Wednesday, August 18, 2010

building as both a noun and a verb

A call for papers from the Cultural-Theory-Space Group at the University of Plymouth, for the conference "Fixed? Architecture, Incompleteness and Change" raises some interesting questions that are relevant to thinking about pneumatic tube infrastructure in buildings such as hospitals:
"Are buildings fixed objects? At what point is a work of architecture complete? Architects tend to consider a building as finished, fixed, upon the completion of building works. The unpopulated images of shiny new buildings in the architectural press are presented as a record of the building as a ‘pure’ art-object at its temporal zenith; the occupation of the building and its subsequent adaptation, alteration, personalization and appropriation by people is often perceived in terms of decline. ‘Fixed?’ aims to question this view of architecture.

An alternative perspective is that all buildings are incomplete and subject to change over time as the users constantly alter and adapt their surroundings in response to changing cultural and technological conditions. Architecture is appropriated both intentionally and instinctively. In this way, often beyond the control of the architect, through their lifecycle all architectures become responsive to people and place. In theoretical terms, a work of architecture can therefore be interpreted not only as an ambiguous physical form but also as a shifting, responsive cultural construct.

Proposals for both theoretical discussion and case-study based papers are invited that engage with or challenge the theme of incompleteness and change across architecture, design and the built environment. Possible strands include: - changing, transient and adaptive everyday architectures and modern vernaculars - the afterlife, use, occupation, adaptation and appropriation of ‘fixed’ designed buildings, spaces and places - architects responses to the challenge of incompleteness and life-cycle design"
The deadline for submissions is November 30th 2010 and more information can be found here.

The conference raises interesting questions about technologies in buildings such as hospitals which are usually outdated by the time they are built. Hospitals are often considered 'fixed' buildings, adhering to the 'order' of biomedicine, yet I found in my PhD research that hospitals are much more open to the creative practices of its inhabitants. My recent tour of a pneumatic tube system in a Melbourne hospital certainly reiterated that this is also the case with pneumatic systems.

The idea of incomplete buildings is aligned with mat-building philosophy, a great example of which was
Le Corbusier's (never built) Venice Hospital Project, represented in these collages in the MoMA collection. The conference will no doubt raise interesting points about how users adapt to architectural infrastructures, and how architecture adjusts to its users.

Sketch of one of the hospitals where I did fieldwork for my PhD, by my father, John Harris.

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