Reconsidering the Architecture of Network Culture

During Monday’s Network Culture class, we are dealing with freedom and control. Much of this class is going to revolve around Deleuze’s essay on control societies and I’ve been pondering something. Maybe I’ve been dead wrong about the lack of significant new architecture in this decade.

Maybe the interminable pursuit of smooth form, which has occupied so much of architecture’s interest during this decade, as well as the interest in autonomous form, produced seemingly without human intervention IS significant.

Maybe my mistake is in thinking of it as "good." Good to me, seems somehow progressive, offering spaces that might resist the space of flows, offering new ways of thinking outside of it or even redirecting it. 

Maybe the problem is that I’ve just misunderstood the point. My thesis: be it an architecture of icon or performance, in its shift to the post-critical, the field has become the handmaiden of Empire? Thus, my problem is one of misrecognition: that I should not expect architecture to advance anything new, but rather only embody the space of Empire. The smoothness of contemporary architectural form, alternatively the product of cynical reason or naïvité, is significant, in that it draws the coils of the serpent ever tighter around us.  

Frankly, I hope to promote even more vehement disagreement than my post asking where the good architecture is. And granted, there are architects who seem to have no interest in smooth form. Let’s excuse them for a minute, but let’s take the globe-trotting proponents of smoothness, the architectural ¥€$ men of our age. So the question that I’m going to pose to my students is: what about this work? How can it be explained except as an affirmation of Empire, as the aesthetic infrastructure of the society of control? Is that the significance of contemporary architecture?


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Advancing Architectural Research

I will be briefly presenting the work of the Network Architecture Lab at 6.30pm at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation on Monday, February 9 in Wood Auditorium and moderating a discussion about the state of architectural research.

Other lab directors presenting their work will be David Benjamin, Living Architecture Lab; Jeffrey Inaba, C-Lab; Jeffrey Johnson, China Lab; Laura Kurgan, Spatial Information Lab; Scott Marble, Fabrication Lab. The event is organized by Mabel O. Wilson, director of the Advanced Architectural Research Program.

Anyone interested in attending might want to look at my article Is There Research in the Studio?



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When Users are Losers, or Datapocalypse, part 2 and How to Avoid It

A month ago, I suggested that with investment capital scarce, social media sites will be forced to close their doors and, as a consequence, users will lose huge amounts of social and cultural capital.

This week demonstrates another, highly efficient path to datapocalypse: data loss. In the most spectacular failure to date, has all but declared the loss of its social bookmarks permanent.

I had a similar problem back in 2007 when Flock, the social web browser wiped out my bookmarks and yahoo, which had recently acquired delicious, informed me that delicious didn’t make backups.

That was only one user losing his data, so it wasn’t a big deal—although it demonstrated the dangers of relying on social software—but backups seem to be a tremendous problem for these services. They effectively double the cost of storage, so corporations seek to cut corners. On the other hand, since we backup religiously at home (you do, don’t you?), we expect that the online services we’d use do as well.

If ma.gnolia can’t recover its users’s data, I don’t see how they can come back from such a loss and even if they do, it seems like their run is over.

But I also predict that in the near future we’ll see a high profile failure or closure that will dwarf the loss that the users of ma.gnolia experienced. I still wonder, for example, how Facebook can survive given the trouble it seems to be having paying its bills. "It’s all about eyeballs" is something that the doe-eyed MBAs used to say a decade ago, but isn’t going to hold any credence in the more mature network culture of our day.

Maybe, though, this will give a boost to develop a counter-cloud, like the one that I proposed earlier this year, in which social media functions would be spread across a multitude of Web sites running common platforms (think Drupal for example). Take a look at this article by Brian Suda, for example, that explains how to carry social networking relationships between sites. It’s a great start, but it needs to be made easy to do for the non-technically savvy user and it would have to be possible to scatter data across sites, with redundancy built into the system to make it work. It may sound impossible, but so in principle, so does bittorrent, but it still works. Like the move from Napster to Bittorrent, this would be a move from centralized to decentralized systems, dispersing control and responsibility into a DIY counter-cloud. Something for Drupal version 10 maybe? 

I suspect that some version of my modest proposal is going to be enacted in the next decade. Trusting one site for anything is a big problem, as the users of ma.gnolia found out. 

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Terence Riley Drawing Attention to the Philip Johnson Tapes

Over at Bookforum, Terence Riley reviews the Philip Johnson Tapes. I am thoroughly delighted by the review. The Philip Johnson Tapes was fascinating to put together and its great that it’s getting some attention. 

Two things are worth expanding on. I certainly appreciated Riley’s point that at times the interviews "do little to make Johnson more accessible, underscoring instead how impossibly distant his life experience was from most of ours." Absolutely. As T. J. Clark has written, "modernity is our antiquity."  I am glad the book conveys the foreignness of that time to us.     

When Riley mentions that "the most rigorous of historians will have to look elsewhere" to fact-check certain information on Johnson, it’s unlikely that people will find much more. The archives have largely been exhausted and the team of researchers at Stern’s office did an first-rate job digging up what they could. Here and there, I’m sure we’ll find something, but on the whole, great mysteries are going to remain barring the release of unseen archival material. For example, what was Johnson doing translating Werner Sombart’s Weltanschauung, Science and Economy? What was his involvement with the Veritas press, which was, in part at least, sponsored by the Nazi government? How about his friendship with Viola Bodenschatz, wife of Major General Karl Bodenschatz, Hermann Goering’s top aide? Johnson’s life falls in the inconvenient period in which people neither communicated primarily via letters (his chief letter-writing phase ends around 1931, or so it seems) nor via e-mail but rather via telephone. To address that difficult time, as I explain in my conclusion to the book, historian Allan Nevins developed oral history. And so it is, that with the oral history of Johnson’s life in hand, we’re unlikely to get a whole lot more. 

Once again, for emphasis: modernity is our antiquity. 

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