the early days, architecture has been one of the most important needs of man. It is a space to live and work, an environment to interact and provoke emotions, as well as a realm where experiences and memories are created. This feelings and emotions are evoked by the form and shape, the arrangement of forms and by the relationships that the space draws with the surroundings. It affects every part of human senses. As technology developed, the meaning of architecture started to adapt with it.
Formerly, with conventional building technology, the shape and form of architecture that could be achieved is only a simple and pure form. It leads to a trend of homogeneous building, which makes every architecture looks similiar. Within this limitation, architects and designers became more sensitive and focus on crafting experiences in a space. These experiences then become memories that will be remembered by the visitor and elements that differentiate one building from another. As this continues, buildings visual aesthetic is slowly decreasing. Currently, with the creation and development of building technology, the inventions of cutting-edge and futuristic looking forms and shapes are possibble. New materials and structures are created and evolved everywhere. These advancements have made architects become so attached with visual appearance. Meanings that majority of them concentrate on using technology in order to discover new forms and shapes for architecture in order to reflects the idea for which it was designed. The design of the buildings that focused on visual aesthethic has led to a trend of creating a form that looks good rather than a space that feels good.
With this trend continues, it seems that the role of visual sense has being privileged when compared to other human senses. The impact of this trend causes the design of the current architecture being reduced and restricted into the visual experience. With the absence of other senses, the strength of interaction that affect our bodies with a space is being diminished. This indicates that the tendency of architecture of image rather than architecture of experience is increasing. The products of architecture of image will only offer visual consumption which wont create lasting impressions that all the architects strive for. It will only become a nice looking postcard of visually striking building.
Hence, the essay aims to prove that the current use of technology in architecture is only being used to achieve visual aesthetics and has decreased the value of architecture. The essay will also argue that technology to achieve powerful form has to be able to grow hand in hand with other human senses in order to create valuable experience and memory in a space . Only then, the value of architecture can be pushed to a full potential.
Architecture of Experience rather than Visual
"Instead of experiencing our being in the world, we behold it from outside as spectators of images projected on the surface of the retina."
Pallasmaa, J, 2005, p.47
Before we can move forward to the main issue, to question the effect of technology towards current architecture, it is important to look and understand briefly what is the nature and value of architecture since the early days it was created. Through out the history, despite of a large number of definition have been proposed by numerous architects, the answer to this have never came to a conclusion. Maybe it is because there are diverse ways to formulate an answer to this. One of the vast definitions of architecture maybe can be found in dictionaries, which means design of a building. It seems that this definition leads to a diminishing understanding that building is just an object. Some even make comparison of architecture with other form of arts which is sculpture. For instance, Santiago Calatrava, a world-renowned spanish architects that combined sculpture and painting with architecture. He is claimed as a building sculpturor and had an exhibition world-wide about his works. So is architecture an application of aesthetics consideration to the form of buildings? Or an
Sculpture into Architecture,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
art of making buildings beautiful? This idea of definition seems to have miss a central core of the nature and value of architecture.
Previously, in the prehistoric time where architecture is not even born yet, human lives in a nomadic way. They move from one place to another. When night comes, they stop and light a fire to warm them up. By doing so, they started to define a "place". And if they intend to stay there longer, they started to define a place to sleep, a place to shelter them from the rain, a place to collect and store food, a place where they can defend themselves from danger, etc. From their chosen site, experience of their surrounding, until the organization of their place, this leads to an evolution from a place to architecture. Based on that, one can said that the nature and value of architecture is the sense of a place that is created by the experience and organization of the building and surrounding itself. Thus, architecture relates to the way people live, it changes and evolves based on the environments, experiences and needs.
As time goes on, places that people used has became more diversed, sophisticated and complexed which made architecture consistently changing as well. Started from the prehistoric era where human dwells in an occasional caves and temporal tents from woods to round houses that made of bricks, and into the stone age. Not only materials that has evolved, functions and tools to build each building have advanced as well. From the early civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Roman and the East, the development in architecture to create building for different purposes has greatly varied. Egypt's Pyramids, Greek's Temples, and Roman's Amphitheatres are just few illustrations of various functions that can be found globally.
Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
Built 2560 BC
Built 1st Century AD
Parthenon Temple, Greece
Built 5th Century BC
The form, material, tools and function of the architecture evolves because of the resources that is available in the environment. The needs for stronger materials to create shelter and better materials to craft the atmosphere for different functions has made the tool or building technology to advance too. With this different materials and technologies, human are able to generates unique experience which would enriched the physical and psychological sensory in an architecture.
In the time where modern building technology is not developed yet, there is a limitation in the creation of architectural form. Architects and engineers are only able to produce a simple and pure form which makes every buildings looks similar. Considering this constraints, the focus of architecture at this time is in the creation of experiences which is the nature and value of architecture since the early days. People lived through experiencing the world with body senses. One sense interact with other senses to be able to let him or her integrates with the surrounding and the world. Architecture is the products of this constant interaction between people with the surrounding and the world. Architecture also provide spaces where people could do their daily activities, experience the surrounding, feel comfortable with it and generate memories through these interactions. The interaction that happens can be either simple or complex. It means that the space within the architecture should be able to generate interaction with at least one or all of the body senses. This is due to, as human we have needs and desires, beliefs and aspirations, as well as aesthetic sensibility that are affected by warmth, touch, odour, sound and visual stimuli. Every interaction that happens will be experience by the body and if the experience through the space is strong enough, it will formulate an impactful memory to the visitor's mind. And If this is successful, the lasting impression that every architects strive for will be achieved. That is why architecture should be design with a thought of multi-sensory experience.
The Commissioner's House of the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda,
By Edward Holl, built : 1820sNevertheless, over this time, there is one senses that architects and engineers could not satisfied with. It is the visual aesthetic, which is because of the technology at that time couldn't afford to provide the structure, system and material to create a visually striking form. With the will and the unsatisfactory as the main force that drives architects and designers to overcome this issue. This has led to numerous experiments over the time. Until the 19th century, in the industrial revolution era, when cast iron can be produce in a large numbers and cheaply enough. This is when architects and designers started to become aware of the glorious potential of cast iron used in architecture. One of the first residential project that use cast-iron as the structural framework is The Commissioner's House of the Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda (Potter, D, 2006). This marks the dawn of Modern building technology.
As technology has advanced towards a new level, which is the modern building technology, the nature and value of architecture started to shift and adapt as well. This development has begun to revolutionize architecture into an entirely new direction. With this modern building technology , architects and designers is provided with a new range of materials and tools to achieve and satisfy their hunger of a more advanced form. Previously, the architectural language of each location has their own unique characteristics. This is because of their environment would only be able to produce certain kinds of materials. Due to this, architects and designers tended to use resources that were available and plentiful in their location. Which means that the materiality and tool spoke more to place, to locale, and in a way was more purely defined with the unique representative of that certain location. For instance, the Pyramid in Egypt that is made from stone is entirely different with the Temple in China which is made from wood. But with modern building technology , transportation of materials from one location to another location has became possible, the ability to mass products have made the cost of construction became lower, and the innovation of new and better material is continually increasing. This development has made architecture become more efficient and effective in every layer, either it is the construction, the time span to complete, the experience that could achieved inside the space or even the form of the architecture.
Beginning by looking into the traditional materials that have been used since the prehistoric times, which is the wood. This material could be considered as the forefather of all current materials. Started with the wood, in the early days where prehistoric people used this to build tents as their shelter from the sun and rain. By constructing tree trunks or branches together creating the shape of an inverted V-shape, putting some support to hold it firm on the ground and covered with leaves. This creates the simplest foundation of architecture form. As human evolved so does materials for their shelter. Moving from wood to stone, as a stronger material, the form of the shelter started to develop into tent-like house by stacking different stones together. As humans move on to the times of early civilizations, the needs, desires, and beliefs have been greatly developed too. This leads to the creation of places of worships, sacrifices, monuments, and governments. Based on these, the form of the architecture started to goes vertically higher and bigger. At this time, pillar, column, beam, arch and dome has started to be build to fulfill the functions of the architecture. Then into the middle age, where castles are becoming a common forms of architecture in every part of europe. And as it moves through The Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism and Gothic revival, from 15th century to 18th century, architects and designers feels that every architecture has looked similiar because of the limitation of technology and material.
US Capitol Building
Washington DC, Built : 1793
St Mary Basillica
Venice, Built : 1630
The Basilica of Saint Peter
Rome, Built : 1590
Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition
London, Built : 1851
Until 19th century, when modern building technology is discovered. This technology allowed iron to be used in architecture because it has became relatively cheaper which previously considered as a very expensive material. Irons are architecurally unique because of being relatively lightweight and malleable as well as strong. More over, because of its properties, they are able to used for free-form designs. In this period, glass is also widely used and available. Glass is used for its optimal balance between aesthetics and functions. By using glass, the building are able to change, move and create certain environments because it allows light to transmits in and for architect light is one of the poweful tool in crafting experience in an architecture. One of the architecture that reflects a building of high technology in this period is the Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition. Built in 1851 in London, this building was made of modular cast iron and glass which symbolize the industrial, technological and economic superiority of the modern building technology.
And in 20th century, plastics became widely known and popular as well. It is because plastics are lightweight,resilient, generally resistant to corosion and moisture, and can be molded and formed into complex shapes. And because It is the only man-made material, this allowed it to be developed even more in the future. This opens the door for architects and designers to realize all the crazy ideas that they had in mind. And with this the notion of "architecture of image" is slowly becoming a trends.
With advancement in modern building technology materials and tools to construct a building have greatly expansed. Back then, buildings are limited with height. Mainly it is because of the limitation of materials and tools. This caused architects and designers to think and design horizantally . But with modern building technology, current buildings are able to go higher becoming a skyscraper or go deeper underground, maybe becoming an earthscraper, and not only going vertically, it also allows the buildings to be built diagonally. From geometric to organic form or from masses to pixels, with the current technology everything is possible. Architecture has entered into a realm of visual form which is nothing more or less than the creation of building's tangible and visible shapes.
Beekman Tower, Frank Gehry
One example of a purely visual architecture is the Beekman Tower in New York by Frank Gehry. It is a curious fusion of public and private zones. What makes the tower so intoxicating is the exterior skin of the buildings which is mad of aluminum foil. The folds evoke rivulets of water, crinkled sheets of melting ice. The effect of this ripples will be heightened by light and shadow dancing across the surfaces over the course of a day. This building is surely a successful design and appealing to one of human senses which is the visual. But for the interior, everything inside the space is dully conventional. The consideration towards other senses inside the space in order to experience the space has being neglected.
Another one is the Orchard Central in Singapore by DP Architects. The key design element of this shopping mall according to DP Architects is on the facade of the mall which will be an 11-storey-high 'faceted membrane' which will function as a massive media wall and is set to be an iconic feature at the junction of Orchard and Killiney roads. The idea of this is to add aural and visual vibrancy to the central stretch of Orchard Road. By doing so, the architectural facade of a building is no longer made of solid materials but is, instead, an ever-changing, programmable image. The problem with this is the elimination of other senses and the dependency towards the vision has made the design of
Orchard Central, DP Architects
the space unattracted and unable to create a connection with the visitors.
Based on both of the case studies above, it is fairly obvious that the privileged of visual senses over other human senses will create a sense of detachment between the architecture and the visitors. This is merely because human experience the world and the surroundings through their senses. The sounds of steps, the light that penetrate through the space, the coldness of the concrete walls, scale and proportion are just few ways of how architecture interact with the visitors. This interaction is then strengtened and articualted through the complex interaction of human senses and will be perceived by the visitors as an experience. With this two-way interaction between visitors and architecture, this will lead to the creation of meaningful memory towards the space.
It is true that vision is the first connection between human and the world. Most of us, when we are walking through a space or street, are affected in one way or another by the looks of the buildings that we pass, the positions of the objects and the arrangements inside the space. But in architecture, the reliance in the sphere of vision will only made the building existed merely in a surface level which is as an objects of visual expression such as a postcard. Architecture should be able to interact with every human senses because it is a representation or expression of human minds. And the only way to communicate with the mind is by experiencing the world and surrounding through the senses. That is when architecture has moved on to another level. So, by using the modern technology, not only to grasped the visual aesthetics that has became a trends nowadys, but also to craft the experience that has been the nature and value of architecture since the early days. This will affects the human physically and psychologically and will pushed the architecture to the full potential.