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Find it at your closest store very, very soon.
Click to enlarge
Find it at your closest store very, very soon.
Klaus (2019). A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century. Click to enlarge.
As you’ll probably know, if you’ve been following my work in any capacity, one of the main reasons why I persist in my cartooning career is that it provides me with a vehicle to channel my need to draw. Or, putting it the other way around, my cartoons and occasional comic stories usually start as excuses to draw something I’m interested in at the moment. The things that make my fingertips tickle come from a wide variety of sources: comics, literature, scifi in its many faces, tv, cinema, and, generally speaking, anything I may have encountered at some point in my life and I’ve developed an obsession with, which typically makes it into my cartoons in the form of a flabbergasting constellation of details which are for the most part winks, nods, references to other works, or even plain private jokes. Being an architect and (under my secret identity) an architecture scholar, a frequent source is the very history of architecture, which has no shortage of inspiring buildings, projects, texts and illustrations, sometimes overlapping with these other fields.
Filed under this latter category falls possibly a story I’ve been obsessed with for quite a while now. I’m not alone in this fixation; Chris Ware once declared this is possibly the single comic story he’s been most influenced by. The difference is that, in my case, instead of using it as an inspiration to create something new and different I’ve just been waiting for an excuse to redraw it in my own style. The comic in question is Robert Crumb’s universally well-known 1979 4-page story ‘A Short History of America’. Originally published in the Autumn 1979 issue of Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly, the spiritual heir to Brand’s own Whole Earth Catalogue which would run from 1974 to 1985. Crumb was a frequent contributor to the magazine from issue #13 (1977) through #44 (when it became The Whole Earth Review), in a period where he had otherwise abandoned the production of comics (or comix) for the most part. In fact, after his short Mr. Natural run for The Village Voice (February-November 1976), and until the creation of Weirdo in March 1981, CoEvolution Quarterly was pretty much the only place where his fans could find their Crumb comix fix. Out of all the varied stories he created for CEQ, ‘A Short History of America’ and its sequel, published in the back cover of The Whole Earth Review in 1988, stand out not only as the best known of the bunch, but rather as Crumb’s best known work in general, with the permission of Fritz the Cat.
R. Crumb. ‘A Short History of America’. CoEvolution Quarterly, Fall 1979.
To this popularity certainly contributed its edition in the form of a poster by Kitchen Sink Press in 1981, reissued with the additional material from 1988 a few years later (a more recent version here, available for purchase here), or its inclusion as a musical coda in Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 documentary Crumb. However, none of this would have happened if the story hadn’t had the wide appeal it did, appearing as a both accurate and melancholic commentary on mankind’s impact on the environment that surpassed the niche of the underground in which Crumb’s work usually rejoiced. As the title announced, the comic presented a silent chronicle of the evolution of a part of the American landscape, from its pristine state as a natural ecosystem until it became a generic corner of a suburban area. Consisting of 12 panoramic panels organized in 4 pages, the story showed not only Crumb’s skills to draw the environment (urban or otherwise) with both an abundance of details and a staggering legibility, but also his sharp eye when it comes to capturing the elements that characterize an era, making the collection of wordless snapshots a lucid and somewhat bitter commentary on the (sub)urban development of America and its parallel destruction of the landscape. The story, if we understand a gap of 10 years between consecutive panels, worked well as a portrait, decade by decade, of the evolution of the USA between 1850 and 1960, with some topical references falling in the right places. The ‘coda’ published almost a decade later, fell outside this attachment to historical reality, and toyed with three possible scenarios for the future of this scene: a post-apocalyptic one, consequence of ecological disaster, a ‘Fun Future’ with flying vehicles and curvy architectures, and a happy-hippie ‘Ecotopian Solution’ with bicycles, pedestrians, and cabins scattered throughout a gigantic forest.
With both the strip’s 40th anniversary and the very dystopian date of November 2019 looming in the horizon, I thought the time had definitely come. So, after pondering which way to go, I contacted Pancho Díaz, professor at the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and editor-in-chief both of Ediciones ARQ and ARQ magazine, submitting him a proposal for a double-feature: On the one hand, it consisted of an essay, written but my usual partner in crime, which offered a close examination of the content of ‘A Short History…’ framed within the bigger context of Crumb’s work for the alternative, ecological scene of the 1960s-70s, and his many depictions of architecture and the built environment. After the article, however, the piece also included an addendum: a 4-page revision of Crumb’s story by yours truly that began with the sixth panel (corresponding to 1900, according to the above interpretation), and took a different route. The basic idea was answering to the question: what would the story have looked like if it had been told by an architect? -You know, this particular sub-species of humanity which sees history as a succession of architectural climaxes. Once this starting point had been set, all the pieces fell easily into place, and the story became the recount of the competition between two families, each living on one side of the street created by Crumb in 1979, who, decade after decade, keep retooling their houses to be more á-la-mode than that of their neighbor.
Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 1. Things hadn’t started going wild yet.
This gave me the opportunity not only to try drawing in a slightly bolder version of my own style, somewhat closer to Crumb’s thicker line and more organic hatching (if, of course, executed in a much less skilled way than his), or to play with architecture styles and make my own versions of some very well known houses of different periods of the XX Century. It also allowed me to introduce a thousand different referents and winks to architecture, History, popular culture (comics, cinema, tv). I even had to draw period-accurate vehicles, which, used as I am to drawing cars that look nothing like real cars, was an… interesting experience. Of course, in this case the strip had to end with a punchline, which appeared in the leap between the last two panels. If the first panel took place in 1900 the last one should have been 2010. Instead of that the last panel jumps from 2000 to 2019, showing a world shaped in the image LA 2019 in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner.
Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 2. …and modernity unleashes chaos.
Of course (again), unlike Robert Crumb I am no genius, so whilst the panels in ‘A Short History of America’ look perfectly balanced, and can be clearly read from a 10-meter distance (provided you have good eyesight), their counterparts in ‘A Short History of the XX Century’ are characteristically overstuffed and wonkily composed. Also, given Crumb’s eponymous speed, it probably took him from breakfast to lunchtime to complete the four pages directly in ink in his sketchbook. In my case, it was a few weeks’ work, with a lot of preliminary drawing, penciling and careful inking (see pencils in this future post). For that reason, we’re planning to release a fined-tuned edition, with my typical shading and, in a larger format and including all this extra material in the near future. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, enjoy finding all the easter-eggs if that’s your sort of thing.
Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 3. …postmodern explosion.
A big thank you to Pancho Díaz and ARQ for providing me with a venue for this project, and to R. Crumb for creating his masterpiece in the first place, and giving permission to reprint his story as part of the article.
Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 4. …This Dystopian Life.
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.
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).
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) , 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) .
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.
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.
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.
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.” 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  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. [….]
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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I’ve been neglecting posting this since April, when it was published, after teasing about it for several months on twitter. But, since it took me ages to actually deliver it to the editors, I think it’s kinda fitting.
To make a long story short: Over a year ago (almost two, really), Eli Keller, architect, researcher, and PhD candidate at MIT, contacted that guy for their upcoming issue (#46) of Thresholds journal, which was to be titled ‘Scatter!’. Knowing how scatterbrained I am, he thought a conversation with me about comics, cartooning, and their relationship with architectural practice and theory. Also, they asked me to provide them with some illustrations, so I sent them a bunch of already-published work. They, however, thought producing new material would be more appropriate. I agreed. However, it seemed like a lot of work, so, after arguing I didn’t think I could find the time.
However (again) the idea of producing some figures that worked as a parallel discourse to that of the conversation -not always coincident- stroke me, and… I found it too irresistible. It was also a lot more work than they had asked for, but, hey, it gave me the chance to play with the stuff (not in a dirty way) of Winsor McCay, François Schuiten, Katsuhiro Otomo, and friends such as Léopold Lambert and Jimenez Lai, so, what else could I do?
Below you can find some excerpts of the interview, along with the figures as published in the magazine. The whole article can be downloaded here for a ridiculously low price. So, if you want to read the whole thing (you should), go get it. Now. Additionally, you can also read a 5-page preview here.
Since his breakthrough in 2005, architect and cartoonist Klaus has been reveling in the light side of architecture with his drawings, comic strips, and cartoons. Published worldwide, his work usually tackles on the less uplifting aspects of the profession, criticizing its shortcomings and the excesses of its star system, usually coated with an array of educated winks to the many corners of architecture theory and history, science fiction, comics or cinema. In this conversation, he and architecture and popular culture scholar Luis Miguel Lus Arana discuss his work in the context of today’s digital culture, where the interactions between architecture and its periphery -media, popular culture, graphic arts- seem to multiply. Comics, architectural criticism, image production, the creative power of sarcasm, the reemergence of craftsmanship and traditional techniques, as well as the new directions of the profession are some of the topics that sprang through it.
LML: Since you went online in 2009, you have produced a variety of works related to comics and cartoons: from comic strips on the life at the Harvard GSD to single panel cartoons on the current events of architecture, or illustrations. In your series for A10’s section ‘Interchange’, you produced poster-sized illustrations with caricatures of the architects interviewed by Indira Van’t Klooster; for Uncube, a series of vignettes that commentated on news blurbs printed side by side with them. Lately you have produced some 2-page stories for Arquine… How would you define yourself? Cartoonist? Architectural satirist?
K: Whatever works, actually. I guess that cartoonist comes closer to what I do, even if it is not a conscious choice, but rather a result of my inability to commit to long-term projects. My first career goal always was to become a comic book artist, but then architecture got in the way, so when I retook it 10 years later, cartoons were an easier way to keep my comic-related urges under control. (…)
Well, there is a long-standing relationship between cartoonists and architecture. Editorial cartoons were a great source of impressive architectural and urban imagery in the late XIX Century and in the early decades of the XX Century; I am thinking of the cartoons that Harry Grant Dart, Albert Levering, or Grant E. Hamilton drew for Judge, Puck, Life, and other magazines, or Winsor McCay’s editorial cartoons for Randolph Hearst. (…) The list would be endless: William Heath Robinson, Hans Georg Rauch… Ronald Searle’s Paris Sketchbook is a joy to look at, for instance.
K: Oh, I find no fault with the definition, and I’m flattered to be placed, even if in the ephemeral context of a conversation, within such an illustrious lineage. I just mean cartoons are less a conscious choice than a result of my inability to commit to long-term projects. I never thought of myself as a cartoonist, but I’ve gladly adopted all these ways I or my work have been defined: ‘political cartoons for architects’, ‘architectural satirist’. Still, I am somehow reluctant to qualify my vignettes as satire, which in my mind in a place certainly more elevated than where I dwell. (…)
So, now that we are amidst all this discussion about the post-critical, I wanted to ask you: Would you qualify what you do as criticism?
K: Let me skip the discussion about post-critical. Don’t take me wrong: I love neologisms as much as the next man —the next man being Reyner Banham or Homi Bhabha— but I’d rather avoid getting too cynical. My cartoons are critical in the sense that they mock, often very arbitrarily, pretty much anything architecture-related. However, there is no attempt to build a cohesive discourse. That’s the beauty of satire: You can take issue, make fun, criticize, ridicule, one aspect and its opposite. You don’t have to settle for a specific reading or set of values, which is less committed, but also less limiting. Taking everything apart unabashedly can also be very productive. (…)
I would like to tackle on that ‘productiveness’ later. However, before we leave this ‘non-critical’ nature you claim on your work: I understand the ‘Klaus’ moniker was something you coined in order to differentiate your satirical (sorry) production from your scholarly work. However, at some point you also started writing under your ‘Klaus’ persona. You have a couple of articles out there, but I’m most interested in the ‘Arquinoir’ section you publish in Arquine, which consists almost invariably of a cartoon, or a short story, and a text, mirroring each other thematically and aligned with the issue’s topic. How does this differ from your academic output? Do you use a different voice?
K: Certainly. (…) There is an interview with Wes Jones where he points out how his comic strips allowed him to tackle on serious issues expressing very strong opinions without having to worry about the consequences, ‘because… you know, it’s just a comic book’. This is an exemption that applies to satire in general, not to comics per se—although the infantile aura attached to comic books helps. Also, this can be very productive, because the liberation from the obligation to construct a cohesive discourse, to provide answers to the questions you raise, can take you through paths you probably wouldn’t have even thought of if you were writing seriously. Relentless nitpicking involves a lot of analysis and argumentation. The same goes for humor, and fiction, of course. In my columns for Arquine, and in my scholarly production, I deal with the same topics: science fiction architecture, megastructures, and also Reyner Banham, whose articles for New Society are always a source for inspiration. But the tone is different, as is the chain of thoughts it unleashes.
So, if I understand correctly, these texts work as an extension of your cartoons, unleashing a sort of ‘automatic’ reasoning… (…) … My question is: do you think caricature, be it amicable or derisive, can play a similar role?
K: Yes. Caricature is a great trigger for creation. A few years ago, Jimenez [Lai] and I were chatting about how, when you copy something, if you’re able to do it poorly enough, it becomes something new. There are two key interrelated processes in caricature: exaggeration and deformation. Cartoons work in a reverse way: they tend to strip things down to their essentials. (…) Being comics a cool medium, the cartoon triggers a series of associative processes in the viewer, who fills in the blanks and perceives it according to his own preferences. (…)
Caricature plays a simultaneous game of familiarization and de-familiarization, keeping the subject recognizable while distorting it. It introduces new readings, makes associations and brings in intertextuality that only arises in the exaggeration. I think language is sometimes misleading: metaphorically ‘tearing something apart’ also involves constructing.Making fun is still ‘making’, after all. A satirical take on a topic introduces puns, doubletalk… it shows the benefits of reactive thinking at its best. Distorting, caricaturizing a design, can produce interesting results, design-wise. It is, in the end, a classic design strategy: choosing a certain direction and taking it to the limit. Only, this time, we start with something that’s already been designed, and take it in an extraneous way.
Earlier you mentioned the productive value of fiction. As we commented before, fiction has historically been a great producer of novel architectural imagery and concepts. In our short-term vision of History, Blade Runner is possibly the paradigmatic example, as a film that not only became an object of desire of postmodern writing, but has also influenced several generations of architects. However, this is also true of a ‘lesser’ medium such as comics. Academic literature usually brings up Archigram 4 (May 1964), and its appropriation of space comic book imagery from the 1950s and 1960s, but this image production has abounded all throughout the History of the medium, becoming more intense from the mid 1960s onwards, particularly in France. In fact, the comics of that period were particularly crucial in the development of the ‘architecturally conscious’ sci-fi in cinema from the 1970s onwards, and I would say they stayed way ahead in terms of architectural design. There are notable exceptions, of course, but filmic ‘world-building’ has always shown a tendency towards the generic, so you get a sort of standard ‘space age’, ‘post-apocalyptic’, ‘cyberpunk’, ‘post-industrial’ futurism, also in terms of architectural image. However, in comics you can find authentic ‘design exercises’ when it comes to creating the architectural backgrounds, particularly since the early 1980s.
K: Yes, there is a boost of ‘architectural consciousness’ in comics at that point, where a younger generation, which had grown up reading ‘Métal Hurlant’, entered the medium professionally. There is a mixture in those years: you find the members of the older generation, such as Moebius, Jean-Claude Mézières, and their followers -Enki Bilal, Tanino Liberatore- who cultivated the sort of metaphysical or surrealistic sci-fi that inspired Blade Runner. Then, you had the younger ones, who started their careers in the already ‘intellectualized’ scenario created by Métal Hurlant, and brought their own interests to the foreground in their comics. Architecture, for instance, is one of the driving forces in the work of Andreas [Martens], Marc-Antoine Mathieu, or François Schuiten. They were, and still are, very inspiring.
Do you think there is a niche for architects to work in? Browsing the net, there seems to be an upsurge in architects’ interest in comics: Bjarke Ingels’ Yes is More invariably comes up in every discussion about this topic -and we could argue whether it is really an ‘archicomic’- but there are many other architects using comics as a means to present their designs, as well as those who produce comic books as an end in themselves. Competitions such as Fairy Tales are fostering the appearance of those, and it has become frequent to see students using comics in their designs. Do you think comics are living an âge d’or in architecture?
I want to say that yes, architecture is finally looking at comics as a medium that has things to offer, and more people are interested in them. However, I also wonder if it is not a matter of exposure. There have always been exchanges between the worlds of architecture and comic books, starting with Le Corbusier, whose passion for Rodolphe Töpffer, the Swiss Father of comics, has been widely discussed. Many comic book artists have had an architectural background: Guido Crepax, Milo Manara, and more recently Tsutomu Nihei, or Manuele Fior.
It is true that comics and architecture have typically portrayed a love-hate relationship- Love on the side of comics, and a mixture of love and hate on architecture’s side-. I’ve always felt this emanates from a certain intellectual ‘inferiority complex’ on the architects’ side: The architectural establishment, at least in those places here the discipline is highly professionalized (Southern Europe, et al), seems to be very reluctant to allowing any mixture with anything whose cultural pedigree is not reputed enough; as if it could somehow endanger architecture’ respectability. Do you feel this is changing?
K: Well, we architects are very fragile living beings. I’ve often said -and I can oversimplify because I am a cartoonist- that architectural practice tends to move within a triangle defined by art, engineering, and philosophy. So, whenever we are attacked, we retreat to another corner: When someone says ‘You just design sculptures’, we counter-attack: ‘No, no, I’m also a technician’. Or: ‘You are aprioristic; you just design shapes’… – No, no, I’ve read Heidegger’. But we do not belong to either field completely, so in a typical case of superiority complex that stems from an undergoing inferiority complex, we overreact and behave like these arrogant demigods society is so fed up with. (…)
Lus Arana, Koldo: “Dancing about Architecture; a conversation with architect and cartoonist Klaus”, Thresholds nº. 46: Scatter!, edited by Anne Graziano and Eliyahu Keller. MIT Press, April 2018; 278-298.
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“Andrés Jaque (*1971, Madrid) is not a typical architect. His radical stance breaking the traditional boundaries of architecture makes of him is one of the most relevant figures in the contemporary European architecture scene. Talking with Andrés is always inspiring and his words are a gust of fresh air to any preconceived statement about what contemporary architecture means nowadays. His firm Andrés Jaque Architects founded in 2000 and its spin-off Office for Political Innovation started three years later are a continuous stimulating source of inspiration for a whole new generation of young and not that young architects all around Europe that claim a change in the discipline. From his very first projects he showed an interest in working with conventional domestic realities that had been omitted by the architects and the political and corporative realm.
Gonzalo Herrero Delicado – Your work has always been charged with a very critical political load. What is the relevancy of politics into architecture?
Andrés Jaque – Architecture makes possible to coexist different agents in the city that won’t be able to live together without its presence. From this point of view, the architecture is always a political action itself and its challenges are simultaneously discussed in the urban and domestic arenas. The conventional descriptions of a city are out of phase and are now more and more complex. Nowadays also the politics are not as easy to be defined and are described by spatial structures simultaneously connecting different countries. The politic sphere is not just defined by a single government or society but by many imperceptible spatial structures and networks. […]
GHD – Another main focus of the core of your work is the connection between architecture and the society as it happened with the acclaimed performance IKEA Disobedients but at the same time this project was also widely criticised because it didn’t provide an architectural solution, what do you think about it?
AJ – After we made the first performance of IKEA Disobedients in Madrid, Candela, one of the characters featured in the project, was menaced to be evicted and because she was part of this project, there was many spontaneous protests in the streets of Madrid to support her. Also thanks to the massive media impact created around the project after being acquired by the MoMA, she was not finally evicted from her house. There you have the solution. In fact this is probably the most architectural project we have ever done in the office. […]”
Gonzalo Herrero Delicado: The Daily Politics of Architecture – An Interview with Andrés Jaque. A10 MAgazine #58. July-August 2014
For a quick look at the IKEA disobedients project/performance/exhibition, check this video at MoMA’s site. For an overview of Jaque’s work, check the Office for Political innovation webpage. Gonzalo Herrero’s multiple activities can also be checked in his own site.
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“[…] For those who were already, let’s say, ‘architecturally active’ in the 90s, the second half of the decade featured an increasing presence of Koolhaas-isms in the architecture published by architectural media. Be it young offices paging Bakema through the Educatorium (those ubliquitous ‘single surfaces’ Jeff Kipnis still chitchatted on in his lectures more than ten years later), forests of tilted pilotis, cheap rubber surfaces or else, OMA’s supposed ‘house style’ had permeated through a whole generation that made justice to the old Spanish writer’s adagio: “Blessed are our imitators, for theirs will be our flaws”. Because, notwithstanding their varying degrees of success, none of those byproducts of OMA’s discourse seemed able to grasp its spirit. And it still goes on… monkey see, monkey do.
But, which is this discourse? Certainly, Koolhaas’ scant prose is, within its own scarcity, rich in suggestive, elusive terms: Manhattanization, Junkspace, Bigness -and you really know you have made it when Hal Foster writes a review of something like the Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping [ii]. However, as in Foucault’s Other Spaces/Hetrotopias, these are texts and terms that one seems to be able to make less sense of with each subsequent reading. All in all, it seems just a private a game, carefully designed to keep his audience intrigued while feeding his own legend by building an aura of impenetrability, to the point that one’s tempted to believe that every move is carefully staged: His carefully careless lectures, his unsophisticated, even clumsy descriptions of his own buildings, or his nervous, uncomfortable responses in interviews, all contribute to enlarge the halo of mystery that surrounds him. And, as I deduce from his always packed , rock-star-like conferences, it definitely works.
Five years ago, I published the first ‘Hope’ cartoon, with Mr. K posing as Shepard Fairey’s Obama. Five years later, I still wonder how many people did not get it was a joke.”
[i] See Heron, Katrina: ‘From Bauhaus to Koolhaas’ in Wired issue 4.07, July 1996.
[ii] See Foster, Hal: ‘Bigness’, in London Review of Books Vol. 23, no. 23, 29 November 2001.
Klaus: It’s not easy being Kool – 2001 ways to misinterpret Koolhaas… and help him have it his way (excerpt) in VV.AA: Clog: REM, June 2014.
So, in a sort of smart, happy and -also- inevitable move, the guys at Clog magazine sort of celebrated their 3rd anniversary (really, 11 issues already??) with their issue CLOG: REM, just in time for the Biennale. They also thought –as, apparently, everyone else– it was sort of inevitable to ask me to contribute. Of course, they were particularly entitled to, since they made sure to have me in Clog from the very beginning. Just click on the “clog” tag in this very site and you’ll get the idea. Also, they decided to open the issue with my contribution, which was very nice on their part. Thanks, guys! Oh, and a tip of the hat to Benjamin Greaves (@MrGreavesSays) for providing me with the title.
P.S.: For those among you who may have noticed, I’ve made a point of celebrating the 5 anniversary of “On Starchitecture” by using vriations of the “Hope” cartoon on all my contributions published around the time of the Biennale’s opening (all of them revolving about REMdamentals, of course). So far, you can check “Fundamentally… Myself” (in Spanish) in Mexican Magazine Arquine #68, and Keep your eyes open for Uncube #24: Mexico City.
CLOG: REM, with contributions by Michael Abrahamson, Stan Allen, Joseph Altshuler, Serafina Amoroso, Haik Avanian, Cecil Balmond, Dorin Baul, Aaron Betsky, Petra Blaisse, Jim Bogle, Ole Bouman, Mat Bower, Eric de Broche des Combes, Brian Bruegge, Galo Canizares, Stephen Cassell, Archie Lee Coates IV, Rene Daalder, Ozge Diler, Ryan Drummond, Keefer Dunn, A. A. Dutto, Erez Ella, Valeria Federighi, Kim Förster, Jeffrey Franklin, Joseph Godlewski, Adam Himes, Matthias Hollwich, Julia van den Hout, Frances Hsu, Bernard Hulsman, Hans Ibelings, Klaus, Charlie Koolhaas, Tomas Koolhaas, Andrew Kovacs, Jimenez Lai, Stephanie Lee, Thomas Lozada, Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs, Brandon Martinez, Isaac Mathew, Kyle May, Philipp Oswalt, Roberto Otero, Steven K. Peterson, Wim Pijbes, Jacob Reidel, Michael Rock, Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, Fernando Romero, Alejandro Sanchez, Mika Savela, Jonathan A. Scelsa, Kyle Schumann, Brian Slocum, Galia Solomonoff, Frederieke Taylor, Will Thomson, Madelon Vriesendrop, Luke Yosuke Willis, Human Wu, Albena Yaneva, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Zoe Zenghelis
Last, but not least on the list (too much, huh?) of interesting stuff I was somehow involved in busy 2013 was being featured in “Goodbye Topolinia” [Malcor D’Edizioni, 2013], a book on comics and architecture written by Laura Cassará and Sebastiano D’Urso. As Laura defines it, “the book is an essay, written side by side, on the mutual interferences between architecture and comics. It is not an encyclopedic compilation, in the sense that we had no intention to analyze all the episodes of the intersections between both disciplines. We were primarily interested in tracing the conceptual threads that make it possible to outline analogies between both artforms throughout their History. Obviously, the theoretical discourse was seasoned with countless examples, both of architectural and comic-book work, typically -but not only- in those cases where both categories converge in a narrative pertaining to one discipline or to the other.” [Excerpted and -freely- translated from a conversation between Andrea Alberghini and Laura Cassará in “Welcome ‘Goodbye Topolinia'”. Comics Metropolis, October 8 2013]
The book, which can be purchased online in different sites, for those not living in Italy, is certainly rich in examples, including most of the authors featured in our own MAS Context: Narrative, such as Chris Ware, Wes Jones, Tom Kaczynski, Jimenez Lai, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, François Schuiten, or Joost Swarte. On top of it, as the icing on the cake, the book opens with an introduction by Benoît Peeters, the other half in Schuiten and Peeters’ nearly mythical “Les Cités Obscures”. I suspect my inclusion in the book stems mainly from my presence at the 2013 Comicon in Naples, which makes me doubly indebted for the invitation. As usual, a big thank you to Laura, and Sebastiano for their interest [and an eventual follow-up this year. We’ll keep informing]. Below, you can check some pages from the book, and a short excerpt of the Klaus-related parts provided by Ms. Cassará herself. For more information, provided you can read Italian, I would check the review of the book at Fumettologica.
And next week, back to cartoons.
“Comics relate to architecture also by means of irony and satire: so does Klaus, an architect who also draws comics. He treats serious issues posed by contemporary architectue with a light-hearted mood, and his drawings, while resembling cutting edge architectural projects, really call into question contemporary architectural statements. And so the competition for the Twin Towers reconstruction, after 9/11 attacks, is the chance to make fun of the entries submitted by archistars for the international invite-only contest. His analysis goes further, in search for similarities between archistars’ projects and cartoonists’ drawings, with quite a remarkable finding: in his own blog, he compares the House of Music in Porto, designed by Rem Koolhaas in 1995-2001, to the Metabunker megastructure, as conceived by Gimenez and Jodorowsky in 1992. The remarkable resemblance doesn’t mean Koolhaas project is not authentic; instead, it’s a proof that, using their imagination and creativity, comics creators are often forerunners of future architectural forms.”
So… finally! After more than a year in the works, the 20th issue of MAS Context, a special issue under the motto “Narrative”, is out. Talks about this issue started on October 2012, amidst the MAS Context: Analog event in Chicago that also featured the “Architectural Narratives” exhibition, originally intended to be called “Building Stories”, after Chris Ware’s eponymous magna opus –that is, until we found that Mr. Ware was opening an exhibition himself in the same city, on the same dates, and under the same title! In any case, the exhibition, which featured some works by Jimenez Lai and yours truly was accompanied by a text, also entitled “Architectural Narratives”, which dealt with the varying relationships that architecture and graphic narratives have maintained throughout the years. Happy with our previous collaborations in Ownership and Communication, Iker Gil, chief editor of MAS Context, suggested the possibility of expanding it into a whole issue of the magazine, and, after some hesitation (a whole two minutes), the ball was set rolling.
As the editor’s note points out (and I’m not going to put it in between quotation marks because I wrote it myself), Architecture and narrative, as Victor Hugo nostalgically pointed out, have walked hand in hand through history, crossing paths without really risking the extinction that the archdeacon of Notre-Dame gloomily predicted. Moreover, today, in a moment where the conjunction of the crisis and the entrance into a new stage in the communication era impulse the discipline into new, multiple directions, the narrative aspects of architecture come to the front, and comics are not alien to this. The last few years have seen an increasing enthusiasm within architecture on the possibilities of graphic narrative, both from a historical point of view, with a blossoming of either academic or informal studies on the exchanges between both disciplines, and from architectural practitioners. Even in a moment of digital explosion such as the one we are living, comics and graphic narrative are the new ‘cool’ in architectural schools (sorry), making it into architectural design courses, and showing up as a new fashion in architectural representation/communication. There we have, most notoriously, starchitecture’s enfant terrible Bjarke Ingels and his excessive (but still pretty well crafted) Yes Is More, which we discussed some time ago, but also Herzog&De Meuron’s MetroBasel, Wes Jones’ Beyond Dubai, Jean Nouvel’s Louisiana Manifesto, Neutelings&Robdeen’ European Patent Office at Leidschendam, Olivier Kugler & Fletcher Priest’s Freethinking, and a long etcetera. Even more interesting are those instances where the comic book form is used as a parallel research environment, prominently presented in the work of Jimenez Lai in Bureau Spectacular, but also by Studio CEBRA’s toons, or Leopold Lambert’s Lost in the Line.
Thus, MAS Context: Narrative(s) was set to offer just a glimpse of the phenomenon with no aim to exhaust the topic—even if some of the authors of the essays have built some rather encyclopedic works on it themselves- but wanting to offer a taste of the different faces that this interaction between architecture and graphic narrative presents. Within its overall theme, NARRATIVE tries to explore this issue from both sides of the of the line that separates these two disciplines, and is roughly divided into three big sections: the first one deals with the presence of graphic narrative in disciplinary architecture, both past and present, and includes the works of some architects who have used graphic narrative in their work, in one way or another. The other side would be covered, in the second section, by those comic book artists who have also crossed the border between disciplines, making forays into the built world. Finally, the third one, an addendum entitled in our drafts “Beyond the (Comic) page”, moves conceptually towards both sides of the spectrum, briefly covering the tangents with (implied) written narratives and emerging animation practices in architecture.
We have been so lucky as to being able to feature an impressive team of contributors, which includes legendary names both from the comic book and the architectural field, who have contributed with their works and their words: Originally entitled Narrative(s) or Narratives (although finally simplified for the sake of clarity) the issue features a combination of essays and, primarily, interviews, where these creators explain their works in their own words, therefore providing the readers with different narratives on the issue of (graphic) narrative. Thus, illustrating the role of comic book artists as architectural performers, we are proud to include interviews with comic legends François Schuiten, acclaimed author of the series Les Cités Obscures (along with co-writer Benoît Peeters), Joost Swarte, Dutch creator of the ligne claire (also in a literal sense), Marc-Antoine Mathieu, author the of mesmerizing series Julius Corentin Acquefacques, and two architects who crossed to the other side and stayed there: Italian architect-turned-comic book artist Manuele Fior, and Tom Kaczynski, artist and chief editor of independent publishing house Uncivilized Books.
On the other side of the spectrum, the magazine features an interview with Sir Peter Cook, who graciously answered our questions in his London office, on the making of ‘Amazing Archigram 4’ (the Zoom issue), as well as three stories by Wes Jones&Partners, Jimenez Lai, and Léopold Lambert (aka The Funambulist). And, in its last part, the issue closes with a conversation with Jonathan Gales, who sheds some light on the work of London-based office Factory Fifteen. Many thanks to all of them for their kindly collaboration, and also to the conductors of the interviews: Clara Olóriz, from the AA, who also made all arrangements to meet Mr. Cook, Léopold Lambert, who provided his knowledge of Borges, Kafka, and the French language, in the interview with Mr. Mathieu, Andrea Alberghini, author of Sequenze Urbane, La Metropoli nell Fumetto, who contributed his mastering of Italian and of Manuele Fior’s work, and both members of Barcelona-based publishing House DPR, Ethel Baraona Pohl, and Cesar Reyes Nájera, who took some time off their extremely busy schedule to interview the equally busy members of Factory Fifteen. A very special thanks must go to cultural anthropologist Mélanie van der Hoorn, author of the monumental “Bricks and Balloons – Architecture in Comic Strip Form”, who shared with us her extensive research in the form of not just one, but three articles. Last, but not least, we have to thank Chris Ware for putting the icing on the cake by sending us a drawing from his seminal Building Stories for the cover of the issue, masterfully designed by Renata Graw, from Plural -thus replacing my own rather banal design, which you can enjoy (irony, yes) below.
Jones and Partners
Also below you can check the table of contents of the issue, which are fully accessible via MAS Context’s Page, or downloadable in .pdf. Also, MAS Context will be printing a limited edition of the magazine, so if you want a hard copy of it, you’d better be fast in contacting them.
MAS Context: Narrative, Winter 2013, with contributions by Andrea Alberghini, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Sir Peter Cook, Manuele Fior, Factory Fifteen, Iker Gil, Jones, Partners: Architecture, Tom Kaczynski, Jimenez Lai, Klaus, Léopold Lambert, Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Clara Olóriz Sanjuán, Cesar Reyes Nájera, François Schuiten, Joost Swarte, Mélanie van der Hoorn, and Chris Ware.
Edited by Iker Gil (Chief editor). Guest editors: Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana, Klaus.
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“A decade now, one of Manhattan’s most distinctive icons, that which Baudrillard offered as the perfect architectural embodiment of the simulacrum of the model, disappeared from the island’s skyline.
There are other über-New Yorker architectural icons, of course. Earlier and more widely broadcasted for the better part of the XX century, the Empire State and Chrysler buildings are expressive of a former New York defined by constant competition where each new building sought to top the preceding “…each of them the original moment of a system constantly transcending itself in a perpetual crisis and self-challenge.” In Baudrillard’s discourse, the two towers of the World Trade Center put an (architectural) end to this scenario of vertical competition and mutual building suspicion: The effigy of the capitalist system(Baudrillard again) passed from the pyramid to the perforated card, and the twin WTC towers, perfect parallelepipeds looking like the mute, anonymous, indifferent to competition columns in a statistical graph, gave architectural shape to a system that was no longer competitive, but compatible, a new scenario where competition was substituted by correlation.
The twin towers represented, the end of competition, but also, within Baudrillard’s history of simulacra, the end of all meaning, for they were a pure (architectural) sign, already born replicated. Its meaning destroyed by the duplication itself, the denaturalized Janus of New York’s old World Trade Center ended competition, but did not offer an iterative, serial alternative. If the doubled tower captured and aroused, as Baudrillard put it, the closure of the system in a vertigo of duplication, it also exuded a balance that did no open the door for a longer seriation. It was a series closed on the number two, just as if architecture, in the image of the system, proceeded only from an unchangeable genetic code, a definitive model. Much as it implied the very idea of the series, the World Trade Center was not (mean to be) part of one, in the same way that it was not an original and its copy. And it was this dichotomy between singularity (one single design) and duality (two towers), and between repetition and the negation of indefinite serialization which helped build the strong iconicity of the pair. (…) Baudrillard also pointed out the iconic power of the parallelepipedic asceticism of the towers. The simple, subtly postmodern ornamentation of the prisms’ skin just contributed the minimum amount of materiality via decoration so as to keep the icon on this side of the line between the real and the ideal.
The undeletable presence of the towers in the collective eye-mind of the society, standing in a liminal space reserved to few image/icons, can be grasped in the shadow of a literal rebuilding, improbable as it was, which still glided over the early discussions on the plans for the reconstruction of ground zero. Certainly, the re-erection of the towers in the wake of their thirtieth anniversary would have taken the issue of duplication to a whole new level, introducing a new number two in the equation. Adding to the preservation of the icon -for the inevitable price of erasing memory-, the cathartic Phoenix-like rebirth from the ashes would have definitely settle the towers in a timeless plane, outside the historical timeline delineated by the products of the skyscraper race, which constructed a traceable history of the development of New York. Unleashing an endless flux of meta-readings, the (re)duplicated -doubly duplicated- WTC would become, in a tongue-twisting mishmash of pairing Baudrillardian tropes, a replica of a simulacrum, a literal copy done to stand for the original in its own location once this has disappeared, which would suggest the unleashing of a Sisyphean process of reconstruction that would endlessly rejuvenate the towers through consecutive fancies destruens. A rather effective alternative to literal reconstruction, Richard Nash Gould’s Tribute in Light/ Towers of Light offered a comparably meaning-full replication that would have been much more effective if (boldly)placed within the void footprints of the towers, which would have turned the lightbeams as much a follow-up as a replacement. Standing like a Gilmourian -or Wateresque- fleeting glimpse, the volumes of light would have appeared as an ideal(ized) recreation of the absence of the towers through their ethereal presence, which inverted the very presence of the original towers in the city: invisible by daylight, material at night, but now suitably devoid of substance.
None of this subtlety made it, however, into the proposals that sought to fill both the physical and functional, as well as iconic void left by the towers, whose double shadow was cast, tilted, twisted, glorified and glossified, and of course, suitably banalized in most of them (…) Standing completely out of the sensibilities where these architectural delicatessen were bred, only the unpopular, unsexy proposal by Eisenman’s Dream Team (Meier, Eisenman, Gwathmey-Siegel, minus Graves and Hejduk, plus a particularly fitting Steven Holl) seemed to want to play on the grounds of the original World Trade Center, tackling on the same issues that had shaped Baudrillard’s reading, as well as the traits that provided it (them) with its iconic aura: replication, refusal of verticality, stripping the form down to a Platonic level. If the Twin Towers both called for and negated the possibility of extending the series they created, Eisenman&friends solved this dichotomy by interposing a new order (…) Indeed, as interwoven as it was within the trajectory of its designers, there is very little in the way of the architect’s presence within the design, very little that had not been there already. Other than that, the project was pervaded by an asceticism, a lack of gestures, determined to prevent the architect’s persona from showing, as well as to avoid any assertion of the project’s “object self” that would undermine the cupio dissolvi of the new towers within the memory of the former. Ironically, due to their kinship with Eisenman’s language of pure sign, the Tic-Tac-Towers stood as semiotic ghosts (a personal favorite among Gibson’s constructs) of their past selves, so, unlike their twin ancestors, they were signifiers with a very specific meaning, and certain representational requirements.
(…) In the shadow of this proposal, itself reveling in the shadow of the WTC Twin Towers, the underwhelming banality of the finally constructed Freedom Tower becomes doubly (inevitable, wasn’t it?) disheartening, both for its imposingly dull presence and because of the absence it implies. (…) For all their onanistic absurdity, the masturbatory excesses of some of the other proposals were still preferable to the coitus interruptus of the final built form of Liebeskind’s proposal. A compromise on top of a compromise (…on top of a compromise), the single tower at Ground Zero works as a perfect statement of architectural inanity. (…)”
Excerpts from “Iconic On”. Studio Magazine #03: ICON, October 2012
The cartoon that opens this post was originally meant for a post entitled with it “In the Shadow of No Towers -Ten years After”, intended to be published on September 11, 2011, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 events and celebrate the late twin towers of the WTC. However, although the cartoon itself was finished in time, several circumstances worked together to prevent it from being uploaded that day, and I decided to put it to sleep till a better occasion would come.
That better occasion (much better, indeed) was the publication of the third issue (ICON) of Milano-based magazine STUDIO, which were so kind as to publish it, and gave me the opportunity to expand the ideas I intended to tackle on in the original post into a full-length (longer than I remembered, actually) article, with a new ilo, too. The magazine, whose previous issues included contributions from Alberto Campo Baeza or Vittorio Gregotti, Luis Úrculo, DPR-Barcelona, features articles by RRCStudio itself, as well as Fake Industries, Alicia Guerrero&Freddy Massad, Léopold Lambert (The Funambulist), Franco Purini, Wai Think Tank and many others.
The complete issue can be read in its entirety in ISSUU, or bought here, if you’re a paper fetishist such as myself. I’d strongly recommend to go through the whole, nicely designed issue, and mildly recommend to read ICONIC ON in full, which I believe makes a little more sense that way. Please, just skip all the typos which are there due to my inAbiliti to corrrect te ttexts once I’ve writen tHem.