Articulated Grounds, AA Agendas #7 is a wonderful book that contains three years worth of student work of Diploma unit 2 at the Architectural Association led by Franklin Lee and Anne Save de Beaurecueil. Through three different briefs: Liquid Urbanism, Environmental Ornamentation and The Smooth and the Articulated, the AA unit 2 navigates between the legacy of renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer, the modernist influence of Le Corbusier in Brazil, and the contemporary union of environmental analysis and parametric articulations.
" Set against this backdrop, the purpose of our research is to find ways to mediate technological performance and the manipulation of grounds for social organization, focus in in particular on the synchrony of environmental and cultural flows "
A critical aspect on why the briefs are so successful has to do with the fact that they manage to trace back and engage with Brazil’s historical discourse.
" In our aim to mediate between culture and nature, the unit has worked on making ground systems more environmentally responsive and on producing a type of ecological expressionism - an ‘environmental ornamentation’ "
One can quickly notice by glancing at the projects a certain contemporary parametric look and feel to them, the use of parametrics in all projects is not trite or unneeded as it commonly is, it is used as a digital aid informed by environmental analyses to take more informed decisions. One can also quickly tell that this type of software almost invariably delivers large sets of panelized surfaces that are quite differentiated and articulated yet the relevance and deployment of these elements is to create an instrument of modulation: micro climates and light gradation. At times, they are even used as a radical intervention (as to replace the original monolithic facades of Niemeyer’s French Communist Party Headquarters). Above all, the understanding of Oscar Niemeyer’s built work is instrumental in generating an academic brief capable of responding in a contemporary manner to historic landmark projects.
" Surfaces themselves are never truly monolithic, singular or primary (as crude digital modelling descriptions so often imply), but rather are themselves merely a conceptual framework for making architecture in more or less the same way as all built structures are realised: one piece at a time, through an articulation of a very large number of discrete structural sand spatial systems, material components tectonic pieces and elements " - Bret Steele
If architecture is a continuation of cultural and aesthetic ideas conveyed through materiality, the rich Brazilian landscape and the work of the AA Unit 02 is a testament of that. It is enticing to see students successfully continue the discourse and ideas set in motion by Niemeyer half a century before them and understand the differences on schools of thought in the country’s built heritage (Niemeyer being part of the Carioca movement, keen on Corbusier and modernism vs the Paulista school, with american influences of Walter Gropius) ultimately being able to deracinate its shortcomings to create specific architectural solutions.
One theme that runs through all projects is the relationship between landscape, ground and figure coupled with a social and aesthetic agenda. Parametric software is superb and advanced in articulating the micro-scale at the intersection between inside and outside yet the architecture of Niemeyer resides mainly in its relation to landscape and figure and its circulatory systems that facilitate his surface modernism: elongated ramps to nuance circulation and views, the curvaceous approach and undulating motives.
" Monolithic surfaces are more effective at channelling wind and circulation, while component propagation is highly instrumental in sunlight mediation and processes of fabrication "