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Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

city as satire

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NYT on a new and enormous Koolhaas project in Dubai.
(We’re all going to have to start thinking and talking about Dubai one of these days, aren’t we?) Apparently, though we don’t have all that much to work on and Ouroussoff gives us very little, this is meant to be something like an materialization of the “generic city” idea from Koolhaas’s S/M/L/XL.

I know I have a lot to say about this “generic city” business, which is a concept as complex and ambiguous as the ad without products (whatever that is…) and in perhaps just the same ways. But my copy of S/M/L/XL is in storage and won’t be available to me till I move into my fractional piece of this not-quite-generic place where I am now. Soon enough…

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March 6, 2008 at 12:29 pm

tijuana on the hudson

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From the NY Times today:

About a year and a half ago, Mr. Cruz received an unexpected call from David Deutsch, an artist who runs a nonprofit foundation that sponsors arts programs in Hudson, N.Y. Mr. Deutsch was worried about the effects of gentrification on the town’s poorest residents, many of whom live in decaying neighborhoods just out of view of the transplanted New Yorkers and weekend antique shoppers ambling down its main strip.

Together Mr. Cruz and Mr. Deutsch set in motion an unconventional redevelopment plan aimed at reintegrating the poor and the dispossessed into Hudson’s everyday life. (The plan, which is being supported by the city’s mayor, Richard Scalera, is scheduled to go before the city council in the next few weeks.)

Looks really lovely, this. Let’s hope it makes it through the city council….

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February 19, 2008 at 12:24 pm

Posted in architecture, design

those who live in (and lock down) glass houses…

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Unfortunately, this is all of the Maison de Verre that most of us will ever be able to see….

maison-de-verre-tm.jpg

See the tiny little bit of verre there in back, through the window? It was a bit consoling to know that in standing before the locked front door, I was standing where some of my heroes, like Benjamin, once stood. But a building as important as this one really shouldn’t be in private hands…

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June 3, 2007 at 11:03 pm

the other modernism

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So you end up broken in half, as a student of modernism, by the split in the period and in its emblematic works. On the one hand, the hyper-psychologized dystopias of individual complexity and political ineffability. On the other, the union of form and function under a banner of progress (even real progress). The former is the reflexive stance of the modernist literary text; the later, of modernist architecture and design. Think Joyce vs. Corbusier. Woolf vs. Niemeyer, Kafka vs. Tiege. You find the architectural / progressive motif more attractive – more potentially useful today – as a seed for revivification. But, on the other hand, you work with literature – this is what you do for a living.

It is tough to mine the latter from the former, the simple from the complex, the beautiful utility from the gratingly indifferent. It is tough to find, in short, the other modernism in literary texts. After all, literature doesn’t love hopeful contentment, and work (vs. dark dreamlife) toward that end – and most of all, it does not love utopia, whether actual or anticipated, whether exuberant or fadedly just OK.

Or maybe it’s just you, er, that is, me, as Owen Hatherley has found it hiding in plain sight in a J.G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands.

[T]here is only one instance of a speculative community approaching a Ballardian ideal – a site where we definitively leave the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the cautionary, anti-Modernist dystopia – and that is in Vermilion Sands. This is a 1971 collection of stories spanning his first published story, ‘Prima Belladonna’ (1956) to 1970, all set in the same community: a dead or dying desert resort, populated entirely by the elegantly, wanly idle, most of whom are involved in strangely calm psychodramas. Vermilion Sands is a synthetic and synaesthetic landscape of psychotropic houses that respond to their inhabitants’ desires and fears, singing sculptures, and a place where everything in sight seems to glitter, to take on the qualities of crystal, a flickering chromaticism suffusing everything from stairways to hair colour and eye pigments. It is, as Ballard writes in the 1971 introduction, a picture of an ideal he wanted and expected to see realised. The dystopian tradition is refuted in this introduction: ‘very few attempts (in SF) have been made to visualise a unique and self-contained future that contains no warnings to us. Perhaps because of this cautionary tone, so many of science fiction’s notional futures are zones of unrelieved grimness.’ So could there be here a sort of affirmative retort to the insistence that all Modernist or utopian communities inevitably end up in dystopia?

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May 9, 2007 at 12:14 am

dialectics at a standstill: bruce sterling as exemplary public intellectual, circa now

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(Xposted to Long Sunday….)

The current configuration of the fields of journalism, academia, and publishing – plus the advent of the blogsphere – have produced in turn a new configuration of public intellectualism. There’s something of a long tail effect at work – there are probably more PIs listened to by fewer than any time in history. All manner of blogpundits, evangelists, and visionaries abound.

One of these (actually, he’s officially the Visionary in Residence at the Art Center College of Design in California) is Bruce Sterling, who has recently produced his very own youtubed guide to Belgrade:

Let me clip in what I think is the key passage here:

OK. so bear around the corner of the street, and this Tito-era workers housing building with its crumbling substandard concrete, we have what’s basically an ideological declaration here: business, technology, communication. You notice it doesn’t seem to be actually selling much of anything, it’s more like a placard for the 21st century way of life. Just a layer, a thin layer, on top of an older building. But it is this layer, this thin layer, that actually allows me to live within this particular city and earn a living here… via internet. Oh but what kind of person am I? Well, you know, look at my clothing. Look at my possessions. Business, technology, communication. What are these objects, actually attached to my body. This one in particular, wireless communication, completely changes people’s physical relationship to the city grid. In order to assemble my crew here on this street corner, we had to make about 30 different wireless phone calls just this morning and this afternoon. And yet, thanks to wireless communication, this is it. Thanks to the internet, that’s what allows me to be here.

Dear Christ. So, let’s consult the scorecard. The public housing of the old regime sucked, sure, but now there’s, what, a weird placard and Sterling with a fucking cellphone. For a proper celebration to ensue, you’d think we’d catch sight of all the fabulous new housing for the underclasses since the arrival of the free market chez Belgrade. After all, one guesses that there still are, like, people living in the crumbling workers housing building. Just as the failure of the American welfare state doesn’t mean that no one has to live in towering projects, it’s just that the idea of building new residences for the working class has been abandoned.

I suppose it does change “people’s relationship to the city grid” to have a well-paid speculative fiction writer cum freelance consultant strolling the streets of your city, making 30 calls a day on his phone, escorted by a movie crew. The rise of communism. The death of Tito. The fall of the Wall. The arrival of Bruce Sterling in your city. It all makes sense now, no?

More seriously: the illogic of the paragraph I’ve typed in speaks to the strange situation of the nearly-depoliticized public intellectual in 2007. The past, its utopian politics, are recognized and then derided. Guffaw, guffaw. But when the part of the paragraph arrives when you’re meant to explain why you’re smiling and carrying on, the part about the world actually being a better place now that the nasty specter of communism has slinked back into the grave, you simply stare into the face of your cellphone, or flip it out for all to admire. You register the amazingness of the fact that you’re actually here, wherever you are: a post-communist city that still bears the scares of US bombing, or a Pizza Hut in Bangalore, or the Department of Defense media center in the green zone, wherever. Your voice rises, you get excited, but there’s nothing to show but a civic-boosterist information economy poster splayed across the face of a Worker’s Residence, gutted into condos.

In short, the past and its potentialities are everywhere confronted, but only to be at once disowned with a shrug….

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March 26, 2007 at 2:30 am

chavez / municipal socialism

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(xposted to Long Sunday…)

From sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy, a brilliant piece that explores prospects and dangers of Chavez via das Rote Wien and its architecture:

For all the bourgeois media’s myth-making of him as some sort of semi-literate caudillo, the policies of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela seem to have some historical affinity with the rather ambiguous experiment in ‘municipal socialism’ made in Vienna between 1918 and 1934, an oasis of Socialism in a desert of Catholicism and Conservatism: however curious it might be curious to imagine Chavez and Austro-Marxists Otto Bauer or Rudolf Hilferding meeting up in a Viennese coffee house. In Victor Serge’s peerless Memoirs of a Revolutionary (which I will write about more fully when someone tags me with a ‘what are your 5 favourite books’ meme) there’s some wonderful passages where this professional revolutionary winds up in Red Vienna with fellow Comintern refugees like George Lukacs and Gramsci, enjoying the political largesse in a decidedly comfortable seeming Social Democracy: ‘playing for time, building workers’ flats and enjoying sweet music in every cafe down to the smallest”.

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January 19, 2007 at 12:18 am

Posted in architecture, socialism

city without ads

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Amazing little piece in the Times today, reporting that São Paulo will ban outdoor advertisements of every sort come January 1:

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards, no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling along the bottom. Come the new year, this city of 11 million, overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to press the “delete all” button and offer its residents an unimpeded view of their surroundings.

But in proposing to transform the landscape, officials have unleashed debate and brought into conflict sharply differing conceptions of what this city, South America’s largest and most prosperous, should be.

City planners, architects and environmental advocates have argued enthusiastically that the prohibition, through a new “clean city” law, brings São Paulo a welcome step closer to an imagined urban ideal.

The law is “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash,” Roberto Pompeu de Toledo, a columnist and author of a history of São Paulo, wrote recently in the weekly newsmagazine Veja. “For once in life, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

As you might guess from the title of this site, I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship to advertisements, but this seems like an amazing, almost revolutionary idea, at least to this American.

….but then again, one might start to wonder how exactly the Paulistanos will find a way to navigate the city…

(think I’ve posted that video before… sorry if so…)

(There’s an update here…)

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December 12, 2006 at 9:32 pm