Less is More – the Spanish Bauhaus Renaissance
The Spanish initiative n'UNDO is bringing the classics of modern architecture back to life. It seeks to integrate sustainable space and urban architecture into local city planning. Read More
“The disease of today’s cities and settlements today is the sad result of our failure to value basic human needs above economic and industrial demands.“
This quote is from Walter Gropius, the founder of the Weimar Bauhaus movement, who, together with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, wrote architectural history. The prosaic functionality of Bauhaus style laid the foundation for modern architecture and the furniture created in the period from 1919-1933 strictly followed the “form follows function” adage like no other movement. One central characteristic of this line was a reduction to the essentials: less is more.
Gropius’ criticism of urban planning is still applies today, some 90 years later. In Spain a group of experts under the name “n’UNDO” is now working to integrate the old Bauhaus principles into local urban planning to create sustainable space and city architecture.
This is not their only affiliation with the Bauhaus tradition: Gropius and Mies van der Rohe were the first to combine traditionally separate areas (back then in the visual and applied arts, architecture and industrial art), and n’UNDO is bringing multidisciplinary experts together as well – from architects to philosophers, geographers to economists.
The vices of today’s urban planning
Today a city cannot be created through urban planning alone. At least not one that is well-planned and citizen-centered: All too often, cities allow unchecked. This results in impractical urban systems that suffer from excessive speculation, financial jugglers, a lack of judgement and serious mistakes. Resources, equipment, technology and high demand have resulted in the current exponential rise in the construction of artefacts. Society associates growth with progress. Quantity is more important than quality.
Individualism and our throw-away culture have caused us to associate improvement with growth. The more, the better. The planet is suffering from the compulsive hoarding of useless elements that poison our society. In psychology this is known as “hoarding syndrome”. Spanish painter Antonio López has described this phenomenon thusly: “The muck is taking up too much space.”
Getting rid of excess
How do we counteract the “muck” though?
n´UNDO sees the Bauhaus principle of subtraction as the key, as “a sustainable answer to architectural hoarding,” a path towards improvement. For n’UNDO sustainability means creating and producing only that which is necessary and essential. The group views alternative urban development as a process based on preservation, reuse, density, diversity and complexity. It must ensure that the system is efficient, and that urban activities are planned so they improve the environment on a social, cultural and physical level. This concept is complemented by overriding activities for identification, mapping, analysis and implementation.
n’Undo in practice: The n’mApp
The n´mApp application collects and stores data on locations or buildings where no-construction, minimization, reuse and dismantling are considered relevant.
The mobile app is a digital complement to the n´UNDO File tool, which has developed and expanded since 2011 and currently stores hundreds of locations in different countries.
The n’mApp is an adaptation of ODK – Open Data Kit – an open source tool linked to Google and made for Android, and which is now in widespread use in humanitarian interventions and works in development contexts.
n’Undo in practice: Audiovisual urban project on the digital façades of the city
What can we watch on urban screens? What do we watch? What do we want to watch? The n’UNDO Cities Project 2014 focuses on Madrid’s el Barrio de las Letras quarter and the digital facade of Medialab Prado Madrid. It consists of a workshop with different sessions on designing facades in public spaces. It started with an open call for collaborators, who will then gather information from neighbors. The group will also study and analyze laws and documents regulating projections in the public space.
n’Undo initiatives in practice: Landscape and urban planning in Kalmar, Sweden
If a city is to be truly sustainable, it would have to be based on a system that requires less energy and more urban complexity. The n´UNDO Intervention in Kalmar is based on:
No construction out of respect for the territory and areas of high environmental value that constitute the identity of Kalmar. We are consolidating and protecting landscapes and existing voids through a restructuring of communications, which re-defines the main road as an integrative element: rural-urban.
Minimization based on minimal impact criteria: energetic, environmental and visual elements of new constructions. A model of accurate intensive urbanism as opposed to an extensive one. Complexity of the urban grid resulting in the enrichment of the social link through the diversification of uses and types.
Reuse of spaces and existing infrastructure, reviewing and optimizing them. Densification of the existing framework without moving away from human scale. Proposal of poli-centric development with the creation of new centers.
Intensive urban planning vs. extensive town planning
n’UNDO suggests the following range of approaches as urban planning fundamentals:
- Non-construction of new elements as the first option in projects to do justice to citizens’ needs rather than market demand. The question of whether a construction project represents added value for citizens should always be asked.
- Re-use of the many empty or abandoned buildings: restoration and re-occupation creates more sustainable cities with other organizational forms beyond the conventional public-private organizational forms with purchasing transactions and renting.
- Minimization of energy balances, visual limitations and inaccessibility. Our cities are oversaturated with errors; they need quiet, subtraction, and clarity.
- Dismantling in the positive sense of renewal or recycling combined with the humble recognition of mistakes and courageous effort expended reversing them.
The goal of the dismantling approach of a well-considered and decisive architectural process is “surgical subtraction”. This is intended to recreate, regenerate and reveal empty space in the urban fabric. These spaces become foci for the essential social and civil activities in which community members work together to achieve some or all their goals.
n’UNDO dreams of empty spaces, and architecture is this space between the elements, a clearing, a confrontation with nothingness. Quiet is energy, a matrix of endless possible forms and states. Malevich’s black square is the embodiment of this principle, the lack of any kind of substance that becomes visible through a point, the most complete representation of subtraction, the paradigm and the density, the locus of maximum intensity … nothingness “that is dense energy”, as physicist David Bohm contends.
This article first appeared on goethe.de