World Design Capitol:
A Center for the City of Economic and Cultural Coproduction

UCLA | AUD | Instr. Kivi Sotamaa

The tower is an economic, not an architectural invention. The research project for the soft tower thus undertakes the proposal of a tower typology that facilitates the emerging socioeconomic condition of the merging of cultural and economic production. The specific, local impetus for this research topic is the designation of Helsinki as the World Design Capital 2012. Design is an exemplary condition under which cultural and economic activities are merged. The city, as the site for collective activity, thus requires an architecture than engages this emerging condition, both to render it explicit and to order it toward the facilitation of a greater collectivity.

While much energy has been expended recently on the urban implications of the transition from Fordist to Post-Fordist production, this project looks at a specific and exemplary condition from within this transformation: that of the status of Design as the increasingly hegemonic arbiter of commercial production.
Helsinki has made great fanfare over being named the World Design Capital 2012, and indeed the population holds the distinction with great pride and little criticism. It has gone so far as to reposition its recent history as innately design-oriented, and to rename and restructure its university system towards the production of Design.
What is unusual about design (a condition not in existence prior to industrialization) is that it conflates commercial with cultural production. ‘Designed’ goods are bought and sold for private use and private profit like any other good, but a portion of the value of such goods are commonly believed to represent an advancement of culture. In Design we have a condition that is supported by museums, shopping malls, Fast Company, educational institutions, non-profit arts organizations and Scandinavian governments.
Designers, more than any other knowledge worker, depend on their cultural experiences (dining, watching films, teaching, going to museums) to influence their work, thus transforming those cultural experiences into a form of work. The cubic city is the site of this cycle.

The cube is employed both as an analogous form derived from Helsinki’s original plan and a discrete figure. By overdetermining the organizational grid of the city in three dimensions, the forces of sprawl are put into a charged relationship through discrete containment.
It is composed of three modernist typologies: the deck-access slab, the mat and the atrium. Its site—surrounded by water—further reinforces its functional status as an island.

Elias Canetti in his book Crowds and Power attributed the dominance of the uniform curtain wall in the modernist tower to its evocation of the uniformity and smoothness of teeth, a deep signal of power. This image might be said to represent the hard tower. Rather than to dispute the hegemony of teeth and replacing their significance with another model (e.g. gums, fangs, hides, weapons), the project embraces the reading, and looks to another model of dental communication in human society: the Grill. While postmodernism saw the division of disciplinary interest into the rational (Rossi) and the Pop (Venturi), Grillz represent a possible model for reunification. Grillz do not undermine the basic logic or deep signification of orderly rows of teeth, but they do transform their affect through the addition of a pop sensibility: a coating of sparkling prisms. The Soft Tower thus adopts the material and kinetic effects of the pop spectacle in its simplest and most effective form (sparkling) on a rational apparatus of historical significance: the cube. The reading of the strong form is thereby challenged by the dissolution of its legibility through material effect.