transparency, literal or embedded?

Thanks to the intelligent comments we've received from Enrique and Javier (and Mark) with regard to Mark Jarzombek's guest post. As something of a response to that post, I'd like to submit the following article: Where r u? Cell phones keep tabs. Over 50% of the mobile phones today have geolocation features built in. Enable them and you can track your kids or Big Brother can track you. Another article notes how automobiles can also be fitted with GPS devices that allow for concerned parents (and others) to track where their teenagers (or whoever…) drive.

What does this have to do with Mark's post? Well, transparency is a driving force of architecture culture today, maybe even more so than it was in the days when Hannes Meyer proposed his 1927 competition entry for the League of Nations (below).


league of nations
In Meyer's view, the transparency of the building would prevent diplomats from making back room deals. In the 1950s, transparency would be adopted by American corporations looking to associate themselves with a new, technocratic postwar order and like Meyer hoping to align themselves with a Protestant image of rational action and morality. During the 1970s transparency fell out of favor, in part due to energy crisis and the rising cost of HVAC and in part because after Watergate (which itself took place in a glass hotel) nobody believed in the transparency of glass anyway.
In the 1990s, however, driven in part by fashion, and in part by new technology that allowed glass facades to be more energy efficient while ever-thinner, transparency returned with a vengeance. And as in Meyer's day, this transparency was associated with ideology.
As New York's 5th Avenue Apple Store demonstrates, transparency is strongly linked to the Californian Ideology, the myth that our new culture makes information available to everyone and that the Internet is a libertarian playground of self-expression. Raised on Ayn Rand and a love of technology, many architects have adopted this ideology wholesale, arguing that architecture itself should be transparent, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. The latter position argues that architecture should go with the flow and (somehow following Deleuze) celebrate capital and the glorious new, networked age.
apple store 5th avenue


But the Apple Store makes visible nothing—the real business is conducted underground, out of site to the passerby.

So, too, the articles that I started off with demonstrate that our culture is far from one of visibility. We live in a world dominated by invisible forces: by the shadowy military-industrial complex that Mark Lombardi sought to expose, by the secret room from which the NSA monitors network traffic at the AT&T complex in San Francisco, by a government outside the Constitution's system of checks and balances that can put you on a no-fly list or detain you in Guantanamo without ever telling you why.

NSA secret room

So my first response to Mark's post then, is to ask if the questions about contemporary architecture culture that he raises are disciplinary in nature or if they are also not symptomatic of a widespread ideology that has overtaken our culture. Never before have we been so willing to give ourselves up to others, be they credit bureaus, our employers (urine, please, and some hair too), or the government. But if the cells at Camp X-Ray are transparent, remember that the prisoners within them are deprived of their sight and hearing. Our situation may be less dire, but isn't all that dissimilar. Strangely, projects about tracking and surveillance that architects did in the days of "theory" suddenly seem so relevant... Above all, not however being critical today (indeed, not being critically utopian…which also includes critically dystopian of course!) seems like the worst position we can take.




[...] see some interesting discussion out there about utopias, dystopias, and other bugbears and bête-noires — it warms the cockles of one’s heart. ▶ [...]

Paradigm change

Lot’s of different direction I can take to these great comments but first let me start with this:

In 15 years, architecture schools as we currently know them will not exist (Administrators and faculty beware.)

The academic system that we currently have is basically a child of the postmodern era which envisioned architecture as allied with discourses of cultural context, history, and theory. Sociology defined the political left, and phenomenology the political right. The new blurring of disciplinary boundaries between design, technology, and ecology, with urbanism thrown in there as well, will alter if not overwhelm the postmodern paradigm of architectural education. Architecture will become more expertise-oriented and simultaneously more ‘design’-oriented. The conventional “professional practice” course will have a big section of ‘managing.’ And because technology is not particularly deep on questions of its history and theory, the ‘critical climate’ of architectural schools will be reduced. I see the seeds here for new developments in history and theory; the day these disciplines are removed from schools of architecture is the day architecture dies – but I can envision a future contestation here. At any rate, history and theory take a long time to develop into fruition. (see my discussion of belatedness in “Critical Historiography”)

On the architecture front, the seeds for the reactionary movement have been laid in the ‘body’ ethos of the last decade, which has tried to be the locus of a type of anti-professional, anti-technology discourse, loosely associated with ‘theory.’ But the body ethos and its associated theorizations are limited by their ambiguity to science and by the fact that technology has already begun to incorporated ‘the body’ into its operations, thus de-legitimizing the body as a kind of site of authentic activity. Feminism, which has barely dented the architectural academic aedifice (unlike in the arts), will be even (sadly) further marginalized. The emerging reactionary movement will, I will venture to predict, be in the direction of a new brutalism, opposing the tendency to soften and gesturalize the architectural form which is where so much of the computational world is going......

They tell you why you are detained at Camp X-Ray.

In fact, they have hearings to determine if you belong there. Moreover, they have released people when the evidence against them wasn't strong enough. Some of those people, after release, were found to be fighting us again. imagine that.

It's not that easy to get detained by the US. Usually, it is from acting like a combatant against our troops, while out of uniform. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 do not apply to such people; they may be shot then or at any later time. Detaining them seems a slighter penalty. I prefer that they be shot.

America is at war or it is not. If we are at war then we may protect our interests. Sometimes, that war is covert. Sometimes, it is having our military fight the enemy in the field, like in Iraq.

I suspect that you oppose fighting the enemy in either case. Members of the Democratic Party tend to deny that we are at war and that our citizens and country are at risk.

Your paranoid fantasies are getting the better of you; America is not a Fascist country. If it were one; most likely, you would be in jail.