Diagram for a residential building on West 57th Street in New York by Bjarke Ingels Group (2011). See on official website for full credits
A part of the most influential and popular architects of this decade constitutes the second generation of “disciples” of the “Koolhaasian” school among which we can find people like Bjarke Ingels (BIG), Julien De Smedt (JDS) or Joshua Prince-Ramus (REX). The critique I would like to propose here does not want to focus on their design methods in the production of any given building – the approach in the conception phase is after all very personal – but rather I will attempt to interrogate these same methods for the way they consider architecture, and therefore communicate and inspire other people in their own approach to this discipline.
What these architects seems to have learned beside Rem Koolhaas is a form of political and economical pragmatism and a precise care for the program of a building that makes their projects consensual and easy to understand. In this regard, one could hardly find a more pedagogical mean of explaining the formation of their architecture than the multitude of simple diagrams (see at the end of this article) they use in their presentations.
The problem is that those diagrams are not simply a pedagogical mean of representation but rather, they constitute a systematic design process – we might want to say a “recipe” – that forms the essence of each building. The reason why Rem Koolhaas, for better or for worse, remains one of the most interesting architect to listen to, while this second generation of disciples struggles to create a valuable theoretical discourse, is that the latter, despite a good sense of design, has an approach of architecture that is as simplified as their diagrams are.
These diagrams often shows a cubic form from which the architects will list a certain amount of operations driven by programmatic, climatic, or urbanistic purposes. Architecture is thus conceived as a original volume (maybe the reminiscence of an older paradigm) that saw itself more or less geometrically modified to achieve another volume. Of course, it would be inaccurate to say that those architects stops their design process here, as they have been consistently proving that their office was able to achieve a decent work in terms of materials and details – that might not be true for their own followers. However, the essence of each architecture created through this process lies in this series of volumetric transformations – the proof is that we can always recognize buildings that have been created this way. What happens at the human scale is post-rationalized and, of course, no vision of local culture, society or politics are being expressed in this process, which makes it perfectly appropriate for any given established system of production of value to swallow it.
This new generation of architects is the happily product of a society that defines itself as “post-ideological” but, on the contrary fully embraces an ideology that is based on the passive participation of its subjects. The consensus that these methods seem to embody should not blind us from the fact that architecture – and the construction of the city in general – is complex and therefore should not start from a simplified vision (symbolized here by the white cubic volume view from the top) but rather from the acknowledgment of this complexity. There is no “right answer” for it and an ideological debate is therefore preferable to the apparent consensus of an illusory post-ideological world. We might want to be thankful to offices of this generation like BIG, Diller & Scofidio, or Jürgen Mayer for introducing a certain form of quality of design to a broader audience; however we must remain aware that an architecture is primarily the result of an individual or collective ethics that proposes, whether we want it or not, a stance about the society it is embedded in.
Diagrams for a residential building on West 57th Street in New York by Bjarke Ingels Group (2011). See on official website for full credits
Diagrams for the Beijing Green Visitor Center by Julien De Smedt Architects (2012). See on official website for full credits
Diagrams for Yongsan International Business district “Project R6” in Seoul by REX (2011). See on official website for full credits
Diagram for Activision/Blizzard Headquarters in Santa Monica by REX (2011). See on official website for full credits
Diagram for the CLC & MSFL Towers in Shenzhen by REX (2012). See on official website for full credits