In his work Beyond Koolhaas Murray Fraser writes a succinct critical commentary on the work of architects such as Remment Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi. Fraser is particularly critical of the work done by Koolhaas and Tschumi and shows little regard for the glorified work of both architects. Fraser is overly critical of the work by Koolhaas and does not give credit for any exemplary work done by him. This is due to the nature of Koolhaas designs which do not promote social integration in any way. Koolhaas and Tschumi were not able to change the undemocratic nature of capitalism on architecture. Tschumi asserts that the architects are the link between the authoritarian powers and humanity. He continued to claim that the “force” of architecture can be used to transform society. However, the work articulated by Tschumi was more theoretical than it was feasible.
Koolhaas, on the other hand, critiqued western architects for not being able to change their designs and work in accordance to current times’ demands. With the rise of globalization Koolhaas saw it necessary for western architects to shift their way of thinking to meet the growing global trends (Rendell, Hill, Fraser & Dorrian, 2007, p.332). However, the ammunition of globalization used by Koolhaas soon became exhausted leaving him with nothing to use against western architects. This came as a blessing in disguise for Koolhaas. He was now able to concentrate on his practical design work instead of his theoretical work which was not productive. Koolhaas work had significantly improved, though in the social perspective, his work was somewhat dubious.
Both Tschumi and Koolhaas worked their way into the corporate world, which seemed to have diminished their ability to be critical in their designs and thinking. Both architects were respected professionals to reckon with in the period starting in 1970’s until early 1990’s. However, they seem to have lost their “Midas touch” when it comes to critical architecture. With this in mind, it is time for the world to look for architects beyond Koolhaas and Tschumi.
Nowadays urban architects indulge in large scale projects being primarily concerned with the aesthetic value of their work. They do so in order to satisfy the client. Beyond Koolhaas is an essay which shows that apart from the face value of the buildings and structures designed architecture has additional functions and meanings. The work of various architects may be used to promote social oneness. This can be achieved by promoting interaction between various social classes. Peter Barber propagates this view along with other architects long before him. A starting point to looking beyond Koolhaas is a practice like Rural Studio in United States of America (Rendell et al, 2007, p.333). There is also a tremendous amount of hope in Peter Barber. He is a budding architect attracting big attention from the public. He has even been given a chance to talk about housing at the New Labor Party conference held in Manchester.
In his essay Murray Fraser asserts that the world requires a new approach to critical architecture. This new approach needs to be easily adaptable not only in the West, but in other parts of the world as well. There are many shortcomings to previous models of critical architecture. Tschumi and Koolhaas were not able to forge a way forward for architects to go beyond capitalism. For architects to go beyond Koolhaas, it is necessary to strive not only to the avant-garde and beautiful designs in their work, but it is important to consider the social impact of their work. They should come up with designs that promote social integration. Their designs should also encourage individuals and clients to express themselves through the design of their homes.
Social togetherness is an important theme in Beyond Koolhaas. Murray Fraser shows how there can be social oneness through architectural designs. He brings this out by using the work of Peter Barber. Barber won a competition in 2002 for having come up with a design of Donnybrook Estate in Bow showing how an urban quarter will look in the future. This has attracted a lot of critical acclamation and awards for Barber. Like any other design, it has also been subjected to several attacks. The design is a mix of Le Corbusier meets Casbah. This design accommodates the number of inhabitants three times bigger than a normal one. It includes forty-two apartments and houses at a point of 111 homes per hectare. This exceeds the recommended level for a piece of land of that size by four times. The houses in the estate have 4 terraces each and are two-to-four story high. The terraces have sufficient space between them to allow for interaction and create space for the children to play. The lop-sided windows and balconies provide a view in and out of the houses. The houses in the estate are up for sale and may even be rented. This gives a good opportunity for all social classes to seek housing in this estate. The client, however, had different plans in mind and wanted to build a wall between the sold houses and the rented ones (Rendell et al, 2007, p.335). This caused Barber to threaten to quit working on the project since the integration of the sold and rented units was a crucial element in proving Barber’s point of view in regard to social class interaction. This shows the need of people to design their own living quarters instead of living in the boring monocultures of capitalism designed housing.
I agree with Fraser that housing may be used to unite different social classes. However, social oneness cannot be achieved by housing only. Different social classes should freely and willingly interact with one another so as to make this initiative work. If street style housing is left alone to bring social togetherness, it may not lead to the desired results.
In his essay Murray Fraser claimed that the work done by Koolhaas and Tschumi seemed to be promoting social division. Prada headquarters designed by Rem Koolhaas in SoHo and Rodeo Drive depicts this support of social divisions. He designs large buildings with superfluous space with no functionality. According to Fraser this emphasizes the image of Prada as a brand which cares for little more than empty-value consumption. Fraser also critics Koolhaas’ Chinese Central headquarters building which he worked on together with engineer Cecil Balmond. This design, which has a public passage through it, did not in any way challenge the authoritarianism of the government controlled headquarters. It did not in any way encourage to changes in meaning through its design.
The antics used by Tschumi and Koolhaas came across as a submissive reaction to the impracticality of ever challenging the prevailing economic forces of capitalism. Capitalism had been making life of millions of people all over the world miserable. This makes the stealth approach of making their wants and needs known not effective anymore.
In the capitalist era Koolhaas and Tschumi did not do much to use their architectural designs to promote the welfare of humanity. The rich interacted with the rich and the poor interacted with the poor. The architects who came after Koolhaas came to change all this to promote interaction among representatives of various social classes as well as oneness of people in places like Middle East where there is clear gender segregation.
Peter Barber was first noticed for building the Villa Anbar in Saudi Arabia. The house was designed for an open minded female novelist. Its designer took into serious consideration gender separation in the standard Middle Eastern house. The owner of the house asked to provide some space linking the two gendered regions. This, however, caused the men in the house to complain and Barber was asked to put a shutter over it. However, the handle was placed on the female side so that they could have the sole control of whether the door was open or shut. The ability to control the door may look trivial, but is a crucial step towards female empowerment in the Middle East.
The world of architecture has been substantially revolutionized. There has been enormous change since the modernists, who are considered by Murray Fraser as acutely arrogant, and architects like Koolhaas and Tschumi, whose work was more theoretical than practical. In the recent past, there has been the rise of a breed of architects who think architecture is more than beautiful designs (Rendell et al, 2007, p.333). These architects including Peter Barber speak out against the homogenized, generic, and corporate housing that is favored by the British institutions. Barber claims that the true essence of urbanism lies within the difference of structures giving the cities a feel of diversity. The generic housing stifles the relationship between architects and individuals. Modernization of the urban systems and institutions should be strongly supported by all to allow individuals to express themselves in the designs of housing that they choose.
According to some architects and critics, capitalism does not allow for expression of individualism as it promotes generic and homogenous structures all around the cities. Main architects struggled to reduce the impact of capitalism of suppressing the individuality of people to choose their own designs. Architects such as Bernard Tschumi and Rem Koolhaas made their stance by challenging accusations made by Manfredo Tafuri. Tafuri was a well renowned Italian Marxist critique. He claimed that it was impossible to use architectural work positively to change the common man's living conditions as long as the capitalist views prevailed in the society. Tafuri put forward that the hard work of the Welfare State Architects found in Europe after the Second World War would all come up to naught. The work by these architects as asserted by Tafuri would only add to the emergent misery of the working class. Tafuri’s work from then was full blown criticism. He saw it as his role to expose any folly that was brought to society by architects. Many of the architects did not share Tafuri’s views. This was especially so for those architects who were against capitalism but still saw it as their duty to revolutionize the society. Tafuri saw the weak utopianism, haughty confidence, and unmotivated designs of the welfare state architects. This caused both Koolhaas and Tschumi to rise and defend the work of these architects. However, they did it in a subtle manner and claimed that their architectural ideas, put in a nutshell, were sensitive of the current economic and social order and could, therefore, operate and thrive within the capitalist society (Rendell et al, 2007, p.336).
However, as time passes on architects have gone beyond Koolhaas. Architects such as Peter Barber from Britain speak blatantly against the type of housing promoted by capitalism. He has been highly vocal on the mundane, generic, and homogenous housing designs supported by the governments in many European cities. His work Donnybrook Estate in London shows the need of people to design their own living quarters instead of living in the boring monocultures of capitalism-designed housing. Barber designed the maisonettes on the first floor to have individual courtyards. He provided owners with the ability to decide on their own designs. Peter Barber did not support the British manner of copying the building materials used the neighboring buildings. He claimed that cities looked accomplished due to the diverse nature of their buildings. Mixing up the vivacious social setting is what gave them a feel of “urbanness”.
The Role of the Architect
According to Peter Barber, being an architect involves a serious responsibility to to change the common man's living conditions. It is through building housing structures that clients can express themselves. Also, the architect has the role to design structures that promote social integration of people from different social classes and genders. The devotion to these notions can be seen in Barbers work. Having returned to Britain from the Middle East Peter Barber has worked to unite social classes in his country. This is the relationship between public, urban spaces and private, domestic environments. Barber has returned the sense of street style within architectural conversation. He is angry at how the cities are designed as a result of the governing. He admires vibrant and dense urban territories with adequate space for pedestrian movement and social geniality. Barber is convinced that this will bring about ultimate visual permeability as well as it will break social barriers that may exist within the urban centre. According to Fraser, there is no alternative to Peter Barber’s view and only proper street design can allow necessary social mixing of different classes to take place. This fact has also been supported by urban analyst Bill Hillier.
The ability of architectural designs to bring about social change is a notion that not many architects have been able to adopt. This is especially so for those architects who put aesthetic appeal of their work as the most important aspect in their designs.
Barber brings out a highly critical issue. He claims that if the concept of the shared public street was a reality, a spatial design began in the mere first cities nearly thousands of years ago. He also asks if the reassertion of the pedestrian street within a condition of highly developed capitalism is a conformist or radical act (Rendell et al, 2007, p.335). Barber is convinced that no matter how much different classes want to isolate themselves, there is no denying that we are social beings and require constant physical and visual interaction between ourselves. Peter Barber, therefore, became an active critic of the suburbanized ideals of most of British architectural designs. He has on several occasions openly criticized suburbia.
Architects such as Peter Barber hold a strong view that individuals should be able to express themselves in their home designs. I strongly support this view because cities with the same homes designs would create an environment of suppression of the vibrant nature of cities. Housing structures should be as diverse as commercial buildings of various designs.
Anna Hoare in the essay Forms and Meanings of Mobility: the Dwellings and Settlements of Sedentarized Irish Travelers describes how tent materials of Irish travelers illustrated the characters of wife and husband who own those tents (Asquith & Vellinga, 2006, p.76). Nowadays people should also be allowed to express their characters through the use of materials and designs of their homes.
Peter Barber does not hide behind ambivalent jargon for critical position neither does he need to sneak into the capitalist circles with a hidden agenda. Barber’s sole mission is to attack social issues directly with his designs. He has no ulterior motive neither does he seek to comply with fashion trends in his designs (Rendell et al, 2007, p.338). Architecture is a serious business for him. He takes his role to improve the lives of the common man through his designs seriously. Peter Barber’s opinion can be compared with Tom Avermaete’s view in C.I.A.M, Team X, and the Rediscovery of African Settlements: between Dogon and Bidonville who claims that modern architecture is not only about the avant-garde designs. It is also about approaching local people and providing a leeway to the stories shared between the African Mediterranean and Europe (Avermaete, 2010, p.264). Both Avernaete and Barber see architecture as having a deeper meaning: it is not just about beautiful houses, it is about changing the life of the ordinary man.
Finding a common ground in critical architecture is the way forward for globalization. In this day and age critical architecture is necessary to correct social inequities in the world.
Some designs in the current world.