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Entries in theory (7)

Tuesday
Mar082016

métissage

Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker. Metis, On the Surface, Arkitektskolen Aarhus, Denmark, 2015

métis, from old French, mestis, from Latin mixticius, cognate of Spanish mestizo, Portuguese mestiço: the mixing of aboriginal peoples and Europeans.  In Canada métissage began with contact, centuries ago, emerging as ‘a distinctive socio-cultural heritage, a means of ethnic self-identification and a political and legal category’ (The Canadian Encyclopedia). 

It is a curse of postmodernism that everything can be metaphorical: the danger in delineating a Métis architecture is that the word ‘hybridity’ is inevitable.  But not here, with the capital M Métis: it is the architecture of a particular people, and yes it has hybrid characteristics, but not all hybridity in architecture is Métis.  

For On Site review 34: on writing, I mentioned a new book by Mark Dorrian, Writing on the Image. Architecture, the City and the Politics of Representation.   Circumstances meant I couldn’t do a proper review, however, Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker have a critical practice in Edinburgh called Metis meant to connect architectural teaching, research and practice.  Their word, metis, is from the Greek, rather than the Latin: Metis was the daughter of Oceanus, first wife of Zeus and mother of Athena.  The word metis combines wisdom with cunning, an Odysseus-like quality.  No connection with mixing, or métissage.
Metis's mandate is on their website: They focus ‘on the city and the complex ways in which it is imagined, inhabited, and representationally encoded. They seek to produce rich, multi-layered works that resist immediate consumption and that are instead gradually unfurled over time through interaction with them. Their approach is concerned with establishing a poetic but critical approach to the city that is sensitive to its cultural memory but is also articulated in relation to its possible futures.

In some ways this outlines what a métis architecture could be: taking the socio-cultural history of Métis building as fundamental to a Canadian architecture as cultural memory: a way of working that recognises encoded cultures through representation, and resignifies such cultures in a wise and cunning, complex and deep description of our various futures, whether urban, rural, individual or cooperative.

It is curious, this accidental coincidence of five letters, one with an accent aigule, that can begin to theorise a Métis architecture if you simply put them side by side and start to squeeze them together.  It is a kind of metissage in itself, a dadaist accident, that reveals so many new paths.

Tuesday
Feb252014

Saskia Sassen: dense urbanised terrain – not a city

Uneven Growth, Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities. Part of a series, this one with Saskia Sassen, on the MoMAmultimedia site.

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. 

Wednesday
Jan192011

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.

Monday
Dec142009

Nobel minds

Alfred Nobel as a young scientist

Nobel Minds on the World Debate, BBC World December 12 2009.  The link takes you to a series of YouTube segments of this program. I can't figure out how to get them in order, sorry.

On Nobel Minds (BBC Saturday), the efficient and amazing Zeinab Badawi powered the physics, chemistry and economics 2009 Nobel winners through a 50-minute discussion of their work, how they made their discoveries, their childhoods, life and work.  Ribosomes and telomeres seemed to dominate chemistry, CCDs and fibre optics the physics and common sense the economics.  Boyle and Smith developed the CCD sensor that allowed digital imaging, 40 years ago at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.  As Smith told it, Bell put pressure on the lab to come up with something innovative to justify its expense, and after brain-storming for an hour and a half, they came up with the CCD sensor.  Do I believe it happened just like that?  Well, no, but it was his story and he was sticking to it. 

They were all brilliant and ordinary, outstanding and humble.  They stressed that study for study's sake was what they did.  It was curiousity-driven research, not application-driven that led to their discoveries.  Ramakrishnan, one of the three Chemistry winners, also pointed out that prizes are misleading as science is done by a huge community, they all acknowledged the contributions young people in their labs make and how they facilitate the best in their students.  Boyle and Smith are very elderly and very retired and Kao, who developed fibre optic glass, has Alzheimers, but the others when asked if there was life after the Nobel prize seemed aghast at the question.  Of course, nothing has changed, they are just eager to get back to their work.

It occurred to me that in the discussion of any sort of work that is driven by interest, it is the interest itself that is the most difficult to define.  It is not enough to be useful, competant and reliable, clearly one must be driven, and not driven towards worldly success but simply towards the production of knowledge.  Other people will figure out what to do with your discoveries, and certainly do.  There was a certain amount of iconoclasty in these laureates.  They broke new ground because they didn't really care about the ground as it stood at the time.  Elinor Ostrom's work with farmers in developing countries rejected market structures as the model for land management and instead looked at such things as the family unit, or the local community governance structures.  Of course I might have this all wrong, but it appeared that she looked at the smallest units and how they work rather than meta-theory. 

I keep trying to relate such ideas to the discussion of architecture.  There isn't a Nobel prize for an architecture that improves the state of the world and contributes to peace.  There aren't even such discussions.  What actually defines 'interest' in architecture?   

Friday
Nov272009

Gehry's skins

Statue of Liberty under construction. | Linda Smeins. Experience Music Project, Seattle, 2002.

Açalya Klyak wrote in On Site 9: surface about the similarities between the construction of the Statue of Liberty and Frank Gehry's Experience Music Project [Rock and Liberty].  Both use sheet material to cover curved volumes: in Bartholdy's statue, copper was hammered into shape (repoussé), and in Gehry's project, sheet material is cut into shapes small enough that they can smooth over a curve, rather like fish scales. 

Klyak notices the historic relationship between drapery and wealth – there is an extravagance to drapery not found in other kinds of clothing.  Drapery, compared to tailoring, cannot be standardised, or even repeated.  It is fluid and slippery and depends on the structure beneath; it is not structure itself as is the tailored hunting jacket.  In her article Klyak felt Gehry's draped surface was entirely appropriate to the expense of the project, even calling it 'Versace for buildings'. 

It is interesting that after the publication of Diderot's Encyclopédie which revealed to all hithertofore arcane and guarded methods of manufacture, and after the revolution, which the Encyclopédie had philosophically anticipated, complicated garments fell completely out of fashion, in favour of drapery.  It is the way of fashion, once anyone can have it, it is no longer very interesting.  It has taken twenty-five years for the odd angles and diverted planes of Gehry's early work to become de rigeur for almost all new not-very-expensive commerical buildings: the meaning and reference for shifting off axis, for bending skin away from structure has long been lost and we are faced with style. And thoroughy tiresome has it become. 

Anyway, back to the Encyclopédie and the French revolution, the Statue of Liberty as a gift from liberated France to liberated America, the liberation of skin from structure – Eiffel engineered the iron framework of the Statue of Liberty, le Corbusier's second point in Vers une architecture – the free façade.  There's a thread here.