architecture

On Informality

Quilian Riano asked me to participate in the blogging revolving around the GSD event on Ecological Urbanism. Although Quilian is live blogging the event, like the live blogging for Postopolis going on simultaneously, I think it makes much more sense to the participants than to those of us listening in at a remove, observing highly compressed fragments of the conversation.

Even if I take my knowledge of the event second-hand, I thought I'd offer a response, prematurely broaching a topic that I've been engulfed in for the first part of this year. I'll begin with the event's statement of purpose, the core of which reads as follows:

The conference is organized around the premise that an ecological approach is urgently needed both as a remedial device for the contemporary city and an organizing principle for new cities. An ecological urbanism represents a more holistic approach than is generally the case with urbanism today, demanding alternative ways of thinking and designing.

In ecological urbanism, the informal seems to crop up repeatedly. Instead of "green architecture" and its outworn advocacy of LEED to design our way out of a global ecological crisis, the conference proposes an urbanism produced bottom-up, in a natural way, like an ecosystem.

Sanford Kwinter's keen observation that New York's culture has come to a crashing halt under the weight of capital, overdevelopment, and hipsterdom serves as a set-up to ecological urbanism. Instead of a vital urban realm, we have a stuffed animal (to use a phrase Peter Eisenman once applied to European cities…and let's just be clear that today cities anywhere in the developing world don't fare any better than Manhattan does). In the face of this collapsing formal urbanism, then, Quilian observes, informality is thriving:

[There is an]… anxiety around the failure of the formal structures in the West. Populations are dropping, immigration increasing, manufacturing and economic strength shifting to other nations. Western nations are facing a changing culture at home and a shifting power structure abroad. As formal structures fail informal systems take over.  

We've heard this before, in the recent fascination with favelas and their capacity for self-organization. When Rem Koolhaas spoke he brought out Lagos, his exemplar of such a self-organizing city, a nightmare condition that nevertheless he feels somehow works. In doing so, he replays Venturi, Scott Brown, and Izenour's Learning from Las Vegas as well as Reyner Banham's Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, but in going to Africa, Koolhaas is not so much flipping the valence on a "low," pop phenomena as replaying the modernist obsession with the primitive (to be fair, on the East, the West is often seen in terms of the primitive). In the darkest places, the modern obsession with the primitive suggested, we would identify the next modernity. So Koolhaas hopes to do at Lagos.

If dysfunctional, the African metropolis of seven million shows up our aged cities. For if Lagos is broken and lacks a public realm, its market also appears to exist outside of organized capital or government control a perverse model of unalienated labor. Urbanization at its most base and at its most advanced, Delirious Lagos is a sci-fi fantasy of the New Bad Future* set on the Gulf of Guinea instead of in 2050. Lagos, it seems, presages the urbanism of the multitude.**

Cue Banham again and his valorization of the non-plan, which is little different from the model Koolhaas proposes, except that in Banham's eyes, Los Angeles is still paradise, not the New Bad Future. To me, Banham's model foreshadows the Californian Ideology all too neatly. Banham's Los Angeles works because it has no central plan but rather is left to the competing forces of the basin. But if Banham was reacting against modernist urban planning, non-plan also encouraged neoliberalist planning ideas.*** It'd be easy to critique Koolhaas's take on Lagos as an exacerbated version of Banham, a neoliberal city of non-plan pushed to extremes, not ruled by an unruly multitude but rather by a repressive regime that receives more than 50% of its income from (Royal Dutch) Shell Oil. 

Thank god we haven't learned too much from Lagos yet, then. But the fascination with informality points to another problem, which is our civilization's unsustainable level of complexity. I've been thinking about these issues a lot lately, re-reading Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Societies and studying the role of complexity in network culture. A proper response is going to require a lengthier post, or rather a series of posts, an article or two, and a book chapter****, but for now I can make a few key points.

Tainter's thesis differs from Jared Diamond's (and also precedes it by a decade). Instead of turning to the external forces of ecological catastrophe (as Diamond does) or to foreign invasion (as other commentators do), Tainter sees complexity as the downfall of societies. As societies mature, he observes, they become more complex, especially in terms of communication. A highly advanced society is highly differentiated and highly linked. This doesn't just mean that I have a lot of "friends" on Facebook and Twitter, it also means that just to manage my affairs, I have to wrangle a trillion bureaucratic agents such as university finance personnel, bank managers, insurance auditors, credit card representatives, accountants, real estate agents, Apple store "geniuses," airline agents, delivery services, outsourced script-reading hardware support personnel, and lawyers in combination with non-human actors like my iPhone, Mac OS 10.5, my car, the train, and so on. This is the service economy at work, and it's characteristic of the bureaucratized nature of complex societies. If, in a charitable reading, we produce such bureaucratic entities in hopes of making the world a better place, keeping each other honest and making things work smoothly, in reality, they rub up against each other, exhibiting cascading failure effects that lead to untenable conditions. But more than that, in Tainter's reading, complex societies require greater and greater amounts of energy until, at a certain point, the advantages of the structures they create are outweighed by diminishing marginal returns on energy invested. The result is collapse, which Tainter defines as a greatly diminished level of complexity. 

In this light, the culture of congestion that Koolhaas valorized in the 1970s is undone by the energy costs of that complexity. Now I suspect that Koolhaas understands this full well. His essay on Junkspace is an attack on what his earlier model of congestion had become, on the reduction of the City of the Captive Globe (note the absence of traffic in Madelon Vriesendorp's drawings) to West L. A. at 4pm on a Friday. Lagos, for him, is the new New York, a non-Western Other outside the system, a (non-)plan for thriving in the over-complex, over-congested world. Koolhaas's Utopian vision of Lagos is a model for life in Junkspace, an anarchist condition in which larger governing structures no longer dominate everyday life and the architect merely sets some scripts in play for others to follow. We can see this in some of OMA's best work, like Melun-Senart or Yokohama, although less so in the last few years.  

A decade ago, I was enamored with this approach, but now I don't think we can simply solve our problems by drawing on informality and distributed self-organization as models. For even if architects turn toward a radical humility, that doesn't mean that all of a sudden complex systems somehow unravel themselves. Just as rigidity was the failure point for Fordism, complexity is the failure point for post-Fordism.

So I'd agree with Tainter when he concludes that the only hope to forestall the collapse of a complex society is technological advance. This is something we've been really good at lately and I've suggested elsewhere that it might be possible to dodge the complexity bullet again, even if think these advances will be outside of architecture. But, frankly, I'm not so sure we can do it. This is where my optimism rubs up against my nagging feeling that urban informatics, locative media, smart grids, and all the things that the kids at LIFT and SXSW are dreaming up are too little, too late. Technology itself is all but unmanageable in everyday life and adding greater layers of complexity can't be the solution. It's in this sense that the Infrastructural City was much more Mike Davis than Reyner Banham, something few have caught on to yet.***** We should have taken our lumps when the dot.com boom collapsed and retrenched for five or six years. Instead we added that much more complexity (take the debt and what is required to maintain it or the impossible war or the climate) and now our options are greatly limited. 

If ecological urbanism pushes us to ask some of the right questions, I suspect informality isn't going to be the answer, just the latest buzzword. Instead, perversely, I'm going to suggest a little patience. Architects have been so stuck looking for the newest methodology for so long that we've exhausted our resources to understand the present. Urban theory needs to develop an entirely new set of tools to deal with the failures of the neoliberal city and the impossible conditions of complexity today. This is hardly an overnight task, if it can be done at all. 

Tainter holds one other card, suggesting that most of the people who experience collapse don't mind it too much. Many of them seem happy enough to just walk away from the failing world around them, much like owners of foreclosed homes do today. Eventually a new civilization springs up and with it, with it, so do new tasks for design.   

*A 1980s phrase that never stuck, referring to films such as Blade Runner, Outlands, Alien/s, Robocop that point to a damaged future for civilization.

** If Lagos is a certain perverse model of the distributed urbanism of the multitude, then its also the opposite of AUDC's reading of Quartzsite, for which of course you should see Blue Monday.

*** See Jonathan Hughes, "After Non-Plan" in Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler, Non-Plan. Essays on Freedom, Participation, and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism (London: Architectural Press, 2000).

**** Yes, this is likely to make it into the Network Culture book.

***** Except one writer, who referred to the book as colored by a Marxist vision, assuming I suppose, that in a mass-market publication that would be something of an insult.  

 

Not the Last Word

For Cite 75, Summer 2008

Sanford Kwinter, Far From Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture, edited by Cynthia Davidson (ACTAR: Barcelona and New York, 2008), 196 page paperback, $33.00.

For a New York writer to review a book by one of Houston's great architectural thinkers in Cite is unquestionably risky. But given Sanford Kwinter's own dual allegiance to these two cities and his fascination with the potential lying in the concentrated and dissipated forms of urbanism that these cities respectively epitomize, perhaps it is not impossible. And where better to talk about Kwinter? After all, it is in Houston—both the city and the intellectual milieu—that Kwinter rethought urbanism.

Kwinter's fundamental contribution to architecture is to redirect urbanism away from an image-based notion of the city (I am thinking here of urbanism from Garnier and Corbusier to Lynch and Rowe) in favor of an understanding of cities as products of dynamic forces.

Far From Equilibrium is a collection of essays surveying the evolution of Kwinter's thought. Most books of collected essays come up short, reflecting less a coherent body of work than a wandering mind. But this is not the case here. Selected from his writings in the nineties, these essays form a new document, as relevant to us today as they were in their first iteration—perhaps more so.

Most, but not all, of these essays are from editor Cynthia Davidson's ANY magazine, for which Kwinter regularly contributed a column called "FFE" (originally titled "Not the Last Word," but renamed at Kwinter's request). Intended to accompany the conferences and the books that Anyone Corporation produced, ANY began publication in the wake of Jacques Derrida's influence on architecture, giving life to the suggestion that writing and theory were the highest forms of (architectural) intellectual work. Initially designed by Massimo Vignelli as a graphically flamboyant tabloid, ANY visually announced that the writing in its pages would be radical, not merely observing but rather agitating for and inventing a new architecture.

Kwinter's role in ANY was crucial. After his brief response to a query from Robert Somol on the status of form in architecture was printed in Issue 8 as "Form Work: Colin Rowe," Kwinter arrived in full force in Issue 9 with "Urbanism vs Architecture: The Bigness of Rem Koolhaas." This was a pivotal issue for ANY, marking a change in editorial staff as well as a shift away from deconstruction toward a broader interest in culture, technology, and diagramming. The graphic language of the magazine was redone, the formalist Vignelli design replaced with a more gridded approach by Michael Rock, Susan Sellers, and Georgianna Stout. This new look reflected the influence of Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, both already associated with Kwinter.

But ANY was formulated as a ten-year project, and when that point was reached in 2000, it was shut down. Davidson and Kwinter then reunited as editor and writer, shaping the "FFE" columns—together with other essays that they felt applicable—into this new product. The result is hardly a complete selection of Kwinter's thought, nor does it comprise every text he wrote for ANY. Instead, this book picks out a particularly vital thread in Kwinter's intellectual narrative, reframing key texts from the ANY period that emphasize Kwinter's current commitment to resistance. Thus, the book bypasses the aspects of Kwinter's work in the 1990s, such as his "new pastoralism," that could be misinterpreted as supporting less critical motifs in contemporary thought.

Far From Equilibrium's rewriting is not revisionism. In the essay that's the key to the book, the 1996 "Radical Anamnesis (Mourning the Future)," Kwinter concludes, "Through (selective) memory the future becomes possible, a future that the past could not think and that the present-alone-dares not." In this spirit, working with Davidson as his editor, Kwinter has discovered a radically new book among these decade-old essays, unabashedly facing up to the dangers of technology while challenging architecture to justify itself today.

During the publication process, Far From Equilibrium passed to Actar Publishers, where editor Michael Kubo and designer Reinhard Steger punctuated the book graphically. In line with the editorial mission, the design moves the book forward to the present day, expounding on the work of Bruce Mau, who designed Kwinter's Zone Books starting in the 1980s. A series of gatefold pages reveal projects by architects such as Diller Scofidio+Renfro, Ábalos & Herreros, and Toyo Ito, work forged in the same milieu as Kwinter's writing. Just as these gatefolds disrupt the flow of reading, they also mark a transition in typefaces. These disturbances are registered at the threshold of the reader's consciousness, affirming, as Kwinter does, a faith in the powers of design itself to reconfigure our thought.

This is only a mere overview. Throughout, Kwinter's critical, incisive voice questions what design can do for society today and calls for us to make a stance-to take the road not taken by criticism, which has moved to a vacuous endorsement of the lowest common denominator, either embracing post-criticism or banal journalism. If Far From Equilibrium was once "Not the Last Word," we can be sure that this magnificent work is, if nothing else, not the last word that we will hear from this brilliant thinker.

MIT HTC Forum 2009

See me at the MIT HTC Forum next month.

Javier Arbona, Mark Jarzombek, and Kazys Varnelis
Blogitecture: Architecture on the Internet
The state and influence of architectural criticism in an age of digital networks

Tuesday, April 7
6:30 pm
Room 3-133

 "Has a blog actually had a significant impact on a building in the process of being designed or built? What was the outcome? ...But even if this were the case, I'm not sure that blogs have actually changed much of the way theory is written or performed." 
-Javier Arbona, Javierest (http://javier.est.pr/)

"Blogs have, thus far been both anti-theory and anti-history. I think they've played a role in that regard." 
-Kazys Varnelis (http://www.varnelis.net)

Mark Jarzombek will moderate a discussion between bloggers Javier Arbona and Kazys Varnelis on the state and influence of architectural criticism in an age of digital networks, from their respective positions as producers of criticism and scholars of architecture. 

 
Javier Arbona is a PhD candidate in geography at UC Berkeley and a former chief editor at Archinect.com. He blogs at http://javier.est.pr/.

Kazys Varnelis, PhD, is Director of the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. He blogs at  http://www.varnelis.net.

Mark Jarzombek, Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture and Associate Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at MIT, will moderate the discussion.

________________________________

The lecture will be at 6:30pm in 3-133 at  MIT, 77 Mass Ave. Cambridge, MA 02139, see http://whereis.mit.edu 

htc forum 2009 poster 

Floating Architecture

Sadly I missed the Lieb House floating by on the East River today. It was just a little too early today, but my friend Tim Ventimiglia who works at Ralph Applebaum Associates organized a viewing and his colleague Tommy Matthews took these great photographs. 

Lieb House approaching

Lieb on its way

Lieb departing 

The Lieb House is among of the best works by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, one of the last classic works before the office wound up mired in bad taste and lousy classicism. 

A developer bought the vacation house, located on New Jersey's Long Beach Island as a tear down. Not only is this a gem, surely it's big enough as a vacation house for any family! I can only imagine what sort of awful monstrosity the brute will build in its place.

Luckily a couple who understood the structure's value bought it and are moving it to Glen Cove in Long Island next to the Kalpakjian House, one of VRSB's few decent postmodern structures. Bravo. See Newsday for with more.  

urban anxieties

Here is yet another project aimed at one-upping the suburbs, this time in the form of Tom Vigar's Master's Thesis at Sheffield University. Nicely illustrated, its had a bit of attention in the blogosphere lately. 

But I have my problems with it. To be fair, I have not seen the whole work, only a few excerpts. Still, I'm a little confused by the reference to bomb shelters and ICBMs as it is 2009 not 1955, isn't it? Are people in the suburbs really that concerned with terrorism? That seems to me to be largely an urban phenomenon. The whole reading seems a trifle easy to me. 

I also wonder about gunning down the suburban straw-man in yet another drive-by. As readers of this blog will know, I have high hopes ludicrous fantasies for the new economy and one of these hopes fantasies is that the desperation will force us past the urban-suburban divide. The history of the suburbs and the city is the history of one entity, not two. Until we can learn to think regionally both city and suburbs will continue their pointless squabbles.

It'd be fun to do a counter-project, skewering the hipster lifestyle of urban hyper-consumption, a world of Prada and Moss Design, of eating out every night at restaurants with winkingly offensive names, of Starchitects and museum-discos, a world of ethnic heterogeneity made safe by the eviction of the poor, a world of knowing smirks and v-neck white T-shirts, all supported by constant CCTV surveillance, draconian police forces, ludicrous financial models, and of course a global military order.

The hipster city is where Peter Sloterdijk's cynical reason holds, where you know very well what you do is wrong but you do it anyway. The self-congratulatory hipster city is where money has defeated criticism. It's where the post-critical rules, captivated by its own catty but inane chatter. 

It might look just a little bit like this, although it would have to have an architectural component. Or maybe it would be a little like this (disclaimer: AUDC project). 

But the reason I'm blogging this is to ask a simple question: this is not the first such project so why this common urge to take pot shots at the suburbs? What's up with that? Are people just spinning their wheels endlessly and in need of new targets? Is it really that hard? Why not use that brilliant wit to poke fun at Manhattan or London or Dubai or Beijing?

My thinking is that rising urban anxieties are being displaced onto the suburbs, anointed as a safe object of symbolic violence. Instead of confronting our anxieties we displace them.         

 

 

On Restructuring

I'm always pleasantly surprised when the New York Times gets a story right, so today, with the government releasing its statistics about high unemployment, I was impressed to see that they published this piece: Crushing Job Losses May Signal Broader Changes. I would agree completely. This is not a temporary recession that will end in two years, at the end of which the jobs will magically reappear.

Instead, we are seeing a second wave of restructuring akin to what we saw in the 1980s. Most of the jobs being shed now are history. Certainly a large number of these are in manufacturing: positions that survived earlier cutbacks being made redundant. But we are also seeing something new: the masters of the universe are in trouble. Financial jobs are coming undone and there is nothing to replace them. From Wall Street to Dubai, these jobs are going away forever and with them, the lavish lifestyles that propped up architecture and design (sorry Mitchell Moss). At least architects and designers have some real skills that can be applied elsewhere, given some reorientation and retraining. It doesn't look so pretty for those people involved in finance. But make no mistake, Richard Florida's creative class took this one on the chin. Restructuring is going to hit them hard. Working at the ad agency sure beats handing out parking tickets.

There's more too. Crime in cities has fallen due to two reasons: the poor have been driven out by neoliberal policies of segregation-via-high-rents, a reasonable abundance of marginal jobs that make crime less attractive, and an escalated police presence. During a protracted recession, the marginal jobs are going to go away while police budgets will shrink, and the result will inevitably be a rising crime rate. Another trigger to higher crime will be the changing demographics in the cities. Some inner-ring suburbs (and more distant places too, welfare cities like Newburgh, NY) will become more dangerous and, lacking a good tax base, will see huge increases in crime and collapses in their school systems. The result will be a return of the poor to the cities, particularly of parents of school age children, hoping to take advantage of better schools and the lure of jobs, few though they may be. But that without the marginal jobs, the crime rate will escalate further and so it goes.

Is there an easy solution to this? No. We have wasted the mad money of the last two decades on starchitecture and jet skis instead of a physical and social infrastructure that would allow us to deal with the realities of the city. It's going to be a long process of rebuilding and, given the bad politics of both parties (albeit especially the Republicans), the odds are against us.

Delirious though it was, this was a golden age for cities. The last time was probably the 1950s and before that the 1920s. You very well may not see another one like this in your lifetime.    

Richard Sennett on Brittle and Open Cities

A paper by Richard Sennett on brittle vs. open cities can be found here

Some observations:

Starchitecture was the ultimate manifestation of the brittle city he describes. In breaking the rules formally, it produced the impression that cities were places of freedom when in fact they were getting more and more tightly controlled, more exclusive and more homogeneous. Who cares about a building by Herzog and de Meuron in Manhattan when you can't get a decent slice of pizza in most places anymore? Which is more valuable to a city, a Nouvel apartment building that testifies to the diversity of form or diversity of ethnicities and classes? 

 

How the News Works

graph of architecture vs. infrastructure in nyt 

This graph shows how often the words architecture (green) and infrastructure (blue) appeared in the New York Times each month. See here for more and here for the link to generate your own graphs. These two are also amazing: Obama vs. McCain and Clinton vs. Obama

obama vs. mccain

 

clinton vs. obama

After the publication of the Infrastructural City review in the LA Times, I noted that almost everybody who mentioned it to me had not bothered to read the article. These graphs suggest that the actual content of the news doesn't matter, all that matters is the frequency.

Architecture of Bling

Take a look at this table of 15 skyscrapers that are on hold due to the economic "crisis." Many of these are quite curvy, giving the impression that they are dancing or swaying in the wind. Now first of all, this conceit seems rather pathetic: skyscrapers don't dance and they don't sway in the wind, so why should they look like they do? 

Perhaps the proliferation of flash in architects' Web sites during the early part of the decade led to this nonsense. But unlike gratuitous flash portfolios, which are mildly offensive, these things are the architectural equivalents of Hummers. Not only are they contradictions in design logic, given the amount of steel necessary to construct these signature follies, they make a mockery of contemporary architecture's green ambitions. When one of the green architects comes out with a serious attack on this kind of thinking then I will take them more seriously. 

What strikes me about these silly buildings today is that architectural fashion that associates itself with a moment in capital is rarely able to live past that moment's demise. Not only is it passé, but it is fatally associated with the previous moment. Deco and the 1920s, streamline and the late 1930s, high modernism and the late 1950s, late modernism and the early 1970s, postmodernism and the 1980s, decon and the early 1990s. So goes architecture fashion. 

But these fifteen skyscrapers suggest that perhaps there was still one last reason for visibility, for capital to appear: to unload itself of any meaning except excess, to concretize the vulgarity of bling. Like these buildings, bling has nothing behind it. No culture, no history, no morality, no taste, merely the desire to display wealth in a blunt and vulgar way. Nothing says it better than this site for the Burj Al Alam. There should be a way of preserving that site so that future generations can see the excess that developed in places Dubai, Beijing, and all the other capitals of bling. 

Goodbye bling, and good riddance. 

In Defense of Architecture (Fiction)

Over at HTC Experiments, David Gissen is the latest to tackle architecture fiction. I like David's writing quite a bit, but this time I'm moved to the defense of architecture and to expand the concept further in the direction I would like to see it go. I won't rehash the idea of architecture fiction again as I've written about it here and here while Bruce Sterling originated the concept here. Go read those if you're unfamiliar with the idea.  

David is puzzled by how Bruce is fascinated with Archigram and sees it ironic that I understand architecture fiction as a way beyond green architecture since the language of Archigram informs much of green architecture today . Somehow (I'm not quite sure how), David understands that irony as fatal. If there's a fatal irony, i would say that's its in the contradiction that the green design movement is appropriating Archigram's imagery. After all, by the late 1960s, Archigram was detested throughout schools of architecture worldwide for their commitment to technology, in particular their commitment to planned obsolescence and building. This was anathema for the young radicals of the early 1970s. I remember teaching Archigram in the mid-1990s and they were still thought of as retardataire, and that was at SCI-Arc! So, although Archigram conveys the message well, it's an originary work not without its problems.

Second, David notes that Beatriz Colomina demonstrated that all forms of modernism relied on fictional devices. This is a more serious charge since he feels that if architecture is by nature fictional, it means that architecture fiction is nothing new and therefore boring. In its stead, he suggests his own re-definition of the term: "architectural fiction as a form of writing on buildings." 

I have to admit that this prospect scares me. It seems like a perpetuation of starchitecture, which I would like to bury as fast as possible. If a novelist is moved to write about a work of architecture, then more power to them. I'm certainly glad to see that Bruce is inspired by Greg Lynn's work, although I think if an shoe inspired Bruce, he could cook up something equally smart, witty, and literary. I think the last thing we need is our favorite starchitect bothering a novelist to say "Hey, since I can't get on the front page of the New York Times anymore [the NYT having gone under in this fictional scenario], I need you to write a novel about me."  Moreover, if we're trying to judge by novelty, then what about Victor Hugo? This interpretation of architecture fiction has been going on for a while now.

But I'm grateful to David for prodding me on with regard to this topic. I'm interested in something very specific, narrower than anybody else's interest here. Let me try to articulate it. 

Instead of being Utopian or imaginative, might it be possible for architecture to shape our experiences in such ways as to approximate the effects of films or fiction? Or better yet, video games? Please don't take this to mean that architects need to copy Doom or Quake (they've tried that already). But rather, could architecture fiction be something that re-shapes our subjectivity? Yes, this is awfully similar to some of the ideas that Peter Eisenman threw around in the past, but substitute the theoretical armature, which he seemed willing to discard with predictable regularity with deliberate invention? And yes, this is similar to what Koolhaas and Tschumi suggested in the 1970s, but would that be a bad starting point for the present day?

If I'm coming to architecture's defense, then you've guessed that there's probably a catch. I firmly believe that there's a huge opportunity for architects—particularly during the coming protracted recession—to think about what is possible with the built environment (as it already stands) and pervasive technologies (as they already exist). In other words, if architects are such experts at shaping space, who is to say they always need to work with the building trades? The Eameses made furniture and films. If they were around today, I think they'd be out in the city, finding ways to shape the environment through existing forms of locative media. Look at the work Mark Shepard does for example. He's one of the few people who've got it figured out. 

Anticipating protests about architects not being in the software business, I'll ask what, if anything, are architects doing in studios today besides using (and even writing!) software? Those aren't drafting boards on the desks anymore. And there's a caution: if architects don't do it, others will. There are plenty of super-intelligent people already working on this kind of material, such as the good folks at area/code, and I fully expect magic from that group, but there's lots of room spectrum out there for everyone to play. Will architects take up this challenge? 

Instead of writing novels on a cell phone, why shouldn't we be reading the city on our cell phones? 

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