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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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Clog - Rem - It's not easy being Kool

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“[…] For those who were already, let’s say, ‘architecturally active’ in the 90s, the second half of the decade featured an increasing presence of Koolhaas-isms in the architecture published  by architectural media. Be it young offices paging Bakema through the Educatorium (those ubliquitous ‘single surfaces’ Jeff Kipnis still chitchatted on in his lectures more than ten years later), forests of tilted pilotis, cheap rubber surfaces or else, OMA’s supposed ‘house style’ had permeated through a whole generation that made justice to the old Spanish writer’s adagio: “Blessed are our imitators, for theirs will be our flaws”. Because, notwithstanding their varying degrees of success, none of those byproducts of OMA’s discourse seemed able to grasp its spirit. And it still goes on… monkey see, monkey do.

But, which is this discourse? Certainly, Koolhaas’ scant prose is, within its own scarcity, rich in suggestive, elusive terms: Manhattanization, Junkspace, Bigness -and you really know you have made it when Hal Foster writes a review of something like the Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping [ii]. However, as in Foucault’s Other Spaces/Hetrotopias, these are texts and terms that one seems to be able to make less sense of with each subsequent reading. All in all, it seems just a private a game, carefully designed to keep his audience intrigued while feeding his own legend by building an aura of impenetrability, to the point that one’s tempted to believe that every move is carefully staged: His carefully careless lectures, his unsophisticated, even clumsy descriptions of his own buildings, or his nervous, uncomfortable responses in interviews, all contribute to enlarge the halo of mystery that surrounds him. And, as I deduce from his always packed , rock-star-like conferences, it definitely works.

Five years ago, I published the first ‘Hope’ cartoon, with Mr. K posing as Shepard Fairey’s Obama. Five years later, I still wonder how many people did not get it was a joke.”

[i] See Heron, Katrina: ‘From Bauhaus to Koolhaas’ in Wired issue 4.07, July 1996.

[ii] See Foster, Hal: ‘Bigness’, in London Review of Books Vol. 23, no. 23, 29 November 2001.

Klaus: It’s not easy being Kool – 2001 ways to misinterpret Koolhaas… and help him have it his way (excerpt) in VV.AA: Clog: REM, June 2014.

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So, in a sort of smart, happy and -also- inevitable move, the guys at Clog magazine sort of celebrated their 3rd anniversary (really, 11 issues already??) with their issue CLOG: REM, just in time for the Biennale. They also thought –as, apparently, everyone else– it was sort of inevitable to ask me to contribute. Of course, they were particularly entitled to, since they made sure to have me in Clog from the very beginning. Just  click on the “clog” tag in this very site and you’ll get the idea. Also, they decided to open the issue with my contribution, which was very nice on their part. Thanks, guys! Oh, and a tip of the hat to Benjamin Greaves (@MrGreavesSaysfor providing me with the title.

P.S.: For those among you who may have noticed, I’ve made a point of celebrating the 5 anniversary of “On Starchitecture” by using vriations of the “Hope” cartoon on all my contributions published around the time of the Biennale’s opening (all of them revolving about REMdamentals, of course). So far, you can check “Fundamentally… Myself” (in Spanish) in Mexican Magazine Arquine #68, and Keep your eyes open for Uncube #24: Mexico City.

It's not easy being Kool

Clog - REM - Cover - back cover

CLOG: REM, with contributions by Michael Abrahamson, Stan Allen, Joseph Altshuler, Serafina Amoroso, Haik Avanian, Cecil Balmond, Dorin Baul, Aaron Betsky, Petra Blaisse, Jim Bogle, Ole Bouman, Mat Bower, Eric de Broche des Combes, Brian Bruegge, Galo Canizares, Stephen Cassell, Archie Lee Coates IV, Rene Daalder, Ozge Diler, Ryan Drummond, Keefer Dunn, A. A. Dutto, Erez Ella, Valeria Federighi, Kim Förster, Jeffrey Franklin, Joseph Godlewski, Adam Himes, Matthias Hollwich, Julia van den Hout, Frances Hsu, Bernard Hulsman, Hans Ibelings, Klaus, Charlie Koolhaas, Tomas Koolhaas, Andrew Kovacs, Jimenez Lai, Stephanie Lee, Thomas Lozada, Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs, Brandon Martinez, Isaac Mathew, Kyle May, Philipp Oswalt, Roberto Otero, Steven K. Peterson, Wim Pijbes, Jacob Reidel, Michael Rock, Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, Fernando Romero, Alejandro Sanchez, Mika Savela, Jonathan A. Scelsa, Kyle Schumann, Brian Slocum, Galia Solomonoff, Frederieke Taylor, Will Thomson, Madelon Vriesendrop, Luke Yosuke Willis, Human Wu, Albena Yaneva, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Zoe Zenghelis

Violeau - Rem, Le Bon, la Brute

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Les Éditions B2 is an indie publisher based in Paris, specialized in the publication of short -and not that short- texts that engage architecture from a variety of peripheral viewpoints. In their own words:

“Les collections B2 se proposent d’édifier un « cabinet de curiosités » architectural arpentant, dans le temps et dans l’espace, de Los Angeles à Vladivostok et de l’an mil à nos jours, une infinité d’espèces d’espaces et d’hétérotopies baroques… Embryonnaire, cette « Galaxie Gutenberg » s’organise principalement autour de plusieurs constellations – dont certaines n’existent pas encore…”

McLuhanisms aside, the different collections put together by Éditions B2: Actualités, Contre-Cultures, Design, Fac-Simile, Flashback, Patrimoine, Societé, Territoires… are -and I can testify this because I have 2 Kg. worth of their books sitting on my desk- a true culinary delicacy. Printed in small formats, those mini-books (hi, Tom Kaczynski), are a sort of delicatessen where the impatient reader can find a variety of texts by Paul Andreu et Nathalie Roseau, Beatriz Colomina, Claude Parent, Antoine Picon, Felicity Scott, Kim Jong-Il (no, I’m not kidding), Richard Buckminster Fuller, Louis XIV, Raymond Hood, my beloved Carol Willis, Louis Sullivan, and a neverending list of other authors.

Some months ago, Nikola Jankovic, chief editor of B2, informed me that a book by Jean-Louis Violeau dealing with Koolhaas was in the works, and asked me if I would be ok if they produced a booklet with all the “Hope” cartoons inside… adding to some other provocation. My curiosity piqued, I couldn’t but say “go with it”, and this was the outcome.

 Violeau - Rem, Le Bon, la Brute 02

I’m so slow updating the blog that Alejandro Hernández (@), editor in Mexican über-magazine Arquine, tweeted this pic of the book before I started writing this. There are 12 more pages like those, which can be found in their original context here and here. That’s Ethel Baraona on the far right, in a precognitive vision of her own presence at the Biennale. 

Russ Meyer would have been proud, Remment.

Violeau, Jean-Louis: REM. Le Bon, la Brute… Paris: Éditions B2. Collection CONTRE-CULTURES, 2014.

So, before January is over, I’d like to post the first one in a series of posts that look back at some of the stuff that happened in 2013 but which, due to the hectic-ness of these last months, had to wait till now. So, as a starting point, I thought it would be nice to celebrate the imminent -and eminent- first anniversary of my ongoing collaboration with Uncube Magazine, a Berlin-based, online journal that has managed to make its own place in the netsphere through a steady flow of thematic, monthly issues, since August 2012.

Drifting a little from my usually elusive manners, I offered them to draw an egotistic strip, “Numerus Klausus”, commenting on current issues on and around architecture in my own section within the magazine, ‘Klaus’ Kube’. Of course, even though it started as a regular-looking comic strip, they soon talked me into doing something a little more complex -they didn’t have to try too hard. Some of the strips are still pretty elusive, but at least this time their backstory is easier to trace back. Also, the editors’ suggestions gave me the opportunity to feature a lot of guest stars, such as the inevitable Rem-the-Man, but also MVRDV, Rafael Viñoly, Renzo Piano, Kieran Long, Pink Floyd (seriously), Florian Heilmeyer, Sophie Lovell, Zaha Hadid, Gregg Lynn, sylvia Lavin, Jean Nouvel or Sigmund Freud.

Scroll down for the whole series (including two non-posted ones)

Klaus's Kube 01 Delusional EconomiesI. Delusional Economies, in Uncube’s blogklaus Kube 02 You're so Kool blogII. You’re so Kool in Uncube Magazine # 07 : Off-places.

NK 03 On Intellectuality blogIII. On Intellectuality in Uncube Magazine #9: Constructing Images

NK 04 Taylorist Designs 01 blogIV. Tayloredist Designs in Uncube Magazine #9: Constructing Images

MVRDV Cloud EncountersV. Cloud Encounters of the 911th Kind in Uncube issue #10: Wood, Paper Pulp

NK06 - DEF 03 smVI. Metropol Para-Poli in Uncube Magazine #11: Charles CorreaUncube Numerus Klausus 07  Architecture Mon AmourVII. Architecture, Mon Amour in Uncube Magazine #12: Into the Desert NK08 02 xsmVIII. One of my Turns in Uncube Magazine #13: BerlinNK09 Viñoly attacks uncube 03IX. Faulty Towers in Uncube Magazine #15: Small Towns, Big ArchitectureShardnadoX. Shardnado! in Uncube Magazine #14: Veins

NK 11 01 smXI. Form Follows Friction in Uncube #17: Construct Africa

This last one came after a suggestion (as another one preceding it and yet one more to come) by Sophie Lovell, who thought it would be better not to have me making humor of anything Africa-related, and asked me to tackle on Zaha Hadid’s vagina-like stadium instead. I have to say that, were I an editor, the prospect of myself being given free reign to draw vaginas in the magazine wouldn’t make me any less worried, anyhoo… so, consequently, I took the opportunity to throw in some of all this phallic proliferation that’s been happening lately in architecture, ranging from Jean Nouvel’s dildo to Foster’s recently-flaccid Gherkin, China’s People’s Daily Newspaper circumcised HQ, or that infamous church that looks like a penis in aerial view (if you’re interested in this highly intellectual topic, check Cabinet Magazine’s 2003 Competition for the Most Phallic Building in the World). It also gave me the chance to feature Gregg Lynn and Sylvia Lavin (not her first time in the blog), who’s the subject of a cartoon I never get to sit and draw. Over there, writing on his blog in Providence, David Brussat identified this as an ITD (Internet transmitted Disease): “Klaustoon on Koolhaas and Penises” at Architecture Here and There.

Next issue, it  will be FAT time.

MAS_Context_Analog_2012_Iker_Gil_04Photograph by Matthew Messner

The lapse from 2012 to 2013 and the months that followed have been a particularly busy period, both regarding my work as Klaus and my scholarly life, so almost a year has gone by without my posting a single word about the ARCHITECTURAL NARRATIVES Exhibition in the MAS Context: analog event in Chicago, last October.

Following an urge to give credit to all those people who insist in organizing those things for me (since none of this would happen if we had to wait for myself to take the initiative), I would like to thank Iker Gil, from MAS Studio, for insisting in putting this together. As in previous occasions, MAS Context: Analog was organized as a one-day event gathering emerging and established practitioners within the field of design who discussed their work. This time, the event included presentations by Sean Lally, David Brown, David Rueter, John Pobojewski, Sara C. Aye & George Aye, and many more. The event took place in Saturday, October 13 2012, and it was housed by NEW PROJECTS, an urban design studio, research center, and exhibition space in Chicago directed by Marshall Brown and Stephanie Smith located at 3621 South State Street in Chicago.

MAS_Context_Analog_2012_Iker_Gil_08Photograph by Iker Gil

This time the event also opened the exhibition “Architectural Narratives”, which was available for viewing for the whole next month, and featured a number of works by Jimenez Lai and yours truly. The original plan had been to entitle the exhibition “Building Stories”, after Chris Ware’s eponymous magna opus, but, as it happened, Mr Ware himself was having his own exhibition entitled that way in the Adam Baumgold Gallery and Carl Hammer Gallery (Chicago) in those very days (serendipity). Still, the exhibition looked really nice, and worked as the basis for a bigger (and exhausting) collaboration with MAS Context that will show its results before the end of the year.

Scroll down for some images of the event or go to the entry on the event at  MAS Context’s website.

MAS_Context_Analog_2012_Iker_Gil_03 MAS_Context_Analog_2012_Iker_Gil_05 MAS_Context_Analog_2012_Iker_Gil_06

Photographs by Iker Gil

klaus Kube 02 You're so Kool blog

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Ok, let’s see if I can bring this back on trail. I really need to catch up with the blog.

This comes from Uncube Magazine # 07 : Off-places. The published version is slightly different. In the same issue, there’s an interview with Gottfried Böhm by Florian Heilmeyer which is really worth checking, if you’re a Brutalist fanatic such as myself. So go check it.

Come on.

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(…) Digging into the dirty laundry of the architectural star-system is, in any case, neither a recent phenomenon nor a curiosity exclusively circumscribed to today’s divas. The mouth-to-ear airing of our architectural heroes’ private sins has been an inevitable aside of their rise as idols. Small talk on the lower passions of the masters of the past has accompanied the writing of the big lines of the History of Modern Architecture, and along with our worshiping of their oeuvre comes the delight to learn about their quaintest interiorities: Mies van der Rohe´s infamous (non) affairs with Ms. Farnsworth, Alvar Aalto´s alcoholism -a recurring topic for Finnish cartoonists3, or Le Corbusier´s pathological Messianic obsessions are personal details that have transcended the boundaries of scientific biographies to become precious pieces of information we love adding to our common knowledge of them. We need both heroes and villains: The formers to inspire us, the latter to offer us some moral relief at the sight of a worse human being than ourselves. But even more, we’d rather having our heroes be our villains too. Some will argue that these minor flaws humanize our icons, making them flesh and blood human beings we can better relate to, and certainly this “fleshing out” helps build our interest on them. But this humanization is also an excuse that sugarcoats a very straight forward preservation mechanism, devised to protect our self-esteem at that point where admiration meets sheer envy. There’s nothing we love more than a rags to riches story -except for a riches to rags story, that is.

A most interesting reversion of this turns up, however, when these minutiae actually become an integral part of the mythos, to the point of being vital contributors to its very construction. Again, the careful devise of its own legend was an inherent feature of architecture’s entrance into modernity, often created as a fiction before it really happened. (…) The fascinating point here is how this emergence of gossiping contributes to the creation of the starchitect; how in the case of contemporary icons such as Rem Koolhaas it´s the unofficial flux of information surrounding the figure which ultimately elevates him into a legendary status.

Of course, in the case of Koolhaas the shaping of this aura is also engineered through conventional means; Koolhaas is a sharp thinker and an eloquent writer and spokesman who has shaken the architectural scene of the last decades with acute reflections of deliberate and controlled ambiguity. But even more than through his words, the Koolhaas mediatic persona has been constructed through a parallel dissemination of details about his behind-the-scenes: stories that tell us of a man who lives in airplanes, sending by mail corrections for a document he was given in a meeting a few hours before, of a Renaissance man who swims every time he lands, or wins a competition with a single, cunning speech5. All this mouth-to-ear stories, propagated through the netsphere, contribute to endow his figure with an halo of epic mystery that propells him into an almost superhuman category. Koolhaas is the über-example of the starchitect, where the personality comes first and the work second. And that’s the bottom line: Koolhaas can produce starchitecture because he is, first and foremost, a star. Le Corbusier´s delightully maudit portrait, painting nude in Saint Tropez has been replaced by a cover of L’Uomo Vogue.

But public notoriety is as easy to gather in the age of software as difficult to retain. The internet era is also the age of the twitterization of knowledge, a time where information both reigns and deflates, where news are as ubiquitous as thoroughly made-to-forget, immediately replaced by new installments. The same could be said about some of the architecture produced by this idiosyncrasy, made to glow for a moment and quickly disappear; architecture of futile monumentality and inevitable ephemerality designed within a discipline obsessed with creating the building of the century… of the week. In this new paradigm, the (st)architect has to become a public figure, an entertainer, a performer, or even, if needed, a celebrity of the Kardashian kind. The World Wide Web and the rapid production allowed by digital tools have multiplied the presence of architecture in everyday life, and have worked together to create a new type of architect sustained above all by his communication skills. The internet, blog culture, Twitter, have leveled the capability of everyone to achieve their share of Warholian fame, but in turn, their allotted fifteen minutes have been drastically reduced to -maybe- fifteen seconds. The attention of the audience, brought up in a solid diet of continuous novelty, is volatile, and the architecture of today has to keep nourishing its audience at a steady pace, or risk disappearing from the picture right away.

And it is in this context where gossip, criticism and satire, emerge as tools for the maintenance of public presence. The internet has also revived the long-loved tradition of the fast gag, the sketchy commentary, and the cartoon, which offer the necessary escape route for the asfixiating ubiquity and self-indulgence of architectural discourse. As any endogamic discipline, architecture has a record of taking itself too seriously, and of alternating victimism and self-deprecation with tremendous arrogance and a myopic lack of perspective (ironic as it is) on the relevance of its own obsessions. The reemergence of satire appears as a natural counterbalance for this, offering us a way to mock our loved-hated idols that’s apparently naive, inoffensive (but with the potential to become really offensive), and sublimate our frustration through ironic laughter, instead of bitter full-frontal (yes) criticism, while at the same time, reinforcing the (com)position of the starchitectural who’s who. As Oscar Wilde, via some of our infamous celebrities, would point out, the ultimate goal is to be talked about so as to be (there), even if just to be thrashed, and architects, with their fragile yet unrestrained egos, become the ideal victim/beneficiary of this revival. Today, gossip refashions itself as a form of viral advertising. The motto is “keep them talking”. (…)

Tell me more! – Gossiping, cartooning, and the nourishing of the  Starchitectural status quo

Conditions magazine #10: Gossip, July 2012

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The above are some excerpts from a (not really much longer) article published in the last issue of Conditions magazine, which I received last month, in the middle of the busiest July I can remember. Conditions is an independent Scandinavian magazine on Architecture and Urbanism edited by Joana da Rocha Sá Lima, Tor Inge Hjemdal, and  Anders Melsom whose next issue, “Possible Greenland”, will be part of the official catalogue of this year’s Danish/Greenlandic contribution to the Venice Biennale. Conditions #10 is dedicated to gossip, and features contributions by Robert Somol, Eduard Sancho, Christian Hjelle, Irene Hwang, Ed Ogosta, Espen Vatn, Freddy Massad&Alicia Guerrero Yeste, Roberto Naboni, Iben Falconer and yours truly. The essay above was written around the same time as Modern Talking, the article published in Mas Context #14: Communication that tackled on some overlapping issues, which explains the recurrent use of some examples and ramblings; either that or I’m entering a wino-in-a-bar dynamics where I just keep repeating the same the same stuff over and over. Please, be forgiving.

If you want to read the full article, click in the images below, or -much better- order a copy here. You can also read the text of Eduard Sancho’s And if most of the job offers are fake? here. Special thanks to Gislunn Halfdanardottir.

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Once upon a time, people compared with their neighbors. Your neighbor was your point of reference and thus the most desirable object of gossip and eavesdropping. Not so anymore. In the world of global networking, you are driven by ambition to compare yourself with the most clever or world-renowned exponents of your trade. Even a critique, satire or parody of the star-system of architecture is an affirmation of its hegemony. Who doesn’t want to be the object of architecture gossip? After all, it’s giving the “stars” more attention, no matter how critical the original intention was. For addicts of gossip, all news is good news, the worst thing is silence, and even a well mediated “scandal” can actually promote your career.
The current issue of CONDITIONS investigates the function of gossip in architecture. Gossip has always been around in architecture as one of the oldest ways of sharing, maneuvering and convincing. But how does it manifest itself today within the instant culture of internet and social media? What is the role of gossip in contemporary networking? Has the logic of gossip and instant gratification also penetrated what we used to call architectural critique?
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