Monthly Archives: November 2012

Israeli Settlement of Kokhav Ya’akov / New Palestinian Housing Complex (both near Ramallah) /// Photographs by Léopold Lambert

I wrote many times about the numerous Israeli settlements in the West Bank (I will repeat once again that they violate the article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention), but I never dedicated a whole article about what I call here an Architectural Stockholm Syndrome that is symptomatic of a problem within the Palestinian society. This syndrome that you can observe in the two pictures above lies in the quasi-imitation of those settlements’ architecture and planning for new groups of Palestinian buildings.

It has been shown many times that colonization defines itself by an absolute intrusion of a nation into another’s collective life and imaginary. One has to understand that the docile policies of the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank for almost two decades had for result to allow the bourgeoisie to develop within the Palestinian society. This bourgeoisie, in addition of strongly contrasting with the 25% unemployed people of the West Bank, is mostly depoliticized and, for part of it, silently accommodates itself of the status quo of the conflict. The architectural consequence of this class struggle within a broader geopolitical struggle is the development of those somehow luxurious groups of housing buildings, built in what must be a more or less aware reproduction of the newest and most luxurious examples of the region: the Israeli settlements.

The political consequence of such ambiguity between the colonized and the colon, in addition of the well understood internal class issues it creates, consists in the dismantlement of the creative collective imaginary that ties a nation together when it is oppressed by another one. It also participates to the ratification of the current situation as it introduces various forms of comfort which are in complete contradiction with the participation to the struggle. This contradiction has been perfectly understood by the Palestinian refugees in this regard. When offered to improve their life conditions in the numerous camps of the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, they have been consistently refusing for three generations, as such improvement would be a form of acceptance of their current situation as a definitive one. On the contrary, their rudimentary conditions of life keep them in a wakefulness position that can easily serve a political participation.

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OYSTER- TECTURE | © SCAPE Studio, 2010

Today’s guest writer is Annick Labeca, polyglot (!), editor of Urban Lab Global Cities, and great follower of the Funambulist. In this text entitled Natura Non Facit Saltum (Nature does not make leap), she explores the principle of adaptation through various discipline to finish with architecture.

The Funambulist Papers 38 /// Natura Non Facit Saltum: On the concept of Adaptation

by Annick Labeca

Several weeks ago, I was passively listening to a French radio, an evening economic programme in which two economists were polemically discussing France’s economic situation in times of economic crisis. As this discussion, as usual, smoothly shifted into a very cacophonie (in French in the text), my interest for this programme faded away…, when an unexpected comment came to my notice: one economist admitted that, in a period of economic depletion, when future is uncertain, we are forced to adapt to pressing issues. Yet adaptation being a short-term solution in contrast with resilience, we consequently have to redefine our economic model.

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Red Hook (NYC) on November 18th 2012 /// Photo by Léopold Lambert

Right after the hurricane Sandy cut hundreds of thousand New Yorkers out of power, I wrote an article that insisted on the symbolical aspect of Manhattan cut in half between the non affected city and the ‘dark zone’. The ability for us to visualize two worlds separated by one line, was an easy metaphor of the world we live in. However, the efforts to bring back the power in the South of Manhattan were considerable and it took four days to go back a certain form of normality. The urgency that constituted the Manhattan situation does not seem to be applied with the same intensity when it comes to poorer neighborhoods like the Rockaways, Broad Channel, Coney Island or Red Hook. Many of those places still do not have power (nor subway system) and spent the last three weeks trying to survive while adjusting to the recovered New York’s rhythm of life’s frenzy in order not to fall into processes of pauperization.

To be fair, things are getting better little by little and the Rockaways and Coney Island, by their geographical situation (see the flood survey map on the NY Times’ site), were more likely to be severely hit than Manhattan. The relief adaptation of Occupy Wall Street into Occupy Sandy and its unanimously recognized organization was also very helpful to bring immediate help to people, who sometimes live in the 12th floor of project building without power nor running water.

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IDF Soldiers in front of a ‘flock’ of militarized Bulldozers Caterpillar D9

I apologize to those of my readers who would like to come back to a bigger diversity of articles but, to be honest, I can not yet feel comfortable writing about something else than the situation in Gaza right now, as upset and infuriated I am. Again, I don’t want to count those who died, neither publishing pictures of wounded kids, we all have access to information that insist on the ‘spectacular’ aspect of this tragedy. On the contrary, I would like to balance my anger with a deeper analysis of the daily situation in Gaza for the last decade.

After my map of the Manhattan strip (see previous post), I would like to ask my readers for another imaginative effort to put their eyes in the ones of a Gaza kid who have never been able to leave the 140 square mile piece of territory (approximately half of the area of New York City) that he lives in. What is the representation of the otherness that (s)he might have from this situation. Of course, there is always her (his) brief encounter with various foreigners working for NGOs or other aid/activist organizations; but this representation is extremely likely to be mostly influenced by the various Israeli killing machines that obviously trigger an absolute terror in this kid’s imaginary. Nothing that (s)he has seen in books or on television about other people and countries can surpass the reality of these extremely violent intrusions of deshumanized machines that vowed to destroy her (his) direct environment. In “normal” times, these are the remote controlled machine guns towers that prevent any movement in a 1,500 meter zone from the territory’s border (see previous article), there are also the frightening sound of the F-16 aircrafts and other drones over the Gaza sky, every now and then and on a regular basis, the bulldozers caterpillar D9 (see previous article) that have been so ‘efficiently’ customized by the IDF that even the US army feels obliged to buy some ‘back’ (caterpillar is an American brand) for their own use. Of course, in times of heavy conflict like the ones we powerlessly observe those days, those weapons are complemented by tanks and battleships and they all participate to bomb the Gaza strip from the outside.

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Map of the Gaza Strip (Dec 2011) /// United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs in Occupied Palestinian Territory

I think that many of us are infuriated in front of the unfolding new siege over Gaza by the Israeli army. As horrifying as those images of children and entire families being  struck by the bombs sent by aircraft, battleships, drones or other remote controlled machine guns, it is extremely important to also insist on the daily oppression that the people of the Gaza strip have to face even when they are not being bombed. Since 2006 and the Israeli disengagement of its settlement within the strip, the situation is different from the one in the West Bank -which I have to say, I am more familiar with. When the West Bank has to suffer from multiple colonial apparatuses, Gaza functions pretty much as a gigantic prison from which, it is almost impossible to escape -even the Egyptian border remains close to most people. Most of the needs of its people (water, food, electricity, phone & internet networks etc.) is provided directly by Israel (for most of it, see the last map of this article) who has been, along the years, quite literally experimenting how little it could provide without provoking a severe humanitarian crisis in the eyes of the International Community. The access to the sea itself is heavily restricted – and enforced with real rockets – by the IDF to keep Gaza fishermen’s boats within a limit of three nautical miles. Needless to say, fishing cannot be a strong economy in this context.

The strip is thus a scale 1 experiment for the Israeli state to determine how to sustain the lives of 1.7 millions Palestinians – apparently more for its International reputation than for its philanthropic will as we can currently see – with the minimum of ressources. But, this very small piece of territory – and to some extents, this is also true in the West Bank – is also a terrain of experiments for military training and weapon technology. As some specialists have been detecting, some US military officials have been often spotted during IDF operations in a clear attempt to learn how to lead a siege in the Middle East. After the operation Cast Lead in Dec 2008-Jan 2009 that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians of all ages, the Goldstone Report and various other testimonies have shown that white phosphorus bombs and flechette shells which are categorically banned by the International legislation. The various apparatuses of control around the Strip are also an opportunity for the Israeli army to implement new technology in matter of weapons like remote controlled machine gun stations t0 prevent the access of the ‘no-go zone’ (about 500 meters from the green line) and the ‘high risks zone (fron 500 to 1,500 meters from the green line):

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# MAPS /// War in the Manhattan StripNovember 16, 2012

Cartography / History / Literature - By: Léopold Lambert


map of the American military apparatuses on and around Manhattan as well as the strike records of the day / Map by Léopold Lambert

Two funerals, two faces of Manhattan. The first a display of strength and defiance, a jostling mass of thousands of conflict-hardened men, many brandishing weapons, pledging readiness to die for their cause over the bloodied corpse of the Commune resistance’s commander Louisa Davis.

The second consisted of a shattered family, incomprehension etched on their faces. A young father clutched the shrouded body of his 11-month-old son, a victim of the violence that is likely to cause more deaths in the days to come.

The thread connecting these two scenes could be found in the vapour trails hanging in the clear skies above Harlem, the black clouds of smoke rising from the ground and the thuds and booms punctuating the unsettling quiet of its usually bustling streets.

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Today’s guest writer is Pedro Hernández who, along with people like Ethel Baraona Pohl, Cesar Reyes, Daniel Fernández Pascual, Mariabruna Fabrizi, Fosco Lucarelli and some more people spread in few European countries, is part of our little blog community of exploration of similar topics. This is therefore not a surprise that Pedro wrote a text that fits perfectly with the Funambulist’ editorial line entitled Bodies at Scene: Architecture as Friction. In it, he defends the argument, often explored here, that architecture carries forms of violence towards the bodies, but he puts this idea in reciprocity when wondering what happens when the violence is directed back to architecture itself. In this regard, he puts in perspective text and illustrated architectural operation which describes his position.

The Funambulist Papers 37 /// Bodies at Scene: Architecture as Friction

by Pedro Hernández

ACT I – DEMATERIALIZE THE ARCHITECTURAL OBJECT.

It is needless to say that architecture can be understood in several ways. One of them, the first that we usually hear when we begin to study at the university, is architecture as a displayed object. This definition leads to an architecture which is equivalent to a habitable sculpture rather than one which aims to realize certain requirements. Le Corbusier’s quote in which he defined architecture as “volumes brought together in light” help to clarify and exemplify this issue. In this text I am not interested in focusing on this idea, but instead, I will explain several different ways to dissolve the conception of architecture as an object.

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The newspaper The Independent recently released an article about the strategical layout of supermarkets. It is well known that nothing is really innocent in order to optimize the profits, but here the article provides a precise location and analysis of each part of this hyper-controlled territory.

The power of the plan is here at its most visible expression. Seen from above by the architect (whether (s)he is actually a certified architect or not is irrelevant), this arrangement of lines directs the bodies that are subjected to their materialization. The architect laughs to see them following her (his) plan, they think that they are free but do not see the mechanisms that conditions their behavior. Himself (herself), when (s)he leaves the office does not realize that (s)he is also subjected to a whole system of lines that have been thought by a multitude of other architects, designers, politicians, economists, advertisers, and various other experts who often think that they act for the common good.

Following Spinoza’s philosophy, we should not pursue a total anticipation from those lines and layout, but rather, we should acquire an enhanced awareness of how their power operate in order to decrease the power they get us subjected to. Similarly, as designers, we cannot trace lines deprived of power; however we can attempt as much as possible that this power precisely serves the principles of an individual or collective minor ethics in opposition to the normalized set of behaviors linked to a dominant economic-political system. Ignoring the power of the lines would simply doom us to serve the latter.

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The Iconoclast Museum /// Photomontage by the author

The following paper is a piece I wrote for the third issue of Studio Magazine which was dedicated to the notion of icon. In order to do so, I tried to elaborate on the article I wrote in July about the destruction of the Timbuktu mausoleums.

Iconoclasts vs. Iconodules: Understanding the Power of the Icon
by Léopold Lambert

In the beginning of July 2012 in Timbuktu, some members of the Salafist armed group Ansar Dine has destroyed several Muslim mausoleums registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This event has been covered in an over-simplistic way in the Western Media who were capitalizing on the short term emotional impact that these destructions triggered. The following text first attempts to examine the reasons behind such an emotion through the argument of the paradoxical absence of essential difference between the iconoclast and the iconodule.

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Beginning of the transcript…

It all started two weeks before the declaration of the Commune. Thousands of us invaded the incomplete structures of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. We took action when most of us were getting evicted from our homes after the rents doubled in the last few years. The occupation started as a form of protest, but quickly evolved towards a real alternative-society model. We set up camps on the hundreds of slabs of the towers and started to live in them in a new form of urban living. Multitudes of hoists were insuring the vertical communication of food, essential goods and reclaimed construction material from the ground.

The first time that the NYPD attempted to take back control of the site, we were disorganized and managed to make them retreat only after having outnumbered them. When they came back a few days later, our defensive strategy was more responsive, and the hundreds of policemen did not even succeed in entering the site. Every day we were gathering in small assemblies to debate and construct the particulars of our small society. Many people were exhausted and discussions could quickly become harsh and long, but only a limited number of people left the movement during the occupation.

 One night, after a bit less than two months of common life in the towers, we were suddenly awakened by the loud noise of a flock of helicopters that quickly invaded our space with their powerful spotlights. While Special Forces were landing on the roofs, hundreds of police officers in full riot gear were climbing up the structures, arresting all the people they encountered. The surprise of the attack led to a general panic that reached a dangerous level on some overcrowded floors. It was only after few hours of systematized and serial arrests, when the towers were almost emptied, that the event that would make history occurred. Even today, it remains unclear what really happened. A small number of us were still on the ground, ready to be brought away in the MTA buses requisitioned by the NYPD, when we heard a terrifying scream and made out in the darkness of the dawn the fall of a frail body from one of the highest floors of the main tower. Whether it was a suicide, an accident, or a murder was irrelevant to us. What we knew is that this tragic event would have never occurred without the police’s armed attack. Our rage was growing on the way to Rikers Island, where the thousand of us who had gotten arrested were eventually corralled in the central courtyard.

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