Little Maps

Last UpdateApril 2020

1. Characterization: Data Gathering and Knowledge Hunting

There is no limit to the amount of information that might come in handy when designing a building, but this information is only of a certain nature. It is therefore important to know where to look at, how to prioritise, and to understand which factors can't be left out in order to make the architecture process work.


-What is the first step?

-We need to listen to the site and the future dwellers. We need to observe, forage and harvest all the pre-existences in order to give a proper diagnose later on and understand what is necessary. But now we just observe and collect. And we don’t leave anything out. This is what we call data gathering. It is the food that we will digest afterwards.

 

-So now is it more about listening than about talking?

-In the dialogue which is to make architecture, we first must listen. First we read and digest. Then we write, but just if it’s necessary.


-Where to go?

-We must become experts in the dwellers and the site’s physical, climatic and social environment. We listen to the needs of the dwellers and the site in order to fulfill or challenge them. We must visit the site under different climatic conditions. What is obvious on our first visit can sometimes lead to misleading deductions. It is important to go back, to learn more, to ask more questions, to get closer yet keep a critical distance. Direct experience will allow for an understanding to arise and develop within our body.

-Where to look at?

-It is fundamental to access and select very carefully the data and knowledge we will make use of. Always go to the sources, which are often not immediately available through Google, on blogs or pinterest. You go to the immediate sources (people involved in the process, the site, the material) and also the mediated ones (tacit or explicit about building culture and traditions, local and universal habitation cultures, books, drawings).

-We also need to know the material and skills availability. The tacit knowledge of the builders we know, or looking for those we don’t know yet.

-It could seem that this first step can be done by anyone, it’s just to regard and to note. But it isn’t so. A specific training is needed, which should start not later than the first year at an architecture school, although it should be taught at the elementary schools: to understand a place, to understand people. A training that is not really inclusive, diverse and polytechnic becomes useless in the long term. We should help our children to learn to think, and to question and understand the natural principles of things and processes.


-Which are the preexistences?

-The commission, the future dwellers, the climate, the topography, geology, ecosystems, history, local culture, techniques and material availability, are important parts of the existences. Some are from out of the site, others come from far, the others are implied or explicit in the brief. We need to integrate all the data related with the how (resources, techniques) in this stadium. This starting point is dynamic, not static.

-What documents do we produce here?

-In this phase we don’t imagine anything yet, nor we draw. The result of this process is a list with multiple relations. It doesn’t necessarily have to follow any order, we must register every data that we gather, either from direct or indirect observation. The more intensity we can devote to this step, the better. The way we think, the way we see -the way we are- will always determine the elements on this list. However, it is important to do a thorough research so we don’t miss any important factor. This step is not necessarily time consuming, but it is crucial to keep our eyes open and embrace facts or unexpected events that might rise when we are way into the process.

-We keep all the digital data in a folder on our computer, the physical data like material samples, books, either on our desk or a wall nearby, and the experiential data we nurture and revisit on a daily basis to make it grow in us.

EXAMPLE


Aboriginal dwelling: leaving no trace

‘To dwell is to leave traces’.
Walter Benjamin

And to leave no junk behind. We challenge this occidental quintessential understanding of what dwelling is, by comparing it to how aboriginal peoples in what is today called Australia used to inhabit the land. It is not true that they didn’t develop architecture, it is just that most of it left no long term traces. There is much we can learn from this way of architecture.

TEXTS


GEORGES PEREC, 'Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien'. 1975.

‘Il y a beaucoup de choses place Saint-Sulpice, par exemple: une , un hôtel des finances, un commissariat de police, trois cafés dont un fait tabac, un cinéma, une à laquelle ont travaillé Le Vau GittardOppenordServandoni etChalgrin  et qui est dédiée à un aumônier de Clotaire Il  qui fut évêque de Bourges de 624 à 644 et que l’on fête le 17 janvier, un éditeur, une entreprise de pompes funèbres, une agence de voyages, un arrêt d’ autobus, un tailleur, un hôtel, une fontaine que décorent les statues des quatre grands orateurs chrétiens  (  Bossuet  Fénelon  ,  Fléchier et Massillon  ), un kiosque  à journaux, un marchand d’objets de piété, un parking, un institut de beauté, et bien d’autres choses encore. 

Un grand nombre, sinon la plupart, de ces choses ont été décrites inventoriées, photographiées, racontées ou recensées. Mon propos dans les pages qui suivent a plutôt été de décrire le reste : ce que l’on ne note généralement pas, ce qui ne se remarque pas, ce qui n’a pas d’importance : ce qui se passe quand il ne se passe rien, sinon du temps, des gens, des voitures  et des nuages  .
1
La date : 18 octobre 1974
L’heure   10 h. 30  
Le lieu   Tabac Saint-Sulpice

Le temps : Froid sec.  Ciel gris.  Quelques éclaircies.
Esquisse d’un inventaire de quelques-unes des choses strictement visibles :
— Des lettres de l’alphabet, des mots « KLM  » (sur la pochette d’un promeneur), un « P » majuscule qui signifie « parking » « Hôtel Récamier  », « St-Raphaël  », « l’épargne à la dérive », « Taxis tête de station », « Rue du Vieux-Colombier  », «Brasserie-bar La Fontaine Saint-Sulpice », « P ELF  », «Parc SaintSulpice ».
— Des symboles conventionnels : des flèches  , sous le « P » des parkings, l’une légèrement pointée vers le sol, l’autre orientée en direction de la rue Bonaparte  (côté Luxembourg  ), au moins quatre panneaux de sens interdit  (un cinquième en reflet dans une des glaces du café).
— Des chiffres : 86 (au sommet d’un autobus de la ligne no 86, surmontant l’indication du lieu où il se rend : S aint-Germain-desPrés ) , 1 (plaque du no 1 de la rue du Vieux-Colombier  ), 6 (sur la place indiquant que nous nous trouvons dans le 6e arrondissement de Paris).
— Des slogans fugitifs : « De l’ autobus , je regarde Paris »
— De la terre : du gravier tassé et du sable.
— De la pierre : la bordure des trottoirs, une fontaine  , une église  , des maisons…
— De l’asphalte
— Des arbres ( feuilles, souvent jaunissants  )
— Un morceau assez grand de ciel (peut-être 1/6e de mon champ visuel)
— Une nuée de pigeons  qui s’abat soudain sur le terre-plein central, entre  l’église  et la fontaine  
— Des véhicules  (leur  inventaire  reste à faire)
— Des êtres humains  
— Une espèce de basset  
— Un pain (baguette)
— Une salade (frisée ?)  débordant partiellement d’un cabas


CRAIG CHILDS, 'The secret knowledge of water'.

‘I’ve often thought that a planet without water would be a dull, sad place. Most, if not all, water on this planet came from countless small comets thumping against the atmosphere (which continues at about ten thousand comets or pieces of comets per day, enough to add a twenty-five-foot depth of water across the entire globe every half a million years). That it comes from space suggests why it is so peculiar and fascinating here on earth. It is a substance from far beyond our reach’.

‘The moon is the better storyteller for this event. Our ancient craters are smoothed over by erosion and tectonic motion. With no erosion, no wind, and no liquid water on the moon, craters can remain perfectly visible for billions of years, an orbiting catalog of impacts’.


BRUCE CHATWIN, 'The songlines'.

‘As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less ‘aggressive’ than sedentary ones.

There is one obvious reason why this should be so. The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a ‘leveller’ on which the ‘fit’ survive and stragglers fall by the wayside.

The journey thus pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The ‘dictators’ of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the ‘gentlemen of the road’.

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