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So, before January is over, I’d like to post the first one in a series of posts that look back at some of the stuff that happened in 2013 but which, due to the hectic-ness of these last months, had to wait till now. So, as a starting point, I thought it would be nice to celebrate the imminent -and eminent- first anniversary of my ongoing collaboration with Uncube Magazine, a Berlin-based, online journal that has managed to make its own place in the netsphere through a steady flow of thematic, monthly issues, since August 2012.

Drifting a little from my usually elusive manners, I offered them to draw an egotistic strip, “Numerus Klausus”, commenting on current issues on and around architecture in my own section within the magazine, ‘Klaus’ Kube’. Of course, even though it started as a regular-looking comic strip, they soon talked me into doing something a little more complex -they didn’t have to try too hard. Some of the strips are still pretty elusive, but at least this time their backstory is easier to trace back. Also, the editors’ suggestions gave me the opportunity to feature a lot of guest stars, such as the inevitable Rem-the-Man, but also MVRDV, Rafael Viñoly, Renzo Piano, Kieran Long, Pink Floyd (seriously), Florian Heilmeyer, Sophie Lovell, Zaha Hadid, Gregg Lynn, sylvia Lavin, Jean Nouvel or Sigmund Freud.

Scroll down for the whole series (including two non-posted ones)

Klaus's Kube 01 Delusional EconomiesI. Delusional Economies, in Uncube’s blogklaus Kube 02 You're so Kool blogII. You’re so Kool in Uncube Magazine # 07 : Off-places.

NK 03 On Intellectuality blogIII. On Intellectuality in Uncube Magazine #9: Constructing Images

NK 04 Taylorist Designs 01 blogIV. Tayloredist Designs in Uncube Magazine #9: Constructing Images

MVRDV Cloud EncountersV. Cloud Encounters of the 911th Kind in Uncube issue #10: Wood, Paper Pulp

NK06 - DEF 03 smVI. Metropol Para-Poli in Uncube Magazine #11: Charles CorreaUncube Numerus Klausus 07  Architecture Mon AmourVII. Architecture, Mon Amour in Uncube Magazine #12: Into the Desert NK08 02 xsmVIII. One of my Turns in Uncube Magazine #13: BerlinNK09 Viñoly attacks uncube 03IX. Faulty Towers in Uncube Magazine #15: Small Towns, Big ArchitectureShardnadoX. Shardnado! in Uncube Magazine #14: Veins

NK 11 01 smXI. Form Follows Friction in Uncube #17: Construct Africa

This last one came after a suggestion (as another one preceding it and yet one more to come) by Sophie Lovell, who thought it would be better not to have me making humor of anything Africa-related, and asked me to tackle on Zaha Hadid’s vagina-like stadium instead. I have to say that, were I an editor, the prospect of myself being given free reign to draw vaginas in the magazine wouldn’t make me any less worried, anyhoo… so, consequently, I took the opportunity to throw in some of all this phallic proliferation that’s been happening lately in architecture, ranging from Jean Nouvel’s dildo to Foster’s recently-flaccid Gherkin, China’s People’s Daily Newspaper circumcised HQ, or that infamous church that looks like a penis in aerial view (if you’re interested in this highly intellectual topic, check Cabinet Magazine’s 2003 Competition for the Most Phallic Building in the World). It also gave me the chance to feature Gregg Lynn and Sylvia Lavin (not her first time in the blog), who’s the subject of a cartoon I never get to sit and draw. Over there, writing on his blog in Providence, David Brussat identified this as an ITD (Internet transmitted Disease): “Klaustoon on Koolhaas and Penises” at Architecture Here and There.

Next issue, it  will be FAT time.

ShardnadoClick to enlarge

“Why is it the tallest? I don’t really remember. I don’t really care. It was actually taller at the beginning, it was 400 meters, but then aeronautics came and they said that you can not because you interfere with the flight of the air planes. So we broke it. The building is now 310 meters but it is still designed to go up to 400 meters. Many people still believe it is unfinished… this idea is part of the game in some way,” says Piano in the 20 minute interview.

 “As an architect you have a very dangerous job to perform. Dangerous for you but even more dangerous for other people. Because if you do something wrong it is forever. I think it [The Shard] is fine. I stopped crossing my fingers only a few months ago. You do everything you can to make it right but the truth is that you only understand at the end when it is built if it is right or wrong. I was not very good at school. I grew up with the idea that what you do is fine but it is probably not good enough. And so even now at 75 I still feel that every time I do something right it is a miracle. I don’t live in the sensation that everything I do is right. It is always a great surprise.”

Responding to criticisms that The Shard is a symbol of the welath dividie in London, Piano says that only 50 or 60 of the 10,000 people that will visit The Shard every day could be classified as rich. But he agrees that £25 is too much to charge to access the viewing platform at the top of the building.  “£25 is too much but in this town everything costs too much… I agree it is too expensive. Because one of the aims of this building is to give London back to the people and to be public. But this is the normal price. If you go to the top of the Empire State building you spend more than that.”

Er, Renzo, let me remind you. It’s that tall because you all wanted to make A SHITLOAD OF MONEY.

22 Feb

And, by the way, a ticket to the top of the Empire State building is $25/£16 which is a lot cheaper than going to the top of the Shard.

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Nuff Said.

NK09 Viñoly attacks uncube 03Click to enlarge

“Developers have promised urgent action to “cover up” the Walkie Talkie skyscraper in the City after an ultra-bright light reflected from the building melted a Jaguar car on the streets below. 

The 525ft, £200 million building has been renamed the “Walkie Scorchie” after its distinctive concave surfaces reflected a dazzling beam of light which blinded passers-by and has now caused extensive damage to vehicles parked beneath it. Martin Lindsay, director of a tiling company, left his Jaguar XJ for one hour opposite the building, and returned to find warped panels along its side, accompanied by a smell of burning plastic: ‘They’re going to have to think of something. I’m gutted,” he told City A.M. “How can they let this continue?

Eddie Cannon, a heating and air conditioning engineer, said his Vauxhall Vevaro had suffered similar damage: ‘The van looks a total mess – every bit of plastic on the left hand side and everything on the dashboard has melted, including a bottle of Lucozade that looks like it has been baked. When I got in the van it was a really strange light – like it was illuminated and they were filming.’  David Banks, a PR consultant who felt the force of the intense beam, said: “It is like a huge lens. It is magnifying the sunbeam. It’s like trying to fry ants with a magnifying glass.” He added: “It was uncomfortable to be underneath and I was conscious that it was probably unsafe to spend too long under that particular beam.” Mr Banks expressed concern that the blinding rays could impair motorists’ vision. Joint developers Land Securities and Canary Wharf said they are looking into the incident. In statement they said: “As a precautionary measure, the City of London has agreed to suspend three parking bays in the area which may be affected.”

Rafael Viñoly said he designed 20 Fenchurch Street “to respect the city’s historic character, following the contour of the river and the medieval streets that bound the site, while further contributing to the evolution of the high-rise building type.” […]

Pffffffffff…..

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #14: Small Towns, Big Architecture, edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Jessica Bridger, Elvia Wilk ey al. Above text extracted from: SHERWIN, Adam: “Walkie Talkie City skyscraper renamed Walkie Scorchie after beam of light melts Jaguar car parked beneath it”. The Independent, Tuesday 03 September 2013,

 

NK08 01 sm blogClick to enlarge

“He flew Tina Turner over her audience on a huge mechanical arm, drove U2 through their arena inside a mirror-studded lemon, and thrust the Rolling Stones between stages on a 45m-long telescopic bridge, complete with helicopter searchlights. The architect and set designer Mark Fisher, who has died aged 66 after a long illness, defined the rock’n’roll spectacular over the last 30 years, dreaming up ever more elaborate contraptions to match the wildest visions of his bands.

Vast inflatable characters were a regular feature of his shows, reaching a surreal climax when a 30m pig burst through a wall of 2,500 polystyrene blocks, for the ex-Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’s 1990 performance of The Wall in Berlin. Designed with Fisher’s then-partner, Jonathan Park, it was one of the most ambitious sets ever conceived outside an arena, with the wall marching 170m across the former no-man’s-land of Potsdamer Platz, before tumbling down in front of an audience of half a million people. A stage version of the show, which features flying puppets based on drawings by Gerald Scarfe – including a caricature of Fisher as a schoolteacher – remains one of the most complex rock shows on tour, costing almost £40m to stage.

Fisher’s designs always broke new ground in the sheer scale of their spectacle. For U2’s PopMart tour in 1997, he developed the world’s largest LED screen, stretching 50m across the back of the stage. In front of this glowing cliff of pixels rose a giant golden arch, in the style of the McDonald’s logo, from which a bank of speakers was suspended like a great basket of fries. Topping off this supersized satire of consumer culture, an illuminated olive shone at the end of a 30m cocktail stick.

“A rock show is a sort of tribal event in our culture,” said Fisher. “It’s preparing everyone for the arrival of the high priest.” In this case, the priestly vehicle took the form of a 12m-high lemon-shaped mirrorball, which flipped open to reveal the band inside. “The grail,” the designer would say, “is to give the audience something spectacular it really didn’t expect.”

Born in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, Fisher began his studies at the Architectural Association in London in 1965, where he was surrounded by the dreamy visions of floating cities and plug-in megastructures of the experimental Archigram group. Working on set designs for musicals after graduating, he was given the chance to test out his pneumatic ideas on Pink Floyd’s Animals tour in 1977, producing a striking inflatable menagerie that caught the imagination of bands and audiences alike.

Fisher designed the band’s lavish stage sets for the next two decades, culminating in a 40m-high tilting steel arch for the Division Bell tour in 1994. It was the biggest portable stage set of its kind; it took three days to erect the 700-tonne steel structure, three versions of which were fabricated, in order to leapfrog between venues on 53 articulated trucks. […] One of his most elaborate bespoke designs was “the Claw” for U2’s 360 tour, a 180-tonne steel arachnid that loomed over the stage, enclosing the band along with several thousand members of the audience.

“He was an architect with an extraordinary imagination,” says U2’s manager Paul McGuinness. “He turned everyone’s wild ideas into steel and lumber and canvas reality.” It was a reputation that drew a stellar client list, with Fisher crafting extravaganzas for everyone from Elton John to Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga to Take That, Madonna to Metallica.

Outside the world of rock’n’roll, he was invited to work on the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008, constructing a glowing telescopic “dream sphere” around which swarms of acrobats performed. For the Commonwealth Games ceremony in Delhi in 2010, he developed an ingenious system of hanging everything off a 90m-long inflatable structure, as the suspended floor of the stadium could not take high loads. […]”

He is survived by his wife and fellow architect, Cristina Garcia. Mark Fisher, architect and stage designer, born 20 April 1947; died 25 June 2013.

Oliver Wainwright: Mark Fisher Obituary. The Guardian, Wednesday 3 July 2013

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #13: Berlin, edited by Florian Heilmeyer, Jessica Bridger, and Elvia Wilk.

Metabunkers in da Haus blog 01Click to enlarge (Scroll down for full panorama)

“Everything is becoming science fiction. From the margins of an almost invisible literature has sprung the intact reality of the 20th century.”

J. G. Ballard: “Fictions of Every Kind” (Books and Bookmen -February 1971)

Koolhaas read The Cast of the Metabarons.

Or maybe not. Certainly, much as Rafael Moneo likes to trace the architectural lineage of the Casa da Musica back to Breuer’s Begrisch Hall in The Bronx (and, let’s be honest, they only look alike if seen from a certain angle), Koolhaas’s diamond-shaped starship bears more than a passing resemblance to the megastructural Metabunker -as does Mr. K to the Metabaron himself- designed by Jodorowsky and Moebius in the early 80s and refashioned a decade later by Juan Gimenez. The image of the music centre’s diamantine volume, landing on top of a stone tapestry that waves in Marilyn-ear fashion amidst Porto’s urban grid could difficultly be more accurate in its rendition of the megastructural ship, hanging motionless in the middle of the Möbiusian City-Well. The main entrance, with its porthole-like design,  reinforces the spaceship connection, also present in other projects by OMA, such as the aptly christened Transformer and its lunar module resonances. And the same case could be made for the transvestite Death Stars designed by the Office for the UAE, or, in a sort of Escherian flattening, by Heerim architects in Azerbaijan -while, to the eyes of those who discovered cyberpunk in the manga from the 1980s, it is difficult not to feel a dejá vu of Masamune Shirow’s Appleseed Arcologies (go check them!) when seeing the renderings for the similarly lunar-themed Crescent Hotel in Baku.

Weapons of the Metabaron
From left to right, clockwise: (1)The Metabunker as seen in Othon le trisaïeul, Les Humanoïdes Associés, November 1992. (2) Begrisch (Lecture) Hall. Marcel Breuer, 1964. (3) Casa da Musica in Porto. OMA, 1999-2005.

Did Koolhaas really read The Metabarons? In the end, it matters not.

Writing in a XXI century that has been a synonym for “the future” for more than a hundred years, those overlaps -be it direct inspiration or sheer serendipity- simply underline the way in which science fiction’s architectural imaginary has become part of  the general imaginary of architecture. Today, the conflation of the advances in representational and building techniques fosters a parallel conflation of the modus operandi of architects and sci-fi designers, as offices and publications such as Factory Fifteen and Beyond vividly illustrate. We live in a new paradigm where science fiction’s architectural imagery, so crucial in the shaping of the imaginary of several generations of architects brought up in visions of white, hi-tech landscapes and dark corridors covered with lockgates and leds, is as much a part of the architectural cultural heritage as the classical orders, the Pantheon, or the Unité d’Habitation. Nowadays, architecture has to fish in new (old) imagery pools, while postmodern citationality expands to encompass the products of popular culture. And, in the end, everything becomes science fiction architecture.

— Luis Miguel Lus Arana: “The Weapons of the Metabaron: Metabunkers, Music Halls, and the SciFi-cation of Architecture ” in Clog: SCI-FI, August 2013; 16-7

Metabunkers in da Haus blogClick to enlarge

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CLOG #7: SCI-FI, with contributions by 3.4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, After Architecture, Jared Banks, Katy Barkan, Sean Burkholder, Conner Callahan and Shana Opperman, Ryan Church, Matthew Clarke, Archie Lee Coates IV, Nathaniel Coleman, Eric De Broche Des Combes, Greg Cook, Mark Dermul, Kyle Dugdale, Jeffrey Franklin, Pedro Gadanho, Scott Geiger, Ricardo Gonçalves, Reinier de Graaf, Alpna Gupta, Patrick J. Gyger, Dalia Hamati, Sara Hayat, Brian Horrigan, Julia van den Hout, Kellen Qiaolun Huang, Justin Hui, Interiors, Andy C. Jenkins, Matthew Johnson, Damjan Jovanovic, Klaus, Joseph Kosinski, Simon Kristak, Jimenez Lai, Stephanie Lee, Sally L. Levine and Daniel I. Vieyra, Thomas Lozada, Alan Lucey, Luis Miguel (Koldo) Lus Arana, Casey Mack, John Marciante, Kyle May, Ian McAlpin, Craig William McCormack, Kimberly McGuire, Matthew Messner, Movingcities, Thomas Mical, Leo Mulvehill, Dan Newman, Matt Novak, Roberto Otero, Luke Pearson, Cyrus Penarroyo, Emmanuel Petit, Enrique Ramirez, Jacob Reidel, Doctor Laser, Fred Scharmen, Kyle Schumann, Neal Shasore, Dominik Sigg, SOFTlab, Rachel Meade Smith, Jason Vigneri-Beane, William Watson, Nathaniel Walker, Liam Young

NK06 - DEF 03 smClick to enlarge

“Seville’s flashy new showcase is held together by extra-strong glue – but not quite enough to make its many parts connect.

Oh my God, it’s an icon. How very last decade. Did the city of Seville not get the memo? Big, flashy buildings are out; hair shirts are in. Then again, building projects are slow things, especially when they have hugely ambitious and untried structural ideas. In 2004, when the Metropol Parasol project was launched, and Spain felt flusher than it does now, few were thinking it would open after the country was hit by one of the worst of the European Union’s many financial crises. As it is, like the grandiose new City of Culture of Galicia complex in Santiago de Compostela, it looks like a late work of bubble baroque. (…)

Mayer’s design contributes to the disconnection. It puts too much faith in the power of look and shape, with the result that the appearance of fluidity masks – in fact, assists – a disjointed reality. The magic mushrooms demand both attention and energy: the complexity of the building contributed to its being many years in the making, and at one point it required a cash injection of €30m. The more everyday parts of the building are left looking eclipsed by the spectacles, and exhausted by the effort of achieving it. Which is a shame, as the Parasol is, almost, one of the smarter of the recent tide of iconic buildings.”

— Rowan Moore: “Metropol Parasol, Seville by Jürgen Mayer H – review”  (The Observer, Sunday 27 March 2011)

The original cartoon, in a slightly different fashion, can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #11: Charles Correa, edited by Florian Heilmeyer, Jessica Bridger, and Elvia Wilk.

NK 03 On Intellectuality blog

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NK 04 Taylorist Designs 01 blog

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“Our Design for the Parrish Art Museum is a reinterpretation of a very Herzog & De Meuron typology, the traditional house form. What we like about this typology is that it is open for many different functions, places, and cultures. Each time this simple, almost banal form has become something ver specific, precise, and also fresh.”  — Jacques Herzog via Dezeen

Aha.

[As usual, the cartoons can be found in all their original glory at uncube’s website].

klaus Kube 02 You're so Kool blog

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Ok, let’s see if I can bring this back on trail. I really need to catch up with the blog.

This comes from Uncube Magazine # 07 : Off-places. The published version is slightly different. In the same issue, there’s an interview with Gottfried Böhm by Florian Heilmeyer which is really worth checking, if you’re a Brutalist fanatic such as myself. So go check it.

Come on.

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(…) Digging into the dirty laundry of the architectural star-system is, in any case, neither a recent phenomenon nor a curiosity exclusively circumscribed to today’s divas. The mouth-to-ear airing of our architectural heroes’ private sins has been an inevitable aside of their rise as idols. Small talk on the lower passions of the masters of the past has accompanied the writing of the big lines of the History of Modern Architecture, and along with our worshiping of their oeuvre comes the delight to learn about their quaintest interiorities: Mies van der Rohe´s infamous (non) affairs with Ms. Farnsworth, Alvar Aalto´s alcoholism -a recurring topic for Finnish cartoonists3, or Le Corbusier´s pathological Messianic obsessions are personal details that have transcended the boundaries of scientific biographies to become precious pieces of information we love adding to our common knowledge of them. We need both heroes and villains: The formers to inspire us, the latter to offer us some moral relief at the sight of a worse human being than ourselves. But even more, we’d rather having our heroes be our villains too. Some will argue that these minor flaws humanize our icons, making them flesh and blood human beings we can better relate to, and certainly this “fleshing out” helps build our interest on them. But this humanization is also an excuse that sugarcoats a very straight forward preservation mechanism, devised to protect our self-esteem at that point where admiration meets sheer envy. There’s nothing we love more than a rags to riches story -except for a riches to rags story, that is.

A most interesting reversion of this turns up, however, when these minutiae actually become an integral part of the mythos, to the point of being vital contributors to its very construction. Again, the careful devise of its own legend was an inherent feature of architecture’s entrance into modernity, often created as a fiction before it really happened. (…) The fascinating point here is how this emergence of gossiping contributes to the creation of the starchitect; how in the case of contemporary icons such as Rem Koolhaas it´s the unofficial flux of information surrounding the figure which ultimately elevates him into a legendary status.

Of course, in the case of Koolhaas the shaping of this aura is also engineered through conventional means; Koolhaas is a sharp thinker and an eloquent writer and spokesman who has shaken the architectural scene of the last decades with acute reflections of deliberate and controlled ambiguity. But even more than through his words, the Koolhaas mediatic persona has been constructed through a parallel dissemination of details about his behind-the-scenes: stories that tell us of a man who lives in airplanes, sending by mail corrections for a document he was given in a meeting a few hours before, of a Renaissance man who swims every time he lands, or wins a competition with a single, cunning speech5. All this mouth-to-ear stories, propagated through the netsphere, contribute to endow his figure with an halo of epic mystery that propells him into an almost superhuman category. Koolhaas is the über-example of the starchitect, where the personality comes first and the work second. And that’s the bottom line: Koolhaas can produce starchitecture because he is, first and foremost, a star. Le Corbusier´s delightully maudit portrait, painting nude in Saint Tropez has been replaced by a cover of L’Uomo Vogue.

But public notoriety is as easy to gather in the age of software as difficult to retain. The internet era is also the age of the twitterization of knowledge, a time where information both reigns and deflates, where news are as ubiquitous as thoroughly made-to-forget, immediately replaced by new installments. The same could be said about some of the architecture produced by this idiosyncrasy, made to glow for a moment and quickly disappear; architecture of futile monumentality and inevitable ephemerality designed within a discipline obsessed with creating the building of the century… of the week. In this new paradigm, the (st)architect has to become a public figure, an entertainer, a performer, or even, if needed, a celebrity of the Kardashian kind. The World Wide Web and the rapid production allowed by digital tools have multiplied the presence of architecture in everyday life, and have worked together to create a new type of architect sustained above all by his communication skills. The internet, blog culture, Twitter, have leveled the capability of everyone to achieve their share of Warholian fame, but in turn, their allotted fifteen minutes have been drastically reduced to -maybe- fifteen seconds. The attention of the audience, brought up in a solid diet of continuous novelty, is volatile, and the architecture of today has to keep nourishing its audience at a steady pace, or risk disappearing from the picture right away.

And it is in this context where gossip, criticism and satire, emerge as tools for the maintenance of public presence. The internet has also revived the long-loved tradition of the fast gag, the sketchy commentary, and the cartoon, which offer the necessary escape route for the asfixiating ubiquity and self-indulgence of architectural discourse. As any endogamic discipline, architecture has a record of taking itself too seriously, and of alternating victimism and self-deprecation with tremendous arrogance and a myopic lack of perspective (ironic as it is) on the relevance of its own obsessions. The reemergence of satire appears as a natural counterbalance for this, offering us a way to mock our loved-hated idols that’s apparently naive, inoffensive (but with the potential to become really offensive), and sublimate our frustration through ironic laughter, instead of bitter full-frontal (yes) criticism, while at the same time, reinforcing the (com)position of the starchitectural who’s who. As Oscar Wilde, via some of our infamous celebrities, would point out, the ultimate goal is to be talked about so as to be (there), even if just to be thrashed, and architects, with their fragile yet unrestrained egos, become the ideal victim/beneficiary of this revival. Today, gossip refashions itself as a form of viral advertising. The motto is “keep them talking”. (…)

Tell me more! – Gossiping, cartooning, and the nourishing of the  Starchitectural status quo

Conditions magazine #10: Gossip, July 2012

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The above are some excerpts from a (not really much longer) article published in the last issue of Conditions magazine, which I received last month, in the middle of the busiest July I can remember. Conditions is an independent Scandinavian magazine on Architecture and Urbanism edited by Joana da Rocha Sá Lima, Tor Inge Hjemdal, and  Anders Melsom whose next issue, “Possible Greenland”, will be part of the official catalogue of this year’s Danish/Greenlandic contribution to the Venice Biennale. Conditions #10 is dedicated to gossip, and features contributions by Robert Somol, Eduard Sancho, Christian Hjelle, Irene Hwang, Ed Ogosta, Espen Vatn, Freddy Massad&Alicia Guerrero Yeste, Roberto Naboni, Iben Falconer and yours truly. The essay above was written around the same time as Modern Talking, the article published in Mas Context #14: Communication that tackled on some overlapping issues, which explains the recurrent use of some examples and ramblings; either that or I’m entering a wino-in-a-bar dynamics where I just keep repeating the same the same stuff over and over. Please, be forgiving.

If you want to read the full article, click in the images below, or -much better- order a copy here. You can also read the text of Eduard Sancho’s And if most of the job offers are fake? here. Special thanks to Gislunn Halfdanardottir.

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Once upon a time, people compared with their neighbors. Your neighbor was your point of reference and thus the most desirable object of gossip and eavesdropping. Not so anymore. In the world of global networking, you are driven by ambition to compare yourself with the most clever or world-renowned exponents of your trade. Even a critique, satire or parody of the star-system of architecture is an affirmation of its hegemony. Who doesn’t want to be the object of architecture gossip? After all, it’s giving the “stars” more attention, no matter how critical the original intention was. For addicts of gossip, all news is good news, the worst thing is silence, and even a well mediated “scandal” can actually promote your career.
The current issue of CONDITIONS investigates the function of gossip in architecture. Gossip has always been around in architecture as one of the oldest ways of sharing, maneuvering and convincing. But how does it manifest itself today within the instant culture of internet and social media? What is the role of gossip in contemporary networking? Has the logic of gossip and instant gratification also penetrated what we used to call architectural critique?

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Earlier this month Rem Koolhaas returned to the Harvard GSD in order to give one of his infrequent and multitudinous conferences. Filed under the motto “current preoccupations”, the talk, which replayed Koolhaas’s October lecture at the Barbican, showcased a bunch of different issues taking place on and around OMA’s office. And so, it was presented as a  halfly-articulated progress report that allowed Mr. K to adopt his improvisational approach to discourses of late. One of the highlights of the session  was, of course, Project Japan, Koolhaas&Obrist’s book on Japanese Metabolism and its heroes, which Koolhaas surprisingly used to grieve (again) for a lost mediatic aura that architects still had in Kikutake’s times: Today, architects have increased public notoriety at the expense of credibility. It’s hard to argue against that, even if Koolhaas’s argument, namely that an architect has not made it to the cover of Time Magazine since Phillip Johnson did in 1979, is itself pretty bland, and also a little too pro-establishment for OMA. So, in a nutshell, architects get more screen minutes today, but fewer quality minutes. However, on the one hand, Time Magazine does not hold the qualifying power it did four decades ago (if it did then). But also, Time is possibly less a desired media to be featured on today which, regardless of its historical pedigree, has a much lower impact capacity.  And above all, it does not offer the type of mediatic plateau that Koolhaas and OMA have needed to shape and sell their elusive brand image throughout the last decades.

It’s also rather amusing to hear  Koolhaas, who revels in giving conferences that are rather rock concerts than intellectual debates, complaining about the caricaturization that comes with the mediatic ubiquity of architects. Especially when he himself has been one of the main actors in the postmodern recovery of satire as a tool to (de)construct architectural discourse. Still, Koolhaas has always been a careful constructor of his own  legend, and it’s possibly here where this counterfeit argumentation, deceptively articulated as a complaint, fits -as well as his later mention of OMA’s production as modest, performance-driven architecture. Certainly, performance has always been one of the driving forces of OMA’s design, present in all-scales of his projects: It’s difficult to find an architectural practice that has put to better use Tschumi’s strategies of transprogramming,  from Jussieu to  Bordeaux, to the Kunsthal or to Porto, even if usually formalised as dis-programming. But the same could be said about Koolhas’s careful design of both his discourse and self-image, both an ongoing performance where statements can’t be taken at face value, and where there is a very conscious detachment between what he says and what he does.

“Modest” is not, however, an adjective that automatically springs to mind when thinking of OMA’s production, which since the late 80s (I’m thinking of the Congrexpo, but also of the CCTV building, the Seattle Library, the Casa da Musica at Porto,  or the unbuilt Córdoba International Congress Center) has bounced progressively towards the L-XL side of the scale. Funny, too, that he referred to the invisible quality that he found in some of his most recent buildings. Today architecture is mediatic as ever, but also fundamentally mediated by its public presence, and by the very nature of this presence in the new media. The flashy era of digital image/media/production has sworn much of current architectural production to immediacy and to a futile search for instant memorability that lead to an effective disappearance, both from perception and from memory: In a scenario where every building struggles to be distinct and claims desperately for attention, the cacophony of the whole inevitably results in a loss of the individuality of the pieces: All-new, all-different, they all look the same to the viewer. The cartoony aggregation of skyscrapers in the UAE desert that has become one of Koolhaas’s most celebrated images is pretty much the world OMA has helped create.

And then, he talked about countryside and preservation.

 Hoo-haa.

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The video of the lecture used to be online somewhere, but apparently it has been taken down now. However, a full-length video of Koolhaas’s previous conference OMA: On Progress, dealing with the exact same issues is available on youtube, along with the rest of the talks at the Barbican in London: OMA: On Prudence (Victor van der Chijs), OMA: On Generations (Shohei Shigematsu), and OMA: On Speed in Architecture (David Gianotten and David Tseng).

Even more interesting are the two shorter, “unofficial” videos that the people at Dezeen produced on the occasion of the opening of the OMA/Progress exhibition, where Koolhaas offered an improvised tour through the still unfinished rooms. There’s something akin to a guilty pleasure in the domestic atmosphere those two videos exhale, especially in the first one, where Koolhaas goes room by room , talking to the camera that follows him as he strolls through the half empty exhibition halls and speaks briefly about each project in plain, unsophisticated words (providing some amusingly partial and clumsy descriptions). Of course, one always wonders how much of this is actually very consciously staged. Truth is, the nervous rush from project to project, which could help him empathize with the viewer, ultimately contributes to the halo of mystery that surrounds him, making him look somewhat uninvolved and uncomfortable -in a hurry to just get the task done (fragility vs. disdain). To my eye, it falls on the same strategy as his carefully careless lectures. I was tempted to count how many times Koolhaas uses the pet phrase “a kind of” throughout the video (but I resisted, so if anyone bothers to do so, please email me).

In any case, this unceremoniously rushed pace with which Koolhaas goes through OMA’s visual catalog confers the video an undeniable aura of authenticity that fits perfectly the un-beautiful aesthetics Rotor chose for the exhibition (many of the items lay bare, as if directly transposed from OMA’s offices, in almost-empty rooms), itself a pretty good encapsulation of OMA’s cold and deceptively spartan approach to design. Still, the second video, where “Koolhaas discusses two of his current preoccupations: the countryside, which he is addressing for the first time; and generic architecture, which could result in neutral, copyright-free building forms” is also worth watching. Actually, the whole OMA section on Dezeen is worth a look.

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For a more accurate report of Koolhaas’s lecture at Harvard, with Michael Hays and Sanford Kwinter as partenaires, check “Goodbye stararchitecture”, by colleague and friend Zenovia Toloudi at Shift Boston Blog. A brief but interesting review of the exhibition can be found in Rory Hyde’s “OMA/AMO : Progress/Regress“, which looks back at the evolution of AMO and OMA’s production in the last decades, as portrayed by the changes in their subsequent publications and exhibitions, from Content (Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, 2003) to the Cronocaos installation they did in the Italian pavilion as part of the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, and finally to the Progress show in the Barbicane.

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