Snow City

Published on October 26th, 2009

study for London Festival of Architecture 2008

home pageDramatic temperature changes, sudden rainfall and rapid changes in pollutant levels  our cities climates are becoming more and more difficult to predict. Architects and planners are faced with increasingly complex and uncertain information when shaping tomorrows cities. Does this mean there should be a radical rethink of how we develop urban space? Introduction from the Dana Centre May 2008.

The landscape of Snow City is a representation of a world inundated with snow and reshaped accordingly. How might the world respond to various climatic conditions, and specifically to snow? In order to understand this premise, it is necessary to look to the natural environment and how geography is constantly transforming itself with the forces exerted in the course of seasonal and long-term changes.

Mountains form from constant erosion due to wind, rain, snow, glaciers and geologic shifts. They have their own dynamic forces attributable to the direction and grade of their surfaces in response to the constant of gravity. But the mountain itself is the structure upon which the heavy blanket of snow rests. The snow firmly settles onto the mountain but does not take its direct shape. It forms a new, more distributed landscape of smooth surface modulating the distinct geometry of the mountain below.

The city has formed a crystalline shape that does not enjoy the flexibility of natural geography. And naturally the heavy loads of snow are not welcome in the urban landscape of the city. Our cities disregard the qualities of such a landscape by flattening our experience. Snow City looks to explore the relationship created when a city is transformed into a smooth world transformed by the heavy load of snow. The city is then described by a different form of crystallization, one closer to smooth and continuous surfaces.

Snow City uses a faceted geometry to describe the smooth surface of the new urban condition. It uses the smooth surface to create continuous buildings and landscapes that would force a constant interaction.

The purpose with Snow City is to inject a cataclysmic climatic condition onto the cityin order to register an urban architectural response. The current fascination with the development of the city lies purely within the rules which govern its growth. Existing planning, legislation, political will, lines of sight and the flexibility of the open plan to absorb any potential tenant; all of this combined with an economic drive towards the indistinguishable office building form the backdrop of the cities development and design. Snow City takes the physical position that what determines the architecture is a material organization based on an external force and condition. We have used snow as the exerting force as it embodies an immediate transformation as well as a continuous shift from one state to another. It is precisely because the problem is urban, climatic and external and embodies a range of forces that we have created Snow City. It is the formulation of the problem to help derive the understanding.

If a condition of climate could fundamentally shift the nature of a city then the city itself would need to re-understand its built form. In the Snow City model we re-create city with the new terrain of frozen geometry. The existing condition knows nothing of the impending changes, It has no relationship to the event and therefore no preparations have been made to adjust and understand the forces and geometry. As the storm settles upon the city at once it is transformed by an external force. It takes new shape and its logic becomes that of the terrain of the mountains and valleys. It has no choice but to immediately comprehend, reconfigure and absorb this new quality so that the city is still recognizable. While the city can still be seen as functioning, the architecture has now become a landscape of folds and geometries far beyond the realm of any urban policy.

Artificial landscapes are coherent spatial systems. They proliferate infinite variations rather than operating via the repetition of discreet types. The model of Snow City demonstrates how such a landscape would operate. At present our cities are not built as coherent spatial systems. They are in constant ignorance of the current condition in favour of the past although their geological relevance does not carry the information of ages past. Instead, they formulate a repetition of a nostalgic built form. Within Snow City we see a new possibility working its way forward. That possibility is that the city begins to understand its own configuration by creating itself as already deformed by the uncompromising forces of climate. It builds on the geological information, but does not follow repetition of elements or types in order to exist. This new geometry folds the surface into slopes of varying segments. They form an upper segment consisting more commonly of edges, a middle segment of more constant slope and a lower segment of concavity becoming an undulating valley of public configuration. The valley is understood as a constant space where the shifting material settles and forms the soft surface of public realm. The variations of the mid-slope are the most fluctuating as they receive and give away material in a constant exchange. Their erosion provides the valleys with new material and themselves with a powerful means of reconfiguration. The craggy upper sections of Snow City are the identifiable edges within the soft surface. They help us understand position and orientation within the landscape.

Artificial landscapes produce extreme conditions with gravity defying formulations. They are spatial puzzles carrying a catalogue of possibilities where the architecture and landscape perform as an entity rather than a juxtaposition of two separate elements. The built becomes interwoven within landscape and landscape defines built form in a choreography of surface.

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credits///design: 4of7 with superfusionlab///Milutin Cerovic, Nate Kolbe, Lida Charsouli, Yi Yvonne Wend, InSub Lee, Ji’in Kim, Djordje Stojanovic /// text by Nate Kolbe