Source: Readings on Program

2 Architects | 10 Questions on Program | Rem Koolhaas + Bernard Tschumi (Ana Miljacki, Amanda Reeser Lawrence, Ashley Schafer)


  • “any aspect of daily life could be imagined and enacted through the architect’s imagination”
  • agenda/program
  • selective participation
  • there’s no relationship between program and form
  • CCTV building collects many programs together in a single structure – no other political system today would do that
  • The city or its architecture didn’t just have program, but was a program (NYC)


  • invented program/”real” program, from pure mathematics to applied mathematics
  • concepts often begin as much with a strategy about content/program as with a strategy about contexts
  • 3 types of relationships between program and form:
    • reciprocity:  shape the program so it coincides w/ the form, or shape form so it reciprocates configuration you gave to the program
    • indifference:  a selected form can accommodate any program – results in a deterministic form with indeterminate program
    • conflict: let program and form purposefully clash (ex. pole vaulting in a chapel)
  • events are different from programs – program relies on repetition and habit
  • first Greek temples began with program, not form
  • postfunctionalism dismisses program/function as part of an old, pre-industrial humanist practice
  • programmatic ritual and spatial sequences evident in Lequeu’s architecture
  • point grid of La Villette – explode the park’s programmatic complexity and reorganize it around the points of intensity of the folies
  • Factory 798 project (Beijing):   proposed to keep art program below and put housing program above, hovering over existing art neighborhood – people saw it as a way to keep the old while moving forward with the new
  • most projects start with a program – you first have to understand the program’s intricacies and what you want to do with it
  • quick way is to diagram it – to conceptualize what you want to do with the program
  • sometimes your programmatic concept becomes your architectural form
  • often calls the program a material, much as concrete walls or glass enclosures are materials

Notes on the Adaptive Re-use of Program (John McMorrough)

  • for architecture, program is the “brief,” the designation of that to be designed, and tabulation of quantities constituting the project
  • defines, but also limits
  • alternates between an evocation of arrangement and a surplus of such arrangements
  • architecture not based on a figurative idea but a social one, therein established program as that which was truly distinct in the modern
  • program has ceased to be merely quantitative, now also qualitative
  • complexity is one of an increasing network of social, urban, and institutional configurations
  • program provides definition
  • program as primary instigator of the project of architecture
  • program labeled as “function” (in “form follows function”)
  • program/function influences organization of building
  • two opposing strategies:
    •  avoidance of programmatic expression within mute accommodation – program is contained, but not expressed
    • interest in intense expressions of program, but programmatic manifestations are scarce, so difficulty in finding enough functional correspondence to generate desired intensity of expression
  • time frame of obsolescence is brief such that initial use can’t be accommodated at all, this results in programmatic failure
  • architectural clarity in Bentham’s Panopticon (1787) – arrangement of peripheral cells around central watchtowers – implication of observation is of more significance than the act itself
  • malleable program – susceptible to architectural forms of manipulation, such that the overlap, the fold, and compression become programmatic fold, programmatic overlap, and programmatic compression
  • program as an instrument of social transformation
  • program as that which comes before (by programming) and after (post-occupancy evals) the architectural act
  • program connects possibility of control to impossibility of control
  • serves to operate as both an aspiration (an entity to be constructed) and its critical inversion

Program Primer v1.0:  A Manual for Architects (Dan Wood and Amale Andraos of WORK)

  • program encompasses “any number of combinations, juxtapositions, manipulations, and reinventions of the simple list of spaces and areas that heretofore bore its name.”
  • traditional definition:  “the formal, written instructions from the client to the architect, setting out the necessary requirements for a building”
  • should include the informal/unwritten as well as alternate sources of requirements (consultants, authors, users, etc.)
  • diagram – quantitative and qualitative means of expressing a set of spatial relations and describing experiential needs without any overt reference to form
  • programs outside the common field of architecture can/should be brought into project
  • embrace uncertainties
  • Program Exercises:
    • Twist:  take 2 programs whose co-dependency is unexpected, twist them together to create an entirely new sequential experience and form
    • The Better Mouse Trap: you must be able to imagine yourself in the shoes of the client, reimagine ways that spaces can accommodate activity
    • Swan:  take the most boring or ugly part of the program and reinvent it into something beautiful
    • Distribution of Wealth:  maximize the effects of the best programs
    • The Mermaid: juxtaposition of unlikely programs towards a surrealist experience – simply placing one program in the context of another can create extremely interesting conditions
    • Bondage:  use constraints as a departing point for design
    • The Blind Men and the Elephant:  exploit multiplicity of program while retaining harmony and identity
    • Fusion:  creating power by fusing disparate elements together – introducing many different ingredients to a project and fusing them together with a common thread

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