Three months ago, my friend Francois Bellanger from Transit City wrote an article about what sounded like a peculiar book about the “algorithmiticization” of the world stock exchanges. Entitled 6: Le Soulèvement des Machines (6: The Rise of the Machines, soon to be available in English) and published at the excellent Zones Sensibles, this book is presented as written by an algorithm, Sniper (see what the bit full version of the book!), situated at “1700 McArthur Boulevard in Mahwah NJ in an “office” as large as seven football fields”. Mahwah is indeed where the New York Stock exchange is veritably situated. As the book explains in its history of the stock exchanges’ digitization, the race to profits is now counted in micro-seconds and each millimeter closer from the source can be synonym of millions of dollars gained. That is why each server in which trading algorithms work has to be at the same distance from it and the cables that link them to it are precisely measured.
The book opens with a quote by Henry Ford that can summarized its purpose. Ford, who changed the industrial paradigm of his time knew indeed something in the optimization of profits:
It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.
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.
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 Peeters. Urbicande 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.
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.
Factory Fifteen (see previous post) just released their new film that they shot during Liam Young and Kate Davies’ Unknown Fields 2011 in Chernobyl (Ukraine) and Baikonur (Kazakhstan). Gamma is a sort of short pseudo documentary depicting a future in which numerous zones of the earth needs to be deradiated after a decade of nuclear war. As always in a capitalist world, this kind of public health operations are achived by private actors, here a company called Gamma which developed a type of roots that would absorb radioactivity. The film introduces the testimony of a survivor who describes how, very quickly, this root became autonomous and out of control, invading little by little his city.
The witness’ testimony talks about war machines to describe the vessels sent by Gamma, thus assimilating their action on the city as a sort of military invasion. In 1985, Ronald Reagan was claiming that the nine most terrifying words of the English language were ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help‘, we might want to paraphrase his claim against him saying that the most terrifying words are ‘I’m from a company and I’m here to help‘. The Fukushima experience clearly showed how private interests mixed with political corruption were leading to this kind of catastrophes.
GAMMA from Factory Fifteen on Vimeo.
You can watch the making-of video by following this link.
picture: The Battersea Experiment by Dan Tassell
Factory Fifteen is a new video artists/architects collective that can be recognized as the children of Nic Clear as the professor of the Unit 15 at the Bartlett seemed to have generated the passion for this group of the students to make of the architectural video, the main medium of their creation.
Blogs like Dpr-Barcelona, Deconcrete, BLDG BLOG and also The Funambulist itself recently published some of their individual projects but they now formed a collective and are releasing a very interesting film entitled Robots of Brixton. In fact, when the films released within the frame of Unit 15, as aesthetically stunning as they are (see all the pictures on this blog), were remaining videos rather than cinematographic work per say, this last film really attempts to create a narrative and to use the moving pictures not anymore as a sort of painting but rather as a medium that confronts what cinema is about.
Robots of Brixton is a science fictive film that reproduces as a farce what used to be the tragedy of the 1981 Brixton riots in London severely suppress by the London Police.
Factory Fifteen is Jonathan Gales, Paul Nicholls, Dan Tassell, Kibwe Tavares, Chris Lees, Rich Young
See all their films on their common website.
Other articles about the Unit 15 at the Bartlett:
- Royal Cabinets/Re-Formation by Paul Nicholls
- Eco Commune by Richard Hardy (Weareom)
- Synaptic Landscape by Dan Farmer
- Nic Clear’s Bartlett Unit 15. Interview with Ballardian
- MANIFESTO /// Nic Clear
all images are extracted from the book Pro Domo by Yona Friedman. Barcelona: Actar 2006
The understanding of Yona Friedman‘s work can be said to be disturbed by its popularity. His Ville Spatiale, just like Constant’s New Babylon, suffers from its architectural formalization that is immediately categorized as a 60′s megastructure that simply allows a second level to the existing city. Those prejudices are not helped by the fact that Yona Friedman develops a simplicity of language and of drawing (whether we are talking about his perspectives than his graphic novels) which makes him appear as a gentle naive idealist to the reader who would pass too quickly on his work (and that’s something the blogosphere definitely allows).
For a very long time if you were reading French, you would probably be easily able to go further in his research; from now on, this is also easy in English, as Actar published the book Pro Domo which gathers an important amount of his texts, research and projects. Within the frame of this article, I also translated in English the interview Martin Le Bourgeois and myself had done of Y. Friedman in 2007 for our Undergraduate Thesis.
The Ville Spatiale as a principle can be said to be Yona Friedman’s only work that he spent fifty years to explore and redraw again and again. However, it is fascinating to observe the ensemble of approaches that he took in order to fully understand what was at stake in this project and how to actually make it happen to a small or a big scale. Before enumerating them, it seems important to re-affirm what the Ville Spatiale is about, as it has been too often shaded by its radical representation:
The Ville Spatiale is an architectural mean of the democratization of urban design built up by the citizen themselves. It advocates for an architecture without plans that adapts to people’s desire and implement a negotiation between neighbors. The Architect is only an adviser and in charge of designing the (infra)structure that will provide space and necessary resources for the city to grow.
The Supurban Project is a thesis project in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s B.Arch program by Nick Axel (who now lives in Santiago, Chile). Located in Phoenix, Arizona it questions the status of suburbia as a inanimate grid by designing a megastructure inspired from the 70′s that breaks this grid and reactivate neighborhoods by linking them together and implementing new public spaces.
One of the reasons of existence of Suburbia was in fact to kill public space as it was understood with the Mediterranean paradigm [we currently see what it allows with the "Arab Spring"]. Quoting an article I wrote a year ago about the Obscure History of Suburbia, Mike Davis affirms in City of Quartz that public space in the American city has been destroyed for a reason of control and security, free gathering of people being too hazardous and uncertain for a system that bases its self-sustainability in the anticipation of its subjects’ behaviors. Suburbia is thus a way to kill the Mediterranean street to replace it by the road or the highway that prevent any social interaction between people.
I read Nick’s project as a metaphorical manifesto, a megastructure as an extreme and literal expression of a will to invent a new paradigm of public space inspired by the Mediterranean one but incorporating the modern American fascination for cars and highways.
A while ago, I published an important amount of images produced in 1972 by Rem Koolhaas, Elia Zenghelis, Madelon Vreisendorp, and Zoe Zenghelis for their thesis at the Architectural Association. Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, despite the reunification of West and East Berlin, remains an extremely powerful icon of the current urban design’s ideology. I never got the chance to publish the integral text of the project, owning a very uneditable version of it but Mariabruna Fabrizi et Fosco Lucarelli recently edited it on Socks which now allows me to present it.
It seemed important as this text is just as much important as the other documents for Exodus to make sense.
Exodus, or the voluntary prisoners of architecture
Rem Koolhaas, Madelon Vreisendorp, Elia Zenghelis, and Zoe Zenghelis (1972)
Once, a city was divided in two parts. One part became the Good Half, the other part the Bad Half.
The inhabitants of the Bad Half began to flock to the good part of the divided city, rapidly swelling into an urban exodus.
If this situation had been allowed to continue forever, the population of the Good Half would have doubled, while the Bad Half would have turned into a ghost town.
After all attempts to interrupt this undesirable migration had failed, the authorities of the bad part made desperate and savage use of architecture: they built a wall around the good part of the city, making it completely inaccessible to their subjects.
The Wall was a masterpiece.
Back to the classics, the Living Pod is an inventive project by David Greene in 1966 for Archigram. This nomadic dwelling has the characteristics of being represented by a lot of amazing documents produced by Greene in the 60′s. One has to reconsidered that in the context of a very strongly framed Academic milieu (Architecture was still taught in the Beaux Arts in France for example), Archigram’s work was perceived as truly revolutionary.
Paradigms: Trailer homes, ‘Prefabs’, etc. Development: The ‘house’ is regarded here as consisting of two major components: a living-pod and attached machines.
Part One, a Pod … Colour, bonded white. Twelve support nodes (six tension, six compression). Four apertures (25 per cent surface). one access aperture, all with vacuum fixing seals, inner bonded sandwich of insulation and /or finish. Multi-purpose inflating floor 45 per cent area.
Part Two: Machinery, four automatic self-levelling compression legs for maximum 5 feet of water or 40-degree slope. Two transparent sectionalised sliding aperture seals with motors. Transparent entry seal with ramp and hydraulics. Two wash capsules with electrostatic disposal, air entry, and total automatic body cleaning equipment. One only with total body water immersion possibility. Two rotating silos for disposable toilet and clothing objects, etc. Vertical body hoist. Climate machinery for temperate zone (with connections to inflating sleep mats and warm section of inflating floor). Non-static food dispenser with self-cook modifications. Non-static media, teach and work machine with instant transparent cocoon ring. Inflating screens to sleep mats.
The Urban Borders Competition I was evoking in my last post, is indeed one of the rare competitions that rewards the most interesting projects. Here is the second prize, Bauci Outlet Mall City designed by Leonardo Zuccaro Marchi and that stands almost more in its very evocative text than its small amount of pictorial documents. This Italian architect proposes in fact a narrative in which Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis’ Exodus has been indeed built in London and so has been Superstudio’s Continuous Monument in New York. His project is a reinterpretation of this megastructure in order to allow a Venice rebirth as a second level of Manhattan and to name it Bauci as an homage to Calvino’s Invisible Cities (which are all a poetical vision of Venice).
This idea recalls a bit a project I have been publishing a long time ago, the beautiful Manhattan Oneicritica by Frederic Hellberg.
The following text is a fictitious New York Times’ article from 2035 written by Leonardo Zuccaro Marchi:
The New York Times, Tuesday February 8, 2035 «2035…finally our Generation lost. Sustainability was considered a joke and now we have no more opportunities to live as our Fathers did. No more Fresh air, no more sane food….Cities sunk and the Solar light has become dangerous instead than helpful. Traditionalism, the loss of trust on progress, finally has become the most powerful Religion in XXI Century Architecture, a dangerous religion for our souls which have turned our contemporary cities in a old William Blake tale. Thus in Berlin the Smithsons Hauptstadt has been totally destroyed, in London the built Exodus of R. Koolhaas has become a platform for single houses farms, Tange Tokyo Bay and Kurokawa Helix City have been transformed in small Italian style towns,….
Demotown is the winner project of the Urban Borders competition by Think Space (Zagreb Society of Architects)(check out also my friends Kyriakos Kyriakou and Sofia Krimizi’s project that reached the third place) . This very beautiful vision of a feral Detroit that recalls another friend’s project by Martin Byrne, has been created by Jesse Honsa & Gregory Mahoney. Demotown introduces an hybridization of the city of Detroit by nature and human occupation in which each program is organized in strata.
Here is their text related to the project:
Utopian megaprojects of the 20th century, from Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse to Paulo Soleri’s Linear City, are too often negated by their megalomaniacal, individualistic plan for the future. With the tabula rasa as their method for organization, such projects lack the contradictory, contextual, democratic, “organic” process of city building. Contextual, yet admittedly still megalomaniacal, this project uses the city of Detroit as a found object (rather than a blank canvas), forming the basis for a retroactive arcology that redefines urban density and circulation.
Ron Herron pour Archigram / Tuned suburb
Je remarque seulement aujourd’hui que je n’ai jamais diffusé l’interview que Peter Cook m’avait accordé dans le cadre de notre mémoire de diplôme en novembre dernier. Mieux vaut tard que jamais; la voilà ! (il est à noter que grâce à la qualité horrible de mon enregistrement audio, je n’ai plus retranscrire que la seconde partie…)
la traduction française est plus bas…
Léopold Lambert: When we are thinking about design of cities, there are two extreme cases which could be, on the first hand, the paternalist utopian architecture and, on the other hand, an architecture without architect. Where should we stand between these two cases ?
Peter Cook: That is the most difficult question of all ! If you just let anarchy reigns, there would be an authority; it would be the authority of money. There would be a certain point to which it is unliveable.
On the other hand, if everything becomes so “authority written”, it would be what we already call in England, a “nanny state”. Everybody is watching if you do this right, everything is correct, you don’t do this because it is bad for you, you don’t do that because it is bad for others. Don’t do that because it’s not good. Don’t do that because it will upset somebody etc. This is a kind of robot world and I’m against that. If somebody says: “You can only choose one from the other”, I’ll risk for the free state.
Interview réalisée le 6 février à Paris, dans le cadre de notre diplôme Penser la ville démocratique (Pré-jury le 21 mars prochain)
Martin Le Bourgeois : Le pouvoir de l’architecte, plutôt que de le déléguer aux hommes ou aux usagers, vous préférez le déléguer à des machines, ou à la nature (cf : spidernet). Quand vous perdez le contrôle pourquoi ne le remettez vous pas aux usagers plutôt qu’à une altérité autonome et qui n’a pas pour vocation de servir l’homme ?
François Roche : Je sens poindre l’hypothèse qu’il y aurait un déficit d’humanisme. Je sens dans ta question, une critique qui s’insinue malignement comme un préalable, une critique qui flatte celui qui l’émet, drapé et paré d’un supplément d’âme, portant l’humanisme en écharpe, en bandoulière, voir en cartouchière, pour flinguer dans le confort et la complaisance tout ce qui présupposerait ne pas en être.
L’attention aux mécanismes humains, et aux structures qui les conditionnent, l’empathie aux situations, les valeurs climatiques, voir pollutives d’un environnement, la relecture chimique des humeurs, autant de petits dispositifs qui chez R&Sie(n) fonctionnerait plutôt comme sa dénégation et son antidote.
Comment ne pas se prémunir et se méfier d’une notion, resucée anachronique des idéaux de la Renaissance, qui a été le vecteur, le levier opératoire des envolées illusionnistes du XXe siècle. On ne peut en évacuer la duplicité, sous couvert de…, a l’ombre de… ; duplicité maligne auréolée de grandeur d’âme pour simultanément et contingentement s’asservir aux systèmismes de la standardisation fait de tabula rasa, d’autorité panoptique, de mode de production sous-surveillance…pour en éliminer les multitudes, les anomalies, les singularités.
INTERVIEW DE YONA FRIEDMAN LE 14 NOVEMBRE 2007
Léopold Lambert & Martin Le Bourgeois: Quelle est l’utilité de la fiction pour penser la ville ?
Yona Friedman: Je ne sais pas. Moi c’est surtout la réalité qui m’intéresse. Beaucoup de mes confrères considéraient mon travail comme fictionnel mais je l’ai réalisé en vrai et si c’est possible une fois, c’est possible plusieurs fois.
Je vais commencer par expliquer le côté social de mon travail. Je pense que les gens ne savent pas exactement ce qu’ils veulent, et, de plus, ils ne savent pas exprimer ce qu’ils veulent. Dès lors, qu’est ce qui est nécessaire que l’architecte puisse corriger ? Quelque chose qui n’est pas définitif. Vous avez l’exemple avec les meubles. Tout le monde trouve normal que je puisse changer ma chaise de position dans la pièce. Maintenant je peux aller plus loin. Je peux imaginer, c’est techniquement possible, que je puisse changer les parois. Je peux également changer la situation de la fenêtre. Donc je peux changer tout. Mon espace privé. Mais la ville, c’est un ensemble de ces espaces privés, une sorte d’accumulation, donc cela a des conséquences sur la ville.
Alors, pour aller un peu plus loin, je peux composer la ville avec l’équipement urbain qui changerait de place. Imaginez que ce boulevard puisse se déplacer cent mètres plus loin. Tout cela est possible si le bâtiment ne touche pas le sol dans son intégralité. La réponse technique est donc très simple. La partie mobile s’insère dans une ossature fixe. Si le mur doit soutenir le plancher supérieur, évidemment, tout cela n’est pas possible.
Si je peux changer mon mobilier, c’est parce que mon plafond est tenu par quelque chose d’autre. L’ossature sert donc de garantie que les choses se trouvant au dessus de vous ne tombent pas sur vos têtes. Ainsi, toute l’enveloppe peut être changeable. Il n’y a, de ce fait, aucune obligation quant à la forme architecturale. C’est le principe.
On m’a souvent dit que l’usager n’est pas capable de changer cet ensemble. A cela, je réponds que j’ai déjà fait l’expérience en réalité, avec de relativement grands groupes, notamment dans des lycées. Ces personnes étaient capables de faire la conception de leurs locaux. En même temps, ceci est passé par l’exigence de l’autorité, en l’occurrence le Ministère de l’Education Nationale, que tout cela soit changeable. Car, évidemment, ce que les gens ont conçu à tel moment ne s’adapte peut être plus dix ans plus tard lorsque les conditions ont changé. C’est pourquoi, j’ai été choisi pour ce travail.
Maintenant, il y a quelque chose d’autre qui m’intéresse. C’est la possibilité pour ces éléments de cette architecture complètement personnalisée, d’être à ce point simplifiés techniquement que ça ne dépend plus de telle ou telle compétence technique.
An obvious reference linking architecture and the sea comes from Jacques Rougerie
‘s work since the beginning of the 70′s. Rougerie did invent a lot of boats, submarines and subaquatic villages and farms and keep creating some of them nowadays. He works on a barge on the Seine in Paris and owns an amphibian car to link his passion to his working environment…
photograph by Matthieu Kavyrchine
I already published some information about R&Sie(n)‘s exhibition An Architecture “des humeurs” but I thought it was definitely worth it to introduce less the exhibition in itself and more of the speculation as much as emphasizing the fact that R&Sie(n) is one of the extremely rare architectural offices who offer the totality of documents and information on their website.
As an introduction of Francois Roche’s lecture at Columbia last week, Mark Wigley brilliantly elaborated on the fact that a lot of contemporary architects are self proclaimed “experimental”, “provocative”, “on the edge”, “innovative”; however the proper of such characteristics is to disturb people by their novelty and few architectures can be defined as suchnowadays. Wigley then affirmed that Roche was one of those few who lead you in the uncomfortable zones of experimental architectures and narratives.
Only a little has been written about An Architecture “des humeurs”, and a lot of us can see in this fact a proof that consensual architecture only is leading the current (non)-debate of ideas whereas true research is being underrated. One could possibly argue that this speculation remains too much on the surface, and that rather than dealing with a dozen of dimensions of the project, R&Sie(n) should have confront with the depth of only of them. Nevertheless, from his own words, Francois Roche prefers to “swim between the surface and the abysses, from speculation to fiction until the negotiation with ambiguous and contradictory forces of the here and now”.
As a result, An Architecture “des humeurs” attempts -and often succeeds- to articulate all together neurosciences, robotic, politics, mathematics, engineering, biology, computation and philosophy. To do so, R&Sie(n) spent those two last years working with mathematicians, scientists, robotic designers, artists, philosophers and developed a debate of ideas (see previous article) at the same time than proposed its speculation.
The exhibition was first commissioned by Le Laboratoire in Paris and is currently moving between Basel and Graz.
Sometimes I like to revisit the classics ! The Oblique Function
was first developed in the 60′s by Architecture Principe
(Claude Parent & Paul Virilio
) and since then is still the main element of Parent’s architecture (see previous article
The idea was to tilt the ground in order to revolutionize the old paradigm of the vertical wall. In fact, being inclined, the wall becomes experiencable and so are the cities imagined by the two French architects. The oblique is fundamentally interested in how a body physically experience a space. The slope implies an effort to climb up and a speed to climb down; this way the body cannot abstract itself from the space and feel the degrees of inclination.
Parent and Virilio associated this research with their bunker archeology
(see previous article
) in order to design the Church Sainte Bernadette in Nevers (France) that I should probably include in a near future article…
Claude Parent demonstrated the quality of the oblique for the French Pavilion at the 1970 Venice Biennale as I already wrote in a former article
Dwelling for Tomorrow
by T.Kuzembayev, A.Ivanov & W.Aristov
in the amazing book Paper Architecture: New Projects from the Soviet Union
The Archigram Archival Project
that we were all waiting for is eventually online on the University of Westminster
‘s website. If you want to see David Greene’s thesis project (a mosque), Peter Cook’s drawings for Graz’s Kunsthaus or Michael Webb’s erotic collage for the suitaloon, only one direction matters !