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It’s been an wful amount of years since I haven’t drawn a Christmas -or New Year- greeting cardtoon (I just made that up as I typed), and I thought it was about time, so here it is: Happy 2020 to everyone! -most especially to all those who have been following this humble site from the beginning.

Of course, even in such a straightforward drawing I couldn’t resist including a few nods to things both past and present, from Planet of the Apes to Climate Change, Brexit, Calvin and Hobbes, postmodern architecture, or Disney’s The Mandalorian, which has been the first time I enjoy a Star Wars-related product since the original three. (Well, I also enjoyed ‘Solo’, but that’s something I guess I shouldn’t admit publicly). Together whith those, there’s as usual, my cringe-worthy self-caricature, and these two guys which, if you look closely, tend to show up in many of my works. The reason for their inclusion here, other than habit, is that 2020 also marks the 15th year (oh, dear…) since I started using the ‘Klaus’ moniker, which I created in 2005 when I started publishing the architect-themed comic strip ‘El Corbu’ (which Quilian Riano suggested translating as ‘John Corb’). The strip featured a struggling young architect (as I was at the time) dealing with the typical problems of the profession, mostly low wages and clients who don’t like modern architecture. The strip only lasted for a year, even if I had sketched ideas for some 200 installments. As usual, again, the magazine that published didn’t last long, and I abandoned the project. I still like it, and perhaps I’ll retaake it. When I’m retired, I guess. In the meantime, and, for those who might feel any curiosity, here’s a taste, with a strip  that makes part of a series where John Corb hs to deal with a client particularly opposed to flat roofs. Enjoy.

And a let’s all hope for a Happy 2020!

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

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

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

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

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

See? See why I hate Blade Runner?

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Oh, dear.

When, 5 years ago, I realized this blog had reached its 5 year mark, and I set out to write an anniversary post of sorts, I distinctly remember thinking: ‘Really? Five years already?’ It certainly felt much less than that in some respects, possibly because producing Klaus-related stuff had been an on-and-off thing with ups and downs, and I was ready to abandon it altogether just every other Sunday. So it’s most disturbing to be writing this at a point that feels about two weeks later. And again, I’m both surprised that time went so fast, but also that it lasted this long: as I commented a couple days ago at a lecture in Canterbury, the ‘let’s just forget about this already’ feeling still persists.

Oh, well, let’s not get too dramatic. 5 years ago, I thought a brief summary of what had happened in those 5 years would be appropriate, so, following that short-lived tradition, let’s look back at those additional 60 months:

Back in March 2014, I had already been working for Uncube magazine for a little over a year, producing my ‘Numerus Klausus’ strip for the ‘Klaus’s Kube’ section at the Berlin-based online journal. That soon overlapped with a series of cartoons for the ‘Interchange’ section of Dutch magazine A10: New European architecture, thanks to a kind invitation by its then editor-in-chief, Indira Van’t Klooster, who ultimately compiled them all (together with the interviews they illustrated) in the book Forty and Famous (2016). Sadly, both Uncube and A10 went out of business within a couple months’ span in the Spring of 2016 (some posthumous celebration posts coming), but they provided me with a great platform (and a nice excuse) to show and produce my cartoons. And I had so much fun with them. Both editorial teams went on to found their own platforms (A10 coop. and &Beyond), and continued with other projects. Uncube’s cartoons remain uncollected in paper form, though, so if some publisher out there would like to try his hand at an ‘Artist’s Edition’, complete with sketches, preliminary drawings, and behind-the-scenes commentary, please let me (and Sophie Lovell) know.

I was sad to see both magazines go. However, even if the crazy 2014-2016 period, with its -for me- intense production of about two (increasingly complicated) cartoons per month, overlapped with my also increasingly demanding academic life, it also witnessed the consolidation of my longest steady relationship to date: the section Arquinoir at Mexico’s leading architecture magazine Arquine, a combination of cartoons and written columns that offers me with a great venue to exorcise my inner demons. Other writing gigs (together with cartoons), where I can pour some of my own research disguised under the ‘Klaus’ persona have also popped up in the last year, in the form of a conversation in MIT’s Thresholds journal (Thanks to Eli Keller and Anne Graziano), Mexican magazine Bitácora (cheers, Cristina & Dino), and, in a few months’ time (although completed a few months back), in Architectural Design, thanks to a kind invitation from Bartlett’s Luke Pearson and Matthew Butcher.

Of course, this is something that was already going on, and continued in yet one more article for Clog with another cartoon -and article- for their 11th issue, simply titled ‘Rem’. Other nice forays from 2014 were Phin Harper‘s-scripted Terry Farrell cartoon for The Architectural Review, the Table of Contents illustration for PRAXIS #14: True Stories, where I was featured along with some old friends (even if behind the new penname ‘Klaus Roons’ -Ahem!), as well as Jean-Louis Violeau’s irreverent REM. Le Bon, la Brute…, which reused some of my past cartoons on Mr. K. The following year, my work was also the subject of some nice commentary in Gabriele Neri’s book Caricature architettoniche – Satira e critica del progetto moderno (I swear I wrote that review, Gabriele; I just never found the time to finish it publish it…), and an eight-page dossier was published in Arq’a magazine.

Finally, an additional -and very big- ‘thank you’ must go to all those Good Samaritans who insist on forcing me to fight my seclusive self and make me travel virtually through my cartoons, in exhibitions in The Art Institute of Chicago, Venice, the Centro Cultural España (post coming) in Mexico or the Pontificia Universidad Católica of Santiago de Chile (yes, another post coming, too). And thanks to those who felt it might be worth hearing about my work in my words. For a few interviews with yours truly, click here and here (Veredes.com), here and here (Fredy Massad in La Viga en el Ojo), or here (Sophie Lovell in Uncube).

I got to thank them, too, for also bringing me physically out of my office. Those who know me also know about my natural resistance to talk about my work. But also know that, deep at heart, I love traveling, so thanks for helping me leave my drafting table and speak (in disguise) at the Graham Foundation, Universidad de Alcalá, the Chicago design Museum, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (post coming again; in the meantime, here’s the poster I designed for them, which was an immense amount of fun) the gigantic Mextropoli Festival in Mexico D.F. (first anniversary post coming soon), Santiago de Chile’s ArqFilmFest (seems some intensive posting is gonna happen in the upcoming months) or, just a little over a week ago, to Canterbury’s School of Architecture (guess what’s coming next week), among others.

5 years ago, I ended my anniversary post with a ‘see you in 5 more years’ time’. So, see you in… 10 more years’ time?

Oh, dear.

 

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A collection of prints of past cartoons from Arquine, A10, Uncube, as well as a few others published in the last 10 years, en route to Santiago de Chile, where I’ll spend next week. I’ll keep reporting. (In the pic, ‘¿Qué tienen las casas de hoy en día que las hace tan iguales, tan aburridas?’, my take on Hamilton’s famous collage published in Arquine #83: The Limits of Design, Spring 2018)

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Another blast from the past. As I was going through a checklist of my cartoons for Uncube, I found out I hadn’t posted this one, either. Some backstory: back in January 2016, Uncube was planning to put together an entire issue on Zvi Hecker (and more: check AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN – ZVI HECKER’S HOUSING DREAM), one of those visionaries who toyed with non-Cartesian geometries back in the ’60s, and actually got to build his designs (along with fellow Israeli architect Moshe Safdie and a few others). Being the sucker I am for all things 1960s/70s, I was glad to contribute a piece. Also, December 2015 was the time where Star Wars was (somehow) brought back to life, via the incredibly mediocre The Force Awakens. Being the sucker I am for all things science fiction, I couldn’t let the opportunity to throw in lots of Star Wars references in. Bjarke Ingels then came in to add the necessary starchitectural element. Enjoy!

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #41: Zvi Hecker edited by Sophie Lovell, Florian Heilmeyer, Ron Wilson and Elvia Wilk et al. I’d check it right now, if I were you. Honest.

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I thought I had already uploaded all the cartoons I had done for Indira van’t Kloosteer’s section ‘Interchange: Architects in Action’. ‘Interchange’ ran from March 2014 through April 2016 in the pages of A10: New European Architecture (issues #56-68), and all its entries featured a full-page cartoon in every issue (I might make a post soon with all of them as they appeared in the magazine), except for the first one, which, unfortunately, was too close to the deadline when I was approached. I thought it was a shame, at the time, because I had already come up with an idea for Jurgen Mayer H. when Indira contacted me that I thought was quite funny. However, I could scratch that particular itch a couple years later, when I could finally produce it for the compilation Indira put together in 2016.

However, it seems I had missed this one, featuring Brussels-Based Rotor Group. At the time of this interview, Rotor had recently completed their Deconstruction: An exhibition on salvaging and reusing building components Expo, where they exhibited the results of their work of selective deconstruction on a few buildings. Here, some excerpts of the conversation:

Last year, Rotor decided to take their commitment to reuse one step further. Since then, they have deconstructed about fifteen buildings, stripping them down to the base structure and reworking the matter amassed in the process into reusable materials that meet commercial demands. It has become a huge success. ‘The turnover of this business already equals our regular work,’ says founder Maarten Gielen as we spend the day at Rotor.

Visitors to the Vilvoorde office first see the showpieces: the doors, floors, chairs by Jules Wabbes, and ’90s postmodern kitsch. Their gaze is then drawn to the smart spinoffs, including upcycled old coat hooks sold per running metre and banisters offered in custom-length modules. Then there’s the yard, filled with dozens of toilet bowls, cupboards, chairs, benches, and textiles. Employees process a new load of products. Maarten Gielen smokes a cigarette at the picnic table in the meantime.

How do you find a suitable building?

Most of our clients are major players in the Brussels property market, and own hundreds of thousands of square meters of office space. When new tenants lease the building, which happens every ten to fifteen years, the interiors undergo top-to-bottom refurbishment. We take stock of the old interiors, such as the ceilings and walls, which we then offer to our 200-strong network of dealers, contractors, and architects. Then we start deconstruction, and transform the building into a showroom for clients to assess the quality. Most items are sold on-site. The top-quality features are taken to our depot, restored, and sold via our website.

Do you see this as architects’ work?

Of course. What we do here is similar to what an architect does on a construction site: coordinating activities, drafting demolition specifications, checking quality, and finalizing. Subcontractors take care of easy jobs, such as tiling, while our own staff takes on the more complex tasks. We must preserve the knowledge gained during demolition, so that the buyer knows its history.

Why do you focus on wholesalers, not private individuals?

While retail trade is more lucrative, given the much larger margins on materials, our goal is to professionalize wholesalers.

So you don’t work with the design potential of reuse, as other architects do with reclaimed objects?

No. We offer a standardized package at a competitive price. Working with second-hand material should be no harder than working with new, but you do need someone to create that bridge. We can take care of the logistics and the technicalities, so that for an architect it becomes more or less as easy as ordering newly produced materials.

Is it possible to reuse everything?

The ideological definition of reusable is ‘everything that can be dismantled’. However, these changes once translated into business logic, which dictates that a reusable material can be dismantled and resold at a lower price than the market value. All our material must contend either with cheap materials from China, or with products of new quality. Naturally, second-hand material competes better when it is of high quality, because then it can make a positive economic difference.

So it’s not cheaper for companies?

On the contrary, it’s never more expensive. We have different types of clients. The easiest ones are those who look for unique vintage design, whatever the cost. The second type is more pragmatic: they look for standard objects like urinals or floorboards. It would cost them €250 to buy it new, but €40 when they buy from us. If you need bucket sinks or urinals on six floors, and you can buy them from us and save €200 per item, this makes quite the difference.

(…)

Have you increased your knowledge of materials and regulations over the years?

Our projects have always had an experimental side, and we’ve learned that the materials hold much of a building’s intelligent design. Once aware of the economic logic behind the products and their origins, one sees that the architect is at the helm of a huge construction machine, yet possesses little substantial knowledge about it.

(…)

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Excerpts from: Indira van’t Klooster: Creative Deconstruction – An Interview with Rotor.  A10 Magazine #64. Jan/Feb 2016

 

 

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A few months ago, not long after coming back from my US Tour, I traveled to Mexico for the first time in my life (shame on me, I know), in order to open an exhibition (Arquinoir by Klaus at the CCEMex), speak at the Mextropoli Festival, and even teach a little. Of course, all this undeserved attention was made possible by the guys from Arquine, who kindly invited me over and invested quite some time in organizing everything. I still have to write about that one at length, so before that time comes (hopefully before 2018 ends), I thought I could fill in the void with yet another kind invitation from the Facultad de Arquitectura de la Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo (Morelia, Mexico),. There, I’ll be taking part in the ‘Ensayos sobre el Espacio Público’ course (Sept 19-21). See you there, if you’re around!

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