gsd bound

I will be speaking next week and the week after at Harvard's Graduate School of Design.

My first talk, "Tourism of the Void," an analysis of Quartzsite, Arizona, is part of the Desert Tourism conference. I will be speaking in the Imagining the Desert Panel beginning at 2.15pm on April 4. According to the organizers,

This conference on desert tourism seeks to analyze the relationship between tourism and the sustainable development of the populations, architectures and landscapes of arid regions. Its main purpose is to provide a meeting platform for students, academics, researchers, and organizations, which have studied or implemented tourist projects that integrate the development of their surroundings and to discuss issues raise by desert tourism.

My second talk, "History of the Eye," on the formalism of the Cornell-Cooper schools in architectural education is part of Studioscope: Design and Pedagogy. I will be speaking in Session II, Histories of the Studio Form, 9-11am on April 13.

In this case,

This symposium and subsequent publication will bring together preeminent design teachers and scholars to examine the historical emergence, contemporary complexion, and future prospects of the design studio. Focusing on those technical, representational, and procedural aspects of the design studio that make it a distinct pedagogical model, the symposium will illuminate and critically rehearse the approaches and schools that are most fundamental to the studio today. Both the center and borders of the studio genre will be explored, including, respectively, what the structure and content of core studios should encompass and innovative models of studio instruction from analogous fields.

So bear with me if I don't post as often as I should in the next few weeks.  

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more on code, including a small skyscraper

Some more thoughts on this question of code.

I just spent a good part of my morning dealing with various kinds of bureaucratic nightmares: retrieving my American Express online id, dealing with insurance on a broken product (since broken again), inquiring about how to use my flexible spending account, getting refunds for improperly processed shipping labels produced by the postal service's junky website, and—when that failed—processing fraudulent transaction claims against the USPS. I think there were a few more things, but I've forgotten now.

Am I an extreme case? Perhaps. Maybe the advocates of post-criticism live in an age of smoothness and effortlessly navigate through the maze of bureaucracies that form key parts of the networks in network culture. I don't. For me, it's a constant and horrible battle that takes up a good part of my day. Code is often not fun. Code limits. Code restricts. But sometimes, maybe, code can be hacked as the following text about artist Chris Burden suggests. I originally wrote this for the 2003 Forum Annual from the Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design.

Hacking a Small Skyscraper

In 1991, while planning a studio on his property, artist Chris Burden became frustrated by Los Angeles County building codes and, in response, sketched his "Small Skyscraper."

small skyscraper diagram

Small Skyscraper forms something of a reaction to the stalemate being reached in Southern California, and increasingly elsewhere, as forces such as NIMBYist Neighborhood Councils, environmental regulations, view preservation ordinances, historic preservation areas, draconian zoning codes, building review boards, restrictive covenants, and other governmental and non-governmental organizations create an intractable micro-bureaucracy of obstacles. This new ecology of red tape, rules, and regulations increasingly comes to shape our landscape. Individuals find themselves struggling not with nature but with the constraints put upon them by the "second nature" that contemporary society generates.

Burden envisioned Small Skyscraper as a means of exploiting a loophole in the Los Angeles County building code that excludes out-buildings less than 400 square feet in size and below 32 feet in height from any oversight or review by the building department. Small Skyscraper, then, followed the familiar mantra of the developer and built to the maximum permissible building envelope: stacking four 10 foot by 10 foot rooms on top of one another in a 32 foot high structure.


small skyscraper in basel


For a show at the MAK Center entitled TRESPASSING, Burden, together with TK Architecture realized the design as a featherweight structure assembled from T-slotted, bolt-together parts belonging to a Bosch aluminum structural framing system. The Bosch system recalls a lifesize Erector set, the material that Burden uses in his contemporary series of model bridges. Developed for rapid construction of automated assembly lines, test benches, and equipment enclosures, the Bosch system is not only relatively inexpensive compared to traditional building materials, it allows untrained builders working with a minimum of tools to erect projects quickly and easily. The floors and the sundeck are constructed out of ordinary two-by-fours.

In 2002, the project was realized at the LACE gallery where Burden erected the project horizontally so that it would fit into the gallery, propping it up to demonstrate that the project was not an avant-garde sculpture but rather a structural member, capable of withstanding bending forces. In June, 2003 the Small Skyscraper was erected in the Basel Art Fair. After ten days of being viewed by Swiss art lovers, the Small Skyscraper was disassembled and put into crates to await sale by the Gallery Krinzinger in Vienna.

Outside of its context, however, Small Skyscraper remains an art project, no matter how sophisticated its commentary. If realized on Burden&aposs property in Topanga Canyon, as both artist and architects still hope to do, Small Skyscraper will become a performative critique of Los Angeles&aposs culture of bureaucracy.

Perhaps, we imagine, after a confrontation with the authorities, Burden&aposs audacity might be accepted as his own business and, as our fantasy continues, we hear the sounds of construction in backyards citywide as hundreds, even thousands of small skyscrapers rise into the sky, turning the city into a latter day San Gimignano.

small skyscraper


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architecture is code

Nicholas Nova points us (yes, I noticed this via Adam’s blog first even though Nicholas’s is also in my daily RSS feeds) in the direction of a talk given by Rob Kitchen on "Code/Space." Kitchen suggests that (in the world of network culture) spaces of everyday life are increasingly coded by software, that is, not only are we more and more reliant on our PCs, we are also reliant on elevators controlled by computers, automobiles and streets controlled by computers, communication and entertainment networks, and on and on. Kitchen and Martin Dodge have written a paper "Code and the Transduction of Space" that elaborates on this condition.

But what is code? And why should architects care?

Although Lawrence Lessig famously argues that "Code is Law," throughout Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace he also invokes the field of architecture. Over and over, Lessig describes code in specifically architectural terms, referring to the shapers of cyberspace as architects. This is no accident. In his citations, Lessig points the reader back to texts on architecture. Lessig’s goal, in resorting to an architectural framework, is to underscore the constructed nature of both built environments and cyberspace, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, environments are increasingly the product of code. Architecture, code, and law are increasingly melding into one.

For architects, the consequences are clear. Regardless of what the "Make it New" crowd wants, building codes, design review guidelines, historic preservation ordinances, protective covenants, together with the demands of the financial and real estate markets are creating a condition in which a building is virtually pre-determined before an architect ever sees it (if he or she ever does). Architects frequently lament this condition, but what if instead we agree with Kitchen and Dodge that code is a fundamental constituent of our culture. What then?

Well, to start, we realize that if these spaces are increasingly given by code, as Kitchen and Dodge suggest, they are also coded, active spaces. In other words, the old idea of the space invested with meaning is now replaced by a performative space with a certain capacity for producing situations.

And that, is a big change that we are investigating at the Netlab.


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Open Source Architecture

Architecture for Humanity's Open Architecture Network is in beta and seems to be off to a flying start. Just a few days after launch hundreds of projects have been uploaded and thousands of members have registered.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Not only does AfH have a great mission, but the idea of open source architecture (the concept, not just the site) is one whose time has come.

Architects constantly re-invent and re-use, but thus far, the archaic cult of the ego leads so many otherwise intelligent young designers to the dead end of "make it new" (but without telling anyone that this phrase is Ezra Pound's), to waste their time with exotic mesh structures that remain more viable (and more interesting) in animation software than in fact.

In the meantime, Christopher Alexander's idea of design patterns—that architecture can be made up of endless combinations of existing solutions—has been taken up by software engineers who actually ARE making the world new (Ward Cunningham designed the first wiki as a repository for pattern languages).

Over a decade ago, one of my students did a thesis on Linux and Open Source architecture at SCI_Arc. Although Rocio didn't wind up pursuing open source per se, she built one of the most successful prefab practices out there and, unlike most of the blob boys, has been profiled in the New Yorker. Her success demonstrates the importance of thinking outside of the box, or rather outside of the blob, and understanding the potential of more flexible ways of thinking about deisgn.

Caught up in a self-validating discourse that is increasingly irrelevant to network culture, design in the academy is falling behind innovators like Architecture for Humanity or Rocio Romero. The Network Architecture Lab is currently working on various open source initiatives. You will be hearing more about these during the next year.

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no stop new york

Over at, John Jourdan posted a link to an interview with historian and filmmaker Suzanne Wasserman and geographer Neil Smith on the suburbanization of New York and the recent book that they wrote essays for, the Suburbanization of New York. Go to WNYC or use the flashplayer below that I lifted from archinect (who in turn lifted it from wyc) to listen.

no stop city interior

Tomorrow I have the honor of speaking in the PSFS building at George Dodd’s ACSA session on scholarly research. If all goes well, I’ll have a podcast of the talk up here (a first for me!). But first I have to prepare so there is no time for the blog post that I painfully want to make. I will, however, point my readers toward Adam Greenfield’s post at Speedbird "On New York City Soul." Adam, too, asks what is becoming of the city.

So that said—and I suspect Adam and I will be talking quite a bit about this very soon—I will briefly ask what IS becoming of the city? In his seminal 1938 essay "Urbanism as a Way of Life," sociologist Louis Wirth suggested that urban life was fundamentally a question of density and diversity that produced a sophisticated, hybrid culture. Yet, by 1969, Andrea Branzi of Archizoom could suggest, in the group’s project for No-Stop-City, that the colonization of the world by late capitalism together with the simultaneous spread of telematics everywhere combined to undo the city’s distinct identity. Instead, Branzi suggested… and I quote from him at length here:

the social organization of labour by means of Planning eliminates the empty space in which Capital expanded during its growth period. In fact, no reality exists any longer outside the system itself: the whole visual relationship with reality loses importance as the distance between the subject and the phenomenon collapses. The city no longer ‚Äòrepresents’ the system, but becomes the system itself, programmed and isotropic, and within it the various functions are contained homogeneously, without contradictions.

AUDC, in Blue Monday (now being printed, if not already printed!) certainly reinforces Branzi’s conclusion. I hope this isn’t too depressing, particularly to the New Yorkers. For, if anything has been most striking about coming back to my East haunts after a decade in L. A., it’s the distinction that city dwellers still make between the suburbs and the city. To be fair, New Yorkers like Adam seem well aware of the contradiction, on the other hand, there is the issue of Volume by Bostonian Alexander d’Hooghe on New Jersey that simply took the premise of the suburbs as an evil requiring destruction while a colleague who lives in L. A. (downtown L. A. to be precise, which as a fabrication of the late 90s is the least authentic part of the city, if such a condition can exist in any way anymore, perhaps better to follow Derrida’s strategy of putting a word under erasure and say authentic) and commutes to teach at Columbia (is the jet stream the new highway one commutes to work on?) thought that I was living in New Jersey because it was ‘ironic’…irony, of course, is a postmodern trope…there is very little irony in network culture. As Branzi suggests, we need to figure out just what this new condition is, not lament a past that was already past 40 years ago.

Well there you go, I’ve spent a lot of time that I didn’t have to spend. But at least it gets us going on this question of urbanity today. There’s going to be a lot more where this came from.





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