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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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NK 23 -Pritzker 2015

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

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

Of course, the title is a pun on this.

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

A10 062_ALA-blog

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ALA is one of Finland’s success stories, winning a major competition at the age of 30, heading a 40+ employees’ office at 40 and now looking abroad for new opportunities. Besides redoing the Finnish embassy in New Delhi they are also working on the high profile new library in Helsinki. Still, they participate in both open and invited competitions. And now there looking for opportunities in America. But did they enter the Guggenheim competition? ‘That one did not meet our standards.’’

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Mahlamäki said that he appreciates the echo of Finnish Modernism in your work “with a touch of internationalism, mixing the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas with the Finnish Design-orientated approach.” Sounds like Kilden?

 We certainly like to rigorously analyze every situation we’re thrown into, still leaving room for intuitive results.

You have won several important commissions after Kilden, like Kuopio (A10#61) and the Helsinki New Library. Competitions are still an important part of your business strategy. How do you decide which competitions to take on and which you don’t?

We like competitions, both invited and open, that keep our minds and our presentational skills sharp. We set tight criteria as to which competitions to enter and which not (…).

Did you enter the Guggenheim competition?

No, it didn’t meet our criteria. […]

Mahlamäki also said, when I asked him: “I believe their skills and their ambition will carry them far. The Finns are normally shy, but ALA is not – they boldly show their passion and goals.” Do you?

I think we couldn’t possibly hide them if we tried.

What do you think about the younger generation of architects?

We are in a way old fashioned and middle aged. Who designs an opera building today or a metro station like we did? There are still competitions in Finland and abroad that can shape new offices. But the collaborative non-permanent approach of the younger generation is at odds with the more master plan-like projects coming up. We’ll see if it’s the architects shaping the system, or the other way around. Soon a competition for a large school will open and the winner will start a new office from that for sure, if they don’t already have it. It will be interesting to see whether it will be won by architects from a younger generation or by the older guys.

Excerpts* from: Indira van ‘t Klooster: Competitive spirit An Interview with ALA. A10 Magazine #62. March-April 2015

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(*) They aren’t really that laconic, these guys, as I made them look here. So, if you want to get a sense of what they sound like, I guess you’ll have no other option but buying the magazine (or googling other online interviews with them).

They still owe me a photo, though.

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?

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.

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.

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