As a kid, I always wanted a twin. What better company could there be than an exact replica of myself who's always nearby and likes to play the same games? Someone with whom I could occasionally switch places and cause all kinds of Parent Trap-inspired trouble?
Now that I'm older, my fascination with the twin or double is a little less self-centered and slightly more academic—though just slightly. While there has been a lot of recent discussion about architectural copies, replicas, and forgeries, there has been little said about doubles or twins. I'm not talking about a decontextualized reproduction or some clever appropriation of a familiar form, but a real set of twins—two identical or similar forms that were conceived and exclusively understood in relation to one another. Maybe the lack of discussion on architectural twins is due to the fact that there aren’t many to talk about. Twin towers, of course, are common, although I find them less interesting because they seem to be built purely for efficiency or to create an instant skyline in cities lacking significant architecture. Even when the architecture is good, twin towers usually offer little in the way of content other than their commercial implications—or at least that was the case before 9/11 (but more on that later). After seeing a recent project from French firm Lacaton Vassal, I was inspired to dig up some non-tower architectural doubles.
For some sort of conceptual framework to help understand these doubles—beyond the The Parent Trap, that is—I thought of Kafka's stories and novels, in which the double is a common device that can be interpreted as a manifestation of a larger dilemma facing the protagonist. The two government assistants in The Castle, or the two nameless officers in The Trial, for example, have uncertain identities and are largely treated as a single individual. Their faceless and occasionally contradictory nature make them a physical embodiment of an abstract idea—government bureaucracy or the court system—that can directly confront the protagonist. As to the identity of the protagonist? Well, as always in architecture, that remains a bit unclear.
Image via The Art Newspaper.
FRAC Museum by Lacaton Vassal, Dunkerque, France
Conceived as a catalyst for development on the site of a former port, Lacaton Vassal's FRAC Museum is dedicated to "regionally assembled public collections of contemporary art." The new building is an expansion and double of a former boat warehouse known as Halle AP2; the duplication is intended to reinforce the already strong formal identity of the warehouse to create a new icon for the area. The translucent addition, housing the new museum space, is designed to partly reveal the original structure, which will be left completely open as a flexible auxiliary space for the FRAC.
Image via ArchDaily.
Little House in the Clouds by Stanley Tigerman
Stanley Tigerman has worked with doubling several times, although for him, the double is most often the result of a schism or cleaving. The Little House in the Clouds is composed of two separate, but formally identical components—one half a residence, the other a sculpted topiary or, as Tigerman says, “a return to nature.” Like Kafka's doubles, who are occasionally separated to give one figure a unique identity, Tigerman's house can be considered as a singular entity that, when divided, results in one half taking on a concrete form while the other disappears to wherever it came from.
Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center by Tigerman McCurry Architects, Skokie, Illinois
The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center is a more clear-cut example of the double. The project is rich with symbolic meaning, none more obvious than the form of the two similar, yet opposing buildings joined at single point. The dark half of the building, oriented toward the West Wall in Jerusalem, contains the museum; the light half, positioned to face the rising sun, houses the educational center. One structure a memorial and a reminder to an almost inconceivable horror, the other an optimistic symbol of hope; a strict, linear circulation leads visitors from the darkness of the past the light of the future. A 1934 German rail car sits in the inaccessible cleave-space between them, representing "ineffability." Although these doubles may appear to be in opposition, they work together to tell the story of the Holocaust.
Image via Architectuul.
The John Hejduk Memorial Towers were designed by Hejduk in 1992, but constructed posthumously by his friend and colleague Peter Eisenman as part of the City of Culture complex in Santiago de Compostela. The 82-foot-high towers—one glass, one granite—were originally intended to be part of a botanical garden in Compostela Park, but now stand as a reception center and memorial to the talented architect.
Image via Bustler.
The Cloud by MVRDV, Seoul, South Korea
I know I said I wasn't interested in towers, but this controversial MVRDV project in Seoul is interesting in that it demonstrates the way that our associations with the twin tower concept has changed since 9/11. While I don't think every twin tower design need evoke the New York City attacks, the design and placement of the pixelated "cloud" bridge linking the two buildings, while consistent with the firm’s oeuvre, bears an unfortunate resemblance to an explosion. Though some people accused MVRDV of being insensitive and intentionally provocative, the architects insisted they were inspired by the idea of a low cloud passing through a city and the idea of a building's mass dissolving into the sky. In the wake of the initial outcry, they released this statement explaining their design: "MVRDV regrets deeply any connotations The Cloud project evokes regarding 9/11. The Cloud was designed based on parameters such as sunlight, outside spaces, [and] living quality for inhabitants and the city. It is one of many projects in which MVRDV experiments with a raised city level to reinvent the often solitary typology of the skyscraper." While the future of the project, and the “Dream Hub” development of which it is a part, is uncertain, the renderings remain a testament to the fact that designing with data may produce intriguing forms, but it can't produce good taste. However, if, as in Kafka's stories, we understand the role of the double as a source of anxiety and a representation of larger issues in our culture, there could be no better design than The Cloud.