Monthly Archives: April 2012

Body Measurements by Henry Dreyfuss Associates. MIT Press, 1974.

A year ago, I wrote an article which was exploring how the modernist theories had implemented the ideology of what I called an ideal normative body. In a nutshell, this oxymoron expresses the paradox of the elaboration of a body that was supposed to represent a standard for all bodies but, by doing so, became idealized as no real body was, in fact, perfectly matching this standard. The following article therefore constitutes a visual and textual opposition between this ideal normatized body as drawn by Ernst Neufert, Le Corbusier and the Architectural Graphic Standards and its subversion within architectural projects.

The modernist project to establish a standard for the human body is not born in the 20th century. Renaissance was built around this notion of idealized proportions both for the body and architecture. In 1487, Leonardo da Vinci drew what remains one of the most famous drawings of Western Art: the Vitruvian Man. Many re-interpretations and parodies of this drawing have been created to address the question of standard since then. That is the case (see below) of Thomas Carpentier, whose thesis project L’homme, mesures de toutes choses at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture motivated the redaction of this article.

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Construction Workers strike in Las Vegas (2008) / photo: Trent Ogle

In his new book, Rebel Cities, David Harvey (see previous post here and here) observes that the new forms of proletariat exploitation in the the Western World changed from the factory paradigm to the one of the city. The Marxist filter of reading, that he knows very well for having teaching it for a couple of decades , is still very much appropriate to interpret the creation of surplus value through urbanization:

But there is a seamless connection between those who mine the iron ore that goes into the steel that goes into the construction of the bridges across which the trucks carrying commodities travel to their final destinations of factories and homes for consumption. All of these activities (including spatial movement) are productive of value and of surplus value. If capitalism often recovers from crises, as we saw earlier by “building houses and filling them with things,” then clearly everyone engaged in that urbanizing activity has a central role to play in the macroeconomic dynamics of capital accumulation.
Harvey David. Rebel Cities. New  York: Verso, 2012. P130-131

Of course, D.Harvey invokes the recent examples of insurgencies and manifestation for what Henri Lefebvre was calling the right to the city; nevertheless he also bases his argument on historical example such as the 19th century Paris. The latter is indeed very illustrative as it was both subjected to an imperial transformation and several revolutions including the one that continues to fascinate me always more and more: the 1871 Paris Commune. D.Harvey’s reading is interesting in these two matters as his historical interpretation is slightly different from the one we usually give as architects. He address Haussmann’s transformation of Paris, not so much for its physicality but rather for its economy i.e. the implementation of a pure capitalist urbanism. As for the Commune he beautifully attribute this event to the reclaim of the city (what I would call the ‘urbs’ as both a physical environment and an assemblage of social interactions) by those who produced it. It is true that one of the fastest and most important decision of the Commune concerned the city itself as it consisted in canceling the rents:

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También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) (2010) by Icíar Bollaín

I think that for many of us the choice of being a leftist versus a rightist does not cause many existential problems. It is inconceivable for us that a person can rationally be racist, xenophobic, chauvinist, homophobic, colonialist  or more generally (many rightists are not any of those) that one’s way of life could be actively detrimental to another, and somehow, we think much of ourselves for such attitude. The problem comes when our comfort is challenged by our ethics. The film También la Lluvia (Even the Rain) by Icíar Bollaín invites us to question this challenge. The plot introduces Sebastian, a film director  who comes to a pre-Morales Bolivia (2000) in order to shoot a movie illustrating the horror of the Spanish colonialism after Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘new world’ in the late 15th century. The beginning of the film (the real one) shows Sebastian’s generosity and passion to (re)write history through a strong anti-colonialist verve. Soon enough however, the Cochachamba water conflict occurs and oppose the governmental privatization of water distribution against the anger of the people. For several reasons developed in the movie, Sebastian is confronted to a series of choices between his film and his ethics which should push him to stop his project and join the protesters one way or another. Each time, nevertheless, he favors his film more than anything else and without actively helping the violent suppression, he makes compromises betraying the spirit in which he was making his film in the first place.

Sebastian is a film director but the problem remains the exact same for an architect. Designing shelters for the third world in Western architecture school is good and certainly takes essence in honorable feeling we have, us, their creators; but doesn’t it satisfy us a little bit too quickly without contributing to a practical help to the people it was supposed to be addressed to in the first place? And, before even starting such projects, which are  never far from being patronizing, don’t we have everything to learn from the people it claims to be serving? No need to go too far from the place we live to be confronted with the same issues, only manifested in more subtle ways. Because we are passionate by architecture and that we are convinced that our design can make a stand, we think of it as an end in itself ignoring the means and compromises that it would have taken to be achieved. Of course, nothing happen without compromises but to who or what are they detrimental?

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Hugo moon
Hugo
by Martin Scorsese (2011)

Today’s guest writer essay, written by Ryan Pierson explores the visual relationships between Georges Méliès‘ pioneer cinema in the beginning of the 20th century with its re-reading more than a century later by Martin Scorcese in his Hugo thanks to the new 3D technology. Cinema is indeed a not so young art anymore and encountered along the years, various technological inventions which expanded its means of production. Few months ago, I attended to a small Q&A with Wim Wenders after the visioning of his film Pina, during which he explained that he had to wait to discover the 3D technology to eventually dare to transcript Pina Bausch’s art in a film after thirty years of hesitation. Ryan compares this new tool, thanks to which the two-dimensional representation of space seems to unfold itself out of the screen, to the ‘train effect’ that scared so much the first spectators of Cinema history. Stereoscopic films share indeed something similar to the origins of cinema as they construct their pictoriality through the spatialization of two dimensional planes from foreground to background the same way than Méliès was physically building some of his settings which did not have much thickness either.

The Funambulist Papers 26 /// Méliès in Stereopsis

by Ryan Pierson

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This image is an excerpt from the short film The Road to Jerusalem created by artist Jeremy Hutchison. The movie shows him riding his bike in Ramallah in direction to Jerusalem. When approaching the sadly famous separation barrier, the biker seems not to see it and continue his route as if the road was still open like few years ago. That is when the wall unfolds all its literal violence as he crashes into it in a strong manifestation of the border. Rarely an image has been so literal in what I have been calling the violence of the line, this line on the map which materializes into a wall and splits two milieus. The wall, as the paradigmatic architectural component illustrates the hurtful power contained by architecture.

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Prairie House – Fibrous strand chunk / Kokkugia | Roland Snooks with Texas A&M

Today is Roland Snooks‘ turn to be a guest writer for the Funambulist as he generously accepted to be part of this series. His essay Fibrous Assemblages and Behavioral Composites articulates the digital research that he has been developing with his office Kokkugia and in the various schools where he taught with an investigation about the technological means to actually fabricate the output of this same research. Athough I remain critical of how the vanguard algorithmic architecture has been translated into a disarticulated mainstream in many schools of the world because of some opportunist followers, I consider that Roland’s discourse can trigger the strong interest of many of the Funambulist’s readers for several reasons.

The first one consists in the simple fact that Kokkugia’s research constitutes one of the most consistent and creative body of work in this domain.; not only it  explores the current limits of this experimental field, but it actually gives itself the means to acquire a materiality submitted to the rules of reality. The second one is that what many of us consider mainstream – for having encountered it in a certain academia – remains something inaccessible to many people because of the educational environment they are being trained in. In many schools of the world, such architectural approach are often chosen as an act of resistance against the weight of a rearguard who has been teaching year after year with no interest whatsoever for any form of innovation. Of course, this approach is far from being the only one to embody progress in architectural education and practice, but it undeniably proposes a path to emancipation in the various schools of the world which are not done mourning post-modernism (if not modernism itself) yet. A third reason finally consists in the fact that Roland Snooks has been interested for a long time in the notion of swarm that regularly comes back in this blog’s articles (see a recent one about Rimbaud for example). Three years ago he already answered a small interview (with bad questions from my end) about this research, as did François Roche and Valerie Chatelet.  I am therefore very happy to curate and host his essay that immediately follows this introduction (illustrations can be found at the end of the text):

The Funambulist Papers 25 /// Fibrous Assemblages and Behavioral Composites

by Roland Snooks

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Excerpt from Safe Area Goražde by Joe Sacco (2000)

During the Bosnian war (1992-1995), the small city of Goražde was surrounded by territories under the Serbian army’s control and had to organize its daily life in a self-sufficiency that was supplemented by a UN enforced humanitarian corridor. This self-sufficiency includes the power supply that was lacking at a systematic level. Goražde inhabitants had therefore to cope with this status off the grid and individuals and neighbor groups undertook to tinker various machines amongst which those micro hydro power plants strike  us for their ingenuity.  Both the drawings of Joe Sacco in his documentary graphic novel Safe Area Goražde (see also The Fixer in a previous article), and the photographs taken by Zobrazit during the war constitute rare witnesses of their historical presence on the Drina River.

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Image 01 /  Ryan & Trevor Oakes

The guest writers essays series is back with, this week, Eve Bailey dedicating her text to an introduction of the work of Ryan and Trevor Oakes. Eve is a French artist living and practicing in New York. Her work investigates the body and its anatomical capacities as it engages in equilibrium with the various mechanical assemblages she creates. She is, however, equally interested in the representational techniques that can be developed in a phenomenological perception of the world. That is in this spirit that she met with the Oakes brothers for the second time in order to write this essay in which she addresses the practice of Frederick Kiesler and his obsession for the notion of endlessness.

The Funambulist Papers 24 /// The Groundbreaking Clarity of Ryan and Trevor Oakes

by Eve Bailey

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Extracted from Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples by Bernd & Hilla Becher. Dia Center for the Arts, 1991.

The world photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher  is fascinating as it often introduces fantastic architectures which yet have been built in the absence of concern for an architectural quality. Whether they photograph the Ruhr factories, the various water towers of the world or, in this case, the Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples, their pictures present buildings translating their function as literally as possible. In the case of the coal mine tipples, architecture reflects even more its craftsmanship and the absence of architect. Structures seem (deceivingly) fragile and clumsy, enclosures are approximate and materials seem to have been found in the direct environment of the building. For all these reasons, this architecture without architects is exemplary for architects to achieve a high degree of vernacularity, both for its materials and its construction methods, as well as for its ‘laisser faire’, allowing a high degree of flexibility on site and a lack of differentiation between people who conceive and those who make.

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Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings at the Friedman Benda Gallery (2012)

There is an on-going exhibition at the Friedman Benda Gallery (New York) presenting some of Lebbeus Woods’ early drawings. This show is still on for few more days (until April 14th) but I figured that I would release a dozen of these drawings that are not necessarily well known in his work.

Many of us have seen numerous of Lebbeus Woods’ drawings and could maybe feel, somehow blasé to the idea of looking at some more; however, it seems difficult not to feel a strong enthusiasm and inspiration from this new (old) series. What seems so appealing to me in his work is his constant ability to design architectures that seems to narrate the absence of architect. As much as a building drawn by him is immediately recognizable as such, the elements that composes this architecture clearly tell us a story in which its construction involved a spontaneous collective effort with no particular presupposed plan. Metal sheets, wood posts, loose pipes, visible truss beams, all the pieces stands together in a very interesting balance of immanent approximation and skilled control. Those drawings seems to come from an uchronia (a steam punk one !), mix between medieval age, industrial revolution and post-apocalyptic future, when architects and builders were (will be) the same person.

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