April 9th, 2012 — 7:47am

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


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February 15th, 2011 — 10:54am
berghain blow
Berghain, Berlin (source)
Glassblowing Workshop, Portland, Oregon (source)


‘The architect should know music, in order to have a grasp of canonical and mathematical relations.’

—Vitruvius, De Architectura



‘Get into the groove boy, you’ve got to prove your love to me.’

—Madonna, Get Into the Groove



Most efforts to think about music and architecture together inevitably end up focusing on two intertwining logics, mathematics and phenomenology. Architecture and music employ mathematical measures of rhythm, harmony, and scale to construct immersive phenomenological experiences through time and in space. Vitruvius insisted that architects study music because, for the Greeks and Romans, the study of harmonics was just as much about melody, as it was about the mathematical and spatial structure of the universe. On the other hand, the groove that Madonna is talking about, while not architectural, references both the material topography of the LP and a physical and emotional mode of experience.


Given these dual avenues of understanding, the sensation of rhythm in architecture can be experienced as a sublime cerebral satisfaction in the perfect arrangement of forms. It can also be experienced as a brutal embodied sensibility brought on by the movement of an individual through a space and the degrees of architectural resistance to this movement. As certain built spaces often prioritize one form of rhythmic experience over the other, Peter Eisenman’s Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain can be understood as two extremes of rhythmic space.


Eisenman’s memorial is rhythmic in a vulgar formal sense, all of its relationships conforming to a rigid Euclidean geometry. The sense of rhythm constructed by the memorial—a repetition of solid and void—is a tightly controlled mathematical rhythm which alternately tightens and relaxes its grip on the user, allowing the senses periodic points of escape before once again trapping the subject.


As a nightclub, Berghain is functionally rhythmic; the building provides a space for the experience of rhythm without formal repetition of material architectural forms. The frequencies of the sound system on which the whole function of the space depends are so expertly engineered that it is possible to converse in a normal speaking voice despite being able to feel… more


‘The substance of the routine may change, metamorphose, improve, but the emotional payoff is one’s experience of doing it again. There’s nothing strange about this experience. We all know it; it is rhythm.’

—Richard Sennet, The Craftsman



Richard Sennett’s book The Craftsman is a call to appreciate and value the kind of creative labor that once dominated in the craft trades, and which he points out is still alive and well in disciplines as varied as Linux code-writing and mobile-phone development.


Sennett does not advocate a return to an economy of pre-industrial manual work, instead he analyzes and explains how certain core elements, which were involved in these professions, made them intrinsically fulfilling and meaningful to those working within them. He explains that the distinction between conceptual inspiration and the act of making is an artificial, and recent one. It is a workplace separation that tends to generate an unhelpful stratification between ‘unskilled’ inflexible production lines, and ‘creative’ but unengaged researchers and developers.


Alternatively, Sennett suggests treating the act of making as a creative endeavor, where research, design and development can occur at the same time as developing the manufacturing process. This not only motivates the designer/maker to have a deep personal connection with the work, but opens up the possibility for mistakes, dead-ends, and tangential explorations within the framework of the process. These mistakes and dead-ends are positive inefficiencies which are necessary for the process to throw up unexpected opportunities and breakthroughs. And for these positive inefficiencies to occur, be understood, overcome and harnessed, there needs to be the space and time for the maker to repeat their process again and again, developing their own personal rhythm. In the same manner that pianists practice repeatedly, until the core skill of playing becomes instinctive, allowing them instead to focus on variations, emphasis and mood within each repetition, so the maker engages initially through repetition with the core skills of his process until they are second nature, by which time the act of repetition is thrown open to become an active field of experimentation, a generative rhythm—adaptive and evolving—of exploration and innovation.


It is when the repetition of work becomes the rhythm of craft that any form of labor can become creative, meaningful and fulfilling.


David Knowles



Adam Nathaniel Furman


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December 2nd, 2010 — 11:26pm
sign bicycle
Design Flaw, Photo by Jeremiah Newbie, 2006 (source)


Architects are agents of the secure: fixers, controllers, protectors. This applies to the activity of building as much as it does to the intellectual work involved in establishing the boundaries of the discipline itself. If one is going to execute a plan for the organization of material in a space that is meant to have any kind of duration, then one had better be secure in the conviction that this is, in fact, the right way to do things. This means that the architect, or at least the architect who builds, must accept the role of one who yields power, of one who secures the future. This sense of security will always be false, but it is this false sense that separates the architect proper from the artist.


Historically the division between architectural and artistic activities has been blurred; the two disciplines shared the same space of production for centuries until architecture developed firmer boundaries, standardized education, and licensing systems. Art became more open as a discipline, while architecture sought security in an apparatus of professionalism. This is justifiable, as architects must design spaces where people feel secure, or ideally, spaces where security is a non-factor. Even the most architectural of artists makes lousy buildings… more


Unlocked Single-Speed Bicycle, Photo by Author, Damascus, 2008


In the best possible (first) world, security is easily equated with comfort; a social nicety or convention reflecting suburban values. Its trajectory can be traced from a deliberate handshake to a lasting embrace up to joint speculation in real estate—commitment measured in the legally intimate terms of a lease. To some extent its feeling is psychological; I have been lucky enough to inherit the lease of an apartment because the amorous pair who first settled there discovered dwelling together killed their passion. On a macro-scale, societies allow themselves to be patted-down or broadcast on grainy television monitors as a reminder of betrayed trust.


In August, I was aghast when my compatriots stood their unlocked bicycles four meters from the stand, on Bergmannstraße, where we had just bought lemon ice-creams. Days after acquiring my current bicycle this October, I returned from a late-night supper gone long to find only the frame still locked to the gate outside the Prince George pub on Parkholme Road. Consensus and general atmosphere dictate how closely we must watch over the things we love; insecurity in peaceful times breeds mostly paranoia.


David Knowles

Kari Rittenbach


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October 8th, 2010 — 6:15am
lucy kumbhmela
Lucy’s Service Counter, Charles Schultz (source)


Though not in fact shelter, the counter serves as the most fundamental structure of exchange. Extending along a horizontal plane floating in between waist and chest height, it is not limited to the domestic; its smooth top indicates the interior of the narrowest taxi stand or noodle shop to be actively trading in goods and services.


Along with its ideological variants for the kitchen, including the optimally compressed work surface fitted into Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s Taylorist designs, there are looser definitions: the bank teller window, the service desk at the British Library controlling access to closed stacks, a younger sister’s occasional lemonade stand.


When properly functional, the counter’s planarity marries opposing expectations. What is ‘over-the-counter’ is legally tendered, a deal openly agreed on both sides. Illicit affairs upset this fragile equilibrium easily, and it would be unthinkable to find the panic button anywhere but below the counter’s ledge. This duplicitous power structure lends political potence, too. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and the late David Richmond’s open challenge in 1960, which localized national discontent and spurred a radical civil rights movement, was critically situated at a Greensboro lunch counter.


Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India, 2001 (source)


Home for winter break my freshman year of college, I took a job as a pedestrian counter for the Portland Chamber of Commerce. My tallies of the number of people approaching a street corner from each direction would be used to help calculate the retail value of commercial properties. I was given a small piece of plywood with four handheld counters attached to it—one counter for each direction—and asked to sit outside a downtown property for eleven hours, counting the confluence and the becoming public. My mission, it seemed, was to quantify transience and to pin down whatever was left over; to mine the uses of the city, to harness the consumption and replacement of space and skim the accumulated presences off the top. Though the numbers on the counter precisely indexed the number of individual passersby, the process of counting was really just massive speculation: an estimation of potential profile were something worthy of attention to appear, an effort to fold unconscious or tactical uses of city spaces into an overall strategy for development. The default mode of the city within the context of this action was passivity, the presumed subject consumed by tunnel vision or a blank stare, an unengaged individual occupying an inattentive non-place.


While my counting activity was used to generate speculative future values… more


Kari Rittenbach

David Knowles


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