Challenging The Status Quo of Representation
Who influences you graphically?
Since the late 1980’s, photo-realistic means of digital representation have hijacked the search for the metaphysical and the rational in the architecture of the city. This photo-realistic world robbed architectural and urban projects of their power to be interpreted and completed through a free range of associations in the minds of their readers. My representation heroes are those that challenge our normal way of looking at architecture by emphasizing the objectivity and simultaneity of views of the same object, the extraordinary and yet mysterious capacity of humans to perceive space and place, and the metaphysical qualities embedded in an environment in constant flux. As a consequence, the illustration paradigms that I followed do not come from a contemporary group of pragmatic/realistic illustrators but from within a unique group of architects, artists, writers, and philosophers who, at some point in their careers, challenged the status-quo of representation by introducing a desire for a rational order or a metaphysical emphasis on interpretation and imagination. My heroes are people who went through deep professional disappointments and public rejection because of their infatuation with allegorical meanings and non-objectual ideas. Amongst this group are: Giotto and his proto-renaissance perspectival work at Assisi, the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra, the oversized illustrations of Edward Hopper, the cubist paintings of Le Corbusier and Amedee Ozenfant, the Futurists Letterscape projects in the period between the two world-wars, the interpretative graphics of Gio Ponti, the cartoons of Chris Warren and Richard McGuire, the open-ended illustrations in SimCity video games, Japanese-style Manga, the art work of Lina Bo Bardi, the illustrations of the school of Milan, the work of Superstudio and Archizoom, the rational drawings of Aldo Rossi, Massimo Scolari, and Franco Purini, the early work of Madelon Vriesendorp and John Hejduk, the drawings of the School of Miami, the black-on-white drawings of San Rocco magazine, the political writings of Nietzsche, Bakunin, Gramsci, and Baudrillard, and the literary exaggerations and mythological inventions in the work of Pataphysical essayists, Oulipo compendiums, Situationist manifestos, and Magic Realistic novels.
In your work you re-interpret and/or respond to previous architectural Manifestos; to what extent do you believe in the continuum and as architecture as something that always relates to a previous model/typology?
Exploring the implications of “typo-morphology” as a foundational design method has been a lifetime quest in my professional and academic practice. My design tactics are grounded on the simplification of time-tested urban and architectural forms but, my primordial goal has not always been one of imitation but one in which cities and architecture can be contaminated with a heavy load of allegorical meanings and anthropological interpretations. Manifestos are the same; they can also be treated as the expression of typology in literary or drawing forms. In my work, Manifestos are understood as foundational points of departure whether expressed in text or drawings i.e.: the Plan Voisin by Le Corbusier, the Vertical City proposal by Ludwig Hilberseimer, or the Chicago Tribune entry by Adolf Loos. I enjoy what Kenneth Frampton calls “Conceptual Fluctuations” – that is to say the way in which certain ideas arise to the surface at a given moment, are elaborated, and after a while abandoned, only to re-emerge later in a different form. To be truly operative, architectural or urban theory cannot be accepted at its face value; theory must be tested and advanced to levels, perhaps, never imagined by its authors. In the same spirit of the Italian Neo-Rationalists of the 1960’s, my intention is to produce evocative architectural objects and cities with a certain degree of cultural familiarity. As a consequence, architectural typologies, time-tested urban forms, and/or any type of written or drawing instructions (including Manifestos) are inevitable foundational events in the life of my projects. My intention is not one of naïve imitation but one that takes very seriously the potential paradoxes of tradition in an attempt to contain and radicalize them in a contemporary manner and for the service of our existing cultural moment.
Your images /project address current global issues, how does the graphic language help in communicating this to a wider audience than that of architects?
A project is a story. Since Vitruvius, however, architecture has been a critical and a literary activity that places greater emphasis on the documentation of the past than on the production of alternatives of anticipation by retrospection. The idea of potential choices of anticipation to current events is what I’ve called “The history of the future”. Residing in the realm of the future is not a comfortable place because it can be easily misunderstood as a utopian approach to the architecture of the city. In the case of our current global predicament, the duty of any designer is to accept the scientific evidence as it comes and, for the sake of generating discussion, to re-interpret this evidence with additional elements of surprise that may alter normal perception or worldwide implications. In addition to operative alternatives of design, the architect of the new millennium must engage the public through images and text on the production of public discussions and, sometimes, heated controversies. Designers must understand our current global predicament in order to provide plots, dramas, diaries, scripts, philosophical entries, etc. to excite the imagination of clients and stakeholders and to move them into action to alternative solutions or toward optimistic views of the future. Instead of gloom-and-doom illustrations of bleak conditions, I prefer optimistic and rather radical views of the future to generate the public’s interest on the subject, to awaken their imagination, and to incite them to immediate action.
Your images always have a three-dimensional aspect, why so? What is your relation to the two-dimensional plan/elevation/section?
Since the invention of perspective, the representation of cities and architecture has excluded the multiplicity of perceptions one could encounter on drawing of previous historic periods. In medieval times, each architectural object was drawn at a scale that corresponded with the collective understanding of its civic importance; traditional Chinese and Japanese drawings, developed stories along their horizontal or vertical axis without any consideration for the realistic or pragmatic values of space. The great divide happened during the Renaissance when the previous metaphysical representation of the world was replaced by the single point of view along the horizon line of the author. The technique of linear perspective, developed by Brunelleschi and his colleagues in Florence, required one single point of view and a unique picture plane for its complete mathematical realization; as a consequence, from this moment on, drawings lost their objectivity and became objects of manipulation, consumption, and propaganda from the single point of view of the author. The division between objectivity and subjectivity of representation was finally solved when military draftsmen decided to reject two-point and one-point perspectival views by means of the new discipline of orthographic drawings and descriptive geometry. In my opinion, this is a pivotal moment in the history of modern representation and one that I have tried to preserve in my projects and illustrations. If our cities and architecture are indeed in crisis, I believe that New Times require greater clarity, vision, and order; it is precisely the latter which I am most interested in. A return to order requires the acknowledgement of our condition as rational human beings; as such, we must explore the objective planarity, transparency, and multiplicity of architecture and cities in space – a phenomenological approach to 3-D representation; or, by contrast, deconstruct perspectival drawings through a careful analysis of how one single view may be generated from multiple vanishing points, horizon lines, or perspectival points of view in order to generate a greater understanding of a project –in the case of the “Sorry We’ve Moved” project, my perspectival illustrations are an exploration of this idea. Regarding orthographic drawings, the presence of plans, elevations, and sections is inevitable when the goal is to produce objective 3-D images and collections of multiple points of view. As a consequence, I have developed a gruesome obsession for the purity of the plan, the perceptual characteristics of a section –including the hybridization of programmatic requirements, and for the reduction of elevations to their most basic compositional elements. I don’t produce images; I produce paper projects and complex stories. Therefore, it would have been impossible to generate any of my 3-D drawings without my obsessive commitment to the connection between plans, elevations, and sections.
Some images are constructed so that parts are a ‘zoom’, how important is the relationship between detail and context?
I am a strong advocate of the autonomy of architecture and cities. The new millennium is practically indifferent to our former notions of functional distribution. Little by little, we are beginning to understand that this condition of indeterminacy requires an easily reproducible frame to accommodate the fluctuations of the market and the re-arrangements of everyday life. In my perfect bottom-up world, projects would be composed of generic frames of reference to be filled with a variety of programs, people, and activities. I believe in a type of architecture guided by functional indetermination –an architecture ready to accumulate infinite flexible programs. Nevertheless, one cannot produce complexity; complexity emerges from very simple initial conditions. As a consequence, my projects generally involve one single generic geometric idea with a series of tangential elements affecting our perception of culture, place, space, and time. Typically, I zoom into portions of the project in an effort to depict the potential whims of a future owner. In case of the “New Voisin” project, I zoomed to portions of the façade to illustrate the bridge between its initial conditions, as a generic building frame, and the iterative transformation of the project over several periods of time. I trust that through mutualism and cooperation, future communities will divest their rules in order to provide users with the possibilities for the transformation and evolution of buildings and cities. In other words, my zoom-in details do not depict the materiality of the project or its construction characteristics but its potential for iterative change. The challenge of the future architect is the production of design objects and cities with an irreducible, almost archaic, expression of form in order to allow for the natural resolution of the complexities of our contemporary life in the hands of normal citizens. Every piece of architecture, every city, should be illustrated as a simple depiction of a passing conviction; to illustrate really means to civilize the construction of a collective imaginarium and to explain in the most simple manner the unattainable state of completeness of our contemporary environments. We either imagine big, or not imagine at all.
The current environmental situation in South Florida is taking unprecedented twists and turns. Portions of the urban territory within Miami-Dade County, including the City of Miami Beach and the City of Miami, are currently under several inches of water on a permanent basis; regional areas, several miles away from the coastline, are suddenly flooding on high tides or full moon periods due to the porous nature of underground rock formation; and, to top everything up, the full scientific prognosis is not necessarily optimistic. Meanwhile, government officials are either taking sides with a large community of deniers or taking temporary measures to solve immediate problems without a long-range planning vision i.e.: installing water pumps that evacuate flood water back into the same ocean from where the water is coming from, raising public infrastructure to avoid the perception of water while leaving existing and historic buildings at their current elevation, changing building codes to raise the ground floor elevations of towers in downtown Miami, etc. Unlike many of our previous projects, this proposal assumes that urban resiliency may still attainable through adaptation.
The project is located between two of the most important highways in downtown Miami. Assuming that the site is in one of the most vulnerable flooding areas of the city, our proposal attempts to solve the problem of auto-sufficiency as a radical bricolage composed of a counterproposal to Le Corbusier’s Plan Voisin (1925), a reinterpretation of Ludwig Hilberseimer’s plan for a High-Rise City (1924), and an auto-sufficient net-zero solar powered island. The ghosts of Le Corbusier’s visionary towers become autonomous courtyards within the boundaries of perfectly square skyscrapers on plilotis. Hilberseimer’s arrangement of platforms and slabs is reinterpreted as a project of townhomes and apartments configured in the traditional grid pattern of American urbanism – one of the most pragmatic inventions in American planning history; and a solar net-zero island produces enough power to house approximately 250,000 people within one square mile.
The proposed towers are configured as auto-sufficient islands. Each tower is designed as a complete neighborhood unit where adaptable multi-family units provide an environment of social innovation, mutualism, and autonomy. Each courtyard unit works as a cooperative where dynamic decisions are taken for the benefit of its residents. The base of the towers works initially a marketplace on pilotis; the vertical formatted image shows the initial state at the top and some of its potential autonomous variations at the bottom. The axonometric drawing is embedded on the site and surrounded by Corbusier’s correspondence with the owner of the Mediterranean Sea house where he would see his ultimate hours before his fatal drowning.
Our office stands by the fact that the best buildings and cities in the world have been designed through centuries of continuous iterations; we aspire to learn through research and development how to bring this back into the contemporary urban design discourse. In fact, we are convinced that we will not be blamed for what will happen to future generations but for our lack of action at a time when action was of the essence. The single controller of the past is already unable to keep up with the dynamics of the current metropolitan conditions. If Nietzsche was right and God is truly dead, so should be planning!
This project examines how self-imposed difficulties may serve to generate emergent typologies. In his best-selling book, “Contested Symmetries”, Harvard Professor Preston Cohen says that, “Buildings fall prey to predicaments when architects, in attempting to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and to conceal all that must be done in order to do so, resort to the use of strange and/or exceptional forms.” In this case, the generative difficulty came from a financial rule prohibiting the use of vertical mixed-use buildings along the commercial Main Street of a new town near Bradenton, Florida; this predicament forces designers to produce single-use commercial buildings not exceeding 15 feet in height; the typological emergence occurs when three ice-cream parlor owners (2 Portuguese sisters + their best friend) decide to retire within the confines of this new town. The emergent work/live typology emerges when an additional patio house is built in concrete increments of 14 feet on what was supposed to be the parking area for a small Main Street ice cream parlor.
A corner lot, on a premium Main Street location, provides the setting for this emergent typology. The work/live unit consists of an ice cream parlor with a semi-public roofed plazoleta in the front; an elongated yard separates the commercial portion of the building from the rear residential area to comply with a self-imposed financial requirement prohibiting vertical mixed-uses. The residence, occupied by 2 Portuguese sisters and their best friend, expresses the personalities of these three ladies through the exceptional forms of the bedroom roofs and their colored-tiled lanterns; a long space is broken in three sections (living/dining/entertainment) by a kitchen isle and a small chimney. A rear pool terminates the vista of the entertainment area. Three internal patios provide light into the house while one external yard is shared with the commercial area. The project images are dedicated to and inspired by the figural period of Kazimir Malevich, Cezanne’s still life paintings, and Brook Taylor’s methods of descriptive geometry.
SORRY WE’VE MOVED
In the absence of a recognizable crisis, the crude and frightening reality of sea-level-rise is still under the radar in most American coastal areas; nevertheless, parts of the City of Miami are already struggling with the realities of its geological coral limestone base – a porous material that, during storms and high tides, produces puddles miles away from the coastline. Our purpose is not to forecast gloom and doom but to provide a viable context in which informed discussions about a plausible sea-level-rise future and its consequences may take place. The architect’s imagination should never be disengaged from the global future nor his vision should ever cease providing a multiplicity of controversial proposals before the next sea-level-rise crisis starts crawling upon us. Despite the fact that the commonly used urban tactics of retreat, abandonment, and/or re-building are not design options currently on the planning table, this project is precisely grounded upon that type of investigation. The SORRY WE’VE MOVED project proposes an alternative high-density City of Miami, built on a floating ocean platform, for the enjoyment of the thousands of citizens who will eventually be displaced by the climate crisis over the next 50 years.
The project images show the melancholy and daily life of a few of its inhabitants and the relationship between the Miami of the past in the background and the new city on the SORRY WE’VE MOVE floating platform in the foreground. The project is literally composed by the letters spelling the words of the message – a remembrance monument to the former conditions of the city. There will be those who will see it coming and will take the necessary steps to leave before things really deteriorate or real estate values plummet. Others, particularly deniers or believers in adaptation, will hang around until city services will become unaffordable or until they realize the futility of battling against the wrath of nature. This project shows that, as impossible as it may sound, we still have the architect’s imagination to provide us with an opportunity to make plans and lay foundations for structural changes that will have use-value for centuries to come. How will we do this? What type of government will insure the fair distribution of property at a time of real crisis? What will be the implications on our beloved mortgage system? Who will pay for this transition? Who will insure the whole process? What will be the consequences for the real estate market? The SORRY WE’VE MOVED project is no more than a provocation to answering and discussing these questions publicly with the full ethical commitment and moral responsibility necessary to ensure a plausible future for an urban universe threatened by sea-level-rise.
RED SQUARE – COMMUNITY CLOSE
A social housing project arranged in a traditional “Close” configuration –a morpho-typological device used at the beginning of the twentieth century in garden cities throughout the world. The project is located within the core of an emerging Russian enclave in the City of Miami. It includes 22 single-family houses with garages and rental granny-apartments to allow property owners the attainment of an additional subsidy of their mortgage payments. The first floor plan of each building may be easily adapted for partial retail uses. The placement of these housing units generates a square perimeter where a tree-lined central lawn civic space emerges at the core of the project.
The purposeful lack of ornamentation is supplemented with an abundance of color and iconography. Red facades are drawn against the public square; perpendicular ochre wall planes surround the private gardens; a volume with a circular eyebrow is colored in rose/peach natural tones; pools and grassy areas add color values to the general composition; garden walls delimit the privacy of the lot surfaces and the space of the tree-lined central space; and, private second-floor loggias complement the repertoire of public/civic elements. The houses have lateral yard retention pools for purposes of sea-level-rise resiliency. Additionally, each building has an air tunnel chimney for natural ventilation and for the provision of indirect lighting. Finally, a white linear bench surrounds the perimeter of the central space to provide opportunities for informal neighborhood meeting areas.
REFUGEE CAMP: new Arcadia
The City of Miami is currently under severe sea-level-rise threat. Miami-Dade County is just about four feet above the mean tide and its underground geological porous composition does not permit either the construction of a protective wall or the assembly of a system of dikes and levees; with a scientific forecast of more than six feet of projected sea-level-rise by the end of the century, the urban prognosis is not very optimistic. This project assumes that raising the existing infrastructure, changing the building codes, requiring greater setbacks along the coastline, or putting apartments on pilotis is nothing but a bunch of interim temporary solutions without real applicability.
Although the idea of rebuilding the city might sound repugnant to many, this project proposes a radical and controversial relocation of the City of Miami to Florida high grounds. In our opinion, this is the most credible solution on the current planning table. Due to the emergency of means required for this type of project, the configuration of the new Arcadia Refugee Camp is rather generic; the project is composed of five identical urban units located along an exiting Florida railroad line and on the outskirts of the existing City of Arcadia, Florida. The five mile-square units symbolize each one of the five letters in the word M-I-A-M-I; a surrounding wall connects the rural areas of the new satellite refugee camps for food protection and for the implementation of a low-tech tram system.
The new Arcadia Refugee Camp plan is raised on a base containing additional infrastructure storage and non-compact parking; its generic plan is composed of rectangular blocks of 50 ft. X 360 ft. – a morphology that provides a means for longer buildings, narrower streets, shaded sidewalks, and an infinite combination of open public spaces in their various dimensions. This block morphology tactic has been successfully implemented in the fishermen’s district of Barceloneta, Spain; nevertheless, the city plan is an allegory that resonates with the abstract appropriation of plans from other American cities, including: Philadelphia, Savannah, New York City, and many more. A central park is defined by two sets of urban areas – the northern one more urban and the southern one more rural; the use and configuration of the central park shall be mutually decided by the residential cooperatives. Civic buildings will provide urban landmarks within the context of large public spaces.
The generic plan is composed of building blocks of approximately 50 ft. X 360 ft. This type of building footprint provides opportunities for the development of a six-story structure composed of two-story autonomous townhouses on three levels (min. 24 townhouses per building). Depending on the composition of the recipient family, the unit types range from micro-units to extra-large townhouses. Each mile-square urban unit will house no less than 135,000 residents (approx. 675,000 people within the five proposed units). Retail uses are tacked-in at the head and tail of the building units and along the main east-west axis of the plan – connected at the base by a small Metrorail system. A system of block passages, incorporating the main lobby of each building, is deliberately included to reduce the length of the block. If necessary, each housing unit could accommodate at least one parallel-parked car on the very narrow street surface (30 ft. ROW). Public spaces are designed to provide civic infrastructure as well as to protect the fragile natural landscapes of the State of Florida.
Large retail areas occur along the main east-west axis or in the context of entrance gates and plazas. Every retail use is covered with a linear and continuous gallery providing the necessary sun protection as well as additional civic public spaces; the gallery space is also a favorite place for restaurants and informal pop-ups. Each urban unit will be branded with one of the letter in the word M-I-A-M-I. These letters appear at the entrance gates as monumental rental/sale offices and, eventually, will become important civic use buildings. In this case, the city is understood as a palimpsest of the marks left by the events of human history. The “M” is a biographical diagram signaling not just to a physical object but also to an intrinsic formal logic and to the existential experience of its users.
MONUMENTAL MARKET SQUARE
This is a project for a hybrid civic building containing a covered market square, a small town center with retail facilities, 32 live/work units, 8 apartments, 5 movie theaters, and a 360-seat performance auditorium at the crown of the building. It is located at the water edge of an experimental sea-level-rise community in Miami-Dade County.
The building, a great square covered hall, is surrounded by a wrapping layer containing small retail units on the ground floor and live-work units on its first four upper floors; the slanted space on the market roof is used to house a performance auditorium and 5 movie theaters; a tower with 8 small apartments, overlooking the intercostal waterfront, raises above the skyline of the City of Miami. The market hall contains a deep tilapia fishpond farm on the tradition of Hindu sacred step-wells. The walls of the giant public space are filled with square windows for purposes of natural surveillance. The building section depicts the hybrid nature of the building and highlights the spatial diversity of the structure. Given the colossal proportions of the market hall and its luminescent tower, the whole project is meant to become a local regional landmark and a contemporary homage to food security.
MIAMI METRO POP-UPS
Pop-ups supply a medium for the production of natural metabolic processes in cities; they are a means for the transformation of unused urban areas according to one’s own living, productive, commercial, or promotional needs. Pop-ups are generative structures for the production of what Ray Oldenburg has called “Third Places”. These five pop-up structures will be installed on the front parking area of a new marketplace under the Metrorail of the City of Miami. Each pop-up structure has a unique function and contains a small public space. As a group, the formal content of the five structures spell the word MIAMI.
Each pop-up structure contains one single use represented, ichnographically, by the first letter of the building function, as follows: the “M” is the abode of a small “Marionette theater”; the “I” is an “Incremental bench” with a public bed of impatient flowers; the “A” is an “Art wall” where arts and crafts are traded and bartered; the second “M” is a “Market stall”; and the last “I” is an “Illuminated lantern”. Together, they spell the word MIAMI. The visual and narrative form of this kind of iconographic typography provides not only a rich source of inspiration but also a key to redefine a new project for the city.
Jaime Correa is an Associate Professor in Practice and the former Director of the Master in Urban Design at the School of Architecture of the University of Miami (position held from 1996 to 2014) where he was also the Knight Professor in Community Building.
He is one among the 14 architects and town planners that launched the American New Urbanism movement, one of its most important promoters in Latin America, and also one of its most significant critics. From 2013-2017 he has served as a Climate Reality Mentor under the tutelage of former Vice-President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore. His professional firm is engaged in a new type of urban design practice focusing on social innovations, bottom-up urbanism, the creation of real estate value through morphogenetic disruptions, generative codes, self-organization and its interconnection with structured and unstructured information. His projects explore: incremental master planning, super-graphics and the physical representation of information in urban areas, informal urbanism, morphogenesis, colossal refugee camps, tiny gap-housing, self-organizing redevelopment, public space design, big data mining, the Internet of Things, and sea-level-rise adaptation and evacuation.
He has been the recipient of the Faculty of the Year Award at the Master in Real Estate Development, the Wooddrow W Wilkins Award for Outstanding Teaching and the University of Miami Excellence in Civic Engagement Award. He received the bi-annual 2014 Charles A. Barrett Memorial Award, the Florida AIA Urban Designer and Academic of the Year Award, three John Nolen Awards (in collaboration with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning, the University of Miami, and the City of Delray Beach), the Public Works Association Project of the Year (APAW), the 2014 Florida Redevelopment Association’s Presidents Award, the Florida Governor’s Point of Light Award, first prize at the Salt Lake City Interrotta competition, four national CNU urban design awards for his master plan collaborations, an Honorable Mention at the Williamsburg competition, and many more awards and recognitions.
He is the author of numerous academic articles and book chapters, founding Chair of Academic Papers for the Congress for the New Urbanism, member of the Board of Editors of Cuadernos de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, in Mexico, and a Blog writer for Facebook’s “Informal-Urbanism” page. His books include a parody of the New Urbanism (Seven Recipes for the New Urbanism), a small pamphlet for a new type of resilient living (Self-sufficient Urbanism), and guidelines for affordable housing (Housing Finance Authority Design Guidelines).
He practices Kadampa Buddhism and Vedanta Hinduism. He holds a non-secular Ph.D. in Comparative Religions, a Master in Architecture with a Certificate in Urban Design as well as a Master in City Planning with a Certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, a Certificate in Classical Architecture and Medieval Iconography from Cambridge University, in England, and a Bachelors in Architecture and Urbanism from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, in Colombia.
His sponsored research includes work for the Kellogg and Barr Foundations in Haiti, the Dupont Foundation in the City of Opa-Locka, the Florida Canin Award, the Knight Foundation Project in Community Building, the Miami Project, and the Housing Finance Authority in Miami-Dade County.
His latest professional work includes: a research series on urban evacuation and adaptation, colossal projects for the forthcoming climate disruption, public space interventions in the City of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, the redevelopment of an Industrial District in Miami, eight mini-skyscrapers in Medellin, urban design advisory for the City of Coral Gables, charrette collaborations in Coral Springs and the North End in West Palm Beach, urban “letterscapes”, various collaborations in Central and South America (including the new towns of Cayala and El Naranjo, in Guatemala and La Serena, in Chile), and the master planning and implementation of “The Wave” – a 50,000 people new town in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman.