August 15, 2012
click to enlarge
(…) Digging into the dirty laundry of the architectural star-system is, in any case, neither a recent phenomenon nor a curiosity exclusively circumscribed to today’s divas. The mouth-to-ear airing of our architectural heroes’ private sins has been an inevitable aside of their rise as idols. Small talk on the lower passions of the masters of the past has accompanied the writing of the big lines of the History of Modern Architecture, and along with our worshiping of their oeuvre comes the delight to learn about their quaintest interiorities: Mies van der Rohe´s infamous (non) affairs with Ms. Farnsworth, Alvar Aalto´s alcoholism -a recurring topic for Finnish cartoonists3, or Le Corbusier´s pathological Messianic obsessions are personal details that have transcended the boundaries of scientific biographies to become precious pieces of information we love adding to our common knowledge of them. We need both heroes and villains: The formers to inspire us, the latter to offer us some moral relief at the sight of a worse human being than ourselves. But even more, we’d rather having our heroes be our villains too. Some will argue that these minor flaws humanize our icons, making them flesh and blood human beings we can better relate to, and certainly this “fleshing out” helps build our interest on them. But this humanization is also an excuse that sugarcoats a very straight forward preservation mechanism, devised to protect our self-esteem at that point where admiration meets sheer envy. There’s nothing we love more than a rags to riches story -except for a riches to rags story, that is.
A most interesting reversion of this turns up, however, when these minutiae actually become an integral part of the mythos, to the point of being vital contributors to its very construction. Again, the careful devise of its own legend was an inherent feature of architecture’s entrance into modernity, often created as a fiction before it really happened. (…) The fascinating point here is how this emergence of gossiping contributes to the creation of the starchitect; how in the case of contemporary icons such as Rem Koolhaas it´s the unofficial flux of information surrounding the figure which ultimately elevates him into a legendary status.
Of course, in the case of Koolhaas the shaping of this aura is also engineered through conventional means; Koolhaas is a sharp thinker and an eloquent writer and spokesman who has shaken the architectural scene of the last decades with acute reflections of deliberate and controlled ambiguity. But even more than through his words, the Koolhaas mediatic persona has been constructed through a parallel dissemination of details about his behind-the-scenes: stories that tell us of a man who lives in airplanes, sending by mail corrections for a document he was given in a meeting a few hours before, of a Renaissance man who swims every time he lands, or wins a competition with a single, cunning speech5. All this mouth-to-ear stories, propagated through the netsphere, contribute to endow his figure with an halo of epic mystery that propells him into an almost superhuman category. Koolhaas is the über-example of the starchitect, where the personality comes first and the work second. And that’s the bottom line: Koolhaas can produce starchitecture because he is, first and foremost, a star. Le Corbusier´s delightully maudit portrait, painting nude in Saint Tropez has been replaced by a cover of L’Uomo Vogue.
But public notoriety is as easy to gather in the age of software as difficult to retain. The internet era is also the age of the twitterization of knowledge, a time where information both reigns and deflates, where news are as ubiquitous as thoroughly made-to-forget, immediately replaced by new installments. The same could be said about some of the architecture produced by this idiosyncrasy, made to glow for a moment and quickly disappear; architecture of futile monumentality and inevitable ephemerality designed within a discipline obsessed with creating the building of the century… of the week. In this new paradigm, the (st)architect has to become a public figure, an entertainer, a performer, or even, if needed, a celebrity of the Kardashian kind. The World Wide Web and the rapid production allowed by digital tools have multiplied the presence of architecture in everyday life, and have worked together to create a new type of architect sustained above all by his communication skills. The internet, blog culture, Twitter, have leveled the capability of everyone to achieve their share of Warholian fame, but in turn, their allotted fifteen minutes have been drastically reduced to -maybe- fifteen seconds. The attention of the audience, brought up in a solid diet of continuous novelty, is volatile, and the architecture of today has to keep nourishing its audience at a steady pace, or risk disappearing from the picture right away.
And it is in this context where gossip, criticism and satire, emerge as tools for the maintenance of public presence. The internet has also revived the long-loved tradition of the fast gag, the sketchy commentary, and the cartoon, which offer the necessary escape route for the asfixiating ubiquity and self-indulgence of architectural discourse. As any endogamic discipline, architecture has a record of taking itself too seriously, and of alternating victimism and self-deprecation with tremendous arrogance and a myopic lack of perspective (ironic as it is) on the relevance of its own obsessions. The reemergence of satire appears as a natural counterbalance for this, offering us a way to mock our loved-hated idols that’s apparently naive, inoffensive (but with the potential to become really offensive), and sublimate our frustration through ironic laughter, instead of bitter full-frontal (yes) criticism, while at the same time, reinforcing the (com)position of the starchitectural who’s who. As Oscar Wilde, via some of our infamous celebrities, would point out, the ultimate goal is to be talked about so as to be (there), even if just to be thrashed, and architects, with their fragile yet unrestrained egos, become the ideal victim/beneficiary of this revival. Today, gossip refashions itself as a form of viral advertising. The motto is “keep them talking”. (…)
Tell me more! – Gossiping, cartooning, and the nourishing of the Starchitectural status quo
Conditions magazine #10: Gossip, July 2012
The above are some excerpts from a (not really much longer) article published in the last issue of Conditions magazine, which I received last month, in the middle of the busiest July I can remember. Conditions is an independent Scandinavian magazine on Architecture and Urbanism edited by Joana da Rocha Sá Lima, Tor Inge Hjemdal, and Anders Melsom whose next issue, “Possible Greenland”, will be part of the official catalogue of this year’s Danish/Greenlandic contribution to the Venice Biennale. Conditions #10 is dedicated to gossip, and features contributions by Robert Somol, Eduard Sancho, Christian Hjelle, Irene Hwang, Ed Ogosta, Espen Vatn, Freddy Massad&Alicia Guerrero Yeste, Roberto Naboni, Iben Falconer and yours truly. The essay above was written around the same time as Modern Talking, the article published in Mas Context #14: Communication that tackled on some overlapping issues, which explains the recurrent use of some examples and ramblings; either that or I’m entering a wino-in-a-bar dynamics where I just keep repeating the same the same stuff over and over. Please, be forgiving.
If you want to read the full article, click in the images below, or -much better- order a copy here. You can also read the text of Eduard Sancho’s And if most of the job offers are fake? here. Special thanks to Gislunn Halfdanardottir.
Once upon a time, people compared with their neighbors. Your neighbor was your point of reference and thus the most desirable object of gossip and eavesdropping. Not so anymore. In the world of global networking, you are driven by ambition to compare yourself with the most clever or world-renowned exponents of your trade. Even a critique, satire or parody of the star-system of architecture is an affirmation of its hegemony. Who doesn’t want to be the object of architecture gossip? After all, it’s giving the “stars” more attention, no matter how critical the original intention was. For addicts of gossip, all news is good news, the worst thing is silence, and even a well mediated “scandal” can actually promote your career.
The current issue of CONDITIONS investigates the function of gossip in architecture. Gossip has always been around in architecture as one of the oldest ways of sharing, maneuvering and convincing. But how does it manifest itself today within the instant culture of internet and social media? What is the role of gossip in contemporary networking? Has the logic of gossip and instant gratification also penetrated what we used to call architectural critique?
February 27, 2012
Strolling the Architectural Zoo: Eisenmanis Infuribus (click to enlarge)
Later today (in my time zone), the jury of the Pritzker Prize will reveal the name of the laureate for the 2012 edition of the award. This year, the 9-member jury integrated by Lord Peter Palumbo, Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Karen Stein, and Martha Thorne will decide the name of the architect who will be invested as the 34th laureate in a ceremony that will take place in Beijing. Thomas J. Pritzker, in reference to his city being selected as this year’s host, commented that “over the three decades of prize-giving, we have held ceremonies in fourteen different countries, in venues ranging from the white house in Washington DC to Todai-Ji temple in Nara, Japan. the tradition of moving the event to world sites of architectural significance was established to emphasize that the prize is international, the laureates having been chosen from 16 different nations to date. This will be our 34th event marking the first time we have gone to China.” Inevitably, China and Beijing have also hosted an increasing number of projects built by past Pritzker Prize laureates, such as Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Herzog&de Meuron, and I.M. Pei, winner of the 1983 edition.
Over the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from the outside of the anglo-saxon market. In 2011, Eduardo Souto de Moura came (at least for me), as a pleasant surprise, and this year there seems to be a consensus -as there was last year- on Steven Holl’s or Toyo Ito’s likeability to become laureated. However, the web resounds with many other names, from David Chipperfield to Kengo Kuma and Ben Van Berkel, or even the recently deceased Luis Moreno Mansilla, among other more extravagant proposals. There seems to be also a big consensus on the unlikeability of both Daniel Libeskind and Peter Eisenman, who I think would qualify to reprise the equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s role in the Oscars of 2006.
Anyone wanna bet?
UPDATE: Finally, Chinese architect Wang Shu, from “Amateur Architecture Studio” received this year’s Pritzker Prize.
From Chigago Tribune’s Cityscapes: Wang Shu, 49 (left), deftly melds tradition and modernity, often by reusing bricks and tiles from demolished buildings in such bold new designs as a history museum in the Chinese city of Ningbo. Wang calls his office the “Amateur Architecture Studio,” yet that name is far too modest, the jury that selected him said in its citation. His work “is that of a virtuoso in full command of the instruments of architecture—form, scale, material, space and light,” said the jury, which mainly consists of architectural experts. This year, it included for the first time U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has a keen interest in the field.
In a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Saturday, Wang said the award was “big surprise.” He was sharply critical of the tabula rasa development practices that are transforming the cities of the world’s most populous nation. “Originally, Chinese had many beautiful cities,” Wang said in his clear but imperfect English. “They demolish everything. They called it modern city. They build a very wide road system. Then every block they give to a development company to build a high-rise apartment building. Suddenly we let every Chinese city become big suburb. (…) New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas combined together (…) is Shanghai.”
Wang and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded their practice in 1997 in the southeastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. Their portolio spans a broad range of scales, from museums, high-rise apartments and college buildings to single-family houses whose curving roofs subtly evoke ancient Chinese pagodas. The Pritzker jury singled out Wang’s Ningbo history museum as a superbly-functioning icon that presents a powerful alternative to the twin extremes of architectural nostalgia and shock-of-the-new modernity. “In this world, people like to talk about science, technology, computer,” Wang said. I like to talk about architecture by hand–hand-drawing to hand-making.”
“His buildings have the unique ability to evoke the past, without making direct references to history,” the jury said in its citation. Although jury members knew the presentation would be made in Beijing when they deliberated earlier this year, the location of the ceremonies did not influence their decision, according to administrators of the prize. “The jury does not speak about geography. They never portion out between countries. The only concern they have is architectural quality,” said Martha Thorne, the prize’s executive director.
More at Cityscapes and EdgarGonzalez.com.
A fistful of useful links: The official announcement can be found at the Pritzker official site here, along with a -not that- short bio of the architect. An architectural tour through Wang Shu’s different works can be found in this post by Edgar González, and this other one in Domus, while Los Vacíos Urbanos offers a nice set of the Ningbo Museum with photgraphs by Iwan Baan (more here). Another impressive set by Evan Chakroff can be found in Archinect (more in Evan’s own blog, Tenuous Resilience), and A Weekly Dose of Architecture already featured a stroll through the China Academy of Art third campus in Zhuantang Town in this nice old post from 2008. Designboom has a couple of posts dedicated to Wang Shu’s installations in the Venice Bienale and the 2011 Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in Shenzen/Hong Kong. Finally, Archdaily offers a review of Shu’s figure by Pritzker member of the jury Alejandro Aravena.
Also, the nice people in METALOCUS decided to translate part of this post and publish it, along with the illustration, on their website.
November 17, 2010
November 12, 2010
Noone’s gonna get the cinephilic reference (otherwise, prove me wrong if you dare).
In any case, the Food Section of The New City Reader, curated by William Prince, Krista Ninivaggi, and Nicola Twilley will “hit the stands” at the New Museum next Sunday. Be sure to get a free copy if you are in NY. Unless there have been last-minute changes, you’ll find four cartoons in it (Hence the overload of updates this week and the next one). Previous issues can be read here.
November 9, 2010
Click to Read
Next week’s section of The New City Reader revolves around food and (in) the city This issue has been curated (actually, it’s still being produced as I write this) by William Prince & Krista Ninivaggi from Park, and Nicola Twilley, from Edible Geography and co-founder of the engaging Food Print Project.
The cartoons deal with the undergoing subtopic of overhearing and the relationships bred at the informal, unexpected gatherings in food places. Following a suggestion by Will Prince, Phillip Johnson -the habitual guest at Four Season’s table 32 in the Seagram Building- entered the game pretty soon (thanks, Will), but he revealed such a charismatic cartoon character that became a recurring theme himself. For further reading on Phillip Johnson and his relationship with the Four Seasons, you can check Terry Riley’s “Fifty Years of the Four Seasons” in Metropolis Magazine, and Steven Kurutz’s “With a Legend Gone, What Fate for Table 32” in The New York Times. Paul Goldberger also wrote a nice recount of Phillip Johnson’s career after his death for TNY that can be found here.
More cartoons for this issue to follow this week and the next one. The Food section will be available for free pickup at The New Museum next Friday (November 19). You can read all the issues of The New City Reader online in The New City Reader Blog.
The New City Reader: A Newspaper of Public Space is a project curated by Kazys Varnelis and Joseph Grima. The New City Reader is a performance-based editorial residency designed as a part of the Last Newspaper, an exhibit running at New York’s New Museum from 6 October 2010‒9 January 2011. It consists of one edition, published over the course of the project, with a new section produced weekly by alternating guest editorial teams within the museum’s gallery space. These sections are available free every Friday at the New Museum and will also be posted in public throughout the city for collective reading. The permanent staff and list of guest editorial teams can be found in Varnelis.net.
February 21, 2010
The End of the Beginning
While classical origins were thought to have their source in a divine or natural order and modern origins were held to derive their value from deductive reason, `not-classical’ origins can be strictly arbitrary, simply starting points, without value. They can be artificial and relative, as opposed to natural, divine, or universal. Such artificially determined beginnings can be free of universal values because they are merely arbitrary points in time, when the architectural process commences. One example of an artificial origin is a graft, as in the genetic insertion of an alien body into a host to provide a new result …
A graft is not in itself genetically arbitrary. Its arbitrariness is in its freedom from a value system of non-arbitrariness (that is, the classical). It is arbitrary in its provision of a choice of reading which brings no external value to the process…
The End of the End
Along with the end of the origin, the second basic characteristic of a ‘not-classical’ architecture, therefore, is its freedom from a priori goals or ends – the end of the end …
With the end of the end, what was formerly the process of composition or transformation ceases to be a causal strategy, a process of addition or subtraction from an origin. Instead the process becomes one of modification – the invention of a non-dialectical, non-directional, non-goal oriented process …
This suggests the idea of architecture as ‘writing’ as opposed to architecture as image. What is being `written’ is not the object itself – its mass and volume – but the act of massing. This idea gives a metaphoric body to the act of architecture. It then signals its reading through another system of signs, called traces. Traces are not to be read literally, since they have no other value than to signal the idea that there is a reading event and that the reading should take place; trace signals the idea *_o read …
But further, knowing how to decode is no longer important; simply, language in this context is no longer a code to assign meanings (that this means that). The activity of reading is first and foremost in the recognition of something as a language (that it is). Reading, in this sense, makes available a level of indication rather than a level of meaning or expression.
Therefore, to propose the end of the beginning and the end of the end is to propose the end of beginnings and ends of value – to propose an other `timeless’ space of invention. It is a ‘timeless’ space in the present without a determining relation to an ideal future or to an idealized past. Architecture in the present is seen as a process of inventing an artificial past and a futureless present. It remembers a no-longer future.
Peter Eisenman: “The End of the Classical: the End of the Beginning, the End of the End” (1984)
Founding Nietzsche in the Fin d’Ou T Hou S: http://corbu2.caed.kent.edu/architronic/v2n3/v2n3.05.html
The Uncanny and the Architecture of Deconstruction: http://www.imageandnarrative.be/uncanny/bartvanderstraeten.htm