FLEXIBLE

June 23, 2011
work slap
At Work With, Economy and Testbedstudio, Nordic Pavilion, 2010 (source)
Slap Bracelets (source)

 

In the post-Fordist era of the late 1960s, the mode of production and the idea of work radically changed. Henry Ford’s automotive factories, in which strictly controlled assembly lines ensured the speed and quality of production had, until then, served as the primary example of large-scale capitalist production. In this model, work was defined by the physical space of the factory and the activities taking place within it. To leave the space of the factory meant to leave work and to enter the private sphere, to take part in leisurely pursuits.

 

With post-Fordism, or Flexibilism as it is also sometimes termed, work no longer has any physical borders. Instead it has moved into our homes, into our smart phones, and as Franco Bifo Berardi would argue, into our psyches. Post-Fordism and the flexibilization of the market, more than any other factor, must therefore be considered as the catalyst for the deregulation of space.

 

In contemporary labor forms, the mental and physical borders between private and work life have collapsed. With this, follows a blurring of the distinction between spaces made for work and private life. As we check emails and cook dinner at the same time, the kitchen table shifts between functioning as a chopping board and an office desk. To ‘go to work’ in the morning can nowadays simply mean a move from the bed to the sofa.

 

At Work With, a project at last year’s Venice Biennial of Architecture, questioned the idea of exhibiting architectural practice as an event. Created by two Swedish architectural platforms—Economy and Testbedstudio—within the framework of the Nordic Pavilion, young architecture practices were invited to inhabit the pavilion for a week, using it as their office. By using the space to practice and discuss, architecture was represented here as labor. Although one could criticize the project for merely imitating the flexibilization of the market which precisely emphasizes process and practice, its attempt to question architecture through the notion of work is an appropriate entry point.

 

Today work pervasively accompanies us everywhere: the local cafe, the kitchen and the walk to the bus stop. Even the most intimate and private spaces, such as the bed and the bathroom, have been injected with the potential for productive labor to take place there. In order to rethink space it is necessary to consider it through the notion of work – how and where it takes place today.

 

Before digital interfaces could facilitate the exchange of colorful, emotional ephemera—ie. Tumblr—post-postmodern innocents communicated to each other in a complex language of linear color gradients, Lisa Frank, and slap bracelets, among other things. Long since eulogized by VH1, the slap bracelet in particular remains instructive from a material point of view. Developed by a Wisconsin shop-teacher in the 1980s, the bracelets were made of supple steel that could be straightened; introducing external force would cause the tension in the bistable spring band to snap and return to rest, in the shape of a coil.

 

Negotiating two predetermined positions, the slap bracelet’s flexibility can be read as supremely aesthetic – its plasticity as such had a singular application for wear. Without the ability to adapt, the bracelet has been marooned in pop-cultural time, and poses a particular question of value in design. (Later re-inventions of the steel band tend to ignore its kitsch lineage.)

 

If even the most self-evident flexible band grows problematic on closer inspection, the difficulties of flexibility which persist in architectonic spaces are innumerable.

 

The modernist notion of flexibility, for example—as expressed in the Rietveld Schröder house—is strictly formal and thus limited on those terms. That is to say, Mrs. Schröder never shifted the sliding wall partitions from their as-built positions throughout her residency there. On the level of the private house, the exercise in flexibility attempted to provide organizational alternatives for the living space, which were for its commissioner apparently gratuitous.

 

More recently, the retrofitting of so-called ‘historic’ (not necessarily modern) architecture has suggested another sort of flexibility with regard to the use of space over time: the St. Pancras Marriott at King’s Cross, London transformed the old train station into a luxury hotel, complete with ticket counter-cum-cocktail bar. Rather than a sliding partition there is a neoliberal slippage in clientele – causing one to consider the external forces at work in urban development schemes that shift from more or less serving a public to servicing the private sector. Whether this tension “rests” in a deregulated market remains to be seen.

 

So what might ‘true’ flexibility in architecture imply? Perhaps it is a quality too furtive… more

 

Josefine Wikström

 

 

Kari Rittenbach

 

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PROTEST

June 16, 2011
puritans milk
Painting of American Puritans (source)
Milk Farmers Protest, 2009 (source)

 

Reformation theology emphasized the intangible quality of faith and its location within the hearts of believers, rather than in the prescribed ritual of an ornate and hierarchical Catholicism. Embedded here, generally, was a rejection of the material. As waves of iconoclasm spread with Protestantism, so did the articulation of a new church architecture – one spare and plain, puritanical, rather than bejeweled or gilded.

 

This new religion founded itself in reaction, in protest, to the dominant practice thus, forming a network of Protestants in various guises, across Europe. Central to their belief was the philosophical distinction between the visible and invisible churches, between those who participate in religion in a material, empirical way—attending sermons, Sunday school classes—and those who, more significantly, are spiritually bound to Jesus.

 

The Westminster Standards, composed during the English Reformation, became the basis for, among other movements, Presbyterianism. The Standards articulated this difference between the invisible and visible, while denouncing the Pope of Rome as the head of the church. Instead, this vision of Protestantism imagined a community of individuals bound not by ecclesiastical authority but instead by a persistent and invisible faith. Protest then, unites a group diffuse in location or body under an immaterial priority.

 

In a staged protest however, it is exactly visibility that is valued. The accumulation of individuals… more

 

 

For the average protest, attracting media attention is as critical as the grievance itself. Although current modes of digital communication can help to spread awareness of a cause, in order to maximize the (physical) platform for presenting concerns and to provide an accessible forum for generating public debate, demonstrators are known to collectively appropriate the city.

 

As societies become increasingly sophisticated, so do their forms of demonstration. Instead of throwing stones at government buildings, brute physical aggression may be superseded by psychological methods. In 2009, dairy farmers in Belgium began spraying milk onto farmland in order to protest the extremely low prices that they were receiving for their products. Responsibility for the protesters’ actions was directed at bureaucrats, while the inability of observers to witness such wastage spurred the end of the protest.

 

Because resistance is often a response to acts of oppression, protesting can instigate representation for alternate perspectives and even mediation between them. In May of this year, a group of Spanish citizens criticized what they perceived to be a corrupt government, through the formation of a grassroots democratic movement. What began as an informal protest camp, is developing into a hyper-organized micro-society that aims to guide the parties involved in the political system, on collective decision-making.

 

Through their many forms, protests typically maintain a spatial dimension, be it urban, rural or otherwise.

 

Rachel Engler

 

 

Daniel Fernàndez Pascual

 

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SWEET

June 8, 2011
debs harvest
Southern Debutantes, 1951 (source)
Sugarcane Harvest, Cuba (source)

 

There is no better word to describe the American South, than ‘sweet’. Southern hospitality, the wedding cake lace of Southern Belles in their debutant finery, the birthplace of the worlds most popular sugary beverage, Coca-Cola, a region lauded for its many confectioneries, and the only climate inside of American borders tropical enough to support the growth of cane sugar.

 

There is, however, a duality to so much sweetness, all too familiar to anyone who suffers from a sweet tooth (chocolate cake, ice cream and glazed donuts are some of my favorite things). I use the term ‘suffer’, because the sensual experience of these types of confectioneries is all too fleeting. They linger on taste buds only as long as it takes to masticate, which is never long enough, only to disappear into the taste bud-less void of the gut, the concentrated saccharine flavor gone to waste (literally) at the end of the digestive cycle. The sweetness of the confectionery is soon replaced with the shrill whirring of the dental drill and the bitterness of pulverized teeth; rinse. Nevermind the endless hours of physical labor required to burn the extra calories ingested for such a short moment of pleasure… more

 

The best known landmark in Cuba’s Valle de Los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills) is the Iznaga Tower, located on the estate of Manaca Iznaga. Built by rich colonizers exploiting a once booming sugar industry, the Tower was once the tallest building on all of the island, with its height designed to enable surveillance over the plantation below. Its tiers are equipped with bells which ring in various arrangements to indicate the schedule of a workday, to warn of slave uprisings, escaped slaves and even pirate invasions.

 

Currently, the building operates as a living museum, ensuring that the local history is not lost. The Tower and its associated factories have become symbols of the surrounding region, their images proliferated through various media aimed at tourists including pamphlets, postcards, keepsakes and even the welcome sign into the nearby city of Trinidad (an urban testament to the wealth of the sugar trade).

 

While architectural icons are often associated with a measure of celebrity and, in turn, are often objects of celebration, these buildings have historically dark underpinnings which situate their fame in a somewhat perverse territory.

 

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

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