Many of you will have enjoyed the work of the Bjarke Ingels Group aka BIG, and their indefatigable leader, Bjarke Ingels. On a recent trip to Melbourne, for the International Design Festival, Ingels was interviewed on Triple R's The Architects recently and was a breath of fresh Danish air.
I’ve enjoyed their work, from afar at least, for a while and one project in particular grabbed me, given my interest in densification and urbanism. Their plan for a largely residential development in Holbæk - the Holbæk Kasba - in Denmark's Sjælland region, is fascinating (see also Archidose on the Holbæk Kasba). Their proposal started with equal size plots and boxy units of equal height - and then twisted them to create tightly interlocking relationships, focusing on the spaces and views in-between.
“How do you combine the harbour areas on the big scale with intimacy with intimacy and sensory experiences on the human scale? We propose to construct a dense and low kasba of dwellings that have been twisted and turned thus creating a labyrinth of small open spaces and hiding spaces for life, play and socialising between the houses. The kasba is placed on an artificial sloping hill that raises the built-up area for parking underneath and providing each residence its own view of the water and life on the harbour.” [BIG]
The relationship between the units is so dense that it reminds me of the core design principle behind the Beijing National Aquatics Centre (aka 'Water Cube'), developed by the team of Arup, CCDI and PTW. Arup’s Tristram Carfrae has discussed how the design of Water Cube - see discussion here - was inspired by the way soap bubble structures efficiently sub-divide a space. This structural principle is known as a Weaire-Phelan structure, which emerged as a solution to the problem set by Lord Kelvin in 1887: how space could be partitioned into cells of equal volume with the least area of surface between them.
BIG’s ‘kasba’ looks to almost have similar characteristics, although looser, as if the valency has varied a little between its atomic units, the Water Cube’s bubbles had floated apart slightly. They're still locked together through an invisible force - here, a desire to engender interaction rather than isolation, yet still enabling the views required of such developments. The bubbles form a new kind of urban grid, though not Muller-Brockmann at all. This is a new kind of subdivision, sharing some elements of the older, organic urban form (the nod to kasbah; or with the Water Cube, the allusion to biological structure) but with an underlying design strategy that is programmatic. It would be even more interesting to take the code-led aesthetic - seen in Water Cube, but also the Olympics opening ceremony - to produce tightly integrated but infinitely variable generative urban form.
These tactics for density, albeit deployed in relatively open contexts here, are interesting given the need to introduce denser elements into many of our Western cities. Japanese urban architecture generally provides a rich sourcebook of how to build creatively in tight urban contexts. For example, the Seijo townhouses by Kazuyo Sejima;
Monaco House, which I checked out in Melbourne recently, indicates a local example of creative infill. It folds a 3-storey embassy and bar into a fairly small plot in a laneway off Little Collins Street (Ridgway Place).
Though a fairly basic box at the back, and presumably through much of the interior, the front crumples and folds as if mirroring the flag fluttering above. It catches the light beautifully, not least on the purple translucent balcony, and reflects the trees and tall commercial buildings surrounding. A clever little fold at the bottom-left corner wittily enables a tiny patch of ‘grass’.
"This design is the result of a comprehensive understanding of the spatial unfolding of the city of Melbourne crystallised in a small building that contributes a big moment in this city’s fabric. The building demonstrates a high level of architectural resolution. It realises a potential of widely-held views about the spatial character of the city of Melbourne – laneways and grid – by means of an unerring exploration of complex mathematics and contemporary digital production.”
It's the kind of daring project that only the creative loam of Melbourne’s architecture scene can facilitate in Australia at the moment. Yet it’s exactly the kind of project that Sydney needs to get its head around, as the opportunity here lies exploring in the numerous plots in Sydney’s inner urban cores, rather than expanding to its edges. Recent proposals to reactivate latent laneways and small bars legislation will help here, but so will a little more experimentation with density.
[More Monaco House photos are on Flickr, and these examples of density and related discussions are filed under 'density' in my ‘noted elsewhere’ links at Delicious, as well as here.]