5 June 2010

No Parking Any Time


Buildings ∕ Place Making

Guest writer Lorenzo Poglia is a neuroscientist from Geneva, and co-author of the paper “Ultrastructural Modifications of Spine and Synapse Morphology by SAP97”. Here he sends us the first of two architectural dispatches from his home town.

Uni dAfour, Geneva [Foto: Lorenzo Poglia]

If you’re looking for an intellectual parking spot, but without the cars, Uni Dufour is your next stop. Uni Dufour: a squared block of cement with regular apertures that stand in for windows. For most of dog-walkers in the neighborhood, it’s just a clash of cement among harmonious old stones. For the fetishist architects wearing over-designed eyewear, Uni Dufour is a typical post-Corbusian building conceived in 1974 by Werner Francesco, Gilbert Paux and Jacques Vicari. To me, this building just represents 6 years of administrative time wasting until I finally got my fucking PhD. Maybe as a biologist, I would have appreciated it much more if the project would have been realized according to original plan. Indeed, a vegetal blanket was supposed to have covered the concrete skeleton. Unfortunately, this architectural wet dream turned out to be a technical nightmare which left the building in the shame of its nudity. Since then, several competitions have been organized in order to restore the project to its original dignity.

The artist Tatsuo Miyajima, whose LED displays were recently tacked on to the building to improve its appearance, called Uni Dufour “the fortress of human science”. But I’ve forgotten to say that it’s also supposed to hold the large human-science lectures for first year suckers.

So of course the psychitects loved Miyajima’s idea of putting displays with numbers that stochastically change at a particular frequency that has been set by random individuals recruited into the project at its inception. Kind of bringing individuality in the middle of a global movement, as if to say, let’s lay the pedestrians on the psychoanalyst’s couch! During the day at least these displays give a shiny touch to the building, while at night the discrepancy between the frequency of each light’s switching from a number to an other lends the illusion of a lighter shaped building through their glittering effect.

The last trick used to modify the aesthetic perception of Uni Dufour is produced by two phrases. The first is “Inventer, c’est penser à côt锝 – “Inventing is thinking sideways” (Albert Einstein). A great way of suggesting the reader is entering a world of ideas and should forget about the building; as if to say “please, do not think around here, go further to get the answer”. A bit like asking someone to look left beyond the building so as to activate the right (creative) hemisphere.

The second phrase is by Simone de Beauvoir: “On ne naît pas femme, on le devient” – “One is not born woman, but becomes it”. Besides being a clear suggestion of feminine sensuality, these words introduce the notion that the character of the building isn’t a natural trait, but something that had to be acquired over time. Thirty years to turn into a grown up seems like a pretty long time ”¦

General Dufour, who brought peace during the Swiss civilian war of 1847, has still a long run to gallop on his bronze horse covered in pigeon shit before bringing peace to Geneva’s architectural trauma.