Category Archives: archives of re-incidence

Futuro Desigual, Destino Equivalente

Enquanto Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities parece lentamente tornar-se realidade – pelo menos do ponto de vista mediático – lembrei-me de publicar aqui a versão original e completa do “white paper” onde germinaram muitas das ideias por detrás da exposição que agora se anuncia para o MoMA, em Novembro de 2014.

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Merece-me comemorar aqui o facto de a tradução portuguesa deste ensaio, que em 2011 viu a luz do dia numa publicação académica da Universidade de Gent com o curioso título de Tickle your Catastrophe, estar para breve.

Pelo menos é o que me diz um desses corajosos editores que, no meio da pantanosa crise portuguesa, ainda insiste em fazer alguma coisa.

Esta publicação junta-se assim a algumas outras, como os catálogos da conferência Once Upon a Place ou da exposição Performance Architecture, que nos últimos tempos aparecem muito a custo, a culminar os últimos projectos que levei a cabo em Portugal.

Lembrando-me desses projectos, ocorre-me quão incrível é que, em Portugal, ainda sobre gente* como a Susana – a figura tenaz por detrás da conferência sobre arquitectura e ficção, que, a propósito, tem agora a sua segunda edição já noutras paragens, infelizmente em versão um pouco mais boring.

Ainda há portugueses que, a partir do seu lugar, resistem a essa mistura de ódio entranhado e inveja encapotada pelos que querem fazer alguma coisa, que infelizmente ainda singra na sociedade portuguesa – mesmo quando a austeridade deveria sugerir maior solidariedade.

No momento em que, por outro lado, a solidariedade de gala começa, por incipiente e bacoca que seja, a substituir o Estado na manutenção do que tínhamos adquirido por básico, torna-se mais ou menos claro que estamos a bater no fundo. (Na Europa e no mundo, os outros também se estão a afundar, apenas ainda não o reconheceram.)

Talvez devêssemos começar a mostrar mais do nosso típico respeitinho por aqueles que ainda se dão ao trabalho de querer fazer – em vez de, também eles, sejam empreendedores, políticos ou agentes culturais, se dedicarem à tarefa bem mais fácil de ir para a praia

Diria com algum grau de certeza que, se há gente que ajuda a manter qualquer coisa à tona, essa é precisamente feita dos que gostam de “fazer” malgré tout.

Para dar algum alento aos que persistem, devo dizer que, como todos os projectos com alguma ambição, também Uneven Growth teve uma gestação longa e difícil – o que, de resto, continua a ser verdade mesmo após o lançamento público bem sucedido da exposição e do primeiro workshop do projecto no MoMA PS1 há duas semanas atrás.

Cohstra@MoMAPS1MoMAPS1, do modo que agora encontramos as nossas imagens… via Twiter.

Por vezes, ocorre-me que a razão essencial porque o destino me trouxe a uma instituição como o MoMA tem precisamente a ver com a necessidade inata, ou a profunda carolice, de querer levar este projecto a bom porto. (Embora, obviamente, não devesse falar antes de tempo.)

Aqui e ali e acolá e outra vez aqui, ainda sob a designação de Emergent Megalopolis, podem ainda ler-se os restos arqueológicos de um conceito nascido numa visita a Saigão há mais de dez anos atrás – num tempo da minha vida em que ainda era possível decidir, de um momento para o outro, que ia viajar durante um mês no Sudoeste Asiático.

Em Saigão, sob o efeito da percepção aguda que as viagens proporcionam, tive uma experiência decisiva e transformadora: atravessar a rua numa realidade urbana que me era inteiramente nova.

Saigon-ViaWithoutBaggageAs ruas de Saigão, a.k.a. Ho Chi Min City, via Without Baggage.

Quando se atravessa a rua em Saigão, o acto tem que ser negociado de uma forma diferente do habitual. Numa cidade sem semáforos e com milhões de scooters (como agora vim a reencontrar em Taipei) a primeira coisa que nos ensinam é que, para atravessar os antigos boulevards carregados de um fluxo de trânsito incessante, também os transeuntes não podem parar.

Quando se atravessa a rua em Saigão, temos que nos munir de coragem e avançar sempre ao mesmo passo por entre a corrente compacta de tráfego. E temos que olhar nos olhos todos aqueles que avançam para nós, para perceber se vão passar à nossa frente, ou atrás de nós.

Foi nesse momento da negociação do olhar com milhares de jovens asiáticos que nasceu a inspiração de que, mais cedo do que mais tarde, teríamos que imaginar novos modos de responder ao crescimento do urbano no século XXI.

Tal como, no inicio do séc. XX, Georg Simmel alertou para a emergência de uma nova consciência metropolitana, agora devemos preparar-nos para o estado de emergência da urbanização completa de um planeta em que os recursos, ao contrário da população, não estão propriamente a crescer de dia para dia.

E por isso vale a pena sublinhar que, depois de querer ter sido programa de televisão e documentário experimental multi-episódios, e para além do desejo de mapear de novas formas de prática arquitectónica, ou a vontade de perceber como substituir estratégias de planeamento obsoletas, este projecto é agora, apenas e só, uma investigação sobre como arquitectos e outros actores urbanos podem vir a lidar com a desigualdade e o empobrecimento progressivo de uma sociedade cada vez mais intrinsecamente global.

Arquivo de Ficção

Enquanto descubro por acaso que um dos meus últimos artigos, Pimp Up Your Cart – Notes and Fictions on Instant Vendor Urbanism, já está parcialmente online – mesmo antes de sair o livro ao qual se destinava – penso que talvez seja tempo de actualizar o arquivo dos textos que vou guardando e expondo por aqui.

Quando o presente nos ocupa excessivamente com as praticalidades do management, nada como esquadrinhar no passado para redescobrir umas pérolas de pensamento (em roda) livre. Como se dizia num dos fracturantes títulos já aqui arquivados, Cada Escavadela uma Minhoca.

Averso aos circuitos insidiosos da legitimação académica cada vez mais boring e tecnocrata, sempre gostei de contribuir para revistas mais ou menos obscuras, fanzines, publicações de estudantes ou até magazines de life-style.

Mais que para as ditas revistas sérias, com os seus monótonos resultados de pesquisa pseudo-científica, a sua crítica enjoada* e os seus encenados peer-reviews, sempre preferi ensaiar o gospel experimental e despreocupado que mais se adequava a revistas não propriamente arquitectónicas.

Assim, já depois de passada a torrente de elegias fúnebres dedicadas a Oscar Niemeyer, ocorre-me recuperar um desses artigos de revista leves e espirituosos, que possivelmente constitui a celebração crítica mais justa da energia subversiva que emanava dos inimitáveis gestos arquitectónicos do arquitecto brasileiro.

De resto, regresso a Niemeyer depois de ter visto as imagens de Todd Eberle aquando do lançamento do último número da revista Wallpaper* aqui em Nova Iorque. Um desses momentos socialite que, em jeito de festa de aniversário da minha mulher, me vai fazendo lembrar de morder a Big Apple…  pelo menos de vez em quando.

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Em jeito de presente de São Valentim…. Imagem via Todd Eberle.

A minha elegia ao OVNI de Niemeyer foi publicada na LAMag, uma revista que desapareceu sem rasto, inclusive dessa internet que erradamente tomamos como duradoura. É uma peça que vejo como um exemplo possível de crítica arquitectónica explicada às crianças – ou aos não-iniciados, o que resulta precisamente na mesma coisa.

Como tenho dito em conferências, apesar de admirar a enorme herança intelectual de Manfredo Tafuri – e a sua capacidade de praticamente sozinho ter criado um magnífico impasse da crítica arquitectónica, particularmente deste lado do Atlântico – sou cada vez sou mais um fan confesso de Reyner Banham.

Como se pode descortinar em Pimp Up Your Cart, nos escritos de Banham, como nos seus contributos mais extravagantes noutros media, gosto do modo como, com uma verve exuberante e imparável, o crítico submerge os temas arquitectónicos na comemoração irónica e selvagem do quotidiano mais banal.

Nesta era de capitalismo tardio e neo-liberalismo assanhado, onde parecem desmoronar as esperanças de a seriedade intelectual se oferecer como uma alternativa viável, a sátira total é, mais uma vez, uma das possibilidades honestas de assumir esse dark optimism de que ouvirão falar em breve.

Esta atitude irónica – que, apesar de tudo, recusa o cinismo – é, de resto, uma das formas mais habituais como, apesar da eventual estranheza, a ficção se infiltra e entranha na realidade como uma espécie de reduto político.

Como se diz no início de Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles sobre a extraordinária antecipação do GPS em versão guia turístico, há ficções que são úteis. Algo de tão mais verdadeiro quando se quer pensar sobre o futuro a partir da reflexão do presente.

Ideias a revisitar à medida que a ficção vai invadindo o campo arquitectónico

Black Friday (Confidências do Exílio)

So, I’ve enjoyed my first (discrete) Thanksgiving in New York, and today people out there are having another consumeristic frenzy – while retailers respond accordingly, namely extending shopping times and dragging underpayed labor to work on what used to be the most sacred American holiday.

Where this sacred and blind belief in consumerism will drag the U.S., I don’t know. But it does sound unpromising, specially when one knows that around 2030 we will need 2,5 planets to feed the population on Earth. In this age of interconnected global disaster, believing that one’s backyard empire will remain unaffected by such a lack of resources sounds silly and irresponsible.

This Black Friday was also the dark occasion in which I received news that my old publishers in Amsterdam, Sun Architecture, are currently holding a massive sale of their architecture titles, thus confirming the end of a beautiful, but apparently untimely editorial project.

Those were the editors that welcomed Beyond and its Short Stories on the Post Contemporary. The good news is that, if you had an interest in Beyond and were put off by its pricey cover value, you may now order the bookazine series with unique fictions by up and coming European architectural writers for only 15€!

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Yes, you have read correctly: fifteen euros for the three published volumes of Beyond at a distance of a click! A true Black Friday bargain!!!

This made me feel sad, of course. Ultimately, it’s just another episode of Europe’s anihilation of its best asset: cutting-edge cultural production.

With cultural cuts happily leading austerity measures even in the richest of countries –  and the private sector inevitably aligned with public policy – Europe takes care of its self-destruction by wiping out what could be its largest future export: intelligence, design culture, creative thinking.

Even if only for touristical purposes, production of culture in Europe was a powerful and profitable investment: beyond German engineering, European culture, as its welfare State, produced the profile and richness for which Europe was recognized, visited and looked at as a desirable model.

However, when austerity measures are the rule, culture is considered superfluous. Along the same line of thinking, Europe’s investment in higher education too is to be trashed and emulate the production of inequality and profit that is typical of the anglo-saxon education model – until that bubble also burstsand perhaps demonstrates that there is nothing really interesting to emulate in such a model.

One wonders if the desinvestment in a democratic access to education is part of an invisible class war, or if it is solely a pragmatic response to the fact that, after all, higher education in Europe only contributed to produce its most cultured ‘lost generation’ ever…

It’s not only in the South European countries, and not only amongst its young, however, that Europenas are faced with the dilemma of either unemployment or self-imposed exile, i.e, choosing emigration as a way of escaping recession (and its silent partner depression).

I’ve landed in MoMA because I felt I had to look for alternatives – thus enjoying the privilege of spending a terrible period for Portugal in a golden exile. Recently, though, previous directors of publishing ventures such as Actar in Barcelona, or, alas, Sun Architecture in Amsterdam, were also welcomed by Montreal’s Canadian Center for Architecture.

Many others are probably looking for similar opportunities, and, like in other historical periods, the New World gladly takes in the European talent. In other historical periods, nonetheless, there were profoundly serious reasons for the exodus of European creative minds: racial prosecution and a World War.

Now, however, while we hear that if the European Union was one nation its achievements in the Olympics would have tripled the U.S. – and as if announcing Europe’s unfortunate and miserable decline –  the only reason for the new exodus seems to be stupidity, and a definitive lack of political vision.

Beam me up, Scotty! (Os Idos de Março)

This was a banal industrial corner under Williamsburg Bridge. Many would be disencouraged to walk the lesser-seen parts of Brooklyn’s hippest hood to reach the place from the nearest subway station. Particularly on a wet, gray afternoon like that of the last Saturday of March.*

© Pedro Gadanho, Untitled (Williamsburg), 2012.

We carried through, though. My friend’s iPhone GPS device eventually designated a low and anonymous building as our destiny. Across the stained translucent glass, one could already sense a bustle. A muffled, yet promising clamor leaked to the quiet, empty streets.

After we negotiated our entrance with the guardian of the door, we finally crossed the threshold onto a sweaty, noisy, vibrant atmosphere. And we faced it: an excerpt of Rio de Janeiro had made its way to New York. Complete with the samba band, the dancing crowd, and the hyperrealist slum-like ambiance.

By crossing that thin treshold, we had jumped through a loophole and were instantly teleported to a place that stands resolutely 8000km away. Which means that we were thrust farer than Scotty ever beamed up Captain Kirk…

Beam me Up, Scotty! Image hacked via Of Woods and Words.

Contrary to the huge efforts of scientists intent on achieving our teenage dreams – and only managing to teleport miniscule quantities of atoms across their lab – the fact is cosmopolitan cities like New York are already full of highly efficient, low-tech loophole teleporters.

What Michel Foucault called heterotopias – a concept I recently enjoyed revisiting in a text I’ve just added to this blog’s archive – is no longer only about top-down institutions and somber architectural typologies.

Bottom-up, pop-up space-time machines such as Williamsburg’s Miss Favela botequim – with their exquisitely shabby architectural interiors, their thriving imported props and their own immigrant micropopulations – are now much livelier and exhilarating heterotopias.

In New York, I’ve also found small Mexican groceries that may transport you to Oaxaca frozen in the mid-eighties, Chinese kitchens that set you in ever-present Shanghai, or even that Synagogue where on the very same Sabbath I attended my first Bat Mitzvah – one which, as I read familiar names in the walls, and listened to a choir that somehow reminded me of Ivan, the Terrible, inevitably teleported me to New Amsterdam in 1654.

Perhaps this is indeed what makes an exciting and desirable city – as indeed a good piece of architecture: its capacity to project us outside of itself by making us dive deep into its most hidden layers.

The Rise of Performance Architecture

In the last decade, ephemeral architecture practices of numerous architects and artists collectives have been developing as a critical answer to the results of growing mobility in the recent neo-liberal context, using various performative tactics for “activation” of the local potentialities for social change. The most interesting ephemeral architecture projects are fast-statement critical practices, collective actions towards the creation of temporary places for encounters in an ever-changing urban environment.
 But, because these actions have to be strongly connected to longer-term local actions, they must assume a transitory nature that calls for a social transformation, for a next step. This is very performative. And this is where the performative action becomes a radical social gesture that goes far beyond the production of an aesthetic object.

In TodaysArt Festival Brussels 

Sometimes one gets the funny idea that a certain trend is gathering memento. One thinks about it and presents the notion to a couple of friends. Given the opportunity, one writes an article about it. And then one organizes it as a proposal for a potential exhibition that will allow for further research.

With the notion of Performance Architecture most of these steps took place around 2006. My first article on it came out in a student archizine in 2007. The “exhibition” was first suggested to Mirko Zardini at the CCA, just before the 2008 finantial crash put an halt to all the institution’s external projects. And then it was again proposed to Laboral, and the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, and the Barbican. However, it seemed to be too soon* to all of them.

Finally, a few weeks ago I’ve signed the contract that signals the idea found its first partners at the Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture. As such an international competition is to be launched in October for five ephemeral interventions in the Portuguese “cradle city.” Look forward to it.

At the same time, events coincidentally started to pop-up across Europe suggesting that the unexpected relationship between Performance Art and Architecture is now something to watch for.

In fact, while Madrid-based Ariadna Cantis curated an event along similar lines in 2009, it seems that it is only this year that the notion is being more amply recognized and debated – when some of its noteworthy protagonists have reached already more than a decade of consistent urban interventions .

After the unexpected, yet historical and festive gathering of some relevant protagonists of this tendency at the disPlace conference, as organized by Dédalo magazine in Porto, new conference events around the theme will now take place in Den Hague and Brussels, at the TodaysArt Festival, and later this year again in Madrid, at the IV Encuentro Internacional El Arte Es Acción.

It might take a few years for certain tendencies to become clear. But when they do, they do. Or they will. Specially when they are coming from the streets. And this is not a bonfire of vanities. It is a matter of both emergency and urgency.

Sit Down and Enjoy the Flow

While finishing classes for the academic year of 2010-11 and already preparing to join the Realdania/IFHP/DAC  “Another Urban Future” think-tank in Copenhagen – to again visit the Danish capital for the first time in 20 years – I couldn’t but think of just sitting down and enjoying the flow of information that one has to suspend if one wants to carry with business as usual.

In this case, going back to the dark side of your email inbox is quite enough to delight in immediate possibilities for reflection. With our focusing on communication tools such as Facebook or Twitter, we constantly overlook how the much humbler email has changed our lifes – and our possibilities of (net)working internationally at considerable low cost…

This is not only about the instanteinity of communication across the globe, or the innumerous newsletters updates one consumes at daily rate and absurd speed. This is also about how painful – and deadening on a one person-structure – it would be to print, fold, envelope, lick, stamp, and take 20, 30, 40 letters a day to the nearest post office. Unconceivable and yet only 30 years distant.

Indeed, if I would have to consider what was the electronic tool that has brought us to our current state of affairs after the invention of personal computers, I would have to state that this was the email.

And this small digression is only to start telling you about two or three things on my inbox that tickled my curiosity enormously over the last weeks – before I archive them into an almost inevitable oblivion.

The first are news on an intriguing project sent in by Beyond #01 contributor Antonio Scarponi, the bright mind behind Conceptual Devices.

I think my enthusiasm for Malthus, A Meal a Day was triggered because it reaches into that dominion of design fiction that, parallel to architecture fiction, very effectively feeds our imagination of the future ever since Anthony Dune and Fiona Raby started to devise weird scenarios to explain their startling objects.

But I also got carried away because of its connection to a text that impressed me earlier on. In the unexpected context – or not so much – of an architecture magazine, “L’Agriculture en Ville” by Etienne Chobaux simply explores the current possibilities of hidroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics and shows us how the future of food may be about to change oh so drastically.

This sort of future visions is the thing that ultimately prevents me from being a depressed pessimist on account of the information I access every day: they reveal the incredible but proven potential of the human mind to permanently (re)create, (re)think, (re)improve and transform its technologies and inventions.

Socially, or in terms of the current history of our democracy, we seem to be placidly looking at the decline of another roman empire from the very comfort of our living rooms. We seem indecided to muse on revolt or to just remain indifferent vis-a-vis the spectacle of luscious greed merrily overcoming any possible rationale of well-distributed progress.

The possibility of sanity then probably arises from the lone fact that we secretly know – or want to believe – that some people out there are still diligently blinding themselves to the reality around them and just moving on with their own doings – and with their own micro-narratives of possible progress.  We somehow expect those people to be our guarantee for ‘another future.’

And while I’m pretty sure Antonio Scarponi does his best day-to-day efforts to prevent himself from considering that Silvio Berlsconi’s really exists, all of this pretty well relates to another blog feed that just landed on my personal email from DPR Barcelona.

DPR’s quote of Zizek provides an excellent opener for a peculiar reflection on how again, and as we are one,* architecture can be political, even if also assumedly withdrawing from the violent assaults of current reality.

Curiously, Ethel Baraona and César Reyes’ contribution to a larger blogiscussion reflects upon the project of a Greek architect, Aristide Antonas, featured above. And, as their text eventually suggests, this is not an unrelated happenstance.

Coincidently, my forthcoming claim that architects must go back to the streets – an op-ed for Domus that states that… they are already doing it – also inevitably echoes the violence that, while munching dinner with our small children, we sense rising daily in the very same cities that more than two thousand years ago saw the unconscious, mythological birth of Western democracy.

Tickle Your Imagination

While I should be thriving because my latest architectural project is featured in the April editions of both Mark and Domus, I must say that on this occasion I’m particularly thrilled because, just as I was musing on terrifying beauty, the Tickle Your Catastrophe book was indeed making its way onto my doorstep.

It’s not that I don’t see the first as relevant. I do. Especially when, in the case of Domus, we are looking forward to a new phase in the history of a key architectural magazine. And as I am increasingly interested in the building act as a catalyst for the proliferation of cultural, if not political meaning,  publication in a highly legitimated media certainly plays an important role in the process.

GMG House in the new Domus, now edited by Joseph Grima.

However, I’m progressively more interested in the expression of thought, and critical thought at that, whenever possible and adequate, either through design or discourse. So, at this instance, while my ego should be mostly flattered by my subversive and furtive interiors being made public, I’m even more proud to be part of Tickle Your Catastrophe with an essay you can partially preview here.

As the traditional publishing world seems to be quickly whirling down the e-toilet, Tickle Your Catastrophe may well be a good example of a disappearing kind: a sexy scientific publication that caters for an audience outside academia…

This is a reader of laboriously edited texts that extend well beyond their varied academic origins – and the 2009 conference that set off the publication – so as to become a many-sided, prescient, and wholly perspective on the darker shades of realities currently lurking on a corner near you.

With chapters on ruin value, states of emergency, media disasters and worst-case scenarios, this is a true survivor’s manual on everything you should know about calamity and forgot to ask both Wild Bill Hickok and Doctor Strangelove.

And while haunted by some of the usual phantoms of contemporary academic writing – from Benjamin to Deleuze, Sebald and Žižek – it must be said that this collection on the imagining of catastrophe in art, architecture and philosophy is also aptly trespassed by the futuristic ghosts of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson, or even by the eerie reminiscences of traumatic events like the Chernobyl disaster and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.

The great 1755 Lisbon earthquake, as connected to Voltaire’s Candide

With such condiments, Tickle Your Catastrophe becomes the kind of atypical book where theory displays one of its best, frequently overlooked attributes, one that brings it close to speculative fiction: its almost magical ability to dive into the future while intently looking at the mirror of the present and the past.

And that’s why one of the most troubling moments in the book – besides Lieven de Cauter’s chilling views on The Mad Max Phase of Globalization – eventually emerges in a poignant accidental postscript in which Susan Schuppli recalls how a reading of her Chernobyl essay in Tokyo was disturbed by an earthquake that affected a Japanese nuclear plant “involuntarily” built on a seismic fault…

Experiencing the tremors of this radiological activity directly as it was unfolding, standing as I was amidst the quake, signaled the uncanny entanglement between the conceptual research and the literal ontological ground upon which these ideas momentarily trembled. It was as if the actions of the future, my research yet-to-come, had colluded with the past, Chernobyl, to make the present shaky and thus a source of renewable creative energy for the future. As William Gibson has frequently remarked, “the future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Little did Susan know that Fukushima was to take place some four years later, close to where she first established these mental connections, more or less at the same time those very words were being printed onto posterity.