Wrong About Architecture

I was wrong.

Previously, I’ve suggested that the architecture of the last decade (the decade of the Bilbao-effect) did little to embody network culture and I thought it peculiar that the best examples of architecture that fits network culture are from the 1990s.

Over at Strangeharvest, Sam Jacob suggests otherwise and he is right.

I was wrong. The emptiness of the last decade perfectly embodies the period.

The punch-line (but do read the article):

Tomorrows visitors to todays (or yesterdays) iconic buildings will feel the swoosh of volumes, the cranked out impossibility of structure, the lightheadedness of refection and translucencies. They will marvel at buildings that hardly touch the ground, which swoop into the air as though drawn up by the jet stream. They will feel stretched by elongated angles that seem sucked into vanishing points that confound perspective, and will be seduced by curves of such overblown sensuality. And in this litany of affects they will find the most permanent record of the heady liquid state of mind of millennial abstract-boom economics. We might rechristen these freakish sites as museums of late capitalist experience, monuments to a never to be repeated faith in the global market.

Well said.

This is going to take a lot of unpleasant work to unpack from a historical perspective, but it’s part of this year’s book project.

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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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forty years ago

Perhaps, forty years later, it is time to put the self-aggrandizing myth of 1968 to rest. Much as I’d like to believe that 1968 was a great moment for the Left, it was actually a point of closure, not of opening. 

Instead, when we think of 1968, for tonight at least, let’s think about not the rebellion of a hip generation coming of age but about a product of technology originated under the Nazis and finished by a government waging a Cold War. If the origins were bathed in innocent blood, the circumstances all wrong, the moment is still one of the greatest achievements of humanity.

Forty years ago the crew of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders, became the first men to fly around the moon. It was a feat of great audacity, the first manned flight of an Apollo capsule atop the mighty Saturn V stack, a Hondo Civic-sized capsule atop a structure taller than Lever House packed full of compressed explosives. On lift-off, the rocket produced more sound than any other man-made phenomenon save the Bomb. If its origins were in military technology, unlike any other manned rocket built, the Saturn V was effectively useless for military purposes (the Vostok rocket that launched Gagarin, the Redstone and Atlas that launched Mercury, the Titan that launched Gemini, the Proton which launched Soyuz were all derived from ICBMs and the Space Shuttle was envisioned as having a military role). The race for the moon may have been mad, but it was as good as madness could get. Instead of building bombs, we raced to the moon.

To the 68ers, the moon shots seemed ridiculous, what could such an expensive effort tell us about the problems of Earth, they asked?  

But, then, on December 22, 1968, the inhabitants of the Earth gazed back on it for the first time.

Below is the image of Earthrise, as taken by the Apollo 8 astronauts. Is there another image from the twentieth century as moving, as important? 

We realized ourselves, alone on a fragile blue sphere adrift in space together. Is it beyond imagination to think that without this photograph we would have blown ourselves up? All at once, during the darkest time of winter (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere) it became apparent that the world was one. Soon after the flight, Borman received a telegram, "You saved 1968." And perhaps a whole lot more.

Here’s to Apollo 8 and to all that was good about the space program. 

 

 

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Braudel on the Event

 “Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion. Every event, however brief, has to be sure a contribution to make, lights up some dark corner or even some wide vista of history. Nor it it only political history which benefits most, for every historical landscape–political, economic, social, even geographical–is illumined by the intermittent flare of the event.”

– Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (New York: Harper Collins, 1973), volume 2, 901.

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Design is Dead

Via Kottke.org and PSFK Philippe Starck announces that design is dead and he is retiring. Long an advocate of immaterial culture, Starck confessed to Die Zeit "I was a producer of materiality and I am ashamed of this fact." "Everything I designed was unnecessary. … design is a dreadful form of expression."

This is building toward another post that I’ve been hoping to make, which is to bring together my review of Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody with the MoMA Design and the Elastic Mind show. Just as we seem to have more faith in design than ever, just as design seems to be exploding, we are also faced with a culture for which design (as conventionally practiced) is simply not appropriate anymore. 

More later…developing.

 

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muzak fills the deadly silences

An excerpt from Blue Monday:

Muzak developed during the era of Art Deco architecture and “jazzy” design. Like Art Deco, Muzak was meant to inspire office workers to move along to the increasingly fast pace of the modern corporation. Just as design and architecture evolved from Art Deco to the International Style, Muzak moved to the Stimulus Progression.

The streamlined geometry of Art Deco design attempted to mask the repetitive nature of office work with a representation of the speed and tempo of modern music. But Art Deco failed to keep its promise: fixed in architectural form, it could only represent change, and was not itself capable of changing over time. As workers grew accustomed to Art Deco, they grew bored of it, associate its forms with the overheated exuberance of the 1920s and the desperate salesmanship of the Great Depression. As International Style modern architecture spread in the postwar era, Muzak spread with it. Muzak punctuated activity on the floors of the Johnson Wax Company building, Lever House, the Seagram building, the Chase Manhattan bank building, the Pan Am building, the Sears Tower, the Apollo XI command module and countless other modernist structures. Muzak is the hidden element in every Ezra Stoller photograph of a modernist office interior. By 1950, some 50 million people heard Muzak every year.

Muzak made modernism palatable sonically. The new, hermetically sealed office buildings that the glass curtain wall and postwar air conditioning system permitted were capable of blocking out distracting sounds from outside, but without these sounds, two new conditions emerged. In some areas, office machines, building control systems, and fellow employees became more distracting while in others, you simply had too much quiet making the artificial lack of environmental sound uncomfortably noticeable. Broadcasting Muzak ensured a superior, controlled background condition.

Muzak’s slogan during this period was “Muzak fills the deadly silences.” But Muzak isn’t just invisible to the eyes, in the company’s own words, Muzak “is meant to be heard, but not listened to.” Aimed at a subliminal level, the immaterial gestures of the Stimulus Progression were neither ornamental nor representational, but rather physiological. Workers did not think about Muzak, they were programmed by it. As soon as Muzak received any requests for songs, they immediately removed them from the library. Like the Fordist worker, Muzak that drew attention to itself was deemed unsuccessful and dismissed.

By filling the deadly silences, Muzak supported modernism and made the impersonality of the Fordist management system more palatable. In bridging melody (individuality) and monotony (the abstract field), Muzak provided an element of accommodation against a background of abstraction, acting as a palliative for both the modern office and for modern architecture. Interactions between individuals that would otherwise have been uncomfortable, such as disciplinary reprimands, terminations, and general office tension could all be alleviated by its soothing background tones.

Composed almost exclusively of love songs stripped of their lyrics, the Stimulus Progression provided a gentle state of erotic arousal throughout the day. Desire, union, and disappointment could all be felt collectively, albeit subconsciously, thereby adding color to the day and blunting the impact of such emotions when real life erupted in the workplace. James Keenen, Ph.D., the Chairman of Muzak’s Board of Scientific Advisors concluded that “Muzak promotes the sharing of meaning because it massifies symbolism in which not few but all can participate.” Muzak provided the same symbolic experience as the pre-Industrial song did, but this sharing of meaning happened below the threshold of consciousness.

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9/11 and the concorde

I watched the "Supersonic Dreams" episode of NOVA last night which recounted the history of the Concorde. I can’t say that the episode was among the best episodes of NOVA or even the best thing I’ve seen on the Concorde, but what struck me was that the Concorde was cancelled not so much because of the July 25, 2000 crash but rather because of 9/11. Apparently the loss of forty of its most reliable customers was enough to kill the SST. In a certain sense, this after-effect meant the end of real glamour in air travel and, to some degree, the end of supermodernism as an architectural strategy. 

This got me to thinking, what other very direct effects did 9/11 have? Obviously, there was personal tragedy, something I think of as I pass the 9/11 memorial on my way back home from the train at Watchung Plaza. But this had very real economic consequences. What other strange historical effects might it have had?    

 

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ubuweb

Bored of Youtube? Then try Ubuweb,which is the kind of archive of avant-garde video that you always hoped existed on the Internet but didn't, until now. I had a chance to watch a video performance by Joseph Beuys, an Yves Klein's Anthropometries of the Blue Period and Fire Paintings, and a Brief Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in time. Well, you get the drift.
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Network Culture and Periodization, or, What Era Do We Live In?

I'm putting the finishing touches on the Networked Publics book, including a conclusion reflecting on the phenomenon of network culture that I've outlined here. When that's done, I'll be uploading it as well as the entire book, for comments. 2007 is a year for a number of books and certainly for me to discuss what network culture is in depth on this blog.

For now then, here's a rumination on periodization and network culture. The reviews of an earlier draft of the conclusion generally suggested that the section on periodization needed to be reworked. For now, I've excised it and edited it to stand on its own and am planning to reference this page instead. In a future version of the essay, perhaps it can make its way back in again. I suppose it does say something quite definite about our era that the readers reacted so instinctively against my discussion of periodization.

Yes, history is my discipline and therefore I have a certain bias towards such explanations, but the question of periodization was central to Jameson's essay on postmodernism. Why was it not a problem then when it is now? My hunch is that we're afraid of periodization precisely because it's so absent right now. As I say in the excised excerpt from that essay,

Although modernism and postmodernism relentlessly defined themselves, we just are. Even this decade remains nameless””?is it the 2000s? the ‘00s? Or as the BBC suggested, the “noughties”?

Our collective fear of periodization says a lot about us, and why we are not postmodern. Read on for more and please comment! The captcha system I've put in place is annoying but it takes care of all the spam that was crippling comments for so long.

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40 Years After 40 Under 40 JAE On Line

The issue of the Journal of Architectural Education that George Dodds of University of Tennessee, Knoxville (and the editor elect of the journal) and I put together to mark 40 years after 1966 is online and, as luck has it, the publisher has made the contents available for free as a sample issue.

I blogged the release of the journal in February so I’ll lift the announcement from that post wholesale…

This issue looks back to 1966, 40 years after Robert Stern put together the seminal 40 under 40 exhibit. An interview with Stern about the show is a highlight, as are Simon Sadler’s essay “Drop City Revisited,” Hadas Steiner’s “Brutalism Exposed. Photography and the Zoom Wave,” Mary Lou Lobsinger’s “The New Urban Scale in Italy. On Aldo Rossi’s L’architettura della citt?ɬ†,” Stanley Mathews’s “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture. Cedric Price and the Practices of Indeterminacy,” and Peter L. Laurence’s “Contradictions and Complexities. Jane Jacobs’s and Robert Venturi’s Complexity Theories.” In the book reviews section, Andrew Ballentyne reviews Sadler’s The Situationist City and Patrick Harrop reviews the CCA’s The Sixties: Montreal Thinks Big.
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