The Viridian Design Movement

Key concepts
Tech Nouveau, zoomorphism, biomorphism, Victoria and Albert Museum, Hugh Aldersey-Williams, 21st- century architecture, Ken Yeang, Imre Makovicz, Ralph Erskine, Philippe Samyn, Renzo Piano, Norman Foster, Eugene Tsui, Lucy the Margate Elephant.
Attention Conservation Notice:
Leans heavily on a new Victoria and Albert Museum show and a spectacular new book by British-American design journalist Hugh Aldersey-Williams. Lots of links. Basically a huge primer on the kind of look the Viridian Movement most wants to promulgate. Could prove hugely time-consuming. You might spend the rest of your life living in stuff shaped like this.

The "Zoomorphic" show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Zoomorphic: New Animal Architecture
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Laurence King Publishing, London, 2003

Link: Hugh Aldersey-Williams

(((Public-spirited Viridian Dave Phelan <dphelan*> shipped me this book from Britain after reading the first Viridian Note on the subject of Tech Nouveau. I am thrilled to note that this book is indeed Pretty Much What We Are Talkin' About. You should buy it right away, not the least for its 200 colour illustrations. The historical timeline of zoomorphic buildings on pages 32-37 is worth the cost of this book all by itself.

(((Allow me, your Viridian Pope-Emperor, to put my shoulder behind the wheels of the V&A and Mr. Aldersey-Williams and give you a freebie, down-market web-tour of what they and this fine tome are on about.)))

(((I now quote the book.)))

page 11

"In architecture, this development comes at an opportune moment. The old dogmas of both the Modernists and theire repudiators have collapsed. Meanwhile, there are new materials and a new bravado among structural engineers that allow forms imagined on a computer screen actually to be constructed. The technical possibility and the cultural mood are in rare conjunction. Freed from the constraints – ideological and physical – that favored rectilinear designs, architects are celebrating with an extravagant eruption of wild forms that go beyond the merely organic and promise to usher in a period of biological baroque."

(((I like this analysis a lot, but I don't think an "extravagant eruption" of the "biological baroque" can or will go much beyond faddism. Tech Nouveau must possess some ideological and physical constraints in order to last, because otherwise there is no grain to kick against, and no way to measure virtuousity in performance. The missing ideological and physical constraints are in "sustainability," which is practically nothing but a set of constraints, and very difficult, very galling ones.)))

(((Why is this happening now? For the best of reasons: because it's possible now!)))

page 23

"Modernism as an aesthetic – the International Style – may be in retreat, but the movement's underlying doctrine of functionalism remains unshakable for many architects, and a second important strain of animal architecture extends this functionalist tradition. For, if we believe (...) that every part of a creature evolves to serve some function, then by following nature we seek to approach the ideal of total functionality.

"This is the root of the functionalist's wish to emulate nature; and the means to do so more exactly are fast becoming available, as computer-aided design and manufacturing allow Fordist economies of scale to be brought not only to buildings based, like Paxton's Crystal Palace, on the repetition of identical parts, but to edifices of more varied morphology assembled from unique components. Leaving aside those still detained by the aesthetics of repetition, the entire 'high-tech' school now finds itself logically positioned to draw new lessons and inspiration from biological form."

(((You hear all that? It's actually LOGICAL, MODERN, FUNCTIONAL and TECHNICAL to make huge buildings shaped like giant seashells! Katie, bar the door!)))

page 11

"There is the problem of what to call the style, however. 'Organic' has lost its precision, and tends to be applied loosely to anything with a few curves. Labels have been proposed such as 'biotechnic' or 'technorganic,' but these imply a restrictive dependence of biological form upon technological means."

(((Those terms do imply that restriction, and think that's a good idea. It's crucial to tie the concept of Tech Nouveau to improvements in the means of production. Otherwise a vernacular, 100-percent organic bison-hide tepee on raw wooden sticks will be the apex of design. Greens have already tried that. That is never, ever going to work.)))

"Biomorphism, a term coined during the Art Nouveau period, remains more specific than 'organic,' but suggests that it is only shape that matters, whereas it is also patterns and mechanisms of building use and operation derived from biological models that interest a number of architects today." (((In other words, it's not enough that a structure looks like an animal – it's got to act like one. This is a great point, because that designed behavior is the missing link that ties a high-tech structure to natural-capitalism and a McDonough-style cradle-to-cradle methodology.)))

"Unfortunately, no one term comfortably encompasses the variety of the present trend."

(((No term will ever be perfect – even Art Nouveau had at least four major terms, if you count Jugendstil, Liberty Style and Arts & Crafts. Although Aldersey- Williams' "Zoomorphic" is a swell book title, it's not a great coinage for a design style; it's too exotic for everyday usage. "Tech Nouveau" is, I think, the best tag available, because it's new and catchy, it's historically linked to Art Nouveau, it suggests biomorphism, and it firmly emphasizes a technical sea change in the way our stuff is put together.)))

(((Rejoicing in a name (at long last) what Tech Nouveau needs most right now is a showplace urban headquarters ("XYZ, The City of Tech Nouveau") and some ardent, moneyed fashionista group willing to become its official avant- gardists. They could show up most anywhere on the planet, really. Brazil would be great.)))

(((Now let me explain to you the victory condition in an obscure cultural struggle like this one. If, within 18 months or so, there is a sudden bloom of nifty "Tech Nouveau" suites in mags like DWELL, METROPOLIS, and catalogs like DESIGN WITHIN REACH, man, we Viridians are gonna be happier people than we have ever been before! Otherwise, well, it's gonna be back to the ol' CAD-CAM drawing board, and one evil step closer to an across-the- board Greenhouse calamity.)))

(((And now – while those earlier Notes were mostly about Tech Nouveau consumer items

= this is the big-ticket stuff, here. Does your city or region have some structure like these? It doesn't? Then you're a hick, damn it!)))

Victor Horta, Tassel House (Belgium, 1890s)

Imre Makovecz, the Stephaneum (Hungary, 1999)

Ralph Erskine, London Ark (London 1991)

Ken Yeang, Nagoya Tower (Nagoya, unbuilt)

Santiago Calatrava, Milwaukee Art Museum (Milwaukee 1994- 2001)

Nicholas Grimshaw, The Eden Project (Cornwall 2001)

Eugene Tsui, The Tsui House (Berkeley 1993-1995)

Plashet School Footbridge (London, 1999-2000)

Gregory Burgess, The Brambuk Living Cultural Centre (Victoria Australia 1986-1990)

Renzo Piano, Auditorium Parco della Musica (Rome 2003)

Norman Foster, Swiss Re Headquarters (London 2004)

A gas station, of all things, by Philippe Samyn.

Samyn and Partners, Belgium.

Festo Airtecture.

page 168:

"We would like the 'intelligent' bulding of a future generation to open its windows like eyelids to the dawn and to sense the heat in the rising sun or respond to the chill of a breeze by raising the hairs on its back for insulation. Whether it does such things literally or metaphorically is now the issue. Of course, it is possible to engineer solutions not unlike this in the old brute fashion, but since nature does these things so well it seems foolish not to sneak a look at her answers first.

"One of its pioneers, zoologist-turned-engineer Julian Vincent"


"defines biomimetics as 'the abstraction of good design from nature.' The qualifier 'good' is important, as is the term 'abstraction' – biomimetics is not about slavish imitation of nature at any cost, but the judicious selection of observed properties and their subsequent development into sophisticated artificial technologies."

(((In other words, try not to do this:)))

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

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