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Klaus

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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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klaus in marina city_02

Shameless posing in Marina City

In this week and the following, I’ll be giving a couple of lectures in Chicago. The first one will be a short presentation in the third edition of MAS Context : Analog, a one-day event of talks, exhibitions, and an onsite pop-up bookstore. The event, which will take place on Saturday, June 4, 2016,  is organized in collaboration with AIGA as part of Chicago Design Week and it will be hosted at Studio Gang Architects. You can find the full details on MAS Context’s website here. There will also be a limited edition of prints, signed and numbered, available for purchase.

The other event will be a longer lecture, titled Architectural Narratives / Building Stories and hosted by the Graham Foundation, which will take place on June 7, 2016. Full details here. This lecture is also presented in partnership with MAS Context, a quarterly journal that addresses issues that affect the urban context.

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.

 

NK 23 -Pritzker 2015

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Back in March The Pritzker Award Committee announced that this year’s laureate would be Frei Otto. This was excellent news, especially for all megastructural-age nostalgics such as myself… if not for the unfortunate coincidence that Mr. Otto had sadly passed away a coupla days before that. Michael Graves, who passed away almost simultaneously, was not so lucky (I felt dirty I had done this some years earlier). Now, I’m not saying that Mr. (excuse me: Lord) Palumbo & friends changed their minds and tried to fix the mistake not to have awarded him a Pritzker in all these past occasions where they chose to reward today’s more popular and ‘kewl’ megastars… (I’m not saying it because I had actually drawn another cartoon just doing that -don’t look for it, it rests in one of my drawers). However, it would be nice if the Pritzker committee avoided pulling a Spencer Tracy and rushed a little to distribute those ones still missing. You’re running out of time, guys.

Here you have a few comments from other laureates praising Frei Otto. Please, try not to laugh at some of them.

Of course, the title is a pun on this.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #33: Frei Otto, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. Worth checking, really.

NK 22 blog

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So, yes, my dear(s). The basic gag is exactly the same as the one in the previous post, only reversed this time. Anyone who’s been following this blog, read a few of my texts or just within a few kilometer-radius of me knows what I think about the late-90s-2000s fever with starchitecture and the effects it has had on the urban scene around the globe. Mostly, the post-Guggenheim re-discovery of architecture as a marketing device, fueled by politicians and entrepeneurs alike, and invaluably helped by (star)chitect’s egos has resulted into the transformation of much -not a grammatical error- of our cities into Architectural Theme Parks. Even Bilbao, which stands as the epytome of success in urban renewal, has performed its renovation in a bleak post-industrial scenario with some casualties: namely, a big chunk of its own personality.

So, when Sophie Lovell e-mailed me to remind me that I had completely forgotten I had a deadline for their issue on Universal Exhibitions, I did the obvious and wondered what flashy architecture would look like in a few decades’ time. In retrospect, this was maybe not the funniest out of the different ideas I considered for this issue, but, hey, it looks kinda cute, doesn’t it?

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #32: Expotecture, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al.

NK16_Biennale non Banale_sm

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So, in order to continue adding my dubious contribution to Archdaily’s celebration of Mr K’s 70th birthday, here you have a cartoon originally published in Uncube Magazine #23, Mexico CityThis one was drawn by the time the Biennale opened, some months ago, but since it overlapped with some other Koolhaas-related cartoons (see Clog, for instance, or my previous post for Arquine), I decided to keep it for the Biennale’s closure. Now that time has arrived, and the fact that it now overlaps with Koolhaas’ b-day just makes it all more deliciously graphic. I’m not going to enter again the debate on how this Biennale, with its allegedly anti-star system approach, works too well as a self-celebrating vehicle: -“Let’s talk about architecture, not architects”. – “Where’s that motto from?” – “From Koolhaas’ Biennale.” By excluding everyone else, Koolhaas makes himself the only character in his own show, which unfolds to the viewer in all its full-fledged, pseudo-analytic banality. I would say “I already toldya so”, in my first contribution for Uncube, but I doubt there was anyone who thought otherwise when it was announced.

Ahhhh… rants… what would life be like without them?

NK17 inks 04_blog

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Limited and traditional definitions of architecture and its means have lost their validity. Today the environment as a whole is the goal of our activities—and all the media of its determination: TV or artificial climate, transportation or clothing, telecommunication or shelter. The extension of the human sphere and the means of its determination go far beyond a built statement. Today everything becomes architecture. “Architecture” is just one of many means, is just one possibility. […] Architecture is a medium of communication.

[…] For thousands of years, artificial transformation and determination of man’s world, as well as sheltering from weather and climate, was accomplished by means of building. The building was the essential manifestation and expression of man. Building was understood as the creation of a three-dimensional image of the necessary as spatial definition, protective shell, mechanism and instrument, psychic means and symbol. The development of science and technology, as well as changing society and its needs and demands, has confronted us with entirely different realities. Other and new media of environmental determination emerge. […] Obviously it no longer occurs to anyone to wall-in sewage canals or erect astronomical instruments of stone (Jaipur). New communications media like telephone, radio. TV, etc. are of far more import. Today a museum or a school can be replaced by a TV set. Architects must cease to think only in terms of buildings.

[…] Thus a building might be simulated only. An early example of the extension of buildings through media of communication is the telephone booth —a building of minimal size extended into global dimensions. Environments of this kind more directly related to the human body and even more concentrated in form are, for example, the helmets of jet pilots who, through telecommunication, expand their senses and bring vast areas into direct relation with themselves. Toward a synthesis and to an extreme formulation of a contemporary architecture leads the development of space capsules and space suits. Here is a “house”—far more perfect than any building—with a complete control of bodily functions, provision of food and disposal of waste, coupled with a maximum mobility. […] A true architecture of our time will have to redefine itself and expand its means. Many areas outside traditional building will enter the realm of architecture, as architecture and “architects” will have to enter new fields.

All are architects. Everything is architecture.

Hans Hollein: “Alles Ist Architektur”. Bau 1/2, 1968

[Full text and original article at Socks’ blog]

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #24: Hans Hollein, edited by Sophie Lovell, Floriaon Heilmeyer, Elvia Wilk et al, which deals entirely with Hollein’s work with some help of Madalena Boavida, Susie S. Lee, Wilfried Kuehn, Marlies Wirth, Oliver Elser, Rob Wilsonet al. Highly recommended reading.

For some further reading on a man who made the world a more interesting place, check Dezeen’s April 2014 obituary, or some words on him by Charles Holland  ( ), who echoes Hollein in more aspects than his name. I know: there’s a ‘Numerus Klausus’ issue missing. It’ll come later.

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