Friday, July 19, 2019

Architecture of Nature

Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture
Diana Agrest
ar+d (Applied Research + Design), January 2019

Hardcover | 9 x 11-3/4 inches | 280 pages | English | ISBN: 978-1939621948 | $49.95

Publisher Description:
Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture presents original research work, exploring the materiality and the forces at play in the history of the earth. While nature has always been historically embedded “within” architecture discourse in different forms, Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture departs from the traditional ‘nature as a referent’ approach, detaching itself as a free radical to become itself the object of study, transforming that relationship through one common element essential to both science and architecture in the production of knowledge: representation. This work was developed through unique drawings and models over for the past eight years in the context of the Advanced Research graduate studio “Architecture of Nature/ Nature of Architecture,” created and directed by Diana Agrest at the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of the Cooper Union. Based on scientific material the complex processes of generation and the transformations of extreme natural phenomena such as glaciers, volcanoes, permafrost, clouds, coral reefs and algae are explored introducing a different dimension of space, time and scale, transcending the established disciplinary boundaries of architecture, urbanism or landscape.
dDAB Commentary:
Books documenting the work of students from the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union in New York City are highly coveted. In particular I'm thinking of the two Education of an Architect titles, one from 1971 documenting the years 1964 to 1971, and one from twenty years later covering 1972 to 1985; both go for well over $100 online. Just four years ago came Open City: Existential Urbanity, an atlas-sized book with a decade and a half of the "Architecture of the City" studio led by the late Diane Lewis. While the two older books look at contributions across the school, Open City obviously limits itself to one professor, one of the most influential at The Cooper Union. The same can be said of Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture, which focuses on the graduate studio of the same name led by Diana Agrest, who has taught at the school for four decades. Yet while the students in Lewis's studio examined the city and proposed interventions within it, Agrest asked them to create architectural representations of purely natural features.

The book starts with Agrest's recounting of numerous experiences that foregrounded nature in her thinking and led her, even with most of the work of Agrest + Gandelsonas sited in New York and other cities, to eventually devise the "Architecture of Nature/Nature of Architecture" studio. In it she has her students research and represent extreme natural phenomena, such as volcanoes, plate tectonics, hot springs, glaciers, and tsunamis. Interspersed between the 30-plus works are a handful of contributions from "intersecting fields": interviews with scientists and artists, an excerpt from John McPhee's Pulitzer Prize-winning Annals of the Former World, and Agrest's own "The Returned of the Repressed: Nature" from The Sex of Architecture. But it's the drawings and models of the natural phenomena that are, not surprisingly, the most appealing part of the book. Just about all of them have an undeniable beauty that arises from the subject (nature) but also the means of representation (architecture). Though it's not clear at first glance what each image explains exactly, they all come with captions that help us to decipher the images — and appreciate their beauty even more.

Author Bio:
Diana Agrest is a full-time Professor at The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. She has taught at Princeton University, Columbia University and Yale, and has been candidate for deanship at The Cooper Union and Pratt Institute.
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