One October morning in 2003, Lebbeus Woods shattered the sleepy air in Los Angeles with a swift and decisive re-deployment of his famed Foundation Cartier installation, The Fall. 1,400 steel rods were drilled into the polished concrete floors running SCI-Arc’s quarter mile. In a single night of cloaked activity, Woods and a gang of student volunteers made Maya, Rhino and all computer pyrotechnics, then all the rage, seem irrelevant with a forest of bent steel rods that seemed to react to the forces of the building…and seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
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The outcome of the 2012 United States presidential election will have global economic implications. In the midst of one of the most severe global recessions in history, policymakers around the world are waiting to see which way the United States will go this coming November. Will it stay the course of potential recovery—as yet incomplete—set by President Barack Obama? Or will it veer to the right into the still vague and undefined policies of challenger Mitt Romney?
For architecture specifically there is much at stake in this, the most expensive presidential race in history, where two contrasting visions of government’s role in the economy are boiling over. The Democrats advocate a course of continued federal investment and regulation to steer the country through rough economic waters they say were created by eight years of Republican policies. The Republicans point the finger and say Obama’s policies have not succeeded. They prioritize bringing down the deficit, reducing the size of the federal government and less regulation. Both sets of policies claim to be the answer to get the economy growing again.
Regardless of who wins the chances that economic growth will magically spring back to pre-recession levels are slim to non-existent. But whose policies would be more likely to at least make the long climb out of the well more tolerable?
Vote in our Presidential Poll after the break
Not all is well with the global economy. Eurozone is in crisis, and East Asian market is stalling, and North America (read: the US) is see-sawing until after the election. Of course, this is not news to people in the architecture profession, where many firms are just beginning to recover from the last four years of belt-tightening lay-offs and restructuring.
Here in the United States the unemployment rate, though varying state-to-state, is still painfully high nationally at 7.8%. In California it was 10.6% back in August. Compressing further down to Los Angeles where I am, it’s 10%. According to a report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce the unemployment rate for recent architecture graduates was 13.9%, the highest among other fields.
Continue reading The Indicator after the break.
The 2012 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting, which ran from Sunday, September 23 to Tuesday, September 25 in New York, was, on the face of it, one of those positive seminar-type experiences, with croissant breakfasts, plenary sessions, break-out groups, closing remarks, and all that. But there is a difference between a CGI meeting and the usual convention dynamic: At CGI there is a shared mission of achieving real and positive outcomes by leveraging the power of relationships. People and organizations across different sectors are brought together to realize what CGI calls “Commitments to Action”.
One of the best things about CGI is that it helps bring resources to bear on ideas in need of support. Sounds too good to be true and sort of like a love-fest of pie-in-the-sky, fairy dust optimism? It might sound like this at first, but the meeting is made up of people who have dedicated their lives and careers (same thing) to solving real-world problems. If Greenpeace’s slogan is Think Globally, Act Locally, then CGI’s is something like “If you can think it, you can do it.” Bill Clinton says he started CGI to “help turn good intentions into real action and results.” Toward this end, they basically help funnel money into good ideas that can change lives. They do this not by handing out cash, but by networking financing sources like foundations, philanthropists, and corporations with individuals and organizations who need backing to get their projects off the ground.
I have been looking at these photographs for over a month now. I’m not certain why but they draw me in and I keep coming back to them. They hold me. And by hold I’m thinking of what Roland Barthes may have been suggesting when, talking about another photograph, he says, “Bob Wilson holds me, but I cannot say why…” (1) That’s the exact feeling I get when I’m looking at these images Ray K. Metzker.
Inkjet reproductions rest on my bedside table. I have not known what to say about them or what exactly they might be saying to me. Something about extremes. Something about sidewalks and saturated shadows. Something about walking in, toward, and around. Something about fracturing, dancing apart, even. But there is also something about play, something wonderfully naïve about them, as if they were taken with the eye of a child. But there is more. After the child grows up he discovers the long-forgotten roll of film and develops it. But now, with more life behind him, the process of developing them results in something darker, heavier.
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Commencing. A Brief History of Balconies entails the examination of subjectivities above ground, on little bits of buildings in air, looking down, at pennies on the sidewalk, oddly visible from the 34th floor, which appears to be the same level as jumbo jets coming into Logan from wherever they were coming from and above the sea. I once stood parallel with the jets as they banked and tipped their wingtips a little.
It’s an odd sensation to be in the air at such heights, stationary. It feels more natural to be in motion, to be flying. Chin on the warm aluminum extrusion of railing, I could fit my knees through the verticals. Just a slight web of metal anchored into concrete. I was once fearless at such heights and would sometimes stand on a patio chair to have the sensation of being clear of the rail. Was back a safe distance, or so assumed, with palms pressed to the balcony above. Holding myself in the in-between space like a jack, wedged between two floors and looking out over the rail to the vanishing point.
I spent much of the nineties living in Tokyo, but it wasn’t until I had left that Ryuichi Sakamoto’s(1) music began to inform me about its complex environments.
His album, somewhat ironically (I think) titled BTTB, or, Back to the Basics, came out way back in 1999. Though post-dating my Tokyo Period, it sonically completed my memories of that city. Having leapt through time, it resolved my incomplete Tokyo soundtrack.
BTTB tries to be minimal, but, like the city it came from, struggles with complexity(2). Its opulent density made it seem like the piano had been miked on the inside, my ear forced down to the machinery of strings. The tension between richness and absence I perceived reminded me of trying to find my way in and around all of Tokyo’s jumbled systems.
In an industrial section of Düsseldorf squats a relatively unremarkable yellow-tiled modernist-looking building. It looks like the sort of building that went up in the post-war reconstruction (the city was bombed nearly flat in night raids during WWII).
The building, however, betrays obvious categorizations. At first glance it seems easy to place on an historical continuum. But just as it could be from the fifties or sixties, it could just as easily be from the twenties or thirties. It may have miraculously survived the RAF’s gasoline bombs. Post-raid aerial survey photos would always reveal those few exclamation points of untouched buildings dotting the monochromatic wastes. Could this be one of those survivors? Is this why it looks so special sitting amidst the other unremarkable buildings of Mintropstrasse? Or maybe it’s the mere fact of the photograph that makes it special.
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The various feelings of enjoyment or of displeasure rest not so much upon the nature of the external things that arouse them as upon each person’s own disposition to be moved by these to pleasure or pain.
Immanuel Kant, Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764)
Levitated Mass, Michael Heizer’s new installation at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is a complicated piece for being what it is: a rock. It’s a very large rock. A megalith, to be precise.
To me, “megalith” conjures something prehistoric, the specter of dinosaurs and the great extinction event that swept them off the Earth. Flowing lava. Desolate pre-human landscapes. Those opening scenes from Stanley Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. These are things Mr. Heizer, the darling artist of the architecture world, is master of with his land art.
But, there is something wrong with this rock.
China’s economy is slowing down. It’s projected growth rate is set to dip down to as low as a modest 6% versus the jaw-dropping double-digit rates of the past decade or more. In March, the government set its growth target for 2012 at 7.5%. It must be remembered that this is no accident. It is a calculated move. In the most recent five-year plan this general cooling-down is part of China’s strategy to avoid the sort of economic meltdown that hit the U.S. in 2008. They read the tea leaves and decided to take measures, as they can in a centrally-controlled economy, to ensure steady, modest growth rather than bubble-producing frenetic growth. Political stability is a huge factor in this. The communist party maintains its mandate as long as the engines of the economy continue to hum relatively smoothly.
Why the slow down? According to a recent special report in The Economist, nearly 48% of China’s GDP in 2011 was dominated by internal investment in infrastructure and city building. This should come as no surprise to foreign architects who have been riding this wave for the last twenty years or so. The scary part of this number is that most of this investment is being done by state owned enterprises (SOES) operating under artificially favorable conditions. On top of this, according to the ratings agency, Fitch, lending has jumped from 122% of GDP in 2008 to 171% in 2011. This “surge in credit” is strikingly familiar because it looks like the beginnings of America’s financial crisis. As The Economist notes, “When Fitch plugged China’s figures into its disaster warning system (the “macroprudential risk indicator”), the model suggested a 60% chance of a banking crisis by the middle of next year.”
I should have been there because, as you have probably noticed, I could use a dose of that sunshine. I have not been able to conjure any feelings of optimism since 2008.
It’s not that I am morally or ethically opposed to optimism. I just require valid evidence for having it. Perhaps I am simply one of those unhappy individuals who tend to view optimism with suspicion. In the face of real problems, mere optimism somehow seems too simplistic.
In her recent Next American City article, “An IPO for Cities”, Diana Lind proposes employing the financial mechanisms of Wall Street to fund urban development and maintain public infrastructure. This would be fundamentally dangerous to already fragile municipal finance systems.
Is it possible that, now four years in, we still haven’t learned anything from Depression 2.0? Is Wall Street, the cause celebre of our financial system’s downslide, really a good model for funding our cities? Would this go over well in Europe?
Cities are struggling, but raising capital through a financial tool designed to infuse cash into corporations is not the answer. Cities neither function like publicly-traded corporations nor were they intended to perform in such manner.
A few weeks ago, appearing on the heels of a Salon article by Scott Timberg, entitled, “The Architecture Meltdown”, GOOD Magazine published “Why ‘The Death of Architecture’ May Not Be Such a Bad Thing”. Penned by public interest advocate and writer, John Cary, the article offered a provocative corrective for architecture in the Great Recession. In fact, it seemed written for the purpose of provocation rather than offering real solutions.
The article, which I will break down by borrowing the language of Buddhism, conveyed Four Noble Truths:  Architecture is suffering,  There is a way to end the suffering,  The way to end the suffering is to follow a new path, and  The path is the “emergent” field of public interest design. This is how architecture can rise above the “meltdown” and save itself and the world.
Sounds simple enough, right? Let’s do it!
G: What drew you out here?
M: A bunch of things. One: the desire to be warm in the winter. Two: the desire to live in the strangest city in the western world. Three: to be around an odd artistic and professional environment founded on creativity regardless of the dreck that comes out of here, it’s still creative. Whereas if you go to a party in New York, you meet people who do jobs I don’t understand. They’re in arbitrage, or corporate accounting, or they are hedge fund managers. They don’t make anything. They just sort of figure out how to generate money off of other people’s efforts. You come here and you meet very successful people who make things. There is this sort of roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done attitude that exists here that you don’t find in other places. I also think that one of the defining characteristics of LA is the overwhelming rate of failure.
You know, hedge fund guys…they don’t fail. Wall Street guys? They are born, they grow up in Connecticut or grow up in Bedford and they come from privilege and they’re entitled, and they go to Penn and then Harvard Business School and then they go to work on Wall Street and then it’s all success from day one.
I once saw a video of David Hockney discussing a Chinese landscape scroll. A provocative little art-geek film (or so it seemed at the time) entitled, ”A Day on the Grand Canal With the Emperor of China (or Surface Is Illusion but So Is Depth)”.
On the surface, the film’s subject is a 17th-century Chinese scroll painting. The depths, however, are personal and make the film more about the artist himself, a target for his projection. So, if surface is illusion but so is depth, then what we have is an interesting problem.
In this sense, he wasn’t trying to lay down any absolute truth or theory about Chinese landscape painting, or even himself. But merely his understanding at that moment in time—a moving target exploring another moving target. What would Hockney say about the scroll now?
When I first noticed Moby blogging about architecture, this film, long-buried in my art history memory, was one of the first reference points that came to mind. Like Hockney with the scroll, Moby is seemingly unrolling Los Angeles and winding his way through it’s weird little buildings and spatial complexities. The hills–and one does not always associate hills with Los Angeles–are uncannily similar to the hills in the Chinese scroll.
Below is the Hollywood Reservoir. I’m two hours early for this interview because, as usual, I’ve guessed the traffic incorrectly. You see, I’m not really from LA. Have never considered myself from here. I’ve lived here most of my life, but I’m not from LA. Being from or not from here usually goes unspoken. It’s typically assumed you are not from here…and never will be.
I park at a trailhead. I’m in dress shoes. Black dress shoes. Black shirt. But I have a scarf and a jacket to fight the wind. Rain coming. The sky is a neapolitan of grays, blues, and whites, laid out horizontally with little light filaments touching down. The canyon is absolutely quiet even though I can see some bulldozers crawling up and down the side of a precarious ravine in the distance. They remind me of the sandcrawlers from Dune. This seems just the type of place where famous LA murders would have taken place. The fact that Ray Manzarek lives in this neighborhood somehow makes it seem more eerie.
I imagine Moby watching from his tower window, watching me turn away from the house and down the dusty trail in my black dress shoes. I’m obviously early. He might think I’m intentionally heading out for a hike. Like I worked this into my itinerary because I knew there was a trail here. Actually, I had no idea. I have never been in this neighborhood and rarely come to this side of town. Just like I have no idea what I’m going to ask him. At this point, I’ve lost almost all interest in architecture, buildings, and the reasons he’s blogging about these things.
Photo note: The artist, Alfredo Jaar, in a 2006 interview, regarded Terragni’s Casa del Fascio as the “perfect memorial to Gramsci.” Jaar used the building’s blank right facade (originally left uninterrupted for propaganda) as a canvas for projecting a sequence of images about Gramsci. As Jaar noted: “Here, the fascist building is transformed into Gramsci’s grave. My trip is thus complete, the circle closed, and Gramsci’s indomitable faith in humanism and the hegemony of intellect is still alive. People were, I think, touched and empowered by my concept of transformation of the former headquarters of Fascism in Como into a commemoration and celebration of Gramsci. It was hopefully a true manifestation of everlasting resistance to tyranny and death.”
The Indicator is back!
In reading Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks I am struck by his lack of irony and pretense. It is not a resistance to humor per se. It is a restraint. A will to power that puts everything in the urgent light of sincerity.
Thus, stylistically, it reads as somehow awkward and formal in our post-post times. It has me thinking about how we write about architecture…how we write architecture.
True. He was writing from prison. But it’s more than that. He was writing what he believed. There is no escape valve of irony in his text. He was, and is when you read him now, in your face, holding you and daring you to veer away. What he is writing is not to be taken with a wink. He commands humor in his language but the humor drives a sustained sincerity, a concern for humanity—including his own humanity.
Way back in 1755 an Op-Ed appeared in, of all places, Domus, concerning the relevance of the architectural manifesto. Speaking of relevance, the authors waxed on about some movement known as Occupy Wall Street—remember them? They claim—though I’m not certain it’s entirely true—that Occupy proliferated without the aid of any manifesto and thus serves as an example of how the manifesto has become a thing of the ancient past. Well, there you go. Manifestos are more or less dead these days. They have been supplanted by tweets and something called pragmatism. Seems like this whole pragmatism in architecture thing has been taken around the block a few times before, hasn’t it?
The point of the Op-Ed, a nice little salvo across the bow of intellectual architectism, was to showcase a little symposium hosted by none other than Columbia University’s GSAPP. The symposium—is this part over yet?—was titled—kill me now—What Happened to the Architectural Manifesto? What happened, indeed. Who cares, really? And that would be the point, right? Nothing really happens with most of them. They are like those paperback books you pick up in supermarkets right after you’ve selected your favorite brand of tampon or micro-brew designer beer. They are cheap, glossy, and disposable. More for distraction than for actually getting your literature on. But wait. There are some that are like signed, hard-back first editions. The ones that are perhaps truly relevant and stand the test of time are political in nature.
There wasn’t much time to reflect on the accident. The casualty was taken away in the hot daylight. There was an awkward group moment following. The instructor said a few words of encouragement and caution to the assembled and then chuckled a little to himself like he know what that was like, or like he had almost lost some fingers, too, at some moment in time. He then shook his head and said, Well…. But he said nothing further for a moment as he glanced around the little blood-spattered scene.
For an instant, Dean made the sickening association with the Reservoir Dogs warehouse. He couldn’t help looking at the machine with the slippery fluid on it’s clean steel. They didn’t belong together. That was one of the secrets to Reservoir Dogs and the whole Tarantino oeuvre, he thought. It wasn’t a new thing, but it was something familiar taken for a spin in a twisted way. Something irreconcilable. A little manipulative, he thought. But, he couldn’t stop the gaze. The scene in the car. Black suit, white seat, red blood. It had the effect of making the person disappear, turn into a stand-in. The kid with the paddle for a hand would now march through life with a deformity. His fingers would be found in the sawdust but it would be too late for them. The girl who found the one finger was endlessly rubbing her hands with anti-bacterial hand-gel. Everybody was fucked mentally. Just like Paul Auster had surmised the Greatest Generation was actually insane because of all the killing and destruction and broken homes from WW II. Their kids were the ones who launched the sixties. Most of Dean’s peers were born out of the sixties to seventies, which meant that all their parents were fucked up by their parents who were fucked up by the war in one way or another. Seems like there is always a war to fuck up a whole generation or a good group of them, anyway. Dean was pissed that he had to witness that and keep that awful paddle image in his mind. He wasn’t pissed at Tarantino, but he was pissed at the stupid kid for making him more fucked up than he already was.
The first casualty was the large boy man with the soft hands. He had taken control of the tablesaw and was ripping ply for the little Asian girls with rectilinear eyewear and anyone else willing to let him. The bearded shop staff for some reason believed him when he said he knew what he was doing, &c, &c. That was soon revealed to be a mistake in judgment on their part when, after a number of successful, cocky rips, he tried a new technique and showed how close he could get his hand to the blade. The Asian girl who spoke in Ebonics shouted to be careful and he shouted back under his safety glasses that it was OK because the blade was outfitted with a laser thingamajig that would make it stop if his hand got within a mm of it or some small such dimension.
It was almost certainly her fault because the young man was at that moment trying to impress and seemingly in his element in the shop he slid his hand through the blade in one quick motion and the fingers popped off in quick succession, flying this way and that. The blood was immediately apparent and continued to flow freely out of the alien paddle that remained. His scream was more of a muffled grunting and crying as he concealed the paddle in his doubled over form amidst the sawdust. The Asian Ebonics girl immediately vomited while turning away and falling against a bandsaw. Others moved away. A few just stared transfixed. Some were dialing 911. The bearded shop staff ran in swearing and yelling what happened what happened and swearing some more and saying I thought you said you knew what you were doing and other accusations at the wounded boy as they obviously shifted blame onto him as the chief protagonist in his grave injury.
There is something absolutely terrifying and exhilarating about the sight of a million people in one place. Tiananmen Square is that big. Or at least it seemed like it. Surely hundreds of thousands in the Square itself. But more than a million in the streets, by many estimates. The numbers came much later. At the time it was just massive. While the Square once set the logic of official Beijing, it had, at that time, been transformed into a sprawling encampment of protest.
It is 1989 and Dean is seeing the Square for the first time in many months. That morning he had arrived at the station on a filthy train packed floor-to-ceiling with stinking, sweating students from far-flung regions west. Remarkably, the trains were still running like clockwork as they delivered the ragtag throngs to the capital—even as martial law was being laid down. This was all before the gunfire and the tanks. The optimism of “eight-squared,” the pro-democracy movement, still swelled, even as hunger-strikers were passing out and garbage was accumulating. The journalists were swarming and it felt like a turning point. It was. Just not in the obvious ways.