30.04.2008 Bart Lootsma
BART LOOTSMA: The nth typology, the typology of the and, or the end of typology?
Traditionally, in dwelling, ideas about the collective have been expressed in types, both on the level of the individual dwelling as well as on the level of urbanism. Today however, this relationship is not as obvious any more as it used to be.
In his famous essay ‘The Third Typology’, Anthony Vidler distinguishes in 1977 between three different kinds of architectural and urban typologies. First there is one, dating from the 18th century, that tries to return architecture to its natural origins. Laugiers primitive hut is one example. The chaotic Paris of those times being a forest; the ideal city would be a garden -making Andre le Nostre, designer of among others Versailles, the ideal urbanist. The second typology, dating from the 19th century, belongs to the industrial revolution. One prototype is Bentham’s Panopticon, a machine that produces behaviour. But also the buildings themselves become industrially produced, consisting of standardized parts. One might add to this that this typology is also related to nature, but sees the emergence of ideal types at the end of an evolutionary chain, that can be speeded up by the machine and by industrial production. ‘L’homme type a des besoins types’, Le Corbusier wrote. And so objets types, meubles types and maisons types were needed. In both of these typologies, there is a clear relationship between the whole and the parts.
The third typology Vidler distinguishes is very different from the first two in that it does not take nature as a reference in any way, but the city itself. From the nineteen seventies of the 20th century, the city is seen as a whole that embodies both its history and its presence in its physical structure. This whole can be taken apart in fragments, ‘Urban Facts’, as Aldo Rossi calls them, that can be types. These fragments can be recomposed in many different ways. Thereby a certain type can also be used for other functions that it was originally designed and made for, just like what used to be the Diocletian Palace in Split is housing a complete city quarter today. However, this reassembling, as a conscient act of design, produces meaning. First, derived from the originally ascribed meaning of the fragment; second, derived from the specific fragment and its boundaries; and third, proposed by a recomposition of the fragments in a new context. Particularly in Aldo Rossi’s work this enabled the architect to introduce critical and cultural comments, by using typologies like the prison for, for example, a public building. ‘The Dialectic is as clear as a fable.’ Vidler writes. ‘The society that understands the reference to prison will still have need of the reminder, while at the very point that the image finally loses all meaning, the society will either have become entirely prison, or, perhaps, its opposite. The metaphoric opposition deployed in this example can be traced in many of Rossi’s schemes and in the work of the Rationalists as a whole, not only in institutional form but also in the spaces of the city.’ In opposition to the fragmentation caused by the elemental, institutional and mechanistic typologies of 20th century modernist architecture and urbanism, this typology originated in a critical position that wanted to stress a continuity of forms and history. It is this typology that is still most present today in Switzerland and Austria, be it in a milder, subtler and more nuanced way. This restraint also means that the critical suggestions that defined the buildings and projects of Aldo Rossi and many of his contemporaries have almost disappeared.
Today, thirty years after Vidler’s essay, we can observe the fragmentation the Rationalists drew our attention to proliferating even further –particularly outside of the political borders of the cities. We know, at least since the analyses by Stefano Boeri, Arturo Lanzani and Edoardo Marini, as published in the book ‘Il territorio che cambia, Ambienti, paesaggi e immagini della regione milanese’, that we can certainly find certain new typologies crystallizing out in the new diffused urbanity as it is developing all over Europe. Some even more recent tpologies –Common Interest Developments, Gated Communities, Holiday Resorts- also reflect new ideas about the collective. These ideas are however very different from those underlying the three typologies Vidler distinguished, which were –even if Vidler does not mention it- all related to the emancipation of new classes. In an intriguingly perverse way, the initially critical design method of Vidler’s third typology, which plays with the cultural meaning of existing historical typologies, reappears here in the service of ‘theming’.
The crisis of the welfare state is a result of its own success. Programs of public housing, but also education, medical care and social security were developed to give people better starting positions in a society that remained capitalist in the end. This goal has been largely realized in Western Europe. Now assertive citizens want to capitalize on the starting position and seem to be prepared to take individual risks to do so, leaving the collective behind. Whereas in the classical industrial society there was an immediate relationship between class, family, marriage, gender, the division of labour and architectural and urban types –the factory, the railway station, the housing block-, today many more people have the opportunity or are forced to diverge from these basic patterns. These demand individual value for their individual money or they put it together individually out of existing material like real ‘bricoleurs’. Communality is organized and experienced in multiple networks that not necessarily manifest themselves spatially in an immediately visible way. Even if lately differences in income and wealth may increase, these developments put an end to large statistically more or less equal groups. This causes a crisis in collectively organized housing –and thereby to a crisis of dwelling in types.
It seems almost that the traditional cities are there for collectives and the former countryside for the individuals that build their own individual homes. It is intriguing to see that some of the more recent collective housing projects in cities in Austria and Switzerland react to that by offering more individualized forms of dwelling that at the same time have qualities that the potential inhabitants normally would find in the countryside. More in particular, these new typologies either relate to (living in) nature or reintroduce nature in new ways. Sustainability not only forms a strong argument for the collective aspects in these projects but can also become a generating principle for the design. Markus Pernthaler introduces different gardens inside his Marienmühle project in Graz. Miller & Maranta present their building in the Schwarzpark in Basel as a ‘tree-like’ object and Splitterwerk not only camouflage their Black Tree Frog in Bad Waltersdorf completely with ivy, they even turn its interior into a mesmerizing artificial green garden. It seems that indeed, as Deleuze and Guattari predicted, nature and the city are folding into each other again in a process of ‘retroactve smoothing’. And, after a detour, typological thinking is back where it started: in the reference to nature, the park and the primitive hut.