15 November 2022

Economies of Scale:
Housing Crises and the Architecture
of Large-Scale Responses

KU Leuven

Respondent: Chelsea Spencer, MIT

“Economies of Scale” is a term that is tacitly understood within the architectural discipline and implies that the cost of a dwelling varies with the scale of its production. “Economising” in this sense does not reduce standards but does more with less by redefining the size of some productive unit: the building, the project, the site, or the actors involved. At the same time, rescaling also necessitates some form of innovation, a reordering of parts. Scale is therefore a driver of change to the built environment. However, architectural discourse and practice in the last decades have been influenced by a folk-political paradigm that favours immediacy, tending to shy away from the large-scale, long-term, and complex. This ongoing PhD project investigates the influence of scale in mass housing, through historic case studies in London in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. It considers three types of actors that scaled up to respond to housing crises: The Peabody Trust, a philanthropic developer and financier; John Laing & Son, a contractor and speculative housebuilder; and the Architect’s Department of the London County Council (LCC), a municipal architecture bureau. Large sums of financing and a perpetual legal structure allowed Peabody to accumulate and remove land and housing from the speculative market, while introducing new formats of urban and domestic space. Centralised managerial structures served Laing in their reassessment of construction labour efficiency, reordering the building site with the introduction of concrete systems. And the LCC’s long-term planning objectives, combined with its organisation of in-house specialists, architects and planners, engendered a highly creative environment where iterative work produced innovation. This talk will give an overview of the PhD project by introducing the concept of scalar economy and showing some of the most crucial findings from each of the three case studies.


Two Faces of Rational Technologies
From the View of Vendor Lock-in

CCA + Waseda University Tokyo

Respondent: Mario Rinke, University of Antwerp

Einsteinhaus Caputh, Konrad Wachsmann, 1928. Source: Holz Bau, 2022 ©️ Hiroko Tominaga

In the fall of 2018, I got an opportunity to look around the timber structural architecture in the early modern period of Germany, around 1910-1940, with Japanese architects. We looked around these in Dortmund, Wuppertal, and other suburbs that modern architectural history rarely has not covered. We published a book as a result, Holz Bau, in 2019 with Katsuya Fukushima, Hiroko Tominaga, and Rejiro Sawaki. This book will be re-published this September by TOTO Publishing.
This timber structure is also called emerging wood structure, 新興木構造 in Japanese. Simply put, this structure is a technique using short and small pieces of wood joined together and creating an arch for a wide space instead of using an iron structure, for example, an exhibition space, gym, hanger for the airforce, etc. This technique was first studied in Germany in the 1910s and introduced to Japan through the architectural media. And this technique in Japan constructed some buildings in practice, and some still exist.

In this book, I wrote a theory about architectural technology; the distribution of new logical technology might have a contradictional relationship with the freedom of design. Since I studied the 1970s in the Japanese architectural scene, I have had this awareness. Therefore, I wrote this essay to deal with these two ages. I analyzed the inconvenience of the distribution of the new technology from the view of vendor lock-in dealt with in economics. In my opinion, there are two modes of technology in architecture. One is the technology that is created and used only for one-time architecture. The other one is the technology to promote to design of the architecture as applicable to many architectures. This technology was created as a prototype and tried to get a similar technology for that architecture implemented in society.

Particularly in the latter mode, it is essential to note that when superior technology is implemented too widely in society, vendor lock-in kicks the freedom of design off. Architecture is an activity that takes place within the market. The invention of rational technology can create a monopoly market. It means that this market is losing freedom for design. In this presentation, I will present my thinking around these problems, refer to the keyword below, the wood construction technology investigated by Friedrich Zollinger and the design of Hugo Heering in Germany in the 1920s, the corrugated construction technology studied by Kenji Kawai and the "Genan" the works of Osamu Ishiyama. Referring to these keywords, I want to think together about the trip in the architect's technical approach.

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