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Yesterday I was lucky enough to visit the old section of the town of Vittorio Veneto, in the region of Veneto, in Northeastern Italy. Present-day Vittorio Veneto is the result of the fusion of the municipalities of Ceneda and Serravalle after WWI. 
The photos below are of the old Jewish ghetto of Ceneda, and the centro ( center or downtown) with its villas, park and piazzetta ( small piazza). 


The Church pictured just below was a surprising find: it is the oldest churchsite I have ever visited, and dates from the IV century (!!!).  The Church you see was rebuilt in 1400, a millennium after the first structure was erected. The timing boggles the mind: in 313 CE Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire with the Edict of Milan, and on this site a church was built shortly thereafter. 



Serravalle, like Treviso, the regional center of the prosperous region of Veneto, features frescoes on the façades of buildings. This is something fascinating that I learned during this trip (from my mom, who is from Treviso) Frescoes in Serravalle- a town of Roman origin-were not just relegated to the interior of churches, but graced the buildings’ street elevations and were painted by notable local artists. Most of the palazzi date from the 1400’s. What was depicted on them? Hard to say from what remains in Serravalle. I could discern some courtly scenes  and patterns/coat of arms. Both here and in Treviso, the frescoes were plastered over during one of the bouts of the Plague, in a misguided effort to ‘disinfect’ homes. 

One of the photos depicts the winged lion of Venezia (Venice) on top of a tall pole. This whole area was indeed part of the inland empire of La Serenissima (the most serene) Republic of Venezia.

The best part for me, as a flâneuse was walking through the many porticoes of Serravalle. Enjoy my flâneuring..

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Hello Stranger!

In case you are wondering what happened to me and why I’ve gone M.I.A during the month of February and most of March, the board above is one of the reasons. As it happened in 2010,
our school underwent an enormous accreditation visit, which meant preparing for months collecting, documenting and providing evidences.

One of the best things to come out of the work leading to the Accreditation was that Faculty was once more asked to prepare a record of what we have been doing – outside of teaching- the past five years.
It is a monumental task to audit, select and curate five years of life, work, art – yet I welcome the chance to take stock of where I have been, for it points to where I want to go. This process of self-evaluation is a privilege not afforded to many professions, and I was thankful for the challenge.
We were also asked to write a brief narrative. I worked on this more hours than I care to admit and I am happy to now share this with you: words, drawings and travel photography — some of which hasn’t been seen here yet! Hope you enjoy it.


“The French writer Daniel Pennac describes the notion of  the passeur, of the ‘transmitter’, as intimately connected to the ownership of culture.  He considers pedagogy as a branch of dramaturgy: a great teacher is a playwright, a vector of knowledge who instills curiosity, personifies her subject, and communicates passion. As an academic, designer, artist, and poet , storytelling is central to my work.

When I was six years old, fascinated by a book of folktales of Northern Europe, I decided I wanted to be a collector of legends. Though my path took me to Architecture and Fine Arts, teaching History of Architecture brought me to travel to Latin America, the American Southwest and the Caribbeans  where I began to record the history of place through the stories of its native people, These ‘stories of architecture’ become the framework of my courses. Through drawing, urban sketching, collages, photography, and writing, my preoccupation has been with collecting, documenting, processing and communicating narratives – while letting the spontaneous unfold.”


Miti Aiello, San Diego, March 2016

Writer Update:

My abstract on my research on Storage Cities has been accepted by one of the two main Architecture academic bodies here in the U.S for presentation at their International Conference! They are sending me to Santiago, Chile in June, and will publish my academic paper. Too excited for words. If you want to get a sneak peek and read my abstract check out my academia.edu page.

This is likely a hello/byefornow.
I wanted to update my blog now that classes have ended for the quarter, and before once again leaving for Mexico, this time in Baja California Sur for a week of volunteering. Faculty and students of my school are going to help build a healing center using natural architecture in a location that is three hours away by car from the closest road. It will be very remote, challenging and, I am sure, transforming. I will document everything.

Few weeks ago I wrote that, sometimes, we don’t have time to do art because we are too busy living a life that is art itself.
That is a true blessing, amidst the inherent challenges.

Although I have not posted here, I have not stopped taking photographs, seeing, collecting, thinking. My hope of hopes is to get caught up with my posts this summer…Promises we have heard before…

“You don’t need motivation.
What you need is discipline, young lady!”

Joe

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On Saturday, I participated to Dr. Sketchy San Diego, a fun artistic encounter involving life drawing.
This month’s event was centered around ‘Animal Instinct’ :).

We had a very fun model.
I realized I need these ‘art dates’ to keep me engaged with making art as I find my way back… back to my art studio.
Also, I may just, finally, have found my tribe.

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The sacrificial lamb- an old leather jacket already repaired twice.

The sacrificial lamb- an old leather jacket already repaired twice.

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With my pattern and leather in the Materials Lab, to trace images in Illustrator and experiment with the laser cutting process. “The object feels good if the process feels good.”

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The laser etched leather swatches. Fire drawings…scars…tattoos and cattle branding.

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Preparing for night surgical cutting, tailoring and riveting. And documenting. The whole project came about in three days (Friday to Sunday), but was months in the making (and in the thinking, and in the promising).

 

 

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The prototypes are done!

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Laying out this graphic board illustrating the process took longer than I would like to admit. In the end, it was a process of elimination…which is the secret to design, really.

 

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Exhibit time. Board layout #2 with Illustrator patterns :).

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Project fini. Ready-to-wear, custom-made temporary leather tattoos....by yours truly.

Project fini. Ready-to-wear, custom-made temporary leather tattoos….by yours truly.

 

 

Idea #13: Temporary Leather Tattoos

Experiments with recycled leather, tattoo patterns and the laser cutter in our Materials Lab for the Action/Reaction Faculty show, where students react to faculty work.

I chose to explore these tribal tattoo patterns I drew long ago and finally turn them into ‘temporary’ leather tattoos – since an actual tribal armband tattoo is out of the question (#italianmother).

In the process, I learned how to make leather-on-leather tattoos, used the laser cutter for the first time, hand-cut till my hands were sore, learned how to put rivets, and was taught about vector lines and patterns in lllustrator by my wonderful, patient students.
Thanks to student feedback/critique (which was extremely positive about the artifacts :)) the board could use one more ‘pass’ as far as fonts and background, but I wanted to post this now, as the show is coming to a close.

While researching case studies, I was astonished by the amount of cool accessories, arm bands and earrings made with recycled bike tires and inner tubes.

Etsy, here I come.

 

Here are some photos from the Action|Reaction opening, by Donn Angel Perez, the curator of the show (and author of the beautiful paintings shown), along with student Chuck Wilson

For the opening- in keeping with the recycled/sustainable theme, and to save time 😉 – I projected my board.

 

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…….

littlescreenshot <<<and this, this little guy on my desktop just makes me happy.

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Shift #5

Ali Liebegott

for Seamus Heaney

 

 

a box of coconut water
two cans of coconut milk

so many looking for help

some people care when a poet dies

a poem is a conscience
a report card, a confession:

today my lies were a motor that spun the Earth

how can you get truth from a hill
when I am the continent that drifts?

how can I taste what I’m mourning
when soon everything will be salt from the sea?

 

—8/30/13, Register 6
1 PM—5:15 p.m.

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Builtculture logo. Digital Manipulation. October 2013.

Happy November!

If you have been wondering what I have been up to, I have been here.
Builtculture is a project I have started last year with a graduate student, Samar Sepehri. It is finally taking off.
(If you are so inclined, and feel like Liking our page, please do so!).
I designed our logo, starting from an image of bukhoor, and overlaying over an image of San Diego.
The creative juice have been applied to community outreach, still I was happy to be making something art-like.

Related to this, I have been working on bringing speakers and workshops in the field of community and activist design, such as this:


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Also related to this, I went over the border, to Tjiuana to work on an international project, make connections and do a bit of wine tasting and cultural sightseeing.

I also went to Deer Park Monastery for a Day of Mindfulness.

Photos coming soon.

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You have to keep breaking your heart
until it opens.
Rumi

Without the use of a camera Portland-based artist Jim Kazanjian sifts through a library of some 25,000 images from which he carefully selects the perfect elements to digitally assemble mysterious buildings born from the mind of an architect gone mad. While the architectural and organic pieces seem wildly random and out of place, Kazanjian brings just enough cohesion to each structure to suggest a fictional purpose or story that begs to be told.
Reblogged from here.

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Drawing by Jackie McDowell.

I am posting the first of a series of samples of student work from the exhibit  History of Architecture: Analysis and Synthesis Through Visual Notes. Moving chronologically, today we start with the Beginnings of Architecture.  This body work was completed for the Graduate History of Architecture sequence, comprising of three courses, which i taught during the 2011-2012 school year.

I will also post some photos from the Exhibit.

These visual notes are by Jackie McDowell.

Drawing by Jackie McDowell.

Drawing by Jackie McDowell.

And here is the  paper abstract summarizing the project objectives and research purpose.  The full paper will be presented and published next Spring. 

History of Architecture: Analysis and Synthesis Through Visual Notes

Miti Aiello, Full-Time Faculty

NewSchool of Architecture and Design, San Diego, California

The need to update and make relevant the study of History of Architecture in an evolving profession and academic environment has never been more urgent: our discipline demands not only an expanded scope (mandatory inclusion of global or ‘non-western’ traditions and architecture of the vernacular), but new methods of delivery and course projects that are interdisciplinary, that bridge the divide between studio courses and history and that educate the young practitioner in reading history utilizing the same
methods learned in design practice.

Spiro Kostof, the legendary UC Berkeley architectural historian, advocated giving students “something tangible to carry away to the drafting table”.

It is possible to adopt an educational methodology that questions monumental architecture of the past and the traditional, vernacular “architecture without architects” in the same way as students approach a design problem in studio. Hans Morgenthaler’s “Chronology versus System: Unleashing the Creative Potential of Architectural History” – which served as this paper’s catalyst- denounced the inadequacy of relying on the chronological organization of history and suggested designing the History course as a series of design problems or buildings/events, illustrated through architectural drawings (the language of our profession) and not photos. History of Architecture instructors are encouraged to “occupy themselves simultaneously with the study of the past, with critique, and with invention”.

The argument for learning history through drawing, in this case in the form of student-generated visual notes based on textbook reading is related to the ‘invention’ mentioned above and supported by Morgenthaler: “This approach derives from the understanding that a drawing is capable of communicating information about buildings impossible through other means. In addition, as a subjective record, drawings could become part of the history of ideas, as opposed to photographs, which are only evidence. Moreover, drawings express the “belief in architectural precedent and typology which gave relevance to history.” Rachael McCann in her “Exploding the History Survey” also introduced ‘graphic summary pages’ as active inquiry in her course at Mississippi State University, breaking down her large lecture course in smaller sections which would investigate a question brought forth by a particular building, through visual analysis. It is clear that History of Architecture lecturers are seeking novel, more critical models to articulate the course, and better narrate “a story of architecture”.

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Another month rushed by, seemingly accelerating towards the end, as though sprinting to the finish line. The year’s end. Another year.

This past month brought also new beginnings and renewals. Just like accountants, professors measure years differently from the general public.

So this, other, new year that starts with the fall -the harvest- brought Spring in October : experimental mixed media and history courses, new energy, enthusiastic and curious students, expanded involvement, new projects and many welcome social occasions…and always, the company and camaraderie of my gentle and wise kin.
I love my job and feel so blessed. (I have just been given a Service Award for Five Years of outstanding contribution to the school, celebrate good times..)

I hosted my very first reception for my Graduate students’ work in the History of Architecture course this last week. The title of the exhibition was

‘ History of Architecture: Analysis and Synthesis through Visual Notes’.
My past students’ critical, and sometimes lyrical and poetic work –their beautifully rendered drawings, sketches and diagrams–have been gracing the halls of my school and received much acclaim. This body of work and research into this alternative method for teaching history is the topic of a forthcoming paper, which I will present in the Spring.

I am also launching a project called Builtculture, which I will be editing. This is something I have been working on for few months along with a stellar Graduate student of mine, Samar Sepehri. Builtculture is a repository for lectures and cultural events happening in San Diego and the So-Cal region, for the architecture and urban design discriminating aficionados. It exists in form of a facebook page for now, but will soon morph into a simple yet useful calendar site–as soon as I can catch my breath.

Planning to post photos of the Visual Notes Exhibit next week -need to scan few more examples and ‘teasers’- and to share Builtculture when it is ready too. I am thinking about adding an Academic section to my work site, Archistdesign, for such endeavors.

All of this to say, really, is that my full-time job and volunteering [ for community build and garden build projects , I have learned to build a deck and plaster, aka architecture for social purpose … yes!] have taken ahold of my heart and days  lately, and my art has had to wait.
I also (also!) will have my poetry published. New poems have been brewing and blooming, maybe I will share one later tonight.

I know that there are few of you who follow these ramblings of mine , who gently coax me when I have not posted for a while, and wanted to reach out and declare that I do not want this to be a ‘ travel blog’ , a dalliance…but that I also have to make peace with the fact that I am nor cannot be a a full-time writer, poet or artist, (although I would embrace these lives and crafts in a heartbeat, teaching is my calling) and that I cannot post or work on my art everyday. Life itself needs to be explored, precious work completed, books need to be read, and body, soul, and spirit nurtured daily. Perhaps, I have been given too many passions for just one life. These are heavy gifts and Chet Baker sings ‘I fall in love too easily’…

Before biding my hopefully brief adieu, here is a poem that I recently found among old correspondence.
It is nice to be old enough to have that.. Speaking of correspondence, see ‘ Young Goethe in Love’. I died.


The Undertaking

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime .

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime .

There you are — cased in clean bark you drift through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton.

You are free.

The river films with lilies, shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm.

And now all fear gives way: the light looks after you, you feel the waves’ goodwill as arms widen over the water;

Love, the key is turned.

Extend yourself —it is the Nile, the sun is shining, everywhere you turn is luck.

Louise Glück

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Ink drawing of The Age of Enlightenment – Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breuteuil, Marquise de Châtelet, 2008 by Yinka Shonibare, MBE



There are particular nights, small time frames, where everything you want, and, yes -everything you need- is given to you.

You watch your life unfolding perfectly, like a well-written screenplay of a comedy of errors, where the characters, after a series of ‘harrowing events’ and near misses, find each other at last. These nights you believe in signs, and that there are no coincidences.

I am not saying that life or love have a happy ending, but some days do.

Last Friday, the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park hosted an extraordinary event, part of their Summer Salon Series (inspired by the tradition of French literary and cultural salons). This event was a 36 Hour ‘continued’ Salon taking place in the museum’s galleries (open consecutively for 36 hours…I will never forget contemplating Egon Schiele at 2 in the morning), auditorium, and outdoors in the sculpture garden.

Needless to say, the collection of happenings taking place ranged from the superb to the surreal. Wandering in the museum galleries in the wee hours of night with other artists, revellers and cool types felt very subversive and….Big City.

A Yes Men lecture, an avant-garde play on self-loop for four hours, museum tours, German Expressionist Cinema, ambient music with obligatory trippy visualizations, live bands, a napping station plen air, stargazing on the lawn of the sculpture garden, drawing dreams and nightmares and, my favorite, a marching band in which us, the audience, were given a makeshift instrument and played (and marched) directed by the one-man band’s crazy frontman.

The general feeling of anarchy, and being caught between confusion/freedom/disbelief/engagement made this event very Dada, or something the Situationists would have conjured up…

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During a lecture, I drew one of the pieces on display {above}. you can find a photo of the piece here.

From the museum’s literature: The Age of Enlightenment – Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breuteuil, Marquise de Châtelet, is from a series of five figures depicting notable philosophers from the eighteenth century. The marquise, fluent in several languages and an accomplished mathematician and physicist, personified the “enlightened” person. Her lasting legacy is the translation and critique of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica that is still used to this day. Despite the fact that the Marquise de Châtelet was a leading mind of eighteenth-century France, much of her work was overlooked because of her gender. Her most famous lover, Voltaire, described her as a ‘great man’ whose only fault was being a woman.

I like to think that the Marquise is headless because she has never been recognized for her work and her name is virtually unknown.

She has been deliberately omitted in the annals of His-tory.

The fabric of her dress also tells a fascinating story of colonialism and the fallacy of ‘tradition’.

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‘Habana is very much like a rose,’ said Fico Fellove in the movie The Lost City,

‘it has petals and it has thorns…so it depends on how you grab it.

But in the end it always grabs you.’


“One of the most beautiful cities in the world. You see it with your heart.”

Enrique Nunez Del Valle, Paladar Owner

Habana’s real essence is so difficult to pin down. Plenty of writers have had a try, though; Cuban intellectual Alejo Carpentier nicknamed Habana the ‘city of columns,’ Federico Llorca declared that he had spent the best days of his life there and Graham Greene concluded that Habana was a city where ‘anything was possible.’

ARCHITECTURE

Habana is, without doubt, one of the most attractive and architecturally diverse cities in the world. Shaped by a colorful colonial history  and embellished by myriad foreign influences from as far afield as Italy and Morocco, the Cuban capital gracefully combines Mudéjar, baroque, neoclassical, art nouveau, art deco and modernist architectural styles into a visually striking whole.

But it’s not all sweeping vistas and tree-lined boulevards. Habana doesn’t have the architectural uniformity of Paris or the instant knock-out appeal of Rome. Indeed, two decades of economic austerity has meant many of the city’s finest buildings have been left to festering an advanced state of dilapidation. Furthermore, attempting to classify Habana’s houses,palaces, churches and forts as a single architectural entity is extremely difficult.

Cuban building – rather like its music – is unusually diverse. Blending Spanish colonial with French belle epoque, and Italian Renaissance with Gaudi-esque art nouveau, the over-riding picture is often one of eclecticism run wild.

Brendan Sainsbury


















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San Diego, November 25, 2011. Third Avenue Pedestrian Bridge.

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San Diego, November 25, 2011. Third Avenue bridge and context (canyon).

Bridge, De-constructed.

” In recent years , the modern understanding of social responsibility as functional program has been superseded by a concern for context. But contextualism has been used as an excuse for mediocrity, for a dumb servility within the familiar. Since deconstructivist architecture seeks the unfamiliar within the familiar, it displaces the context rather than acquiesce to it. What makes it disturbing is the way deconstructivist architecture finds the unfamiliar already hidden within the familiar context. By its intervention, elements of the context become defamiliarized. In one project, towers are turned over on their sides, while in others, bridges are tilted up to become towers.”

Mark Wigley

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Architecture Depends by Jeremy Till Book cover

On April 08, 2011 I attended Till’s  provocative  lecture on his new book ‘Architecture Depends’. Here is a review from The Architects’ Journal (UK).

Here are some quotes from that day, from my notes, which i hope to be as faithful as possible:

The book was initially titled ‘Architecture and Contingencies’. The publisher made me change it to ‘Architecture Depends’. There are problems changing the title of a book once it is finished- and structured around a different title.

This book is a polemic. Architects detach themselves.  This detachment starts here in academia. Architecture students go in as humans and come back as architects.

Architects are separate from life. Autonomy in architecture is detachment.We witness the treatment of buildings as though they are detached objects, displayed in the media as something apart. This detachment is a dissolution.

All we got is Vitruvius: commodity, firmness, delight. Recycled through the ages!

Of all the impossible task that modernity sets for itself, order stands out. How does modernity achieve order? By exterminating ambivalence. Modernity is behind the Holocaust.

Corbu didn’t invent modernity. He was a symptom of it.

Modernity cannot get rid of contingency.

Contingency is getting rid of the idea that things may turn out differently. In architecture contingency is inevitable.

Architects would be banished by Plato.

Contingency makes us have to make choices.

Abstract vs. situated knowledge.

“All architecture is waste in transit.” Peter Guthrie

Le Courbusier tried to banish domestic inhabitation.

Parametric people are as conservative as the New Urbanists, the latter caught in an aggressive past, the former in a progressive future .

Modernity: concerned with purity, the color white…modernity is this gleaning table with this aesthetic of getting rid of dirt.

‘You don’t know how wonderful dirt is.’ James Joyce’s last words, from Gideon’s biography.

Architects ‘make space’…negative space…what does that even mean?

‘Social space is a social product’. Henri Lefebvre

The production of space is not the agency of architecture alone!

Sustainability=sustain the status quo. This word has become meaningless.

Elvis Costello and Lo-Fi architecture: I heard Elvis Costello once in an interview saying that when you record in the studio you get caught up in a certain kind of environment. He would ask to have the record played back on a cheap transistor radio, because that’s how the music is going to be experienced by most people. The same with architecture. We have to have in mind low-fi, transistor radio architecture as we stay in front of the computer, believing what we see. The more it looks real the less real it is.

Architecture cannot be about aesthetic alone: it deals with the social and ethical. It has to be alert to the context.

I don’t like to use pictures in my presentations because, as soon as I provide pictures, the argument becomes about aesthetic.

Professions set themselves apart by setting up problems they are the only ones able to solve. Professors do the same.

‘Architecture and Agency’ will be my next book.

Sensemaking vs. problemsolving.

In architecture we have created phony ethics, we have associated ethics with aesthetics, morality with beauty…God is in the detail, etc.

Doing good by doing beautiful buildings?

Professional codes of conducts are an example of phony ethics: these are not ethical guidelines, they are principles for relating to the client.

You can’t be ethical by doing beautiful buildings! You have to assume an ethical stance, a responsibility for the other. If we start thinking that every line on a piece of paper is an act of social responsibility, then every line assumes significance.

I am against ‘Anyone is Anyone’ conferences.

From the paper ‘Lost Judgement’ from the 2003 EEAA Prize by Jeremy Till – and referred to during the talk:

The Other for architects is the one or ones who will be part of the social space our buildings help construct. In this way we can be the architects Unger would wish us to be, “enabling people as individuals and as groups to express themselves by changing their situations. …(the architect) lives out his transformative vocation by assisting someone else’s.”

An ethical person is a person who gathers discordant opinions and makes the best decision. Hope is with given given circumstances. Stop investing in objects.

The next project I will do will be on scarcity. Scarcity is much more interesting to me.

Architects sold out the profession to the agency of Capitalism. In building Dubai they forgot it was going to be built by slave labor. If all you offer is commodity you have got nothing to offer. Spatial intelligence will get us away from the cul-de-sac we got ourselves into. We should be gathering contingencies and make the best possible solutions.

I like to think of architects as angels with dirty faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ink on Paper. January 2011.

 

As designers, architects, artists, we use the ability to first visualize then communicate  a desired outcome. Implementation means having the courage, discipline and perseverance  to  bring that vision into the physical realm. I love to write, and to write lists, but this year I am doing something different with my 2011 resolutions. I am drawing them. It sems to be working. On good days, and they are abundant here in San Diego, you can find me in the park, chasing the sun and reading. An old-school physical book.  The previous specifications is now necessary due to the variety of reading options we have (what is your pleasure, or rather, your poison: smartphone, kindle, ipad, TMZ on your laptop?). These are my immediate, must-finish charges: 

Ink on paper. February 2011.

Books:

Inchoate: An Experiment in Architectural Education. Angelil, Marc and Liat Uziyel, eds.

The Architect: Chapters in the History of the Profession by Spiro Kostof

Sketching and meditating. Two resolutions, perhaps one and the same.  

Ink on Paper. January 2011.

 

Pondering on drawing, as opposed to writing, resolutions led me to think about visual vs. written and oral communication.

While drawing-or diagramming-a goal may help provide us with clues, visual or other, that help us actualize it, I don’t buy the argument that ‘visual’ people can only best communicate their intent through images. This is also known as ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ syndrome. By the same token, I refuse to accept that ‘visual’ people only understand material if it’s accompanied by images and therefore should be excused if they are poor readers or listeners. That is plain laziness. There are notions and topics  in this world that cannot be boiled down to neat Powerpoints (even though, heaven knows, we have tried to even run wars through the ubiquitous slide application), but require flight of the imagination, suspension of disbelief, and the ability to follow (picture-less) complex arguments. In trying to explain critical thinking, images run the risk of appearing like obtrusive clip-arts, obfuscating rather than enlightening.

The tyranny of the visual often lets us  get away with having inferior written and oral communication skills. I don’t buy the ‘visual’ doctrine (or fallacy) with my students or my architecture colleagues. Maybe it’s because I come from a linguistic lycaeum, was an English Minor, and come from Italy, but the way a person speaks or writes is more important to me, or revealing of their character, than any imagery or composition she or he can conjure up on a board. And here I need to say that, lest I behave like a whitened sepulcher, I know I have failings when trying to communicate: typos due to late night writing, listitis (I make too many lists), lectures that tend to go on a tangent and probably what is called mild A.D.D in this country (or severe A.D.D…depending on what day you ask my students;)). Lastly the fact that, no matter how many years I live here, my soul is Italian and so is the way to express myself, and we do use lot of what here are called ‘run-ons’ in writing, and perhaps even talking. We are peripatetic, scenic-route communicators.

Ok, so I am not perfect: let the flawed still admire and aim at beauty.

I ask the person I listen to to paint a convincing, even seductive picture with their words, to evoke the sense and meaning of their process. Of course exact,clear words go well with exact, clear drawings and diagrams, but seductive images without substantive explanations or clear, logical statements leave me dry. The literary arts are for the most part lost to modern architecture students, beyond the required ‘humanities’  and enticing (but seldom frequented) advanced elective courses. The result is professionals who are literate in CAD, codes, building, or even ‘architecture’, but illiterate in the sense of the global collective written word, and therefore culture. Shouldn’t the designers of shelters for the human race understand its most lyrical expressions?  Shouldn’t they design for man and woman’s highest aspiration, rather than the lowest common denominator? We ask architects to create places of Beauty, places that inspire, to design poetic aedifices. Without knowing what poetry is, without at least having been exposed to it, that is an impossible feat. If architecture is the Mother of all the Arts, should it not contain them? Literature, philosophy, liberal arts, music…Where are you Muses in our curricula? We have modified –and are moving towards transforming–the academic requirements for the make-up of the future architect based on the needs (vocational at best ) of field practice, a large number made up by corporate building farms, where architecture is just a sign on the door. Of course we aim for graduates ready to enter the profession, but hopefully we are also aiming for critical thinkers, whole individuals who can inspire, not just perform.  What should lead, follows. The trend can only go downward. I am talking about cad monkeys, or people who are paid ‘to draw, not think’ –I was actually told that many years ago. Call me irrational,  but I call for mandatory poetry courses (mandatory poetry! an oximoron). Call me utopian, but world literature should be as much part of an architecture curriculum as world architecture. When you know, you cannot unknow. I always say that. When you are exposed to possibilities and ‘big questions’ you cannot accept passively that things are just the way they are because they have always been. Poetry and literature are democratic expressions, highly dangerous to the status quo. And therefore highly desirable.

In my quest, I ran into this book. I am collecting a body of critical readings (for myself!) and this book will definitely be included.

Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in 20th Century French Thought, by Martin Jay

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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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