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Bjarke Ingels

a10- 60 - Julien de Smedt

JDS Plotting

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In your view, how do design and architecture relate?

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

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

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

Have you implemented ideas from MWA back into your architecture?

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

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

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

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But today we collect Gags [and gigs, and schticks]

Gropius wrote a book on grain silos,

Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes,

and Charlotte Periand brought

a new object to the office every morning,

But today we collect ads.[i]

Today (today), Rem Koolhaas writes big fat books and reinvents OMA each ten years in a different exhibition, and Bjarke Ingels recounts the 8 House to us conjuring a virtual model in the air while speaking to the camera. Nic Clear evokes the spaces suggested by Ballard in videos created in the Bartlett workshops, and Factory Fifteen win the RIBA medal with a short film on androids of the Apartheid. Architecture and fiction, again.

And comics. A decade before, Koolhaas (and son) rediscovered one more time (for architecture) the underground appeal of drawn stories, and Neutelings appropriated the graphic patterns of a certain Swarte (or perhaps Eddy Vermeulen’s) due to their inherent conceptual transparency. Today, Jimenez Lai published a graphic novel under the  Princeton Architectural Press seal, and Yes is More or Metro Bassel signify the drift  of architecture -a discipline traditionally burdened by its obsession with distancing itself from anything that could question its intellectual pedigree- towards the uncertain terrains of ars poverae and cool, of marketing and circus-like mediatic massage.

(… but -I am told- Le Corbusier also did storyboards for buildings in the 1920s, and before that he had already adopted the graphic conventionalisms of American cartoons. And even earlier, he flirted with the idea of writing a doctoral dissertation on the comic strips of Rodolphe Töpffer, the Swiss father of the bande dessinée…)

Jeanneret was a fertile and feverish communicator, too; like Loos, an active polemist; like Mies, a skilled coiner of catchphrases and mottos. The journey is, some they say, in how you tell it, and if architecture has nowadays a passionate affair with communication, this is nothing new, anyways. Today (the day before yesterday, at the latest), Rem Koolhaas poses impeccably dressed as the cover image of Vogue, while he plays confusion with his audience, displaying a discourse in permanent -and studied- contradiction. But long before that, Corbusier (that early Koolhaas impersonator) already understood that his main role was that of the publicist who could as well photograph himself painting nude in Saint Tropez, or rebuild his own history over and over again in the consecutive editions of his Oeuvre Complete. Architecture, and starchitecture, is in how you tel it, yes, and its legend gets built through grand discourses, but also in small talk, gossip and small miseries, through a mouth-to-ear that current informational ubiquity has augmented exponentially. Today, information is bigger, and bigger are the chances for media presence; but a more ephemeral one. That’s why the flux has to keep coming; the flux of images, publications and conferences, of debates, but also of opinions and minutiae, of Facebook walls and tittle-tattle.

Because today, we collect gags.


[i] Alison&Peter Smithson: “But Today We Collect Ads”. Ark magazine No. 18, November 1956.

“But today we collect gags”, originally published in the e-book “The Importance of the Ways Stories are Being Told” (dpr-Barcelona, June-July 2012) after the debate of the same name, and cracked during a train trip to Barcelona. Anyone who has read the similarly-themed “Tell Me More!” or “Modern Talking” will notice the recurrences and overlaps. [Also, the above image doesn’t have much to do with the text itself, just with the title, but…]

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”The Importance of the Way Stories are Being Told”. Following the debate “Communication and Bottom-UP. The importance of the way stories are being told.” dpr-barcelona seek to expand the debates and conversations avoiding them to get lost after a few days of the event. This digital-pamphlet [kindle + ePub] is meant as a tool to keep exploring the thought and ideas of thinkers and doers; articulated by simple detonating questions posed through emails, tweets and conversations intending to comunicate effectively the very essence of the debate: “the importance of telling stories”.
This “fast generated” publication includes contributions by attending guest to the debate [that you can see here in the post], the so-called “Line 0” [Ana María León, Pedro Hernández and Clara Nubiola] and with the aim to expand the conversation beyond the dome of Eme3’s piazza, we also have invited a few friends who are involved in similar activities to share their thoughts about this topic with us. They are Iker Gil, Mario Ballesteros, Cristina Goberna and Urtzi Grau [Fake Industries], Mimi Zeiger, and Nick Axel.
This digital pamphlet is also a starting point for a open and written debate were everyone can also sum opinions: Those interested in responding will be able to add more contents using Booki (http://www.booki.cc/list-books/), which is an open platform that allows to write collaborative books and even generating a very personal version.
The book has been published bilingual, with some articles in Spanish and other ones in English, as each author was free to choose the language that makes easier to communicate his/her ideas. You are free to add a complete chapter, to add contents to the published ones and to add images… Did someone say participate? You can download the eBook version for kindle, ipad and tablets by paying with a tweet.

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(…) Digging into the dirty laundry of the architectural star-system is, in any case, neither a recent phenomenon nor a curiosity exclusively circumscribed to today’s divas. The mouth-to-ear airing of our architectural heroes’ private sins has been an inevitable aside of their rise as idols. Small talk on the lower passions of the masters of the past has accompanied the writing of the big lines of the History of Modern Architecture, and along with our worshiping of their oeuvre comes the delight to learn about their quaintest interiorities: Mies van der Rohe´s infamous (non) affairs with Ms. Farnsworth, Alvar Aalto´s alcoholism -a recurring topic for Finnish cartoonists3, or Le Corbusier´s pathological Messianic obsessions are personal details that have transcended the boundaries of scientific biographies to become precious pieces of information we love adding to our common knowledge of them. We need both heroes and villains: The formers to inspire us, the latter to offer us some moral relief at the sight of a worse human being than ourselves. But even more, we’d rather having our heroes be our villains too. Some will argue that these minor flaws humanize our icons, making them flesh and blood human beings we can better relate to, and certainly this “fleshing out” helps build our interest on them. But this humanization is also an excuse that sugarcoats a very straight forward preservation mechanism, devised to protect our self-esteem at that point where admiration meets sheer envy. There’s nothing we love more than a rags to riches story -except for a riches to rags story, that is.

A most interesting reversion of this turns up, however, when these minutiae actually become an integral part of the mythos, to the point of being vital contributors to its very construction. Again, the careful devise of its own legend was an inherent feature of architecture’s entrance into modernity, often created as a fiction before it really happened. (…) The fascinating point here is how this emergence of gossiping contributes to the creation of the starchitect; how in the case of contemporary icons such as Rem Koolhaas it´s the unofficial flux of information surrounding the figure which ultimately elevates him into a legendary status.

Of course, in the case of Koolhaas the shaping of this aura is also engineered through conventional means; Koolhaas is a sharp thinker and an eloquent writer and spokesman who has shaken the architectural scene of the last decades with acute reflections of deliberate and controlled ambiguity. But even more than through his words, the Koolhaas mediatic persona has been constructed through a parallel dissemination of details about his behind-the-scenes: stories that tell us of a man who lives in airplanes, sending by mail corrections for a document he was given in a meeting a few hours before, of a Renaissance man who swims every time he lands, or wins a competition with a single, cunning speech5. All this mouth-to-ear stories, propagated through the netsphere, contribute to endow his figure with an halo of epic mystery that propells him into an almost superhuman category. Koolhaas is the über-example of the starchitect, where the personality comes first and the work second. And that’s the bottom line: Koolhaas can produce starchitecture because he is, first and foremost, a star. Le Corbusier´s delightully maudit portrait, painting nude in Saint Tropez has been replaced by a cover of L’Uomo Vogue.

But public notoriety is as easy to gather in the age of software as difficult to retain. The internet era is also the age of the twitterization of knowledge, a time where information both reigns and deflates, where news are as ubiquitous as thoroughly made-to-forget, immediately replaced by new installments. The same could be said about some of the architecture produced by this idiosyncrasy, made to glow for a moment and quickly disappear; architecture of futile monumentality and inevitable ephemerality designed within a discipline obsessed with creating the building of the century… of the week. In this new paradigm, the (st)architect has to become a public figure, an entertainer, a performer, or even, if needed, a celebrity of the Kardashian kind. The World Wide Web and the rapid production allowed by digital tools have multiplied the presence of architecture in everyday life, and have worked together to create a new type of architect sustained above all by his communication skills. The internet, blog culture, Twitter, have leveled the capability of everyone to achieve their share of Warholian fame, but in turn, their allotted fifteen minutes have been drastically reduced to -maybe- fifteen seconds. The attention of the audience, brought up in a solid diet of continuous novelty, is volatile, and the architecture of today has to keep nourishing its audience at a steady pace, or risk disappearing from the picture right away.

And it is in this context where gossip, criticism and satire, emerge as tools for the maintenance of public presence. The internet has also revived the long-loved tradition of the fast gag, the sketchy commentary, and the cartoon, which offer the necessary escape route for the asfixiating ubiquity and self-indulgence of architectural discourse. As any endogamic discipline, architecture has a record of taking itself too seriously, and of alternating victimism and self-deprecation with tremendous arrogance and a myopic lack of perspective (ironic as it is) on the relevance of its own obsessions. The reemergence of satire appears as a natural counterbalance for this, offering us a way to mock our loved-hated idols that’s apparently naive, inoffensive (but with the potential to become really offensive), and sublimate our frustration through ironic laughter, instead of bitter full-frontal (yes) criticism, while at the same time, reinforcing the (com)position of the starchitectural who’s who. As Oscar Wilde, via some of our infamous celebrities, would point out, the ultimate goal is to be talked about so as to be (there), even if just to be thrashed, and architects, with their fragile yet unrestrained egos, become the ideal victim/beneficiary of this revival. Today, gossip refashions itself as a form of viral advertising. The motto is “keep them talking”. (…)

Tell me more! – Gossiping, cartooning, and the nourishing of the  Starchitectural status quo

Conditions magazine #10: Gossip, July 2012

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The above are some excerpts from a (not really much longer) article published in the last issue of Conditions magazine, which I received last month, in the middle of the busiest July I can remember. Conditions is an independent Scandinavian magazine on Architecture and Urbanism edited by Joana da Rocha Sá Lima, Tor Inge Hjemdal, and  Anders Melsom whose next issue, “Possible Greenland”, will be part of the official catalogue of this year’s Danish/Greenlandic contribution to the Venice Biennale. Conditions #10 is dedicated to gossip, and features contributions by Robert Somol, Eduard Sancho, Christian Hjelle, Irene Hwang, Ed Ogosta, Espen Vatn, Freddy Massad&Alicia Guerrero Yeste, Roberto Naboni, Iben Falconer and yours truly. The essay above was written around the same time as Modern Talking, the article published in Mas Context #14: Communication that tackled on some overlapping issues, which explains the recurrent use of some examples and ramblings; either that or I’m entering a wino-in-a-bar dynamics where I just keep repeating the same the same stuff over and over. Please, be forgiving.

If you want to read the full article, click in the images below, or -much better- order a copy here. You can also read the text of Eduard Sancho’s And if most of the job offers are fake? here. Special thanks to Gislunn Halfdanardottir.

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Once upon a time, people compared with their neighbors. Your neighbor was your point of reference and thus the most desirable object of gossip and eavesdropping. Not so anymore. In the world of global networking, you are driven by ambition to compare yourself with the most clever or world-renowned exponents of your trade. Even a critique, satire or parody of the star-system of architecture is an affirmation of its hegemony. Who doesn’t want to be the object of architecture gossip? After all, it’s giving the “stars” more attention, no matter how critical the original intention was. For addicts of gossip, all news is good news, the worst thing is silence, and even a well mediated “scandal” can actually promote your career.
The current issue of CONDITIONS investigates the function of gossip in architecture. Gossip has always been around in architecture as one of the oldest ways of sharing, maneuvering and convincing. But how does it manifest itself today within the instant culture of internet and social media? What is the role of gossip in contemporary networking? Has the logic of gossip and instant gratification also penetrated what we used to call architectural critique?

“If the passage falls below the levels of ponderous literacy and pedantically accurate spelling… the use of imagery has a knowing exactitude which overleaps conventional architecture-magazine rhetoric of the period, by-passes the reader’s normal verbal defence [sic]mechanisms, and thus produced a distinct shift in sensibility.” (Peter Reyner Banham: Megastructure: urban futures of the recent past, p. 94)

Had they not been written around 1976 by Reyner Banham to qualify the success of Space Probe!—the comic-collage that Warren Chalk produced for Amazing Archigram 4—these words could belong to any contemporary critic’s review of BIG’s first monograph, Yes Is More.

Since Le Corbusier wrote his storyboarded Lettre a Madame Meyer in 1925 comics have maintained an incestuous love/hate relationship with architecture or, better, with canonical architectural representation. Iconic power of the comic image aside, graphic narrative has an inherent appeal due to its capacity to combine the traditional tool of flat, linear drawing with the representation of timespace, and to permit the cohabitation of sequentiality and simultaneity.

I can’t help but  feel attracted by the possibilities of the cross-breeding between architecture and comics, of the condensation/articulation of time and architectural/urban space displayed by Winsor McCay or Frank King in their early but mature understanding of Thierry Groensteen’s sequence in praesentia / of the spatial play of non-linear narratives deployed by Chris Ware, Lewis Trondheim or Victor Moscoso / of the experimentations with the architecture of the page by OuBaPo’s Patrice Killoffer…

   

The particular potentialities of graphic narrative in the rendering of spacetime, and especially in the sequential representation of architectural and/or urban space have accompanied the development of comics since its very beginning. Decades before Sergei Eisenstein verbalized his theories about cinematic montage, pioneers of the medium such as Winsor Mc Cay were intuitively pushing the envelope, exploring the cohabitation of time and space in the page. McCay’s trip through a hyperbolic Manhattan in September 1907 [1] showed the different shots of the city (both different moments and places) fusing together in a timespace of a higher order (the page) that also constructed a hyperurban, kaleidoscopic space. In an opposite direction, Frank King experimented in several dominical pages of Gasoline Alley [2] with the atomization of a single space into different moments, an approach that has been often revisited in the alternative comics scene that started in the 1960s [3: Victor Moscoso plays with the adjacency between panel and space, making the traditional 3×3 grid into an architectural frame excavated on the blank space of the page, much in the way of Mathew Borret’s recent graphic experiments / Zap Comix No 2 – 1968].

Examples of non-linear and/or multidirectional narratives within and without architecture. [4] Patrice Killoffer in Oubapo no. 1, 1997. [5] Chris Ware – Narrative Diagram for Quimby – The Acme Novelty Library. [6] Chris Ware – Narrative Diagram for Lint – Acme Novelty Library no 20, 2010. [7] Chris Ware – original art for ‘Building Stories’. The ACME Novelty Library No. 16, 2005.

But BIG’s Yes is More is none of these.

Nor should it be. Displaying his trademark proactive approach Bjarke Ingels takes comics at face value. Yes is More is not an experiment on the ability of graphic narrative to represent architectural space, but a straightforward, use of comics to tell architecture. In a field pervaded by the artificial construction of the-project-as-a-narrative, BIG chooses to openly present the work within a narrative constructed ad hoc, using the very architecture of comics as a natural way to combine the texts and images through which architects develop work into a consistent ideovisual (if I may use the pun) discourse. It’s somehow refreshing (as unusual) that here the authors show a natural understanding of the rules of the medium, avoiding the all-too-common mistake of taking collage for montage,  and subsequently provoking collision where transition should take place. Yes is More is a nicely crafted work of/on narrative that plays with alliterations and takes its time to domesticate the source material, effectively succeeding in fostering a certain closeness between the viewer and the buildings: Softened by the voice of Bjarke Ingels as the story’s narrator, the usual coldness of architectural renderings gets replaced by a sense of familiarity, conjuring in them an aura not of represented spaces, but of lived places.

Of course, as usual in BIG, there is a tendency to excess, to oversize the communicational apparatus with an overabundance of words, pictures and diagrams rather skillfully inserted without much self-censorship. If in his seminal short story Here Richard McGuire condensed a lapse of billions of years in 6 pages -that could have been reduced to a single, wisely designed panel, In Yes is More, Bjarke Ingels unfolds a few years of practice in four hundred busy pages. But Bjarke Ingels is nor McGuire.

Nor should he be.

[Published in Clog Magazine, September 2011]

Futher reflections can be found in the comments section of the previous post, and in a follow up post in Comics Metropolis, where Andrea Alberghini, author of Sequenze Urbane: La Metropoli nell Fumetto, comments (in Italian) on the presence of comics in the work of Rem Koolhaas, Neutelings & Roodben Architecten, or Jimenez Lai.

A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. (Thanks, guys!)

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Bjarke Ingels Group: YES IS MORE, An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. Taschen, 2009

I rarely publish articles under Klaus’s name (I have a whole different personality just for that). However, when Kyle May approached me in order to collaborate with a short review (a sketch of an article rather than a long text) on BIG´s “Yes Is More”  in the debut issue of Clog Magazine, it seemed most appropriate.

Clog aims, according to its editors, at slowing things down, with each issue exploring “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen.” The first issue, focused on Bjarke Ingels Group, gathers together a sort of critical aleph, showing a cloud of different glimpses/glances from an extensive list of contributors, including Michael Abrahamson, Iwan Baan, E. Sean Bailey, Greg Barton and Michael Keller, Aleksandr Bierig, Janine Biunno, Gabrielle Brainard, Greg Broerman, Sean Burkholder, John Cantwell, Dan Clark, Justin Davidson, Obinna Elechi, Fake Design, Graffitilab, Rúnar Halldórsson, Jonathan Hanahan, Han Hsi Ho, Julia van den Hout, Karrie Jacobs, KiBiSi, Klaus, Jonathan Kurtz, Alexandra Lange, Kyle May, Stephen Melville, Michel Onfray (translated by Charlotte van den Hout), Carol Patterson, Ethan Pomerance, Jacob Reidel, Team JiYo, Erandi de Silva, Bernd Upmeyer, Oliver Wainwright, Human Wu, Sung Goo Yang and Ying Zhou.

Along with the official launch in October 1, 2011, Clog will feature a tête à tête with Bjarke Ingels in the Storefront for Art & Architecture on October 7. For further details, check CLOG’s website. Find my few scribbled lines below.  A full version with images here.

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You can find a short preview (it used to be longer) of Yes is More at Taschen’s site here. A useful introductory analysis of the book by John Hill can be found here, and a review of Clog here.

Also: A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. Baunetz.de uploaded some images of Clog: Big, in their blog here, including one of Yes is More or Less.

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Clog: BIG. Online press, blogs, tweets, social media, and other digital forums have drastically increased the speed at which architectural imagery is distributed and consumed today. While an unprecedented amount of work is available to the public, the lifespan of any single design or topic has been reduced in the profession’s collective consciousness to a week, an afternoon, a single post – an endlessly changing architecture du jour. In the deluge, excellent projects receive the same fleeting attention as mediocre ones. Meanwhile, mere exposure has taken the place of thoughtful engagement, not to mention a substantial discussion. CLOG slows things down. Each issue explores, from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen. 
Clog: Big is edited by: Kyle May (Editor-in-Chief), Julia van den Hout, Jacob Reidel, Human Wu, The Office of PlayLab, Inc. (Design)
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