Tag Archives: architecture


Doing something about it…

Welcome to the New World

No. This post is not yet another tribute to Terence Mallick – although I did offer The New World* dvd to my brother over Christmas. Neither is it a sardonic bienvenue into the harshest year the Old World is about to see in a long time. (Nor is it a self-congratulatory note on my new appointment at MoMA.)

The New World. Image via satyamshot.wordpress.com.

Nope. This is only a small reminder about paradigm shifts, and changes and opportunities provided by ideological crises and stagnant realities, and the way in which architecture may these days be finally metamorphing into something completely different – as the Monty Python would surely put it.

So, this is also about the last article I’ve published in 2011, as it just came out in a great issue of MAJA, the Estonian Architectural Review. Facing the theme of architecture as event, this was ultimately a reflection on the idea of networks vs. affiliations, of which I want to give you a new year’s gift of an excerpt:

Is architecture a technical service or a cultural production? Is it both? Or is the profession actually splitting to accommodate potentially contrasting positions? Such questions illuminate how, within a heavily mediated context, social networking and cultural exchange acquire a renewed relevance. Pierre Bourdieu has classically written on how the fields of cultural production – what he, in fact, called the economic world reversed – always contain two opposed sub-fields. In contrast with a sort of extended, middlebrow production that engulfs the majority, one of these sub-fields is a restricted territory to which only a few can belong, but which actually determines the effective symbolic values at play in the whole field. Still, he considers that the two sub-fields are magnetically united by permanent transactions, including players who, by ascension or declassification, move from one sub-field to another. But what if these two sub-fields are actually splitting into two entirely different professions? What if a part of the architectural profession, namely its restricted sub-field, is detaching itself into an autonomous sphere that, although it might still inform and produce reflection on the world of construction, is no longer tied with the dimension of architecture as technical service? This would mean that a section of the profession would acquire independence as a purer form of cultural production. And would thus be ruled by the thorny, uncertain laws of culture making. Intrinsically, more than formally, this world would then be inevitably closer to the functioning of the art world – with its galleries and museums, and its biennales and events, and its collectors and markets, its media and formats, and its power games and exquisite social networks. It would be as if the Moon stopped orbiting around the Earth and turned instead to Mars. Well, beware. The Moon is already making its way to Mars.

 In Architecture, Networked Cultures and How to Make the Most of Them, MAJA #70, Tallin, December 2011

The Man Whose Head Expanded

The man whose head in fact exploded captured the meager and eager attention of local and regional sensationalist tabloids in the early eighties. He was an unbeknownst artist, until he alleged that he had been a minimalist, a conceptualist and a pop artist, all simultaneously, and before their due time. His wonderful and frightening story gained him a place in the history of alternative pop music around 1982. As the song that immortalized him went, “the scriptwriter would follow him around, the soap opera writer would follow him around, and use his jewels for t.v. prime time.” (more…)

As GMG House is enjoying its second breadth of international appearances and is popping up in magazines across the globe, I guess it’s about time to add it to this blog’s architecture archive, along with the short story I wrote to go with it.

GMG House © Fernando Guerra, FG+SG Architectural Photography.

I don’t refer often to my own architecture practice in this space. That’s probably because I don’t do that much architecture. Maybe I build one project every two years. But when I do, I do it with extreme pleasure and hoping that this bliss will pass onto others, and preferably into their own lives. Indeed this may illustrate my lazy maxim that is better do do less, but to a maximum impact.

After it launched in Mark and Domus in May and was published online at Design Milk, the house’s images have literally tumblered around like arsoning, thus introducing me to the wonderful and frightening world of microblogging. In this rentrée, though, more people can now peruse through GMG House in print.

See GMG house in Frame #82, Icon #100, Azure 09.11, AIT 7/8.2011, MD 9.11

Media success, however, does not necessary equal new clients. And that has the fortunate outcome of still allowing me to delightfully wander in between 2 or 3 different activities that are essential to my intellectual wellbeing. One practice, after all, keeps my mind off the other. And all of them inform each other.

Architecture for Humanity

As I was browsing through this year Architecture for Humanity’s very considerable output, I was wondering if there isn’t still something missing in this kind of architectural action, at least for it to be relevant not only to humanity, but also for the architectural field itself.

Why should I ask such apparently irrelevant question? Because I know only too well that any architectural movement that forgets to produce advancement in the architectural field will tend to be marginalized by the field itself. And, at this moment in time, maybe this is an indulgence we can’t afford.

Of course, all the “architectures for humanity” out there are relevant by simply bringing architectural service where this is most needed. But maybe the problem is, ultimately, that architecture should not be simply considered a service.

As I was recently musing, we should rather consider architecture as a form of creative intelligence – not to enter the old discussion of it being a form of art or not – and ask ourselves how and to what purpose should this intelligence be deployed besides its banal contribution to middlebrow culture.

The thing is: as constrained as it is by economic and logistical difficulties the output of Architecture for Humanity is highly respectable, and yet fails to trigger the imagination or any craving for architecture’s creative potential, as somehow their own publication “Design like you give a damn” or, for instance, the work of Rural Studio have done in the recent past.

And in order for a work like that of Architecture for Humanity to grow into even more significance –and thus replicate throughout the world of architecture– it has to attract and offer sheer intelligence. Not more or less traditional solutions, not more or less lame architecture, but definitely more radical answers.

As painful as it may be for many different reasons, try and imagine BjarkeYes Is MoreIngels employing his amazing energy and optimism onto devising solutions for African feral cities, rather than for providing jewels for the ascending, nouveau-riche crowns, and you will know what I mean.

In the strange world of architecture’s semi-autonomy there are two ways in which one may be a successful achiever: by aspiring to economical wealth or by juggling in symbolic power. As it usually happens in the “reversed economic world” of culture and art – as Bourdieu has put it – symbolic power is the one that is more difficult to obtain and maintain.

The current, declining star-system attained its status by achieving symbolical power, as it is the rule. One still remembers OMA or Nouvel going bankrupt or selling their companies because of the level of research that permeated the logic of these offices. When, on the other hand, one feels such practices have “sold-out” on another level their symbolic status immediately plunges.

When, in the spirit of an inescapable Hopenhagen, one now says that design and architecture intelligence must be applied elsewhere rather than where it has been applied for the last decade, one is also saying that the game of symbolical power must also shift around what architecture is recognized for.

Although prizes and rewards are already being readdressed to shift this balance of symbolic power, organizations like Architecture for Humanity must be made more relevant not by feebly fighting the status quo, but by addressing not only what humanity needs, but also what architecture needs.

And this is to be done by employing the architectural creativity that is being laid to waste by the “crisis”, or more precisely by the unemployment or underemployment of young architects who, ultimately, just want to follow on BIG’s footsteps but haven’t yet quite worked out the right strategy for it.

This is to be done not by simply clinging to traditional architectural thinking, not by blindly obliging to the user’s needs in terms of a very delimited sense of taste, but essentially by thinking outside the box and by constantly readdressing architecture’s sense of autonomy – that is, architecture’s inner need to progress as a field of knowledge and practice.

In this sense, like others, the world of architecture itself would certainly gain something from considering Hal Foster’s concept of semi-autonomy in art and design as an oscillating movement between art’s critical need to remain autonomous from external forces and, on the other hand, its inevitable reconnections to reality so as to reestablish priorities and issues to address.

Faced with the absurdity of maintaining the fiction of architecture’s aesthetic autonomy, but also faced with the error of demising oneself from architecture’s inner symbolic drives, one has to meet somewhere halfway so as to make architecture intelligence more relevant to as many people as possible.

At the risk of sounding cynical – and since ethical arguments are useless with a professional class that is permanently ego-tripping – I would conclude that architecture for real need has to become really trendy.

Guess what I’m doing… #05

“What has made the Odyssey project different is to draw attention to the experimental, the undefined, the under-analysed. (…) The stories being produced – based on particular buildings or featuring architects – might   set one’s imagination going more effectively than other publications.”

As the Shenzhen & Hong Kong Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism left me quite satisfied by making “architecture fiction” central to one of their special projects, someone should inform the Biennale curator and audience that there is already a bookazine out there dedicated to “experimental” architectural fictions…

And that’s not the only arena where “architectural fiction” is coming up. Very soon there will be news of the 1st International Conference on Architecture and Fiction, which I have the pleasure to co-organize on occasion of the next Lisbon Architecture Triennale, at Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, in October 2010. vdbsdzmfdmsnvmfn

With keynote speakers writers Alberto Manguel and Gonçalo M. Tavares, artist With keynote speakers writers Alberto Manguel and Gonçalo M. Tavares, artist Ângela Ferreira and architect Colin Fournier from Archigram already confirmed, the Call for Papers inviting contributions on this hot theme will soon be online…

Should I stay or should I go?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Beyond Again

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

bear1Now for Architecture and Urbanism, via ArchDaily.

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


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

On grand narratives

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Manifesto as Hyperactive Ego Trip

Léopold Lambert, from the excellent boiteaoutils, kindly invited me to contribute to his one month of architectural manifestos and this was the best little darned thing I could come up with…

It is exactly 200 words – as asked. Should I say more?


A personal manifesto must start with a personal statement. ………………………… Mine is this: I’ve become addicted to hypertext. And this is the magnifying lens through which I look at architecture’s augmented reality. With architecture being a cultural toolkit for permanently re-dressing the builtscape that.. surround us, today’s architecture can only go beyond itself.

Architecture is like the man whose head expanded. Architecture is not only dependent, nor otherwise oriented. As it asks for its own expanded field, architecture rejects the idea of its own autonomy. I claimed for the interdisciplinary before it became mainstream; I advocated diversity when it wasn’t yet such a daily fix; I’ve investigated architecture as urban practice, ……… as open-source, and as performance… With ideology gone I reflected upon resistance and the ultimate incarnation of Marxism. But after all that jazz how can one devise a non-retroactive manifesto?

Architecture will no longer be about form making. Fuck parametrics. Architecture is and will be about conceptual groundbreaking. And architecture intelligence will no longer be provided by a declining star-system, but rather by emergent networks of alternative practices, community projects and architecture NGOs. For many, only now the language of architecture starts to be a benign virus from outer space.