“The accommodation of the automobile at the expense of almost all else characterizes most contemporary planning. Our site plans insist that cars be convenient, but contained balancing their impacts with other considerations. Where possible, parking areas are co-opted for other activities: plaza, grove, marketplace, play yard.” – Definition of Reclaiming from Studio E’s website.
Reclaiming stands out as perhaps the most narrowly defined – and thus limiting – of all of Studio E’s guiding principles, and is ripe for reexamination, distillation, and ultimately redefinition as something more essential that can open up new avenues for exploration in the firm’s work and add richness to the other principles. The crux of the current definition of the principle – that the needs and desires of people should come before those of cars – is certainly a noble pursuit and should not be sacrificed in this process of reexamination, as it constitutes a common thread in nearly all of the firm’s housing work: from the drive-aisle reinterpreted as a lively pedestrian court through the heart of the 11thAvenue Townhomes in Escondido, to the act of cloaking an otherwise banal urban parking garage with lofts at Fahrenheit in San Diego’s East Village. The goal then, is to take the principle back a step. Broaden it. Stretch it. Simplify it into something that allows for alternate interpretations while retaining the spirit of the original idea.
Reclaiming is a verb. An action word. It carries with it a dangerous edge, implying that one is doing something they perhaps should not be doing. Something that goes against the grain or perhaps is even forbidden by an unseen authority.
Redefined as “to take back that which has been taken away”, Reclaiming can still be readily applied to the original cause célèbre of people-before-cars and parks-before-parking lots, etc… but it now opens itself up to new associations and meanings that may not have presented themselves before, reinforcing another principle – that of Possibility. By reclaiming the act of definition – of assigning meaning, be it to the word Reclaiming itself, or to the materials and objects with which we create – Reclaiming allows us to re-purpose or re-imagine the use and meaning of existing everyday objects and materials, taking advantage of their embodied energy and form to suit our current needs. To that end, when viewed through the lens of sustainability, Reclaiming can be interpreted as “the extraction of useful substances out of waste or refuse”, opening up an avenue for material exploration that adds a greater depth to the principle of Alchemy.
A more utilitarian (and less controversial) readymade can be found in the form of Heineken’s World Bottle, or WOBO prototype. Imagined by brewer Alfred Heineken as a solution to bottle-strewn beaches and a lack of affordable building materials in the Caribbean Islands circa 1963, the WOBO Bottle “turns into” a brick once its contents are emptied and enjoyed, and is an all too elegant example of the idea of treasure-from-re-imagined trash in action.
This type of re-imagination is common in custom car culture; case in point, a father-son hot rod project, finished after the father’s passing, with items from his WWII footlocker given new life as integral components of the finished car – transforming what would otherwise be standard issue army-surplus and a mass-produced relic of the roaring 20’s into something truly personal and profound.
What might this look like when applied to architecture?