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34: on writing

33: on land

32: weak systems

31: mapping | photography

30: ethics and publics

29: geology

28: sound online

28:sound links site

 

27: rural urbanism

27:rural urbanism online

 

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On Site 22: WAR has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online

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Thursday
Nov032011

order and disorder

Russell Bassman, May 31, 2008. Evanston Illinois

More letters: the A of anarchy and the O of order.  Proudhon, who we really should know more about and who said in 1840 that property is theft, wrote in The Confessions of a Revolutionary that 'anarchy is order without power', or often quoted as 'anarchy is the mother of order', slightly different in meaning.  Proudhon and Marx correspondid and some of the basic tenets of communism, such as wealth should be transferred from capitalists to workers comes out of this relationship. 

Black is the colour of anarchy, black for absence.

The A in an O was first used by the International Workers Association in Italy in 1868, but only became a commonly seen symbol in 1968, used by the Circolo Sacco e Vanzetti.  Sacco and Vanzetti were anarchists in early 20th century USA, whose conviction and execution for murder in 1920 remains controversial and unresolved.  Italian anarchist history is complex and long. At its most utopian, anarchy is an extreme socialism, and is against class, violence and materialism.  It hoped for revolution without violence, although violence seems to have characterised most of its actions.

But it is an easy cipher to mark on walls and has come to represent a general disaffection with government structures and all their systems of order.  Can there be order without power?  We should all read Orwell's Animal Farm again.

Wednesday
Nov022011

signs of revolutions betrayed

Bolshevik Revolution: hammer for the industrial proletariat bonded to the sickle for agricultural workers; red from the red banner of the Paris Commune, 1917

No letters here, just action: the hammer as the tool of industrialisation, the sickle the tool of agriculture.  They are wielded by hands, neither of them are weapons.  One could be writing in the world of synecdoche here, and perhaps that adds depth to a symbol, but one can also write about hammers and sickles, factories and ploughs literally, without losing any meaning.  

In pre-revolutionary Russia Orthodoxy, red was the colour of Easter and the resurrection: how easy it was to elide that with the resurrection of the Russian people, the peasants and serfs, over the European aristocracy that ruled Russia.  And how simple to equate Christ's blood with martyred revolutionary blood.  

The  Phrygian cap of Liberty, le bonnet rouge of the French Revolution: Phrygia – today's Anatolia in Turkey.  Paris, the cause of the Trojan War, was a Phrygian and wore what we could now describe as a soft Turkish fez.  Red as the colour of liberty dates from the Roman Empire when freed slaves wore red Phrygian caps. It is interesting how involved ancient Greece was in what we consider today to be the hotbed of the Middle East.  It is contiguous by land and shares the eastern Mediterranean.  Modern Greece's default from European values, as it is being put, is perhaps more deeply rooted than the EU can accept.  

In 1976 Andy Warhol did a series of silkscreens called Hammer & Sickle where he photographed an actual hammer and a hand scythe in various collaborations. No one will ever be able to convince me that Warhol and pop art were not political.  One can say Warhol valourised the American commercial landscape and endorsed celebrity, but this does not allow him a deep anarchic sense of irony, if that is not an oxymoron. 

In the depths of the cold war, by de-coupling the symbol from the tools, he referred to the Soviet Union as industry and agriculture, not nuclear bombs.  After the fall of the USSR when many previously inaccessible 'ordinary' people were interviewed and we were able to read literature of the era from the other side, what was revealed was a fear of the west and its weaponry, precisely what we had been taught to fear about the east.  What a waste of the twentieth century it all was.  So many died.

 

Andy Warhol. 
Hammer & Sickle, 1976 
 acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas (182.9 x 218.4 x 3.2 cm.)
 The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh

Tuesday
Nov012011

signs of non-violence

the semaphore alphabet

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament symbol was designed by Gerald Holtom for the Aldermaston March at Easter, 1958.  It is composed of two semaphore letters, N and D, for nuclear disarmament.  

Semaphore, the signalling with flags, was used in both WWI and WWII and is still taught in the Navy.  For distances under 2 miles and in daylight it is faster, evidently, than flashing lights which can be more easily intercepted. The hand-held flags developed from the semaphore tower, an invention of Robert Hooke in 1684 to send messages through a series of such towers: 150 miles in two minutes according to The Flag Press.

Holtom had been a conscientious objector during WWII, so his experience of semaphoring was not learned in the Navy, but it was a familiar enough system of signs still that the N and the D, held in a circle for earth had currency.  The N and D diagram above clearly shows a boy scout demonstrating the alphabet.  

We know now that nuclear disarmament does not necessarily mean peace, it means ongoing dirty ground wars with increasingly high civilian collateral damage.  The symbol was used during the Civil Rights movement and came to be associated with non-violence, and then by the anti-Vietnam War movement.  Its now general linkage to peace has dropped all the particulars, and if there was ever a word that has become discredited by overuse and over-application it is the word peace.

The transportability of this symbol, literally as buttons, but also easily drawn, applicable to almost any kind of protest movement including the anti-abortion lobby, and its affiliation to unconventional life styles has rendered it near meaningless other than its core message that still semaphores non-violence.  This must be what has given it such a long life.

from designboom: the first badges were made by Eric Austin of Kensington CND, using white clay with the symbol painted black. They were distributed with a note explaining that in the event of a nuclear war, these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno.

Monday
Oct312011

the colours of protest

WSPU medal for valour, 1909.

Badges of honour, medals, ribbons, rosettes: delicate little things that carry great meaning.  The Women's Social and Political Union was founded in 1903.  Its priority was to somehow get British women the vote.  The decoration, above, was given by the WSPU to women who had been imprisoned for demonstrating, for 'occupying' the railings outside Parliament.  Once imprisoned, they would go on a hunger strike and then be force fed by very primitive means.  Their tactics were to be noticed, to be seen, to escape somehow the patronising male gaze that preferred them to be angels of the household.  

The colours, green, white and violet, stand for give, women and vote.  Other noble qualities were ascribed to these colours: hope, purity and dignity, but their earliest incarnation is as an acronym.  And it wasn't a secret society, it was to the WSPU's advantage to have this tricolour everywhere.  

At the time, in the early 1900s, violet was also the colour of half-mourning, that period after two years of full mourning in black crepe.  Green was one of the colours of the aesthetic movement, and peridots were re-discovered in 1900 when, after 2000 years, the island in the Red Sea that had peridot deposits was rediscovered.  The combination of violet and green was often seen in Liberty style dress – a combination of the aesthetic movement and art nouveau.  So the WSPU colours were very current, aesthetically, culturally and politically –  violet and green were not the robust primary colours found in military banners and flags.

The art nouveau pendant below is another version, less overtly militant than the medal on a ribbon, but no less powerful in its declaration of belief.

 

Suffragette jewellery: peridot, pearls and amethyst, ca 1900

In the ex-colonies of the British Empire, New Zealand's women had been givne the vote in 1893, Australia in 1902.  The UK gave it in 1918 but only to women over 30.

Tuesday
Oct252011

Isabelle Hayeur: Underworlds

Isabelle Hayeur. Lampsilis.

Isabelle Hayeur has been photographing bodies of water since 2008 – as she says, 'the turbid waters of navigation canals, troubled waters of dubious, uncertain origin'.  

So often we register changes in rivers, lakes, oceans and wetlands from standing head height, rarely from the water itself, in section.  Hayeur's images record the death of so many waterways de-oxegenated through pollution at a massive scale.  Rather than the glittering reflective surface that is so deceptive, her work takes us below to a world both disturbed and disturbing.

Monday
Oct242011

Troy Nickle: nature as culture

 

So very tired of the bloody wars, environmental collapse, the 99%, the bad news.  Troy Nickle's exhibition in Lethbridge calms the mind somewhat.

Friday
Oct212011

call for articles for On Site 27: rural urbanism

Is this Saskatchewan?

We've announced the call for articles for On Site 27: rural urbanism.  

Although I started thinking about this theme with the launch of  OIL: a new town in a resource extraction region and the array of choices for new towns, we also had the example of reoccupation of agricultural villages in Italy, an article by Lauren Abrahams in On Site 23: small things.  We had a photo-essay of Prince Albert Saskatchewan in On Site 19: streets. I had a recent report of Michael Taylor's observation of an urban flight to small towns in Denmark.  And on the BBC last week a discussion of the English village as the holder of a vision of England that is both outdated and important.  And last month in Sudbury, the Musagetes Café on the identity of small cities whose original reason for being has changed: the mine has closed, the smelter gone to China, the pulp mill defunct, the fishery closed – a variety of reasons that leaves small non-diversified towns at a loss.  

And visiting Chelmsford, one of the small towns that encircle Sudbury where the four important sites, the CPR train tracks, the Algoma Tavern, the school and the church all sit together in a row: this is not a village with a central square or any of those models where the power base is singular and evident: this lines them up all together.  We need a name for this, a way to speak about the realities of rural organisation.  

So, have a look at the call for articles, have a think, and see if there is something you would like to say about rural urbanism, a much overlooked and scorned subject.

 

or is this Saskatchewan?

Wednesday
Oct192011

the impossibility of dissidence

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell's defaced library covers. The Guardian. Comment is Free, October 14, 2011

Click on the image and it will take you to an article by Jonathan Jones on the impossibility of dissidence in art today.  Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell, young unpublished writers in the early 1960s used to take dull dustjackets in the library and change them into something subversive, definitely something very funny.  They were sent to prison for it.

Jones points out that outrage has become such a general condition of art that it is impossible to actually be outrageous.  One just has to read The Daily Mail, that stalwart of conservative ladies of middle England, to see how far outrageous celebrity culture has penetrated a most unlikely society.  

Something in this reminds me of the architectural conversations of thirty years ago, when modernism all of a sudden was named a rupture in a more organic development of traditional spatiality.  Modernism was the outrage, and the radical position was to excise it.  Yet the very notion of radical acts is itself a species of modernity.  

Is it more that there is nothing one can do in art, or architecture or design that is so offensive, so radical, that it shakes the viewer out of complacency?  Is it that we are immune to shock as the time-space continuum is so compressed that we have seen it all?  This would seen to indicate that the passivity of consumption has rendered us complacent on a grand scale.

Will the Occupy movement be consumed in the same way?  Perhaps, and it is this that will drive people to violence – the impossibility of dissidence in a 'liberal' society.

 

later, this very same morning, I came across Chloé Roubert's post on just how riots are being commodified. 

Tuesday
Oct182011

Lukas Peet, lamp

Lukas Peet. Hanging light ~ 24k: a pendant light that literally hangs from its electrical cord. 2011

Monday
Oct172011

Newfoundland's postcolonial architecture

Friday
Oct142011

DJ Mehdi, Tonton du Bled

from Chloé Roubert's site: chloecollects.blogspot.com

DJ Mehdi and core-periphery relations

 

Thursday
Oct132011

1024, Les Grandes Tables de L’île

Île Seguin, Paris, temporary garden and cafe on the site of a pending Jean Nouvel project.  Plywood box lodged in a scaffold covered in greenhouse panels.  Inside looks like a lunchroom on a construction site.  This being France, they have a brilliant chef, and this being 1024, the building extends itself at night with an array of video and lighting projections. 

1024 have this to say about perennial buildings, which this cafe is not – sitting so lightly on the land, dismountable and untraceable: 'As architects expected to build for eternity we found that the rules and limits of perennial projects are so far-fetched that they often limit possibilities and creativity. The fleeting dimension of our projects allows us to be liberated and open to larger and more stimulating grounds for expression and freedom'.

Instead, 'we use many simple, raw and standardised materials, most often from the world of construction or linked to industrialisation, transport, or packing processes. Scaffolding, containers, timber framework, pallets, nets from sites and thermo retractable plastic (used for mass packaging or in asbestos removal projects)... are found in our 'catalogue' of favoured materials. As for our favoured technology, obviously video projection and more specifically mapping, which consists of projecting directly onto a three-dimensional volume rather than a flat screen, but we are sensitive to all products which generate light, from LEDs and lasers to simple construction site neon tubes'.

Wednesday
Oct122011

surveillance 2

The Kooples advertising, France, 2011

The Kooples is a French ready to wear company, one of a number that use mass-marketing and manufacturing techniques (cheap off-shore labour for production, point of sale data collection) in combination with luxury market branding (good stores at good addresses, good design).  The image above is from a The Kooples advertisement.  It promotes couples shopping together, rather than shopping as an individual act.  Well fine, whatever.

What is striking about the photographs in this ad is that they are taken from the vantage point of a CCTV camera. And somehow this is made to seem okay.

Coincidently, I just finished reading The Dying Light by Henry Porter, written in 2009, about a very near future, maybe 2012 or so, in which security systems and the corporations that provide them are so embedded in government that they in fact run the government.  Since 9/11 so many civil liberties in so many western countries have been suspended because of anti-terrorist legislation that the right to privacy has been eroded to the point that there is none.  

This has long been Henry Porter's main theme.  After The Dying Light I quickly re-read Remembrance Day, written in 2000 before all this supposedly started. Cell phone technology was key to a complex plot to destabilise the Northern Ireland peace process.  As a document, this earlier book is very interesting: terrorism was still the purview of the IRA and Eastern Europe; Ireland could be understood in terms of retaliation and revenge, Eastern Europe in terms of greed for power.  Nine years later he writes The Dying LIght where terrorism is industrial, based on total surveillance of one's every action, and at the core of British government.  

My father, who was a great reader of a particularly addictive kind of action thriller where a captain (usually) in the British Army came up against all sorts of nefarious plots involving the abuse of power by the brass and/or the secret services, said that one reads novels to find out what is actually going on in the world, not history books, because novelists have a prescience gene; the act of writing is an act of gathering clues and thinking them into a future that the reader will recognise when they read it.  

So, as a reader, I look at The Kooples ad and see an acceptance of the state of surveillance. London has more CCTV cameras than all of Europe – a great help in the almost instantaneous arrest of 3000 people and the charging of a thousand in the August riots, which echoed similar riots in Paris in 2005.  A facebook group was set up to help the Metropolitan Police identify people caught on CCTV with 900,000 members.  Much was made of the tactics of the police, batons and water cannons, and of the causes of the unrest, little was made of how suspects were identified.

Charging anyone from the Vancouver riots is bogged down in too much surveillance footage, including voluntary surveillance from private cellphones.  The Canadian government has, for the first time, posted a most-wanted list on the web, inviting us as citizens to recognise and turn in these people, one of whom was apprehended almost immediately. We are being turned into informers.  And this role is being eased in to our society by images such as the one above, where being watched is normal, cool even.

Tuesday
Oct112011

Taysir Batniji's Watchtowers

Watchtowers (Israeli military miradors in West Bank, Palestinia), 2008 serie of 26 photographs B&W, digital prints, 40 x 50 cm (photo Dieter Kik).
Taysir Batniji is showing a series of photographs this year at Untitled (12th Istanbul Biennial), 2011 which investigates the relationship between art and politics. Batniji's series, Watchtowers, consists of watchtowers on the West Bank border with Israel.  There is a project of witness here, the recording of the watchtowers' existence, and there is a formal project, the typology of the watchtower, and there is a project of photography, the implications of the processes and products of the Bechers, their watertower series in particular.  

Water Towers (Wassertürme), 1980. Nine gelatin silver prints, unique, approximately 61 1/4 x 49 1/4 inches (155.6 x 125.1 cm) overall. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. © 1980 Bernd and Hilla Becher

Batniji describes the watchtower project:
Significantly, the project registers the attempt (or the situational difficulty in trying to attempt) to follow the Bechers’ method. The particularly perilous conditions of these photographs render them compromised. As a Palestinian born in Gaza I am not authorized to return to the West Bank, so I delegated a Palestinian photographer to carry out these photos. They are out of focus, clumsily framed, imperfectly lighted. In this territory, one cannot install the heavy equipment of the Bechers or take the time to frame the perfect position, let alone afford to wait days for the ideal light conditions. Aestheticization becomes a vivid political challenge, both in the creation of these photographs and in their reception, as these images challenge viewers to see these functional military constructions as sculptural, or as a part of a formal architectural heritage.

Aestheticisation is such a danger and must plague all photographers in war situations where the camera both sees and makes beautiful simply because it isolates a dynamic and horrific scene in a detached and calm image, and the calmness, and our inevitable space-time distance as viewers from the scene, sanctifies it somehow.  The janus-face of documentary photography.

Monday
Oct102011

Nick Cave's Soundsuits

Nick Cave, Soundsuit 1, socks, paint, dryer lint, wood, wool, 2006

Nick Cave, not the singer, but the artist from Missouri who was with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and is now director of the fashion program at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Above, is a Soundsuit.  Soundsuits' references are wide and deep, they are sculptures, costumes, installations.  They are assemblages, they make sounds, they refer historically to various African ceremonial garments.  They appear in performances and in art museums.

I lived in the middle of Kansas for a year, my first teaching gig, and spent a lot of time driving back country roads and finding installations of what was known as folk art then, outsider art now.  What they all had in common is their obsessive convictions and their marginal relationship to orthodox art and architecture – the Watts Towers in Los Angeles were not unlike Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in their mad-builder concentration.  

More recently, Tyree Guyton's Heidelberg project in Detroit has rejuvenated a despairing neighbourhood by saying, your house is yours, make it into something that is you.  And because this is an economically challenged place, such transformations inevitably are done with discarded and then re-found materials: the essence of folk art: all invention, no money.

What is interesting about this and where it comes back to Nick Cave and Soundsuits is that these projects cannot be included under the patronising rubric of outsider art: Nick Cave is firmly in the centre of American art production, and Heidelberg is a well-documented demonstration project of urban renewal that does not involve mass destruction.

Last week Gloria Steinem in an interview on Q  said it takes about a hundred years for a social change to really become an embedded part of the social fabric. Second wave feminism is about 40 years old and so, no, we are not in a post-feminist era, we still have 60 years of feminist struggle ahead.  The civil rights movement in the USA happened in the 1960s, just 50 years ago.  We are only now starting to find work that is  embedded in the orthodoxy of contemporary art discourse: it is not post-racial, for it is so very African American, an identity that is critical to the work.  But it is allowed to take its place within the discourse, and that is new.

Wednesday
Oct052011

hothouse sections

Joseph Paxton, original glass house at Chatsworth. In the foreground is the stove, also by Paxton, used for the growing of soft fruits, often pineapples. early 18th century.

Just when you think that there is nothing left to mine in the Mitford archives, they find another 6,000 letters and another Mitford book comes along.  They were awful people, fascists to stalinists, privileged and offensive, they all wrote effusively and were very funny.  Deborah, the youngest of the Mitfords married the Earl of Devonshire in 1941.  I visited Chatsworth in 1986 or so, shortly after it had been made a charitable trust (I find) endowed by the sale of a zillion old masters.

Memorable was a hothouse – a long, double brick wall with fireplaces in it, fed from the back (above, in the foreground).  The front was, in profile, a glasshouse by Paxton with espaliered apricot trees pinned to the south facing brick wall.  It was elegant, quite minimal and full of beautiful fruiting plants.  

The visiting of these 17th and 18th century country houses is in a way a rite of passage for a certain kind of architect.  Chatsworth the house was not as memorable as Blenheim which had a most wonderful library – a tall long room, one side wire-fronted book cabinets, the other side windows, in between a universe of big chairs, a piano covered with silver framed photos, apricot and blue persian carpets, slightly unkempt parterres outside the windows.  It was a most perfect room for so many reasons.  I have no photo of it, for in those days as a student we carried notebooks not cameras.  And I think because of this, it remains so potent in my memory.  

Google images being what it is, there are plenty of photos of Blenheim and Chatsworth on the web, none I can recognise. It is interesting though that both the library and the stove (a curious term that refers to this long, one-sided, heated hothouse) are similar in section: a thick back wall and a glass front.   It is a profile familiar to any sort of energy-conserving house, but never as romantic as when it was done in the 18th century.

James Justice’s plan of the pineapple stove, 1721, published in The Scots Gardeners’ Directory, 1754.

Tuesday
Oct042011

Gerhard Richter's panoramas

Gerhard Richter. 
Stadtbild Paris, 1968 200 cm x 200 cm. Oil on canvas. Froehlich Collection, Stuttgart, Germany

The Tate Modern is holding a Gerhard Richter exhibition, Panorama, this fall.  He painted a townscape series in the late 1960s and early 70s, taking mostly aerial photos of cities and painting them on canvases in a way that the scale of the buildings is completely lost: one brushstroke, with all the scale of the hand and brush that made it, perhaps equals one side of a 30-storey building.  Yet the work retains its photographic clarity, mostly because of the high contrast between shadows and sunlight in the original photos, and because of the recognisable patterns that cities have, that no other organism shares (the actual patterns, not the ability to become abstract pattern).  

This, in the context of Piano's Shard in London, a kind of architecture where clarity is paramount, makes one wonder why we value clarity so much.  Complex urban landscapes are often not legible for a number of reasons, mediaeval security for one, such as one finds even today in Rio's favelas.  Or the illegibility of the POPOS landscape: privately owned public outdoor spaces presaged by Richter's blurred and ambiguous renderings.   

Yet, we understand such complexities if it is our own city.  We do not need a tourist map all laid out in graphic clarity telling us where we should and should not go.  Cities at ground level have millions of small clues that keep a kind of social order.  When something such as the Shard, or almost any new project crashes into this fairly delicate understanding, something is sterilised, made very clear.  It takes decades, if not centuries, for a re-colonisation of the area by the complexity of everyday life.

Thursday
Sep292011

Hal Foster on the Shard

But what does it mean?

Hal Foster, who recently wrote The Art-Architecture Complex, talks about Renzo Piano's Shard, a blindingly tall building next to London Bridge station.  It is a post 9/11 tower, cognisant of the National Institute Standards and Technology report into the collapse of the World Trade Centre towers.

That it might be used as a wayfaring marker to orient one's way through the city is such a weak point: this is the language of marketting and branding. London is so dense and its mega-buildings with nicknames so relatively new, one wonders how anyone found their way to work over the last 500 years.

Wednesday
Sep282011

divided cities

Border Town. Paul Graham Raven: I can get an infinitely reproducible copy of the iconic shot of Conrad Schumann leaping the checkpoint barricade within seconds of googling for it, but the symbolic buttons it presses get pressed much harder when one buys it as a postcard from a shop on Unter den Linden before sitting down among the glistening new constructions of Potsdamer Platz 2.0 to scribble a suitable message on it and send it to a friend back home.

On FOP, Friends of the Pleistocene, a section of Smudge Studio, I found this link to a studio held in Toronto on divided cities, Border Town
First of all it is interesting that one can initiate a 10-week design studio outside an academic institution simply because you want to investigate something.  This is how it should be.
Second, what constitutes a border town is predictably open, from those towns where the line between one country and another runs down the main street, New Brunswick seems to have several of these.  Or, between provinces, as in Lloydminster, Alberta/Saskatchewan.  Or a container port, where the containers and their contents are not in this country, only physically, but not in any other sense.  
The Border Town website has a number of provocative statements and diagrams as a group exhibition.  

It is, of course, the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall this year, and there have been many tv and radio documentaries recently: a terrible partition of a city and a people, released only with the economic and thus the ideological collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.  


Léon Krier. Master Plan for the New Hafenviertel, Berlin-Tegel (1980-1983)

What seems surprising now that Berlin and Germany are unified, is how Berlin was perceived in the early 1980s at the time of the 1984 IBA, the Internationale Bauausstellung, which focussed on the rebuilding of central Berlin, much of which had not been repaired since the war, and had further damage because of the wall.  A residential 'heart'  had to be re-established.  IBA Berlin was like a world's fair of architects who went on to be stars and others who died a graceful postmodern death: Koolhaas, Hadid, Siza, Krier, Hejduk, Portoghesi, Botta -- it is a long list
At the time, this was the only architectural conversation worth having, it dominated all conferences, publications from both Europe and the US, it made architecture a public conversation; pilgrimage to Berlin was mandatory.  

But not for me, I think I was struggling to survive the economic downturn after the collapse of the National Energy Policy.  However, discussions of the Berlin Wall are strangely absent in my memory.  It is as if it was some sort of geological feature, a cliff that one could not scale, a natural edge to the city.  What was beyond it was wilderness, not architecture's problem.

I wonder if IBA Berlin did not signal the death of architecture as an autonomous act, something that the Harvard Design Review devoted a whole issue to around this time.  I have it, I loved it then.  It gave architecture a kind of unfocussed and undeserved agency which is quite dangerous.  Nonetheless, this way of viewing architecture survives, and it cropped up again at the Musagetes Sudbury Café in a session about architecture and aboriginal sacred space.  There is much to blame architecture for: its linearity, its inhospitable cities, its dead and deathly materials (a tree has a spirit, cut down and made into lumber, the spirit is lost), and above all, its indifference to social and cultural realities.  It does not live, it does not understand the longue durée.  
In such a critique, both the role and the act of architecture are considered as having some sort of inherent power to blight one's life and one's culture. Its very indifference makes it malevolent. One can make the critique, but to make it one has to believe in architecture as an autonomous act with inadvertent social and cultural consequences.  

The Berlin Wall fall did not fall because West Berlin imported a lot of excellent international architects who rediscovered perimeter block housing and made the city complete again. It was the project of a very prosperous state, and the fall of the Berlin Wall was because of an unsustainable political edifice which had effectively lived under a western embargo for forty years.  Did architecture play a part in re-unification, other than to be yet another form of glamourous consumer durable?  

Architecture is a tool, the power is in the hand that wields the tool, not in who makes it. But there are other kinds of architecture with much wider, less ambitious possibilities, architectures which can resist being made symbols of political power.

Tuesday
Sep272011

Richard II 2

Richard II, thinking of the Wilton Diptych, is also one of the roses in my backyard, which started out maybe 40 years ago in my parents' garden, got too big, was moved to a lot in the woods on the Cowichan River where, one winter, it accidently had a woodpile built over it.  Several summers later I found a thin branch struggling out of the woodpile with a beautiful pink rose on it.  Unearthed, it then struggled for lack of sun and water, and I eventually dug it up again and moved it to Calgary, where Richard II thriveth.  

Why he became known to us as Richard II is because the original tag had RICHARDII on it, which I now realise is rosa richardii, also known as rosa sancta, the holy rose because its five petals corresponds to the five wounds of Christ.  It is ancient, thought to be a cross between rosa gallica and rosa phoenicia and still grows around graves in Ethiopia, where it is known as the Holy Rose of Abyssinia.
In an Egyptian second century tomb excavation in the 1880s a dried wreath of roses was found, which when soaked in water for some strange discontinued archaeological practice, became fresh again: the rosa sancta.

Richard II has fearsome thorns that point back along the stem, each thorn with a tiny lethal hook at the end which will rip open a long gash in the skin if one brushes against it.  Perhaps this has something to do with its historic longevity, this powerful anti-social mechanism.  It explodes into flower in the week between June 21 and Canada Day, very lovely, the rest of the time it is a great green bush on the attack.

In this intangible world of electronics and consumerism I quite like that ground level is full of ancient things that have travelled the world for centuries and arrived in our back yards.  That they survive each winter here is always a surprise, and the source of my great affection for them.