“un-extruding the tower” examines alternate models to the 20th century traditional modern tower type which became typecast by a focus on only a few of the available parameters. Newer works are beginning to break aspects of this mould- programatically, structurally and environmentally, taking advantage of current technology and essentially inverting the tower from a closed to open system. 'Auto-monument' as defined by Koolhaas in Delirious New York is being replaced by towers that are now critically able to connect to the cities they inhabit. A reopening of the tower's initial promise first suggested at its inception is now beginning to occur. The book / talk attempts to catalogue these sporadic innovations and hypothesise on the potential of the un-extruded tower for this century.
The book looks at works and processes of OMA, Piano, Forsters, Miralles, Sejima, Nouvelle, Pinos and Herzog and De Meuron.
In the course of the 20th century the
tower quickly became focused on a narrow band of innovation, that served an
economic potential artificially generated by the zoning of a site. An
environment of economic Darwinianism inexorably led to the fastest, cheapest
and easiest solution. The technological limitations of both engineering and
construction favoured repetitive solutions. Cheap and abundant energy easily
allowed the modern conventional tower to be artificially serviced from within.
Disconnected from nature and its context, the tower grew in unnatural
proportions setting new minimum ‘progressive standards’. Typically the tower
was monumental, monolithic and repetitive and it was most easily occupied by
singular, unvaried programs. Despite the potential of the section to be
imagined vertically, towers were stacked, repetitive, 3-d matrices able to
accommodate programmatic nuance through horizontal planning alone.
The tower’s independence from the outside, as well as its pressure to be a corporate icon, meant towers were in competition for attention and existed in isolation from each other, fragmenting the city. Collectively, towers made the downtown cities lacking in distinction, seen the world over. This over-scaled uniformity made for soulless, monotonous, overshadowed and windy cities that were, in addition to their physical harshness, culturally barren. The tower’s exterior and form became a sign for the corporation within and revealed little of the inside goings on. The ‘schism’, succinctly noted by Rem Koolhaas in ‘Delirious New York’, came to characterise the tower’s relationship with itself and the cities it defined. The tower’s primary trajectory became aligned with the 20th century’s most ambitious conquest – the occupation of space itself and the pursuit of ultimate height.
Un-extruding the tower unravels the disconnect of the conventional modern tower and looks at the possibilities of the typology to instead make wondrous cities. Reflecting on the tower’s initial promise of programmatic diversity, the book examines recent examples around the world that challenge conventional thinking, each in different ways- programmatically, formally, environmentally, socially and in terms of public and negative space. Un-extruding the tower draws these often disparate innovations together and shows the potential of the newest of architectural typologies to be reconfigured, inverted, and in so doing, to clarify, reconnect and revitalise our cities.
With increased population growth predicted, cities are key to environmental solutions more so than individual buildings. Older, denser cities, not reliant on the car such as Barcelona and Copenhagen, are 10 times more efficient than modern sprawling cities like Detroit, Los Angeles and Sydney. The inversion of the paradigm that informed the 20th century now requires a rethinking of accepted and entrenched practice. Some low-tech solutions are preferable to so called modern, progressive ideas. Towers that are programmatically loaded, sustainable, formally complex, indeterminate, and in some cases, hybrid distortions (the opposite of the extruded tower), have the power to re-invigorate and contribute to our cities’ density and critical, vital mass, defining public space.
Un-extruding the tower questions conventional planning legislation that is designed to mitigate the well known, stereotyped characteristics of the tower that now threaten to typecast the whole typology. It looks at alternative planning models that break with an approach of contextual similarity and notes the need for an override mechanism to blanket legislation. Legislation designed to reduce the negative effects of the known tower, also threatens to disable the typology’s greater potential. As with the Copenhagen summit, the problem is well known, but the solution is more difficult, if not impossible to navigate. Un-extruding the tower provides a holistic consideration of these issues and sets out the as yet untold story of the tower that could be played out in the 21st century.
Static, monumental, repetitive, singular, grided towers are replaced by luminous, angular, nebulous, porous forms. They dissolve and become ephemeral lights at night housing the cities collective aspirations- not corporate identities.