Why knowledge matters in architecture? A review of the lecture by Caroline Bos of UNStudio

“Projects and programs do not work in solitary functions anymore…”

Caroline Bos is a Dutch urban planner and is co-founder of UNStudio, a large award-winning architecture firm based in Amsterdam.

In September 2016, Future Cape Town and dhk architects, hosted Caroline Bos, for one of the first lectures about the new UNStudio book entitled ‘Knowledge Matters’.

“Does knowledge matter?” This is how Caroline Bos, co-founder of UNStudio kicked off her lecture, asking the guests whether they agreed with her that knowledge does in fact matter. In line with the theme of the evening, Knowledge Matters’ is also the title of a new book compiled by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos. It explores the ever-changing role and concept of the architect as a designer of the future and also explains the development of UNStudio’s in-house Knowledge Platforms. Hailing from the small country of the Netherlands, Bos mentioned that her and her now international team wanted to have a transnational focus and had a need for diversity in their work relating to infrastructure, buildings, urban design, architecture and products.

Knowledge is what Bos most aspires to because it is continuous and can be shared. The projects that result are simply “side effects” of the knowledge that is prevalent within contemporary practice.

Bos sees architecture and urbanism as part of the same tool box that helps in creating and shaping multipurpose projects; a tool box that is enriching to an ever expanding profession. “Projects and programs do not work as solitary functions anymore. They are complex and work towards better connectivity between the spaces in which they exist, towards regenerating them”. This notion is clearly evident in one of the first projects that the team, led by the founder of UNStudio, Ben van Berkel, successfully developed and which was the first step to their achieving international recognition- the Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam.

                   © Christian Richters

Architecture, Urbanism and Network Theory

Architecture, Urbanism and Network Theory are ideas that have to be seen in a relational manner, says Bos. During her presentation she showed and explained, by way of case studies and projects, that the most efficient networks are those that have the most connections and the role of the architect then becomes central in network theory.

Local Knowledge

“It all depends on working together” says Bos. Shared and local knowledge is why projects such as the newly released book can be developed. Local ideas are critical for the work and the kind of projects that UNStudio is involved in.

The concept of the architect, what is the architect’s relevance, how do architects relate in time and what gives one the means to do what they want to do, is a fascination Bos and her team.

Meandering Flows

© Hufton + Crow

How people experience architecture is very important to Bos and UNStudio. According to Bos, human behaviour and how people move is a critical shaper of their work. Trajectories and the different paths that people take within the buildings designed by UNStudio provide opportunities for people to experience the spaces and buildings- both in open (void) and closed spaces.

Experimental approaches are necessary because they track experiences. This is displayed through the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany where the flow of people brings them into the centre as well as the edges or the building, as well as with the Galleria Centercity in Cheonan, Korea, with views through a central interior and gallery. Engaging and questioning is critical to meeting the client and users’ needs. The key is the question behind the question, one that is not critical nor distancing from the project. It leads to how spaces of flow must be reconciled.

© Christian Richters

Real Identity in Clusters

Finally, Bos showed an example of how identity is important in the projects that are developed by the studio. Using the example of the Singapore University of Technolgy & Design (SUTD) which has harsh climatic conditions, she explained how important it is that spaces of flow and identity need to speak to each other through a sustainable form. On traditional educational campuses, faculty buildings tend to be closed off and separated from one another. In the SUTD they are connected by the open spaces that can also be used as part of the teaching space. For work done by UNStudio, identity is a driver of how people see the spaces. Activating these clusters of space shows the fluidity that can take place. The ability for people to see where they are going and where they are coming from provides them with a sense of intrigue.  She finished off by saying that typology is irrelevant for architects, challenging them to not be restricted by building typology and scale.

© Hufton + Crow
© Hufton + Crow

Knowledge Matters

Written by Ben van Berkel & Caroline Bos and published by Frame Publishers, Knowledge Matters is an exploration into a more agile form of practice – one that is scalable, relevant and opens conversations about the future of the discipline in the context of today’s knowledge sharing society. It does so by critically engaging the expanded set of demands now placed upon the profession – reframing these demands as the latent potentials of performative architecture in the 21st century. These potentials are explored, realised and speculated upon through the book’s 11 ‘Knowledge Tools’, with projects often appearing more than once and in various guises.

Predicated on the belief that architecture’s inherently contextual quality provides ideal grounding through which to organise increasingly vast and accessible forms of knowledge into distinct and engaged entities, Knowledge Matters recasts architecture as the conduit through which the passive reception of knowledge is reimagined as the active production of it.

“Knowledge Matters as far as we absorb, engage and transform it – to serve us, in our effort to expand our imagination and our grasp of the future expansions of the profession.”

Ben van Berkel & Caroline Bos


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