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I realize this may be a bit of a stretch, but if you’re in Paris this week please join me as I lead a very brief historical tour at the Place Vendôme (either Sunday, January 5 or Monday, January 6). The weather in Paris is very unpredictable right now, so please check on my twitter feed for the exact time.


The tour relates to a project I have been working on for several years – a reconstruction of a landscape built by the revolutionary Commune de Paris in 1871 in the Place Vendôme. You can read about the project here and here (Leopold Lambert of the Funambulist also wrote a few things about it that can be found here).

In May of 1871 the Commune demolished the Vendôme Column in an act of anti-war and anti-imperial protest. As part of the demolition, the Commune built a landscape — an enormous mound — in front of the column and used this landscape to mitigate the impact of this destruction on the surrounding plaza. The mound acted as a cushion that protected the surrounding plaza as the huge bronze and marble column came crashing down onto it. But all evidence of this landscape and the destruction of the column are long-gone. The column you see in the contemporary plaza is a reconstruction, finished after the Commune was brutally put down.

I’ll explain more about all of this during the tour, show you where and how the landscape was made, some of the other structures built by the commune in the plaza, how the column was brought down, how the landscape related to transformations in the political ecology of mid to late 19th century Paris (something that the geographer and architect Samuel Garcia is helping me discover), and why I think this landscape should have a significant role in commemorating the Commune and radical landscapes more generally.

The tour will be a way to learn more about the history of this important urban action, but equally important it will be photographed (by Fabrizio Amoroso) and included in an upcoming exhibition about the history of the mound and my efforts to reconstruct the mound at the Canadian Centre for Architecture this summer.

It would be great if you joined us, learned more about the history of the plaza, the radical activities that took place there, how urban landscapes (literally heaps of natural stuff) have taken on a more radical function in the history of cities, and how we might incorporate these marginal and sometimes radical landscapes into the contemporary experience of cities. Again, please check twitter for updates on exact times and potential date changes.


CCA’s Graduate Architecture Program in Design Theory Critical Practices is hosting the following symposium and exhibition. Here’s a link to the symposium site for more information.
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I’ve uploaded several recent publications in the sidebar at right; with additional links below.

History’s Apparatus [Interview in Landscape Futures, Actar]

City of Dust [Artforum]

Mound of Vendome [Abitare]

Thank you to Julian Rose of Artforum, Geoff Manaugh of BldgBlog and Giovanna Borasi of both Abitare and the Canadian Centre for Architecture for commissioning all of this material. This week we learned that both Giovanna and Joseph Grima (of Domus) will be leaving their editorial posts. I can’t imagine what type of writing and architecture culture we would have without cutting edge editors and curators willing to take some risks. I look forward to hearing about their next adventures.

Excited to receive the final design of the cover of my new book – available for pre-order.

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The following is for a contribution to an upcoming, group project on disability and architecture. Virtually every project or text on disability and architecture is envisioned in either a medical context or brings a medical sensibility to existing spaces. This has two important effects: This makes disability into something that is seen as a clinical condition versus a category of thought – a way of seeing and being seen in the world. This also has the curious effect of eliminating the presence of disability from a deep and longer engagement with history, particularly the history of architecture. Disability, while a modern term, is not a contemporary category absent from pre-modern life.

The official text and imagery follows. Thank you to Victor Hadjikyriacou for continuing to collaborate with me on these projects.

Reconstructing the Acropolis Ramp

David Gissen 2013 (renderings by Victor Hadjikyriacou)


The path to the summit of the Acropolis might be one of the most famous in the history of architecture. The arduous climb up a winding walkway has been written about by architects from Le Roy to Le Corbusier.

In the 19th century, various poets, artists and philosophers praised the difficult walk up as an act of personal and historical discovery. The acropolis ascent achieved its significance at this time because it embodied the aesthetics of Romanticism, which simultaneously celebrated the discovery of ruins and sensations of physical duress. The pressures of historical time and the lived time of a perceiving subject became conjoined.

In the 1950s the path was remade into a marble-stone lined walk by the Greek architect Dimitris Pikionis – a construction that related to the revived nationalistic ambitions of the post-war Greek state, rooted in a return to Hellenism.

Other, more minor paths have spun out of Pikionis’. Of these, the most recent is a special route for the disabled. Responding to repeated criticism of the inaccessibility of the site, the organization that oversees the the Acropolis built a wheelchair accessible path to the north that terminates in a modified construction elevator. The elevator accommodates one person and scales the side of the Acropolis, going up to the summit.

We would like to enter into this three-hundred year consideration of the Acropolis ascent by proposing another route to the top – a reconstruction of the original path to the top that existed here from the 6th century BC to the middle-ages. In the 6th century the government of Athens funded the construction of a massive ramp that connected the outlying areas of the Athenian Agora to the northwest to the top of the Acropolis. The original ramp was constructed of earth with large retaining walls to its north and south. The ramp, which is a significant object in transforming the Acropolis from a feudal bastion to a religious site, enabled the entirety of the polis to ascend the Acropolis. If we take surviving depictions of the processions to the top as evidence, we see elderly and very young joining a procession that includes people on horseback and in carriages. The now-destroyed ramp is  a significant aspect of the history of the Acropolis but unknown to virtually all who come to the site today.

If Pikionis route positioned a nationalist figure within this robust ascent, a possible remade Acropolis ramp represents the reconstruction of a different, but no less historically constituted public. In contrast to nationalism or romantic athleticism, we see the ramp as a reconstruction of different subjects, of a commons yet to be fully configured – one evocative of the origins of Western concepts of urban citizenry, city space, architecture and its history, but which simultaneously refers to more recent concerns of self-hood.



I have a perverse fascination with the darkest era of French wine history. In the 1850s, the vines planted throughout France began to die. This ecological collapse began in the Languedoc, spread to the Rhone, the South-west, Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux, and finally Champagne.

By the 1870s almost 50% of the vineyards planted in France in the 18th and 19th centuries were shriveled and browned. What was once productive wine-land looked more like a post-apocalyptic waste-land.  To our contemporary eyes, vast stretches of French wine country would appear chemically attacked or industrially poisoned.

The sudden collapse of these vines destroyed more than just the plants and the labors of farmers; it devastated an integrated rural economy and the first “golden age” of French wine.


Immediately before this ecological trauma, many of the French wines we prize today acquired their features, growing practices improved, and many French wine-makers were becoming wealthy from the large, international market for their wines. The collapse of the  vineyards ended this, and it fueled an exodus of people from the countryside to urban centers.

The death of the vines was a great mystery. Research centers were established in several French cities to examine the cause.

Eventually, 19th century scientists discovered that the vines fell victim to the appetites of a tiny insect, which they named phylloxera vastarix. This pest, which can only be seen under a magnifying glass, fed on the sap found in the roots of wine vines.

Phylloxera originated in the Eastern United States and traveled to Europe on American plant cuttings. Although phylloxera existed in the United States it did not kill US vines. Many indigenous vines in the US have thicker-barked roots; their roots are hardier. They resisted this pest, which more easily sank its teeth into the delicate and softer roots of French vines.

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Vine growers fought phylloxera with chemicals. But no poison could kill it, and the strongest poisons adulterated the soils of vineyards, compounding the damage. The insect continued to spread, and it destroyed vineyards in Germany, Italy and Eastern Europe.

In the late 19th century, agricultural scientists in France discovered that the best way to battle phylloxera and to save France’s viticultural heritage was to fabricate a plant from US and French vines. Theoretically the hardy American roots could be used as the support structure for the upper shoots of a French wine vine. The result was a “grafted” vine – American roots on the bottom, and French wine grape shoots attached to the root and growing out of its top.


Planting such a hybrid, almost Frankenstein-like plant must have been torturous for a 19th century French wine maker. They experienced a panic twice-over: the initial loss of their vineyards and their replacement with “American” root stock. American vines produced notoriously strange-tasting grapes. And French wine-makers must have wondered if the typical (and odd)  flavors of American vines would transmit into the French grape.

Despite these doubts, French wine-makers discovered that the fruit from grafted wines mostly tasted like the fruit from original, French root-stock wine. Some wine-makers, presumably with more sensitive palates (or with a more developed sense of nostalgia), insisted that there was a difference. For them, the new vines produced fruit that lacked the intensity of the original, solely French wines.

These new, phylloxera-resistant and “grafted” vines became the norm in France, and they remain the standard technique for planting vines. Today, virtually everything we drink – both in Europe and the United States – is made from grafted vines.

My fascination with this period was rekindled when I learned that a few French vines in Champagne had survived the phylloxera epidemic. Bollinger – a famous Champagne house – makes wine from its grapes. For the staggering price of $450 a bottle, one can taste wine made from very old “pre-phylloxera” French vines.

More recently, I learned that a small number of French winemakers have attempted to reconstruct 19th century vineyards with new and small plots of ungrafted vines. These latter vines,  planted in historically important French wine regions, are called “franc de pied”. They are a fascinating bio-historical reconstruction. The wine-makers that plant them believe that something was lost when French farmers began planting grafted vines over 100 years ago. They believe the original and pure French vines, planted in key terroirs, make fruit that tastes different. They want to coax a long-gone and historical flavor out of the soils of their vineyards.

Contemporary winemakers such as Bernard Baudry and Catherine and Pierre Breton plant these ungrafted vines into chalky soils. Such soil helps protect vines from phylloxera. But the risk of phylloxera  remains. The franc de pied plantings of the Chinon house Charles Jouguet died recently; the experimental vineyards  of Baudry and the Breton’s survive. But it is just a matter of time before they are claimed by phylloxera.

As part of my ongoing fascination with the above history, I hope to taste a few of these franc de pied wines. But I want to taste them alongside wines made from grafted vines from the same vineyard. Arranging this is not easy. To taste the difference, everything must be identical – soils, vintage, and the techniques used to transform grapes into wine. Franc de Pied wines from famous producers such as Baudry and Breton are not very expensive, but they are rare.

And while I am excited to try these wines, I don’t think we can taste history. I don’t think we can simply know how wine tasted pre-phylloxera. The soils, wine-making, and our sense of taste are different than 150 years ago. Nevertheless, I admire these small efforts at reconstruction, and by tasting these wines I explore my own fascination with this earlier period of wine-making.


The latest attempts to reconstruct vineyards before the great plague of the 19th century are explorations that acknowledge historical loss. Much more than wine vines disappeared in the 1850s and 1870s. As the vineyards died, numerous French cities industrialized, France was at war with the German states, and cities underwent numerous socio-political revolutions.

The death of the vineyards was an aspect of a larger historical arc. The planting of franc de pied are one of many attempts to rebuild history; to try to reconstruct something that was lost. These new landscapes acknowledge the difficulty of engaging with historical change and the impossibility, but very real desire, to recapture the past.

Because these ungrafted vines will eventually die from phylloxera, they also bring wine makers in touch with the original sense of anxiety, but on a much smaller scale. They dare history as much as they rebuild it.

I will be sure to update this post after trying these wines.

[Thank you to Jay Latham for directing me to some interesting information on the above; some key points are from an article by Peter Liem; a quick conversation with Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants filled in some blanks. Apologies for an earlier mis-labeling of franc de pied as franc et pied – copy editing (spaced) error on my part. The history of phylloxera can be found in numerous books, most recently, Paul Lukacs’ Inventing Wine. All photographic images are from the collections of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France]

I just came across this experimental history project titled “Re: enact” by Cerys Wilson and Tag Team Studio in Montreal.

This is one of  a series of four imagined events to be staged at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.They explore how the public programs and curatorial efforts of museums become opportunities for experiments and re-workings of these platforms. The full description can be found here.


For ten more days, those in the San Francisco Bay Area can see the Mound of Vendôme installation, part of the exhibition Temporary Structures – curated by Glen Helfand and Cydney Payton. I wrote earlier posts about the exhibition. But here are some great photos taken by the gallery staff.





I always thought it was strange that musicians, athletes, and fiction writers spend so much time thanking their fans. Of course, I can imagine how appreciative these people must be of fans and their desire to thank them for their patronage.  But I think most of us in academia don’t think of our work as having “fans” in the same way as people with more populist careers. It seems so alien – a fan…What is that?

We work as hard as anyone to connect our work to a larger audience, but anything resembling audience response is almost always lacking. Authors of academic books are lucky to get a few reviews (in journals with a very small readership); we almost never know if our essays and articles are read by students; we can follow sales of our work on Amazon (I think the highest I’ve ever hit is 5000 with a less academic book, very early in my career). And in all of these things one’s work is read, debated, and discussed with a critical eye. There’s really very little adoration.

It might be crude for me to thank those people who downloaded or linked to the stuff on this site (a record number this year), or who invited me to lecture at their institutions (a lot of awesome ones this past year), or have discussed things on here in seminars or lecture courses (I don’t have figures on this). But I am thankful. I still think it would be strange to call anyone who did any of those things a fan. *We* don’t have those. But I want to give anyone who read, linked or reached out a big and uncritical thanks anyway.


Our project, The Mound of Vendôme was just featured as part of Abitare’s issue on re-enactment in architecture – shown above.*  I make visual projects so rarely (about one per year), and therefore – as you can imagine – such things rarely get published in the “official” architectural press, so this is an exciting moment. The Abitare section on re-enactment also contains brief but interesting writings by Jorge Otero Pailos and Giovanna Borasi, who is the chief editor of the magazine, as well as a provocative  project by Diener and Diener.

The installation version of the Mound (discussed in another post), which is part of the Temporary Structures exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute (“SFAI”), was recently reviewed here, here and here. It is a very difficult project to photograph (something we are working on). So, if you’re in San Francisco, I hope you have a chance to see it at SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries.

Finally, I’m currently in the process of turning the project on the Mound into an hour-long lecture for several upcoming talks. This lecture will be part-history lecture (as if you’re in a survey course), part experimental history lecture, and part I-don’t-know-what. But I’m completely fascinated by the once-popular technique of presenting one, and only one, project as part of a formal lecture (Eisenman’s 1976 House X lectures were one of the more well-known of these single-project lectures, and the inspiration). I have no idea how to keep an audience’s attention for so long on one project; especially as this is so different from many of today’s lecture-series lectures:  painfully monographic, idea-free hurricanes of images of twenty or more projects. We will see how this more alternative format goes.

*incidentally, re-enactment in architecture also happens to be the subject of an upcoming exhibition on the history of New York which completely passed me by.

My New Book!

I’m happy to announce that my next book has been approved for publication with the University of Minnesota Press. It’s far along and will be released in 2013. This book- provisionally titled Manhattan Atmosphere: Architectural Environments and the Urban Crisis – was a very long time in the making. It began as a dissertation proposal, transformed over the years, and sat in a drawer while I wrote another book. Below is a brief description (developed in a different context) that describes the book.

Manhattan Atmospheres is set within the “crisis” years of New York City – roughly mid-1960s to mid-1980s – and uses this period to reconsider the relationship of architecture to the socio-natural history of the city. This moment within New York’s history has long been a source of study to better understand the disintegration of the socio-natural systems that bound this city together. This city’s great park networks, sanitarian and reformist projects of light and air and water networks of the 19th century, the public works and networks of the mid-20th century all appear to become denigrated physically and financially. Images of flooded streets from burst water-mains, blackened air, collapsed highways, blighted public spaces, landscapes of burning buildings and sickened trees typify our understanding of the built and natural landscapes of Manhattan between the 1960s and 1980s. This era has become a source of interest as the harsh economic policies of this time and place are repeated in contemporary cities and the last of the gritty sites that emerged during this time become developed. During this period, the grandeur of the City’s socio-natural project appears to sputter, becoming a shadow, nonetheless continuing in sites of urban activism, occupations of desolate landscapes and an eventual preservationist attitude.

As visceral as this image of the city is, and as important as the responses to it were, the following book advances a different argument. The socio-natural project of New York City also continued during this time, but within the interior environments of the City’s monumental late-modern architecture. There, behind tinted and mirrored glass, the vaporous cooled and warmed atmosphere of post-war architecture became far more than a site of internalized human comfort. If earlier socio-natural structures and systems supported the City’s industrial economies and subjects, the environments generated within the City’s architecture during this time invoked a far different political economic future and a far more complex urban and somatic effect. These atmospheric environments entangled with efforts to reconfigure the socio-natural “environment” more generally within the city – a shift impacting the demographics of neighborhoods, reconstructions of urban verdure, conservation efforts for cultural artifacts in historic museums, and post-industrial forms of labor and subjectivity.

The environments developed within the buildings of restructuring New York City were some of the most politicized forms of nature found in the city; but we lack an urban history of these spaces – one that explains how this environment entangled with and reinforced the discursive and material structures that stitched together this city and its imagined future. These environments must be understood as both a transmogrification of urban nature and architecture in the city that furthered the goals of late-modern global urbanity. This book provides us with some necessary historical perspective to reconsider this environment’s ascendant role, its relation to the history of late-modern urban architecture, and how it intersects with our contemporary economic order.

I’ll send out additional updates as the book nears publication.

What began as a blog about experimental forms of architectural historical production is increasingly taking on the structure of an office – lots of commissions (visual and written), teams working on those commissions with various technical expertise from rendering to translation, and friends chipping in at the last minute to help realize projects on shoe-string budgets.

What is most striking to me about this new and more expansive and collaborative way of working is that I increasingly use the term “we” to describe the realization and ideas behind these projects and commissions. It’s quite a shift from the pronouns most historians use to describe their work; a monographic architectural history book can have eight pages of acknowledgements of the various archivists, collaborators and friends who helped make the book possible, but the idea of sole-authorship permeates it and often the conclusion of the acknowledgement section asserts the individual authorship of the work. That is not the case with the projects staged here.

Last year, we realized the Museums of the City project, which marked a shift in the seriousness of the experimental projects that interest us; and this year, we have been commissioned to transform the Mound of Vendome into an installation. This is for a very interesting and large exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute — “Temporary Structures” – that opens in mid-September. The curators — Glen Helfand and Cydney Payton — wrote that the exhibition “explore[s] the allure of temporary architecture—the form of the pavilion—as a site of human interaction, spectacle, and fun.” I am very excited to see what other artists and conceptualists stage in this exhibition.

Our installation of the Mound takes its cues from a historian’s work-place – that mix of objects, texts, primary and secondary source material, and mementoes that litter our desks; but in this installation such a space is abstracted and recast as the workplace of some mad-anarchistic and experimental historian of architecture (That image below, is Richard Burton playing Trotsky, but look at the desk and you get the idea). What you will see assembled on this ersatz-work space is the plotting of the mound’s realization – a model, a petition, historical images, mementoes, etc.

The various components of its pieces will be finished in the upcoming weeks, but here are a few photographs of some of the elements. The column model that you see below (with its miraculous wood turning) is the work of CCA Graduate student Lawrence Davidson, and the photographs in the Place Vendome — of petitioning for the mound’s reconstruction — were generously staged and taken by some of my favorite young French architects, Nicolas Dorval-Bory and Raphael Betillon. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. In exploring the mound and images of the toppling of Vendôme, we may now hold one of the largest historical collections of Vendome mound etchings – a few of which will be shown as well. Another CCA graduate student, Alix Daugin provided the translation of the project’s petition and Victor Hadjikyriacou (who rendered the Museums of the City) rendered the project in its first form.

In the field of preservation, few subjects challenge the discipline as much as landscape preservation. Historic preservation is a field that thrives on stabilization – of the literal materials that compose buildings, historical appearances, and development.

Landscapes – because they are composed of the social and natural – cannot be easily contained within the preservation mind-set. The overseers of Versailles, as one of many examples, “preserved” the landscape by continually replanting the trees in the gardens. I believe the “historical” trees at the contemporary versailles are the fourth planting. The first planting died in the 18th century; the second in the beginning of the 19th, and the last at the end of the 19th. We view a 17th and early 18th century landscape composed of 20th century foliage.

Recently, some of the most important owners and managers of the vineyards of Burgundy applied for the entire Cote d’Or, one of the most significant wine growing areas of the world, to attain World Heritage Status. I’m certain they will succeed. But the call to preserve such an immense and functioning landscape will certainly challenge the preservation discipline.

Rem Koolhaas famously joked that we would eventually extend our obsession with heritage to the preservation of the moon. But the moon is a much simpler landscape. We don’t live there, and we don’t continuously develop its resources. It’s not a site of labor.

Below is an appeal for Burgundy’s world heritage status by the vigneron/manager Aubert de Villaine. I’m curious what you think about this? It could make for a fascinating architecture studio.

Dear Friends:

Burgundy is currently federated around an ambitious project: the inscription of the Côtes de Beaune, the Côtes de Nuits and the towns of Dijon and Beaune on the World Heritage List.

Nowhere in the world a wine region has chosen with such stubborness and success to make the link between wine and its place of origin, creating a unique mosaic of climats which includes some of the most famous names in the world: Chambertin, Romanée-Conti, Clos de Vougeot, Montrachet, Corton, Musigny…..

For 2000 years, this land has been tended with constant care. Coupled with a constant search for excellence, it has shaped landscapes, built cabotes (stone huts), wine cellars, churches, etc..

Associated with the towns of Dijon and Beaune, which are the historic centres of political, economic and cultural power, the “climats” du vignoble de Bourgogne are a unique living “museum” of expertise and tradition.

Our candidacy has already overcome the first and most important step: we have been selected by the French government and will be presented to the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO.

However, to be included on the World Heritage list is not yet guaranteed. The 21 member states sitting on the World Heritage Committee must now be convinced of the exceptional and universal character of the “climats” of Burgundy.

As you know, recognition will not be achieved without the support of all concerned: from residents of Burgundy to citizens of the world, every one of us has a share in these exceptional landscapes.

We have more than 43 000 supporters now; you too, can play an active role. Support our application. Simply go to our website and click “Participate”.

Thank you for your support,
Aubert de VILLAINE

For the past 18 months I have developed an interest in wine – particularly what are termed “natural wines”. This approach emphasizes expressing the features of the vineyard sites where grapes are grown with minimal intervention in the grapes’ fermentation.

I tasted a bottle of French, vin natural for the first time in November of 2011, and I can safely say that it changed what I thought wine was or could be. In ways, that only my closest friends know, that experience also changed my life – a big, but accurate, proclamation.

I often want to write about the experience of exploring this subject, the new friends with whom I share this interest, and the merchants and winemakers who make the most interesting bottles available. Despite my neophyte status, I hold many opinions about the ideas that circulate through contemporary wine culture.

In the end, one reason I want to write this post is that exploring wine reaffirms my core beliefs about the inter-relationships between writing, cities, nature, perception and perception’s relationship to criticism. What sometimes troubles me is that these core beliefs are often at odds with the rhetoric, beliefs and statements that surround contemporary wine culture. Since exploring wine, I often argue more than I drink! These arguments include modest debates about whether wine is agricultural or urban, the formation of sense, among other issues.

So, if you are a fanatic, as I’ve become, or want to learn a little more about this subject, let me leave you with three beliefs that I hold. These are somewhat controversial; I have some of my biggest arguments concerning these issues; but I think these potentially make wine a more surprising and interesting experience.

1. Wine is language as much as liquid

It’s impossible to have a direct and unmediated experience of the liquid in a bottle of wine. In the most obvious way, a bottle always comes with writing on it – from the label to the back label (with the importer’s name) to the price. All of these things impact experience and it is something to be embraced. There are no pure experiences of wine and no experiences of it outside language. If we taste “blind” (not knowing the maker or grape of a particular bottle), someone still introduced the – now mysterious – beverage to us, and we drank it within some context. All of these things inform our thoughts.

More significantly, almost every modern wine-maker produces a “cuvée” in response to modern criticism. My favorite wine writer – Alice Feiring – brilliantly acknowledged and critiqued this phenomenon. Her first book examined how modern wine criticism generated a negative effect on production. Wine-makers increasingly manipulated the liquid fermenting in their barrels to appeal to the palates of a small handful of critics. But instead of denouncing criticism itself, she inserted her own form of critique – calling for a less interventionist (what she and others call a “natural”) approach.

Today, natural wines are, in fact, highly mediated; the people who make them responsed to the writings of a diverse group including Feiring, the theories of Jules Chauvet, Fukuoka, bloggers, and others. Some of these makers – such as Eric Texier – respond to historical writings on long-lost wines – such as his amazing Brezemes. They essentially reconstruct taste-experiences that they never, and can never taste. But writing (from the 18th and 19th centuries) drives their own efforts to reconstruct vineyards and practices of long ago.

What’s the ultimate point about language and wine? The more language we insert into the already language-filled world of wine the richer it becomes — less a thing in a bottle and more of a phenomenon. It would be interesting to see new forms of writing intersect with new forms of production.

But in terms of everyday experience, when we explore wine with friends, we might consider grabbing some bottles that make people speak. Arguing, talking, and reading forms core aspects of “seriously” drinking wine. Bring the computer, phone, ipad, and examine where something you enjoy is sold, who drinks it, where it circulates. The less purely we try to interpret wine, the more original the language we bring to the experience, the more interesting for all of us.

2. We don’t have wine palates; we always have someone else’s palate.

Because wine circulates within a context of criticism, writing and mediation, none of us truly develops our own palate. Critics use the term “palate” to describe one’s perception of wine and the overall quality of one’s ability to taste. Many people claim that to appreciate wine, we need to develop our own palate, but I don’t think we should so earnestly develop our own palate. Any one desiring to learn, needs to taste, drink and remember what he or she tasted to better understand it. But I don’t feel we should put all the responsibility on ourselves.

Instead, think about it this way: we need to find palates that inspire us. And when we do find the inspirational palate…take, steal, and/or grab that palate and run with it. Over the past 18 months I have immersed myself in the palates of the wine writer Alice Feiring, the importers Kermit Lynch, Joe Dressner, Guillaume Gerard and Cory Cartwright, Return to Terroir, distributors Jay Latham and Rachel Goldman, and the wine director Greg Borden. Many of these people have some pretty amazing palates. In the case of Feiring and Lynch, I read their writings, bought bottles they wrote about, and tried to taste in ways that they did. Whatever palate I have is simply a mash-up of their ideas and others (including blogger-friends like these guys). Their “expert” palates are mash-ups of people that they read and drank with too. No one has their own palate.

3. Wine is urban.

Because wine is mediated with such intense pastoralism (images of vines and rural cellars), many people believe that knowledge about it is contained in the countryside. To learn more, we almost instinctively believe that we must travel to a vineyard or a winery. But I think we should also consider moving in an opposite direction: In whatever way we can, we should go more deeply into the city and urban experience.

In the most simple sense, expand the possibility of visiting an urban wine bar or a wine shop. For me, photographs of chalkboards in bars and shops (or the endless lists of wines on a menu) are as educational as photographs of the soil in a vineyard in Chablis. The chalkboard demonstrates fascinating and complex inter-relationships, compromises, the local culture. And the person who took that photo of the vineyard in Chablis, first fell in love with Chablis, and really understood Chablis, talking to someone at a shop or bar. I “discovered” wine talking to a staff person at a restaurant about their wine. It was the person and the context.

But the urbanity of wine is more complex – a historical and contemporary phenomenon. Vineyards were planted by people from cities, growing grapes for people in cities. Most wine today is consumed in cities. Of course it is made by someone – a wine-maker – but that person is not some romantic loner. Rather, they are part of a complex social and economic network that ties them, and their labor, in a reciprocal relationship to the life of cities.

The city is almost always left out of discussions of wine-making. If you understand or want to understand wine as a more purely agro-technical phenomenon, then you should go to the vineyard (I some times travel to vineyards). But if you simply want to understand wine less technically, or expand your notion of what it is and could be, your time’s as well-spent in the city.

So, in the end, after the longest post I’ve written in months, I wish you all an urban, language-filled experience of wine in which you read, steal, and become intensely influenced by each other’s opinions and ideas about wine. Santé

Part of the Pratt journal, Tarp “Not Nature”; read this short essay on Monumental Environments, and at right in the publications section

The Canadian Centre for Architecture continues to be one of the most exciting and experimental venues for architectural curatorial practices. The exhibitions staged there push the boundaries of how we understand architectural exhibitions, from both a content and methodological perspective. Here is an opportunity to add to that experimental project – an open call for young curators-to-be.



This semester has offered some excellent opportunities to travel and discuss recent work appearing on this site, including a symposium organized at the University of California, Berkeley on architecture, environment and technology, and recent lectures at the University of Toronto, University of Buffalo (overwhelming grandeur in this 19th century city) and the University of British Columbia. The latter has a clip of the Mound of Vendome.

In two weeks it’s off to the Harvard GSD’s Cambridge Talks, and in the summer I’ll be conducting seminars both at the The City as Project program (Berlage Institute) and at the CCA, Montreal — the latter on “subnature” as part of their “toolkit” program on contemporary architectural concepts. It will be very exciting to discuss and debate ideas with the faculty, curators, and students at these institutions – all of whom do work that is some of the most cutting-edge today (If you haven’t seen the Imperfect Catalog for the CCA, Montreal exhibition of the same name, check it out. Not only are there great essays and images in the book, but the whole enterprise has an intensely original curatorial spirit.). If you’re in any of these places, please come to these interesting events and introduce yourself.

And exciting news: Subnature has been reprinted by Princeton Architectural Press and will be in stock again very soon at Amazon.

Work on the Mound of Vendôme proposal continues. I’ve been working with Victor Hadjikyraciou – the same renderer from Museums of the City – to develop renderings of the project. These are shown below.

If you’re unfamiliar with the project, more information can be found here and here. I’ve been traveling both nationally and internationally talking about this project and passing around the project petition. We have hundreds of signatures from an exciting mix of interesting architecture students and some of my favorite architects, architectural historians and writers.

(Initial sketch above, 2012. Recent images)


DATE: February 18, 2012

TO: Mr. Jacques Monthioux,
Director of Heritage and Architecture, City of Paris

FROM: David Gissen, Associate Professor, CCA

RE: Rebuild the Mound of Vendôme

In May of 1871, members of the Commune de Paris voted to destroy the Vendôme Column – a towering symbol of Napoleonic military might and triumph. In preparation for the demolition, the Communards built a mound of hay, sand, and urban detritus along the ground, directly in front of the column. The mound protected the windows and walls of the neighboring buildings from vibrations as the column was toppled and pulled to the ground.

Following the column’s reconstruction in 1873, various groups have called for the Vendôme Column to be destroyed again. But instead of destroying this rebuilt monument once more, we ask that another reconstruction join the reconstructed column: We, the undersigned, ask that the Mound of Vendôme be rebuilt in the plaza to commemorate the historical and radical events of 1871. The mound is a symbol of revolution and the column’s destruction, but it is also a symbol of the Communard’s interest in urban care, preservation, and the future of their city. It should be built again.



DATE : 18 Février 2012

Á : Mr. Jacques Monthioux,
Directeur du Patrimoine et de l’Architecture, La Ville de Paris

DE : David Gissen, Associate Professor, CCA

SUJET : Reconstuire le monticule de la Place Vendôme

En Mai 1871, les membres de la Commune de Paris ont voté de détruire la colonne Vendôme – un symbole dominant de la puissance et du triomphe militaire napoléonien. En préparation de la démolition, les Communards ont construit un monticule compose de foin, sable et de détritus urbains le long de la chaussée, juste en face de la colonne. Ce monticule a protégé les fenêtres et les murs des bâtiments voisins des vibrations dues a la demolition de la colonne.

Après la reconstruction de la colonne en 1873, plusieurs groupes  de diverses tendances ont demandé a nouveau de mettre a bas la colonne Vendôme. Mais au lieu de re-détruire ce monument qui vient d’etre remonte, nous demandons, simplement, que le monticule soit restore. Nous, les soussignés, demandons que le monticule de Vendôme soit reconstruit sur la place pour commémorer les événements radicaux historiques de 1871. La butte est un symbole de la révolution et de la destruction de la colonne, mais elle est aussi un symbole des valeurs du Communard en matière de soin urbain, la préservation et l’avenir de leur ville. Cette monticule devrait être construite à nouveau. *

*Translation, Alix Daguin

New Look

Priming this site for winter/spring writing – stay tuned