A short reflection on how to continue the concept of autonomy within an architecture engaged with nature – from Kerb 19, RMIT’s journal.*
Thoughts on a Heap of Rubble [Kerb Journal, RMIT]
*I could have titled this essay: “some of my closest friends are vitalistic animists, but the work still makes me cranky”.
This year I am co-teaching the survey course in the history of architecture. In a previous gig (long ago), I taught a survey of the intellectual history (otherwise known as “theory”) of architecture from the Old Testament through to late-modern architectural writing. I still find it easier to talk about ideas versus things, but the survey is a great, worthy challenge and I’m in very good hands with my generous and very smart co-instructor and our dedicated assistant.
Last week it was my turn on the stage, and the subject was Mayan architecture. If you’re trained in the intellectual history of architecture the Mayan are a challenge. Not only has the writing system been translated very recently, but very little of that writing touches on the network of ideas that form their spatial outlook.
More to the point, reviewing various scripts for teaching and discussing the Maya, I’ve noticed a pronounced focus on what they ate. This focus on agriculture and diet also figures into discussions of virtually all Meso-American and other indigenous American architectural practices.
Standing on the stage, in the very beginnings of a lecture that touched on maize and chocolate, I had a moment, a simple thought, and a medium-watt lightbulb went off over my head: do we analyze the diets of the builders of carolingian or renaissance space? Do we ask what Alberti and his circle ate and drank? Within five seconds the history of architecture flashed before my eyes, and I realized that the subject of diet almost only figures in discussions of pre-historic western Europe or any architecture produced by a civilization composed of people of color. I stopped myself.
Diet of course is a b-line to tying civilizations down with NATURE and the processes of naturalization. And when we discuss diet, we tend to imply that there is a naturalized link between food and the fabrication of culture. Yes, maize and chocolate appear in Mayan imagery, in their art and architecture. But grapes and wine barrels figure in the art-work of many contemporaneous European movements, and I can’t recall anyone who shows imagery of medieval viticulture when analyzing Carolingian space; or claims that the cultivation of the vine led to the Palace complex at Aachen.
At that moment, I called for a moratorium on discussions of diet in our class until we can sort this out. And in subsequent lectures the issue has come up again and again, if only to make us better think about this enterprise of the history of architecture. I’m not saying diet cannot appear in the survey course, I’m only stating that the subject is unevenly distributed in our analysis of architectural history.
You can nerd-out on the recording (above) of the presentations at the recent event on the future of architectural history and theory at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. A terrific event, and it's amazing how quickly these things get posted.
Coverage of the event can be found here:
The event was organized by William Saunders and Timothy Hyde, who taught this interesting experimental history course on Philip Johnson
25 October 2011–1 April 2012
Canadian Centre for Architecture
1920, rue Baile, Montréal, Québec Canada H3H 2S6
T 514 939 7026
Open on Wednesday–Sunday, 11 am–6 pm; Thursday, 11 am–9 pm
The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA), Montréal presents Imperfect Health: the Medicalization of Architecture, on view in the main galleries from October 25, 2011 until April 1, 2012. Through a wide range of materials including photographs, publications, art and design projects alongside architectural models and drawings,Imperfect Health uncovers some of the uncertainties and contradictions in the idea of health and considers how architecture acknowledges, incorporates, and even affects contemporary health issues. The exhibition questions common understandings of “positive” and “negative” outcomes within the flux of research on and cultural conceptions of health.
At a time when health is a primary concern influencing social and political discourse across the globe, it also finds increasing resonance in an architectural debate that is becoming medicalized. However, much contemporary architecture, urban planning, and landscape design seem to uncritically address these issues, and may even look to health for a new mandate to be ambitious in familiar ways. This short-cut to restored relevancy has many side-effects, and it needs to be reconsidered.
Problems in everyday life are increasingly treated as medical issues and defined in medical terms. Within architecture, on the one hand, this medicalization largely takes two forms: on one hand, spaces themselves are being described with language such as “sick” or “healthy”; on the other hand, architecture increasingly incorporates solutions from the medical field to address issues of health. The exhibition includes projects and ideas with a range of programs—mostly non-medical—that nonetheless engage issues of health in ways that suggest new strategies and constitute an argument for the urgent demedicalization of architecture.
Modernist projects often saw a deterministic relationship between the environment and health; they tried to be curative, and their history of unexpected consequences is a one of the sources for the nuanced and more complex notions of health in some contemporary projects. Rather than aiming to eradicate or avoid negative factors, certain projects now actively incorporate such issues as dust, garbage, and disease management.
Many architects and designers understand the limits to what architecture can accomplish, acknowledging that efforts towards ideal solutions will achieve mixed results because of the inherent complexities and contradictions in architecture. As Machiavelli pointed out, “it is found in ordinary affairs that one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another.”
Thematic research has uncovered examples of projects related to health issues like allergies, asthma, cancer, obesity, epidemics, and aging. These are attractive targets in an age of anxiety for an abstract conception of health that transfers concepts between professional discourses fraught with their own contemporary ambiguities, and appears to restore architecture to a place of importance. But these projects ultimately face the resistance of an imperfect world. New strategies are required and some are already being attempted.
Could demedicalization restore architecture to a more appropriate relation with its social surroundings?
ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
Imperfect Health: the Medicalization of Architecture is curated by Mirko Zardini, CCA Executive Director and Chief Curator, and Giovanna Borasi, CCA Curator for Contemporary Architecture.
The continuous flow of long glass walls through the exhibition explores specific projects and research by an international group of artists, designers, and architects in relation to broader health issues including allergy and asthma, obesity and movement, cancer including its causes and treatment, disease and epidemics, and aging. Providing context and evidence of our preoccupation with these issues are studies, publications, television monitors, and photographs. Works from the CCA’s extensive collection alongside loans from other individuals and institutions collections include images by photographers Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Robert Burley, Lynn Cohen, Geoffrey James, Alfred Stieglitz, Ezra Stoller, among many others.
A book accompanying the exhibition and extending this research will be published in Spring 2012 by CCA with Lars Müller. Edited by Mirko Zardini and Giovanna Borasi, it includes essays by Carla Keirns, David Gissen, Hilary Sample, Linda Pollak, Deane Simpson, Margaret Campbell, Sarah Schrank, and Nan Ellin.
Alongside the exhibition, the CCA will host a number of special events and lectures aiming at framing a discourse on the spatial and physical implications related to health issues.
Imperfect Health: The Medicalization of Architecture
[check out my essay: "An Architectural Theory of Pollution" which is in the exhibition catalog, along with an image of the Pittsburgh Reconstruction.]
Last night I thought I would attend Occupy Oakland’s general assembly, being held every night at 7pm at Frank Ogawa Square. I’ve had numerous debates with friends and family about the protests, their effectiveness, aims, their white, homogenous, demographic make-up, among numerous other things. Certainly, the aims of the movement were opaque to me, but I believe in the affect of protest. A person might not know what he or she wants out of a protest, but they know something’s wrong, and by simply gathering together with others who are also agitated, collected, and simmering, they potentially clarify their own position in tandem with others.
Going to Occupy proved the theory. Once you get through the sprawling tent city – yes, of mostly white, middle-class kids – you enter into a collective area that reflects the diverse make-up of Oakland. The entire movement is much more diverse than I’ve been led to believe. Last evening the General Assembly introduced a number of speakers that addressed problems of race in and through the more general economic protest. Speakers also addressed the violent police dispersal of the square. That was my own, personal, and second motivation for coming to Occupy. The dispersal was meant to intimidate future gatherings in the square – by not attending the protest, we simply reinforce the municipality’s acts of intimidation. How could we stand for that? How could we not go down there to simply say with our own fragile physiques, that people belong in this space? Again, the affect of protest produces a more complex gathering of people.
One theme dominated the evening’s speeches (and this is why I’m posting this on a blog about architecture and history): Housing. Virtually every speaker demanded a right to housing – the economic crisis comes full-circle. Most speakers argued that housing provided a pathway to economic security, public safety, and a way out of the police/prison system that seems to gobble up the lives of working people of color in US cities. Several speakers depicted a contrast between being properly housed in their city versus a life of daily police intimidation or imprisonment – stuck in a jail outside of the city they call home. Speaker after speaker: Housing, housing, housing; autonomy from the policing of everyday life. A clear, easily intelligible demand: “house us,” and then stay out of the way: we can take care of our everyday lives.
As a professor in an architecture school I find that we often talk about housing as a problem to be solved, without discussing housing as a conduit that connects architecture to basic human rights. Housing is an urban problem in architecture schools, without a larger consideration of the problem of the city – again as a right. My impression after this evening is that our obligation in a design course on housing is to express a more basic foundation for housing. The presence of housing as a site of rights has not necessarily had its expressive due.
I couldn’t help but think of Aldo Rossi’s Gallaratese during the speeches. That great monument to opening up a line – a setting for life – in the city, but one that also acknowledges the sadness of living in a world in which states have to “supply” housing for its poorer classes. Within the Gallaratese Rossi built an architectural language for getting out of the way – a location for life versus the manipulation of peoples’ lives into a more overt symbol.
The discussion of housing at the Occupy protests also included a discussion of environment in the city: Today many architecture schools, architects and writers explore what we might term “extreme” environments. These activities address things like climate change, changing shorelines of cities, sea-level rise, and toxicity, among other things. Not my own area of specialization, but interesting stuff. I think of the activities of firms such as the Living or the Infranet Lab as being good examples of this type of work. But listening to these protests, you quickly realize that everyday life in the US has become an extreme environment. And this more everyday, extreme environment cannot be expressed in the languages that architects use to typically depict “environment” – fluid dynamics and network theories. It can’t be expressed in the language of science or architecture. But architecture can open up a space of environmental calm and, like Galleretese, express a bit of the melancholy in having to do this.
I hope you have the chance to attend one of these events; at the very least it will make you think. And after you leave, you feel this tremendous urge to go back, hatch plans, do work, and think some more.
Now the exhibition is being transformed into a book with Actar, and I’m thrilled that one of my contributions to the exhibition – the Florence image from Museums of the City – is front-and-center.
In addition to this book project, I also spoke about Museums of the City at a recent event on current architectural scholarship at Harvard. That event was co-organized by Timothy Hyde, Associate Professor at Harvard’s GSD and William Saunders, the editor of the Harvard Design Magazine.
Nicola Twilley interviews me about a little hobby of mine that turned into something far more serious; and things around here became a little stranger, when the article was picked up by The Atlantic.
I’ve added three essays to the side-bar at right. In all three I’m trying to shift contemporary discussions of landscape away from statistical (data-driven) ideas and more towards historical ones.
1. An afterword that appears in the new book Landform Building edited by Stan Allen and Marc McQuade
2. Another afterword for the latest issue of Spanish Architecture Journal, Quaderns — on the topic of infrastructure.
3. And the “middleword” (is that a term?) for Pamphlet Architecture 30, “Coupling” written and developed by Lateral Office.
I’m very happy to announce — and give a small preview of — my contribution to an upcoming exhibition curated by Geoff Manaugh for the Center for Art and Environment at the Nevada Museum of Art. Manaugh has developed the exhibition over the past two years, and it includes the work of architects, landscape architects, and artists, such as David Benjamin & Soo-in Yang (The Living), Mark Smout & Laura Allen (Smout Allen), Mason White & Lola Sheppard (Lateral Office), Chris Woebken, and Liam Young. I’m excited to participate, and I am even more excited that I am the one architectural historian invited to produce work for this exhibition.
Manaugh describes the exhibition — “Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices and Architectural Inventions” — as an exploration of how:
“planetary landscapes, and our perceptions of them, can be utterly transformed by technology and design. Specifically, it will investigate the shifting terrains of architectural invention, where the construction of new spatial devices on a variety of scales, from the inhabitable to the portable, can uncover previously inaccessible aspects of the built and natural environments. The devices on display—and the traces they reveal—will thus demonstrate that the landscape around us is like sheet music: an interpretive repository of bewildering variation that can be captured and made visible (even audible) through the perceptual instruments and recording devices that we invent.”
My contribution, titled “Museums of the City” investigates how the type of lights, vitrines, podia, stanchions, and scaffolds used to protect, maintain, and visualize historical objects within museums might migrate out into the city at large. I believe that what we understand to constitute material history is very often the “stuff” (art, objects, nature) that we carefully illuminate in a museum, prohibit people from touching in public space, place in controlled environments in archives, and conserve in often highly visible ways. To provide a simple comparative example, the difference in an American urban zoo between a parrot and a pigeon is very often that one is behind glass and one is not. Both are significant to natural and social history, but only one is imaged in this way, within this particular context. “Museums of the City” examines the potential power embedded in the architectural formations that make matter into objects of history, and how this can be turned into a more public, monumental, and external form.
Within four images we witness the repositioning of the inconspicuous interior architecture that one finds within a fine art, history, or natural history museum in the urban outdoors. Out in the city, we see these frameworks oriented towards a variety of important human made and natural urban landscapes. Surrounding these sites we see the type of spot-lit, vitrine-encased, light controlled, and scaffold laden environments that visualize and maintain important objects, protect them from people and time, and that situate them as opportunities for reflection. What matters as much as the sites I focus on in the city (urban rivers, highways, monuments, verdure), is the apparatus that transforms urban stuff into objects of our interest.
The exhibition opens on August 13, 2011 to February 12, 2012. I hope you can make the trip to Reno to see this and the other works on display.
The “Museums of the City” contribution was generously sponsored by the Nevada Museum of Art’s Center for the Art and Environment and the California College of the Arts Chalsty Fund.
A fantastic month here for experiments in history and theory — very fortunate for the generous support this work has received and I am happy to relay some recent adventures:
I recently returned from a trip to Malmo, Sweden for a series of lectures on nature, environment and history in architecture and landscape. One lecture was part of “Landscape Architecture Day” – an event organized by the students of SLU, in Alnarp. The talk was one of four presentations that included discussions of gender and landscape by geographer and SLU professor Kenneth Olwig, a Ranciere-inspired lecture on city, activism, and landscape by Maria Hellström Reimer, and a lecture by Danish landscape architect Ellen Marie Braae. The other event was sponsored by the FUSE group in Malmo (Future urban sustainable environments); that talk – on nature reconstruction – was paired with Per-Johann Dahl, a PhD student doing fascinating work on Los Angeles at UCLA. One of the highlights of this trip was the “Subnatural Dinner” that SLU student, Henrik Olsson hosted. We ate quite a bit of animal detritus, which required a combination of bravery and gluttony. If you haven’t had ox heart, it was delicious (at least in this particular incarnation) and a sensorial engagement with the subnatural.
This week I’ll travel to Australia for two lectures. One presentation will be given to a symposium sponsored by the National Institute of Experimental Arts at the University of New South Wales in Sydney: Materials, Objects, Environments This talk, on May, 19th continues a strand of exploration in post-Deleuzian/Latourian images and concepts of environment within architecture and cities. It’s about seeing an environment as a thing (in some Kantian sense), but also sans “flow”, sans naturalism, and it’s called “Reflux: From Environmental Flow to Environmental Object.” The second lecture, which the students behind Kerb journal generously helped arrange, will be in Melbourne, part of the Philosophy +Architecture lecture series at RMIT: “New Groundworks”.
In publishing news, an essay that I’m quite excited about (as it’s part of the topic of my next, future, manuscript project) – The Architectural Reconstruction of Nature – was just published in Landform Building (Lars Mueller Press). The book is edited by Stan Allen and Marc McQuade. It’s an important and gorgeous book that positions a specific architectural theoretical strand (what is clearly being staged at Princeton at this moment) within contemporary environment/nature debates. My essay is on the imagery of reconstruction within the landform idea and it forms one of two afterwords for this book. Grab a copy.
Finally, I just finished a new book manuscript – an attempt to marry urban, architectural, interior, and environmental history – via an analysis of around 10 rooms in one city during a very small time frame. This book is about six years of exhausting and intense work within a scattered group of archives. It’s an experiment in writing history; bringing architectural history into a dialogue with other academic/historical forms without it becoming a “socialized” (and weak) passive history of architecture in and against the city. it’s a book that frightens its own author (in a good way); and I’m very excited about its potential.
As an enthusiast and collector of wine, it was a great pleasure to finally see the SFMOMA exhibition “How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now”, conceived by curator, historian, and critic, Henry Urbach and with the exhibition design and curatorial collaboration of Diller/Scofidio, and Renfro. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen so many people spending so much time in a design and art exhibition, and that speaks to the seriousness of this exhibition. Before moving on to more heady material, let me just say that you should run to see this show; it’s only open a little longer and is one of the most provocative design exhibitions I’ve seen in a very long time.
“How Wine Became Modern” explores, in a series of large rooms, the design of modern wine as a historical, geographical, genealogical, spatial, and linguistic form. “Design” in the context of the exhibition does not necessarily describe the objects in the exhibition, as there are many works of art, but the mentality that rebuilds the ancient practice of making and drinking wine into a more modern activity.
The show begins with a very bold statement about the modernity of wine itself, via a room of art and objects exploring the history of the Paris Tasting of 1976. During the tasting, a panel of wine critics awarded two California wines (A Napa Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) over and above their French varietal equals (Chablis, Merseualt, and Bordeaux). The Paris Tasting supported some features of wine-making that were already in process: the ability of non-European wine makers to develop a robust economy around their wines; the questioning of wine’s excellence being determined by geography; wine critics’ new power in determining the significance of specific wines; and wine becoming a media sensation. It still is, as the movie Sideways and Bottle Shock made clear. For Urbach, the Paris Tasting, and its time, marks the moment when wine achieves its modernity. The event and its historical moment are inter-related.
So begins our journey into this transformation of wine, but the concept of what makes something or someone modern is a topic of endless fascination for all types of thinkers. And it’s not an easy topic to pin down. In recent years, historians have described modernity as a system of individuation (the emergence of the self and the sense of alienation), rationalization (the extension of science into everyday life), urbanization (the growth of cities), and industrialization (serialization and the proletarianization of populations). Ultimately, Modernity is a form of rupture with the self, past, land, and labor. An automobile is modern because it is a serial, mass-produced consumer object, made by laborers whose identity will never be known.
If we think of wine becoming modern, we might argue that this begins in the early 1930s with the French codification of wine into the appellation system (“a.o.c”). This is a modern response to the threats of industrial wine-making. Maybe it was 100 years earlier with Napoleon, who ended traditional relations between estates and vineyards. There are endless ways to skin this modern grape. I would argue that the SFMOMA exhibition is really about how wine became “late-modern” or even post-modern (but that makes a lousy title!).
The exhibition at times, touches on modern subjects like rationalization, labor, and industrialization, but it mostly emphasizes the globalization and, in particular, the mediation of wine. The Paris Tasting is the perfect support for this vision of modernity. As wine became globalized and mediated, it became free from geographical specificity (ie. French, Italian and Spanish winemaking) and the cultures that move through these places and activities. As wine becomes late-modern it becomes a free floating signifier; it can be made to mean anything and everything – way beyond geographical concepts. And it is in this relativist context that wine is “designed” to mean things both traditional and new.
This particular aspect of the power of modern society and thought is well illustrated in displays on the immense variety and clever design of wine glasses, carafes, wine labeling, and the additives that are placed into wine. Through these designs, wine emerges as something embodied with luxuriousness, danger, family virtues, and aristocratic vices. Discussions in the exhibition of language and criticism also engage with the underlying subtext of the show. Qualities that are repulsive in one context become desirable in wine through the power of criticism and critics. Wine is completely overwhelmed by semiology and language; it is not possible to have “wine” without words.
The photographs of Mitch Epstein, which are located throughout the galleries, examine the juxtapositions and imagery of global wine culture in a more spatial context. In one, a young blond women emerges from a large SUV in front of a California winery whose architecture evokes Persepolis. In another, nearby winery, the landscape is rendered more like an English Castle, and yet is filled with Tuscan verdure. Among such intense commentary on wine’s spatial imagery, the experiential, affectual architecture of Frank Gehry and Herzog and DeMeuron appears mute, perhaps intentionally so. But the models, nonetheless remind us of the monumentalization of wine through architecture.
Ultimately it was the display of a grafted American and French rootstock/grapevine, which looms over one gallery, that’s a signifier for all of the above, and it articulates the sense of wine being a hybrid thing, unmoored from its traditional foundations. Many vineyards in both the old-world and new have grafted vines like this. The American “root stock” which sits in the soil is disease resistant; the French grafted top, which holds the grapes reflects hundreds of years of fruit development. If this is what every vine is, then wine has become a kind of Frankenstein in its contemporary context. But lest you shed a tear for wine’s lost history (its former wholeness and purity) there’s no sentimentality in this exhibition. For the curator and designers, I get the sense that we’re on board the modern train, and full steam ahead.
All of the above things and images expanded on the exhibition’s curatorial framework, but I sensed some tension in the room on “terroir”. One might argue the show is haunted by this idea and the “return to terroir” among the most avant-garde of contemporary wine-makers. Terroir is a quality that wine has when grape varietals are grown to tie them to a particular geographical site. We experience terroir by tasting something in a wine (generally the soils’ content) that can only be tasted by a particular grape being grown in a particular location. 99% of the wines we Americans tend to drink lack this feature.
For terroir to be true to itself it cannot be a part of the larger discursive process that the exhibition examines. Thus, the efforts of Diller/Scofidio & Renfro to illustrate terroir with numerical data (of temperature, altitude, climate) speaks more to the designers’ efforts to link terroir to modernity than the actual underlying practices that surround terroir-driven wineries. I almost wish this room came at the end, as a form of commentary on how wine makers are struggling with wine in its current late- and post-modern moment. We can’t go back to a pre-modern society; we can’t go back to the earth itself, and yet there is a pronounced turn to ground wine in specific sites. But this is simply another symptom of looking for connections where no natural or communal ones are present. But because we’re modern, any fixity in the world has to be designed too; just like the things and images in this exhibition.
I’m impressed with two projects (one being built) in New York City that suggest less techno-scientific interpretations of material, visualization, and assemblage. The authors of these projects are new to me, but I think they relate to many of the attitudes I hoped to capture, historicize, and theorize in the Subnature book. We are intellectually connected; and that makes me quite happy.
The first project —”dig”— is being staged by the firm “Snarkitecture” at the Storefront for Art and Architecture. According to the authors, it employs excavation as a type of ontology of architectural production and narration:
“Dig explores the architecture of excavation. Storefront’s distinctive gallery space will be filled with a solid volume of EPS architectural foam, engulfing the existing interior in an unyielding flood of white. The volume will then be excavated using simple tools – hammers, picks and chisels – to transform a stock industrial material into a strange, unexpected cavern for both work and play”
Here we see a collective, labor-oriented theory of architectural construction outside the tectonics theorized by Frampton. One might argue that a firm as vanguard as Aranda/Lasch still clings to a 19th notion of tectonics in their digitally infused assemblages. But, “dig” is something all together different; and shows us a potential way out of dominant theories of construction, generally either neo-grec or phenomenological in mode.
The second project is the PS1 finalist entry by formlessfinder. Here we see the type of rubble and debris heaps explored in the book Subnature transformed into a meta-language for architecture (and the firm’s name obviously invokes the “formless” theory of Krauss and Bois, embedded in the Subnatural idea). I hesitate to say we witness debris piles becoming a formal structural language in this project, as the firm’s representations suggests the witnessing of the material in its various states – heaps, assemblages, scatterings. In other words no one formation of the debris is valorized over the others. We have a sense of debris for what it is – formless, historically evocative, brooding — but laced with myriad possibilities. Again, this is a construction outside a tectonic or techno-scientific sense of construction.
I’m a bit confused by PS1/MoMA’s selection of the winning project by Interboro (is it because one or two of the images of the above project evoke the work of Herzog deMeuron?). I know the management at PS1/MoMA must factor in many aspects in addition to the allure of a firm’s proposal representations. I imagine this project must have looked like a risky bet in comparison to the winner’s; nevertheless, I wish I was on the jury to agitate for this project!
For better or worse, this site continues to transform into more of a news site than a content-driven site (although news items often have commentary!). Having come clean, from now until the beginning of school next year I will participate in many excellent and (frankly) challenging projects and events. Here’s a sample of the more public ones:
January 13-16 (Center for Land Use Interpretation, Los Angeles): I will be participating in Geoff Manaugh’s/BldgBlog’s “Landscape Futures Super-Workshop”. Geoff Manaugh, who has a dean-like ability to manage complex events, describes the event here. Stay tuned to BldgBlog for information about the public event I will be participating in and that includes most of the workshop leaders and participants.
Pamphlet Architecture 30: Coupling: Strategies for Infrastructural Opportunism is the name of Mason White, Lola Sheppard, Neeraj Bhatia and Maya Przybylski’s exploration of infrastructure “as artificially maintained natural systems.” The book promises to offer a counterpoint to “a New Deal approach of massive engineering or iconic infrastructure, Coupling employs adaptable, responsive, small-scale interventions whose impacts are global in scale.” The authors generously commissioned a mid-word/intermission (if it’s not the forward or afterword, what do you call it?) from me for their pamphlet: It’s a frank assessment of the turn toward environment (versus space) and the embrace of geography (versus design) in recent architecture and all its promise and pitfalls. I truly appreciate them publishing a work that is more rumination than plug!
February 10th, University of Waterloo, Cambridge, Ontario: I’m thrilled to finally give my public lecture at the department of architecture, University of Waterloo (had to cancel last year). It will be on the positioning of ground as a historical construction (versus phenomenological expression or ecological instrument) in architecture, with numerous historical and contemporary examples.
February 12th, “Architecture is All Over,” OCAD, Toronto: I’ll be speaking at a conference at the Ontario College of Art and Design with a fantastic and ominous title — “Architecture is All Over”. The event is the second organized by Esther Choi and Marrikka Trotter as part of their “Work-book” series of events and publications
February 17th, “Thinking Big: Diagrams, Mediascapes and Megastructures”, Yale School of Architecture: I’m one of eight architects, theorists, historians and critics addressing the work of Kevin Roche within larger architectural historical and urban contexts. I’m particularly excited about this as I’ll be rolling out new material from my forthcoming book on New York City, crisis-era building environments — “Maintenance Architecture”.
April 13th, Department of Landscape Architecture, SLU-Alnarp, Alnarp, Sweden. I’ll be giving a keynote lecture for Landscape Architecture Day, a regional event in the Cophenhagen/Malmo area of Northern Europe that addresses landscape futures and pedagogy. The talk will be based around Subnature and some other recent work.
In addition to the above, I’ll update on various publications and other projects in the works. These latter things include writing on reconstructions of nature in architectural history, further reflections on space versus environment in contemporary architecture, and the frameworks of historical appearance in cities and landscapes. As the instigators of these projects and commissions move things along, I’ll be sure to update here.
Thanks for visiting and have a happy and healthy 2011.
I just returned from beautiful Princeton University where I gave a lecture with Minsuk Cho of Mass Studies at the School of Architecture. The lectures were part of a series curated by Amale Andraos and Dan Wood – principals of Work AC architects and professors at the school. Within their lecture series Andraos and Wood wish to cultivate a more expansive concept of “green”, and the list of speakers is terrific.
My talk (which is already posted on the Princeton SOA site) offered a bit of “brown” theory within the general green architectural discussion. I spoke about post-naturalist architecture (what that might be) and spent some time discussing the construction of ground as a historical site within several contemporary works of architecture. The work I presented raises many more questions than it answers, and one hopes that some ambitious student picks it all up and direct the themes more forcefully in and against our contemporary moment.
In other news I am extremely pleased that several images from this site are included in an exhibition in Toronto which will open in a few weeks. The exhibition “AIR” is curated by John Knechtel and it relates to an eponymous book he just published with MIT Press. Javier Arbona wrote an excellent essay in AIR that includes one of the exhibited images (a version published here).
Monday night, CCA will hold a mini-symposium for the recent Territory issue of AD; description of the event:
TERRITORY: ARCHITECTURE BEYOND ENVIRONMENT COLLOQUIUM
Monday, October 11, 7 pm
CCA San Francisco campus
Timken Lecture Hall
1111 Eighth Street (at 16th and Wisconsin)
Participants will include Peter Anderson, Javier Arbona, Ila Berman, Nicholas de Monchaux, Nataly Gattegno, David Gissen, Jason K. Johnson, Byron Kuth, Elizabeth Ranieri, Mitchell Schwarzer, and Craig Scott.
How can nature be remade with ideas, forms, and processes from the history and theory of architecture? How can nature be remade through urban design? What visions of ecology, technology, and performance have emerged? What is the future of architecture in relation to this evolution of nature?
Please join us in a discussion of ideas and provocations generated from the recent issue of Architectural Design, “Territory: Architecture Beyond Environment,” edited by David Gissen.
And, if you have access to the Journal of Architectural Education, check out a combined review of Subnature, The Infrastructural City, and the first few issues of New Geographies.
A positive review of the recent AD Territory, is a good excuse to further explore recent iterations of the “territory” concept and its relations to earlier ideas.
The theme of Territory appears to be moving through several publications these days, but with many different variations rooted in earlier uses of the term. For example, Foucault’s notion of territory as the site of state power (“governmentality”) is explored in the book Territories, Camps and Islands by the KunstWerk group out of Berlin. In this model territory takes on a Foucauldian (or Agamben) literalness, where territory equals the space of government in the “outland” of cities and nations. Here territory has a conspiratorial, vanguard nature. More architectural is Oase magazine’s recent theme issue devoted to Vittorio Gregotti’s notion of Territory. Gregotti’s mid-1960s concept emerged from the city/territory debates of post-war Italians (bits of it have been translated into English, here and here). Gregotti extended Ernesto Rogers concept of “preexisting conditions” and Rossi’s notion of the “Architecture of the City” to the regions surrounding expanding cities. Here Territory is the entire pre-existing realm in which human constructs must be situated (eg. notions of “site” or “place”) – like a vast geography made visible through architecture.
The idea of territory found in the Territory issue of AD certainly draws on the Foucauldian concept of territory as a site of management. But it’s closest to Antoine Picon’s concept of Territory, outlined in his book on 18th century French architects and engineers; and it relates a bit to Manuel Sola-Morales concept of Territory, outlined in his late-1970s issue of Lotus on the planned manipulation of the newly independent Catalonian territory (though still a bit related to Gregotti). Within Picon’s work in particular, territory is an active process (more than a thing or locale) in which nature is under a constant state of transformability via human constructions within and outside it. For Picon, this is achieved via a dialectical relation between objects and representations (eg. bridges and maps). This notion of territory as a representational and material project provides us with a less easily romanticized and ultimately more robust concept than many of its earlier iterations.
Oma exhibits its ongoing interrogation of preservation as urbanization at the 2010 Venice Biennale: Information here and here too.. Koolhaas’ writing on the subject (“Preservation is Overtaking Us”) can be found here. One of their first projects in this area – The Dutch Parliament Extension (1978) – is shown above. For those interested in this subject, Crimson Historians wrote a piece on OMA’s and others’ investigations of preservation/urbanization several years ago (the chapter “Re-Arch” in Too Blessed to Be Depressed), available here.
I was once a curator of architecture and design at the US’s one, dedicated architecture museum; but I have not curated an exhibition in over five years. Here are three exhibition ideas that I hope some ambitious curator will mount; I certainly would like to see these shows in the near future, and I think they could strike the right balance between being both intellectually challenging and bringing a public audience into the architectural history and theory discussion:
1. “Hilberseimer’s City” (Art Institute of Chicago, 2012)
An exhibition of the influence of the above image (High-Rise City, 1924) by Ludwig Hilberseimer on post-war architectural and urban design. The image is held by the Art Institute of Chicago Museum. Such an exhibition could begin by explaining the ideas behind this image, a bit on Hilberseimer’s career; but then demonstrate the rediscover of this image among a host of radical post-war architects. The above image was circulated by, and influenced the work of, Archizoom, Aldo Rossi, Superstudio, among others. The image continued to gain influence among architects such as OMA (in the 1970s) and the work of Eisenman Architects. Today this image finds its way into the concepts of neo-autonomists KGDVS, Productura, and Dogma Office. It would be a great exhibition that could span historical eras while positioning the Art Institute’s Hilberseimer collection as relevant to contemporary debates. Even better, it could bring the Hilberseimer discussion out of a simplistic “was Hilbs good or bad for the city?” type of argument, and display his work in a less literal light — as a representational project, rather than a purely projective one.
2. “Peter Eisenman (1967-),” Museum of Modern Art, 2015.
Why have we not had a great, big, American, Eisenman retrospective? I recently examined the Electa monograph on Eisenman; it’s a complete revelation. How difficult could it be to both translate this work into English and mount the corresponding exhibition in the US? Eisenman’s work deserves such expansive treatment. I would hope that this exhibition concentrates on the work from the late-1970s, almost all of which had such significant impact on both the visual language of architecture and architectural theory.
3. “Building Books” (Getty Center, LA; or Avery Library, or Fowler Library at Johns Hopkins), 2014
There have been a few interesting architecture “book” exhibitions in the past few years; but why not an enormous survey from the 15th century to the present? The importance of books to architecture would make for a fascinating exhibition and there are at least half-a-dozen people that could curate such an exhibition. Considering the many theory retrospective books out in the past ten years, it’s surprising that the corresponding exhibition has not ben staged. The trick here would be turning the exhibition of books into something interesting for a more general audience.
The issue of AD Territory that has just been published contains many provocative projects, photographs and drawings; but one of the best things about this issue are the essays – the writing. As this issue was taking shape, the editor of AD wrote me, stating that this issue contains some of the best writing that the staff has seen in any AD.
I put the issue together specifically with university courses in mind (as was the case with Subnature, as well). That is, many of the essays in this issue engage the types of debates within courses on contemporary architectural theory, “ecological” architecture and urbanism, history of cities, and urban design. Many of the essays in AD are mandatory additions to the syllabi of the types of courses mentioned above.
If you’re a teacher or student of the above, go grab a copy as you’re preparing your fall reading lists.