a+t density series | book review

This is Hybrid & Density is Home | a+t architecture publishers

A couple of weeks ago, MovingCities received two books from a+t architecture publishers: This is Hybrid and Density is Home. The last publication presents 37 projects on collective housing, while the first, featuring a preface by Steven Holl, presents itself as the first theoretical-practical book on hybrid buildings, an analysis of mixed-use buildings and a showcase of architecture build up by accounting books.

We like the Density Series that a+t architecture publishers have released during the past few years and Density is Home is no exception in the careful selection, pleasing graphical design and short, concise and compact introductions to several housing projects build, mostly in Europe, during the past decade. This time around the selection of projects (see a preview on issuu or below) focuses mainly on projects in Spain, France, The Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom. The projects are presented and an introduced according to their position/relation with changing cities. The authors decided that “the dispersed city”, “the expansive city”, “the modern city”, “the core of the city” and “the recycled city” are the locales for these interventions.

Density is Home | a+t architecture publishers

This is Hybrid | a+t architecture publishers

This is Hybrid is more ambitious of nature and is based on a selection of the articles and projects published in the Hybrids Series in a+t magazine, during 2008 and 2009. The blurb has following description of the agenda of hybrid buildings: “The hybrid surpasses the domains of architecture and settles into the urban scale. It is an artefact able to exercise centripetal force, a colossus counteracting the evil forces of dispersion.” It can also be previewed on issuu and below.

In his prologue, Steven Holl revisits his contribution, along with Joseph Fenton, for Pamphlet Architecture#11 from 1984, themed Hybrid Buildings. 27 years later, Steven Holl sees the potential and need the hybrid building to be implemented in the Chinese context. He states:

In the 21st century, what is potential of Hybrid Buildings? Certainly the hyper-urbanization of cities in China, such as Shenzhen, Beijing and Chengdu, can act as catalyst incubators for new and experimental architectural types. These urban circumstances provoke unorthodox combinations and particular ideas to specific places. […] Each new public space formed by hybrid building contains living, working, recreation and cultural facilities. These new pedestrian sectors eliminate the need for automobile transfer across the city. They become localized ‘social condensers’ for new communities.

This is Hybrid | a+t architecture publishers

Steven Holl might be true and correct in this assessment, and the buildings he constructed in those Chinese cities in the past years a prove of that, but the almost three decades between the North-American pamphlet and the Chinese implementation saw the dawn of various new type of urban activities, communication, mobility and social developments. In that regard, it is quite astonishing to see that This is Hybrid has no focus – with exception of the three projects of Steven Holl in China – on buildings constructed in Singapore, Japan, South-Korea or China. The collected projects a very Euro-Hybrid, if not Euro-Hubris in nature.

In the written contributions by Aurora Fernández Per and Javier Mozas, the agenda of the Hybrid Building is contrasted with that of the Social Condenser:

The social condenser was born of the State, while the hybrid is the offspring of the capitalist system. It is the commercial result of a sum of private interests and subtraction of urban determiners. Speculation and profitability were its parents and the American city was its kindergarten. While the condenser was the manifestation of an ideology, even a homage to architecture , the history of the hybrid was written in accounting books.

This is Hybrid | a+t architecture publishers

More than a definitive book on Hybrid Buildings, This is Hybrid is an exploration of the typology, form and organization of the big building. The book opens a discussion by presenting projects by BIG, EM2N, Jean Nouvel, OMA and REX amongst others related to this subject. Next to this, the introduction presents several examples from buildings from the 20th century (Downtown Athletic Club, No-Stop City, Sunset Mountain Park, Alster Centre,…) to illustrate the difference, although Steven Holl suggests in his intro that a merger might be at hand, between the condenser and the hybrid. As such the publication opens paths for further investigation, publications and discussion. In his “Hybrid versus Social Condenser” essay Aurora Fernández Per writes that:

Nevertheless, these two visions of the world, represented in antagonistic models, the fruit of ideology as opposed to the fruit of money, have continued to reincarnate, whether more or less intensely, up to current times. Throughout the past 80 years, condensers have gone through some defeats, most of them due to the desire to programme and enclose the lives of its users The Corviale or Park Hill cases were the most painful for the model’s defenders. Meanwhile, hybrids have had a time of mutation on the hybrid block to attract investment and facilitate management, with results like the Barbican or Ihme Zentrum, along with other important examples. A selection of both is included in the comparative analysis that follows this text.

In the last ten years, the balance of models to be followed seemed to favour the hybrid. After the theoretic recovery in the 1980s, where we have examples in Steven Holl’s work and the work of Ábalos & Herreros, among others, it reappeared at the beginning of the 21st century, again as a saviour to American cities through projects such as the Museum Plaza. Devoid of ideology and endowed with great versatility, the hybrid is also finding its place in Europe, not to mention Asia, where the mixing of uses has been inherent in the development of its cities.


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