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Design Oppositions and Resolutions

The designed environment that surrounds us is constantly faced with oppositions that it must resolve and overcome. And that is the thing; most everything in our designed environment has in some way dealt with one or several oppositions. Most of the buildings and built spaces have at least dealt with the opposition of man and land in the form of topography. Nearly every building around us (I say nearly because I have yet to check every building) must have dug away the earth in order to poor the foundation to the building. And if the building were to just be sitting on a plinth, then some sort of anchoring stakes certainly must have been pounded into the ground. As another form of default, every building or built environment is forced into the opposition of climate and enclosure. No area can exist in the Minneapolis area and not be subject to the climate of the region. So it is easy to see that the built environment around us is subject to oppositions. But there are several ways to deal with and resolve these oppositions, and that is what can be noted and studied in the area around us. It is much easier to analyze how a specific structure resolved an opposition than to study the opposition that is there. I have three oppositions in one site that were each dealt with in very unique ways, but have a variety of different ways to resolve each opposition.

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The site is the new Guthrie Theater, and it has three layering oppositions that it overcame. First, Jean Nouvel was faced with the opposition of permanence and entropy. How could one design a building that was to replace an existing building and not deal with this opposition? Then, once the idea was conceived for the theater, it was faced with the opposition of topography, and how to deal with the Mississippi River, which it wanted to bring focus to? And finally, once the idea for the cantilever walkway was thought of, it was subject to the opposition of Gravity and Movement. There are multitudes of ways to deal resolve each of these oppositions. For the tribute aspect of the theater, Jean chose to cross the opposition, and designed the new Guthrie Theater in a way that stood out from the old one to give the theater a new presence. But what if Jean chose to let the task of making the new design a tribute to the old one sculpt the form of the building completely. Then the building would look quite unlike the blue steel structure standing today, and would instead be in very close likeness to Ralph Rapson’s building from 1963. Next was the topography aspect, and how to deal with the new Guthrie’s site. Jean chose to let the river sculpt the design of the building and become a focus of the Guthrie. With the choice of building material and the lookout onto the river, it seems that the Mississippi and the Guthrie almost become one. But he very well could have just resolved it adequately, and focused on the technical aspect of what is only necessary for building near a river. He could have designed the building around a sturdy foundation that would resist the effects of flooding and had a good water run-off system. Or he could have crossed the opposition and took the river aspect of his building completely out of his design. He could have chose to ignore the river, or altered it in some way so as to make it seem that the river wasn’t even there in the first place. And finally, for the cantilevered walkway, it had to overcome the opposition of gravity and movement. Jean once again chose to cross the opposition, and designed his outlook point in a way that seems to defy gravity. But this could be designed like masonry bridges and envelop the opposition of gravity and movement. The lookout point could have been designed into some sort of arch or bridge, which takes the extremes of the potential response and shape that into the limits of the form itself. Paired with that, the lookout point could have used redundancies as responses, and also integrated a sort of suspension cable system as a fail safe in case the bridge’s supports were to collapse.

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So a close look at any site or structure around us shows that one, if not many, oppositions had to be dealt with in order to arrive at the space that we have today. But if each opposition had been resolved in some other way, then our designed environment would have been shaped in a completely different manner, and nothing as we know it today would be the same.