New Horizons | David Garcia and Jan Kattein
On “Infrastructural Fields” an article by Kazys Varnelis for Quaderns #261, he pointed:
“It is time for architects to understand that the structures of infrastructural modernity are just so many ruins and, in conceiving of new infrastructures for the millennium, to learn how to embrace the new modulated world of invisible fields.”
Based on this understanding of new infrastructures and other ways of developing the architectural practice, David García, founder of MAP Architects and Jan Kattein has just finished an Icelandic Expedition with 2 and 3rd year students for The Bartlett School of Architecture.
The research and practical workshop were developed on Iceland, a land which is caught between two major tectonic plates, and is a well known land of endless volcanic activity is also home to Europe’s largest glacier. We should remember that Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior mainly consists of a plateau characterised by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. At the same time other changes of cataclysmic proportions are affecting the land. All this facts are the leitmotif of the expedition, where the students had the opportunity to experiment on-site the geological characteristics of the context and focused on understanding the complex reality of nonbuilt environments. Here, the group had the main task to design a shelter that the students built themselves to be used during the days they were working on the survey. It should be mobile, adaptable and versatile, in order to respond to the crucial needs of the environmental context.
According to David Garcia, “these ‘constructs’ allowed them to record, test and live in a wide range of sites, from urban Reykjavik to the volcanic beaches of Vik; from the glacier lakes in the south and boiling landscapes, to high mountain plateaus at 20 degrees below zero. Living in their shelter for up to four days, the structure performed as active laboratories and testing beds for an array of experiments to understand specific aspects of the sites in question.”
If architecture is deeply related with economy, culture and social concerns, then it’s easy to understand why the economic situation of Iceland becomes an interesting case study for the group. Only a few years ago, Iceland was the economic promise land, while purchasing spree by its banks and over-reaching private investors caused an even greater dive into recession when the economic crisis hit the western world. The challenge to propose projects for a 20 degrees below zero environment, while at the same thinking on the unique nature of Iceland’s history and culture, is the start point to raise strategic questions and address real-time issues that concern the people of this nation after their economic turmoil. García and Kattein add, “Housing, schools and cultural interventions are real needs and hamper social and economic progress.” The question is, how to create good architecture exposed to the forces of nature?
Maybe we don’t know the final answer, as materials and technologies are constantly being improved. But academic efforts like this, addressing this kind of questions, are valuable. We are now living times of change and uncertainty, that’s why we should embrace the new modulated world of invisible fields. And with this, we’re not talking only about communication and networks. Going beyond, it is possible to note that with this kind of experiences, students create their “own infrastructural fields”, expanding their networks, getting to know new contexts and different realities, working with their hands to create micro-shelters, and interacting with other communities.
All the images and video courtesy of David García, founder of MAP Architects, Jan Kattein and The Bartlett School of Architecture.