Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sovereign Capability: Refugees

Since the Arab Spring the question of refugees has become increasingly stressed in domestic, nation-state politics in the European Union. Being a driving force behind the rise of far-right political parties throughout the European Union that hold xenophobia as a principle. On 21 May 2015 data was extracted and published by Eurostat, the department of statistics for the European Commission, about the asylum applications and decisions in the European Union in 2014. The following graphs present a quantitative analysis of Eurostat's data coupled with and crossed by other data collected from various public national sources.

Figure 1: Sovereign Capabilities: Refugees
Figure 1: Sovereign Capabilities: Refugees

In political discussions about the refugee question facing the EU today, a position of helplessness is taken by the sovereign power in saying something along the lines of "we just can't". The reasons why the asylum status of so many refugees is rejected are excessively complex and not the subject of analysis here. Instead of resorting to political ideology, a new logic is sought.

There is an intricate line between 'capacity' and 'capability'. The former largely purports an objective frame of analysis, whereas the latter shifts from the realm of technical possibility to that of awareness, agency and ultimately, politics. The analysis conducted here seeks to shed light on the frontier between these two concepts by devising a metric, entitled here as 'relative capability', that is the result of a basic formulaic operation between national population, sovereign land area, and GDP.

Figure 2: Sovereign Capabilities: Refugees
Figure 2: Sovereign Capabilities: Refugees

This project seeks to call into question the relation between demographic, geographic and economic prosperity with the sovereign distribution of rights to others. By bringing national policy to the fore, it is ultimately two forms of absolute politics – ideology and opportunity – that becomes visible.

Figure 3: Sovereign Capabilities: Refugees
Figure 3: Sovereign Capabilities: Refugees

List of sources:

Monday, July 6, 2015

Political Climate: The Greek Referendum

The Greek Referendum was reported under the Business section of The Guardian. With the no vote having won, an archive is collected of the event's development, almost entirely taking place live on line in real time. We can look back using's Internet Archive Wayback Machine to view the public archive of The Guardian's June Business section. Key dates of the event are June 25, 26 & 27. On June 25th talks broke down and on June 27th Tsipras made his speech and officially launched what I can only term a war. The archive has been subject to massive manipulation of what is and what can be publicly recorded, and how. This folder is an extensive archive of the events. It was developed around the media retrieval protocols and available procedures for retrieving as much pertinent information as possible. Having witnessed these events on these websites, the pertinence of information is subjectively determined and represent a highly personal and intimate reading of profoundly historical events. Evidentiary procedure was followed as extensively as possible. If we follow the logic of remote sensing data and satellite tasking, someone tasked the Wayback Machine to take a picture of these websites this many times at these times. If this is indeed the case: who? Are these the only records of the extensive amount of reporting that took place? What happened to the tasks that must have been made of June 26 and 27's Guardian Business Livefeed? What happened on June 28? Where are the records?
Additional material to The Guardian Business Livefeed is included in the archive, including major news events that shaped the course of events and critical commentary made during.

I have and continued to liveblog the events via social media. Facebook, Twitter
June 6th, 2015

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

24. Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency - Architecture after Revolution

Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR) is a unique model of interventionary practice established by Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal and Eyal Weizman operating from and within Beit Sahour, Palestine. Architecture After Revolution presents a collection of stories that make a robust and compelling case for architecture to be conceived of as a situated instrument of political practice.

The book is arranged into five chapters, though as each one is in fact many, it would be unjust to reflect on them as individual projects but rather as the articulation of a singular project. Through a series of entangled instances of history and architecture, the immanent significance of political terms within present-day Palestine are teased out. By polemically employing the concept of ‘colonization’ as a framework the present is made decipherable as the ground for political action while formulating what is at stake when we consider notions of justice in such charged environments.

The work begins by situating itself within the recent evacuation of Israel from Palestinian zones and speculates on its continuation. By asking the question “what is decolonization today?” (p.18) the authors develop a politics of subversion by considering architecture as a temporal assemblage that cannot simply be forgotten nor reused, but instead demands to be critically reckoned with. Buildings are treated as “optics from which to investigate and probe the political, legal, and social force fields” (p.35) with the ultimate goal of “[provoking] politics to reveal itself and act upon it” (p.25). The projects investigate the built environment as a vessel, one that constitutes a historical time by bringing the past into the present, and as such, the material for constructing a just future.

Central to the project is a methodological reflection on its own ambitions. If decolonization is the intention, it is first and foremost imperative to ensure that intervening does not repeat the colonial gestures that instantiated the political situation being addressed in the first place. Taking influence from the concept of “profanation” in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, their work seeks to “liberate the common from the control of authoritarian regimes, neo-colonialism and consumer societies” (p.183) and architecturally formulate “a set of new propositions and re-activations of common uses” (p.184).

Although subtle, the practice’s Marxist tone shows itself at moments, such as in the explicit identification of the refugee as the political subject of decolonization. Drawing from its contemporary political definition, the refugee has an inherent “moral and historical claim” (p.44) for the right of return[1], posited as decolonialization’s foundational act. Yet the work begins from the problematic recognition of the fact that the subject and place of returns has been irrevocably altered since the original event of exile. The practice is therefore constituted as an “arena of speculation” for the discovery of what is at stake when we speak of the right to return. Towards these ends, architecture is not only indispensible for “opening the imagination” by inviting speculative participation into the future of the built environment, but also the privileged medium for actualizing returns.

The situation of return between the refugee camp of Dheisheh and the destroyed village of Miska is taken as a prototypical case study in which the subject returning and the locations returning to and from can be easily identified. A careful investigation of the camp’s urban milieu that has accrued over the past 65 years as well as the physical remnants of Miska result in a doubled notion of identity. This demands the mirroring of any intervention in both sites and results in the inverted transplantation of one site onto the other in a way that unhinges the potential of the present for what could be to come.

As the narrative advances, the projects set out to explore more complicated examples of refugeeness, such as in the case of a building complex in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv. In this instance there is no population returning to a place, but instead an architecture that claims to render the past in the present. While not making an architectural proposal for the museum that currently stands on its site, the authors build a case through the minute reconstruction of photographic evidence that proves disingenuity in what the building claims itself to be. The architectural narration of a false history of one monolithic structure instead of three densely interwoven buildings effectively impedes the urban conditions of return by mystifying the place being returned to, and subsequently forsaking the potential of a convivial city.

The remaining chapters seek to repurpose colonial remnants, in which a housing subdivision, a military base and a parliament are taken as examples. What is most striking about these interventions is their demonstration that “colonial architecture doesn’t necessarily reproduce the functions for which it was designed” (p.21). Despite the built environment’s implication in political regimes and the weight it may carry as “real existing colonialism”, architectural form retains a powerful degree of neutral propensity that cannot be subsumed. The exemplary work of DAAR proves the value of architectural speculation in its capacity to create an opening towards a tangible future from the dirty and “less-than-ideal” grounds of the present.

Notes:1. “The term right of return refers to a principle of international law, codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving any person the right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

23. San Rocco - Book of Copies

“The argument which follows involves the surrender or at least, the temporary suspension of a prevalent monocular vision, the willingness to recognize certain fantasies about history and scientific method for the totems which they are, the concession that political process is likely to be neither very smooth nor very predictable and, perhaps above all, the dissolution of a cherished prejudice that all buildings can be, and must become, works of architecture.”
Colin Rowe & Fred Koetter, Collage City (MIT, 1978), p.101

In 1987 Catalan theorist Ignasi de Solá-Morales published an essay titled Weak Architecture, in which a crisis in contemporary architecture was diagnosed as a symptom of the modernism’s apparent end. Resulting in a historical condition of radical groundless in which “contemporary architecture, in conjunction with the other arts, is confronted with the need to build on air, to build in the void,” Solá-Morales contrasts the concepts of weakness with fundamentalism in architecture. While the former threatens to reproduce the crisis-inducing machine that is modernism, the latter escapes its ideological and aesthetic conditions. Both tactics approach building as a representation of ideology: fundamentalism digs deeper into history in order to posit a “more true” ground whereas weakness accepts the impossibility of a true ground at all.

The project and recent exhibition Book of Copies by San Rocco, the notorious architecture collective that produces its eponymous publication, is a timely meditation on the present-day significance of these two modes of architectural production. A copy itself, Book of Copies was originally presented as a part of FAT’s Museum of Copying in the 2012 Venice Biennale. It has been revamped as a solo show currently on view at London’s Architectural Association with numerous new books a new exhibition design by young Milan-based firm PIOVENEFABI.

Each Book of Copies presented is composed of two parts: a collection of photocopied images, and a title, “naming a class of buildings that could be produced by copying the figures.” The project synthesizes the fundamentalism of naming an architectural type and the weakness of revealing the complexity of what naming a “type” may mean. While the project admittedly does not intend to “present an exhaustive taxonomy” it does posit the necessity and liberty of the taxonomization process in order to “redefine … collective knowledge”.

Throughout the books on display, the tenuous relation between each book’s signifier and signified is played with in various ways. Some books take rather common classes of building, such as Tunnels, Highways, Chinese houses, Blue buildings, Churches, and so on, to present what might not have been, but perhaps should be, considered integral to the type. Others take an opposite approach, proposing unconventional architectural types such as Pachinko Parlors, Villas Where to Shoot a Porno Movie, Buildings Arguably Built by Aliens, and Brothels, expanding the notions of what is built and can be architecture. A third approach is neither focused on the book’s title nor its content but the fact that it is a book and can be read as such, emphasizing parts of the built environment that may be overlooked as merely components of the architectural event, like Billboards, Pilotis, Park gates, and Shop Windows.

Installed with two photocopy machines in the room, each Book of Copies can be copied and taken for personal use. As such, the exhibition literally furnishes the architect with the material for becoming a bricoleur, the famous identity posited by Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter for the postmodern architect capable of forging the future. The bricoleur walks the tightrope between “scientific idealism” and “populist empiricism,” between Solá-Morales’ weakness and fundamentalism: not merely characterized as one who performs an act of bricolage, the bricoleur is one who is conscious of the context of making itself.

Book of Copies should be recognized as a critical response to the milieu of architectural practice actively dissolving its own boundaries to incorporate other disciplines as a means of extending architecture’s audience, and (hopefully) reasserting its contemporary value. Yet, though fully cognizant of the field’s expansion, Book of Copies is a bold argument for interiority. If architecture as a discipline is actively being reconfigured along with most other disciplines in an emergent post-2008 order, San Rocco accepts a certain lack of control over its future, and instead argues for focusing creative disciplinary energies on doing best what architecture is known to do, so that however architecture is conditioned by planetary forces, it can be done so consciously and respectably.

This piece originally appeared in ubcube on October 29, 2013, as 'And Again...'

Sunday, October 6, 2013

22. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Steven Izenour - Learning From Las Vegas

The following post inaugurates a new type for this blog. Whereas the earlier posts could be largely characterized by an intention to explore the contemporary operationality of a work, a sort of immanent vicariousness, this post can be loosely characterized as schematic, in which the goal is not so much to use the work, but to search out and extract from the work what was, can, and could be used. If we could call the former a 'projection', we could call the latter a 'gleaning'.

It is perhaps then incisive that the first example of this type of post is Learning from Las Vegas, the infamous manifesto of 1972 that itself argues for an architectural approach that is more akin to the methodology of gleaning as opposed to projection. This book, the result of a studio at Yale, acted as the first concrete theoretical opposition to the architectural epistemology of modernism that was championed (via failure) by Le Corbusier, and as such paved the way for post-modern discourse.

The works that will be treated in the series of posts that follow in the same format will largely be of a highly sensitive nature, and it is therefore this sensitivity itself that needs to be respected and maintained. As a methodological consequence of the presuppositions that have been outline here, the content of these posts will be merely a series of quotes, introduced by a very brief historical and discursive contextualization.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

21. Giorgio Agamben - Opus Dei

"The problem of the coming philosophy is that of thinking an ontology beyond operativity and command and an ethics and a politics entirely liberated from the concepts of duty and will"

Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty, written by Giorgio Agamben and translated by Adam Kotsko, is the chronological and conceptual culmination of his long-standing Homo Sacer project. It could be conjectured that the overarching goal of the project has been to understand the present: to explain why we do things the way we do them and how the world as it is now could have come to be. Frustratingly so, more than pointing the way forward, Agamben reveals how what has and can be conceived of as the foundation for a future is in fact only solidifying the grip upon which the logics of the present impede the coming of history.

The book explicates two radically distinct yet congruous and overlapping modes of existence, one of "being" and one of "having-to-be." In other words, whether the substance of the individual is either their bare fact of existing, or what the individual does, makes, produces, effects. This latter ontology is posited as the dominant mode of the moderns, one in which has resulted in the total economization of time and space. Importantly, this economic ontology, in which what is only is because it can be measured in a particular way and for a particular reason and as such is structurally dependent on that system of measurement, is not itself foreign from a more classical ontology of being, but instead emerged from within it, from its very ambivalence to definition. In fact, the only way in which the ontology of "operativity" could overcome the ontology of "being" is by appropriating its language of virtue and framing it a new way and towards other ends, by making virtue a duty.

By tracing the evolution of existential ontology as akin to a colonial process, Agamben shows the impossibility of utopically returning to this more 'authentic' mode of being, but instead posits the need for a new conceptualization of being, in its reasons and its means.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

20. Lisbon Architecture Triennale - Close, Closer

An ecology of architectural ideology.

Unless your –ienniale takes place on a small urbanized island in the northwest corner of Italy, it is not unusual for the relation between the event itself and where it takes place to act as a primary catalyst for reflection and production. With its complex topography of both production and reflection distributed throughout its exhibitions and events, the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale is no different in these regards to the phenomena of –ienniales that has taken place in the creative fields over the past decade. Focusing from the outset on the effect over time events of this magnitude have on the city, most of the exhibitions are designed to unfold over the course of the next three months. As such, at this point it is futile to make any sort of value judgments regarding its success or failure (because, really, who would it be a success or failure for?). This approach instead orients the critical gaze towards the individual projects themselves and how they respond to the ambitions, conditions and constraints they have taken upon themselves.

The event is multifaceted, taking shape in four main curated exhibitions and a vast program of affiliated projects that are all in different mediums and locations throughout the spatiotemporal city. As a consequence of this distributed nature, it is perhaps more common for one to come across a single manifestation of the overarching curatorial project rather than entering into a heterotopia of discourse. Under the title Close, Closer, curated by Beatrice Galilee the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale approaches the community of architectural discourse by casting a wide net to reveal what is actually there in the sea and foster its potential rather than investing in specific technologies and locations to harvest a single population of fish that everyone purportedly likes.

The range of interpretations given to the local and discursive constraints of the Triennale is wide, but all find common ground amongst each other in their sincerity and clarity in projecting a highly contingent vision forward. Schematically divisible into two groups, Reality and Other Fictions, curated by Mariana Pestana, and Future Perfect, curated by Liam Young, present radically opposed yet deeply homologous interpretations of the opportunity to exhibit work in a context formerly known as the museum, whereas on the other hand New Publics, curated by José Esparza, and The Institute Effect, curated by Dani Admiss, meditate on the processes of producing this thing we call work itself. While the difference between these two pairs runs deep, it is also a divide that emerges rhetorically to the surface: the former proclaims itself to be based on transcendental nouns such as the ‘future’ or ‘reality,’ the latter concerns itself with transient verbs such as ‘to make public’ and ‘to institute’.

In this sense, the experience of each exhibition is highly particular and responds directly to the context in which it is located. Located in the former electricity power station that has recently been transformed into a museum about its own past, Young’s Future Perfect sets out to materialize at a 1:1 scale what elements of the future city may look like and do.  Taking shape in construction robots, surveillance drones, interactive light installations, wax clothing, and a series of videos all situated within an artificial forest inside a reasonably small room of the museum, the exhibition ultimately demands of the museum-goer that they are not only highly informed, a ‘fan’ in its own sense, but that they submit the momentary potentials of their individual consciousness to this hyper-particular and somewhat over-aestheticized vision of the future.

On the other end of the museum spectrum, Pestana’s Reality and Other Fictions takes place in a grand palace which was once home to the first Marquis de Pombal, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Prime Minister and architect of Lisbon’s urban reconstruction after its infamously sublime earthquake of 1755. Set within a decadently ornamental context, the work within largely reflects on the building’s extravagant beauty, and in a sense the contingent and particular nature of all things beautiful. With exquisitely detailed installations, topics such as the personal and architectural embodiment of power, the declaration of rights and its formalization as law, the inscription of discourse and the perceptions of comfort are rhetorically materialized in such a way that a latent process of self-reflection is effectively induced in the experience of the space.

Esparza’s New Publics is paradoxically both the loudest and quietest of the four primary curatorial lines. Considered more a program than an exhibition, if one was to go and look for it, there would honestly be very little to see. Sitting in Praça da Figueira, one of Lisbon’s central and most prominent squares, Mexican architect Frida Escobedo’s delicately figured and finely detailed Civic Stage acted as the literal platform for a series of speeches, performances and plays that occurred during the inauguration of the Triennale. While the stage will only be intermittently populated by informal classes or whatever other ways the citizens of Lisbon decide to inhabit its open surface, this very gesture of absence and potential is profound. Like John Cage’s interpretation of the significance of a concert in 4’33” or Marcel Duchamp’s approach to the museum in Fountain, New Publics treats the architecture of public space as the arbitrary yet necessary and incessant medium for the performance of society.

As if realizing in a state of melancholy that what was made in the euphoric liberty of public performance only lasts for as long as the performers are on stage performing the performance, a few blocks down the road and back inside is The Institute Effect. Situated within MUDE, a museum of fashion and design that inhabits the contemporary ruin of a former bank that was stopped in the midst of renovation, a series of sequential residencies take as their task a highly reflective process of revealing what it takes to make and what it means to have an institution. Starting from a tabula rasa, ten independent architectural institutions from around the globe iteratively occupy a single space over the course of the next three months while holding workshops and public programs. Including the likes of Fabrica (IT), Storefront for Art and Architecture (US), LIGA (MX), SALT (TR), Z33 (BE), and many more, each institution’s singular identity is subconsciously presented in the very way the space is occupied.

With respect to its original curatorial intention of positing questions as opposed to proposing answers, it could be decided that Close, Closer did in fact achieve the goals it set out for itself, but it should perhaps be reflected upon whether the questions it has, and will continue to raise, are indeed the ones it wants to be asking. The 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale is an event that is saturated with ideology yet haunted by the absence of hegemony. If what has become the norm is in fact problematically unsustainable, it is crucial to interrogate the ways in which discourse evolves away from that tradition. While it appears as if the only possible explanation for the radical lack of Álvaro Siza or Eduardo Souto de Muora in a Portuguese architectural event is the result of decision to not include this certain type of architectural thought, it is perhaps a presence that is so prominent within the contemporary Portuguese architectural discourse, pedagogy and culture that it should not have been ignored altogether. Instead of trying to convince those who attend the event one way or the other about its projected form of architectural ideology, the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale perhaps most strongly makes the case for the need of mutual recognition and an ecology of ideological difference.