School of Architecture exhibit goes 3-D

Digital pigs cluster upon floors of an organic agricultural high-rise as a series of images tour computer-generated hallways and interconnecting towers designed to maximize the density of the urban landscape. In the center, a giant, elevated cube creates a statistically generated city that invites visitors into the center of the simulated landscape.

The series of nine projections are all part of the School of Architecture Gallery’s “3D City: Studies in Density.” The exhibit, which opens today, is a presentation of recent work by the Rotterdam-based architectural firm MVRDV.

“One reason why we chose to do [the show] — is because MVRDV is on the forefront of practices that do critical research, and they’re primarily interested in the issue of density,” said Dean Sakamoto, the gallery’s director of exhibitions and a critic at the Architecture School.

The firm’s research focuses on an efficient and innovative use of space. By using three-dimensional simulation and design technology, MVRDV attempts to maximize the use of space by creating dense, multi-level urban structures for everything from housing to pig farming.

“Their ideas are generated primarily by architects that live and work in Holland — a country that is very limited in size and running out of places to build,” Sakamoto said.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, “Metacity/Datatown,” demonstrates the factors MVRDV architects must take into account in order to study the possible density of an urban landscape, as well as an explanation of the reasons they decided to undertake this research. Stairs lead up to the center of an elevated cube that holds projections of a combination of computer-generated designs and the Dutch statistics from which they were created, allowing the viewer to view comparisons between MVRDV’s techniques and those used in traditional architecture.

Sakamoto said the use of projections in the exhibit, rather than the traditional means of displaying an architectural exhibition, is a first for the gallery.

“We’re doing something from a design standpoint in the gallery. This is something we’ve never done before,” Sakamoto said. “To make the show work, being all digital projections, we had to darken the gallery, and it will — alter the way people will look at the gallery.”

Visitors will also be able to explore FunctionMixer, which is urban-planning design software MVRDV has developed for use in its research. The software is used to optimize and simulate an environment according to the architect’s desires.

But the questions posed to visitors upon entering the exhibit focus on the idea of the three-dimensional city, rather than the technology used to design it:

“Would it be possible to generate true densification and to expand existing space? Most importantly, will densification result in richer cities?”

The exhibit is not a purely intellectual exercise in urban design. Sakamoto said it is intended to provide architectural students and firms with ideas for new urban design techniques, some of which may be immediately useful.

“The work and ideas in this exhibition — coming as it does one year after the disaster of Sept. 11 and as the debate rages over the fate of the World Trade Center site, should provide an important benchmark for New York’s planners,” Architecture School Dean Robert A.M. Stern said in a written statement.

The Architecture School Gallery is the first stop the exhibit will make on a tour of architecture schools throughout the United States. The exhibition will be open until Oct. 25.

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