ArchitectureBoston

Typology Redux: Revisiting a Theoretical Framework for New Modes of Practice

Posted in Vol 14 No 1 by bsaab on February 3, 2011

Northeastern University (October 16, 2010)

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Typology is the study of building types — the classification of buildings by their form or use. With large-scale masterplans proliferating in the developing world and the increased densification of cities closer to home, should typology be reintroduced as a central focus of architectural theory and practice? This was the question posed at the recent symposium Typology Redux. Like many conferences Northeastern has sponsored in recent years, it focused on the architect’s role in a market-driven economy.

The symposium featured three panels: pragmatics; history and theory; and hybridization of contemporary practice. The first discussion, led by conference chair Tim Love and Matthew Littell (both principals at Utile and professors at Northeastern), provided an argument for type as a legitimate focus of research, practice, and academic study. June Williamson, co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia, outlined suburban types and showed examples of how they have been reconsidered through adaptive reuse — as in the case of big-box retail stores transformed into libraries and even churches.

In the second panel, Alan Plattus provided a comprehensive historical overview, and K. Michael Hays delved deeply and poetically into the role of Aldo Rossi in expanding the theoretical implications of typology. They were then joined by moderator John McMorrough and Roy Kozlovsky for a lively discussion that wrestled with the architect’s relationship with type.

The last session was led by Ed Mitchell, and included Xavier Costa, the founding dean of Northeastern’s new College of Arts, Media and Design, Ivan Rupnik, and Marshall Brown. While intended to shed light on how — or whether — typology can again serve as a springboard for innovation, the session asked more questions than it answered. A more comprehensive view of how newer tools (e.g., landscape urbanism, performative building systems, and parametric modeling) have launched new ways of structuring form and space — and the ways in which these could be used to reinvigorate type — might have been a useful avenue of exploration.

Nonetheless, Typology Redux was a timely conference, echoing calls made by a growing chorus for a refocus on architecture, not architects. Typology, and its radical pragmatism, indeed deserves redux.

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