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Architecture and urbanism

Fun Palace / Golf-Shanty

Pretty near the BERG studio, on the edge of the City of London, is this structure. It’s a golf driving range, with astroturf, a wooden faux-bavarian wurst shack, a bar, a golf store and a few other things I think.

It’s based on some waste ground that I imagine was destined to be redeveloped into shiny-new late-capitalist office accommodation, much like the adjacent glass spires of outer-Broadgate and hinter-Hoxton.

Every time I see it out of the corner of my eye it makes me think of Cedric Price’s “Fun Palace”…

…the seminal scheme for a temporary place/happening where you:

“Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky.”

The aesthetic of our Golf Shanty Fun Palace at the edge of the city is more reminiscent of his only (?) built scheme: the aviary at London Zoo…

Snowdon Aviary, London Zoo

…perhaps crossed with The ThunderDome and the million B&Q treated-wood gazebos pressed into service outside Britain’s pubs since the smoking ban.

Of course, it’s far from Price’s high-tech interactive land of do-as-you-please – you get to spoil a good walk without even getting the walk, and then buy a German sausage in a bun.

However I think that Cedric would have maybe approved of this ramshackle, opportunistic, symbiont that’s sprung up on the edge of a dense lode of international capital.

Fore!

Did a fun 15mins chat with Ken Hollings on cities, futures, cosmism and many other things from an arcology floating in deep-space (via the magic of radio) which will be going out tonight at 7pm, and podcast shortly.

Here’s the description for the show:

“Enter Hollingsville at 7:00pm this evening. In this new series Ken Hollings and guests Steve Beard and Matt Jones discuss voodoo science parks, cities as battle suits, pods, capsules and world expos. Specially commissioned musical interludes are by the Hollingsville composer in residence, Graham Massey. Hollingsville is open for 12 weeks only”

http://resonancefm.com/archives/3638

, originally uploaded by moleitau.

Thanks to Justin McGuirk for the invitation to http://www.iconeye.com/iconminds/.

Below, my (very) raw unedited, incomplete notes from the morning session on ‘Ornament’ – Charles Jencks was most enjoyable, must admit I tuned out as the morning went on…:

icon minds event

the return of ornament: intro by Justin McGuirk

100 yrs since ‘ornament and crime’ aldolf loos- amazing that that is still so potent. digital tech in architecture schools is driving this – in icon office they joke about ‘return of victoriana’ – but then it was incredibly theorised where as no it is not…

charles jencks
farshi mousavi (check) foriegn office architects
marjan colleti, bartlett school of architecture

Charles Jencks
———————-
(shows front page of the FT, picture of hank paulson)
book ‘sense of order’
3 depths of ornament
‘all arts aspire to the condition of music’
rhythms that control and affect / effect us without us having to know to much about them
from simple to complex / abstract to meaningful
distinction between decoration and ornament
in the last ten year, ornament has been ornament as eye candy
paulson’s frown is a piece of decoration rather than ornament
i’m defining decoration as something you wear as a sign as a way to communicate in code to a group.
‘the blush on the face of a virgin in every novel is completely conventional’
(now frowns on the faces of capitalists is ‘the blush of the virgin’)
shows koolhaas morphing into zidane
(angry passionate reluctant – architect and designer’s ‘blush of the virgin’)
morphing is… one of the strongest influences on ornament today… morphing is somehow ‘musical’ – from Koolhaas to crescendo… of Zidane..
the construction / structural elements, repeated in a kind of ‘symphonic’ way in each fact of the OMA’s seattle library… organisational diagram informs the ornament – intersection, interlocking, ornamental use of colour for ciruclation to take you through a grey abstract concrete space… ornament is being used to underscore organisation
shows prada building in tokyo (?) herzog de merreon
rem: “dubai is vernacular zaha” – everyone is doing the same tricks with form – in adevrtising and magazines and academia… cliched images, rather than reality
venturi’s ‘dumb box’ / ‘decorated shed’ – done by FOA in spain… hexagonal tiles… that wobble nicely – ‘i call it the hexiwobble’
eberswalde library by H&dM – ornament not guaranteed to last 8-10 years by concrete manufrs
‘age of mechanical reproduction’ -photograph, but double – the facade is mechinaical reproduction
birds next stadium by h&dm – getting closer to mimicking nature
FOA work – pleats and plates of folded.
the 19th criticised construction – they said ‘don;t construct you ornament, instead decorate your construction’ – then poiret (?) teacher of corb said don’t do that… decoration always hides fault, and so the truth.
argument: philospophical/’moral’ – don’t think it is moral… we all ornament, we all decorate
transformational ornament is the 3rd degree
my own work based on fractals (cosmic garden in N. England?)
ornament should tell a story, should be narrative
shouldn’t stop at the level of semantics
the two great theories underlying nature:
plato – behind nature the underlying forms are regular solids (modernism) unbroken plato -> classical -> cezanne -> corbusier
based on the metaphysics of getting to the underlying forms of nature, the organisation of matter – self organisating relationships between them
1977: benoit mandelbrot: the fractal geometry of nature
things are more or less platonic when viewed from our scale, but in reality – mostly crinkly, self-similar, scale-free, always changing.
a symphonic scaling, between scales… recent work of FOA
gaudi – still the master of doing this… mediating between scale with ornament and structure.
the 4th degree of ornament is where there is an overall story that is seen in every element that the architect/designer/client has worked out whih gives it greater resonance.

Farshid Moussavi / FOA

book: ‘the function of ornament’

how do we define and construct ornament today?

it is part of how they ‘perform’ (structurally, environmentally) – they have a function
architecture has a very outmoded and narrow concept of function
sensorially roles should be part of function
opposition of function to ornament is representative of our dualist thinking between matter and mind
natural / symbolic
structural / symbols
louis sullivan was the last architect of ornament before modernism?
‘form follows function’ dictum reduced function to utility
related forms to culutre – often added inbetween structure and function – not considered together
but now they are – and start transforming each other
it’s no longer possible to isolate forces in the environment: cultural, societal, structural
cities are spaces where multiplicity rules, novelity emerges
materials are now joined by what she calls ‘supermaterials’ – economics, virology, systems, information
cinema
spinoza: affect / affectation

(I have to admit I tuned out at this point…)

In the corner at Icon Minds

Confessions: Jan Kaplicky, originally uploaded by moleitau.

Missed this last week. One of my design heroes, Jan Kaplicky has died.

Met him when I was in college, and did my written thesis for B.Sc on the work of Future Systems.

Wrote my only published and paid review for Wired UK (original version) on his book “For Inspiration Only“. Operated his carousel of slides when he came to give a lecture to us at the Welsh School of Architecture. This was in the same format of the book – he would show two oppositional images, and jab you (verbally) in the ribs with an aphorism linking the two.

One that always stuck with me was him showing a moody, uplit black-and-white press portrait of Richard Meier in the cliché black-turtleneck and severe glasses in front of venetian blinds – eyes directed up and away in search of the future – very fountainhead.

Kaplicky rumbled: “This is not design”

He pointed at me to click the slide carousel forward. An image of a carpark full of Boeing employees, from design engineers to HR to office cleaners in 777 project t-shirts waving at the camera.

Kaplicky, now beaming, crookedly: “This. This is design.”

Over warm white wine after the talk, he leant over and said to me “When you see a bumpy road, take it”.

Trying to.

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Sir Ken Adam in conversation with Sir Christopher Frayling, V&A

I saw Sir Ken Adam, production designer of numerous Bonds, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and Dr. Strangelove amongst other movies, interviewed by Christopher Frayling at the V&A last Friday, as part of their current Cold War Modern exhibit.

As a result, Frayling concentrated the conversation on those iconic Cold War images of the war room in Dr. Strangelove, and the numerous lairs for Bond Villains he had designed.

Frayling described these lairs with a lovely turn of phrase, paraphrasing Corbusier’s “houses are machines for living in” – that they were “Machines for being a meglomaniac in”.

Adam responded that his intention was to make the Bond Villain a contemporary creature. They should embedded in the material culture of the times – albeit with the resources of a meglomaniac millionaire or billionaire – and also able to reach a little bit beyond into a near-future as those resources allow.

Although rather than maintaining a purely high-modernist aesthetic, Adam’s villains were ostentatious, status-seeking magpies, with their old masters from a daring heist, siberian tiger rugs and priceless antiques on display next to their Eames recliners and Open-plan freestanding fireplaces.

“Gantries and Baroque” might be the best name for the look though, as this finery was, of course, all inside the ‘sanctum-sanctorum’ of their lair – generally they would have maintained such a well-appointed apartment somewhere within a more massive and industrial death-dealing facility staffed by uniformed private armies.

Frayling pointed out this repeating formula in the 60s and 70s Bond movies to the audience. A hidden fortress, that had to be discovered, infiltrated and destroyed with a girl/goddess as guide – but not to be destroyed before we could take in some of the fine lifestyle touches that supervillainy gave as rewards.

But then in an almost throw-away aside to Adam, he reflected that the modern Bond villain (and he might have added, villains in pop culture in general) is placeless, ubiquitous, mobile.

His hidden fortress is in the network, represented only by a briefcase, or perhaps even just a mobile phone.

Where’s the fun in that for a production designer?

Maybe it’s in the objects. It’s not the pictures that got small, but the places our villains draw they powers from.

Perhaps the architypical transformation from gigantic static lair to mobile, compact “UbiLair” is in the film Spartan, where Val Kilmer’s anti-heroic ronin carries everything he needs in his “go-bag” – including a padded shooting mat that unfolds from it to turn any place into a place where he holds the advantage.

Move beyond film and I immediately think of my favourite supervillain of the year, Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Stane from Matt Fraction‘s masterful run on the comicbook Invincible Iron Man.

As Fraction puts it:

Zeke is a post-national business man and kind of an open source ideological terrorist, he has absolutely no loyalty to any sort of law, creed, or credo. He doesn’t want to beat Tony Stark, he wants to make him obsolete. Windows wants to be on every computer desktop in the world, but Linux and Stane want to destroy the desktop. He’s the open source to Stark’s closed source oppressiveness. He has no headquarters, no base, and no bank account. He’s a true ghost in the machine; completely off the grid, flexible, and mobile. That absolutely flies in the face of Tony’s received business wisdom and in the way business is done. There are banks and lawyers and you have facilities and testing. Stane is a much more different animal. He’s a much smarter, more mobile and much quicker to respond and evolve futurist.

Zeke has no need for specialised infrastructure beyond commodity gear than he can improvise and customise. He doesn’t need HeliCarriers or giant military-industrial infrastructure like Tony Stark. He just needs his brain and his hate. As Fraction says in an interview:

I was trying to figure out what a new Iron Man would look like, and I figured, well, there wouldn’t be a suit anymore. The user would be the suit. I just started to riff on that, on cybernetics and riffing on weaponized bodymod culture stuff. Tony’s old money, old world, old school and old model manufacture. So where would Stane, a guy that had no manufacturing base and no assembly facilities, get his tech? Everything would need power sources, so how would that work? Where would the surgeries be performed? How would he pay for it? What’s his ideology? I started reading up on 4G war and warfare. And on and on until I understood Stane’s reality, and how Stane would wage war on Stark Industries and Tony both.

So – for a “4th generation warfare” supervillain there aren’t even objects for the production designer to create and imbue with personality. The effects and the consequences can be illustrated by the storytelling, but the network and the intent can’t be foreshadowed by environments and objects in the impressionist way that Adam employed to support character and storytelling.

But – what about materialising, visualising these invisible networks in order to do so?

Dan Hill just published a spectacular study of his – into the ‘architecture’ of wifi in a public space. They make visible the invisible flows of the network around tangible architecture, and the effect that has on how people inhabit that tangible space.

Interesting, deeply-interesting stuff.

Me, I just think that’s what’s fluxing and flexing around the 4th Gen Bond Villain.

That’s what could telegraph to us, the audience their bad intentions. That’s what communicates their preference, and their potency. Could it do it as effectively, immediately, seductively as Sir Ken could with Cor-Ten and Cashmere?

Probably not. Yet.

The visualisations he’s made Dan freely admits make more than a nod to Cedric Price‘s Aviary at London Zoo. Price himself being no stranger to creating intangible, mobile, flexible architectures – I bet he would have been bursting with ideas for 4th Gen Bond Villain UbiLairs…

In the mean-time, in the real world of all-controlling superpowers, we seem to be coming full circle, architecture professor Jeffrey Huang has been investigating the all-too-tangible architecture of what we rather-wishfully call the cloud: server farms.

These hydropowered, energy-guzzelling megastructures seem to have all the ‘Gantry’ but not a lot of ‘Baroque’ panache to qualify as good old-fashioned Bond Villain SuperLairs.

But, perhaps Larry and Sergei are working on it…

This summer, Google put a patent on floating data centers cooled and powered by the ocean.

Sir Ken was always ahead of his time.

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New Building, New Bills, originally uploaded by bryanboyer.

Bryan Boyer’s master of architecture thesis project blew me away when I came across it today.
It’s called “Reclaiming Utopia” – an imagined new Capitol for the US government. It seems well-considered and suitably imposing – but the killer part is not the building I think.

For me it’s the almost science-fictional level of world-building touches around his project of new currency featuring the building, folk art and even commemorative plates.

Puts you in mind of Paul Verhoven’s ad breaks in RoboCop and Starship Troopers in terms of really convincing peripheral visions of a world.

It puts you in a future-fictional America where something or someone has caused and completed a reboot of the Union’s sacred symbols.

Skateboarding and The City, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

“The triumph of non-labour, however, does not entail an absence of effort but an even more profound redefinition of what ‘production’ might mean, and it is here too that skateboarding strikes at the heart of the business city. At first sight, skateboarders’ labour produces no ‘products’ beyond the moves skaters make, a ‘commodity’ exchangeable only by means of performative action. Furthermore, skateboarders, like students, offer a potential labour force but they deny this by undertaking seemingly meaningless productions, and so appear to waste effort and time. But that ‘principle of economy’ which sees a ‘waste’ of energy as abnormal is itself a reduction of life to mere survival. Skateboarding, in contrast, undertakes a release of energy that either creates or modifies space, espousing play, art and festival.”

- Prof Iain Boarden, Skateboarding and The City

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