When I was putting Subnature together (btw, latest extremely thoughtful, interesting review here), lurking in the back of my mind was the critique of Manfredo Tafuri against “operative criticism”. Subnature, provocatively (if not dangerously) tries to form some contemporary rapprochement with the blend of history, theory and criticism, that Tafuri would ultimately label “operative”. Tafuri was suspicious of histories that naturalized (or reified) the present; that is, a history that makes the present appear as inevitable. The “operative” aspect of operative criticism is the alignment of history with criticism of contemporary work — alignment is the key concern.

Many historians utilized Tafuri’s critique to open a new path in historical work — a disentanglement of history from the concerns of contemporary practice (what might be termed an “autonomous” historical project). In some practices this led to a new freedom and intense criticality in historical inquiry, and in others a type of anti-design, micro historical form of writing. Curiously, autonomous history often contained more oblique entanglements with practice: For example, many “autonomous” historians practice architecture, so the remnants of operative history are replaced by practice itself. Within these practices, the connections between history and practice are more abstract, but they’re there to be identified by historians in the future! More directly, Tafuri himself promoted architects such as Rossi or Gregotti, just not within his actual historical work; he even protested (successfully) the construction of certain buildings; so in practice, he was deeply involved in the realization of contemporary architecture. The above forms of contemporary engagement are certainly not “operative” but they nonetheless keep the historian within contemporary practice debates.

Many of the experimental works on this site, by myself and others, seek out new “operations” for history within practice, keeping the misalignments (that mark critical, autonomous history) in place. But within Subnature, I thought I would butt up against that operative edge (I often find unsaid rules to be the most irritating). In many of the chapters, I attempted to replace the tissues (“practice” or “architecture”) that once held history, theory and criticism together with geographical methods. That is, by performatively identifying certain forms of matter — dankness, debris, etc. — lurking within the writing and imagery that form history, theory, and criticism, I could momentarily hold dispersed forms of inquiry together. I think the “Debris” chapter is the most successful in this regard. And a few other chapters show how history, theory and criticism can be briefly aligned in a type of architectural inquiry that deserves continued exploration and enhancement — a discursive architectural geography that I hope to pick up in future projects.


Critics part 3

Ronald Rael, the author of Earth Architecture, and someone who is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary architects and theorists, wrote some very nice words about Subnature. Among his thoughts, he wrote that “[t]he book is not about fashionable topics surrounding sustainability and ecology. With chapters on smoke, dankness, debris, exhaust, weeds and other counter-architectural conditions, Gissen seeks to expand one’s perception of truly alternative materials in a positively original way.”

I’m appreciating all of the great reviews; but I wonder if the dazzling and weird contemporary projects in the book overwhelm some of the textual arguments (particularly those in the beginning and conclusion) that are key to an understanding of the subnatural.

For example, at a recent lecture someone asked how Subnature intersected with earlier ideas about abjection or modernity. This book is not a return to alterity via the ejected and gross; it’s a concept of nature that’s ultimately less binary, and more subversive and unwieldy: nor is the book simply about ironic inversions of nature. One of the things I appreciate about Subnature is how it appears in various social liberatory movements (from the debris piled into a revolutionary’s street barricades to forms of post-national expression, as in the Niemeyer and de Paor projects linked above); it is afunctional (it cannot be appropriated into buildings instrumentally, except with enormous distress) and it’s also a type of nature laced with social history. Unlike a tree, the subnatural mud (that, for example, a critic such as Rael describes so well), will always appear historically mediated in ways that more normative forms of nature cannot. These ideas of social agitation, anti-instrumentality, and history, make my idea of subnature laced with Marxist and various post-structural concepts; it not an easy way to see nature; but it’s key and makes the reader’s absorption into the ideas of this book rewarding. Consider bringing this book into your thought world.

Critics, part 2

“Gissen’s book is a timely and important text in shifting our attitudes towards more holistic, interdependent, and pluralistic views of nature”-A daily dose of architecture (John Hill)

In case you missed a Daily Dose of Architecture’s review of Subnature, it’s a genuinely thoughtful review. It’s interesting that Hill sees Subnature as part of a broader concept of sustainability. This comment came up again at a recent lecture about the book. I more than welcome those interested in sustainability to find something in this book that extends the arguments of an earlier book such as Big and Green. I’m not certain that the technical aspects of sustainability are entirely compatible with the representational and historical problems of Subnature, but I welcome the effort to provide another rapproachement here. That’s an interesting thought project.

I just returned from the University of California Santa Barbara’s Humanities Center event on environmentalist thought in architecture (where I spoke about the Subn) — a very enjoyable group of speakers and locale. In particular, the work of Kennedy Violich Architecture (KVarch), presented by Sheila Kennedy, demonstrates how certain fundamental architectural theoretical concerns (at their most raw) can be absorbed into an environmentalist practice. The constant turn to the Semperian dressing/scaffold concept in their work, as the site for an environmentalist expression, is extremely intriguing. And, if that particular concept was not played out in project after project, this firm often literally works with textiles in metabolized forms. It’s just another example of how the technology/autonomy divide may be morphing into something else right now, via a qualified return to 19th century theoretical conceptions.


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.

Subnature on Amazon

This post spins out of a talk I gave recently; a question I dodged a bit at the end of the talk; and considering it’s content, it’s also a great way to celebrate this site’s first anniversary!

I often wonder how architectural reconstructions can serve an agitational role in contemporary architectural, urban and infrastructural debates. This is an old question for me; in fact, the very first “experimental historical” project I ever attempted explored the possibility of agitational reconstructions.

Reconstructions, strictly defined in this architectural historical context, are primarily drawn visualizations of the buildings of antiquity — eg. drawings of temples (example above), basilicas, baths. Renaissance architects drew many of the first architectural reconstructions — primarily focusing on those buildings designed by the ancient Roman engineer Marcus P. Vitruvius, of which no surviving remnants remain. In particular, architectural writers of the Renaissance and late-Renaissance explored the possible appearance of Virtuvius’ “Basilica at Fano”. Below, are some of the many images drawn of one of Virtuvius’ only known designs. The first pair are pulled from this article about Fano reconstructions.
These types of reconstructions of no longer extant buildings extended to structures of biblical origin, most notably the Tower of Babel and Solomon’s Temple. An excellent book by Stanley Tigerman (The Architecture of Exile) compiles almost all known architectural reconstructions of the Solomonic Temple.

Within early modernity (1750-1850), reconstructions became more explicitly active components of an architectural theory. The reconstructions of Greek antiquities, in particular those by LeRoy, Stuart and Revett (above), Labrouste, Schinkel, Botticher, and Semper, were intense reflections on key architectural debates. Issues such as structural expression, contour, light, ornament and polychromy, reflected in various reconstructions, touched on concepts regarding the foundations of architectural knowledge.


If all of this sounds peripheral to a more direct architectural history, just consider that Labrouste was paraded by his fellow classmates for his highly personal interpretation of the Paestum Temples (above). Within his reconstructions Labrouste advanced the Temples as part of robust secular society, a radical interpretation of classicism and one that drove many of his own original architectural explorations.

campus martius

But perhaps the most radical of these early modern architectural reconstructions was the Camp of Mars (Campus Martius, above) reconstruction undertaken by Piranesi. Manfredo Tafuri argues that Piranesi’s “reconstruction” is in fact a denial of the ability to understand the constructs of the city through any rational lens. We can see this reconstruction as aimed against many of those (mentioned above) that attempt to use an archeological knowledge in the name of rationality.

Architectural reconstructions as forms of historical reflection on contemporary architectural problems appear to have dwindled within the modern books and manifestoes that comprise modern architectural theory. Sure, there’s an image of a reconstructed hut or tent here or there; and there’s no denying that such works were important illustrations of core aspects of architectural thought. But these latter constructs (stretching from Semper to LC) lacked any specificity; they were all speculation (all theory), minus a more direct form of historical visualization.


Reconstructions reemerged more recently — in various neo-classical work and neo-modern work. For example, Leon Krier reconstructed Pliny’s Villa Laurentium in 1982 as a way to revive neo-classical concepts within a neo-classical practice. His reconstruction referred back to the reconstruction of Schinkel’s; it was a way to tie methods and style together in what was then, a startling embrace of a seemingly antiquated practice. In fact, without any qualification of Krier’s concepts, his Pliny reconstruction remains one of the most “agitational” of all late-modern forms of this practice. But the agitational reconstruction also reemerged in a less explicitly historicist form; I’m thinking of Delirious New York, in particular; and that book’s reconstructions of the Downtown Athletic Club (above).

In some ways, reconstruction work that appears on htc experiments extends out of these more recent reconstructions (eg. The floating bath project or the air-conditioning map). On the one hand, these projects embrace the antiquated nature of reconstructions (evident within the work of Krier) and yet they attempt to modernize the practice itself (in the example set by Koolhaas’ New York book). Of course, the work on this site (both by myself and others) takes this practice in some directions that differ from this more recent work too.

Where this goes, we shall see. Thanks for visiting this past year. More posts soon.

Today, the New York Times published an olfactory map of Manhattan — “Smells of New York City.”

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The map (above) is a more ironic version of the olfactory cartographies that first emerged in Victorian London and Second Empire Paris. One of the most interesting of these is Hector Gavin’s “Pestilent Disease Mist of Bethnal Green,” his map of the odors in that struggling area of London from his book Sanitary Ramblings (1848).

In 2005 I viewed an original edition of Gavin’s map (slightly unfurled below) in the majestic Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University. The reddish brown areas illustrate his perception of the odors of feces and undrained sewerage.  It’s an incredible work of documentation, individual curiosity, and olfactory paranoia. It’s also an interesting work of history, as Gavin understood the odors to be products of this particular neighborhood’s past (and this, of course, moves through the New York Times cartography).

Gavin 1848b

Excellent histories of the map, and the history of olfactory cartography include Robin Evans “Rookeries and Model Dwellings” (in Translations from Drawing to Building) and  a terrific book by Erin O’Connor Raw Material. You can also read a bit about the map (with one of the finest reproductions we could find) in the chapter on gas inSubnature: Architecture’s Other Environments.

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It’s one of those truly under-rated odors. It seems very old books always have it, but in new books it’s a more volatile smell and must be savored quickly. This past week I’ve been enjoying smelling (reading, looking, and holding) an advance copy of my new book — Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments. If you missed my description of the book from earlier posts; you can read a little about it here and here. The book will be released in October, so please pre-order and hold tight; I promise, it will arrive soon.

A quick post to tell you to check out this animated history of the Parthenon. It’s quite good, and having recently written about the Parthenon, I enjoyed the dramatic (and saddening) depiction of its bombardment by 17th century Venetian mercenaries. But the biggest tragedy depicted in this film is the dismantling of the remaining statuary by teams hired by Lord Elgin. “She” (the Parthenon) speaks towards the end. Oh, and it’s directed by none-other than Costas Gavras

After writing the earlier post on artist-designed traffic jams, I just remembered one of my favorite projects by the Dutch architect Wiel Arets — his “Boulevard Domburg” (1990). In this masterplan, Arets designed a bottleneck-producing, z-shaped stretch of road, set within a larger highway scheme that incorporated housing.

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In many ways “Boulevard Domburg” recalls the early Obus Plan proposal by Le Corbusier for Algiers. But unlike the much more famous Obus Plan (that also incorporated housing and highways), Arets’ project challenges the concepts of circulation driving Corbusier’s and many other modern city planning schemes.

Aret’s project involves something we might term “anti-circulation.” Arets purposely includes a bottleneck, a detour that forces cars to slow to a standstill. Within this zig/zag detour Arets brings the existing town and the seaside into the view of the driver. It enables a driver and their passengers to consider their particular location within the slipstream of an automotive environment. Arets not only brings a new appreciation of a highway’s particular context, he opens up a space, a very interesting space, for other forms of knowledge to enter the experience of driving.

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As anyone knows from driving in the United States, there’s a certain direct and palpable relationship between speed and historical knowledge. Zipping through a town not only limits our ability to understand it; the highways and roads of the United States are dotted with historical markers and signs that are comically unreadable at the speeds most people drive. I often recall particular detours — due to accidents, sudden natural hazards, or road work — that led to fantastic discoveries — an old mill town, the site of a famous battle or event, basically something I had driven by many times but never knew.

91708 two dot crazy marker 5499 single167

Arets designed his detour as a critique of modern efficiency, but perhaps his detour represents some larger project that we can harness to better relate speed and history. In turn, one imagines that the detour becomes an aspect of a historical project.

“Can we preserve a traffic jam?” After I spoke at Postopolis LA! on experimental forms of history, BLDG BLOG’s Geoff Manaugh asked me this question. The question was meant genuinely, and also as a provocation, testing the limits of the experimental forms of spatial history that I had just discussed.


Just a few weeks ago, We make money not art, posted a review of the traffic jam created by artist Maider López. López asked a large group of people to drive their cars into a well choreographed  jam within a hilly area of Spain (below). The traffic jam looks suspiciously like the traffic jam (above) that stretched from the Catskills into lower New York State during the Woodstock music festival of 1969. This recent project suggests that — yes — it is now possible to preserve a traffic jam.

traffic jam

The terraforming device from Star Trek II“The Genesis Device” — is a bomb that completely remakes the surface of a planet into a biological and geological version of the earth. It’s like a nuclear weapon that produces an ecosystem. In the video above we see the genesis device transforming a lost moon into a world akin to the Earth.

Genesis is a fictional tool for making nature, but it’s also a system of historical representation; although this latter aspect of the device is completely unexplored in the Star Trek films. Not only does the genesis device make barren moons into a depopulated biotic version of Earth, the Genesis wave generates specific historical landscapes and historical images of landscape — culled from Western systems of colonization and exploration . Genesis fabricates jungle landscapes, large oceans, and mountain ranges on top of a surface that looks suspiciously like the moon.

Ultimately, Genesis creates the double image of colonization: it remakes an unexplored moon into a landscape that looks like unexplored continents. Genesis is really a system of historical representation that makes the explorative vista (the depopulated, resource-rich landscape) appear as something scientific.

Genesis is critiqued in the scripts of Star Trek II and III, but from an entirely different perspective: For the script writers, Genesis represents the dangers of nature made by human forces. I believe the message of the film-makers suggests that the landscape of earth belongs on earth, not elsewhere (btw, this is also the subtext of the science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson). For the writers of Star Trek, the freakishness of genesis lies in its auto-generation of earth-nature — aggressive terraforming without consideration of a planet’s inherent nature.

A post-structuralist or Marxist geographical lens provides a necessary critique to the the above critique. Within critical strands of geography, all nature is a production and a representation; Every tree we encounter is, in some sense, the result of a Genesis Wave: the American Parks Movement, Johnny Appleseed, the Lumber Industry, Suburbanization.

One might argue that from a critical geographical perspective, all nature is a Genesis project.

But if a genesis wave is both a system of historical representation and a representation of reality (versus a scientific fantasy) that only makes its effects (and what it represents) all the more interesting.

The fantasy of Genesis lies in the notion of nature authorship: Can we release the Genesis wave from the literalness and naturalism that underpins a large amount of the sci-fi genre?

What if a genesis wave was less literal and more literary, less a scientific endeavor and more a philosophical and historical one?

What if it we understood this less literal force conceptualized by post-structural geographers or architects with a hankering for critical representations of nature?

What if, like the Genesis device itself, such nature-production was never finished, but an ongoing and unstable process? What landscapes would be generated; what imagery produced? What aesthetic sensations the result?


The imagery above and these questions have been on my mind lately: In the past four months I’ve slowly been asking a group of architects, scientists, geographers and urbanists colleagues to consider these possibilities (albeit without the Star Trek referencing!) In a forthcoming issue of AD — “Territory” — something akin to the Genesis Wave will be reconceptualized, reconsidered, made into something far more interesting and perhaps aggressive. The issue proposes a type of terraforming outside the science-fictional and within the nitty gritty of the historical and geographical.

As the issue takes shape and as the above ideas become more formed, I’ll post updates here.

[To be expanded for a forthcoming article]

If a stable, humidity, temperature, dust, and pest controlled environment is the ideal setting for preserving historical material, could we produce the inverse environment? In other words, if late-modern history relies on a type of ecosystem for the preservation and study of historical material, could we produce the anti-ecosystem of historical maintenance?

This anvironment (parallel or anti-environment) would be a space where historical preservation was impossible but that would nonetheless be a stable integrated nature. Like a black hole in a historical universe; the eye of a historical hurricane.

So consider some type of room with incredible levels of humidity, swirling dust, and horrible heat. It would be a place that also happened to represent two of the West’s key enviro-phobias — tropiphobia and aridiphobia. This room would be an orangey green place of sweat and dirt where pieces of paper, building elements, and other artifacts don’t stand a chance of surviving.

Ultimately, such a place forces us to reflect on the stability required for history, and the environments lurking in our future.

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Continuing on the earthy kick…The chapter on debris from my forthcoming book Subnature has been posted to the right in the “Recent Essays” section. This abbreviated version of “Debris” appears in the current issue of AA Files along with texts by Mary Beard, Reinhold Martin, Thomas Daniell, and others. Tom Weaver (editor of AA Files) and Laurie Manfra (of PAP) helped me transform the initially (and admittedly) raw chapter into something much more incisive. If you’re at all curious about the Subnature book, its tenor and feel, download and check out “Debris.” The book has about fourteen images for each of its twelve chapters, versus the two images that illustrate the AA Files version.

I always enjoy talking to my friend and colleague Ron Rael.  Ron is the author of Earth Architecture, an excellent book that outlines the history and explores in-depth contemporary uses of earth in architecture.


Ron’s book is a book about design, but it’s also a powerful corrective to those commentators that view buildings made of earth, or the matter that constitutes earth buildings (mud, sand, gravel, soils), as primitive, poor, or crude. One of Ron’s points is that earth buildings have a far more complex history; describing earth matter as inherently “poor” is often just a way to tie specific practices to specific (often global southern) geographies and histories. As Ron notes, earth is free; but this does not suggest that it is a defacto representation of poverty.  In more recent discussions, Ron describes earth as a type of infrastructure. In his narrative and case studies earth emerges as a material with far reaching technologies and representational implications. 

Ron’s book is engaged with aesthetics, technology, and history; it’s less explicitly concerned with political problems. But in releasing earth’s denigrating associations with poverty, we are left with more than just “rich” earth; we arrive at a less denigrating poverty of earth that is tied more to the “common” than the geographically poor. When I consider free earth molded into something more than a representation of the poverty of those building with it, I begin to imagine it also being part of a terrapolitical structure — a “red earth.” This earth that may be at some base level “poor” but also open to a new image, much more than “not poor”.

In arguing for a red earth, I’m not arguing that earth holds an innate leftist proletarian politics in its chemical composition (!), nor am I completely arguing for the social construction of earth. I am arguing that our engagement with earth offers the possibilities for new liberatory ways of understanding space, that remain tied to earth’s commonness. 

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A powerful concept of red earth, tied to its ubiquity and free nature, might be found in the roots of much red thought — Marx himself. In his Critique of German Ideology, Marx understood earth (as concept and thing) as the base of political economic philosophy. In one of his most famous passages, he wrote “In total contrast to German [idealist] philosophy, which descends from heaven to earth, we here ascend from earth to heaven.” Marx saw earth (both soil and “the earth”) as the base of his philosophy because it was the defacto element that contained the material and ideological possibilities of society (its nourishment, production, and metaphysics).  For Marx, earth contains the conditions of society by society. Earth not only delivers the grains grown by a farmer, but when a person digs his shovel into earth to grow something he or she becomes “a farmer.” When a person binds the earth into bricks he or she becomes “a builder.” The earth is social matter and structure, how we engage with it repeats existing structures and opens up new concepts.

Red earth also becomes red through its potential to release the history of the common, the poor, the defeated. Earth is an endless historical archive of tragedy that does not have to be nurtured, funded, or maintained (like most archives) to hold records of such tragedy. As an archive of social misfortune, our engagement with earth is a barometer of how we come to grips with our crimes. Murder, corruption, and  lurking forms of power are hidden through manipulations of earth (from mass graves to buried toxic pits). But these things often reappear through manipulations of the earth.

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What is the fascism and corruption that appears in contemporary film but a big earth-burying operation? The justice that often appears in film is a big excavation. Consider some of John Sayles recent films in which the bad guys bury their crimes and the good guys, quite literally, go into the earth to excavate those crimes. Or just about any film that explores genocide involves mass burials and excavations.

This more red earth, that is the condition of society and the history of society, appears in a few contemporary works of architecture.  One of my favorite “earth” projects, The Irish National Pavilion is discussed by Ron in his book; it’s a project about history, denigration, and earth. Another more explicitly red project (not in Ron’s book) is the Open Air Cafe proposal by Manuel Herz, which I wrote about in my article “Debris” in the current issue of AA files (and that also appears in Subnature (along with the Irish Pavilion)).

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In this latter project (above), Herz proposes excavating the ground of Cologne — site of one of the most notorious bombings during World War II — and heaping the mixture of earth and war debris (held within the earth of Cologne) over a series of concrete armatures for a park cafe. The war debris becomes a type of historical material that forces residents of Cologne to consider the history within earth and the conditions of a future nature in this particular city. It’s a proposal that enables us to see earth, the crimes it holds, and its potential representational structure in historical terms. 

This brief discussion of a red earth builds on Ron’s observations. I think it also positions some ideas about earth differently from those concepts of earth and ground in either contemporary green or parametric design. Both of these latter movements  see earth as an uncorrupted source of vitalism for a future architecture; an instrument of literal or digital vectors springing out of its surfaces. The earth of Herz (or the Irish Pavilion) is an earth examined (versus generalized); it’s an earth that is historical without being historicist; and it offers us images of earth as both life and violence against life, versus a more flippant vision of life and beauty.

I recently received my copy of Sean Lally’s Energies issue of AD. Sean invited me to contribute an essay that explores some of the recent experimental historical work I completed these past few years, much of it on the theme of energy. It includes new descriptions of my posts on the Plume/Idling project, Urban Ice Core and Manhattan Air Conditioning Map. It also includes an abbreviated version of an aborted text I wrote for Harvard Design Magazine. This particular issue of AD is one of the best I have seen in a long time, and it was great to be a part of it. Some architects I have written about in the past and whose work is a constant source of thought and reflection are included as well. The opening spread of my essay in AD Energies is below. 

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Another essay that I wrote, and that draws on material from this site, appears in Jorge Otero-Pailos’ catalog The Ethics of Dust for this year’s Venice Biennale (cover below). This essay expands my post on “historical practice”, using Jorge’s upcoming installation at the Biennale as its subject.


As readers of this site know, I’m a big fan of Jorge’s work; it appears on the cover of Subnature. I am pleased to post (below) the latest version of Subnature’s cover, backcover, and inside flaps, albeit in need of a few minor text edits. The designer, Paul Wagner, did a fantastic job interpreting Jorge’s installation as a work of book cover art, and editor Laurie Manfra wrote great copy for the inside and back flaps.

Subnat Cover2

I’ll be posting some new content on this site soon. Some of it expands on earlier posts and one or two new posts will respond to some criticisms thrown my way. I’ll also be trying out some new formats for content; perhaps even making this blog a subset of a larger site. I look forward to more writing and thinking about this site’s future formats in the upcoming weeks.

Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments goes to press next week. I can confidently say that it’s going to be one of the most provocative books in the “nature” section of your bookstore/architectural bookstore/amazon list. What do the following three, illustrated spreads from this book have in common? Check out Subnature, better yet, BUY Subnature and find out!

book spreads

Now that Subnature is done, I would like to take a break (!); but timing is such that I’m in the midst of developing a forthcoming issue of AD — Territory: Architecture’s Geographical Operations. Final confirmations of authors are pouring in; and some new friends/colleagues will be joining the mix, which makes me very happy. We have a great line up planned, and I will be posting more information about the issue soon, including a description and some work samples. 

Thanks again for stopping by. Now that school is out, I look forward to more regular updates…

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