Do not let the fancy renderings of the winning entry for the new American Embassy in London mislead you, what you see is nothing else than the contemporaneous version of the Middle Age castle. The project, designed by Kieran Timberlake carries many characteristics of medieval means of defense and thus constitutes the paradigm of the post-2001 American Embassy. As I already pointed out in a previous article about the competition for the US Embassy in Belgrade, this paradigm is defined by the contradiction between the appearance and the essence of the building, the former representing the traditional discourse of openness, “democracy, liberty and America” (quoting the issue of proudly American Metropolis dedicated to US Embassies) while the latter is really about the protection of the building and what it contains.
Just like for the new World Trade Center in New York, the base of the building has to be solid enough to contain a bomb-car attack. In the London case, the building is separated from the city by an earth motte as well as a moat filed with water (see the wired article about those apparatuses). As many people also realize a square-base building ensures to have the least contact surface with the outside. Usually it represents a useful way to control the energy transfers and thus to make the building more ecoLogical, in that case, it ensures to the core of the building to be protected from any exterior attack. The peripheral glass is therefore only a decoy which indicates what truly needs to be protected in an Embassy, not as much people, but documents that are stored in the center of the building. It would be interesting to see the plans but of course, they are kept secret, which brings the attention on the architect’s responsibility once again. The generation of architects currently practicing has been built on the disillusion of the previous one (the moderns), and has therefore accepted the idea that, as simple cogs of the mechanisms, they were not responsible for the political consequences of their products. The very fact that their plans could be kept secret brings attention on the power of the scheme that they participated to conceive.
Photograph by André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri (1871)
On May 16th 1871, at the core of the Paris Commune, a ceremony is organized to demolish the Vendôme Column, symbol of the Napoleonian imperialism (as usual for La Commune, refer to Raspouteam’s website for more information). Although an important amount of buildings were burnt down (for various reasons) during La Commune, the destruction of the Vendôme Column is the most expressive symbol of what I would like to call architecture in negative, or to use an oxymoron, destructive construction. On the contrary of what was affirmed by the Versaillais press and officials, this act was very far from being motivated by a thoughtless barbarian will of destruction. Indeed, the ensemble of buildings being representative -we might say symptomatic- of a given scheme of relationships of power, it is necessary for a new form of governance to subvert or demolish the same ensemble in order to avoid to reproduce the same relationships of domination of one group over another.
In their Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism (Programme Elementaire du Bureau d’Urbanisme Unitaire) in the Internationale Situationniste #6 (Paris, August 1961), the Situationists, through the writings of Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, affirms the following:
All space is already occupied by the enemy, which has even reshaped its basic laws, its geometry, to its own purposes. Authentic urbanism will appear when the absence of this occupation is created in certain zones. What we call construction starts there. It can be clarified by the positive void concept developed by modern physics. Materializing freedom means beginning by appropriating a few patches of the surface of a domesticated planet.
This notion of positive void is precisely what the demolition of the Vendôme Column was about: the suppression of the power of a paradigmatic artifact to allow the construction of something new.
El ángel exterminador (1962) is a film by Luis Buñuel in which the group of main characters are stuck for weeks in a living room after a urbane dinner. Nothing visually seems to prevent them from actually exiting the living room but for a mysterious reason none of them seems to try to actually get out despite the fact that they are close from dying from hunger.
This narrative is a good subject of investigation for the theory often attempted here (thank you Nick for pointing that out) according to which architecture has a fundamental power on the bodies. Of course, in that case the living room does not appear as a prison as the large double door at its entrance remains open all along the film but we can, once again, interrogate ourselves about the power that the line drawn by the architect carries in itself.
What is a door after all? Isn’t it simply an apparatus that organize architecture’s porosity or, in other words, a device that control the carceral characteristics of a room. After all, a prison always have a door. A locked door is nothing else than a wall for which (most of the time) the human body cannot develop a sufficient effort to modify or destroy it. Each interior space (aka room), traced by the architect as a continuous closed line is a prison en puissance (“in power”, “potentially”). On a side note, I recently learned that the word “prisoner” has the interesting characteristic to be written 囚 in Chinese and Japanese. Whoever has been learning the very basics of Chinese characters will recognize 人 i.e. a person, surrounded by a continuous and closed line. As often, those characters are fascinating by their minimal representation of their meaning.
Pavillon Seroussi by Biothing (2007)
Sébastien Bourbonnais and I met after we realized through a common publication (see previous article) that we had a shared strong interest for French philosopher Gilbert Simondon (see previous articles Part 1 & Part 2). In the following essay, he uses the latter’s theory of form and information to analyze the creative logic of digitally generated architectures. Sébastien evokes the dematerialization of the line as the latter does not constitute a limit anymore but rather a force that literally informs design (one could argue that it desactivates my own interpretations of lines as the carrier of architecture’s inherent violence!) In doing so, he calls for an architecture of blurry thresholds which merges the form with its direct environment. I might object to Sébastien a certain form of optimism towards architects as the latter seem to have quite integrated the process of information that link together a set of data and a form; however the data they use seems too often inappropriate if not frankly arbitrary. Gilbert Simondon himself, in his very precise descriptions of the technical processes and tools never evacuates their raison-d’etre. We can only wish the same to architects.
Membrane Attractors: Tension between form and information in digital architecture
by Sébastien Bourbonnais
«We should say that a good form is one near the paradox, near contradiction, and also it doesn’t be contradictory in its logic terms. »
Gilbert Simondon, «Forme, information, potentiels,»
Playground Proposal by Isamu Noguchi (excerpt from The Book of Games)
First of all, I apologize for this absence, I am hoping to engage with interesting series of article soon but, in order to start the year in a good way, here is a short one about a book I have been very happy to prepare a small contribution for recently.
The Book of Games is the third issue of a series of books edited by Cristian Valenzuela Pinto. The first one was the Book of Towers and the second one, the Book of Mazes. Far from academic volumes, those books are compiling texts that are as short as insightful about the chosen theme. The very titles of these books start to give a clue about the author we can see in filigree of this series, both in its format and in its content: Jorge Luis Borges. Indeed, the Argentinean author’s way of writing about philosophical problems through narrative is found everywhere here, even in the ageless graphic design of those books.
Few months ago, Joanne Pouzenc from CollageLab proposed that we would have an epistolary conversation in the frame of the CollageLab’s Points of view series which was opened by our good friend Daniel Fernandez Pascual. This conversation is still going on but while waiting for the publication of new articles here, I would like to propose what has been written so far as I suppose that it is a useful definition of the Funambulist’s editorial line:
There is a beautiful image behind the Funambulist: the image of this passionate guy in love with challenge, control and fear, putting himself in danger to either just reach the other side or because of its addiction to tension and adrenaline.
But for you, who and what is The Funambulist? What is the process behind it? And how did it started?
This post is the second part of an article about the first chapter of Gilbert Simondon‘s L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (1964), entitled Form and Matter.
After exploring the text itself and its critique of the Aristotelian hylomorphic (form/matter) scheme to think about objects, I would like to introduce a second architectural interpretation of Simondon’s essay. Indeed, not only the hylomorphic paradigm fails to describe materially the energy that operates within the fabrication of an object, but it also categorize the humans involved in this operation in two distinct categories: those who think the object and those who make the object. The former virtually impose an abstract form on a material while the latter, who have a deepen knowledge about the material itself, are forced to manipulate it to achieve more or less skilfully the thought form. The following excerpt is the way Simondon describes it through his interest for the individualization:
(my clumsy translation): What is kept in an object, is the matter; what makes it being itself, is the state in which its matter describes all the events that this object was subjected to; the form that is only a fabrication intention, a composition will, can neither grow old nor become; it is always the same as an intention, for the conscience of the one who thinks and gives the fabrication order; it is the same abstractly, he wants them to be all the same, of the same dimension and following the same geometry.
(original version): Ce qui se conserve dans un objet, c’est la matière ; ce qui le fait être lui-même, c’est que l’état dans lequel est sa matière résume tous les événements que cet objet a subis ; la forme qui n’est qu’intention fabricatrice, volonté de disposition, ne peut vieillir ni devenir ; elle est toujours la même, d’une fabrication a une autre ; elle est tout au moins la même en tant qu’intention, pour la conscience de celui qui pense et donne l’ordre de fabrication ; elle est la même abstraitement, il les souhaite toutes identiques, de la même dimension et selon la même figure géométrique.
French philosopher Gilbert Simondon (1924-1989) is very likely to join Spinoza, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Foucault in the list of philosophers that influence the writings on this blog. It has been a while now that I would like to expand my conclusion for the essay Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel that I already published here. This little piece of text was an interpretation of Simondon’s first chapter of L’individu et sa genèse physico-biologique (the Physico-Biological Genesis of the Individual ) to make an argument about the landscape of insurgencies and architecture in general. This chapter is called Form and Matter and I would like to archive the translation of the first half of it that Taylor Adkin made for his excellent Fractal Ontology (edited with Joseph Weissman). All excerpts in English included here comes from this translation. A second article, less descriptive and more interpretative will come in the next few days.
In this text that opens his book, Simondon undertake to critique the Aristotelian paradigmatic scheme: hylomorphism. This scheme describes each object and body as a combination of form and matter, and Simondon, through the very extensive and detailed description of the fabrication process of a brick, affirms that this scheme misses a very important aspect of this process: the energy involved to transform the “formless” clay into a parallelepiped brick:
One of the last issues of the excellent Brooklyn-based magazine Cabinet was dedicated to the notion of game. The dossier itself, is very interesting, but I was particularly curious about the first text of the series, entitled Reimagining Recreation and written by James Trainor. This essay traces the history of the various policies that created playgrounds in New York Cities since the 1950′s. Following the era that saw Robert Moses’ 26 years reign over the NYC Park Commission which considered playgrounds can be used as a way to “intercept children…and provide a place in which excess energy can be worked off without damage to the park surroundings” (quote from the text below), a joyful and playful era changed New York in the 1960′s. J. Trainor describes “a massive open-call game of ‘capture-the-flag’ on the Central Park Mall, a communal ‘paint-in’ gathering in Sheep Meadow, kite happenings, folk music happening, midnight meteor shower happenings” as well as the famous ‘adventure playgrounds’ that embodied in their own way, the spirit of the 1960′s.
“Better a broken bone than a broken spirit” (quote from text below). Playgrounds have not always been the sterilized as they are now. The first adventure playgrounds were created in the 1940′s in Denmark and developed abroad few years later. Their principle is to include dirt and danger to a sufficient extent that children would enjoy themselves, as well as acquire a certain form of autonomy when not being overprotected. It is fairly obvious that children become the next generation of adults, and therefore will ultimately reflect the conditions of life they currently experience. Sterile playgrounds as the ones we currently know, will produce sterile individuals who, not only will found themselves totally unfit to any wild environment but, more simply and importantly, will never include playfulness in its culture.
The importance of lawsuits and safety in the Western world (especially in the United States) took over the importance of playfulness and creativity. The playground is the visible battlefield of this struggle and as, architect and/or parent or simply the older children that we all are, we need to act for that matter.
by James Trainor
in Cabinet Issue 45 Games Spring 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Twice during the last year, I had the great chance to stay over in Reversible Destiny‘s architectures. Along with good friends, we spent the last few days of 2011 at the Bioscleave House in Long Island, and more recently stayed over at the Mitaka Lofts in Tokyo. This is one thing to visit those architectures during the day (see my previous experience at the Bioscleave House through the interview with Madeline Gins), this is another one to actually stay there and therefore confront their uniqueness to our sense of domesticity.
The atypical dwelling that surprises you and amazes you at first becomes a terrain of habits in a second phase. Your body does not need to find its right spot and position anymore, it knows the few places in which it can form an adequate Architectural Body. Climbing a small “hill” to go to the bathroom or to the kitchen when you just woke up puts you in an interesting state of cautious somnambulism. Paradoxically, vision becomes less important in your understanding of space; or rather vision does not register anymore in a hierarchical scheme in which it commands the rest of the body, it becomes an equal part of the sharp awareness of the environment your body builds little by little. Moving in these architectures becomes a dance; not a ballet, of course, but rather something along the lines of Pina Bausch in which stumbling is part of a harmonious movement celebrating the living. Your body is both fragile and strengthen when confronted to the risk it continuously needs to response to. An understanding is always (re)negotiated between this liberated matter and your body which, in this regard, is one step closer to fathom its own material properties.
extracted from The Mechanisms of Meaning by Arakawa & Madeline Gins, New York: Abbeville Press, 1971.
Today’s guest writer is Russel Hughes who recently finished his dissertation, DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self at the RMIT (Melbourne) and, while waiting for its publication, gives us one of its chapter. In the latter, he introduces a philosophical interpretation of the work of artists/poets/philosophers/architects Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Russel starts his analysis from the paintings created in the 1960′s and 1970′s in order to shift later to their architectural sequels.
Arakawa and Gins’ Reversible Destiny has been the subjects of many of the articles published on the funambulist for the last two years (and there is at least one more coming up); I therefore decided to dedicate to it a category by itself so that it could be explored by anybody curious about it in an interesting way through the archives of the blog: CATEGORY ARAKAWA/GINS
DIY Biopolitics: The Deregulated Self (excerpt of the upcoming book)
by Russell Hughes
The Power of Architecture – photomontage by the author (2012)
Recently, I was lucky enough to be asked to write an article for the seventh issue of the Chilean journal SPAM and I decided to use this opportunity to articulate the clumsy addition of ideas that I started to touch on during June’s “Foucault’s week.” I hope that the following text, Foucault and Architecture: The encounter that never was, is therefore a good synthesis of the argument I was trying to explore: Despite what architects might usually think, Michel Foucault never truly engaged the problem of the political power of architecture but rather kept investigating the notion of diagram. When confronted to this observation, we might find interesting to keep a Foucauldian method to address architecture.
Foucault and Architecture: The encounter that never was
by Léopold Lambert
curated by SPAM
A certain amount of architects often refers to Michel Foucault’s work as an inspiration to their design or their theoretical interpretation of our societies. The concepts invoked are almost always the same, and it is not rare to find in an architecture text, the notions of panopticon, heterotopia and/or utopian body. The thesis that I would like to defend in this text does not consist so much in the demonstration of architects’ misunderstanding of Foucault’s concepts, but rather that those spatial notions constituted only the frail premises of what could have been the Foucauldian interpretation of space. The research work that he produced through the fastidious descriptions of mechanisms of power involved within the institutions helps us to determine the precision that such an interpretation requires. To be a Foucauldian architect does not therefore consists in the repetition of his theses, but rather in their extension to which should be applied the same cogency. As a matter of fact, the first thing that a Foucauldian architect needs to understand consists in the paradoxical fact that Foucault underestimated the power contained by architecture as such.
As I wrote in a previous post, I was lucky enough to be included in LOG 25 Reclaim Resi[lience]stance, edited by Cynthia Davidson and curated by François Roche. My essay consisted in a historical philosophical interpretation of the two very specific architectures that are the barricade and the tunnel. As said in the text, the title Abject Matter, is both communicating my will to read them through a materialist philosophy, as well as my questioning of the recurrent terminology of counter-insurgent strategies that tends to associate insurrections and social movements with filthiness and infection. I concluded my text with a short introduction to Gilbert Simondon’s concepts of form and matter, that I am hopeful to develop a bit more in the near future.
Abject Matter: The Barricade and the Tunnel
by Léopold Lambert
Seen through a materialist reading, the built environment can be a way of contextualizing political struggle. Architecture, as a modification of the material world, allows us to observe the political implications of such transformations. Whether intentionally or not, it has been recurrently used as an instrument of control upon bodies, and considering architecture’s ability to transgress a given system’s rules, the discipline seems inherently in collusion with this same system. Given this conundrum, is it possible to conceive of a resistive architecture? Two different operations on matter – aggregating and digging – can be seen as acts of creation toward two potentially resistive architectural typologies: the barricade and the tunnel.
Time Square on October 17th 2011 /// Photograph by Léopold Lambert
In March 2012, I wrote a text for my friend Lucas Issey Yoshinaga who was contributing to the Brazilian book Approach edited by Gustavo Utrabo, Juliano Monteiro, Pedro Duschenes & Hugo Loss. The other contributors ended up to be Graham Harman, Nannette Jackowski . Ricardo de Ostos & Bernardo Bento for a collection of five texts about our perception of the architectural discipline. I entitled mine Impetus, as a reflection on the current return of politics within the architectural discourse and education. This wondering/wandering was then based on the question on whether or not this new interest for politics was simply based on a opportunist trend or could potentially be crystallized and then engaged as a non-avoidable dimension of the architectural practice.
I recommend the reading of this very well made little bilingual (Portuguese & English) book that cultivates architecture’s sense of doubt about its role and action. The title, Approach, is a good indicator of its editors’ consideration for those texts which tries to avoid a peremptory tone to prefer a more dubious one. If you would like a copy you can write to mail(AT)alephzero.arq.br
by Léopold Lambert
In an old article about the notion of urbicide, I was introducing some ideas developed by Eyal Weizman in one of his lectures entitled Forensic Architecture. In the latter, he was calling for an approach of the international law based on architectural evidences. This approach corresponds to a current integration of building science in the practice of war, and therefore proposes its counter-weight in the frame of trials examining war crimes and other violations of the international legislation. Our era brings a very important amount of data that can serve the reconstitution of conflictual situations if they are interpreted by experts (in that case, engineers, architects etc.). Wars do not happen anymore in (battle)fields, but within cities and, most of the time, in the frame of asymmetric conflicts. It is logical that the same actors who builds the city are also the ones who can understand -if they decide that they want to understand- the use of the city made by the belligerents.
It turns out that Forensic Architecture is now a group of research hosted by the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths University (London). It involves many actors who work on different cases requiring their expertise. While some questions the current legislation about white phosphorus munitions, others reconstitute the ballistic of a tear gas grenade that tragically killed a Palestinian activist; some others are interested in the American drone attacks in Pakistan and the tragic regular shipwrecks between Libya and Europe.
This research council is extremely important when one is eager to consider it outside of the Academia in which it is hosted. It allows a whole new sort of forensic experts in a complex context for which traditional fields of expertise are not enough to solve crimes that are perpetuated in a very skilled knowledge of the international law’s weakness. Let’s not forget that in the current (civil or international) wars, the direct weapons that kill the most important amount of people are precisely the buildings themselves. One might say that buildings don’t get destroyed by themselves; however, the fact that ultimately it is the building that brings its inhabitants to die when it collapses is sufficiently appalling for architects to look very closely at this aspect of their field of knowledge.