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A short History tOTAL SM.BN

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 4. …This Dystopian Life.

 

 

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“Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”

J. G. Ballard: “Fictions of Every Kind” (Books and Bookmen -February 1971)

Koolhaas read The Cast of the Metabarons.

Or maybe not. Certainly, much as Rafael Moneo likes to trace the architectural lineage of the Casa da Musica back to Breuer’s Begrisch Hall in The Bronx (and, let’s be honest, they only look alike if seen from a certain angle), Koolhaas’s diamond-shaped starship bears more than a passing resemblance to the megastructural Metabunker -as does Mr. K to the Metabaron himself- designed by Jodorowsky and Moebius in the early 80s and refashioned a decade later by Juan Gimenez. The image of the music centre’s diamantine volume, landing on top of a stone tapestry that waves in Marilyn-ear fashion amidst Porto’s urban grid could difficultly be more accurate in its rendition of the megastructural ship, hanging motionless in the middle of the Möbiusian City-Well. The main entrance, with its porthole-like design,  reinforces the spaceship connection, also present in other projects by OMA, such as the aptly christened Transformer and its lunar module resonances. And the same case could be made for the transvestite Death Stars designed by the Office for the UAE, or, in a sort of Escherian flattening, by Heerim architects in Azerbaijan -while, to the eyes of those who discovered cyberpunk in the manga from the 1980s, it is difficult not to feel a dejá vu of Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed Arcologies (go check them!) when seeing the renderings for the similarly lunar-themed Crescent Hotel in Baku.

Weapons of the Metabaron
From left to right, clockwise: (1)The Metabunker as seen in Othon le trisaïeul, Les Humanoïdes Associés, November 1992. (2) Begrisch (Lecture) Hall. Marcel Breuer, 1964. (3) Casa da Musica in Porto. OMA, 1999-2005.

Did Koolhaas really read The Metabarons? In the end, it matters not.

Writing in a XXI century that has been a synonym for “the future” for more than a hundred years, those overlaps -be it direct inspiration or sheer serendipity- simply underline the way in which science fiction’s architectural imaginary has become part of  the general imaginary of architecture. Today, the conflation of the advances in representational and building techniques fosters a parallel conflation of the modus operandi of architects and sci-fi designers, as offices and publications such as Factory Fifteen and Beyond vividly illustrate. We live in a new paradigm where science fiction’s architectural imagery, so crucial in the shaping of the imaginary of several generations of architects brought up in visions of white, hi-tech landscapes and dark corridors covered with lockgates and leds, is as much a part of the architectural cultural heritage as the classical orders, the Pantheon, or the Unité d’Habitation. Nowadays, architecture has to fish in new (old) imagery pools, while postmodern citationality expands to encompass the products of popular culture. And, in the end, everything becomes science fiction architecture.

— Luis Miguel Lus Arana: “The Weapons of the Metabaron: Metabunkers, Music Halls, and the SciFi-cation of Architecture ” in Clog: SCI-FI, August 2013; 16-7

Metabunkers in da Haus blogClick to enlarge

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CLOG #7: SCI-FI, with contributions by 3.4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, After Architecture, Jared Banks, Katy Barkan, Sean Burkholder, Conner Callahan and Shana Opperman, Ryan Church, Matthew Clarke, Archie Lee Coates IV, Nathaniel Coleman, Eric De Broche Des Combes, Greg Cook, Mark Dermul, Kyle Dugdale, Jeffrey Franklin, Pedro Gadanho, Scott Geiger, Ricardo Gonçalves, Reinier de Graaf, Alpna Gupta, Patrick J. Gyger, Dalia Hamati, Sara Hayat, Brian Horrigan, Julia van den Hout, Kellen Qiaolun Huang, Justin Hui, Interiors, Andy C. Jenkins, Matthew Johnson, Damjan Jovanovic, Klaus, Joseph Kosinski, Simon Kristak, Jimenez Lai, Stephanie Lee, Sally L. Levine and Daniel I. Vieyra, Thomas Lozada, Alan Lucey, Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana, Casey Mack, John Marciante, Kyle May, Ian McAlpin, Craig William McCormack, Kimberly McGuire, Matthew Messner, Movingcities, Thomas Mical, Leo Mulvehill, Dan Newman, Matt Novak, Roberto Otero, Luke Pearson, Cyrus Penarroyo, Emmanuel Petit, Enrique Ramirez, Jacob Reidel, Doctor Laser, Fred Scharmen, Kyle Schumann, Neal Shasore, Dominik Sigg, SOFTlab, Rachel Meade Smith, Jason Vigneri-Beane, William Watson, Nathaniel Walker, Liam Young

MVRDV Cloud Encounters

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Dutch firm MVRDV has received harsh criticism since they revealed the proposal for two luxury residential towers in South , named after its inspiration, The Cloud. The two towers are connected by a “pixilated cloud of additional program.” Critics are outraged, stating the design resembles the collapsing twin towers of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

spokesman Jan Kinkker stated, “We’ve had quite a lot of calls from angry Americans saying it’s a disgrace. 9/11 was not the inspiration behind the design, the inspiration was a real cloud.” He added, “It was not our intention to create an image resembling the attacks nor did we see the resemblance during the design process. We sincerely apologize to anyone whose feelings we have hurt.”

Project developer Dream Corporation selected The Cloud design proposal over a number of other options and will have the final say on whether or not they will consider another alternative.

“Controversy over The Cloud forces MVRDV to Apologize.”  ArchDaily, Dec. 12, 2011

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In an article titled “Do These Skyscrapers Remind You Of The 9/11 Attacks?” online magazine Fast Co. Design used Dezeen’s reader comments to explain the story, while gadget blog Gizmodo Australia led a piece with the question “What The Hell Were These Architects Thinking?”

In an official statement on their Facebook page, MVRDV apologise for any upset cause and explain that they did not see the resemblance during the design process. However, Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad claims that MVRDV representative Jan Knikker admitted that they in fact did notice, fuelling the debate further.

Most recently, American magazine the New York Post have picked up the story, blasting the towers as “sick” and “a spectacular case of architectural tastelessness” and the BBC reported the story in their televised news program.

“Exploding” twin towers by MVRDV cause outrage.”  Dezeen, Dec. 14, 2011

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The original version of this cartoon can be found in uncube issue #10: Wood, Paper Pulp, with contributions by Florian Heilmeyer, Dan Handel, Jessica Bridger, Luise Rellensmann, Rob Wilson, Elvia Wilk and more…

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At some point at the beginning of the Summer, Darwin Marrero, Assistant Dean at the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico contacted me in order to contribute something to the upcoming sixth issue of (in)forma, which he was editing. The topic for the issue, “Hiperturismo” (Hypertourism) sounded really engaging, but unfortunately I was swamped by work, so I agreed to send him the hopekoolpope trilogy, plus a modified version of  (the) man on the moon as illustrations for “En el Limbo del Ocio”, a conversation between Michel Houellebecq and Rem Koolhaas. However, I couldn´t resist much time, and as the release date moved forward, I decided to adapt an old illustration (which was itself a reworking of another one) to the square format of the magazine, thinking that it wouldn´t take much time. In the end, it turned out to be really time-consuming, and I gave up, sending the ilo without all the modifications I intended to make (a flying bus-city-tour was supposed to be crossing the center of the image – And yes, it´s the image that sits on the background of my twitter profile).I guess I´ll make them at some point.

You can read the article, cartoons, and editorial as originally published (in Spanish) below.

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Cartoon for The New City Reader: Classifieds, guest-edited by Leagues and Legions and drawn quite in a rush, which explains the lack of shadowing. It will get done at some point (hopefully). Click on the images below to read the full issue, which also features a couple of other cartoons by Brady Dale and the inimitable Jimenez Lai, from Bureau Spectacular, or navigate through the assembled version on the New City Reader’s blog.

Update: As of 1.10.2011 it´s also downloadable from DSGN AGNC, thanks to Quilian Riano.


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The New City Reader: A Newspaper of Public Space is a project curated by Kazys Varnelis and Joseph Grima. The New City Reader is a performance-based editorial residency designed as a part of the Last Newspaper, an exhibit running at New York’s New Museum from 6 October 2010‒9 January 2011. It consists of one edition, published over the course of the project, with a new section produced weekly by alternating guest editorial teams within the museum’s gallery space. These sections are  available free every Friday at the New Museum and will also be posted in public throughout the city for collective reading. The permanent staff and list of guest editorial teams can be found in Varnelis.net.

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Cartoon for The New City Reader issue VII: Real State, with contributions by Peter Tolkin, Mabel O. Wilson, Carmen Argote, Chloë Bass, Brigette Borders, John Cantwell, Catherine Ingraham (not this topic, this time), Marisa Jahn/CUP, Olalekan Jeyifous, Alexandra Lange, Elizabeth Lasater, Zoe Malliaros, Mitch McEwen, Minna Ninova, Daniel Payne, Alan Rapp, Cassim Shepard and Matthew Vaz.

Available since November 19 at the New Museum. A peek at the cover and contents here.

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The above is a (slight variation on a) cartoon just published in the Fall/Winter issue of New York- based, Carlo Aiello-directed eVolo Magazine. Other than the cartoon itself, the magazine focuses, under the title “Cities of Tomorrow”, on recent works by Arup Biomimetics, AS/D, BIG – Bjarke Ingels Group, LAVA – Laboratory for Visionary Architecture, MAD Architects, Matter Management, MONAD Studio, NH Architecture, Rojkind Arquitectos, SOFTlab, Ted Givens, Terreform One, Trahan Architects, UNStudio, Vincent Callebaut, Will Alsop or WOHA Studio among others. Of course, all these are just an excuse to publish the cartoon (magazines usually require a certain minimum amount of pages to be considered as such), but the editors disguised it so well that it’s impossible to notice. You may want to check the complete list of featured works here.

EVolo also launched their 2011 Skyscraper Competition. Registration and submission will be open till January 11, 2011.

A preview, with the article “Lincoln Road: Envisioning Infrastructure Sensuality” on MONAD Studio’s Lincoln Road Capacitors Project written by Eric Goldemberg can be found here.

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UPDATE: Below you can find the cartoon in its original context as a companion to the article API – AR 2050, by John Hill, creator of A Weekly Dose of Architecture and its sister website A Daily Dose of Architecture. You can read it by clicking on the images or download them in .pdf form here, by courtesy of Carlo Aiello and John.

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eVolo 03 – Cities of Tomorrow. How do we imagine the cities of tomorrow? This is one of the most difficult questions that architects, designers, and urban planners need to answer in a time where more than half of the world’s population lives in urban settlements – a mere century ago only ten percent did.
This issue examines innovative urban proposals that will transform the way we live; projects that preserve the natural landscape with integral architecture and urbanism with deep connections to site, culture, and environment. These are concepts of hybrid urbanism that offer a juxtaposition of programs to live, work, and play for a hyper-mobile population.
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