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NK 24 50 Years

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2014 marked the 50th anniversary of one of those ubiquitous landmarks of the 60s visionary scene, Amazing Archigram 4: The Science Fiction Issue, which saw a truncated attempt at a big-scale celebration on my part. Again, 2015 marked another 5-decade anniversary: this time, it was the publication of Reyner Banham’s ‘A Home is Not A House’ in the April 1965 of Art in America. ‘A home is not a House’ is an inevitable go-to place for any fan ´(I’m including architectural scholars here) of the capsule, expendable, or ephemeral architecture movement of the 1960-70s and beyond -and a nice counterpart to Banham’s own Megastructure.

Also, the article featured those simple-yet-captivating illustration/collages by François Dallegret (I mistyped ‘Dallegreat’ and was on the verge of leaving the typo as it worked so well) which have become a visual sine-qua-non of the time. Dallegret’s pictures were as much responsible for the success of the article as Banham’s always witty, subtly (and not so subtly) ironic and sometimes inflammatory prose. Another installation in Dallegret’s works dealing with complex machines (the article also featured some items of his ‘Automobiles Astrologiques’ series) and intricate detail, the ‘Environment Bubble‘ displayed an immediate, on-your-face rawness that contributed to its lasting appeal. The naked Dallegret and Banham clones inside the bubble were just the icing on the polemical cake. It is a pity that the ‘Banhams’ were just paste-ups of the writer’s head on the artist’s body, although, according to Mary Banham, it was the right choice -aesthetically speaking.

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while has surely noticed I have a little more than a slight infatuation with Banham’s work and figure, in general, as well as for his collaboration with Dallegret -see ‘A Home Is Not A Mouse’ to ‘Full House vs. Full(er) House’, ‘Banham Style’, and several others published here and there. [‘There’ standing for architecture magazines not yet featured in the blog]. So, when I noticed an issue of Uncube entitled ‘Commune Revisited’ was in the works, I didn’t miss the occasion to fit in a little nod to Banham&Dallegret’s work before the year went by. [Another homage was included some months later in Arquine magazine, and it will show up here at some point, I guess]. I also contacted Mr. Dallegret at the time, and his response included some surrealistic talk about going to the supermarket and eating a banana. But I’m not going to comment on that.

For those interested in reading Dallegret’s actual thoughts, I’d strongly recommend revisiting this interview delivered on the occasion of the 2011 exhibition at the AA school of Architecture (curated by Thomas Weaver and Vanessa Norwood). ‘A Home is Not a House’ is all over the internet, and can be either checked online, or downloaded in pdf form. For those of you too lazy to click on links, you can find the full article below.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #34: Commune Revisited, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. I’d check it right now, if I were you. Honest.

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Banham, Reyner, Dallegret, François: ‘A Home is Not a House’. Art in America, April 1965.

 

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As some of you who have been around here for a while will remember, some time ago (years, actually) my beloved Peter Reyner Banham made his entry into this blog by means of a cartoon that sprang from a suggestion by Kazys Varnelis, who was doing his annual re-reading of  Banham’s ‘The Great Gizmo’ along with Alison and Peter Smithson’s ‘But today We Collect Ads’. That cartoon led to another (A home is not a Mouse), and then it became a series entitled “The Bubble Adventures of P. Reyner Banham”. But only in my mind. I sat down, took some notes, drew and colored the next cartoon in the series… and then my volatile attention flew somewhere else and I completely forgot it. 

Finally, it has been put to much better use as part of MAS Studio’s last issue of MAS Context: OWNERSHIP, where editor Iker Gil and his team were so kind as to feature it on the cover. All the contents of MAS Context: OWNERSHIP can be read online on their just-revamped website here, including an essay by Denise Scott Brown. Make sure to check it if looking for a compelling read.

Cover of Mas Context: Ownership (I actually lifted the image from a post by our friends from Spanish Magazine METALOCUS, who voiced the news in their blog)

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MAS Context, a quarterly journal created by MAS Studio, addresses issues that affect the urban context. Each issue delivers a comprehensive view of a single topic through the active participation of people from different fields and different perspectives who, together, instigate the debate. MAS Context is a not for profit organization based in Chicago, Illinois.  The concept of ownership, the exclusive rights and control over a property of any kind, has existed for centuries and in all cultures. Whether state, collective or personal, ownership is probably one of the most determining factors not only in defining our built environment but in the way we have shaped our society. But what if the way we live has changed? Can we redefine ownership to adapt it to the needs of the society? Can that redefinition provide new opportunities for our built environment? This issue will be dedicated to examining ownership in our current culture, ancient traditions, legal system and physical environment.

MAS Context: OWNERSHIP fatures contributions by Martin Adolfsson, William F. Baker, Kate Bingaman Burt, Eleanor Chapman, Santiago Cirugeda, Killian Doherty, Kirby Ferguson, Pedro Hernández, Jeanne Gang, Iker Gil, Network Architecture Lab, Quilian Riano, Denise Scott Brown, Richard F. Tomlinson II, XAM, and KLAUS.

MAS Contex is published by MAS Studio | Editor in Chief: Iker Gil | Editor: Paul Mougey | Contributing Editor: Andrew Clark | Art Director: Plural | Graphic Design/Layout: Iker Gil | Website: Plural

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Noone’s gonna get the cinephilic reference (otherwise, prove me wrong if you dare).

In any case, the Food Section of The New City Reader, curated by  William Prince, Krista Ninivaggi, and Nicola Twilley will “hit the stands” at the New Museum next Sunday. Be sure to get a free copy if you are in NY. Unless there have been last-minute changes, you’ll find four cartoons in it (Hence the overload of updates this week and the next one). Previous issues can be read here.


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“Octobre 17:

The physical manifestation of the actor-network theory reappeared last night. I took a couple of Glocalyne tablets, but they just seemed to worsen the effect.It seems delightfully paradoxical that this state of hyperconnectivity has confined me to the solitude of my room…”


Hmm… After a couple of weeks of obscurity, I’ve decided to shed some light on this drawing, a cross-breeding between Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and Schuiten&Peeters’ La fièvre d’Urbicande (with a little bit of L’Étrange cas du docteur Abraham). Although it had rested in a drawer for a long time, it got finally done after watching one of Schuiten and Peeters’ delightful performances at the Once Upon a Place conference in Lisbon.

For some insight about the ANT, I would go to Anthem, “a gathering of human and nonhuman actors that are interested in both actor-network theory and the work of Martin Heidegger” that has become the online referent for Latour studies. For more on the obscure yet fascinating work of Franco-Belgian megastars Schuiten and Peeters, check Urbicande or the über-comprehensive Obskür (Spanish readers, might want to go here). The complete text of “On the Difficulty of Being Glocal” can be found in this older -and even more obscure- post.

And for more on Bruno Latour check out the Latour category in the blog (WARNING: There’s some Sloterdijk scattered in there, too).

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Universalism used to be a rather simple affair: the more detached from local traditions, the more universal you became. If the stoics could be called ‘citizens of the world’, it’s because they accepted being part of the ‘human race’, above and beyond the narrow labels of ‘Greek’ and ‘barbarian’. A regular scale seemed to lead from local to global, offering a compass along which every position could be mapped. Until recently, the more modern you were, the higher up you ascended; the less modern you were, the lower down you were confined.

Things have now changed a lot. What now is more universal: the American world order or the French Republic? The forces of globalization or those who call themselves anti-mondialists? Local farmers daily influenced by the price fluctuations of commodities or local teachers insulated behind the walls of civil service? Amazon Indians able to mobilize NGOs in their defence or some famous philosopher secluded on campus? And what about China? Certainly a billion and a half people will add some weight to whichever definition of the world they adhere to, no matter how local it might appear to Westerners – if there is still a West.

The situation is all the more confusing because, as many anthropologists have shown, people devise new ‘localisms’ even faster than globalization is supposed to destroy them. Traditions are invented daily, entire cultures are coming into existence, languages are being made up; as to religious affiliations, they may become even more entrenched than before. It’s as if the metaphor of ‘roots’ had been turned upside down: the more ‘uprooted’ by the forces of modernization, the farther down identities are attaching themselves. Modernization, with its clear frontlines, has become as confusing as a game of Go at mid-play.

Hence the success of the word glocal, which signifies that labels can no longer be safely positioned along the former scale, stretching, by successive extensions, from the most local to the most universal. Instead of subtracting one another, conflicting identities keep being added. And yet they remain in conflict and thus have to be sorted out, since no one can belong to all of them at once…

But if the compass of modernization is spinning so madly, how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate glocal attachments? First we have to modify this bad habit of ranking all entities of society from the largest to the smallest through some sort of zooming effect. ‘Large’ and ‘small’ are devoid of practical meaning. It’s wrong to assume that society is made of Russian dolls fitting into one another, all the way from planet Earth to the inside secrets of an individual heart. Wall Street is not a bigger space than, let’s say, Gaza. From the boardroom of IBM, one can’t see farther outside than a shopkeeper in Jakarta. As for the Oval Office, who could think it’s inhabited by people with ‘larger views’ than those of my concierge?

What we really mean by size is connectedness. Yes, the floor of Wall Street might be more connected, through many more channels, with many other places on Earth than my study, but it’s not bigger or wider; it does not see clearer; it’s not more universal than any other locus. All places are equally local – what else could they be? – but they are hooked up differentially to several others. Apart from those links, we are all blind. Thus, it’s the quality of what is transported from place to place that creates asymmetries between sites: one can be said to be ‘bigger’ than some other, but only as long as connections are reliably maintained. It’s never the case that one site is more universal, more encompassing, more open-minded than any other, in and of itself.

Once this radical ‘flattening’ of the land has been obtained, once every global view has been firmly localized into one specific site, once attention is focused on the connecting networks, it’s possible to ask a second question: since we see something only thanks to what circulates between sites, how can we be made aware of the fragility of our own interpretations? A club is not good or bad depending on its extension – the more inclusive the better, or, on the contrary, the more exclusive the better – but depending on its ability to fathom its own limitations when it excludes or includes other members.

This is where the old label cosmopolitan could get a new meaning. Although Ulrich Beck recently tried to use it as a synonym of ‘having multiple identities all at once’, Isabelle Stengers has proposed a much more radical meaning: politics of the cosmos. How can we entertain not just many identities at various degrees of extensions, but different cosmos?

That cosmos are also up for grabs is a new and unsettling idea. Before, there existed a single nature and different cultures, some of which were ‘limited’ to a local point of view while others were broad enough to offer membership to ‘citizens of the cosmos’. But how to build the City of which they are supposed to be the citizens? Where is the common home that we could live in? Such a task can no longer be simplified in advance by saying that the wider the perspective the better it is, for there is no ‘larger’ view anymore.

In the old cosmopolitan view, there were no politics and no cosmos because the higher unit was already given: one had only to break away from one’s own attachments in order to reach it. But in Stengers’ view, there is no more strenuous task than to invent political tools capable of revealing how all cosmos differ from one another. It’s an even more risky endeavour to imagine how they could be gathered into some future common arrangement. If cosmopolitan is an adjective fit for a fashion magazine, cosmopolitics, on the other hand, is the duty of the future, the only way to build the common Domus.

Bruno Latour: On the Difficulty of Being Glocal. Domus, March 2004

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“When your house contains such a complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi re-verberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters -when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up by itself without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up. When the cost of all this tackle is half of the total outlay (or more, as it often is) what is the house doing except concealing your mechanical pudenda from the stares of folks on the sidewalk? Once or twice recently there have been buildings where the public was genuinely confused about what was mechanical services, what was structure-many visitors to Philadelphia take quite a time to work out that the floors of Louis Kahn’s laboratory towers are not supported by the flanking brick duct boxes, and when they have worked it out, they are inclined to wonder if it was worth all the trouble of giving them an independent supporting structure. (…)

I was standing up to my chest-hair in water, making home movies (I get that NASA kick from taking expensive hardware into hostile environments) at the campus beach at Southern Illinois. This beach combines the outdoor and the clean in a highly American manner – scenically it is the ole swimmin’ hole of Huckleberry Finn tradition, but it is properly policed (by sophomore lifeguards sitting on Eames chairs on poles in the water) and it’s chlorinated too. From where I stood, I could see not only immensely elaborate family barbecues and picnics in progress on the sterilized sand, but also, through and above the trees, the basketry interlaces of one of Buckminster Fuller’s experimental domes. And it hit me then, that if dirty old Nature could be kept under the proper degree of control (sex left in, streptococci taken out) by other means, the United States would be happy to dispense with architecture and buildings altogether.

Bucky Fuller, of course, is very big on this proposition: his famous non-rhetorical question, “Madam, do you know what your house weighs?” articulates a subversive suspicion of the monumental. This suspicion is inarticulately shared by the untold thousands of americans who have already shed the deadweight of domestic architecture and live in mobile homes which, though they may never actually be moved, still deliver rather better performance as shelter than do ground-anchored structures costing at least three times as much and weighing ten times more. If someone could devise a package that would effectively disconnect the mobile home from the dangling wires of the town electricity supply, the bottled gas containers insecurely perched on a packing case and the semi-unspeakable sanitary arrangements that stem from not being connected to the main sewer – then we should really see some changes. It may not be so far away either; defense cutbacks may send aerospace spin-off spinning in some new directions quite soon, and that kind of miniaturizationtalent applied to a genuinely self-contained and regenerative standard-of-living package that could be towed behind a trailer home or clipped to it, could produce a sort of U-haul unit that might be picked up or dropped off at depots across the face of the nation. Avis might still become the first in U-Tility, even if they have to go on being a trying second in car hire.

The car, in short, is already doing quite a lot of the standard-ofliving package’s job-the smoochy couple dancing to the music of the radio in their parked convertible have created a ballroom in the wilderness (dance floor by courtesy of the Highway Dept. of course) and all this is paradisal till it starts to rain. Even then, you’re not licked – it takes very little air pressure to inflate a transparent Mylar airdome, the conditioned-air output of your mobile package might be able to do it, with or without a little boosting, and the dome itself, folded into a parachute pack, might be part of the package. From within your thirty-foot hemisphere of warm dry lebensraum you could have spectacular ringside views of the wind felling trees, snow swirling through the glade, the forest fire coming over the hill or Constance Chatterley running swiftly to you know whom through the downpour.
(…) But … surely this is not a home, you can’t bring up a family in a polythene bag? This can never replace the time-honored ranch-style tri-level standing proudly in a landscape of five defeated shrubs, flanked on one side by a ranch-style tri-level with six shrubs and on the other by a ranch-style tri-level with four small boys and a private dust bowl. If the countless Americans who are successfully raising nice children in trailers will excuse me for a moment, I have a few suggestions to make to the even more countless Americans who are so insecure that they have to hide inside fake monuments of Permastone and instant roofing. There are, admittedly, very sound day-to-day advantages to having warm broadloom on a firm floor underfoot, rather than pine needles and poison ivy. America’s pioneer house builders recognized this by commonly building their brick chimneys on a brick floor slab. A transparent airdome could be anchored to such a slab just as easily as could a balloon frame, and the standard-of-living-package could hover busily in a sort of glorified barbecue pit in the middle of the slab. But an airdome is not the sort of thing that the kids, or a distracted Pumpkin-eater could run in and out of when the fit took them-believe me, fighting your way out of an airdome can be worse than trying to get out of a collapsed rain-soaked tent if you make the wrong first move.

Reyner Banham: A Home is not a House (Art in America issue 2, April, 1965)

The Environment-Bubble

Transparent plastic bubble dome inflated by air-conditioning output. In the present state of the environmental art, no mechanical device can make the rain go back to Spain; the standard-of-living package is apt to need some sort of an umbrella for emergencies, and it could well be a plastic dome inflated by conditioned air blown out by the package itself. Illustration by Francois Dallegret.

Charles Jencks also had something to say about it in 1969.

“The purpose of technology is to make the dream a fact… The end is to make the Earth a garden, a Paradise; to make the mountain speak”. –Arthur Drexler

“… it is difficult not to suspect that presented with scenes from cultures that he does not understand he hopes to gizmo them into comprehensible form… There is (…) a distinct visual and cultural shock in suddenly coming on a Coca Cola dispenser in Latin America or the Arab States, it is apt to look like a visitor from Mars (…)”  –Reyner Banham, ” The Great Gizmo”

“Traditionally the fine arts depend on the popular arts for their vitality, and the popular arts depend on the fine arts for the respectability. It has been said that things hardly “exist” before the fine artist has made use of them, they are simply part of the unclassified background material against which we pass our lives. The transformation from everyday object to fine art manifestation happens in many ways; the object can be discovered – objet trouvé or I’art brut – the object itself remaining the same; a literary or folk myth can arise, and again the object itself remains unchanged; or, the object can be used as a jumping-off point and is itself transformed.

(…) For us it would be the objects on the beaches, the piece of paper blowing about the street, the throw-away object and the pop-package.

For today we collect ads.

(…) Mass-production advertising is establishing our whole pattern of life – principles, morals, aims, aspirations, and standard of living. We must somehow get the measure of this intervention if we are to match its powerful and exciting impulses with our own.

— Allison and Peter Smithson, “But Today We Collect Ads”

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