The Curse of Bigness

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There are some who glorify the state or quality of bigness. This seems to be something characteristic of the modern age – the first hosannas began to resound around the dawn of the metropolis. We see it in the writings of Louis Sullivan and in the statements made by Le Corbusier. They like buildings to be big. Bigness is their quality. The notion of ‘bigness’, as pushed forward more recently by among others Rem Koolhaas, is based on complete disconnection between the interior and the exterior. “Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue”, he thinks. Context – the relationship with the building’s surroundings – is supposedly irrelevant. Nonsense! His theorem is contradicted by studies of existing cases. When a building exceeds a certain size and becomes a large-scale structure, public interiors are created. The increase in the number of people using both these indoors and the outdoor space links big buildings closely to their surroundings, more then do small-scale buildings, and thus far from being isolated, big buildings become more connected. In their urban environments, the interaction becomes visible and multi-level or privately-owned public space is created within big buildings. New public interiors extend the outdoor network and thereby give the building a fine-meshed structure. In essence, as the interiors become more public, the small scale is introduced into the building. The building may be big purely in terms of size, but in many ways it is quite as diverse as any part of the city.

Harteveld, Maurice, Bigness Survives only in Mind, Reasoning from out of Public Space, In: OASE #71: Architectural Journal / Tijdschrift voor Architectuur, Urban Formation and Collective Spaces / Stedelijke Formatie en Collectieve Ruimten. Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2006, pp. 114-133 (Dutch/English edition)

Bigness is All in the Mind

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This article is published in OASE#71, a special issue focusing on the definition, character and role of hybrid buildings in the urban fabric (or the urban fabric in hybrid buildings). It raises questions concerning the incorporation, expression and relation of public and collective domains within a building and the relation of building and city. It investigates the relation between the influential role of hybrid buildings in the city and their size and combination of diverse urban functions. In that sense this OASE what the Spanish architect Manuel de Solà-Morales already suggested in a 1992 OASE: The civic, architectural, urban and morphological richness of a contemporary city resides in the collective spaces that are not strictly public or private, but both simultaneously. These are public spaces that are used for private activities, or private spaces that allow for collective use, and they include the whole spectrum in between. Moreover, in the past decades the design of these collective spaces seems to have become an important modus operandi to intervene in the contemporary city. At the intersection between an architectural and an urban scale, architects and urban planners design projects that, through their character and hybridization of privacy and publicity, contribute to the civic, typological and morphological richness of the city.


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