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Klaus (2019). A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century. Click to enlarge.

As you’ll probably know, if you’ve been following my work in any capacity, one of the main reasons why I persist in my cartooning career is that it provides me with a vehicle to channel my need to draw. Or, putting it the other way around, my cartoons and occasional comic stories usually start as excuses to draw something I’m interested in at the moment. The things that make my fingertips tickle come from a wide variety of sources: comics, literature, scifi in its many faces, tv, cinema, and, generally speaking, anything I may have encountered at some point in my life and I’ve developed an obsession with, which typically makes it into my cartoons in the form of a flabbergasting constellation of details which are for the most part winks, nods, references to other works, or even plain private jokes. Being an architect and (under my secret identity) an architecture scholar, a frequent source is the very history of architecture, which has no shortage of inspiring buildings, projects, texts and illustrations, sometimes overlapping with these other fields.

Filed under this latter category falls possibly a story I’ve been obsessed with for quite a while now. I’m not alone in this fixation; Chris Ware once declared this is possibly the single comic story he’s been most influenced by. The difference is that, in my case, instead of using it as an inspiration to create something new and different I’ve just been waiting for an excuse to redraw it in my own style. The comic in question is Robert Crumb’s universally well-known 1979 4-page story ‘A Short History of America’. Originally published in the Autumn 1979 issue of Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly, the spiritual heir to Brand’s own Whole Earth Catalogue which would run from 1974 to 1985. Crumb was a frequent contributor to the magazine from issue #13 (1977) through #44 (when it became The Whole Earth Review), in a period where he had otherwise abandoned the production of comics (or comix) for the most part. In fact, after his short Mr. Natural run for The Village Voice (February-November 1976), and until the creation of Weirdo in March 1981, CoEvolution Quarterly was pretty much the only place where his fans could find their Crumb comix fix. Out of all the varied stories he created for CEQ, ‘A Short History of America’ and its sequel, published in the back cover of The Whole Earth Review in 1988, stand out not only as the best known of the bunch, but rather as Crumb’s best known work in general, with the permission of Fritz the Cat.

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R. Crumb. ‘A Short History of America’. CoEvolution Quarterly, Fall 1979.

To this popularity certainly contributed its edition in the form of a poster by Kitchen Sink Press in 1981, reissued with the additional material from 1988 a few years later (a more recent version here, available for purchase here), or its inclusion as a musical coda in Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 documentary Crumb. However, none of this would have happened if the story hadn’t had the wide appeal it did, appearing as a both accurate and melancholic commentary on mankind’s impact on the environment that surpassed the niche of the underground in which Crumb’s work usually rejoiced. As the title announced, the comic presented a silent chronicle of the evolution of a part of the American landscape, from its pristine state as a natural ecosystem until it became a generic corner of a suburban area. Consisting of 12 panoramic panels organized in 4 pages, the story showed not only Crumb’s skills to draw the environment (urban or otherwise) with both an abundance of details and a staggering legibility, but also his sharp eye when it comes to capturing the elements that characterize an era, making the collection of wordless snapshots a lucid and somewhat bitter commentary on the (sub)urban development of America and its parallel destruction of the landscape. The story, if we understand a gap of 10 years between consecutive panels, worked well as a portrait, decade by decade, of the evolution of the USA between 1850 and 1960, with some topical references falling in the right places. The ‘coda’ published almost a decade later, fell outside this attachment to historical reality, and toyed with three possible scenarios for the future of this scene: a post-apocalyptic one, consequence of ecological disaster, a ‘Fun Future’ with flying vehicles and curvy architectures, and a happy-hippie ‘Ecotopian Solution’ with bicycles, pedestrians, and cabins scattered throughout a gigantic forest.

With both the strip’s 40th anniversary and the very dystopian date of November 2019 looming in the horizon, I thought the time had definitely come. So, after pondering which way to go, I contacted Pancho Díaz, professor at the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and editor-in-chief both of Ediciones ARQ and ARQ magazine, submitting him a proposal for a double-feature: On the one hand, it consisted of an essay, written but my usual partner in crime, which offered a close examination of the content of ‘A Short History…’ framed within the bigger context of Crumb’s work for the alternative, ecological scene of the 1960s-70s, and his many depictions of architecture and the built environment. After the article, however, the piece also included an addendum: a 4-page revision of Crumb’s story by yours truly that began with the sixth panel (corresponding to 1900, according to the above interpretation), and took a different route. The basic idea was answering to the question: what would the story have looked like if it had been told by an architect? -You know, this particular sub-species of humanity which sees history as a succession of architectural climaxes. Once this starting point had been set, all the pieces fell easily into place, and the story became the recount of the competition between two families, each living on one side of the street created by Crumb in 1979, who, decade after decade, keep retooling their houses to be more á-la-mode than that of their neighbor.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 1. Things hadn’t started going wild yet.

This gave me the opportunity not only to try drawing in a slightly bolder version of my own style, somewhat closer to Crumb’s thicker line and more organic hatching (if, of course, executed in a much less skilled way than his), or to play with architecture styles and make my own versions of some very well known houses of different periods of the XX Century. It also allowed me to introduce a thousand different referents and winks to architecture, History, popular culture (comics, cinema, tv). I even had to draw period-accurate vehicles, which, used as I am to drawing cars that look nothing like real cars, was an… interesting experience. Of course, in this case the strip had to end with a punchline, which appeared in the leap between the last two panels. If the first panel took place in 1900 the last one should have been 2010. Instead of that the last panel jumps from 2000 to 2019, showing a world shaped in the image LA 2019 in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 2. …and modernity unleashes chaos.

Of course (again), unlike Robert Crumb I am no genius, so whilst the panels in ‘A Short History of America’ look perfectly balanced, and can be clearly read from a 10-meter distance (provided you have good eyesight), their counterparts in ‘A Short History of the XX Century’ are characteristically overstuffed and wonkily composed. Also, given Crumb’s eponymous speed, it probably took him from breakfast to lunchtime to complete the four pages directly in ink in his sketchbook. In my case, it was a few weeks’ work, with a lot of preliminary drawing, penciling and careful inking (see pencils in this  future post). For that reason, we’re planning to release a fined-tuned edition, with my typical shading and, in a larger format and including all this extra material in the near future. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, enjoy finding all the easter-eggs if that’s your sort of thing.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 3. …postmodern explosion.

A big thank you to Pancho Díaz and ARQ for providing me with a venue for this project, and to R. Crumb for creating his masterpiece in the first place, and giving permission to reprint his story as part of the article.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 4. …This Dystopian Life.

 

 

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So, since tomorrow, March 5, 2019, will see the announcement of the 2019 Pritzker Architecture Prize, I thought it might be worth to whet (y)our appetite with this short piece from last year. The text, published within my ongoing section ‘ArquiNoir’ in issue #84 of Mexican magazine Arquine, was written -as you probably guessed already- on occasion of last year’s award, which went to Balkrishna Doshi. However, as it’s traditional in the column, I barely touched upon Doshi, and rather went for a slightly humorous, somewhat sarcastic, and very brief review of the (also) brief history of the Prize -peppered with some saucy vignettes that have taken place in the four decades that have gone by since it was created.

The text was originally written in (perfect) Spanish, so some adaptations were done here and there so as to limit the wonkiness of the English translation. For the original text, as well as a view of both the cartoon and the essay as they were published in the magazine, just scroll down. For past cartoons on the Pritzker Prize, click here.

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According to Brendan Gill (not to be confused with Iker Gil), secretary of the Pritzker Prize between 1985 and 1987 and author of the column “The Sky Line” for the New Yorker, shortly before leaving the secretariat he received a call at the offices of the organization. The hoarse voice on the other side of the wire was that of Gordon Bunshaft, who, working for SOM has left us some of the best works produced by American corporate architecture, such as the Lever House. According to Gill, Bunshaft “had long coveted the prize” (which actually had only run for eight editions), and phoned to ask about the nomination process. Gill informed him that anyone could propose a candidate, and that “many times friends or admirers of an architect would write in to propose him”. So, with proverbial pragmatism, Bunshaft nominated himself[1]. He would show similar pragmatism a few months later when he picked up the prize -ex-aequo with Oscar Niemeyer-, delivering an acceptance speech of less than 60 words[2].

Bunshaft’s is surely one of the most colorful anecdotes in the History of a prize which, inevitably, have never been without controversy. When Niemeyer and Bunshaft were honored exactly 30 years ago now, Paul Goldberger counter-attacked in the pages of the New York Times, speaking out against the policy of rewarding these ‘White Old Men’ (my words, not his), old glories whose work he regarded as totally off-tune with the reality of the time[3]. Surely Mr. Goldberger still thinks the same today, at 67 years old. I certainly do think the same as six years ago, when I wrote (sorry for the self-quotation) that “[o]ver the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from outside the Anglo-Saxon market. [4]

Six years later, I still think that, despite the fact that the organization itself claims on its own website that [m]any of the procedures and rewards of the Pritzker Prize are modeled after the Nobel Prize, the comparison with the Oscars is a sounder one. I also still have hope, as I said then, that at some point Peter Eisenman plays the role of Martin Scorsese when, in 2006, he finally picked up a prize awarded rather for his glorious past than for the film that served as an excuse. This would honor the tradition I already outlined -and, in light of Eisenman’s work in the last thirty years, it’s in the only possible option, anyway. They have also adopted other customs of the Academy, such as delivering posthumous prizes: in 2015, the announcement of Frei Otto’s award took place two weeks earlier than usual… and one day after the architect’s demise, despite tje Prize’s stated purpose to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, etc., etc.” If they intend to reward the only member of the New York Five still available -Meier already got his more than three decades ago-, and only as a preventive measure, perhaps they should hurry up a little (the same would apply to César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio or Arata Isozaki -and even Stanley Tigerman, since we’re at it).

Not an easy feat for him, though. It is true that during its first, the prize had a marked local nature, awarding Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983), Richard Meier (1984), the aforementioned Gordon Bunshaft (1988), and Frank Gehry (1989) – Robert Venturi would be added to the list in 1991. However, we would have to wait until Thom Mayne got it in 2005 to find another American (US, I mean) Pritzker, and none other has been elected since. The most elementary arithmetic of architectural criticism tells us, therefore, that the United States has one Pritzker for every 40.7 million inhabitants, very far from Portugal, which, with its 10.32 million has already obtained two, and from Japan, whose five winners almost make one for every 21.16 million -almost in a technical draw with the United Kingdom (Mexico is far behind, with its -still- only winner dating back to the early days of the award).

However, in spite of its international projection, the award has somehow managed to avoid  some of the controversies that the Oscars have gone through, such as the one attached to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign in 2016 (although racial diversity, minus the cases of Japan and the nationalized Pei, has been, let’s say, quite limited). There will always be cynics who see in Wang Shu’s 2012 nomination a marketing device similar to that of Hollywood films which introduce Asian actors to make their way into the Chinese market. There will also be some who think that to award the prize to B.V. Doshi is a gesture of Western paternalism, which somehow rewards his relationship with Le Corbusier. It will not be me who makes such unfair remarks. I won’t be the one, either, who, in line with the movement Time’s Up, will accuse the organization of sexism, for leaving Denise Scott Brown out in 1991, while including a forty-year-old Ryue Nishizawa in 2010 it.

And I will not do it because, regardless of how fair -or extremely unfair- their decision might be, we will criticize them with equal fury. Who will be next? As Marcos Mundstock would say, “place your bullets, gentlemen![5]

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza”, in The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] It consisted of exactly 58 words: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, in Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988.

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call?, in Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] In the original text, the sentence is the untranslatable play on words “¡hagan fuego, señores! “. Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

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De acuerdo con Brendan Gill (no confundir con Iker Gil), secretario del Pritzker Prize entre 1985 y 1987 y autor de la columna “The Sky Line” para el New Yorker, poco antes de dejar la secretaría recibió una llamada en las oficinas de la organización. La voz ronca al otro lado del hilo era la de Gordon Bunshaft, arquitecto que trabajando para SOM nos ha dejado algunas de las mejores obras producidas por la arquitectura corporativa estadounidense, como la Lever House. De acuerdo con Gill, Bunshaft “hacía mucho tiempo que codiciaba el premio” (que en realidad tan sólo había tenido ocho ediciones), y llamaba para interesarse por el proceso de nominación. Gill le informó de que cualquiera podía nominar un candidato, y que “muchas veces amigos o admiradores de un arquitecto escribían para proponerlo”. Así que, con proverbial pragmatismo, Bunshaft se nominó a sí mismo[1]. Similar pragmatismo exhibiría unos meses después cuando recogiera el premio, ex-aequo con Oscar Niemeyer, y pronunciara un discurso de aceptación que no llegó a las 60 palabras[2].

La de Bunshaft es seguramente una de las anécdotas más coloridas dentro de la historia de unos premios que, como no puede ser de otra manera, nunca han estado exentos de polémica. Ya cuando Niemeyer y Bunshaft fueron galardonados hace ahora exactamente 30 años, Paul Goldberger arremetía en las páginas del New York Times contra la política de premiar a estos ‘White Old Men’ (mis palabras, no las suyas), viejas glorias cuya obra él veía en total falta de sintonía con la realidad actual[3]. Seguramente el Sr. Goldberger sigue opinando lo mismo hoy en día, a sus 67 años. Yo, ciertamente, opino lo mismo que hace seis cuando escribía (perdón por la autocita) que “a lo largo de los años la organización de los Pritzker ha combinado dos estrategias: por una parte, la de ser totalmente predecibles y postrarse ante el statu quo arquitectónico galardonando, a la manera de los Oscars,  a los cada vez menos numerosos miembros del ‘star(chitectural) system’ que quedan, aunque sea en momentos no particularmente memorables de sus carreras; por otra, la de alternar a estos con nombres menos conocidos, generalmente esforzados artesanos procedentes de fuera del mercado anglosajón.[4]

Seis años después, sigo pensando que, pese a que la propia organización insista desde su propia página web en que “muchos de los procedimientos y premios del Pritzker… han tomado como modelo a los Premios Nobel”, la comparación con los Oscar es más acertada. También sigo esperando, como afirmaba entonces, que en algún momento Peter Eisenman haga las veces de Martin Scorsese cuando en 2006 recogía por fin un premio que lo era más por pasadas glorias que por el film que le servía de excusa. Esto se correspondería con la tradición antes apuntada para los Pritzker -y, a la luz de la obra de Eisenman en las últimas tres décadas, es en cualquier caso la única opción posible. También han adoptado otras costumbres de la Academia, como la de entregar premios póstumos: en 2015, el anuncio del premio de Frei Otto tuvo lugar dos semanas antes de lo habitual… y un día después del fallecimiento del arquitecto, pese a su objetivo declarado de “homenajear a un arquitecto vivo cuyo trabajo construido demuestra una combinación de las cualidades del talento, la visión, el compromiso, etc., etc.” Si tienen intención de premiar al único miembro de los New York Five que queda libre -Meier ya obtuvo el suyo hace más de tres décadas-, y únicamente como medida preventiva, quizá deberían acelerar los tiempos (lo mismo aplicaría a César Pelli, Ricardo Scofidio o Arata Isozaki, e incluso a Stanley Tigerman, ya puestos).

No lo tiene fácil, en cualquier caso. Es cierto que durante la primera década de su historia, los premios tuvieron una marcada componente local, con premios para Philip Johnson (1979), Kevin Roche (1982), I.M. Pei (1983) Richard Meier (1984), el ya mencionado Gordon Bunshaft (1988) y Frank Gehry (1989), a los que se sumaría Robert Venturi en 1991. Sin embargo, habría que esperar hasta Thom Mayne en 2005  para encontrar otro estadounidense, y desde entonces ninguno más ha sido seleccionado. La aritmética elemental de la crítica arquitectónica nos dice, por tanto, que Estados Unidos cuenta con un Pritzker por cada 40,7 millones de habitantes, muy lejos de Portugal, que con 10,32 millones ya ha obtenido dos, y de Japón, que con sus cinco premiados toca a uno por cada 21,16 millones, casi en empate técnico con el Reino Unido (atrás queda México, con su aún único premio relegado a los comienzos del galardón).

Esta proyección internacional ha soslayado sin embargo alguna de las carencias que han propiciado algunas controversias de los Oscar, como la relativa al #OscarsSoWhite de 2015, si bien la diversidad racial, fuera de los casos de Japón y del nacionalizado Pei, ha sido, por ponerlo generosamente, limitada. Siempre habrá cínicos que vean en la nominación de Wang Shu en 2012 una maniobra de marketing similar a la de los filmes de Hollywood cuando introducen actores asiáticos para abrirse camino en el mercado chino. También habrá quien opine que galardonar a B.V. Doshi es un gesto de paternalismo occidentalista, que premia su relación con Le Corbusier. No seré yo quien haga tan injustas apreciaciones. Tampoco seré yo, al hilo del movimiento Time’s Up, quien acuse de sexismo a la organización, que en 1991 dejó fuera a Denise Scott Brown, pero en 2010 incluyó a un Ryue Nishizawa de cuarenta y pocos años.

Y no lo haré porque, independientemente de lo acertado o extremadamente desacertado de sus decisiones, los criticaremos con igual saña. ¿A quién le tocará el próximo? Como diría Marcos Mundstock, “¡hagan fuego, señores![5]“.

[1] Brendan Gill, “Worldwide Plaza” en The Sky Line, The New Yorker, December 24, 1990; 86.

[2] Fueron exactamente 58: In 1928, I entered the MIT School of Architecture and started my architectural trip. Today, 60 years later, I’ve been given the Pritzker Architecture Prize for which I thank the Pritzker family and the distinguished members of the selection committee for honoring me with this prestigious award. It is the capstone of my life in architecture. That’s it.”

[3] Paul Goldberger, “What Pritzker Winners Tell Us About the Prize”, en Architecture View, The New York Times, May 29, 1988;

[4]Pritzker 2012: Who they gonna call? en Klaustoon’s Blog, February 27, 2012.

[5] Les Luthiers, “Ya el sol asomaba por poniente.” Volumen III (Ion, 1973)

————————–Klaus, “¡Han cantado Pritzker!”, Arquinoir, Arquine nº 84: La Apariencia del Espacio / The Appearance of Space, Verano / Summer 2018.

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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.

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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.

NK16_Biennale non Banale_sm

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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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