Monthly Archives: May 2009

Blob Poll

I’ve always been interested in how audiences/users react to architecture. Any architect should. Someone who, on the other hand, sees himself as a curator on the subject must, per force, pay extra attention to the phenomenon.

As we all know, blogs have the quality of producing instantaneous response. And this is especially important in face of people’s traditional laziness and resistance in participating in anything vaguely democratic. But, when we’re talking about scrutinising architecture, this may become more important than we think…

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Erdos Museum, by MAD, Via ArchDaily

When I first saw this post in ArchDaily, my first reaction was to recall a discussion with a friend about how today the difference between architecture visualization and its actual accomplishment is a line thinner than ever.

Unlike in the old times of “paper architecture,” you may now trust that any virtual projection of a building will soon be followed by a faithful and accomplished piece of architecture. Everything is possible.

As such, before anything else, architectural ideas are today being branded first of all as images that are necessarily performing the imperative to “communicate” a prospective built fact – even if this fact has yet to be proven through actual building. It is also in this sense that architecture is becoming a fiction. Who needs hard facts, when you can enjoy fantastic fictions?

My second reaction, though, came from the instant commentaries on the post that announced MAD’s building already under construction. Between the mere yawns and the more resolute aesthetical repudiations, here is an instant poll on how blobtecture is faring in the fast-changing world of architectural taste

Now consider this: if the architects don’t do it themselves, clients will soon be advised to blog away the responses to their commissions well before any serious building process is undertaken. This way, they will avoid the tremendous risk at investing millions in a building that, as innovative as it appears, it is already considered by today’s influential taste-makers so terribly last week

Curatorial Practice as Open-Source

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While preparing my earlier post on Emergent Megalopolis the other day, I was driven to think about how, nowadays, one can push free-lance curatorial projects into the public realm, specially when the economic strain on cultural production is now so evident everywhere around the globe.

After the credit crunch, it is obvious that we have to change the way independent projects manage to thrive. With museums and institutions struggling to support their own staff, and with their directors and curators just striving to accomplish their own projects, it is obvious that autonomous creativity has to find another way to emerge. As it is already the case in hacker-culture and bottom-up initiatives of every kind… (Diogo, thanx!)

By now – and although they say that secretism is the soul of the business – it is obvious that secrecy around ideas, while trying to push them into potential partners, serves to practically nothing. As such, from here on, I hope to release my ongoing projects through this blog, in an attempt to enhance the potential to generate shared knowledge, partnerships and potential collaborations.

I’ve written about open-source in architecture. Now, as I was briefly discussing with Scott Burnham the other day, it’s about time to adopt open-source in curating and its research and modus operandi.

That is why, following my presentation of Emergent Megalopolis, I am now launching an international call for contributions regarding film projects that propose original portraits of emergent creativity in growing megacities.

After “Luanda Rise” was announced, I’ve already discussed city projects with several Portuguese artists and filmmakers – including Daniel Blaufuks (Mumbai), André Príncipe (Shangai), Nuno Cera (Cairo) and Marco Martins (Seoul) – but I’m now welcoming new projects for cities like Rio de Janeiro, Dhaka, Jakarta, Manila, Buenos Aires, Moscow and Istambul.

I’m looking for filmakers, artists, photographers, or other visual entrepeneurs whose film projects may fit the spirit of the series, specially if they have a local perspective and an interest on notions of informal creativity vs. formal creativity and crosscultural knowledge exchange.

Some years ago, I’ve done an exhibition on how the metropolitan atmosphere of London suggested new approaches to architectural practice, in Space Invaders. Now, I want to bring up radical views on creativity as influenced by emergent megacities, not unlike this journalist’s approach to China’s fastest growing city…

Of course, if someone wants to copycat the idea, they are welcome to do so. Use it and abuse it. Try and develop it. Forget about the Commons license: just join in in the construction of the ongoing series of films. Specially if you have a local perspective on the cities about to be portrayed. I will assume my own role in helping to find extra financing for any project that makes sense within the series.

For some people ideas are relatively easy to come by. The real issue is, as always, to have them accomplished. Naturally it is not very nice that someone with the money and the means just steals your idea and develops it without even mentioning your contribution. But then these people are only poor bastards and would only probably produce a pale version of what you’ve intended. And even if this may happen, it is still worthwhile taking the risk.

Maybe also in this realm paradigms are shifting – and this is why the subject for the next edition of Beyond (and the theme for another European call for contributions) is also… Values & Symptoms.

Guess what I’m doing… #03

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The public announcement by ExperimentaDesign that its program for 2009 includes the presentation of “Luanda Rise,” marks the official launch of my Emergent Megalopolis film series.

The idea arose back in 2004, when I was travelling around Vietnam, and after many failed attempts to kickstart it – from proposing it as a subversive TV travelogue to having it in Didier Fiuza Faustino’s Evento – it now starts to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So, it is about time to have the curatorial project out of the closet.

For the first time in history, populations living in cities have become the majority of the planet’s inhabitants. Much attention has been given to large urban structures through books, exhibitions and academic research. Century City, held in 2001 at the Tate Modern in London, or the 2006 Architecture Venice Biennale under the direction of Richard Burdett, presented overwhelming analyses of urban form, demographics and cultural production. Others, like Rem Koolhaas, pursued prolific researches on the phenomena of exploding urban areas in Asia or AfricaEmergent Megalopolis is intended as a next step, bringing these topics to a wider audience by way of subjective portraits and palpable interactions with the cities under scrutiny.

How does a state of urban emergency lead to emergent patterns of behaviour and thinking? How do new forms of creativity emerge in the fastest growing cities in the world? How do informality and unplanned growth become a source of knowledge? Emergent Megalopolis is an ongoing series of films that will research how emerging urban megastructures reveal modes of creativity and forms of resourcefulness born out of economic stress and social conflict. As such, its films will be about human responses to extreme urban growth, about the spontaneous cultures of hard-edge cities, about informal creativity vs. formal creativity, and about learning from the stimuli of urban diversity.

The curatorial project will develop over time so as to acknowledge problems and situations emerging in varied geographical locations.The first films will connect to the Portuguese-speaking world and will focus on Luanda and Rio de Janeiro, but upcoming films are intended to portrait other megacities in Africa, South America, Asia and the borders of Europe. Projects currently under discussion involve Cairo, Shangai and Mumbai and soon cities like Dhaka, Seoul, Jakarta, Manila, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Istanbul, and Moscow may also be involved.

Throughout Emergent Megalopolis, documentarists, artists, photographers, film directors are invited to engage with the processes through which the silent majorities of these urban conglomerations are lead to creatively appropriate urban interstices, spatial leftovers, and everyday objects in order to transform them in the grounds for their play, distraction, communication, and survival within the city. They are also asked to interview and portrait the creative communities that are dealing with these issues in situ.

The project addresses a bottom-up approach to design and architecture within the most demanding urban contexts, and aims to create a platform for an exchange between advanced design thought and the resourcefulness of street creativity. As such, Emergent Megalopolis echoes the reflections of the late French anthropologist Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life, where he contrasted the “rationalised, expansionist and at the same time centralised, clamorous and spectacular production” usually praised in proper urban space, with “another production” that emerges as a truly informal creativity expressed in terms of quite unexpected objects, inventions, and uses of public space.

See also my related text and post on the issue of emergence/emergency.

Time & Magazines

A visit to Harvard GSD was postponed and, suddenly, having prepared to be away for a week, I found myself with some extra time in my hands. Which is extraordinary and welcomed. The  weather was great in Lisbon this week, and taking the laptop to the beach was a first – a specially enjoyable first if one wants to start working leisurably on a new piece of fiction. 

The other good thing about the spare time was catching up with the magazines. One day, when I have the patience, I’ll feed you on my collection of premiere issues – which I consider a most revealing anthropological survey of our times. But for now, I just felt like spreading the word about three items that caught my attention.

First comes DAMnº, one of the most interesting magazine around Europe these days, specially for the omnivorous reader that has abandoned Wallpaper around the turn of the century, got tired of Surface soon after, and never really got into both Monocle‘s need to be a trendier Intelligent Life and Tank‘s secret desire to substitute Interview‘s classical lure in the mind of the selfconscious culture vulture… 

DAMnº is mostly design based but goes into architecture and art with quite poignant articles that manage to provide you with a sort of an essential air du temps… As such, issue 21 ends up revealing how, after Africa, after recently oilstruck Brasil and after all the rest of the developing world, everybody else is now trying to make the most out of their own waste. From Mathieu Maingourd’s great piracy acts and Stuart Haygarth’s scrap sculptures to Cindy Sherman’s cynical social garbage or Thorsten Brinkman’s investigations from the bin, there’s a real trend out there…

More importantly, though, there is an excellent interview with Elemental‘s Alejandro Aravena – who I was seeing coming up everywhere in the media without really understanding why… Now that I do, I can only say he deserves all the media exposure coming from his Venice Silver Lion for Promising Young Architect. An interesting blow at the current architectural star-system… and legitimated by the star-system itself! Well done, Alejandro!

The second reference goes to Bypass, a new Portuguese architecture magazine that deserves a compliment for its ambition. The glossy book-like bilingual publication describes itself as hyperdisciplinary – which is the sort of epitome that makes me nostalgic for a time in which interdisciplinarity had to be fought for – against the academic stance of the moment. That was the time when I started publishing texts right after architecture school and quoted Swedenborg and Baudelaire and their correspondances. Now that we have welcomed inter-, trans- and multi-disciplinarity, let’s see what we’ll make of the concept in the age of hypertext…

My third reference is also biographically biased… As an architect with a penchant for interiors I cannot but welcome the idea that the insides of architecture are finally a theme of high public concern. With Nest long gone, and Apartamento filling the gaps for only a small audience, the latest issue of the Harvard Design Magazine is aptly named “What about the inside?” and, as far as I’m concerned and Mohsen Mostafavi suggests, it finally brings forth the question of the significance and frailty of the architectural interior as against the modernist promotion and protection of the wholesome shoebox.

As many architects today have only the arena of interiors to express their ideas about the world, one should not forget that this is also the most temporary and unconsidered of architecture’s operative fields. As such, and as interiors subsume to ever faster economic cycles, many of these expressions will vanish sooner than anything else… Never again to be the potential objects of beautiful acts of rereading, such as those suggested by Sigmund Kracauer.

All the beyonds…

Definitely, the buzz of the “beyond” seems to have established itself firmly in the firmament of the architecture and design worlds…

After the science fiction magazines of the past, after my own Beyond Consumption in 2003, after the Beyond Media festival in Florence, after Volume’s “To Beyond or Not to Be,” after the Venice Biennale’s Architecture Beyond Building, and, of course, after the all-encompassing Beyond the Beyond, now it is the time for Beyond Architecture, a clever book on something I had already imagined as a full-length exhibition: the fictional depictions of unexisting, speculative architectures, namely through techniques of photomontage.

Beyond Architecture

An extensive listing of artists working along these lines had already appeared in none other than the commentaries to a post by Geoff Manaugh on Filip du Jardin, but now a full book honours this recent and pervesasive trend reaching the outskirts of built architecture.

As I wrote in an introduction to the work of Kobas Laksa, this is now a very palpable tendency. The logic of photomontage is back, although no longer with the playful, self-deceiving, and expressionistic overtones of the past. Recurring to digital technology, visual collage is today inclined to extreme and precise, if slightly surreal, depictions of yet inexistent realities. Such imagery thus acquires an unexpected narrative quality. Whereas classical photo collage once served the clash of different signs and meanings, the Photoshop technique is today dedicated to conjure its own fiction, albeit with an almost absurd degree of realism. After architects and advertisers have used the by now banal image software to project a wishful authenticity onto their constructions and products, now it is the artists who are making use of it to create a disturbing, alternate version of reality. As Philip K. Dick once described, it is a “law of economy” that nothing should go to waste: even the unreal is welcome…