Archive for October, 2009


Well, it appears that my essay “Architecture’s Geographic Turns”, a fairly straightforward critical overview of the history of geographical thought in architecture and its appearance in today’s various post-critical and research practices, has perturbed everyone.

Various research architect colleagues don’t appreciate it very much. They think of their work as marking a break with “architecture” proper, which in some ways is true. Therefore a history of cartographic imagery in architectural theory simplifies their work into a larger narrative. Admittedly, absorption is often an after-effect of narrative history. But, mind you, the historical information in my essay was based on secondary sources – by various authors also examining the reach of the geographical image in architecture.

In addition to the above, friendly email banter, a more biting piece of criticism — “In defense of design” (by Mark Foster Gage in Log, but available here online) attacked my essay and the type of work explored in my essay, calling it the “virus” that “mutated the red blood cells of architectural design”. If you thought architectural theories of aesthetic degeneracy were a thing of the distant past, you really need to read this essay! He understands research architecture as a pervasive and threatening influence in architecture schools. One would think the often difficult and critical work of an Eyal Weizman or Laura Kurgan was everywhere around us, threatening the architecture of “wonder” that Gage ultimately argues for. Anyway, it seems the author of this essay truly misunderstood my piece, which was ultimately a CRITICISM of research architecture practices, not a defense.

Finally, and ironically, the most recent criticism of Geographic Turns appeared from an editor who is publishing it in a collection of recent projects and theory writing. The editors of this particular publication asked if the criticisms of geographical imagery in architecture in the essay could be toned down, lest they offend those who map and diagram the environment.

So, you see the binds of writing subtle criticism: on the one hand you’re criticized for defending the thing you’ve actually criticized; and on the other you’re asked to soften your criticism.

“Architecture’s Geographic Turns,” which was great fun to write, ends with a proposition: What if architects stopped turning to geography as a source from which to interpret the world empirically, and instead projected concepts of architectural thought into cartographic worlds? In other words, what if they rewired the historical relation between these fields and architecture entered a new aestheto-cartographic narrative (recall Fredric Jameson argued for something similar at the end of his pomo essay).

Rather than answer that question (or the details of specific criticism) with an essay; I took on the above question in a more ambitious and total form: I just guest-edited an issue of AD that includes writings by some of my favorite geographers, historians and architects. In that issue, which will be out later next spring, we will see work that attempts to craft geographical “Territory” (versus site or autonomy) with architecture.

As always, once that issue is out, criticism is welcome.


Thanks, and more…

The CCA event was terrific. And thank you to everyone who came out — what a crowd! And thanks for buying so many copies of Subnature too (much appreciated). The best part about the lecture was explaining the historical concepts within the book to so many non-architects. I’m very excited about this book’s appearance at this particular moment of debate regarding cities and nature.

Up next, a lecture at the University California Santa Barbara where I hope to expand on some of the ideas from Subnature for a conference on “Design After Oil”. The event is sponsored by the UCSB Humanities Center — a research unit that’s generated some of the most interesting critical interpretations of contemporary culture. I look forward to that.

Following this, I’ll be speaking in Copenhagen about the book at an event sponsored by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art and the City of Nantes, given in concert with the UN Conference on Climate Change. Some terrific people are involved, so I’ll send along more about that as it develops.

Finally, the book Design Ecologies is out — a collection of essays on architecture and environment edited by Lisa Tilder and Beth Blostein. It contains my essay “Ape”, a reflection on, among many other things, 19th century street barricades in revolutionary Paris. Check it out.

Tonight at the California College of the Arts (CCA), I’ll be speaking about two recent projects of mine — the exhibition Anxious Climate (curated in 2005/2006) and the book Subnature. The former just opened at CCA (in the “nave” space); and the latter was just published by Princeton Architectural Press. The fun starts at 7:00p. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, please stop by.

A reading

Baudrillard Aspen
I just finished reading “Architecture and Techno-Utopia” (after having read many of the chapters in Grey Room); in one of the many excellent chapters, the author refers to — this brief lecture by Jean Baudrillard written in 1970. JB delivered this address — “The Environmental Witch Hunt” — at the Design and Environment Conference in Aspen (Baudrillard pictured above at left in attendance at the conference with Jean Aubert of Utopie). I recalled how I read a transcription/translation of the address about five years ago; and how significantly it influenced my thought on the architecture/environment interaction. Enjoy.