Shinjuku Towers, Fumihiko Maki

Shinjuku Towers, Fumihiko Maki

New Investigations in Collective Form

Project: New Investigations in Collective Form
Class: UR Elective Seminar, California College of the Arts, Architecture Division

Date: Fall 2016
Instructors: Neeraj Bhatia

This seminar will examine historical and contemporary precedents in collective form, as a way of understanding new techniques of how we can live together. Investigating projects and theorists that emerged in response to the increasingly complex city and heterogeneous public, the goal of the seminar is to create new templates for Public Form.

In 1964, Fumihiko Makia’s influential text Investigations in Collective Form elucidated three approaches to collective form compositional, mega-structure, and group form. In opposition to the lack of coherence, elasticity, and flexibility in the city, Maki attempted to create a theory that expanded beyond the singular building, inciting a discussion on Collective Form. For Maki, Collective Form is the relationship between buildings that cause them to be together. The term collective of course, also refers to a group or constituency with a shared interest. This common objective is at the core of politics.

This seminar will focus on the relationship between Politics and Urban Form. By politics we mean the relationships and goals that bind and separate us. By Urban Form we are referring to the organization of the city, its morphologies, infrastructures, and typologies. The seminar will uncover what makes the city more than a mere grouping of buildings and the public more than a grouping of individuals by developing and expanding the approaches to Collective Form.

With the rise of neo-liberal pluralism our cities have become diverse entities wherein it is difficult to pin-point the collective bonds that unite us. This is ironic, as cities formed originally through the benefits of collectivity and resource sharing. Collectivity is critical because not only does it reaffirm the public sphere, it ensure that diversity has a common world to ground it. This seminar is interested in how collectives form and organize the space around them to reflect their internal politics and how spatial organization can proactively organize new forms of collectives. Our hypothesis is that a strong relationship between politics, urban form, and constituent values can provide a counter model to free-market urbanization and foster / empower one to act on the urban territory.

Sharing has always been at the core of why cities were created and is still one of the key elements today in forming collectivity. A large cultural shift in the 20th century away from sharing and towards isolation / independence was reflected in American urbanism. Today, we are understanding the practical (resource usage, spatial footprint, etc.) and cultural (deteriorating public sphere and the rise of the individual) issues associated with this transformation. Sharing, however, is not easy. It requires an understanding of collective values, requires compassion, work, and spatial organizations to foster different scales of interaction.

Sharing has often occurred through necessity recognizing the under-utilization of domestic objects and spaces and inventing ways to negotiate their continual use or occupation. Instead of sharing being a vehicle for problem solving (i.e. affordable housing), this seminar is interested in how sharing might generate new typologies of collective form that are linked to social typologies (politics). This seminar is invested in sharing because it embodies a political position that glues individuals and spaces together. Specifically we are concerned with:

The present-day definition of the individual and the public and their associated values
The mechanisms of organizing private/public space and how these reflect forms of politics and collectivity
The formal strategies for creating and reaffirms collectivity
How collective spaces have been carved from the hardware of existing forms
How collective spaces are organized from scratch
How the public sphere and pluralism can be strengthened through design

In recent years, San Francisco has been the center for research on what has been termed the sharing economy, fueled by a wave of peer-to-peer experimentation and software apps that are challenging and reinventing the way in which we use the city. Peer-to-peer services such as Airbnb, Uber, Lyft and TaskRabbit (to name a few) utilize the notion of an economy of sharing to work within the gaps and blind spots of existing urban systems and regulatory frameworks to provide much needed services, and to better utilize the city vast but untapped latent capacity. The success of peer-to-peer services lies in their acknowledgement of the limited resources of the city, and accordingly finding opportunism in sharing the hardware of the physical city. Critics of the sharing economy cite the commodification of resources that are made possible through economic negotiations, which are masked as social or political in nature.

The sharing economy, however, is not a new phenomenon to California or San Francisco. During the 1960s a series of co-living experiments and communes emerged as an alternative model to structure life from what was being provided by the market. With fewer nuclear families and more diverse household types, these as well as emergent co-living experiments are attempting to alter the 20th century city to accommodate new lifestyles. Several of these settlements have persisted to present day and have arguably inspired a new wave of housing experiments that are attempting to reflect who we are today. We will attempt to understand and unpack how collectivity is formed today, and what forms can be used to structure collectivity.