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I saw Blade Runner for the first time on the end-of-the-Summer Friday night of September 2, 1988. I remember it with such accuracy because, at a time where there were only two TV channels available, and I still had no VCR at home, the premiere on television of any movie was greeted as an event – and so did, on this occasion, the people I was having dinner with. Truth is, at my still somewhat tender age, I hadn’t heard of the film, but one of the main roles was played by the actor who had previously played Han Solo in Star Wars (the FILM; not ‘A New Hope’, not the Star Wars Universe or any of that mumbo-jumbo). So I sat in front of the TV, still some two years too young to truly enjoy it. Certainly, the film impressed me, although not in the way one would hope for. A couple of years before that I had fled from a morning projection of Blade Runner’s coetaneous Escape from the Bronx (1983), Enzo G. Castellari’s sequel to his own Escape From New York exploitation film 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1990: I guerrieri del Bronx, 1982), whose crudeness -incredibly tame for today’s standards, I’ll freely admit- proved to be too much for my youngster sensitivity. That experience had an echo that night, while watching Scott’s film, which granted me several disturbing moments. From that session I kept, engraved in my retina -and my brain- the indelible image of Zhora going through several layers of glass store windows in her plexiglass raincoat, which became less and less transparent as the blood escaping her body impregnated it. I also remember with a similar ambivalence the mixture of repulsion and morbid fascination that the grim porcelain doll look of a very young Sean Young caused on me; or the final scene with Rutger Hauer, majestic in full Norse god magnificence, reciting his semi-improvised monologue on a rainy roof surrounded by blue light.

None of this happened to me some -very few- years later when, also at night, but this time on my own  and with some more – although still meager – knowledge and maturity, I finally watched Scott’s previous film, Alien (or Alien, the eighth passenger, in my case , in one of those rare moments of brilliance of the usual ‘creative translation’ of original film titles for Spanish audiences). That is: the fascination was there, of course, but in this case, it was not a morbid mixture of attraction and repulsion, but the pure aesthetic delight of those who experience something for the first time with the growing awareness of being in front of a masterpiece. I must say that this did not happen to me with Blade Runner, not even some years later, when, in the somewhat more reasonable condition of having some previous knowledge of the film and being halfways -more towards the second half, really- of my architecture studies, I rewatched it in order to help a colleague with some coursework. Don’t get me wrong. Blade Runner is one of the films I have most extensively (and often) discussed, one of my favorite films, a milestone in the history of cinema -indisputable if we’re talking about science fiction cinema-, and an icon of postmodernism that has generated rivers of ink, with some minor branches fed by yours truly. I neither confirm nor deny I may have devoted a chapter to it in a PhD dissertation at some point in the past.

However, whilst Alien is a film that works with (Swiss) clockwork precision, Blade Runner is a more irregular effort. Scott’s second film -let’s not forget he had already directed the beautiful The Duellists, which provided him with the Best Debut Film in Cannes in 1977- was a prodigy in the control of cinematographic tempo and footage economy Blade Runner presents an uneven success in the handling of pace, and a clunkier narrative. Alien toyed with the spectator, presenting him with a morose pacing, slowly building tension and then throwing him into an adrenaline-boosted rollercoaster. Blade Runner, on the contrary, is burdened by an occasionally choppy montage and an erratic narrative, full with scenes that drag on screen, whose purpose is not always clear. When it first hit the theaters, viewers often complained about the difficulty to follow the otherwise ridiculously simple plot. Alien had been a filmic prodigy in many respects, ultimately upgrading what had begun as a B horror movie set in space to the category of small cinematic gem. Three years later, with a budget three times bigger, Blade Runner was conceived as a much more ambitious enterprise. Here, Ridley Scott left the megastructural but still somewhat modest inner architectural ecosystem of his second film, and took over the visual creation of a complete world: the megalopolitan continuum of Los Angeles in the -yet to be- future of 2019. However, this expansion in the scope did not lower its level of demand when it came down to the detail in which this fictional world had to be presented to the viewer. Blade Runner was built using the same layering1 method he had applied to the design of The Duelists (1976) and Alien (1979): an accumulation of data in which each frame of the film was crowded with layer upon layer of information. This diogenetic strategy of visual design overwhelmed a viewer unable to apprehend everything that on display, which ultimately resulted in an unbearable feeling of veracity. The images in the film did not look like a set, like a staged, but limited imitation of reality built for the eye of the camera. They looked like real environments whose complexity exceeded the viewer’s ability to apprehend them in their entirety. They were too full with information; they seemed to extend beyond the limits of the screen, equally detailed and complex everywhere the camera bothered to point at; like the real world.

This excessive ambition would also take its toll in the film. If Alien, despite its relative yet limited variety of sets, exuded coherence in his visual treatment, in Blade Runner the team led by Douglas Trumbull had no other option but use all the tricks in the book in order to address Scott’s growing demands, which ended up instilling the fictional reality of the film with a certain collage nature on2. Blade Runner/ Los Angeles 2019 is a film/ place made up of juxtaposed moments/ spaces whose connection, as in the Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is left to the discretion of the viewer’s imagination.

And yet, it would be this multiple, oversaturated, fragmented condition that would ultimately result in the film’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to both represent postmodern reality, and fascinate audiences and the Academia alike. Back in 1982, Blade Runner shook the filmgoing world with a future-present (a 1980’s future) that was presented to the viewer with overwhelming physicality; a dark but palpable future, which would lead to paradoxes such as the curious Stockholm Syndrome described by Norman M. Klein in 1991, when he wrote that: “(i)n February, 1990, at a public lecture series on art in Los Angeles, three out of five leading urban planners agreed that they hoped someday Los Angeles would look like the film Blade Runner …It has become a paradigm for the future of cities, for artists across the disciplines3.” November 2019 is here, and the reality on the other side of my window is just as ominous as the one described by Scott, but much less fascinating. To make it worse, the same can be said of the one on the other side of the -now predominantly digital-silver screen.

See? See why I hate Blade Runner?

1 “Alien’s ‘environment’ was the popular filmgoing public’s first exposure to “layering”, Scott’s self-described technique of building up a dense, kaleidoscopic accretion of detail within every frame and set of a film. ‘To me (Scott Said) a film is like a seven-hundred-layer layer cake.” Paul M. Sammon, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (New York: HarperPrism, 1996); 47.

 2 Norman M. Klein, “Building Blade Runner” in Social Text, 1990, no. 28; 147. Yes, I know I’ve quoted this text at least as many times as Rowe’s ‘Introduction with Five Architects’. Well, as Eric Idle, in full Michelangelo attire would say: ‘It works, mate!’

“Por qué Odio Blade Runner.” Arquine. Revista Internacional de Arquitectura. ‘Lo que Falta / Missing Pieces.’ Mexico DF: Editorial Arquine, Julio 2019. Nº 89, pp. 23-25.

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So, now that November 2019, the year Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (you know, the REAL one) is set, is over, I thought it might be worth remembering the film through this installment of my section ‘Arquinoir’ in Mexican architecture magazine Arquine. I haven’t translated the texts in the cartoon so far. Later, perhaps. The Spanish version can be found online here. Although I strongly suggest buying a physical copy.

 

 

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Architecture Between the Panels. Page 2. Click to enlarge.

Ok, let’s kickstart, even if a little late, the academic year. with a new entry

Last July, Architectural Design (AD) published Re-imagining the Avant-Garde: Revisiting the Architecture of the 1960s and 1970s’. Guest edited by Matthew Butcher and Luke C. Pearson, this special issue ‘explores the ongoing importance of the work of Architects associated with the Avant-Garde of the 1960s and 1970s for today’s designers and artists.’ The issue features contributions by Pablo Bronstein, Sam Jacob, Sarah Deyong, Stylianos Giamarelos, Damjan Jovanovic, Andrew Kovacs, Perry Kulper, Igor Marjanović, William Menking, Michael Sorkin, Neil Spiller and Mimi Zeiger, and Jimenez Lai, among others.

Knowing how much I like this time period and its architecture, Luke and Matthew were so kind as to ask me to contribute. So I joined my usual partner in crime, and together we put together a dual contribution of both a text and a Scott-McCloud-esque visual essay/graphic narrative under the title “Architecture Between the Panels. Comics, cartoons, and graphic narrative in the (New) Neo-Avant-garde, 1960-2018.”  Both the text and the article deal with the many ways in which the language of comics, cartoons, and graphic narrative at large were used by the 1960s avant-garde, and how a younger generation, whose work can be related to the work produced by those architects, are also fostering a determined comeback of these very representation tools.

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Architecture Between the Panels. Pages 1-4. Click to enlarge.

The article(s) features many of the usual suspects, such as Archigram, Superstudio, Archizoom, Street Farm, or Rudolf Doernach, but also some lesser-known forays into comics by well-known figures such as Mark Fisher (see my homage from a few years ago here), and Piers Gough, together with Stuart Lever, or Diana Jowsey. Amongst today’s practices, you can find the ubiquitous Jimenez Lai and Wes Jones, CJ Lim, Steve McCloy, Mitnick+Roddier, FleaFolly, Luke Pearson himself, and many others.

As usual with my work, the four pages that make this entry are impossibly cluttered, although this time I may have reached my own limit due to a major rehaul of the piece that took place halfways thru it. My original plan was to feature just the works from the ‘60s, but -very understandably, to be honest- the editors felt the piece should include current practices too, which led to an almost imposible density. Still readable, though. With a magnifying glass, perhaps.

I’ve included some snippet views of the pages for you all to get a taste of what you’re missing by not having read the issue yet. So, open a new tab in your browser and buy yourselves a copy already!

 

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As a way to celebrate this year’s anniversary (the 10 years of Klaustoon’s Blog, I mean, not the advent of Blade Runner’s 2019), the next months will see some posts looking backwards to past events. And amongst them,  a few will deal with events from last year, 2018, which was a rather busy period for me, full of Klaus-related lecturing, exhibiting, and traveling. This busy-ness had the less happy side effect of my neglecting my obligations towards this blog even more than I usually do (which has been a lot, in recent years).

Let’s start, then: as I was writing the 10-year celebration post last week, adding links to the text in the right places, I realized I had forgotten to include a publication that came late in the year, and followed the spirit of my contribution to Thresholds #46: Scatter! (which will be reprised again in an upcoming piece for Architectural Design). As things go, while in the Mextropoli Festival in Mexico DF last year, I happened upon Dino del Cueto, and Cristina López Uribe, from UNAM’s Bitácora Arquitectura. 

I had too much on my plate, but the topic of the issue (Error) was irresistible, and, instead of publishing something already done (as they suggested), I decided to call in my better half, and design a piece on the power of satire, cartooning and caricature. The piece, which has quite a lot of Gombrich, along with quite some Buster Keaton, some LC, Piranesi, Hollein, and (of course) many other referents can be found on the journal’s webpage here (in Spanish). Below you can find a quick English translation of the first couple of pages, interspersed with the pages as published, which have the specially-made cartoons (click to enlarge) in them (I did manage to oblige myself to repurpose a couple of earlier cartoons, one from Thresholds and another one from A10, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t help drawing four new ones; don’t laugh: it’s a curse).

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Twenty years ago, I attended a lecture given by Federico Soriano, who, armed with his trademark floral shirts and blank stares, began by showing several stills from One Week (1920) [1], the first film produced independently by Buster Keaton, which revolved around the disagreements of the protagonists regarding the construction of a house. This was a recurrent trope in the films of the first decades of the century, from Laurel & Hardy’s to Charlie Chase’s, particularly when the accessories of modernity came into play: specifically, the many mechanisms that literally transformed the house into a machine for living in. Keaton himself addressed this issue in other films, such as The Scarecrow (1920), and especially The Electric House (1922), adding to a genealogy probably started by Segundo de Chomón with The Electric Hotel (1908) which, some decades later, would find one of its most celebrated moments in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958) [2].

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However, here the link with the architectural practice was even more straightforward, since the film portrayed the eventful construction -and later destruction- of a prefabricated house, conducted by the protagonist and his wife. The house was a simple two-story wooden structure which, according to the brochure, could be erected within a week’s time -hence the title-, merely requiring to be assembled, following the numbering on the boxes that contained the pieces. This apparently simple process goes off the rails, however, when Keaton’s rival – a spiteful suitor who had given the house to the newlyweds as a wedding present- sabotages the construction halfways by changing the numbers on the boxes. Oblivious to this ploy Keaton’s character continues the construction unperturbed, following what he believes to be the company’s instructions to the T -with hilarious consequences. The resulting building is a caricature of what a house of the time should look like, with uncanny angles, elements rotated and repositioned in absurd places, and many other defamiliarizing twists on the invariants of the typology.

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All throughout its footage, the film keeps showcasing these strategies that estrange the familiar, displaying floors and ceilings that suffer elastic deformations, rotating walls (a usual resource of slapstick cinema) and, in general, presenting an architecture which is anything but stable and/ or static. The second half of the film shows the house spinning vertiginously on its axis as a result of a storm and, afterwards, travelling on wheels (barrels, actually), once the owners realize that the lot they should have built it in is on the other side of the railroad. Of course, all this only helps make its deformation even worse. As could not be otherwise, the film ends with the eventual destruction of the building, when, following an unsuccessful attempt to move it to the correct plot, the little monstrosity is destroyed by a train, in a kind of benevolent euthanasia, after getting stuck on the railway tracks.

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In Soriano’s narrative, this film -which has become sort of a classic in modern disquisitions on architecture and housing- was used as an example of incorruptible commitment to a predetermined design process. Keaton’s character represents here the believer in following an a priori chosen method to its ultimate consequences, whatever these may be. This is an approach that understands architecture as a process -autonomous or otherwise- where the success of the final result may be more or less relevant, but is neither predetermined nor predictable when it is unleashed. Also, in Keaton’s film the process is triggered by error, but not by sheer chance. Error is not fortuitous, but premeditated (even if not by the executor himself), and although the initial change that triggers the process is both arbitrary and random (there is not an specific, but a generic goal behind the new arrangement: disorder itself), its execution, within the film’s narrative, is impeccably rigorous.

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However, and particularly with the advantage of looking back at it almost a century later, after the advent of protomodernity, modernity, postmodernity (and whatever we inhabit since then -liquid modernity, I guess), the film also exemplifies the creative potentialities of error as an automatic, uncontrolled and uncontrollable generator of new, unexpected ideas, or ideas-forms in architecture’s case. Other authors, such as Iñaki Ábalos have contributed less optimistic readings of the film, understanding that “although it soon become obvious that there is some kind of mistake, Keaton has no choice, no other thought model to oppose that of the manual, and blindly proceeds to a mechanical construction process in which the final result will become a cruel metaphor of the destiny of the couple and the institutional family in our days.”[3] Beyond these socio-architectural disquisitions, there is, however, an obvious overlap of the, then absurd, architectural form generated in/for the film and iconographies (and strategies) we are very familiar with today. The goal of the result of the architectural operation was, in the context of the film, exclusively diegetic, and undeniably humorous. In fact, the film was conceived as a parody of Home Made (1919), a Ford Motor Company-produced educational film on prefab housing -buildable in a week- which provided Keaton with many of the ideas on display in One Week. Consequently, it presented the viewer with a design that was, for all intents and purposes, a parody, or, better, a caricature of a known archetype, designed to arise laughter in the audience. The current validity of the gag [4] was proved by the unanimous laughter it raised at the lecture I mentioned at the beginning, in an auditorium exclusively populated by architects and students of architecture. [….]

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Luis Miguel Lus Arana: Quotidian [T]errors: Hyperbole, Caricature, Deformation and Other Catalysts of Invention. [Excerpt]. Bitácora Arquitectura nº 37 (2018); 120-135.

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Oh, dear.

When, 5 years ago, I realized this blog had reached its 5 year mark, and I set out to write an anniversary post of sorts, I distinctly remember thinking: ‘Really? Five years already?’ It certainly felt much less than that in some respects, possibly because producing Klaus-related stuff had been an on-and-off thing with ups and downs, and I was ready to abandon it altogether just every other Sunday. So it’s most disturbing to be writing this at a point that feels about two weeks later. And again, I’m both surprised that time went so fast, but also that it lasted this long: as I commented a couple days ago at a lecture in Canterbury, the ‘let’s just forget about this already’ feeling still persists.

Oh, well, let’s not get too dramatic. 5 years ago, I thought a brief summary of what had happened in those 5 years would be appropriate, so, following that short-lived tradition, let’s look back at those additional 60 months:

Back in March 2014, I had already been working for Uncube magazine for a little over a year, producing my ‘Numerus Klausus’ strip for the ‘Klaus’s Kube’ section at the Berlin-based online journal. That soon overlapped with a series of cartoons for the ‘Interchange’ section of Dutch magazine A10: New European architecture, thanks to a kind invitation by its then editor-in-chief, Indira Van’t Klooster, who ultimately compiled them all (together with the interviews they illustrated) in the book Forty and Famous (2016). Sadly, both Uncube and A10 went out of business within a couple months’ span in the Spring of 2016 (some posthumous celebration posts coming), but they provided me with a great platform (and a nice excuse) to show and produce my cartoons. And I had so much fun with them. Both editorial teams went on to found their own platforms (A10 coop. and &Beyond), and continued with other projects. Uncube’s cartoons remain uncollected in paper form, though, so if some publisher out there would like to try his hand at an ‘Artist’s Edition’, complete with sketches, preliminary drawings, and behind-the-scenes commentary, please let me (and Sophie Lovell) know.

I was sad to see both magazines go. However, even if the crazy 2014-2016 period, with its -for me- intense production of about two (increasingly complicated) cartoons per month, overlapped with my also increasingly demanding academic life, it also witnessed the consolidation of my longest steady relationship to date: the section Arquinoir at Mexico’s leading architecture magazine Arquine, a combination of cartoons and written columns that offers me with a great venue to exorcise my inner demons. Other writing gigs (together with cartoons), where I can pour some of my own research disguised under the ‘Klaus’ persona have also popped up in the last year, in the form of a conversation in MIT’s Thresholds journal (Thanks to Eli Keller and Anne Graziano), Mexican magazine Bitácora (cheers, Cristina & Dino), and, in a few months’ time (although completed a few months back), in Architectural Design, thanks to a kind invitation from Bartlett’s Luke Pearson and Matthew Butcher.

Of course, this is something that was already going on, and continued in yet one more article for Clog with another cartoon -and article- for their 11th issue, simply titled ‘Rem’. Other nice forays from 2014 were Phin Harper‘s-scripted Terry Farrell cartoon for The Architectural Review, the Table of Contents illustration for PRAXIS #14: True Stories, where I was featured along with some old friends (even if behind the new penname ‘Klaus Roons’ -Ahem!), as well as Jean-Louis Violeau’s irreverent REM. Le Bon, la Brute…, which reused some of my past cartoons on Mr. K. The following year, my work was also the subject of some nice commentary in Gabriele Neri’s book Caricature architettoniche – Satira e critica del progetto moderno (I swear I wrote that review, Gabriele; I just never found the time to finish it publish it…), and an eight-page dossier was published in Arq’a magazine.

Finally, an additional -and very big- ‘thank you’ must go to all those Good Samaritans who insist on forcing me to fight my seclusive self and make me travel virtually through my cartoons, in exhibitions in The Art Institute of Chicago, Venice, the Centro Cultural España (post coming) in Mexico or the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Santiago de Chile (yes, another post coming, too). And thanks to those who felt it might be worth hearing about my work in my words. For a few interviews with yours truly, click here and here (Veredes.com), here and here (Fredy Massad in La Viga en el Ojo), or here (Sophie Lovell in Uncube).

I got to thank them, too, for also bringing me physically out of my office. Those who know me also know about my natural resistance to talk about my work. But also know that, deep at heart, I love traveling, so thanks for helping me leave my drafting table and speak (in disguise) at the Graham Foundation, Universidad de Alcalá, the Chicago design Museum, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (post coming again; in the meantime, here’s the poster I designed for them, which was an immense amount of fun) the gigantic Mextropoli Festival in Mexico D.F. (first anniversary post coming soon), Santiago de Chile’s ArqFilmFest (seems some intensive posting is gonna happen in the upcoming months) or, just a little over a week ago, to Canterbury’s School of Architecture (guess what’s coming next week), among others.

5 years ago, I ended my anniversary post with a ‘see you in 5 more years’ time’. So, see you in… 10 more years’ time?

Oh, dear.

 

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So, since tomorrow, March 5, 2019, will see the announcement of the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize, I thought it might be worth to whet (y)our appetite with this short piece from last year. The text, published within my ongoing section ‘ArquiNoir’ in issue #84 of Mexican magazine Arquine, was written -as you probably guessed already- on occasion of last year’s award, which went to Balkrishna Doshi. However, as it’s traditional in the column, I barely touched upon Doshi, and rather went for a slightly humorous, somewhat sarcastic, and very brief review of the (also) brief history of the Prize -peppered with some saucy vignettes that have taken place in the four decades that have gone by since it was created.

The text was originally written in (perfect) Spanish, so some adaptations were done here and there so as to limit the wonkiness of the English translation. For the original text, as well as a view of both the cartoon and the essay as they were published in the magazine, just scroll down. For past cartoons on the Pritzker Prize, click here.

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According to Brendan Gill (not to be confused with Iker Gil), secretary of the Pritzker Prize between 1985 and 1987 and author of the column “The Sky Line” for the New Yorker, shortly before leaving the secretariat he received a call at the offices of the organization. The hoarse voice on the other side of the wire was that of Gordon Bunshaft, who, working for SOM has left us some of the best works produced by American corporate architecture, such as the Lever House. According to Gill, Bunshaft “had long coveted the prize” (which actually had only run for eight editions), and phoned to ask about the nomination process. Gill informed him that anyone could propose a candidate, and that “many times friends or admirers of an architect would write in to propose him”. So, with proverbial pragmatism, Bunshaft nominated himself[1]. He would show similar pragmatism a few months later when he picked up the prize -ex-aequo with Oscar Niemeyer-, delivering an acceptance speech of less than 60 words[2].

Bunshaft’s is surely one of the most colorful anecdotes in the History of a prize which, inevitably, have never been without controversy. When Niemeyer and Bunshaft were honored exactly 30 years ago now, Paul Goldberger counter-attacked in the pages of the New York Times, speaking out against the policy of rewarding these ‘White Old Men’ (my words, not his), old glories whose work he regarded as totally off-tune with the reality of the time[3]. Surely Mr. Goldberger still thinks the same today, at 67 years old. I certainly do think the same as six years ago, when I wrote (sorry for the self-quotation) that “[o]ver the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from outside the Anglo-Saxon market. [4]

Six years later, I still think that, despite the fact that the organization itself claims on its own website that [m]any of the procedures and rewards of the Pritzker Prize are modeled after the Nobel Prize, the comparison with the Oscars is a sounder one. I also still have hope, as I said then, that at some point Peter Eisenman plays the role of Martin Scorsese when, in 2006, he finally picked up a prize awarded rather for his glorious past than for the film that served as an excuse. This would honor the tradition I already outlined -and, in light of Eisenman’s work in the last thirty years, it’s in the only possible option, anyway. They have also adopted other customs of the Academy, such as delivering posthumous prizes: in 2015, the announcement of Frei Otto’s award took place two weeks earlier than usual… and one day after the architect’s demise, despite tje Prize’s stated purpose to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, etc., etc.” If they intend to reward the only member of the New York Five still available -Meier already got his more than three decades ago-, and only as a preventive measure, perhaps they should hurry up a little (the same would apply to César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio or Arata Isozaki -and even Stanley Tigerman, since we’re at it).

Not an easy feat for him, though. It is true that during its first, the prize had a marked local nature, awarding Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983), Richard Meier (1984), the aforementioned Gordon Bunshaft (1988), and Frank Gehry (1989) – Robert Venturi would be added to the list in 1991. However, we would have to wait until Thom Mayne got it in 2005 to find another American (US, I mean) Pritzker, and none other has been elected since. The most elementary arithmetic of architectural criticism tells us, therefore, that the United States has one Pritzker for every 40.7 million inhabitants, very far from Portugal, which, with its 10.32 million has already obtained two, and from Japan, whose five winners almost make one for every 21.16 million -almost in a technical draw with the United Kingdom (Mexico is far behind, with its -still- only winner dating back to the early days of the award).

However, in spite of its international projection, the award has somehow managed to avoid  some of the controversies that the Oscars have gone through, such as the one attached to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016 (although racial diversity, minus the cases of Japan and the nationalized Pei, has been, let’s say, quite limited). There will always be cynics who see in Wang Shu’s 2012 nomination a marketing device similar to that of Hollywood films which introduce Asian actors to make their way into the Chinese market. There will also be some who think that to award the prize to B.V. Doshi is a gesture of Western paternalism, which somehow rewards his relationship with Le Corbusier. It will not be me who makes such unfair remarks. I won’t be the one, either, who, in line with the movement Time’s Up, will accuse the organization of sexism, for leaving Denise Scott Brown out in 1991, while including a forty-year-old Ryue Nishizawa in 2010 it.

And I will not do it because, regardless of how fair -or extremely unfair- their decision might be, we will criticize them with equal fury. Who will be next? As Marcos Mundstock would say, “place your bullets, gentlemen![5]

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza”, in The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] It consisted of exactly 58 words: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, in Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988.

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call?, in Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] In the original text, the sentence is the untranslatable play on words “¡hagan fuego, señores! “. Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

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De acuerdo con Brendan Gill (no confundir con Iker Gil), secretario del Pritzker Prize entre 1985 y 1987 y autor de la columna “The Sky Line” para el New Yorker, poco antes de dejar la secretaría recibió una llamada en las oficinas de la organización. La voz ronca al otro lado del hilo era la de Gordon Bunshaft, arquitecto que trabajando para SOM nos ha dejado algunas de las mejores obras producidas por la arquitectura corporativa estadounidense, como la Lever House. De acuerdo con Gill, Bunshaft “hacía mucho tiempo que codiciaba el premio” (que en realidad tan sólo había tenido ocho ediciones), y llamaba para interesarse por el proceso de nominación. Gill le informó de que cualquiera podía nominar un candidato, y que “muchas veces amigos o admiradores de un arquitecto escribían para proponerlo”. Así que, con proverbial pragmatismo, Bunshaft se nominó a sí mismo[1]. Similar pragmatismo exhibiría unos meses después cuando recogiera el premio, ex-aequo con Oscar Niemeyer, y pronunciara un discurso de aceptación que no llegó a las 60 palabras[2].

La de Bunshaft es seguramente una de las anécdotas más coloridas dentro de la historia de unos premios que, como no puede ser de otra manera, nunca han estado exentos de polémica. Ya cuando Niemeyer y Bunshaft fueron galardonados hace ahora exactamente 30 años, Paul Goldberger arremetía en las páginas del New York Times contra la política de premiar a estos ‘White Old Men’ (mis palabras, no las suyas), viejas glorias cuya obra él veía en total falta de sintonía con la realidad actual[3]. Seguramente el Sr. Goldberger sigue opinando lo mismo hoy en día, a sus 67 años. Yo, ciertamente, opino lo mismo que hace seis cuando escribía (perdón por la autocita) que “a lo largo de los años la organización de los Pritzker ha combinado dos estrategias: por una parte, la de ser totalmente predecibles y postrarse ante el statu quo arquitectónico galardonando, a la manera de los Oscars,  a los cada vez menos numerosos miembros del ‘star(chitectural) system’ que quedan, aunque sea en momentos no particularmente memorables de sus carreras; por otra, la de alternar a estos con nombres menos conocidos, generalmente esforzados artesanos procedentes de fuera del mercado anglosajón.[4]

Seis años después, sigo pensando que, pese a que la propia organización insista desde su propia página web en que “muchos de los procedimientos y premios del Pritzker… han tomado como modelo a los Premios Nobel”, la comparación con los Oscar es más acertada. También sigo esperando, como afirmaba entonces, que en algún momento Peter Eisenman haga las veces de Martin Scorsese cuando en 2006 recogía por fin un premio que lo era más por pasadas glorias que por el film que le servía de excusa. Esto se correspondería con la tradición antes apuntada para los Pritzker -y, a la luz de la obra de Eisenman en las últimas tres décadas, es en cualquier caso la única opción posible. También han adoptado otras costumbres de la Academia, como la de entregar premios póstumos: en 2015, el anuncio del premio de Frei Otto tuvo lugar dos semanas antes de lo habitual… y un día después del fallecimiento del arquitecto, pese a su objetivo declarado de “homenajear a un arquitecto vivo cuyo trabajo construido demuestra una combinación de las cualidades del talento, la visión, el compromiso, etc., etc.” Si tienen intención de premiar al único miembro de los New York Five que queda libre -Meier ya obtuvo el suyo hace más de tres décadas-, y únicamente como medida preventiva, quizá deberían acelerar los tiempos (lo mismo aplicaría a César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio o Arata Isozaki, e incluso a Stanley Tigerman, ya puestos).

No lo tiene fácil, en cualquier caso. Es cierto que durante la primera década de su historia, los premios tuvieron una marcada componente local, con premios para Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983) Richard Meier (1984), el ya mencionado Gordon Bunshaft (1988) y Frank Gehry (1989), a los que se sumaría Robert Venturi en 1991. Sin embargo, habría que esperar hasta Thom Mayne en 2005  para encontrar otro estadounidense, y desde entonces ninguno más ha sido seleccionado. La aritmética elemental de la crítica arquitectónica nos dice, por tanto, que Estados Unidos cuenta con un Pritzker por cada 40,7 millones de habitantes, muy lejos de Portugal, que con 10,32 millones ya ha obtenido dos, y de Japón, que con sus cinco premiados toca a uno por cada 21,16 millones, casi en empate técnico con el Reino Unido (atrás queda México, con su aún único premio relegado a los comienzos del galardón).

Esta proyección internacional ha soslayado sin embargo alguna de las carencias que han propiciado algunas controversias de los Oscar, como la relativa al #OscarsSoWhite de 2015, si bien la diversidad racial, fuera de los casos de Japón y del nacionalizado Pei, ha sido, por ponerlo generosamente, limitada. Siempre habrá cínicos que vean en la nominación de Wang Shu en 2012 una maniobra de marketing similar a la de los filmes de Hollywood cuando introducen actores asiáticos para abrirse camino en el mercado chino. También habrá quien opine que galardonar a B.V. Doshi es un gesto de paternalismo occidentalista, que premia su relación con Le Corbusier. No seré yo quien haga tan injustas apreciaciones. Tampoco seré yo, al hilo del movimiento Time’s Up, quien acuse de sexismo a la organización, que en 1991 dejó fuera a Denise Scott Brown, pero en 2010 incluyó a un Ryue Nishizawa de cuarenta y pocos años.

Y no lo haré porque, independientemente de lo acertado o extremadamente desacertado de sus decisiones, los criticaremos con igual saña. ¿A quién le tocará el próximo? Como diría Marcos Mundstock, “¡hagan fuego, señores![5]“.

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza” en The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] Fueron exactamente 58: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, en Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988;

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call? en Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

————————–Klaus, “¡Han cantado Pritzker!”, Arquinoir, Arquine nº 84: La Apariencia del Espacio / The Appearance of Space, Verano / Summer 2018.

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Just a quick note to let you know that next Thursday (Feb 28th), I will be joining the Multistory Guest Lecture Series at the Canterbury School of Architecture (UCA – University for the Creative Arts). A link to the event can be found here.

Thanks for the kind invitation, and a special thank you to Daniel Stilwell for his personal involvement. See you there if you’re around!

 

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