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Dutch firm MVRDV has received harsh criticism since they revealed the proposal for two luxury residential towers in South Korea, named after its inspiration, The Cloud. The two towers are connected by a “pixilated cloud of additional program.” Critics are outraged, stating the design resembles the collapsing twin towers of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
MVRDV spokesman Jan Kinkker stated, “We’ve had quite a lot of calls from angry Americans saying it’s a disgrace. 9/11 was not the inspiration behind the design, the inspiration was a real cloud.” He added, “It was not our intention to create an image resembling the attacks nor did we see the resemblance during the design process. We sincerely apologize to anyone whose feelings we have hurt.”
Project developer Dream Corporation selected The Cloud design proposal over a number of other options and will have the final say on whether or not they will consider another alternative.
“Controversy over The Cloud forces MVRDV to Apologize.” ArchDaily, Dec. 12, 2011
In an article titled “Do These Skyscrapers Remind You Of The 9/11 Attacks?” online magazine Fast Co. Design used Dezeen’s reader comments to explain the story, while gadget blog Gizmodo Australia led a piece with the question “What The Hell Were These Architects Thinking?”
In an official statement on their Facebook page, MVRDV apologise for any upset cause and explain that they did not see the resemblance during the design process. However, Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad claims that MVRDV representative Jan Knikker admitted that they in fact did notice, fuelling the debate further.
Most recently, American magazine the New York Post have picked up the story, blasting the towers as “sick” and “a spectacular case of architectural tastelessness” and the BBC reported the story in their televised news program.
“Exploding” twin towers by MVRDV cause outrage.” Dezeen, Dec. 14, 2011
The original version of this cartoon can be found in uncube issue #10: Wood, Paper Pulp, with contributions by Florian Heilmeyer, Dan Handel, Jessica Bridger, Luise Rellensmann, Rob Wilson, Elvia Wilk and more…
May 5, 2013
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“Our Design for the Parrish Art Museum is a reinterpretation of a very Herzog & De Meuron typology, the traditional house form. What we like about this typology is that it is open for many different functions, places, and cultures. Each time this simple, almost banal form has become something ver specific, precise, and also fresh.” — Jacques Herzog via Dezeen
[As usual, the cartoons can be found in all their original glory at uncube's website].
April 14, 2013
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Ok, let’s see if I can bring this back on trail. I really need to catch up with the blog.
This comes from Uncube Magazine # 07 : Off-places. The published version is slightly different. In the same issue, there’s an interview with Gottfried Böhm by Florian Heilmeyer which is really worth checking, if you’re a Brutalist fanatic such as myself. So go check it.
February 22, 2013
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So, yes. It’s actually been a week or so since it was officially announced in their website, but I hadn’t really had the time to sit down and announce it here (see? that’s what twitter’s for), so there it goes: Several weeks ago, Jessica Bridger, one of the editors of Berlin-based online magazine Uncube wrote me asking if I’d like to start an ongoing collaboration with them, and -being the internet whore I am-, I immediately said yes.
So starting with their issue #07, “Off-Places”, I will start publishing a monthly cartoon in my own section, “Klaus’s Kube”. Some of the cartoons will belong in a series, “Numerus Klausus”, commenting on the things that are happening now in the architectural scene, but they will probably be combined with other more otherworldly stuff. Let’s see.
Special thanks to Jessica Bridger and Florian Heilmeyer for their interest and support (full team here).
August 15, 2012
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(…) 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?
June 23, 2012
“In all of my architectural design activities I have constantly asked myself the following questions: How can an architecture founded on craftsmanship survive in today’s world? What is the relevance of the traditional Chinese landscape system in a world filled with gigantic artificial structures? In a society undergoing massive city-building campaigns, how should urban development be handled without resorting to major demolition and reconstruction? How can new urban buildings connect with memories of the past–that might be otherwise lost as structures are demolished–and re-establish their cultural identities? What can be done in the realm of architecture to overcome the stark contrast between urban and rural areas in China? Is it possible to ensure that alongside the top-down professional system of modern architecture, ordinary people’s right to initiate their own building activities is also protected? Is it possible to find smarter ways for addressing environmental and ecological challenges by drawing on the wisdom found in traditional architecture and grassroots building activities? Is there a way for us to express our architectural pursuit with stories and feelings without resorting to gigantic, symbolic and iconic structures? How can an independent architect maintain the attitude and work style against the background of a powerful modern system?”
March 28, 2012
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Earlier this month Rem Koolhaas returned to the Harvard GSD in order to give one of his infrequent and multitudinous conferences. Filed under the motto “current preoccupations”, the talk, which replayed Koolhaas’s October lecture at the Barbican, showcased a bunch of different issues taking place on and around OMA’s office. And so, it was presented as a halfly-articulated progress report that allowed Mr. K to adopt his improvisational approach to discourses of late. One of the highlights of the session was, of course, Project Japan, Koolhaas&Obrist’s book on Japanese Metabolism and its heroes, which Koolhaas surprisingly used to grieve (again) for a lost mediatic aura that architects still had in Kikutake’s times: Today, architects have increased public notoriety at the expense of credibility. It’s hard to argue against that, even if Koolhaas’s argument, namely that an architect has not made it to the cover of Time Magazine since Phillip Johnson did in 1979, is itself pretty bland, and also a little too pro-establishment for OMA. So, in a nutshell, architects get more screen minutes today, but fewer quality minutes. However, on the one hand, Time Magazine does not hold the qualifying power it did four decades ago (if it did then). But also, Time is possibly less a desired media to be featured on today which, regardless of its historical pedigree, has a much lower impact capacity. And above all, it does not offer the type of mediatic plateau that Koolhaas and OMA have needed to shape and sell their elusive brand image throughout the last decades.
It’s also rather amusing to hear Koolhaas, who revels in giving conferences that are rather rock concerts than intellectual debates, complaining about the caricaturization that comes with the mediatic ubiquity of architects. Especially when he himself has been one of the main actors in the postmodern recovery of satire as a tool to (de)construct architectural discourse. Still, Koolhaas has always been a careful constructor of his own legend, and it’s possibly here where this counterfeit argumentation, deceptively articulated as a complaint, fits -as well as his later mention of OMA’s production as modest, performance-driven architecture. Certainly, performance has always been one of the driving forces of OMA’s design, present in all-scales of his projects: It’s difficult to find an architectural practice that has put to better use Tschumi’s strategies of transprogramming, from Jussieu to Bordeaux, to the Kunsthal or to Porto, even if usually formalised as dis-programming. But the same could be said about Koolhas’s careful design of both his discourse and self-image, both an ongoing performance where statements can’t be taken at face value, and where there is a very conscious detachment between what he says and what he does.
“Modest” is not, however, an adjective that automatically springs to mind when thinking of OMA’s production, which since the late 80s (I’m thinking of the Congrexpo, but also of the CCTV building, the Seattle Library, the Casa da Musica at Porto, or the unbuilt Córdoba International Congress Center) has bounced progressively towards the L-XL side of the scale. Funny, too, that he referred to the invisible quality that he found in some of his most recent buildings. Today architecture is mediatic as ever, but also fundamentally mediated by its public presence, and by the very nature of this presence in the new media. The flashy era of digital image/media/production has sworn much of current architectural production to immediacy and to a futile search for instant memorability that lead to an effective disappearance, both from perception and from memory: In a scenario where every building struggles to be distinct and claims desperately for attention, the cacophony of the whole inevitably results in a loss of the individuality of the pieces: All-new, all-different, they all look the same to the viewer. The cartoony aggregation of skyscrapers in the UAE desert that has become one of Koolhaas’s most celebrated images is pretty much the world OMA has helped create.
And then, he talked about countryside and preservation.
The video of the lecture used to be online somewhere, but apparently it has been taken down now. However, a full-length video of Koolhaas’s previous conference OMA: On Progress, dealing with the exact same issues is available on youtube, along with the rest of the talks at the Barbican in London: OMA: On Prudence (Victor van der Chijs), OMA: On Generations (Shohei Shigematsu), and OMA: On Speed in Architecture (David Gianotten and David Tseng).
Even more interesting are the two shorter, “unofficial” videos that the people at Dezeen produced on the occasion of the opening of the OMA/Progress exhibition, where Koolhaas offered an improvised tour through the still unfinished rooms. There’s something akin to a guilty pleasure in the domestic atmosphere those two videos exhale, especially in the first one, where Koolhaas goes room by room , talking to the camera that follows him as he strolls through the half empty exhibition halls and speaks briefly about each project in plain, unsophisticated words (providing some amusingly partial and clumsy descriptions). Of course, one always wonders how much of this is actually very consciously staged. Truth is, the nervous rush from project to project, which could help him empathize with the viewer, ultimately contributes to the halo of mystery that surrounds him, making him look somewhat uninvolved and uncomfortable -in a hurry to just get the task done (fragility vs. disdain). To my eye, it falls on the same strategy as his carefully careless lectures. I was tempted to count how many times Koolhaas uses the pet phrase “a kind of” throughout the video (but I resisted, so if anyone bothers to do so, please email me).
In any case, this unceremoniously rushed pace with which Koolhaas goes through OMA’s visual catalog confers the video an undeniable aura of authenticity that fits perfectly the un-beautiful aesthetics Rotor chose for the exhibition (many of the items lay bare, as if directly transposed from OMA’s offices, in almost-empty rooms), itself a pretty good encapsulation of OMA’s cold and deceptively spartan approach to design. Still, the second video, where “Koolhaas discusses two of his current preoccupations: the countryside, which he is addressing for the first time; and generic architecture, which could result in neutral, copyright-free building forms” is also worth watching. Actually, the whole OMA section on Dezeen is worth a look.
For a more accurate report of Koolhaas’s lecture at Harvard, with Michael Hays and Sanford Kwinter as partenaires, check “Goodbye stararchitecture”, by colleague and friend Zenovia Toloudi at Shift Boston Blog. A brief but interesting review of the exhibition can be found in Rory Hyde’s “OMA/AMO : Progress/Regress“, which looks back at the evolution of AMO and OMA’s production in the last decades, as portrayed by the changes in their subsequent publications and exhibitions, from Content (Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, 2003) to the Cronocaos installation they did in the Italian pavilion as part of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, and finally to the Progress show in the Barbicane.
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“Et in Arcadia Ego”
“And it’s a question of how far we’re willing to go in order to let the ego shine, in order to let that beacon penetrate not only the local scene but the world.”
For all its promise of unlimited connetivity, Apple´s design seems to leave almost everything out. Apple has built a style on impenetrability, providing us with sleek, polished technological gizmos that are not only, a product of design, but a symbol of designed obsolescence.
Apple is itself a brand and a symbol, a signifier of future and Buzz-Lightyear-ian progress towards infinity. However, its approach to design takes us back to a past, long gone vision of future utopia bred in hardcore modernism. When Apple´s New Wave was launched in 1984, cyberpunk had started to reshape the image of the future and future technology according to a postmodern sensibility. Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner introduced an image of the future as a layered, additive and textured place, a dark but rich metropolitan –megalopolitan- reality whose productive (thanks, Chen&Young) dystopianism provided us with an inclusive approach to postmodernism, as opposed to the exclussiveness of academic PoMo, and a new way to conceptualise (a new eye to look through) our urban postmodern reality.It´s extraordinarily fitting that the man chosen to inaugurate the era of Apple Design in a commercial reminiscent of Owrell´s 1984 was precisely Ridley Scott, who touched in the lapse of two years on the two poles that, as Peter Lunenfeld notes, still rule contemporary culture thirty years after.
Apple´s present-future is not the system of constant retrofitting dictated by the permanence of every-thing that Syd Mead designed for Blade Runner, but the clean, plastic and semi-translucent reality of Alex Proyas´s I Robot, a reality of immutable and ephemeral objects designed to shine and die, as user-friendly as they remain impermeable to change (…the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long). And in doing so, Apple leaps over postmodernity to recover the dream of a clean, antiseptic, white utopia dreamt in the age of pulp. Jobs´s dream of the future is that of William Cameron Menzies´s Things to come, of streamline design, of Norman Bel-Geddes´s Futurama, where Roman togas have been substituted for Mao collars and turtlenecks.
Looking like an alien mothership hanging gently in the middle of Arcadia, the new Cupertino campus resounds with echoes of Steve Jobs sitting in peaceful yoga position in his empty apartment in the 80s, and it really speaks of a dream of ascetic-aesthetic plenitude that goes back to modern utopianism. Foster´s design, bred in a sensibility nourished by Dan Dare, Werner Von Braun and the visionary 60s conjures an ultimate state of the Corbusian cult of the liner as a model for architectural assertion. The platonic exactitude of Cupertino´s rounded shell conjures the old ideal of ectopic utopianism: a technological eutopia of isolated perfection in an anthitetic relationship with natural beauty. Apple leaves behind the organic, anarchic ambiguity of postmodernity, substituting the visceral for the virtual; and somehow, this renewed dream of an (old) brave new world scares me a little bit.
But then, I´m a PC guy.
Image Captions: 1. Cupertino: Apple Campus 2. Foster and Parners, 2011. 2. Things to Come. William Cameron Menzies, 1936. 3. Heliopolis. Project for an Olympic Village in the Mountains of Tatras. Alex Mlynarcik, 1968. 4. Werner Von Braun et al.: Space Station. Across the Space Frontier, 1952. 5. Thalassa: Project for a Floating City. Paul Maymont, 1959.
Image credits: Heliopolis photographed by the artist. In RAGON, Michel:Histoire mondiale de l’architecture et de l’urbanisme modernes. T.3. Prospective et futurologie; 350. Thalassa: Photo by P. Joly/ Vera Cardot. In RAGON, Michel: Les Cités de l’Avenir. Paris: Editions Planète, 1968. Space station: Illustration by Chesley Bonstell. In KAPLAN, Joseph et al.: Across the Space Frontier. New York, Viking Press, 1952. Everytown: Frame from William Cameron Menzies´s Things to Come. London Film Productions/United Artists, 1936.
Luis Miguel Lus-Arana: “Return to Ectopia: Apple Design and Futurist Classicism”. Published in MAY, Kyle et al. (edited by): Clog: Apple nº 2. NY: February 2012, pp. 96-7
CLOG: APPLE. On 7 June 2011, Steve Jobs presented Apple Campus 2 to the Cupertino City Council. Due to Apple’s high profile – not to mention the scale and iconic nature of Foster + Partners’s design – the online reaction to the “spaceship” was immediate and strong. While Apple has been building retail stores throughout the world for over a decade, discussion, even among architects, has typically focused on the company’s famed product design. With one of the largest American office projects in history underway in Cupertino, it’s time to talk about Apple and architecture.
Contributors: Michael Abrahamson, Paul Adamson, Gary Allen, Collin Anderson, Haik Avanian, Rachel Berger, Freek Bos, Gabrielle Brainard, Tom Brooksbank, Keith Burns, Marcus Carter, Haiko Cornelissen, Philippine d’Avout D’Auerstaedt, Erandi de Silva, Kevin Erickson, Matthew J. Giordano, Hanny Hindi, Julia van den Hout, Allyn Hughes, Axel Kilian, Klaus, Austin Kotting, Michael Kubo, Jimenez Lai, Nicholas Leahy, Christopher Lee, Frank Lesser, Michael Ludvik, Luis Miguel Lus-Arana, Kyle May, Adam Nathaniel Mayer, Nicholas McDermott, Mark McKenna, Samuel Medina, Louise A. Mozingo, Rob Nijsse, The Office of PlayLab, Inc., Glenn Phillips, Graffitilab, Nina Rappaport, Jacob Reidel, Erin M. Routson, Mika Savela, Chris Shelley, Noam Shoked, Mike Treff, Kazys Varnelis, Ronald Wayne, and Human Wu.
December 25, 2011
Hm… Not feeling particularly inspired to draw something new this year, so I decided to recycle -yet one more time- an old drawing, where I had these characters that show up every now and then in the cartoons (I guess I´ll have to explain where they come from at some point) into Calvin and Hobbes. Somehow.
This is from a time when my comic strips all dealt with how nowadays’ clients, who usually wear an ipod, read electronic books (sometimes even smoke electronic cigarettes) and drive the newest A-series Audis, when it comes to architecture still want to live in some contemporary rendition of Hansel&Gretel´s chocolate house, with pitched roofs and pillasters.
Now there’s nothing to even criticize anymore.
Anyway, Merry Christmas!
And now, a special Christmas treat (and the referent):