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Rem Koolhaas

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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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a10- 60 - Julien de Smedt

JDS Plotting

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In your view, how do design and architecture relate?

It starts with architecture; that’s what I have been involved in the longest. MWA [Makers With Agendas] is an extension of that, but in some ways it goes further. It is easier distributed and available for more people. A building is a single event and is eventually only used by a few. It has a given set of users. MWA has extended our reach and our ideas to a larger population.

Ideas like obesity, education, areas of conflict… huge and complicated stuff.

If the issues are bigger, the products are smaller and more pervasive. We’re not trying to be freaks, but the reverse creation process we’re setting up is like an anomaly, if compared to the big brands. As we develop and extend our resources, we can make more complex products that need more research and thus more money, but are also more influential. The issues at stake sometimes lead to the conclusion that a real resolution would be a change in the law, but as far as our capacity goes now, it’s though the ingenuity of our designs that we aim to make life better. […] MWA derives from an urge to understand other forces that drive the world. My architecture goes in the same direction, but to really address societal issues one needs to utilize other tools and cover other topics.

Have you implemented ideas from MWA back into your architecture?

We have a project, a new mobile home. William Ravn asked me to design his summer house. So we discussed it as a general issue first. Consumption of land is becoming problematic. Small retreats are a big burden on the planet, and they are hardly used, they pollute the landscape and eventually contribute to the financial stress of a country. I wanted to challenge that typology and the mobile home typology. […] I would definitely apply MWA knowledge back into architecture when it makes sense. Before MWA, in 2005, we did the GANG School in Copenhagen, where we implemented a few ideas. It was a school for expelled kids, to keep them off the streets. It was a complete hybrid in that sense. […]

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: On a scale of hybrid – An Interview with Julien de Smedt. A10 MAgazine #60. Nov-Dec 2014

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(*) Yes, you’ll have to buy the magazine if you want to read the rest.

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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?

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.

NK13 01 blog

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“More than 100,000 people have applied to be a part of the Mars One project, which aims to colonize the red planet starting in 2022. Out of the thousands, 40 people will be selected. Of the 40, just four will participate in the first passage to Mars, which is scheduled to leave in September 2022 and land seven months later in April 2023. None of the four will ever return to Earth.

More than 30,000 Americans have applied for the chance to be the very first settlers on Mars, paying a $38 application fee. The audacious project is the brainchild of a Dutch company run by CEO and creator Bas Lansdorp. Lansdrop told CNN that the price based is on the gross domestic product per capita of different nations. For example, Mexicans pay a $15 application fee. ‘We wanted it to be high enough for people to have to really think about it and low enough for anyone to be able to afford it,’ Lansdorp said. The very first mission to Mars will cost $6 billion, according to Lansdorp.”

Alex Greig: “More than 100,000 people want to fly to Mars in 2022 – and never come back.” The Daily Mail Online, August 10 2013

Trying to catch up with stuff published in March-April. This one was commissioned for Uncube Magazine’s 19th issue, focused on Deep (architectural?) Space, which, knowing my penchant for sci-fi, came as a gift (thanks, guys). Not the last time, as you’ll see in Issue #21, Acoustics, which is due one of these days. More on that later.

The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #19: Space, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Jessica Bridger, Elvia Wilk et al. Anyone caring to name all the referents (sci-fi related or else) in the drawing, please help yourself and drop a comment for an invaluable no-prize.

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.

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