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Entries in social movements (4)

Friday
Apr142017

material permanence for an impermanent architecture

Rau. Triodos Bank, Driebergen-Zeist, 2011-Thomas Rau was recently speaking at Ryerson; the notification was illustrated with his 2011 Triodos III project, a values-based bank in Driebergen-Zeist, which encapsulates his thesis that Nature is a bank and if we treated it as such we wouldn't exploit it as we do. By extension, every building should be considered as a bank of materials, valuable because finite, like currency, which circulates over and over again through time and society.  Triodos III is an example of such an architecture.  A logical extension of the idea of a building as a bank of materials would be an architecture that is demountable, with individual pieces salvageable as whole units rather than the pulverising demolitions that usually happen when a building reaches the end of its usefulness (not necessarily its life, but the limits of appreciation of its value).  In this it is assumed that buildings have a life span.  

from: Shaun Fynn. Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier's City Today. Princeton Architectural Press, 2017Was this a consideration when Le Corbusier was building Chandigarh, seen in a new book, Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier's City Today, by Shaun Fynn?  His was a hugely complex architecture built with a single material, concrete, that once cast cannot revert back to its original ingredients – the chemical reaction when water meets quicklime cannot be undone.  Correctly built, this kind of architecture was forecast to have an infinitely long lifespan; deconstruction and reuse of the materials was not considered.  

Unlike concrete buildings regularly demolished in the western world, despite the new-found mid-century love of béton brut — so much of it already gone, Le Corbusier's Chandigarh project persists: there has been little development pressure to constantly rebuild in what was the de-colonising, developing, third world.  Modernism was the architecture of liberation: it promised a new start, in all senses, and for this it retains a political and historic power that we don't recognise here.  New Generation Thinker Preti Taneja, Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow at Warwick University, read an essay recently in the New Generation Thinkers series, about 'The first generation of post-Independence architects [who] built on this [modernist] legacy, drawing also from Le Corbusier, who designed India's first post-partition planned city, Chandigarh, with its famous 'open hand' sculpture; and from Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius, to create some of the most iconic public buildings across India today.' 

There is something about the utopian socialist roots of modern architecture that meant something in the developing world but which passed the developed world by. Here, it is seen as a style, not as something for social good. Indeed, by the 1970s, projects just twenty years old, such as Yamasaki's Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, were totally discredited as the social ambitions of the architecture did not match at all the political fears of race and poverty.  

Rau: TurnToo, a declaration of material rightsRau's architecture as material bank refers to a pre-industrial model of building, where buildings were assembled and dis-assembled by hand.  He extends it to industrial processes, with the circularity potential of each material as the pre-condition for its use.  It has the potential to redevelop modernism without the extravagance of material exploitation that came so easily to us in the west, where the environment was assumed to be infinitely patient with us, self-healing the wounds we inflicted by fire, by mining, by impermeable cities, by voracious appetites.  His architecture of circularity assumes an impermanence to buildings whereby they can be constantly in flux, parts replaced, parts repurposed.  This is such the polar opposite to the still, eternal, immoveable architecture of Chandigarh.

from: Shaun Fynn. Chandigarh Revealed: Le Corbusier's City Today. Princeton Architectural Press, 2017

Thursday
Feb052015

Dorchester Projects Archive House, Chicago

(c) 2006-2014 - Theaster Gates. Archive House Past (2009) and Present (2013) photos: Sara Pooley

Dorchester Projects, a cluster of houses and storefronts on South Dorchester Avenue in Chicago, includes this house, before and after.  Gates' explanation is that he 'purchased the neighbouring two-story vacant house [next to the storefront he was living in] and initiated a design project to restore and reactivate the home as a site of community interaction and uplift'.  There is a gallery of photos on his website which show how the interior has been largely stripped to structure and resurfaced with floor to ceiling bookshelves, slide trays, recycled board sheathing.  Despite the street-front propriety of the house in 2009, it was abandoned and must have been unuseable inside for such a massive re-configuration of surface to have occurred.  

Unuseability is not just cosmetic: the hierarchy of spaces in a prairie four-square house is also without utility.  Of course anything can occupy and make do with any kind of space if it has to, but the project here is not just to move into an old house because it is all you can afford, but to make that old house spatially part of the community.  The slide room is itself, not a previous bedroom: the present bears no relationship to the past.  This is the difference between repurposing and renovation. Gates bought a structure and stripped away everything that did not apply to his project of community building, replacing it with salvaged materials that come with no evidential history.  

Nor are the collections of music and books cast-offs, discards: the front of the store is a listening room for the 8,000 LPs from a former local record store, Dr Wax Records that went under in the economic downturn in 2010.  The back of the store is a reading room for the Johnson Library: the Johnson Publishing Company's in-house editor's library and the Ebony and Jet magazine archive.  Johnston Publishing is the largest African-American-owned publishing house, and was founded in Chicago in 1942. The Dorchester Projects grounds these African-American histories in buildings whose purpose is to keep them alive, rather than locking them into some sort of museological archive.  This is yet another part of Gates' project – to keep history close.  

The sink, below, properly plumbed in but without a cheap vanity from Home Depot holding it up: this is like cooking with completely unprocessed foods. Given the pre-processed and over-manufactured rubbish that appears in building dumpsters, no doubt a cheap or even a good vanity could have been found, but the 'vanity' comes with so many bourgeois associations of, again, propriety where the facts of plumbing have to be hidden, that it becomes a negative force in the house.  An assemblage of beams, frames and trims to get the sink to a useable height has no references: the material was free, it fulfills a need.  This isn't art, although it is arty enough, this is identity politics.

Theaster Gates Studio

Thursday
Feb202014

Argentina's Playlist for Freedom

Part of BBC's Freedom 2014 programming: Natalio Cosoy's passionate explanation of the music of Argentina's often coded popular and folk songs during both military rule and after.  A wonderful half-hour of 'anthems to perseverance', as he says, 'what music can actually do, in terms of instilling freedom into society.'

Manifestación de las Madres de Plaza de Mayo en 1983, //diarioinedito.com/Nota/7932. Click on image to take you to the BBC page. Not ever sure how long these things are available for, but this image gives you all the tracking information.

This is an exciting series.  Here is a link to hip-hop in Africa.  For someone, me, who came to African music in the pre-African Rap late-80s, this program explains much that I had seen as neo-colonialism.  Again, it and the words were and are coded, flying under the radar of convention, tradition and military regimes. 

Wednesday
Feb202013

uranium mines

The Rabbit Lake uranium mine, near the Dene/Cree community of Wollaston Lake in northern Saskatchewan.

This image is from the Graham Defence site.  John Graham is from Haines Junction, Yukon and was an activist against uranium mining. He is currently in South Dakota State Pen in Sioux Falls for the 1975 murder of Anna Mae Aquash. There is a tradition of the FBI extraditing First Nations men from Canada, famously Leonard Pelletier, based on evidence aimed at breaking apart the American Indian Movement.  Graham's is a truly terrible story in its details, but ultimately appears as the borderless reach of the FBI into activist social movements.
In May and June 1984 John Graham did a European speaking tour organised by European anti-nuclear and environmental groups, focussed on native rights and the problems of uranium mining in Canada.

Uranium itself is an element, U; unstable isotopes make it slightly radioactive.  It is dense and occurs in small amounts in soil, rock and water.  Uranium 235 is a natural fissile isotope which can transmute to fissile plutonium 239 in a nuclear reactor.  If I understood more of this process I might be able to understand what Iran is, or is not, doing.  Fission is produced with fast neutrons, and slow neutrons can be speeded up and concentrated to sustain nuclear chain reactions, generating heat and material for weapons.  Depleted uranium is used in armour, as in tanks, because of its density.  Depleted uranium dust released when exploded, during war, releases significant doses of radioactivity.

Uranium City, SaskatchewanUranium city was a 1952 company town for  Eldorado Mining and Refining, a crown corporation that opened a number of mines (52) in northern Saskatchewan.  It was based on the plan for Arvida, Québec, a 1927 ALCAN town.

Uranium mining, like almost all surface mines, come with associated toxic effects for water and people from tailings, which in this case have some residual radioactivity. 500,000 tonnes of waste rock, 100,000 tonnes of tailings, 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 m3 of liquid waste produces 25 tonnes of uranium fuel, so reports David Thorpe in the Guardian.  Historical evidence places life expectancy at 20 years after becoming a miner in a uranium mine.