Interview with Raoul Bunschoten of CHORA

Architects are particularly familiar with the possibilities inherent in the existence of multiple solutions and the absence of one right answer. You can talk about beauty on a large scale. Despite the random element that this introduces to the process of site analysis, the activity of the participants, who then visit and observe the places identified on the map, leads to a collective knowledge about the site. That’s where design has to happen. If you use this process as a group of people, you get a kind of collective intelligence. Then it becomes available to analysis; it can be turned into knowledge. Sometimes it moves very fast: like climate change. I think experiences can come to you in any way. This site plan shows a proposal for large-scale energy generation on a currently redundant airfield site. A site is not delineated by a legal boundary but by the frame you set. So the first scenario is how to give it a new life as an infrastructure. Sometimes it’s something that simply passes through as you observe, like a bird or a car. We can learn a lot from art disciplines. It’s dynamic and it’s complex. It’s based on a metaphor to do with planting seeds in a garden. For example, take one small house on the site. We live on the skin of the earth. That’s why I talk about it as curatorial work. We call them ‘mini-scenarios’. This improved their understanding of the physical facts about the site and the metaphysical qualities that distinguish it as a place. The design project

Project: Taichung Location: Taiwan Strait Architect: CHORA Date: 2008
Mini-scenarios. above:
The Urban Gallery for Tempelhof proposes changing the site in three phases: initial landscaping and opening up of the area to the surrounding population; connecting national projects like the International Building Exhibition (IBA) and the International Garden Exhibition (IGA) to build and create experimental housing; and the use of the site for renewable energy regeneration and linking up through intelligent systems. Game-like rules are introduced in order to structure the input of participants from different interest groups involved in the project workshop. Scenarios don’t offer solutions but ways of playing with the observations, the issues, the people involved. Look at [Andrea] Palladio: he looked at musical systems that created harmony in the universe and he tried to apply that harmony to the proportions of his buildings. The site
The site was located close to the design studio so that students could spend time there and make frequent visits to experience seasonal and temporal change. Local, first-hand observations are a fundamental part of CHORA’s method. The third one is to push for full-force renewable energy regeneration and linking up through intelligent systems. Site plan
Outdoor theatre for Macbeth by Farah Yusof. Humanity has created a total second skin of the earth, which consists of houses, cars, cities, information, infrastructures, oil, gas pipelines. We should talk about it like an art form. This is an effective way to show an early idea in context. Everything else that looks fixed – a house, a garden – is only temporarily fixed. It is particularly useful in complex, large-scale situations where there are many interested parties, several possible outcomes and no clear solution for the fundamental problems and conflicts at hand. But I believe we are not because architects are dreamers and at the same time we bring together utilitarian components and make them work. This section charts the progress of a group of architecture students as they begin a 12-week design studio project and learn how to analyse a site, identify the characteristics of a place and design a proposal for an outdoor theatre that considers the local and global context in which it is set. This willingness to embrace a global scale enables the architect to tackle significant issues and set ambitious goals for projects of any scale. Scenarios are whittled-down narratives, they are ‘what if’ situations. It doesn’t have to be profound, it can be banal. There’s no fixed way of experiencing a site. The multiplication of these observations through the collaboration of many individuals gives them a validity and depth that they could not otherwise have. First you have the empty ground and you plant the seed, then the plant grows and reaches maturity, then the seeds float away in the wind. There are two main scenarios for Tempelhof. The design project

Site, context and place

Project: Beckton Loop Energy
Location: London
Architect: CHORA, Design for
London and Adams & Sutherland
Date: 2009

Scenario game. You could talk about sea, earth, ground, the climate and all that’s in motion: some of it moves very slowly, some of it moves fast. The way that the house is designed, especially the way that the people manage their energy within that house, has an effect on the environment; the interplay between those two dynamic skins. CHORA asks participants to go out into the field to make observations and identify examples of four processes happening on site: Erasure, Origination, Transformation and Migration. Project: CopenhagenX Location: Copenhagen, Denmark Architect: CHORA Date: 2002

Bean throwing on a map during a project workshop. It is vital that any site is considered within its context and CHORA gives a satisfying weight to the invisible processes and phenomena on a site, which shape its context. Interview summary
CHORA has developed a very particular methodology to analyse a wide range of sites, places and contexts. CHORA’s analysis put these issues together in context and proposed solutions to tackle the problems that they defined. They are Erasure, Origination, Transformation, Migration. Site analysis is often presented as a study of static objects, such as the buildings around the site, but you are more concerned with the identification of mobile and dynamic phenomena. It is something we use to mediate the subjective approach to the site into a more structured formulation, so that the experiences can be compared with each other. The main aim is the mutation of the infrastructure into some other kind of infrastructure. So those are the two scenarios combined. The Taiwan Strait project requires the analysis and understanding of complex issues such as political and climatic complexity, as well as high urban density design. You also introduced a random element into your analysis of a site: throwing beans on a map. On the one hand you need the subjective experience because every single person has something meaningful to say about the world out there, but also you begin to get a kind of collective knowledge. That’s why it gets really exciting: if you go with a group of 20 or 200 people to a territory and each of them uses this device several times over, you get an almost instant weaving of narratives related to this territory. Society is changing very fast, so we have to learn that whatever we design has to be adaptive, has to be able to change. The game-like structure set up for these observations lends an element of play and randomness to counteract the methodical nature of the site analysis; it allows participants to make both objective and subjective observations. right:
Plan of third development phase. This does not mean that the small scale and the local are neglected. We start with a small exercise, which consists of a set of four processes that we try to observe. That’s the metaphor but at the same time the processes themselves are a basic taxonomy, set up in such a way you could describe any kind of existing dynamic environment through [them]. What can this tell us about a place? Scenarios are not about absolute outcomes, they are about pathways towards outcomes and possible connections. On the site sometimes you pick a very detailed thing that you couldn’t even imagine if you were away from the site. One observation from a person can be linked to another observation made by someone else. Ultimately, if you want to sell your project you will have to explain why it’s a good thing. It starts in a very soft phase, which is mostly about landscaping and opening up the territory to the surrounding population. The collective intelligence quickly represents the complexity of the site, especially a larger site. This site plan was made by montaging a photograph of a physical site model, a map and a scaled site plan of the building proposal. Students were asked to use objective methods, such as measurement in order to grasp the scale of the site, as well as subjective methods, such as drawing the atmosphere at a certain time of day. We think we cannot influence the large decisions; we’re powerless against the decisions of a city planner, the politicians. One is the closure of an old airport that became famous because it was the first metropolitan airport in the world and because it was the site of the airlift that effectively saved the Berlin population from starvation after the blockade by the Soviet Union. This means that site analysis becomes more than simply an exercise to help the architect to understand the place. To communicate you have to use a language that other people use as well. There are three phases. He was teaching with me at the AA [Architectural Association]. Design is about orchestrating the dynamics of the first skin and the second skin. That’s why we introduced random processes, so you get to a point where you didn’t imagine to be. It’s always important to write and sketch. These processes and phenomena may be invisible either because they are too large to see and understand in their entirety on site (such as a network of canals) or because they are intangible (such as the effect of an international economic subsidy on the choice of crop grown in a farmer’s field). Could you explain the four processes? These processes form a narrative called a ‘mini-scenario’. You always have to see the big picture, even if it is the long-term effect of climate change on a particular site or, vice versa, the conditions of the site.

Updated: 30.10.2014 — 01:06