Readings brief and commentary

This chapter describes the transformation process from a grid structured ideology and practice seen in the early 1920s towards a network organisation spread in the nineties, through comparing the works of major architects belonging each to a different social and cultural period.

The tremendous advances in technologies opened the door for radical transformations in all cultures and societies, which revealed the need to come up with new ways that suit the technological standards of this era and at the same time, allow a better understanding and interpretation of the world. And it was the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that marked the end of the industrial rule and the beginning of the information society. In opposition to the cold war system that used to simply relations and situations in terms of a grid in order to maintain stability, provide security and impose order and control through walls that divide and seclude, globalization came in through a world wide web allowing relations, mutating and defining connections without the control of anybody and thus achieving a moment of complexity that creates new patterns of coherence and structures of relation.
First introduced by Le Corbusier, the grid was seen as the figure of modernism and the rational, efficient and transparent means to perceive the external world and express the one within the individuals themselves. Unlike the Pack Donkey’s way which is an arbitrary structure with accidental growth, ruinous curves and paralysing effect, Le Corbusier’s idealization of the grid calls for the use of straight lines for the construction of the Modern City. This Grid systems was best adopted by Mies Van De Rohe in the Seagram Building in NYC . According to Mies, the true architecture is always objective, socially effective and aesthetically satisfying.
The switch from grid to network went through a transitional phase where media culture was in the spotlight. As Mies refused ornament and believed in “Less is More”, Robert Venturi proposed a more tolerant approach that uses the existing landscape and stresses on the importance of symbols and signs as an inevitable part of the human existence. Venturi’s works (“Decorated Shed” sketch , the Vanna Venturi House) translated his belief (“Less is a Bore”) into a manifestation of both formal grid and ornamental signs showing this way the fusion between the structural geometry based on the grid division and the ornamental surface using a Chippendale highboy shape.

But this post modernist phase failed to develop alternative forms and structures because the complexities were not complex enough and it was the network culture that succeeded in creating both surfaces and structures that are complex.
A prototype of the network system is Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum, a complex network of dispersed forms that morph while standing. By using raw materials, rough edges and giving his works the impression of being unfinished or broken, Gehry allow complexity to emerge in surprising ways. His building sinks into the urban environment and becomes a complex ongoing event. Gehry’s achievement resides in the way he started from a grid but torque them to create complex structures that are more dynamic and organic.
The metamorphosis of systems from grid to network passing through an intermediate phase of media culture is of a major relevance architecturally. Being too formal transforms architecture into a mechanism that follows a set of rules to get stereotyped results that all express, belong and manifest identical issues disregarding the situation of the environment and the society. On the opposite hand, being very chaotic in dealing with architecture makes this process meaningless lacking depth, reason, and logic and satisfying the architect’s personal desires and tendencies. The ultimate stance is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes where there is a compromise between the subtle order and the desire- driven surprise and where the architect builds a network culture that expresses coherence, structure and reflects the culture it belongs to.

Today’s architecture has completely lost its essence in comparison to previous cultures when it used to be considered the most complete and noble of arts. This is due to the changes in the mechanisms of the cultural production and the urban function. The city of today is more of a condition, a product of behaviour and an economic stimulus. No more relevant, the architectonic quality is reduced to the interior climate that is experienced inside the building. The quality of life and culture gave up their importance for the advancement of random compositional schemes that have nothing to do with the urban quality and civilization in question.

This dramatic penchant shows the severity of the architectural quality today. Once artists and translators of cultural needs and representations, architects today are dealing with their environment as a sketch book where they jot down their designs irrelevantly of the surrounding site condition, the existing cultural clashes and the prevailing social needs.

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