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Klaus outside the blog

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From October 22nd through 29th, I’ll be in Santiago de Chile (with some short trips to Valparaiso and perhaps some other places), thanks to the kindness and persistence of Miguel Ángel Contreras, founder and director of the ArqFilmFest, Latin America’s first festival of cinema and architecture. Mostly, I’ll be attending and speaking in the festival, on my own and together with Enrique Bordesbut I’ll also be in the opening of a small exhibit at the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica. See you there, if you are around. I’ll keep reporting.

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A collection of prints of past cartoons from Arquine, A10, Uncube, as well as a few others published in the last 10 years, en route to Santiago de Chile, where I’ll spend next week. I’ll keep reporting. (In the pic, ‘¿Qué tienen las casas de hoy en día que las hace tan iguales, tan aburridas?’, my take on Hamilton’s famous collage published in Arquine #83: The Limits of Design, Spring 2018)

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Another blast from the past. As I was going through a checklist of my cartoons for Uncube, I found out I hadn’t posted this one, either. Some backstory: back in January 2016, Uncube was planning to put together an entire issue on Zvi Hecker (and more: check AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN – ZVI HECKER’S HOUSING DREAM), one of those visionaries who toyed with non-Cartesian geometries back in the ’60s, and actually got to build his designs (along with fellow Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and a few others). Being the sucker I am for all things 1960s/70s, I was glad to contribute a piece. Also, December 2015 was the time where Star Wars was (somehow) brought back to life, via the incredibly mediocre The Force Awakens. Being the sucker I am for all things science fiction, I couldn’t let the opportunity to throw in lots of Star Wars references in. Bjarke Ingels then came in to add the necessary starchitectural element. Enjoy!

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #41: Zvi Hecker 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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I thought I had already uploaded all the cartoons I had done for Indira van’t Kloosteer’s section ‘Interchange: Architects in Action’. ‘Interchange’ ran from March 2014 through April 2016 in the pages of A10: New European Architecture (issues #56-68), and all its entries featured a full-page cartoon in every issue (I might make a post soon with all of them as they appeared in the magazine), except for the first one, which, unfortunately, was too close to the deadline when I was approached. I thought it was a shame, at the time, because I had already come up with an idea for Jurgen Mayer H. when Indira contacted me that I thought was quite funny. However, I could scratch that particular itch a couple years later, when I could finally produce it for the compilation Indira put together in 2016.

However, it seems I had missed this one, featuring Brussels-Based Rotor Group. At the time of this interview, Rotor had recently completed their Deconstruction: An exhibition on salvaging and reusing building components Expo, where they exhibited the results of their work of selective deconstruction on a few buildings. Here, some excerpts of the conversation:

Last year, Rotor decided to take their commitment to reuse one step further. Since then, they have deconstructed about fifteen buildings, stripping them down to the base structure and reworking the matter amassed in the process into reusable materials that meet commercial demands. It has become a huge success. ‘The turnover of this business already equals our regular work,’ says founder Maarten Gielen as we spend the day at Rotor.

Visitors to the Vilvoorde office first see the showpieces: the doors, floors, chairs by Jules Wabbes, and ’90s postmodern kitsch. Their gaze is then drawn to the smart spinoffs, including upcycled old coat hooks sold per running metre and banisters offered in custom-length modules. Then there’s the yard, filled with dozens of toilet bowls, cupboards, chairs, benches, and textiles. Employees process a new load of products. Maarten Gielen smokes a cigarette at the picnic table in the meantime.

How do you find a suitable building?

Most of our clients are major players in the Brussels property market, and own hundreds of thousands of square meters of office space. When new tenants lease the building, which happens every ten to fifteen years, the interiors undergo top-to-bottom refurbishment. We take stock of the old interiors, such as the ceilings and walls, which we then offer to our 200-strong network of dealers, contractors, and architects. Then we start deconstruction, and transform the building into a showroom for clients to assess the quality. Most items are sold on-site. The top-quality features are taken to our depot, restored, and sold via our website.

Do you see this as architects’ work?

Of course. What we do here is similar to what an architect does on a construction site: coordinating activities, drafting demolition specifications, checking quality, and finalizing. Subcontractors take care of easy jobs, such as tiling, while our own staff takes on the more complex tasks. We must preserve the knowledge gained during demolition, so that the buyer knows its history.

Why do you focus on wholesalers, not private individuals?

While retail trade is more lucrative, given the much larger margins on materials, our goal is to professionalize wholesalers.

So you don’t work with the design potential of reuse, as other architects do with reclaimed objects?

No. We offer a standardized package at a competitive price. Working with second-hand material should be no harder than working with new, but you do need someone to create that bridge. We can take care of the logistics and the technicalities, so that for an architect it becomes more or less as easy as ordering newly produced materials.

Is it possible to reuse everything?

The ideological definition of reusable is ‘everything that can be dismantled’. However, these changes once translated into business logic, which dictates that a reusable material can be dismantled and resold at a lower price than the market value. All our material must contend either with cheap materials from China, or with products of new quality. Naturally, second-hand material competes better when it is of high quality, because then it can make a positive economic difference.

So it’s not cheaper for companies?

On the contrary, it’s never more expensive. We have different types of clients. The easiest ones are those who look for unique vintage design, whatever the cost. The second type is more pragmatic: they look for standard objects like urinals or floorboards. It would cost them €250 to buy it new, but €40 when they buy from us. If you need bucket sinks or urinals on six floors, and you can buy them from us and save €200 per item, this makes quite the difference.

(…)

Have you increased your knowledge of materials and regulations over the years?

Our projects have always had an experimental side, and we’ve learned that the materials hold much of a building’s intelligent design. Once aware of the economic logic behind the products and their origins, one sees that the architect is at the helm of a huge construction machine, yet possesses little substantial knowledge about it.

(…)

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Excerpts from: Indira van’t Klooster: Creative Deconstruction – An Interview with Rotor.  A10 Magazine #64. Jan/Feb 2016

 

 

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A few months ago, not long after coming back from my US Tour, I traveled to Mexico for the first time in my life (shame on me, I know), in order to open an exhibition (Arquinoir by Klaus at the CCEMex), speak at the Mextropoli Festival, and even teach a little. Of course, all this undeserved attention was made possible by the guys from Arquine, who kindly invited me over and invested quite some time in organizing everything. I still have to write about that one at length, so before that time comes (hopefully before 2018 ends), I thought I could fill in the void with yet another kind invitation from the Facultad de Arquitectura de la Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (Morelia, Mexico),. There, I’ll be taking part in the ‘Ensayos sobre el Espacio Público’ course (Sept 19-21). See you there, if you’re around!

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I’ve been neglecting posting this since April, when it was published, after teasing about it for several months on twitter. But, since it took me ages to actually deliver it to the editors, I think it’s kinda fitting.

To make a long story short: Over a year ago (almost two, really), Eli Keller, architect, researcher, and PhD candidate at MIT, contacted that guy for their upcoming issue (#46) of Thresholds journal, which was to be titled ‘Scatter!’. Knowing how scatterbrained I am, he thought a conversation with me about comics, cartooning, and their relationship with architectural practice and theory. Also, they asked me to provide them with some illustrations, so I sent them a bunch of already-published work. They, however, thought producing new material would be more appropriate. I agreed. However, it seemed like a lot of work, so, after arguing I didn’t think I could find the time.

However (again) the idea of producing some figures that worked as a parallel discourse to that of the conversation -not always coincident- stroke me, and… I found it too irresistible. It was also a lot more work than they had asked for, but, hey, it gave me the chance to play with the stuff  (not in a dirty way) of Winsor McCay, François Schuiten, Katsuhiro Otomo, and friends such as Léopold Lambert and Jimenez Lai, so, what else could I do?

Below you can find some excerpts of the interview, along with the figures as published in the magazine. The whole article can be downloaded here   for a ridiculously low price. So, if you want to read the whole thing (you should), go get it. Now. Additionally, you can also read a 5-page preview here.

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Since his breakthrough in 2005, architect and cartoonist Klaus has been reveling in the light side of architecture with his drawings, comic strips, and cartoons. Published worldwide, his work usually tackles on the less uplifting aspects of the profession, criticizing its shortcomings and the excesses of its star system, usually coated with an array of educated winks to the many corners of architecture theory and history, science fiction, comics or cinema. In this conversation, he and architecture and popular culture scholar Luis Miguel Lus Arana discuss his work in the context of today’s digital culture, where the interactions between architecture and its periphery -media, popular culture, graphic arts- seem to multiply. Comics, architectural criticism, image production, the creative power of sarcasm, the reemergence of craftsmanship and traditional techniques, as well as the new directions of the profession are some of the topics that sprang through it.

LML: Since you went online in 2009, you have produced a variety of works related to comics and cartoons: from comic strips on the life at the Harvard GSD to single panel cartoons on the current events of architecture, or illustrations. In your series for A10’s section ‘Interchange’, you produced poster-sized illustrations with caricatures of the architects interviewed by Indira Van’t Klooster; for Uncube, a series of vignettes that commentated on news blurbs printed side by side with them. Lately you have produced some 2-page stories for Arquine… How would you define yourself? Cartoonist? Architectural satirist?

K: Whatever works, actually. I guess that cartoonist comes closer to what I do, even if it is not a conscious choice, but rather a result of my inability to commit to long-term projects. My first career goal always was to become a comic book artist, but then architecture got in the way, so when I retook it 10 years later, cartoons were an easier way to keep my comic-related urges under control. (…)

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Well, there is a long-standing relationship between cartoonists and architecture. Editorial cartoons were a great source of impressive architectural and urban imagery in the late XIX Century and in the early decades of the XX Century; I am thinking of the cartoons that Harry Grant Dart, Albert Levering, or Grant E. Hamilton drew for Judge, Puck, Life, and other magazines, or Winsor McCay’s editorial cartoons for Randolph Hearst. (…) The list would be endless: William Heath Robinson, Hans Georg Rauch… Ronald Searle’s Paris Sketchbook is a joy to look at, for instance.

K: Oh, I find no fault with the definition, and I’m flattered to be placed, even if in the ephemeral context of a conversation, within such an illustrious lineage. I just mean cartoons are less a conscious choice than a result of my inability to commit to long-term projects. I never thought of myself as a cartoonist, but I’ve gladly adopted all these ways I or my work have been defined: ‘political cartoons for architects’, ‘architectural satirist’. Still, I am somehow reluctant to qualify my vignettes as satire, which in my mind in a place certainly more elevated than where I dwell. (…)

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So, now that we are amidst all this discussion about the post-critical, I wanted to ask you: Would you qualify what you do as criticism?

K: Let me skip the discussion about post-critical. Don’t take me wrong: I love neologisms as much as the next man —the next man being Reyner Banham or Homi Bhabha— but I’d rather avoid getting too cynical. My cartoons are critical in the sense that they mock, often very arbitrarily, pretty much anything architecture-related. However, there is no attempt to build a cohesive discourse. That’s the beauty of satire: You can take issue, make fun, criticize, ridicule, one aspect and its opposite. You don’t have to settle for a specific reading or set of values, which is less committed, but also less limiting. Taking everything apart unabashedly can also be very productive. (…)

 I would like to tackle on that ‘productiveness’ later. However, before we leave this ‘non-critical’ nature you claim on your work: I understand the ‘Klaus’ moniker was something you coined in order to differentiate your satirical (sorry) production from your scholarly work. However, at some point you also started writing under your ‘Klaus’ persona. You have a couple of articles out there, but I’m most interested in the ‘Arquinoir’ section you publish in Arquine, which consists almost invariably of a cartoon, or a short story, and a text, mirroring each other thematically and aligned with the issue’s topic. How does this differ from your academic output? Do you use a different voice?

K: Certainly. (…) There is an interview with Wes Jones where he points out how his comic strips allowed him to tackle on serious issues expressing very strong opinions without having to worry about the consequences, ‘because… you know, it’s just a comic book’. This is an exemption that applies to satire in general, not to comics per se—although the infantile aura attached to comic books helps. Also, this can be very productive, because the liberation from the obligation to construct a cohesive discourse, to provide answers to the questions you raise, can take you through paths you probably wouldn’t have even thought of if you were writing seriously. Relentless nitpicking involves a lot of analysis and argumentation. The same goes for humor, and fiction, of course. In my columns for Arquine, and in my scholarly production, I deal with the same topics: science fiction architecture, megastructures, and also Reyner Banham, whose articles for New Society are always a source for inspiration. But the tone is different, as is the chain of thoughts it unleashes.

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So, if I understand correctly, these texts work as an extension of your cartoons, unleashing a sort of ‘automatic’ reasoning… (…) … My question is: do you think caricature, be it amicable or derisive, can play a similar role?

K: Yes. Caricature is a great trigger for creation. A few years ago, Jimenez [Lai] and I were chatting about how, when you copy something, if you’re able to do it poorly enough, it becomes something new. There are two key interrelated processes in caricature: exaggeration and deformation. Cartoons work in a reverse way: they tend to strip things down to their essentials. (…) Being comics a cool medium, the cartoon triggers a series of associative processes in the viewer, who fills in the blanks and perceives it according to his own preferences. (…)

Caricature plays a simultaneous game of familiarization and de-familiarization, keeping the subject recognizable while distorting it. It introduces new readings, makes associations and brings in intertextuality that only arises in the exaggeration. I think language is sometimes misleading: metaphorically ‘tearing something apart’ also involves constructing.Making fun is still ‘making’, after all. A satirical take on a topic introduces puns, doubletalk… it shows the benefits of reactive thinking at its best. Distorting, caricaturizing a design, can produce interesting results, design-wise. It is, in the end, a classic design strategy: choosing a certain direction and taking it to the limit. Only, this time, we start with something that’s already been designed, and take it in an extraneous way.

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Earlier you mentioned the productive value of fiction. As we commented before, fiction has historically been a great producer of novel architectural imagery and concepts. In our short-term vision of History, Blade Runner is possibly the paradigmatic example, as a film that not only became an object of desire of postmodern writing, but has also influenced several generations of architects. However, this is also true of a ‘lesser’ medium such as comics. Academic literature usually brings up Archigram 4 (May 1964), and its appropriation of space comic book imagery from the 1950s and 1960s, but this image production has abounded all throughout the History of the medium, becoming more intense from the mid 1960s onwards, particularly in France. In fact, the comics of that period were particularly crucial in the development of the ‘architecturally conscious’ sci-fi in cinema from the 1970s onwards, and I would say they stayed way ahead in terms of architectural design. There are notable exceptions, of course, but filmic ‘world-building’ has always shown a tendency towards the generic, so you get a sort of standard ‘space age’, ‘post-apocalyptic’, ‘cyberpunk’, ‘post-industrial’ futurism, also in terms of architectural image. However, in comics you can find authentic ‘design exercises’ when it comes to creating the architectural backgrounds, particularly since the early 1980s.

K: Yes, there is a boost of ‘architectural consciousness’ in comics at that point, where a younger generation, which had grown up reading ‘Métal Hurlant’, entered the medium professionally. There is a mixture in those years: you find the members of the older generation, such as Moebius, Jean-Claude Mézières, and their followers -Enki Bilal, Tanino Liberatore- who cultivated the sort of metaphysical or surrealistic sci-fi that inspired Blade Runner. Then, you had the younger ones, who started their careers in the already ‘intellectualized’ scenario created by Métal Hurlant, and brought their own interests to the foreground in their comics. Architecture, for instance, is one of the driving forces in the work of Andreas [Martens], Marc-Antoine Mathieu, or François Schuiten. They were, and still are, very inspiring.

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Do you think there is a niche for architects to work in? Browsing the net, there seems to be an upsurge in architects’ interest in comics: Bjarke Ingels’ Yes is More invariably comes up in every discussion about this topic -and we could argue whether it is really an ‘archicomic’- but there are many other architects using comics as a means to present their designs, as well as those who produce comic books as an end in themselves. Competitions such as Fairy Tales are fostering the appearance of those, and it has become frequent to see students using comics in their designs. Do you think comics are living an âge d’or in architecture?

I want to say that yes, architecture is finally looking at comics as a medium that has things to offer, and more people are interested in them. However, I also wonder if it is not a matter of exposure. There have always been exchanges between the worlds of architecture and comic books, starting with Le Corbusier, whose passion for Rodolphe Töpffer, the Swiss Father of comics, has been widely discussed. Many comic book artists have had an architectural background: Guido Crepax, Milo Manara, and more recently Tsutomu Nihei, or Manuele Fior.

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It is true that comics and architecture have typically portrayed a love-hate relationship- Love on the side of comics, and a mixture of love and hate on architecture’s side-. I’ve always felt this emanates from a certain intellectual ‘inferiority complex’ on the architects’ side: The architectural establishment, at least in those places here the discipline is highly professionalized (Southern Europe, et al), seems to be very reluctant to allowing any mixture with anything whose cultural pedigree is not reputed enough; as if it could somehow endanger architecture’ respectability. Do you feel this is changing?

K: Well, we architects are very fragile living beings. I’ve often said -and I can oversimplify because I am a cartoonist- that architectural practice tends to move within a triangle defined by art, engineering, and philosophy. So, whenever we are attacked, we retreat to another corner: When someone says ‘You just design sculptures’, we counter-attack: ‘No, no, I’m also a technician’. Or: ‘You are aprioristic; you just design shapes’… – No, no, I’ve read Heidegger’. But we do not belong to either field completely, so in a typical case of superiority complex that stems from an undergoing inferiority complex, we overreact and behave like these arrogant demigods society is so fed up with. (…)

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Lus Arana, Koldo: “Dancing about Architecture; a conversation with architect and cartoonist Klaus”, Thresholds nº. 46: Scatter!, edited by  and MIT Press, April  2018; 278-298.

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