More and more of our daily reality focuses on consumption. Places where we used to produce things are becoming sites for enjoyment, social interaction, or just fun. This is true all the way from the kitchen—which for more and more middle class people is a place of sociality and cooking for fun, rather than for the production of sustenance—to the renovation of more and more factories into places for living, to the transformation of train yards around the world into parks and residential developments. As production becomes miniaturized or virtual, only warehouses or anonymous places of production far away become larger. Two recent competitions I helped judge had this transformation as a theme. I will discuss the one for the Town Creek in Lexington, Ky., later this week. Here I want to note the results of the Live/Make Competition for a former factory building in Cincinnati.
The local organizers envisioned a new community of so-called "Makers” who would use the technologies that have boosted DIY to the point that you can make—or, more precisely, print—just about anything you can imagine. These Makers (it’s a national movement with its own conventions and rituals) would live above or around the shop, creating a community of creative types dedicated to shared skills and tools. It is a romantic notion, and one that hearkens back to the Arts & Crafts ideal of converting mass production to a mechanism for drawing out connections between humans and their material world.
At least one of the honorary mentions, by Jenny Kim and Andrew Lord (the only American prizewinners), took that nostalgia literally, drawing on the imagery of Depression-era propaganda and the robustness of that period’s industrial architecture to propose a factorylike building that would transform on its upper floors into an abstraction of the gabled row houses of the surrounding neighborhood.
Another honorable mention, by Lara Lesmes Escudero of Spain, expressed how computer technology is creating thinner, more open structures whose pieces are evidence of connection. The scheme’s space frame floated over the gritty scene below it. The three prizewinners, however, all shied away from directly addressing the subject matter, and we picked them more for their site response. While Spaniard Iniesta Nowell’s elegant third prize–winning scheme fingered the living and lab areas up and into the hill to the site’s rear, leaving a glass-enclosed ramp and sign-emblazoned skylights to mark the center, Waparchitects second-prize winner created an altogether correct assembly of pieces in an arrangement that made perfect sense for site and program.
First Prize went to Frenchman Olivier Terrisse’s scheme, whose iconic element consisted of a silvery residential loft tower rising from the rear hill over the renovated factories, whose fabric the architect cut to continue the existing street patter and to open up the spaces of the factory building. By choosing this design, we as a jury opted for architecture that asserted the presence of new functions and ways of inhabiting the site, rather than concentrating on the expression of new technology, nostalgia for old ways of making and building, or the representation of a quasi-utopian community.
Living in the city in denser arrays is all the rage today, but we must realize that such a push for inner-city urbanity will come at the cost of diversity, both socially (and, usually racially) and economically, and in terms of the uses you will find in a downtown. Our cities are now more and more places to live and play, not places to make or do. If we are going to reintegrate making, it will be at a scale and of a manner that fill fit within the existing fabric. If we want to represent a consumable future, we will have to devise new icons and models for a non-productive reality. This competition offered some beautiful examples of such models.
Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.