EAST LONDON

March 26, 2010
underground eastendstraddler
Map of the London Underground Railways, Harry Beck, 1933 (source)

 

Recently the diagram of London’s central underground network, as displayed inside the trains, changed to include the East End of London. The area shown was enlarged to introduce all stations from Notting Hill to Stratford—an endeavor that not only conformed to London’s geographic reality but also the socio-cultural significance of the East End—the area east of the medieval walled-city of London. As a visual depiction of central London, the small map displayed in the tube long excluded East London and solely represented its center, the West End and West London. Indeed this change precedes the political ambitions of the London’s Olympics and the regeneration of the Hackney Marshes… more

 

Photograph by Cameron Smith, 2008 (source)

 

Popular images of London often depict scenes from the city center and the West End. Despite an absence of tourist buses, the East is a colorful part of the city, with a unique identity, and rich character, which is often overlooked. Despite contributing to London’s success and diversity, this area lacks representation perhaps due to a history of poverty and is rarely exposed to outsiders.

 

In recent times, East London is increasingly gaining exposure as a backdrop for fashion shoots. Popping up in such magazines as Fantastic Man , The Gentlewoman etc. proves that the East is sharp. Knife crime aside, London still has an edge.

 

Simon Pennec

Erandi de Silva

 

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PERIMETER

March 25, 2010
dress ringroad
Silk with Fly Fringe Cage Crinoline Dress, Mantua, 1760-70 (source)

 

Perimeter is the boundary of controlled ownership. In fashion it is a negotiable boundary. Victorian dresses of the 19th century functioned as a personal architecture, defining the space and status of the wearer, while simultaneously attracting the attention of the viewer (both parties are necessary for perimeter to have any meaning). By putting on the dress, the wearer amplified their narcissistic claim to personal space, beyond what everyday attire of the time allowed. This artificial perimeter obscured the body while expanding it in space.

 

The practice of oversized Victorian costume began with the layering of petticoats and starched fabrics to communicate social standing. Over time, the multilayered status-imbuing fabrics became too unwieldy to perform as clothing. To overcome the practical limitations of textiles, in 1856, W.S. Thompson patented the cage crinoline, a hollow metal cage that replaced the solid, stratified petticoat volume. As the cage crinoline evolved, it grew in scale and ornamentation, forcing its form to shift to accommodate its surroundings. In order to allow passage through the narrow door frames and hallways, typical of the time, the cage crinolines were flattened in profile, resulting in a silhouette that only revealed its full spatial dominance when viewed from the front. These points in the evolution of the Victorian dress depict a negotiation in the definition of perimeter from a personal volume to an objectified form.

 

Ring Roads of the World, Thumb (source)

 

…’the city in its circular fever repeats and repeats’.

 

—Octavio Paz, A Draft of Shadows

 

 

A city’s edges are in a state of perpetual redefinition. Roman walls give way to medieval walls, which ultimately give way to un-walled urban expansion. Fortified perimeters that once defined and protected entire settlements become porous thresholds between the older and newer districts of a single city. Cities themselves become nodes within greater metropolitan regions—networked conurbations with limits that are often difficult to plot. Even at the scale of the continent, the clear definition of an edge becomes tenuous, as transcontinental cities stitch nearly distinct land masses together.

 

The ring roads that surround contemporary cities are perhaps the clearest perimeter form at our disposal today, but a ring road is not a wall. Rather than containing place and bluntly delineating the extents of a city, ring roads invite horizontal expansion (as the growing number of cities with several concentric ring roads will testify). To save itself from itself, the contemporary city may need to reinvent the wall.

 

Pamphlet Architecture 13: Edge of a City showcases six projects by Steven Holl… more

 

Jonathan Stitelman

Aaron Plewke

 

2 comments » | Guest Contributors

T.V.

March 16, 2010
colorbars chomsky
Standard Broadcasting Color Bars (source)

 

I no longer have a ‘television’, that big black box that sat awkwardly in the living room and burst into technicolor light at the touch of a button. Now I receive my moving images on a portable laptop via the internet—sometimes inclined in bed, ancient Greek style, sometimes sitting at the kitchen table, which I consider to be more formal than the latter. On extra special occasions I place my laptop in the living room in the empty space where the television used to sit, thus watching it at a distance, from the couch—a memorial service rather than a comfortable viewing experience. Domestic spaces, such as the kitchen, living room and bedroom, have lost their post-war hierarchy with the death of the television as an object. The new hierarchy prioritizes spaces of comfort—my personal favorite is the bedroom, where I can watch Gossip Girl under blankets with legs stretched out, the computer humming softly from its perch on my gut.

 

Still from Manufacturing Consent, 1992 (source)

 

Arguably, the quintessential public experience of the suburbs occurs at the mall. However, the space of the mall is not a backdrop for public engagement alone, it is a space where public and private encounters vie for dominance: mallgoers are confronted with individuality, families, private enterprise, shared experience etc. In legal terms, the space of the mall is private property located in the economic sphere, rather than being actual civic space. Accordingly, it is beginning to reflect its private nature by dressing more and more like a domestic space, rather than an overtly economic one.

 

When Erin Mills Town Center opened in 1989, to much fanfare, it had the world’s largest screens assembled from a collection of individual televisions. These screens were visible throughout the mall and thus, a favorite pastime of the private sphere was made public. To the dismay of many, the modular monitors are… more

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

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CELEBRATION

March 15, 2010
balloons banquet
VE Day Celebration balloon release, Bob Franklin, Southsea, UK (source)

 

While there is architecture of celebration—churches, monuments, civic structures—meaningful festivities more often occur in the realm of the mundane: the living room birthday party, the post game street parade, the Christmas dinner in front of the TV. In order to make these ordinary spaces extraordinary, we blow up balloons, suspend streamers, shower confetti and bolt lights to any surface that will support them; all of this to great success. Recognizing the temporal nature of the celebration, an entire industry exists solely to satiate our need for such disposable space jewelry (Party City in tonier neighborhoods, or Party Fair if you happen to live in Bushwick). A full transformation rarely requires more than a twenty dollar bill. This stands in stark contrast to the millions of dollars that are invested into more permanent forms of celebratory infrastructure, such as the Chinese pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. The Oriental Crown is estimated to have cost around 1,500,000,000 CNY, or 219,702,645 USD, whereas a pack of twenty-five latex balloons can be purchased for two dollars (they can probably be purchased for much less when bought in bulk from within China). At a conservative eight cents per balloon the Chinese government could have purchased an estimated 2,746,283,075 balloons (twice the population of China), for the same cost as the pavilion: In my view, a much more entertaining and memorable… more

 

La Primavera, Vaughn, Ontario (source)

 

Banqueting centers are ubiquitous in the Greater Toronto Area as a result of a lack of suitable spaces for celebration. They often conform to a rough set of standards which makes them an identifiable genre. Regularly located near a highway exit, these buildings are relatively minuscule islands in a vast sea of parked cars. They have showy facades that make them easy to spot from a moving vehicle. With numerous simultaneous celebrations happening at a given center, the spaces are commonly planned as a series of large rooms, which may be subdivided with partitions for flexibility to maximize profit. At times these partitions are identical to those used in many a local school gymnasium. While these partitions provide the hall with options, their flimsiness allows one to hear the neighboring celebration. In addition to aural mixing of parties and the merging which takes place in the parking lot, people from different celebrations mingle further in the hallways and bathrooms. Total privacy is a luxury that is rarely granted. The exteriors of the banquet centers are often rendered in stucco with wallpapered interiors that incorporate many neo-classical or Mughal plaster details. Top all of these parameters off with the tasteless overcooked food that is regularly served and these spaces for celebration become spaces which are simply not worth celebrating. How did it become part of our cultural ideal to host a party in a big box celebration multiplex?

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

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SMELL

March 12, 2010
secaucus izzieblow
Empire State Building and Laurel Hill, Secaucus, NJ, 1990 (source)

 

From 2005 to 2009, New Yorkers complained of a maple syrup smell, periodically wafting through the neighborhoods of Manhattan’s west side. Conspiracy theories ensued, including olfactory terrorism and even UFOs. It took four years, and hundreds of calls to 311 for the city to finally pinpoint the source of the smell: Frutarom, a company in New Jersey that processes fenugreek seeds.

 

It was fitting that the smell was ultimately traced to New Jersey, as the state has a long history with scent. The Meadowlands, across the river from Manhattan, have been used as a dumping ground as long as the area has been settled—there was no other practical use for the swampy geography. The area was also at the epicenter of the industrial revolution, its watersheds converted into polluted mires, as they were located downriver from two of the largest industrial powerhouses in the world. Additionally, at the beginning of the 1900’s, New Jersey, and Secaucus specifically, housed a substantial number of pig farms (it is estimated that there were as many as 250,000 pigs on fifty-five farms in Secaucus)… more

 

Isabella Blow (source)

 

Smells, can be locators, which may orient one spatially through psychological or physical means. Physically speaking, smells can affect how an individual moves through a space. They might incite a range of emotional responses such as repulsion and seduction which may turn one away or draw one near. Smells are also known to trigger memory, as so elegantly demonstrated at Alexander McQueen’s Spring 2007 show where he paid tribute to the late Isabella Blow by filling the room with the scent of her favorite perfume, Fracas. Similarly, the smell of incense or popcorn can serve as ritualistic reminders of religious spaces or movie theaters, respectively. Capitalizing on this knowledge, companies such as Comme des Garçons are branding their retail spaces through the creation of unique scents as a means of further cementing their identity. Beyond the realm of smells which are applied to a space, there are then those which are inherent in building materials and processes and may serve as an integral part of a design’s sensuality. Despite all of its atmospheric potential, smell is one avenue of spatial manipulation that is rarely, if ever, intentionally exploited by architects.

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

CONCRETE

March 11, 2010
apollinaire tauba
La Mandoline, l’Oeillet et le Bambou, Guillaume Apollinaire, 1914 (source)
MM-HM, Tauba Auerbach, 2007 (source)

 

Concrete represents permanence and solidity. It is possible to claim that its enduring form in the ruins of the Ancient Rome, delivering the ideas of the empire, accounts for much of Western civilization, as we understand it. As architects, we know about its durability, strength, and power to render form sharply. But the material tells a more complex story.

 

The word ‘concrete’ originates in the Latin concrescere, meaning ‘to grow together’. Inherent to itself, concrete describes a fundamental drama about transformation. In its vague, liquid-like form, concrete is much like fat: malleable, composite matter lacking internal structure. Its shape emerges from its container, without which it dissolves into uselessness, like a chameleon without a background. To seep and to mirror are its functions. It is the toti-potentiality of the formless that Joseph Beuys sought in his frequent use of fat in his art. Chaotic and fundamentally dense to comprehension, fat signified a void of form that could be either filled by transcendent potential or remain nothingness. Liquid concrete is much the same as fat, until it achieves its second life.

 

In solid form, concrete is in every way the opposite, epitomizing immutability and structure. It is helpful to describe it by discussing “concrete” in a related use. Concrete poetry is a form of poetry where words aggregate to become an image. Ash and limestone are replaced by language. It is this moment of achieving the gestalt of the image that makes it concrete, when an alternate reading of the poem opens up, which collapses time to the instant of recognition. In reference to language and ideas, ‘concrete’ describes that which has realized a material form or reality, and is thus opposed to the ‘abstract’. The same is true for concrete as a material. When concrete is poured to create a block or beam, it becomes real, and the liquid void is filled by a timeless certainty. And so, concrete tells the story of transformation from non-form to form, of coming into being.

 

‘Dich aber, süße Sprache Deutschlands,
Dich habe ich erwählt und gesucht, ganz von mir aus’.

 

-Jorge Luis Borges

 

 

Etymology always poses the greatest stumbling block to theory: because when it comes down to it, what do we really mean by Geist? But Hegel hasn’t been the only thinker to regress into language for solutions to philosophical problems (although German as the Science of Logic is a compelling argument indeed). Whereas Virno laments the multitude’s ever-shrinking grammar, pooling around inane topoi koinoi, the field of hermeneutics would cease to exist if it weren’t for Greek and Latin roots. When reaching into the abstract for theories sandwiched somewhere in between intuition and rational thought, words fall easily enough into place, explaining concepts in a manner that is deceptively concrete.

 

But how stable is language, and the meanings of words, after all? The beauty of poetry is that it can contain contradictions without ever losing inner consistency. And yet, before I had any sort of fluency in a second language, I felt drawn to the poetic edge of the concrete arts (from the postwar era and thus after Apollinaire, because who wasn’t?) drawn up by Emmett Williams, Eugen Gomringer and Augusto de Campos. But the more I became engaged with feeling out the cultural echoes of the conversational everyday, the less enraptured I was by concrete poetry’s typographical delights. Imagine the word ‘apple’ typed repeatedly into lines tracing a perfectly-formed–well, apple. Word and image have struggled enough on the plane of the representational as it is, and the concrete poem finally seemed like too much brittle surface, sealing me off from more fluid constructions without any means to gauge the depth of discourse layered beneath. So I gave up. No matter how dried-out or defined, words will never be bricks for me.

 

Henry Ng

 

 

Kari Rittenbach

 

3 comments » | Guest Contributors

LINE

March 9, 2010
fractal finsterlin
Higher Order 3D Mandelbulb Set – C++, Paul Nylander, 2009 (source)

 

The least democratic of geometries is the line. As the shortest distance between two points, the line sacrifices choice for efficiency. The only moments of importance for the line are the points of departure and arrival, of which there are only ever one of each. The bulk of the line, that is the in-between (the veritable line itself), is nothing but fluff, filler, excess, which bridges these two points.

 

Despite its no nonsense rigidity, the line has inspired civilizations across the ages. The line is responsible for the discovery of the Americas, as it was thought that crossing the Atlantic would provide a shortcut to India. The line is responsible for the invention of flight, the most efficient means of global travel. The line is responsible for religion, offering humanity a means of understanding the formation of the cosmos—’I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End’ (Revelation 22:13). Time itself obliges to the line, forever leading us towards an end point that remains out of sight—death, judgment day, or worse (let us just hope that the Mayans were wrong about 2012). Luckily for us, the excesses of the time-line—seconds minutes and… more

 

Casa Nova, Hermann Finsterlin, 1920 (source)

 

While Modernism was taking hold, Hermann Finsterlin was turning his back on arc segments and lines drawn at ninety degree angles, claiming to the world that you ‘cannot lock a bird of paradise in a chicken coop’.

 

The difference between a bird of paradise (Finsterlin) and a chicken (everybody else) is centered on the former’s exoticism and thereby perceived rarity. While Finsterlin’s language was not completely without precedent as the Baroque period introduced heavy undulations and Gaudi and Art Nouveau explored the potential of organicism, his predecessors were often working within the established geometric parameters of ellipses, parabolas, and classical symmetry, respectively. Finsterlin did not subscribe to any such constraints, thereby he liberated his uniquely expressionistic lines, allowing them to conjure an animated landscape of ‘colorful buds, phallic shapes, sea urchins and coral formations, shells, tentacled underwater creatures and erotic couplings from which emerge, bizarre thorns, zig zags and rays’. Through his globally transforming lines, Finsterlin communicated an eccentricity, which was innate in their construction.

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

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PHONY

March 8, 2010
scarano pennstation
78 Ten Eyck Street, Robert Scarano, Brooklyn, NY (source)

 

This past Wednesday, Robert Scarano Jr. was barred from filing building permits in the city of New York, as it was decided that he had intentionally misled the Department of Buildings in order to gain approvals for often grossly over-scaled housing projects. This fraud was achieved through the production and certification of phonies… more

 

Penn Station, 1910-1963 (source)

 

Contrary to what Holden Caulfield and many others have suggested, phonies are not all bad. In an architectural context, there may be authenticity beyond, simply an homage, that lies within a sequel. Their application may result in a new whole made of copied elements which are displaced and re-contextualized as they never have been.

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

1 comment » | Editorial

SUSPENSE

March 5, 2010
demolitionman thebirds
Still from Demolition Man, 1993 (source)

 

Suspend me in a deep freeze, and do not wake me until the year 2036. Outside, the air will be cleaner, exotic new flora will carpet the landscape and the once gray island of Manhattan will have transformed into a tropical paradise. Moving sidewalks will have replaced moving cars; never again will one have to enter into the dark subterranean world of subways, rats and mildew. Skyscrapers that once hugged the ground will instead hug the sky, piercing the clouds on their way up to the cosmos. A robotic workforce will perform the most menial of tasks, leaving humanity to leisurely stroll the verdant landscape. Diseases will exist only in history books, made extinct by improved human hygiene and etiquette (instead of toilet paper we will use shells, and sex will be performed through a virtual reality interface). There will be no more violence, no more crime, no more jails, and no more need for police (apologies, Sandra Bullock).

 

Awaking in this future, my unwashed body will seem all the more pungent, my words all the more unsophisticated, my desires all the more grotesque. But, despite this, just one kiss of my cracked lips, the slightest transfer of bodily fluids from mouth to mouth and this perfect future will come crashing down.

 

Stairs to Cathy’s Room, The Birds, 1963 (source)

 

Can architecture generate significance in an era where the meaning of form is unstable and difficult (or impossible) to communicate? A recent book titled The Wrong House by Steven Jacobs explores the role that architecture plays in the films of Alfred Hitchcock a.k.a. The Master of Suspense. Jacobs identifies the staircase as a critical architectural element in Hitchcock’s cultivation of suspense. While staircases are not specifically symbols of suspense, Hitchcock develops a method for manipulating them into performing. Jacobs writes:

 

Dynamic and spatially fragmented structures, staircases are often places of crisis and their pespectival effects seem to isolate and confine characters. A central spine of domestic space, the staircase presents itself as an arena for psychological tensions. Furthermore, in Hitchcock’s films, staircases lead to trouble since they accompany the cognitive hubris of the characters. Inquisitiveness drives characters upstairs or downstairs. In addition, Hitchcock integrates his staircases perfectly into his technique of suspense: each step advances but also delays the denouement.

 

Last but not least… more

 

E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva

 

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ROAD

March 4, 2010
reynerbanham samson
Still from Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, 1972 (source)

 

Exchanging the sidewalk for the road, the flâneur stopped walking some time ago and began driving. As the American city changed, so did the figure of urban modernity. In his travel documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, the architect takes to the streets of LA in a car: ‘…freeway driving is interesting in itself, from up here, you see the most weird and extraordinary things and places you can hardly see from down below’. His voyeuristic gaze, framed by the rear-view mirror and steering wheel of his car, takes in the urban mess.

 

The car as the classic symbol of individuality serves to highlight the truly solitary condition of the flâneur. He consumes the city: an array of endless streets and infinite freeways running for miles. He drives alone, but amidst the traffic surrounding him. To Baudelaire, the flâneur was the ‘man of the crowd’. Refusing a possible isolation, for Banham, the flâneur becomes the man of the traffic. While Banham’s 1970’s documentary, reflects on the emerging car-centric culture of Los Angeles, it is clear that as of today, the city hasn’t changed and the flâneur drives on.

 

Still from Samson and Delilah, 2009 (source)

 

Imagery of the road inhabited is, perhaps unwittingly, recurring in the recent Australian film Samson and Delilah. The protagonists, indigenous teenagers Samson and Delilah, live life amongst a scatter of derelict community settlements in central Australia. The inadequate condition of housing (largely due to the government’s continued, incoherent response) means life, with all of its complexities, spills outside. In the film, buildings exist in the background; it is on, and at the periphery of roads—wide, gently convex, empty—where we sense an activation of space.

 

Absent of solids and voids, how would have Giambattista Nolli mapped the networks of habitation in the Australian desert? This is a land of inversion; a vacuum of openness, in which the built environment is a frail intrusion. From a bird’s eye, the strongest human mark is the swath of roads which carve long, asymmetrical shapes across the terrain.

 

There have been extensive writings on viewing landscapes from the seat of a car, for example Tom Wolfe’s infamous labeling of the Las Vegas urban strip as… more

 

Simon Pennec

Amelia McPhee

 

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