amsterdam is code

I've previously argued on this blog that architecture is code. Today I ran across an insightful piece "On Dog Shit and Open Source Urbanism" by Merijn Oudenampsen at Merijn explores how the neoliberal remaking, of the city, in this instance Amsterdam, recodes individual behaviors in specific ways. Two other articles by Merijn:"Extreme Makeover " and "Back to the Future of the Creative City" form a series on the topic.

Hmm… this makes me think that an essay on architecture as code is coming sooner rather than later. It seems increasingly urgent to understand that an entire generation of urban "heroes" from Jane Jacobs to Guy Debord to Reyner Banham to Gordon Matta-Clark were either directly involved or have been refigured as the intellectual justification for a neoliberal urbanism that purports to turn the city into a pseudo-cultural theme park in which the everyday is remade in the image of Williams-Sonoma. Since so much of this came as backwash to the U. S. from the Netherlands (think of the Right-wing "post-critical" young Dutch urbanism of the late 90s), it would be great to imagine that American urbanists would listen to this criticism too. Nor is Merijn's article merely critical, it advocates an open source urbanism, still vaguely defined, but I suspect we will hear more soon. Worth reading now.

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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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