April 2, 2010
nyharbor newbabylon
Remodel of Lower Manhattan, ARO and dlandstudio, 2010 (source)


As in the recessions of the 80s and 90s, the recent decline in building activity has led to a rise in paper architecture: architecture that is only ever intended to exist at a conceptual level, on paper. A recent example of paper architecture proposals were presented in the Rising Currents exhibition, sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art, asked five architectural teams to envision the future of the New York Harbor after a rise in global sea levels of six feet. Traditionally paper responses to real problems have led to outlandish proposals—the Blobitecture of the 90s, or the psychedelic work of groups such as Archigram in the 60s. The Rising Currents proposals, however, are striking for their restrained pragmatism. Despite accepting that the projects will not develop beyond this preliminary stage, each of the proposals is a thoughtful response to the issue of global warming, including a level of representational detail typically reserved for built commissions (full scale mock-ups and functioning street-sections). While the legacy of traditional architecture is the physical artifact, the legacy of the Rising Currents proposals lies in their ability to provoke thoughtful debate, both among New Yorkers, and the governmental agencies that are planning for the real deluge to come.


E. Sean Bailey


New Babylon, Constant Nieuwenhuys, 1959-74 (source)


Some of history’s most provocative architecture exists only as images on paper, in the realm of the visionary. Why does a visionary proposal have to remain unbuilt in order to maintain a position in this genre? Many architects who produced proposals that are considered visionary have also built projects that explore similar, if not the same, themes as their unbuilt counterparts. To approach the question simply, if the project is realized then it no longer remains as an intangible dream. However, not all unbuilt projects are visionary. A range of factors separate the visionary from the unbuilt. Visionary projects typically push the limits of how space is organized and manufactured—they push the limits so far that in one way or another they present impossible propositions.


Erandi de Silva




One Response to “PAPER”

  • Aaron Plewke says:


    Interesting…restrained pragmatism vs. the visionary or impossible.


    Another voice on this general theme:



    « previous post

    next post »