19 February 2009


I am coming again to Middle-Age; I know I have an obsession, so please forgive me.

I found here in Berlin, the social model of Beginenhof or Béguinage, reloaded: quoting from Wikipedia, "...a Béguinage is a collection of small buildings used by Beguines, which were several lay sisterhoods of the Roman Catholic Church, founded in the 13th century in the Low Countries, of religious women who sought to serve God without retiring from the world. A "Begijnhof" (as the Dutch name is) or Béguinage comprises a courtyard surrounded by small dwellings. It is often encircled by a wall and secluded from the town proper by one or two gates. Poor and elderly beguines were housed here by benefactors.

Leuven-Groot-Begijnhof, via Wikipedia. By Snowdog

"Béguinages are to be found in an area roughly corresponding with present-day Northern and North-Eastern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Western and North-Western Germany.
Their success, according to the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne, was due to a surplus of women occasioned by violence, war, military and semi-military operations, which took the lives of many men. Great numbers of women had no option but to unite and collectively secure the aid of rich benefactors.

Starting from the data depicting in Berlin 600.000 women living alone, the 74-years-old sociologist Jutta Kamper proposed in 2000 Beginenhof, a social concept hosting only gentle-sex inhabitants: eight years later (with real-estate support by Kondor Wessels, the only men in this story) this community could settle in Kreuzberg, Berlin, in a building designed by architect Barbara Brakenhoff; apartments between 55 and 105 sq.m. at 2.200 €/sq.m. were conceived to differentiate following the desires of every owner. Here women are supposed to have their own social life, and whenever they want, to participate to the many activities arranged by the community, which spans from 30 to 70-years-old residents. The main rule is that men can stay at Beginenhof only temporarily or as flatmates, and each flat has to be owned by a woman.
Would be interesting to find out how the project will develop.

10 February 2009

Koolhaas + Fire = Skycrap

Photo by Diametrik

Rem Koolhaas has never been so happy. Neither the dutch architect could have imagined a skyscraper flamboyant in Beijing; far beyond imagination. What chinese media tried to hide was a very interesting iconic performance.
If we take Rem Koolhaas and we add fire, a very special medium (what a blessing), here is the result: a "skycrap".

Strategy for integration of beehives, Detroit, Michigan

Photo by _edivad

Since strategies seem nowadays the most powerful tool to approach urban planning, I found very interesting this project by Stéphane Orsolini and Erika Mayr, designed for the city of Detroit, Michigan: since Detroit was one of the research-sites for the Shrinking Cities project, we are dealing with a city that has recently faced, due mainly to deindustrialisation in the post-fordist era, massive loss of population (285.000 in 1900, 1.850.000 in 1950, 915.000 in 2007) and therefor increasingly vacant lots of land. The situation could be even tougher in the next years, as long as the car market seem one of the most fragile in view of the economic crisis, and the city is a major manufacturing centre of GM, Ford and Chrysler.
So, generally speaking, just like the biological reactions of a human body (I am thinking about skin’s elasticity for instance), when you lose density (of use) you have also to deal with this process, being aware that it is a very delicate one, which needs care and time. To say it more clearly, there is the need not to let vacant lots and buildings becoming a problem in social and urbanistic terms. This does not mean that shrinkage is “bad”, but that it requires more communal attention, the more abruptly it comes.

City authorities alone cannot deal with this kind of phenomena, as urban planning turned out to be far more complex and unpredictable to be ruled by such rigid organisms, especially in the long run: Orsolini and Mayr propose to install gradually in Detroit’s vacant areas specifically designed beehives, repopulating the decreasing presence of bees (symbol of the State of Michigan, notable vegetable and fruit producer), giving a new meaning to abandoned lots, constituting green corridors, and starting a collaboration with the population.
Beehives (elevated not to disturb people, since bees fly straight) are conceived from the small scale (hobby purpose) to the large scale, propelling the beginning of commercial activities related to beekeeping, creating also work opportunities for unskilled people.

Thanks Bärbel for the hint!

08 February 2009

Pig Town or Fear of the Power

Image: by Marco Capitanio


Pig Town is indebted to George Orwell.


Pigs are supposed to be ambitious, greedy, quite intelligent beings in their natural state.

In Pig Town the power is hold only by the category of pigs and pork in general.

Society agreed in giving power to them.


The advantage for pigs is that they fulfill their strongest desire, dealing with power.

The advantage for society is that if one pig does not care about his political duties, society is free to remove this pig-politician from his role and send him to the butcher (a concept similar to our prisons).

Pigs on one hand are granted with political power and all the benefits this condition carries, but on the other, because of the fear of being reduced to sausages they are forced to be good politicians and rulers, as far as they can.


This kind of social system can be very long-lasting and eliminates almost all the basic reasons leading to crisis and class-struggle, but this also determines a static town, in a way radical and conservative at the same time.


When pigs discover masochism, or they get bored of their role they will, just for the pleasure of the danger of meeting the butcher, behave intentionally as bad politicians.

01 February 2009

Form Does Not Follow Function

You're never too old for a good game of follow the leader
Photo by Jean-Francois Chérnier

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,
Of all things physical and metaphysical,
Of all things human and all things super-human,
Of all true manifestations of the head,
Of the heart, of the soul,
That the life is recognizable in its expression,
That form ever follows function. This is the law.”
Louis Sullivan

Probably this is the most renowned motto of Modern architecture (actually in the easiest way “form follows function”), the first one everybody learns when starting to study architecture: but it is surprising that, for such a banal declaration nobody well-known has conceived the counter-motto, as for instance Robert Venturi did with Van der Rohe’s minimalist essence “Less Is More”, saying “Less Is Bore”.

Let us analyze what Sullivan Wrote: well, for instance there is no reference to architecture, rather a poetic mantra pretending to understand the secret law that runs life; but why, if in nature this statement is supposed to be “true”, should be like that in architecture? Do we believe in some kind of communal presence ruling everything?

Saying that form follows function, and vice-versa, means that we reduce architecture to structure: I would follow Bernard Tschumi’s theories (in The Manhattan Transcripts, but he is not the only one), speaking of architecture as the result of: structure, form, event, body, fiction. Also the Situationists, with whom Tschumi is indebted, elaborating the Urbanisme Unitaire and psychogeography in the late 1950s followed this intuition, being aware of the complex and interdisciplinary approach needed to deal with this themes. On the other hand, saying that forms follows function is denying the potential of buildings, which can live many lives, depending on changes of society, despite the intention with which they were designed and built. A former factory can be the best discotheque!