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Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space by Keller Easterling

The following is an excerpt from Keller Easterling's latest publication, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space, which explores areas of infrastructure with the greatest impact on our world. Easterling is a professor at Yale School of Architecture

The road between Nairobi and Mombasa is lined with, and virtually lit by, advertisements for the mobile phone companies that have entered the region—all promising new freedoms and economic opportunities. With their images of Masai tribesman in native dress phoning from a remote wilderness, the ads employ an essential trope of leap-frogging—the desire for a perfect collapse between technology and nature, tradition and modernity. The billboards express the enthusiasm of a world turned upside down in which not the developed but the developing world has their hands around a majority of the world’s cell phones.

Over the last 150 years, the ocean floor has been laid with thousands of miles of submarine cable of all types for telegraph, telephone, and fiber-optic infrastructure. In the nineteenth century, it took only thirty years for the British cable-laying companies to string the world with telegraph cable, and a little over a decade from the late 1980s to the late 1990s for most of the world to be connected to fiber-optic cable. Yet until recently, East Africa, one of the most populous areas of the world, had no fiber- optic submarine cable link and less than 1 percent of the world’s broadband capacity. A country like Kenya had to rely for its broadband on expensive satellite technology acquired in the 1970s that cost twenty to forty times its equivalent in the developed world. Before 2009, one Mbps (megabit per second) of bandwidth could cost as much as 7,500 US dollars per month against the world average of $200. The monthly cost of putting twenty-five agents on the phone was $17,000 a month instead of the $600–900 that it would cost in other developed countries.(1)

Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design

If a building could be thought of as the architect’s manifesto to construction, then the staircase can be seen as the designer’s autograph – a signature flourish that can embody the entire statement of design for a building in a singular structure. Staircases can be flamboyant or understated in design, from refined to rustic in their construction and traditional to unconventional in the materials from which they are built. Whatever their direction, all of the staircases in this collection make an announcement about the building, whether they are intended to subtly blend in with their surroundings or to attract attention and inspire.

This book is a collection of 39 of the most exceptional staircase designs produced across the world over the last ten years. Detail in Contemporary Staircase Design features photographs of the finished staircases alongside technical drawings, illustrating the design and construction of outstanding projects ranging from intricate domestic creations to imaginative public and commercial features and dramatic artistic statements. Each building in this book is conceived by an architect whose all-encompassing vision drives and informs the configuration of each structure, provides a concept that gives direction to the building’s appearance and solutions to each design problem. Every featured staircase should therefore be seen as the distillation of each designer’s approach, encapsulating the motivation and direction of the entire building design. The staircase can be considered as a microcosm of the building.

An Homage to London Brutalism by Thomas Danthony & Michael Abrahamson

National Theatre by Thomas Danthony. Image Courtesy of Black Dragon Press
National Theatre by Thomas Danthony. Image Courtesy of Black Dragon Press

Black Dragon Press has shared a set of prints and a booklet on Brutalist architecture in London with illustrations by Thomas Danthony, complemented by text from "Fuck Yeah Brutalism" curator Michael Abrahamson. See Abrahamson's intro to the booklet reprinted below. 

Brutalism is an unusually evocative word. Like the architecture for which it’s used as a descriptor, it can elicit a powerful, bodily discomfort or psychological repulsion. Standard dictionary definitions itemise the materials (exposed concrete, but also brick and block) and describe the physical character (forceful, unadorned, imposing) of this type of building, and would likely also mention the time frame during which it was the dominant tendency in architecture (from the late 1950s to the early 1970s).

Last Is More: The Miesian Lesson

The following is an excerpt from Last Is More: Mies, IBM and the Transformation of Chicago. The Langham Hospitality Group commissioned architectural photojournalists Robert Sharoff and William Zbaren to document the transformation of eminent architect Mies van der Rohe's IBM Building -- the last skyscraper he designed -- into The Langham, Chicago. In this chapter, Sharoff and Zbaren provide a more detailed look into the period between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on Chicago's skyline was at its most pervasive.

The construction of the IBM Building occurred midway through a legendary period in Chicago architecture—the decadelong building boom between 1965 and 1975, when Mies’s influence on the city’s skyline was at its most pervasive.

During these years, numerous Miesian structures by firms such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, C. F. Murphy Associates, and Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett were erected, and the city’s reputation as the founder of American modernism was finally and firmly established. The best of those buildings continue to dominate the skyline.

The NSA Muscle: Conversations Exploring Pioneering Projects in Digital Architecture

Screenshot. Image Courtesy of Canadian Centre for Architecture
Screenshot. Image Courtesy of Canadian Centre for Architecture

The NSA Muscle, an interactive inflatable structure built in 2003 that responded to touch and presence by changing its shape, is the latest subject explored in the Canadian Centre for Architecture's series on pioneering projects of digital architecture. Joining a roster of influential names including Peter Eisenman, Frank Gehry and Chuck Hoberman, this e-book recounts a conversation between Greg Lynn and the author of the project Kas Oosterhuis of ONL [Oosterhuis and Lénárd]. The 'breathing' structure was covered by a grid of 'muscles' that contracted and relaxed in response to external stimulus, combining commercial pneumatics and virtual control technology in new ways to prototype an new kind of interactive architecture.

Discover the story by downloading NSA Muscle for free after the break.

'Departed': An Exploration of 20th Century Modernism

The Modernist is a quarterly journal dedicated to 20th century modernist architecture and design. Published in Manchester - one of the cultural capitals of the North of England - and featuring an esteemed roster of writers and contributors from across the United Kingdom, the journal has been described by James Pallister of the Architects' Journal as, in spite of its subject matter, "free from the strait-laced rigour of classic graphic design modernism." Twelve issues later and the liberal, playfully academic tone of this digestible journal has been maintained in this latest incarnation, Departed.

Writing Architecture: A Practical Guide to Clear Communication about the Built Environment

The following in an excerpt from Carter Wiseman's Writing Architecture: A Practical Guide to Clear Communication about the Built Environment. The book considers the process, methods, and value of architecture writing based on Carter Wiseman’s thirty years of personal experience writing, editing, and teaching young architects how to write. This book creatively tackles a problematic issue that Wiseman considers to crucial to successful architecture writing: clarity of thinking and expression.

Some years ago, a writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education declared, “Too many architecture students can’t write.” [1] Those students have since gone on to become practitioners, and their inability to write is likely to have had seriously negative professional consequences. Robert Campbell, a Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic for the Boston Globe, condemned in Architectural Record much of what even the most prominent practicing architects write as “pretentious illiteracy.” He went on to attack their coded language as “ArchiSpeak”and warned that “sooner or later, architects (and planners and landscapers and urban designers) must convince someone to hire them or at least bless them with a grant. . . . Nobody is going to trust a dollar to a pompous twit.” [2]

A Practical Study in the Discipline of Architectural Modelmaking

Why do we make models? From sketch maquettes and detail tests to diagrammatic and presentation models, the discipline of physically crafting ideas to scale is fundamental to the architect's design process. For architect and educator Nick Dunn, architectural models ultimately "enable the designer to investigate, revise and further refine ideas in increasing detail until such a point that the project's design is sufficiently consolidated to be constructed." In Dunn's second edition of his practical guide and homage to the architectural model, the significance and versatility of this medium is expertly visualised and analysed in a collection of images, explanations, and case studies.

Courtesy of Laurence King Publishers Courtesy of Laurence King Publishers Courtesy of Laurence King Publishers Courtesy of Laurence King Publishers

The Avery Review: Insightful Critical Writing Online

The Avery Review (AR), a new online journal dedicated to thinking about books, buildings and other architectural media, seeks to utilise the potential in the critical essay and repackage it for the digital realm. A project of the Office of Publications at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, the AR's responsive website (designed by Nothing in Common) perfectly matches the exceptional quality of the content. Featuring essays from Owen Hatherley and Amale Andraos, among others, the overarching aim of the review is to "explore the broader implications of a given object of discourse" whether that be "text, film, exhibition, building, project, or urban environment."

Find out more from editors Caitlin Blanchfield and James Graham after the break.

a+u 529: Recent Projects

The October issue of a+u introduces 14 recent works from around the globe. In particular, the issue is focused on architecture that emerged from the relationship with the urban structures or the developmental history of the site. Over time, they influence and transform the surrounding environment. Architects employ diverse “tactics” in order to create such architecture: collaborating with the residents, relating to the neighboring buildings and open spaces, diversifying the building’s programs, and employing intricate construction details. In this issue, we focus our attention on the process of conceiving the projects driven by various tactics. We invite our readers to look beyond a single building and examine the works' possibilities to be used in a long span of time.

LOBBY: The Spectacle Of The "Un/Spectacle"

© Cameron Clarke
© Cameron Clarke

I was recently at a lecture at Rotterdam’s Nieuwe Instituut in which Dirk van den Heuvel mediated a discussion between Kenneth Frampton and Herman Hertzberger. Talking of those who contributed to the Dutch Structuralist movement, Hertzberger lamented the fact that so many have faded into obscurity: “if you make the mistake of not writing" he said, "you’re bound to be forgotten.” Accompanying design with the written word is at the core of good practice, not only because it lends design an elevated meaning by cementing it into a wider discourse, but also because it often uncovers the subconscious significance of the process of architecture.

LOBBY is an attempt from students of London’s Bartlett School of Architecture to anchor in-house research and external contributions in words, “creating both a space we lack and an action we desire.” Their new journal is also a response to the school’s current in-between state as they await their new building in temporary studio spaces. As such, LOBBY will serve as a platform for exchange and discussion in lieu of a physical lobbying space. The first issue explores the theme of Un/Spectacle, offering different layers, approaches, readings and perspectives on the topic of the '(un)spectacle' of the everyday.

© Cameron Clarke © Cameron Clarke © Cameron Clarke © Cameron Clarke

MARK Magazine #51

Articles on China’s building boom often highlight the property bubble, megalomaniac planners, governmental corruption and private graft, substandard building practices and the destruction of the nation’s cultural heritage.

The Architect's Guide to Writing

The following is an excerpt from Bill Schmalz's book The Architect's Guide to Writing

The architecture, design, and construction professions are seen, by ourselves and by those outside the professions, as visual and tectonic fields. Architects and designers are trained as visual artists, using two- and three-dimensional means to depict buildings, spaces, and urban environments. We learn how to sketch; to build physical and digital models; and to draw plans, elevations, sections, and details. Similarly, contractors and construction managers are trained in scheduling, cost estimating, and the physical requirements of constructing buildings. These are valuable skills for us design and construction professionals at all stages in our careers. But for most of us, there comes a time when we need to write stuff, when written documents dominate our professional lives. Letters, proposals, reports, specifications, contracts, RFIs and RFI responses, meeting minutes, emails, and white papers are just some of the types of documents that we spend much of our time writing. 

Unfortunately, we receive little training in our writing skills. True, our elementary school education may have given us the basics of English grammar and composition. In college, most of us had to fulfill liberal arts requirements that involved writing. But when we entered the profession, we were unprepared to deal with how much we would have to write, and how important it would be to our professional lives. 

Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story

Blank Space’s first edition of Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story is a light-hearted reminder that communication is at the core of what all architects and designers do. The book is a collection of entries from the company’s first architectural storytelling competition, which was launched to reinstate a dialogue between architects and the public.

Fairy tales might seem like an odd genre of choice for this movement, but communication also lies at their core. According to the founders of Blank Space, Matthew Hoffman and Frencesca Giuliani-Hoffman, fairy tales are “relatable, yet sophisticated and nuanced, just like great architecture.”

For more on the whimsical collection, keep reading after the break.

EL CROQUIS 173 - MVRDV

EL CROQUIS, number 173, a monograph on MVRDV, is the third monograph produced by the publisher on this office established in Rotterdam. The current publication collects MVRDV's most significant works from 2003 to the present −presented in full with several construction plans, and a profusion of photographs and sketches. The monograph is prefaced by an interview with MVRDV by the architects Charles Bessard and Nanne de Ru, and a critical essay on their work by Aaron Betsky.

Among the buildings and projects featured the most remarkable ones are the Gemini Residences, the Parkrand apartment building in Rotterdam, the rooftop house extension Didden Village in Rotterdam, the Balancing Barn holiday house in Thorington, the Book Mountain in Spijkenisse, the mixed-use centre Glass Farm in Schijndel and the shopping centre Chungha Building in Gangnam

Kinetic Architecture: Designs for Active Envelopes

Kinetic Architecture: Designs for Active Envelopes is a book about energy. We have written it to explore the new ways architecture has developed in the last decade to respond to the flow of energy, both natural and man-made, that primarily affects building performance and the comfort of the people in them. Buildings regulate energy flow in several ways, but in this book we explore the approaches that innovative architects, engineers, and consultants have taken with building envelopes, façades, and other types of enclosures that modulate the internal environment of architecture to various ends. Architects have expressed this regulation in ways both visible and invisible, using the media of air, water, and the thermal mass of a variety of materials, and often a combination of all three.

Review: MacMag39, Mackintosh School of Architecture

MagMag, a student-edited compendium of essays, projects and ideas from Glasgow’s Mackintosh School of Architecture, is now in its 39th edition. Following on from what has so far been a momentous year for the Mac, in which they’ve seen Steven Holl Architects’ new Seona Reid Building formally open and parts of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s art school (along with a great deal of student work) devastated in a fire, MacMag39 is a celebration of the spirit of a school which is faced with a challenging question: how do they introduce and then reconcile the new alongside the existing against the backdrop of an academically rich, diverse and successful learning environment?

Courtesy of MagMag39 Courtesy of MagMag39 Courtesy of MagMag39 Courtesy of MagMag39

A+U 526: Retreat – Primal Concept and Experimental Design

From the publisher. July issue of a+u is focused on retreats, in particular the places where people spend their free time. Retreats, where functional necessities are not the priority, portray the essential lifestyle that the residents desire. And, from there, an image of a house reflecting back the everyday emerges.

The sites abundant in nature present vast landscape to the residents. At the same time, they lack basic infrastructure, materials, or technology that would be readily available when designing a house in cities. Because of such shortages, architects are encouraged to put their experimental concepts into practice.

This issue explores how the ideal image of a house and architect's experimental concept are unified and conceived as a retreat when the situation is "missing" something.