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I saw Blade Runner for the first time on the end-of-the-Summer Friday night of September 2, 1988. I remember it with such accuracy because, at a time where there were only two TV channels available, and I still had no VCR at home, the premiere on television of any movie was greeted as an event – and so did, on this occasion, the people I was having dinner with. Truth is, at my still somewhat tender age, I hadn’t heard of the film, but one of the main roles was played by the actor who had previously played Han Solo in Star Wars (the FILM; not ‘A New Hope’, not the Star Wars Universe or any of that mumbo-jumbo). So I sat in front of the TV, still some two years too young to truly enjoy it. Certainly, the film impressed me, although not in the way one would hope for. A couple of years before that I had fled from a morning projection of Blade Runner’s coetaneous Escape from the Bronx (1983), Enzo G. Castellari’s sequel to his own Escape From New York exploitation film 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1990: I guerrieri del Bronx, 1982), whose crudeness -incredibly tame for today’s standards, I’ll freely admit- proved to be too much for my youngster sensitivity. That experience had an echo that night, while watching Scott’s film, which granted me several disturbing moments. From that session I kept, engraved in my retina -and my brain- the indelible image of Zhora going through several layers of glass store windows in her plexiglass raincoat, which became less and less transparent as the blood escaping her body impregnated it. I also remember with a similar ambivalence the mixture of repulsion and morbid fascination that the grim porcelain doll look of a very young Sean Young caused on me; or the final scene with Rutger Hauer, majestic in full Norse god magnificence, reciting his semi-improvised monologue on a rainy roof surrounded by blue light.

None of this happened to me some -very few- years later when, also at night, but this time on my own  and with some more – although still meager – knowledge and maturity, I finally watched Scott’s previous film, Alien (or Alien, the eighth passenger, in my case , in one of those rare moments of brilliance of the usual ‘creative translation’ of original film titles for Spanish audiences). That is: the fascination was there, of course, but in this case, it was not a morbid mixture of attraction and repulsion, but the pure aesthetic delight of those who experience something for the first time with the growing awareness of being in front of a masterpiece. I must say that this did not happen to me with Blade Runner, not even some years later, when, in the somewhat more reasonable condition of having some previous knowledge of the film and being halfways -more towards the second half, really- of my architecture studies, I rewatched it in order to help a colleague with some coursework. Don’t get me wrong. Blade Runner is one of the films I have most extensively (and often) discussed, one of my favorite films, a milestone in the history of cinema -indisputable if we’re talking about science fiction cinema-, and an icon of postmodernism that has generated rivers of ink, with some minor branches fed by yours truly. I neither confirm nor deny I may have devoted a chapter to it in a PhD dissertation at some point in the past.

However, whilst Alien is a film that works with (Swiss) clockwork precision, Blade Runner is a more irregular effort. Scott’s second film -let’s not forget he had already directed the beautiful The Duellists, which provided him with the Best Debut Film in Cannes in 1977- was a prodigy in the control of cinematographic tempo and footage economy Blade Runner presents an uneven success in the handling of pace, and a clunkier narrative. Alien toyed with the spectator, presenting him with a morose pacing, slowly building tension and then throwing him into an adrenaline-boosted rollercoaster. Blade Runner, on the contrary, is burdened by an occasionally choppy montage and an erratic narrative, full with scenes that drag on screen, whose purpose is not always clear. When it first hit the theaters, viewers often complained about the difficulty to follow the otherwise ridiculously simple plot. Alien had been a filmic prodigy in many respects, ultimately upgrading what had begun as a B horror movie set in space to the category of small cinematic gem. Three years later, with a budget three times bigger, Blade Runner was conceived as a much more ambitious enterprise. Here, Ridley Scott left the megastructural but still somewhat modest inner architectural ecosystem of his second film, and took over the visual creation of a complete world: the megalopolitan continuum of Los Angeles in the -yet to be- future of 2019. However, this expansion in the scope did not lower its level of demand when it came down to the detail in which this fictional world had to be presented to the viewer. Blade Runner was built using the same layering1 method he had applied to the design of The Duelists (1976) and Alien (1979): an accumulation of data in which each frame of the film was crowded with layer upon layer of information. This diogenetic strategy of visual design overwhelmed a viewer unable to apprehend everything that on display, which ultimately resulted in an unbearable feeling of veracity. The images in the film did not look like a set, like a staged, but limited imitation of reality built for the eye of the camera. They looked like real environments whose complexity exceeded the viewer’s ability to apprehend them in their entirety. They were too full with information; they seemed to extend beyond the limits of the screen, equally detailed and complex everywhere the camera bothered to point at; like the real world.

This excessive ambition would also take its toll in the film. If Alien, despite its relative yet limited variety of sets, exuded coherence in his visual treatment, in Blade Runner the team led by Douglas Trumbull had no other option but use all the tricks in the book in order to address Scott’s growing demands, which ended up instilling the fictional reality of the film with a certain collage nature on2. Blade Runner/ Los Angeles 2019 is a film/ place made up of juxtaposed moments/ spaces whose connection, as in the Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is left to the discretion of the viewer’s imagination.

And yet, it would be this multiple, oversaturated, fragmented condition that would ultimately result in the film’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to both represent postmodern reality, and fascinate audiences and the Academia alike. Back in 1982, Blade Runner shook the filmgoing world with a future-present (a 1980’s future) that was presented to the viewer with overwhelming physicality; a dark but palpable future, which would lead to paradoxes such as the curious Stockholm Syndrome described by Norman M. Klein in 1991, when he wrote that: “(i)n February, 1990, at a public lecture series on art in Los Angeles, three out of five leading urban planners agreed that they hoped someday Los Angeles would look like the film Blade Runner …It has become a paradigm for the future of cities, for artists across the disciplines3.” November 2019 is here, and the reality on the other side of my window is just as ominous as the one described by Scott, but much less fascinating. To make it worse, the same can be said of the one on the other side of the -now predominantly digital-silver screen.

See? See why I hate Blade Runner?

1 “Alien’s ‘environment’ was the popular filmgoing public’s first exposure to “layering”, Scott’s self-described technique of building up a dense, kaleidoscopic accretion of detail within every frame and set of a film. ‘To me (Scott Said) a film is like a seven-hundred-layer layer cake.” Paul M. Sammon, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (New York: HarperPrism, 1996); 47.

 2 Norman M. Klein, “Building Blade Runner” in Social Text, 1990, no. 28; 147. Yes, I know I’ve quoted this text at least as many times as Rowe’s ‘Introduction with Five Architects’. Well, as Eric Idle, in full Michelangelo attire would say: ‘It works, mate!’

“Por qué Odio Blade Runner.” Arquine. Revista Internacional de Arquitectura. ‘Lo que Falta / Missing Pieces.’ Mexico DF: Editorial Arquine, Julio 2019. Nº 89, pp. 23-25.

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So, now that November 2019, the year Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (you know, the REAL one) is set, is over, I thought it might be worth remembering the film through this installment of my section ‘Arquinoir’ in Mexican architecture magazine Arquine. I haven’t translated the texts in the cartoon so far. Later, perhaps. The Spanish version can be found online here. Although I strongly suggest buying a physical copy.

 

 

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Sir Peter Cook -the man, the myth, the ringmaster- points at Peter Cook, the comic book character during a dinner in Porto.

Anyone who’s thrown even a casual glance at this blog (or at my twitter feed) knows I have a thing both for science fiction and for the visionary architectural scene of the 1960s-70s -which, of course, have multiple overlaps. And, of course again, it is not particularly (as in ‘at all’) surprising that Archigram are a favorite (see below), which at some point even prompted me to go in a demented search through tens of thousands of comics from the 1940s to 1964, in order to find the sources of Warren Chalk’s ‘Space Probe!’, published in Archigram 4, May 1964 [INSERT: a couple of them can be seen here; some others are featured in this article; if you’re a curator and need help with this, send me a note. END OF INSERT].

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My hand and my comic book, but not my copy of Archigram 4, unfortunately…

Thus, when last year Alejandro Hernández and Pedro Hernández (not related) contacted me to give them a hand with a -then- upcoming issue of Arquine under the topic ‘Futures’, I couldn’t let that great opportunity slip away, and used my Arquinoir section (published in almost every issue since 2014 or so) to finally draw a story that had been waiting in my sketchbook for a while. In it, Peter Cook and the late but great Ron Herron met inside the Walking city and… well, you can read it below (if you’re not proficient in Spanish, Google Translate has improved quite a bit through the years).

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Two Archigrammers walk into a bar Walking City and…

And, of course again (again), when I learnt that we would be having dinner at the same table, I couldn’t help but give him a copy, which he read with a great dose of sense of humor. I’m not sure Yael Reisner found it that funny, but she smiled politely, and was kind enough to grant me with a great conversation about beauty and architecture on the way back to the hotel. A big thank you to Carlos Machado e Moura, Noémia Herdade Gomes, and Rui Neto, and the School of Architecture of the University of Porto for the invitation  to lecture and for their kindness.

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Glimpses of the future(s)

NK15 Underwater Zoom

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #22: Water, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Elvia Wilk et al, which focuses on Water as a design material, and gathers everything from Matthias Schuler to the Hoover Dam or rei Otto. Federico Fellini, Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ and Archigram’s Warren Chalk may not seem to go hand in hand to everyone, but in my mind, it makes perfect sense. Maybe that speaks tons of the way it works. More on that later. Maybe not.

This cartoon was drawn on May 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary of the original publication of ‘Amazing Archigram 4: Zoom Issue’, where ‘Underwater Zoom’ was a whole section. Happy Birthday! An exhibition may be in the works.

NK14 blog 01

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“On our third week, we arrived in the city of Amaphonia. Some centuries earlier, the inhabitants of the city had filed a formal complaint, claiming that their architects did not pay attention to the acoustic needs of buildings. They should have known better. As architects’ minds go, this call for attention ultimately led into a fascination for the shapes of sound devices that soon translated into the urban form. Two hundread years later, the city showed the result of a formalistic fever that had turned the urban scene into a mechanical forest of gigantic microphones, loudspeakers and musical instruments that turned the amaphonians into Liliputians visiting a music store.(…)”

Rago Michaelis: Chronicles of the Pneumatic passage – A Scientific Approach. Tome III. Etterbeek: Erdna Éditions ; 267-74

– So, what’s the problem? …If a building has to work like a machine, it should look like a machine, right?

– Oh, shut up, Charles-Edouard… [*]

[*] If you don’t think it’s a joke, then you’re part of the problem.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #21: Acoustics, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Jessica Bridger, Elvia Wilk et al., and even features a rare recording of Pink Floyd’s Intro to “Obscured by Clouds”, played to an article. The Pneumatic Passage is a project located somewhere between Les Cités Obscures, The Airtight Garage, and Le réveil du Z, which has been in the pipeline for a long time -and will be till I find some funding. More on that later.

A10 Piano Player Number Two - Joost Moolhuijzen

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Something a little bit different this time. A couple months ago, Indira van ‘t Klooster, editor-in-chief of A10 magazine contacted me asking if I would be interested in making some cartoons for a series of interviews with different architects they were featuring this year. Yes, A10 is that magazine founded a decade ago by Arjan Groot and Hans Ibelings, the man who not only wrote Supermodernism, but also a series of articles on comics and architecture back in the 90s), so, how could I say no?. It was a little thight for me to get to the first one, with Jürgen Mayer H (been there already, in any case), so we skipped ahead directly to Joost Moolhuijzen, the partner at Renzo Oiano’s workshop who was in charge of the Shard (yes, Piano and the Shard have also been guest stars here , thanks to Uncube . For those of you who want to check on the real thing, here’s a video of Joost himself speaking about the Shard at the BBC. Below, you have a taste of the interview itself. For the rest, you’ll have to buy the magazine (what are you waiting for?).

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It’s rare that an architect gets to explain his own project on CNN, but just that happened to Joost Moolhuijzen in 2012. You may not remember his name, but the name of his latest project is certainly familiar: The Shard. As senior partner at Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), Moolhuijzen was responsible for this remarkable London skyscraper. Despite not having his own practice, it seems his being willing to pay the price of never becoming well known publicly has its benefits.

While many young architects dream of creating famous buildings the world over following graduation, some of them actually do it. Joost Moolhuijzen joined RPBW at the age of 30 and became partner at the age of 37, after he had successfully headed the Debis Building, part of the Daimler-Benz project at Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz. We meet in a café on a rainy day in Amsterdam. He and his wife, who also works at RPBW, are in town for a short family visit. Moolhuijzen begins explaining how the ideas of Piano have gradually become his own. Also, we’re talking different scales than are usually seen in A10. ‘Once we were 150 people, but our natural size is 100, like we are now,’ says Moolhuijzen. ‘That means we’re still small enough to be picky in the projects we accept, and big enough to deal with the larger projects.’

So RPBW is critical in which projects to take on, or not?

‘Definitely,’ assures Moolhuijzen, ‘we do not simply follow the money in Dubai, China or Korea. We seek jobs that contribute to urban sustainability. We once had a job just outside Paris, but gradually it became clear that the project had too little in terms of urban capacity. New buildings should improve the existing situation with regard to public transport, housing and public space.’The Shard, sometimes criticized as an autistic high-rise funded by sheikhs from Qatar, he actually finds to be an improvement for the district. ‘The underlying station was rebuilt, while more and varied functions appeared on the ground floor. People have benefited from it. We preferably build on brownfields rather than greenfields. That is ultimately more sustainable.’ […]

Joost Moolhuijzen :  ‘The Piano Player’,  A10 magazine #57. May-June 2014.

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“Our built environment and the places we live in are so important to us, socially, economically, environmentally and culturally. Not just on an obvious day-to-day basis, but in relation to some of the big questions of our time – how do we build enough homes and make the places we live in outstanding? How do we meet the challenge of climate change? And, topically, how do we design places less susceptible to the terrible floods that hit so much of the country this winter.

My review of architecture and built environment, commissioned by culture minister Ed Vaizey, intends to answer these questions and many others besides. Crucially, it calls for a new proactive approach to the planning system: anticipating needs and opportunities, not simply responding to proposals for new development, and looking at places in their entirety rather than just at individual buildings and their design.

Sir Terry Farrell: “Why the UK does not need a formal architecture policy”. The Guardian, Monday 31 March 2014

In January 2013 Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, asked Sir Terry Farrell to undertake a national review of architecture and the built environment. A couple months ago, Phin Harper (@PhinHarper), from The Architectural Review, asked me if I would be interested in doing a tongue-in-cheek parody of it, substituting Terry Farrell for Pharrell Williams. Unsophisticated humor? How could I say no? In the end, we had to rush a little bit, because Sir Terry unleashed his review a little earlier than expected, so Phin and I had to work against the clock to squeeze Pharrell’s songs in between Terry’s assessments. The final words on the cartoon are Phin’s, and you’ll have to go to the AR’s site to read them, and see the cartoon in its full original glory. More on this soon.

For those interested in knowing more about the Farrell Review, you can check Dezeen’s Amy Frearson’s conversation with Farrell, read the full 60 recommendations at The Architects’ Journal, or go to the Farrell Review’s own site.

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They’ve built schools like wedding cakes and are making a real-life gingerbread house with Grayson Perry. But the UK’s most playful practice is breaking up after 23 years. They have built a romanesque church out of sparkly blue sequins, a school that looks like a gothic wedding cake and turned the head of Hercules into a squishy seat. Now, in an unexpected twist, the mischievous London architecture practice FAT has announced it will be no more. Architects usually die, divorce, or go bust – so why the boyband-style break-up?

“We all feel we’ve completed what we set out to do,” says Sam Jacob, who has worked with fellow partners Sean Griffiths and Charles Holland for the last 23 years on everything from art installations to social housing, alongside a prolific volume of writing and teaching. “FAT was only ever intended to be a project, a way of taking a set of ideas out into the world,” he says. “We still can’t believe we’ve had so many opportunities to make buildings.” […]

The three partners have yet to announce their future plans, but will end their collaboration at the Venice Architecture Biennale next summer, where they are curating the British Pavilion with Dutch practice Crimson and writer Owen Hatherley.

“They remain open to offers for a lucrative reunion in 20 years’ time,” concludes the official press release. “We’ve got to go on a victory tour,” grins Jacob. “Bands used to take 30 years to reunite, but nowadays they’re back together in a couple of months, so who knows …”

— Oliver Wainwright: The end of FAT: architecture’s biggest pranksters call it quits – boyband style.” The Guardian, Tuesday 17 December 2013

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #18: Slovenia, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Jessica Bridger, Elvia Wilk et al. And yes, that is Foster’s “Cycling Utopia” (for God’s sake…) in the foreground.

A tip of the hat to Sam Jacob and the rest of FAT. I’m really sorry to see them disbanding, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what comes out of this in the future. Best of lucks!

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