by Achim Prossek

Many ways are conceivable of opening the system Architecture. Architecture and its styles, the construction of buildings or cities is as complex a matter as it is dynamic. Two of these ways are discussed here. The first is present in the mechanics of the system: by radicalizing the system concept, one can achieve an openness that under normal conditions would not be possible. The second has to do with the reduction of the interference of planning, in the renunciation of design. The openness in this case is the space that results from the omission. The option for openness is no longer inherent in the system but rather on its border. The strategies are contrary approaches, but both have the individual and his freedom in mind. In both cases, architecture is understood as an instrument of possibility.

Openness in the system: the megastructure

It seems paradox that the moment of opening and individualization could lie in the uncompromising, total systemization of building, accustomed as we are today to assuming the opposite. The concept came about during a time in which mechanization and industrialization were still seen as powerful possibilities for the improvement of society. New cities were conceived. Yona Friedman’s “Spatial City”, for example, first presented in 1958, was the attempt to find an architectonic-systematic solution for the city planning problems of the time. The design postulated a new city that would be about 20 meters high and which could spread out infinitely in all directions. First, a framework of scaffolding would be constructed which could then be filled with elements by the inhabitants according to their individual needs. While the space frame matrix would make up the static part of the city, all of elements, which would be set up by the inhabitants themselves, should be flexible. This mobile architecture, as Friedman referred to it, should result in increased freedom, which would make the inhabitants themselves the builders of their immediate environment and minimize the influence of the architect. Architecture would no longer be forced to make compromises or other local concessions. The Spatial City would not affect the existing structures; it could be realized in any location, in any climate, if necessary over existing cities.

The flexibility, the open nature of the architecture can, in this case, only be achieved by the division of the building process into two parts: the static scaffolding which makes up the framework for the new city and the mobile constituent elements, the modular parts, which would have to be standardized in order to be capable of being installed or uninstalled anywhere in the framework. This is in accord with the concept of industrial, rational production: with as few basic elements as possible, the greatest possible diversity with regard to realization should be achieved in order to satisfy all demands and needs which could arise.

The city as conceived by Friedman and the other megastructuralists becomes a single gigantic construction project. The sheer scope of the design itself calls forth the criticism of being an inhuman form. While Yona Friedman recently repeated his claims as to the principle feasibility of his Spatial City in an interview ­ interestingly, in a fashion magazine ­ the chances of being realized are, however, non-existent. All the same or perhaps for that very reason, his designs are relevant. Precisely their character as impossibly utopian allow them to exist far longer than many finished buildings.

Openness as System: the Space Between

The formative acts in the total system City have long been carried out on a small scale and over a small area. This limitation leaves many spaces untouched, leaving room for the realization of unplanned developments. One can refer to these spaces as potential spaces. They also come about when spaces are excluded from the necessity of being used. In this case, more and other uses are possible than originally planned. The term potential space refers for this reason less to a concrete spatial situation than to its optional multi-functionality. At these points the system changes, takes on the state that it has always had on its borders: it becomes porous.

The agglomeration is perhaps the municipal form with the most systemic edges, ports of this kind. In the architecture of agglomeration ­ which is flat, polycentric and heterogeneous ­ its own actual potential can be recognized: the various uses of space are characterized by many small-scale transitions. The transitory surface area between the systems is therefore great, more generous than in the compact city. And since the system as a whole cannot be perceived, connectivity can only be established at these points. Only there can it open itself to the unplanned, the unexpected, and the unknown ­ if individuals know how to take advantage of this possibility. The prefix un- would, in this case, be a promise of another, broader world. For the architecture of potential space is associative, fantastic, fleeting. It is hyper-real.