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?
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.
December 5, 2011
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At some point at the beginning of the Summer, Darwin Marrero, Assistant Dean at the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico contacted me in order to contribute something to the upcoming sixth issue of (in)forma, which he was editing. The topic for the issue, “Hiperturismo” (Hypertourism) sounded really engaging, but unfortunately I was swamped by work, so I agreed to send him the hope-kool-pope trilogy, plus a modified version of (the) man on the moon as illustrations for “En el Limbo del Ocio”, a conversation between Michel Houellebecq and Rem Koolhaas. However, I couldn´t resist much time, and as the release date moved forward, I decided to adapt an old illustration (which was itself a reworking of another one) to the square format of the magazine, thinking that it wouldn´t take much time. In the end, it turned out to be really time-consuming, and I gave up, sending the ilo without all the modifications I intended to make (a flying bus-city-tour was supposed to be crossing the center of the image – And yes, it´s the image that sits on the background of my twitter profile).I guess I´ll make them at some point.
You can read the article, cartoons, and editorial as originally published (in Spanish) below.
May 25, 2011
December 4, 2010
Last night, at a conference-dialogue at ISMAT, we launched a Photographic Marathon to go along with the Exhibition Klaus.Toon: From NY to Portimão, organised in collaboration with the Delegação do algarve da Ordem dos Arquitectos. The call for submissions will be open till January 10, 2011. The terms are detailed in the announcement below. Thanks from here to Josué Elizario and Hugo Nazareth for their invitation, to Ricardo Camacho, Rui Vargas and Vítor Lourenço, and to the staggeringly crowded -and participative- audience that granted us with their attention for over two hours.
KLAUS.TOON – PHOTOGRAPHIC MARATHON
The exhibition Klaus.Toon: From New York to Portimão, which will be displayed in Portimão from November 26 to December 26, 2010, has been conceived as a mixture between a traditional gallery-enclosed exhibition and a piece of guerrilla-art, where the cartoons make part of a performance where art and city interact.
Organised in a threefold structure, that starts at the Teatro TEMPO, with another vertex at the Praça da República and a third meeting point in Bar Porta Velha (Travessa Manuel Dias Barão) the aim of the exhibition is to turn the streets of Portimão’s old centre into a gallery space by displaying the rest of the works on the shop windows of different stores located in Rua Direita, Rua Diogo Tomé, Alameda da República and Rua Vasco da Gama.
Following this logics of interaction the Ordem dos Arquitectos – Delegação Algarve launches a photographic marathon where we invite everyone to record the different situations fostered by the presence of the exhibition in the street. We are looking for pictures that depict the funny, weird, surprising or just casual interactions between people and the exhibition, but also pictures of the cartoons themselves, either in isolation or in context, series of pictures, or whatever other ideas the photographers want to show.
The photos will be uploaded on a Klaustoon’s Flickr account, and a selection of them will be shown in Klaustoon’s Blog. Also, the best photos will be awarded a cartoon of their choice once the exhibition is over.
We want your photos! Please, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A exposição Klaus.Toon – “De Nova Iorque a Portimão”, que decorre em Portimão de 26 de Novembro a 26 de Dezembro de 2010, foi concebida como um cruzamento entre a tradicional galeria fechada e a peça de “guerrilla-art”, onde os cartoons fazem parte de uma performance de interacção entre a arte e a cidade.
A exposição é organizada em três partes, começa no “Tempo” ( Teatro Municipal de Portimão), tem um vértice na Praça da República e termina num terceiro ponto de encontro no Bar “Porta Velha” (Travessa Manuel Dias Barão). Tem o objectivo de transformar as ruas do centro histórico de Portimão numa galeria aberta ao envolver o resto do trabalho nas montras das várias lojas da Rua Direita, Rua Diogo Tomé, Alameda da República e Rua Vasco da Gama.
Seguindo esta lógica de interacção, a Ordem dos Arquitectos – Delegação do Algarve e a Casa Gran Turismo – Silves, promovem uma maratona de fotografia que convida todos os interessados a participarem e a recolherem fotográficamente várias interpretações ou situações, que a presença da exposição nas ruas possa proporcionar. Procuram-se imagens que possam suscitar o alegre, o esquisito, a surpresa ou simplesmente a interacção casual entre as pessoas e a exposição, imagens dos próprios cartoons isoladamente ou num determinado contexto, séries de imagens ou qualquer outro tipo de ideias que os fotógrafos queiram transmitir.
As fotografias serão publicadas na internet, na conta Klaustoon Flickr e as seleccionadas divulgadas no Klaustoon’s Blog. Será ainda atribuído às melhores fotografias um cartoon a cada, escolhido pelos premiados. Os trabalhos deverão ser enviados até dia 10 de Janeiro de 2011 em formato jpeg 800×600 (72dpi).
Precisamos das suas fotografias! Por favor, enviar para email@example.com.
Cartoon Location Plan (Design by Filipa Cabrita)
You can also download the flyer of the exhibition with the cartoon guide here.
July 18, 2010
Koolhaas receives the Golden Lion at Venice, possibly awarded to his groundbraking film “The Towering Inferno”.
The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement for the 12th International Architecture Exhibition (Venice, Giardini and Arsenale, 29th August – 21st November, 2010) has been awarded to the Pope of Architecture, Rem Koolhaas. The decision was taken by the Board of the Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta, upon the proposal of the Director of the 12th Exhibition, Kazuyo Sejima.
“Rem Koolhaas has expanded the possibilities of architecture. He has focused on the exchanges between people in space. He creates buildings that bring people together and in this way forms ambitious goals for architecture. His influence on the world has come well beyond architecture. People from very diverse fields feel a great freedom from his work.“
October 5, 2009
This one was meant to be ready for the anniversary of Man’s arrival to the Moon… But it rested unfinished in a drawer till now. For more info about the Prada Transformer, that architectural revision of the lunar module by OMA, you can go to the official website:
Koolhaas talking again on CNN has been featured by our colleagues at AMNP here, and the Transformer has also been commented upon in “Koolhaas’ anti-blob”, an article (in Spanish) in Plataforma Arquitectura.
More cartoons on Koolhaas can be found here.