Delft University of Technology
September 2016 - January 2017
Public Building Design Studio
International Monetary Funds
Bucharest - Romania
Filippo Maria Doria
In this project a new headquarters of the IMF was to be designed in the old center of Bucharest. Since Romania is one of IMF's biggest debtors and the IMF is a rather western-oriented institute, to locate the new headquarters in the capital of Romania would be merely an expression of power and feature a lack of programmatic function. But what is left of architecture in lack of a programmatic function? What remains is the sensational. The project therefore aims to express the absence through the actor's perception and experience.
By focusing on the affects of man by its environment, certain aspects of the later developed theories in 'The Crucifix Glitch' and 'Man and Architecture' are already present in this project. It triggered the interest and explorations in the reciprocal relation between man and its environment.
The IMF is an institution which surveys and secures the international monetary system. It helps countries in need by lending them money and providing resources to stabilize their economies.
However, the loans come with strict requirements. Policies have to be adapted and undesired agreements accepted. Those agreements are mostly made in order to resolve short-term financial issues, but come with long-term demands. Instead of resolving the issues, they are made chronical.
Since the countries in need are obviously the less wealthy ones and in general they’re in debt with wealthy investors, those agreements can be a valuable controlling instrument for the investors.
In other words, the IMF is a device of power of ‘the West’. This is most evidently expressed in the location of their two current headquarters, both in Washington D.C. in the USA. A new headquarters in the Capital of Romania would therefore be merely an expression of power and feature a lack of programmatic function.
What is left of architecture in lack of a programmatic function?
Since the function lacks, the meaning or purpose of the architecture has to be found somewhere else.
It could be that it finds its meaning in itself. Hegel describes this as symbolic architecture, meaning that the architecture becomes both the means and the end. It would refer only to itself, becoming independent architecture. But this building wouldn’t have a meaning in itself. The lack of function is, in the same way as a function is to architecture, exterior to the architecture itself and the lack of function would become the meaning of the architecture. So the meaning of the architecture is the absence of something.
Since the meaning becomes a certain absence, could it resemble a tomb? The purpose or function of a tomb is to dwell a body, a dead body. It’s meaning is dead. But it doesn’t lack, it’s not absent. On the contrary, Death is nowhere more present than it is in a tomb.
The lack of function arises a problem within the system of sign and meaning. The sign is referring to something that’s not there. What remains is the perception of this reference, the sensation of it. As in a garden.
A garden lacks a primary, initial program. It’s completely focused on its perception, experience and sensation. It doesn’t refer to the rational or intellectual, relating to sign and meaning, but to the affective and emotional.
Focus on perception and experience
Accordingly, because of the lack of function what remains is the sensational. The building becomes a garden. The projects aims to express the absence of function through an experience which resembles emptiness, hollowness and vertigo.
The building lands regardless of anything on its spot in a seemingly elegant but very dominant way. It consists of a fluid mirroring form from which a steel construction protrudes, claims a space and lands in a pond. It’s fluid smooth surfaces and filigree construction contrast with its rough and solid surroundings, emphasizing its alien nature. The circular pond is circumscribed by a waterfall, which in combination with the form touching the pond in the middle, creates a concentric wave pattern in the water, accentuating the form. Two staircases penetrate and mold the form, and are the only relations with it and its surroundings.
Kinematics and vestibular
The form can be entered through the steel staircases, which structurally balance each other. The stairs are hinged to the ground only at the beginnings, allowing some movement which will cause a disorientating sensation by the vestibular system.
The space inside is perpetually reflected and distorted, dissolving its boundaries in an experience of total emptiness. The reflections of the actor always seem to stare at you, since you only see the reflection you look at yourself sharply, and give you the sensation that you’re the only subject in this vast undefined space. The reflections, not obeying the rules of gravity, and the movement of the stairs reciprocally reinforce the disorientating sensation.
The form slightly touches the pond it’s situated in. The waterfall surrounding this pond will create a sound travelling through the water and resonating within the aluminum form. The hard surfaces of the fluid form in combination with the emptiness of the space cause a very long acoustic decaying time. A vast low reverbing sound will be continuously reflected through the hollowness of the space, in combination with an occasional footstep, which will be heard for seconds.
Water in the pond will evaporate cooling down the water itself. Eventually the water, already cooler then the surrounding air, will cool down the metal of the form it touches and with that the space inside the form. No direct sunlight enters this space, and sunlight cast on the form itself will be reflected so will barely heat it up. For the same reason the form will have a high thermal emissivity. These conditions will always cause the space to be slightly cooler than its surroundings.