Positionen
1997_2

PAVEL LOSHAKOV

(St. Petersburg)

Pulsating Architectural Environment -
Philosophy and Form.

DEFINITIONS

1Among the numerous manifestations of dynamism in architectural environment, the changes it undergoes in time and space we will give our particular attention to one particular component - pulsation.
We will refer the term pulsating architectural objects to the structures and groups of objects which occasionally change their functional or spatial parameters, such as capacity, floor space, volume, etc. A crucial peculiarity of the changes lies in their reversibility: pulsating structures acquire their initial state at the end of the cycle, having gone through various stages of modification.
The prerequisites to the above dynamic changes are the cyclic property of natural and climatic processes (e.g. seasonal changes), stages of human social and productive activities, the cyclic nature of human needs and psychological conditions of the individual. Thus we regard pulsation as a fundamental principle of architectural structures retaining their optimum parameters under the pressure of the variable external factors and human needs.

GENESIS

2Pulsating elements have been ever present in the architectural environment in the different historical epochs. In the great variety of the occasionally changing structures there may be distinguished several basic groups.

3One of them is the convertible parts of fundamental constructions, e.g. tents. Well known is the drawing of the transformable canopy over the amphitheater in Pompeii; the description of a similar cover spread over Roman Coliseum can be found with Vitruvius and Pliny. "A tent bespangled with stars", which was used to provide "shade as well as acoustics", is mentioned by Alberti as a prerequisite detail of the antique theatre. In Spain tents used to be spread over streets to provide shade in the hot season.

4Another group is temporary constructions, occasionally added to stable structures. These are, for instance, the conventional trade complexes of markets and fairs, as well as temporary entertainment and recreational facilities, such as tent circuses, show booths and the like. It is worth noting that such structures were often erected inside central urban areas, on the main squares as a rule, thus constituting an integral part of the urban environment, an indispensable element of the town aesthetic image, monitor of the public life cycles.
The people of Central Asia developed in the Middle Ages peculiar forms of such pulsating complexes. The towns and monasteries of Mongolian nomads comprised mobile constructions alongside stationary ones, the number of the latter varying with time. The stable core would get surrounded in some seasons of the year with numerous mobile constructions, consisting not only of movable abodes (yurtas), but whole mobile monasteries. With the beginning of the grazing season the dimensions of such a settlement would diminish many fold. Thus the dynamism of parameters in the whole urban structure would be provided.

CONTRADICTION

5So, pulsation as the principle of reversible change of architectural structure parameters has always been an integral part of the common system of spatial arrangement means in the most diverse vital processes. It has proceeded from a wide range of the planning and construction devices. At the same time, alongside the other types of objects which change within a certain time span, pulsating structures have not been actually registered in the history of architecture, neither have they played a major role in the professional mentality of architects. And that is mostly due to the traditional system of views upon architecture and the devices of its description - a professional thesaurus. In the long run this is where the problem of the architectural vocabulary lies, as one regards its dynamic components.

6An ideal environment arrangement for centuries has been associated with intrinsic and lasting forms. Architecture has been treated as a spatial embodiment of a fixed combination of requirements and parameters, and it was proceeding from this that a search for ideal schemes has been carried out. An inevitable deviation from the static absolute scheme is regarded within the framework of the concept, as a forced concession to the imperfect nature of life and not as a reflection of its inherent nature.

7Even the ideology of functionalism, which has pronounced victory over many a prejudice of the past, has retained the belief in the "static" character of architecture. We should remember that plans for ideal cities have been developed not only by Filarete in the 15th century, but also by Le Corbusier in the 20th century. It was this view that has mainly caused the crisis in the language of functionalism. Since the 1960's the desire to consider a time factor, when forming the structure of an architectural object, has become the chief topic of all the conceptual projects. The dynamism and the variability of architectural environment have become the core of the projects and concepts of such groups as "Archigram", "COOP Himmelblau", and Japanese metabolists.

8If we turn to the past once again we will understand that the transient nature of the material matter of dynamic architecture, of its structures, which have not left any debris behind, may account for the absence of this section in the history of architecture. It should be pointed out that the numerous semi-mythological structures, which have not left any direct archeological evidence, have nevertheless become part and parcel of the historical science. The Tower of Babylon represented in perfectly stable and solid forms in the iconography of different epochs seems more real than the hundreds of trade fair pavilions seen by eye-witnesses. Hence a virtual object described in a well developed language appears more real than a tangible one inadequately described.
Something similar must have happened to the folklore architecture. It was only in the middle of the 19th century that a systematic study and analysis of the Russian wooden architecture began. Since that time it has gradually penetrated the range of objects which interest historians of architecture, though previously it had been practically neglected, due to the differences not only of the material used but also because of a peculiar approach to composition and imagery.

DIALECTICS

9Despite the above considerations it would be unreasonable to insist that the dynamic fluctuating architecture requires a unique and peculiar language for its description and appreciation. Sufficent to say that the functional structure of a dynamic object in itself suggests the presence of stable elements inside, i.e. comprising a "firm core". In other cases dynamic objects exist and closely interact with the stable ones, forming a system of a higher order. Naturally the system is described as a whole.

10There exist still deeper interconnections. In many cases the short-lived temporary constructions model parameters, structure and composition of capital constructions or even grand urban formations which come after them. As a sample we may consider the Classic order, which has inherited many formal features of the earlier antique wooden samples. The major 19-20th centuries exhibition pavilions and other temporary structures often became starting points for the development of novel architectural and aesthetic concepts. On the urban development level it is the lay-out of the Roman military camp, which has served as a basic planning structure for many a European city.

11The speed of construction, the ease at handling the material and above all - the low cost of the temporary structures - allowed to freely experiment not only with their functional base, but with the form - the language of external expression. From the point of view of creative approach this can be directly compared to the genre of study in painting or extemporization in music. These genres have often served as sources of new productive ideas, as a field for the development of a new artistic lingo.

12It is interesting to illustrate the dialectics of the correlation between a short-lived object's essence and the formal means of its expression by the example of the structures in which the non-traditional materials used for their construction correspond to the short life span of the structure proper. We are familiar with the proposals of erecting temporary buildings from paper and cardboard with their further complete utilization. History knows of a most striking example of the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg.
It was erected in the January of 1740 on the Neva ice and was meant for the wedding celebrations of the Empress Anna Ioanovna's fool. The designer was one of the leading Russian architects of the time Piotr Yeropkin. The Ice House turned out to be a rather complex edifice from the point of view of architecture and engineering, as it was to have a high roof and several rooms inside, the facade was decorated with sculpture, pilasters and gables. On the dais in front, surrounded with a balustrade, there were two ornamental obelisks, artificial trees and even six ice field guns and two mortars. Everything above-mentioned was made of ice.
The most striking thing about the Ice Palace, according to all description, was that it looked exactly like a real contemporary building, i.e. stylistically it was in full conformity with the stable architectural objects. Even the sham one-night character of the Ice House or the exotic building material did not affect the principles of the visual impact or the language of its architecture. The only peculiarity was caused by the light of the burning candles seeping through the ice walls and windows at night, causing acclamation of the spectators.

ARCHITECTURAL LANGUAGE MEANS

13Two ways forming fluctuating architecture language can be defined in principle.
The first one -modernist-, based on the true reflection of the functional and constructive essence of the object to be transformed, and the extraction of means of expressiveness and imagery from the essence.
The second one -post-modernist-, which sets forward the task of coding the meaning, traditional symbols and the common notions of the consumer.

14Independent of the adopted approach the main factor influencing the formation of the pulsating construction architecture becomes the realization and adequate reflection of the gradual stages of its existence, the programming of the object perception in time. In practice architecture often has to deal with the countdown effect in interpretation when considering a spatial object in motion. We get the effect not only at macro-level - moving about inside urban environment. The same refers to the perception of a separate building, with the viewer seeing it gradually when approaching, and then entering it: first as a silhouette, then the facade as a whole, then its separate details, and lastly - the interior.

15As to a fluctuating object - the viewer can remain static - it is the object that changes. The architect's task is to foresee Composition in its different states due to change with time and based on a dynamic system with alternating stages of existence and functioning.
This disagrees with the inherited Renaissance tradition, with its criteria of beauty and perfection in art, architecture in particular. We believe, according to L.-B. Alberti, that "beauty is a strictly proportional harmony of all parts... such as cannot be either added to or taken from, or changed without harm." (L.-B. Alberti. De Re Aedificatoria. Libri Decem. L6-3).

16In the case of dynamic architectural objects we talk about creating a specific dramaturgy, a script of sequential change in the state of the object, in its appearance and composition. The script can intrinsically comprehend the demonstration of the present stage in the object's existence as well as the indirect information about the other possible stages in its modification (the invisible or potential). Each stage by the principle of its composition may be closed or self-sufficient, but at the same time it may demonstrate a programmed incompleteness, instability, a trend towards transition to a new state.

17The specific features of the pulsating architecture make it necessary to discuss the problems of its interrelation with the context, which is especially vital for the introduction of pulsating objects into the existing historical urban environment. The "Golden Age" of conceptual designing of a totally transformable environment - the 1960's - is characterized by almost complete indifference to the question of correlation between the object and the context. Nevertheless today, without an answer to the questions, we would force dynamic structures into marginal existence.

18It should be noted that the short-term temporary constructions do not destroy the existing architectural environment either physically (not requiring foundations and the like) or aesthetically, thanks to the external signs of its transient nature and the actual disappearance in the non-working hours. They do not compete with the fundamental structures, do not actually impede the perception of the architectural cityscape, even when contrasting with the colour scheme, the materials used and the structural peculiarities. It is this contrast of the media that allows pulsating structures to be placed in an ostensibly different grade, at the same time retaining their place in the composition and their informative role in the urban environment. The appearance of a fundamental structure under the same conditions would cause a sharp dissonance.
As an analogy we might cite an instance where dozens of tourist buses crowding the streets and squares adjoining the memorial sights of a city do not inspire the thought of violating historical environment. And one can easily imagine the general uproar at the appearance in their place of a solid structure, even if smaller in size. The sight of the means of transport and the realization that they are mobile and will soon leave the site create a completely different psychological stance than in the case of a stable structure. This may account for the fact that "mobile" forms are often employed in the design of temporary constructions, not to mention the common mobile devices for trade, fast food and the like.

19The look of the urban environment as such is determined by its existence in time and space. The major role here is played by the "long-term" constructions. Though in each historical cross-section they are interlaced with dynamic elements by numerous bonds - utilitarian, compositional, stylistic. The study of these bonds helps regard in a new light the history and the present state of the spatial forms language, which is being developed in the process of professional architectural designing and is being fixed in the visible forms of the objective human environment. Creation remains a subjective process. Still, its results, though considered as something complete (even by the author himself), may be specified and augmented by a comprehensive appreciation of the language of the static and dynamic in architectural environment - the intrinsic and fleeting in the art of space arrangement for the purpose of living.

A GLANCE INTO THE FUTURE

20In spite of the fact that today architectural futurology, especially as regards the forecasts for the development of the extraterrestrial and space architecture, no longer enjoys the popularity it used to have twenty or thirty years ago, I will still allow myself some final comments. The thing is that the existing orbital stations represent complex space constructions with ever changing functional parameters. These are typical pulsating architectural objects, in which the permanent core is periodically supplemented by additional modules, experimental equipment; solar collectors, radio antennae are spread out and folded, and so on. The maintenance of the optimum parameters of the construction throughout all the stages of its existence is an indispensable requirement stipulated be the extreme space conditions and the supreme cost of survival.

21If ever there is discussion on the peculiarities of perception, architectural language describing artificial space objects, it will not concern the unusual materials (all of them are already used on Earth) or the absence of the gravity vector. It is the script of a sequence of stages in the transforming composition, the dramatic correlation of parts with a different speed of the volume and functional parametersĀ“ modification, that will become the foremost features of the creative search and findings.

 

Positionen Positions positii