Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Post born. A New Generation of Digital Architects is Born

Preface by Antonino Saggio to "Plasma Works From Topological Geometries to Urban Landscaping" by Maria Elisabetta Bonafede, Edilstampa, Rome 2014  The IT Revolution in Architecture book series

Plasma Studio is the first group of architects who can be considered “post-born.” In fact, both of the two founding members – Eva Castro and Holger Kehne – as well as Ulla Hell are born between 1969 and 1973. This means that their generation studied architects such as Ben van Berkel, Jeff Kipnis, Greg Lynn, Patrick Schumacher, and others, and that they have been among the readers of the very first volumes of my series; they were not yet thirty in 1998. If the generation mentioned above is that which we have dubbed those “Born with the Computer” (see the book by C. Pongratz and M. Perbellini from 2000), the generation of Eva, Holger, and Ulla is the one that, having been students of the former, today consolidates, builds, and expands the digital paradigm and the computer revolution of architecture.
We have chosen Plasma Studio to begin this journey of the “post- born” because Plasma is certainly one of the most interesting realities, and because they represent situations typical of the new generation. The givens recurring today were unthinkable only twenty years ago. First of all, regarding the three partners. Two women – thus an absolute majority – and only one man. Who would have thought? Considering the composition of studies twenty-five years ago, and particularly who signed in competition, the difference is impressive. Today, women are the majority! Those who teach know how good female students and female architects are, and have been for many years.
Between Eva, Holger, and Ulla the diversity in characters is most remarkable, and particularly in the cultures of their origins. A springy Argentinian architect, a calm and reflective German, and a firm and serene Italian (I would like to say “Italian”, even if her accent cannot be considered Tuscan).
In addition there are three studios: one in Trentino-Alto Adige in Sesto where Ulla lives and works, one in London where Eva and Holger, among other things, teach at the Architectural Association, and one in China which follows the new front and important new projects in collaboration with Groundlab. Skype-on-the-go, naturally. If one recalls that in the days of those “Born with the Computer” the tablet, smart-phones, and Skype did not exist, and that indeed the first experiments of work interconnected by networks were objects of important academic research (see Information Architecture by Gerhard Schmitt from 1998), we realize how this new generation can do much more complex things. But it is not the technology in itself that is important, but rather the cultural leap. We must emphasize that, for the “post-born”, interconnection is not only a word, but reality! And it is a reality that crosses interpersonal modalities, friendships, relationships, and of course the outcomes and the very performativity of architecture. An architecture similar to this is, in itself, a computer model: an interactive architecture, parametric, continually changing, as we have written many times.
Eva, Holger, and Ulla are in the phase of the greatest acceleration of their lives: they have made an impetuous leap in the scale of their work, and at the same time they manage their affections, children, and relationships. Ulla has completed her own house. The work has been published by several specialized magazines (for instance, “Wohndesign”, from May 9, 2012), and on the cover of “Stern,” the prestigious German weekly. It escapes notice, however, because it was not one of our own weeklies to occupy itself with this beautiful house of Plasma in the Dolomites, and because Ulla is an Italian architect. In this context, we must insert the author of this volume. Elisabetta Bonafede has written a beautiful and interesting book, full of attention both to the general frameworks as well as to the specific circumstances of the projects. It is a very useful book for the reader to understand many aspects of Plasma Studio’s research. Bonafede enumerates them with precision, writing that:
The architects of Plasma Studio experiment in at least four directions:
  1. –  from the formal point of view, they use new geometries bent to non-Cartesian logic, faceted surfaces, and unpredictable games of broken lines, of concave
    and concave curves fraught with tension; 
  2. –  from the point of view of perception, they experiment with immersive
    emotional pathways, as well as intense and engaging multi-sensory
  3. –  from the technical point of view, they study the application of unprecedented
    structural solutions that derive from the properties and generative forces
    intrinsic in various materials; 
  4. –  from the conceptual point of view, they explore the ability of the language of
    the electronic image to redefine architectural space, and the possibilities offered by the computer in rethinking the very concept of space. 
These are key points that are analyzed by the author with precision, using an illustrative toolkit chosen with care. In conclusion, I would like to point out two episodes that bind me particularly closely to Plasma.
The first is my remote definition of Re-building nature. I devised it while I was in America at Carnegie-Mellon University teaching right after September 11. For the students I had to establish the key principles of new urban planning, and number four was precisely Re-building nature. The idea was that the young generation of digital architects needed to contend with nature anew, not romantically as with Art Nouveau but as if to say “rebuilding” – Re- building precisely – a new hybrid nature that was half natural and half artificial, possibly systemic and intelligent, perhaps fractal, surely parametric and topological.
To discover that Holger today remembers this old story of mine gives me great pleasure, but even more pleasing is the fact that Plasma’s project in Xi’an, China seems to be exactly the construction of that idea. This is seen in its combination of natural and artificial aspects, in its both natural and architectural character, and in its creation of an intelligent cycling of water and waste. There are other projects with these characteristics, but there is no other project like Plasma’s Re-building nature in Xi’an. It is a realized paradigm, a shining example.
Finally I would like to say that I owe Gianluca Milesi for the introduction to Plasma. He invited us in Milan to Hangar Bicocca, a beautiful formerly-industrial space, in 2006. I believe that Plasma had just won, but not yet built, the Puerta America. They immediately seemed to me to be a span above many others of their generation. Years later, with the Gallery of Architecture “come se” in Rome we organized their first Italian exhibition, and in “On&Off” two pieces were published (see “l’Architetto Italiano,” numbers 18 and 31). Above all Eva, Holger, and little Ariel (Ulla could not come because she was at the end of her third pregnancy) stayed with us in Nitro SicilyLab for a week. We showed their exhibition at the gallery of the Paladini “Angelica&Orlando” of Gioiosa Marea. Eva did her conference with the little one on her knee, without even batting an eyelid.

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