A contribution, a mini-review, a plug

As part of Glacier/Island/Storm I’d like to write about the “neutral” nature upon which the exceptional natures of the G.I.S. studio are based.

In other words, the world building, terraforming natures of GIS suggest a background of all those neutral natures that are unperformative, average, and boring: a dull grey sky, a sand dune, a border that just sits there. These neutral and boring natures are like the glass and stone box monolith towers that the dancing “parametric” towers always seem to hold as their referrent. The fantastical glaciers, curiously shifting territorial islands, and terrifying storms inversely invoke something like the following passage (from Thomas Mann’s novel Royal Highness):

“The time is noon on an ordinary weekday; the season of the year does not matter. the weather is fair to moderate. It is not raining, but the sky is not clear; it is uniform light gray, uninteresting and somber, and the street lies in a dull and sober light which robs it of all mystery, all individuality.”

Exciting stuff – no? And what’s curious, considering the mandate of the GIS studio, is that it’s virtually impossible to find an image that illustrates Mann’s sky on the web! Who would photograph such a sky and post it? The image below is the closest thing I could find.

It also might be interesting to note that the above passage by Mann- on weather, on nature, on a sky without qualities – kicked off Archizoom’s 1970 presentation of No-stop City in Casabella. As pointed out in Pier Vittorio Aureli’s excellent history (The Project of Autonomy), Archizoom wanted to present a city of with a “total absence of drama”, and a high degree of “abstraction”. Their urbanism, an intense parody of Archigram, might be useful as we witness the second (third?) round of recuperation of the British Group – now in the name of Nature, as much as Architecture.

Why bring all this up? In addition to fantastical natures built and invoked by architects today; it’s also time we set our sites to the average natures where real, actual power resides. Cities and governments spend far more time building invidious normal natures than weponized skies or creepy islands. That was the brilliance of Archizoom, in recognizing that the artifice should be directed in and through the boring, albeit in a purely architectural and urban scenario.

The closest thing I can come up with today that represents this project is the work of architect Philippe Rahm, who often, literally, tries to put visitors to his work asleep! Rahm, who works with air and climate as an architectural material rarely dabbles in the exceptional, except, occasionally to develop “monumental” atmospheres. One of his more interesting “neutral” natures is this 2004 proposal to create an eternal spring on an island in Austria. I imagine it may be one of the referrents for the projects shown on BldgBlog from Sean Lally’s studio and Energies journal. [Note: I’m not pointing this out as a gotcha; rather to show how ideas move through authors; including this one, who has reconfigured this particular project of Rahm’s for a future proposal]. Sean’s work is more about shaping complex programmatic space with architectural environment, while Rahm’s is more about inhabiting the climate as a given, as a re-presentation. In this particular project, Rahm proposes to harness the geothermal energy of the earth and electrical conduits to create an endless, and boring spring day in the forest – 70 degrees, 50 percent humidity. It’s like air-conditioning but on the terms of ecosystem.

Ultimately, this is where I think the “nature action” is. Not in Rahm’s work per se, certainly not in Archigram techno-nostalgia, but in this Mann-ian environment ennui. In the age of environmental reconfiguration, the real politic is within the constructed average, not the exceptional.

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