September 26, 2011
“If the passage falls below the levels of ponderous literacy and pedantically accurate spelling… the use of imagery has a knowing exactitude which overleaps conventional architecture-magazine rhetoric of the period, by-passes the reader’s normal verbal defence [sic]mechanisms, and thus produced a distinct shift in sensibility.” (Peter Reyner Banham: Megastructure: urban futures of the recent past, p. 94)
Had they not been written around 1976 by Reyner Banham to qualify the success of Space Probe!—the comic-collage that Warren Chalk produced for Amazing Archigram 4—these words could belong to any contemporary critic’s review of BIG’s first monograph, Yes Is More.
Since Le Corbusier wrote his storyboarded Lettre a Madame Meyer in 1925 comics have maintained an incestuous love/hate relationship with architecture or, better, with canonical architectural representation. Iconic power of the comic image aside, graphic narrative has an inherent appeal due to its capacity to combine the traditional tool of flat, linear drawing with the representation of timespace, and to permit the cohabitation of sequentiality and simultaneity.
I can’t help but feel attracted by the possibilities of the cross-breeding between architecture and comics, of the condensation/articulation of time and architectural/urban space displayed by Winsor McCay or Frank King in their early but mature understanding of Thierry Groensteen’s sequence in praesentia / of the spatial play of non-linear narratives deployed by Chris Ware, Lewis Trondheim or Victor Moscoso / of the experimentations with the architecture of the page by OuBaPo’s Patrice Killoffer…
The particular potentialities of graphic narrative in the rendering of spacetime, and especially in the sequential representation of architectural and/or urban space have accompanied the development of comics since its very beginning. Decades before Sergei Eisenstein verbalized his theories about cinematic montage, pioneers of the medium such as Winsor Mc Cay were intuitively pushing the envelope, exploring the cohabitation of time and space in the page. McCay’s trip through a hyperbolic Manhattan in September 1907  showed the different shots of the city (both different moments and places) fusing together in a timespace of a higher order (the page) that also constructed a hyperurban, kaleidoscopic space. In an opposite direction, Frank King experimented in several dominical pages of Gasoline Alley  with the atomization of a single space into different moments, an approach that has been often revisited in the alternative comics scene that started in the 1960s [3: Victor Moscoso plays with the adjacency between panel and space, making the traditional 3x3 grid into an architectural frame excavated on the blank space of the page, much in the way of Mathew Borret's recent graphic experiments / Zap Comix No 2 - 1968].
Examples of non-linear and/or multidirectional narratives within and without architecture.  Patrice Killoffer in Oubapo no. 1, 1997.  Chris Ware – Narrative Diagram for Quimby – The Acme Novelty Library.  Chris Ware – Narrative Diagram for Lint – Acme Novelty Library no 20, 2010.  Chris Ware – original art for ‘Building Stories’. The ACME Novelty Library No. 16, 2005.
But BIG’s Yes is More is none of these.
Nor should it be. Displaying his trademark proactive approach Bjarke Ingels takes comics at face value. Yes is More is not an experiment on the ability of graphic narrative to represent architectural space, but a straightforward, use of comics to tell architecture. In a field pervaded by the artificial construction of the-project-as-a-narrative, BIG chooses to openly present the work within a narrative constructed ad hoc, using the very architecture of comics as a natural way to combine the texts and images through which architects develop work into a consistent ideovisual (if I may use the pun) discourse. It’s somehow refreshing (as unusual) that here the authors show a natural understanding of the rules of the medium, avoiding the all-too-common mistake of taking collage for montage, and subsequently provoking collision where transition should take place. Yes is More is a nicely crafted work of/on narrative that plays with alliterations and takes its time to domesticate the source material, effectively succeeding in fostering a certain closeness between the viewer and the buildings: Softened by the voice of Bjarke Ingels as the story’s narrator, the usual coldness of architectural renderings gets replaced by a sense of familiarity, conjuring in them an aura not of represented spaces, but of lived places.
Of course, as usual in BIG, there is a tendency to excess, to oversize the communicational apparatus with an overabundance of words, pictures and diagrams rather skillfully inserted without much self-censorship. If in his seminal short story Here Richard McGuire condensed a lapse of billions of years in 6 pages -that could have been reduced to a single, wisely designed panel, In Yes is More, Bjarke Ingels unfolds a few years of practice in four hundred busy pages. But Bjarke Ingels is nor McGuire.
Nor should he be.
[Published in Clog Magazine, September 2011]
Futher reflections can be found in the comments section of the previous post, and in a follow up post in Comics Metropolis, where Andrea Alberghini, author of Sequenze Urbane: La Metropoli nell Fumetto, comments (in Italian) on the presence of comics in the work of Rem Koolhaas, Neutelings & Roodben Architecten, or Jimenez Lai.
A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. (Thanks, guys!)
September 16, 2011
I rarely publish articles under Klaus’s name (I have a whole different personality just for that). However, when Kyle May approached me in order to collaborate with a short review (a sketch of an article rather than a long text) on BIG´s “Yes Is More” in the debut issue of Clog Magazine, it seemed most appropriate.
Clog aims, according to its editors, at slowing things down, with each issue exploring “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen.” The first issue, focused on Bjarke Ingels Group, gathers together a sort of critical aleph, showing a cloud of different glimpses/glances from an extensive list of contributors, including Michael Abrahamson, Iwan Baan, E. Sean Bailey, Greg Barton and Michael Keller, Aleksandr Bierig, Janine Biunno, Gabrielle Brainard, Greg Broerman, Sean Burkholder, John Cantwell, Dan Clark, Justin Davidson, Obinna Elechi, Fake Design, Graffitilab, Rúnar Halldórsson, Jonathan Hanahan, Han Hsi Ho, Julia van den Hout, Karrie Jacobs, KiBiSi, Klaus, Jonathan Kurtz, Alexandra Lange, Kyle May, Stephen Melville, Michel Onfray (translated by Charlotte van den Hout), Carol Patterson, Ethan Pomerance, Jacob Reidel, Team JiYo, Erandi de Silva, Bernd Upmeyer, Oliver Wainwright, Human Wu, Sung Goo Yang and Ying Zhou.
Along with the official launch in October 1, 2011, Clog will feature a tête à tête with Bjarke Ingels in the Storefront for Art & Architecture on October 7. For further details, check CLOG’s website. Find my few scribbled lines below. A full version with images here.
Click to read
Also: A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. Baunetz.de uploaded some images of Clog: Big, in their blog here, including one of Yes is More or Less.
Clog: BIG. Online press, blogs, tweets, social media, and other digital forums have drastically increased the speed at which architectural imagery is distributed and consumed today. While an unprecedented amount of work is available to the public, the lifespan of any single design or topic has been reduced in the profession’s collective consciousness to a week, an afternoon, a single post – an endlessly changing architecture du jour. In the deluge, excellent projects receive the same fleeting attention as mediocre ones. Meanwhile, mere exposure has taken the place of thoughtful engagement, not to mention a substantial discussion. CLOG slows things down. Each issue explores, from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen.
Clog: Big is edited by: Kyle May (Editor-in-Chief), Julia van den Hout, Jacob Reidel, Human Wu, The Office of PlayLab, Inc. (Design)
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.
October 17, 2010
Click to enlarge
The physical manifestation of the actor-network theory reappeared last night. I took a couple of Glocalyne tablets, but they just seemed to worsen the effect.It seems delightfully paradoxical that this state of hyperconnectivity has confined me to the solitude of my room…”
Hmm… After a couple of weeks of obscurity, I’ve decided to shed some light on this drawing, a cross-breeding between Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and Schuiten&Peeters’ La fièvre d’Urbicande (with a little bit of L’Étrange cas du docteur Abraham). Although it had rested in a drawer for a long time, it got finally done after watching one of Schuiten and Peeters’ delightful performances at the Once Upon a Place conference in Lisbon.
For some insight about the ANT, I would go to Anthem, “a gathering of human and nonhuman actors that are interested in both actor-network theory and the work of Martin Heidegger” that has become the online referent for Latour studies. For more on the obscure yet fascinating work of Franco-Belgian megastars Schuiten and Peeters, check Urbicande or the über-comprehensive Obskür (Spanish readers, might want to go here). The complete text of “On the Difficulty of Being Glocal” can be found in this older -and even more obscure- post.
And for more on Bruno Latour check out the Latour category in the blog (WARNING: There’s some Sloterdijk scattered in there, too).
October 2, 2010
Click or go here
Universalism used to be a rather simple affair: the more detached from local traditions, the more universal you became. If the stoics could be called ‘citizens of the world’, it’s because they accepted being part of the ‘human race’, above and beyond the narrow labels of ‘Greek’ and ‘barbarian’. A regular scale seemed to lead from local to global, offering a compass along which every position could be mapped. Until recently, the more modern you were, the higher up you ascended; the less modern you were, the lower down you were confined.
Things have now changed a lot. What now is more universal: the American world order or the French Republic? The forces of globalization or those who call themselves anti-mondialists? Local farmers daily influenced by the price fluctuations of commodities or local teachers insulated behind the walls of civil service? Amazon Indians able to mobilize NGOs in their defence or some famous philosopher secluded on campus? And what about China? Certainly a billion and a half people will add some weight to whichever definition of the world they adhere to, no matter how local it might appear to Westerners – if there is still a West.
The situation is all the more confusing because, as many anthropologists have shown, people devise new ‘localisms’ even faster than globalization is supposed to destroy them. Traditions are invented daily, entire cultures are coming into existence, languages are being made up; as to religious affiliations, they may become even more entrenched than before. It’s as if the metaphor of ‘roots’ had been turned upside down: the more ‘uprooted’ by the forces of modernization, the farther down identities are attaching themselves. Modernization, with its clear frontlines, has become as confusing as a game of Go at mid-play.
Hence the success of the word glocal, which signifies that labels can no longer be safely positioned along the former scale, stretching, by successive extensions, from the most local to the most universal. Instead of subtracting one another, conflicting identities keep being added. And yet they remain in conflict and thus have to be sorted out, since no one can belong to all of them at once…
But if the compass of modernization is spinning so madly, how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate glocal attachments? First we have to modify this bad habit of ranking all entities of society from the largest to the smallest through some sort of zooming effect. ‘Large’ and ‘small’ are devoid of practical meaning. It’s wrong to assume that society is made of Russian dolls fitting into one another, all the way from planet Earth to the inside secrets of an individual heart. Wall Street is not a bigger space than, let’s say, Gaza. From the boardroom of IBM, one can’t see farther outside than a shopkeeper in Jakarta. As for the Oval Office, who could think it’s inhabited by people with ‘larger views’ than those of my concierge?
What we really mean by size is connectedness. Yes, the floor of Wall Street might be more connected, through many more channels, with many other places on Earth than my study, but it’s not bigger or wider; it does not see clearer; it’s not more universal than any other locus. All places are equally local – what else could they be? – but they are hooked up differentially to several others. Apart from those links, we are all blind. Thus, it’s the quality of what is transported from place to place that creates asymmetries between sites: one can be said to be ‘bigger’ than some other, but only as long as connections are reliably maintained. It’s never the case that one site is more universal, more encompassing, more open-minded than any other, in and of itself.
Once this radical ‘flattening’ of the land has been obtained, once every global view has been firmly localized into one specific site, once attention is focused on the connecting networks, it’s possible to ask a second question: since we see something only thanks to what circulates between sites, how can we be made aware of the fragility of our own interpretations? A club is not good or bad depending on its extension – the more inclusive the better, or, on the contrary, the more exclusive the better – but depending on its ability to fathom its own limitations when it excludes or includes other members.
This is where the old label cosmopolitan could get a new meaning. Although Ulrich Beck recently tried to use it as a synonym of ‘having multiple identities all at once’, Isabelle Stengers has proposed a much more radical meaning: politics of the cosmos. How can we entertain not just many identities at various degrees of extensions, but different cosmos?
That cosmos are also up for grabs is a new and unsettling idea. Before, there existed a single nature and different cultures, some of which were ‘limited’ to a local point of view while others were broad enough to offer membership to ‘citizens of the cosmos’. But how to build the City of which they are supposed to be the citizens? Where is the common home that we could live in? Such a task can no longer be simplified in advance by saying that the wider the perspective the better it is, for there is no ‘larger’ view anymore.
In the old cosmopolitan view, there were no politics and no cosmos because the higher unit was already given: one had only to break away from one’s own attachments in order to reach it. But in Stengers’ view, there is no more strenuous task than to invent political tools capable of revealing how all cosmos differ from one another. It’s an even more risky endeavour to imagine how they could be gathered into some future common arrangement. If cosmopolitan is an adjective fit for a fashion magazine, cosmopolitics, on the other hand, is the duty of the future, the only way to build the common Domus.
– Bruno Latour: On the Difficulty of Being Glocal. Domus, March 2004
May 31, 2010
Now that’s been a couple of weeks after the Pritzker Ceremony, and following my policy of never publishing anything when it’s due, I decided to finish the month with a little recap. This is the way the cartoon was supposed to be on the first place, but I felt that the in-joke departed too much from the real message, and that it might be misleading. But Zumthor is always so funny (I may be one of the twoo or three people in the World that think this, I know). Now that I look at it, I’m a little bit intrigued by the metonymic Popeye connection that arose spontaneously on the right. I’ll have to explore that in the future.
If you don’t know what this is all about, check here
And now, a few links:
Also, The New York Times offers its own set of pictures, along with insightful statements both about and by some of the assistants:
‘Frank Gehry (’89), whose own Pritzker ceremony took place in Nara, Japan — “As a student, I learned how to make tatami mats and was in a gagaku orchestra,” he reminisced — could be spotted in head-to-toe black and, at 81, looking slimmer than before. “I go up and down,” he shrugged.’
Such a pity we weren’t invited.
April 29, 2010
“When your house contains such a complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi re-verberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters -when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up by itself without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up. When the cost of all this tackle is half of the total outlay (or more, as it often is) what is the house doing except concealing your mechanical pudenda from the stares of folks on the sidewalk? Once or twice recently there have been buildings where the public was genuinely confused about what was mechanical services, what was structure-many visitors to Philadelphia take quite a time to work out that the floors of Louis Kahn’s laboratory towers are not supported by the flanking brick duct boxes, and when they have worked it out, they are inclined to wonder if it was worth all the trouble of giving them an independent supporting structure. (…)
I was standing up to my chest-hair in water, making home movies (I get that NASA kick from taking expensive hardware into hostile environments) at the campus beach at Southern Illinois. This beach combines the outdoor and the clean in a highly American manner – scenically it is the ole swimmin’ hole of Huckleberry Finn tradition, but it is properly policed (by sophomore lifeguards sitting on Eames chairs on poles in the water) and it’s chlorinated too. From where I stood, I could see not only immensely elaborate family barbecues and picnics in progress on the sterilized sand, but also, through and above the trees, the basketry interlaces of one of Buckminster Fuller’s experimental domes. And it hit me then, that if dirty old Nature could be kept under the proper degree of control (sex left in, streptococci taken out) by other means, the United States would be happy to dispense with architecture and buildings altogether.
Bucky Fuller, of course, is very big on this proposition: his famous non-rhetorical question, “Madam, do you know what your house weighs?” articulates a subversive suspicion of the monumental. This suspicion is inarticulately shared by the untold thousands of americans who have already shed the deadweight of domestic architecture and live in mobile homes which, though they may never actually be moved, still deliver rather better performance as shelter than do ground-anchored structures costing at least three times as much and weighing ten times more. If someone could devise a package that would effectively disconnect the mobile home from the dangling wires of the town electricity supply, the bottled gas containers insecurely perched on a packing case and the semi-unspeakable sanitary arrangements that stem from not being connected to the main sewer – then we should really see some changes. It may not be so far away either; defense cutbacks may send aerospace spin-off spinning in some new directions quite soon, and that kind of miniaturizationtalent applied to a genuinely self-contained and regenerative standard-of-living package that could be towed behind a trailer home or clipped to it, could produce a sort of U-haul unit that might be picked up or dropped off at depots across the face of the nation. Avis might still become the first in U-Tility, even if they have to go on being a trying second in car hire.
The car, in short, is already doing quite a lot of the standard-ofliving package’s job-the smoochy couple dancing to the music of the radio in their parked convertible have created a ballroom in the wilderness (dance floor by courtesy of the Highway Dept. of course) and all this is paradisal till it starts to rain. Even then, you’re not licked – it takes very little air pressure to inflate a transparent Mylar airdome, the conditioned-air output of your mobile package might be able to do it, with or without a little boosting, and the dome itself, folded into a parachute pack, might be part of the package. From within your thirty-foot hemisphere of warm dry lebensraum you could have spectacular ringside views of the wind felling trees, snow swirling through the glade, the forest fire coming over the hill or Constance Chatterley running swiftly to you know whom through the downpour.
(…) But … surely this is not a home, you can’t bring up a family in a polythene bag? This can never replace the time-honored ranch-style tri-level standing proudly in a landscape of five defeated shrubs, flanked on one side by a ranch-style tri-level with six shrubs and on the other by a ranch-style tri-level with four small boys and a private dust bowl. If the countless Americans who are successfully raising nice children in trailers will excuse me for a moment, I have a few suggestions to make to the even more countless Americans who are so insecure that they have to hide inside fake monuments of Permastone and instant roofing. There are, admittedly, very sound day-to-day advantages to having warm broadloom on a firm floor underfoot, rather than pine needles and poison ivy. America’s pioneer house builders recognized this by commonly building their brick chimneys on a brick floor slab. A transparent airdome could be anchored to such a slab just as easily as could a balloon frame, and the standard-of-living-package could hover busily in a sort of glorified barbecue pit in the middle of the slab. But an airdome is not the sort of thing that the kids, or a distracted Pumpkin-eater could run in and out of when the fit took them-believe me, fighting your way out of an airdome can be worse than trying to get out of a collapsed rain-soaked tent if you make the wrong first move.
Reyner Banham: A Home is not a House (Art in America issue 2, April, 1965)
Transparent plastic bubble dome inflated by air-conditioning output. In the present state of the environmental art, no mechanical device can make the rain go back to Spain; the standard-of-living package is apt to need some sort of an umbrella for emergencies, and it could well be a plastic dome inflated by conditioned air blown out by the package itself. Illustration by Francois Dallegret.
Charles Jencks had also something to say about it in 1969.
April 18, 2010
“The purpose of technology is to make the dream a fact… The end is to make the Earth a garden, a Paradise; to make the mountain speak”. –Arthur Drexler
“… it is difficult not to suspect that presented with scenes from cultures that he does not understand he hopes to gizmo them into comprehensible form… There is (…) a distinct visual and cultural shock in suddenly coming on a Coca Cola dispenser in Latin America or the Arab States, it is apt to look like a visitor from Mars (…)” –Reyner Banham, ” The Great Gizmo”
“Traditionally the fine arts depend on the popular arts for their vitality, and the popular arts depend on the fine arts for the respectability. It has been said that things hardly “exist” before the fine artist has made use of them, they are simply part of the unclassified background material against which we pass our lives. The transformation from everyday object to fine art manifestation happens in many ways; the object can be discovered – objet trouvé or I’art brut – the object itself remaining the same; a literary or folk myth can arise, and again the object itself remains unchanged; or, the object can be used as a jumping-off point and is itself transformed.
(…) For us it would be the objects on the beaches, the piece of paper blowing about the street, the throw-away object and the pop-package.
For today we collect ads.
(…) Mass-production advertising is establishing our whole pattern of life – principles, morals, aims, aspirations, and standard of living. We must somehow get the measure of this intervention if we are to match its powerful and exciting impulses with our own.
– Allison and Peter Smithson, “But Today We Collect Ads”
April 16, 2010
“The man who changed the face of America had a gizmo, a gadget, a gimmick – in his hand, in his back pocket, across the saddle, on his hip, in the trailer, round his neck, on his head, deep in a hardened silo.”
– Reyner Banham, “The Great Gizmo” (1965)