Sunday, May 8, 2011

concepts / percepts / affects

Bernard Tschumi FAIA, with Bernard Tschumi Architects, was recently featured at UPenn for the 2011 Louis I. Kahn memorial lecture; the title of his talk was “concepts, percepts, affects.” One of Tschumi’s most recognizable projects (initially, at least for me) that put his practice on the map back in 1983 was Parc de La Villette. They have since conceptualized and implemented a range of urban design, museum, master planning, public buildings, housing, and infrastructure projects throughout the world, including the Acropolis Museum, Elliptic City, and Bridge. Tschumi has also been known to contribute to the theoretical side of design professions with such literature as Architecture and Disjunction, Event-Cities, and many others. Tschumi and the firm have established a reputation as one of today’s foremost architects and practices leading design professions throughout the past 2+ decades.

The “rough approximation” of Tschumi and the firm’s approach is very interesting in that it is spelled out and a fairly specific step-by-step process that values program, constraint, space, movement, material, and above all else concept (and a maintained integrity thereof). During the talk, Tschumi boiled it down to “concepts, percepts, affects.” He used an example of an arch to explain the ideas of each term. The first image illustrates the concept of an arch; the second begins to create a percept through materiality and dimension; the third image evokes emotional affects.

A great example that Tschumi used during the talk to provide clarity in defining “concepts, percepts, affects” was the difference between two projects which have the same concept, but different percepts and affects. He discussed the Rouen Concert Hall and Exhibition Complex and the Limoges Concert Hall and how both projects stem from the same concept, program, and double-envelop-style building. What is the major difference? Materials (percepts), which leads to a different experience (affects).

Tschumi is a starchitect and has achieved great successes in design, but I wonder what the role of starchitect design will be in the future (like the Frank Gehrys and Peter Eisenmans) in comparison to a grass-roots approach that involves community participation. Maybe it is more a question of scale, client and context that defines appropriate approaches, designers and involvement. Thoughts? I know Frank Gehry does not think of himself as a starchitect (check out the article/interview where Gehry defends this notion).

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