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.

Here’s the reading list from the experimental history course that I taught this past spring to CCA undergraduate students. You will see many people, concepts, and works discussed on this site.

In this seminar we explore recent forms of “experimental practice” in architectural, urban, and spatial history — considering the future possibilities of these methods. While all forms of architectural, urban and spatial historical inquiry involve some form of experimentation, this course explores methods, techniques, and media that force the history of spaces to appear in highly unconventional forms. “Experimental” spatial histories typically confront our expectations of history as a practice and often enable neglected aspects of a city’s history (eg. of particular people, things, or events) to take on a more visible and central role in urban life. In this sense, experimental history is like public history; however in using the term “experimental” we hope to emphasize the critical implications of unusual methods rather than their often mass-communicative capacities.

Recent experimental historical projects involve appropriations of the practice of historical reenactment (eg. Jeremy Deller’s “Battle of Orgreave” or or the PBS series “1900 House”), reconstructions of the ineffable matter of famous buildings (eg. Jorge Otero Pailos’ reconstruction of the odors of the Glass House); “counter-factual” histories that examine alternative pasts and presents of cities (eg. Crimson’s “What If?”); or acts of maintenance on historical spaces that enable us to consider how maintenance erases and preserves aspects of our collective past.

The course will entail readings, the viewing of television and film, and select site visits. Students are expected to write weekly critical responses and to develop an experimental history of a particular site in San Francisco that includes a substantial written component.

1. The Functions of History
*Friedrich Nietzsche “Uses and Abuses of History”
*Benjamin, Walter (1940) “On the Concept of History”*
*Lowenthal, David (1986) “Benefits and Burdens of the Past” in The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press): 35-73.

2. Reenactments
*Agnew, Lisa (2004) “Introduction: What is Reenactment?” in Criticism, 46.3: 327-339.
*Thompson, Nato (2006) “Ahistoric Essay” in Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History (Mass Moca): 12-25.

Case Studies
*Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave, 2002

*1900 House, BBC Documentary, 1999

3.Tours and Guides
*Kurgan, Laura (2002) “Around Ground Zero.” Grey Room, 7: 96-101.

*Davis, Felicia (2001) “Uncovering Places of Memory: Walking Tours of Manhattan” in Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race (New York: Princeton Architectural Press): 27-36

*Studio Beirut (2009) “My City” and “Over a Cup of Coffee” in Beyroutes (Rotterdam: Volume Magazine): 8-17.

Case Studies:
*Laura Kurgan, Around Ground Zero, 2002
(in Kurgan’s essay above)

*Beyroutes: Guide to Lebanon (2009)

*“After the Gold Rush,” Jeremy Deller, CCA, 2002

*Black Panther Tour
( )

4. Reconstructions
*Jorge Otero-Pailos (2008) “An Olfactory Reconstruction of Philip Johnson’s Glass House.” AA Files, 57.

Case Studies:
*Jorge Otero Pailos, Olfactory Reconstruction of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, 2008

*Philippe Rahm, Deterritorialised Milieus
( )

*Gissen, David, Air Conditioning Map and Pittsburgh Reconstruction
( )
( )

5. Preservations
*Rem Koolhaas, “Preservation is Overtaking Us” Future Anterior 1, no. 2 (2004).

*Michael Caratzas, Preservation of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, Future Anterior, 2002

Case Studies:
*OMA, Beijing Preservation, Beijing, China, 2003.
*OMA, Prada Store, Beijing, 2003.

*Diller-Scofidio + Renfro. Lincoln Center, 2009

*Michael Caratzas, Preservation of the Cross-Bronx Expressway, 2002

6. Projections
*Matthew Buckingham (2002) The Six Grandfathers, Paha Sapa, in the Year 592,002 C.E.” Cabinet Magazine, #7: 47-50.

*Crimson Historians, “What If?” in Too Blessed To Be Depressed (Rotterdam 2002); p. 57 – 64

Case Studies:
*Matthew Buckingham, The Six Grandfathers, 2002 in “The Six Grandfathers”

*Crimson Historians, “What If,” 1999

*Faulders Studio, Ray Dike, Rising Tides Competition, 2009
( )

7. Cleanings
*Sam Jacob (2002) “Architecture: Dirty Filthy Things” in Contemporary, 73.

*Otero Pailos, Jorge (2007) “Conservation Cleaning/Cleaning Conservation.” Future Anterior, IV(1): iii-viii

Case Studies:
*Carmen Perrin, Swiss Path: Cleaning of Boulders, 1991

*Jorge Otero Pailos, Ethics of Dust, 2008.

*Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, La Baiser/The Kiss, 2000

*Keller Easterling, “Subtraction,” Perspecta 34 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003) 80-93.

*Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman (2009) “Return to Nature”

Case Studies:
*Sandi Hilal, Alessandro Petti, Eyal Weizman. Oush Grab, 2008

*Manuel Herz, Open Air Café (or Café Aachener), 2005

AD’s 80 years

An event celebrating AD’s 80 years (part of the London Festival of Architecture) will be held tomorrow (June 29) at The Jarvis Suite, RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London. It’s quite exciting that our AD Territory issue is just out at this time, and coincides with this event.

Details about the event (snatched from the Sesquipedalist) below:

“For eight decades, Architectural Design (AD) has consistently been at the forefront of cultural thought and design. Provocative and inspirational, it has stimulated theoretical debate and technological advances internationally.

To celebrate its 80th anniversary, AD is gathering together significant architectural commentators and designers, and some of the greatest creative minds from its illustrious past and present, to bring you a day of fascinating architectural insights.

John Wiley & Sons, publisher of the AD titles, invite you to celebrate 80 Years of AD (1930-2010) on Tuesday 29 June, between 10am and 4.30pm at The Jarvis Suite RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London.

Helen Castle, editor of Architectural Design, said: ‘The event on 29th June is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate AD’s heritage and highlight the pivotal place that AD has had in the dissemination of ideas and cutting-edge design over the last 80 years.

“It has proved just as influential in the digital era as in the 60s with Archigram and the 70s and 80s with Post-Modernism. I am absolutely delighted by the calibre of speakers who have agreed to talk: Beatriz Colomina, Peter Murray, Sir Peter Cook, Charles Jencks, Neil Spiller, Mike Weinstock and Patrik Schumacher. We are, however, very much looking back in order to look forward – in true AD style. We are closing the afternoon with Professor Mark Burry on the future of ideas.”

Speakers at the event include:

The 60s, 70s and 80s
• Beatriz Colomina, Professor of Architecture and Founding Director of the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University: on the influence of AD and the small magazine in the 60s and 70s.
• Peter Murray, Chairman of Wordsearch, Chairman of the New London Architecture Centre and Founder Director of the London Festival of Architecture: Monica Pidgeon and AD in the 60s and 70s.
• Sir Peter Cook, architect and academic: Archigram and AD.
• Charles Jencks, architectural critic, author and landscape architect: AD, the Post-Modern Proponent.

The 90s, 00s and beyond
• Neil Spiller, Professor of Architecture and Digital Theory and the Vice-Dean at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London: Cyberspace and Hypersurface, AD in the 90s
• Michael Weinstock, Director of Research and Development and Director of the Emergent Technologies and Design programme at the Graduate School of the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London: Emergence, AD in the 2000s.
• Patrik Schumacher, partner at Zaha Hadid Architects, founding director at the AA Design Research Lab and Professor at the Institute for Experimental Architecture, Innsbruck University: the Parametric.
• Mark Burry, Innovation Professor of Architecture at RMIT University, Melbourne, and Executive Architect and Researcher for the Temple Sagrada Família in Barcelona: the future and the continuing importance of the dissemination of architectural ideas”

An image above of the ‘Clone’ chair ( Julian Mayor, 2005) next to an English side chair.
The chair was featured in the exhibition “Telling Tales” at the V&A; curator’s description below:
“The shape of this chair is broadly that of a mid 18th-century Dutch or English side chair. Using software, Julian Mayor mapped the shape to create a computerised design, and this controlled the saw that cut the layers of plywood. The result is an 18th-century form rendered using 21st-century means. Below is a comparison with an English chair of about 1740 (Museum no. 680:1-1890).”


My short essay on dankness from a recent issue of Domus is included in the “Essay” section at right. It’s essentially a super-condensed version of the chapter of the same name from Subnature. If this essay spurs someone’s interest, I would be most curious to see any visual reactions you may have to the “historical” proposal at the end of this particular version of the essay. It’s something I have been thinking about, but not necessarily sure what it would look like.

A professor of mine recently read Subnature, and reminded me of Hundertwasser’s “Mold Manifesto” and its absence from my study. What a huge oversight of mine. Hundertwasser’s 1950s critique of functionalism and architectural professionalism (included in Ulrich Conrad’s overview of Modernist writings) fits so well into the themes explored in the introduction of Subnature. Perhaps in some future revised edition, I will be able to include a chapter on “mould”.

Some relevant passages from the manifesto:

“When rust sets in on a razor blade, when a wall starts to get mouldy, when moss grows in a corner of a room, rounding its geometric angles, we should be glad because, together with the microbes and fungi, life is moving into the house and through this process we can more consciously become witnesses of architectural changes from which we have much to learn.

[…]In order to rescue functional architecture from its moral ruin, a decomposing solution should be poured over all those glass walls and smooth concrete surfaces, so the moulding process can set in.

It is time for industry to recognise its fundamental mission, which is to engage in creative

It is now the task of industry to engender in its specialists, engineers and doctors a feeling of moral responsibility towards moulding.

This moral responsibility towards creative moulding and critical weathering must already be established in education laws. Only the engineers and scientists who are capable of living in mould and producing mould creatively will be the masters of tomorrow. And only after creative moulding, from which we have much to learn, will a new and wonderful architecture come about.”

In typical American academic fashion, I’m writing about Marxist literature after experiencing new-found job security. It always struck me that the opposite phenomenon occurs for my British academic colleagues: There’s a certain unstated pressure on them to work within Marxian methodologies until promotion, and then, inevitably, come out of the academic closet as some type of Foucauldian, or (god forbid) a phenomenologist!

But all kidding aside, I would like to highly recommend three recent books that I recently finished that explore Marxism, architecture, and the city: Pier Vittorio Aureli’s The Project of Autonomy, Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism, and Tom McDonough’s The Situationists and the City.

In addition to their specific histories, all of these books provide us with a critical tool to evaluate the various modern and experimental revivals of the present. The latter often appear minus their politics — a technique of philosophical evacuation that US and UK architectural commentators and curators have been perfecting for almost seventy years. These books return us to the idea of an architectural agenda found within specific appearances or disappearances of architecture and urbanism.

Below are a few short (and admittedly rushed ) notes on each book:

The Project of Autonomy, Pier Vittorio Aureli

With the return of “autonomy” as a topic in contemporary architectural theory, it’s time that this idea and its relationship to Italian Marxism be more fully explored. After all, it’s within that context that the Kantian concept of “disentanglement” reached a type of disciplinary expression within architecture. The excellent, but frustratingly brief, The Project of Autonomy offers us a history of the autonomous turn, in a highly readable account of the often-difficult concepts of Italian Marxists Mario Tronti, Manfredo Tafuri, Aldo Rossi and the Archizoom group.

Of its many insights, this book begins to disarticulate the presumed and compact links between the architectural explorations of autonomy within late-modern Italian architecture, even as it establishes some new philosophical connections. In many English-language accounts of Italian architectural Marxism, the figures in Aureli’s book are often collapsed together (eg. Rossi and Tafuri) , or needlessly disentangled (eg. Tafuri and Archizoom). Aureli demonstrates the ultimately technocratic character of Tafuri’s concept of autonomy, relative to the more monumental route explored by Rossi. But he also demonstrates how Archizoom must be understood as an extension of a Marxian philosophy that extends back to the ideas of Tronti.

The real heroes of Aureli’s book emerge in the end with his analysis of Archizoom. Many American readers will also be surprised to learn of Archizoom’s radical Marxian agenda, which is rarely published with images of their projects in the States. Archizoom’s vast technocratic spaces based on supermarkets (of all things) were not odes to experimental consumerist contemporaries Archigram, but a ridicule of them. It is in these last analyses that Aureli’s book is such a timely and useful critical tool for the recent post-post-critical experimentalist turn in contemporary architecture.

Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism
Hatheley’s first book is not so much a work of history, as an impassioned call to ressurect modernism from its post-89 status as the dead language of inner urban redevelopment schemes. To conduct his utopian revival Hatherley offers us a rereading of post-war British Brutalism, Soviet Constructivism, Soviet and pre-war German film. Hatherley reminds us that the architectural projects that emerged from the pre and post-war avant-gardes were not illustrations of social concepts (as they might emerge in works of social history), but active agents in the constitution of their particular socio-political worlds. They represented, and still represent, a world yet to come. For Hatherley they are “science fiction” architectures of a red planet. But what’s key for Hatherley is that these things, particular the Constructivist projects, were made; they were built, and how they functioned as both built and now abandoned objects is significant for their future recovery.

An example of Hatherley’s “militant” historical re-reading of these modernisms is his interpretation of the raised street (“aerial walkway”) that appears briefly in Constructivism, but more forcefully in the work of Constant and then the Brutalists. You might recall that this particular practice of employing aerial walkways was aggressively attacked in the writings of many postmodern and reconstructivist urbanists. For them, the aerial street was anti-urban, encouraged crime, discouraged family life. But Hatherley returns the critique, writing that the aerial street was a protective gesture that wrested the increasingly commercialized space of “the street” from the “city”. The aerial street may be a form that discourages the reproduction of family life as we know it; it may lack commerce; it may be a space for the frightening “them”; but for Hatherley, that’s the point. Brutalism returned the street to its pre-modern role as a site for something more than circulation. This is just one example of his often original re-readings of architecture within the books first two (and most coherent) chapters.

Finally, Tom McDonough has edited an extraordinary collections of writings from the members of the Situationist International. Many of the essays in the volume are new translations by McDonough, and these include both the groups’ monumental essays and more incidental works that shed a more intimate light on the S.I.’s thoughts on the contemporary city. In this latter group is a letter by Debord to the editor of a London newspaper imploring the municipality not to destroy London’s Chinatown. Such work gives us a sense of SI as a practice, something often lacking in their fanciful and often implausable proposed urban scenrarios (eg. the famous proposal to gather the world’s urban monuments in the Sahara desert).

If you read the various manifestoes, letters, programs and outlines in full, you will notice an increasing radicalisation of the group towards Marxism and away from any earlier picturesque understanding of the city. By the time Debord, in particular, writes against urban spectacle, we understand how he has folded his thought almost completely into a Marxian dimension. Curiously, the earlier, more picturesque, writings of the SI have a remarkable resonance with the fantastical urban scenarios proposed on sites such as BldgBlog, Pruned or Mammoth. In some cases there are virtually identical propositions. But McDonough’s volume instructs us as to how these ideas can begin to take on a demand for the present, missing in most contemporary blogs that search for a less antagonist relationship to architectural and urban form.

McDonough’s introduction is critical to a contemporary understanding of the SI, and it expands on some themes from his essay “Metastructure: Experimental Utopia and Traumatic Memory in Constant’s New Babylon,” published in the journal Grey Room. In that piece and in the introduction to his volume, he argues that the Situationists were not attempting to critique the functionalism of CIAM architecture and urbanism, but were attempting to critique, and overcome, the practice of architecture and urbanism in its entirety. This idea has numerous implications. One, contemporary attempts to fold Situationist thought into architecture are ahistorical at best and an absurdity at worst. Two, recent critiques that demand that architecture move beyond a Situationist scenario also miss the ultimate point of the SI. Mcdonough’s introduction suggests that Situationism, architecture and urbanism are incompatible as a synthetic project. Rather Situationism, its practices and aspirations, is poised as a type of antithesis relative to architecture and urbanism.

If the above represents a self-inflected Marxist spatial practice, this presents challenges to the theses of any “Marxian” architecture, and to the other books, briefly described above. In other words, via McDonough, the old Engelian/Marxian motto provides the closing thought to any review of current Marxian architectural literature: there can be no class architecture, only a class critique of architecture.


The issue of Architectural Design that I guest-edited “Territory” is now published in the UK; it will be released in North America in early June. For a larger image and explanation, click the image above. In concert with Subnature, Territory will provide the reader with an overview of contemporary debates, methods and theories regarding architecture, architectural history, nature, and environment. It’s amazing that these two book-length studies on the architecture/environment interaction can be so completely different in terms of content, theories and methods and yet completely compatible philosophically and politically. If you want to get a sense of contemporary concepts (far outside the “green” discourse) consider purchasing both Subnature and Territory.

In other news, graduate students at the University of Berkeley stage the international conference “Spaces of History/Histories of Space” on April 30 – May 1 at the School of Architecture. I’m extremely pleased to be included among the list of invited speakers, which also include James Holston, Sylvia Lavin, and Edward Soja, among others. It should be an excellent investigation of new methods in utilizing history to push the spatial investigation of society forward. If you are in the Bay Area or nearby, I hope you can make it.

Running through archeology, the historical interpretation of buildings, the study of landscapes, and the explorations of new territories are images, traces, and the after-effects of scaffolds – skeletal structures within which to study some-thing.

Scaffold structures appear on buildings and sites under construction and as staging areas for repairs, but I’m interested in them as sites of study and exchange for what already exists – tools of historical understanding.

In fact, I am beginning to think that if there’s one form that articulates the space-quality of study or research it’s these images of scaffold-like structures laced over, across and within its particular objects of study. Scaffolds offer a potential subject for the experimental historian of architecture and cities.

These structures transform seemingly undifferentiated urban and natural sites into arena of study. They are far more than places that change city spaces into “data” or landscapes into history; I think it’s all much less abstract. Rather they foster a type of social exchange among people – a research chatter that occurs on top of a forest, against a brick wall, or within a pit in some desert.

They suggest something public, although we tend to think of research as a more secretive affair of researchers.

Running through images of certain scaffolders (eg. Yona Friedman, above) we see the scaffold transformed into a more public form. In other words, we might understand the utopian image of the urban scaffold structure (the 1960s efforts of Friedman, Metabolism, Constant, etc.) as sites of urban study instead of urban escape. After all, many of these images emerged when the city was arriving as an intense object of urban geographic study, particularly through the French school of human geography.

Perhaps the scaffolds of today can speak of a twenty-first century space of “study speak” that rivals the nineteenth century image of “culture (art) speak” that launched the public version of the museum.

For those that may be interested: Here’s a link to my latest attempt to think past “neo-materialism” , especially in its environmentalist form. This is part of Arcade’s special guest-edited journal on “Air” – curated by Kiel Moe. Additional articles by William Braham, Hillary Sample, Steven Moore, and Sean Lally flesh out the theme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The American entanglement with Roman ideas and aesthetics is a core aspect of the originality of the American imaginary. This extends back to the founding of the country and is curious, as the US was essentially founded as a disentanglement from an Empire. However as Caroline Winter notes below, the American Romanization was precisely about maintaining a notion of Nationhood that constantly debated and restructured the line between Republic and Empire. Today, like 200 years ago, Americans wonder: “Are we Rome?”; And, as she points out, this question is consistently asked within American history. As she notes Empires produce both violence and cosmopolitanism, as in the 19th Century experience of London, which swallowed the world into one city. The sense of tragedy and possibility still course through that city’s neighborhoods (Daltson, eg.) Today, after the imperial presidency of Bush – Americans ask again: are we an empire or a republic; in other words, if we are Rome, which Rome are we?

This question interests me generally, but I am more specifically interested in the other possibilities for auto-critique offered by the Rome/USA dualism, In a few projects I’ve been drawn to self-reflective recoveries of the Roman recovery itself.

For example, in an ongoing project on the reconstruction of the polluted atmospheres of past American cities, I turned to a Roman form – the “triumph” – to articulate a possible critical reconstruction/reenactment. The image and description below is for the proposed “Object for an Atmospheric Triumph.” It engages with a serious subject, but it’s supposed to be a bit funny:

“The famous “triumph” of Republican and Imperial Rome was a celebratory parade of the victorious and the vanquished. Through the eyes of contemporary historian Mary Beard, triumphs were teeming landscapes — of warriors, monumental objects, exotic animals, and material stretching through a city’s streets. Soldiers marched in progression and the cumulative material of the lands they conquered were paraded as well.

Cognizant of the militaristic and imperial origins of the triumph, the proposed Object for an Atmospheric Triumph nevertheless attempts an enthusiastic, yet critical, engagement with this urban landscape of victory. The Object for an Atmospheric Triumph is an installation consisting of a series of images of people parading a sizeable square helium balloon that displays images of American urban air in the 19th century and the deflated balloon itself. The balloon visualizes the smoky, sooty, coal-ridden air of American cities of the past; but in its absolute difference from our contemporary American atmosphere, the object marks the sublimation of this particular airborne environment in the United States.

The Object for an Atmospheric Triumph is a contemporary reminder of our victories over the disturbing atmospheres of the past. In viewing images of contemporaries celebrating the triumph over a former polluted atmosphere, it enables us to understand historical successes and relocates contemporary environmental crises within a more monumental/historical perspective. It also humorously transforms a militaristic spectacle over foreign lands into a more powerful call for future speculation and activity. “

We will see where this project goes. But moving along, the reconstructions of Roman reconstructions have captured many art practices. One other project in this category is Duke Riley’s Naumachia staged at the Queens Art Museum. Naumachia were Roman reconstructions of naval battles. Like Triumphs they were violent reconstructions of historical events that reflected the Imperial/Republican aspirations of the Roman state. Riley’s Naumachia is used in the classic (or “classical”) American form, as a touchstone of critical assessment. Riley asks:

“With America beset by two wars overseas and economic recession at home, Riley figured it was time to revive the debauchery of the Roman age. On Thursday, August 13, he will host a modern-day naumachia in a big reflecting pool near the Unisphere (the imposing globe sculpture) in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The spectacle will include lots of model ships and role-playing combatants waging war “with baguette swords and watermelon cannon balls.”

The video of the event is here, among many more on Youtube.

Triumphs, Naumachia’s, American Gladiators, the rise of Latin again and again, Rem Koolhaas’ recent reconstructions of Rome, this is an ongoing project deserving of a bit more serious attention. The future is almost invariably a reconstitution, as the neo-Archigrammian aesthetics of the present demonstrate. If that is so, if it’s always first as tragedy, then as farce, it’s time to grapple with the seriousness of the latter, farcical possibilities – albeit with some sense of what we are really doing. American self-consciousness has this twisted and fascinating link to the Roman – it’s not going to be about column orders – explore it.

Some Spring Events

If you are in the Toronto area, here are two events that may be of interest:

The conference, Architecture Therapeutics Aesthetics, organized by Rodolphe el-Khoury at the Daniels School of Architecture, University of Toronto, and the University of Waterloo, School of Architecture Spring lecture series, organized by Lola Sheppard on “Post-Natures” Poster below.

Hope to see you at either event.

Within a context of mass mediation, I think it is fair to say that many of the most enduring architectural images from the past ten years were violent, destructive, and profoundly somber. “Our” architectural, critical media concentrated as much on these sites as the so-called “star architecture” that many believe marked a vapid decade of architectural production. What follows is not a cheery post, by any means, and I refrain from using images, but it’s short, and ends with a thought that I hope… is hopeful.

The history of architecture in the “aughties” begins with the destruction of the World Trade Center. It does not begin with a building by a star architect, his/her museum, or pavilion. The anger of architecture critics at star architecture is like a late-19th century liberal who is angry at a factory building, without understanding the deeper tragedy that the factory illustrates. The tragedy of the aughties was that “tragedy” (the Benjaminian rubble heap of history) kept rising and architects simply did not have anything substantial to say [about a disciplinary relationship to tragedy].

If our architectural reflection on 9/11 was to be found in a tower, designed by a “deconstructivist” architect that was 1776 feet tall (did that deconstruct anything? did it make anyone cry, emote, or think about anything that happened on that site?), the destruction of New Orleans also displayed the current representational and techno-cratic limits of our discipline: A city’s core neighborhoods were essentially lost, and many architects responded with either a renewed and folksy “architecture for the poor” (a la Mockbee) or a new technification of architecture as an ecological and infrastructural system.

A 2005, “studio 360” online podcast debate over the future of New Orleans (avant-garde (Reed Kroloff) versus New Urbanist (Andres Duany)) appeared to miss the point. Architects and urbanists desperate to do something let the crisis of destruction come to the edge of architecture as it stood pre-crisis. Crisis – a state that might rework our disciplinary agenda did not enter the discipline in any enduring way. In the end, an artist, Paul Chan, staged one of the most poweful spatial events: He realized that by adding something disturbing on top of a place disturbed, he could offer some type of solace: Chan restaged Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in the city’s most battered ward; in the end Duany was on to something with “re-creation,” but for Duany “recreation” was measured in siding and walking distances. In many ways that earlier debate about the future were two sides of the same coin.

And we could go on about Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq (the lost mosques); and many did, sometimes in powerful ways, but mainly with a neo-Harveyesque or Davis-esque orthodox Marxist distance. It was as if all the smart and “radical” architects [writers, in particular] of the last decade were divided into the ecstatic and the angry! some subtlety of emotions was lost between those states of mind.

But firmly within our discipline, another destruction (the burning of the CCTV hotel) was to mark a new moment in architecture – “the end of starchitecture.” But as a brilliant review of twitter (in, of all places, the most recent issue of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians) makes clear, the endless twittering about the burning CCTV only affirmed the media techniques of starchitecture, the circulating of famous names and images. The constant twittering about Koolhaas’ end only increased his fame. It was the end of nothing.

Finally, we have the tragedy in Haiti. Already, architects “for humanity” (People: if you’re an architect, I really and truly hope you are (de facto) for humanity!) have explained the proper architectural response. Once again technocracy and simple representational ideas dominate the brief and recent discussion.

In the face of the literal and analogical rubble heap of the aughties, It is finally time to call out the “monument builders” of crisis. Lurking somewhere in our discipline are those that can make us think about these spaces and events without resorting to simple technological and representational schemes. A truly crisis-oriented architecture cannot be measured in feet: whether it’s “1776” feet tall; the walking distance to the local grocery store; the number “housed”; or even the length of barriers or territories settled.

A truly crisis-oriented architecture produces a complex array of thoughts and, if it can be measure at all, it’s in the number of tears for the lost ([and that which was lost] in all its meanings).

It’s about a historical, not a mathematical, effort.

Somehow missed this completely entertaining and useful exchange on Kazys Varnelis’ site. The original post by Varnelis, spawned a debate between different philosophies of architectural inquiry/writing, and was authored by several of the most-read architectural bloggers. Of course, the entire exchange would be characterized as “critique,” even when particular arguments are positioned against critical analysis. But that’s a minor detail.

Rethink the future

Calls for papers from editors of architectural history and theory journals are fascinating; it’s exciting to see what is considered issue-worthy. Unfortunately, in this blog’s current format, there’s not enough time to publicize all of these as they appear. Curiously, the publishing speed of blogs, aggregators, etc. are techniques that one might use to influence the thoughts of those that submit and edit these themed print-journals — yet another way the instantaneous world of online publishing might intersect with the slower and more considered speed of print.

That said, in the back of the current Future Anterior journal there appears a call for papers themed around the “Future”. The call is from MIT’s journal Thresholds – a great place for new and established writers to gain an academic audience.

A “Future” issue is important because we have clearly entered an era in which a certain type of futurism has overtaken virtually every facet of architectural thought – e.g. essays and blog post on sci-fi, abandoned futuristic cities, apocalyptic “near” futures; fantastical forms of futuristic weather nets (a la Star Trek), the urban underground, etc. But the Future issue could offer much more than a sample of the “best” of this type of architectural thought out there.

The future (as a type of method of thinking) is where the politics of the present are concretized into historical facts. This function of the future extends back to the nineteenth century, but its probably most intelligible in the late-1950s and 1960s.

For example, recall the futuristic fantasies of this time — homes were imaged as laced with fantastic technologies: women cooked in futuristic kitchens and vacuumed floors with futuristic devices; men read newspapers with techno-gadgetry. The whiz-bang gizmos of the future were exciting, but the domestic politics were of a particular conservative and class-based image. The devices spoke of the future and its objects of desire but they instantiated the gender-economies of the then-present as well. These were many of the defining and populist futuristic images of the time; played with by several key architectural writers and designers.

The future envisioned today is still bound by the same traps as the above; but the conservatism is much less obvious. If we focus on one type of image in particular – the apocalyptical imagery that imagines a future without a future, so to speak (without a functioning life as we know it, but nonetheless the future) we see similar problems taken to an entirely new scale.

The futuristic apocalypse, illustrated in contemporary films, images of abandoned Mcmansions or “art” images of the abandoned streets of downtown Manhattan or a flooded London, is another futurism of middle class life. (I’m not convinced that it’s some type of leninist apocalyptic brushing away of the world, despite some suggestions to the contrary.)

The current apocalyptical loss of a future that’s the future is the lost world of the contemporary city. It’s a twist on that famous Marxist adage that the ruling class mistakenly imagines the end of its world to be the end of the world. Nothing is a better illustration of this than the images circulating in contemporary architectural-culture in which the downfall of the current economy is imagined as the end of anything we might recognize as functioning urbanism.

If the future of popular media in the 1950s was one in which the home-economy must be maintained; the future of the latter is one that cannot be realized in anything other than apocalyptic form unless the operations of a particular political economy are maintained. That is… solid mortgages paid on time, a rising stock market, the steady supply and maintenance of natural resources.

It’s hard to believe that the photo-shopped images of futuristic flooded cities are solely about climate change or nature-city interfaces. Rather, they appear to also be illustrations of the “horror” of water as a non-resource, a non-commodity in either consumable or touristic form. They are not comments on Katrina; they are comments on the recession. After all, most of these appeared after 2008, not after 2005.

I think we can position a better use of the future for the future. Consider taking a shot at it in Thresholds. The call is not yet up, but having seen it in print, I assume it will be posted to their site soon.

And may we all have a happy and healthy 2010.

More posts in the coming year, and a much promised site redesign.

Thank you again for visiting this site.

For those of you in Europe or interested in the events circulating around the UN Climate Conference, the Royal Danish Academy of Art is hosting a symposium on the aesthetics of climate in architecture next week, December, 10th. Organized by Philippe Rahm, the conference “seeks to integrate the climatic mission of architecture not only as the purpose of contemporary architecture but also as the process.” Rahm asks “Can a new aesthetic be born out of our environmental awareness? Can space be inhabited like a climate? Can we envisage meteorological architecture?” I’m very happy to be one of the invited lecturers.

Following this event I’ll be speaking in a public event — an informal seminar on Subnature at UCL in London, December 14. The seminar is sponsored by the Bartlett’s HT wing and also the new UCL Urban Laboratory, headed by Matthew Gandy. Thus far, I’ve discussed the Subnature project solely in terms of its content and imagery; the London seminar will involve a more methodological discussion. Subnature came out of (more literally fell out of!) a PhD thesis conducted at UCL. In this context I want to position the book as a new type of “not-my-dissertation” book. This is a book composed of what was not ultimately used in a thesis, but that still emerged from the research spirals that entail doctoral-level research. Such an idea has a curious relation to the actual content in Subn — an idea explained in a bit more detail below.

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