In 1956, Alain Resnais created a 20-minute long film entitled Toute la Mémoire du Monde (All the World’s Memory) that beautifully mixes documentary information with a fictitious style of filming and editing. What I just wrote is however symptomatic of a prejudice according to which documentary should tend towards objectivity in an attempt to capture the “truth” of what they are filming. We know that choosing such an ambition for a film is doomed to failure. On the contrary, when one voluntarily embraces the subjectivity of the documentarian, the chances are that the resulting movie would be much more powerful in communicating the piece of reality it is describing (we will see that soon in Peter Watkins’ movies). Toute la Mémoire du Monde is part of these movies. Through the dramatic journey of a book traveling through the registration and archival process of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (France National Library), Resnais reaches the essence of what is a library – in particular one that aims at the holistic collection of knowledge.
Before going any further in this direction, let us stop for a moment by talking about this France National Library as an architecture. It was designed by Henri Labrouste between 1859 and 1875 and its reading room, filmed by Resnais at the end of the short movie, constitutes one of the most remarkable cast-iron structure buildings in the world. One has to realize that a building like Paris’ Opéra Garnier was built at the same time than the National Library and despite its use for cast iron structure as well, it was conscientiously concealed under the classical architectural pomp of the past centuries. Labrouste’s deliberate choice to affirm the iron structure in its poetical potential (see below) constitutes the true innovation in the history of architecture. In this regard, New York’s Museum of Modern Art currently exhibits Labrouste’s work and its legacy to 19th century architecture.
We continue today to explore the “cruel designs” that collects each piece of architecture or objects that have been specifically designed to assess a hurtful power upon the body.
Many people know the main characteristics of the Mayan Pyramids as the steepness of their steps. Such a steepness is proper to religious architecture in the symbolical effortful approach to transcendence. However, it also had very “down to earth” killing function in times of peace and war. The sacrificial pyramids’ steps were used as a mean to “finish off” the sacrificed bodies by throwing them from the top of the stair to the bottom of the pyramid. The steepness in that case insured that the body would indeed roll all the way down. In times of war, the stairs could become a veritable defensive apparatus. The Mayans would take refuge on the top of the pyramids and have soldiers, attached to the top by ropes around their bodies, fighting on the stairs pushing the assailants down the steps who were likely to be severely wounded if not killed by the fall.
What I find fascinating in these stories (which would probably deserve to be more detailed by a legitimate expert of the Mayan civilization), is the fact that the killing apparatus invented by the Mayans is nothing else than the stair that we have in almost every building built by humans. The steepness here is merely a way to sharpen the weapon like one sharpen a knife. What does that mean for architecture that an “innocent” stair can become such a violent device? Was the stair even innocent in the first place? Considered abstractly this quasi-inevitable element of the architectural tool set is rather strange. After all, it is nothing else than a series of small pieces of floor that are assembled in such a way that it successively reach a certain height. Many elderlies and disabled persons are very aware of this essential reading of the stairs; they know that it requires a certain degree of energy and fitness to bring a body to go from one of those pieces of floor to another. The stair, in its essence, has already a clear impact on the body.
Hans Poelzig as photographed by August Sander
San Rocco Magazine is calling for paper for their fifth issue which is entitled Scary Architects. In a skillful mix of humor and seriousness, the magazine’s editors propose, not only an abstract of what they would like their new issue to be about, but also a small historical exposé on who could be called a scary architect, in recent and ancient history. From Phalaris to Ricardo Boffil via Edwin Abbott and Hans Poelzig, they establish a surprising yet interesting affiliation of architects who chose to orient architecture’s scariness towards their own manifesto. Many of them have built behemoth buildings which seem to be able to wake up anytime and destroy their puny neighbors. In general a building’s scariness seems to come from the feeling of this building’s autonomy; it then acquire a non-anthropomorphic quasi-living status which have escape from the human control.
I thought that it would be a good document to have in the blog’s archives so I copied the text and added illustrative photographs to it.
Photograph of the book Project Japan by Rem Koolhaas and Hans Ulrich Obrist. (editors Kayoko Ota with James Westcott) Koln: Taschen, 2011.
In a move that he clearly enjoy, Rem Koolhaas along with Hans Ulrich Obrist re-introduce the Metabolists in an era that consecrates SANAA and their followers as the new Japanese paradigm for global architecture. It is indeed difficult to find two visions of architecture that different and the fact that they were produced in the same country makes this opposition even more visible. The 700-page book Project Japan can therefore be considered, not as a retroactive manifesto (that was the self-definition of Koolhaas’ Delirious New York), but rather as a rehabilitative archive. It is a document that illustrates the coherency of a historical movement created as both individual and collective work in a way that cannot be observed in any way nowadays. Through interviews with almost all the actors of this movement -Kurokawa and Kitutake died since then-, R.Koolhaas and H.U.Obrist explore as much the origins of this ambition (they find them in Kenzo Tange’s experience of the war in China and its large territories) as the globalization of the movement which saw the Metabolists proposed many projects in the Middle East. The photographs of Charlie Koolhaas of several buildings built in the 60′s in their current state also bring an interesting comparison with the original documents and the endurance (or not) of those building to time.
Analogue Mosque by Michael Badu
A few weeks ago, as a part of a comment to my open-letter to Patrik Schumacher, British architect Michael Badu concluded with the following description:
right now I’m largely in the business of the building of mosques. For the clients, with limited funds they are simply large spaces where important obligations can be carried out; for others they are an expression of there culture, their right to exist openly as part of the prevailing society, not as an invisible aspect of it; yet for others, mosques represent an erosion of a sacrosanct national identity; and for others, it is a way to show non-Muslims and remind Muslims, that Islam has historically never imported foreign culture into newly adopted lands, but has always sought to emphasise it’s universality by Expessing it’s values thru the new cultures that it meets; no where is this more evident in the culture of Islam than in it’s architecture.
The mosque presents the most relevant and fertile ground for theorists to explore, but howany of them are interested in it?
I therefore proposed to Michael to write a longer text about his experience of designing and commissioning the construction in Europe which currently experiences a despicable mix of islamophobia and xenophobia. What used to be the economical right wing in the various parliaments and governments has now became an demagogic ideological right which has no complex to question the rights of millions of citizens to fully benefit to the same liberties than every other inhabitant of the country.
Since I left India where I used to live for a while, I wrote only one article about the multitude of interesting architectures that can be seen in this country. The book Steps to Water: The Ancient Stepwells of India written by Morna Livingston and published by the Princeton Architectural Press is a good excuse to come back to it.
Stepwells are indeed one of the most fascinating typologies of Gujarati and Rajasthani architecture. I visited some of them around Ahmadabad when I traveled there and was lucky enough to experience the slow architectural procession to the water that those wells offer to their visitors. Morna Livingston’s book introduces an important variety of them via her texts, photos and drawings (see below) which helps efficiently our imagination to reconstitute the religious ceremonial that used to occur in those sacred wells.
In 2006, the movie director Tarsem Singh extracted the spatial power of some of those wells (see the photo from a previous article) for his very aesthetizing film, The Fall that was repeatedly using classic Indian architecture to compose a fictitious environment for his plot. Morna Livingston’s photos, on the contrary, do not hesitate to show the wells in their current state which, sometimes, implies an important affect of time that thus accentuate the beautiful minerality of this architecture of stones.
This week’s guest writer’s essay comes from my friend Biayna Bogosian who started to work on this article a long time ago and eventually achieved it today. In it, she gives a very interesting Deleuzian reading of the Azadi Tower in Tehran, built in 1971 and that can be said to be one of the first parametric building (in the contemporary computational meaning of it) ever built. Biayna revisits the principle of Persian mathematics with Deleuze‘s concept of fold elaborated through Leibniz’s work. Indeed in this mathematics, points are considered as the source of inflection of lines, therefore constituting a non-cartesian geometry that relies more on forces and folds than fixed coordinates.
Back to the Azadi Tower, of course, I cannot help but to notice the irony of the name of this tower (azadi means freedom in Persian), whether we evoke the era of its construction and its monarchic regime ruled by the Shah or our current times during which the people’s voice has been shut down from a counter-revolutionary government that has of the revolution only the official name. Ironic, then, or rather promising since the 1979 revolution actually occurred and one could hope that the Green Revolution will eventually overcome. The Azadi Tower was in fact a gathering point during the 2009 massive protests against the usurped re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (see the last picture of the article). As folds are the concerned notion here, one could think of this tower as ready to unfold the Deleuzian becoming revolutionary that the people of Iran aspire to.
unFOLDing Azadi Tower: Reading Persian Folds Through Deleuze
by Biayna Bogosian
“Sometimes the veins in marble are the pleats of matter that surround living beings held in the mass, such that the marble tile resembles a rippling lake that teems with fish. Sometimes the veins are innate ideas in the soul, like twisted figures or powerful statues caught in the block of marble. Matter is marbled, of two different styles.” [p.4]
As architects, we unconsciously tend not to associate necessarily the plans we draw with the notion of map. However, both of those two objects register in the same process of cartographic creation and, in this regard, use a two dimensional language in order to create space. The architect that creates the most expressive ambiguity between the architectural plan and the map seems to be Enric Miralles (1955-2000). In this regard, I recommend the very good article written by Carl Douglas for his Diffusive Architectures that explores the non-hierarchical aspect of those plans as much as their operative characteristics.
What strikes in Miralles’ plans is the importance of the line. That might seem a peculiar thing to say as lines are what characterize primarily architectural plans, but few architects actually express, via their plans, the power contained in those same lines. The name of this blog, the Funambulist is an homage to this power as I explain in the sidebar; nevertheless, it mainly insists on the process of unfolding of this power once the line becomes a wall. Here Miralles, not only manifests this concretization of the line but also celebrates its pictorial power and his plans thus become an architecture in itself. One might even argue that his built architecture is paradoxically serving the plan rather than the usual opposite. One hint that could backup this intuition lays in the observation of architectural elements embodying the line such as the numerous pipes of the Parc Diagonal Mar in Barcelona or the Pavilion in Toyama (Japan) as much as the brises soleil on the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Following this intuition, this would probably be what makes Miralles’ (along with his successive partners, Carme Pinós then Benedetta Tagliabue) architecture so unique: his buildings are the retroactive representation of the plan when every other buildings are the represented object of their plans.
Today starts a new episode of The Funambulist. From now on, if everything goes well, you should be able to read every week a 1500 words essay by a guest writer I have been asking to write exclusively for the blog.
The first author to achieve this assignment is Danielle Willems, who is a designer and producer currently living, working and teaching Architecture in New York. Her practice and academic works continuously test the thresholds between the moving image and architecture.
Her essay explores via the specific examples of the Casa Malaparte and Jean-Luc Godard‘s movie Le mépris (Contempt), the perception of architecture through the cinematographic lens: (more documents in the video at the end of the text)
Cinematic Catalysts: Contempt+Casa Malaparte
by Danielle Willems
There is no question that at this point in time the method in which we view the world is through the cinematic lens. The way we move and perceive space, time and the landscape is most certainly through this lens. How can this method be harnessed to become a methodology that is generative rather than just representational? Can this method be developed through a narrative feeding back onto the form expanding and creating space and time around the sequence of events? This case study of Casa Malaparte has its own interesting story as well as the many events and narratives that weave themselves through and around this space. The film Le Mepris (Contempt) produced in 1963 is certainly one of Godard’s most seductive productions. The main event or catalyzing moment between the two characters in the film is solidified through the formal performance of the architecture of Casa Malaparte. This catalyzing moment will become the focus of this essay, and will attempt to investigate the series of memories surrounding and forming this exception house.
I just took advantage of a short trip to Boston to accomplish an architectural pilgrimage that led me to visit the Government Service Center, built in 1971 according to a design by the great Paul Rudolph.
This building’s concrete brutalism made it elected “ugliest Boston’s building” which won’t disappoint anybody as architects seem to be always more interested in beautiful ugliness than in ugly beauty. The Government Service Center is a piece of city in itself similarly to the amazing Barbican in London. It proposes piazzas and courtyards above a car park protected by the “body” of the building which allows accesses in a more or less porous way. An accentuation on its labyrinthine scheme could have even led it to acquire the spatial complexity of a third brilliant piece of brutalist architecture, the housing complexes of Ivry sur Seine (Paris) and Givors (Lyon) by Jean Renaudie (see previous articles 1 & 2)…
To go further, see the very rich data bank about Rudolph on the Library of the US Congress’ website
Michael Vlasopoulos, Greek Architect at Harvard recently published on Abitare a very interesting (sci)-fictitious Manifesto for Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower designed by Kisho Kurokawa and built in 1972. His narrator speaks at the first person and develops an ambiguous praise of his life conditions since he moved in one of the tower’s capsule.
I copy the text here, but it could be read directly on Abitare associated with beautiful decontextualized photos of the cells (by M.Vlasopoulos himself maybe ?) and a ton of hyperlinks:
DAY ZERO I never forget the day I bought my capsule. The money could buy me a Toyota car but, instead of a breeze on the face, in a seat of a sports-car, I decided to claim a stagnant volume of air as my own. I left behind my movable furniture, along with my family’s history ingrained in them. Everything had to fit inside two suitcases; this is the maximum volume of stuff my capsule can handle. Unencumbered by the weight of old lifestyles, I engage in a new one. SLEEP The ascetic kernel of my new home gives me the perfect excuse to live my city as lavishly as I always wanted -with clear conscience. I can now flow freely in the generic space of consumption of the urban outside, having already reserved a point of return. As long as the city sustains my eccentricities, my desires, my food habits and my plastic impulses, my house constitutes a purgatory for my sleep. Sleep has become a secular version of confession, an act of neurological purification of memory in a mass consumption culture. Oblong, because it is designed for the horizontal of the lying body, the capsule is endowed with a white plastic rigidity. During the unconscious faze of sleep, the bed is the only tool we keep wrapped around or attached to our dormant bodies. It can always be seen as a cave, a suit or a cryogenic shelter for the sleeping body. It is the only stasis a nomad can afford. Inside the capsule I become whole again, another complete cyborg; it’s the same kind of disciplined comfort that I find in my suit and tie. Outside, I’m another nude animal.
I suppose that every architects know the TWA Terminal Eero Saarinen designed for JFK airport (New York) in 1962. However, the following photographs are maybe less known but almost as extraordinary than the building itself: pictures of the large size model built by Saarinen’s office prior to the construction. Photographs taken inside the model give the impression of being in the building itself but the joints and tape between each pieces of cardboard (wood ?) produce a very strange feeling.
The plans of the Terminal are also fantastic so I included them at the end of this post. Without being nostalgic of an era I am not even close from having known, I cannot help to think that very few firms nowadays are considering plans and sections as a field of creativity. The following ones are here to open the way !
model’s photographs are extracted from the book Saarinen’s Quest: A Memoir by Richard Knight. San Francisco: Stout Publishers, 2008.
plans are extracted from the book Eero Saarinen: An Architecture of Multiplicity by Antonio Roman. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003
Thanks Hiroko !
Here is Claude Parent’s participation project to the Venice Biennale 1970. It works as a prototype of what may be a little part of the oblique city (see former post
and Villa Drusch post
) in which the walls can host the body in positions depending on their inclination.
Ayant séjourné quelques jours à Berlin ces derniers jours, j’ai visité l’exposition Hans Poelzig à l’Akademie der Kunst. Celui-ci est un architecte singulier du début du XXe siècle et son oeuvre est pour le moins intéressante (nottamment son travail de décors pour le cinéma expressionniste allemand des années 20).
Last year, I was walking around and I stopped totaly randomly in front of The Drawing Center in SoHo. The ongoing show at this time (june 2008) was about the Endless house of the Austrian architect Friederick Kiesler. It’s a reflection of the house as continuous surface.
“What are you my colleague architects and engineers doing? How do you use your super power given to you by the universe? Why do you remain routine draftsmen, cocktail sippers, coffee gulpers and making routine love? Wake up, there’s a new world to be created within our world.” (Frederick Kiesler).
check this out:
The Maslennikov Kitchen Factory
is situated in Samara in the center of Russia and presents the curious characteristics of adopting the shape of the Sovietic Hammer and Sickle.
This building is currently in the middle of a preservationist battle confronted to its potential destruction. In the case of its destruction, it would be interesting to look at the footprint the building would have leave, in the way of a monumental ideological stamp. Continue reading
is a book written (and drawn) by Vittorio Giorgini
, former teacher at the Pratt Institute who exposes among other fields, his interest for the geometrical and physical construction of topological thin shell structures.
The book is rich of various drawings illustrating the geometrical processes applied to simple surfaces in order to achieve topological characteristics. This research matches with Giorgini’s obsession for the minimal impact of a building on the ground. We can observe this obsession through the Casa Saldarini (Italy 1962) and the Liberty Center (done with Pratt’s students in New York 1976) but also in other projects designed by the Italian architect which are using a more “industrial” architectural vocabulary.
A video is available on youtube
showing Giorgini in the garden of the Casa Saldarini talking (in Italian) about his small scales shells but also about the house itself (starting after the 5th minute)
Notre Dame de Royan is a 1958 church in Royan (West part of France) which was designed by architects Guillaume Gillet & Marc Hebrard in association with engineers Bernard Lafaille, Rene Sarger & Ou Tseng after the destruction of the first church during WWII.
The two first photographs are from Guillaume Amat (see previous post)
photograph by Baobee
I was recently writing about Jorge Luis Borges as director of the National Library of the Argentine Republic (see previous post); here is the current building that hosts the Biblioteca Nacional in Buenos Aires.
It was designed in 1961 by Clorindo Testa, Francisco Bullrich & Alicia Cazzaniga, yet only started to built in 1971 and eventually opened in…1992.
Shanghai’s 1933 Slaughterhouse
has now been reconverted into an Art Center. The intermediary area between the peripheral building and the central cupola is composed by a multitude of beautiful massive concrete pathways that were originally paced by the animals.