Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Jelaco 254 Three-Step

Place Precedes Diagram

"The worst moments of your life are those just before you start to work."
-Ron Jelaco

Human experience is fragmented. If you stop moving your eye you will go blind. The heart beats. Humanity is moving. It is impossible to circle a building looking at it the entire time - looking at the same level. You circle and glance, fragmenting the understanding of the building. Fortunately the human mind is incredibly adept of piecing those fragments together. It was designed for that.

"Fragmentation played a restorative role in relation to the given reality during cubism and surrealism and now phenomenology. The transformation of negative fragmentation into a vehicle of poetic enhancement and synthesis depends on fragments encountering each other, which reveals through their similarity and analogy a common level of shared reality."
- Dalibor Vesely, from Architectural Digest, n5 2004

"There are threads connecting. The legacy of any good architecture, any good projects, are all in these personal relationships."
- Ken Radtkey, principal of Blackbird Architects

Fragmentation implies both separateness and unity. Dalibor calls the separateness negative and the unified needed. Radtkey sees threads connecting at all levels, macro, personal, and micro. This makes every fragment a crossroads.


Now I Explain How I Got To My Building

"Remember, this is a creative process, one thing always leads to another." - Ron Jelaco

Create fragments. Fragment whatever you want. Use scissors and glue-sticks. Use trace. Use photoshop. Use sketches. Get fragments. You will never have enough.

My first set of fragments was from local churches and it bored me. So the logical next step was to jump to the Almohondeseen, the five million person ghetto in the suburb of Cairo called Giza. I pulled images from temples, funerary sites, nilometers, gathering spaces, and Almohondeseen. I created fragments. This is the one that most influenced my design:

"I just think it would be so fun to figure out what these things look like." - Ron Jelaco

Explore. Map. Imagine. What would a floorplan of that fragment look like. How high is that wall. How do these two relate. Three. Four. Five. Six. Where does this go. Is this part of this building.

I trusted light. I trusted materials. I started seeing patterns. A building emerged. I mapped it out rough. I mapped it out carefully. I mapped it out accurately. There should really be a verb associated with cartography. I like cartograph.

I took a different approach than most to my site. From the fragments my site was flat. Dusty. Open. I wanted it in Almohondeseen. I didn't know the use for the exploded nilometer, the curved wall. It became a swimming hole. I had a site. I just had to find it. Enter: Google Earth.

"What does this building look like to you? What does it want to be?" - Ron Jelaco

This hung me up. Space is neutral. Then I realized I had an organization. I had a human logic. What best fit into that specific, latent, human logic.

Here the site saved me. It is a crossroads on so many different levels. Macro. Personal. Micro. Poverty and Wealth. History and Contemporary. Africa and the rest of the world. Darfur and Palestine. Desert and Nile. Farming and downtown Cairo. East and West banks. Project housing and Nile. I wanted my buildings to be a crossroads like this area is. Market for the farmers. Café for the employed. Swimming hole for the children in Almohondeseen and more specifically in the project housing development just across the street. Program.


So that's that. The semester is over for architecture and me. I will not physically design like this again but I believe this is what we do in our heads. I now see. I see a lot now. Now I see more than ever.

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