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Abstract Metrics in “Architecture of Nature. Nature of Architecture” by Diana Agrest

Abstract Metrics in “Architecture of Nature. Nature of Architecture” by Diana Agrest

From the book Architecture in Nature / Nature in Architecture. Section of Kure Island and the relationship between coral polyps and sea level change due to climate change over the past thirty million years. Section of Kure Island and the relationship between coral polyps and sea level change due to climate change over the past thirty million years. Hancheng Chen

“Architecture of Nature / Nature of Architecture” by Diana Agrest explores the materiality and the effects of the forces at play in the history of the Earth through the architect’s modes of seeing and techniques of representation. We highlighted the book in NESS 2; however, the transdisciplinary journey that this publication takes is worth a second look: both visually and textually it brings to the fore the scale of nature, the need for abstraction, and the absent human figure, while at the same time allowing for a specific point-of-view to emerge. There will be a presentation of the book at the Cooper Union on October 3rd.

Plan—Summer: permafrost lakes and Inuit woven net systems.
Manipulated Life Cycles. Bering Strait, Alaska. Melanie Fessel.

The book includes images and models related to projects developed over eight years in the Advanced Research graduate studio directed by Diana Agrest at Cooper Union. These images and models represent the complex generations and transformations of extreme natural phenomena such as glaciers, volcanoes, permafrost, and clouds. They take into account the interdisciplinary methods that are found in the environmental sciences, the history of science, philosophy, and art. Each page is an exploration of the materiality and the forces at play over millions of years on Earth.

“At the core of this reading of nature is the complex weaving of so many timeframes and scales. Everything is moving all the time. The line is never still. An endless choreography of bodies in space-time, a multidimensional opera in a total theater where the stage moves and changes as the drama unfolds, through events that articulate different rhythms, times, and tempos while defining spaces as the traces that overlap and intersect, these presentations of nature are revealed by our expanded perspective. And then, as a corollary to this work, there is our human time, our mini-choreographies of reproduction and survival over a narrative of “run for your life.” We are trying here to establish a bridge between those two worlds.”

– Diana Agrest

Architecture of Nature / Nature of Architecture also entails an interview between Agrest, Peter L. Galisons, and Caroline A. Jones (Co-Editors of Picturing Science, Producing Art, 1998). The conversation questions the absence of the human figure, the Cartesian Method, the role of objectivity, and the relationship between science and art. In the process, it becomes a behind-the-scenes discussion of the book’s core values. Another interview between Agrest and D. Graham Burnett (historian of science) takes a more personal approach, exploring Humboldt’s exploration in the 19th century alongside his daughter’s experience confronting fear in the waters of Capri.

Section showing water circulation upwards, following the rhyolite rock structure with permeable and non-permeable rock.
Liquid Tectonics. Yellowstone Caldera, Wyoming. Chung-Wei Lee

Agrest, in what she calls “a kind of autobiographical piece,” explores the relationship between gender and science. She focuses on the historically situated concept of nature as female. Although initially written in 1991, the text led to a new phase in her work that is just as relevant then as it is today. The essay by the pioneer of creative nonfiction, John McPhee, helps to round off the volume, providing a textual counterpart to the visual exploration of materiality found throughout the book.

The methodology used in the project is as much visual as it is haptic. What ultimately comes into view are not replications but rather reinterpretations. Asking questions rather than providing immediate answers, the book speaks to a unique materiality that transcends different scales. Each element, from the images to the interviews, helps to create a balance between a pushing of the boundaries of architecture and a telling of the story of nature in its own right.

Agrest will present the book at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art on October 3rd. Panelists include Peter L. Galison, Caroline A. Jones, Beatriz Colomina, Sylvia Lavin, and Kurt Forster. Paul Lewis moderates it. The event is not to be missed! More information can be found here.

Visible volcanic activity is the net result of invisible forces culminating over thousands of years. This drawing sequence shows a rising magma plume being channeled into an existing network of ridges and dikes created from earlier eruptions. The net effect pushes the entire structure upwards and outwards.
Oblique Tectonics. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii. Lawrence Lek

AUTHOR: Diana Agrest / CONTRIBUTORS: D. Graham Burnett, Peter Louis Galison, Caroline A. Jones, and John McPhee / DATE: 2018 / PUBLISHER: Applied Research +Design Publishing and The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union.
Available at Applied Research +Design Publishing.

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