Surfing – 1

A few days ago I looked at new posts on some of the most popular architecture blogs, and I left wondering why the overall mood of these blogs is so consistent when the particular content of them is not? Why does it seem that posts on subjects as different as military landscapes, tunnels, or moving buildings come through the same pair of eyes, the same mind? The people that write on these subjects are terrific writers, but why the flattening of the overall methodology? I don’t think we can definitively state that one of these writers influenced the other; although some of them might see it that way. I think there is something more interesting happening.

surfer

I considered how these sites are viewed and how their authors often assemble their particular imagery. I focused on the term “surfing” as uncovering the structure that ties their aesthetic and methods together. In focusing on this term, I am inspired by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s observation that “surfing” is one of the operative metaphors for late-modern experience. He wrote this well before “surfing the web” became a common phrase in the late-1990s. Deleuze’s point was that the surfer was immersed in a situation without beginnings or ends – a situation in which one was surrounded by terrain. For Deleuze the surfer was a method to absorb the world.  But we can also add that the surfer represents a type of intellectual production process in which the disparities of data become assembled into a whole. The surfer moves between disparate situations in place.

surfing1

banham-2

Of course “surfing” architectural thinkers predate contemporary architecture blogs. If we look at the work of Reyner Banham in relation to contemporary architecture blogs we see aesthetic similarities; and this is no accident. With Banham we see the beginnings of the HTC surfer. In his television show “Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles” (images above), Banham transformed an automobile into a method through which the architecture of a city might be experienced. Banham “surfed” or more accurately “cruised” the city as a historian/theorist. And if you look at the images filmed through the windshield of Banham’s car they are similar to those that appear in our screens as we read contemporary architectural bloggers. And this includes  the images of enormous technological landscapes, the use of interviews, roundtables (in his car), and the constant appearance of Banham.

surfer_atlas

We might argue that surfing is more than just navigating the continuum. Surfing is also about navigating a landscape in such a way that the particular tensions that make that landscape less than whole disappear (as in the surfing diagram above by Reiser+Umemoto).  Surfing lulls us into thinking that technology, nature and human subjectivity form some type of well-articulated entirety enacted through the desires and prowess of the surfer him or herself. Surfing makes us abandon methodological self-reflection for the thrill of the continuum. And this I think is the danger of the surf aesthetic, because the spaces navigated by Banham and the architectural bloggers are spaces that are less than whole. They are filled with tensions that cannot appear when surfed.

There are only a handful of architecture blogs that drop this surfer image; it is time that we encouraged some more. In upcoming posts I’ll revisit some themes below and redirect them to the issues above.

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  1. Michael

    As a surfer I’ve never understood how the shallow, piecemeal, and diversionary act of following links and ads through the structures of the internet is likened to surfing. It is very physical, primal and pure when it’s good – almost religious and healing to many – primarily personal, but with a communal vibe as well.
    The web bouncing is closer to the act of the boulevardier or flaneur, don’t you think? Observing and criticizing, occasionally leaving a couple of bon mots before racing off to the next car crash or event. Cruising indeed!

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts.

  2. dlgissen

    Michael: Thanks for visiting and happy new year. I am not particularly good at being a flaneur-type; (To a fault) I like to research to death those potential destinations I may see when strolling or traveling. And, I suppose, I also look at the same four websites over and over (that are truly distinct from each other). So I would not know if jumping from site-to-site on the web is similar to boulevardiering. Although based on my knowledge of the familiar flaneur readings, I think you’re right; and yes, it’s great to be on the other side — the shopkeeper, or stroller, who receives a few bon mots!

  3. dlgissen

    Michael: Thanks for visiting and happy new year. I am not particularly good at being a flaneur-type; (To a fault) I like to research to death those potential destinations I may see when strolling or traveling. And, I suppose, I also look at the same four websites over and over (that are truly distinct from each other). So I would not know if jumping from site-to-site on the web is similar to boulevardiering. Although based on my knowledge of the familiar flaneur readings, I think you’re right; and yes, it’s great to be on the other side — the shopkeeper, or stroller, who receives a few bon mots!

  1. 1 https://htcexperiments.org/2008/11/21/surfing-1/ « magicarpets

    […] January 28, 2012Uncategorized Leave a Comment […]




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