Designing to Survive
How COVID-19 may alter the future of architecture
In the spring of 2002, a curious building took shape just off the shore of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. It looked like a bare industrial platform surrounded by a mesh of tubes and scaffolding. But the structure had an “on” switch, and when it was flipped, the open-air decks were transformed. Water from the lake was pumped at high pressure through 35,000 nozzles, aerosolized into a fine mist that became a cloud of vapor engulfing the whole thing. Visitors to the Swiss Expo, for which the building was designed, could enter the cloud, move around in it, ascend just above it and experience the curious effect of having the world blurred away and dissolved in artificial fog.
The Blur Building, created by Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, was one of the iconic architectural events of the new millennium. It was a temporary structure that served no purpose other than to delight and perhaps provoke its visitors, to offer them an experience apart from ordinary cares and concerns. But that experience also made tangible dreams that have animated architects for a century at least — to create spaces in which the interior and the exterior flow into one another, to de-materialize buildings from stone and steel to something more fluid, dynamic and permeable.
“The public can drink the building,” the designers wrote. The project also created space without enclosure, in which people were invited to move with no set patterns of circulation, no hallways or corridors or walls to guide or contain them. It was, seemingly, an architecture of total freedom.
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