Our model Alejandro Hernández (@otrootroblog), editor in Arquine, lectures with style some weeks ago at the ISAD in Chihuahua. In the picture, he’s wearing the retro T-shirt ‘Hope’, from the ‘Kunst Haas’ series in our Spring 2009 Collection.
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“[…] For those who were already, let’s say, ‘architecturally active’ in the 90s, the second half of the decade featured an increasing presence of Koolhaas-isms in the architecture published by architectural media. Be it young offices paging Bakema through the Educatorium (those ubliquitous ‘single surfaces’ Jeff Kipnis still chitchatted on in his lectures more than ten years later), forests of tilted pilotis, cheap rubber surfaces or else, OMA’s supposed ‘house style’ had permeated through a whole generation that made justice to the old Spanish writer’s adagio: “Blessed are our imitators, for theirs will be our flaws”. Because, notwithstanding their varying degrees of success, none of those byproducts of OMA’s discourse seemed able to grasp its spirit. And it still goes on… monkey see, monkey do.
But, which is this discourse? Certainly, Koolhaas’ scant prose is, within its own scarcity, rich in suggestive, elusive terms: Manhattanization, Junkspace, Bigness -and you really know you have made it when Hal Foster writes a review of something like the Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping [ii]. However, as in Foucault’s Other Spaces/Hetrotopias, these are texts and terms that one seems to be able to make less sense of with each subsequent reading. All in all, it seems just a private a game, carefully designed to keep his audience intrigued while feeding his own legend by building an aura of impenetrability, to the point that one’s tempted to believe that every move is carefully staged: His carefully careless lectures, his unsophisticated, even clumsy descriptions of his own buildings, or his nervous, uncomfortable responses in interviews, all contribute to enlarge the halo of mystery that surrounds him. And, as I deduce from his always packed , rock-star-like conferences, it definitely works.
Five years ago, I published the first ‘Hope’ cartoon, with Mr. K posing as Shepard Fairey’s Obama. Five years later, I still wonder how many people did not get it was a joke.”
[i] See Heron, Katrina: ‘From Bauhaus to Koolhaas’ in Wired issue 4.07, July 1996.
[ii] See Foster, Hal: ‘Bigness’, in London Review of Books Vol. 23, no. 23, 29 November 2001.
Klaus: It’s not easy being Kool – 2001 ways to misinterpret Koolhaas… and help him have it his way (excerpt) in VV.AA: Clog: REM, June 2014.
So, in a sort of smart, happy and -also- inevitable move, the guys at Clog magazine sort of celebrated their 3rd anniversary (really, 11 issues already??) with their issue CLOG: REM, just in time for the Biennale. They also thought –as, apparently, everyone else– it was sort of inevitable to ask me to contribute. Of course, they were particularly entitled to, since they made sure to have me in Clog from the very beginning. Just click on the “clog” tag in this very site and you’ll get the idea. Also, they decided to open the issue with my contribution, which was very nice on their part. Thanks, guys! Oh, and a tip of the hat to Benjamin Greaves (@MrGreavesSays) for providing me with the title.
P.S.: For those among you who may have noticed, I’ve made a point of celebrating the 5 anniversary of “On Starchitecture” by using vriations of the “Hope” cartoon on all my contributions published around the time of the Biennale’s opening (all of them revolving about REMdamentals, of course). So far, you can check “Fundamentally… Myself” (in Spanish) in Mexican Magazine Arquine #68, and Keep your eyes open for Uncube #24: Mexico City.
CLOG: REM, with contributions by Michael Abrahamson, Stan Allen, Joseph Altshuler, Serafina Amoroso, Haik Avanian, Cecil Balmond, Dorin Baul, Aaron Betsky, Petra Blaisse, Jim Bogle, Ole Bouman, Mat Bower, Eric de Broche des Combes, Brian Bruegge, Galo Canizares, Stephen Cassell, Archie Lee Coates IV, Rene Daalder, Ozge Diler, Ryan Drummond, Keefer Dunn, A. A. Dutto, Erez Ella, Valeria Federighi, Kim Förster, Jeffrey Franklin, Joseph Godlewski, Adam Himes, Matthias Hollwich, Julia van den Hout, Frances Hsu, Bernard Hulsman, Hans Ibelings, Klaus, Charlie Koolhaas, Tomas Koolhaas, Andrew Kovacs, Jimenez Lai, Stephanie Lee, Thomas Lozada, Winy Maas and Jacob van Rijs, Brandon Martinez, Isaac Mathew, Kyle May, Philipp Oswalt, Roberto Otero, Steven K. Peterson, Wim Pijbes, Jacob Reidel, Michael Rock, Joanna Rodriguez-Noyola, Fernando Romero, Alejandro Sanchez, Mika Savela, Jonathan A. Scelsa, Kyle Schumann, Brian Slocum, Galia Solomonoff, Frederieke Taylor, Will Thomson, Madelon Vriesendrop, Luke Yosuke Willis, Human Wu, Albena Yaneva, Alejandro Zaera-Polo and Zoe Zenghelis
“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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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.
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But today we collect Gags [and gigs, and schticks]
Gropius wrote a book on grain silos,
Le Corbusier one on aeroplanes,
and Charlotte Periand brought
a new object to the office every morning,
But today we collect ads.[i]
Today (today), Rem Koolhaas writes big fat books and reinvents OMA each ten years in a different exhibition, and Bjarke Ingels recounts the 8 House to us conjuring a virtual model in the air while speaking to the camera. Nic Clear evokes the spaces suggested by Ballard in videos created in the Bartlett workshops, and Factory Fifteen win the RIBA medal with a short film on androids of the Apartheid. Architecture and fiction, again.
And comics. A decade before, Koolhaas (and son) rediscovered one more time (for architecture) the underground appeal of drawn stories, and Neutelings appropriated the graphic patterns of a certain Swarte (or perhaps Eddy Vermeulen’s) due to their inherent conceptual transparency. Today, Jimenez Lai published a graphic novel under the Princeton Architectural Press seal, and Yes is More or Metro Bassel signify the drift of architecture -a discipline traditionally burdened by its obsession with distancing itself from anything that could question its intellectual pedigree- towards the uncertain terrains of ars poverae and cool, of marketing and circus-like mediatic massage.
(… but -I am told- Le Corbusier also did storyboards for buildings in the 1920s, and before that he had already adopted the graphic conventionalisms of American cartoons. And even earlier, he flirted with the idea of writing a doctoral dissertation on the comic strips of Rodolphe Töpffer, the Swiss father of the bande dessinée…)
Jeanneret was a fertile and feverish communicator, too; like Loos, an active polemist; like Mies, a skilled coiner of catchphrases and mottos. The journey is, some they say, in how you tell it, and if architecture has nowadays a passionate affair with communication, this is nothing new, anyways. Today (the day before yesterday, at the latest), Rem Koolhaas poses impeccably dressed as the cover image of Vogue, while he plays confusion with his audience, displaying a discourse in permanent -and studied- contradiction. But long before that, Corbusier (that early Koolhaas impersonator) already understood that his main role was that of the publicist who could as well photograph himself painting nude in Saint Tropez, or rebuild his own history over and over again in the consecutive editions of his Oeuvre Complete. Architecture, and starchitecture, is in how you tel it, yes, and its legend gets built through grand discourses, but also in small talk, gossip and small miseries, through a mouth-to-ear that current informational ubiquity has augmented exponentially. Today, information is bigger, and bigger are the chances for media presence; but a more ephemeral one. That’s why the flux has to keep coming; the flux of images, publications and conferences, of debates, but also of opinions and minutiae, of Facebook walls and tittle-tattle.
Because today, we collect gags.
[i] Alison&Peter Smithson: “But Today We Collect Ads”. Ark magazine No. 18, November 1956.
“But today we collect gags”, originally published in the e-book “The Importance of the Ways Stories are Being Told” (dpr-Barcelona, June-July 2012) after the debate of the same name, and cracked during a train trip to Barcelona. Anyone who has read the similarly-themed “Tell Me More!” or “Modern Talking” will notice the recurrences and overlaps. [Also, the above image doesn’t have much to do with the text itself, just with the title, but…]
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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
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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At some point at the beginning of the Summer, Darwin Marrero, Assistant Dean at the School of Architecture of the University of Puerto Rico contacted me in order to contribute something to the upcoming sixth issue of (in)forma, which he was editing. The topic for the issue, “Hiperturismo” (Hypertourism) sounded really engaging, but unfortunately I was swamped by work, so I agreed to send him the hope–kool–pope trilogy, plus a modified version of (the) man on the moon as illustrations for “En el Limbo del Ocio”, a conversation between Michel Houellebecq and Rem Koolhaas. However, I couldn´t resist much time, and as the release date moved forward, I decided to adapt an old illustration (which was itself a reworking of another one) to the square format of the magazine, thinking that it wouldn´t take much time. In the end, it turned out to be really time-consuming, and I gave up, sending the ilo without all the modifications I intended to make (a flying bus-city-tour was supposed to be crossing the center of the image – And yes, it´s the image that sits on the background of my twitter profile).I guess I´ll make them at some point.
You can read the article, cartoons, and editorial as originally published (in Spanish) below.