LATE

May 26, 2012
weiss
sassoon
Visible World, Fischli and Weiss, 2002 (source)
Five-Point Cut, Vidal Sassoon, 1964 (source)

 

‘…you can’t be in every beautiful place at the same time.’

 

—David Weiss (1946-2012)

 

 

Between 1987 and 2001 Peter Fischli and the late David Weiss took some 3,000 photographs, images that came to form their Visible World project. The photographs, arranged on long light tables that stretched across the exhibition space at New York’s Matthew Marks Gallery, collected instances of the world’s diversity… more

 

Claiming inspiration from the Bauhaus, the late Vidal Sassoon interpreted Modern architecture’s functionalist ambitions leading him to diminish the styling of hair, which in the 1960s was overtly ornamental and labored. He showcased instead the nature of the material he was working with and his craft of cutting. This efficient, minimal approach was emphasized through the infinite layering of geometric primitives: circles, squares and triangles. Sassoon built his legacy by giving hair a graphic identity. The strictness of his shapes while definitive, remain simple, giving way to a vague immediacy.

 

Rachel Engler

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

SALT

April 22, 2012
lake
lick
Áshįįh, Looking Southwest, 2010 (Photo By Author)
Salt Lickers (source)

 

Salt has long been connected to pilgrimage. Ancient merchants traveled long distances to secure the mineral. Later, sites of salt acquisition themselves, became destinations, due to their cultural significance (a famous example is the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow). Sourced for its culinary and industrial applications, salt is either mined (rock salt) or harvested where it evaporates from bodies of water (sea salt). Due to its uneven geographic distribution, salt was an essential part of early economies. The Latin root sal is the origin of salary, showcasing it as perhaps the most valuable mineral of the ancient world. This is an ironic superlative considering the spice’s banal connotation as the condiment which has invaded almost every processed food and litters dining tables worldwide in canister or packet form.

 

Zuni Salt Lake is a formation in Catron County, located in west-central New Mexico. Sited on the south side of Carrizo Valley, the lake occupies a circular depression ringed by steep rock walls. On the crater’s floor is a shallow, seasonal body of water that, when evaporated, deposits crystals for easy collection. The lake has been an important resource materially and spiritually for autochthonous groups, notably the Zuni for whom the lake is the sacred home of female deity Ma’l Oyattsik’i, the Salt Woman.

 

I arrive alone at the lake at noon, driving south from Gallup on asphalt and then gravel. It is November but the day is sharp and bright. Leaving the car, I race down a ravine, cut in the circumferential hills, hoping to reach the shore but am detained by a wire fence securing the lake’s perimeter. Back up on the northern ridge, I see black cinder cones looming behind the plane of the water, with mineral deposits clearly evident along the shore. A pier juts into the water in front of a storage shed. Two adobe ruins sit nearby. The breeze is surprisingly unspiced. I stand and think about the trail from the lake forty miles north to the Zuni Pueblo and the connection of that society to this terrain. Frequently, architecture attempts to… more

 

All animals need salt to survive. While those ‘in the wild’ may be able to satisfy their nutritional needs with a carnivorous diet or access to natural salty sources such as brine springs or brackish water, domesticated animals are often dependent on commercial agricultural salts to maintain a healthy diet.

 

These compressed salt blocks, known as salt licks, are fascinating objects, arriving in countless colors, flavors, and mineral-fortified varieties to meet the nutritional needs and palates of the most discriminating of livestock—periwinkle, copper, maroon; apple, wild persimmon, sweet acorn; cobalt, magnesium, selenium… Lick by lick, the animal’s tongue carves out rounded caverns and hollows. In a gradual transformation, the block loses its angles and assumes an organic form. Both the pristine and the partially-consumed salt lick may be considered formally, as sculptural objects. Providing evidence of an aesthetic potential are the hundreds of livestock-sculpted salt works that have been submitted and exhibited at The Great Salt Lick, an annual contest in Baker County, Oregon, where salt blocks are evaluated on their formal qualities.

 

Curiously, a parallel exists between these unconsciously fashioned objects and works of contemporary architecture as well. Armed with software, architects are able to ‘sculpt’ buildings as desired, producing forms that appear as organic volumes instead of more orthogonal structures. This shift towards mineral inspiration can be seen in the work of Frank Gehry and Herzog & de Meuron, among others. Buildings are expressed variously on the spectrum between crystallized polyhedra and tongued subtraction. It is a surprising inversion that contemporary advances in technology allow the construction of buildings that resemble the work of livestock. While some may see this comparison as suggestive of the vacuity of today’s architecture, it is more accurately a testament to the wide formal influence of crystal formations, a trend similarly captured in the aesthetic appreciation of a carved salt lick.

 

Jack Murphy

 

 

Aurora Tang

 

Edited by Jack Murphy

PUBLISH

April 14, 2012
hoodies
vitruvius
Image From Tumblr (source unknown)
Image from Vitruvius’ De Architectura, Illustrated by Jean Goujon, 1547 (source)

 

In his book You Are Not A Gadget one of Jaron Lanier’s criticisms of current digital culture, specifically the thing we call Web 2.0, is the paradox that a tool that is marketed as something to enable human creativity and individuality has actually done the opposite. The set of checklists and ‘Likes’ that form our online personalities demean the intricacies of the human mind. As we enthusiastically embrace these limitations so we limit ourselves. We willingly surrender to the perceived wisdom of the cloud based crowd at the expense of individual human insight. The question is as much a moral one as it is a practical technological one. Figuring out what we should do is as important as what we can do. To publish something takes a degree of arrogance that only an individual should have. An arrogant group quickly becomes oppressive. In the first chapter Lanier has a few simple suggestions of things to think about before publishing online. My three favourites are:

 

– Don’t post anonymously unless you really are in danger.
– Post a video once in a while that took a hundred times more times to create than it takes to view.
– Write a blog post that took weeks of reflection before you heard the inner voice that needed to come out.

 

In other words: think before you speak.

 

This is even more pertinent when posting online where very quickly, context is stripped away by selective copying, pasting, reblogging, retweeting, and a little more subtly by RSS feeds which… more

 

During OMA’s ‘Show and Tell’ talk, which took place this past October at London’s Barbican Centre, Rem Koolhaas proclaimed that AMO’s newest publication Project Japan belongs to architecture, much in the same way that OMA’s spaces do. This comment is not surprising, coming from a man who has been reformatting architectural content since the beginning of his career, building on a framework laid out by many architects before him.

 

Judging by his ‘believe it or not’ delivery, Koolhaas appeared to assume that his comments would be interpreted as controversial. Speaking to a roomful of what can safely be assumed to be predominantly architects, why should such a comment be shocking?

 

Alongside buildings, models, drawings and images, words—printed and otherwise—are important tools for architectural communication. As they all transmit content, weighing the importance of one format over the other is difficult, if not impossible.

 

Any resistance to the suggestion that architectural production can happen across formats may stem from an identity crisis on the part of a profession who are unable to see themselves for who they are. Conventionally framed as purveyors of buildings, there is an entire realm of architecture that does not occupy itself directly with the production of habitable structures. While the general public can be forgiven for not having an awareness of this, architects—who have perhaps been confused by the requirements set by professional licensing institutions—cannot.

 

Sohrab Golsorkhi

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

FIT

April 9, 2012
mariah

arnold
Mariah Carey’s Closet (source)

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1976 (source)

 

When Imelda Marcos fled the Philippines for Hawaii in 1986 she left behind a collection of two to three thousand shoes (no exact number has ever been agreed upon) in her closet in the presidential palace. The story was immediately seized upon by popular media around the world as a symbol of the extravagances of the Marcos regime. When Marcos returned to the Philippines in 2001 and opened a public museum to house her collection there was only enough room to display eight hundred pairs, begging the question, if a museum can’t contain such a massive collection, then exactly how large was Marcos’ closet?

 

Perhaps it’s not so difficult to believe the story today as it was in the 1980s. The public has since borne witness to Mariah Carey’s palatial closet space housing, among other garments, the singer’s collection of hundreds of identical white tank tops. This architecture of extravagance is unlikely to raise eyebrows in a post-Cribs, post-HGTV culture. But it is likely to invigorate the average consumer in their quest to conquer and reshape their own closet space. As wardrobes expand—Americans purchase 75% more clothes today than they did a decade ago—it seems that the question of how everything fits has become both practical and aesthetic.

 

Trade organizations like the National Closets Group are at the forefront of a multi-million dollar organizational industry dedicated to packing it in. And how could business be anything but booming with accumulation on the rise and the average American master closet space stuck at a paltry six feet by eight feet. It is a miniscule footprint in which to house our burgeoning collections; certainly smaller than the collective footprint of three thousand pairs of shoes.

 

As a loosely-slung adjective—especially in the dialect of British English—‘fit’ implies a particular aesthetic surface, typically in relation to the human body. Across the Atlantic, and especially in the state of California, the American turn of phrase accrues a sub-structure, deepening epidermis into underlying musculature. The fit body naturally required a fit architecture, which embraced openess through curtain-walls and distributed building plans at times scattered along cliffs with an ocean view; in the style of villas overlooking Largo Como or the small chalets constituting an entire enclave in the upper Swiss Alps. In other words, Modernism’s ideal home for an ideal body implicitly treated health and fitness as domestic or leisure-time activities (especially for the wealthy). This was a direct result of the mechanization of production processes, the backbone of service industry growth and the Great American sedentary lifestyle.

 

Today, the trickled-down suburban middle class landscape is punctuated by short trips to various strip malls and drive-thru joints via Sports Utility Vehicle. A walk to the nearest Raley’s in a residential pocket of NorCal’s Central Valley invites raised eyebrows and glances of disbelief from those traveling at a swift 35 mph. One regrets the lack of corner bodegas which thrive despite corporate retail outlets in urban centers; and unwittingly runs out of curb into weed-and-gravel-strewn patches or asphalt already wide enough to accommodate an armored tank or two. An irrigation canal which might prove picturesque is hemmed in by chain-link fences and hung with signage alluding to the possibilities of electric shock. Choosing to maintain a prime parking spot at Trader Joe’s while hastily marching past Kaiser Permanente to Cost Plus World Market… more

 

David Knowles

 

 

Kari Rittenbach

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

CHOICE

March 5, 2012
kansai
neutral
Kansai International Airport, Bernard Tschumi Architects, 1988

Instantiation Grid (source)

 

One can safely assume an architect of any scale or skill-set—when subjected to a greater number of rules, codes, or constraints within which they, he or she must operate—will predictably respond with a well-worn groan. As if there weren’t enough roadblocks standing in the way of formalizing our respective visionary projects, another obstacle presents itself!

 

We associate rules with curtailment and control. Rather than dismiss constraints as non-starters that bind us, why can’t we use them to our advantage? What if we asked for more?

 

There is a rich history of work whose revolutionary outcome is directly linked to an intelligently crafted stack of self-imposed limitations. Georges Perec employed the strategy of lipogrammatic writing created by Ernest Vincent Wright to write the French novel, La Disparition (literally, ‘The Disappearance’), which was written entirely without using the letter ‘e’. John Cage rebelled against common notions of perception and musical instrumentation with his controversial oeuvre, 4’33”. Bernard Tschumi’s proposal for Kansai International Airport was intentionally bound by its linear organization and fixed programmatic constraints, but more radically by its own pursuit of a specific concept: the abstraction of architectural experience. These projects went beyond the assumed limitations that each creative endeavor entails, gleefully piled on more, and things quickly became weird and provocative.

 

Work that operates outside the conventional milieu depends on a reference point, and in this case the authority is the reference itself. Architecture has always been subject to laws, rules, and code. We should recognize the latent potential in these rules—both externally… more

 

Is deep, cumulative thought going out of fashion? The most powerful works of architecture are often the ones that focus on a singular idea, usually surfacing from a meditated bubble deep in the architect’s mind. The idea is gradually unpacked through a series of iterations culminating in a fleshed-out work able to stand robustly and eloquently on its own. As we speed, however, into a world of limitless options catalyzed by computer-enabled scripts—capable of combining sets of inputs at varying degrees and spitting out infinite potential outcomes—it’s worth investigating whether the race toward limitless choice is helpful to the design process or whether options are simply distracting.

 

Undoubtedly seductive, choice may represent awareness, democracy, freedom and quantity. In architectural practice, however, this outward-in methodology can cause distress over the opportunity cost of each rejected option, thereby alienating the final selection. Worse still, the false sense of confidence that comes from choosing the ‘best scheme’ over others can result in a design that is validated not by its own worth, but rather by comparative success over its lesser siblings.

 

The mishandling of this process perhaps represents a lack of confidence on the architect’s part. Taking a bleak outlook, one could conclude that the architect uses algorithm-generated options as a shield to deflect responsibility. After all, instead of relying on the architect’s subjective observations and analysis, it’s easy enough to say ‘the computer made it’. Who can argue with that? It is a point worth arguing, particularly as this methodology gains momentum in schools. Options provide us with more information, but when substituted for rigorous, focused exploration, they may in fact make us less intelligent.

 

Corbin Keech

 

 

Dalia Hamati

 

Edited by Jacob Reidel

GLUE

February 18, 2012
cement house
Cement (source)
Construction Site in Seattle (source)

 

What is it that holds us together as a society? What is the glue that keeps us together? I asked these questions in a seminar once to provoke the question of metaphysics, for metaphysics, philosophically speaking, is largely about glue. For Plato it was a common capacity, whether innate or learned, to understand the qualities of The Good. For the nineteenth century Romantics it was The Nation, and indeed for many people today this is still the glue. But it could be also religion, or even a sports team. Often, we do not see The Glue. It is so naturalized that we fail to account for it as operative in our lives, or even if we do account for it, we fail to be able to deconstruct its potency. We believe that the harder the glue is, the better it is. This is, of course, a huge mistake, for which humanity seems to have little native resistance. Kant might have said that we have an inner capacity to be social, but he underestimated the compulsion we seem to have to over-determine who is or is not part of the social Glue. So for that reason, here and there, in one way or another, we should also try to un-Glue ourselves. This does not mean that we should go to the outback and live by ourselves. But we could ask what is keeping us Glued in and certainly resist the temptation to see the Glue of metaphysics as a universal, for that brings only tragedy.

 

Architects enjoy masquerading as urbanists. As a basis for any urban project, they generate a vast amount of conceptual data—historic property boundaries, gradient maps of walkability, vectors of development—aimed at illuminating trends that will provide an argument for Form. This search sometimes cadences into a figure-ground drawing where a project reveals its urban thesis. Frequently the criteria is to maximize desirable aspects of the site: delivering building users with scenic views, aligning with historical axes of the city, enhancing pedestrian routes, or providing open space for public use. Such goals are championed by those interested in architecture getting along with its context, strengthening the coherence of its surroundings. This cheery role is maximized in scenarios where single buildings are able to recapture unproductive voids or augment older buildings, thereby densifying an area, with architecture working as an urban adhesive. It is a grand act of civility when buildings behave with good manners (manners being a quality I’ve heard referred to as ‘the glue of society’).

 

However, just as often as the opportunity to unify arises, architects are guilty of working to delaminate tight-grained districts or, given tabula rasa, build at gigantically… more

 

Mark Jarzombek

 

 

Jack Murphy

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

COLD

February 8, 2012
arctic chrome
Arctic Fauna (source)
Barcelona Pavilion, Mies van der Rohe, 1929 (source)

 

It is only once animal life is snuffed out that bodies, bereft of movement, are expected to cool to the temperature of the surrounding air. While in life physiological processes and garments provide basic warmth, they do not suffice in the harshest of climates, where self imprisonment and blasting furnaces are some of the only means of comfortable persistence. The ills of cold climates are many. Infertile icy soils and short growing seasons force the importation of food from distant lands. Twenty-four hours of light or dark wreaks havoc on the experience of time, while the resulting lack and excess of ultraviolet light unhinges the body’s supply of vitamin D. More horrifically, prolonged exposure to the cold inflicts permanent damage to nerves and cells: blistering, the amputation of fingers and toes, and eventually, death.

 

Despite these sensible reasons to avoid the cold, there remain a few nations that ardently lay claim to vast arctic territories. Large swaths of Canada… more

 

‘Cold’ describes not only temperature but temperament. Distanced from the more ambiguous ‘cool’, it is a state that engages an extreme posture.

 

When architecture turns cold, it may become hermetic and defensive—at times exhibiting cruelty.

 

In cold weather, architectural skins often thicken and any openings are sealed, creating a limited environment, both controlled and isolated. When architecture takes on a cold disposition, as perhaps in the case of the Barcelona Pavilion with its chromed-steel cruciform columns, that reflectively tease, it allures, until the moment greasy fingerprints disrupt its surface—an indication of high-maintenance—serving to remind admirers to remain at a distance.

 

With its intense character, cold architecture—whatever its persuasion—remains difficult to access.

 

E. Sean Bailey

 

 

Erandi de Silva

 

INVASION

January 16, 2012
corbusier superstudio
Solarium of Charles de Beistegui’s Penthouse, Le Courbusier, Paris, 1931 (source)
The Continuous Monument, Superstudio, 1969 (source)

 

Le Corbusier was not happy about this. When he finished the penthouse on the Champs-Élysées for Charles de Beistegui in 1931, it was a modern apartment with clean and simple spaces. When the multi-millionaire moved in, he redecorated the space with his favorite Baroque furniture. Against the white walls of the solarium on the roof garden, Le Corbusier allowed a non-working fireplace almost as a joke. But then de Beistegui added a lavishly decorated clock and a pair of ornate candle holders. A mirror with an elaborate oval frame was hung halfway above the wall.

 

Le Corbusier should have seen this coming – de Beistegui was famous for his extravagant parties and love of the Empire style. Any modern design would be an imposition on his flamboyant client. He still took on the project because he felt it was an opportunity to test his ideas for the roofs of Paris and to realize a piece of his Plan Voisin. The solarium illustrated his agenda for the city. Enclosed by high walls on all sides, one can only see the grass, the four walls, and the clouds in the sky. This open room was completely cut off from the Parisian panorama. Le Corbusier announced the modern invasion of Paris by blocking out the nearby Arc de Triomphe – interestingly, a monument built by Napoleon to celebrate the victory of his invasions…more

 

As a gridded, material-less superstructure of modernist grandeur, Superstudio’s Continuous Monument represents an angst of over-saturation. This series of photomontages represents a dystopic potential outcome of international banality – an earth engulfed in a surrealist monolith. While beautiful and grand, the visionary imagery was in fact a criticism of Modernism’s global invasion of the built environment. The renderings were never intended as realistic proposals, they simply delivered a warning that without opposition, criticism and/or an alternative, our urban and natural fabric may disappear. Superstudio’s expression is only one premonition of the imprisonment caused by a lack of diversity within our urban environment, reminding us that uniformity is never a tenable outcome.

 

In the context of today’s design spectrum we face a similar invasion of uninflected design proposals, as urban design projects continue to be rendered in singularity, with design offices imposing their unique aesthetics onto proposals for urban renewal. Projects continue to emphasize re-build over re-use, even in an era where sustainability is emphasized. Perhaps many designers may be inclined to believe that their proposal can improve the environment, but there is no one perfect option.

 

Human Wu

 

 

Jonathan Hanahan

 

Edited by Jacob Reidel

UTOPIA

November 20, 2011
bubbles suburbia
Bubble Shooter for iPhone
Adrift in an Internet Suburbia, Present (source)

 

Italo Calvino was obsessed with stories.

 

He was interested in stories that are told for generations. Over and over. And again and again.

 

These are stories that are probably as old as us human beings. We told them years ago sitting around a fire in a cave and we tell them today, through various new formats, such as video games. They are completely familiar because, whether they are a story from the future or the past, they are timeless.

 

When writing about Voltaire’s Candide, Italo Calvino uniquely points out that Voltaire’s novel is, above all, about speed. As a reader, we are intrigued by its accelerated rhythms, of traveling around Europe and the globe at such an incredible pace. The story unfolds in one, two, even three countries a day. People die, lie, kill, love and deceive each other with such quickness that it is easy to lose track.

 

Despite its eventfulness, it is still believable.

 

Candide is therefore, as Calvino points out, a novel that depicts a place that does not exist. Candide depicts utopia.

 

Calvino’s definition of utopia is simple: it is a non-place. Not a place of wishes or longings of how things could be. Just a non-place.

 

But this is not entirely true.

 

Calvino shows us how Voltaire depicts… more

 

I once believed that utopia was the Internet. That was back when the Internet was distinguishable as being someplace different from the here and now, but that’s a utopia we have already arrived at, so it’s no longer a non-place. It’s time to look for other utopias.

 

Sometimes I’ll be driving by a neighborhood that I don’t know well, in a city like Los Angeles or Athens or the edges of New York. I’ll see a neglected lot, maybe there is a lone tree and some scrap material scattered around. This lot could be on the edge of suburbia or squeezed between downtown developments. That undeveloped and perhaps abandoned land is a utopia, because it’s an unformed place where thoughts can grow undisturbed.

 

And more than a place, it’s also a perfect moment in time. It’s someplace that though you know little about, it allows you to imagine the most.

 

Rather than its Greek origin as the non-place, I tend to think of utopia as a more personal matter, a subjective vision for a potential goal, a Fata Morgana, a place that perhaps does not exist right now, but one which you’ll definitely want to reach eventually. That place needn’t be geographical, it could be a personal achievement or a professional goal, a way to re-organize the reality you are working on. It’s the reality that you want to be realizing, whether it’s a building, an exhibition or a book, its rules and its organization are that of utopia, of a new garden of thoughts where you can only plant seeds and sit, imagining the glorious and ideal life that will grow out of them and surround you.

 

Jan Åman

 

 

Andreas Angelidakis

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

CORNER

November 6, 2011
caulk dirty
Caulk Structure
Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, Japanese Grand Prix, 1990 (source)

 

The corporation DAP unmercifully executed the inside corner around the end of World War II, and the butt joint suffered a slower death shortly thereafter. Sure, resins, putty and other schmear were used before that time–but all of a sudden this goo that could fix all problems was mass-produced and easily dispensed in tubes. Architects eventually started to make drawings indicating every linear inch where this frosting should be used. They called them wireframe diagrams, but their real function was to specify the locations of caulk at the intersection of any two planes. It did not matter how big the gap – just caulk to fill. Towards the end of World War II, Dow Corning jumped into the silicone market and made an array of goo so powerful that mechanical fasteners, welding, frames and other conventional tectonics were no longer necessary. In 1978, in order to test their new silicone caulk, Carlo Scarpa was sealed into his casket with a perfect quarter-inch bead of clear indoor/outdoor. So DAP killed the corner, Dow killed the connection. In the late 90s, the Institute for the Promotion of Blobs formed due to the communal hatred of the corner and called for a careful mimicry of this high-tech goo. Eventually they will accomplish their goal of creating a cast caulk structure so we will never have to worry about weathering, shrinking, cracking, expansion, peeling, or leaking. At least for fifteen years.

 

In his recent documentary Senna (2010), director Asif Kapadia brings to our attention the importance one corner can have on the course of a single Formula 1 race, a season, and a career. Framing the rivalry between cold, rational Frenchman Alain Prost and passionate, tempestuous Brazilian Ayrton Senna, Kapadia identifies its crescendo at the start of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix, where Senna unflinchingly attempted to overtake Prost at its first corner. Responding to Senna’s aggression, Prost followed an infamously ‘dirty’ line, entering the corner early enough that Senna’s McLaren Honda impacted the rear of his Fiat Ferrari, resulting in the disablement of both vehicles and, ironically, sealing a World Championship for Senna.

 

Prost’s paradoxical action was a critique, a means of calling attention to behavior he saw as unbecoming a driver in Senna’s position. It also calls attention to the difference between the static corner and the art (and science) of cornering, the means by which a vehicle fluidly traverses a track. Within a single manifold of possibilities, each driver constructs his or her own racing line, and the differences between said lines determine the winner.

 

Racing lines are concerned with quickness, not the shortest distance between two points… more

 

Kyle May

 

 

Michael Abrahamson

 

Edited by Erandi de Silva

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