on the press catching up

Yesterday, within the space of five minutes two stories from the major media outlets struck me as hilarious.

The first was from Wired. Some five years after the first show I had at CLUI about One Wilshire, they have a gallery of photographs of the place at Wired.com. Seems like little has changed. Seems like they didn’t bother to do anything with the copy of Blue Monday we sent them except get a good idea or two for a somewhat belated photo piece. Seems like they couldn’t get any better shots even with their professional team. Wired’s looking tired. What’s up with that, Chris? I mean really, at least they could have asked Nicholas Carr and me to talk about One Wilshire and the future of such data hotels. THAT would have been interesting. Ah, but you have to love the media. That’s why we academics do believe in searching for prior art on a topic and citing it. Even if it means we have to try harder to be original, it makes what we do write about so more interesting.  

Here’s a standing offer to Chris and other editors of major technology magazines: give me a theme issue to edit and I’ll give you something worth grabbing off the newsstands, not a rehash of five year old work. 

The second was from the New York Times and was entitled "How the Bubble Stayed Under the Radar." In trying to account for the longevity of the bubble, this piece had a bit more content, but its first premise—that nobody saw the bubble coming—was strange. I think I’ve been talking about it since 2003 or so. Has nobody else noticed? I guess this blog’s readership is only in the thousands…

Anyway, this was a classic bubble: only the very deluded believed otherwise (or the very calculating—on a foreign exchange basis, there is no bubble…an American house that has doubled in price since 2002 has seen no gain vs. its value in Euros…but if then that leads you to think of what happened to salaries in the US under GWB). Everyone else (and this means you, real estate agents and bankers) knew it would collapse, they just wanted to cash out first. (financial disclaimer: I got rid of all the REITs in our 401k’s a couple of years ago and put them into global equities).

It’s still rather surprising to me that Manhattan continues its bubbley behavior. Maybe when the Europeans realize just how little their fabulous investment is netting them given the falling dollar, they’ll wise up. Maybe when the most interesting and talented Manhattanites begin to flee in droves to other cities (but where? not many candidates in this country? probably to Europe), it’ll begin to happen. 

Most of all, however, I’m amazed by architects. Due to the time involved in making buildings and the heaviness of the capital needed, architecture is traditionally a slow profession. Still, can it really be that architects haven’t noticed that the boom is over? Sure, China and Dubai have kept the system on life support, but construction in the former is going to cease the moment the Olympics start and the latter is merely another mad boom economy, entirely fueled by debt (see here). When collapse comes it will be grim and sustained. All too well I remember the recession of the 90s (or that of the 80s) when architects had great opportunities to work at the local café.  

But those of us who have been diligently working in the field of the expanded architect will still be here, welcoming your new ideas with open arms. Now more than ever, working on the periphery to expand what architecture is and what architecture can do is critical for the future of the profession.   



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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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the city unplugged

On Monday at 6.30, I will be speaking at a Columbia event that looks at the role of urban models in three recent ACTAR publications.

The City Unplugged

Do urban models still exist? Three Columbia authors present three books on (urban) conditions, tales and trajectories that challenge what it means to talk about the "city" today.

Kadambari Baxi, Barnard + Reinhold Martin, GSAPP
Authors of: Multi-National City (ACTAR, 2007)

Daniela Fabricius (M.Arch 03), PennDesign/ Pratt
Author of: 100% Favela (ACTAR, 2007)

Kazys Varnelis, GSAPP
Author of: Blue Monday (ACTAR, 2007)

Moderated by: Michael Kubo, ACTAR

city unplugged

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hardt on the multitude, the metropolis, networks, and training

Michael Hardt spoke at Columbia yesterday. His goal, in speaking to a crowd of architects and urban planners, was to suggest the hypothesis that if the factory was the place of industrial production, the metropolis is the place of immaterial production. As such, he suggested that the metropolis would be the training ground for a new form of democracy. It’s safe to say that the school’s collective reaction was to question what he meant by Metropolis. Michael had been so precise with his terms but left this one undefined and it was something we are obviously so obsessed with so it was evident that it was crucial to refine it. One question was whether the network might be a better substitute for the city. You can imagine that this intrigued me greatly! Although Mark Wigley correctly pointed out that networks existed in and around factories (indeed, the modern factory exists because of the telephone and railroad networks…without which it could not have been located outside of the city) and that networks are not, by themselves, good (of course not, as I’ve been saying all along).

Still, hearing Michael’s lecture made me rethink something. Take the last page of Blue Monday:

At the onset of this project, we promised that these stories
wouldn’t add up and, as a collection of extreme conditions, they don’t.
As we suggested in the introduction, each of these investigations
posits a natural philosophy, an autonomous theoretical condition that
sometimes appears to mesh with the others but often doesn’t.

One day, against of all of our stated intentions, we observed a
theme emerging, a common concern with the very problem at the heart of
Empire (as well as of religion, the State and other institutions of
power): our overwhelming desire to acquiesce and give ourselves up.
Invariably, ignoring the admonishments of Nietzsche, designers and
theorists assume that power emanates from the top down, that the
oppressed individual wants to be free, and that action from the
bottom-up is the method for achieving this. But this is precisely the
inverse of what we observe. These stories of humans relentlessly
striving to be different only prove their desire for sameness.

So too, in our relationships with objects, collectively we don’t
so much wish to be free—to escape the world of objects and
attachments—but to immerse ourselves within them.

Do we really want freedom? If we can dare to say “maybe not” for
a moment, then what do our actions betray about our desires? Blue
Monday does not offer solutions, instead it suggests that our mass
drive to give ourselves up is not a passive action. Instead of
condemning this drive (as if we really wanted to or even could) this
book offers a collection of stories that just perhaps, hint at another
possibility, a first step: self-awareness.

As we say at the outset, Blue Monday sets out, from the start, to engage with Hardt and Negri’s Empire and Multitude point blank. As we wrote this, and no doubt as you read this, the obvious reading of this passage is to suggest that there is a problem with the multitude, which is the problem of our desire to submit.

But what if, in classic AUDC fashion (or dialectics, for that matter), we were to turn this on its head? What if submission were an absolute precondition for multitude? What if the temple of ether, the audio architecture of horizonality, and the nomadic capital of the multitude were all forms of training for future life? What then?


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Over at Candyland, Brayan reflects on architecture, estrangement, effect, and in doing so mentions AUDC’s method of working.

Metropad 1 and Metropad 2

Absolutely on the mark. I’m amazed to see us compared to the juxtaposition of Baroque and ultra-modern at the end of 2001, but honored too… It’s always been a model to live up to.

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labor day never ends

I’m exhausted.

I’ve been tired for days since returning from my vacation, but it’s a good tired, the product of a burst of intense work as Leah Meisterlin (my amazing intern, working on the book’s maps) and I continue to chip away at the Infrastructural City for ACTAR. Alas, it looks like it won’t be on anyone’s Christmas lists, but it’s shaping up to be a great Valentine’s Day present.

Today, I had an opportunity to present the Network Culture studio at school.

I had hoped to show one of favorite videos today, but alas Vista wasn’t up to snuff. For anyone who witnessed it and still needs to see the video, here is the human slingshot in full glory.

Two things interest me about this video. First, that this is what you might do in a culture of relative affluence and total boredom and second, that this kind of YouTube production is a successor to reality TV.

While I’m posting youtube videos, I discovered this the other day on Underworld Live

I am really excited about seeing Underworld in Central Park next Friday, although a little sad too, since I would have enjoyed them at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve never seen them, and I’ve pretty much listened to nothing else for years… (not kidding).

Oh and the underworldlive site? It looks like a blog, but it’s not. The top posts seem to disappear. (compare with google cache while it is still there) What kind of site is it if it isn’t a blog then? Interesting…

Regarding that post… The videos is of a Schneider TM song. Underworld recalls hearing Schneider TM on John Peel’s farewell show. That brings up a string of memories for me. In studio presentation, I showed the following image:

kazys in macweek(click on the image to read the text)

Even though I’ve come relatively late to the impact of computation on architecture (just what was I thinking until 2003?), I have always been fascinated by digital technology and by the Internet.

I must have first accessed a network (Tymnet) in 1982 or 1983, 25 years ago. My first encounter with email would have been in 1983 or 1984 in an army sponsored high school program called CRESS at North Carolina State University (incredibly enough, enshrined in an archive here). By 1990, I kept in touch with some of my friends via email and used FTP and USENET daily at Cornell’s University libraries. I remember the day when I first accessed a site overseas, it was in Finland and thought how strange it was that somehow a hard disk was being according to my instructions.

What ties this episode of Connections together is that at the same time I had a purchased a shortwave radio to listen to non-U. S. news (again: memories of listening to the ouster of Gorbachev immediately just two weeks after my first visit to Lithuania and being terrified that it would all end badly and listening to the first Gulf War because NPR was just far too in favor of it, as usual) and had discovered John Peel and his incredible radio show. Even with all the interference, this was a little hint of the up side of the globalized world we would soon live in, as well as the immense richness of the Long Tail. After a hack that I shouldn’t have made, the shortwave radio never worked right again and, in any event, the Internet had captured my interest.

I should have gone back to John Peel after he was on the net, but I was preoccupied with other things. Stupid.

Still, two things to carry away from this long post…

1) Although it can be very difficult to tell at the time, your world already contains the future within it.

2) Here’s to John.

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