Final project - whence?

Final project - whence?

Ram Karmi / Ami Ran

Israel Prize recipient Prof. Ram Karmi is one of the architects who have most influenced Israeli architecture since the establishment of the state. A well-known lecturer in faculties of architecture, previously chief architect of the Ministry of Housing, and with a rich professional record, Karmi was involved in the planning of three of Israel?s most important institutes: the Knesset building (as advisor to architect Joseph Klarwein); the Supreme Court (together with his sister architect Ada Karmi-Melamede); and currently - the Prime Minister?s domain (frozen at present). Among the residential buildings he has planned, most known is the Rosemarie project in Herzliya - a post-modern interpretation of the Workers? Dwellings - a module of residential blocks planned in the 1930s by architect Ariyeh Sharon.

Karmi?s extensive activities have known all the architectural vagaries here - the meticulous Modernist, the aggressive Brutalist, and the Post-Modernist that managed to confuse all of us. In recent years, when on the one hand the digital architecture has been strutting around with the confidence of a peacock, and on the other, attempts are being made to restore the human dimension to architecture - Karmi unjustifiably has fallen in-between - a punching bag for some of his fellow architects, but particularly for students who knew not the generation of the desert.

As tutor of final projects in the Department of Architecture at the Ariel University Center, Karmi handed his students a guiding article of 20 pages. With commendable daring, the article delineates the generation controversy, which pits superficial technological thinking against intuitive creation. Here is our extract of it.

?Architecture is a world view whose aim, and also reason d?etre, is to grant human meaning to the physical world. Technology is but one of its tools.

Modern architecture, whose fire of rebellion had burned in its veins, became a collection of universal visions. Though brilliant, it soon dimmed into lack of content. The desire for a young and fresh world shifted into a world in which the future has turned out to be a retreat to the past, while the present is devoted to current needs changing with the aid of superficial knowledge. In this vacuum, we have been left with spare time and superfluous space. Lacking in local tradition, we are dangling in space without aspirations - no longer struggling with problems in an insatiable passion.

The technological Eros has thrown us to the dogs and sentenced us to life in the cold cell of science, which alone pronounces the verdict. As a main gauge of creation, it works from up to down - in complete opposition to architectural thinking - leaving no room for organic development of proper urbanity.

Lacking a vitality that is supposed to infiltrate from the sensory to the rational, architecture is now characterized by a clear but cold and simplistic, cerebral organization, suiting the bureaucratic framework of the rule of power that motivates it. In this atmosphere, both practical architecture and its creative dimension find themselves at the bottom of the barrel. And so, in this pragmatic planning discipline we have lost the vital connection between the house and the street, the street and the neighborhood, the neighborhood and the city. This framework resorts to an unfocused urban dispersal of recurrent types that do not create an image of a city. The house looks like a list of building details; the street - like an accidental collection of buildings; and the streets, which have turned into roads, lead nowhere.

Architecture is not merely a ?machine to live in? as defined by Le Corbusier in one of his typical pretentious utterances. Beyond its practical dimension, architecture is a world of experiences and associations taking place upon cultural bedding. A rational perception of a site, logical as it may be, must include human feelings as well. The idea that ?place = function X economics? deliberately ignores the magical beauty of the life pulsating in the building.

The built surrounding is a dynamic system, conditioned by the interrelations, developing and changing, between its built components and the human ones, namely - man, building, and environment. These relations are the building stone of every artistic composition, and what creates in architecture the language of the place, playing in our minds like the Pastoral symphony.

The first stage of your final project is, hence, to acknowledge the fact that there are no sacred cows, but also no truths. We?re speaking of the foul fruit of a reality filling the built landscape with a void flowing freely from nowhere to nowhere. Within this reality you are supposed to find the components from which you can build an architectural image - something to identify with - an oasis where one may feel at home.

Search for something to take you out of the maze you?re in after four years of studies, something that will help us teachers - no less perplexed - to help you develop a worthy final project.

Look for something that will color the place, but also mesh with its unique atmosphere. Something whose power of presence will be the result of the lives conducted in it. The project is supposed to develop your awareness that the art of architecture is the complementary part of the ordered logos of planning. When this dimension adheres to the essential without demanding total independence, a dialogue with the place will develop - truly sensual and superseding the marketing fake.

As Benedetto Croce once claimed - man?s mind is composed of two parts: the rational and the intuitive, and one must not suppress the other. If we take for instance Kerem Hateimanim neighborhood - where the human dimension and built fabric are one - there, the street is the continuum of the door-step, filling it with life and in turn enriching the inhabitants - as in a magical circle. Undoubtedly, this embroidery will continue to withstand the test of time, better than the faceless neighborhoods overflowing our country.

Avoid artificial games of mosaics and meaningless combinations of forms. They will very rapidly lose their relevancy in the changing pace of life. Try to turn a flowing space into a ?place?, and the flowing time into an ?event?. Abstract spaces have no architectural meaning without human content. Don?t hesitate to use the treasures of your unfettered memory to lend space a meaning with which someone else can identify. As in poetry, as in music, as in art.

In planning a building, you are entering flexible spaces of undefined fields, requiring prophesy and vision. Every building we plan obviously includes a summary of all we have learned from the past. But what makes it different is precisely that intuitive vision inherent in us as architects. We learn the subject and analyze its components, trying to understand the essence of the encounters and activities occurring in the system of spaces comprising it, but all the while taking a stance in relation to them.

The tension between rational science and intuitive architecture opens vistas of creative development. The role of the architect is to use the existing components to create something new - to imbue meaningless structural components with a synergetic value by their unique merging into the comprehensive coherent system. The action of the ?what? begins with a leap into the unknown, which is the onset of each creative thought. We start with an intuitive sketch of an assumption, which we repeatedly go back and check throughout the whole planning process. This ?hot? action of sketching the initial assumption is a quasi moral stance expressing our personal world of values. The ?how?, on the other hand, is a ?cold? action, mixing criteria and disciplines that are independent of us. The actions of verification and examination purify, improve and grant shape to the underlying assumption, clarifying the direction of development, ultimately enabling the realization of the plan.

Though architectural creation is a personal matter, the building is not the architect?s exclusive domain. The next stage of the project is to carry out the ?built area?. This is done with a number of disciplines that pose a variety of scientific, technical and human questions which must be addressed in every building. Your role as architects is to find the most reasonable common denominator between them, and that requires harmonious team work of numerous consultants, each representing another aspect of the building. At this stage, you must return to examine your initial assumption - to distinguish between the significant and the inessential, true and false.

?The root of the desire to learn is in the uncovering of ignorance?, said Plato. It is difficult to know what will create a sense of home for someone else, but that is precisely our job - to plan the most suitable surroundings for a given site, under certain conditions of time and place - while at the same time lending expression to the term ?the world is Man?s home?.

At this point, there is great importance in being familiar with the history of architecture. It is likely that the tradition of architecture already includes most of the ideas you have to cope with, and the solutions expressed in various approaches will enable you to develop critical vision, regarding both your projects and yourselves as architects.

And a word to the teachers: architecture is not merely about the ?golden section? or the ?philosopher?s stone?. The human dimension is surprising, elusive and fickle. The prevailing method of teaching in faculties of architecture is based mainly on accumulation of information, in accordance with the criteria of other faculties. Within this, the student is crammed with technical data that is quickly out-dated, rather than being providing with the creative conceptual tools necessary for planning unpredictable situations.

If only architecture hadn?t crawled under the glory of science, and shamed-facedly come to bask as a branch of the academy, we would once in a while see architects such as Leonardo and Michelangelo, who started as apprentices in the studio of artists, and turned the profession of architecture into a way of life.?

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