Friday, May 3, 2013

Defining Porosity I

THE concept of a porous building might seem like an invitation to disaster. Imagine a gigantic, inverted colander housing the forlorn and sodden who squish-step around moldy desks and couches in a slow motion waltz to a darkling dirge. Certainly stranger experimental building envelopes have been conceived and even built. Architectural porosity should describe a passage through a membrane from unenclosed to enclosed space to avoid the confusion inherent in attempting to redefine a term well established in the language; this essay will focus on the movement of people, rather than rainwater, through a membrane.

Both non-temporal or physically sensible membranes, and temporal, or imagined, intuited or inferred membranes will be considered here. Membranes we can see, touch, hear, smell and taste are physically sensible and include building envelopes of any material, no matter how fantastic, including fabric, water curtain, brick, vegetation, and gingerbread. Membranes that do not register on the five senses include boundaries in the social, imaginative and presumed realms.

Brasiliana Library by Rodrigo Mindlin Loeb +
Eduardo de Almeida
Kevin Lynch, author of the seminal work The Image of the City, wrote about architectural porosity from an oblique perspective under the subheading Designing the Paths in his book. He defined the path thus, " . . . the network of habitual or potential lines of movement . . . are the most potent means by which the whole can be ordered." A path orders, and therefore has the capacity to categorize, create hierarchy, define edges and enclose. These capacities and characteristics manifest in three dimensions with the application of a little imagination; for example, the concept of a path as a two dimensional walking surface needs virtually no imagination to present an obvious line between that to be walked upon and and that not to be walked upon. But if we want to assert that the path creates enclosure, it requires imagination to extrude the two dimensional line upward into an imaginary boundary or membrane.

So, for the sake of coherence, let's limit our discussion to the piercing of membranes by paths. Architectural porosity can also be illustrated by describing what it is not. For example, this discussion of porosity purposely separates itself from Richard Goodwin's notions of porosity; there are two reasons for this: one, the non-temporal scope of this discussion exceeds the scope of his proposed public space versus private space experiments, and two, the temporal scope of this discussion is much narrower than his attempt to define invagination and chiastic space.1 This discussion will also make a distinction between porosity and transparency to further illustrate the working definition proposed above.

A descriptive contrast between two existing buildings can serve as a case study to illustrate the basis upon which we can build our definition of porosity. The Brasiliana Library by Rodrigo Mindlin Loeb + Eduardo de Almeida, will be used to illustrate one side of the contrast; the other side of the polemic will be revealed in the next installment of this article.

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