How should the urban environment be formed - by design or spontaneously? Until recently, this question did not arise, as did not the term "environment" itself. Professionals already knew that any object of architecture or design must be created considering the rules of practicality, stability, and beauty established by Vitruvius long ago. But, suddenly it became apparent that something else was necessary as well! In developed countries, strange phenomena appeared: the painting of houses, balconies, and cars; the decoration of industrially made clothes with ridiculous flowers; passion for handcrafted objects; some sort of incomprehensible passion for kitsch - for provocative bad taste; and at last, the incredibly widespread phenomenon of graffiti which defiles the environments of many towns in the Western world. Moreover, when new development covered entire regions, it became apparent that this development, undoubtedly more hygienic and comfortable than the historical environments of towns, was in some ways inferior. Nostalgia for the old streets and courtyards was born.* * *
What is the nature of these phenomena? What is their sense and meaning? Under the influence of such questions, the problem of "environment" came about in the 60's. It became evident that an object of architecture and design, and the space in which it exists in reality unite as something whole - environment, which is perceived by the person in its unity and indivisibility. And so, following professional logic, it is necessary to design not individual objects, but environment as a whole - either through the "systematic" or through the so called "environmental" method. But, possibly urban environments should not be designed at all? Maybe they should be formed spontaneously as they always were in the past? Maybe this method can raise the modern urban environment to the quality of an historic environment? These questions put forth one of the most complex professional problems for architects and designers of developed countries where the artificial environment formed by them is becoming the basic environment of inhabitation for people.
"The donkey's road. The man's road.
Man goes forward, because he has a goal…The donkey goes in zigzags… going around large rocks…seeking shade…Houses were built along the roads well trodden by donkeys." ~LE CORBUSIER
(1922 - Le Corbusier - 35 years old. At this point he has formulated rationalist principles, which serve as the foundation for the school of "modern architecture". In several years he will become a worldwide accepted authority.)
In different architectural epochs, towns knew two sorts of environments: the first - the environment of professionally designed public and industrial structures - town fortifications, temples and palaces, administrative buildings, manufactories and their equipment; and the second - the spontaneously formed environment of habitation and hand-made domestic appliances of the town's people. And, if the first, in practice, was alienated from individual tastes, then the second directly presented their expression. Different epochs saw the coming together of different relationships between these two worlds, but they always existed sided by side. And so it continued for centuries.
Everything changed at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, when professional architecture began to deal with the development of entire towns, industrial design became a monopolist in the world of things, and into the historic environment of pedestrians and carriages, town transportation broke through. It is at this moment that the masters of "modern architecture" came to the forefront - in the West the functionalists and in the USSR, the constructivists. Having rejected the environment of the past which was unsuitable for new conditions, they declared the universal principles of rational organization of all elements of environment- from towns and town ensembles to teaspoons. With time these principles suffered through changes, however the main idea - the universal design of the objects within an environment on the rational basis remained a priority for professional architecture and design. Throughout these years, complex technical problems were constantly being solved. Each new object of design presented itself as a technical victory. They began to assemble houses like cars, and development became more hygienic. However, when the environment was completely designed and it seemed that they were close to reaching their goal of ideal quality, the phenomena mentioned in the beginning of this article, appeared. Apparently, a deficit of a spontaneously created environment appeared and these phenomena occurred as a reaction to it. (Ill.1)
The situation, understood as the necessity to humanize the environment, led to the creation of a number of professional methods of humanization. There emerged a tendency to overcomplicate the form of buildings, to destroy the simple volume of a house by exposing the volume of a residential unit, or purely visually, with the help of arbitrarily placed color spots, so called "supergraphics", and the method of authentic general designing of town environments - "urban landscaping". Supplied by nostalgic emotions, the "retro" style emerged - an attempt to revive the character of development, architecture, and the décor of the past. (Ill.2, Ill.3)
In the 60's and 70's R. Venturi, and later a number of other postmodernists, proclaimed as a basic goal of architecture the formation of an illogical, natural environment, and one that is free of aesthetic canons. Such an environment was called upon to replace the spontaneously formed environment of the past. The principle of "exclusion" of irrational elements of environment, characteristic of the school of "modern architecture" was replaced by the principle of the "inclusion" of these elements. (R.Venturi similarly put forward the idea of "shed-homes" meant for further equipping by consumers. However, the practice of post modernistic design did not go down this path. On the contrary, the tendency of the more and more detailed design of the environment in general, is apparent).
The direction put forth by Venturi was connected with the phenomena of so called "protective design" and "participation". "Protective design" has the goal of preserving the historic environment and the familiar conditions of life for the population. The aim of "participation" was to attract the population to design of wide amplitude - from the simple taking into account its wishes to the elimination of the author's will in favor of the numerous wishes of clients (who "know better than the architect what they need") and ultimately - to "architecture like chaos" which should supposedly supply the environment with needed humanity. Rationalist principles for the organization of environment are more often subject to criticism. The main motif is that in operating under such depersonalized conceptions such as "same-age groups", calculations for streams of pedestrians, optimal distances, etc professional architecture and design did not take people with all of their complex tastes, attachments, likes and dislikes, into account.
When it comes to a professional understanding of the challenge of humanizing the environment, it can be said that nothing has changed from the 60's and 70's, the times of "storm and onslaught", to this day. This problem of humanizing the environment and its related questions still continue to exist.
So what is the true path for architecture and design? And what is meant by the "donkey's road" and what is meant by the "man's road".
"You know, life is always right, while the architect isn't." ~LE CORBUSIER
(This melancholic remark is completely contradictory to the former position stated by the master, and is a response to his village Pessack which was created in correspondence with the rational principles of design, but later traditionally rebuilt by its inhabitants. Le Courboisier is already old. Behind is the collapse of the school of "modern architecture". In some time this direction holding in itself the goal of creating a wholesome and well organized environment, will in the eyes of critics become synonymous to anti-humanity in architecture)
Thus, what is the nature of the spontaneously created environment and why is it needed? Apparently its meaning and concurrently its explanation of the phenomena, which were mentioned at the beginning of this article, is that environment existing as a direct reflection of people's identity, is individualized. It must be well understood that every living being's fundamental aspiration is to mark their habitat, and that human beings achieve this through the individualization of their environment. In the traditional environment, this aspiration is satisfied in the obvious way - through the individual character of the house, its décor, its appliances. Some kind of illusion of individuality was preserved in the development of the 19th and early 20th centuries owing to its fractionalization and ability to somehow allocate individual units. In modern development, people's windows are lost among countless others like it. Everything is standardized: development, houses, apartments, furniture, and things. This situation, reminiscent of the genre of "comedy of errors" in film and literature, is one of the main reasons for dullness and facelessness in new development. But, people aspired for individualized homes and an epopee of self expression - the painting of balconies, windows, and doors, emerges. However, the facades of the modern houses are not calculated for this - compositionally they fall apart. And here we are already struggling with this defilation of architecture. Something similar occurs in the field of design. Not possessing their own sphere, a stream of self expression pours out onto the surfaces of industrialized products of architecture and design.
This is the problem of the spontaneously created environment for those living in it. But what makes old lanes and streets so endearing to us. Yes, it seems it's those same reasons. It is because the scale of this environment is human, and because a person organically fits into this fragmented entourage. Because each house, corner, and turn are individualized. And finally, because behind this individualization of fragments, one can sense the individuality of those people that lived their lives within these walls and on them left sometimes apparent and sometimes undetectable, but an always felt trace . Apparently, an effect based on the principle of resonance which has great meaning for not only architecture, but for the influence of art in general, which I would term the "presence of personality effect" functions here.
Are those old lanes truly beautiful? Does the mighty artist Life polish, sharpen these compositions throughout the decades and centuries of their existence? Or is it simply the transformation of their emotional impact, perceived as beauty? And is this the reason that the occasionally restored fragments of historical development are so boring - in that the warmth of Life itself lies in the incorrectness of stratification. Life departs with the removed strata.
And so the way of modern architecture and design is the way of spontaneously created environment? In defense of this position, the argument of the vitality of this environment and lack of vitality of such cities as Le Corbusier's Chandigarh, which are erected in exact accordance with rationalist canons, is put forth. Spontaneously created environment has truly survived. Yet, the masters of the school of "modern architecture" were also right: this environment is not fit for new conditions, for the modern infrastructure of towns and mainly their transportation. This is felt by town inhabitants daily.
What is the likelihood of solving the problem of individualizing environment with the help of the above mentioned professional methods? It is necessary to give a clear cut answer to this question. The complication of form of development really reduces scale of environment, but does not in any way individualize it, as does not the exposition of similar volumes of residential units to the outside. "Supergraphics" is truly capable of destroying the volume and tectonics of a house. But it is exactly for this reason that it is appropriate where a building deserves nothing more than to be visually devastated. However, a similar house is no more individualized than a typical one, in the same way that a camouflaged uniform is no more individualized than a plain one. "Retro" style, a style of "childish dreams" unrelated to realistic modern structures is apparently as unpromising as is all eclecticism. The detailed designing of environment is also unpromising since such an environment where all points of observation and emotion are checked and designed will surely make a person feel himself a puppet.
And the methods of R. Venturi? The sense and strength of spontaneous architecture are that it is natural, organic, and sincere. Yet, Venturi's method was the method of typical professional architecture, but stylized as spontaneous through its hiding of professional skill and methods, a certain simulated naivety, and worse - usurped rights to spontaneous architecture. In this regard, the words of F.L. Wright come to mind, "In architecture, as in people, I most value sincerity."
What concerns "protective design" and "participation", their assessment cannot be synonymous, as the two phenomena are not similar themselves. The practice of "protective architecture" possesses the objective value, which allows it to preserve the historic environment of towns, that continuity without which development is not possible. The participation of the inhabitants in coming up with the architectural agenda - this of course means the rejection of "modern architecture's" claim to the exclusive possession of truth, which is characteristic to the geniuses of the first generation. But, this is nothing new - in ordinary architecture, the will of the client was always considered. What is more important is what effect this will has in practice. If it only assists the substantiated author's decision, then this is typical professional work. But, if it brings the architect to the refusal of creativity, to "architecture like chaos", then it is but one form of self-destruction of architecture. Well, it means the pendulum of professional self-consciousness swung from the one extreme where it declares the universal design of environment, to the other extreme of complete refusal to design it. And as any extreme is, this one is unstable, and reverse movement is inevitable. But the paradox of the simple consideration of the will of a mass of clients, and "architecture like chaos" is in that neither one nor the other individualizes the environment. There is no individual self-expression. There is only a vector - incorporation, but also the evening out of will and a person's individuality.
What concerns the "donkey's road" and the "man's road", these formulas which have pushed down on some generations of architects, then maybe the great master was mistaken? And that straight road, which he considered to be the road of man is actually the road of chariots and automobiles, and he had only been comparing roads for different forms of transportation? And maybe the road of man is another road, considerably more complex and diverse?
After all, what is the method for the creation of an individualized environment in an epoch of the modern technical civilization?
In order to answer this question, it needs to be determined on what basis objects of architecture and design appear. It is well known that one and the other are formed by a specific number of factors, consisting of a group of rational and irrational conditions. The first group includes the function of the object, the conditions of the external environment, materials, structures, equipment, and methods of construction. The second group includes the aesthetic preferences, psychology, mentality, customs, and people's emotions. And the quality of objects of architecture and design is determined by the exact consideration of all conditions. (So the error of Chandigarh lies in that the psychology and customs of the local population were not considered.)
Theoretically, irrational conditions including individual psychology, can along with rational ones, be considered in designing. Though, with modern professional tools this could prove extremely difficult. But the main defect of such a method is in something else, the turning of the person into only a passive object of design. It is in exactly this direction that architecture in evolved developed countries is headed. A more correct method lies in the inclusion of spontaneously creative work of the person in the process of the creation of an environment. In this way, to the question "designed or spontaneous?" it follows to answer: "Both designed and spontaneous!" Actually, this is nothing new. The matter in question, is to recreate in the conditions of the modern town, an eternal companion of a professionally designed environment - the spontaneously created environment. So that, spontaneous work and professional work would answer one to irrational, and the other to rational, conditions. So that, each environment would have its place. And this is a most simple and obvious way to individualization - the way going along with psychology, self feeling and perception of man, the way tested by the experience of centuries.
If this is so, it is necessary to define the spheres of designed and spontaneous work. The natural field of designed work is the sphere where the defining conditions are rational ones. These are projects of urban design, engineering, transportation, industrial and administrative buildings, public service buildings, along with industrial, transportation, and consumer machinery. But here too some room must be left for spontaneous work in the equipment and decoration of the premises. And, surely, in a residential environment, there could be a great amount of spontaneous work. This is people's contribution to design and layout, and further equipping of apartments and residential houses, and finally decorative designing of residential territory and the outside walls of apartments and residential houses. Then instead of a palliative, where despite any amount of standard layouts of apartments, alterations are necessary, we will have a layout of an apartment in complete accordance with the needs of a family. Instead of the standard improvement of territory - we will have individualized decisions by outline, and with use of materials. Finally, instead of fruitless efforts to give "warmth" to the environment through profession décor, we will have the individualized decorative design of a home. Will this get in the way of industrialized construction of habitation? I doubt it. Moreover, it will free the industry of its uncharacteristic role of fulfilling fine and individual jobs, in part of the creation of countless types of decorative elements of façade. It will give it the chance to concentrate efforts on organically inherent production: typically industrial objects, and mainly mass production of a few types of structural elements of houses, having left décor to the obvious and solely appropriate for it - individualized work. Assumedly, spontaneous work will help to recreate a sturdy and material polychromy of environment which has in the past belonged to residential environments.
There is a very important peculiarity in the co-existence of designed and spontaneously created environments in modern towns. In the past the designed environment and spontaneous environment were mainly spatially divided, but they are currently united within the same buildings and territories. Therefore, in order to include spontaneous work in the process of the formation of the urban environment, it must itself be designed with consideration for the possibilities of such work. And so, in modern conditions the traditional formula "designed and spontaneous" should be transformed into the formula "designed spontaneity". Within industrial, educational, cultural, and sports buildings - this is the allocation of particular planes or areas for spontaneous work. Within residential territory - professional realization of only passages and technically complicated elements for landscaping. More complex, but interesting is the problem of provision of possibilities for spontaneous work in multistory residential housing. And this is the key problem in the field of such work, in general. The conditions for individualized layouts for apartments are supplied quite easily - through designing only the borders of apartments, their structures, and engineering equipment.
Significantly harder is the professional problem of providing for spontaneous work in the decoration of the outside wall of a residential unit. The main problem here is for the spontaneous décor not to destroy the tectonics of the house. It seems a most obvious way is with the creation of a loggia and the decoration of its back wall with color, material, greenery, etc. as Le Corbusier did in his famous house in Marseille. In the case of the exposition of deep niches of loggia, the structure of houses is so powerful, that no disagreement in the colors and materials in the depth of the loggias could not ruin its tectonics and composition. Another method is the active exposition of residential units on the principle of the house "Habitat". In this case unity is created through the strong treatment of light and shade of volume. Finally, in appropriate organic conditions, a method could be the use of large glass surfaces. Such are the multistory residence houses of Mies van der Rohe, when through the windows of houses curtains of different character could be readily seen, and this precisely reveals and individualizes each apartment. (Did the great master have this effect in mind, completely immersed in the search for universal beauty of maximally simple flat forms? But, this effect without a doubt exists. The genius nature sprouts up through the thin shell of dogmas) All three of these methods are united by one reality - surface façade has depth. In one instance it is the depth of a loggia, in another - play with volume, in the third - the exposition of interiors to the outside. One rule of perception is used here: in order to create materialized and stable compositions, it is necessary for the surface of the volume to evolve into depth. This is the secret, which the masters of the historical architectural epoch knew, which is necessary for us to possess, as well. (Ill.4)
And so, the amount of spontaneous work in the urban system can be quite magnificent. However, complex structure and technology of today's modern artificial environment calls for the main role in its creating to belong to designed work, which guarantees correspondence of the environment to rational demands, its unity, integrity of structure and composition. But this rationally designed frame should be surrounded with living flesh of spontaneously created environment. Thus, for such a method the "inclusive" approach is as characteristic, which is proclaimed by the critics of the rational direction of architecture, but not by way of giving designed work qualities of spontaneous work, bringing it down to the level of "architecture like chaos", but through the organic inclusion of authentic spontaneous work into a system of authentic professional, "strong" architecture. Such an approach puts everything in its place. It relieves professional architecture of the dictated task of humanization of environment, the necessity to lower its resonance, or even the of mimicry of a product of spontaneous work, ultimately - of self-destruction. This method allows architecture to resonate in full force as it did in the classical epochs. It individualizes the environment in the most organic way - through the inclusion into the designed urban environment, of products of the spontaneous work of the inhabitants, the generation of which is uniquely capable of creating spiritual fill, warmth, and stability of the environment, and in general.
Le Corbusier aspired to create an ideal kind of residence, formed on a rational basis, and he considered his village Pessac his defeat, where these houses were rebuilt by their residents in their taste. But the world of architecture is a world of drama and comedy, a world of astonishing paradoxes: residents found these houses with horizontal windows and a free, "cleaned out" plan very successful - they were easy to re-plan in correspondence with individual demands.
Le Corbusier did not create an ideal model of a residential house. However, in an attempt to realize this, he did incomparably more - he discovered the principle of organization of houses allowing for the possibility of spontaneous work.
Columbus aspired to find a new route to India and to the end of his days he believed (or tried to convince others), that he had accomplished this.
He did not find a route to India. However, in attempting to do so, he accomplished incomparably more - he discovered a new continent.
But are they truly accidental, the accidental discoveries on the path of a genius?
1 The first edition of this article was published under the same title in the journal "Architecture USSR", Vol. 2 1982, pgs 52-56.
A number of the points put forth in this article were examined earlier in the author's article entitled "The Urban Environment: Designed or Spontaneously Formed?" published in the weekly "Mosproektovets" Vol. 23, 1981 pgs 2-4; Vol. 24 pg 4; Vol.25 pgs 2-4.