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Rodrigo Barros, 'Ideological Cartography of America' in On Site review 31: mapping | photography, Spring 2014


This essay begins with a quote from Vicente Huidobro's Altazor:
'The four cardinal points are three: South and North.'

Rodrigo Barros is an architect, musician and activist from Valparaíso, Chile. He is as interested in a critical and emancipatory practice and thinking of architecture as in freejazz-punk-dub and the poetry of everyday life. You can read his essay HERE.

previous essays of the week:

Thomas-Bernard Kenniff, 'Ethics and Publics' in  On Site review 30: ethics+publics, Fall 2013.

Joshua Craze, 'Under the Soil, the People' in On Site review 29: geology, Spring 2013.

Hector Abarca. 'Revisiting PREVI: housing as a basic right, from Lima to Vancouver' in On Site review30:ethics and publics  Fall 2013

Jeffrey Olinger.  'Interstitial.  The International Criminal Court, The Hague'  in On Site review30:ethics and publics  Fall 2013

Jessica Craig.  'Terrain Vague' in On Site review30:ethics and publics, Fall 2013

Clint Langevin, Amy Norris, Chester Rennie.  'The Sisyphus Project', in On Site review 29: geology, Spring 2013.

dedicated to literary translation and bringing together in one place the best in contemporary writing. - See more at:
dedicated to literary translation and bringing together in one place the best in contemporary writing. - See more at:
dedicated to literary translation and bringing together in one place the best in contemporary writing. - See more at:

Paper Monument is a print journal of contemporary art published by n+1 and designed by Project Project

Wasteland Twinning Network hijacks the concept of ‘City Twinning’ and applies it to urban Wastelands in order to generate a network for parallel research and action.

deepest modernism: discussions from Peru


criticat: revue semestrielle de critique d’architecture

French publishing house: great catalogues that look east and south, not just west.

[brkt] 2 Goes Soft, edited by Neeraj Bhatia and Lola Sheppard. 'Soft refers to responsive, indeterminate, flexible and immaterial systems that operate through feedback, organization and resilience. These complex systems transform through time to acknowledge shifting and indeterminate situations — characteristics that are evident both in the dynamics of contemporary society and the natural environment'.

Darwin Grenwich sails the oceans of the world on Blue Monday, a CS36 traditional sloop, while maintaining his IT support business by email and on VOIP (403-283-1340). He is especially good on Macs.



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on site revew 31:: mapping | photography

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Nike of Samothrace

Nike of Samothrace. 288 BC. Louvre, Paris


Venus of the hydrants

Nanaimo, 2011

Never let it be said that city utilities workers don't have a finely honed sense of humour 
Mme Vionnet 
the erotic.


Tahrir Square 2

Aerial photo of Tahrir Square, February 2nd, 2011.


Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square, Cairo. google mapsTahrir Square, not a square, rather a traffic island.   To the north the Egypt Museum, to the east and south what appears to be large international hotels – the Intercontinental and such.  To the northeast, a large empty industrial lot.  Al Tahrir, the road leading to and from the west, becomes the Kasr Al Nile bridge crossing over the Corniche and then the Nile. 
This doesn't appear to be the traditional centre of the city, a formal square tightly surrounded by buildings of state, rather this is much more open, part of a parkway system of roads in the hotel district. 

Just wanted to know where it was all happening in urban pattern terms.  


Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia: 62°N

Yakutsk, Russia. 2010211,000 people, mining centre, cold weather, twinned with Yellowknife.  On the Lena River, a mining town from the late 19th century rapidly developed under Stalin along with the development of forced labour camps in Siberia.  It is the largest city built on permafrost. Looks slick. Evidently that is a new bank building reflecting the northern sky.

We don't have such populations in the Canadian north.  Yellowknife (62°N)has 19,000 people.  Fort McMurray (56°N) has 77,000 and  was a small village until the late 60s when the Suncor plant was built.  Both towns sprawl a bit.  I've had the image, below, of Braatsk for several years and can't remember where I found it, but it shows a city that is significantly urban.  Braatsk is at 56°N, population 260,000, looks like Paris.

Braatsk, Siberia


Diana Thater: Chernobyl

Chernobyl, Production Still; 2010 © Diana Thater; Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth A few more links to Diana Thater's video installation on Chernobyl, showing at Hauser+Wirth, London. 

Her own website: thaterstudio

Which leads you to kickstart, a funding site for the Chernobyl project.

A short interview at dazed digital, which includes these two paragraphs:

Chernobyl is the only post-apocalyptic, or post-human landscape on earth. Today it’s falling into ruins, but it still looks like a city; there’s stores, apartment buildings, schools. And even though it’s completely deserted and falling apart, animals are moving into the city. So, on the one hand you have this perfectly preserved Soviet city from 1970, and on the other hand you have this post-apocalyptic landscape where animals are living.

I think it’s both political and cultural. Chernobyl represents the failure of lots of things – a massive political system, a way of life, of science. Yet even with the human failures, nature continues to persist. Not because it wants or chooses to, but because it must.


OIL: a new town in a resource extraction region

Just a reminder of On Site's exhibition / competition / call for entries for a new town in a resource extraction area. 
We are looking for ideas, ideas, ideas.  There are resource links on the call for entries page for general starting point information, however, you are being asked to figure out what the strategy should be, in 2011, for starting up a new town. 

On the Strand over the weekend there was a piece on video artist Diana Thater's installation on Chernobyl, which was effectively a new city built in the 1970s, something I hadn't realised when it was abandoned just 20 years later.  It is now inhabited by animals, wild horses walk the streets, swans nest on the tailings ponds.  Thater says it is a necessity of nature to persist.  She also talks about what a post-human world looks like, where political systems that built such installations were abandoned along with the site. 

We usually think of designing or planning a new town from point zero, or near to it, that builds into a community with shape and form.  One might also think of the new town when it becomes a discarded post-nuclear installation: what will it say about what we were?


e|348 e|spaço

e|348 arquitectura office and site, Póvoa de VarzimA lovely panel of images from e|348's website showing where they are. 

Póvoa de Varzim is a small town of 66,000 outside Porto in northern Portugal.  Seems a hotbed of interesting architects.


Didier Faustino: don't trust architects

Didier Faustino. Flatland. Fundaçào Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. In Flatland, a spectator becomes an actor by projecting himself into the backside of a movie screen using a swing. The other spectators seated in the theater can see the surface of the screen frontside distorted by the swing of the body, as an empirical three-dimensional effect. Flatland questions what is reality and what is fiction, offering the possibility to a spectator to become the main character of his imaginary.Didier Faustino, such an architect despite the title of his exhibition: lots of brilliant talk while other little bods run around making the piece.  Click on the image above to take you to a short video of the setting up of this project. 

From the press release: '"Don't Trust Architects" by Didier Faustino at the Calouste Gulbekian Foundation.  Didier Faustino is presenting a series of new pieces at the Calouste Gulbekian Foundation (Lisbon) from 14th January to 3rd April 2011. Five new installations produced for the exhibition will immerse visitors in the permanent confrontation of the body with architecture and architecture with movement, via visual and sound tools implemented by Faustino.'


e|348 arquitectura: capela de Santa Maria da Feira

e|348 arquitectura. Chapel, Santa Maria da Feira. photographer, Fernando GuerroThis is a lovely little chapel, built in a triangular plaza where three roads meet in Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal.  Here is a case where there is a dramatic photograph, and as it is unlikely we will ever see this chapel, could be simply dramatic photography, but no, it is actually a shapely little building by e|348

This project comes, as usual with all the Portuguese projects I show here, from FG+SG, Fernando Guerro architectural photographer, who regularly sends photographic portfolios of new Portuguese architecture.  While there is coverage of Alvaro Siza and Gonçalo Byrne, there are also very small projects from young firms. 

And, thinking of issues of national identity, there is a real love of bleached wood floors and white plastered walls, and a minimalism that for a while I thought came from the photographer, but must come from a common sensibility where buildings – chapels, cottages, schools – are minimal containers for a rich life built by the inhabitants. 

Ferando Guerro documents the material fabric of each project.  e|348 photographed the chapel in use. We need both.

e|348 arquitectura. Chapel. Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal, 2010. photograph, e|348e]348 arquitectura. Chapel. Santa Maria da Feira, Portugal, 2010. photograph, Fernando Guerro


atelier rzlbd: charcoal house

atelier rzlbd. Charcoal House, Toronto. 2010. photograher: borXu designatelier rzlbd has done two similar houses in Toronto recently: Charcoal and Shaft, 3-storey wood frame buildings on small lots.  They have been photographed by borXu in a most interesting way, as if they were elevation drawings.   And on such narrow lots, 20-24' that is exactly what a house presents to the street: its face.

There is no great disturbance of space in the presentation of these houses, they are as one would see them: urban, private and elegant. 


MVRDV: the balancing barn

MVRDV. The Balancing Barn, Suffolk, 2010. photographer: Edmund Sumner/PRAlain de Botton is the creative director  of Living Architecture, and identifies the architects they commission to build interesting houses around Britain.  de Botton wrote a book a few years ago called The Architecture of Happiness, the secret art of furnishing your life.  On his website description of the book he takes the usual swipe at architects: 'Whereas many architects are wary of openly discussing the word beauty, the book has at its centre the large and [faux] naïve question: 'What is a beautiful building?'  and then proceeds to 'change the way we think about our homes, streets and ourselves'.
Thank you for that.

MVRDV, Rotterdam is Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries, who had worked either with OMA or Mecanoo before forming MVRDV, a firm quite known for its starry and international architecture.

Living Architecture started by de Botton, commissions interesting world-class [his words] architects to build houses around the United Kingdom which are then rented out as holiday lets by Living Architecture, a 'not-for-profit organisation set up to revolutionise both architecture and UK holiday rentals'. 

Well, this is the background to the photograph of The Balancing Barn by MVRDV.  Edmund Sumner has taken an admittedly dramatic chrome-plated building and made it even more dramatic and soaring by the lens he has used.  Was it not charged enough as it is?  Why do philosophers and photographers insist that architecture needs jazzing up.  I don't think they get it, but they do get an audience.


tisselli studio architetti: VC1

tisselli studo architetti. VC1 2005-2008. south face and sectiontisselli studio architetti, which is Filippo Tissilli, Cinzia Mondello and Filippo Tombaccini, recently sent a project package to us for a four-storey apartment building in Cesena, completed in 2008. 
It is very dramatic – the description outlines the desire to give this building an identity beyond the numb suburban development that surrounds it, however, tisselli studio explain this in a wonderfully italianate way:

'Beyond the mere functional description of the intervention, the focus is still the wish to install an architectural quality to the directional vertexes of the building, refusing the homologation to the reassuring and anonymous morphology of the surrounding buildings.
The classic and consolidated residential functions can be found in a 'box' — a parallelepiped volume which, even in the tension of the planning, 'lives' and rotates along an axis parallel to the ground, almost lifting from the earth its most representative face.'

VC1 appears to be designed through a too-close camera lens, so typical of dramatic professional architectural photography with sharp points and soaring angles.  How did this very strange photographic convention develop?  Did photographers, not being architects, think that architecture was too static, too boring, and needed an injection of vertigo to make it all more interesting?   Perhaps.  However, VC1 is a wood frame building over a parking garage, inexpensive and conventional. It is the rotation of the outer envelope in the drawing stage that transforms the building into visual dynamism.   I quite like the rather scruffy and endearing ground plane of this project, not soaring, dramatic or abstract, but a real place.

A brave project in a relatively uncongenial environment where form is the only element that speaks of anything other than the ordinary.  As we all know, there is no such thing as an ordinary life, only ordinary budgets, conventions, rules, codes.  This seems to be a careful and thoughtful way to give a language of identity to an otherwise ordinary apartment block.
tisselli studio architetti. VC1, a residential project in the suburbs of Cesena, Itally, 2008


Elaine Scarry: on beauty and social justice

right.  January is the month of financial statements and reconciling bank statements to piles of little receipts.  Can't think.  Can't write.  Can listen, so here is a long, quite wonderful essay by Elaine Scarry on beauty, pain and justice.  

It was given at Cambridge University, 21 May 2010, at a Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities conference.


the other seventies

Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention


Paul Robeson: Ô mon cher Canada


un canadien errant

Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.
Un jour, triste et pensif,
Assis au bord des flots,
Au courant fugitif
Il adressa ces mots
"Si tu vois mon pays,
Mon pays malheureux,
Va, dis à mes amis
Que je me souviens d'eux.
"Ô jours si pleins d'appas
Vous êtes disparus,
Et ma patrie, hélas!
Je ne la verrai plus!
"Non, mais en expirant,
Ô mon cher Canada!
Mon regard languissant
Vers toi se portera..."


Friedrich to Gropius: winter tragedies

Caspar David Friedrich. background detail of das Eismeer, 1921

C D Friedrich's das Eismeer is explained at length in an entry on de.wikipedia.  The English wikipedia entry is about 3 paragraphs, the German one is a great long essay that links the tragedies of Arctic exploration with the tragic failed hopes of the German state, plus a lot of painting analysis, studies, influences, parallel works, modern reinvestigations.  The google English translation of this long entry is anarchic in the extreme, sometimes giving up and leaving whole chunks in the original German.  It says something about the metaphoric habit of critical writing on art that a word for word translation is so hilarious. 

The proportions of Friedrich's das Eismeer are very familiar: a great pile of rock or ice leaning to the left, seemingly aspirational but looking backwards.  The focus is at the right hand base of this great pile.  It is a diagrammatic lens that painters still use for the Rockies, especially Mt Rundle which from the Trans-Canada highway lookout, leans steeply to the left and could be neatly mapped onto das Eismeer.

The entry includes Gropius' 1922 Monument to the March Dead in Weimar, memorialising the victims of the Kapp Putsch – again, failure, conflict and defeat.  The vantage point of the photograph take at the time shows the same left-leaning precipice. 

It is the Werther at the heart of the German soul.

Walter Gropius. Monument to the March Dead, 1921-22. Weimar, Germany


Caspar David Friedrich: winter

Caspar David Friedrich. Skizzen von Eisschollen zum Gemälde das Eismeer, 1821. Hamburger KunsthalleFriedrich's studies of ice floes on the Elbe, 1820-21.


Anselm Kiefer: winter

Anselm Kiefer, Gescheiterte Hoffnung (C.D. Friedrich), 2010, Charcoal on photographic paper. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery, New York. Gescheiterte Hoffnung translates as Wreck of Hope.The last of a series of four photographs done for the New York Times: winter.  By far the most memorable image of the series, and perhaps of the year.

The title refers to Caspar David Friedrich's Das Eismeer, an 1823 painting inspired by one of Parry's ships caught in the ice on an expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1819.