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NK 24 50 Years

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2014 marked the 50th anniversary of one of those ubiquitous landmarks of the 60s visionary scene, Amazing Archigram 4: The Science Fiction Issue, which saw a truncated attempt at a big-scale celebration on my part. Again, 2015 marked another 5-decade anniversary: this time, it was the publication of Reyner Banham’s ‘A Home is Not A House’ in the April 1965 of Art in America. ‘A home is not a House’ is an inevitable go-to place for any fan ´(I’m including architectural scholars here) of the capsule, expendable, or ephemeral architecture movement of the 1960-70s and beyond -and a nice counterpart to Banham’s own Megastructure.

Also, the article featured those simple-yet-captivating illustration/collages by François Dallegret (I mistyped ‘Dallegreat’ and was on the verge of leaving the typo as it worked so well) which have become a visual sine-qua-non of the time. Dallegret’s pictures were as much responsible for the success of the article as Banham’s always witty, subtly (and not so subtly) ironic and sometimes inflammatory prose. Another installation in Dallegret’s works dealing with complex machines (the article also featured some items of his ‘Automobiles Astrologiques’ series) and intricate detail, the ‘Environment Bubble‘ displayed an immediate, on-your-face rawness that contributed to its lasting appeal. The naked Dallegret and Banham clones inside the bubble were just the icing on the polemical cake. It is a pity that the ‘Banhams’ were just paste-ups of the writer’s head on the artist’s body, although, according to Mary Banham, it was the right choice -aesthetically speaking.

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while has surely noticed I have a little more than a slight infatuation with Banham’s work and figure, in general, as well as for his collaboration with Dallegret -see ‘A Home Is Not A Mouse’ to ‘Full House vs. Full(er) House’, ‘Banham Style’, and several others published here and there. [‘There’ standing for architecture magazines not yet featured in the blog]. So, when I noticed an issue of Uncube entitled ‘Commune Revisited’ was in the works, I didn’t miss the occasion to fit in a little nod to Banham&Dallegret’s work before the year went by. [Another homage was included some months later in Arquine magazine, and it will show up here at some point, I guess]. I also contacted Mr. Dallegret at the time, and his response included some surrealistic talk about going to the supermarket and eating a banana. But I’m not going to comment on that.

For those interested in reading Dallegret’s actual thoughts, I’d strongly recommend revisiting this interview delivered on the occasion of the 2011 exhibition at the AA school of Architecture (curated by Thomas Weaver and Vanessa Norwood). ‘A Home is Not a House’ is all over the internet, and can be either checked online, or downloaded in pdf form. For those of you too lazy to click on links, you can find the full article below.

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The original cartoon can be found as originally published in the “Klaus Kube” section of Uncube Magazine #34: Commune Revisited, 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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Banham, Reyner, Dallegret, François: ‘A Home is Not a House’. Art in America, April 1965.

 

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“If the passage falls below the levels of ponderous literacy and pedantically accurate spelling… the use of imagery has a knowing exactitude which overleaps conventional architecture-magazine rhetoric of the period, by-passes the reader’s normal verbal defence [sic]mechanisms, and thus produced a distinct shift in sensibility.” (Peter Reyner Banham: Megastructure: urban futures of the recent past, p. 94)

Had they not been written around 1976 by Reyner Banham to qualify the success of Space Probe!—the comic-collage that Warren Chalk produced for Amazing Archigram 4—these words could belong to any contemporary critic’s review of BIG’s first monograph, Yes Is More.

Since Le Corbusier wrote his storyboarded Lettre a Madame Meyer in 1925 comics have maintained an incestuous love/hate relationship with architecture or, better, with canonical architectural representation. Iconic power of the comic image aside, graphic narrative has an inherent appeal due to its capacity to combine the traditional tool of flat, linear drawing with the representation of timespace, and to permit the cohabitation of sequentiality and simultaneity.

I can’t help but  feel attracted by the possibilities of the cross-breeding between architecture and comics, of the condensation/articulation of time and architectural/urban space displayed by Winsor McCay or Frank King in their early but mature understanding of Thierry Groensteen’s sequence in praesentia / of the spatial play of non-linear narratives deployed by Chris Ware, Lewis Trondheim or Victor Moscoso / of the experimentations with the architecture of the page by OuBaPo’s Patrice Killoffer…

   

The particular potentialities of graphic narrative in the rendering of spacetime, and especially in the sequential representation of architectural and/or urban space have accompanied the development of comics since its very beginning. Decades before Sergei Eisenstein verbalized his theories about cinematic montage, pioneers of the medium such as Winsor Mc Cay were intuitively pushing the envelope, exploring the cohabitation of time and space in the page. McCay’s trip through a hyperbolic Manhattan in September 1907 [1] showed the different shots of the city (both different moments and places) fusing together in a timespace of a higher order (the page) that also constructed a hyperurban, kaleidoscopic space. In an opposite direction, Frank King experimented in several dominical pages of Gasoline Alley [2] with the atomization of a single space into different moments, an approach that has been often revisited in the alternative comics scene that started in the 1960s [3: Victor Moscoso plays with the adjacency between panel and space, making the traditional 3×3 grid into an architectural frame excavated on the blank space of the page, much in the way of Mathew Borret’s recent graphic experiments / Zap Comix No 2 – 1968].

Examples of non-linear and/or multidirectional narratives within and without architecture. [4] Patrice Killoffer in Oubapo no. 1, 1997. [5] Chris Ware – Narrative Diagram for Quimby – The Acme Novelty Library. [6] Chris Ware – Narrative Diagram for Lint – Acme Novelty Library no 20, 2010. [7] Chris Ware – original art for ‘Building Stories’. The ACME Novelty Library No. 16, 2005.

But BIG’s Yes is More is none of these.

Nor should it be. Displaying his trademark proactive approach Bjarke Ingels takes comics at face value. Yes is More is not an experiment on the ability of graphic narrative to represent architectural space, but a straightforward, use of comics to tell architecture. In a field pervaded by the artificial construction of the-project-as-a-narrative, BIG chooses to openly present the work within a narrative constructed ad hoc, using the very architecture of comics as a natural way to combine the texts and images through which architects develop work into a consistent ideovisual (if I may use the pun) discourse. It’s somehow refreshing (as unusual) that here the authors show a natural understanding of the rules of the medium, avoiding the all-too-common mistake of taking collage for montage,  and subsequently provoking collision where transition should take place. Yes is More is a nicely crafted work of/on narrative that plays with alliterations and takes its time to domesticate the source material, effectively succeeding in fostering a certain closeness between the viewer and the buildings: Softened by the voice of Bjarke Ingels as the story’s narrator, the usual coldness of architectural renderings gets replaced by a sense of familiarity, conjuring in them an aura not of represented spaces, but of lived places.

Of course, as usual in BIG, there is a tendency to excess, to oversize the communicational apparatus with an overabundance of words, pictures and diagrams rather skillfully inserted without much self-censorship. If in his seminal short story Here Richard McGuire condensed a lapse of billions of years in 6 pages -that could have been reduced to a single, wisely designed panel, In Yes is More, Bjarke Ingels unfolds a few years of practice in four hundred busy pages. But Bjarke Ingels is nor McGuire.

Nor should he be.

[Published in Clog Magazine, September 2011]

Futher reflections can be found in the comments section of the previous post, and in a follow up post in Comics Metropolis, where Andrea Alberghini, author of Sequenze Urbane: La Metropoli nell Fumetto, comments (in Italian) on the presence of comics in the work of Rem Koolhaas, Neutelings & Roodben Architecten, or Jimenez Lai.

A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. (Thanks, guys!)

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Bjarke Ingels Group: YES IS MORE, An Archicomic on Architectural Evolution. Taschen, 2009

I rarely publish articles under Klaus’s name (I have a whole different personality just for that). However, when Kyle May approached me in order to collaborate with a short review (a sketch of an article rather than a long text) on BIG´s “Yes Is More”  in the debut issue of Clog Magazine, it seemed most appropriate.

Clog aims, according to its editors, at slowing things down, with each issue exploring “from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen.” The first issue, focused on Bjarke Ingels Group, gathers together a sort of critical aleph, showing a cloud of different glimpses/glances from an extensive list of contributors, including Michael Abrahamson, Iwan Baan, E. Sean Bailey, Greg Barton and Michael Keller, Aleksandr Bierig, Janine Biunno, Gabrielle Brainard, Greg Broerman, Sean Burkholder, John Cantwell, Dan Clark, Justin Davidson, Obinna Elechi, Fake Design, Graffitilab, Rúnar Halldórsson, Jonathan Hanahan, Han Hsi Ho, Julia van den Hout, Karrie Jacobs, KiBiSi, Klaus, Jonathan Kurtz, Alexandra Lange, Kyle May, Stephen Melville, Michel Onfray (translated by Charlotte van den Hout), Carol Patterson, Ethan Pomerance, Jacob Reidel, Team JiYo, Erandi de Silva, Bernd Upmeyer, Oliver Wainwright, Human Wu, Sung Goo Yang and Ying Zhou.

Along with the official launch in October 1, 2011, Clog will feature a tête à tête with Bjarke Ingels in the Storefront for Art & Architecture on October 7. For further details, check CLOG’s website. Find my few scribbled lines below.  A full version with images here.

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You can find a short preview (it used to be longer) of Yes is More at Taschen’s site here. A useful introductory analysis of the book by John Hill can be found here, and a review of Clog here.

Also: A translation of the article into Spanish has been published by fellow Spaniard bloggers FreakArq here. Baunetz.de uploaded some images of Clog: Big, in their blog here, including one of Yes is More or Less.

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Clog: BIG. Online press, blogs, tweets, social media, and other digital forums have drastically increased the speed at which architectural imagery is distributed and consumed today. While an unprecedented amount of work is available to the public, the lifespan of any single design or topic has been reduced in the profession’s collective consciousness to a week, an afternoon, a single post – an endlessly changing architecture du jour. In the deluge, excellent projects receive the same fleeting attention as mediocre ones. Meanwhile, mere exposure has taken the place of thoughtful engagement, not to mention a substantial discussion. CLOG slows things down. Each issue explores, from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives of the screen. 
Clog: Big is edited by: Kyle May (Editor-in-Chief), Julia van den Hout, Jacob Reidel, Human Wu, The Office of PlayLab, Inc. (Design)

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Noone’s gonna get the cinephilic reference (otherwise, prove me wrong if you dare).

In any case, the Food Section of The New City Reader, curated by  William Prince, Krista Ninivaggi, and Nicola Twilley will “hit the stands” at the New Museum next Sunday. Be sure to get a free copy if you are in NY. Unless there have been last-minute changes, you’ll find four cartoons in it (Hence the overload of updates this week and the next one). Previous issues can be read here.

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Next week’s section of The New City Reader revolves around food and (in) the city  This issue has been curated (actually, it’s still being produced as I write this) by William Prince & Krista Ninivaggi from Park, and Nicola Twilley, from Edible Geography and co-founder of the engaging Food Print Project.

The cartoons deal with the undergoing subtopic of overhearing and the relationships bred at the informal, unexpected gatherings in food places. Following a suggestion by Will Prince, Phillip Johnson -the habitual guest at Four Season’s table 32 in the Seagram Building- entered the game pretty soon (thanks, Will), but he revealed such a charismatic cartoon character that became a recurring theme himself. For further reading on Phillip Johnson and his relationship with the Four Seasons, you can check Terry Riley’s “Fifty Years of the Four Seasons” in Metropolis Magazine, and Steven Kurutz’s “With a Legend Gone, What Fate for Table 32” in The New York Times. Paul Goldberger also wrote a nice recount of Phillip Johnson’s career after his death for TNY that can be found here.

More cartoons for this issue to follow this week and the next one. The Food section will be available for free pickup at The New Museum next Friday (November 19). You can read all the issues of The New City Reader online in The New City Reader Blog.

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The New City Reader: A Newspaper of Public Space is a project curated by Kazys Varnelis and Joseph Grima. The New City Reader is a performance-based editorial residency designed as a part of the Last Newspaper, an exhibit running at New York’s New Museum from 6 October 2010‒9 January 2011. It consists of one edition, published over the course of the project, with a new section produced weekly by alternating guest editorial teams within the museum’s gallery space. These sections are  available free every Friday at the New Museum and will also be posted in public throughout the city for collective reading. The permanent staff and list of guest editorial teams can be found in Varnelis.net.


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“Octobre 17:

The physical manifestation of the actor-network theory reappeared last night. I took a couple of Glocalyne tablets, but they just seemed to worsen the effect.It seems delightfully paradoxical that this state of hyperconnectivity has confined me to the solitude of my room…”


Hmm… After a couple of weeks of obscurity, I’ve decided to shed some light on this drawing, a cross-breeding between Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and Schuiten&Peeters’ La fièvre d’Urbicande (with a little bit of L’Étrange cas du docteur Abraham). Although it had rested in a drawer for a long time, it got finally done after watching one of Schuiten and Peeters’ delightful performances at the Once Upon a Place conference in Lisbon.

For some insight about the ANT, I would go to Anthem, “a gathering of human and nonhuman actors that are interested in both actor-network theory and the work of Martin Heidegger” that has become the online referent for Latour studies. For more on the obscure yet fascinating work of Franco-Belgian megastars Schuiten and Peeters, check Urbicande or the über-comprehensive Obskür (Spanish readers, might want to go here). The complete text of “On the Difficulty of Being Glocal” can be found in this older -and even more obscure- post.

And for more on Bruno Latour check out the Latour category in the blog (WARNING: There’s some Sloterdijk scattered in there, too).

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Universalism used to be a rather simple affair: the more detached from local traditions, the more universal you became. If the stoics could be called ‘citizens of the world’, it’s because they accepted being part of the ‘human race’, above and beyond the narrow labels of ‘Greek’ and ‘barbarian’. A regular scale seemed to lead from local to global, offering a compass along which every position could be mapped. Until recently, the more modern you were, the higher up you ascended; the less modern you were, the lower down you were confined.

Things have now changed a lot. What now is more universal: the American world order or the French Republic? The forces of globalization or those who call themselves anti-mondialists? Local farmers daily influenced by the price fluctuations of commodities or local teachers insulated behind the walls of civil service? Amazon Indians able to mobilize NGOs in their defence or some famous philosopher secluded on campus? And what about China? Certainly a billion and a half people will add some weight to whichever definition of the world they adhere to, no matter how local it might appear to Westerners – if there is still a West.

The situation is all the more confusing because, as many anthropologists have shown, people devise new ‘localisms’ even faster than globalization is supposed to destroy them. Traditions are invented daily, entire cultures are coming into existence, languages are being made up; as to religious affiliations, they may become even more entrenched than before. It’s as if the metaphor of ‘roots’ had been turned upside down: the more ‘uprooted’ by the forces of modernization, the farther down identities are attaching themselves. Modernization, with its clear frontlines, has become as confusing as a game of Go at mid-play.

Hence the success of the word glocal, which signifies that labels can no longer be safely positioned along the former scale, stretching, by successive extensions, from the most local to the most universal. Instead of subtracting one another, conflicting identities keep being added. And yet they remain in conflict and thus have to be sorted out, since no one can belong to all of them at once…

But if the compass of modernization is spinning so madly, how can we distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate glocal attachments? First we have to modify this bad habit of ranking all entities of society from the largest to the smallest through some sort of zooming effect. ‘Large’ and ‘small’ are devoid of practical meaning. It’s wrong to assume that society is made of Russian dolls fitting into one another, all the way from planet Earth to the inside secrets of an individual heart. Wall Street is not a bigger space than, let’s say, Gaza. From the boardroom of IBM, one can’t see farther outside than a shopkeeper in Jakarta. As for the Oval Office, who could think it’s inhabited by people with ‘larger views’ than those of my concierge?

What we really mean by size is connectedness. Yes, the floor of Wall Street might be more connected, through many more channels, with many other places on Earth than my study, but it’s not bigger or wider; it does not see clearer; it’s not more universal than any other locus. All places are equally local – what else could they be? – but they are hooked up differentially to several others. Apart from those links, we are all blind. Thus, it’s the quality of what is transported from place to place that creates asymmetries between sites: one can be said to be ‘bigger’ than some other, but only as long as connections are reliably maintained. It’s never the case that one site is more universal, more encompassing, more open-minded than any other, in and of itself.

Once this radical ‘flattening’ of the land has been obtained, once every global view has been firmly localized into one specific site, once attention is focused on the connecting networks, it’s possible to ask a second question: since we see something only thanks to what circulates between sites, how can we be made aware of the fragility of our own interpretations? A club is not good or bad depending on its extension – the more inclusive the better, or, on the contrary, the more exclusive the better – but depending on its ability to fathom its own limitations when it excludes or includes other members.

This is where the old label cosmopolitan could get a new meaning. Although Ulrich Beck recently tried to use it as a synonym of ‘having multiple identities all at once’, Isabelle Stengers has proposed a much more radical meaning: politics of the cosmos. How can we entertain not just many identities at various degrees of extensions, but different cosmos?

That cosmos are also up for grabs is a new and unsettling idea. Before, there existed a single nature and different cultures, some of which were ‘limited’ to a local point of view while others were broad enough to offer membership to ‘citizens of the cosmos’. But how to build the City of which they are supposed to be the citizens? Where is the common home that we could live in? Such a task can no longer be simplified in advance by saying that the wider the perspective the better it is, for there is no ‘larger’ view anymore.

In the old cosmopolitan view, there were no politics and no cosmos because the higher unit was already given: one had only to break away from one’s own attachments in order to reach it. But in Stengers’ view, there is no more strenuous task than to invent political tools capable of revealing how all cosmos differ from one another. It’s an even more risky endeavour to imagine how they could be gathered into some future common arrangement. If cosmopolitan is an adjective fit for a fashion magazine, cosmopolitics, on the other hand, is the duty of the future, the only way to build the common Domus.

Bruno Latour: On the Difficulty of Being Glocal. Domus, March 2004

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