May 30, 2010
ribbon iseshrine
Ribbon Cutting


Many young architects want to be the maverick wunderkind, who ‘comes out of nowhere’, as they say. Significant first projects are critical, by conveying a rare ability to fulfill a compelling, individual vision at a young age. One project leads to another, so that one may have decided to be a Jon Jerde rather than a David Adjaye without realizing he or she had made that choice. This fear results in ubiquitous fantasies of the believing, generous client—an independently wealthy or politically influential relative, for instance—who can rescue the architect from the quagmires of political negotiation, dogmatic clients, and any other obstacles to individual vision.


From Imhotep’s devoted Pharaoh to Peter Eisenman’s Suzanne Frank, patronage in architecture is a tradition as old as the profession. This gift confers autonomy to the architect and his or her work. The gift-giver’s elevated position in society, whether obtained through money or influence, frees a comfortably shady plot upon which the architect can build without the messy heat of compromise that distorts vision. But, as Marcel Mauss, the 20th century sociologist, tells us, a gift is never free, and the given cannot be divorced from the relations that exchanged it. Architects, however, feign ignorance or neutrality to underlying power dynamics, while necessarily materializing that power, thereby fulfilling reciprocity. They fancy themselves autonomous even from this symbiotic relationship, a further condition of the gift they have received Extricating themselves from potential ethical quandaries, they can invest themselves in perverse fascinations with the effectiveness of authoritarian political regimes, corporate capitalists, and other gift-givers of global power. Gift upon gift, architects dream of the carte blanche, an allowance to design free from the rigorous demands of society—another incarnation of the tabula rasa.


Ise Shrine, Ise, Japan, 4 BC (source)


Art is both a gift and gifted. It is the product of a gifted spirit and, when successful, it gives (space, time, inspiration) to those who subsequently witness it. A piece of art is inexhaustible. It is always the same and never the same. Lewis Hyde wrote a whole book on this, called The Gift. ‘If the artist is gifted, the gift increases in its passage through the self. The artist makes something higher than what he has been given, and this, the finished work, is the one offered to the world in general’.


Architecture is not art, but many of us wish it could be. Architecture is too tied up with the world. It is not the product of a single self, but innumerable authors, each mediated by exterior forces (money, power, politics, function, zoning…). Buildings must also be logical, and ‘Logic is the money of the mind’, writes Marx, ‘logic is alienated thinking and therefore thinking which abstracts from nature and from real man’. It is the building’s job, literally, to abstract the human from nature, to place her in a room of her mind’s own making.


Perhaps, as architecture become less strict, as it veers closer to the art object, it can become gift-like. A memorable piece of architecture creates space—real space, of course, but also new space in our memory. The space created of seeing something beautiful, or interesting, or weird. Great architecture is effusive, like art, though it often has to do more to establish itself as such.


And there is also the literal way in which a building is a gift. We give a building to the future, where we know it will be (for a while, at least). Those after us can come to it and see the things we did well and the things we got wrong. The Ise Shrine… more


Henry Ng

Aleksandr Bierig


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May 19, 2010
marshmallow fabricforming
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Ghostbusters, Ivan Reitman, 1984 (source)
The Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology, University of Manitoba (source)


Monsters rely on the process of deformation to produce fright. Vampires and their exaggerated incisers, Frankenstein with his ungainly proportions and bolted neck. Even the lexicon of naturally aggressive and cruel beasts that lurk on this world—the piranha, the great white shark, the gorilla, the tarantula—benefit from deformations by authors and directors in order to make them appear even more vicious. In James Cameron’s directorial debut, Piranha 2, the piranha’s have sprouted wings, allowing them to nip at victims in flight. The deformation also injects frightening qualities into otherwise harmless and inanimate objects, such as the lowly marshmallow that transforms into the one hundred foot tall Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the original Ghostbusters film.


In architecture, the use of the deformation is no less frightening. The great medieval cathedrals of Europe, whose slender towers extended to ever jarring heights, pushing the sublime to its limits, and sometimes falling down in the process. The American skyscrapers that reached for the skies, while reaching for profits…more


Deformation is regularly used by contemporary formalist architects as a way of manipulating architectural elements into performing with a certain specificity for a given set of parameters. Does this pursuit of specificity result in an architecture which is necessary, useful, or functional to the user, or are deformations applied for the sake of creating complexity without any particular reason beyond satisfying the architect’s subjective aesthetic desires? While deformations are a popular method of tailoring architecture, they do not always serve a public need.


One instance where deformations satisfy both the architect’s ideals and the greater benefits of the design process is in the work of Mark West and his Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology at the University of Manitoba. His concrete structures and experiments are made using a flexible fabric mold which stretches and puckers under the weight imposed by the wet material. While his fabric forming approach fulfills an individual’s vision of beauty, it also creates a sustainable, resource efficient formwork for casting concrete.


E. Sean Bailey



Erandi de Silva


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May 2, 2010
backyardigans grass
The Backyardigans, Nelvana, 2010 (source)


From a young age we are indoctrinated by our elders to believe in all sorts of nonsense. That Santa brings us presents every year on a reindeer powered sleigh, that breaking a mirror will bring seven years of bad luck, that if you cross your eyes they’ll remain that way forever, and that the backyard is a mystical place.


The backyard as a land of imagination is a common theme in children’s literature, television and movies: Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, The Bridge to Terabithia, Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, The Fraggles, and more recently, The Backyardigans. All of these narratives rely on transmogrifying yards to transport their protagonists to strange alien lands. Plants sprout mouths, dolls come alive, dogs talk in polite speak, small things become large, and large things small. The imagination literally comes alive.


Just as the wives tales of broken mirrors and crossed-eyes are told in the interest of parents—mirrors were incredibly valuable for much of history… more


Lawn (source)


I did not encounter suburbia until I was seven years old. On a family vacation, I was struck by the rows of identical houses with grassy spaces to the rear, surrounded on three fenced-edges, by neighboring yards. It was here that I discovered the backyard—a revision of the typical rural plot of land—and all of its possibilities.


In my years, I had only ever seen a garden being watered by a hose, however in suburbia I was introduced to the sprinkler. In its classic variety, it was possible to run under the sprinkler’s arched stream of water without getting wet, or to run through its stream jumping directly over the perforated metal tube as it rotated back and forth, or to catch the light, rainbow-infused spray, from its edges. The backyard also introduced me to the maple tree and the guinea pig, a plant and an animal I previously had no awareness of. It was also here that I finally came into contact with grasshoppers for the first time, which I then brought indoors, not realizing they were better off outdoors. As a child, this exotic place with its foreign culture, flora and fauna proved to be endlessly fascinating.


E. Sean Bailey

Erandi de Silva


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