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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June 23rd, 2011 — 5:50pm
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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May 4th, 2011 — 9:57am
homer cartier
‘Marge Gets a Job’, The Simpson’s, Season Four, Episode Seven (source)
The Patiala Necklace, Cartier, Paris, 1928 (source)


‘One admires the mild Erasmus, who thought that heaven would be full of conversation and sociability, with noble and famous souls wandering around, as if on a celestial college campus. In this vein, Isaac Watts suggested that various dead fellows of the Royal Society would be made available to give lectures to the younger spirits’.


-James Wood, London Review of Books, April 14, 2011



In Christianity, the theological conception of heaven approaches the original utopia of Greek philosophy, described in Plato’s Republic, in so far as it is understood as an achievable ideal for a class of elites (Philosopher kings, the predestined). As is required to realize any sort of good idea, Christian and non-Christian social utopia alike must be sought after—and assurances made along the way. Because if heaven exists, then what does it look like?


John Milton named the fallen angels ‘architects of pandemonium’ (one wonders how chaos is best designed), although it is subject to interpretation who decides the shape of eternal bliss. Regardless, the strength of imagination required for ambitious utopian thinking must be supplemented by reliable imagery—bliss as geodesic dome, for example.


Because empathy is more easily transferred through representation, the visual arts and especially painting have benefited tremendously from… more


Adorning Maharajahs, Bollywood brides and the average woman shopping in a local market, fine jewelery is a popular accessory throughout India and its surrounding region. In a culture where precious stones and metals are typically considered critical investments, imitations are valued in relation to rarer specimens. High-quality resemblances may enhance the value of a substitute, but can also simultaneously diminish the status of the original by propagating sameness, rendering all associated versions mediocre.


Taking this understanding of the imitation’s function into account, the Sikh leaders in charge of Amritsar, Punjab’s Sri Harmandir Sahib (also known as ‘The Golden Temple’, real gold, of course) have recently protested the construction of a duplicate shrine—Sachkhand Angeetha Sahib—in the nearby Malwa region. Some leading religious figures fear this shrine may detract from the significance of the original.


Ultimately, in the complex dialectic between an original and an imitation, it is difficult to predict if re-creation leads to degradation of a design through dilution, or fortifies desire by permitting a measure of access. Purveyors of luxury goods understand this dilemma and are known to manipulate it in their favor by permitting the production of recognizably cheap iterations of their higher-end designs out of lesser materials and workmanship: awareness is piqued, while distance from the covetable original is maintained. Perhaps a semi-precious replica of the Sri Harmandir Sahib can produce a similarly beneficial outcome.


Kari Rittenbach



Erandi de Silva


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February 11th, 2011 — 10:38pm
indecent zoolander
Still from Indecent Proposal, 1993 (source)
Still from Zoolander, 2001 (source)


From industrialization onwards, hysteria has been cast as a mostly middle-class condition severely affecting a category of individuals (ie. women) who otherwise lacked agency within society. Wives in whale-bone corsets were as given to fainting as fashionable ladies faking dizziness to avoid polite scandal, while pre-pubescent ‘fasting girls’ surrendered to fits and cloudy visions in their night-dresses, drawing a public audience into bedside intimacy before there was such a thing as reality TV. Hysteria, thus, might be considered an ambiguously intentional loss of composure under extreme social duress.


Woody Harrelson’s character in the 1993 flick Indecent Proposal undergoes a surprising male experience of this neurosis—significantly, he is an architect… more


A higher up marches in and examines a project. Fueled by cynicism, they appear to completely miss the intention of the work. Losing their composure, in a fit of mad panic, they destroy what has been produced. This eruption is followed by a sarcastic question, which they themselves answer with a rhetorical question. A secondary loss of composure results in a furious aftershock which is accompanied by an unreasonable statement about what adjustments need to be made. The superior then turns to their underlings who respond to their feedback with verbal agreement in spite of engaging one another with eyes that say ‘hell no’.


While a hysterical outburst may inspire a motivating kind of fear, do the accompanying comedic undertones make it difficult to take such a tirade seriously?


Kari Rittenbach



Erandi de Silva


4 comments » | Editorial, Regular Contributors


January 7th, 2011 — 3:42pm
cattle tank
Hereford Cattle at Turner Ranch, Oklahoma, 1944 (source)
Battle at Mullaitivu, Sri Lanka, 2009 (source)


In the history of the American West, it was white settlement, smallpox, the railroad and rifle, but also the steady incursion of barbed wire fencing which tamed the no longer virgin, wild, territories reaching from present day Nebraska through West Texas. The nascent barricades curbed the movement of nomadic peoples and migratory animals (buffalo) along with the open-range ranching of Longhorn cattle. Barbed wire’s amorphous form and eminent extendability made it a flexible political tool; in some cases the U.S. Government enclosed lands held by the Cherokee Nation on supposedly temporary terms, their negotiations aided by the seeming unobtrusiveness of thin steel strands and periodic fence posts. Barbed wire’s diligence as a fixed boundary might be confused by its innocuous material qualities and timid definition of inside from outside. Lightweight and tumbleweed-like, the tense wire was nevertheless rigid enough to choreograph such disastrous events as ‘The Big Die-Up’, when hordes of shelter-seeking herds froze across the Southern Plains during the unseasonably cold winter of 1886-87.


Barbed wire’s bureaucratic function, deployed at a level very low to the ground, may have seemed to be purely in the service of capital, particularly in securing personal property (including the more stable stock-farming of high grade Hereford and Angus cattle).


Yet it ultimately amounted to… more


The Sri Lankan government will soon establish a wildlife sanctuary in the midst of a heavily mined region, which until May of 2009 was the stronghold of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.


The government’s official reasoning for programming the area as an animal reserve emerges from a belief that the proposed use will resolve any local conflicts between humans and elephants. As there are no major reserves in the region and the area is occupied by both elephants and people, this plan has some validity.


However, many critics are suspicious of the government’s decision to return the region to a jungle, claiming this decision is a mere tactic for the systematic suppression of the Tamil population. Local Tamil residents who were displaced by the war, are now denied re-entry into the reprogrammed area. Those in power may be concerned that human resettlement in the region will lead to the construction of memorials for the recently defeated rebels, taking after remembrances that have materialized on similarly significant battlegrounds. There may even be fears that the area could be commandeered by guerrilla fighters for yet another uprising.


Regardless of the government’s motives, this site will return to a wilderness, in a bid for control over what authorities identify as unruly elements.


Kari Rittenbach



Erandi de Silva


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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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November 16th, 2010 — 1:04pm
centralstgiles bermuda
Central St. Giles designed by Renzo Piano, London, 2010 (source)


Pastel is pure pigment, ground up and mixed together with a small measure of binder, then shaped into stick-crayons for ease of application. Rubbed into the grain of paper, unadulterated color adheres strongly, remaining bright with age.


In painting, the Impressionists best exploited pastel’s means: recording subjectively-seen views en plein air to reflect the unexpected hue of sky or field at certain moments of the afternoon—and which had previously gone unpredicted by the interior lighting environment of the studio.


But the Post-Impressionists (see: Roger Fry) pushed their forebears’ strong use of color, already scandalous, to new extremes through their arbitrary choices; ultimately rendering worlds colored by emotion. Writing in the literary magazine The New Age in the first decades of… more


Astwood Cove, Bermuda, 2007 (source)


In Bermuda, irregularly offset coral barriers contain shallow turquoise-tinted waters, leading to sandy pink shores. Reverberating the characteristics of the shoreline, the pastel is the unifying element which sets the tone throughout the island. Bermuda’s popular fashions and architecture are designed to minimize the absorption of heat while maintaining the light atmosphere of leisure. A classic, colonial-inspired brand of preppiness pervades the manner of dressing, which fuses with the setting, by way of a shared palette. Here tennis whites are paired with pale polos by the likes of Lacoste and Fred Perry while equestrian enthusiasts trot roadside wearing Ralph Lauren in similar hues. Complimentary sherbet-colored cottages, dot the island, staying cool with peaked limestone roofs. The local climate defines the landscape, in addition to the island’s enclosures, at multiple scales, ranging from those which are tailored for the singular body to those which house multiple bodies.


Kari Rittenbach

Erandi de Silva


1 comment » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


November 8th, 2010 — 2:15pm
reproduction tajmahal
La Reproduction Interdit, Rene Magritte, 1937 (source)


A pair, when apart, are often comedic. Ever since Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors, which punned on two couples of identical brothers, a number of dramatizations have treated troublesome twins and the cases of mistaken identity—drawn out by spatial separation—that they cause. The Parent Trap (1961) is a particularly hallmark example as well as a preposterous premise treating the 50-50 division of ‘property’ recommended by the state of California in case of divorce: Dad acquires Susan, Mom Sharon. One wonders what the nature of this family film might have been were Hayley Mills cast as triplets.


Taken together, twinning often grows sinister; cellular separation might happen unevenly in the embryo, to present difference in eerily similar packaging. The possibility of an alternative personality—an alternative reality—is unsettling in its ceaseless urge to compare the pair. The twin is a reflection that can never be ‘resolved’; whose uncanniness disturbed Diane Arbus enough to evince its documentation (Identical Twins [1967]) while Stanley Kubrick felt a psychological thrill (The Grady Twins continue to haunt popular culture).


Mimicry and adaptation are as common in architecture as any other art… more


Taj Mahal, Photo by Jon Arnold


For centuries there has been speculation that Shah Jahan, the Mughal ruler behind the building of the Taj Mahal, had intended to mirror his wife’s mausoluem in black marble, across the Yamuna river, to serve as his final place of rest.


This legend emerges from the writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a Parisian pioneer of trade, who visited the site at Agra, in Uttar Pradesh, in 1665. Many suggest that Shah Jahan was unable to realize his dual vision because he was usurped by his son Aurangzeb partway through his Emperorship. Relics of dark marble were recovered in the facing Mahtab Bagh: the Moonlight Garden, which is located across the river from the original Taj. While these findings seem to support the existence of a Black Taj, excavations which were carried out in recent years, found that they were in fact fragments of white masonry which had become discolored over time, resulting in their surface appearance.


A more plausible theory regarding a secondary mausoleum was proposed in 2006 by archeologists who rebuilt a portion of the pool in the Moonlight Garden. A darkened reflection of the existing white mausoleum could clearly be seen in the water, ultimately creating yet another couple. Like Lava and Kusha, the Taj Mahal in its dual versions, joins the ranks of mythology’s famous twins.


Kari Rittenbach

Erandi de Silva


3 comments » | Editorial, Guest Contributors


October 13th, 2010 — 7:03pm
zoo bio
Penguin Pool ramps designed by Tecton, London Zoo, 1933-34 (source)


For someone with a natural aversion to synthetic materials (too much teenage pocket-money spent on Salvation Army polyester separates) it can sometimes be difficult to revel in the damningly artificial. And quite literally (uncomfortably) so: garments dating from the late 70s simply lack the sweat-wicking technologies of contemporary fabrics.


Yet every creation of the mind bears elements of the synthetic; from fashion to chemical engineering to fiction. Unfortunate products of man’s industry notwithstanding, the significance of the synthetic lies in its form as a verb, that is, as a process. Irrigation, industrialization and urbanization all require ongoing attempts to wrest control from nature, on the order of tipping the entropic equation to favor organization over chaos. As any city-dweller understands, the urban condition is above all unnatural. But of the ‘concrete jungle’ environments, the zoo figures to be most problematic.


László Moholy-Nagy’s 1936 film, The New Architecture of the London Zoo, features the modernist pavilions designed by Tecton for the Zoological Society’s penguins and gorillas. His intertitles silently affirm: ‘The new buildings provide a hygienic organic setting, the simplicity of which best displays the natural characteristics of the animals’, revealing the hubris and contradiction of early 20th century understandings of physiology. Whereas hygienic and organic might be easily mistaken for polar opposites, the artifice of the situation is summed up by its chief purpose for display. Thus, the Round House and Penguin Pool are embraced as entirely synthetic structures. Rather than approximate any naturally occurring habitat, Tecton’s pavilions paradoxically (even dialectically) synthesized two irreconcilable notions: unobservable nature and spectacle… more


Bioform, Heather Roberge, 2008 (source)


‘Designers may now invent material qualities that produce what can be called ‘synthetic materiality’. This is a constructed set of surface effects resulting from the mixture of actual material properties and geometry induced properties of digital operations. These synthetic materialities are immediately sensible and exhibit unusual qualities due to the co-mingling of form and representation. Drawings inhabit form, first as geometric, sensible matter, and second, as tool paths drawn by machines. Actual material properties become a medium for the dissemination of effects achieved through digital means. In the most captivating mixtures, the real and the virtual become so intertwined that one perceives a new synthetic materiality.’

—Heather Roberge (Log N.17)



An acute attention to the phenomenal language of shadow, light, tactility and texture is found in a number of primarily West Coast based architects including Heather Roberge, Florencia Pita and Lisa Iwamoto. These architects are presently producing work which is intended to be devoid of meaning and induce a response by stimulating the senses.


While the tools to render similar architectonic effects and affects has been in development for many centuries, encompassing the work of the Mughal designers to those of the Alahambra to Gaudi and so on, it is the findings of late postmodern theory and contemporary technology that sets apart this current iteration of plastic production. Through the synthesis of abstract forms, current digital design software, tooling technology and various materials, architecture has the potential to be simultaneously more specific and abstract than it has ever been.


Kari Rittenbach

Erandi de Silva


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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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