Last week, Elaine Molinar and Craig Dykers gave an enthusiastic lecture about their work at Snohetta. They started by explaining how they never had any manifesto, just approach things as they come. But with more lectures happening and after a while, they started to think about things and wondered if Architecture was political. In the end, architects build the places where occur all sorts of activities, including fighting or just living. They started to theorize the notion of habitat, which is both abiotic (non-living elements like air, water, soil, buildings) and biotic (living organisms – and their relationships, like plants, animals and humans). The balance between alive beings and non-living objects.
Snohetta has so many projects to pick from that they started with a small fun selection before getting into the details of two bigger projects.
Student Learning Center, Toronto
The Student Learning Center is an addition to the library. The architects decided to have a retail facade at the 1st floor to continue the urban fabric of the street. With its corner situation, the building takes full advantage of its diagonal structural orientation to maximize free from columns space.
The architects did a post survey to students and were able to gauge the success of their design.
Times Square reconstruction, New York
The Times Square reconstruction goal is to clarify and simplify the plaza ground plan, namely in terms of pedestrian and automobile space separation. Times Square needs less. The other big problem was about water: at the intersection of Broadway and 7th avenue, which were rivers a long time ago, Times Square is pretty much at the location of a previous swamp. Micro drains were thus installed at different locations. The architects started with an infrastructure index, listing everything that could be optimized.
MoMA expansion, San Francisco
This MoMA expansion continues the project designed by Botta and built in 1995. To expand vertically, Snohetta created terraces to connect the lower existing entry to the Art Deco building located behind.
In the exhibition rooms, ceiling coves enable a smaller number of lighting fixtures and mimic natural light. The rooms were large at first but got rapidly subdivided to show more art pieces.
To finish their presentation, the architects go quickly over a 0-energy building. The challenge here is to reduce its cost. They also explain how they had fun designing and building a doll house for an auction. For sure, there were less constraints, with this not going to be built in real size but still, this is it, you have to make it work somehow.
When it is time for the Q&A, half the room leaves after this long presentation. The host asks the architects their idea of behavior and form and how they want to induce activities through their design. It is not determinism, [humans] are too complex anyway (…) behavior is messy. Still, for every program they deal with, their idea is to be whatever you want to achieve, like an actor investigating his/her next role. A space that is conducive to certain activities, even if we don’t know what those are going to be, empowers people for new uses; as opposed to prescriptive design that never really works. (…) We are pressing for a way of thinking, not a way of doing, they say. The effect of design on people is going to change over time. There is also a notion of unconsciousness in this: verticality, light, materials, etc, affect our understanding of where we are but we don’t fully understand why or how.
When asked about form itself, Snohetta says that they don’t design form for its sake, it is always connected to a behavior, there is a user attached to it. Architecture has a role in defining society, it is not its mirror but can actually change it.