Zaha Hadid Exhibit @ Sci-Arc Sham

reinventing the world with confusion.

there is a contemporary architect that produces some designs that i respect, she is zaha hadid. i first met her at a rick mather party in london around 1980. peter cook of archigram fame pointing at us and commenting that the two of us represented a huge amount of talent. zaha went on to live up to peter’s expectation, whereas peter never checks in with me, although he was right about the talent.

zaha did a performing arts building proposal for Abu Dhabi that i love, some subway entries, and a few other buildings that look like ferrari race cars. she is contantly coming up with new sensuous designs. this is a
fantastic architect that i respect that gets the designs built, but we have our differences.

when i first came across the image of the sci-arc zaha exhibit a couple of weeks ago, i reflected this was something i could write a positive blog on. maybe mend a few fences with eric moss. but when i got into taking a closer look, this blog resulted in my concerns.

the recent october 12, 2012 installation at sci-arc with zaha hafid partner patrik schumacher, demonstrated trying to emulate thin shell construction with sticks. it can be done, but not like what was built in the sci-arc museum demonstration space recently.

thin shell depends upon significant warpage of surfaces. the ambitious shapes sought were a confused mess, reduced to sculpture with no inherent structure. in one instant relying on connecting into the museum space wall to brace itself. the computer drawings were seductive, but fragmented and complicated. maybe a result of having too many tools to work with. warpage with straight sticks can easily be had by crossing each other making hyperbolic straight systems for construction. but what was obvious in the exhibit was the relative flat planes with minimum warpage. confusing, thin shell, folded plate, arches, etc. ?

the crudeness of the model demonstrated a lack of simplicity , understanding of materials and structural systems. portraying zero to further the thin shell structural system cause in architecture .

patrik schumacher in the exchange dialogue with eric moss demonstrated his tenaciousness for fluid shapes, but not the ability to convey with words the qualities of shapes that he refers to as fri otto research shapes, all too obscure. my blog man tim describing as follows:

Just look at how they describe the exhibit: “Pleated Shell Structures, a short term research prototype designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid and her firm, posits itself within the argument of parametric design research to focus its efforts on design methods that encompass an operative pathway from design intent to manifestation.”

Have you ever read anything more pompous or downright unclear? I think what they are trying to say is that they are interested in finding practical uses for parametric design. The kind of language used in this explanation (from e-architect’s intro) to me suggests an attempt at puffery consistent with a fear that the work is trivial and irrelevant.

In my view, if you can’t explain what you’re trying to do in simple language, you just don’t understand it yourself. Research is supposed to lead to spread clarity, not fog.

So it looks like a waste of time to me.

moss countering in his exchange with patrik that the orthogonal world has corners to retreat to. the curvy world has corners too. look at where we came from, the cave. it all relies on the ability of the designer to manipulate the curvy system to meet the functional program.

the powerful image circulated to promote the exhibit, with rectangle fin like elements i have no idea where it came from. i am sure there is some rational explanation, but the demonstration model showed no connection to the computer images of the build model.

all of this leading to the expertise of sci-arc to spin with smoke and mirrors, led by ring master illusionist eric moss. i watched over an hour of puff exchange between eric and patrik, the two of them basking in verbiage.

glen

circulated image to promote exhibit, displayed on exhibit wall without explanation of relation to 3D exhibited object

 

computer images of exhibit

wall holding up exhibit, photo by professor marcela oliva

 

crude construction details, photo by professor marcela oliva

 

sad, photo by professor marcela oliva

in the space

i have included the felix candela restaurant in mexico city built with a thin shell. so simple and elegant. i saw this in 1972 and was shocked with its beauty, but sadden by a crude kitchen jamming into the back side. candela the engineer on this one with some inept client in control. mexico was not taking care of this masterpiece.

Félix Candela. Restaurant Los Manantiales, 1958, Xochimilco , mexico the world without computers

Félix Candela. Restaurant Los Manantiales, 1958, Xochimilco , mexico in the middle of floating gardens

so much to learn from, i have never understood, why more of these types of structures are not built. yes, labor intensive forming, but now new forming and application systems are available .

Félix Candela. Restaurant Los Manantiales, 1958, Xochimilco , mexico interior spanning with elegance, you do not need a text book or lecture to understand the beauty.

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  • David Teachout

    GLEN,

    COINCIDENTALLY, I JUST REREAD THE CHAPTER ON THIN SHELLS AND DOUBLE CURVATURE SURFACES, INCLUDING HYPERBOLIC PARABOLOIDS ( STRUCTURE IN ARCHITECTURE BY SALVADORI AND HELLER ) THAT CAN BE CONSTRUCTED WITH STRAIGHT LINE FORMS ALA CANDELA & SMALL, AND A FEW MINUTES LATER, CAME UPON THIS CURRENT BLOG ABOUT EXHIBIT AT SCIARC.

    I HAVE STUDIED CANDELA BECAUSE I FIND HIS WORK VERY BEAUTIFUL. MANY YEARS AGO I SAW HIS SADDLE SHAPED CHURCH JUST OFF THE HIGHWAY SOUTH OF MEXICO CITY. AND, LATER IN ANOTHER TOWN, WALKED BENEATH HIS CONCRETE THIN SHELL THAT SHELTERED A DILAPIDATED CHURCH, ALMOST AS IF THE CHURCH HAD BEEN BOMBED AND HAD FOUND PROTECTION UNDER THE CLEAR SPAN HIGH CEILING SHELL THAT SEEMED TO FLOAT OVER THE SPACE. IT WAS REFRESHING TO EXPERIENCE AN ARCHITECTURE THAT WAS SO COMPLETE, SO APPROPRIATE FOR THE FUNCTION IT WAS CALLED TO SERVE, YET, WITHOUT THE OVERWROUGHT STRUCTURAL GYMNASTICS THAT OVERPOWER MUCH OF CONTEMPORARY WORK. I RECALL A FEELING OF SPACIOUSNESS, OF LIGHT, OF AN ENCLOSURE THAT DIDN’T CONFINE BUT LIBERATED THE SPACE. SO ELEGANT AND, IN A WAY, SIMPLE.

    SIMPLE. WELL NOT EXACTLY. BUT DOABLE WITH A CANDELA MIND AND PENCIL AND PAPER. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, BUILDABLE BY ORDINARY LABOR WITH RELATIVELY UNCOMPLICATED TECHNIQUES. EXTRAORDINARY EFFICIENT USE OF MATERIALS TO ACHIEVE REMARKABLE STRENGTH. AND, NOT LIMITED TO THE RELATIVELY SMALL SCALE OF CANDELA’S STRUCTURES. THE STADIUM IN SEATTLE SPANS 661 FEET BY MEANS OF A SCALLOPED SPHERICAL DOME, ( BUILT IN THE 60’S I BELIEVE ).

    ANOTHER THIN SHELL THAT WAS INSPIRING TO EXPERIENCE, WAS LAUTNER’S SILVER TOP RESIDENCE OVERLOOKING SILVER LAKE NEAR HOLLYWOOD. THESE EXPERIENCES OF LIBERATED SPACE UNENCUMBERED WITH INTERIOR SUPPORTS, HAS ALWAYS GIVEN ME A CERTAIN PLEASURE.
    TO KNOW THAT THE SOARING OVERHEAD IS ONLY 2 INCHES THICK ADDS TO THE PLEASURE. NOT ONLY APPEARS ELEGANT BUT FEELS ELEGANT.

    I TOO WONDER WHY THIN SHELL CONCRETE ISN’T USED MORE. DOUBLE CURVATURE SHELLS ARE VERY STRONG. I’M DRAWN TO MEMBRANES/SHELLS FLOATING OVER ARCHITECTURAL SPACES, SHELTERING AS WEATHER ROOF/WALL. UNDERNEATH, ONE IS FREE TO SHAPE SPACE WITHOUT CONCERN FOR WEATHER OR LIMITED STRUCTURALLY BY ROOF LOAD DYNAMICS.

    AT CALPOLY, MY STUDENTS ATTEMPTED SOME THIN SHELL EXPERIMENTS. INITIALLY INSPIRED BY SOLARI’S EARTH FORMED CONCRETE VAULTS AT HIS SCOTTSDALE STUDIO, THEY STARTED DIGGING BEFORE THINKING. THE BEWILDERED COLLEGE ADMINISTRATORS COULDN’T UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS RAGGED CREW WAS UP TO, LED BY THEIR LONG-HAIRED INSTRUCTOR, ( WHERE DID HE COME FROM? ). PUSHED BACK TO THE CLASSROOM WHERE WE WERE SUPPOSE TO BE, WE REGROUPED, RENEGADES STILL, BUT LESS OVERT, SLY, SLIPPING QUIETLY THROUGH THE ACADEMIC CRACKS. THE CLASSROOM ENLARGED AGAIN AND STUDENTS GOT THEIR HANDS DIRTY BUILDING SCALE MODELS BASED ON IDEAS GENERATED IN THEIR OUTLAW DIGGING ADVENTURE. COMING INTO FOCUS. AH, A MOST ELEGANT WIRE FRAME DOUBLE CURVATURE STRUCTURE. SOME FINER MESH AND CONCRETE. TOO MUCH TOO FAST. A SINKING FEELING AS SAG REPLACED CURVE AND ELEGANCE LOST TO GRAVITY’S RULE. NO SHORT CUTS. NEXT TIME FORM THE SHELL, LIKE CANDELA. ALOT LEARNED IN THEIR SO CALLED FAILURES. MORE, I BELIEVE, THAN IN PROJECTS PROGRAMED TO GUARANTEE A SUCCESSFUL PRODUCT THAT IS MORE ABOUT THE TEACHER THAN THE STUDENT. I HOPE THAT MY STUDENTS LEARNED FROM THEIR HANDS ON EXPERIENCE AND THEIR ‘FAILURE’.

    FOR THOSE WHO ARE INTERESTED, I RECOMMEND STUDYING THE WRITINGS AND DESIGN DOCUMENTS OF FELIX CANDELA. ONE CAN GO A LONG WAY IN UNDERSTANDING THE PRINCIPLES OF THIN SHELL CONCRETE TECHNOLOGY WITHOUT A COMPUTER: THAT IS, DIRECTLY WITH ONES NATIVE ABILITY TO THINK.

    I WISH I HAD STOPPED TO VISIT THE CANDELA CHURCH BY THE HIGHWAY. BUT, WE WERE IN HURRY TO GET SOMEWHERE. VERY MODERN, WOULDN’T YOU SAY?

    • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

      DEAR DAVID,

      THANKS FOR SHARING YOUR TIME WITH THIN SHELL. YES, WE ARE TOO BUSY AT THE MOMENT TO SEIZE THE MOMENT. I HAVE PASSED BY THE OPPORTUNITY MANY A TIME TO EXPERIENCE A BUILDING THAT I ENDED UP JUST SEEING IN BOOKS. THE LIVE CONNECTION BEING THE THRILL THAT WAS LOST.

      THIN SHELL IN MODEL FORM AS A WORKING MODEL WAS A STANDARD ASSIGNMENT IN MY NATURAL STRUCTURE CLASS. HOW DO YOU PRODUCE AN EGG SHELL? THE CROSSING OF STICKS BEING THE MOST SUCCESSFUL TO DEMONSTRATE THE PRINCIPLE OF DOUBLE CURVATURE, I SUGGESTED USING MEDICAL CAST GAUZE THAT WAS COMMON FOR TREATING OF BROKEN BONES. NOW THAT TECHNICALLY HAS CHANGED TO SPLINTS. BUT EVEN WITH THE GAUZE IT WAS A MESSEY THING, AND HARD TO CONTROL. BALLOONS WITH PLASTER CAST WORKED , BUT LIMITED. A THIN SHELL HAS A COMBINATION OF COMPRESSION AND TENSION STRESSES SO THE IDEAL MODEL MATERIAL WILL BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND BOTH FORCES. FIBER GLASS ANOTHER MESSEY MATERIAL. PAPER MACHE IS DOABLE, BUT I HAVE NOT REFINED LEARNED TECHNIQUE ENOUGH TO CONTROL THE RESULTS.

      THE SOLERI USE OF EARTH AS A MOLD TO CAST AGAINST WITH CONCRETE, LOOKS SIMPLE, BUT AS YOU POINTED OUT REQUIRES A SIGNIFICANT SIZE ANC CURVATURE TO DEMONSTRATE THE IDEA, I AM NOT SURE WHY THIS SYSTEM HAS NOT BEEN USED MORE. THIS IS PERMANENT, SO IT HAS TO BE A WELL DESIGNED FUNCTIONAL RESULT TO MAKE SENSE.

      GLEN

      • David Teachout

        GLEN

        ANOTHER CHALLENGE MAKING MODELS OF THIN CONCRETE SHELLS, SAY @ 1/4 SIZE, IS TO SCALE THE THICKNESS OF THE SHELL MATERIAL. 1/2 INCH FOR A FULL SCALE 2 INCH THICKNESS. ALSO THE REINFORCING MATERIAL SCALED DOWN TO VERY FINE. SMALL VARIATIONS AT THIS SMALLER SCALE WILL HAVE LARGE EFFECTS ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, DIMINISHING ANY REAL CORRESPONDENCE TO FULL SCALE.

        AT FULL SCALE, GUNITE SEEMS TO BE A PROMISING METHOD OF APPLICATION. I DON’T KNOW IF EXISTING GUNITE APPLICATORS ARE FINE TUNED ENOUGH TO CONTROL SPRAY IN ORDER TO ACHIEVE CONSISTENT DEPTH OF SHELL. CONCRETE IS HEAVY, AND ANY EXTRA MASS CAN TURN THE SHELL INTO SOMETHING ELSE. AND, CONVERSELY, NOT ENOUGH CONCRETE WILL RESULT IN WEAKNESS AND FAILURE. ALSO, IT SEEMS CRITICAL IN BOTH MODELS AND FULL SCALE SHELLS, TO APPLY THE CONCRETE QUICKLY, IN ONE APPLICATION, SO THAT THERE ISN’T A WET/DRY CONTRAST, WHICH WOULD AFFECT THE STRENGTH OF THE CONCRETE AND THE INTEGRITY OF THE SHELL. I SUPPOSE THE CONCRETE COULD BE LAYERED IN THIN APPLICATIONS. IF EACH LAYER HAD ITS OWN REINFORCING MATERIAL AND LINKED TO ADJACENT REINFORCING, THEN THERE COULD BE VERY PRECISE CONTROL OF THE THICKNESS. IT DOES SEEM, THOUGH, THAT THE WET TO DRY RELATIONSHIP OF ONE LAYER TO ANOTHER, WOULD AFFECT THE INTEGRITY OF THE SHELL.

        I VISITED A LOCAL ARCHITECT’S BALLOON FORMED CONCRETE SHELL HOUSE. SUNK INTO THE HILLSIDE, THE TEXTURED BROWN EXTERIORS ( THERE WERE THREE INTERSECTING DOMES ) EMULATED LARGE BOULDERS PARTLY UNEARTHED. THE INSIDE WHITE SURFACE WORKED WELL WITH THE NATURAL LIGHT. BUT, AS USUAL, OPENINGS AND CONNECTIONS REQUIRED ALOT OF SPECIAL MOVES, CRAFTING, WHICH WERE IN CONFLICT WITH THE SIMPLICITY OF FORMING THE SHELL OVER A LARGE INFLATED BALLOON. SPHERICAL FORMS THAT REACH THE GROUND,
        ARE DIFFICULT TO PENETRATE GRACEFULLY. BY THEIR VERY NATURE THEY REPELL; CONVEX SURFACE STREAMLINED TO MAKE IT EASY FOR MOLECULES AND PEOPLE TO GO AROUND, NOT IN. ON THE INSIDE, THE SPHERE, THE COMPLETE ENCLOSED CIRCLE DOMINATES, OVERWHELMS, CREATING A SENSE OF OPPRESSION, SPACE ABSOLUTELY CONTROLLED.
        THE UPLIFT OF THE HYBERBOLIC FORM DOES THE OPPOSITE. IT MAY TOUCH THE EARTH, BUT ONLY TO SUPPORT ITS LEAP INTO THE SKY. THE CONSTANT DOWN SLOPE OF A DOME, DESPITE ITS CLEAR SPANNED OVERHEAD, LEADS ONE IN ALL DIRECTIONS TO CONTAINMENT, CONFINEMENT. IF THAT IS THE PURPOSE, FINE. BUT, I BELIEVE IN LIVING WE NEED MORE. A SPACE THAT MOVES FREELY, COMPRESSED AND EXPANDED AS REQUIRED. THE PLASTICITY OF CONCRETE CAN SERVE THIS INTENT, EVEN OVER OUR HEADS.

        SOAP BUBBLES ARE, TO MY MIND, THE ULTIMATE MODELS FOR THIN SHELL STRUCTURING. AS YOU OUTLINED, GETTING FROM THE ABSOLUTE EFFICIENCY IN FORM OF A SOAP BUBBLE TO A MEANINGFUL SCALE MODEL, AND THEN TO THE FULL SCALE STRUCTURE IS NOT EASY. YES, ALL THIS CAN BE COMPUTERIZED, BUT AT SOME POINT THE CONCRETE MUST MEET THE FORM. AND CONCRETE IS A VERY SUBTLE AND COMPLEX ONE WAY CHEMICAL PROCESS THAT TAKES NO PRISONERS.

        SOLARI CAST HIS BRONZE BELLS IN SILT FORMS. IT WAS JUST A NATURAL EXTENSION OF THAT PROCESS TO MOUND UP THE SILT AS A FORM FOR CONCRETE, THEN DIG IT OUT TO CREATE FOUNDRY SPACE UNDER THE CONCRETE VAULT. FORM AND FUNCTION INSEPARABLE FROM ONE ANOTHER. JUST A MATTER OF SCALE.

        DAVID

        • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

          david,

          god is in the details and i refer you to the john johasen blog. he manipulated the thin shell concrete to get the reinforced edge beams etc in a smooth transitional way. architects have stayed clear of thin shell because of the complexity, and lack of ability of handling fluid shapes.

          but now with the computer and a cry to be different, that is all changing. but still in the US especially there is a movement of refining the orthogonal world of modernism. all about economics , ease of design , construction and history. the two different approaches are here to stay.

          glen

  • Robert federico

    Great comments!
    Your blog is really superb and on the money !

    • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

      robert,
      your clapping is appreciated. i hate whiners, but i do a lot of it myself. but when i am as direst as i am in a profession that does applaud, but seldom criticizes, except for college juries, it is lonely.

      as you notice in my blog, there are those that are regulars that say a lot, and i thank them, and then there are those like your self , but say little.

      it means a lot to me, to receive a cheer from you.

      glen

  • Patrick Manley

    Glen,

    Very good observations. I appreciate how you do not hesitate to praise a good architect, or good architecture, but equally important, how you are able to criticize substandard work in an honest way, providing the reader with clear and logical reasons for that which you may find, in this case, not worth the effort of both the architects and Sci Arc.

    Its ironic for me that the discussion thread has moved on to more artistic and sound thin shell structures. I just watched a fascinating film titles, “Between the Folds”, about the art and applications of origami. I see it as a close cousin to thin shell concrete from both a visual and a structural standpoint.

    Thanks for the good read this evening.

    Pat

    • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

      patrick,

      thanks for your positive observations.

      i too love folded plate, really not explored much in architecture. what is amazing is that folded plate creates patterns that are instantly attractive. i am going to explore them more.

      what is tricky is the fold, to get it strong, because it has a tendency to rip. it works great in paper, but in a real building the detailing is critical.

      glen

  • maninthemirror

    Hi Glen,
    Wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    Trust you are still enjoying the sun in Nicaragua.
    Cheers
    MITM
    https://twitter.com/TruthAndGod

    • GLEN HOWARD SMALL

      MITM,

      GREAT TO HEAR FROM YOU AND WISHING YOU A SENSATIONAL NEW YEAR.
      YOU HAVE NOT MENTIONED WHERE YOU LIVE, BUT I AM GUESSING SYDNEY AUSTRALIA. I MIGHT BE WAY OFF, BUT YOU MENTIONED SOMETHING IN THE DEFENSE OF NATURAL CLIMATE IN A CITY, THAT MADE ME THINK OF SYDNEY.

      I AM IN OREGON AT THE MOMENT, REGROUPING TO RETURN TO NICARAGUA. AS I DID MY BLOGS ON THE VERTICAL CITY AND NEXT ON THE BIOMORPHIC BIOSPHERE I REALIZE I HAVE IDEAL MADNESS. TO GET IDEAL ON ANY SCALE IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, BUT AT AN URBAN SCALE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE. LOOKING BACK AT THE SIXTIES TO THE PRESENT MAKES ONE QUESTION THE ABILITY OF SOCIETY TO THINK BIG AND DO RIGHT.

      THE PLAN NOW IS TO KEEP MAKING UP BEAT PROPOSALS, WITH THE INTERNET. THAT CAN BE FROM ANYWHERE.

      KEEP CLOSE,

      GLEN

  • Jordan Squires

    I have a picture of the janitors stuffing this thing into a dumpster the day after the show was finished! It looks great.

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