Positive limitations

The postal code system is used in most countries around the world to efficiently organise the delivery of a piece of mail. In Spain, the format comprises 11,752 five-figure codes, the first two of which correspond to the province and the last three to the postal area.

These are abstract, concise descriptions of reality availing themselves of extremely limited language. For this precise reason they are very efficient. Each code describes a very specific place without any other strange or colourful considerations, to end up with a mapping where certain geographical, political and demographic characteristics of the area can be identified.

Creating complex structures using limited language is a process often used in certain artistic works of interest to us.  These works adapt to certain rules of play by using very few resources very efficiently. They are developed within narrow parameters that, far from limiting their expressive potential, foster the creation of extremely logical, sophisticated and beautiful structures.

OuLiPo, an acronym for ‘Ouvroir de littérature potentielle’ (Potential Literature Workshop), was an experimental literary group established in Paris in 1960. Perec, Duchamp and Calvino were among its members. Their writings, which were more concerned with formal structure than literary content, had a series of self-imposed constraints, for instance the prohibition of using a given letter, phoneme or word, or the structuring of the text using mathematical algorithms.

For more than 50 years Bernd and Hilla Becher, both German, travelled to different countries and photographed buildings and industrial structures. The conditions in which those photographs were taken — always in black and white, always at the same distance, always with a plane perpendicular to the object being photographed- — and the conditions in which they were exhibited, i.e. in matrixes made up of between six and twelve buildings whose function was identical,  generated beautiful series of elements that are homogeneous and different at once. They fit into very strict codes, and this is imperative in understanding the breadth of their work.
In 1995, a group of Danish filmmakers created the ‘Dogma 95’ movement, critical of the growing weight of technology and postproduction in contemporary cinema. Their films adhered to the so-called ‘vow of chastity”, a Decalogue with instructions such as filming with a hand-held camera in real locations without adding any post-production sound or image effects, without any artificial lighting, without allowing for genre films or flashbacks or changes of place of any type.

By definition, architecture is a discipline that is ‘contaminated’ by all sorts of constraints (contextual, physical, budgetary, urban planning, briefs,…). It is not that often that an architect decides to add to these inevitable constraints self-imposed limitations or rules of play structuring the design. But it does happen. And at times the results are ever so interesting –and different- such as Van Eyck’s orphanage in Amsterdam, Koolhaas’ design for the La Villette Park in Paris, and the much more recent and close-by Escuela de Arte y Diseño (School of Art and Design) in Amposta, designed by Gerard Puig and David Sebastián.

Text translated by Beth Gelb
(Barcelona, 1982) Arquitecto por la ETSAB y socio fundador junto con Sandra Torres de estudi08014, un espacio transversal de investigación y desarrollo en arquitectura. Sus trabajos han sido premiados en certámenes locales e internacionales y publicados en distintas revistas, catálogos y plataformas digitales.

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