Klaus outside the blog

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As a way to celebrate this year’s anniversary (the 10 years of Klaustoon’s Blog, I mean, not the advent of Blade Runner’s 2019), the next months will see some posts looking backwards to past events. And amongst them,  a few will deal with events from last year, 2018, which was a rather busy period for me, full of Klaus-related lecturing, exhibiting, and traveling. This busy-ness had the less happy side effect of my neglecting my obligations towards this blog even more than I usually do (which has been a lot, in recent years).

Let’s start, then: as I was writing the 10-year celebration post last week, adding links to the text in the right places, I realized I had forgotten to include a publication that came late in the year, and followed the spirit of my contribution to Thresholds #46: Scatter! (which will be reprised again in an upcoming piece for Architectural Design). As things go, while in the Mextropoli Festival in Mexico DF last year, I happened upon Dino del Cueto, and Cristina López Uribe, from UNAM’s Bitácora Arquitectura. 

I had too much on my plate, but the topic of the issue (Error) was irresistible, and, instead of publishing something already done (as they suggested), I decided to call in my better half, and design a piece on the power of satire, cartooning and caricature. The piece, which has quite a lot of Gombrich, along with quite some Buster Keaton, some LC, Piranesi, Hollein, and (of course) many other referents can be found on the journal’s webpage here (in Spanish). Below you can find a quick English translation of the first couple of pages, interspersed with the pages as published, which have the specially-made cartoons (click to enlarge) in them (I did manage to oblige myself to repurpose a couple of earlier cartoons, one from Thresholds and another one from A10, but, unfortunately, I couldn’t help drawing four new ones; don’t laugh: it’s a curse).


Twenty years ago, I attended a lecture given by Federico Soriano, who, armed with his trademark floral shirts and blank stares, began by showing several stills from One Week (1920) [1], the first film produced independently by Buster Keaton, which revolved around the disagreements of the protagonists regarding the construction of a house. This was a recurrent trope in the films of the first decades of the century, from Laurel & Hardy’s to Charlie Chase’s, particularly when the accessories of modernity came into play: specifically, the many mechanisms that literally transformed the house into a machine for living in. Keaton himself addressed this issue in other films, such as The Scarecrow (1920), and especially The Electric House (1922), adding to a genealogy probably started by Segundo de Chomón with The Electric Hotel (1908) which, some decades later, would find one of its most celebrated moments in Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958) [2].

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However, here the link with the architectural practice was even more straightforward, since the film portrayed the eventful construction -and later destruction- of a prefabricated house, conducted by the protagonist and his wife. The house was a simple two-story wooden structure which, according to the brochure, could be erected within a week’s time -hence the title-, merely requiring to be assembled, following the numbering on the boxes that contained the pieces. This apparently simple process goes off the rails, however, when Keaton’s rival – a spiteful suitor who had given the house to the newlyweds as a wedding present- sabotages the construction halfways by changing the numbers on the boxes. Oblivious to this ploy Keaton’s character continues the construction unperturbed, following what he believes to be the company’s instructions to the T -with hilarious consequences. The resulting building is a caricature of what a house of the time should look like, with uncanny angles, elements rotated and repositioned in absurd places, and many other defamiliarizing twists on the invariants of the typology.

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All throughout its footage, the film keeps showcasing these strategies that estrange the familiar, displaying floors and ceilings that suffer elastic deformations, rotating walls (a usual resource of slapstick cinema) and, in general, presenting an architecture which is anything but stable and/ or static. The second half of the film shows the house spinning vertiginously on its axis as a result of a storm and, afterwards, travelling on wheels (barrels, actually), once the owners realize that the lot they should have built it in is on the other side of the railroad. Of course, all this only helps make its deformation even worse. As could not be otherwise, the film ends with the eventual destruction of the building, when, following an unsuccessful attempt to move it to the correct plot, the little monstrosity is destroyed by a train, in a kind of benevolent euthanasia, after getting stuck on the railway tracks.

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In Soriano’s narrative, this film -which has become sort of a classic in modern disquisitions on architecture and housing- was used as an example of incorruptible commitment to a predetermined design process. Keaton’s character represents here the believer in following an a priori chosen method to its ultimate consequences, whatever these may be. This is an approach that understands architecture as a process -autonomous or otherwise- where the success of the final result may be more or less relevant, but is neither predetermined nor predictable when it is unleashed. Also, in Keaton’s film the process is triggered by error, but not by sheer chance. Error is not fortuitous, but premeditated (even if not by the executor himself), and although the initial change that triggers the process is both arbitrary and random (there is not an specific, but a generic goal behind the new arrangement: disorder itself), its execution, within the film’s narrative, is impeccably rigorous.

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However, and particularly with the advantage of looking back at it almost a century later, after the advent of protomodernity, modernity, postmodernity (and whatever we inhabit since then -liquid modernity, I guess), the film also exemplifies the creative potentialities of error as an automatic, uncontrolled and uncontrollable generator of new, unexpected ideas, or ideas-forms in architecture’s case. Other authors, such as Iñaki Ábalos have contributed less optimistic readings of the film, understanding that “although it soon become obvious that there is some kind of mistake, Keaton has no choice, no other thought model to oppose that of the manual, and blindly proceeds to a mechanical construction process in which the final result will become a cruel metaphor of the destiny of the couple and the institutional family in our days.”[3] Beyond these socio-architectural disquisitions, there is, however, an obvious overlap of the, then absurd, architectural form generated in/for the film and iconographies (and strategies) we are very familiar with today. The goal of the result of the architectural operation was, in the context of the film, exclusively diegetic, and undeniably humorous. In fact, the film was conceived as a parody of Home Made (1919), a Ford Motor Company-produced educational film on prefab housing -buildable in a week- which provided Keaton with many of the ideas on display in One Week. Consequently, it presented the viewer with a design that was, for all intents and purposes, a parody, or, better, a caricature of a known archetype, designed to arise laughter in the audience. The current validity of the gag [4] was proved by the unanimous laughter it raised at the lecture I mentioned at the beginning, in an auditorium exclusively populated by architects and students of architecture. [….]

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Luis Miguel Lus Arana: Quotidian [T]errors: Hyperbole, Caricature, Deformation and Other Catalysts of Invention. [Excerpt]. Bitácora Arquitectura nº 37 (2018); 120-135.



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So, since tomorrow, March 5, 2019, will see the announcement of the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize, I thought it might be worth to whet (y)our appetite with this short piece from last year. The text, published within my ongoing section ‘ArquiNoir’ in issue #84 of Mexican magazine Arquine, was written -as you probably guessed already- on occasion of last year’s award, which went to Balkrishna Doshi. However, as it’s traditional in the column, I barely touched upon Doshi, and rather went for a slightly humorous, somewhat sarcastic, and very brief review of the (also) brief history of the Prize -peppered with some saucy vignettes that have taken place in the four decades that have gone by since it was created.

The text was originally written in (perfect) Spanish, so some adaptations were done here and there so as to limit the wonkiness of the English translation. For the original text, as well as a view of both the cartoon and the essay as they were published in the magazine, just scroll down. For past cartoons on the Pritzker Prize, click here.


According to Brendan Gill (not to be confused with Iker Gil), secretary of the Pritzker Prize between 1985 and 1987 and author of the column “The Sky Line” for the New Yorker, shortly before leaving the secretariat he received a call at the offices of the organization. The hoarse voice on the other side of the wire was that of Gordon Bunshaft, who, working for SOM has left us some of the best works produced by American corporate architecture, such as the Lever House. According to Gill, Bunshaft “had long coveted the prize” (which actually had only run for eight editions), and phoned to ask about the nomination process. Gill informed him that anyone could propose a candidate, and that “many times friends or admirers of an architect would write in to propose him”. So, with proverbial pragmatism, Bunshaft nominated himself[1]. He would show similar pragmatism a few months later when he picked up the prize -ex-aequo with Oscar Niemeyer-, delivering an acceptance speech of less than 60 words[2].

Bunshaft’s is surely one of the most colorful anecdotes in the History of a prize which, inevitably, have never been without controversy. When Niemeyer and Bunshaft were honored exactly 30 years ago now, Paul Goldberger counter-attacked in the pages of the New York Times, speaking out against the policy of rewarding these ‘White Old Men’ (my words, not his), old glories whose work he regarded as totally off-tune with the reality of the time[3]. Surely Mr. Goldberger still thinks the same today, at 67 years old. I certainly do think the same as six years ago, when I wrote (sorry for the self-quotation) that “[o]ver the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from outside the Anglo-Saxon market. [4]

Six years later, I still think that, despite the fact that the organization itself claims on its own website that [m]any of the procedures and rewards of the Pritzker Prize are modeled after the Nobel Prize, the comparison with the Oscars is a sounder one. I also still have hope, as I said then, that at some point Peter Eisenman plays the role of Martin Scorsese when, in 2006, he finally picked up a prize awarded rather for his glorious past than for the film that served as an excuse. This would honor the tradition I already outlined -and, in light of Eisenman’s work in the last thirty years, it’s in the only possible option, anyway. They have also adopted other customs of the Academy, such as delivering posthumous prizes: in 2015, the announcement of Frei Otto’s award took place two weeks earlier than usual… and one day after the architect’s demise, despite tje Prize’s stated purpose to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, etc., etc.” If they intend to reward the only member of the New York Five still available -Meier already got his more than three decades ago-, and only as a preventive measure, perhaps they should hurry up a little (the same would apply to César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio or Arata Isozaki -and even Stanley Tigerman, since we’re at it).

Not an easy feat for him, though. It is true that during its first, the prize had a marked local nature, awarding Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983), Richard Meier (1984), the aforementioned Gordon Bunshaft (1988), and Frank Gehry (1989) – Robert Venturi would be added to the list in 1991. However, we would have to wait until Thom Mayne got it in 2005 to find another American (US, I mean) Pritzker, and none other has been elected since. The most elementary arithmetic of architectural criticism tells us, therefore, that the United States has one Pritzker for every 40.7 million inhabitants, very far from Portugal, which, with its 10.32 million has already obtained two, and from Japan, whose five winners almost make one for every 21.16 million -almost in a technical draw with the United Kingdom (Mexico is far behind, with its -still- only winner dating back to the early days of the award).

However, in spite of its international projection, the award has somehow managed to avoid  some of the controversies that the Oscars have gone through, such as the one attached to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016 (although racial diversity, minus the cases of Japan and the nationalized Pei, has been, let’s say, quite limited). There will always be cynics who see in Wang Shu’s 2012 nomination a marketing device similar to that of Hollywood films which introduce Asian actors to make their way into the Chinese market. There will also be some who think that to award the prize to B.V. Doshi is a gesture of Western paternalism, which somehow rewards his relationship with Le Corbusier. It will not be me who makes such unfair remarks. I won’t be the one, either, who, in line with the movement Time’s Up, will accuse the organization of sexism, for leaving Denise Scott Brown out in 1991, while including a forty-year-old Ryue Nishizawa in 2010 it.

And I will not do it because, regardless of how fair -or extremely unfair- their decision might be, we will criticize them with equal fury. Who will be next? As Marcos Mundstock would say, “place your bullets, gentlemen![5]

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza”, in The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] It consisted of exactly 58 words: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, in Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988.

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call?, in Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] In the original text, the sentence is the untranslatable play on words “¡hagan fuego, señores! “. Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)



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De acuerdo con Brendan Gill (no confundir con Iker Gil), secretario del Pritzker Prize entre 1985 y 1987 y autor de la columna “The Sky Line” para el New Yorker, poco antes de dejar la secretaría recibió una llamada en las oficinas de la organización. La voz ronca al otro lado del hilo era la de Gordon Bunshaft, arquitecto que trabajando para SOM nos ha dejado algunas de las mejores obras producidas por la arquitectura corporativa estadounidense, como la Lever House. De acuerdo con Gill, Bunshaft “hacía mucho tiempo que codiciaba el premio” (que en realidad tan sólo había tenido ocho ediciones), y llamaba para interesarse por el proceso de nominación. Gill le informó de que cualquiera podía nominar un candidato, y que “muchas veces amigos o admiradores de un arquitecto escribían para proponerlo”. Así que, con proverbial pragmatismo, Bunshaft se nominó a sí mismo[1]. Similar pragmatismo exhibiría unos meses después cuando recogiera el premio, ex-aequo con Oscar Niemeyer, y pronunciara un discurso de aceptación que no llegó a las 60 palabras[2].

La de Bunshaft es seguramente una de las anécdotas más coloridas dentro de la historia de unos premios que, como no puede ser de otra manera, nunca han estado exentos de polémica. Ya cuando Niemeyer y Bunshaft fueron galardonados hace ahora exactamente 30 años, Paul Goldberger arremetía en las páginas del New York Times contra la política de premiar a estos ‘White Old Men’ (mis palabras, no las suyas), viejas glorias cuya obra él veía en total falta de sintonía con la realidad actual[3]. Seguramente el Sr. Goldberger sigue opinando lo mismo hoy en día, a sus 67 años. Yo, ciertamente, opino lo mismo que hace seis cuando escribía (perdón por la autocita) que “a lo largo de los años la organización de los Pritzker ha combinado dos estrategias: por una parte, la de ser totalmente predecibles y postrarse ante el statu quo arquitectónico galardonando, a la manera de los Oscars,  a los cada vez menos numerosos miembros del ‘star(chitectural) system’ que quedan, aunque sea en momentos no particularmente memorables de sus carreras; por otra, la de alternar a estos con nombres menos conocidos, generalmente esforzados artesanos procedentes de fuera del mercado anglosajón.[4]

Seis años después, sigo pensando que, pese a que la propia organización insista desde su propia página web en que “muchos de los procedimientos y premios del Pritzker… han tomado como modelo a los Premios Nobel”, la comparación con los Oscar es más acertada. También sigo esperando, como afirmaba entonces, que en algún momento Peter Eisenman haga las veces de Martin Scorsese cuando en 2006 recogía por fin un premio que lo era más por pasadas glorias que por el film que le servía de excusa. Esto se correspondería con la tradición antes apuntada para los Pritzker -y, a la luz de la obra de Eisenman en las últimas tres décadas, es en cualquier caso la única opción posible. También han adoptado otras costumbres de la Academia, como la de entregar premios póstumos: en 2015, el anuncio del premio de Frei Otto tuvo lugar dos semanas antes de lo habitual… y un día después del fallecimiento del arquitecto, pese a su objetivo declarado de “homenajear a un arquitecto vivo cuyo trabajo construido demuestra una combinación de las cualidades del talento, la visión, el compromiso, etc., etc.” Si tienen intención de premiar al único miembro de los New York Five que queda libre -Meier ya obtuvo el suyo hace más de tres décadas-, y únicamente como medida preventiva, quizá deberían acelerar los tiempos (lo mismo aplicaría a César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio o Arata Isozaki, e incluso a Stanley Tigerman, ya puestos).

No lo tiene fácil, en cualquier caso. Es cierto que durante la primera década de su historia, los premios tuvieron una marcada componente local, con premios para Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983) Richard Meier (1984), el ya mencionado Gordon Bunshaft (1988) y Frank Gehry (1989), a los que se sumaría Robert Venturi en 1991. Sin embargo, habría que esperar hasta Thom Mayne en 2005  para encontrar otro estadounidense, y desde entonces ninguno más ha sido seleccionado. La aritmética elemental de la crítica arquitectónica nos dice, por tanto, que Estados Unidos cuenta con un Pritzker por cada 40,7 millones de habitantes, muy lejos de Portugal, que con 10,32 millones ya ha obtenido dos, y de Japón, que con sus cinco premiados toca a uno por cada 21,16 millones, casi en empate técnico con el Reino Unido (atrás queda México, con su aún único premio relegado a los comienzos del galardón).

Esta proyección internacional ha soslayado sin embargo alguna de las carencias que han propiciado algunas controversias de los Oscar, como la relativa al #OscarsSoWhite de 2015, si bien la diversidad racial, fuera de los casos de Japón y del nacionalizado Pei, ha sido, por ponerlo generosamente, limitada. Siempre habrá cínicos que vean en la nominación de Wang Shu en 2012 una maniobra de marketing similar a la de los filmes de Hollywood cuando introducen actores asiáticos para abrirse camino en el mercado chino. También habrá quien opine que galardonar a B.V. Doshi es un gesto de paternalismo occidentalista, que premia su relación con Le Corbusier. No seré yo quien haga tan injustas apreciaciones. Tampoco seré yo, al hilo del movimiento Time’s Up, quien acuse de sexismo a la organización, que en 1991 dejó fuera a Denise Scott Brown, pero en 2010 incluyó a un Ryue Nishizawa de cuarenta y pocos años.

Y no lo haré porque, independientemente de lo acertado o extremadamente desacertado de sus decisiones, los criticaremos con igual saña. ¿A quién le tocará el próximo? Como diría Marcos Mundstock, “¡hagan fuego, señores![5]“.

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza” en The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] Fueron exactamente 58: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, en Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988;

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call? en Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

————————–Klaus, “¡Han cantado Pritzker!”, Arquinoir, Arquine nº 84: La Apariencia del Espacio / The Appearance of Space, Verano / Summer 2018.




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Just a quick note to let you know that next Thursday (Feb 28th), I will be joining the Multistory Guest Lecture Series at the Canterbury School of Architecture (UCA – University for the Creative Arts). A link to the event can be found here.

Thanks for the kind invitation, and a special thank you to Daniel Stilwell for his personal involvement. See you there if you’re around!



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So, continuing with the crazy -and lengthy- trip season of 2018, starting on next Thursday and till the end of July, I’ll move my headquarters to that island up on Europe’s left corner. Thanks to a kind invitation from the School of architecture, Planning and Landscape of the University of Newcastle, I’ll spend six months working and teaching (just a little, not too much) with my colleague and expert on Architectural Design Dr. Stephen Parnell (@BetonBrutopia).

As usual, I’ll travel around speaking here and there (Canterbury and London, as of now,  Liverpool possibly). I’ll keep informing.

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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!


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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