A Monstrous Architecture part 2

“A Monstrous Architecture,” is a serialized collaboration between Ryan Ludwig (previous contributor to Animal Architecture and Assistant Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University) and Ned Dodington. In 2011-2012 Ryan and Ned had collaborated on a series of posts title Architecture in the Darwinian Arena.
 Tissue Culture Art Project, Synthetic ear.

Continued from part 1.

“A Monstrous Architecture,” is a serialized collaboration between Ryan Ludwig (previous contributor to Animal Architecture and Assistant Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University) and Ned Dodington. In 2011-2012 Ryan and Ned had collaborated on a series of posts title Architecture in the Darwinian Arena. The postings and conversations that arose from this series resulted in a longer discussion about the over-arching role of biology in Architecture and Design; specifically how designers were using biology, either literally, metaphorically, or symbolically in their works.  The resulting publication is an attempt to unpack the ethical and metaphysical implications of engaging non-human and environmental factors in design.

Co-authored by
Ned Dodington and Ryan Ludwig

This is the second installment of a joint-editorial project on the topic of  Monstrosity in architecture and design and how it is made manifest in various ways across the discipline. We pick up the thread now after having discussed the Heideggerian Monstrosity as a double condition that can signify architecture as a sign of “humankind as a thinking being” and also as a potential for a radical passivity. That is, as Heidegger says, the ‘monstrasity’, the gift which gives itself. We continue now with Architecture’s relation to these two signifying poles and on to some case studies.

In establishing these two axis, and in keeping in mind the Foucaultian bio-political world in which we are now living [Cary Wolfe, “What is Posthumanism” P. 51], we can begin to map out a monstrous territory of both architectural theory and projects. Architecture will be seen as the extension of humankind’s handedness (technicity) and also a monstrous sign of radical passivity; to give the gift of handedness to other agents or actors. This action might take the form addressing our alternate companion species, or the larger eco-system as a whole. No matter what it, is a condition of endowing, or inviting a presence of radical open-handedness into the world of architecture. This act is, or would be, according to Heidegger a monstrous condition fulfilling a kind of ontological truth.

Here is the problem: Architecture has maintained a relationship to only the first half of this axis. Architecture’s tendency to grasp, control, and comprehend the World, ironically excludes the the very kind of monstrosity that would be its ontologic conclusion. It will only be through a kind of opening of the profession, or discourse, in the manner of Heidegger’s concept of ‘monstrasity’ as the gift of giving that architecture will receive itself. In the context of the rise of bio-power and architecture’s complicit role in a pervasive kind of speciesism this opening up of the hand of Architecture, should come as the ability for architecture to leave its anthropocentric domain and to give itself to others who may have an other sense of handedness. This is our crisis. This is the extreme.

The Hand is Monstasity, the proper of mans as the being of Monstration. This distinguished him from every other Geshlect, and above all from the ape. The hand cannot be spoken about without speaking of Technics.
[Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken? In: J. Derrida, Geschlecht II, p. 169]

To approach this condition is no easy task. But to talk about it is something that we feel is on the tip of many tongues. The remainder of this article will examine a series of projects in the hopes of more clearly marking a boundary around this new territory of the extreme in architectural discourse and production — that of monstrous architectural collaborations.

The projects discussed will begin a short typological study of monstrous expressions or collaborations that illustrate a single characteristic — a move away from a sense of control or comprehensible process and towards a radically passivity, this gift of handedness, that will be revealed as Architecture’s monstrous potential.

TYPES OF MONSTERS Three basics types of monstrosity; Collage, Imposters and Alien/Animal will help us to gain some footing. Collage Monsters, such as Frankenstein in this case, are formed where disparate parts from other things were combined to create a kind of strange amalgam. Imposters show up in daily life and show their otherness through actions and behavior, not necessarily physical difference. Lastly, if we look across the board at the history of monster in human culture we find an abundance, and perhaps the greatest over-arching trend towards — The ANIMAL. This is represented somewhat literally in many of the major Human/Animal beasts: Centaurs, Minotaurs, Fauns, Sphinx’s, Medusa, mermaids the list goes on…The single most universal characteristic — regardless of genetic or biological abnormality, strange amalgam of alien parts, or behavioural incompatibility — is that monsters are completely, and extremely OTHER. Firstly, however we will introduce the very helpful and appropriate concept of the Hopeful Monster.

H&D_1111 Lincoln Road_1_photo copy

 Herzog, de Meuron, 1111 Lincoln Road

HOPEFUL MONSTER. In 1940 Richard Goldschmidt developed the macroevolutionary concept of the hopeful monster. Goldschmidt’s proposal was that significant evolutionary changes (major structural or behavioral adaptations) do not always occur as the result of gradual change over time, but on occasion may happen through much larger singular jumps. Most of the time a radical mutation is lethal to the individual organism and it is removed by natural selection (along with the genes that produced it) from the population. But occasionally however this radical mutation may actually be beneficial to the survival of that individual, especially if the environment is also undergoing significant changes, and the mutated individual finds itself better equipped, or differently equipped for the fight to survive. Goldschmidt called these individuals hopeful monsters. Although radically different from the norm they provide a way forward where others cannot.

In our attempt to understand architecture as an extension of biological process and as a Monstrous state of inclusion the scope of activity and development should be widely drawn. In this circumstance conversation about aesthetics and the “ugly” becomes problematic. Strip-mall development, the suburban house and sprawl are all aspects of the architectural environment and have potential impact on the future progress of architectural design and must be handled evenly. This could be the primordial soup that spawns a new and successful architectural aberration.

LTL’s for a new prototypical American city titled Park Tower (2004), emerges from this urban/suburban soup as a kind of drive-up skyscraper that merges together urban mixed-use programs directly with the vertical infrastructure of the parking ramp.

“What if the interdependence of spatial function and parking space becomes the catalyst for architectural invention? Instead of sequestering parking to subterranean levels, what if automobile parking is intertwined into every level of the building, changing in density and frequency to match the required parking allocations of divergent programs of a complex, multi-use Park Tower?[ Lewis, David and Paul, and Tsurumaki, Marc. Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis: Opportunistic Architecture. (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008.) 118.]”

The second project is the recently completed 1111 Lincoln Road parking structure located in Miami Beach and designed by Herzog and de Meuron. This building is very similar in approach to LTL’s Park Tower, in that it integrates car parking directly with retail, private residences and event spaces, but is at a much smaller overall scale. The desire here came less out of a progressive look at the future of the urban construct and had much more to do with the manipulation of local building codes in order to produce a larger, more substantial building than might otherwise have been possible. However the result is very much the same as the Park Tower proposal in that they both produce an alternative to the typical service organization of urban parking while also providing the infrastructure to support more diverse urban activities. These projects confront the “ugly” problem of surface parking and use it as a means for generating a new, or at the very least more productive architectural intervention. Under the right circumstances these hopeful monsters provide a more successful alternative to the conventional norm.

tschumimDrawing copy

Tsuchmi, Downsview Park Drawing


To be Continued…

You May Also Like
Read More

The Urban Rookery

Rookery: a colony of breeding animals, generally birds. A rookery is generally reserved for a colony of gregarious…
Read More

Amy Haigh’s Interworlding Objects

London-based interdisciplinary designer and storyteller Amy Haigh has produced for her diploma work at The Royal College of Arts, London a series of clever objects that cross the species divide and question the anthropocentric as well as the ontological boundaries of objects in general.
Read More

Buildings + Germs

... architecture and more specially buildings, are rather poor opponents against pandemics. Urban planning seems to have a shot, but buildings - their scale, their materials, their systems, are weak at best and more likely a fool's errand; wasting time, effort and money to combat a foe they cannot defeat at exactly a time when resources are slim.