Monthly Archives: October 2012

As many of you know, the Hurricane Sandy did quite some damage in the Caribbean islands and the US east coast. The worlds is looking at New York, but most of the damages occurred in New Jersey as far as the United States are concerned. However, since I live in New York myself, I thought that I would write something about the current stunning situation that is happening in South Manhattan before trying to articulate something a little bit more ambitious very soon.

There is currently a line traced by 34th street (in reality, the line is slightly more blurry than that) that separates the North and South of Manhattan and thus present a striking metaphor of the world we live in. In fact, the entire part of Manhattan south of this street does not have access to electricity, gas and water while the north part continues to live in opulence as symbolized by the blinding lights of Time Square (above 42nd street). In the South, lines of people wait to be able to buy some food to the rare food trucks and the NYU hospital had to be evacuated. In the North, the jewelry stores of Madison avenue, even closed shine of all lights. In the South, people have to walk or ride their bike to the North to be able to speak to their relatives on the phone or buy bottles of water that they will need to carry back to their homes. Of course, a large amount of them used to be the same opulent New Yorkers few days ago, but now they have to cope with a lack of any form of infrastructure.

This situation can probably be observed in almost every city that just suffered from a climatic catastrophe; however, in the case of Manhattan, the visual contrast offered by this clear limit of North and South (reinforced by the island’s narrowness) expresses in a very visual manner, the collisions of two extremes. Walking in the South at night provides a unique experience that photographs fails to capture (see below). Cars, trucks and bikes, deprived from traffic lights have to negotiate between each other in an interesting social experiment. At the very south of the island, only the skyscraper of Goldman Sachs, veritable micro-self-sustaining-nation shines arrogantly in this absolute darkness…

Of course, things are not as simple as Time Square shutting down and the whole South of Manhattan recovering its electricity and water…but just like this situation is a metaphor of the current world, it seems impossible to think that some substantial efforts of the North in that way would not grandly improve the condition of the South.

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Twice during the last year, I had the great chance to stay over in Reversible Destiny‘s architectures. Along with good friends, we spent the last few days of 2011 at the Bioscleave House in Long Island, and more recently stayed over at the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo. This is one thing to visit those architectures during the day (see my previous experience at the Bioscleave House through the interview with Madeline Gins), this is another one to actually stay there and therefore confront their uniqueness to our sense of domesticity.

The atypical dwelling that surprises you and amazes you at first becomes a terrain of habits in a second phase. Your body does not need to find its right spot and position anymore, it knows the few places in which it can form an adequate Architectural Body. Climbing a small “hill” to go to the bathroom or to the kitchen when you just woke up puts you in an interesting state of cautious somnambulism. Paradoxically, vision becomes less important in your understanding of space; or rather vision does not register anymore in a hierarchical scheme in which it commands the rest of the body, it becomes an equal part of the sharp awareness of the environment your body builds little by little. Moving in these architectures becomes a dance; not a ballet, of course, but rather something along the lines of Pina Bausch in which stumbling is part of a harmonious movement celebrating the living. Your body is both fragile and strengthen when confronted to the risk it continuously needs to response to. An understanding is always (re)negotiated between this liberated matter and your body which, in this regard, is one step closer to fathom its own material properties.

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Mule Creek State Prison (Ione, California)
(Note the “No Warning Shot is Required Sign”)

The overcrowded Californian prisons give us an idea of the current architectural carceral paradigm. Far from the elaborated 19th century drawings of Jeremy Bentham, entire parts of those prisons are simple warehouse hosting dozens of detainees with no other internal wall than the rough-and-ready three stories beds aligned on a virtual grid. The pre-18th century jail was a dark dungeon in which prisoners were forgotten by the otherness, the current one, on the opposite, sinks the detainees in a strong and crude white light (even during the night) in a hall where every act and move are being potentially observed. The United States currently counts over 2,3 millions incarcerated people (about 3% of the adult population) and the State of California in particular, hosts 140,000 detainees reaching an overcrowded status that the Supreme Court has recently judged unconstitutional.

As I have been writing many times, the question of the design of a prison is an interesting one as it makes us face the extreme of architecture’s power over the bodies. The perpetual question for an architect consist in wondering if one might accept to design such a program, and in the case of a refusal, if one should even design offices, banks, stores etc. But if we do accept such a commission in the hope of making things better from “the inside”, one has to face a peculiar question when asked to design a prison. Even the most considerate architect has to recognize that the very essence of this program consists in providing life conditions bad enough to constitute an instrument of punishment. There has been some recent discussions about Scandinavian prisons (and for that matter, even about Scandinavian punishment system) which were said to be too comfortable to be considered as such. In that regard – and to stay within this logic – the Californian prison’s gymnasiums can be legitimately considered as good design as it precisely serves the punitive essence of prisons…

However, since the change of paradigm pointed out by Michel Foucault in his book, Discipline and Punishment, the new forms (since the end of the 18th century) of incarceration not only still include the old purposes of punishment and example,  they also incorporate the goal of repent and “healing” for each prisoner. For this last purpose, punishment should not be excessive as it might radicalize the detainee against the society that put him at the center of an inclusive exclusion. In that matter, design is considered as an important catalyst and probably needs to be much more elaborated and humane than the Californian warehouses. Once again, I argue here in the position of somebody who would have accepted to design a prison in the first place. On the opposite position, we might want to argue that the very notion of a punitive architecture is obsolete and that we need to come up with new ways (which are likely to have nothing to do with design) of dealing with crime in a given society.

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lahorepressclub_women_2012
Shipping containers fortifying the Lahore Press Club in preparation for protests against the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims madeby convicted felon Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Photographer unknown.

First of all, I would like to apologize for the inconsistency in the guest writers essays’ schedule. After a long period of time without them, they are now flowing in the blog’s editorial choice; soon enough we should be back on a rhythm in which you will be able to read one per week.

The essay City, Space, Power:  Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security, written by Sadia Shirazi is a brilliant mix of personal observations and thorough analyses of the current use of architecture in the city of Lahore (Pakistan) as a securitarian weapon. The notion of security is cleverly played with in Sadia’s title here, as her texts illustrates how Lahore’s inhabitants’ daily lives are subjected to the paradoxical violence of processes of securitization. Far from the evanescent spotlights of the media that cover consistently the terror attacks with no further perspective, the “architecture of in/security” is experienced every day by millions of people who are affected by it. Through a cartographic assignment Sadia also exposes how this same architecture, despite its effect on everyone, is implemented mostly in favor of the higher social classes and, ultimately participate to the literal fragmentation of classes within the city.

The Funambulist Papers 36 /// City, Space, Power:  Lahore’s Architecture of In/Security

by Sadia Shirazi

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mechanism-of-meaning-4-the-energy-of-meaning-panel-1
extracted from The Mechanisms of Meaning by Arakawa & Madeline Gins, New York: Abbeville Press, 1971.

Today’s guest writer is Russel Hughes who recently finished his dissertation, DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self at the RMIT (Melbourne) and, while waiting for its publication, gives us one of its chapter. In the latter, he introduces a philosophical interpretation of the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Russel starts his analysis from the paintings created in the 1960’s and 1970’s in order to shift later to their architectural sequels.

Arakawa and Gins’ Reversible Destiny has been the subjects of many of the articles published on the funambulist for the last two years (and there is at least one more coming up); I therefore decided to dedicate to it a category by itself so that it could be explored by anybody curious about it in an interesting way through the archives of the blog: CATEGORY ARAKAWA/GINS

The Funambulist Papers 35 /// DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self (excerpt of the upcoming book)

by Russell Hughes

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The Power of Architecture – photomontage by the author (2012)

Recently, I was lucky enough to be asked to write an article for the seventh issue of the Chilean journal SPAM and I decided to use this opportunity to articulate the clumsy addition of ideas that I started to touch on during June’s “Foucault’s week.” I hope that the following text, Foucault and Architecture: The encounter that never was, is therefore a good synthesis of the argument I was trying to explore: Despite what architects might usually think, Michel Foucault never truly engaged the problem of the political power of architecture but rather kept investigating the notion of diagram. When confronted to this observation, we might find interesting to keep a Foucauldian method to address architecture.

Foucault and Architecture: The encounter that never was
by Léopold Lambert
curated by SPAM

A certain amount of architects often refers to Michel Foucault’s work as an inspiration to their design or their theoretical interpretation of our societies. The concepts invoked are almost always the same, and it is not rare to find in an architecture text, the notions of panopticon, heterotopia and/or utopian body. The thesis that I would like to defend in this text does not consist so much in the demonstration of architects’ misunderstanding of Foucault’s concepts, but rather that those spatial notions constituted only the frail premises of what could have been the Foucauldian interpretation of space. The research work that he produced through the fastidious descriptions of mechanisms of power involved within the institutions helps us to determine the precision that such an interpretation requires. To be a Foucauldian architect does not therefore consists in the repetition of his theses, but rather in their extension to which should be applied the same cogency. As a matter of fact, the first thing that a Foucauldian architect needs to understand consists in the paradoxical fact that Foucault underestimated the power contained by architecture as such.

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Today’s guest is Zayd Sifri who wrote a text about the current state of activism in the Palestinian struggle abroad, and more specifically in the United States. This essay is interesting in the context of the other writings that has been published on the funambulist on this topic as, rather than participating to the denunciation,  it analyzes the latter within the frame of a global strategy and its historical equivalents (in South Africa for example).

The Funambulist Papers 34 /// Movement and solidarity

by Zayd Sifri

 Momentous changes in the organization of society only occur so often. From memorable instances of thorough upheaval, social movements reap the fruit of the past and cultivate their own traditions. In the recent past the comparison between Israel-Palestine and Apartheid South Africa has become a convenient gambit for many solidarity activists in the United States and elsewhere. There are countless reasons for the popularity of this specific example and of course it is not the only material activists rely upon. The South African struggle however has been underscored as a successful model for international solidarity with the ongoing anti-colonial battle in the Eastern Mediterranean. For evidence of this, we can look at how the term Apartheid has almost seamlessly permeated the progressive vocabulary for describing Israeli regime’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Looking at Israel-Palestine solidarity through a South African prism, offers insight into the actors, values, and politics involved of movement building on an international playing ground. Fundamental to an effective conceptualization of a global solidarity model is formulating the inevitably complex relationship between local—Palestinian and Arab actors—and activists based primarily in the United States.

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# LAW /// Center for Urban PedagogyOctober 3, 2012

Law - By: Léopold Lambert

The Center for Urban Pedagogy, aka CUP, is a non-profit organization that attempt to make the legislation visible in the clearest manner. The predicate of the law is that nobody shall ignores it, but in reality, little is done to veritably make the law known to all. The risk involved in a society that maintains actively or passively the ignorance of its law, is that a legal aristocracy develops itself. Knowing your rights allows a practice in the totality of their extents. It also participate to a thorough and voluntary defense in a potential bone of contention. The Center for Urban Pedagogy, through an  articulated graphic design strategy, has produced various booklets and posters in this spirit. All of them can be bought, but also downloadable as PDF on their website. The Vendor Power, for example, informs New York street vendors of their rights and a useful behavior to follow in case of trouble with a zealous police officer. I Got Arrested is addressed to American kids who were arrested by the police (often for very minor offense) so that they could know their rights and apprehend the whole experience in a less traumatic way. Know Your Lines investigates the voting zones in the United States to develop an awareness of the various policies which modify the lines of those zones for electoral motivations. What is Affordable Housing? is a small book which establishes an inventory of government helped forms of housing in the United States, and in New York more specifically, as well as the criteria that are required to apply for such a housing. This document does not miss to notice that many of those programs have been lacking of public development and interest (especially Public Housing whose construction was stopped after the 1974 moratorium ordered by Richard Nixon). Many more of those manuals exist and can be found on the CUP’s website. A lot of other similar initiatives probably exist for other cities and other countries and can be considered as models for such a strategy of legal sensitization and empowerment.

All the following illustrations have been created by the Center for Urban Pedagogy:

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# LITERATURE /// Urbicande's MegastructureOctober 2, 2012

Literature - By: Léopold Lambert

François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, La fièvre d’Urbicande, Casterman, 1985.

First of all, I would like to apologize for the lack of consistence in the rhythm of the recent publication of articles. Keeping a regular rhythm is difficult and I am hoping to be back to it in the few coming weeks.

Today’s article is about a classic Belgian graphic novel: La fièvre d’Urbicande (Urbicande’s fever. 1985) by François Schuiten and Benoît PeetersUrbicande is the name of the city in which the story occurs. One day a small cube made out of a mysterious material grows and form a three dimensional grid that the city soon calls “The Network.” The latter soon reaches a size which implements many bridges between the two parts of the city that were segregated from each other. Taking advantage of the megastructure it embodies, urbicande’s citizens appropriate the network and build various architectures that diversifies the urban programs (promenades, agriculture, brothels etc.) and the way they register spatially. The megastructure exists as a relatively neutral object, which can be eventually invested by a variety of architectural languages.

As a small anecdote, François Schuiten told me few years ago that B.Peeters and him heard about the invention of the internet few months after the publication of the graphic novel, and they were stunned of such a striking similitude with the narrative they created.

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