“There is no space without event (…) no architecture without a program” – Bernard Tschumi
For every event recorded in our history textbooks, there has been a lesson to be learned. The COVID 19 pandemic has caused an outreaching ripple in the future of all that we’ve known is normal. Yet, we must learn from history and not be quick to erase her, as much as we can’t foresee a life bustling in the streets any longer. The crisis has reduced life to its very essence as a fruit pressed to its pulp demanding pragmatic architectural practice. If anything the tactile dimension of life has been robbed, the “eyes of the skin” as Juhani Pallasmaa describes the haptic senses we use to connect with others. Hugs and kisses, these dissolved the distance before but now a tentative, invisible line physically separates us. It has caused us to huddle close, in our balconies and terraces but isolated from our wider circle and community.
Our perception and experience of space have dramatically shifted within a few months. Architecture and public spaces are what they are because of the people, but now the streets are silent. The pandemic has left the architecture industry puzzled about the future of public and social spaces. The post-pandemic effects on architecture show us a morbid look into Bernard Tschumi’s no architecture without any event principle. The shared experience of gathering in an active domain such as a cinema, sports, or concert hall is for now at a halt. The pandemic has placed limits on events and our movement. The significance of the human dimension in architecture is what makes it alive and until we design safe spaces where humans can thrive, rather than just survive, that’s when we make progress amid adversity.
Perhaps we could use the constraints of distance as a new way to design flexible and sustainable spaces. Architects have no choice but to design open spaces that motivate people to disperse rather than gather. Already, this has taken place with buffer zones that have restricted movement and personal space. Before the crisis, designing public projects to increase social interaction and community was all the rage. Now, the designer faces a tough spot when designing such spaces, whether to strictly adhere to the social distance to contain the virus or encourage social activity to not risk mental wellbeing. This changing lifestyle and behavior will shape the blurred lines between public and private spaces.
An exploration of space, movement, and event was central to the work of Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi. He was deeply convinced that architectural space was shaped by an event taking place within and an activity defining it in spatial relation to it. His architecture purposefully is designed to facilitate this dynamic combination of spaces, movements, and events. What happened inside was the driving force behind his work rather than what happened on the outside thus shunning formalism. This kind of thinking is what could push the urban design of the new normal rather than the superficial focus on iconography which has marked our cities for a long time.
The famous Parc de la Villette was the winning proposal that allowed Tschumi to build a social and cultural park based on movement and activity rather than nature. 35 sculptural bright red follies organize the park acting as a sort of guide when it comes to people exploring the park. This emphasis not on form but the integration of movement and event may be the designing factor in future public projects. Through his famous book, Manhattan Transcripts, he tests these theories in urban spaces by using movement to sculpt space through a series of axonometric projections, drawings, collage of photographs. Through this medium, Tschumi demonstrated how architecture could be a device to “direct” people’s movement through space.
One thing is clear, the new normal or the virtual reality we are confined to partake shows how significant the new approaches architects have to cook up for everyday spaces which were once hot spots of urban density. But does that mean we have to compromise the built environment as mere containers rather than improve the pedestrian experience in our cities?
How would such public spaces possibly look like now? A good example of a design utilizing these new constraints on movement and distance is “Parc de la Distance”, a proposal by Studio Precht for a new park in Vienna in these times. More than ever, green spaces have garnered a new appreciation amongst the general public with the quarantine since lockdown. The park is organized like a maze spiraling towards the center guiding the users along parallel green lanes. This fingerprint-like configuration allowed for the simultaneous use of various routes reducing chances of traffic. Using social distancing guidelines as a design factor allowed for a safe distance between users in the backdrop of a Zen Japanese inspired garden. The special quality arises from the fact that users can experience solitude in public. The studio believes that the pandemic more than ever has made people realize the need for well-designed getaway spaces from the lack of nature in urban spaces and high rise dwellings that tend to be stuffy. Thus using a balanced formula of designing spaces with movement, event and nature can help.
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- Savic, S., 2012. Event And Movement In Architecture « Emperor’s New Architecture. [online] Emperors.kucjica.org. Available at: <http://emperors.kucjica.org/event-and-movement-in-architecture/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Fabrizi, M., 2015. “The Set And The Script” In Architecture: The Manhattan…. [online] SOCKS. Available at: <http://socks-studio.com/2015/10/13/the-set-and-the-script-in-architecture-the-manhattan-transcripts-1976-1981-by-bernard-tschumi/> [Accessed 19 August 2020].
- Ravenscroft, T., 2020. Studio Precht Designs Parc De La Distance For Outdoor Social Distancing. [online] Dezeen. Available at: <https://www.dezeen.com/2020/04/16/studio-precht-parc-de-la-distance-social-distancing-coronavirus/> [Accessed 20 August 2020].