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.

A Few Months Later

LA Block © Pedro Gadanho. From an upcoming travelogue series.

“A few months later I was living in Taos, New Mexico, on another mesa, this time in an earthship with a stonemason friend I picked up along the way. People say that earthships are the most ecologically sustainable housing thus far created – built halfway into a hill so the earth does the heating and cooling and the temperature stays around 70 all year, with big south-facing greenhouse windows and raised garden beds inside, a grey water recycling system, and windows on either side of the long corridor so the wind blows through. And somehow, when you’re inside, looking up at the big blue sky and the castle-like clouds drifting by, you actually feel like you are in a ship, moving like a giant worm across the desert. New Mexico’s rotten nepotistic bureaucracy inspires complete distrust, and therefore people are more motivated to create local community and generally do as they please. It’s liberating, actually. Such places are known by earthship-builders as “pockets of freedom” – areas where building codes are not enforced, and therefore people are free to experiment and evolve with their houses and their lives, instead of being told what to do by the government. Code housing is expensive and it’s not necessarily what people want or need. Why not let them choose? My neighborhood had a pyramid, a castle made of tin cans, more earthships, yurts, teepees, domes, windmills, Star Wars-like pods, chickens, goats, llamas, and packs of dogs.”

    Samara Reigh, in Earthship New Mexico,         ……….The Brooklyin Rail, June 2012

The Stone Raft

Incognito in Lisbon, I happened to pick a strange day to again visit the streets that, no more than six months ago, I used to walk two or three times a week. As it was, I soon realized that Lisbon’s downtown was unexpectedly packed due to a bizarre event in the city’s most prized praça.

Praça do Comércio, a.k.a. Terreiro do Paço, is like a Spanish plaza mayor but with a twist: one side opened onto a wide, sumptuous river.

This is the kind of small, but generous spatial detail that has always made the difference between nuestros hermanos’ obstinate colonial urbanism – which led to grid-locked cities like México City – and the sensous, easy-going Portuguese city-making, which gave the world its most beautiful city: Rio de Janeiro.

During some of its many lives, Terreiro do Paço was a carpark during the Seventies and got polemically redesigned two years ago – when it also received alternative visions such as the one below, by this humble servant of yours.

Nonetheless, as a part of the larger Enlightnment plan that allowed for the reconstruction of Lisbon after the infamous 1755 earthquake, this truly royal amphiteater was conceived as a welcome space for incoming imbarcations – a maritime entrance to the city at the vaguely fabulous time when airports had not yet transformed traveling into a sucession of non-places.

This peculiar weekend, however, the magnificent Baroque setting where once the King had offered river fireworks* to the people – became the rental venue for a populist mega-picnic. In essence, as Lampedusa would say, nothing changed.

Terreiro do Paço, 1650, Dirk Stoop, via Wikipedia.

At this time, one of the richest men in Portugal, a supergrocer, offered the people cattle in corralspimba singers and five tons of food (being that the latter was, at least, providentially channeled to increasingly demanded-upon charities.)

This was not a case of pearls (or brioches) to pigs – which sounds too much like the kind of elitist afterthought that the politically-correct elites have learned to avoid – but one of pigs to peasants, which, carefully considered, is also somewhat of a less cynical statement.

A huge marketing operation for Portugal’s biggest chain of hypermarkets (and their anchored jumbo shopping centres), the event certainly deserves a short description beyond the praise offered on national TV by a former representative of the Portuguese gauche-caviar, now a most active representative of the city.

Imagine an historical, symbolically charged public space taken over by a highly-organized guerrilla urban farming, and you’ll start to get the picture.

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The corrals were actually well designed, a cornfield surrounded the statue of King José I, and the smell of coriander was in the air. And, cast against a giant stage for the endless procession of local kitsch, there it was: a megashow of the glorious produce sold by Portugal’s most beloved entrepeneurial empire.

For the first time in their suburban lives, children marveled at cows in their natural habitat – i.e. piles of hay –, while flocks of seventy year olds were dragged in from the countryside in Toyota coaches and acted as self-appointed tour-guides of a rural world made utterly obsolete by European bureaucrats.

I couldn’t but smile in a stupedified state of candor when I realized why the crowds gathered around one of the impromptu pavilions from which techno-folk emanated. If this had been Northern Europe, in similar context I would expect sculptural Russian whores dancing atop the sound-system. Here, it was only an old guy in checquered swim trunks who danced his spirits away behind the beer barrels, drawing a sort of neo-realist laughter from the exurban mob.

The most interesting outcome of the mega-event was, however, how its mega-audience quickly spilled to the nearby city centre. Hundreds of thousands of people – what the absentee Lisboetas would poetically call the ‘país real’ – rummaged through the last remnants of an ultimately sold-out city centre. Some of them would half-proudly, half-ashamedly, proclaim aloud how they had not set foot in Lisbon’s downtown in the previous two decades.

They cheerfully joined the hordes of tourists who had already realized that, in the midst of accelerated impoverishment, Lisbon quickly became the cheapest capital city in Europe. Besides beach and good food, one can buy exquisite antiques, fine leather shoes, top clothing and whatever else for a tiny fraction of their price anywhere else. And all of this without the annoying street riots of Athens, of course.

Rather, as I walked around, I noticed there were no signs of anarchy or unrest in sight; everybody was orderly and happy. Even if the masses carried with them the usual riff-raff of petty criminals, fake pot gypsy sellers, and the odd surviving heroin addict, all of these seemed to content themselves with only intensely eying the beef chicks (or, as the local slang goes, the bifas.)

Only as one would flow away from the epicenter of the megapop picnic, would Lisbon reveal more of itself, like in that lively corner of Rossio in which ginginha-drinking backpackers and black immigrants get together by the Wall of Tolerance and the bankrupt National Theatre.

This corner suddenly felt like an island of cosmopolitanism. There is definitely a sort of lost elegance in meeting in the streets to just talk. Not to smoke like an outcast, nor to binge-drink like an idiot, but just to talk. Small groups of Africans debated European politics, as if to better report back home.

As I myself made my way back home, I still had the chance to see a band of Spanish cokehead pijos laughing and shouting hysterically at the bewildered peasants in an open mini van. Like so many of their Portuguese counterparts, they looked and dressed like advertising people out of the Nineties.

They had rented a tour minibus and were being loud around town, possibly commemorating the eminent bailout of Spain – or, as one could put it in literary gist, rejoicing the very last acts of the Iberian empire.

After weeks of paradoxically uninspiring travels to so many challenging cities – from startling Medellín to unreal Los Angeles, from puzzling Santiago de Chile to spooky Philadelphia – those guys’ shouts in my old neighborhood seemed to have woken me up from a prolonged dormant state.

Aspleep in Niagara, © P. Gadanho. From an upcoming travelogue series.

The fleeting and noisy impression of that rattling minibus in the middle of the overheated, overpopulated Lisbon downtown finally instigated me to write again. And it also gave me the title for this post, after a great novel by the Portuguese Nobel prize, José Saramago.

As for that particular old favorite, The Stone Raft tells the wonderful and frightening story of how, most suddenly, the Iberian landmass gets severed from Europe and becomes a wandering jutland. If you are truly following European events you will know how this has again become a suitable metaphor for more than one of the Old Continent’s southern peninsulas.

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.

Salon des Refusés #02

Penguin Pool, Berthold Lubetkin, London Zoo, 1934. Via PostalesInventadas.

Park Life*

A final blow to the mythology of concrete as the ultimate, universal modern material took place in 2004, when the last remaining penguins in Berthold Lubetkins’ Penguin Pool at the London Zoo polemically left their celebrated shelter in search of a setting that would feel closer to their natural environment. After 70 years, Lubetkin’s architecture was still deemed organic, but not sufficiently so. Sympathetic to the penguin’s stand, a local zookeeper was reported to say that the pool was “an architect’s dream, not a penguin’s.”

 As the Armory Show is coming to town, and as yesterday I was hearing Michael Loverich of Bittertang describing the birdcage they had just fabricated, I couldn’t help remembering that Candide #5 is finally coming out – with the personal plus that it carries four micro-fables I much enjoyed fabricating myself last year.

The cautionary penguin tale above was one of five that were actually left out of the forthcoming issue of the magazine led by Susanne Schindler and Axel Sowa, which is to be released next week through Actar. In print you will find another four very-short stories featuring a coakroach, some cad-monkeys, the inescapable Orwellian pigs and, most naturally, a Venturian duck.

The Big Duck, New York, 1931. Via Wikipedia.

The fables were initially proposed for LOG #22, after Michael Meredith invited me to participate in his guest-edited issue on the absurd. I thought the best way to reflect on the absurd was obviously to produce something absurd. Thus, the predominantly post-apocalyptic Fables of the Reconstruction (after REM).

Nonetheless, the editors obviously preferred politically-correct theoretical takes on Bruno Taut. This being said, it is understated that I will never understand the editorial logic of architecture magazines around this side of the globe, except if for their odorous lust for an imprecise academic celebrity.

Conversely and ultimately, and as I was confiding to both the former Michael and Cristina Goberna of FakeIndustries, I do think one of the more delightful and obscure crazes recently unfurling in the para-architectural world is precisely that of a bizarre, wide-range excitement for animal architecture.

Daniel Arsham, Untitled (Kangaroo), 2009. Via Flavorwire.

In this case, the absurd is definitely not in the eye of the beholder. It really is lurking out there. And it certainly has something to say on architecture as a discipline today. Remotely, it may even provide for its critique.

As Gogol had it in The Nose, back in 1836: “Where aren’t there incongruities? — But all the same, when you think about it, there really is something in all this. Whatever anyone says, such things happen in this world; rarely, but they do.”

Postscript: finally, how would I resist adding an image of Tom Ford’s doghouse?

..Image courtesy of Todd Eberle.

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.

Other Little Magazines # 22 – Rainbow of Archizines

When Disegno arrived at my doorstep around the last days of December, I browsed through its tactile, lushious pages and decided that this was it.

With so many new things* piling up, I absolutely had to do a round up of some of the inaugural issues of ‘little’ magazines that, while lying in my office floor, also took part in the recent and continued revival of the archizine.

Intriguingly so, Dissegno itself spoke of how design magazines have been consciously pushing the borders of the architectural, not only into ever-new interdisciplinary connectivities or wide web platforms, but also ending up in territories that no longer pertain exclusively to architecture.

There was a time around the beginning of the 20th century in which design, in its acception of object creation, was still the bastard offspring of architectural mastery. Now, as it somewhat scandalously seems, it is architecture that more often than not is seen under the wide and prolific umbrella of design culture.

Thus, what once was for me the quintessential compel of an event such as ExperimentaDesign – the notion that activities as far apart as graphic design and urban planning are unified under the broad cultural inheritance of the progetto – is now also the implicit drive for the editorial mission of previous Icon editor and Disegno founder Johanna Agerman Ross.

This being said, I had the intention of reviewing in this post more or less every genre represented in my small but proud collection of number one editions, from the student zine lookalike full of star contributions, such as the 2010 Block, architecture etc., back to the academic-journal-refusing-to-be-academic also full of star contributions, such as the 2003 Log.

 

London’s Block, architecture etc. and…                 New York-based Log.

But alas, moving to another continent has a way of being hard on your luggage selection, and so I’ve decided to focus this update on two geographically bounded magazines that appeared during last summer, one in the unlikely – or not so – outskirts of Porto, the other in no longer so classical Rome.

The first of those, Peachvelvet International, or PI.MAG, belongs to a not unpredictable trend of publications catering locally to all the resilient lovers of an enduring, softly hued architectural minimalism.

This is all about the well-respected late modern tendeza that is still creating bridges and bonds for lone, misunderstood architects in disparate locations like the Iberian peninsula and relevant sections of the islands of Japan, United Kingdom or Switzerland.

PI.MAG’s opening manifesto is naturally and wikipedically about the color “white,” which as we know nowadays comes in manifold gradations right down to pitch black. Grey is thus welcome into the mag’s velvety, impeccable pages.

And while overall blinding white is still the domain of dodgy radicals – and being that the editors are “not obsessed with white or white buildings” – the delicate, tactile palette of this zine also welcomes the faint tinges of birch or even the manly rusty orange of Corten steel.

So as to complete its eulogy of descriptive, tint neutrality, PI.MAG rounds off with a piece of criticism – yes! amazing! – that dedicates yet another diatribe of fine ironical analysis to the color “green” and its many sustainable shades.

At this point we are finally allowed to uncover that “green” is not only the new black. “Green” has also become an ideological tool that conceals the lack of architectural quality of all the buildings that refuse to be simply and naturally… white. It really makes you wonder.

Boundaries speaks of entirely dissimilar colors. And that is suddenly warmingly welcome. As you flip through the magazine, you cannot avoid the color of dirt, and the color of people, and the color of naïve attempts at happiness. And this is good, and it feels right in a time in which a politics of radical aesthetics has to substitute again for the faint aestheticizations of the nice and cute.

As stated in its inaugural editorial, the borders in this magazine are not intended to be that of “the political frontier.” However, there is a bold desire to push some edges, namely in regards to what the stances of the architectural profession have been within a “new economy.”

As a peer-reviewed magazine that gets architects, researchers, urban planners, historians and geographers together, Boundaries is precisely about not being neutral, about joining forces, about enrichening the dialogue with differing positions. It does not acritically want to just caress the well established. And that is as promising as dedicating its first issue to Africa.

Opening up to Africa’s many realities, the project reviews in Boundaries reach from cooperation to tourist operations. In either case, they recall what to me emerges as still an essential problem: how to sustain the innovative qualities of architectural research when cultural and material resources are scarce.

And this question somehow relates to a worrisome impression which has often overcome me along the last couple of years. This is the possibility that, rather than the emergent economies we’re currently looking at, Africa might indeed be the future. For the better and the worse.

In that sense, it is only logical that we start paying some serious attention to this large, often forgotten continent.