Category Archives: conferencing

Turista Acidental (Dose Dupla)

Não sei bem se por preguiça (de deixar as imagens falar) ou por necessidade (de deixar o registo ficar), sempre desejei começar aqui uma espécie de travelogue que me permitisse deixar instantâneos e impressões das inúmeras viagens que tenho vindo a fazer por “obrigação profissional.”

De regresso de Zurique, acresce, senti-me inundado por uma sensação que seria arrogante, se não fosse também sinceramente humilde: reconhecer um enorme privilégio por, entre outras solicitações, poder continuar a fazer um circuito intenso e variado de conferências um pouco por todo o mundo.

Raramente vejo as conferências como um fim em si. É certo que é bom contribuir com o conhecimento que, por alguma razão, se acumulou. Mas a secreta atração das conferências sempre foi, para mim, a possibilidade de conhecer lugares, instituições e pessoas interessantes: criar redes e acolher novas perspectivas.

ZurichZurique em versão postal ilustrado.

Na ETH de Zurique, para além de estreitar laços com uma network de Arte e Arquitectura do MIT agora espalhada pelo mundo, gratificou-me poder dialogar em palco com a fabulosa Ute Meta Bauer, alguém que apenas se pode descrever como uma referência incontornável da curadoria contemporânea.

Comentámos que, curiosamente, já nos tínhamos cruzado quando há 12 anos atrás organizámos exposições que se sucederam na agora sub-utilizada galeria da Biblioteca Almeida Garrett, no Porto – obviamente por ocasião da swan’s song da cidade que foi a Capital Europeia da Cultura de 2001.

1PostR05Post-Rotterdam, uma estreia curatorial há 12 anos atrás.

(A Ute Meta Bauer no Porto, em 2001, como outros ao longo dos anos, diz algo do talento português para identificar e trazer a casa quem está prestes a explodir na cena internacional. É de relembrar que, depois do convite de um dos nossos primeiros cultural exilées, Miguel von Haffe Perez, a Ute prosseguiu para dirigir a Documenta e a Bienal de Berlim, antes de, como tantos europeus hoje em dia, ser ela própria cativada por uma instituição americana).

Em Zurique tive a oportunidade de observar como, na última verdadeira bolha de bem-estar do território europeu, a qualidade de vida continua acima de qualquer média. E as instituições como a ETH renovam-se virando-se para fora, para esse mundo em convulsão que verdadeiramente pode beneficiar da enorme acumulação de conhecimento da Europa.

Depois de conversar com Marc Angélil, o director do Master de Urban Design da ETH, e Hubert Klumpner, dos Urban Think Tank – que após o sucesso de Veneza são agora também “residentes” na Suiça – concluí que a minha intuição estava correcta quando pensei incluir a ETH no meu próximo projecto curatorial.

Com os labs de Columbia e MIT (justamente), a ETH é a outra instituição académica que, ao lado de colectivos emergentes e ateliers locais, deverá fazer parte do grupo de participantes de Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities, a exposição que, desvele-se, está prometida para suceder a Rising Currents e Foreclosed no MoMA…

Adiante, porém, ou para trás, de Zurique para Kuwait City – que, em rigor, deveria ter correspondido ao meu falhado travelogue de Março. Eis pois outra cidade imensamente afluente que me vejo revisitar amiúde, pelo menos em memória,  quando conto a quem me quer ouvir que este foi um dos mais estranhos sítios que já se me deu conhecer.

Kuwait1Room With a View #35, 2013. 

A primeira imagem que tive do Kuwait quando acordei no meu hotel foi talvez sintomática: uma paisagem lunar e desértica, que só mais tarde compreendi ser um cemitério. Decepcionado com a ausência de urbanização galopante, pedi que me mudassem de quarto.

O Kuwait é diferente do mais mediatizado Dubai por uma razão essencial: o petróleo foi descoberto mais cedo, nos anos 30. Portanto os naturais do Kuwait consideram-se naturalmente um povo à parte, obviamente muito menos nouveau riche que os seus companheiros do Golfo.

Kuwait3aRoom With a View #36, 2013

Convidado por Zahra Ali Baba, do National Council of Culture, Art and Letters, para falar sobre plataformas de divulgação e reflexão de arquitectura, esta foi uma oportunidade para conhecer um quadrante da geopolítica política totalmente novo para mim. (Como nos livros do Tintin, não deixaria porém de deparar com mais um português “na diáspora,” um jovem arquitecto com quem, por sinal, já tinha colaborado há não muito tempo.)

Num país onde a primeira Faculdade Arquitectura surgiu há pouco mais de 10 anos, a minha lecture inclinou-se a contrapor as diferenças e semelhanças entre as possibilidades de uma prática crítica da curadoria – algo sobre o qual já é tempo de partilhar aqui um velho ensaio  – quer essa seja feita em regime free-lance, quer num âmbito mais institucional.

No entanto, a conferência – e as escassas 36 horas que passei em Kuwait City –serviram também para anotar algumas impressões sobre um mundo à parte, pelo menos enquanto o petróleo durar pelos próximos 30 anos.

Kuwait9

As poucas décadas de avanço que o Kuwait levou sobre os seus vizinhos significaram apenas que este pequeno Emirado abraçou um modelo de re-urbanização um pouco diferente das opções mais recentes. Um modelo que, no entanto, quando olhado em retrospectiva, não parece menos duvidoso.

Até aos anos 30, Kuwait City não era mais que uma aldeia piscatória adaptada às duras condições locais – i.e., a temperaturas frequentes acima de 60o centígrados. Após a passagem da II Guerra Mundial sob protectorado inglês, porém, o Kuwait decidiu-se a comprar a receita urbanística da época e dedicou-se diligentemente a erradicar o seu próprio passado.

Perseguidos os ideais modernistas de um zonamento funcional estrito,  a cidade destruída pela opção urbanística de proceder a uma rigorosa segregação social e espacial, Kuwait City parece ter sofrido mais com as suas opções urbanísticas de então do que com a destruição proveniente da invasão pelo Iraque nos anos 90. Os edifícios reconstroem-se, as comunidades não.

Kuwait5

A segregação espacial proposto pelas corporações arquitectónicas inglesas tiveram efeitos estapafúrdios. O centro da cidade, esvaziado de habitação, esvaziou-se também de pessoas. Encheu-se, no entanto, de automóveis que – como na Islândia, mas por razões climáticas inversas – funcionam perfeitamente como uma extensão MacLuhaniana do corpo e da roupa.

Quando a minoria da população natural do Kuwait não se encontra no ambiente climatizado do seu automóvel topo-de-marca ou do seu escritório 8-to-1, é mais que certo que se encontra num centro comercial. Parte do roteiro turístico obrigatório, em particular quando nos encontramos no paraíso da cultura franchise, os grandes shoppings de Kuwait City constituem obviamente o tipo de espaços que fazem o Colombo empalidecer para a escala das Amoreiras.

Kuwait12

Se o centro comercial que visitei me impressionou pela escala de cidade, logo viria a descobrir que os focos de inovação urbana de Kuwait City estavam, como seria de esperar, elsewhere. Depois de comprovado que as leis secas levam sempre ao seu oposto, seria apenas a altas horas da noite que, graças ao olhar informado do Ricardo, viria a desvendar o ‘outro lado’ do Kuwait.

Como sucede quase sempre, seria no lado mais informal da cidade, neste caso no anel urbano destinado aos imigrantes e aos expatriados, que surgiriam as mais inéditas tipologias urbanas. Num lugar onde o dia é insuportável a partir da Primavera, não deveria afinal constituir surpresa que fosse do lado da noite que surgisse a realidade urbana mais exuberante.

kuwait

Por entre a necessidade, o empreendedorismo e as típicas subversões da lei – numa cidade em que, como em Zurique, o controlo parece absoluto – a ocupação dos interstícios entre edifícios levaria a uma proliferação de pequenas unidades comerciais que, com as suas variações festivas e a distância à cultura climatizada do franchise, parecem ser a única coisa que devolve a vida a Kuwait City.

The Performative Turn

In the world of art, as in literary studies or the social sciences, one has got used to successive turns* by which tendencies metamorphose into one another.

Over the last decades there were the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and, of course, also the performative turn, by the likes of which the influence of performance over other artistic media was somehow extended and confirmed.

Now, apparently also architecture has its performative turn. The prevalence of diagram or program in recent design approaches to all things architectural, like once of the principle of autonomy or the spirit of place, now gives place to every possible aspect of the performative in architecture.

Beyond the activation of program’s abstractions, and behind such a turn lies, as it would be expected, one relevant paradigm shift. And here we may speak of a return of the user – not to say simply the return of the repressed – to the troubled horizon of current architectural concerns.

After the delusions of grandeur of the recent architectural self, the ever-cyclic return to the needs of the end-user of architecture now takes place by integrating use narratives into conceptual strategies of design, but also by introducing expressions of these concerns into the very shaping of built forms.

Didier Fiuza Faustino, Opus Incertum, 2008, shown at the 11th Venice Biennial.

Thus one discovers the very imprints of bodies blooming in recent projects – reconnecting architecture with traditions of performance art –, just as one recognizes the performatic aspects of participation and self-building as instrumental in reconnecting architecture’s profession of faith with local communities and broader urban audiences.

These and similar reflections are bound to kick off the discussion on the performative in architecture that will take place this Saturday at 3pm, at the newly open, Exyzt designed Curator’s Lab, within the Art & Architecture programme of the ongoing Guimarães European Capital of Culture.

The panel is also a crucial moment of the multi-stage event and urban intervention competition Performance Architecture, which I’m curating as a last remnant of my previous free-lance livelihood in Portugal.

While key-note speaker Isabel Carlos will present her views on Performance Art and its potencial re-enactings in the contemporary urban field,  jury members Didier Fiuza Faustino, Raumlabor, A77 and Office for Subversive Architecture will show their own takes and ideas on performative architecture and the city.

The talk promises insights into some potential futures and options of a wide-spreading mode of architectural practice – while also giving way to the announcement of the Performance Architecture competition winners, who will get to build their own proposals in the public space of Guimarães.

Useless Architecture?

The name of this talk evokes the title of a recent conference given by Peter Eisenman. In Wither Architecture? the gentle and mature starchitect situated his recent practice within a double condition of lateness: a late work in the career of his author, and also an inevitable expression of the often called late capitalism. A charming weakness emerged from the almost anxious, if self-ironic, attempt to inscribe his work in the flow of architectural history. Eisenman’s obsessive use of fictional, historical or topographical grids to intellectualize and justify the form of his buildings came about as a means to achieve disciplinary legitimation. However, this was also a Piranesian prison that kept the creator from the pure creative act. Uttering a kind of last will, the architect aspired to one of the most useless and unreachable aspects of architecture: everlasting recognition. So as to produce relevant architecture, do we really need the various legitimations of visibility? Is architectural culture utterly useless or is it’s thinking strictly necessary to reiterate again and again the ultimate, unobvious usefulness of buildings?

This is the concept I’ve presented to ExperimentaDesign when invited to host one of their 2011 OpenTalks. With talk hosts such as curators Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Zoe Ryan, this promises to be one of the biennial’s Opening Week highlights, taking place as from today at 11am  in another amazingly empty heritage building in Lisbon’s historical core, until recently the home to the Boa Hora Law-Court.

.. At Trial in Boa-Hora Court, 1980. Via Memoriando.

So, this is the weird setting in which tomorrow at 11am invited ladies Alexandra Lange, architecture critic at the Design Observer, Folke Koebberling, from Koebberling & Kaltwasser, and Gretchen Mokry, from Architecture for Humanity will take architecture culture to martial enquiry…

The issue here is not really if buildings and shelter are useful, which they obviously are, but more if we may dismiss architecture thinking and its (dis)contents as distant and useless – as so many seem to assume too quickly.

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.

FORM FOLLOWS F®ICTION

This week, I’m going to Paris* to kick off my participation as a guest tutor at the ESA’s Studio 3X, where I follow after Peter Zellner and Enric Ruiz-Geli during this last semester of 2010-11 –  while Fernando Menis, Riyaz Tayyibji and Alexander Brodsky took care of the first half of the year.

At this instance I’m also delivering a conference, this Friday at 7pm, on the theme of dis_placing the architect. While again playing with the idea of becoming a one-man band, I’ll focus the presentation on some of my curatorial projects that tackle changes in the nature of the profession today.

As for the one-month course itself, I proposed the theme of Form Follows Fiction. Focusing on the project of a community centre in a socially problematic urban enclave, the exercise intends to explore how the teachings of fiction can translate back into spatial production, and how the exploration of life-stories can translate into relevant experimentation with program.

At this instance, I’ll propose that one may depart from two different aspects of fiction taken as a critical tool: the reconstruction of reality’s spatial and social network through narrative (and architectural) devices, and the devising of future scenarios (and architectures) from symptoms and tensions which are present both in context and fictional texts.


Just think of the conflation of the intricate spatiality of Georges Perec’s La Vie Mode d’Emploi with the plausible futurity of Bruce Sterling’s White Fungus and you’ll start to get the idea(s) where we will be departing from.

*The asterisk signals the post’s soundtrack!

Terrifying beauty

Today, my wife and me will be presenting a few ideas for Lisbon on behalf of CUC, at MUDE museum, 7pm, within a quite packed panel that intends to publicize the city council’s participative budget.

There are 5 million euros to be applied in ideas presented by the people, and an apparent willingness to have citizens participating in city decisions. However, people seem to have lost faith in institutions, politicians and bureaucrats to such a degree that they simply don’t bother to contribute, thus leading some brave young people to devise a way to call attention upon this program.

One of the ideas we are introducing in the debate is deliberately utopian, moreover if one considers the economic pressure we’re currently under. It can be described, in a deceivingly simple way, as the making of longitudinal car parks along Lisbon’s downtown two main arteries, Rua do Ouro e Rua da Prata.

However simple an idea, this may represent one of the major engineering challenges that this urban core requires in the future – if it really wants to accommodate new inhabitants and, simultaneously, rehabilitate from the underground one of the first comprehensive structural systems in the world ever to respond to earthquake situations.

The other ideas, the immediately feasible ones, are children’s parks, small green spaces, health care centers, the reboot of existing underused cultural facilities, and other similar amenities that may make the city centre where we live friendlier to residents, rather than only to hordes of tourists – in what could be dubbed the current barcelonization of Lisbon.

For me, this act of participation is also an inward attempt to fight a pessimism that I’ve felt growing over the course of my latest posts. One thing is to be critical of a given situation; the other is to become acid to a point in which you start melting from within…

Just last week, for example, while I was strolling through central Lisbon and observed the physical degradation of the city I was just about to start a photographic series on urban decay.

I guess the way some decaying buildings generate a sort of miserable charm is what sometimes entitles Lisbon to the dubious status of Europe’s Habana.


The fact is that, after years of destroying this country’s ultimate resource – its landscapes and geographical diversity – only now the proud local construction industry is looking at building renovation as its emergency exit.

And given the economical recession, they were lucky enough to have some mysterious, unheard-of real-estate investment companies immediately popping up to give them a hand. It seems like it is now safe to release the piles of eurocash some people have hoarded during the pre-crisis years.

To be fair, a lot of renovation happened during the last decades in central Lisbon, even if the Portuguese capital has also turned out to be a shrinking city and many of its buildings remain empty. But, of course, there’s still a lot to be done.

As it is, I started thinking that austerity would be nice, if only it had anything to do with Paul Auster. Now that people were finally heading for urban rehabilitation, it’s also probable that many investments come to an halt.

So, as poverty and inequality kicks in – and as one slowly fights the devastation brought upon us by our political “elite” – one can indeed resort to artistic observations on how the subtle alterations of dilapidation produce a certain aesthetical frisson.

One should, for example, take a positive lesson from street artists like Eltono, who registers with deserved satisfaction the way that, in spite of everything else, the city transforms itself around his fragile inscriptions.

This is perhaps one of the most amazing human survival tools still around from primeval times: the perverse, but essential ability to turn either tiny or wide catastrophes into what some call a terrifying beauty.

Mis-Takes

Talking about bebop, after my participation this Saturday at the Beauty of Error conference, at Lisbon’s MUDE museum, I can’t but share what I thought was the most exciting presentation of them all – and there were designers, artists, photographers and even a chef discussing their trial and errors…

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. The video is somehow remnant of an era of which we may start being nostalgic, as it speaks of the access of the previously excluded to cultural production, and the vibrancy and quality that such access brought to society in general. It was made and presented by Johnny, a funktastic DJ from Lisbon.

It also said a lot about the many-sided abilities that today artists carry with them besides the main skill people usually recognize in them, which is somewhat close to what I intend to explore in my presentation at the disPlace conference this coming weekend in Porto – while addressing recurrent preoccupations on what the architect’s role vis-à-vis contemporary society may be these days.

In a weird chain of thought, however, this accumulation of skills by today’s most successful practitioners also reminded me of what someone was recently saying about the increasing problem of Western democracies regarding the re-distribution of (all types of) wealth within the scope of a crumbling social state.

As political oligarchies put down roots, as the richer get richer, and the poorer get poorer, the day seems to not so far in which the economically wealthy are defined as the only ones that have the means to produce anything – from new products to new ideas, from more money to more culture.

Want to be an artist? Want to do architecture, build beautiful structures? Sorry, you better be rich. But if you are already rich enough to maintain the activity, then you will have more chances than ever to get wildly richer…

As the middle class slowly asphyxiates, similarly to what happened in pre-modern societies the new unemployed proletariat will be enslaved to consume only the most basic products in a state of dormant obedience – these products now ranging from basic junk food to basic junk TV, if not the straightforward means to maintain a slightly schizophrenic level of quiescent euphoria.

……..Image from Zombie Apocalypse videogame.

And as apparently peaceful revolutions take on the streets to express their confused uneasiness about the situation – just before London, in Lisbon there were two hundred thousand people in the streets, a fact not necessarily connected by local media to the demise of the government – such uneasiness also clarifies why, as Lars Bang Larsen brilliantly put it, zombie stories are again replacing vampiresque tales in the wider collective unconscious.

Fiction is always trying to tell you some uneasy truth.

Jetlag Bliss – A Travelogue

A stranger in a strange place, you land on a snow-covered city and this suddenly feels as refreshing as being slapped without warning. Like sleep deprivation, you remember you need these abrupt changes to take you out of a lukewarm, pleasing state of hibernation. You feel privileged. You are part of an apparently disappearing sect: travelers of rare bliss, exchangers of precisely located, yet homeless knowledges – those yesteryear voyagers who have been slowly, but surely, substituted by passive tourists and predatory traders.

Anri Sala, Long Sorrow, 2005. Via Mousse Magazine.

Like if entering a proper nuit blanche, as soon as you arrive to the core of this city you find yourself visiting a contemporary art museum at 1.00 am – this hour still being your unquestionable biological time. And this museum is full of people, and you enjoyably rediscover the powerful work of Anri Sala, or come across artists like Young & Giroux. Mostly, you take in pieces that you’ve never seen before, and yet feel pleasantly close to home. A satisfying cultural acclimation, as it would be.

A few hours later, you will remember being in Tokyo on a reverse timetable. You will remember assaulting the streets for food at around 4.00 am, a harmless vampire looking out for the nearest 24/7. You will recall feeling sleepy at 7.00 pm and abandoning yourself to the same chronological cycle, over and over again. As it were, in this unexpected enclave of French language in America you find yourself reading Barthes between 4.00 and 8.00 am. You register the light coming in. Then you write. Just another way of getting lost – and found – in the delights of translation.

© Pedro Gadanho, “5.00 am (Hotel room with a view, #12)”, 2011

This one time you refuse to change the hour in you mobile phone. You stubbornly stick with your time zone. You will experience four days of a slightly dislocated timetable. As such, your panel conversation takes place at 11.00 pm, and by 1.30 am you are still discussing if and why architectural writing is undergoing a fictional turn. (A member of the audience suggests that maybe we are no longer interested in the truth. You counter that we may solely be bored or, even worse, giving in to the perverse logic that entertainment must take the lead in even pedagogical and disciplinary matters.) Dinner finishes at 5.00 am.

Two days after, you are still waking up at 4.00 am, local time. It is Saturday and four hours until breakfast. You make the usual morning skype call to your family. Then you head for Stereo, like a 12 year-old who skips Sunday school to join the after hours crowd. It turns out that Montreal has an interesting electronic scene and is twinned to your own city by a legendary sound system. And as they used to say, M.A.N.D.Y and Troy Pierce are in the house.

It’s a long time since you’ve been clubbing on your own. In this dance floor sunglasses after dark are obviously fashionable. A guy wears a T-shirt that says: “Egypt woke me up.” Did it really? Fortunately, at this stage social interaction is no longer required. As ever in the past, you are here exclusively for the acoustic engineering. As the sound involves you, your mind fills with words you will eventually write down. You reflect that bad techno is like any other form of porn, too lastingly engaged in some basic arrangement. Then again, the most layered electronica of post-Reich crop is the be-bop of our era.

Music is probably the clearest way to understand the fundamental play of novelty and obsolescence in our mental life. Novelty is an addiction. Even if it would be repetition that, as Barthes put it, “engendrerait elle-même la jouissance.” As architects like to believe in durability, they mostly reject novelty as a motor of their own doings. Nonetheless, architecture too is subject to rules of cultural consumption. And those dictate that we want our brain cells constantly rearranged by new arrangements of old and new fragments.

Three hours listening to music that you had never heard before and you are ready for the last, long day you will spend in town. The hypnotic beats have made you strangely apt to appreciate Buckminster Fuller’s Biosphere and Moshe Safdie’s still surprising Habitat 67 – even if you are walking from one to the other alone under a severe snow blizzard. The trance-like quality of those “rythmes obsessionels” have opened your mind to the Mile End’s graphic novel stores and the weird and wonderful ephemera shops of Boulevard St. Laurent – even if you are long past your regular dinnertime.

© Pedro Gadanho, “Ruins of the Future (Habitat 67)”, 2011

The morning you leave town you are woken up by the alarm clock at 5.30 am. Local time is catching up with your body. It is forcing you to conform. You timely escape into the airport. By 10.00 am you are in New York. One of those places, if not the place, which crisply illuminates how precious it is to breathe the air of the city. A few hours are enough.

Just before you definitely head home, five hours is what it takes to once again verify how a city can remain itself and yet retain an ever-unbelievable degree of new stimuli. Indeed, what Georg Simmel has once dubbed the mental life of the metropolis here translates in the peculiar feeling that the spur of the new it too can be enduringly inscribed into the flesh of stones.

Journeys

Even if the cold temperatures sound staggering to someone who is leaving ever mild Lisbon, I’m quite thrilled to fly off to Montreal tomorrow so as to participate on a panel on Experimental Writing, this Thursday at 6pm, at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.

The panel itself is part of CCA’s multi-faceted program that runs parallel to the current Journeys publication and exhibition – to which Infinite Index I’ve also contributed with a fictional short story, one that had been originally published in an artist’s book in Portugal and in Macedonia’s DOMA magazine.

While Journeys also introduces one of the first attempts to use the short-story format to convey the curatorial contents of an exhibition into print, it is great that this publication now provides for an exchange of ideas with Albert Ferré, from Barcelona’s publishing house Actar, and Kazys Varnelis and Naomi Stead, who had both recently been in Lisbon for the 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, last October.

And while around here we are slowly gathering memento to kick off the publication process for that memorable conference, it comes to mind that such a gathering actually triggered a fantastic array of personal reflections, some of which I now obviously want to expand on for this particular conversation.

Namely, while introducing the editorial and curatorial project of Beyond, Short Stories on the Post-Contemporary, I want to dwell on how entering the realm of fiction, means not only to use “fictional tools” – to use Truman Capote‘s appropriate expression – but also to enter an interdisciplinary relationship between two fields with their own rules and autonomies.

And while this conflation can lead to potentially interesting clashes and problems for both fields, it also sets a somewhat different reading on how literary notions – and, for instance, Roland Barthesplaisir du text – may reshape the writing of architecture beyond traditional forms of criticism and academic theory.

Perhaps indeed it is about time to go back to semiotics, only no longer stressed by its momentaneous postmodern overtones.

A tale of three cities

My first job at an architectural practice ever was in Barcelona, with Eduard Bru, back when the 1992 Olympics were starting to be tackled by the architects in the Catalonian city. This was the ecstatic Summer of ‘89. I convinced my parents to do holidays in Costa Brava and one day I escaped to look for work in Gaudi’s city.

I felt an eagerness to enter a wider, more exciting architectural scene. But I was also perhaps driven by an unconcious desire to discover how dance music was turning European cities nightlife upside down. By then, it seemed entirely reasonable to ocasionally drift from Otto Zutz’s three dance floors to Mies van der Rohe’s pristine pavilion by early morning light.

Although I came back over the years – so as to progressively observe BCN’s touristification (or urbanalisation…) to a degree that seemed to produce general irritation – only this year did the city again produced a distinctive effect on me.

When I came to Barcelona for my classes at Biarch last September, I arrived on the day of the general strike. As the cab driver soon informed me, there had been violent confrontations between the anarchists and the police. When I wandered through the streets by dinnertime, there was an atmosphere that resonated of party endings and drunken abandonment.

© Txapi Bernal.

In Plaza Calalunya, the police surrounded a blazed, blackened car, as if it needed protection. The Ramblas were wet and fairly empty. Every garbage container in sight was overturned and some of them were still on fire. As I entered the Barrio Gotic, oblique piles of rubbish nearly obstructed the narrower streets.

A resident friend later confided how much he had enjoyed to feel again the darker, smellier side of a city that had been utterly domesticated and designed into being the most attractive of late 20th century Europe’s urban role models.

© Cirusde2.

I couldn’t help thinking that if the strike lasted for three, five, ten days, the city would soon become unrecognizable. It reminded me of New Orleans going feral over the course of a few hours. It made me think of the delicate balance that makes our city machines tick. Extasi, extano.

Meanwhile, three weeks later, I arrive in S. Paulo. As, the airport bus melds into the early morning traffic, I count fifteen rows of vehicles flowing into the city centre. It is expected that by 2012 São Paulo will be arrested in a gigantic traffic jam. As portrayed in an old postcard, the growth of the Brazilian megalopolis by the late Seventies now seems idyllic and romantic.

Halfway into the city, I suddenly hear a loud noise as if someone banged the coach. In a school bus by the other side of our vehicle, a bunch of children turn their heads to the window and press their faces against the glass. As I barely distinguish a black hooded head passing by, two fellow passengers briefly interrupt their babble and wifi browsing. “It’s a hold up…” one of them comments casually. He then turns again to his laptop.

Welcome to one of those extreme cities in which most of the planet’s population will live in one hundred years. S. Paulo is renowned for its amazing wealth distribution: a city of 18 million inhabitants in which, despite abundant poverty, there are nevertheless half a million millionaires. A glimpse of an urban future in which, as it’s being widely announced, the middle classes are a thing of the past.

Via Toma Lá, Dá Cá.

And why did I come back to São Paulo? Curiously to moderate a debate on another one of the emergent megalopolis of the exaggerated present, as many at the Once Upon a Place conference recently dubbed the nature of Philip K. Dick and other science fiction writers’ approach to reality.

Why is Luanda in our radars? While it is “only” the 15th fastest growing city in the world, the buzz must relate to the fact that in 2010 the capital of Angola became the most expensive city in the world, surpassing Tokyo and Moscow. Thus, there must be something going on. And there is. Oil, and diamonds, and again a shocking social and urban unequality.

If you are around this corner of the globe, do show up at the Centro Cultural de S. Paulo, tomorrow at 18h, when I will be stirring up the discussion on Luanda in the “Outlines for New Cultures” project.

Interestingly, this challenging event – put up by artist Graziela Kunsch and architect Paulo Miyada after Constant’s New Babylon –  is also the 4th issue of the Urbania magazine. Talking about the dissolution of print, here is a publication that really goes out to change its format with every new issue…

Fictional Whims

One month away from the Once Upon a Place conference on architecture and fiction – with early bird registration at reduced rates closing tomorrow – it is more than about time to ask why the connection between these particular ways of world-making is becoming so big.

Is it because, as I was wondering in one of the conference’s presentation texts, fiction has become the appropriate tool to investigate a reality that is itself… stranger than fiction?

Image via  Waxin’ And Milkin’.

At the recent International Campus Ultzama, people asked why do architects now show a tendency to escape the traditional limits of architectural practice.      I advanced the modest contribution that maybe young practitioners are not really trying to escape anything, but just rather trying to find a way out

A way out of unemployment, that is, or out of a lack of prospects of a profession which in recent times was wrongly taken as a sure path to stardom and celebrity… As Juan Herreros added, architects have now to invent what they want to do – as artists always have done.

And this is perhaps one of the reasons why fiction in architecture is suddenly enjoying such a revival, and is popping up in revisions that range from Bruce Sterling’s hypothesis of an architecture fiction to the likes of Beyond or the contents of blogs – and projects - like that of Geoff Manaugh and Liam Young.

If fiction was always a vague source of inspiration for architects, now it’s presenting itself as a concrete model for knowledge production or, as it turns, a device for justifying architectural invention – such as in the recently published work of John Becker, in which the fictive narrative of an inexistent client plays as decisive a role as the creation of forms and programs itself.

What the Once Upon a Place conference will decisively show this next October is that the takes on fiction coming from the architectural world are now many-sided – either allowing for a rereading of architecture fictions of the past, questioning the role of utopia and dystopia, creating architectural and urban narratives, or finding in fiction an impulse for pedagogical experimentation.

Haunted Houses & Imaginary Cities, as we also like to call it, will bring forward the thoughts of more than 30 authors, artists, architects and researchers – out of the 250 papers submitted and including key-note speakers such as Alberto ManguelSchuiten and Peeters or Kazys Varnelis.

So, if you are planning to visit the last of Europe’s fictional capitals in the near future, maybe this will be a nice leit-motif to enter the pretty unchanged townscapes of Fernando Pessoa’s original whereabouts, Alain Tanner’s Ville Blanche’s settings and Wim Wenders’ locations for Lisbon Story.

Archives of Re-incidence # 04

Following on an article that just came out at the Design Observer, I felt like advancing here the introduction to a paper that will appear in full later this year in the Tickle Your Catastrophe! post-conference book.

……….. Via My Pen and My Paper.

This intro was actually written for the very same Design Observer and its Places journal, at the invitation of editor Nancy Levison. However, ultimately, we agreed that it was proving difficult to introduce the reasonings of a coming paper without actually reproducing it in its entirety.

……….. © Vaíllo & Irigaray + Galar. Via Plataforma Arquitectura.

But given that the Design Observer is now taking on board the very discussion of how copyright affects the development of the fashion field, I think it is more than adequate to have a sneak preview at my arguments on why architecture and design knowledge should nowadays follow the logic(s) of fashion