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Archive for February, 2011

Bjarke Ingels came to speak to our school Friday night.

The venue was the Museum of Natural History in scenic Balboa Park.

I am still blown away by the lecture and, more importantly, the message.

It was truly (r)evolutionary.  The fact that BIG’s insanely brilliant concepts not only get built but a) give back to the community in terms of urban interaction b) are socially and ecologically responsible and c) are giving him fame and making him a household name is galvanizing.

Expanding the collective idea of what is possible through architecture: this is the optimism we need after years of gloom, in face of all the naysayers and ‘pie-in-the-sky’ disablers.  Something is blooming in the state of Denmark.

What an event. My friend Alan Rosenblum told me it would be as if  ‘Lady Gaga came to San Diego’.

And. It. Was.  The students loved it. Three days later, and we are all still giddy.

I could not agree more.  Thank you Mr. Ingels.
You intensified the dialogue between students and educators, and showed us how the ‘crazy’ ideas that are developed in studio and propose new typologies for the city are not only possible but timely and welcome. This creates a better learning environment, where pragmatism actually means being part of the solution, not propagating the problem.

I had the same dilemma when working in traditional, corporate offices and found refuge in academia. BIG showed us that there is a third way, the ‘Bigamy’ way. You can have it all. You can be good and successful. You can be extremely famous
and not be arrogant. He spoke of pragmatic idealism, and hedonistic sustainability. He demonstrated how to create building that are fun to experience as inhabitants and city neighbors and yet are sustainable. He showed us the intellectual approach and use of hybridization of traditional typologies to achieve new functions and forms. To wit: the Garbage to Energy plant in the middle of Copenhagen, which will be the city’s tallest structure and will house a ski slope (!) and blow smoke rings each time one ton of CO2 is burned. These are usually ‘crazy’ projects that we see coming from the upper studio division, when we ask the students to ‘dream big’ (pun intended) and question the drab, anti-interactive reality of center cities such as San Diego. The students, deep inside, try to dream but are conditioned to think that projects such as the one we saw in the lecture could never be built due to various factors such as financial interests or politics of control, or even lack of relevance of our role as architects.

We have been liberated from all of this because we can now point to BIG’s projects. Here it was demonstrated that the only limits we have as architects and human beings are those self-imposed, or those we feel ‘reality’ has burdened us with. I know that as faculty we felt validated by BIG’s successes ( does it make sense?). The music and videos, the whole presentation and BIG’s  infectious enthusiasm, warmth and positive energy were, in the words of a student ‘AWESOME’. Another student told me he learned a lot about diagrams from the lecture.
The lecture also was a model for engaging presentations. I have been toying with the idea, but now I am committed to use music and pop references in my History of Architecture classes; I ran the idea with few students and they were all for it. 🙂 I will quote Ingels when he says that we need to ‘cease to consider the building as objects but focus on what they do for the city’ : this informs and generates a new approach to ‘sacred architectural monsters’ and teaching history of architecture (or as I like to think, architectural stories).

A big thank you to Allen Ghaida, the AIAS and all my colleagues at the NewSchool Arts Foundation for making this dream of an event a reality.

I sketched feverishly- and took down all the provocative quotes. Here are my hybrid/computer-augmented notes.

I will add all of the proper building names and location as soon as possible.

click to enlarge

…..and this was my present 🙂

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The Flâneur: A Radical-Chic Icon

The Flâneur. Ink on trace paper. February 26, 2011

The Flâneur and his turtle in the streets of Paris. Digital collage. February 26, 2011. Background photo from San Francisco’s artist David Blumin. Click for his website.



Then I heard the phrase ‘Walk with a turtle’ on NPR, during an interview with Council of Dads’ author Bruce Feiler–and had an epiphany: I, too, had been a flâneuse in my early years. When I was 9 years old I used to tie a red ribbon to the shell of my turtle Stefania/Stefano (we are still not sure) and take her for ‘walks’ around my building and in the field of olive trees nearby. This cannot just be explained by mere coincidence or a sense of equanimity (i would take my giant schnautzer Zorro for walks- or rather, he would take me- and treated Stefania/Stefano to the same). By walking the city (ok , in my case the field of olive trees) at the pace of a tortoise, we are bound to pay attention to life around us, to read the city–not just skim it from the wheel of our car or glancing up from smartphones while we traverse sidewalks. Having a turtle as a guide nudges us to stop rushing. I am reminded of the buddhist monk in the documentary ‘Baraka’, slowly pacing the street with small steps , at the sound of a bell–in the midst of a hyperactive Japanese metropolis. The realization of possible multi-layered readings on the figure of the flaneur prompted a small research.

Historical evidence of The Flâneur? Or just man waiting for his wife? Undated image from: storify.com/virtualdavis/flaneur

The  Flâneur

The term comes from ‘flâner’, which means to stroll in French. From this verb Baudelaire coined the word  flâneur, a person who walks the city in order to experience it.  The flâneur is driven  by an  insatiable  hunger  for  passion; he  seeks  the  streets and  the  city  life  for they  provide  inspiration  and  cure him of the malaise and loneliness  of  being human. He practices mindfulness, or conscious dilly-dallying. In US they would call him a ‘loiterer’, surely shoo him away…or perhaps fine or even jail him (I always tell my students there is no such thing as the word ‘loitering’ in Italian….what else would we do in Piazzas!?). My friend Bruce and I were discussing the flâneur few days ago and he reminded me of  the symbology of the turtle and this quote from Rumi:

The soul needs as much time to wander as the feet.

Rumi

 

Baudelaire writes of the flâneur:

 The  crowd  is  his  element,  as  the  air  is  that  of  birds  and  water  of  fishes.

 His  passion  and passionate  spectator,  it  is  an  immense  joy  to  set  up  house  in  the  heart  of  the  multitude, amid  the  ebb  and  flow  of  movement,  in  the  midst  of  the  fugitive  and  the  infinite.

To  be away  from  home  and  yet  to  feel  oneself  everywhere  at  home;  to  see  the  world,  to  be  at the  centre  of  the  world,  and  yet  to  remain  hidden  from  the  world

impartial  natures which  the  tongue  can  but  clumsily  define.  The  spectator  is  a  prince  who  everywhere  rejoices  in  his  incognito.  The  lover  of  life  makes  the  whole  world  his  family,  just  like  the lover  of  the  fair  sex  who  builds  up  his  family  from  all  the  beautiful  women  that  he  has ever  found,  or  that  are  or  are  not  -­‐  to  be  found;  or  the  lover  of  pictures  who  lives  in  a magical  society  of  dreams  painted  on  canvas.

 

A Process of Navigating Erudition

From Wikipedia: Flâneur is not limited to someone committing the physical act of peripatetic stroll in the Baudelairian sense, but can also include a “complete philosophical way of living and thinking”, and a process of navigating erudition as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s essay on “Why I Walk” in the second edition of The Black Swan (2010).  A Sunday Time review called The Black Swan  one of the twelve most influential books since WWII.

Benjamin  in his Arcades further describes the flâneur utilizes the city,  which becomes an  extension of  his residence:

The   street   becomes   a   dwelling   for   the   flâneur;   he   is   as   much   at   home   among   the facades  of  houses  as  a  citizen  is  in  his  four  walls.  To  him  the  shiny,  enameled  signs  of businesses  are  at  least  as  good  a  wall  ornament  as  an  oil  painting  is  to  the  bourgeois  in his  salon.  The  walls  are  the  desk  against  which  he  presses  his  notebooks;  news-­‐stands are  his  libraries  and  the  terraces  of  cafés  are  the  balconies  from  which  he  looks  down on  his  household  after  his  work  is  done.


Some of the questions I have been thinking about are : Can the flâneur be a flâneuse? Must he or she always haunt the city aloof and alone, or is ‘Flâneurie’ an activity that can be enjoyed in small groups, maybe of separate actors, each with his or her own turtle?

The flâneur is enjoying immense popularity on the Internet and blogosphere, among the hipster and (pseudo)intellectual crowd.  He is radical chic, a gentleman stroller whose eccentricity is afforded to him by indipendent wealth. He is a man of leisure who can make a statement about the bondage of work and busyiness: he is above it and does not need it.
On the other side of the coin, we might re-evaluate the ‘homeless’ people, the figure of the clochard (sounds better in French doesn’t it) as flâneurs without means, but with the same intellect and intent.  They also make the city their living room and library.

In “American Flaneur: The Cosmic Physiognomy of Edgar Allan Poe“, James V. Werner describes how ‘ highly self-aware, and to a certain degree flamboyant and theatrical, dandies of the mid-nineteenth century created scenes through outrageous acts like walking turtles on leashes down the streets of Paris. Such acts exemplify a flâneur’s active participation in and fascination with street life while displaying a critical attitude towards the uniformity, speed, and anonymity of modern life in the city.’

Hmm…Sounds like The Situationists.

A new interpretation of the activities of the flâneur appear in the writings of Guy Debord, the dérive also being a protest against the processes of consumption and capitalism:

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.

–Guy Debord

While the flaneurs practiced ‘aimless wandering’, the Situationists devised processes to purposefully get lost.

There is no English equivalent for the French word flâneur. Cassell’s dictionary defines flâneur as a stroller, saunterer, drifter but none of these terms seems quite accurate. There is no English equivalent for the term, just as there is no Anglo-Saxon counterpart of that essentially Gallic individual, the deliberately aimless pedestrian, unencumbered by any obligation or sense of urgency, who, being French and therefore frugal, wastes nothinincluding his time which he spends with the leisurely discrimination of a gourmet, savoring the multiple flavors of his city.

Cornelia Otis Skinner.

Elegant Wits and Grand Horizontals, 1962

Watching is the chosen pleasure of flâneur. He is an ‘urban stalker’, as Susan Sontag defines him in her 1977 essay On Photography.  Modern flâneurs, let’s arm ourselves with cameras or a moleskine . Let’s pretend we are all ‘The Sartorialist’ and many, many other envoys on particular missions. Would you enjoy the streets of your city if you thought you were spying on someone, an urban detective, privy to secrets no-one else can know? What would the intelligence gathered from today? What stories could you tell(or draw)? What stories would the city reveal to you. There is so much life out there. And buildings are lessons.

Let the urban voyeurism begin.
Here are some useful links:

And, finally, my very own books for Parisian flanerie.

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Ink on paper. February 2011.

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Oh, Valentine

Drawing: Gianni Aiello, Collage: Miti Aiello. February 13, 2011

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Ink on Paper. December 2010.

Ink on Paper. December 2010.

As architects, what we design, truly, is not the shell, but the quality of the negative space we create inside our building.

Funny how envelopes get all the attention, while 99% of the building’s experience is internal.

Surface treatment is a shallow employ, like a beautiful woman with a hideous soul…. the building too needs to ‘cultivate its own inner garden’.

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The Creative License by Danny Gregory. Click for his blog and links!

Everywhere I turn these days i see the word Creativity..could this be a sign …cause I have not been posting that much???

This post is more like…four…but so be it.

The back of the book. Do you dare to be creative?

A dear student let me borrow this fantastic book: The Creative License: Giving yourself permission to be the artist you truly are. What a wonderful title. So this post, like the book is dedicated….

From Danny Gregory's book The Creative License.

This book is full of helpful suggestions, assignments and encouragements for artists, wannabe-artists and artists-to-be.
There are helpful tools, techniques and a great section on negative space. The style reminds me of Michael Nobbs and his ‘Start to Draw Your Life’ [find link to download his e-book here]
I love this quote:

I believe in the energy of art, and through the use of that energy, the artist’s ability to transform his or her life and, by example, the lives of others.

Audrey Flack

Inspired by the ‘sketch your life’ vibe,I finally got around drawing something that has been giving me JOY lately:

Ink and watercolor on paper and tracing paper. A bit of digital manipulation. Feb. 09,2011.

Yes! These magnific Illy concoctions have come to a freezer near you…I love these babies.
I also picked up the Oprah magazine…i do enjoy this publication…as a reader said ‘it brings a little magic into my life’. I devour news and ‘serious’ books ( I love novels, but have started a stack of non-fiction and architecture-related books in the past four years …and I am determined to finish it by the end of the year)…so sometimes Oprah reminds me to feed my spirit. Go ahead and judge:P
This month’s issue caught my eye, for the focus was creativity.
This is the un-quiz I am taking…designed by filmmaker Miranda July and Artist Harrell Fletcher, creators of the website Learning to Love You More. Click for creative assignments!
The results will be uploaded at oprah.com.
If you are so lucky to have an Ipad, you can check out Oprah’s own sketchbook app, SketchBook O.
Here are:
7 WAYS TO SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY:
(from designer Anna Rabinowicz)
1. Read Not a Box by Antoinette Portis
2. Go Outside
3. Start a collection
4. Touch Stuff
5. Travel Solo
6. Go Analog
7. Grab every opportunity
(read about this on this month’s issue of O, the Oprah Magazine)
One of the things I am always reminded of when I read Oprah is to give gratitude. It has been difficult lately, between my hypercritical mind, a full-out technological meltdown and a string of missed yoga classes. Nonetheless, I would like to give a shout out to these three creative individuals who are an inspiration!
1. Ghadah Alkandari @ prettygreenbullet: my blogsister, who elevates blogging to a religion, source of daily inspiration. I love you, woman.

Ghadah Alkandari, Goddess of Daily Goodness. This is her post from February 5,2011. Click to Ghadah.

2. Abbey Ryan @ abbeyryan.com

From Oprah's February Issue: the blog abbeyryan.com. She has posted an oil still life every day since 2007. WOW! Click to find Abbey.

3. St. Loup and his Secrets and Lies
Always thought-provoking…my virtual literary cafe’.

From St. Loup's Secrets and Lies: Maurice Ronnet Le feu Follet - Luis Malle (1963)

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Before the first day of the month comes to a close…

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