Monthly Archives: April 2011

Yesterday’s Huffington Post published an interesting article entitled Cloud Architecture  written by Carla Leitao, well known professor of architecture in New York and co-principal of the office AUM Studio with Ed Keller.

Within this article, she advocates for an architecture that would be inspired by the cloud or the fog, as much for its blur than for its ability to reconfigure continuously its shape than it can actually be said to be “formless” (concept borrowed to Georges Bataille).
This enunciation of a precise and articulate argument is even more important than it comes from a frenetic context for the use of particles, atmospheres and flux that are almost always the pieces of a retroactive legitimacy for a pre-given aesthetics. Carla’s text is therefore important to replace what is really in stake for architecture innovative practice and education in this field of exploration.
The article is joined by a series of references, some of which are recurrently published on The Funambulist (R&Sie(n), Brian Buckner/Loukia Tsafoulia, Kokkugia, Alissa Andrasek, Magnus Larsson) among other (Diller/Scofidio, David Benjamin, Rachel Armstrong etc.).

Here is the article as published by the Huffington Post:

CLOUD ARCHITECTURE
Carla Leitao

Back in 2006, while participating in the NewBlood exhibition organized by the Portuguese Architects Guild, our office stated that our approach to work was one where we attempt to voluntarily un-focus or blur the image of a building and instead imagine we are designing fogs. We find that this ‘mist’ typology works as a design process because it better enables us to read and enact on the patterns, flows, continuities, cohesions and ruptures which better encompass the fluid nature of the systems that architecture, urban and landscape systems are made of.
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After having evoked a very literal vision of camouflage yesterday (see the article), the book entitled Camouflage written by Neil Leach in 2006 and published by the MIT Press, proposes a more philosophical way to interpret such notion.
In this book, N.Leach interprets camouflage as a phenomenological survival strategy or masquerade that  questions the notion of the “self” and the “other”. It can be said to be a sort of treatise of aesthetics in architecture, a value that after having being demonized currently comes back as a self-sustaining argument. N. Leache stands obviously out of those two “schools” and proposes a series of chapters referencing the depth of the aesthetical discourses by themes (mimesis, mimicry, becoming, death, narcissism, identity, paranoia, belonging, sacrifice, melancholia, ecstasy…). Each of those chapters are accompanied by beautiful photographs by Francesca Woodman of young women phenomenologically amalgamating their bodies with the building.

Neil Leach uses references from philosophy (Benjamin, Adorno, Deleuze, Caillois etc.), psychoanalysis (Freud, Lacan), gender studies (Butler), anthropology (Levi-Strauss), religion (St Teresa),  botany (orchids), zoology (chameleons), literature (Bataille) and myth (Narcissus, Daedalius, Medusa etc.). One who would like to explore all those fields related by the erudite Leach would have to read the book (or listen to the course at USC attached at the very end of this article, but this is only an overview of the book) but here, I would like to copy the two first pages of the chapter “Sacrifice” that I find profoundly interesting (probably because that might be one the most “architectural” moments of this book):

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# HISTORY /// WWII Camouflaged CityApril 27, 2011

Architecture & Design / History - By: Léopold Lambert

In 1942, after the United States entered the second world war and fearing the Japanese threat on the Pacific coast, an entire aircraft plant and airport -the Lockheed Burbank- has been camouflaged to escape from sight to potential Japanese airplanes. It is interesting to observe that, in order to do so, the US army had to ask for the help of Hollywood studios -WWII is probably the beginning of a long history of exchanges between Hollywood and the US Army- to make this industrial landscape appearing as a piece of suburbia. The very vast aircraft plant was therefore obliged to function under a porous canopy from which was emerging here and there, some chimneys disguised in trees or fountains.

Thanks Martial. (see more on amusingplanet)

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The last decade would have seen Europe experiencing a very important wave of xenophobia that are modifying our institutions in their very essence. As two current examples, Hungary is modifying its constitution in order to declare Christians as “normal citizens” and Italy and France are threatening Shenghen space to know who will have to take care of 20 000 Tunisian emigres who just fled their country.

In this context, French alternative press website Mediapart (here is a link toward the English version) just released the Manual created for the French Police to escort clandestine to the border. In this manual, a dozen of pages are describing the procedure of strangulation in order to potentially calm who is being called “the foreigner”. That’s in fact, his only crime, believing that globalization was not just for goods, but also for people and he his categorized as the absolute otherness, the one we are taught to fear and to expel.

Those pages of description of the strangulation are interesting to look at. Their coldness reveals the banality of violence, and yet two things strike me.
The first one is that those photos present this violence as a choreography that appear as even more terrifying as it gives to it the disturbing ambiguity between an embrace and a rape.
The second one is the analytical presentation of it, that reminds me the presentation of an architectural project. Diagrams, elevations (it shows front side and back), perspectives, texts, everything is here to describe an action on the body. This is reading I do, in the spectrum of my thesis, which is that architecture is weaponized, it carries  inherently a tremendous power on the bodies and exercises it by its physicality. This argument might appear as exaggerated, especially in that extreme case, but I include at the end of this article, some photographs by Edmund Clark taken in the current extreme architectural paradigm in that matter, Guantanamo camp. In both cases, violence is expressed in its banalization which is the absolute danger of our so called liberal and democratic societies.

This article was published on Critical Legal Thinking

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The following letter has been written by French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard to Arakawa and Madeline Gins in 1997. Their answer is readable in the fantastic book Reversible Destiny: We have decided not to Die published by the Guggenheim Museum in the same year.

Dear Friends,

Could one perhaps call your antidestiny architecture “antibiography”?
Would the distribution of time between beginning and end be neutralized?
Would the possibilities reserved for childhood remain open in every circumstance? Might they even multiply? Could the body be younger at sixty years of age than at fifteen?
The body would no longer inhabit a dwelling that grew old along with it. It would no longer inhabit a dwelling that grew old along with it. It would no longer be dedicated to adapting itself to constant volumes –a door here, a chair there, an ear here, a pair of knees there. Would it space begin anew each day?
Instantaneous habits would come and go. Affectionately, energetically. Would architecture summon energy and affection to inhabit the body?
Would it be futile to build concepts? Could one write or draw through encounters. Straight from nothingness?
The three children playing hide-and-seek in this house as I ask you these questions reverse the destinies of the beds, the tables, the rooms, ignoring the assigned purposes of each. Laughter, shouts, silence, vehemence, foot-stamping, breathlessness –is this, in fact, similar to the task your architecture expects of us, dear Madeline, dear Arakawa?

Jean-Francois Lyotard
January 1st 1997

Translated from the French, by Stephen Sartarelli.

Arakawa/Gins. Reversible Detiny.New York: Guggenheim Museum Publication 1997.

Other articles/essays about Arakawa/Gins’ work
Dislocative Architecture by Ed Keller
Architectures of Joy by myself

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picture: The donkey, the dwelling place and the rock by Laura Adams Armer extracted from Architecture and the Burdens of Linearity by Catherine Ingraham. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

In 1992, Catherine Ingraham wrote a short essay entitled The Burdens of Linearity for the Chicago Institute of Architecture and Urbanism. Six years later she published a book with the same name that brought back this essay under the chapter’s name. The Burdens of Linearity. Donkey Urbanism. The Donkey -and the mule- is in fact the recurrent animal in this book, he is the burden beast to who Le Corbusier attributes  the plan of all the pre-modern cities. According to the Swiss-French architect, the donkey by his zigzags’ tracks that “takes the lines of least resistance, drew the lines of the city. Modernity, on the contrary, advocates for the pure and sane orthogonality that celebrates the fact that “Man has made up his mind”. Le Corbusier’s obsessive pathology for sanity, is fully expressed here: Architecture and the City have to constitute thaumaturgic machines in which health is no longer a mean to perpetuate life but rather celebrated as a self-justified end.
To the asserted “ruinous, difficult and dangerous curve of animality” by Le Corbusier, one can think of Deleuze’s Becoming Animal that celebrate the adherence to the counter-standard imposed by Modernity. In this matter, the anti-modern behavior by excellence is the Situationist drift (dérive) and the anti-modern architecture/urbanism is Constant’s immanent labyrinth (see the article about Kafka’s Trial) constituted by the New Babylon, the city of humans who did not make up their minds.

In the following excerpt of this same chapter, Catherine Ingraham recounts Le Corbusier’s “mythopoetical account of the history of the city” and subtly  promotes a “bestial urbanism” that will lead her to write her next book Architecture, Animal, Human: The Asymmetrical Condition in 2006.

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pictures: Stephen Walter (above) and Sohei Nishino’s (below) maps of London

Maps, in our imaginary, carry much more objectivity than they actually do in reality. We can probably explain that by the reliability that we put in them in order to locate ourselves in a city or in a country. However, just like the architect plan (another kind of map), maps are actually a form of representation that is characterized by just as much subjectivity than any other forms. They only shows what make sense in their system of logic, they use a more or less complex aesthetic vocabulary and they often emphasize the importance of some of their included elements.
The work of art that expresses the best this subjective beauty in my opinion remains the medium length 1978 movie by Peter Greenaway, A Walk Through H. (see previous article) in which an ornithologist recounts his journey in 92 maps that one by one leads more and more toward abstraction. Very luckily you can watch this movie by following this link.

Stephen Walter and Sohei Nishino are two artists who are exploring the subjectivity of the map. S. Walter has draw two gigantic maps of London and Liverpool in a sort of report of Situationist drifts (derives) experiencing the psychogeographies of those two cities. His maps are mostly constituted by doodles and words that places various neighborhoods and its characteristics but also his autobiographical feeling about those places when he went there. Space’s representation and narratives are then completely colliding in one documents and makes S.Walter’s maps absolutely fascinating.
Sohei Nishino is using photographs to compose his maps which oscillate between aerial views and maps using a technique that became famous by David Hockney which consists in assembling pictures together despite their different vanishing points. S.Nishino chose some very generic photographs from main monuments of each city to make the map more recognizable but one could imagine his work with an approach more similar to Stephen Walter’s that would assemble pieces of life brought together with pictures that would eventually constitutes the city.
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all images are extracted from the book Pro Domo by Yona Friedman. Barcelona: Actar 2006

The understanding of Yona Friedman‘s work can be said to be disturbed by its popularity. His Ville Spatiale, just like Constant’s New Babylon, suffers from its architectural formalization that is immediately categorized as a 60’s megastructure that simply allows a second level to the existing city. Those prejudices are not helped by the fact that Yona Friedman develops a simplicity of language and of drawing (whether we are talking about his perspectives than his graphic novels) which makes him appear as a gentle naive idealist to the reader who would pass too quickly on his work (and that’s something the blogosphere definitely allows).

For a very long time if you were reading French, you would probably be easily able to go further in his research; from now on, this is also easy in English, as Actar published the book Pro Domo which gathers an important amount of his texts, research and projects. Within the frame of this article, I also translated in English the interview Martin Le Bourgeois and myself had done of Y. Friedman in 2007 for our Undergraduate Thesis.

The Ville Spatiale as a principle can be said to be Yona Friedman’s only work that he spent fifty years to explore and redraw again and again. However, it is fascinating to observe the ensemble of approaches that he took in order to fully understand what was at stake in this project and how to actually make it happen to a small or a big scale. Before enumerating them, it seems important to re-affirm what the Ville Spatiale is about, as it has been too often shaded by its radical representation:

The Ville Spatiale is an architectural mean of the democratization of urban design built up by the citizen themselves. It advocates for an architecture without plans that adapts to people’s desire and implement a negotiation between neighbors. The Architect is only an adviser and in charge of designing the (infra)structure that will provide space and necessary resources for the city to grow.

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In the following essay, I would like to expose my interpretation of The Trial as written by Franz Kafka published after his death in 1925 and then adapted in a film by Orson Welles in 1962. The images in this article are extracted from this movie.

The Trial carries all the characteristics of a dream. The fact that Joseph K. is in bed in the first line of the novel –he is even sleeping in the film- is only a clue in that direction. Just like a dream, the whole narrative is centered on his person and nothing seems to exist where he is not here.
The dream is then shared between elements of K.’s fantasies and fears which can categorize this dream as a nightmare. On the one hand, all along the narrative, K. distributes orders and accomplish eloquent speeches that express a fantasy for power that Orson Welles’ character –played by Anthony Perkins- does not seem to inherently own when one observes his non-charismatic presence. This paradox goes even much further with his surprising success with women who all fall for him with such easiness that can only be expressed by fantasy. We will find again such fantasy in The Castle the main character who shares his name with K.
From then, paranoia can be implemented as each man becomes a threat either for him and his judicial case or for “his” women who all end up kidnapped by other men. Orson Welles even illustrates such a “kidnapping” by a scene in which a woman who just got seduced by K. is carried by a magistrate in a very expressive position which recalls Jean Boulogne’s Rape of the Sabine Women.

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The Supurban Project is a thesis project in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s B.Arch program by Nick Axel (who now lives in Santiago, Chile). Located in Phoenix, Arizona it questions the status of suburbia as a inanimate grid by designing a megastructure inspired from the 70’s that breaks this grid and reactivate neighborhoods by linking them together and implementing new public spaces.

One of the reasons of existence of Suburbia was in fact to kill public space as it was understood with the Mediterranean paradigm [we currently see what it allows with the “Arab Spring”]. Quoting an article I wrote a year ago about the Obscure History of Suburbia, Mike Davis affirms in City of Quartz that public space in the American city has been destroyed for a reason of control and security, free gathering of people being too hazardous and uncertain for a system that bases its self-sustainability in the anticipation of its subjects’ behaviors. Suburbia is thus a way to kill the Mediterranean street to replace it by the road or the highway that prevent any social interaction between people.

I read Nick’s project as a metaphorical manifesto, a megastructure as an extreme and literal expression of a will to invent a new paradigm of public space inspired by the Mediterranean one but incorporating the modern American fascination for cars and highways.

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