on site review

On Site review: other ways to talk about architecture and urbanismContains things you will never find anywhere else.


on site review group

back issues

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


on site 26: DIRT onlineonsite 25: identity online

onsite 24: migration onlineonsite 23: small things online

read onsite 22: WAR online

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

read onsite 21: weather online

read onsite 20: museums and archives onlineonsite 20 individually archived articles

onsite 20:museums and archives has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online

read onsite 19: streets onlineOn Site 19 has sold out in the print version, but you can read it online.

onsite 19 individually archived articles

read onsite 18: culture onlineonsite 18 individually archived articles

onsite17 individually archived articles


the Berlin Wall 2

the trailer for The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

This film came out in 1965.  The Berlin Wall had been up for only four years.  Clearly they weren't filming at the wall itself, it was actually shot in Dublin, however this film indelibly established the 'look' of the Cold War in the west for a generation: black and white, winter, rain, night, raincoats and absolute despair.  The wall was a space: a GDR-controlled zone that 5000 people successfully crossed between 1961 and 1989.  Officially, 171 were unsuccessful.  This view of the wall was the only one I was ever given, so the function of the segments of the wall that still stand as an instructive memorial to the partition of Germany and Berlin, gaily covered with not very good art, I find completely trivial. 

This film, and other films of the 1960s when the Cold War wasn't that cold – it was a state of high tension and fear – these are the best Cold War memorials.  John Le Carré's moral dilemmas, his cynicism, his inheritance from Orwell: these are the memorials. In a line from Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, through Orson Welles, the dark espionage genre of Le Carré, and Len Deighton, and then all the films made from the books: this source material shocks us into the 1960s again. 




the Berlin Wall

photo: Landesbildstelle Berlin.

This year is flooded with documentaries on the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.  Just two days before Armistice Day, this is the first year I have noticed the closeness of the dates. The Great War armistice and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles (now a film based on Margaret MacMillan's book) set up WWII; its ending shifted into the Cold War, which we now feel ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The opening of the east to the west has always been thought of as a great blow for freedom, but if this was the only result, there wouldn't be the rise of neo-Nazi parties in Europe and an increasing nostalgia for the old life in the Eastern Bloc, where everyone was employed – this keeps being mentioned in the revisitations to the territory of the old GDR especially. 

Are wars really ever ended? or is war a constant that keeps shifting into new arenas and new forms.   In On Site issue 22: WAR, we have two related articles: Açalya Allmer, a Turkish architect, discusses the dispersal of the actual Berlin Wall itself, leaving Germany on postcards, in pockets.  The other article, by Markus Miessen, takes on the new borderless EU and the confusion of identity in the newest, most Eastern members.  Walls on borders are the most literal expression of warring opposites.  Does removing the wall, thus removing the border, remove difference?  It seems not. 

Markus Miessen. ECE Berlin


Arcade Fire's Intervention cut to Sergei Eisenstien's Battle Ship Potemkin of 1925.  The original YouTube posting might have further information on this video for those who know how to read it.  I certainly don't.

When you look back at all the American pop songs of the 1960s especially, not protest songs, but just ordinary songs, it is remarkable how many refer to distant war, to waiting for someone to come home, to letters, to loss and dying.  At the time it all seemed just like boy/girl romance, partings and such.  But now I can see how embedded the Viet Nam War was in American popular culture. 

Arcade Fire's Intervention has as its repeating chorus line, Hear the soldier groan, 'We'll go at it alone'.  Of course being a soldier can be a metaphor for many things – general desperate struggle, and it might be so in this song.  However, soldiers are also real soldiers, and metaphoric or not, they must be embedded in our society now at some level to keep reappearing in contemporary song lyrics. 


The Aesthetics of Terror

Harun Farocki. War at a Distance (2003)

This is an online exhibition that keeps adding entries.  The image here is from a video by Harun Farocki, War at a Distance.  In it he looks at the photographic ways that targets are tracked from surveillance cameras to guided smart bombs: complete abstraction where war is conducted entirely through images. See the whole exhibition here.

When I started to put together the issue on war, all of a sudden all sorts of references started to come to the fore, mostly from Europe.   We are at war: Canada, the USA, Germany, Denmark – ISAF is a multilateral coalition, plus there are wars all over the planet.  Yet never here do we hear the phrase, 'there's a war on' telling us to conserve, to be careful, to be patient.  Is it because in World Wars 1 and 2, the forces were volunteers, rather than the professional forces we have today? Rather than all the men in each family, all the boys in each Grade 12 class going off to war, the Canadian Forces are some sort of distant organisation. Does this contribute to our abrogation of interest in the war we are currently fighting? 

I found the Aesthetics of Terror while looking for an image of the shooting of a Viet Cong prisoner by the chief of police in Saigon and up came Claude Moller's image:

Claude Moller. If Vietnam Were Now (2004)Moller's piece refers to the sanitisation of images presented to us in the media.  So edited are they, we hardly know what is happening.  Perhaps this is the source of our current disinterest in the war in which we are involved.


Hard Rain Project

Mark Edwards' Hard Rain project consists of drastic photos of environmental problems, each captioned with a line from Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain's A'Gonna Fall.  The project is shown in outside displays, on temporary hoardings, pinned to railings – in the public domain.  The Hard Rain project has already been shown in 50 cities around the world, none in Canada however.  Dylan's Hard Rain is made, here, to anticipate today's accelerating disasters. For example, 'Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world' underlines a tsunami image.  This might seem obvious except that Dylan's 1962 lyrics were generally thought to refer to Cold War nuclear annihilation.  This reinscription of the lyrics by way of images, plus the tune itself making one inevitably sing the captions, prevents the passive gaze: the tune leaps into the brain, with a kind of synaesthesia the photos rewrite the lyric.  Each line links a contemporary fact – deforestation in Haiti perhaps, with the global inevitablility of disaster.  The line brings it home.


Kenya Ceramic Jiko


reproduced from 'With Our Own Hands'. IRDC 1986

Jikos are traditional charcoal stoves in Kenya made from scrap metal: a small drum has a grate set in the middle.  A fire is made below the grate, pots sit on the top of the drum.  It is a form brought from India to Kenya by railway buildings in the 1890s.  They are inefficient and consume a lot of charcoal.
Kenya Ceramic Jiko (KCJ) is an improved version adapted in 1982  from the ceramic charcoal stoves found in Thailand.  The top chamber is lined with a pottery liner made from clay, rice husks and ash cemented to the metal. The grate is either pottery or metal and the drum is now waisted: the fire is in the bottom chamber, the grate is small and the top flares out to hold the cooking pot.  The KCJ is 50% more fuel efficient.

The Mountain Gorilla population of Central Africa is near extinction because of deforestation due to the production of charcoal.  A workshop has been set up for the local manufacture of ceramic Jikos to reduce the demand for charcoal in areas with massive refugee populations, such as Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This will reduce the illegal harvesting of wood in the nearby Virunga National Park, the last refuge of the Mountain Gorilla.

This comes by way of the World Challenge 


UN blue

United Nations blue:
The UN emblem started as a publicity button for the 1945 San Francisco Conference where the UN Charter was drafted.  It was designed by Donal McLaughlin (1907-2009), an architect by training and head of graphics and visual material in the OSS (US Office of Strategic Services, later the CIA).

The original insignia showed the globe, centred on the north pole, with North America on the central axis.  In 1947, this orientation was changed by 90° so that the Greenwich meridian is at the centre, and all of South America is included.  

The blue colour was meant to represent peace, the opposite of war which has traditionally been red.  Blue was also the colour of the US Army, a relationship that started with the guerrilla nature of the War of Independence (1775-83) where blue uniforms offered more protective colouring than the opposing red British Army tunics.

PMS 279 is now the official UN blue colour, however Pantone system was not developed until 1963.   At the time the flag was adopted, in 1947, the background colour was US Army gray-blue.

How curious and conflicted is the iconography of the UN, with its headquarters in New York and Geneva, its flag which at first privileged the United States and then Europe but now most significantly west Africa, its colour which came from a traditional US Army uniform colour but is now considered a universal cerulean blue, its globe wreathed in olive branches as Palestinian olive orchards are bulldozed to build a security fence ignoring dozens of UN Resolutions, the optimism of its original goals and the cynicism of the Security Council.  In theory the leaders of every country can address the United Nations Assembly, but only if the United States gives them a visa to enter the US.  It has, from the beginning, had a global reach based on the nation-state, which globalisation ignores.

However, its colour, especially when you consider its CMYK values, is extremely optimistic: the colour of sky on a sunny day, no black in it, so no shadows, no clouds, no pessimism.

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