Monthly Archives: November 2009

Should I stay or should I go?

Like the occasionally revised song by The Clash goes, and as hinted at by a Portu-guese blogger, should one go back to “Morality and Architecture” by David Watkin or to “Architecture and Morality” by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark?

Beyond #02, on “Values and Symptoms,” has finally arrived to solve such raging moral dilemmas.

As I wrote in “The Bad, the Good and Everybody Else” you have to read the book to “make your own judgement…” And the stories by writers such as Douglas Coupland and Rui Zink, the Belgian philosopher Lieven de Cauter, and architects such as Sam Jacob, François Roche, Andrés Jaque, Iassen Markov, and Markus Miessen should hopefully help you to make up your mind… lol.

As for myself, I’m becoming torn between enjoying my own jolly autumn readings and stay home with my darling babies, or go for yet another trip… It’s been some hectic times and while airplanes and airports are starting to get on my nerves, there I go again, if only for a couple of days.

 

The thing is, Beyond #02 is out and about and people seem to be curious about why a fictional take on the world of architecture and the city can prove useful for the progression of architectural knowledge.

At this time, and on proposal of Mario Ballesteros, our panel will discuss the deliberate slowness of print as against the instantaneity of the digital, and I will be probably musing about how fiction is indeed something that infiltrates one’s system of thought in quite unexpected ways.

As Fernando Pessoa once said about Coca-Cola – in one of the very few incursions of the Portuguese poet into the world of publicity – one could also say about fiction that “primeiro estranha-se, depois entranha-se.”

And being that now you have to figure out the untranslatable word play that led to the strange, yet ingrained political effect of having the American beverage prohibited during the Portuguese fascist regime, I can only add that this was yet another good example of how reality is assaulted by fictional techniques.

Attention span

In an economy in which attention is so precious, it amazes me that I can spend more than five minutes hypnotised by an intro onto a online fashion magazine

And then it is even more amazing that further time is spent on a chain reaction that drives you onto an obscure amateur video or some rather distant memories (of course, one day these two things will be indistinguishable).

But then that’s the power of music (and beauty). This actually made me reminisce of a spanish radio program I used to listen in my teenage years. This guy always finished his hour of great music by saying that in this hideous world the only thing left to do is to search for beauty. That was the other side of the Eighties.

However, today we know better and we’ve also learned to embrace ugly.

In the midst of all the empty minimalisms out there, Alan Vega please come back. You are definitely forgiven.

Shrinking City

After a fairly long absence on paternity leave, last weekend I went back to Porto. This is Portugal’s second city and metropolitan area, although no longer it’s second larger municipality in terms of population – a position now taken by suburb cities like Gaia and Amadora. They call it invincible or invicta.

PortoThis is a city where I lived for considerable parts of my life, and a city to which I usually commute to teach every week.

This is also the proud home of a World Heritage city center and a few prestigious institutions: Port wine; a football team, the oldest filmmaker alive who is still in activity, Manoel de Oliveira; an architect that ranks in between the world’s finest and its connected architecture school, Siza Vieira and the Oporto School; the Serralves Contemporary Museum; Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música…

Porto is a small city –like the Talking Heads ironically sung of London– and, on top of it, it is also a shrinking city.  Misquoting Paul Virilio, one could even say it is a city on the brink of disappearance – if not dangerously sinking into long-term cultural and economical insignificance.

What was once the symbolic center of the so-called economical motor of the country now appears as the shy capital of one of Portugal’s two poorest regions. As I’ve learned in shock this weekend, half of Porto’s population receives the Guaranteed Minimum Income, a social welfare measure for those who live below the line of poverty.

Indeed, my personal view is that Porto’s cultural and economical contraction is to be attributed not only to its mediocre political leadership over the last few years, but also to its blatant social inequality.

In what seems to be a sort of unspoken taboo, Porto’s society, like that of any Thirld Word country, is neatly divided in two: a rich bourgeoisie that inbreeds in the posh Western area of town and cruises the urban landscape only inside their black Mercedes, Audis and BMWs; and, on the other side, a poor population that still resembles that of a 19th century half-industrial, half-rural city.

While there are always exceptions, the elites themselves lack vision and civic spirit. And, contrary to Lisbon’s steadily rising middle classes, Porto’s lower middle class minorities totally lack expectations and opportunities.

As geographer and friend Álvaro Domingues was telling me, this is a centrifugal city. Although it has a renowned university, it doesn’t have the economical drive to keep the people it educates. And this also strongly reflects in the culture and identity of the city.

CasaMúsicaCasa da Música in context, via Plataforma Arquitectura

Samewise, cultural institutions in Porto are also almost neatly divided in two strata: the highbrow state-supported institutions, like Serralves and Casa da Música, and the radically alternative art, music and design scene, which, although vibrant and inspiring, faces the eternal dilemma of catering forever for the same small audience or simply give up. Given that there is no real funding for middle size local initiatives, there is also no bright future to look upon.

SerralvesThe art museum squats the inner city emptied-out buildings…

This is probably the main reason why, like so many before and after me, at a certain point –and more precisely after 2001, when the European Capital of Culture represented the city’s swan song rather than creating an expected cultural boom–  I have decided to live elsewhere.

Ultimately, Porto’s strong scenery and historical tradition seems to offer a place more interesting to (re)visit, than to create something in. Until the city comes to its senses again, people there permanently run the risk to emulate the incredible shrinking man’s coming out of the fog into an ever-smaller destiny.

ShrinkingManamdnd

Beyond Again

As we were getting news of Beyond 01‘s award in the American Design Awards – a 2nd prize in book design inbetween 1415 global entries – Florian Mewes, the series graphic designer, was finishing this stunning cover for Beyond 02

Beyond02_FinalCover

The current issue of Beyond is being launched next Thursday 19th, 6pm, within the International Architecture Biennale of Rotterdam, at the Nai.

After Venice (with Yehuda Safran, Reed Krolloff, Shumon Basar and Map Office), after Harvard (with Eve Blau), after London (with Colin Fournier, Sam Jacob and Liam Young), it is my immense pleasure to announce that our first presentation in the Netherlands will consist of a reading of “Feast in A War Zone – A Palestin-ian Diary” by its author, the philosopher and writer Lieven de Cauter.

Contributors to this volume Emiliano Gandolfi, Markus Miessen and Marc Schuilenburg will also be present to enter the discussion on this issue.

The event is kindly welcomed by the IABR in its Open City Event Program and precedes Eyal Weizman‘s lecture on Forensic Architecture on the context of the REFUGE cluster curated by Philipp Misselwitz and Can Altay .

As for the contents of Values & Symptoms I will soon disclose a few goodies… dbvcmscsabmnbcmnadsb

Meanwhile…

…in the architecture world, the strangeness of fiction was again invading the previously grave and monotonous domain of building publication.

bear1Now for Architecture and Urbanism, via ArchDaily.

While I was musing on grand narratives, the micro-stories of fairyland were quickly transmigrating from Volume’s issue on Storytelling to this house presentation in the spirit of the tales of the wildwood.

bear2

nbetween pigs and bears, I can’t wait forDonnie Darko‘s appearance at the WAF Inbetween pigs and bears, I can’t wait for Donnie Darko‘s appearance at the World Architecture Festival next year…

On grand narratives

As against the gullibility with which one can flip through magazines, XL novels are a little bit more demanding on our contemporary rhythm. Even if sparing all the 5 minute units spent watching crappy music videos in the midst of TV zapping, who finds time today to read a very large book from cover to cover?

While I have for my motto Jorge Luis Borges asking why should we write 700 page books when we can sum up the essential ideas in seven pages – thus finding myself editing something like the Short Stories on the Post Contemporary – I do try to engage occasionally with that opulent, shocking pleasure of loosing myself within a fictional work for several weeks or months. Like Giacomo Leopardi would say, “il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.” Un vero lusso.

My last XL reads were Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which apparently faced some length problems with its 611-page English edition, and Jeffrey EugenidesMiddlesex, which bears both some powerful 529 pages and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And I must acknowledge to life-size books that they do leave an imprint in you, like friends you’ve spent a couple of summers with.

More recently I went through Marco d’Eramo’s “The Pig and the Skyscraper”, which, while it is not a novel, fortunately it reads like one. And that gives it a special quality that deserves some reflection, especially when we are talking about urban writing coming from a sociologist that has also a degree in physics and a career in journalism…

pigskyscraper


Like Murakami, its 480 pages read rather well because they contain not one bibbg, Like Murakami, its 480 pages read rather well because they contain not one big, mind-numbing story of Chicago, but many small thrilling ones. Like Eugenides, it lingers on because it has a magnificent breadth at depicting the urban scenery of the American Dream (and some of its nightmares too).

Each chapter of “The Pig and the Skyscraper” brings you one different fundamental aspect of Chicago’s history, from the rise and decay of slaughterhouses and the many businesses that made the city grow, down to continuing racial segregation and the economy of inner city gangs. And whereas each story reads like an autonomous piece, together they weave a larger critical vision portraying some lesser-known aspects of American history.

And this is what interests me as a model. Exquisite, reflexive storytelling, which in this book appears in almost journalistic manner, rather than statistics and analysis, is what can drive one to intimately engage with the issues that usually lay buried under the inescapable drive towards abstract planning.

Cities are made of criss-crossing social stories that economists, politicians and planners too easily tend to forget or reduce to abstract numbers. And this is why we need more histories made up of minute stories; this why we need more reflection imbedded into everyday tales, rather than long records filled with hollowed-out specialist grand narratives.

Other little magazines (#05)

I think it is more than time to clear my desk of a pile of magazines that has been waiting for some kind of mention, some kind of memory, before entering an archive where they will lay buried under a growing layer of micro-dust for many years, before they will eventually be again discovered by some visual archeologist from the future…

desktop

With distribution systems being what they are, one absurd goal of my traveling is to dig for new publications to incorporate into my by now impossible-to-catalogue magazine collection – alas, one of the reasons why moving to a new place would be considerably painful…

So what did I gullibly gathered this time?

First, there is New Geographies, the new Harvard-based journal, the collectible issue 00 of which I traded for Beyond #01. Since we are here and there touching on the same themes – and sometimes sharing the same authors – this was fair trade and the beginning of an hopefuly fulfilling exchange…

In New York I grabbed Evolo and The Play Ground.

Picture 16playground

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Evolo is another architectural magazine somehow coming from the American Ivy League. That is, it is created by a group of ex-students from Columbia that suddenly discovered that there was a crisis out there and thus what the world needed now was yet another architectural magazine.

The curious thing is that, while the “famous architects” housing projects that make the supposed appeal of the publication seem like more of the same, and thus dull and unrevealing, some of the contributions and smaller stories do uncover that there’s something coming off from this growing presence of South American students in major architectural schools around the world. A hint of what I’ve been calling post-colonial trans-geographical knowledge exchanges… But I’ll keep that question for a future post.

The Play Ground is another matter altogether. A “celebration of family”(!) in times of “separatism and isolation,” as the editorial has it. While coming from London, it is wildly amazing that such a familiar endeavor finds its way into a cornershop in Soho… But then again you open it and you come across the amazing work of Terunobu Fujimori and all of it suddenly kind of makes sense.

Also the Freestyle Magazine has quite an unbelievable theme, considering that it too is making it to the world’s mag circuit. Yes, it is dedicated to Frisbies and it even comes in the form of one. Plus, you get the real thing as a gift, that is, the mag comes in a real frisbee ready to take to the beach.

freestyle

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After Karen, and other magazines dedicated to nothing in special (just like Seinfeld), imaginations will have to be stretched to come out with yet another fresh perspective for a new publication.

Back to London, the zinorama city, the Publish and Be Damned event proved to be a small paradise to a premiere issue collector. It was indeed one of those moments in which the fiercest gatherer had to refrain from an engulfing zinappetite… Typically stressed by the so-called syndrome of overabundance, …. I kept to only four #01 titles.

Proximity, is an art magazine from Chicago that apart from graphically impeccable seems to reflect a certain conditions of our times. Most of the articles in the publication are more concerned with the art world – its context and its phenomena, the episodes from the everyday life of artists and the anecdotes of collectors and artophiles – than with artistic objects themselves.

And this detail, being somewhat more disguised or subdued in other publications, seems to make a lot of sense in an increasingly reflexive world. It is only logical that today you should go to art or design or architecture school not truly to understand how art or architecture are made but more so to learn how their respective worlds function. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was never so up-to-date as today.

ProximityMonikaCover-image1Garageland

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Other art premières present at the event were Monika, a small-sized arts journal from London with a first issue that focuses on anonymity; Corridor 8, a big-sized art journal from Manchester with a first issue featuring artist and writer’s takes on the idea of supercity; and Garageland, a medium-sized arts journal also from London which started in 2006 with a take on machismo.    ………………………………………………..

Mise en page 1

Finally, in Amsterdam, I still had the courage to fill my overweighed bag with yet another first issue: on this occasion, a novelty from a Parisian “brand” that has already come up with four or five different titles.       Now it is time to welcome the again stylish and exquisite Les Cahiers Purple – a new yearly edition, which for its 2010 première, puts together stories and artwork that are more than enough to make you go through the whole winter.

Who said there was a publishing crisis going on? aasss ffffff ssssoosod sslssms. And with so much stuff out there, how can one ever get bored?