Monthly Archives: April 2010

Fly Me to the Moon

I’m surely happy that airplanes are flying again as from today. It means that tomorrow morning I’m hopefully flying to St. Nazaire to participate in the Politics of Architecture Archilife international conference.

As already announced here and there, the conference features three days of discussions with many great people – including no more, no less, than five contributors to the first three issues of Beyond, as well as a few other friends…

We may want to be ecological and avoid flying, but I daresay that face-to-face contact is still unavoidable, namely if you want to brainstorm about “with what tools is architecture being conceived, communicated and disseminated.”

This is the title of the panel in which I’m participating Sunday, along with Sébastien Martinez Barat, Emiliano Gandolfi, Joseph Grima, Sébastien Marot and Marti Peran. And a what great panel that is… I should say.

The Archive

As I research images for my current classes on the 60’s artistic neo-avantgardes,   I realize how, in no more than a couple of years, image resources in the internet have incredibly, relentlessly multiplied.

Ultimately, everything will be made available, thus making a very palpable reality of André Malraux’s conception of the musée imaginaire – that museum without walls which he cleverly imagined and described in the 1950s.

The question about this immense archive – for which soon all production will be directly made, thus making another Frenchman’s reflections come true – is that such museum structure is a-hierarchical and defies the power of the encyclopedia makers and the wishes of wannabe gate-keepers.

That is why the most amazing imagery of architecture’s imagined futures and its many utopian dreams now appear in a Weird & Wonderful Things” kind of blog, rather than in an academic, deeply researched study arising from the architectural world. And this, even if the field has its own supply outposts.

Via the archive of the Iakov Chernikov International Foundation.

In this context, rather than being told what to think, it is left to the reader to take his or her own conclusions and make his or her own theses on what such images might mean as a drive for the architectural realm, past or present.

(Although if you still require some help, you may always start by going back to Lara Schrijver‘s introductory essay in the first issue of Beyond.)

As against the reactionaries who feel that this excess of images may numb our precious intellectual abilities – which makes me wonder who the “us” really is –     I do think that this conflation of images, even if ultimately devoid of anything but captions, may occasionally prove quite stimulating.

As they say, the triggering effect just depends on the luggage you carry around, either producing the effect a single match igniting or the whole fireworks.

Within this new, dumber or richer stream of consciousness, it is as exhilarating as a chance encounter itself to accidentally confront the past imaginary of an overcharged urban density with the ironic inversions Berlin-based artist EVOL performs when he reproduces dull suburban buildings in dull urban appliances.

Via herehere or here. But see also this, this or, if you prefer a soundtrack, this

Also EVOL creates a sort of plastic vision of dystopia, even if only apparently for ants, cockroaches and other small companion urban dwellers.

This is the sort of conflation of meaning that actually reminds me of a student competition I made years ago for a museum for Milton Keynes – that other side of the coin of architecture’s utopian aspirations.

What me and colleague and artist Richard Bentley called the XXth Century Situationist Museum back in 1995, was precisely based on an automated, random device that allowed viewers to always confront four different, unrelated cultural artifacts from the 20th century in each successive room.

Those were, after all, the times in which we were just being confronted with the Internet for the first time…

And my impression now, as reinforced by the 230 papers (!) we’ve just received from all over the world for the Once Upon a Place conference, is that, indeed, the visible proliferation of images comes with a mostly invisible, but also quite powerful proliferation of words and creative thinking.

However, when it comes to deliverance and visibility, advancing a structured mesh of thoughts, concepts and ideas is still slightly more difficult than getting some images together and offer them to the archive and whatever random audience may come across them.

Other (Architectural) Journals: Little Magazines #09

Over the last weeks, I received three academic magazines that confirm that in the field of architecture too new publications are popping up as if unaware of the “end of print” – that celebrated motto set off by Raygun’s founder, David Carson, a couple of decades ago…

Of course, as all of these journals emanate from the restricted circle of the university domain –and curiously are all of them of German-speaking provenance– that might explain how their venture is supported without much intervention from the so-called market forces.

When I first heard of Generalist, I thought “what a wonderful name for an architecture magazine.” It sounded a little bit like the counterpart of that English practice that goes by the very apt and ironic designation of Studio Superniche

As cast against a general tendency to embrace what Ortega y Gasset once called “the barbarism of specialization,” such bold label promised a return to the deeper cultural overtones of the architectural profession.

Alas, I was in for a deception, as with typical Germanic precision the magazine from Darmstadt precisely dedicates itself to dissect those tools of the trade that, precisely, make architects become specialists – and that make them sometimes forget about life and how to live it.

In this sense, in fact, I preferred the in-depth explorations of Architectural Papers #01 on and around a very specific pedagogical practice: that of Josep Lluis Mateo in his academic chair at the ETH architecture school in Zurich.

Started in 2005, and since 2007 at its provoking 4th issue, the opening edition was particularly imbalanced in favor of depicting Mateo’s pedagogical project, thus providing a rare and profound insight into a highly experimental method of teaching architecture and its surroundings – sound, nature, history and so on.

In one section that was to grow in weight within this ultra specialized magazine, the Found Papers, one could also find an early and quite interesting critique of what came to be generally called architecture’s star-system.

In this instance, Ernst Hubeli portrayed a so-called global architecture as against the stage set of a media hyperculture that, eventually, determined architecture’s virtual reality over the years to come.

And maybe because I’m particularly interested in architecture’s mediations and mediatizations, that also provided for my main interest in the most recent of the architecture journals proposed here.

Candide, named after Voltaire’s fictional character and well-known novella, is one of a surge of publications and events that swirls around the, uh, well, currently trendy notion of architectural knowledge.

Tightly separated into 5 different sections –Essay, Analysis, Project, Encounters, and Fiction – I guess Candide can be more alluring if in the future each of these parts features more than just one lonely, long essay. But maybe this is just my preference for the shorter, terser formats kicking in.

As it were, and as I was just saying earlier, I really happened to specially fancy the essay that was featured in the Fiction section. And this is not because the essay is a fiction, because it isn’t one, but because it is a curious take on how architectural “culture” gets passed onto the generalist public in primary school handbooks throughout German recent history.

More than scholarly, boring re-readings of Vitruvio, it is precisely such researches onto architectural mediation that today, more and more, are badly needed so that architects come to understand their failures and shortcomings in addressing their prosumers or, as they used to say, to serve the aspirations of their future buildings and urban spaces’ users.

Tactical Urbanism for Today

Some three months ago, I was musing about sharing idiocy. That is, wondering about sharing the kind of ideas that are apparently foolish, but which are only silly until they find the right investor to make them a profitable new product.

I was thinking about those ideas that you have in the early morning when you’re quite not awaken. Images and logics that have a strange life of their own, and which immediately vanish as you confront them with some hard logistical truths.

If the idea has potential but the right kind of investor does not come in, the idea will remain the idea of an idiot. And this is not because the idea is stupid, but because somehow there is no ability to make it come true.

In such instance, the lack of networks or connectors is fatal for development –for any kind of development– as the new theorists of the so-called creative industries will be keen to explain, just as it happened in the curious meeting I’ve attended this week at the UK Ambassador’s residence in Lisbon.

Now, if one is not interested in being the village fool, one must stop carrying ideas or treading water for something which he or she can’t find ideal partners. But instead of throwing the ideas to the trashcan, one can always share them with the strange hope that someone with the right means will copycat them…

So, three months ago I was thinking of the contemporary traveler and what does he or she sometimes need when traveling fast on a low budget, courtesy of all the new airline companies that now fill the European air space.

One time or another you go to another city, you go dancing all night and in the morning you go to a meeting and then you go back home. Do you really need a standard hotel? Or do you need a wallpaperish wonder toilet in which you can quickly change, shower, freefii and even fuck?

Maybe the classical capsule hotel should be rethought and revamped as paid by the hour, but with a view as magnificent as the Standard’s in NY.

Such new prime, low budget locations could even be called tools, or dispositifs, or tactical urbanism for the new poor – for instance, the new European 1000€ generation or whatever you may want to call it.

In fact, when I thought of this, on one of my passages through Schiphol I had already spotted something like that. It’s called Yotel and charges 35€ a day.

But this concept is yet only located in three major European airport hubs and, so, I can only imagine it as coming out of a twisted take on Marc Augé‘s concept of non-places – a bit like Alain de Botton living in Heathrow for a full week.

On the other hand, the initial developers of the capsule hotels, the Japanese, are always improving this already historic architectural typology and with the recently finished 9h hotel, they’re already making it wallpaperish, but not yet quite the 21st-century-room-with-a-view.

The 9h Hotel as first seen in Designboom, and now in Dornob.

With the design of the 9h Hotel –a surrealist reminder of a magazine once directed by Wilfried Wang– we’re getting fast to what I’ve first imagined when I was musing about these new contemporary urban needs: what I would call the expandable locker hotel.

What is the concept? An hotel in prime central urban locations based on luxury lounge units connected to six to eight vertical capsule lockers, fully equipped with shower, toilet and workstation. The access corridor could be optionally offered in Alice in Wonderland motifs.

For each 12 hour period use of these freefii locker capsules, you could also additionally book from 1 to 8 hours of the wider space accessible from it, so as to (re)store some of your other bodily (and spiritual) needs.

This would be like buying internet in 15m periods just to briefly exchange flows of information and energy with the network, or, in this case, also with the sewage system or the supposedly mesmerizing city image.

A locker with a view – 5min away from main train stations across Europe.

Something for the coming economy, when everybody finally realizes that the financial stress on the younger generations is here to stay.