Architectural League Prize 2013
The founders of Boston- and Seoul-based PRAUD, Rafael Luna and Dongwoo Yim, focus on the interplay between “topology and typology,” or the contrast between iterations of the same form (topology) and the types of forms and functions that the built environment offers (typology), as a means of understanding urban development and morphology in their work. The office experiments with reconfiguration, the relationship between solid and void, and the opportunities created by overlapping structural and spatial functions. Their holistic view of the architect as a researcher, practitioner, theorist, and visionary is illustrated by their interest in research and publications, which serve as the generator of what the office calls a “new autonomous language”—an internal logic that produces new expressions of form and function—for contemporary architecture. On the occasion of their League Prize lecture, Luna and Yim sat down with the League’s Ian Veidenheimer and Alexandra Hay to talk about their practice and installation at Parsons.
Ian Veidenheimer: This year’s League Prize competition theme is “Range.” What does this mean to you and to your work?
Dongwoo Yim: We often try to categorize our projects based on either program, size, or location, but most importantly by the role of the architect, which we see as four-fold: a dreamer, researcher, theorist, and practitioner.
Rafael Luna: The most important discourse that we develop in our body of work is the interaction between topology and typology. It’s important to show the progression of our portfolio as a manifestation of developing this theory. By thinking of that range of roles of the architect, we can tackle the same theory through a variety of avenues, whether they’re built projects, books, or ideas competitions.
Veidenheimer: How does your League Prize exhibition installation exemplify your work as a whole and how does it show the relationships in your work?
Luna: We thought it was important to show all of our projects, not just the best four or five. It’s very hard to know the character of our firm if you don’t see everything. For the exhibition, we wanted to show the interconnectivity of all of the projects across scale, typology, or the architect’s role.
The installation reads from left to right and from right to left. Beginning from the left, we wanted to classify PRAUD—which stands for Progressive Research on Architecture, Urbanism, and Design—through the types of projects that we do, including design, urbanism, architecture, and research projects. Everything is also laid out chronologically, from November 2010 to the present.
From right to left, we address the range of roles that an architect fills as practitioner, dreamer, researcher, and theorist, and we connect back to which of the projects we did in these different roles.
The installation became an exercise in clarifying what we have actually done so far and where we should go in the future. Our main goal is to create a body of work that reads as one single language or speaks to that one theory of topology and typology. So understanding what we’re doing without deviating from that language is very important to us. We haven’t and don’t want to just pick a project for the sake of doing some random thing.
Veidenheimer: What do you mean by topology and typology, and how do they interact?
Yim: We are two people, both with very strong styles, so when we formed PRAUD, we felt that we needed a common logic through which to decide on certain things. I think that young architects often lose their intention of developing a theoretical discourse when they start practicing on their own. We thought it was important to start by developing a theoretical language instead of following an existing one, and topology and typology is just that.
When we started to discuss our interests, we kept coming to typology, but we realized that we were referencing different meanings of the term. According to Anthony Vidler, there are three different types of typologies; I was talking about the third typology, and Rafael was talking about the first and second typologies. We decided to rephrase the third typology as topology so as not to confuse terms. Topology strictly addresses the form of architecture, and typology strictly addresses the system of architecture. We felt that through attention to these two concepts that we could develop an architectural language that goes beyond modernism.
Luna: Dongwoo’s background is in urban design, and mine is strictly in architecture. Topology has to do with the relationship between mass, solid, and void and the urban environment and how architecture relates to the urban scale. Typology has to do with building that mass: the structure and the elements that build the form. We are also asking where we fit into the larger discourse of architecture. There’s modernism and post-modernism, structuralism and post-structuralism, functionalism, etc. We debate if the field has ever left modernism and what the next step beyond it is. We’re not saying that we invented something; we are also following a discourse and a lineage of studies, and we want to take it further through developing our body of work around these ideas.
Yim: It’s a long-term goal. We hope to build a contemporary architectural language. There is contemporary architecture, but a lot of it repeats the language of modernism.
We see the role of the architect as four-fold: a dreamer, researcher, theorist, and practitioner.
Luna: That’s why we’re saying that we want to go beyond modernism. The modernist elements of construction are still being used, just with new technology and materials. But going back to the exhibition and the different roles that we play as architects, we are still stuck with the difficulty of actually building based on that theory. For example, the Casa Periscopio was built in a country with very strong modernist tendencies. You’re faced with realities of what the client wants. You can do anything in renderings, but can you build it? That made us appreciate the mastery of architecture in terms of building the design that you intended: how can you fix the mistakes of a contractor or the client’s changes in a way that the design still reads as referencing that long-term theory?
Alexandra Hay: Can you walk us through topology and typology in one of your projects?
Luna: Sure. When we entered the competition for the Helsinki Public Library, there was an underlying question in the brief of what the future of a public library in the city was. Is it still a place where you read books or does it serve a bigger urban role?
Yim: Our projects often start with topology, because we want to form the massing in relation to the urban fabric. When we have this mass, we can then decide the best typology that lets us realize this form. There was the program that we had to put on the site, along with some contextual limitations. We could have fit the whole program in a two- or three-story slab building, but the urban scale at the site was actually quite tall. We wanted to contextualize the library’s mass to that scale, so we lifted up the sides of two structures and called for two bridges that provide tension to pull the two cantilevers back to the center of the masses.
Luna: The typology, how you build that mass, was in this case an inverted pyramid with a hole. We took two mega-trusses that form an inverted pyramid that connect through structural tubes and a tension member that holds both trusses. That way, we could also use the structural tubes as part of the program that needed to be enclosed, like the cinema or children’s rooms. The library stacks could also fit within the tension member, and the lounges and open spaces could be programmed in the remaining space. By building all of the programs into elements that structure the mass, at the end we had a third space that connects back to the city, which we call the Urban Living Room.
We’ve always studied these third spaces—space between required spaces and service spaces that allows for the enjoyment of the architecture and that relates back to the urban environment—that are not necessarily intended in the initial program. You can often look at a building and think, that’s an interesting façade system, but looking closer, it’s another modernist structure of columns and slabs on the inside. That’s very different from thinking about how to form the mass from how the structure creates space. That’s the discourse and, more importantly, the process we’re trying to create. A lot of architects might start with the massing and then bring in the structure, but we believe there’s a language for doing so, and there’s a reason to it: achieving something that goes beyond modernism.
Veidenheimer: How do the two buildings in the Helsinki Public Library proposal speak to Helsinki as metropolis versus the specific site?
Yim: We always focus on this dialogue between our project and the city when we start a project. As we mentioned, we raised up the whole thing to match the levels of surrounding buildings, but a number of other teams that entered the competition also extruded the building to match the height. The most interesting part of our project is the Urban Living Room within the building that was created by lifting up the mass. That is a very different kind of public space than those the city already has.
Luna: The Urban Living Room aligns on an axis with City Hall as well. It is also in front of Helsinki’s major metropolitan park, so it’s in the context of what’s happening around the neighborhood. In a sense it goes back to traditional urban design of axial alignments.
Hay: You both have a strong interest in cities and how your projects exist within urban settings. How does your interest in a building’s form influence urban space—or does it go the other way?
We hope to build a contemporary architectural language. We want to go beyond modernism.
Yim: We hope that our interest in urban studies correlates with this architectural language we are developing, but at the moment we’re focusing on our perspective on the urban scale or city. That was the impetus for our book I Want To Be Metropolitan and our focus on the mini-metropolis. Urbanists often focus only on fast-growing, dense, congested, or sprawling cities—cities with extreme conditions—but we think that there are other cities that we can learn from, such as Boston, Seattle, Melbourne, or Copenhagen, that have very good built environments and a high quality of life. They are often considered second-tier cities, but we like to look at different scales of metropolises. The concept of the metropolis arose over a hundred years ago when there were only five cities with more than a million people, but now I couldn’t tell you how many cities have over a million people because there are so many, and yet we still use the metropolis as a single concept. We think there should be a different perspective for reading cities at different scales, which we’ve classified as the megapolis, the metropolis, and the mini-metropolis.
There are many cities, in China and South Korea especially, that are not the largest cities but are trying to become a megapolis like Manhattan or London. You cannot have many cities like that in a single country, so we want to propose the mini-metropolis as a goal instead of the megapolis.
Luna: You can still achieve a high level of cosmopolitanism and activity, but you can achieve it at a more comfortable, more realistic, and more suitable level. We also want to understand what architecture can provide for these cities by linking it back to our discourse on topology and typology. We know that there is a notion of metropolitan architecture, which ties back to Manhattan in the 20th century and the growth of the skyscraper, that’s been popularized by OMA. We cannot expect Manhattan to be built in Boston, so we are considering a typology for the mini-metropolis. We are interested in creating an architecture that relates back to a particular context.
Yim: Metropolitan architecture tries to create a city within the architecture. For us, it’s more about the relationship between the architecture and the city—and architecture filling the needs of the city.
Luna received a B.F.A. from the Massachusetts College of Art and a M.Arch from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Yim received a bachelor’s degree from Seoul National University and a M.Arch in Urban Design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Luna and Yim have taught at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Each year the Architectural League and the Young Architects + Designers Committee organize a portfolio competition. Six winners are then invited to present their work in a variety of public fora, including lectures, an exhibition, a catalogue published by Princeton Architectural Press, and here on the League’s website. For information about more of the 2013 League Prize winners, click here.