sonnTAG 175 "On shad"

"Words and Pictures – The Designer’s Dilemma" - Vortrag von M. Shadrach Woods, Symposion 64, Paris.


Shadrach Woods stammte aus dem Staat New York, USA, lebte aber bis zum letzten Jahrzehnt sei-nes Lebens in Paris unter Expatriierten wie Candilis, Josic, Soltan und anderen. Wie FLW, LC und Mies auch, hatte er nie eine formale Architektenausbildung erfahren. Er hatte Ingenieurwesen und Philosophie studiert, bevor er in LC’s Atelier als Bauleiter für die Unité d’Habitation in Marseille ein-trat. Mit Candilis und Josic führte er ein besonders bei städtebaulichen Projekten erfolgreiches Büro (u.a. Toulouse-le-Mireil, Abb.1,2). Woods bahnbrechender Beitrag waren die Wettbewerbsarbeiten für das im Krieg zerstörte Zentrum Frankfurts und die FU Berlin, die erst nach seinem Tod 1973 als Fünfzigjähriger fertiggestellt wurde. Ich habe Woods beim Studentensymposium Synposion 1964 in Berlin und dann wieder 1967 an der Harvard persönlich kennengelernt. Von all seinen Aussagen ist mir besonders die über den Städtebau nach Art des japanischen Blumenbindens in Erinnerung geblieben, die auf geistreiche Art den Kern der Sache traf.
(Bernhard Hafner)Vortrag von M. Shadrach Woods, Paris
Symposion 64

Words and Pictures – The Designer’s Dilemma

I would like to show you the development of a line of thought – a maniere de penser – which we have pursued over the last four years. It begins with the Team X – CIAM meeting in Otterloo in 1959 and continues though our present projects for the Freie Universität in Berlin and our studies for the immediate future of the Paris region.

In 1959 we had practically finished the building of a new quarter of Bagnols-sur-Ceze to house the population attracted by the industrialization of this area of the lower Rhone valley, in particular the installation at Marcoule of one of the first atomic plants in France. Our office had designed and built about 2200 dwellings over a period of 3 years, following a master plan made by us in the summer of 1956. At the time we were still dealing with and thinking of the city as an artefact, i.e. as an architectural composition of volumes and spaces, preconceived to correspond to a visual aesthetic (or an aesthetic vision). The method had much in common with flower arrangement as practiced by the Japanese.

After this experience, which was surely not the worst of its kind (although it did win a prize given by the government), we became convinced that there was more to urbanism than meets the eye, more than the merely plastic arrangement of existing building types into visual groups, however agreeable these may seem. We looked for the reasons and the rhymes of human habitat.
The first part of this search was embodied in an essay called “Stem” which was written immediately after the 1959 meeting at Otterloo. In this essay we tried to investigate some of the ways to group large numbers of dwellings; that is to say how to renew and extend out cities. All of our problems are, of course, problems of urban design.

We had some guidelines, for instance:

- We assumed time-space to replace Euclid and we understood that “the scene of action of reality is no longer a three dimensional Euclidian space but rather a four-dimensional world in which time and space are linked together indissolubly”. That is a quote form Hermann Weyl’s “Raum, Zeit, Materie” written in 1921.

- We assumed anarchy as a goal (I mean the ideal anarchy where all the forces of human society are in perfect equilibrium;) ands that the men who were our clients, the society which gave us our mandate, was evolving toward a non-hierarchical collection of autonomous individuals, (which is a clumsy way of saying the king is dead and so is he emperor and the Tsar and the Sheikh of Araby and the Chet de l’Etat).

- We assumed that the new man in the world would continue to invent the environment and to modify it. In other words his only constant would be change.

- We assumed that the structure of our life (ed.) really lies in our activities; in human activities, not in geometries, plane or solid, plain or complicated.

- We assumed that the man in the cities is the city builder (this is corollary to the last assumption) and the urbanist or the planner is here to help him, not to supplant him. An urbanist can substitute for 1 citizen (he is equivalent) but he cannot find within his limited self the wealth of possibilities which are in all citizens. And this is not his job. An architect might design for you a house which would not leak but if he should try to regulate your use (ed.) of the house you would consider he was exceeding his mission.

Armed to the teeth, as it were, with the assumptions we set out to discover and to develop an attitude for planning. We began with a competition organized in 1960 by the French government for the expansion of the city of Caen, Normandy. Caen had at that time a population of about 110.000 and was expected to increase at the rate of 5 to 6000 per year for the next 10 to 15 years. The development for which the competition was organized was to provide for a population of about 40.000 on an area of 300 ha (t50 acres). Of this about 1/6 was required fore light industry. In this proposal, as in the others which I will show you, our major concern was to find the minimum structuring system, thereby leaving the maximum possibilities for adaptation.

Our approach to the problem was first to ask “why?” In other words: What was the meaning of this group of 8 or 9000 dwellings, of 40.000 people? We did not consider that it had any meaning in terms of politics or religion. It was not a political entity to be symbolized by a Capitol building or a palace, it was not a parish or a diocese to be expressed by a church or a temple. It was not an economic unit, to be represented by a factory or a market.

Its only meaning, that we could discover, was in terms of a fragmentary collectivity of individuals. It could be considered as a fragment of a continuous social reality, in much the same way that a Mondrian painting is a fragment of a continuous spatial reality. It was not a self-contained unit and could not, therefore, be self-conscious. “NO MORE ISLANDS”.

Another, and more important part, of its meaning was convenience: the comfort, service and advantages to the individuals who use it.

Our proposal for this site was first to establish an organization which could generate and support the eight to ten thousand dwellings needed to house this new population. Since this increase was expected to cover a ten to fifteen period! We had to find an organization which could be executed in stages, and which would be valid at all stages of growth. As a consequence of being staged, the plan had to allow for modification as – conditions changed over the relatively long span of development.

So we had two basic conditions, growth and change, as imperatives of the plan. We took this to mean that we needed to discover a structuring device which could be effective for fifteen hundred dwellings but could grow to ten thousand, which could adapt itself to changing conditions, whether these be economic, social, technological of aesthetic, which could be comprehensible to the users (that, they could use it and find their way about in it) and finally, which would allow for adaptation to its physical environment.

Our first approach was an analysis of the complex. We assumed two families of components, the dwellings and their ancillaries! Or - as Louis Kahn puts it - the served and the servant. Dwellings are served and supported by ancillaries, which include educational, cultural, social and commercial activities as well as roads, paths and services.

We thought that by taking these ancillaries, the servants which vary from one place to another and from year to year, as determinants of a scheme, they could, through the discovery of the relationships between them, bring to the scheme clarity, organization and identity of a higher order than that which could be obtained through plastic or spatial arrangements alone.

We tried to discover the relationships between human activities, and how these can be used to organize our dwellings, ways and places. Organize contains also the sense of becoming organic. And since there is no life without change (change is the organic principle), we sought to use this principle and to make change, or at least the possibility of change, one of the basic conditions of design.

The first obvious approach was, of course, a linear organization. A line open-ended; it has no dimension, it can change direction at will. When we organize human activities and habitat into a linear system, the line becomes stem to which dwellings attach themselves, or which generates cells.

This “Stem”, then, was considered not as a simple linking mechanism between additive cells but as a generator of habitat. It was to provide an environment in which the cells could function.

It was evident that in taking this approach to environmental design, in concentrating on a basic structure, we could incorporate into that structure the characteristics of mobility and growth and change which would then necessarily affect the whole complex, both cells and structure.

We tried to reconcile the scales of speed of the automobile and the pedestrian and found that these scales are, in geometric language, not supplementary but complementary, not parallel but perpendicular. They only meet at points, never at lines. If the pedestrian is to take the shortest way from one place to another, to go straight as it is his nature to do, then the automobile must take a longer way, must go around. Since the normal speed of the auto is fifteen to twenty times that of the pedestrian, the automobile can go around, taking a longer way, while the man on foot goes straight. The inference here is that we can and should apply to private transport (where it exists) the same principle which has always held for public transport: it goes from one predetermined point to another, along a fixed path.

When we apply this principle to our linear association of activities, which has become a stem, we determine points along the stem where private transport can have access. The determination of these points where the automobile stops gives us logical places of entry into the dwelling complex! These are the points at which the different scales of speed meet, the places where the motorist becomes a pedestrian and where the pedestrian can, if he wishes, become a motorist. But the stem remains a pedestrian way – a street, not a road.

When we tried actually to design on these principles, we found ourselves, of course, obliged to make certain compromises. If one is to make the possibility for change and growth a basic condition of planning, how can one draw the plan, since we expect it to change in itself even while it is being built? I am speaking, of course, of those large scale operations which are current in Europe today and in America tomorrow.

Now, that seems obvious. It would be impossible, because as soon as one starts to build it, one changes the environment and as it takes a considerable time to build such huge projects, these environmental changes are reflected in the actual construction.

This is inevitable and since it is, we thought to accept it and exploit it. Which is what would happen normally. However, for the competition, we had to present some sort of image, so we showed simply how our linear organization would be disposed on the site, in function of today’s conditions of natural, economic, technical climate and how this would be if it did happen all at once. We pointed out, however, that this could never happen and that was the whole point about these schemes.

Which brings us to the designer’s dilemma. In these projects, as in any projects of this scale, which are intended to be realised over a period of time, probably by different architects working simultaneously of consecutively, the essential problem is: how far to go into the definition of the organization, of the space, of the elements of construction?

The practitioners of planning and architecture (Building and town constructions in Aldo’s phrase) are always faces with the dilemma of choosing between precision and adaptability. In all they do, whether it is the organization of a house or of a region, this problem remains: how to keep within the limits of their mandate, leaving to the user his right to contribute to the creation of his environment? No mistaken enthusiasm for the plastic qualities of what we are doing should be allowed to obscure the fact that what we do must remain permeable to change through the impact of man. If not it will lifeless and sterile, although (or perhaps because) it is perfect.

I believe that the task of those who design our environment – the built world – should not be complicated by attempts to do that which is neither possible nor desirable. The task is already so incredibly difficult in its simplest terms that we are hard put to find contemporary examples of clearly adequate proposals for the organization of our physical environment. The task, as I understand it, is to provide for (to make possible) the evolution of man’s activities and relationships toward a community where Le Corbusier’s binôme individual et collectif is realized to the satisfaction of the greatest possible number of individuals. This of course is a distant goal; perhaps an unattainable one. However, whether we understand it or not, whether we like it or not this is the demonstrable sense of society’s evolution up to date. It is the avowed goal of both right and left, it may be the only avowable one.

William Weismantel, the American planner and lawyer from St. Louis has written a most interesting account of how the legal tools of planning have been developed from word law – simple records as the Doomsday book – through more detailed descriptions (metes and bounds) to map law. Weismantel’s thesis of the development of land law – from word law through survey to map law – assumes (or seems to) that each succeeding manifestation of the distribution, explanation and use of land replaces the preceding one.

This may be disputed. In fact, map law does not entirely replace word law. These two complete each other. It would only lead to a sort of visual idiocy of we were to suppose that the word would be entirely supplanted by the picture. Every picture does not tell a story, it tells part of a story. While a graphic representation of land use may be valid at any given moment; its very precision precludes its being valid for any preceding or succeeding moment. To retain its validity the picture must change constantly as the human uses of land change. It would then have to be a motion picture. We can indeed imagine such a representation of past moments, with a different picture of every period under consideration, and this is essentially a recording of history. But it is repugnant to us to imagine the extension of an exclusively graphic representation of the space allotted to our various activities into the future. Indeed this would involve our making a picture, a plan or an image of a stat not yet existing; it limits future development to present imagination.

Architects and planners are required by our society to organize our space and perhaps our time-space in such ways that our future extensions (whether these be ourselves or our successors) may establish within these organizations the system of relationships which best suit themselves. No one has given and we hope that no one will give them a mandate to determine or to regulate in any way these relationships. (To do this, it would be necessary to crystallize the social structure to an intolerable degree; it would be possible perhaps in a to-called golden age.

I maintain that the aims of man in the twentieth century are precisely the opposite. We want to dissolve our inherited hierarchies, we are aware that no institution can really command our devout and unquestioning loyalty. We wish to determine our relationships with collectivity for ourselves. We seek autonomy.

Map law and word law.

Map law can give us the image of a basic organization of service and rights-of-way the minimum systems; some dimensions if necessary, perhaps to put things.
Zones of activity and tranquillity; of individual and group cannot be defined within the precision of map law. The idea of individual and group can be conveyed by word – can it be enforced? Should it be enforced?
Map law will provide us with very bare set of bones. What more is required?

The description (is this the maser plan?) of the entire city or university cannot be made, since it is conditioned by circumstances, which are not yet know. What then is required? Say a basic framework, within which the university can develop (or not). The framework is:

- a spatial organization (stem, web or field)
- a services system
- a construction technology
- a financing scheme
- a self reproducing; continuously renewed environment

One of the functions of the university will be to renew and reproduce itself. The word is technology. Map tells the syntax. Find the minimum map. MINIMAP.

The plans or other documents, which we may produce to organize the future growth of the university, are really only messages which were send trough time to convey our opinion about this or that aspect of the problem.

In any communication system the aim is to reduce undesirable uncertainty to a minimum. The uncertainty of word law is probably greater than the uncertainty of map law. Therefore we should choose map law to communicate which can support the degree of certainty, which this system assures. However, at any given time we have very little information of this nature to communicate. We are usually uncertain and unusually certain of our information about the future needs of men. We then choose a communications system, which matches our uncertainty.

Word law, if not unnaturally labored, has the desirable uncertainty necessary to complete the desirable certainty of map law; producing - we hope – just precisely the required balance of definition and adaptability. We send our message to the next station in time, hoping that it may be understandable – understood also that part of its meaning in a question about what the message really is. (The clear completely understandable, completely understood message sent through a noise free channel, with no possibility of error in transmission cannot exist – and if it would not be worth sending). This is not an argument for equivocation; it is imply true that a certain uncertainty extends the meaning of the message.

> > Am KOMMENDEN SONNTAG, den 27.05.2007, erscheint ein Artikel von Bernhard Hafner über M. Shadrach Woods und seine Zeit.

Abbildungsnachweis: Material Hafner
Textnachweis: Material Hafner

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Bernhard Hafner


So. 20/05/2007

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