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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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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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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” In recent years , the modern understanding of social responsibility as functional program has been superseded by a concern for context.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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C'est fini! Here is the Fabric City on a backpack. The writing was done with 3D Fabric paint. June 25, 2011.

Back of The City. Fabric and thread. June 2011.

The reverse side of “The City” reminds me of a Situationist psychogeographic map. I toyed with the idea of letting go of all the work on the map and apply this abstract work on the backback. This would have been the gutsy thing to do but, in the end , i couldn’t let go of the work.

Guy Debord, c. 1955. Psychogeographic guide of Paris.

 

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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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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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