It is not the first time -nor it will be the last probably- that I evoke the Kowloon Walled City (see this past article for example) as a Proletarian Fortress which is very interesting to look at as it provides us a historical example of a district which immanently constructed its own form of urbanity. In few decades, this housing block like it exists many of them in Hong Kong, got transformed by its inhabitants into a compact piece of city in which all object and person finds its place and function despite the density. The section drew by Japanese architects for the book 大図解九龍城, is very illustrative of what life has been like in the Walled City as it includes a multitude of micro-scenarios animating the district from the darkness of the ground to the aerated rooftops. The Walled City, by its relative self-sufficiency was the object of many myths from the outside population and authorities who was seeing it as a criminal neighborhood, argument that was used to destroy it in 1993. The density of the district as well as the addition of many alternative bridges and pathways was making it indeed very difficult to control and the police is said to have simply gave up on it. From what several authors who worked on it tell us, although the walled city was a shelter for drug addicts, criminals were not living in it.
Graphic narratives seem the right way to describe such district as it allows the restitution of the richness of micro-events and sociality that were occurring in it. The global section (see below) is therefore full of small annotations describing those micro-events. Rio Akasaka had the good idea to translate them into English and to put them online. I also extracted a dozen of significant details from the section that can be seen below.
Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone (East London) (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Yesterday, Judge Haddon-Cave of the Hight Court of England decided in favor of the British Minister of Defense that the installation of surface-to-air missiles on the roof of a 17 floor building in East London during the Olympics of this year. Residents of the Fred Wigg Tower in Leytonstone (see map below) had indeed challenged this decision in justice. Those missiles are being set-up in prevention of potential terrorist attacks against London during the Olympics. This decision marks a new step in the establishment of national states of emergency since the 2001 terrorists attacks against the United States. For the last decade, western countries declared themselves at war against terrorism and had implemented a certain amount of measures which grandly restraint freedom and privacy in favor of a claimed security. The so called “war against terrorism” is indeed convenient for governments to acquire more power over their citizens as terror precisely consists in the generalization of a feeling of fear among a population when the latter is confronted to a durable state of urgency. In other words, what maintains terror is not so much the original event of the attack -if I can allow myself to call this event “original” when in reality it is based on a long history- but rather the durable ideological “state of exception” that follows it.
As said yesterday by David Enright, one of the lawyer of the residents, “the Ministry of Defense now has the power to militarize the private homes of any person in Britain as long as they can demonstrate that there is, in their view, a matter of national security in play. They do not need to ask you, they do not need to consult you, but can take over your home, put a missile on your roof, a tank on your loan, or soldiers in your living room.” In my last article, I was evoking how domestic design could potentially unfold its weaponized characteristics, this new case provides us with one more example of such a process. It also demonstrates, if needed, that the weaponization of architecture is usually triggered by a legal framework which finds its embodiment in the physicality of architecture. For example, in the case of a legal apparatus like curfew or quarantine, an “innocent” home (but we know that there is no such a thing) can be transformed into a prison through its impermeable walls, floors and roof. In that London case, architecture is used for its height and the flatness of its roof (both advocated by the modern movement) in order to be transformed into a militarized machine.
One goal of this blog is to demonstrate how political -and sometimes military- strategy are embodied in design that do not always explicit them. That is not necessarily to say that the whole built environment has been drawn and built by an evil transcendental power to oppress its subjects (although sometimes that is the case) but rather that design is always involved within broader political mechanisms that forces it to take position.
Take a highway for example. Nothing more usual for many of us. In an old article, I was already quoting thinkers (N.Chomsky & P.Galison) who were interpreting it respectively as an economical catalyst for the car industry and a territorial strategy to spread resources during the cold war. The photos and videos included in this article brings another aspect of highways’ weaponization. In march 1984, NATO organized an exercise in West Germany to plan for potential emergency operations in case of open conflict against the Soviet Union. Army aircrafts, including a transport C130 Hercules (see further below) and an A-10 Thunderbolt II jet (see above), landed and a piece of highway that had been designed specifically to fulfill this potential function. Of course, it would be inaccurate to attribute the function of highways exclusively to their potential weaponization, however, it would be just as much inaccurate to ignore the part of their design that has been voluntarily militarized.
District B13 Ultimatum, directed by Patrick Alessandrin (2009)
After a photographic and an historical interpretation of what I called for this series’ purposes, Fortress Paris, this third part introduces its cinematographic (literal) adaptation of this topic. The film Banlieue 13 (District B-13) and its sequel Banlieue 13 Ultimatum materializes to the extreme, the policies of exclusion of the Parisian proletarian suburbs. In these movies, the suburbs are surrounded by a high wall which leave the inside population to its own fate in a similar way than the film Escape from New York created by John Carpenter in 1981 in which Manhattan was walled, thus imprisoning its criminal inhabitants.
In this interpretation the suburbs incarnate a perfect example of Michel Foucault’s notion of heterotopia (see previous article and the cinematographic series). It is the other space, delimited with access filters and which applies its specific rules different from the milieu that surrounds it. Similarly to many institutional heterotopias, the suburban one does not leave any choice to its inhabitants to leave it through the militarization of its border. Just like the psychiatric hospital or the prison (one might add the school and the factory to a certain extent), it thus constitutes an authoritarian heterotopia and acts as a mechanism of control for society.
In a less ‘spectacular’ aesthetics but with a more solid and touching scenario/directing/acting, I cannot not recommend Mathieu Kassovitz’s first film La Haine (1995) in which the walls are not as visible but evidently exist.
Following the last article about Fortress Paris, I would like to introduce the book Paris sous Tension (Paris under tension) written and edited by Eric Hazan, director of one of my very favorite publishers, La Fabrique. The book is written in French, and I will quote extensive excerpts in this article but I will also try to summarize in English their object. Its various chapters explore Paris from 1814 to its contemporary era -the book was published in 2011- through the narrative of a continuous conflict between the intelligentsia who are designing the city associated with its means to maintain the order on the one hand, and the proletariat who has to survive and empower itself despite this urban organization. In this regard, it can be compared to the more recent book Rebel Cities written by David Harvey and that I have been writing about in a previous article. For the purpose of this short review, I will organize the excerpts in eight small chapters that are not related to the book’s own organization:
This article is the first one of a trio which will investigate the architectural elements that makes Paris, a contemporary fortress. The Boulevard Périphérique (highway ring) around it, marks its geographical limit and embodies the latter in a solid barrier of low porosity. Of course, the city walls are not as evidently militarized than its 19th century ancestor, the Thiers fortifications built in 1844 on the same route than the current Périphérique and carrying the name of the character who slaughtered the Paris Commune few decades later. However, the will of ‘defending’ Paris’ integrity against the exterior is still strong and expressed in a (barely) more subtle way. At the exception of the Western suburbs -where the highest social classes live- the city is very difficult to access from its surroundings thus materializing the policies of social exclusion at work in Paris.
The physical border that separates the center of the city from its suburbs is embodied not only by the Périphérique but also, on its side, by various zones differing from the simple state of no-man’s land to various zones of office buildings, malls or other non-residential program that scarify the threshold between inside and outside. In order to illustrate this buffer zone that is well-known of Parisians -at least those who have to experience it on a daily basis- I selected sixteen views (see below) from google street in which you can see how the entrance in Paris materializes. I tried to keep as a visual continuity, the small sign announcing Paris like in every towns in France. By doing so, I wanted to insist on the graphic contrast between the function of this same sign (its welcoming status) and its actual environment which constitutes a gate -and that is indeed their official name- to the Fortress Paris.
See part 2: Paris sous Tension by Eric Hazan
and part 3: The Suburban Heterotopia
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.
Rikers Island in New York City
Prison Map is a project developed by Josh Begley, a graduate student studying Interactive Telecommunications at New York University. Thanks a small script and geo-coordinates, he obtained a google earth snapshot of each of the 4,916 incarceration facilities in the United States. Let’s recall here that a bit less than 2.5 millions people are living in prison in this country. Such a project illustrates therefore a sort of hidden urbanism in which 0.8% of the American population live for a given time. Of course, these photographs are interesting to observe the architecture of incarceration, but more importantly in my opinion, is the relationship they develop with their direct environment as they illustrate a geography of exclusion.
Many of these facilities use the obvious strategy of remoteness to engage this will of exclusion. In this regard, from the cartographic point of view, they often ironically appear similar to European palaces with well-ordered classical plans. Others are situated on islands (like Rikers in New York) or piers in order to use water as a buffer zone between the included society and the excluded one. Finally, others are situated in the center of some cities like the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago (see previous post) or the Brooklyn Detention Complex using the verticality of their architecture to implement the exclusionary status.
The page Prison Map is only displaying 700 facilities for convenience reasons but the 4,216 others can be seen by following this link. Josh Begley also have another page entitled Prison Count which establishes a photographic inventory of California State Adult Prisons. In addition, you can also consult an old article about the book Forms of Constraint
The following pictures are extracted from the Prison Map project:
Last year, the Zagreb Society of Architects’ program Think Space organized interesting competitions curated successively by Shohei Shigematsu, Teddy Cruz, Francois Roche and Hrvoje Njirić. This year’s series will be just much interesting, if not potential more, as Adrian Lahoud, this year’s curator, has planned competitions which question architecture’s historicity through their principle. Entitled Past Forward, they consist in the revival of competitions that have been forging a certain form of paradigm for contemporary architecture but which can obviously not be thought through the same way few decades later.The oldest is the Peak Leisure Club in Hong Kong, won in 1983 by Zaha Hadid Architects but eventually never built. The second one, eleven years later, the Yokohama Port Terminal’s winning entry and final building has been designed by Foreign Office Architects. Finally, the most recent one (1999) is the Blur Building designed by Diller & Scofidio + Renfro for the Swiss Association Expo 2001 in Yverdon-les-Bains.
The common link to those three competitions is that these projects founded the three practices of the offices who won them and that they constituted more built manifestos than the materialization of a deep theoretical research. The importance of those three buildings in recent architecture history lies in the fact that those three programs, although technically in the city, were not necessarily involving a strong relationship with the latter which would have brought many political, social and societal challenges that were not constituting the main engagement of the winning architects. This observation could then be a starting point to re-think these competitions nowadays in order to incorporate within them, their potential engagement towards the polis. Let’s not forget that many important competitions have been won based on a re-interpretation of their program. The fact that the programs of these competitions are ancient -and therefore maybe obsolete- pushes towards this attitude even more.
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.
Breathing Room by Kayt Brumder (2009) / Excerpt from Imperfect Health
Before starting this article, I would like to say that I am well aware that what might distinguish this blog from others is the fact that architecture is only rarely questioned directly but rather via indirect means and disciplines. Lately I have been writing much more articles which, on the contrary, deal with architecture more explicitly. My readings and research work by phases and the recurrence of certain topics is not revealing a deep change in my editorial line but should rather be interpreted as chapters of it.
From October 2011 to April 2012, the Canadian Centre for Architecture displayed the exhibition Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture. In parallel of it has been edited a book with the same name by Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini (Lars Muller Publishers). This volume – and therefore the exhibition – explores the heritage of modernism which promoted the antic ‘mens sana in corpore sano’ (a sane mind within a sane body) and was undertaking to design architecture around it. Through the various essays of the book, two approaches seems to emerge:
The book The Architecture of Failure (Winchester: Zero Books, 2012) written by Douglas Murphy is a reading of architecture history from Crystal Palace (1851) to our contemporary ‘parametricism’ through a very corrosive filter as the title could suggest. However, what this same title fails to describe is what is being really criticized by D.Murphy between his lines, not so much the architecture that creates a new paradigm by its very existence and narrative, but rather the movement that emerges consecutively to the birth of this new model. The first part of the book is dedicated to the second part of the 19th century’s reign of iron and glass engaged in a technological progressism along the various spectacular World Exhibitions hosted in Europe. He then skip the first part of the 20th century, probably acknowledging the multitude of discourses critical of modernism already existing, and write our contemporary architectural history starting from the 1960s and what he calls ‘solutionism’.
Although critical of the manifesto architecture that the Pompidou Center embodied, he is more waspish towards the movement that followed its creation including one of its architect, Richard Rogers, and his alter-ego, Norman Foster as their own self-caricature that offered a new architectural embodiment for capitalism when it was originally though in opposition of it:
Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham. Portraits from Above: Hong Kong’s Informal Rooftop Communities. Berlin: Peperoni, 2008.
Those of you who know a bit about the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montreal are probably aware of the existence of a lecture series entitled Learning from… based on the well known Learning from Las Vegas written by Denise Scott Brown, Robert Venturi and Steven Izenour. This Thursday (May 3rd), the CCA organizes a new opus of the series with Learning from…Hong Kong by Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham who will presents their photographic and architectural analytical work about the informal rooftop communities that they collected for their book Portraits from Above.
Hong Kong is a city so dense that all space have to be claimed, used and optimized and rents are part of the highest in the world. Confronted to this observation and empowered by the necessity, some people built-up their own houses on the roof of existing buildings. R.Wu and S. Canham’s photographs and drawings constitutes a non-exhaustive collection of those architectures without architects as a possible manifesto for the incredible city that Hong Kong incarnates.
Learning from… Hong Kong: Rufina Wu and Stefan Canham
3 May 2012, 7:00 pm
Presented in English
The event will also be live streamed
Body Measurements by Henry Dreyfuss Associates. MIT Press, 1974.
A year ago, I wrote an article which was exploring how the modernist theories had implemented the ideology of what I called an ideal normative body. In a nutshell, this oxymoron expresses the paradox of the elaboration of a body that was supposed to represent a standard for all bodies but, by doing so, became idealized as no real body was, in fact, perfectly matching this standard. The following article therefore constitutes a visual and textual opposition between this ideal normatized body as drawn by Ernst Neufert, Le Corbusier and the Architectural Graphic Standards and its subversion within architectural projects.
The modernist project to establish a standard for the human body is not born in the 20th century. Renaissance was built around this notion of idealized proportions both for the body and architecture. In 1487, Leonardo da Vinci drew what remains one of the most famous drawings of Western Art: the Vitruvian Man. Many re-interpretations and parodies of this drawing have been created to address the question of standard since then. That is the case (see below) of Thomas Carpentier, whose thesis project L’homme, mesures de toutes choses at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture motivated the redaction of this article.
This image is an excerpt from the short film The Road to Jerusalem created by artist Jeremy Hutchison. The movie shows him riding his bike in Ramallah in direction to Jerusalem. When approaching the sadly famous separation barrier, the biker seems not to see it and continue his route as if the road was still open like few years ago. That is when the wall unfolds all its literal violence as he crashes into it in a strong manifestation of the border. Rarely an image has been so literal in what I have been calling the violence of the line, this line on the map which materializes into a wall and splits two milieus. The wall, as the paradigmatic architectural component illustrates the hurtful power contained by architecture.
Prairie House – Fibrous strand chunk / Kokkugia | Roland Snooks with Texas A&M
Today is Roland Snooks‘ turn to be a guest writer for the Funambulist as he generously accepted to be part of this series. His essay Fibrous Assemblages and Behavioral Composites articulates the digital research that he has been developing with his office Kokkugia and in the various schools where he taught with an investigation about the technological means to actually fabricate the output of this same research. Athough I remain critical of how the vanguard algorithmic architecture has been translated into a disarticulated mainstream in many schools of the world because of some opportunist followers, I consider that Roland’s discourse can trigger the strong interest of many of the Funambulist’s readers for several reasons.
The first one consists in the simple fact that Kokkugia’s research constitutes one of the most consistent and creative body of work in this domain.; not only it explores the current limits of this experimental field, but it actually gives itself the means to acquire a materiality submitted to the rules of reality. The second one is that what many of us consider mainstream – for having encountered it in a certain academia – remains something inaccessible to many people because of the educational environment they are being trained in. In many schools of the world, such architectural approach are often chosen as an act of resistance against the weight of a rearguard who has been teaching year after year with no interest whatsoever for any form of innovation. Of course, this approach is far from being the only one to embody progress in architectural education and practice, but it undeniably proposes a path to emancipation in the various schools of the world which are not done mourning post-modernism (if not modernism itself) yet. A third reason finally consists in the fact that Roland Snooks has been interested for a long time in the notion of swarm that regularly comes back in this blog’s articles (see a recent one about Rimbaud for example). Three years ago he already answered a small interview (with bad questions from my end) about this research, as did François Roche and Valerie Chatelet. I am therefore very happy to curate and host his essay that immediately follows this introduction (illustrations can be found at the end of the text):
Fibrous Assemblages and Behavioral Composites
by Roland Snooks
Excerpt from Safe Area Goražde by Joe Sacco (2000)
During the Bosnian war (1992-1995), the small city of Goražde was surrounded by territories under the Serbian army’s control and had to organize its daily life in a self-sufficiency that was supplemented by a UN enforced humanitarian corridor. This self-sufficiency includes the power supply that was lacking at a systematic level. Goražde inhabitants had therefore to cope with this status off the grid and individuals and neighbor groups undertook to tinker various machines amongst which those micro hydro power plants strike us for their ingenuity. Both the drawings of Joe Sacco in his documentary graphic novel Safe Area Goražde (see also The Fixer in a previous article), and the photographs taken by Zobrazit during the war constitute rare witnesses of their historical presence on the Drina River.
Extracted from Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples by Bernd & Hilla Becher. Dia Center for the Arts, 1991.
The world photographed by Bernd and Hilla Becher is fascinating as it often introduces fantastic architectures which yet have been built in the absence of concern for an architectural quality. Whether they photograph the Ruhr factories, the various water towers of the world or, in this case, the Pennsylvania Coal Mine Tipples, their pictures present buildings translating their function as literally as possible. In the case of the coal mine tipples, architecture reflects even more its craftsmanship and the absence of architect. Structures seem (deceivingly) fragile and clumsy, enclosures are approximate and materials seem to have been found in the direct environment of the building. For all these reasons, this architecture without architects is exemplary for architects to achieve a high degree of vernacularity, both for its materials and its construction methods, as well as for its ‘laisser faire’, allowing a high degree of flexibility on site and a lack of differentiation between people who conceive and those who make.
Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings at the Friedman Benda Gallery (2012)
There is an on-going exhibition at the Friedman Benda Gallery (New York) presenting some of Lebbeus Woods’ early drawings. This show is still on for few more days (until April 14th) but I figured that I would release a dozen of these drawings that are not necessarily well known in his work.
Many of us have seen numerous of Lebbeus Woods’ drawings and could maybe feel, somehow blasé to the idea of looking at some more; however, it seems difficult not to feel a strong enthusiasm and inspiration from this new (old) series. What seems so appealing to me in his work is his constant ability to design architectures that seems to narrate the absence of architect. As much as a building drawn by him is immediately recognizable as such, the elements that composes this architecture clearly tell us a story in which its construction involved a spontaneous collective effort with no particular presupposed plan. Metal sheets, wood posts, loose pipes, visible truss beams, all the pieces stands together in a very interesting balance of immanent approximation and skilled control. Those drawings seems to come from an uchronia (a steam punk one !), mix between medieval age, industrial revolution and post-apocalyptic future, when architects and builders were (will be) the same person.
Photo from Construire Autrement. Actes Sud, 2006.
This is not the first time that I write an article about the remarkable creative process that Patrick Bouchain and his office Construire have been undertaking for many years now. I even fear not to write anything different from the last post about an interview he gave to Micropolitiques (see previous article). However, I think that it is useful to re-insist on the importance that the construction process he has developed and systematized through the numerous architectural projects he designed. This process is simple and easily applicable if there is a sincere will from the architects and the traditional actors of the construction to work out a democratic way to build.
His book, Construire Autrement (see this old article in 2008 about it!) which can be translate by ‘Building Differently’, constitutes a manifesto as much by its contents as by its form. The latter, indeed, illustrates a literary style empty of complex terminology or initiated knowledge, and is divided into two parts: his writings and those of some his well-known friends, Michel Onfray (philosopher), Gilles Clement (landscape designer), Lucien Kroll (architect), Daniel Buren (artist), Antoine Nochy (philosopher), Romain Paris (urban designer) and Otar Iosseliani (film maker).
As far as the content is concerned, P. Bouchain explains through it his will to involve the ensemble of the actors concerned by the building he is designing in its creative and constructive process. In order to do so, he triggers the encounter of those actors by organizing debates on site between neighbors, local politicians and crafts(wo)men, he sets up a canteen during the construction so that local people can have meals with workers, he invites elementary schools to visit the site and educates kids (and grown-up) about the implications a building and its construction can have on the city etc. He also proposes a political strategy to implement, through each public building’s creative and constructive process, an innovative and democratic approach. Since 1936 (and systematically since 1981), French public buildings have to dedicate 1% of their construction budget to a work of art. As the latter, thanks to its status, can be created in a relative freedom, P. Bouchain envisions (and applies to his own buildings) policies that would add to this one, a “solidarity 1%” which promotes the social aspect of the construction (like for the canteen), as well as a “scientific 1%” which develops a useful research for the building, an “education 1%” to trigger programs like the one mentioned above and an “elderly 1%” which insists on the importance of the transmission of knowledge between generations.