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From left to right: Herzog & De Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Rafael Moneo, Alvaro Siza, Eduardo Souto de Moura, PEter Eisenman, Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, Philip Johnson, Bjarke Ingels, Rem Koolhaas, Zvi Hecker, myself, Preston Scott Cohen, Michael Meredith, and Hilary Sample. Missing are Reyner Banham and François Dallegret, who were edited out because of space constraints. You can still see a portion of one of Fraçois’ ‘Automobiles Astrologiques¡ at each end, though.

Woa. It’s been 5 months, already? It seems so, so (cacophony alert) before this blog is officially declared dead, I’m going to throw in some stuff that’s old enough to deserve some recovery. In February 2016, Uncube Magazine published an issue that had been in the works for quite some time at that point, ‘Walk the Line’, focusing on architectural representation and drawing in general. The issue featured an assorted group of interesting names, such as Wes Jones, Moon Hoon, William Chyr (of Manifold Garden fame), Sergei Tchoban,  Raumlabor Berlin, and some others. At that point I had been the house cartoonist ithe magazine for some three years, so Sophie Lovell, editor-in-chief, thought it might be worth having a little chat, illustrated with some ad-hoc cartoons. As usual, this happened at a point where I was swamped by work, which, adding to my proverbial sluggishness meant I ended up producing much less original work than I would have wished. It was a real shame, because by that time we knew the magazine’s run was coming to an end, and I would have loved to go out with a bang. Still, I’m glad we did it. Oh, and that first page with the line-up of starchitects was a hoot to make. I think it would work great as wallpaper material. So, here’s the full interview.

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The architecture cartoonist Klaus has had a regular slot with Uncube since issue no: 7. His work and approach parallels much of what the magazine stands for in terms of going “beyond” the traditional parameters of the discipline. Uncube’s editor-in-chief Sophie Lovell chews the fat with him about elastic boundaries and the hyperbolic distortion machine.

First things first: You’re an architect, aren’t you? Or at least you studied architecture at some point.

Yes, I’ve been a registered architect for about 15 years now. I’m getting over it, though.

I’m well aware that there are very elastic boundaries between architecture and (let’s say) beyond, but how does cartooning fit into your practice?

It started when I was at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD).I was about to start my PhD dissertation, which meant I was desperately looking for excuses that kept me away for it, and the GSD was a great provider of those: you had all these vedettes walking around, lots of stressed students living in their pods, loads of models piling up… it was eminently cartoon-isable. Then, one day Preston Scott Cohen had a hilarious conversation/argument with Ben Van Berkel, and I thought: “ok, I have to make a cartoon of this”. And that was that. Thanks, Preston.

But, going back to the elasticity you pointed out: Yes, there is definitely a lot of disciplinary promiscuity nowadays, due to the decrease in – let’s call it – “traditional architect” work. However, I think that the 2008 crisis [SL1] exposed something that has always been there. Historically,if you had drawing skills and were good at maths, you were often automatically directed towards architecture, so over time, many learnt to vent their artistic urges through architectural design… some times more successfully than others. I think that nowadays, many people with an architectural background are just exploring the intersections between architecture and passions they sublimated through architecture, or some other ones they discovered at architecture school.

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A montage with some of the cartoons I did for Uncube during its 4-year run. There were about 30 of them, which makes it my longest collaboration to date. You can have a look at them by clicking the Uncube tag in this blog, or you can check the magazine’s website, of course. 

What does it mean to be an architect, then?

Many things. Many different things, that’s the point. And you don’t necessarily have to be all of them. In fact, you cannot be all of them. Whenever someone brings in that idyllic metaphor of “the architect as an orchestra conductor”, I feel the urge to ask the speaker to point me towards all these orchestras waiting to be conducted. The profession – and even the discipline – is changing and we need architects specialized in different fields, or people with an architectural background in other professions. And architectural cartoonists as well of course – but not many. Back off, it’s my pie.

Is that the reason why starchitecture is usually the target of your satire? Because it represents this malign understanding of the architect?

Well, yes, but also because it’s so easy to make fun of… egocentric characters have great comedic potential, and architecture education teaches you about narcissism. Also, we love trashing those who are more successful than us at  – what we’ve been told is – our own game.

So you believe in the idea of the architect as critical thinker or provocateur?

There are cases we all know where the simple ability to think would be asking too much. But yes, I do believe in the architect as an intellectual. The main problem here is that we are usually taught to work with evocations[SL2] : architects are great at appropriating concepts, images, strategies from other disciplines and turning them into architectural form or discourse. But this is an attitude that many of us take into whatever we do, so our approach to everything tends to be very superficial: just a hint at the surface and we begin to extrapolate. That’s why architects usually make mediocre poets and terrible philosophers (I think I’m making many friends today…).

I remember listening to Peter Eisenman ranting once about the lack of “close attention” paid by today’s students; however, I think that’s something endemic to the profession. Derrida himself thought that Eisenman’s approach to deconstruction had nothing to do his own understanding of the concept. I like architects thinking out loud, but most of the time they’re just posturing, and bleating the same archibabble -or re-combinations of it- again and again.

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What you do in your role as a cartoonist, or caricaturist,is a quite blatant form of criticism, so are you not just hoisting yourself with you own petard?

There’s a critical attitude behind it, that’s obvious. However, I’m not trying to provide constructive criticism. I’m not even trying to be fair. There is no consistent attitude, or overall unifying discourse: I’ll criticize one thing and then its opposite. It’s all about having fun. I think you mentioned the word “jester”, at some point, and I think it’s pretty accurate, because jesters’ humor could be self-deprecating, if needed, but they were also great pranksters. Anything but mindless good taste.

So, anything goes in your view including offence, if necessary?

Sure, although I think my cartoons are very tame, usually. Of course, I come up with much harsher stuff, but I don’t have the time anymore. My current collaborations take up most of my spare time, so I have to choose. And, believe me, you wouldn’t want to publish the things that creep inside my head. So, there: I sold out. I’ve always been very partial to money.

A colleague of yours, Jimenez Lai, said that humour, parody and exaggeration can also be very productive as form-givers, that one can tread new paths through exaggeration.

Oh, absolutely. We are no born as abstract thinkers, so we obviously learn through imitation, by copying. Some people may have abstract minds, but most of us rely on reactive mental processes, so we react to what we are shown either by copying it, negating it, twisting it (that’s when caricature enters the equation). What’s interesting to me is that, if you copy something sufficiently poorly, or you take exaggeration too far, it becomes something different. Double meanings work very in much the same way: humour is mostly based on twisting words, or looking at things from a deliberately twisted angle, which may, if done mindlessly enough provide with new, interesting perspectives that you would not come upon through realistic, or fair thinking.

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I see: the hyperbolic distortion machine, architectural caricature and distortion as a design force. You’ve spoken elsewhere about the “suspended reality of the cartoon” as a freeing design environment. You certainly have a penchant for fantastic architecture / architecture of fantasy. In contrast, in your architect persona, do you experience designing actual buildings as a straight jacket?

Not a straight jacket so much as a task that requires too much effort in my case. Designing on a paper – or through a model – and getting to build something are related but not they’re not the same thing and you have to be willing to invest a lot of energy. I’m less and less interested in it as time passes. However, built architecture can compensate for all the things you lose when not working in the free reign of theoretical design. That said, non-build, or even non-buildable architecture, paper architecture, visionary architecture… whatever you want to call it, does encapsulate a inexhaustible capability for fascination. Many of us have a penchant for the visionary (not utopian, please) proposals of the 1960s, and the megastructural scene, in general. And, of course, it has to do with the fact that it was never (supposed to be) built. Almost 20 years ago I remember drooling over Zaha Hadid’s book The Complete Buildings and Projects. Each of those crowded drawings suggested so many possibiities… Then she started building, then AutoCad entered her office, and that was that. Well, except for her ill-fated stadium in Qatar –that was excellent cartoon-fodder.

What is the role of drawing in architecture /architectural design, then? Does being a great draughtsman make you a better architect?

No, I don’t think it does necessarily. Obviously, you need certain graphic skills to represent architecture. Also, sketching is a great way to organize and visualize your thoughts. However, I don’t think you need to be a great draughtsman to be a good architect, and having impressive graphic abilities doesn’t guarantee an equal capacity to design impressive architecture. Being too enthusiastic about drawing can even be counter-productive: a beautiful plan does not necessarily produce a good building, and if you’re too focused on making the drawing look good you may take decisions that work good for the plan as a drawing, but not for the building itself.

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Not my office. I wish I had a backlit drafting table. Or an office, actually.

You have been working under the Klaus moniker for about 12 years now. Why the pen name? Does this anonymity simply give you freedom to be more critical? Or is it a way to ensure a multifaceted approach?

Both, actually. “Klaus” is an anagram of my given name. When I started publishing comic strips in a local architecture magazine, I thought it would be a good way to avoid compromising my real name with less-than-serious stuff, because I was also starting to produce academic work. Years later, when I took it up again and went online, people started contacting me as Klaus, and I started writing under the Klaus persona. I enjoyed the freedom it gave me, but also the fact that it had a very distinct voice from my official, academic fare. So I kept both personalities. We get on pretty well, as a matter of fact. And it provides nice threesomes, too.

What does Klaus’ “old castle in Europe”, where he lives, look like?

Oh, when the crisis struck, the bank took it from me. I think they’re selling it to install an Apple store.

One last question: Are you Rem Koolhaas?

No. He’s much taller.

Sophie Lovell: “The [not so] Fine Line: A Conversation Thread about this and that with architecture cartoonist Klaus”.  Uncube Magazine nº 42, February 2016.

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Earlier this month Rem Koolhaas returned to the Harvard GSD in order to give one of his infrequent and multitudinous conferences. Filed under the motto “current preoccupations”, the talk, which replayed Koolhaas’s October lecture at the Barbican, showcased a bunch of different issues taking place on and around OMA’s office. And so, it was presented as a  halfly-articulated progress report that allowed Mr. K to adopt his improvisational approach to discourses of late. One of the highlights of the session  was, of course, Project Japan, Koolhaas&Obrist’s book on Japanese Metabolism and its heroes, which Koolhaas surprisingly used to grieve (again) for a lost mediatic aura that architects still had in Kikutake’s times: Today, architects have increased public notoriety at the expense of credibility. It’s hard to argue against that, even if Koolhaas’s argument, namely that an architect has not made it to the cover of Time Magazine since Phillip Johnson did in 1979, is itself pretty bland, and also a little too pro-establishment for OMA. So, in a nutshell, architects get more screen minutes today, but fewer quality minutes. However, on the one hand, Time Magazine does not hold the qualifying power it did four decades ago (if it did then). But also, Time is possibly less a desired media to be featured on today which, regardless of its historical pedigree, has a much lower impact capacity.  And above all, it does not offer the type of mediatic plateau that Koolhaas and OMA have needed to shape and sell their elusive brand image throughout the last decades.

It’s also rather amusing to hear  Koolhaas, who revels in giving conferences that are rather rock concerts than intellectual debates, complaining about the caricaturization that comes with the mediatic ubiquity of architects. Especially when he himself has been one of the main actors in the postmodern recovery of satire as a tool to (de)construct architectural discourse. Still, Koolhaas has always been a careful constructor of his own  legend, and it’s possibly here where this counterfeit argumentation, deceptively articulated as a complaint, fits -as well as his later mention of OMA’s production as modest, performance-driven architecture. Certainly, performance has always been one of the driving forces of OMA’s design, present in all-scales of his projects: It’s difficult to find an architectural practice that has put to better use Tschumi’s strategies of transprogramming,  from Jussieu to  Bordeaux, to the Kunsthal or to Porto, even if usually formalised as dis-programming. But the same could be said about Koolhas’s careful design of both his discourse and self-image, both an ongoing performance where statements can’t be taken at face value, and where there is a very conscious detachment between what he says and what he does.

“Modest” is not, however, an adjective that automatically springs to mind when thinking of OMA’s production, which since the late 80s (I’m thinking of the Congrexpo, but also of the CCTV building, the Seattle Library, the Casa da Musica at Porto,  or the unbuilt Córdoba International Congress Center) has bounced progressively towards the L-XL side of the scale. Funny, too, that he referred to the invisible quality that he found in some of his most recent buildings. Today architecture is mediatic as ever, but also fundamentally mediated by its public presence, and by the very nature of this presence in the new media. The flashy era of digital image/media/production has sworn much of current architectural production to immediacy and to a futile search for instant memorability that lead to an effective disappearance, both from perception and from memory: In a scenario where every building struggles to be distinct and claims desperately for attention, the cacophony of the whole inevitably results in a loss of the individuality of the pieces: All-new, all-different, they all look the same to the viewer. The cartoony aggregation of skyscrapers in the UAE desert that has become one of Koolhaas’s most celebrated images is pretty much the world OMA has helped create.

And then, he talked about countryside and preservation.

 Hoo-haa.

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The video of the lecture used to be online somewhere, but apparently it has been taken down now. However, a full-length video of Koolhaas’s previous conference OMA: On Progress, dealing with the exact same issues is available on youtube, along with the rest of the talks at the Barbican in London: OMA: On Prudence (Victor van der Chijs), OMA: On Generations (Shohei Shigematsu), and OMA: On Speed in Architecture (David Gianotten and David Tseng).

Even more interesting are the two shorter, “unofficial” videos that the people at Dezeen produced on the occasion of the opening of the OMA/Progress exhibition, where Koolhaas offered an improvised tour through the still unfinished rooms. There’s something akin to a guilty pleasure in the domestic atmosphere those two videos exhale, especially in the first one, where Koolhaas goes room by room , talking to the camera that follows him as he strolls through the half empty exhibition halls and speaks briefly about each project in plain, unsophisticated words (providing some amusingly partial and clumsy descriptions). Of course, one always wonders how much of this is actually very consciously staged. Truth is, the nervous rush from project to project, which could help him empathize with the viewer, ultimately contributes to the halo of mystery that surrounds him, making him look somewhat uninvolved and uncomfortable -in a hurry to just get the task done (fragility vs. disdain). To my eye, it falls on the same strategy as his carefully careless lectures. I was tempted to count how many times Koolhaas uses the pet phrase “a kind of” throughout the video (but I resisted, so if anyone bothers to do so, please email me).

In any case, this unceremoniously rushed pace with which Koolhaas goes through OMA’s visual catalog confers the video an undeniable aura of authenticity that fits perfectly the un-beautiful aesthetics Rotor chose for the exhibition (many of the items lay bare, as if directly transposed from OMA’s offices, in almost-empty rooms), itself a pretty good encapsulation of OMA’s cold and deceptively spartan approach to design. Still, the second video, where “Koolhaas discusses two of his current preoccupations: the countryside, which he is addressing for the first time; and generic architecture, which could result in neutral, copyright-free building forms” is also worth watching. Actually, the whole OMA section on Dezeen is worth a look.

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For a more accurate report of Koolhaas’s lecture at Harvard, with Michael Hays and Sanford Kwinter as partenaires, check “Goodbye stararchitecture”, by colleague and friend Zenovia Toloudi at Shift Boston Blog. A brief but interesting review of the exhibition can be found in Rory Hyde’s “OMA/AMO : Progress/Regress“, which looks back at the evolution of AMO and OMA’s production in the last decades, as portrayed by the changes in their subsequent publications and exhibitions, from Content (Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, 2003) to the Cronocaos installation they did in the Italian pavilion as part of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, and finally to the Progress show in the Barbicane.

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Last week, during the Alumni Weekend at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, the exhibition “Dispatches from the GSD: 075 Years of Design” was officially inaugurated. In the GSD Website you can find all the information regarding the events that took place. For some more info and a few pics (including the stand where some of the cartoons from this blog are exhibited) you can scroll down or just click here.

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Some of the events were streamed live, and in youtube you can find videos of the reception toast by Harvard President Drew Faust, and of the looong Faculty & Student Pecha Kucha that took place as part of the 75th anniversary celebration. There’s also a short but nicely illustrated commentary on Harvard Magazine, and a brief at Peter Christensen’s site.

Dispatches from the GSD Exhibition – Main Wall.

The 2011-12 academic year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and in order to celebrate it, the GSD will host a number of events regarding the anniversary throughout the whole academic year. Along with those, the GSD is hosting the exhibit “Dispatches from the GSD: 075 Years of Design”, which will be on display for the duration of the Fall semester throughout Gund Hall, including installations in the lobby gallery, Loeb Library and fourth floor.

Instead of showing a chronological approach that would be inevitably incomplete, the exhibition, which was assembled by a team of students, professors, alumni and staff, has been divided into a succession of episodes; moments that Peter Christensen, curatorial director, describes as “journalistic dispatches from the past, each with its own narrative and artifacts”. All these fictional journalistic dispatches, whose texts have been written accordingly, have been arranged within six thematic categories: Design as Research, Design as Critique, City as Process, City as Form, The Continuous Institution, and The Shifting Institution. 

General view of the exhibition in Gund Hall’s lobby

Shown in this last area, The Shifting Institution, item [C02.21: A Comic Take on the Harvard Graduate School of Design] consists of several comic drawings, including some cartoons from “Klaus on the GSD” done in 2009 [I am sincerely flattered]. Here are a couple of pics and the accompanying text:

A Comic Take On the Harvard Graduate School of Design. July 25, 2009.

CAMBRIDGE, MA – If you want to know what happens between the walls of Harvard Graduate School of Design, the comic strip Klaustoons will give you the answer. Written by an Alumnus of the school hiding behind the pseudonym of “Klaus,” the blog offers humorous cartoons that capture moments of academic life, general student culture and critical discussions in architecture. Cartoons aren’t new at the Graduate School of Design, where the students’ drawing abilities have been known to serve satirical purposes since the 1980s.

The cartoons displayed are Changes in the GSD (Hairstyles I), Platform 2008, GSD Lectures 2008: Parametric Design (I), GSD Lectures 2008: Parametric Performances, Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk: Networks and Spheres, On Starchitecture, and Koolhaas at Harvard: Ecological Urbanism. In the same display there are three more cartoons provided by the Special Collections Department of the Loeb Library: one by Fran Hosken (c1940s), and two more signed by Wang, from the 70s-80s (Inés Zalduendo dixit)

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Dispatches from the GSD: 075 years of design
August 22–December 22, 2011

Anniversaries offer the opportunity to consider the past as an active interlocutor with the present and the future. For the GSD, this means foregrounding an array of agents—people, events, objects, and ideas—in a rich institutional history to bring the collective memory of seventy-five years into sharper focus for design practice today and tomorrow. Conjuring a comprehensive account of the institution since 1936—its thousands of alumni, hundreds of faculty and staff, and two homes—would run the risk of homogenizing a history characterized so consistently by heterogeneity and multiplicity.

As such, the exhibition employs an approach that is episodic, reveling in moments of the GSD’s history that are as singular as they are important. In the spirit of framing these moments as stories unto themselves, they have been conceived of as journalistic dispatches from the past, each with its own narrative and artifacts. Writing history in the present tense, as this exhibition does, is an attempt to make the GSD’s vitality clear and to claim a future that is at once inherited and projective.

The 120 dispatches in this exhibition begin in 1936 and arrive at the present day to include a handful of contemporary thought pieces from a cross section of the School’s faculty, each expressing in a single authorial voice a reflection on the state of design today and the challenges of its future. The historical dispatches are organized into six thematic categories: Design as Research, Design as Critique, City as Process, City as Form, The Continuous Institution, and The Shifting Institution. Each section contains dispatches that speak to a greater set of themes spanning all of the School’s programs and departments, various media, and all seventy-five of the School’s years. In momentarily stopping the clock, this exhibition hopes to enliven the GSD, and Harvard University at large, with the engagement and propulsion that the past can offer us today and tomorrow.

—Peter Christensen (PhD ’14), Curatorial Director

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Below these lines you can find some general photos of the exhibition. Make sure to check the GSD website for more pics and updates on the exhibition and events. Also, Bruce Mau Design offer a couple of peeks at the  posters they designed for the event (updated here).

Special thanks to Inés Zalduendo and Mary Daniels (Curatorial Advisors of the exhibition and masters of the Dark), Marta Fenollosa and Igor Ekstajn (all additional photographs by Igor Ekstajn)

 

 

This dates back to 2007, when Sylvia Lavin explained how when she was a child, she used to visit Art Museums with her parents, both Art Historians. While they studied the artworks, she would study and mimic their gestures, getting ready for her fruitful career as a critic.  At what moment did dildos and other useful household utensils finally enter the equation is something that needs further exploration.

No, no pun intended.

About Sylvia Lavin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Lavin

Form Follows Libido (a glimpse): http://books.google.es/books?id=Jp0Qvoc0c64C&dq=sylvia+Lavin&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=sofcVg8aWn&sig=OgUo_X9zFrnGwE1vF41o36upObA&hl=es&ei=LOwYS87dHaa5jAf1oaCKBA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CDoQ6AEwCTgK#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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Just for the sake of clarity, I’d like to make it clear this does not reflect neither an unconscious -or conscious- obsession with Ciro Najle -whose own obsession I find truly interesting- nor an attempt to capitalize on the fact that, for some unexplainable reason, the cartoon about the Motherhouse lecture (the mother of all lectures) is one of the most popular within the site.

That was a long sentence; the explanation goes on: This cartoon was sketched at around the same time as the original one, and illustrates very accurately two facts: a) The tendency of ideas to appear in clusters; b) The very limited number of ideas I can come up with. In any case, I promise that I won’t be redesigning the same joke for the next fifteen years.

I think fourteen’s more than enough

For those who are asking for more:

Teoría Arquitectónica de los Sistemas Complejos (Ciro Najle’s conference, in Spanish):

GSD Lectures: Ciro Najle’s Motherhouse.

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