Tuesday, January 31, 2006

City within a City

I've been thinking a lot about how the Airport is a City within a City. Cities are always in relationship to their contextual environments. A truly effective city is a dense heart of efficient and complex, spirited and contradictory, human habitat. Cities may recycle and reuse their energies and products, but they continue to draw the vast majority of their energy from the natural resources which surround them. Non-renewable energy sources and renewable energy sources yielding power and life to sustain the city and it's people come from the hills, the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the ocean, the desert, the sun, and the wind; water for life, and coal, oil, photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, to name a few for electricity, transport, and industry. The Airport, the globally distributed City within a City, as a functioning city, also feeds off its surroundings, the city of its outer context. The people, energy, financial support, products and shipping orders, all fuel and support the purpose for the Airport's existence and sustenance.

So, the Airport really is like a contemporary city in its internal habitat provisions (shelter, food, mobility, commerce, even space for arts), and also in its patterns of external resource consumption. The Airport, as a City within a City, looks towards the cities around it as consumption resources.

The Airport, the City within a City, is like an interiorized city, bubbled into a container whose own structure is that of a city. But to disembark from the destructive paradigm of continuous "natural capital" consumption furthered in urbanized locales around the world, the Airport City within a City could be seen as more progressive, even more sustainable in theory, as in a more directly symbiotic, interconnected relationship with its "natural environment", the surrounding city, than the original city is itself. In consideration of the modern city, the modern Airport city gives back more to the original city of its context than the original city gives back to its natural environmental context. Of course, the Airport pollutes like crazy and consumes like crazy, draining natural capital from the natural environment right through the city of its context. But as a paradigm, the Airport City within a City is a fascinating model for how a massive mechanistic and industrial system can be within a "natural" and symbiotic relationship to its mechanistic and industrial urban context.

In this sense, the Airport City within a City is an ironic paradigm of contradictions. The Airport City within a City is a model of postmodernity (industrial and mechanistic functions, forms, flows) and sustainability (interrelationships, context responsiveness, and a system of sustenance). The Airport City within a City is continued, infinite growth and limited, contained space; speed and globalization and locally-based rhythms; draining resource consumption and contextual recognition and responsiveness; and respect for the needs and wants of the passenger's human scale and the industry's global scale. I'd say this mix makes the City within a City a critical paradigm of our twenty-first century global-local human lifestyle.

Noise produced by airflight, for example, becomes what I'll call a "context impact", which is (by the way) one of the impacts considered by Environmental Impact Reports under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Within CEQA there are also special guidelines for development within airport plans.) These "context impacts" are the most perceived impacts between the Airport City within a City and the Airport's context city (as can be observed with Amsterdam as Schiphol Airport's context city). They build sociological and environmental relationships which, in a modern perspective of environmental analysis, means impacts to quality of life and environment that are calculateable by contingent valuation, evaluateable by cost benefit analysis, and are mitigateable by use of measures that dampen the problem. Interestingly, the "context impacts" of the Airport, while being therefore within the realms of economics, equity, and ecology (which by the way, make the tri-fold framework of "cradle-to-cradle" analysis professed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart), impact most directly the city's human quality of life issues. And even more interestingly, the “context impacts” monitored by airports are basically limited to noise (the sound of jets in the air), safety concerns (such as crashes and need for emergency landing space), overflight (flight patterns and visibility), and airspace protection (potential hazards to flight such as tall builds and areas where birds may collect); all impacts that are initially more perceptual than tangible in the same way as a visual image. (See California Airport Landuse Planning Handbook, pp summary-8) In short, City within a City context impacts are from man-made to the made-made. City context impacts are more from the man-made to the environmental.

McDonough and Braungart's "cradle-to-cradle" methodology (the most level-headed and progressive "eco-effective" model for design) recommends designing systems, products, processes that treat waste as food in the interconnected arenas of economics, equity, and ecology. Technically speaking, this can be quite complex. The rubber within a shoe sole contains countless different chemicals and to break it down, and to remove the harmful ones, and produce a shoe (as Nike is prototyping) whose rubber is actually beneficial to the environment, is quite complex. On a larger urban planning scale, McDonough's "Huangbaiyu Cradle to Cradle Village Master Plan" in Benxi, Liaoning Province, China, will attempt to implement the cradle-to-cradle concept for a new, developing community.

But to jump back to existing urban centers, and look at the Airport City within a City, we already have a cradle-to-cradle "closed-loop" system (although horribly dirty) in place: the Airport City in relationship to its context city. The Airport, looped into a vital give-and-take relationship to the context city, is then the principle place for revitalizing the city and transforming existing cities into having healthier relationships with their context (host?) cities. From within the City, the Airport City within a City can guide healthier environmental relationship from its existing web of contextual recognition and responsiveness. The Airport, the City within a City. is the gateway to transforming the global-local lifestyle, just as it was the product of modernity that transformed the city of today into what it is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Natural Air - Port Cities

Foster and Partner’s new Philology Library, at the Free University in Berlin, helps to create an interior reading environment that emulates the sense of the ambient environment for reading outside—one can sense the clouds moving above—but the environment is not virtual, it is rather reflective of the environment’s conditions and responsive to them. Behling, Foster’s sustainability leader, “compares it to sitting with a white umbrella under a tree and watching leaves cast shadows to create a beautiful play of light and pattern”. Ironically this makes me think of interior thematized environments that have been constructed to simulate elsewhere or external localities and their ambient effects... such as the interior external environments in Las Vegas' Venetian, Paris, New York New York, and Caesars' Palace hotels... and Disneyland and World, too. Yet it is part of the architect’s job to satisfy needs and wants, including those of a satisfying experience felt while mingling with nature's elements.

As I sat outside today in front of the Science Library going through my notes for my research, I was greatly enjoying the blinding sunlight coming across the red brick tiles, and the heat of the rays, and the light breeze, and the sway of the shadows through the trees, and the light sounds of chatter and leaves and birds—all that ambient stuff. Is it wrong for architecture to replicate feelings of these things, whether intentionally simulated, or in their distilled essence?

The other day during Political Economy and the Environment class I appreciated the benefit of biomimicry. Water, the subject of our current discussion, is really an amazing thing; useful in both a biological and metaphorical capacity. Professor Haddad talked about how plants are able to use water. Because of the way water molecules are designed, the plants can then suck them up through their roots, and the water flows upward! This is amazing. Water treatment plants, by the way, use a distilled and strengthended natural process: they do the same things as wetlands, but process and clean the water at just a faster rate. So if we look at nature and its processes, designs, systems, we can find some useful ideas on how to solve design problems of our own.

So, Foster and Partners’ library uses some ideas of biomimicry in both its aesthetic and technical design—“green”-wise, it apparently is a product from years of research, as well—to create an experience that is satisfying and healthy.

Anyway, back to airports. If airports are interior spaces (aside from the post-modern connotation, “interior” really doesn’t say much just yet) that people pass through like external environments (they contain destinations and gates inside of them that are connected by routes) like streets, alleys, paths of any sort, then it would make sense for airport spaces to reflect things people like in satisfying and healthy external environments.

But since airports are not simply external environment passage spaces (spaces, for the most part, used strictly for the movement of people or goods), they are more like external environment places of destination that can contain passages and destinations, gates, inside of them: like parks, piazzas, malls, forests, and a city’s downtown district, to name a few.

So an airport is similar to a park, piazza, or downtown because it is relatively “public” and used to connect people to other places but also is a destination in its self. Although, unlike a park, piazza, or downtown, people generally do not go to airports specifically to relax or enjoy oneself. In that sense, then, airports are more like malls because their purpose is more functionally rooted in facilitating a type of commercial transaction. But then again, many people go to malls to just hang-out… but maybe that’s because the mall has replaced the park, piazza, or downtown in postmodern life…

But rather than trying to draw analogies with other types of spaces to the airport, I think an airport is rather something quite unique. Airports have “airport-ness”; that’s what 1950s architecture critic G.E. Kidder-Smith said in his book The New Architecture of Europe (pp 170, Gordon). But I have to content I think his “airport-ness” was supposed to reflect a different ideal, one rather obsessively modern, functional, pure, sleek, fast, and all that 20th century Industrial-Age fashion. But at the same time, his eye was right about the meaning of the airport: that its heart and soul, purpose and life, was totally different from any space, environment, facility, ever before. An architecture of airports wasn’t meant to have neo-classical columns or Spanish architectural flair of the regional ilk; airports were doing their own thing, and their bodies were meant to reflect the growing muscles and bones inside of them.

So, if airports aren’t really anything but airports, like a seaport isn’t really anything but a seaport, then how does it still function and feel like an external environment of sorts? Maybe that’s because, also like a seaport, you can place all kinds of non-seaport stuff inside of a seaport and extend it way beyond a simple seaport… like the way Barcelona’s waterfront is so many amazing things, from restaurants, to museums, to exhibition space, to beaches, to clubs, to apartments, to promenades, to road- and transit-ways, and also that thing called a harbor.

Then maybe an airport is an airport and nothing else, but it grows like an external environment (and people move through it like one), and can be developed like a seaport. That would make the airport strikingly close to a real city, especially given the fact that airports have hotels, businesses, insanely consumptive infrastructure systems, and all the other living, modern city components… some airports even market themselves like cities, a destination for tourists in themselves…

The Frankfurt Airport City in Germany is like that. There are over 500 companies employing over 65,000 people at the Frankfurt Airport City. The “City” gets over 50 million international passengers a year. The city’s website also boasts that the its location in Germany makes it a good place to shop and sell because there are “35 million well-heeled consumers [living] within a catchment area extending 200 km from the airport in all directions — that is equivalent to about 43 percent of Germany's population”.

But, wait, did you catch that? Frankfurt Airport City, because of its geographic location (“heart” of Europe, they tell the traveler), is also a city because of the cities around it. The cities around the airport city feed off of the airport, and the airport city feeds off of them; a symbiotic relationship between “real” cities (note the plural) and “airport city” (note the singular).

But an airport city can be “real”, it’s not fake, it just looks a little different and people use it a bit differently. So maybe the question of what an airport is—what type of environment it is—is a question of how real is a landscape, or nature, or any kind of pure ideal that can be doctored and regrown, manicured and planted, or left alone to “organically” become old, wizen, haggard, diverse, multifaceted, and “natural”?

New Views

Architecture gives people new views that could not have been attained without the built structure. My apartment room window looking out into the trees could only have been imagined by the architect before having been created by the building or some other structure that augmented the human view by relocating the body in space (such as a very high ladder).

Cars, mobile vehicles, even bicycles, give also a new view of perspective on the landscape that is unattainable without them. Airplanes also give a new view, but theirs’ is particular. Objects totally detached from the Earth’s topography, airplanes have a very different continuity to ground-based perspectives.

Looking out of an airplane window, one’s body position has no real fluid continuity to the contextual topography of its surrounding landscape. Looking out of my apartment window into the campus forest feels normal, natural, and the fact this view could not have been seen before does not immediately strike anyone—there is a fluid sense of mobile continuity between the new view position and the surrounding landscape, that of which is part of the view. View and viewer-location share a common context. Airplanes dislocate this, taking the body and the view to unattainable heights.

The closest ground-rooted experience to this airplane dislocation in physical architecture is the skyscraper. Looking out into the city from high above, the view’s vertical projection and height above the Earth’s topography surpasses the immediate sense of contextual normality for the body; but still continuity is reached: the building is touching the ground, fluid movement between the skyscraper office high above on the 365th floor and the ground can take place, and the city seen within the view shares a lasting contextual relationship to the skyscraper’s space. A grander example of the tree-top view I see from my apartment window.

Coordinate(d) Airspace

The idea of COORDINATES is really fascinating me for our research project on international airports. in the airport history book I’ve read, “Naked Airport”, there is talk about how postmodern architecture of airports attempted to resettle the "older coordinates" that had been disrupted by the post-war decentralized airport structures.

What precisely were the old coordinates? flat Cartesian space? the broad expanses of land and openness Le Corbusier saw as seminal in his 'naked airport' concept, a vision seen from the plane to the port yet aligned in elevation not plan?

The coordinate(d) space of the old was aligned primarily from the view upon land as seen in elevation, but with aircraft and the repositioning of the body into the craft's own air-space, the new view upon the land became aligned from above, as if in plan not elevation. What did this do to cartographic and 2D projections of space, to notions of perspective, to the whole concept of the 3rd dimension as depicted through non-3D measures (i.e. image based representation instead of literal, physical architecture)?

Did the coordinates of visually represented space, as known in the post-renaissance world, become realigned upon a new axis? Is there a new evolution of visual representation--the next step after Brunelleschi's discovery of perspective--underway? Must humans now grapple with a new sense of space as projected from another kind of 'perspective'? Does this perspective also manipulate the convention of the 3rd dimension of depth, and of time that can move within it's limits and bounds? And is this process of experiencing this difference experienced in the dislocation of the "older" coordinates...

I'd say yes. And that in fact, cinema and the visually projected cinematic narrative are in part manifestations of this newly coordinate(d) space. Cinema in particular relocates the human experiencer to position of 'viewer' upon the cinematic landscape. The coordinates of perspectival space become re-projected in motion before the eyes; depth is not only seen in the 2D but read in the image's oneiric immersion. A new space--cinematic spatial coordinates--wrap around the 'viewer', a viewer's perspectival position is relocated into the cinematic space while their body remains sedentary, stable, motionless. Motion of the cinematic order--images of a physically far away world passing by--slide the coordinates of the new across the coordinates of the old; interstices dislocate the body to new planes of perception, position, and place.

AIRSPACE - viewer-ship; dislocation in between the places and times; realigned orientation to Earth-bound perspective; priority of plan where before we saw elevation and section; priority of elevation and section where before we imagined plan; a new coordination of coordinates inside context, place, experience.

Coordinates themselves also function as the limiting figures connecting vectors into shapes, diagrams, maps, and particular spaces. Coordinates are a mapping and form-making tool. Coordinates can be applied to any surface to make it manipulatable. In 3D computer graphics technology, a sphere can be coated in a matrix of points for extrusion, etc. Surfaces simply become transformable into the third dimension with coordinates. The flat image can now exist in the 3rd dimension with coordinate mapping; an act not simply of perception but technological manipulation.

Edges of coordinate space may define the plausible limits to its own spatial existence, and can infer further spaces beyond the visible. The negotiated boundaries of Nations are coordinated to align to regulatory coordinates. Space above the surface of the Earth, extending into the air, is also regulated by coordinate domains. Movement across, between, inside all coordinated space is defined by the whereabouts of the object within the coordinate structure and its position relative to the absolute position of the regulatory coordinates. Airflight is in its very nature subjected to physically coordinate(d) space, as noted by David Pascoe in his introductory “Airspace” musings on regulation air spaces.

The beauty of coordinate(d) airspace is that it is assumed to be Cartesian in all dimensions: the ultimate mobile utopian freedom.

Movement can plausibly transpose things at any level or orientation. “Air”-space prioritizes air’s substance, its imperceptible materiality. We can feel wind in our hair and the smell of a sea breeze, or sense lack of oxygen but in representation air only takes form through the characterizations of its edges and limiting factors. Coordinates become opportunities for defining materiality to the space in-between the matrix’s points. Renaissance Raffaello and Botticelli understood this. Raffaello added corporeality to space and imbued it’s essence; he would emphasize color around the air, began to manipulate the perspectival depth, and characterized movement and light passing through what is empty by touching what is around the emptiness. (See Raffaello’s “Madonna of Foligno”) Botticelli, master of the line, drew each figure in concrete shapes by the out-line, the painting’s spatial divisions coordinated by the line’s positioning. (See Botticelli’s “The Annunciation”) Spaces of air or non materiality were made just as relevant to the eye as the substances of material bodies. Voids were materialized by clarifying the limits to it; coordinating its relations, giving the space—the air—substance.