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