Monthly Archives: April 2011

The following excerpt is the first lines of the novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami which describes the main character’s “journey” in an elevator so slow that he does not know if it goes up or down to eventually access a long neutral corridor of which the doors’ number do not follow each other. Somewhere between Kafka and Wong Kar Wai

Thank you Martin for the parallel

ELEVATOR, SILENCE, OVERWEIGHT

THE elevator continued its impossibly slow ascent. Or at least I imagined it was ascent.There was no telling for sure: it was so slow that all sense of direction simply vanished. It could have been going down for all I knew, or maybe it wasn’t moving at all. But let’s just assume it was going up. Merely a guess. Maybe I’d gone up twelve stories, then down three. Maybe I’d circled the globe. How would I know?

Every last thing about this elevator was worlds apart from the cheap die-cut job in my apartment building, scarcely one notch up the evolutionary scale from a well bucket. You’d never believe the two pieces of machinery had the same name and the same purpose. The two were pushing the outer limits conceivable as elevators.

First of all, consider the space. This elevator was so spacious it could have served as an office. Put in a desk, add a cabinet and a locker, throw in a kitchenette, and you’d still have room to spare. You might even squeeze in three camels and a mid-range palm tree while you were at it. Second, there was the cleanliness. Antiseptic as a brand-new coffin. The walls and ceiling were absolutely spotless polished stainless steel, the floor immaculately carpeted in a handsome moss-green. Third, it was dead silent. There wasn’t a sound—literally not one sound—from the moment I stepped inside and the doors slid shut. Deep rivers run quiet.
immaculately carpeted in a handsome moss-green. Third, it was dead silent. There wasn’t a sound—literally not one sound—from the moment I stepped inside and the doors slid shut. Deep rivers run quiet.
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After his very beautiful Manhattan Oneirocritica (see previous article) which was proposing a model of New York City including all the mythical buildings that were never built, Fredrik Hellberg makes me the honor of coming back on The Funambulist with one more brilliant project. His story DRAWING A KIMONO  新在英国日本国大使館 (A new Japan Embassy in London), introduces a narrative in which the guardian of the Embassy wears a Kimono that recounts the story of the building before he allows the Embassy ‘s ceramic facade to unfold itself in order to open the building.
This project has been designed in the frame of the Architectural Association‘s Unit Diploma 13 tutored by Oliver Domeisen. I recommend the reading of Fredrik’s texts that follow my comment as they allow to explore more deeply and precisely this beautiful story.

The representative language Fredrik is using strikes us by their uniqueness.  He actually produce the project’s Kimono after an interesting research on this art that like other Japanese Arts celebrates the precision of the gesture.
Although, I was not necessarily planning on publishing his project right after the text of Exodus, it is very interesting to observe the evolution of the Architectural Association in almost forty years. I don’t really know how much Koolhaas and Zenghelis’ thesis was representative of the AA at that time but the fact that such media has been accepted is already illustrative of what could happen back then.
The straight forward political aspect has pretty much disappeared and has been replaced by an obsessive regard for details and ornamentation but the narrative remains extremely compelling and determinant of the essence of the project. I am convinced that ornamentation in architecture is currently experiencing a come back to the center of the debate because of a retroactive manifesto, computational architecture being confronted to an economical issue that allows it to exist only as an additional aesthetic layer. However, projects like Fredrik’s make me think that ornament can transcend this condition in order to convey an interesting narrative. Of course, many people would probably argue that narrative in architecture is another kind of ornamentation but those people do not realize that narratives allow architecture to access a territory beyond Good and Evil as Nietzsche would put it. This project is a perfect illustration that such a creative process can access to such territory only by fully engaging its essence with strong audacity, ardor and persistence.

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A while ago, I published an important amount of images produced in 1972 by Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Madelon Vreisendorp,  and Zoe Zenghelis for their thesis at the Architectural Association. Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, despite the reunification of West and East Berlin, remains an extremely powerful icon of the current urban design’s ideology. I never got the chance to publish the integral text of the project, owning a very uneditable version of it but Mariabruna Fabrizi et Fosco Lucarelli recently edited it on Socks which now allows me to present it.
It seemed important as this text is just as much important as the other documents for Exodus to make sense.

Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture
Rem Koolhaas, Madelon Vreisendorp, Elia Zenghelis, and Zoe Zenghelis (1972)

Once, a city was divided in two parts. One part became the Good Half, the other part the Bad Half.
The inhabitants of the Bad Half began to flock to the good part of the divided city, rapidly swelling into an urban exodus.
If this situation had been allowed to continue forever, the population of the Good Half would have doubled, while the Bad Half would have turned into a ghost town.
After all attempts to interrupt this undesirable migration had failed, the authorities of the bad part made desperate and savage use of architecture: they built a wall around the good part of the city, making it completely inaccessible to their subjects.

The Wall was a masterpiece.
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It became almost an habit on the Funambulist to publish projects created within the frame of the Unit 15 at Bartlett. This unit is lead by Nic Clear (see his manifesto) and the concerned project here has been created by the video virtuoso Paul Nicholls.

His project, Royal Cabinets introduces a building of the British Royal Mail that stands like a wart on a Canary Wharf (London) office building. Two ideas of labor are therefore existing in parallel. The capitalist driven one that we experience everywhere in the West, and the accomplishment of public service in a building that recounts its essence by its architecture.

The Royal Cabinets are associated with a film -as it is required in the Unit 15- entitled Royal Re-Formation. I don’t know if Paul has ever watched Zabriskie Point by Michelangelo Antonioni in which the explosion of a house in the desert allows the Italian director to film the luxurious products originally contained in this house while they are in the air.
Paul Nicholls, here, accomplishes the opposite by filming the  chaotic Post’s elements of construction and labor in the air that eventually creates the structure of the Cabinets. This process could maybe appear too abstract or even useless but I think that, by allowing us to see the ensemble of pieces composing the Cabinets, he very strongly reinforces the subversiveness of the architecture that seems to be built only by cheap industrial peaces found here or there and assembled as a celebration of emancipated labor.

Here are the two texts written by Paul to introduce his project:

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picture: Joe Sacco. The Fixer. London: Drawn and Quarterly 2003

In 2009, Saskia Sassen was organizing a symposium at Columbia University entitled, Cities and the New Wars (see previous article) that was gathering intellectuals such as Stephen Graham or Eyal Weizman who presented brilliant lectures about how cities are affected by urban combat.
Cities are the new battlefields for two mains reasons. The first one is related to the fact that many of the current wars are established in an asymmetric scheme (Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechenia, narco-wars in Rio’s favelas etc.) The second one is caused by the will of the belligerents to involve the population and perpetuate the urbicide (read the essay I wrote about this topic).

In this article, I would like to introduce three works of different mediums that expresses life in cities at war:
The Fixer by Joe Sacco (see his interview for Al Jazeera) is a graphic novel/documentary by the famous American author who created a very striking series about Palestine several years before. The Fixer recounts his trip to Sarajevo in 1995 at the end of the Bosnian war which is reported to him via Neven, a para-military soldier that explains the situation in Sarajevo during those three years of combat. Three years later, the war in Kosovo occurred and expressed in its most painful degree, this notion of urbicide. (see the article about the book Violence Taking Place. The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict)
Come Again is a very beautiful book by photographer Robert Frank that collects photos of Beirut at the end of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The city seems to be empty and every buildings is a ruin that managed not to completely collapse. Beirut is indeed one of the city of the world that has been destroyed the most since the European/Japanese cities of the Second World War and 1991 was certainly not the end of it as the Israeli army attacked the city in 2006 in its raid against the Hezbollah. (thank you very much Xinyang for offering me this book)
The last work is a ten minutes movie created by Orlando Von Einsiedel and entitled Skateistan (see at the end of this article). It introduces the story of a small school of skateboarding in Kabul, Afghanistan in which kids can forget the war for a while and learn to use their skateboards. The movie is a little bit too much aestheticizing in my opinion but remains a very moving documentary about the expression of a passion in such a city at war. (thanks Pico for the link)

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Danish firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) just won the urban competition for the Master Plan of the Stockholmsporten, a new district in the Swedish capital city. Beyond the recurrent romanticism for the countryside in the city and the mythology of a tamed and benevolent nature that can be observe in almost every competitions now, what is striking in the project is the presence of a gigantic reflective sphere in the middle of this circle based district.
The fact that this sphere stands above the entire district and is reflective allow anybody to visualize the activity of everybody else in the neighborhood in some form of what I call, immanent Panopticon.

In order to go further, I need to recall what architects usually forget when they evoke in a simplistic way, the paradigm that Michel Foucault establishes for the disciplinary society, which is the Panopticon created by Jeremy Bentham. In fact, this circular prison in which the centralized form of power can easily supervise every actions of the prisoners situated in the perimeter, was a paradigm for the society between the end of the 18th century and our era. Foucault’s thesis was that the society’s scheme that we progressively enter into is much more interested about control than discipline. The mode of surveillance is shifting from a transcendental mode -the centralized proctor, symbolizing an entity like a government or an institution- to a complete immanent mode in which each member of the society is supervising the ensemble of the other members while being supervised himself.

BIG’s project is therefore amazing for its absolute literalism of forms and schemes. Both Bentham/Foucault’s transcendental Panopticon and Bjarke Ingels’ immanent Panopticon are spheres. When the transcendental one is exclusively an interiority -there is nothing outside the sphere- the immanent one is exclusively an exteriority – there is nothing inside the sphere. This is a topological transformation as the interior surface “unfolds” itself to become the exterior surface and one has to visualize this transformation to understand this morphological shift . This shift is also a political one, the same that I was evoking above. Power is not anymore effectuated by an imprisonment of the bodies, but rather by their delegated control.

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picture: Pickpocket by Robert Bresson (1959)

On May 17th 1987, Gilles Deleuze gave a lecture at the FEMIS (most famous school of Cinema in France) that will remain famous. Talking to the students, he elaborates about what does “having an idea in cinema” means and what is an Act of Creation.
The integral text in French and the videos of the lecture in French subtitled in English are available at the end of this article.

A significant part of this lecture has been translated in English by Eleanor Kaufman and published in the book, Deleuze & Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture (University of Minnesota Press, 1998.)
This translation had for ambition to recreate a coherent piece of discourse from the beginning to the end, however, some very interesting fragments have been forgotten, notably the “chapter” in which Deleuze talks about the cinema of Akira Kurosawa and Robert Bresson.

He uses Kurosawa’s example to describe how to discipline can resonate one from another and how an idea in literature can be translated into an idea in cinema even if the means of expression of this idea are extremely different (see the translation about the differentiation of ideas depending on the discipline). He compares Kurosawa’s films with the written work of Shakespeare and even more specifically Dostoevsky.
In Dostoevsky’s work and especially in The Idiot, the characters are taken into an absolute urgency established by the narrative when suddenly, they linger on a question that seems more important to them:

Mais dans les Sept samouraïs, vous comprenez, ils sont pris dans la situation d’urgence, ils ont accepté de défendre le village, et d’un bout à l’autre, ils sont travaillés par une question plus profonde. Il y a une question plus profonde à travers tout ca. Et elle sera dite à la fin par le chef des samouraïs, quand ils s’en vont “ qu’est-ce qu’un samouraï ?“ Qu’est-ce qu’un samouraï, non pas en général, mais qu’est-ce qu’un samouraï à cette époque là. A savoir quelqu’un qui n’est plus bon à rien. Les seigneurs n’en n’ont plus besoin, et les paysans vont bientôt savoir se défendre tout seul. Et pendant tout le film, malgré l’urgence de la situation, les samouraïs sont hantés par cette question.

(translation by myself…) But in the Seven Samurai, you understand, they are taken in a very urgent situation, they accepted to defend the village and from the beginning to the end, they wonder about a more profound question. There is a more profound question through all that. And it will be said, at the end by the Samurai’s chief, when they go away: “What is a Samurai?” What is a Samurai, not in general, but what is a Samurai at that time. Meaning somebody who is not good for anything anymore. Warlords do not need them anymore, and peasants will very soon be able to defend themselves. And during the entire movie, despite the urgency of the situation, the Samurai are haunted by this question.
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Zagreb Society of Architects, Think Space, after organizing a brilliant competition entitled Urban Borders (see the winners in a previous article), now launches another competition called Geopolitical Borders.

This is a good opportunity for architects to question the notion of map and to explore the subjectivity of what we usually forget as being a creative way of representing the real.
The jury is composed by the well known Teddy Cruz who is interviewed on Think Space’s website and who wrote the following text:

This competition calls for critical observations of border regions as laboratories from which to imagine new paradigms of urbanization and democratization. These critical thresholds amplify the politics of migration and citizenship, labor and surveillance, the tensions between sprawl and density, formal and informal urbanisms, wealth and poverty and the collisions between natural systems and political jurisdiction, exposing conflict as operational tool to re-think artistic practices.

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# CINEMA /// Rashomon by Akira KurosawaApril 6, 2011

Cinema - By: Léopold Lambert

I very recently watched for the first time (I know I know) Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa (1950) and was stunned by the introspection of cinema it constitutes. Here, it is probably important to notify purists that I will reveal important details of the movie, so people who would have not seen it yet, and who would keep an absolute innocence about it should not read what follows.

Rashomon is a metaphorical movie about which problems cinema deals with. A character tells the story of three different versions of the same story he heard in a courthouse about a murder. The three versions are the three very different points of views of the three characters involved, the thief/lover, the wife and the killed husband. In each of those story the narrator enhance the behavior of the two other characters and the scene is shot with great dramaturgy by Kurosawa. The narrator always ends up to be the murderer, even in the case of suicide. By doing so, the narrator of each version, put the light on his (her) person even through the mean of a crime, and accentuate the dramatization of his (her) character.
Eventually comes a fourth version from an external observer of the scene that has manifestly no reason to lie. In this version the three characters are pathetic, selfish and clumsy and the crime, the only real dramatic event, is presented almost as an accident that is immediately regretted by its author.
My interpretation of this movie -and I insist that it’s only my  interpretation-  is a praise of fiction as something that exists on its own. It is indeed inspired by reality and maintain a dialogue with it, but brings something more interesting in its symbolic and narrative than the crude pathetic phenomenon of the real. At the same time Rashomon can be said to be the work of a genius only because this same real is being shown in opposition to the fictionalized versions. This confrontation is what cinema  is about says Kurosawa.

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The New York Times informs us today, Monday that Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is been incarcerated for the second time in less than six months (see previous article) three months after his studio has been destroyed by the Chinese authorities (see other article).

Lebbeus Woods has written on his blog that he will refuse any new projects in China until Weiwei is liberated (he could have canceled the current one but, it’s easy for me to judge).

It is important to remember that Ai Weiwei is in fact one of the Chinese that benefit of the biggest impunity. However, because of this very related freedom of speech he has been having in the past, he can become a symbol (and a leader ?) of the resistance.

The New Yorker also released an interesting article by Evan Osnos that quoted a Chinese Internet user reacting (evanescently as those comment are obviously being censored very quickly) to this news:
When a fat guy lost his freedom, you said, “It has nothing to do with me, because I’m skinny.” When someone with a beard lost his freedom, you said, “It has nothing to do with me, because I don’t have a beard.” When a man who sells sunflower seeds lost his freedom, you said, “It has nothing to do with me, because I don’t sell sunflower seeds.” When they are after everyone—even the skinny, beardless ones that don’t sell sunflower seeds—there will be no one left to speak for you anymore.
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