Monthly Archives: August 2012

In the first pages of the Naked Lunch, William Burroughs draws a powerful description of the logic involved in the drug trade. He uses junk as a “generic term for opium and/or derivatives including all synthetics from demerol to palfium” (Burroughs 1959) and defines it as “the ultimate merchandise.” Indeed, the scheme he describes (see below) seems to be an exacerbated illustration of the logic involved in capitalism and the trade of commodities in general. The fact that he uses this term, junk, which also means any kind of object with no particular specificity, expresses his will of blurring the limits between this extreme products, and more banal ones.

I have seen the exact manner in which the junk virus operates through fifteen years of addiction. The pyramid of junk, one level eating the level below (it is no accident that junk higher-ups are always fat and the addict in the street is always thin) right up to the top or tops since there are many junk pyramids feeding on peoples of the world and all built on basic principles of monopoly:

1 Never give anything for nothing
2 Never give more than you have to give (always catch the buyer hungry and always make him wait)
3 Always take everything back if you possibly can.

The Pusher always get it all back. The addict needs more and more junk to maintain a human form…buy off the Monkey.
[…]
Junk is the ideal product…the ultimate merchandise. No sales talk necessary. The client will crawl through a sewer and beg to buy… The junk merchant does not sell his product to the consumer, he sells the consumer to his product. He does not improve and simplify his merchandise. He degrades and simplifies the client. He pays his staff in junk.

William Burroughs, The Naked Lunch (1959)

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It has been two months now that Julian Assange, founder of wikileaks, found refuge in London’s Ecuadorian Embassy in which he benefits of a diplomatic asylum, and that the British Police is besieging the building to arrest him as soon as he would go out. The legal implications of this situation are fascinating, and their playfulness would be amusing if what is a stake was not so important. Let us recall the context first: J.Assange is promised to be extradited to Sweden where he is accused of rape and sexual assault on two women (for more on that, watch the very good debate between two feminists on Democracy Now in December 2010). Once in Sweden, Assange would be likely to be then extradited to the United States in which he will be accused of spying activities through wikileaks.

Ecuador President Rafael Correa granted the right to Assange to stay inside the London Embassy as long as he would like to. The speech that the latter did last week at the balcony of the Embassy, surrounded by policemen, is illustrative of the intrinsic absurdity of law, and simultaneously of its greatness. Law can arguably be considered as the most artificial invention that was ever made. On his little balcony, J.Assange is safe from any police intervention. Should he have leaned over a bit too much and fell two meters below, a horde of policemen would have surely arrested him. Architecture has, of course, its full role to play here, as it materializes the limits of territory between a legal system and another. The balcony and its guardrail here are the paradigm of such material border.

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The Reversible Destiny Foundation, created and sustained by Madeline Gins and Arakawa, has new online archives on which many of the concepts and projects they invented along the years are being explained and illustrated. As an introduction, I can maybe add the transcript of the interview (part A and part B) I had the luck to do with Madeline Gins about a year ago.

Those archives are very important as they allow to understand the level of engagement radical architecture requires to exist. Despite the condescending smiles I have seen on many faces when I evoke the work of Reversible Destiny, nobody can deny the consistent and passionate efforts that Madeline Gins and Arakawa have been producing for decades, dedicated as they were on a single question. A multitude of diagrams, drawings and texts (see also in their numerous books) analyze what they call the architectural body (the continuous construction of a relationship between a body and its direct material and immaterial surrounding). Such a passionate approach to architecture is exemplary and should be more common. This is not to say that architecture is a vocation to which some kind of transcendental force is leading us, but rather that pleasure and ethics should constitute the foundation of its practice. Architects should never be priests, tyrants or slaves, the representatives of the sad passions as Gilles Deleuze points out when he talks about Spinoza and Nietzsche. On the contrary, they should be the inventors of architectures of joy as I have been already writing about Arakawa and Gins’ work. Those archives are a good starting point to compose such an ethics.

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Photograph extracted from the book City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City by Greg Girard and Iam Lambot, Watermark, 1999.

Thanks to Ethel and César, I got to re-read the fantastic book City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City by Greg Girard and Iam Lambot (my own copy is in France!) and it got me wanting to wonder about this question, why do architects dream of a world without them? Few decades after the 1964 exhibition Architecture Without Architects curated by Bernard Rudofsky at New York MoMA, there is a clear interest from many architects – in which I most certainly belong – for architectures that did not necessitated the intervention of the architect as an expert. We can thus see a multitude of projects set-up around the various slums/favelas of the world. Some of them are interesting, some others are incredibly inconsiderate, but this does not explain this sort of professional “death drive” that makes architects fascinated by the production of their absence.

This fascination’s reasons are maybe to be looked for with another one, also specific to this current period of time, that makes us, architects, willing to integrate the appropriation of architecture by its users as part of its protocol of creation. Once again, I am fully including my own work within this influence – one might want to say “trend” – but it is important to interrogate our obsessions. Is the notion of appropriation a way for the architect to dismiss his own responsibility and his power? Is it a philanthropic pulse that allows us to offer generously our work to the collectivity? As always, the answer probably comprises both of this extreme propositions.

In the case of slums, vernacular architectures, and other immanently constructed buildings and towns, the appropriation is total as it is concomitant of the construction of architecture itself. The latter is in continuous evolution and cannot ever be defined as achieved as it does not follow any transcendental plan that would have clearly states what its finish state should correspond to. The modernist dream of architecture thought as a “living machine” which can adapt to any need of its users could not be achieved through the limited understanding for life of an architect. On the contrary, these immanent architectures, freed from the architects and the urban legal framework, can attempt to negotiate such an adaptation. As Peter Popham writes in his introduction for G.Girard and I.Lambot’s book,

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Excerpt from MAP 002 QUARANTINE by David Garcia Studio

This second issue is three years old and David Garcia Studio already published the fifth opus of their MAPs, but I figured that it could be a useful element for the blog’s archives. This historical map of epidemics and the quarantine devices that were born from them is part of the publication MAP 002 QUARANTINE that D.Garcia created in parallel of Nicola Twiley and Geoff Manaugh’s exhibition at the New York Storefront for Arts and Architecture: Landscapes of Quarantine (see the previous article around this topic).

Quarantine is a simple mathematical calculation that creates the precautionary incarceration of a certain amount of people for the sake of a larger number of others. Its architectural implication is the intrinsic potential of each building to become instantly an incarcerating space. Although some spaces of quarantine have been specifically designed to host such a function (in hospitals or harbors for example), the speed of a given epidemics can be so fast that any space can potentially be transformed into a quarantine territory. Albert Camus’ Plague is a good example of such a potentiality as it depicts the entire city of Oran (Algeria) imprisoned from the rest of the world when an epidemics of plague occurs.

Quarantine is the quintessence of the territorialization of the law. It applies itself on anybody present on a given territory, whether this body is de facto contaminated or not, without distinction of social status or any other discriminating characteristics. In that case, the law unfolds the incarcerating power of architecture. The latter (whether we talk of a single building or of a city), without changing anything to its physical characteristics, enforces  containment on its users/subjects who soon experience its uncompromising power  through its physical elements (walls, floors, ceilings etc. ). Under the regime of quarantine, architecture, which was materially enforcing the law of property by preventing other bodies from coming-in, now prevents the bodies already inside (the grantees of property) to come-out.

The temporary status of such a law -quarantine comes from its original length of containment, i.e. 40 days- justifies its extreme characteristics. As we know, however, temporary often tends towards durability and the state of exception does not requires much to become the rule.

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Diagram for a residential building on West 57th Street in New York by Bjarke Ingels Group (2011). See on official website for full credits

A part of the most influential and popular architects of this decade constitutes the  second generation of “disciples” of the “Koolhaasian” school among which we can find people like Bjarke Ingels (BIG), Julien De Smedt (JDS) or Joshua Prince-Ramus (REX). The critique I would like to propose here does not want to focus on their design methods in the production of any given building – the approach in the conception phase is after all very personal – but rather I will attempt to interrogate these same methods for the way they consider architecture, and therefore communicate and inspire other people in their own approach to this discipline.

What these architects seems to have learned beside Rem Koolhaas is a form of political and economical pragmatism and a precise care for the program of a building that makes their projects consensual and easy to understand. In this regard, one could hardly find a more pedagogical mean of explaining the formation of their architecture than the multitude of simple diagrams (see at the end of this article) they use in their presentations.

The problem is that those diagrams are not simply a pedagogical mean of representation but rather, they constitute a systematic design process – we might want to say a “recipe” – that forms the essence of each building. The reason why Rem Koolhaas, for better or for worse, remains one of the most interesting architect to listen to, while this second generation of disciples struggles to create a valuable theoretical discourse, is that the latter, despite a good sense of design, has an approach of architecture that is as simplified as their diagrams are.

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Once again, I would like to apologize for a long absence of new posts on this blog, I am hoping to find back a daily rhythm very soon.

The third issue of the journal Makeshift is entitled Resistance and explores how “creative oppositions” are occurring in the various political struggles that are currently on going in the world. From Egypt to Haiti and from Mexico to Libya, this issue describes through short texts (sometimes too short) various resistive operations often registering themselves against the politico-economical and legal power in place. Often, when we need to address examples of political resistance, we uses one that can gain a large consensus, i.e. non violent ones or ancient ones. In this issue however, Makeshift also explored a garage of Misrata (Libya) in which agricultural mechanics changed their job during the civil war against Muammar Gaddafi’s administration, army and militias, and set up heavy weaponry on trucks for the rebels. Violence is usually something we having trouble to look at in the Western world while in other places, it becomes the inevitable mean to resist. In this regard, the sabotages operations organized by the ANC (African National Congress) in South Africa during the Apartheid is helpful to look at – for French speakers, see the current remarkable series of broadcasts on France Culture about Nelson Mandela. Non-violence is not necessarily motivated by an intrinsic aversion for violence but often considered as the appropriate weapon to fight a given establishment.

To go back to the entire issue of Makeshift, what is remarkable is that the latter focuses exclusively on the production and/or the creation involved in a process of resistance. Bracelets are made from bomb metal in Laos, antennas and routers are set-up on New York rooftops to put occupiers in communication, objects are being rethought, refabricated and used for different functions than their prior ones in Cuba etc. processes of resistance and processes of creation are presented as interchangeable. In both cases, it involves imagination, of course, but also work and effort of bodies dedicated to an individual or collective ethics.

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First of all, I would like to apologize for spending so much time without writing but I am currently traveling and it has not be easy to find the time for it.

I already mentioned twice the release of LOG 25 Reclaim Resi[lience]stance edited by Cynthia Davidson and curated by François Roche. Through twenty one texts, this issue weaves a thread from the computational vanguard (Roland Snooks, Alisa Andrasek, Ezio Blasetti, Supermanoeuvre) to a politico-legal interpretation of the new mutations of a technological capitalism (Antonio Negri, Slavoj Žižek, Beatriz Preciado, Patricia Williams etc.). These two dimensions of architecture that one would be legitimate to dissoaite are however smoothly linked together by the editors as well as by François Roche’s introduction to the issue. The back of the issue is also useful to that matter as it lists the names of the authors and summarizes their discourse in one sentence, thus composing an inventory of resistives operations from the point of view of a team in which each has a precise function to construct a strange resistive cadavre exquis:

Alisa Andrasek weaves a resilient fabric
Ezio Blasetti parses the language of code
Sébastien Bourbonnais examines technical ensembles
Pia Ednie-Brown revitalizes architecture
Shabnam Hosseini & Hamish Rhodes write a script
François Jouve retraces unusual shapes
Lydia Kallipoliti mines curious lumps
Matthias Kohler speculates on aerial architecture
Sanford Kwinter queries crowdsourcing
Camille Lacadée hankers for Bangkok
Léopold Lambert digs into abject matter
Sylvia Lavin resuscitates death
Iain Maxwell & Dave Pigram consider digital craft
Fabrice Melquiot & Stéphanie Lavaux plot space
Antonio Negri talks with Francois Roche
Can Onaner analyzes the masochistic architect
Philippe Parreno resurrects Marilyn Monroe
Beatriz Preciado introduces the pharmacopornographic
François Roche resists…
Roland Snooks destabilize computational design
Patricia J. Williams assesses the ownership of bodies
Slavoj Žižek addresses Occupy Wall Street

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