Happy 2021! (aka: UnTrumped!)

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At last! And about time, if you ask me (to wish you a Happy New Year, I mean). It’s been quite a while since I last drew a political and/or no-architectural cartoon. Well, it has the White House in it, so, what the heck! Paging the divine Monty Python: “…and there was much rejoicing”.

Have a great day.

The year(s) of living dangerously.

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Late as usual, but later than ever, here’s finally that cartoon I’d been teasing with (here) in the last days of 2020. In my defense, I have to say it was mostly ready in time for the December 31st deadline, but due to recent developments, I’ve been considering whether it would be timely or not. Back in early Summer, when the pandemic seemed to have been more or less successfully contained -at least in the part of the Globe where I live-, I thought this might be an image that reminded us of how we made it through tough times which were fortunately over. Numbers rapidly increasing since mid-December, and a slower vaccination process than we had hoped for made me reconsider it. But in the face of a, perhaps not imminent -but more likely as day goes by- lockdown, I finally decided to dig it up.

As someone who was on the receiving end of the 2008 crisis (2009 in my case), I can’t but be particularly aware that I’ve been amongst the lucky ones in this one we, unfortunately, just started. So far. Back in March, I ironized in my column for Arquine (in this issue; I’ll soon make it available online), titled ‘The Art of Living (Inside)’ that I, as many other cartoonists, hadn’t really noticed much of a change during the lockdown: spending the entire day at home, beholding the outside World through the computer screen and communicating with other people via social media is pretty much a regular day for most of us. Heck, endless hours of watching TV series, old films, and reading is a dream come true for us, nerds. We’ve been getting ready for this our entire life. Now, lame attempts at joking aside, I must admit that, together with my training, it helped that I lived through a not very severe lockdown: as an academic, my job was unaffected in a broad sense. Of course, changes had to be made, especially when you’re teaching a Film & Architecture course where part of the point is to watch and discuss films in the classroom. Certainly, the experience was not the same for my students, and I had to fill those hours with other materials that ended up taking a lot of my time.

However, that’s a really minor issue in the context of things: I was lucky enough to have few teaching hours and a small group of students, all of which made it more than feasible. In the end, I was able to go on with my teaching and get paid at the end of the month; none among my beloved ones were affected by the disease, and my two dogs, both the old one and the little Labrador we adopted a few weeks before everything exploded, kept me from sleeping all night through, but also allowed me to go for short walks that made those three months much easier. [I won’t comment on how soothing occasional empty streets are to irredeemable grumpy misanthropes like me]. My only quip, and I’m the only one to blame for it, is that I was less productive than most of my colleagues, who seemed to have used this prolonged time at their home offices to finally get to grips with some long-postponed personal projects, create brand new ones, or produce work to entertain others during lockdown. In my case, outside my usual collaborations with Arquine (this time making it on to the cover, though), which I plan to post here in the next few months, I just managed to finished a cartoon about Mextropoli 2018 (which had been in the works since March of that year), do a couple variations on the Coronamaison Challenge (here, and here, plus an unfinished third one), and respond to an invitation from the Architectural Review -that was a fun (and time consuming) one! I also made available my homage to Robert Crumb (and an article about his famous cartoon), but that had been produced in 2019, so it doesn’t count. Also, I gave a couple of conferences (here and here), was one of the speakers at an online course about architecture and drawing. And, together with a Happy New Year toon (ya see I have lowered my goals) , I was able to produce a Christmas cartoon again after many years without (and scratch an itch that had been there for a while). But again, those took place either before or after the lockdown. Oh, well. First World problems.

So, if you belong in my group, please, don’t complain, show some empathy for those who were less fortunate than you, be responsible, and enjoy what you have. This will be over, sooner or later, and you’ll be able to go on with your life more or less as it was before. Be glad about it.

Merry Sterrett Christmas!

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So, after recycling the same old drawings for a few years, on this ill-fated year I decided to take some time off and draw a proper Christmas card. As usual, it comes slightly late-ish (still on Christmas day, at least), and, also in typical Klaus fashion, it is an homage to (as in: blatant steal of) an all-time favorite piece by a superior artist that I’veen wanting to ape for a while. In this case, the 12-panel sequence has been modelled after a Christmas half-page of the comic strip ‘Polly and Her Pals’, drawn by Cliff Sterrett, only introducing a round-up of famous architects carrying the letters, which were transported by Pa and the family cat (see below) in the original strip. Of course, Sterrett’s strip was eminently legible, drawn with his distinctive synthetic style, while mine is as cumbersome as it gets. However, even if frustratingin the end, as usual, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I also enjoyed every minute. So don’t discard returning to this in the future. That’s next year.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you all!

HEre, Sterrett’s fantastic page.

¿Por qué la Arquitectura se sigue dibujando? / Why is Architecture still being drawn?

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Next Saturday, November 14, I will be giving a two-hour seminar in the course ‘¿Por qué la Arquitectura se sigue dibujando? – Ocho Experiencias de Dibujo Arquitectónico’ [Why is Architecture still being drawn? – Eight Experiences with architectural drawing] organized by Publishing House/Multimedia Emporium Arquine. This course is yet one more in the steady output of educational activities organized by Arquine, and its goal is to answer the titular question through eight encounters with different professionals from the field of architecture who will share their relationship with drawing.

The eight speakers will be Miquel Adriá, Editorial Director of Arquine, Carlos Bedoya, from PRODUCTORA, Tatiana Bilbao, architect, sketcher, and drawing educator Hector López, Rozana Montiel, Architect and Artist Alberto Odériz, Juan Carlos Tello, from Studio f304, and yours truly.

The course will be a good opportunity to engage in conversation with the speakers. In my case, the session will most probably bear the title ‘Why is KLAUS still drawing?’ (very humble, as usual), and I will offer a recount of my career as a cartoonist, but I will also dig into some of my latest work, offer insight on my creative process, and show some sketchbooks, originals, and preliminary drawings.

If you’re interested in attending either the whole course or one of the sessions, send an email to: posgrado@arquine.com

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Course Schedule:

Viernes 6 de noviembre – 16:00h a 18:00h – Héctor López

Sábado 7 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h – Juan Carlos Tello 

Viernes 13 de noviembre – 16:00h a 18:00h – Tatiana Bilbao

Sábado 14 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h (18:00h a 20:00h en España) – Klaus 

Viernes 20 de noviembre – 16:00h a 18:00h – Alberto Oderiz

Sábado 21 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h – Carlos Bedoya

Viernes 27 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h – Rozana Montiel

Sábado 28 de noviembre – 11:00h a 13:00h –Miquel Adrià

‘Letter to a Young Architect’ 2-page comic for the Architectural Review no. 1474

Click to enlarge. The cartoon as published in the magazine (in two facing pages) can be found below

Back in late July, Elly Beaumont, from the Architectural Review, contacted me regarding their -then- forthcoming issue, which would feature, in R.M. Rilke fashion, a series of ‘Letters to a Young Architect’ written by a selection of “architects, critics, teachers, artists and enthusiasts”, or “architects, critics, curators, writers, illustrators and editors”, depending on where you look for. Similarly, I guess I belong in a few of those categories or in none of them, depending on the day you ask me.

Cover/ back cover of ‘Letters to a Young Architect’. The Architectural Review issue 1474, October 2020

Anyway, as usual with me, I had a few ideas that I finally boiled down to two: one of them would more conventional, but safer, and also less-time consuming. The other one, I dreaded the amount of time it would take. So I presented them with both, and you can guess what happened (what always happens in these situations). The final result was this two-page pseudo/mini/comic story where you can find all my usual quirks and complaints about the profession, together with a kind of happy conclusion… before the inevitable, self-deprecatory twist ending. It ended up taking even (a lot) longer than I had expected, but I would lie if I said I didn’t have all kinds of fun doing it… or if I said I didn’t suffer all the way through, too. Thank you, Elly, and especially Manon (Mollard) for your patience waiting for my piece that never seemed to be going to arrive.

‘Letter to a Young Architect by Klaus’, 2020

Anyway: the issue has been out for over a month now, and it collects an impressive selection of collaborations by an assorted group of names including, among many others, Denise Scott Brown, Herman Hertzberger (who provided the best bio in recent memory), Balkrishna Doshi, Kate Macintosh, Alberto Campo Baeza, Charles Holland, Shigeru Ban, and Lars Müller (who, as I’ve commented somewhere else, is responsible for my Pritzker series), together with a couple of friends, too. It also features some inventive layouts -by the featured authors- which are really refreshing to look at. In my case, I was pleasantly surprised by the printing, which made the cartoon-letter look much better than on screen. The AR staff went with a non-glossy paper in my piece, which slightly muted the colors, making them less garish than the original drawing -all for the better.

‘Letters to a Young Architect’. List of Contributors (notice Hertzberger’s ‘bio’)

So, if you liked it, make sure to grab a copy for yourself before they run out of them! I would also strongly recommend buying the July/August issue, ‘Criticism’, and the June 2020 one, ‘Inside’, which are two favorites of mine from recent times. That way you will also help support the dean of English language architectural magazines in these harsh times, where we are seeing more and more fine representatives of architectural printed media disappear. The Architectural Review has been running for 125 years now, and, for those of us who deal with Theory and History of architecture, is the place where many of the seminal texts we quote every other day were published for the first time. The AR’s archive, big chunks of which are available online, is something you want to keep alive. Make your contribution!

P.S. I just discovered they made a behind-the-scenes featurette with my process drawings for this piece. You can check it here.

We don’t need no education (Happy World Architecture Day 2020)

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Earlier today I was getting ready to post about my contribution to the AR’s ‘Letters to a Young Architect’ special issue, which in my case, has quite a special focus on architects’ education, when I realized (as in: someone mentioned it in twitter) that today we celebrate (ha!) simultaneously the World Architecture Day and also the World Teachers Day. So, as both a part-time (that’s being very optimistic) architectural cartoonist and full-time architectural educator, I thought it might be worth a word or two about, well, architectural education.

Also, this finally gives me the opportunity to post this old cartoon I drew for Uncube’s 26th issue, ‘School’s Out’, back in September 2014 (!) (How’s that for a belated post?). More info about the cartoon at the end of the post.

If you’re been around here long enough, or have heard my ramblings in one of my trips here and there, you probably know I have some strong opinions both about architecture and architectural education. Basically, we architects move in an intermediate ground (may I call it a terrain vague to make it sound more poetic?) located inside a triangle whose three apexes would be Art, Technology, and Philosophy. And, as with anyone who practices an intermediate discipline, a discipline in between disciplines, I think most of us experience, at one point or another -or multiple times- the imposter’s syndrome. In extreme cases, such as mine, that pretty much defines our life. So, whenever someone attacks us, we retreat to the opposite side or corner. If we’re accused of being irresponsible wannabe artists who just design sculptures, we respond by remarking that we are actually technicians, experts in building technology. Depending on the country, we even have the knowledge and authorization to calculate structures. If someone attacks us by saying what we do is no art, we go back to the Enlightenment and the characterization of ‘Architecture as the Mother of All Arts’, while pointing out about how conceptual our designs are, and the deep philosophical roots of our discipline. If someone shows quite unimpressed by our pseudo-intellectual ramblings, we just note that we are, above all, creators, and we tend to express ourselves through a somewhat poetic theory. And so on.

As usual with human beings (we are, despite what we are told in architecture schools), we tend to navigate through all these contradictions by overcompensating, with this inherent inferiority complex showing on the outside quite often as a rather annoying superiority complex. As a quick read through any architectural magazine proves, we, architects, have quite a widespread habit to talk about anything with unequalled authority and complete self-confidence (or appearance of, at least), and this springs from the way we are shaped up in architecture schools. We usually complain (I know I have, multiple times) that often people’s image of architects is that of a man (typically, still), dressed up in a toga and wearing a laurel wreath on his head who enters a room and says things like ‘I see it all in red’, as if he was Edna Mode from ‘The Incredibles’. Unfortunately accurate as this may be, we cannot say it’s not our fault, and ‘we’, here, means both architects and architectural educators. Throughout our years as will-be architects, architecture schools teach us that, by becoming so, we will basically be demi-gods (this dates all the way back to Vitruvius, by the way): superior artists and thinkers sadly condemned to live amongst mere mortals who we must not just tolerate, but also educate, in order to build our designs. Such was the thinking back in the day and, to a great extent, it remains pretty much unaltered today.

After one and a half crisis since the turn of the century, after the exponential increase in architects and architecture schools in the last decades of the past century, architecture students are still being taught how to be Le Corbusier. Moreover, they’re still being taught that is the main goal, and the only acceptable path. Anything else is giving up. For a discipline that prides itself in offering a varied, holistic, all-encompassing education, the career choices it presents students with seem remarkably narrow. We are hammered with the notion that we are Renaissance men (and women, of course, as Eric Idle would gladly correct) who can excel at many disciplines, but by the nature of our job, usually become the thinking head and drawing hand in the collective that ends up producing the architectural artifact. Our buildings, you know. Years ago, a colleague of mine who is, on the other hand, an expert on his/her field (I’m not going to give any clues here) a seasoned and very capable professional, and an excellent educator, told me fascinated about this metaphor s/he had just heard: the architect as an orchestra conductor. Two (unspoken) questions came rapidly to my mind: firstly, and perhaps less importantly, how the hell was this the first time s/he heard of this hackneyed comparison. But also, where on Earth were all these orchestras waiting to be directed?

The world is constantly changing, and the architectural scene has certainly changed since Le Corbusier’s times. Don’t take me wrong. I love architecture, and I love that my students love architecture. And I certainly think design has to be the core of architectural education. I just don’t think it has to be all architectural education is about. We live at a time where architects do not necessarily belong to the social elite needed to, at least help them start building a successful career of the heroic kind. We are also at a point of History where we do not need many more Villa Savoyes, or Guggenheim museums; a point where we have built perhaps a little too much, and perhaps we should rethink our role as a collective. Again, this doesn’t mean we don’t need architects who keep practicing the profession the traditional way. It just means we also need architects who deal with all the other facets of the discipline, and schools need desperately to reflect that.

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The cartoon posted above, We Don’t Need No Education Not this one, no’, was originally published as the 19th entry in my ‘Numerus Klausus’ series, which still holds the title as my longest tenure in an architectural medium (in terms of published entries, of course. Time-wise, Arquine is going to be difficult to replace as my longest relationship). In typical Klaus fashion, it hides a few winks to other works, from Asterix and Obelix to Dire Straits’ ‘Money for nothing’ music video. The overall idea is, however, a nod to, possibly, my all-time favorite short animated film: Raoul Servais’s ‘Chromophobia’ (1966).

Looking backwards: Remembering Mextropoli 2018

From left to right: Aura Luz Melis, Petra Blaisse, Him, Alex Hernández, Pedro Hernández (not related), Miquel Adriá, Iñaqui Carnicero. (Click to enlarge)

As you may know, from September 5 until today, September 7 2020, Mextropoli, Festival de Arquitectura y Ciudad is celebrating its 7th edition, ‘(Un)sustainable City’ in Mexico City. As usual, this year the festival was meant to take place on March 20-23. However, the very particular situation we were living worldwide in those particular dates led to the decision to postpone it half a year.

A couple years ago, the festival followed its usual policy -well, at least date-wise, because its 5th Edition, ‘The Limits of Design’ took place on March 17-20. The organizers did break their rules, though, when they were selecting the guest speakers and, within an impressive group of first-class figures, they decided to call me as well. For some reason. (Perhaps they thought I was a great choice to show the limits of Design). I’m not kidding: the list of lecturers included RCR’s Rafael Aranda -fresh off his 2017 Pritzker Prize-, Martha Thorne -a member of the jury that awarded him the Pritzker-, Valerio Olgiatti, Guillermo Hevia, Go Hasegawa, Barozzi Veiga, Llatzer  Moix, Felipe Uribe, Inside Outside, Juan Herreros, Stefano Boeri, Johnston MarkLee, Iñaki Carnicero, and Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, among many others.

Introducing: that illustrious nobody…’

I’m no strange to speaking in public, and, reluctant as I am to talking about my work, I’ve gotten better at it as time goes by. Also, I thought I was used to audiences of any size, but speaking in front of 2,000 attendees at the Teatro Metropolitan in Mexico City was a different kind of experience, of which, as a seclusive introvert, I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered. If you were there at the time, I hope you will forgive me for delivering the whole lecture sitting at my table. Hope you had some laughs at least. On the brighter side, at several meters tall, I think my cartoons have never looked better (as in bigger) – neither have I looked tinier, which is kind of fitting, anyway. All the lectures are available online and easy to find, so go check them. (Skip the one with the architectural cartoonist, please).

Tiny Klaus speaking.

As usual, too, the lectures were just one amongst many other activities that happened during the festival, and I’m not just referring to all those great dinners and visits for the presenters. Together with the 3 days of lectures, Mextropoli organized a pavilion design competition (see here), several parallel conferences, events at architecture schools, book presentations, round tables, et al. In my case, the incredibly nice guys from Arquine set out to organize an exhibition on my work, ‘Arquinoir by Klaus’, at the CCEMex (Centro Cultural de España en México). The exhibition, which was open to the public from March 17 to June 24, 2018, ran parallel to Iñaqui Carnicero’s ‘Unfinished’, which had been awarded the Golden Lion two years earlier, in the Venice Biennale of 2016. (More on that in a later post).

Arquinoir by Klaus at the CCEMex

Again, this was not the only Klaus-related event that took place during my visit (those were some busy 5 days). Among other things -such as the niceties mentioned above- the people from Arquine, together with some other partners, kept me busy, organizing a workshop in the School of Architecture of LaSalle University, or an incredibly enjoyable drawing jam session together with Héctor López (@_thearchitector). More on this in that later post. Anyway, let this post be a big ‘thank you’ to all people involved.

Students from Gerardo Fernández’s course ‘Croquis y Maquetas’ at La Salle. I swear I had no idea they were doing these ‘Team Klaus’ T-Shirts.

P.S. Since this unfortunate situation we’re going through has also prolonged its life both globally and in Mexico, the physical activities of Mextropoli 7: (Un)sustainable city had been delayed till March 2021. However, the conferences will still be taking place online in a live marathon on September 7, 2020 (that is: today!). So make sure to register (free) here, and join the discussion. This year’s guest speakers will include, of course, many well-known names. Among them, and in no particular order: Beatriz Colomina, David Chipperfield, Dominique Perrault, Saskia Sassen (@SaskiaSassen), Frida Escobedo (@fridaescobedo), Iñaki Ábalos, Mimi Zeiger (@loudpaper), Iker Gil (@MASContext), Ethel Barahona (@ethel_baraona) & César Reyes (@cerreyes), Solano Benítez, Andrés Jaque (@OFFPOLINN), Tatiana Bilbao (@Tabilbao), Philippe Rahm, Hernán Díaz Alonso, Rozana Montiel (@rozanamontiel), Zaida Muxí (@zaidamuxim), Iñaki Alday (@inakialday), and many others. Subscribe and enjoy!

A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century Review, Celebration, and Tribute to 40 Years of Robert Crumb’s “A Short History of America” – Article for ARQ #103

ARQ103_art07_Lus_01_Page_01

“I’m obviously prone to hyperbole, but ‘A Short History of America’ has got to be one of the greatest comic strips ever drawn […]. Chris Ware (Hignite, 2006:259).

In 1979, Robert Crumb published what would later become one of his most unusual and also most celebrated works outside the realm of underground in the Fall issue of CoEvolution Quarterly. «Short history of America» (fig. 1) moved away from Crumb’s usual themes and trademark rawness to show, throughout twelve silent panels, the evolution of a generic site in the United States, from a state of virgin landscape to its transformation into an anonymous intersection located somewhere in the Midwest, or perhaps on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Here, the signature style of the patriarch of underground comix, with the recitals of sex, violence, and lysergic trips that plagued the sadomasochistic misadventures published in Zap Comix or Weirdo were left out, as well as the verbose reflections and dialogues that usually filled his cluttered pages.

This unique situation would not stop the comic story from becoming an iconic image, both of underground comics and of Crumb’s work. Its timeless subject, as well as its publication in a medium outside the under scene – although still linked to the counterculture – allowed it to reach the general public, aided by would its transformation into a popular poster by Kitchen Sink Press in 1981. «Short history of America» has been republished on numerous occasions, becoming an indispensable item in Crumb’s monographs, and even reaching the point of symbolically representing its author. This seemed to be Terry Zwigoff’s take on it, when, in 1994, he chose to end his biographical documentary Crumb with these 12 cartoons. Edited in the form in a 51-second sequence with A Real Slow Drag, with Scott Joplin at the piano playing in the background, they offered an appropriately gloomy and succinct ending to the story of author’s tough life. […]

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Excerpt from an article on Robert Crumb’s ‘Short History of America’, published in ARQ #103 (Winter 2019). An analysis of the strip can be found in this previous post. The homage cartoon strip  drew on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Crumb’s strip can be checked in full detail here. The article as published can be downloaded by clicking on the image below.

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