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.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

19. Shane Carruth - Upstream Color

Upstream Color is a 2013 film by Shane Carruth, his first since his 2004 premier Primer, infamous for its extremely low budget and impossibly confounding story. Akin to the latter, Upstream Color is a rigorously independent and experimental film directed, written, produced, and starring Carruth himself. It is perhaps what could be called an auter film for the age of technological and epistemological accessibility. Since its release earlier this year, as will be read at the beginning of anything else about it, the film has quickly generated a plethora of discussion and commentary, with a great deal of "explanation" as the impetus, brought on by the beautifully expressive yet intentionally fragmentary, nonlinear, broken temporality of the film. It has a poetic approach that at times leaves information too sparse, unfortunate only because it is this very technique itself that imbues the passage of scenes with such potency. The film is what I would like to term an 'embodied experience', meaning: the medium through which sensory information is transmitted is transmitted in such a way that the experience of the information itself communicates the content of that information. The medium and the message are one.

In the many interviews Carruth has given about the film, he is upfront and surprisingly straightforward about the intentions of making the film, which is, to paraphrase, to reflect on (contemporary) alienation. What is surprising about his admittance of this is not that artistic laborers want to hide the 'meaning' of their work today in the age of precarity, but the fact that this meaning, this intention, is very clearly identified and really quite simple. For this reason, the fragmented montage of spatiotemporality and narratives itself embodies the experience of film with 'the film' (or, 'the project'). In this sense film becomes a medium.

Before going any further, I will take cue from the New Yorker review (The Thoreau Poison) in saying that what follows may contain what is known as "spoilers", but ultimately what is most potent about the film cannot be spoiled through any divulgence of plot information. Furthermore, while the following discussion will largely focus on a single device that Carruth, in interviews, has more or less outright stated was an arbitrary choice for inclusion, I will again take cue from the review previously cited in saying that this object might in fact be the key to unlocking the true philosophical complexity of the film, for while it's choice might be contingent, it is necessary.

What is perhaps most problematic about the film is its central objet, the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau, which functions as the device around which the story weaves it's path. Much of the debate that has arisen about the film has focused on Carruth's particular, yet emphatic if in no other way than rhetorical, use of the book. Enigmatic lines are repeated like religious hymns; the trauma which occupies the first third of the movie is predicated on the book's incessant transcription, whereas the finale directly posits the book as the key to salvation. Beyond the profoundly resonant score, sound, a fundamental element of Thoreau's book, is integral to the development of the story, acting as the means by which Kris (the main character) finds her way out of the trauma, as well as the sublime and foreign way in which Kris and Jeff are able to identify the impulse that guides them towards salvation.

It is deeply unclear in which type of light the book Walden is presented; at the same time it is what leads the characters to salvation, it is what facilitated their alienating trauma in the first place. One gets a very uneasy feeling at the end as to whether Walden is really the solution, or in fact the problem itself. But perhaps this line of questioning is fundamentally ambiguous and ambivalent for its fallacious interpretation of the effect for the cause. What is therefore ultimately most problematic is not Walden itself but it's traumatic instrumentalization. It is here that I must insist, in the face of Carruth's comments, that Walden as a sign is not innocent, but in fact points again towards the project that was (re)initiated with Upstream Color.

Upstream Color, and conjecturally Walden itself, seems to posit the corruption of a human essence by the evolution of society, potently represented as a physical trauma (with visible traces). The trauma itself is composed of two parts: the first in which the subject is imbricated with a foreign force, making the one two, and as such allowing for the manipulation of the one by a foreign operator; the second element of the trauma is in which the subject, passing from an "authentic" one (Kris working) to an "authentic" two (Kris being manipulated) to an "inauthetic" one (Kris alone after manipulation with the force loose inside her body), is split into two in an attempt to restore the subject to its authentic wholeness. Instead, what is produced is a lacking pair, in which Kris returns to her life, finding it completely empty without a job, unable to communicate with others nor control or understand her emotions. What makes this view most enigmatic is its transcendental nature: while it may be undeniably real (with scientifically identifiable physical traces) the trauma is itself posited as contingent. What this means is that the source of the trauma can be identified, and even though it cannot be erased from memory, can be treated, which in the case of Upstream Color, is accomplished through the awareness of said trauma. The awareness of the trauma will produce two effects: it will lead the traumatized to be united with its severed half while stopping the trauma from repeating itself to others.

The emphatic presentation of trauma and its transcendence is questionable not in an artistic, but philosophical sense, and as such puts in question the level on which Upstream Color should be interpreted. For example, is the traumatic act (the imbrication of Kris) really contingent? If trauma is treated as something perhaps fundamental to existence, or at the very least human subjectivity, at what stage in the traumatic process can it be said is the 'default' condition? Can an ontological framework for an ethics be constructed on the conceptual basis of trauma? While the philosophical questions this film raises may be questionable, what ultimately stands out for this film is its lucid representation of alienated connectivity, and the belief, albeit transcendental and debatable bordering on religious, that another way of being is possible.

Friday, August 16, 2013

18. Doug Spencer - Architectural Deleuzism

The essay written by Doug Spencer entitled 'Architectural Deleuzism' was originally published in the journal Radical Philosophy in 2011 and is taken from his Ph.D which is currently being reformulated into book form under the provisional title 'An Architecture of Compliance', on "neoliberal/managerial governmentality and architecture." while the essay had come into my purview some time ago, I would like to thank Ross Wolfe for raising it to my attention again.

The premise of the essay is rather straightforward and executed with stunning clarity and impressive rigor. Spencer's argument is to demonstrate how the critical devices of Deleuze & Guattari's repitoire were subsumed and coopted by the emerging market logic of the 1990's through their very politicization. In other words, how in both the architectural and theoretical work of, for example, Patrick Schumacher and Alejandro Zaera-Polo, critical concepts such as the smoothing of space and the autonomy of affect were implemented with explicitly political intentions (perhaps instead of critical intentions, and as such possible to realize in the market) and surreptitiously furthered the hegemonic reach of the very problematic these concepts were originally developed to dismantle. Spencer is able to make his critique transcend scales, ranging from managerial plans to facade patterns.

Key to the type of criticism Spencer deploys, which in its sheer power and ingenuity could, should act as a model for the criticism-to-come, is a Marxist approach. I hesitate to write this word, but there is simply no other way to describe his methodology. The hesitation is not just for fear that people will be instantly turned off from reading the essay or form preestablished judgements, but because Marx is not present in the essay, but more infiltrates it in every thought. Therefore, Spencer's methodology is Marxist insofar as it is methodological and critically grounded. It is not clear in its reading any sort of class antagonism, highly suitable for today's complex context of causality, but moreso "the market" is framed nebulously and frustratingly intangible (as it is, is it not?). Spencer's motivation, if I may make a conjecture, is fundamentally based on revealing the contemporary techniques of exploitation, in decodifying the complexities of contemporary power as it is immanently manifest in architecture, not necessarily to say what is to be done, but to raise awareness to the effects of what is done.

I will end this post with a series of quotes from the essay. The essay is available online (again thanks to Ross), which I would recommend to anyone interested in the future of critical politics.

" Between Deleuze’s ‘sieve whose mesh will trans-mute from point to point’ and ‘gradient vectors of transformation’, on the one hand, and Schumacher’s ‘spaces of enclosure’ and ‘clearly bounded realms’, on the other, the account of a transition from a striated to a smooth space can be followed in parallel across both passages. The movement that can be traced between them, however, when the passages are returned to the frame of their respective contexts, is one from critique to valorization; from Deleuze’s warning to Schumacher’s affirmation. This movement paradoxically turns Deleuze’s analysis of a nascent control mechanism into a prescription for its implementation.Critique is absorbed into the very forms of knowledge and power it had sought to denounce in order to reinvent and valorize their operation." p12

" Only within the business organization, [Zaera-Polo] argues, can the ‘progressive realities’ – such as ‘de-hierarchization, matrix andnetwork organization, flexible specialization, loose and multiple coupling, etc.’ – thus be found to fill this‘ideological vacuum’. These ‘progressive realities’ are, in any case, not seen as the creations of business itself, but as conditions ‘forced upon the capitalist enterpriseby the new degree of complexity and flexibility of thetotal production process’. Hence they can be brack-eted from their neoliberal context, and then pursued, in themselves, as a means by which architecture can locate and pursue a supposedly emancipatory project." p13

" Treated as a means to an end, affect becomes reifiedand is turned to a use opposite to that suggested by Deleuze and Guattari: rather than a path towards the deterritorialization of subject positions imposed by a molar order, affect serves to reterritorialize the subject within an environment governed by neoliberal imperatives." p19

" What is presented as an emancipatory release from the confines of a disciplinary model of spatial programmes operates, in fact, as a means through which former spaces of enclosure are opened out to the market as an uncontested mechanism of valorization." p20

Saturday, August 10, 2013

17. Giorgio Agamben - The Kingdom and the Glory

Published in English in 2011 (originally in Italian in 2007 as Il Reigno e la Gloria), Agamben's The Kingdom and the Glory is the decisive turning point of his longstanding Homo Sacer project, tentatively figured as II, 2 (this while temporally written after State of Exception and Remnants of Auschwitz, this book would be situated in between the two). Much like almost every other book in the series (except State of Exception), in lucid fashion the subtitle contains the book's central concepts from which his archaeological method will unfold: For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government. The summation of the title is perhaps misleading, for the subtitle does not relate in any structural or direct way to the former, but instead by privileging the first two Agamben pre-emptively reveals a conclusion to the book itself by diagnosing a fundamental problematic in the contemporary political sphere in its supposedly secular (i.e. modern) nature. From this point, we could state that the intention of the book is to reveal the essentially theological, religious foundation of Western power that has only recently manifested itself in contemporary forms of biopolitics. Agamben does this by tracing in painstaking detail the contingent historical evolution of certain concepts from Ancient Greece, through Christianity, into the Middle Ages, and into the Enlightenment.

While Foucault might have revealed the metaphysics of power in governmentality, his project was undeniably left unfinished and insufficient for rendering pliable its contemporary manifestations. While certain theorists have continued his project forward towards societies of control and the pharmacopornographic regime, Agamben instead looks back in an eruditic, if not hermetic, fashion that posits the immutable nature of power itself, and as such seeks provides the vocabulary for its contemporary philosophical disentanglement. The chapter titles reveal a surprising amount about his methodological rigor: The Mystery of the Economy, Being and Acting, The Kingdom and the Government, the Providential Machine, Angelology and Bureaucracy, The Power and the Glory. While these concepts seem to be rather general and applicable to many discourses today, Agamben shows how the specific utilization of these terms figured decisively in the evolution of philosophical thought, and more importantly, governmental politics. My intention behind discussing the books structure is not to vault Agamben's methodology above those of other methods, but merely communicate the challenging nature of this book, lest one be from a properly theological background (which I am not).

Agamben ultimately defines the nature of Western power as essentially bipolar, in which he locates a contemporary problematic our inheritance of modern political form in its secularizing gesture (despite explicit reference to theology in the works of Rousseau). The consequences of this are profound, only few of which Agamben details himself, while primarily centering himself on 20th century's catastrophic attempts of reintroducing sacredness into politics in fascism. What if power cannot be reduced to merely the organization of things, but is also what legitimizes that organization and keeps the system running? If government, a unified body of power, is not our source of causality, we can witness some potential consequences from over the past 50 years of money and fame taking its place. If neither the former nor latter are neither suitable nor desirable, it is only through comprehending their fundamental (and necessary) coexistence and coproduction can we potentially conceptualize its total inoperativization and the possibility of a future.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

16. Batlle i Roig Architects - Head Offices of the CMT

In a city whose modern development has based itself on the inseparability of architecture and urbanism, where not only the plan but the elevation has been defined and strictly regulated for over 150 years, there is something uncanny about Barcelona’s developing neighborhood “22@” – the “Innovation District.” Situated in the old industrial zone of Poble Nou, the new development’s treatment of the local existent architecture is emblematic of the relation between neoliberalism’s compulsion towards the new and the contextual history in which this gambit takes place. Street signs at the base of oversized shiny towers and weird techno-ecological buildings point towards a perplexing amount of factory-turned-historical-museums. The sensitive filigree that characterized early-twentieth century Catalan brick architecture is often lost in translation to the language of a curtain wall, either glazed over or excessively complicated and aestheticized.

Few stipulations were made regarding what could take place inside of urban planner Ildefons Cerdá’s enigmatic octagonal blocks, or “illes” as Catalan people call them, under the condition that each was to be planned and developed as a whole. The freedom given by the municipal government to the district’s creators was an experiment carried out under the aegis of “innovation,” designed to generate marketing and cognitive capital as much as monetary revenue. Then again – isn’t that the kind of freedom that ultimately enabled Gaudí to build his fantastic structures?

Like a rough-worn jewel underneath the current of a riverbed, the Head Office building of Telecommunications Market Commision (CMT) is nestled peacefully behind Nouvel’s sex-toy Torre Agbar. Built by Batlle i Roig Architects, the stout 11-story CMT building is a delicate polemic. As if to grasp Dürer’s truncated rhombohedron, the building’s appearance radically changes with every step around its exterior – and throws the superficiality of its architectural context into relief. The baffling simplicity of its rigorous horizontal louvers provides a phenomenological dynamism unparalleled in the rest of 22@. Glances into the geometry’s mystical interior are afforded from a distance, only to be concealed once one gets too close, at which point the building’s lightness is suddenly transformed into gravitas. Terraces strategically placed through the building and oriented towards the sea sit between the façade and the boundary layer to add an additional element of depth.

While the typical contemporary demand for spectacular architecture is fulfilled through the building’s prudently expressive gestures and boldly simple techniques, arriving at the building’s base fully reveals it innovative approach. Its geometry is placed on top of an old textile factory that is located in the center of the block, though unfortunately still hidden by construction scaffolding from the adjacent empty lots. The aesthetic affinity between the new and old is formally and metaphorically reinforced by the louvers that continue over the factory to connect the two in a swooping gesture. Housing the more personal functions of the building, such as conference rooms and a children’s nursery, the graceful restoration of the factory below exploits its spatial characteristics to stimulate its new function. By locating these more intimate programs in the factory, the tower is optimized for its operation as offices with an uninterrupted floor plan that achieves double the standard floor area – while affording 360° panoramic exterior views.

Defining the form of post-industrial urbanism, 22@ is predicated on a provisional compromise between the past and the future. In this context, the awkward feeling of walking down 22@’s unusually sparse streets alongside construction scaffolding in the shadow of refined contemporary development has sadly started to make sense. The development plan’s lack of local programmatic diversity that other parts of Cerda’s plan is are famous for should neither be regarded as inevitable nor longed for. Despite its tendency to instill a sense of melancholy, 22@ is to a certain degree immune to critique by its very fact of being there. In a geopolitical context where urban calamity has become the norm, the old idealism of the left has seemingly exhausted itself, running head-first into the wall of the real. Perhaps Promethean capitalist development or top-down planning should be treated not as a wall to jump over or tear down, but a building to enter and occupy.

With this building Batlle i Roig Architects powerfully demonstrate that it is possible for architecture to overcome its developmental vision and ideological shortcomings, effectively pointing the way forward for urbanism. While most historical remnants of the old Poble Nou neighborhood in 22@ have already been dealt with in a definitive manner, this building works towards establishing an ethical framework for architectural intervention. It does this by critically calling into question the traditionally negative connotation implied in the term subsumption by demonstrating the potential for a synthetic harmony between histories on a properly architectural scale. If the places in which we act are ultimately what give our actions meaning, it would behoove us to conceive of existence as coexistence, and as being as being amongst things.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Saturday, July 13, 2013

14.2. K. Michael Hays - Ludwig Hilberseimer and the Inscription of the Paranoid Subject

The architecture of both Hannes Meyer (whose work was the subject matter of the first part of this book, previously discussed here) and Ludwig Hilberseimer can only be appropriately understood as pivotal figures in Modern Architecture if observed as a part of a larger avant-garde movement that swept throughout Europe in the early 20th century, manifesting itself in a particularly radical form in the years following World War I within the geopolitical context of Germany and the Weimar Republic. Despite the undeniable pedagogical and conceptual influence these two architects had upon the historical development of architecture as a modern discipline, it still may be pertinent for some to question whether and why we (as architects) should view them as an integral part of our ancestral lineage, particularly when the affective reasons not to do so are readily apparent in their interpretably fascistic aesthetic. Akin to other notable Germans such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger in the years following World War II, it is therefore the task of any writer who seeks to treat these two architects as a historical force, particularly as one that cannot be ignored, to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, safe from dangerous. But the question still remains: what value is to their potential good if it can hermeneutically result in such bad? Can the two really be separable? To the extent that it is this very separation, inscribed deeply into the modern subject, that acted as the impetus and central problematic for their works, we must answer yes.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

15. H.C. Potter - Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is a film directed by H.C. Potter, featuring Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and Melvyn Douglas. Based on a 1946 book by Eric Hodgins of the same name, the film's release in 1948 coincided with the beginnings of Levittown and what we have come to know as the post-World War II American suburban morphology. In returning to the research originally undertaken during my thesis, the democratization of suburban dwellings was originally implemented in the United States primarily for ideological, anti-communist, ends, with public programs such as "A Nation of Home-Owners" (1922), American Individualism (1922), and How to Own Your Home (1923). Within the great depression, industry recognized housing as a means to spur the economy, which was itself politically institutionalized in 1934 with the Federal Housing Administration.

Upon its release 73 replica "dream houses" were built across the country, made available for public viewing, and subsequently raffled to the public. The vast majority of these houses were equipped with high-end General Electric kitchens, which in following with General Electric's promotion of the FHA and pro-home ownership initiatives, leads me to believe the promotion, if not the movie itself, was promoted by said company.

GE Advertisement referencing Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House in LIFE Magazine, 28 June 1948


Friday, June 7, 2013

14.1. K. Michael Hays - Hannes Meyer and the radicalization of perception

In 1992 the book Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject was published by MIT Press, presenting the culmination of K. Michael Hays' Ph.D at MIT. It presents the work of two architects, Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer, as the largely overlooked tail-end of the early 20th century avant-garde. It would be fair to relate the type of insight that can be gleaned from these two architects if we reflect upon Bernard Tschumi's work, himself situated in (or as) its decline (as I have previously discussed on this blog here), providing a comprehensive synthetic discourse of the late avant-garde as a radically historical and contingent metaphysical force. Furthermore, these two architects have recently been gaining a great deal more theoretical attention, though moreso Hilberseimer than Meyer, through the discourse of Pier Vittorio Aureli. The two architects that are the subject of Hays' book are at the same time closely related and worlds apart in their ideology and methodology. It is important to note that both architects were closely involved with the purported 'decline' of the Bauhaus, Meyer as its second dean who hired Hilberseimer as the director of the school's newly created building department, a defining feature of Meyer's comprehensive pedagogical reformulation.

The book itself is divided into two separate parts with a single essay uniting the two, though it is evident throughout that it is impossible to situate the latter without the former. Hays makes his discursive form clear from the beginning, based the dialectical relation between subject/object or receiver/transmitter that is the chief methodology of the Frankfurt School and Lacanian psychoanalysis. While initially apprehensible, he uses this type of discourse to ultimately demonstrate how Meyer's work sought to overcome this exact dialectic itself, identified as one of the most basic structures of the humanist metaphysics that resisted the socialism-to-come.


Friday, May 31, 2013

13. Walter Benjamin - Critique of Violence

The purpose of this reflection is to discover whether the agonistic relation between ethics and violence can be overcome. To say that there is a relation between the two may appear as either outright erroneous or as a problem easily solved, but these epistemological reflexes merely advocate further for the need of philosophical inquiry. If we were to define ethics by a lack of violence, for example, it could be conceived that ethics and violence are only joined by their polar opposition. But this dialectical formulation is reactionary, ultimately forbidding an autonomous ethics: for if there was no originary violence, there would be no possibility of ethics. This view is furthermore utopian and transcendental, implying that violence can be erased and that ethics can (and should) champion. In fact, this theoretical proposition is strictly the result of a properly ethical judgement that is genealogically tied to the development of Western humanism which must itself be subject to criticism, and therefore should not ground a metaphysical foundation of judgement. In an attempt to find a way out of this spectacular condition that has merely generated an unprecedented proliferation of violence and ethics-in-vain, I will henceforth investigate the liminal space offered by both concepts in an attempt to reveal their absolute congruency and ultimately their mutual contemporary insufficiency for the existential justification of our lives.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

12. Miguel Gomes - Tabu

Tabu is a film from 2012 by the Portuguese director Miguel Gomes that is structured in direct reference to F. W. Murnau's 1931 silent film of the same name. It is, in a word or two, a sublime representation of the Portuguese ethos. In personal conversation, the words 'caricature' and 'camp' were raised when talking about its representational modality, but if either of these words are to be accurately attributed to the film, they must be conceived in a radically different aesthetic from their traditional associations.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

11. Nikolaus Hirsch & Markus Miessen - Critical Spatial Practice

Politics in and of the printed word


A mainstream public discourse of apprehension and reconciliation has emerged over the past ten years, as architects have begun to rediscover the inherent power of creating space. In this spirit, the Critical Spatial Practice book series, edited by Nikolaus Hirsch and Markus Miessen, takes as a historical starting point the post-financial crisis social movements and seeks to uncover a deeper affinity and significance underlying the recent compulsion to “be political”. The series follows on Miessen’s trilogy on Participation, and accompanies his recently initiated Architecture and Critical Spatial Practice program at the Städelschule, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Frankfurt. Critical Spatial Practice attempts to understand how creators of space can act as active political agents, and how space can facilitate political agency itself. Tactfully avoiding a preemptive answer to such broad issues, the editors construct a larger discursive foundation about how space can be interpreted as a political medium within which action can take place.


Friday, May 10, 2013

10. Aleksandr Sokurov - Faust

Faust is a 2011 film by the Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov that won the Golden Lion award at the 2012 Venice Film Festival. It is a cinematic interpretation of the Germanic legend, with historical precedents within the medium from the likes of F.W. Murnau (1924) and Jan Svankmajer (1994). The tale of Faust was first expressed using language in the form of a play in 1594 written by Christopher Marlowe. It is probably most famous for being the source of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's magnum opus in the form of a two-part play, first performed in 1806. It was furthermore interpreted by Charles Gounod as an opera in 1859 and by Thomas Mann as a novel in 1947. The legend itself is summarily described as the story of "a highly successful scholar but one dissatisfied with his life who therefore makes a pact with the Devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures"(1).


The notion of the Faustian bargain has been incorporated into the discourse of architecture largely by Rem Koolhaas, possibly first mentioned in his infamous Junkspace essay in his identification of the economy as "Faustian" (2), but has been more recently brought to bear on architecture itself in the Chronocaos exhibit in which Koolhaas claims the architect traded significance for prominence (3).