Trouble in Dubai

You didn’t really think that Dubai was immune, did you? 

CBS observes that Once Booming Dubai Goes Bust.  

In my prediction for 2009, I suggested that Dubai would be lucky not to have the Burj go the way of Ryungyong and so it is. I’ll expand on my prediction to say that this is only the start. Dubai will not only go bust, it will go bust in a spectacular way, its collapse as rapid as its rise.  



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infrastructural city on tropolism

Over at Tropolism, John Southern has a thoughtful review of the Infrastructural City.

John’s right on the money by putting the book in the context of the economic collapse (predict here years ago) and the proposed "infrastructure bailout." John also gets why this book is crucial for architects and urban planners (even for Mr. Obama):

As capital flows increase their plasticity and are lubricated by technology, cities choke on grass-roots democracy and localized individualism, stymieing new civic projects. As a result, the role of infrastructure as a panacea for solving the problems of the contemporary metropolis only gains friction, leaving it open to terminal failure. Only by understanding and recognizing this reality will architects be able to operate in the contemporary urban terrain.

Thanks for the great review John, and thanks to Chad Smith at Tropolism, one of my favorite blogs, for hosting it.

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on performance, green architecture, and architecture fiction

From the late 1970s into the early 1990s, architecture was obsessed with form. Whatever the surface appearance of the work—modern, postmodern, decon, or weird conceptual stuff from the early 1990s that everyone has forgotten (remember folding and mapping?)—form underpinned virtually all architectural research. Much of this formalism was underpinned by process, a painful obsession with making iterations of designs until the most complex object imaginable was produced. 

As work on form became more and more involved (read: dug a deeper hole for itself), it became more and more obscure until finally it imploded and the theorizing ceased. Instead, we wound up with shape, which is kind of like form’s stupid brother. I don’t really think much of shape, since there’s not much to say about it, except that its emptiness means that at least I don’t have to hear about it anymore, which is a relief.

To be clear, I do like the kind of indexical work by, say, Johnston Marklee or MVRDV (when they were still fresh, take WoZoCos as an example). In those cases form is revealed as the Hugh-Ferriss-like product of overdetermined urban conditions in which every move has to be negotiated. That’s a different story entirely to me, since it engages architecture with the subconscious, invisible terrain of the city. It means architecture looking outside of itself and talking to a world beyond architects. That’s far more interesting to me. On the other hand, it’s the exception rather than the rule.

Instead, as form began to lose its ability to galvanize architects, performance came to replace it.

Bilbao is the signal moment here: the monument to end all formal buildings, it was also too dumb to be discussed as the product of a process (there’s no method behind Gehry’s work) or form. So instead, Bilbao and its successor, the Experience Music Project, wound up being discussed in terms of the technological feats necessary to achieve their construction. This kind of discussion—and Bilbao wasn’t the only example by any means—led to a rhetoric of performance in which what was crucial was not how buildings performed (this would have been too obvious…), but how much effort was put into their construction. Since form is now either the produced of a purely instinctual process (shape) or produced by a computer (parametric design), the discussion turns to how that complex form is constructed.

This turn in architecture is, I’m afraid, little better than the work on form that preceded it. Arguably, it is even more masculinist in its emphasis on building and the technological innovation necessary to achieve the mighty form.

With the economic crisis, the curtain is setting for this sort of work. Instead, the last great hope for some architects is green architecture and sustainability. Unfortunately, this is nothing more than a recessionista version of performance. It is also fatal for the discipline.

Emphasizing a world of metrics, big, hard tech, and performance is fatal for the discipline. To make a small shift from using the same technologies for "sustainability" (by whose measure) instead of for shape is not going to revive the discipline, it will only prolong the intellectual bubble that has dominated it for too long. 

I have little doubt that we need to act fast in order to prevent further damage to the environment but frankly, green building is the wrong way to go about it. It’s little more than "rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic."

If architects were serious about sustainability, they would call a halt to new building in the developed world right now. Enough buildings already! Let’s stop now. There is virtually nothing else that we can do that is more polluting than building more. Moreover, a moratorium on building might help architects get back to thinking before doing. I argued against solipsism during the 1990s when architects couldn’t make a move without second-guessing it to death. Now I’m arguing against architects who do before they think (CCTV). 

So let’s dump the idea of reworking performance architecture into green building and turn to architecture fiction instead. Let’s find creative ways to live in what we already have. I’m fascinated by Bruce Sterling’s concept of "architecture fiction."

Could any 1960s building be more compelling than Archigram’s spectacular Instant City of the 1960s? We barely even remember Jorn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House or Safdie’s Habitat, but Instant City we do remember. Or take the Living City Survival Kit, No Stop City, the City of the Captive Globe, or Delirious New York. these taught us about the cities we live in already, in the most radical way. 

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Full-time teaching in the fall means precious little breathing room to get life in order, so although I intended to post some new work this week, it turned out that I wound up involved in workspace upgrades, the first being my home office, where I put up new bookshelves, the second being my main Web sites.

The former left my physical space a shambles, the latter was little better as far as the Web is concerned. Version 6 of the software that I use to run my sites, Drupal, was released almost a year ago and its finally time to upgrade. The upgrade process illustrates the perils of Open Source development, as the community learned the hard way. Drupal matured a great deal in version 5 and many larger sites began using it. Unfortunately virtually none of these were ready to go when the upgrade to the software was released a year ago and Drupal has an unusual philosophy of breaking existing extensions each time an upgrade is made. Many of the authors thought that a major upgrade was the time to rethink the basic framework of their extensions and so huge delays took place. Even now, Networked Publics is missing its embedded videos and couldn’t be upgraded yet because of e-commerce is not yet ready for prime-time. 

For now, all of my sites are likely to experience a little roughness around the edges, but I think I have everything stabilized.

I’ve been a bit frustrated by the lack of comments (thank you to those regulars who do comment all the time!) compared to other blogs, so I’ve taken the opportunity to install new anti-spam software. It should only show you a captcha image challenge if it thinks you are spam, thus making commenting easier. 

From my perspective, the interface is much more elegant and should allow me to extend what I do with all my sites significantly. Given that Drupal 7 is almost a year away and, judging from my Drupal 6 experience, the extensions that I need to make it work probably won’t be ready for another year after that. Two years until my next site upgrade is fine by me. 

In the meantime, it’s back to producing content.

Don’t forget A Few Zines tonight at Studio-X. I’ll be posting back here soon. 

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Datapocalypse is Coming

It’s a corollary that when I have more time, e. g. between semesters, and can spend time on the blog, my readership dwindles to my most hardy readers. So for you another post, via slashdot. It’s time to raise concern about the coming datapocalypse. There’s going to be a bag of hurt for many people as the economy takes down their favorite site. On a related note, JPEG magazine‘s parent company, 8020 media, is shutting its doors. 

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ecologies of deceit

Via Edwin Gardner, who makes the great Prss Release, comes a link to Panayiota Pyla’s "Counter-History of Sustainability," an essay for Volume, a cautionary account of sustainability in architecture, and none too soon.* Panayiota, like me, is a student of Mark Jarzombek’s, and she does a great job picking apart the almost theological faith that some architects have in sustainability. For another perspective, see this interview with James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia hypothesis. If Lovelock is right (and his points of view have often been controversial), the rhetoric of sustainability in architecture may be more a performative style**, about as useful as shopping at Whole Foods is. Lovelock would probably suggest that we should stop building all but nonessential projects now and learn to live with what we have. In sum, however, Pyla is right on the money with her sharp critique of sustainability. Let’s not let this turn into a new architectural religion. 

*One thing to point out for the reader: as the Network Culture project suggests, I disagree with her statement "Always Beware of Metanarratives," but I would agree that we should always beware of metanarratives with an ax to grind. If the network culture project is a metanarrative, it has no telos behind it. To me that’s the distinction. We’ve lost track of our ability to create historical meaning in part because historians, paralyzed by fear of metanarratives, have abandoned macroscale attempts to produce meaning. 

**How’s that for a neologism? A performative style would be a fashion for a way of doing things, replacing a fashion for form. Thus the dominnant forms of architectural design today: diagramming, parametric modeling, and sustainability would be performative styles. Or styles of performance perhaps? 

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Book Talk

Amazon has finally made the Infrastructural City fully available on their site, roughly a month and a half after it first hit the U. S. shores. I’m not sure where the SNAFU was, but I’m relieved that it’s finally over albeit annoyed that we missed the Christmas sales season. 

On Monday I’ll begin a series of posts going into detail about Networked Publics and the Infrastructural City and focusing on the significance of the arguments we laid down in these books with respect to contemporary culture, in particular, new government policies on infrastructure and the Internet under the incoming Obama administration. Over the course of the next week, I’ll mix these with a discussion of the Zines show and panel at Studio-X.    

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a few zines

I’m starting off the New Year in appearances by moderating A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production at Studio-X accompanying Mimi Zeiger’s exhibit on the topic. Over the next week I’ll have a few posts relating it to the work we did in Networked Publics. In the meantime, see Mimi’s blog for more. 

A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production
January 8–February 28, 2009

In the 1990s, zines such as Lackluster, Infiltration, loud paper, Dodge City Journal and Monorail subverted traditional trade and academic architecture magazine trends by crossing the built environment with art, music, politics and pop culture—and by deliberately retaining and cultivating an underground presence. Much has been made of that decade’s zine phenomenon—inspiring academic studies, international conferences and DIY workshops—yet little attention has been paid to architecture zine culture specifically, or its resonance within architectural publishing today.

A Few Zines: Dispatches from the Edge of Architectural Production does both. Rather than attempting to present an exhaustive retrospective of architecture zine culture, it highlights complete runs of several noted zines that began in the nineties. The exhibition also features contemporary publications that continue to draw inspiration from the self-publishing tradition, such as Pin-Up, Sumoscraper, and Thumb.
To launch this exhibit, curator Mimi Zeiger has published a new issue of loud paper and organized a party and panel discussion, including:

Luke Bulman, Thumb
Felix Burrichter, Pin-Up
Stephen Duncombe, NYU professor and author of Dream and Notes from Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture
Mark Shepard, University at Buffalo professor, Situated Technologies
Andrew Wagner, Dodge City Journal and currently, American Craft
Mimi Zeiger, loud paper

Moderated by Kazys Varnelis, AUDC

When: Thursday, January 8, 2009, 7 pm
Free and open to the public

Studio-X, 180 Varick Street, Suite 1610, New York, NY 10014

Exhibition hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-6 pm

Contact: Gavin Browning, Programming Coordinator, Studio-X, (212) 989 2398,

[Studio-X is a downtown studio for experimental research and design run by the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation of Columbia University.]

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blog resolutions 2009

Now that I’ve looked back at 2008 and my predictions for the economy and architecture in 2009, what’s on deck for this blog in 2009? While the rest of my family and friends napped this afternoon, I came up with my blog resolutions for 2009. I know it’s down time for my readership but your input is most welcome. 

The Network Culture Book

This is my big analytic project for the year. I’m already well underway with writing and should have an early draft of the introduction up soon.

I want the project to be a networked book, at least to some extent, posting it online here with comments from my readers feeding back into it in an open peer review process accompanying an official peer review process at MIT Press.  

The big question for me is how to do this using Drupal. There’s no problem, unless I want to show you revisions, which could be helpful as a way of dealing with comments. For example, if you post a comment and I incorporate it, a copy of the document up prior to the correction would allow readers to see the evolution? Right now its possible, but only if I give you the right to edit the copy. Although I could see that becoming possible, this book is meant to be my work—and in that it has real academic requirements—so I’m not so sure I can do that yet. Perhaps there can be some forks of the book? I’m not sure yet.

Networked Publics, Infrastructural City, and Obama 

I’d love to hear that Obama is reading both the Infrastructural City and Networked Publics. But since he’s kind of busy these days, I’ll save him some trouble. Starting off the new year, I’ll have a series considering the implications of both books for his policies on infrastructure and information technology.  

More Blog Posts

It sounds like a hopeless resolution, but I’m committed to more blog posts on this site. It shouldn’t be too hard since last year was so dominated by book production. This year will have a healthy amount of research. But it’s still tough to post on the blog when I teach studio in the fall. I hope to figure something out.


In 2009, I’m going to start interviewing other people for this site. I have some interesting subjects already lined up. More on this later. 

Blog Pamphlet

I’m plotting curating both existing and new blog posts (especially the interviews) with comments from my readers together in a pamphlet about architecture, infrastructure, and urbanism. If you’re in print publishing and interested, let me know. If not, I’m going to do this myself as a Netlab publication.  


Robert and I intend to continue our work at AUDC. To do this, we need to think hard about what to do at the AUDC site. Your input is welcome.  

Social Software

I’m going to trying harder with social software sites. Join me at, delicious, and flickr. Missing anything? 


I’ve toyed with having my classes as podcasts before but have never done it. Should I? What are your thoughts on this? 

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