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Saturday
Dec202014

panoplies of war

Robert Longo. Untitled (Ferguson) Diptych, 2014. Photograph: Petzel GallerAfter writing about Robert Longo's drawing of Ferguson, in the previous post, I kept thinking of another battle painting featured on Amanda Vickery's The Story of Woman and Art, Lady Butler's 1874 Calling the Roll.

Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler. Calling the Roll After An Engagement, Crimea, 1874. The Royal Collection, London.And this led me to John Singer Sargent's Gassed, of 1918:

John Singer Sargent. Gassed, 1918. The Imperial War Museum, London

From the Civil Rights Movement:

Martin Spider, Troopers charging marchers at the Pettus Bridge, Civil Rights Voting March in Selma, Alabama, March 7, 1965. Reproduced after: Steven Kasher, The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, New York 1996, 179And lastly, because by this time it seems so obvious, the frieze on the entablature of the Parthenon:

Entablature Frieze on the Parthenon, the Acropolis, Athens, Greece. 447-432 BCThere is something about the linear array of warriors that perhaps has its roots in the rendering of the endless wars – war as a permanent state of existence – between gods, states and cities of the eastern Mediterranean.  Sargent's Gassed is an oil painting, but acts visually as a bas-relief: little depth of field here, and what is in the background is a smaller repetition of the foreground. 

Lady Butler is known for a new sensitivity to the reality of war; conventional paintings of British heroism portrayed the heart of battles, all glory and snorting horses, rather than the ongoing grind of war.  The Roll Call showed British soldiers in a state of extreme and weary collapse, after the battle, not in the battle.  The Grenadier Guards are not shown in their full complement, but are crowded into a dark cluster of wounded spirit.  This was the ordinary, unheroic side of war, a depiction unusual for its time.  Now, I cannot find anywhere that says that Lady Butler actually saw a battle. Sargent was there, Longo wasn't, Martin Spider clearly held the camera.  The painting is not necessarily a witness, rather it supplies a narrative needed, politically, by certain groups at the time.  The nineteenth century British Army needed reform, mid-twentieth century America needed suffrage, The Great War needed an ending, early twentieth-century USA needs to re-examine the licence and the impunity given to its institutions of law and order. 

The Parthenon frieze aside as it is included here for its formal structure, in all of these artworks we see the backs of men, the artist is a viewer from a distance, not gassed, not beaten, not weary. The men do not pose for the artist, or as is the unspoken intention, they do not pose for us, thus they do not accuse.  That is left for the artist to do. 

There is a horizontal datum line through the heads in these pieces, above is an empty air, below all is struggling uncertainty. There is no perspective, and perhaps no perspective can possibly justify these scenes.  We are not asked to engage, the precision of the row exludes us, we are forced to simply gaze at the panoply, and this shocks us.  And it shocks us into muteness because the subjects can't or won't hear us. 

Thursday
Dec182014

Robert Longo: Untitled (Ferguson), 2014

Robert Longo. Untitled (Ferguson) Diptych, 2014. Photograph: Petzel Gallery

Robert Longo (Petzel shows his most recent work) has flirted around the edges of political art for a long time, forming a punk band when the Velvet Underground was a punk band, drawing from photographs figures seemingly in some sort of physical angst, an idea he claims from a still from Fassbinder's The American Soldier.  He redraws iconic abstract expressionist works – a photo of his studio shows a Motherwell on the wall. He did album covers; he has an assistant who actually does the details of his drawings – such is the contemporary art process: the artist thinks of the piece, the assistant realises it, the artist finishes it. He directed Johnny Mnemonic; he did a memorable photo shoot for Bottega Veneta. This is a post-70s New York Lou Reed manqué artistic career that appears to be political but perhaps is merely black and white.  And he is married to Barbara Sukowa.  

This 10' long charcoal drawing, Untitled (Ferguson), is redrawn from news coverage of the Ferguson riots.  It is beautiful in a way that black and white photography often is, as is charcoal.  Jonathan Jones in the Guardian is very taken with it, classifying it along with Warhol's silkscreened 'Birmingham Race Riot', 1964, taken from a news photo, Rauschenberg's Dante drawings and Richard Hamilton's Northern Ireland triptych, especially The State.  With Longo, the artist has stepped back somewhat from manipulating the image: this is a straight translation into charcoal from a digital image projected onto a ten-foot sheet of paper.  The process means that it is not a print, it is from the age of reproduction, it is not reproducible.

Jones feels that because Longo chose the image, that makes it significant art, much in the way that Duchamp chose everyday items from which he made art.  I'm not sure that this is a strategy that still holds, a century after Duchamp and the surrealists investigated it.  Longo, and all the rest of us, have a keen eye for the 'significant image'; we are not as graphically naïve as we were during the Civil Rights movement, or the Vietnam War.  The rise of photojournalism, war photographers, and the sheer volume of images of wars and riots and terrible incursions have trained us to read images of war aesthetically.  

Longo's Untitled (Ferguson) is terrifically forbidding and full of foreboding, sobering and monumental — a piece of art to mark the Ferguson travesty of justice and its aftermath, but first of all it is beautiful, romantic even, in its theatrical smokey lighting and its linear array of protagonists, as if the artist simply can't help aestheticising the smell of tear gas.  I suppose I've become cynical in the power of contemporary art to be really angry and this mise-en-scène is about as close as we will get.

Wednesday
Nov122014

Metropolis: postmodern watchlist 2014

Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas. Townhouse for Matt Sabatine, 110 East 64th Street, New York City, 1984. Metropolis Magazine, November 2014

Paul Makovsky and Michael Gotkin's 'Postmodern Watchlist', Metropolis Magazine, November 2014, discusses the historic preservation of postmodern buildings from the 1970s and early '80s and how the commission that designates landmark buildings hasn't a methodology for the kind of modifications and additions that both characterise postmodern buildings and are their fate.

The critique that divided 'building as object' from 'buildings as fabric' developed in the 1970s (Rem Koolhaas's Delirious New York was about this very quality of combative individualism) where more and more buildings were suddenly realised to be part of a significant context. The buildings in the list waver between a genuine appreciation of historic methods and materials, and the semblance of such which was the thing that eventually made a mockery of architecture and architectural postmodernism: the keystone that was merely a keystone-shaped incision on the brick, or marble, or stucco rain screen.

The 60-year rule (that a style reaches its nadir at 60 and after that starts to gain historic currency), means that mid-70s architectural postmodernism, when the idea was at its newest and most exciting, won't be the subject of positive theoretical investigation until the 2030s.  I distinguish between architectural postmodernism and postmodernism in other disciplines as architects were distinctly vulnerable to image and style: slapping a pediment on a curtain wall tower was technically simple but theoretically complex.  But that kind of complex discussion was for the critics, who actually existed then, unlike now.

David Balzer's book, Curationism, points out how criticism has been supplanted by curatorial practice: the choosing of arrays of material, ideas, lists, that in their array begin, hopefully, to frame some sort of discussion.  This perhaps has to do with unstable critical positions, no longer is there the magisterial Pevsner, or a Peter Collins, or a Colin Rowe, historians that put architecture into linear continua.  Balzer and the reviewers of his book all cite the deep and lapidary access to unprocessable amounts of information today – we look to curators to process and chart paths for us through this democracy of material.  And it is precisely this democracy that obviates a 'central' critical position.  We are free to choose curators who aggregate images for us.

In the tricky postmodern era of the late 1970s and early 1980s there was no web, in fact there was no personal access to computers. Information came in books and magazines, journals and architects travelling the lecture circuit, showing their work, talking about their ideas.  They still do that, but I'm not sure why given that we can find it all somewhere on the web if we really look. Metropolis started in 1981, a wildly exciting monthly tabloid-sized architectural newspaper from New York, not much distributed outside major US cities, but if you went to New York and found a copy, holy cow, it was such a shot of adrenalin.  It was news from the centre of the earth.  I'm just not sure that kind of thing exists any more – that sense that there is a centre, or even a pulse.  Nonetheless, this was the climate that the postmodern Manhattan buildings, listed in the November 2014 Metropolis, grew up in.  These were buildings that 'curated' the city.  

Agrest and Gandelsonas's East 64th Street townhouse, above, was, quoting Diana Agrest, 'a hinge between two institutional buildings that had almost opposing styles—the Modernist Asia House by Philip Johnson and the Gothic Central Presbyterian Church.'  This is classic architectural postmodernism in the best sense: the obligation of any building to its context, the city and the history of architecture as a conversational act.  Architecture as a mediator.  

Where did that go?  I'm not sure, for although we now live in a socially and culturally mediated world where it is difficult to discern an original thought in the long curated lists of likes, most architecture remains out of sync with this role as a mediator.  It is still, more often than not, a declarative act, viz. the newly opened Museum of Human Rights which conducts a rather shouty debate with angry excluded communities.  

Or, perhaps it is the curators who assume we still want shouty debates, breaking news, cutting edges, heightened reactions, and, as always, the quiet side of the culture of architecture, such as the Agrest and Gandelsonas townhouse, is still seen as a minority interest. 

Tuesday
Nov112014

Armistice Day 2014

How different our lives, our countries, our world, would be had none of these hundreds of thousands of young men been killed. 

Wednesday
Sep032014

Andrew King: Trans Architecture

A rather beautiful, tiny little video for Andrew King's current lecture about his work.

And a full lecture here: Gerald Sheff Lecture Winter 2012 at McGill.

 

Wednesday
Aug202014

Eddie's Cafe

© Ed Freeman, 2014

Found a series of these Ed Freeman photographs of abandoned highway buildings in California.  Not quite real, the original background has been removed and replaced with a series of moody skies and deserts.  Clearly Eddie's Cafe is in a city, at 1208 Something Street, not in the middle of nowhere.  

In the past, I would spend the third week in August driving from the cool nights of the eastern slopes of the Rockies at 52° N to the obliterating heat of central Texas which never seemed to cool down at night from its late summer  daytime 100°F.  On the way I would pass dozens of places like Eddie's Cafe, truly in a desert with nothing before it or after it, no photoshop needed.  

Perhaps one of the reasons such cafes, gas stations and motels stand boarded up is one of distance and vehicles – my first trip to go teaching in the States was in my elderly 1957 Austin, top speed 50mph.  Compared to real cars and trucks whose tanks of gas would take them 500 miles, I didn't want to ever be more than 15 miles away from help.  It is something like the old placing of grain elevators every 6 miles along the railway tracks: a function of time and distance for horse drawn wagons delivering grain.  

But these long driving trips were beautiful — an America off the freeway, out of the cities, quiet, deserted. 

Friday
Aug082014

Charles Stankievech, The Soniferous Aether, 2013

35mm Film Installation
Duration: 10:18 Loop (this is a lower resolution edited trailer – just a taste)

from Stankievech's website:

The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond is a 35mm film installation shot at the northernmost settlement on earth— ALERT Signals Intelligence Station— as part of a series of fieldworks looking at remote outpost architecture, military infrastructure and the embedded landscape. Shot using a computer controlled time‐lapse tracking camera during the winter months, the military spy outpost radiates within a shroud of continuous darkness under a star-pierced canopy harkening an abandoned space station.
He speaks about it as the first panelist in Air | Land | Sea with Charles Stankievech, Kara Uzelman and Cate Rimmer, part of Gallery Hop Vancouver co-presented by the Canadian Art Foundation and the Contemporary Art Society of Vancouver.  This is a tremendously interesting three presentations:
Saturday
Jul262014

Harry Partch, Barstow, 1941-55

This is from the era that Buckminster Fuller was busy with his domes and Jeffrey Burland Lindsay was manning Fuller's Research Institute in Montreal – 1948-53.  It seems to me, because I am doing all this investigation into Lindsay, that this was a particularly exciting, open and boundless era for experimental work. 

And yet, when Lindsay moved from Montreal to Los Angeles in 1953, it looked like this:

The 200 block of South Main Street, Los Angeles, 1952Harry Partch lived in Los Angeles, and later in Petaluma where Jeffrey Lindsay did a sun shelter out of a shallow space frame section of a dome: a magical telstar sort of thing on a pole.  There is such a disjunction between the visionary structural work and musical experimentation of the time (this piece for example, and John Cage's 4'33 which was composed in 1952), and street culture, which appears to be still lodged in the Depression with desperate hitchhikers stuck in Barstow.

'Barstow', from The Wayward, for two voices, surrogate kithara, chromelodeon, diamond marimba & boo (1941-1955).  The spoken parts are 'eight hitchhiker inscriptions from a highway railing at Barstow, California'.

Part of the YouTube description: In late 1939, [Partch] went on a hitchhiking trip to take photos in the Southwestern deserts of California and Arizona. In the tough little Mojave Desert junction town of Barstow, California, in February 1941 while waiting for a lift, he noticed the following inscription on a highway railing:

It's January 26. I'm freezing.

Ed Fitzgerald. Age 19. Five feet, ten inches.

Black hair, brown eyes.

Going home to Boston, Massachusetts.

It's 4:00, and I'm hungry and broke.

I wish I was dead.

But today I am a man.

Monday
Jul212014

Air Ocean World

 

Buckminster Fuller. Air Ocean World Dymaxion Map, 1946

part of Fuller's Dymaxion World Map Patent: click on the image to see the whole patent. The critical paragraph: 'It is an object of my invention to provide a sectional map of the world, or of a portion of its surface, which is so constructed that its parts can be assembled to give a truer over-all picture of areas, boundaries, directions and distances that is attainable with any type of plane surface map heretofore known.' Was this a mathematical/geometrical puzzle? One must always remember how interlaced Fuller's researches were with military problems. Fuller's Dymaxion 1946 cartography patent.  Oh these patents.  Such energy has been expended in mapping to render the three-dimension sphere on flat paper without distortion, or at least with understandable distortion.  We no longer understand such distortions but there is a lively discussion of the politics of map-making, several of which we had in On Site review 31: mapping | photography. The Dymaxion map is an icosahedron where to preserve the actual shape of the continents and oceans, bits are lost in the edges of each triangular excerpt.    

Dymaxion: dynamic, maximum and tension.  It was Fuller's mantra, but it is quite surprising how far his ideas spread: far beyond domes and living off the grid.  Most of his work in housing and cars was done before WWII, and little was financially viable.  After, he mostly wrote and lectured and this is where his influence sank deep into the postwar American art movement.  Black Mountain College also keeps reoccurring as a site where everyone met everyone else, John Cage especially.  1948-50 or so seems to have been a period of wide-open possibility where all disciplines were in intense conversation with each other. 

Jasper Johns. 'Map (Based on Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion Air Ccean World), 1967. Hans Namuth and Judith Wechsler, 1990. Distributed by MoMA, Circulating Film Library. From the MoMA description: 'a portrait of the artist at work. The film begins in 1972 with Johns repainting Air Ocean World based on Buckminster Fuller's dymaxion Map. Johns work is traced over the next eighteen years. His Untitled, 1973, with its cross-hatching, flagstones, and anatomical parts become recurrent motifs, as Johns begins to imbed skulls and severed arms in them. The paintings become more personal as Johns gradually 'drops the reserve' in his recent series, 'The Seasons'. The film culminates with Johns working on the final state of the etching based on 'The Seasons'. There is no narration as such. Jasper Johns speaks at various points, John Cage reads Johns' statements, then rearranged through a computerized method based on the I Ching, curator Mark Rosenthal comments on several stages of Johns' work, and Christopher Ricks reads passages from Beckett's Foirades/Fizzles.'
In 1990, Hans Namuth and Judith Wechsler made a film about Jasper Johns: Jasper Johns: Take an Object.
It begins with Jasper Johns painting a huge dymaxion map (destined for Expo 67, now in Cologne's Museum Ludwig), Janis Joplin on in the background.  Then comes John Cage reading a selection of Johns' statements: 'art is either a complaint or an appeasement'.  One can see traces of the map that keeps occurring in the way patches of colour or marks or objects sit in some folded relationship on the canvas. But that aside, this is a truly rivetting film, and reminds me again of why Jasper Johns is so important.  

Tuesday
Jul082014

the world of patents

UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE 2,682,235 BUILDING CONSTRUCTION Richard Buckminster Fuller, Forest Hills, N. Y. Application December 12, 1951, Serial No. 261,168, p. 1.

Investigating the world of patents in conjunction with Buckminster Fuller's 1951 patent of the geodesic dome, which made him quite wealthy as he licensed the rights far and wide, I have discovered a) that patents only last 15 years and then are released to the public domain, and b) that there is a certain madness in the patent world.  
Evidently inventions must be novel, useful and not obvious.
Novel we get, not obvious means that it can't be a logical development of a previous patent, but useful?  This clearly is a wide and ambiguous quality.  

Many patents are genuine developments that advance medical technology, etc., but someone wants to put a clamp on the developments to make money from it.  Well and good, research and development costs.  Others seem to respond to some really annoying problem someone has in their daily life and god dammit they are going to solve this, patent it and make a fortune.  Such as the bird trap cat feeder, which catches sparrows and feeds them to cats. 

UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE 4,150,505 BIRD TRAP AND CAT FEEDER Leo O Voelker, Linn Kans 66953 Application August 8 1977, US1977000822683 p.1.Now, what world does this person live in?  Is there a personality type that easily loses perspective in the blinding light of their own genius?  What is wrong with sparrows that they should be so cruelly hunted – it is something like finding out that the Elizabethan delicacy, lark's tongues, required a thousand tongues to make a single serving.  Was Elizabethan England overrun with larks?  Was Kansas in the late 1970s visited by a plague of sparrows?  

Oh no, there is a large section of google references to sparrow control.  Evidently they are invasive, successful and displace little native birds.  This is one of the discussions we are having in the contributions to On Site 32: weak systems – successful invasions of the small and insidious.

Monday
Jun232014

Black Mountain College

A. Lawrence Kocher, Studies Building, Black Mountain College, Lake Eden, North Carolina. 1941

Black Mountain College, North Carolina, started an interdisciplinary summer arts school at Lake Eden in 1944 during a war, when things rarely start, and continued to throw artists, musicians, dancers and experimental types together through the 1950s.  One of these was Buckminster Fuller who had done his startling dymaxion work in the 1920s and 30s and by the late 1940s mostly taught, did workshops and mentored people.  One of these was Jeffrey Burland Lindsay, an engineer-industrial designer in Montreal who headed up the Buckminster Fuller Research Institute, a grand name which turns out to be Lindsay and Ted Pope in a small space on the Plateau.  One of the summers Fuller was at Black Mountain, Lindsay too was there: the practical fellow to Fuller's inspirational stuff.  They built a 48' geodesic dome in 1948, called by Elaine de Kooning the Supine Dome, as it failed, gracefully.  From the pictures it looks like they were building it out of ribbon.

One Black Mountain listing says 'the college played a formative role in the definition of an American aesthetic and identity in the arts during the 1950s and 1960s'.  It must have done, it appears to have been stacked with emigrés from the Bauhaus, plus Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Willem de Kooning, Josef Albers; there were poets, there were painters, all was possible.  Students included Ray Johnson, Noland, Rauschenberg, Twombly, John Chamberlain — these are the ones I know, there are many others I don't know, but it was clearly seminal, formative, an essential part of American postwar modern art. 

The college was located on Lake Eden, planned in 1938 by Gropius and Breuer but development was suspended during WWII, and then after the war Lawrence Kocher took over the design of the main building. It was built by students and faculty from 1940-41, plus, for sustenance and extra cash, there was a farm and a mica mine.

This is a curious episode in American architectural history, one senses that money was tight, creativity and optimism high, materials were often found, the country itself was in the grip of a military-agricultural complex.  Kocher's austere, Gropius-influenced, minimal campus building, the stamp of which is in Frey's canvas house of the 1930s, and so similar to a wartime barracks, is also not unlike a North Carolina tobacco-drying shed: wood frame, clad in corrugated galvanised steel.  And it has aged like a tobacco-drying shed, leaving behind its bauhaus modernity and revealing its deeper connection to a local vernacular.

This series of images, taken in 2007 at the Lake Eden Campus of the Black Mountain College, focuses on the Studies Building. Designed in 1940 by A. Lawrence Kocher, the building was completed in 1941 and is the largest structure built by the college.

 

Friday
Jun202014

the Tarpon Inn and hurricanes

The Tarpon Inn in the 1940s. Although built and burned, re-built and destroyed by storms before this version, its basic and original form and function is a barracks. It presages the two storey motel with each room accessible from an outside walkway. Compared the the Tarpon Inn in its current palm-treed beauty, this view from the 1940s seems to indicate a more motel-like attitude to travel and lodging.

The Tarpon Inn, in Port Aransas on the south east Texas coast, was built in the 1920s specifically to resist hurricanes and the storm surges that had destroyed its earlier versions.  A forest of pine poles are set each in 16' of concrete and continue through two storeys to the roof. There is a post in each corner of each small room.  There are no inside corridors, you get to your room from the porch.  The lobby is papered with tarpon scales – discs about 1.5" across – each signed by the fisherman who caught it, including famous people who came for the sport, mostly in the 1920s and 30s when there was a lot of tarpon, Megalops atlanticus, in the Gulf.  

Tarpon scales from the 1920s-1940s in the Tarpon Inn lobby, 7000 of them supposedly. Tarpon are warm water ocean sport fish, 4-8' long and up to 250 lbs.  It is alleged that the tarpon has suffered a massive decline along the Gulf coastline since the 1950s because of loss of coastal 'nursery' marshes: mangrove marshes in Florida, a seawall across much of Mississippi that used to be marsh, and increased commercial fishing of menhaden, a tarpon food source. 

Why am I revisiting the Tarpon Inn after twenty years since I saw it?  Perhaps because it is an ecology of people, architecture, climate and weather that seemed so precise, and so gone.

The Tarpon Inn today. These images are taken from traveller's blogs; although the inn is on the Texas Historic Register of significant buildings and properties I wasn't able to find a survey of it. The Tarpon Inn operates as a rather beautiful boutique hotel these days, Port Aransas's gritty past all but erased.

Thursday
Jun192014

breakaway walls

Damage from Hurrican Ivan, 2004, in the southeastern USA where breakaway walls are necessary and mandated.

This structural detachment of structure and skin is very helpful in extreme weather: in hurricane-prone coastlines houses have breakaway walls which are ground level enclosed areas for parking or storage, where the enclosing walls will actually break away from the structure when hit by high winds and water.  The house is instantly piloteed, water and wind rush right under it.  Breakaway walls are bylaws in many areas, and there is a FEMA manual that outlines specifications. The principles appear to apply only to ground floors; the house itself is conventional construction where walls are meant to protect, not flee.  

Because of our northern climate, all our woodframe houses sit on basements that act like concrete boats: they resist frost heaving but in a flood fill up with water immediately.  And every time there is a tornado in a non-tornado zone such as happened in southern Ontario last week, the houses are deconstructed leaving piles of studs and shredded plywood.  In Places in the Heart, a 1980s movie set on the prairies during the Depression, a tornado was coming and Sally Field rushed about the house opening all the windows before taking the children into the storm cellar. The house was made as transparent to the wind as possible. A storm cellar is accessible from outside the house, no convenient basement stair, and so even if the house is blown apart, the cellar is a separate underground bunker.  This was in The Wizard of Oz, which we've forgotten.

In this new era of violent weather, our bulwarks against traditional weather where the worst that happens is that it gets very very cold — three weeks of -30, no problem, the houses are snug.  Our houses have always been built to resist — we feel the whole house ought to be a storm cellar — rather than to bend.  We are getting new weather, we are going to have to rethink it all. 

Wednesday
Jun182014

Albert Frey: cotton house, 1933

Albert Frey, Swiss, studied at ETH Winterthur, a critical point as technical schools taught construction and technology. He graduated in 1924.  What a time to be a young architect: he worked with LeCorbusier and Jeanneret in Paris from 1924-28 alongside Sert and Perriand, then moved to the States.  He joined Lawrence Kocher in New York and worked with him until 1935.  Kocher was also the managing editor of Architectural Record, a journal that promoted American modernism.
Frey worked on the Museum of Modern Art in 1937-9 and after this moved permanently to Palm Springs, falling, like so many European architects, for the freedom and space of the American south west.  

Two Frey and Kocher houses: the Aluminaire, a demountable house faced with aluminum panels, which was moved several times in its life, and a canvas cabin, both done in the early 1930s.  They did permanent houses, including one for Raymond Loewy, but these two are in the nature of workshop experiments.  
The canvas house, built for Kocher, consists of painted sail canvas stretched over a redwood frame, insulated with aluminum foil.  These details come from Joseph Rosa's book on Frey, but compared to the Aluminaire there appears to be little information on the canvas house. The images here are from a single website.

Frey and Kocher, canvas weekend house, 1933

However, in Popular Science, February 1933 the canvas house appears.  For 15¢ (20¢ in Canada) what an exuberant little publication this was: packed with ideas, inventions, the wonder of developing technologies and sheer curiosities — it shows a most positive and active engagement with newness that I just cannot see anywhere today. Here is a pdf of the Feb 1933 edition.

Popular Science, February 1933, p42

On p 42, just above identifying dogs by their nose prints, is 'Architect Designs Cotton Houses'.  The write up:  'Houses of cotton are proposed by Lawrence Kocher, noted architect, to solve the low-cost housing problem.  Models of two types, a $1,500 five-room home and a week-end house, have been designed.  A weatherproof exterior is provided by a roof and walls of fireproofed cotton ducking stretched over a wooden structural frame.  Inner walls are also of cotton.  Insulating material may be added to exclude heat and cold.  Since the canvas is flexible, it is adaptable to any shaped surface. '

This is the Villa Savoye for Depression-era America: inexpensive, democratic, inventive, flexible. 

Friday
Jun132014

Dar um Jeito, 2014

Supposedly this is the official 2014 FIFA World Cup anthem, not that dreadful piece of commercial plastic Ole Ola, which is merely the official song

I'll take this one: lots of Carlos Santana, Wyclef and Alexandre Pires.  Brilliant video.  Dar um jeito: We will find a way. Here we go. That's all we know.

Thursday
Jun122014

Maracaña: O jogo bonito

Maracaña, 1950. Reinforced concrete stadium built for the 1950 World Cup, Rio de Janeiro.

In his 2004 book, Stades du Monde: sport & architecture, Angelo Spampinato listed the Maracaña stadium in Rio de Janeiro as one of the legendary temples of football. Built between 1948 and 1950 for the 1950 World Cup, it was deliberately designed to be the largest stadium in the world, seating 183,000 with standing room for 220,000.  The World Cup that year opened with Brazil-Mexico (4-0) and ended calamitously with Uruguay-Brazil (2-1).  

For 2014 the bottom tier was rebuilt, a new roof added and seating has been reduced to 79,000 with the loss of the Geral, the standing terraces. This took $735 million of Brazilian public money and then the running of the Maracaña was effectively privatised, turned over to AEG, owners of LA Galaxy and the O2 arena in London, on a 35-year contract.  A bit of controversy there.  An adjacent indigenous museum and a school were demolished.

The Maracaña is heroic in volume and history: Pele's first and thousandth career goals, thousands of match upsets, despair, elation, rock concerts, two masses by Pope John Paul.  Its original engineer was Paulo Phiheiro Guedes, working with a team of architects.  Evidently, as stadia go, it is very flat, just five storeys from pitch to the top of the top ring.  Most of the renovations are hidden: new media centre, locker rooms, auditorium, boxes. There are 1000 new parking spaces under the stadium, another 13,000 spread about the neighbourhood. Visible are new seats and the extended roof which now covers all the seats and is fitted with photovoltaic panels.  

Estadio Maracaña, opening after three years of renovations, April 2013Estadio Maracaña is one of twelve FIFA World Cup stadia, but of course its expansion is also part of the preparation for the 2016 Olympics. The World Cup is the preliminary scrubbing of Rio, which will continue for the next two years.  China was able to remove great chunks of old housing and historic infrastructure as it gives itself licence to do so.  Brazil is doing the same, without the licence.  The people are becoming obstructive, there will be delays. 

Wednesday
Jun112014

Tilla Theus: FIFA headquarters, 2003-6

Tilla Theus und Partner AG. FIFA Headquarters, Zürich, 2003-2006So, FIFA.  It has a headquarters, in Zürich, in a very Swiss building by Tilla Theus. There are so many architects in the world doing really lovely work that we rarely hear about – Tilla Theus's presence on the web doesn't extend to english-language sites at all. However, she studied at ETHZürich and has a small practice of sixteen people, Tilla Theus und Partner AG. The FIFA headquarters in Zürich-Hottingen was built between 2003 and 2006.

Tilla Theus und Partner AG. FIFA Headquarters, Zürich, 2003-2006The building wraps a garden where (superstitiously I would think given that just this morning there was a report of the Brazilian team sprinkling beach sand on the pitch for its meeting with Croatia) earth from all the FIFA member countries has been placed.  The glass skin on the outside is ambiguous: slightly torqued, it appears to shimmer in its landscape.  The transparency is an architectural conceit, given how un-transparent and allegedly corrupt and open to bribery some FIFA members are.  Photographs show an elegant, serious, marbled hall of mirrors.  Unfair to project FIFA's operating politics on a piece of architecture, that would be like shooting fish in a barrel.  Forget FIFA, the building is beautiful.  The materials are emotional, rather than the structure, or the programme: tilted translucent alabaster walls, polished stone, layers of structural glass so that the building envelope is both transparent and thick. 

Tilla Theus und Partner AG. FIFA Headquarters, Zürich, 2003-2006It is cool, a cool, calm setting for what must be often quite hot negotiations about politics, money, face, national identity, whistleblowing, power – is architecture capable of calming tempers, holding a moral high ground?  Or does it legitimise impunity.  This is a question that has been applied to Le Corbusier and Neimeyer's UN Headquarters in New York since it was built in 1952.  For Tilla Theus the project was to do an excellent piece of architecture in the city in which she lives and practices. Very Swiss.  It can't all be smooth sailing though, as I struggled through German texts and interviews I came across this little comment: 'I am a woman, I always take criticism personally.'  Well, yes.

Tuesday
Jun102014

soccer ball technology

Adidas's FIFA World Cup history, 1970-2014Thought I ought to know something about soccer ball technology, given that the hexagon ball which has held sway for decades appears to have been replaced by something much more free-form and sinuous.  

The first World Cup was held in 1930, in Uruguay. The ball had twelve panels, leather, two of which were laced to tighten the outer shell over the inner ball, originally in the 19th century an inflated animal bladder, later rubber.  The quality of the ball had much to do with the quality of the leather, and whether it came from the rump (good) or shoulder (less good).  The six panels of two strips became six panels of three strips each, making the ball smoother, then changed back again.  There were other variations: interlocking T-shapes, other geometries.  It is a parallel investigation to map-making where a round globe is represented by flat paper; here flat pieces of material are shaped and stitched together to make a globe.

Adidas's twelve panel white leather football for the 1966 World Cup1970 Adidas Telstar football, Buckminster Fuller's truncated icosahedron sphereBuckminster Fuller designed an infinitely smoother ball in 1970 of twelve pentagons and twenty hexagons composed as a truncated icosahedral sphere. Hexagons and the pentagons at their intersection were coloured black and white for television visibility and, supposedly, for the players to more easily see how the ball was spinning. Up to this point all footballs had been single colours.  The Bucky-ball, as it is known but called by Adidas Telstar, was used in FIFA World Cup matches until 2006 when a fourteen panel ball was introduced, in 2010 the eight panel Jabulani ball was developed.  

The eight panel Jabulani is made of thermally bonded moulded panels of ethylene-vinyl acetate and thermoplastic polyurethanes, textured with specific grooves designed to improve aerodynamics. Evidently players don't actually like this ball; it changes direction in mid-air and performs completely differently in different altitudes.  Curious that such a high-tech construction and aerodynamic design makes such an unpredictable ball.  One does wonder what influenced its adoption.  Adidas-sponsored players claim to like the Jabulani

From a NASA study mentioned on wikipedia: When a relatively smooth ball with seams flies through the air without much spin, the air close to the surface is affected by the seams, producing an asymmetric flow. This asymmetry creates side forces that can suddenly push the ball in one direction and cause volatile swerves and swoops and this effect is referred to as knuckling. Older designs of the ball have a knuckle speed of around 30 miles per hour (48 km/h).... the Jabulani, with its relatively smoother surface, starts to knuckle at a higher speed of 45–50 mph (72–80 km/h). This coincides with the typical speed of a ball following a free-kick around the goal area making the effect more visible.

There have been subsequent developments, the current ball being used in Brazil is called the Brazuca, eight panel, very decorative.  Smooth balls with little obvious construction or material markings offer a good surface for graphics so that the most recent balls are like small demonstrations of national identity.  Brazil's World Cup ball is all coloured ribbons, very curvy, like the pavements at Ipanema.
Here is a video comparing the official Brazuca with a replica.  The real one is covered all over with little bumps: this will be the aerodynamic stuff.  The replica is shiny as a billiard ball.

Football technology is a huge area, the images will take you to a couple of comprehensive sites with lots of information on the history of soccer balls. It's all very interesting.

Monday
Jun092014

Soccket balls

Soccket, an energy-generating football, generates and stores enough electricity after half an hour of use to power a small lamp

In honour of FIFA feel compelled to say something about soccer this week.  Shall start with the electricity generating football, SOCCKET, put into production in 2013 with kickstarter funds.  It was developed in 2012 by Jessica Matthew, an Edo from Nigeria, a very clever girl who went off to Harvard and allegedly taught herself mechanical engineering.  Her psychology and economics degree shows: the project is sophisticated way beyond its energy-generating possibilities.  

The football has a pendulum inside which turns a generator attached to a battery.  This adds a bit of weight, but just an ounce.  The ball is airless, don't understand that bit.  It has a 6W output: for the undeveloped world, this means a lamp can be plugged into it for three hours after half an hour of kicking the ball around.  For the developed world which is actually purchasing the balls for quite a lot of money, it can recharge your phone. You buy this soccer ball really as a charitable act: you buy one and one will be given to someone far away.
Pulse II, a skipping rope that generates electricity from the spinning of the rope in the handles.
Uncharted Play, Inc, Matthew's design firm, also makes a skipping rope, PULSE, where the generating mechanism is in the handles.  This sells for $295 in New York.  Says Matthew, 'Right now, we  are selling them in New York and in New York, we charge people a lot because it is New York'.  As I said, clever.

In an interview, Nicole Brown of Uncharted Play explains the marketing of PULSE: 'Because charging a cell phone is more of a developed world issue, we’re going to give a SOCCKET, which powers a lamp, to the developing world for each PULSE sold.'  Images show little children in otherwise un-illuminated huts doing homework by the light of a tiny led lamp and, where living off the grid is not an option, iPhones in bright white rooms are plugged into it. I understand that the developing world far exceeds cell phone use compared to the developed world which has so many more options, but one's First World charitable impulses are triggered by the combination of technology (which we have) and poverty (which 'they' have).

It's good, this project, but the marketing of it is a bit patronising.  I found a hysterically funny collection of comments on SOCCKET on Seun Osewa's ₦airaland Forum covering every possible aspect of the project, such as, from Willskid:
Seun and Mum
Mum: Seun, where u dey go?
Seun: I wan go play ball
Mum: Ori e da... U no go go read ur books
Seun: Mama u forget say u and papa fone don flat...If i nor play ball, u no go charge ur fone today oo...


or from Virgo:
So while developed countries produce electricity with Coal, Liquid Petroleum, Petroleum Gases, Nuclear, and others, Africa must resort to kicking a ball around in order to enjoy electricity?

Let's just say ₦airaland remains skeptical.

Thursday
Jun052014

Selkirk Settlement maps

“Plan of land bought by the Earl of Selkirk from Peguis and other Indians. 18th July 1817.” Source: Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN no. 4149347. Click on this image to enlarge it.

“Selkirk Treaty – Indian Chart of Red River,” undated. Library and Archives Canada, note reads “Land involved: The Red River north of Red Lake River and South of Lake Winnipeg and the Assiniboyne River from Fort Douglas to ‘Musk rat or Rivière des Champignon [sic]‘ … No date (but probably accompanies treaty of 1817/07/18)

Two maps, the lower one probably sketched by Peter Fidler, witnessed, signed and attached to the deed of the sale of land along the Red River to the Earl of Selkirk in 1817 for the Red River Settlement.  It is signed by five chiefs who made their marks as their clan totems. 

Curiously, if one reads the potted history of the Red River Settlement, this negotiation is not mentioned: Selkirk purchased a controlling interest in the Hudson's Bay Company which already claimed the territory, and then granted it/himself a large (116,000 square miles) tract of land, Assiniboia, both to establish a colony of Scottish sheep farmers displaced by the Highland Clearances who arrived in 1812, and to quash the North West Company's interests in the West.  The Pemmican War ensued, Métis were involved, the North West Company burned down the colony's fort, arrests were made and eventually the North West Company merged with the Hudson's Bay Company.  The seeds of the Red River Rebellion fifty years later were sown here.

So where does this 'sale of land' occur in the official history?  Or was this simply a politeness, not really a sale, but acknowledgement that a negotiation had taken place.  

I first saw this map in Derek Hayes' Historical Atlas of Canada and just thought it the most alive map I had ever seen: the English names on the rivers indicate that north is at the top of the page, the Enlightenment convention where the viewer is located in the place of the sun, Sun Kings all of us.  However, the aboriginal chiefs were on the other side of the table, looking at the map from the north, their territory.  Both parties reveal their relationship to land: one is in it, one is looking at it.  The chiefs were spatially placed in a supplicatory position in terms of Selkirk's agents; the agents revealed their commodification of the land through both the power of The Map, and their objective view of it.