Our model Alejandro Hernández (@otrootroblog), editor in Arquine, lectures with style some weeks ago at the ISAD in Chihuahua. In the picture, he’s wearing the retro T-shirt ‘Hope’, from the ‘Kunst Haas’ series in our Spring 2009 Collection.
Click to enlarge
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.
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. (…)
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. (…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. (…)
Lus Arana, Koldo: “Dancing about Architecture; a conversation with architect and cartoonist Klaus”, Thresholds nº. 46: Scatter!, edited by Anne Graziano and Eliyahu Keller. MIT Press, April 2018; 278-298.
Click to enlarge (no, seriously)
AKA: ‘I want to post something to pretend this blog’s still active, but I don’t feel like producing real content today’.
A quick glimpse of the process of penciling the poster for last year’s Hyde Lecture Series, at the request of the über-nice Karles: Sarah and David Karle, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. You can check the finished poster here.
Tomorrow, new content. Honest.
Click to enlarge
Many (count me as one of those) seemed to think this blog was dead, but, alas, we were all wrong and here I am, back for my now customary -it seems- biannual update. There have been some other works waiting the line in the last two years, but, since they’re late already, I thought it might be worth sharing something hot off the presses. A little backstory for this one: A few months ago, Sarah and David Karle, from the University of Nebraska Lincoln contacted me, asking if I’d join this year’s Hyde Lecture Series, a question whose answer is, by default, ‘Yes, of course’.
They also asked if I would like to design this year’s poster. Unfortunately, I’ve been swamped by work this term, and I would hardly be able to fit it in my schedule. So I said the only thing I could: ‘Sure, I’ll do it!’. Of course, since I was in a very tight schedule, I decided to make the drawing as complicated as possible. I’m not sure this is the most crowded cartoon I’ve produced so far, but it’s certainly up there in the Top Ten.
Thanks, guys, I’ll see you in February!
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 in the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Click to enlarge
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
(*) Yes, you’ll have to buy the magazine if you want to read the rest.
Click to enlarge
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 City. This 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?