a10- 60 - Julien de Smedt

JDS Plotting

Click to enlarge

In your view, how do design and architecture relate?

It starts with architecture; that’s what I have been involved in the longest. MWA [Makers With Agendas] is an extension of that, but in some ways it goes further. It is easier distributed and available for more people. A building is a single event and is eventually only used by a few. It has a given set of users. MWA has extended our reach and our ideas to a larger population.

Ideas like obesity, education, areas of conflict… huge and complicated stuff.

If the issues are bigger, the products are smaller and more pervasive. We’re not trying to be freaks, but the reverse creation process we’re setting up is like an anomaly, if compared to the big brands. As we develop and extend our resources, we can make more complex products that need more research and thus more money, but are also more influential. The issues at stake sometimes lead to the conclusion that a real resolution would be a change in the law, but as far as our capacity goes now, it’s though the ingenuity of our designs that we aim to make life better. […] MWA derives from an urge to understand other forces that drive the world. My architecture goes in the same direction, but to really address societal issues one needs to utilize other tools and cover other topics.

Have you implemented ideas from MWA back into your architecture?

We have a project, a new mobile home. William Ravn asked me to design his summer house. So we discussed it as a general issue first. Consumption of land is becoming problematic. Small retreats are a big burden on the planet, and they are hardly used, they pollute the landscape and eventually contribute to the financial stress of a country. I wanted to challenge that typology and the mobile home typology. […] I would definitely apply MWA knowledge back into architecture when it makes sense. Before MWA, in 2005, we did the GANG School in Copenhagen, where we implemented a few ideas. It was a school for expelled kids, to keep them off the streets. It was a complete hybrid in that sense. […]

What innovation in architecture is most needed at the moment?

We need to increase urbanity and natural settings at the same time. The city needs to improve in its environment. In China, I never see the sun. It’s really spooky, because of the smog. If we could live and work in a city rethought as an ecosystem where biodiversity and density would cohabit, we would, for instance, massively reduce transportation while maintaining quality of living, which would make a huge difference.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: On a scale of hybrid – An Interview with Julien de Smedt. A10 MAgazine #60. Nov-Dec 2014

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

(*) Yes, you’ll have to buy the magazine if you want to read the rest.

_NK20 00_01_01_01_sm

_NK20 05_sm

Click to Enlarge (yes, please)

(*I know there’s a Numerus Klausus Cartoon missing; I’m saving that one for later). You’ll excuse me if I don’t comment much, but I pulled an all-nighter yesterday. Now, plug your Tito and Tarantula’s ‘Greatest Hits’, and relax.

The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #25: Soft Machines, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al., which is full with Luna Parks, neutrino detectors, night walkers in nocturnal london (this one’s particularly worth checking), an article on NY’s 1977 Blackout (which was also the sunject of the inaugural issue of The New City Reader), and a lot more…

 NK18 A blogClick to Enlarge 

I used to have a blog, didn’t I?

Ok, so, now I got my life back, I’ll possibly be updating the blog with all the stuff which, forcefully, has kept being produced throughout all these months. And, for starters, a couple of takes on the cartoon produced for Uncube #25, ”Soft Machines’ (yes, we’re that behind), within the ‘Numerus Klausus series. A no-prize to anyone who finds all the nods to Ridley Scott’s Alien, Frank Miller’s Ronin, Tsutomu Nihei’s Blame!, Dave Taylor’s Big Robots (a great Judge Dredd story, by the way), Luc Schuiten, Neri Oxman, et al, which can be seen in the ‘cinemascope’ version below:

NK18 cinemascope blogClick to Enlarge (DO IT!)

The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #25: Soft Machines, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al., which is full with bio-cities, microbial homes, micotecture, interactive edible products, etc.

klaus-JE SUIS CHARLIE

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

Caught in the quiet desperation of my mundane daily tasks, which for the last 6 months have meant an interrupted 24/7 working routine, I had finally decided -‘given up’ would be a more suitable expression- not to comment on last Wednesday’s massacre. I would be too late, possibly too lame, and certainly redundant, in the wake of the massive, comforting response coming from voices everywhere out there. Anything I could offer would have to be rushed, and probably too banal. And if there’s something this doesn’t deserve is to be banalized –or to be instrumentalized as a way to self-promote oneself, which is also an inevitable side effect of those tragedies-gone-viral. I understand the power of ‘every little voice joining the chorus’ >insert proper English idiom here<, but when figures such as Albert Uderzo have already offered their own contribution, I’d rather back off and listen to them.

But then, this morning I came across David Brooks’ piece in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times, ‘I am not Charlie Hebdo’, which after consternating me with its deceptive title, stroke me as a particularly lucid comment on those who call themselves proponents of the freedom of speech… but just in the right amount, ok?

In his piece, Brooks rightly argues that

“…the journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. (…) Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

So this might be a teachable moment. As we are mortified by the slaughter of those writers and editors in Paris, it’s a good time to come up with a less hypocritical approach to our own controversial figures, provocateurs and satirists.(…)

In most societies, there’s the adults’ table and there’s the kids’ table. The people who read Le Monde or the establishment organs are at the adults’ table. The jesters, the holy fools and people like Ann Coulter and Bill Maher are at the kids’ table. They’re not granted complete respectability, but they are heard because in their unguided missile manner, they sometimes say necessary things that no one else is saying.

Healthy societies, in other words (…) do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect (…). The massacre at Charlie Hebdo should be an occasion to end speech codes. And it should remind us to be legally tolerant toward offensive voices, even as we are socially discriminating.”

And that is precisely the point: Maybe Brooks ‘is not’ Charlie Hebdo. Maybe he doesn’t agree with their opinions, maybe he finds them unnecessarily harsh, occasionally puerile or offensive. I, myself, find some of their stuff amazingly clever, some other rather trite, some too gross, some directly unfunny. And, the point is: It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to buy the magazine, because whether you like it or not is ultimately irrelevant.

Some years ago, Stephen Fry, in one of his most (among his many) memorable quotes said “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what?” He couldn’t put it in a more eloquent way. People get offended. I get offended on a daily basis: By so-called politicians, by people who call themselves socialists as long as their money is safe -or, you know, those who believe in democracy as long as they are the ones who rule-, by TV programs where idiots are paid great sums for exhibiting their own idiocy, and become role models right away, by architects who think they can speak about anything art/philosophy/science-related -and people have to listen to them- because, you know, they practice Architecture (capital A here), by so-called academics who… the list is endless.

So, as Stephen Fry so aptly puts it, fucking what? The ability of human beings to be offended by the most diverse causes is infinite. Does this mean there are topics that shouldn’t be addressed? Are there things we shouldn’t be able to joke about? Why? Because they offend someone? Because they lack good taste? So what? Who defines good taste? Where are the guardians of good taste every time I turn on my TV set? You don’t like Howard Stern’s show? Ok, I can understand it: So don’t watch it.

So, you’re not Charlie Hebdo. That’s ok, it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to like it. Just be glad it can be published*.

[*With my apologies to David Brooks for my butchering of his much more complex article, to the followers of this blog for the lack of a cartoon, and to Simone Florena for my clumsy manipulation of his photograph]

A10 059 01 02_blog

Click to enlarge

[…] The Polish pavilion in Shanghai is probably the most famous and also most evocative project of WWAA. How would you describe it? How does it relate to your other work?

I came through several different phases with this project; first is was like with your first newborn, a strange feeling of being in some movie, with a complete stranger sucking life from you :) Afterwards, I was briefly in love, proud that it had grown into such big and strong being. Then, I was for a few years a little bit ashamed of it, before finally, not long ago, being able to embrace this project fully, as a not perfect but most important achievement. I think also that it might be our big luck, that this very first project was temporary and does not have to stand the test of time – in terms of functionality and durability, because the aesthetics where meant to work in this very moment.

Expo Pavilion was no doubt very defining for the profile of our practice; many investors where expecting copy-cats of this project. I hope we managed to find a cross of what was expected of us and what felt genuine and inspired at the moment. I would like to say that our approach to each project is completely different, but obviously that would be completely false and naive; we do follow some well recognized paths and use shortcuts.

What are you working on now mostly?

We’re quite busy with some projects we’re doing in Qatar, recently we won a small competition there. Part of our team is almost daily on site, as we’re finishing two buildings in Warsaw. We’re also working on several really interesting exhibitions and one temporary pavilion. What’s new, we’re also involved in some urban scale projects; we just finished competition entry for public square in Warsaw, where involved in workshops concerning another one, and are preparing master plan for a post industrial district.  These projects kind of demand different set of skills, which is good, cause keeps us on guard.

What do you think about the position and attitude of young practices at the moment?

When we where at the starting point, there where many practices having nice websites with many impressive projects – but only in renderings. It felt somehow phony/artificial, and now I’m really happy to see that many young architects start with small scale projects, having them realized, thus showing through their work some special skills, such as being socially sensitive or having nice touch with materials, details, or any other. Of course I’m not opposed to doing competitions or study projects, but just feel that in our job it is so important to have frequent reality checks.

Indira van ‘t Klooster: Freedom of Flexibility – An Interview with Natalia Paszkowska, from WWAA Architects. A10 MAgazine #59. Sept-Oct 2014

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

WWAA stands for Warsaw Architects, but a lot of their work currently takes place in Qatar. The office itself is located in KOMIN 73 (‘Factory Chimney 73′), a revitalized post-industrial complex, where activities ranging from design, graphic art, photography and fashion, to web and parametric design, 3D mapping and animation also reside. In the summer, an outdoor terrace hosts informal events. For a glimpse of what WWAA are producing, take a look at their website.

NK16_Biennale non Banale_sm

Click to enlarge

So, in order to continue adding my dubious contribution to Archdaily’s celebration of Mr K’s 70th birthday, here you have a cartoon originally published in Uncube Magazine #23, Mexico CityThis one was drawn by the time the Biennale opened, some months ago, but since it overlapped with some other Koolhaas-related cartoons (see Clog, for instance, or my previous post for Arquine), I decided to keep it for the Biennale’s closure. Now that time has arrived, and the fact that it now overlaps with Koolhaas’ b-day just makes it all more deliciously graphic. I’m not going to enter again the debate on how this Biennale, with its allegedly anti-star system approach, works too well as a self-celebrating vehicle: -“Let’s talk about architecture, not architects”. – “Where’s that motto from?” – “From Koolhaas’ Biennale.” By excluding everyone else, Koolhaas makes himself the only character in his own show, which unfolds to the viewer in all its full-fledged, pseudo-analytic banality. I would say “I already toldya so”, in my first contribution for Uncube, but I doubt there was anyone who thought otherwise when it was announced.

Ahhhh… rants… what would life be like without them?

AN 13 02 BLOG

Click to enlarge

So, apparently -and because they directly told me so- the guys from ArchDaily are up for celebrating Rem Koolhaas’s 70th birthday, which seems to be today. They made an online request “to post video and/or visual tributes to Rem to your social media accounts using the hasthtag #Rem70″. I’m still trying to figure out how anyone would think anything I could do would honor him in any way; but, just to join the party, here you have the cartoon and text published in my “ArchiNOIR” section in Arquine #68: Fundamentales. In their pristine, Spanish translation. Alternatively, you can check another take -in English- on the same subject, in my contribution to CLOG: REM. More on that later.

……………………………………………………….

“La Bienal de 2014 tratará sobre arquitectura, no sobre arquitectos.” Koolhaas lo ha vuelto a hacer.” Apenas pronunciaba esta frase, todos los medios -las redes sociales, blogs, pero también las versiones online de los periódicos- se dedicaban a hablar, no sobre la Biennale, sino sobre Rem Koolhaas. Pocos días después -no hace falta más que entrar en google para comprobarlo-, “Fundamentals”, la decimocuarta edición de la  Biennale de Venecia, había pasado a ser “La Bienal de Koolhaas”. Bien jugado.

Koolhaas retomaba así la estrategia de Josep Antoni Coderch cuando pronunció su falsa proclama de que “no son Genios lo que necesitamos ahora”. Con este sencillo gesto, Coderch, bastante seguro de su propia genialidad, se posicionaba así automáticamente en el imaginario de los que lo escuchaban como el último de esa raza, en una especie de premonición de aquella escena de “La Vida de Brian” en la que un desesperado Graham Chapman gritaba a la multitud “¡Yo no soy el mesías!”, sólo para escuchar a John Cleese replicar “¡[s]ólo el verdadero mesías niega su divinidad”!  -“No hablemos de arquitectos”, dice Koolhaas. -“¡Hablemos de él!”, responden los arquitectos al unísono.

Lo cierto es que Rem Koolhaas, mucho más que el más modesto (en escala, que no en personalidad) Coderch, lleva décadas trabajando sostenidamente su condición de mesías de la arquitectura, de Le Corbusier del nuevo milenio (hasta el punto de construir su propia Ville Savoye en las afueras de París a principios de los 90). Y vista la unánime fascinación por su figura, su éxito parece indiscutible. Por eso la declaración de intenciones de la nueva Bienal suena tan doblemente falaz: Si la renuncia a hablar de arquitectos per se le asegura ser la única estrella de su propio show, la decisión de focalizar la bienal en el análisis de “los elementos fundamentales de nuestros edificios: el suelo, la pared, el techo, la ventana, la fachada, el balcón, el pasillo, la chimenea, el aseo, la escalera, la escalera mecánica, el ascensor, la rampa…” no goza de demasiada credibilidad en boca de un arquitecto abiertamente interesado en otros aspectos de la arquitectura que no son los físicos ni los constructivos -con la evidente excepción del ascensor y la escalera mecánica. No es la primera vez que hace esto: hace ahora cinco años, Koolhaas volvía a Harvard, tras su notable ausencia en la época Altshuler, para dar una conferencia en el simposium “Ecological Urbanism”, organizado por Mohsen Mostafavi. Y lo hacía con una charla sobre sostenibilidad -recordemos que en aquella época se encontraba terminando la sede del CCTV en Beijing- digna del mejor copypaste de wikipedia, que dejó a los asistentes con la duda de si hablaba en serio o les tomaba el pelo. Tres años después, repetiría estrategia y lugar con una nueva conferencia, “Current Preoccupations”, centrada esta vez entre otras cosas en (ver para creer) el campo y la conservación del patrimonio.

Resulta difícil, en este contexto, no recordar aquella ocasión en la que, casi en un (¿premeditado?) desliz, Koolhaas admitía ante Katrina Heron que “[h]ay una enorme, deliberada y -creo- sana discrepancia entre lo que digo y lo que hago.”[i] Y en el caso del bueno de Remment, esta cita casi parece confundirse con aquella otra de Benavente: “Bienaventurados nuestros imitadores porque de ellos serán nuestros defectos.” Koolhaas juega ciertamente a la confusión, y si bien el “estilo OMA” lleva siendo imitado incansablemente por las generaciones jóvenes desde mediados de los 90, esta imitación superficial no hace sino contribuir a la construcción de la leyenda de Koolhaas, favorecido por la comparativa de la copia y el original. El juego de Koolhaas es decididamente difícil de  imitar, hasta el punto de instalar en nosotros la duda de si hay algo de cierto en lo que dice, o todo está cuidadosamente planificado.

En “Current Preoccupations”, en la que presentaba el por aquel entonces recientemente publicado Project Japan, Koolhaas, admirador confeso de los metabolistas, lamentaba la pérdida del ‘aura mediática’ que los arquitectos aún disfrutaban en los tiempos de Kikutake: Hoy en día, los arquitectos han incrementado su presencia pública, a cambio de una pérdida de credibilidad. Es difícil estar en desacuerdo con esto, si bien el argumento de Koolhaas -que ningún arquitecto había aparecido en la portada de TIME después de Phillip Johnson en 1979- resultaba un tanto insípido, un poco demasiado pro-establishment para OMA, y francamente en discordancia con el leit motif de la subsiguiente Biennale: arquitectura frente a arquitectos. Del mismo modo, resultaba divertido escuchar a Koolhaas quejarse de la caricaturización que viene aparejada a la ubicuidad mediática de los arquitectos, habida cuenta de su papel en la postmoderna recuperación de la sátira como herramienta para la (de)construcción del discurso arquitectónico. “Siempre se escribe sobre la arquitectura como una disciplina seria (…) debemos liberarla de esta presión constante de la seriedad… [c]reo que [aún] hay vida en la arquitectura…”, dice en su discurso para la Biennale.

Es por ello que cuesta no ver todo esto como una inmensa orquestación. Coincidiendo con la inminente inauguración de la exposición OMA/Progress en el Barbican Centre de Londres, Dezeen mostraba dos vídeos en los que el propio Rem-the-Man, ofrecía, visiblemente -o aparentemente- incómodo, un improvisado tour por los espacios de la misma, aún sin terminar. Con ello, ofrecía también al espectador el placer de disfrutar de la domesticidad ‘backstage’ que estos vídeos exhalaban, mirando fugazmente a la cámara mientras caminaba apresuradamente por salas aún  medio vacías ofreciendo descripciones entretenidamente parciales y torpes de los proyectos allí exhibidos. Pero incluso este deambular nervioso, que puede en último término contribuir a la empatía del espectador con el difícil personaje, no hace sino contribuir al halo de misterio que lo rodea, mostrando a un Koolhaas que no acertamos a decir si resulta frágil o despectivo en su desapasionada, incómoda prisa por acabar cuanto antes; la misma estrategia, en el fondo, que sus cuidadosamente descuidadas conferencias,  una suerte de material ‘en bruto’ que parece expresamente diseñada para evocar el aura de autenticidad de la descarnada, entre espartana y decadente aproximación al diseño de OMA[ii]. Por supuesto, es difícil distinguir lo que es real de lo que es una mera actuación, pero Koolhaas ganó en el momento en que consiguió instalar la duda permanente en su público, generando para sí mismo una imagen de gran manipulador que no hace sino cultivar su dimensión legendaria.

¿Caricaturas? ¿Críticas aceradas?…

En el fondo, trabajamos para él.

[i] “There is an enormous, deliberate, and – I think – healthy discrepancy between what I write and what I do.” Heron, Katrina: ‘From Bauhaus to Koolhaas’ en Wired nº 4.07, Julio de 1996.

[ii] Ver Rose Etherington: “Rem Koolhaas on OMA/Progress”, en Dezeen, 7 de Octubre de 2011.

Fundamentalmente, Yo: REMdamentals: La Biennale de Koolhaas y la construcción continua del propio mito. Arquine #68: Fundamentals, June 2014.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,802 other followers

%d bloggers like this: