Table of contents:
Lifted off the ground
Lacaton and Vassal, House in Lège, Cap-Ferret, France, 1998
Herzog and de Meuron, House in Leymen, Ht. Rhin, France, 1996-1997
Eduardo Souto de Moura, Two Houses in Ponte de Lima, Portugal, 2001-2002
Bernard Tschumi Architects, Factory 798, Beijing, China, 2003
Embedded in the ground
Dominique Perrault, Villa One, Côtes d'Armor, France, 1992-1995
Future Systems, House in Wales, United Kingdom, 1994
André Poitiers, Sports hall, Halstenbek, Germany, 1993
Enric Miralles and Carme Pinós, Igualada Cemetery, Igualada, Spain, 1985-1991
Kolatan MacDonald, Raybould House and garden, Connecticut, USA, 1997
Bernd Kniess Architekten und Stadtplaner, Sonic Polder, Cologne, Germany, 2001
NL Architects, BasketBar, Utrecht, The Netherlands, 2000-2003
Dominique Perrault, Velodrome and Swimming Centre, Berlin, Germany, 1998-1999
West8, Schouwbourg Plein, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 1992-1997
Jones, Partners: Architecture, Sub'burb 2025, USA, 2000
Smith-Miller Hawkinson, Colorado Springs Academy School District 20, Colorado, USA, 2003
Next Enterprise, Lakeside Baths, Caldaro, Italy, 2003-2006
MVRDV, Pig City, study, The Netherlands, 2000-2001
Pich-Aguilera Arquitectos, Garden Towers, Barcelona, Spain, 2001
TR Hamzah and Ken Yeang, The Nagoya Expo 2005 Tower, Seto City, Nagoya, Japan, 1997
EM2N Architekten, Schreberkicken, study, Zurich, Switzerland, 2003
MVRDV, Metacity/Datatown, The Netherlands, 1998-2000
Zaha Hadid Architects, Cardiff Opera House, Wales, United Kingdom, 1994
Sadar Vuga Arhitekti, Potsdam Speicherstadt, Potsdam, Germany, 2002
MVRDV, Silicon Hill, competition for the Sweden Post Headquarters, Stockholm, Sweden, 2000
Jean Nouvel, Museum of Human Evolution, Burgos, Spain, 2000
Wingardh Arkitektkontor AB, Landmark for Northern Europe, Östersund, Sweden, 2003
Wingardh Arkitektkontor AB, Öijared Executive Country Club, Lerum, Sweden, 1986-1988
R and Sie, Asphalt Spot, Tokamashi, Japan, 2003
NL Architects, Parkhouse/Carstadt, parking ramp, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1995
EM2N Architekten, Hardbrücke, Zurich, Switzerland, 2002
J Mayer H, Seasonscape, Ascona, Switzerland, 1997
Reiser+Umemoto, East River Corridor Project, Manhattan, New York, USA, 1998
FOA, Ewha Women's University Campus Centre, South Korea, 2004
Christian Kerez, Extension to Freudenberg Canton School, Zurich, Switzerland, 2002
MVRDV, KM3/The 3-D City, research and design for 3D city, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1999-2002
Ashton Raggatt McDougall, Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, Australia, 2003
The Next Enterprise (+ Florian Haydn), Private indoor swimming pool, Vienna, Austria, 1997-2001
José Antonio Martínez Lapeña, Elías Torres, Escalators, Toledo, Spain, 1997-2000
Eduardo Souto de Moura, Stadium in Braga, Portugal, 2000-2003
Vicente Guallart, Denia Mountain project, Denia, Spain, 2002
Herzog and de Meuron, Schaulager, Basel, Switzerland, 2003
Zaha Hadid Architects, The Peak, Hong Kong, China, 1982-1983
Tezuka Architects, Natural History Museum, Matsunoyama, Japan, 2001-2003
Dominique Perrault, French National Library, Paris, France, 1989-1995
Zaha Hadid Architects, Hoenheim-Nord Terminus, Strasbourg, France, 2001
West8, Landscape design for the eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier, The Netherlands, 1990
Caruso St. John and Eva Löfdahl, Stortorget, Kalmar, Sweden, 2003
RCR, Tussols-Basil athletics track, Olot, Spain, 1991-2001
Allmann Sattler Wappner, Headquarters of the Employers Assoc. Metalworking Industry, Reutlingen, Germany, 2001
Peter Eisenman, City of Culture of Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, 1999
The Palm, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2005
Text from the introduction:
Ilka and Andreas Ruby
The idea that the ground today has become an ecology of architecture in Reyner Banham’s sense now seems so familiar to us that we find it hard to imagine that this was ever not the case. But in fact this notion first arose less than a century ago. In 1926 in his ‘Five points for a new architecture’ Le Corbusier proclaimed the ‘Libération du sol’. The ‘house on pilotis’, which Le Corbusier first realised in the Maison Citrohan (1922-1927) and later made into the dominant building typology of modernism in his Unité d’habitation (Marseilles 1947-1952), becomes the architectural icon of this emancipation from the ground. As it has no direct contact with the ground the house detaches itself from its physical surroundings. The ground ceases to define the architecture, as the building practically creates its own ground in the form of a platform resting on pilotis. This doubling of the ground creates a new, elevated level zero that places the physical ground of the site in the shade (often quite literally). Programmatically the physical ground is entrusted only with service functions (circulation, parking, storage etc.), while living takes place exclusively on the new ‘bel étage’ of the modernist villa. While the architecture takes off like the airplane so admired by Le Corbusier, the ground is left behind on the earth. Le Corbusier's ‘Maison en l’air’ needs the ground only as a necessary contradiction that helps to realise the dialectic of its presence: the weaker the ground, the stronger the figure with which architecture can distinguish itself from it. It is impossible to imagine the Villa Savoye on a site with a lively topography. The festive aura of its idealised geometry seems to require the unwritten surface of the virginal ground that surrounds the building in photographs dating from when it was built and that makes it look like an island surrounded by a sea. Through this physical, programmatic and semantic emptying of the ground the context mutates ultimately into that mass without qualities, which, in the form of the tabula rasa, was to become the prima materia of modern urban planning.
In the architecture of modernism the conceptual neutralisation of the ground is most clearly carried out by Mies van der Rohe, but in a rather poetic way, and without the didactic propaganda with which Le Corbusier postulated this achievement. True to his classicist leanings Mies generally supports his building on a podium comparable to the stylobate in the Greek temple. In a certain sense he develops the ground, on which he sets his building, as a symbolically emphasised part of the building. In his Barcelona Pavilion this artificial ground is made in the form of a massive plinth that effectively creates its own ideal micro-context for the relaxed composition of walls and ceiling slabs. In the Farnsworth House (Plano/Illinois, 1945-1950) Mies intensifies this deterritorialising effect by means of an intermediate hovering platform between the level of the site and the raised entrance platform, a motif that he was later to use at IIT (Chicago, 1950-1956). The weightlessness of the architecture suggested by this move eliminates all traces of the heaviness normally associated with the ground. In the Lake Shore Drive Apartments (Chicago, 1948-1951) Mies achieved this dematerialisation of the ground by means of a kind of magic carpet that covers the area of the open ground floor. This carpet is made of extremely thin travertine slabs that, instead of being set flush with the ground, project out of it by their entire thickness and thus seem to hover millimetres above the earth. As a result the ground seems to be covered with a ‘phenomenological’ finish made of travertine rather than the normal dark asphalt. The light-coloured stone removes the ‘earthy’ quality of the ground and makes it into a surface that reflects the sunlight and redirects it to the underside of the lobby ceiling, creating a cushion of light that on bright days seems to carry the building.
In the sixties this interpretation of the ground as terra incognita slowly began to change. Whereas previously ‘ground space’ was only negatively defined (as an empty negative volume between the building and the level of the earth) it now increasingly appears as a ‘habitable condition’. Interestingly the pioneer in this development was, once again, Le Corbusier. In his built later works, such as the Convent of La Tourette (Eveux-sur-Arbresle, 1957-1967) and the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (Cambridge, Mass., 1961-1964), this reevaluation of the ground is already indicated but it is probably most radically manifested in his unbuilt ‘Centre de calculs élec-troniques Olivetti’ (Rho, Milan, 1963): Under the hovering panels of the research department Le Corbusier organises a breath-taking groundscape on a number of different levels: the assembly sheds on the ground floor are accessed from above from an intermediate plateau that is lifted off the street onto their roofs, where it ends in three fan-shaped lobbies. This plateau building becomes a spatial interface that allows a third space to develop between the buildings on the ground and in the air. It was precisely this third space that was shifted to the centre of architectural research when Paul Virilio and Claude Parent founded their group ‘Architecture Principe’ in 1963, the year in which Le Corbusier designed his Olivetti project. Their starting point is a critique of the monocultures represented by the horizontality of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City (1935) and the absolutist verticality of the American skyscraper, but their approach is also directed against the meta-bolistic utopias of the time produced by Constant, Yona Friedman, Domenig/Huth et al. Whereas these space cities hovering over the existing urban fabric only exacerbated the modernist alienation of the ground, with the ‘fonction oblique’ Virilio and Parent discover a new conceptual module for the production of urban continuity. Instead of simply laying a new city over the old one they change the existing ground into a different order by making the new city emerge ‘at an incline’ from the old one. Even more intensively than in their Sainte-Bernadette Church (Nevers, 1964-1966), this intention is conveyed by their Cultural Centre (Charleville, 1966), which was never built. A gigantic, gently rising -volume stands partly in the riverbed of the Meuse. On the level of the water the volume is opened up by slits so that boats can enter the building directly from the river and dock at quays inside it that are connected by spiralling ramps to the event spaces above. In accordance with Virilio’s notion of ‘habitable circulation’ all the surfaces are multiple-programmed. The roof is an urban square for informal gatherings or a stage for open-air events, which the public can follow from the stands that are positioned on the most steeply inclined part of the roof.
For Parent and Virilio this ability to create an uninterrupted flow between inside and outside represented the decisive advantage of inclined planes. In French architecture their approach remained without followers, but it supplied the international debate with decisive impulses whose built consequences were, paradoxically, first seen in France. In 1967 Oscar Niemeyer was commissioned by the French Communist Party to built the new headquarters for their central committee. His project seems like a continuous development of the ideas of Parent and Virilio, who were to end their partnership a year later due to differences in their approach to the student revolts of May 1968. In a spatial mise-en-scène that has all the suspense of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, Niemeyer gives the ground (normally indefinitely continuous) a distinct form, scale and place. At first the eye is caught by the curved panel of the main building that is visible from a distance. But its effect is only so strong because most of the site is left undeveloped -above ground, that is. From Place Coloniel Fabien a route leads visitors across a rising plaza to a white dome that tends to hide the building. You are led to the right around it until you finally end where you might imagine the entrance to the building to be. But it does not have an entrance; instead a slit-like opening in the concrete plane of the plaza draws visitors down into the depths of the ground. All at once you find yourself in a veritable underworld, an invisible architecture without a horizon. In fact there are no windows to provide contact to the outside, apart from the conference hall that is now revealed as the interior space of the white dome in the garden. Slightly disoriented, you follow your motor perception and discover to your astonishment that you are walking across a quasi-topological ground. The floor of the lobby is not an even surface but is animated by almost imperceptible ridges in the ground so subtle that you first register them with your feet and only afterwards with your eyes: small, unexpected resistances that persistently inscribe themselves in your movements, correcting and also organising them. Anticipating, in a way, the ‘liquid surfaces’ of Nox’s water pavilion, Niemeyer here transforms the ground from a surface into a sculpturally modelled space. This was a pioneering achievement (which has never received adequate recognition) for the architecture of the eighties and nineties, in which the ground ultimately becomes a central subject of architectural research. A direct continuation of Niemeyer’s ‘grounding of architecture’ can be seen in the projects of Argentine architect Emilio Ambasz. But whereas with Niemeyer the figure of the building always keeps the upper hand and only extends its feelers into the ground under the visible surface, Ambasz raises the ground to the status of a visible figure of architecture and makes the building into an undercover agent of the landscape. To make the architecture invisible he employs primarily two techniques: in one case he lays a layer of vegetation over the building, which then no longer looks like an object but like a topographical swelling in the landscape. In the other case he sinks the volume of the building into the topography of the site. His Spiritual Retreat House places a monument to this notion of vanishing in the form of the two monumental white wall panels that mark the entrance to the house whose living rooms are completely contained in the bosom of the earth. The design for the Schlumberger Research Laboratories, which was never realised, goes one step further and places the entire mass of the building underground. The building does not appear as furniture placed on a surface but as intarsias inserted in a material. At places the mass of the earth is drawn downwards to expose a series of glass facades that supply the interior of the laboratories with daylight.
Nevertheless, Ambasz’s architecture remains an architecture of the figure and not the ground; the ground is essentially an instrument used to camouflage the architectural object. But the ground is not yet understood as a figure. The emancipation of the ground from the status of a foundation for architecture to an ‘architecture in its own right’ perhaps first acquires form in Peter Eisenman’s ‘Cities of Artificial Excavation’. Whereas with Virilio and Parent, Ambasz and Niemeyer the ground is always developed from the figure, Eisenman attempts to develop the figure of the architecture from the ground. With this work Eisenman undertook a critique of his earlier houses, which are largely inscribed in the atopical tradition of the modernist villa as an autonomous object on neutral ground. With the ‘cities of artificial excavation’ Eisenman in contrast follows Colin Rowe’s Collage City, according to which the ground of the city is not a neutral surface but only the topmost stratum of dense layers made up of different historic traces. To uncover these traces and use them as generative material for his own design Eisenman employs the ‘palimpsest’ as a methodical analogy. In Antiquity and the Middle Ages this was a manuscript page or roll, which, due to the expensiveness of the material (generally vellum or papyrus), was written on a number of times. To do this the earlier inscription was scraped or washed off and the sheet was simply written over again. Traces of the original text often survived and nowadays, thanks to certain technical processes such as fluorescence photography, they can be made visible, so that the old text is legible once more. In his ‘Cities of Artificial Excavation’ Eisenman treats the city itself as a palimpsest and uses architecture as a means of making its many inscriptions visible again. He employs this technique most impressively in his social housing project for the IBA in Berlin (1982-1987) on Kochstrasse, close to the Berlin Wall. Instead of simply filling the gaps made in the perimeter of a Berlin city block by destruction during World War II, i.e. more or less reconstructing the state before the war, Eisenman sought the partly abstract/artificial and partly concrete/historical traces of the place that lie somewhat deeper. He therefore placed a grid of walls over the site that corresponds with the globe's degrees of latitude and longitude, thus addressing Berlin's global significance as a frontier city during the Cold War. Under this artificial grid Eisenman uncovered part of the baroque plan of the city. The project is therefore made by vertically extruding the spatial information in the site to create a three-dimensional structure that makes the surviving pieces of the block seem displaced and contextualises them in a confusing way. This systematic interweaving of historic and contemporary threads led in his later projects such as Romeo and Juliet (Verona, 1985) and the Wexner Center of Arts (Columbus, Ohio, 1982-1989) to the gradual disappearance of the architectural figure of the building as an autonomous object, while the ground, as an archaeological archive, increasingly becomes a figure. In the nineties Eisenman examined this transformation in his theoretical writings, in the process establishing concepts such as figured ground and grounded figure as architectural materialisations of the ground outside of the classic dialectic between figure and ground.
Architectural research into this new ground potential became one of the central points in the architecture of Zaha Hadid. The incubation phase of her research occurs paradoxically at the same time as her planetary architecture, which seems to deny the very notion of the ground. In fact the volumes in her images float like spaceships in an infinite, weightless space. There is no top and bottom, no front and back but just various spaces of movement that interlock dynamically. However, this does not mean that for Zaha Hadid the ground is not an issue -she simply considers it from above. As her spaceships are ultimately planned for the earth, the question of the ground inevitably arises when they land. However, the ground in Zaha Hadid’s architecture is not simply a piece of land on which they settle but a ‘ground space’, produced by this landing. This space combines the weightlessness of the planetary architecture with the gravitational pull of the earth and resembles that dense hovering familiar from old science fiction films, when a spaceship landing from outer space slowly lowers itself onto the ground. Before actually touching it the spaceship hesitates for a moment, seeming to hover briefly above the ground without moving. In this last hesitant moment the space between the earth and the spaceship seems to tremble almost imperceptibly, as if it were being charged with energy from the imminent contact.
Charging this intermediate space hovering above the ground is one of the central themes in Zaha Hadid’s architecture. The scenario is always the same: a mass sinks slowly to the ground without really settling on it. Spiked piles bore their way into the ground whereupon the earth inside begins to work, pressing itself upwards until the surface of the earth splits open to reveal previously unseen spaces inside it. This spatial emergence, reminiscent of the continental tectonic drift discovered by Alfred Wegener, deals with a space of architecture that was previously invisible: the foundation. A kind of ‘exposed foundation’ emerges in place of the open ground floor of early modernism and this is where Hadid also locates the major programmatic attractors, suddenly turning a former infrastructure space into a culturally representative space of architectural experience.
From this point it is not a great leap to OMA’s infrastructuralism of the 1990s, where buildings are in principle allotted to the domain of infrastructure rather than architecture. Koolhaas saw the infrastructure as a chance to emancipate architecture and urban planning from their separate categories and to link them operatively. If viewed as a section of an urban infrastructure architecture could lay claim to a new form of urban performativity. In the Kunsthal (Rotterdam, 1992) this way of looking at things led to the double programming of the architecture as a museum and urban interchange between a museum park and a highway. The connection is provided by a pedestrian ramp that traverses the building as a public arcade and at the same time provides the model for its circulation. In this sense the Kunsthal is not only a polemical adaptation of the Miesian museum box and a new version of Le Corbusier's ‘promenade architecturale’, but its continuous sequence of spaces, which interprets circulation space as functional space and vice versa, smoothly appropriates the ‘fonction oblique’ of Claude Parent and Paul Virilio as well. Koolhaas used the same method to design an infrastructural landscape in his Urban Design Forum (Yokohama, 1992). This urban planning project combines a number of (building) programmes on a ‘warped plane’ and choreographs them to create a 24-hour cycle of events. In both cases the issue is to break the mono-functionality of a typology and to charge it by incorporating the surrounding world of events.
In the Jussieu Library (Paris, 1992) Koolhaas carries this ambition to extremes by trans-programming the building to become an architectural incubator of public space. The street space of the boulevard is continued in the interior where it winds as a continuous landscape made of folded surfaces that form a ‘boulevard intérieur’ with a length of 1.5 kilometres. Although the project became famous as the first use of topological geometry to spatially organise an interior, Koolhaas’ use of the new form is essentially a strategy: his aim is to give public space, which in the city is subjected to the growing pressure of privatisation, a new place. The primary function of the continuous surface essentially lies in the fact that this new public sphere is not a monadic reserve but remains connected with the existing city, which it can influence retroactively.
The concept of the infrastructural ground is further developed in a series of projects by Koolhaas’ successors, in particular MVRDV and FOA. The latter work on morphologically redefining the ground as the building. They genetically cross the topological geometry of Jussieu with the infrastructural logic of the OMA Yokohama project, typologically transforming the building into an infrastructural urban landscape. Through this conceptual hybridisation FOA reconcile the typological contradictions that still clearly characterise the two Koolhaas projects. In FOA’s way of thinking the buildings, which in OMA’s Yokohama project are still interpreted as separate entities, ultimately blend with their ‘warped plane’, just as the folded ramp landscape in Jussieu slips, so to speak, out of its glass box. The folded surface that in Koolhaas was still one strategic dispositive among several, becomes with FOA an inclusive infrastructure where all the individual elements are dissolved -and so morphing finally replaces the collage as a technique. With their Osanbashi Pier (Yokahama, competition: 1995, built 2000-2002) they create the structure of a ground that permanently differentiates and multiplies itself but which is, in the final analysis, a single surface -the conventional hierarchies of wall, ceiling and floor are accordingly dismantled.
In contrast to FOA, MVRDV abandon the topological principle of Jussieu-the raised curved corner of the Villa VPRO was little more than a mannerist postcard greeting to Koolhaas from his former assistants, Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs-and decisively develop the paradigms of the multiplication of the ground in a programmatic direction. To this end they cross Koolhaas’ skyscraper theory from Delirious New York with the idealised continuity from Superstudio’s Monumento Continuo. MVRDV swivel the latter’s horizontal scalelessness into the vertical, so to speak, in order to develop the principle of the highrise (i.e. the creation of urban variety by stacking different programmes), but in the form of stacked civilisation plateaus (whereby, interestingly, Superstudio's dystopic cultural criticism loses its ambivalence and develops into an analytical neutrality). The hyperdensification of urban society on the other hand liberates the landscape, which is being gradually eaten up by society, and declares it a continuous new green carpet between megacity blocks. With point buildings amid flowing green space the scenario of 3-D city scales Le Corbusier’s ‘ville radieuse’ into previously unknown dimensions (the project houses one million residents in a single structure). Given the constant increase in world population the limited amount of the earth's surface suitable for development emerges as a quantative problem. MVRDV’s suggested mutation of the ground from a natural singularity to an artificial multiplicity-in the final analysis a single, man-made nature-may seem exaggerated. But the real scenario that climate researchers predict for our planet in the 21st century is hardly less surreal: melting polar icecaps, rising sea levels, receding snowlines in the Alps, the migration of vegetation zones and all the other expected changes make it clear that the ground is ceasing to be the stable basis of our existence and is developing instead into a dynamic topography with fluctuations and changes that we must adapt our existence to.’
Copyright of the text: Ilka and Andreas Ruby
Copyright of the edition: Editorial Gustavo Gili SL