super architect
February 28, 2014, 12:22 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,

We used, as architects, to do things for public benefit; now we broadcast the interests of individuals or corporations. This has changed the work, says Koolhaas in the interview below.

How it has changed the work? That’s a big question, but one can make guesses: from heterogenous to sterile, playful to slick? Today people want their new houses to look like hotel interiors. You could do open heart surgery in most contemporary house interiors they’re so white and polished.

And how to move on from the private and corporate place we’re in now? One way is to get rid of the starchitect. Did you ever wonder why J. K. Rowling writes all the books, Steve Jobs makes all the computers, Zaha Hadid designs all the buildings? It’s a bad system when so much work is generated by so few people. The conversation closes down and stagnates, as Koolhaas – himself a starchitect – notes.

Here is Koolhaas:

The profession has an investment in the idea that the architect has superhuman powers. It is totally counterproductive, because it cuts off any real communication between the architect and the public. When we put ourselves on a pedestal it makes any engagement with other aspects of the profession almost impossible. Since I am interested in communication and I write, I like to understand what the real issues are, and what the changing conditions are.
In the ’60s and ’70s the public sector was very strong, but in recent decades that has given way to various forms of market economy. This has enormously changed the conditions in which architecture can be produced. In the first instance, the architect was expected to do things for the public benefit. Now we are expected to broadcast the interests of individuals or corporations. So, although we still maintain the core values and ambitions of what architecture can do, this change has radically transformed the architect’s work.

Batik, Biennale and the Death of the Skyscraper, Interview with Rem Koolhaas, 19 February 2014 | By Andrew Mackenzie

preserve of geniuses

I’ve been watching some British TV shows – detectives, lawyers and doctors in small towns and villages – and marveling at how addicting they are.  They are well written – the ones I’m hooked on – the acting is strong and the filming / editing lush.  And the combination makes a show that is technically rich with a human vulnerability built in that draws you to the story and characters.  Layers of broad brush and detail finely cut and a steady parade of exceptional actors:  technique and humanity in a fine balance.  Their great appeal is in the quiet strength and nuance of their craft.

To talk about craft in the electronic age is clearly a throwback.  Our houses are not of clay and wattle made; often they’re factory built by speculators.  In America consumer goods are made in enormous factories and now even more in industrial towns in China.  Everyone works in finance, IT, Google.  So is there a place for a conversation about craft among the ones and zeros?

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the bastard aims of desire

In this passage from the introduction to Built Upon Love by Alberto Perez-Gomez, we read that our pursuit of happiness, and our faith in technology and progress have removed us from living in our real place:  our flesh and blood bodies, with thoughts of reason and immortality and, ultimately love.  We deny love and, says Perez-Gomez, love is crucial to our humanity.

Modern Western civilization takes for granted a quest to pursue individual happiness and freedom.  It is driven by what it perceives as a ‘natural’ right to seek pleasure and avoid pain, a fundamental accomplishment of democracy brought about by the political revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century.  For a hedonistic culture, architecture’s vocation is to ensure the greatest pleasure and least pain for each individual.  Our technological building practices, even when mindful of ecological responsibility of claiming high artistic aspirations, still pursue a functionalist utopia in which all desires are fulfilled through material means, eliminating all irritants and always aiming at greater economy and comfort:  maximum efficiency, economy, commodity, and entertainment value.  Consumption and possession prevail as the bastard aims of desire.  Their overwhelming presence in contemporary life enhances our propensity to forget that we are our mortal bodies whose very flesh is also that of the world, a common element that grants the light of reason and immortal thoughts, while pulling us down into the darkness of the earth.  We forget that love and death, pleasure and pain are inextricably linked through our embodied consciousness.  We go even further and tend to deny the very existence of love (as technology may wish to deny the existence of death).  Fragmented into multiple emotions in our materialistic culture, the cynic and intellectual alike have trouble acknowledging love in view of our modern difficulty to grasp it as a gift, often contradictory since it is beyond the rules of economic transactions.  My wager, with Jose Ortega y Gasset and Jean-Luc Marion, is that love not only exists but is crucial to our humanity; that despite its contradictions it is of a piece, and can indeed be spoken about.

Alberto Perez-Gomez, Built Upon Love

April 14, 2009, 5:07 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: , , ,


Tourisms: suitCase Studies, 1991. Mixed-media installation with 50 suitcases and fabricated ceiling, 10 x 60 x 30 feet. Installation view, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (Photo: Glenn Halvorson)

the divorce: appearance and performance
March 26, 2008, 3:56 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is a description of how the city’s need for appearance and peformance can be totally divorced from each other.  I wonder about the inhabitants who occupy this condition of divorce.

Do they develop split personalities, which delaminate and separate? In the worst case, are they divided against themselves? Or are we in mendacity to accept the condition as genius and simplicity for the good of the metropolis?

The permanence of even the most frivolous item of architecture and the instability of the metropolis are incompatible.  In this conflict the metropolis is, by definition, the victor; in its pervasive reality architecture is reduced to the status of a plaything, tolerated as decor for the illusions of history and memory.  In Manhattan this paradox is resolved in a brilliant way: through the development of a mutant architecture that combines the aura of monumentality with the performance of instability.  Its interiors accommodate compositions of program and activity that change constantly and independently of each other without affecting what is called, with accidental profundity, the envelope.  The genius of Manhattan is the simplicity of the divorce between appearance and performance:  It keeps the illusion of architecture, while surrendering whole heartedly to the needs of the metropolis.  This architecture relates to the forces of the Groszstadt like a surfer to the waves.

-Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York

curiously reversed
March 17, 2008, 4:42 am
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , , ,

(Cemetery, Enric Miralles)

Here is a description, by Juhani Pallasmaa, of how one thing, in this case a building, has to do two things at the same time if it is going to be good.  Architecture, he says, needs to relate us to space and time.  Space makes sense, but we, at least most of us, rarely think that a building or place relates us to time as well.

Contemporary architectural settings are usually experienced as having their origin in singular moments of time. They evoke an experience of flattened or rejected temporality. Yet, the existential task of architecture is to relate us to time as much as to space… The mental roles of these two fundamental existential dimensions are curiously reversed. In terms of space, we yearn for specificity, whereas in our temporal experience we desire a sense of continuity. Consequently, architecture has to create a specificity of space and place, and at the same time, evoke the experience of temporal continuum.

~Pallasmaa, Juhani. The Space of Time. Oz. v.20 1998, pp54-57