Michael Walch

Amazon Studio Final Review

Posted in Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio by michaelwalch on 4 May, 2010

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I presented my final project yesterday from the Leslie Gill/Mike Jacobs Rates of Exchange: Amazon Studio at Columbia GSAPP.  The jury included Sunil Bald of Studio Sumo, David Benjamin of GSAPP & The Living (New York), and Keith Kaseman of KBAS.

I spent the semester analyzing deforestation trends and flows of lumber through the Amazon.  I realized that clear-cut logging was actually a precondition to further deforestation by other notorious forces: agriculture and cattle-ranching.  Also, the current approach of trying to police the forest is doomed to failure – 23 field stations, each with a small team of officers and 125 thousand square kilometers of territory is simply impossible.  Even if we believe that the field station can police the territory assigned to it, there are still huge holes in the coverage.  (See the first few slides mapping this.)

The proposal shifts from a reactionary/policing model to a pro-active/regulatory model.  As an architect, this has very specific geographic and spatial ramifications.  The roads through the Amazon are intense collectors of both people and forest products.  We can use them both to deliver the social services mandated by the government (such as health care and education) but notoriously lacking in these remote areas, as well as support a legitimate, sustainable logging industry.

The architectural challenge is to bring these disparate groups together.  Each of them offers resources to the other – information about the forest, medical services or education, experience in saving habitats, or security.  This is akin to a multicultural space – salad bowl and melting pot must both be facilitated because both are beneficial.  The architecture serves as a screening device which at times (on the ground floor) keeps the groups separate, with carefully orchestrated circulation and views, while also allowing for open dialogue and exchange (on the upper level).

The research and proposal was generally well-received.  Architecturally, it was pointed out that the sectional ideas were much less developed than the plan relationships.

David Benjamin brought up more social and political issues of the funding or organizational structure for the facility, and its relationship to the town of Novo Progresso.  There is a lot of hope in the environmental community that new logging concessions and other extractive uses could provide funding for this kind of project.  Additionally the facilities could be a conduit for investment by NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund – environmental NGOs in Brazil often have the role of grass-roots enactment of government initiatives, and that could continue in this project.  The relationship to Novo Progresso is interesting – I had thought of the prototypical site as more rural than the site I chose to develop (just a few miles North of the town).  The workshop and small showroom I proposed was meant to work with the scrap materials of the lumber process, but clearly in rural environments there would be other very useful goods to bring in from the outside.  In other words, a 7-11 might be more useful than a craft shop.

Sunil Bald saw my project as an adaptation of the Brazilian highway road stop; a place for waiting, engaged in car-culture and consumption.  One of my goals was to take components of the amazing Brazilian architecture we saw on our trip – the outdoor rooms, attention to shading, rich textures applied to modernist structures.  I’m not much of a road-trip-er myself, but actually have a voyeuristic love of car culture, so I will definitely think about this in future projects.  Taking this advice the project could be more unapologetically a strip mall/truck stop, where people stop along a longer journey.  It could then open up to new modes of transportation along the roads – a Grayhound station, perhaps – alongside the lumber.

Lots of food for thought from the review.  Of course for now I have to get back to finishing up other classes…

P.S.  Thanks Carol for helping with the amazing Portuguese name: CeCim – Centro Comunitário de Certificação da Indústria Madeireira

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