Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Speech Almost Given

The design embraces the only human invention: the grid.

The grid is the essential and only human invention. It has become so pervasive that not only is a reaction against the grid now impossible, it is likely that to try and exist outside the grid proves impossible as well. Rather than lacking in appeal, the grid done right has provided some of the most effective landscapes and erection in the history of humanity. From Chinese courtyard housing to Egyptian necropoleis, from Roman streets to American property lines, the grid has become what we exist within. It is more than the sum of its parts though: it is an ideological frame and the field of human thought. It is the basic construct of humanity and perception. So if humanity is not God, if they are separate, then Hundertwasser was correct, "the line is godless." But if humanity and God are connected – or one in the same – then "putting things in order" as Corbusier says, is a celebration of humanity.

The design embraces the grid on multiple levels. Each room is a piece of the grid. Each section of the house is a piece of the grid. Each floor footprint is a piece of the rowhouse. Each rowhouse is a piece of the rowhouses. Each yard is a piece of the private park. The rowhouses are a piece of the street fa├žade, in turn a piece of the block, the neighborhood, the city, et cetera ad nauseum. The design allows each piece of the rowhouse to exist in its own section of greater grids. The grid then is not the mode of organization for the rowhouse, but is the rowhouse itself.

Where Hundertwasser finds a lack of grid more interesting, his buildings still exist within a grid. Corb finds what happens within the grid more interesting but takes that to mean that the architecture should attempt to react against the grid while at the same time creating, or perpetuating, the grid. Neither of these makes as much sense to me as Eisenman's embracing the grid as a design partner. The context of any building is a grid.

The experience of the spaces is largely derived from the user. The user further defines the grid through the stack of commodities they bring into it – it becomes owned – and that ownership defines the experience of the space. The owner's claiming and marking their territory means that a positive experience of the space relies on the relationship with the owner.

And while not trying to give the impression that perpetuating the grid is the only answer to working appropriately with it, it is my answer in this case because of the visibility of the grid within the human context. The grid allows for density. It allows for connection, usability, proximity – all these things a rowhouse wants. And for me it was the most appropriate response because it fits humanity. It is humanity. Rather than trying to design spaces for specific people – designing a space when I don't know the user and their hobbies or habits doesn't seem realistic – my design is for humanity. It separates defined and definable space and allows being within the varying scales of the context of the grid. The grid is all we have and how I addressed it became the design.

On one corner is a grocery market on the lower level. Second floor is a restaurant/wine-bar in a loft space called "Up." On the opposite corner is a basement bookstore, a record shop on the street level, and a classics/foreign theater upstairs. The yards are connected into a community park for the residents and designed by the residents – a portion of the purchase price goes right into the park.


So I started giving this. Then I just hit upon the main points as the critiquers got restless. Then I could tell they weren't listening, they were thinking, so I folded and they started. Some minutes later I wasn't sure if I did well or not. I sat in the back. For a long time. Then I realized that the project did what I wanted: it spawned questions. And I started to realize how much I grew with this project - especially over the last one. About that time the critiques were over. I was... proud. I knew I was much better for that class. I was sure I could do this. I can do this architecture thing. Than Dillon said, "here's your final grade," and showed me an A. Thank you Dillon. I needed that class.

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