“it’s not finished… it’s finished”

27 Sep

It’s gone, the thesis is finally handed in, under the title:

Discourse 2.0 or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog.

Yeah, well if you thought of better, you should have spoken up! I only managed to cram in about 50% of the research – particularly the statistical data – with which I was so kindly furnished, and much less of the peripatetic reading that I put myself through. Nonetheless I don’t regret any of it, nor any of the rabbit-holes I fell into during the process. If you’d like to see a copy of Discourse 2.0 [HILTSWALTB] please let me know, I’ll edit all the bits where I say mean things about you and send forthwith.

But no, in seriousness: my profound thanks to: Tim Abrahams, David Basulto, Mario Carpo, Joseph Grima, Sam Jacob, Peter Kelly, Cathy Lang Ho, Kieran Long, Geoff Manaugh, Douglas Murphy, Steve Parnell, Enrique Ramirez, Cassim Shepard, Roberto Zancan, Mirko Zardini and several others who will be thanked elsewhere and in more private ways.

Also my brilliant classmates, with whom it has been an honour to study and with whom I also look forward to exploring lots of new roads. Not least, in fact my biggest love to our tutors, most of all Marina Lathouri, whom you should all know and hold in highest estimation. Like the scariest smartness and the nicest mumsiness rolled into one, with cappuccinos, Talking Heads and extra giggles on top.

Thanks all!

andsothenwhat?!

down with thinking

18 Sep
.. it became too easy

... the writing's on the wall, (for) you guys..

studying this subject (i.e. that of blogs, everyman voices, alternatives – supposedly – to the establishment) has had an effect, and effected certain decisions. my thesis contains hardly any reference to the usual suspects, that is to say: derrida, deleuze, baudrillard, foucault (oh maybe, as you’ll see), barthes, spinoza, latour, sloterdijk AND THE REST!!!! it was sort of an unconscious, unwilling decision at first. i wanted to concentrate on the topic rather than.. underpin or validate everything i was saying by bringing out the big guns.

and then i went through phases of profound unsettled guilt (these continue to recur)  – i mean, i’m handing a paper in at the AA, how can i ignore the whole critical theory lexicon? as enrique ramirez and i chatted about it a few weeks ago, how easy is it to find a student theory paper these that DOESN’T mention, let’s say, Foucault’s Heterotopia? until ironically or poetically, in a nervous moment of browsing through the big man himself, i found:

We must renounce all those themes whose function is to ensure the infinite continuity of discourse and its secret presence to itself in the interplay of a constantly recurring absence. We must be ready to receive every moment of discourse in its sudden irruption; in that punctuality in which it appears, and in that temporal dispersion that enables it to be repeated, known, forgotten, transformed, utterly erased, and hidden, far from all view, in the dust of books. Discourse must not be referred to the distant presence of the origin, but treated as and when it occurs.


serendipity

(warm thanks to roberto zancan for awesome photo..)

quick thought apres-cigarette:

11 Sep

Little über-rant, rapidly expelled in the heady nausea of a post-stress-cigarette – listen, if it sounds like utter rubbish in the next lines, be a friend goddammit and let me know!

What is specifically “architectural” theory?
Is it the theorisation of the methods and modes of construction and built objects? Does this take into account the methods and modes of construction of intangible or subtle built objects – such as the construction of discourse, of interfaces, the construction of a public, the construction of society ..
Hadn’t this – or doesn’t this already – overlap (in reverse order) with the construction of infrastructures, of cities, of spaces of encounter, of dining rooms?

Let alone the spaces of production and construction themselves, which are forever altered, specifically by the inferred intangible modes of “construction and building” that is to say, by the changed and changing modes of communication and expression?

—-

ps: please don’t substitute “communication” for “technology” in your head; you’re making it too easy on yourself if you do.
pps: maybe fun to substitute theory for discourse in the first line, dunno, just tried it.
ppps: what’s with the substitutions?!

—-

Okay less fresh-from-cigarette, I persisted in arguing some points of the above questions with a friend; only continue if any of the above piqued your interest, I’m posting segments of our conversation here for my record of an extremely socratic but ephemeral webchat:

Q: is this an important question for you?

A: i guess. sort of. i think it’s a given that we accept architectural theory as an entity, composed of the historiographic text produced by, for, and about architecture. [otherwise we wouldn’t have a course]
and if we accept the centrality of texts or rather, the practice of writing to architectural discourse and theory.. then the formats of such writing, texts and discourse needs must be analysed, right?
i mean that’s obvious, isn’t it?

Q: i think of a professor from university who said: “relationships are cheap” in the sense that one can almost always find a parallel, analogy, relationship, link etc between any two things so, to illustrate why this “taking into account” is interesting is crucial. i think.. i’m not yet sure where the parallels in ‘construction’ of all those things are.. useful, interesting or insightful.

A: ah ok. its the parallels in construction. ok, to start at the beginning, or rather, to pick up on that: i agree with your nameless professor. parallels are easy and to my mind some sort of post-post-modernism (?? yes, i just said that: whatevs)
ok, so it’s simple; one speaks in a sort of tectonic language to describe these non-architectural things all the time. In fact if you google “architecture”, you won’t find architecture at the top necessarily; it could just as easily be web architecture or that of other softwares. Web-SITEs are inherently architectural, cyberspace is spatial, a site has a map and a structure and usually a HOME page. ok, and that’s just web stuff: we can talk about the architecture or structure of society or you know, government; the construction of networks; building of a database.
i think the ways in which these things are “built” (not just how those words are used in parallels, but the actual “methods of construction”) are almost certainly reflective and influential in the way we think about the construction or use of physical space. which is of course a “real” architect’s remit. simple example: when considering the layout of a “production space”.. what do you need now? a cotton jenny? An engine room? A well-lit Fordist shed? an iphone and a beanbag?

Q: does the use of architectural terminology actually change anything about the way we think about ‘society’, ‘government’ etc or not?

A: i was thinking more the other way round, as that’s my business. but yes, it’s easier to see (or perhaps easier to miss..) the way you have suggested it there. (but) it’s not about the terminology!! or the linguistics.
Thinking about the way we ‘construct’ (or whatever) society, government, friendship etc etc, the way we construct lives perhaps, in terms of how they might affect the process of architecture.
And if those processes, let’s say for ease that they are communication-based processes (we could also differentiate knowledge-based processes, or information-based processes) are affecting architectural production.. it makes sense to be thinking about the process of communicating ideas about architecture (that one seems elementary)
and here i think i get into a little feedback loop of some kind

Q: ok so i don’t know if i can yet substantiate this idea (maybe you can), but where you talk about substituting discourse for theory could one also substitute ‘form’ architectural forms themselves as evoking a social, institutional, psychological, or some other reality.

A: well yes.. that is what i mean. both architectural forms and the formation (if you like, rather than theory or discourse) of architecture. is that what you meant?

Q: so, to clear this up then: how is the ‘process of architecture’ defined? what do you mean when you say it?

A: haha it’s not; neither the process nor the discipline (nor in fact the practice, increasingly) is defined..
yet, i suppose we can agree that a process of architecture (perhaps rather than building or construction) implies an element of research, thinking, drawing upon the historiography of architecture, and ultimately designing. all the parts i describe are i suppose after a “tender” has been awarded, i.e. the legitimised or (capitally) sanctified practice of architecture! (or for paper architecture). also one might argue that consultation with the site, with the clients, with the context comes under research

Q: but i think the question is important (for me), because the construction of (say) ‘society is not a technical process in the sense that architecture (as defined here) is; in the sense that the construction of discourses, societies, interfaces etc is a joint, complex multi-authored process, without necessarily an objective, but as the cumulative product of many different happenings

A: sure, well exactly: that’s kind of my point.

Q: how can it be your point if you don’t answer the question!

A:  who said my point had to be an answer?!! i think it was always going to be a rhetorical question, but you’re right not to treat is as one. So, what, the answer to <> i don’t think i would answer that, definitively. my POINT being.. well – perhaps we can think about it this way: while naturally society occasions its own chaotic or organic structures, networks etc.. we have been used to restricted, authored or at the very least, enclosed paradigms of cultural (and to a large extent, capital) production.. this is 1.0, 2.0 stuff
take the mass media; that which is suppposed to address, inform and reflect the public. tv, radio, papers – all a one-to-many relationship with their public/s. All, of course, have many authors, but one “body” from which they exude their product. A one-way (pretty much), and one to many source of authored content. surely that has an impact on all sorts of other things.. (head is melting a bit)
for example, design, or design criticism, or for example, pedagogy. so, thinking about architecture, or the relationship of the built environment.. surely this echoes the one-to-many culture we are in. except that that is changing..
what i can’t answer is what the effects will be…
i think this particular thread of conversation is dealing only with authorship, which is fine but only partial – To break for a moment, but not to leave the subject entirely – another facet is not just the ratio of communication, but the actual quality of it. to zoom closer, into a facet of a facet, the rise of social media, the nature of blogs and the proliferation of microblogging, such as twitter – especially because these are not always bidirectional relationships (i.e. twitter is “open”, you don’t have to be “friended” or approved for the most part) – has led to a phenomenal increase in the PHATIC quality of communication
what does THAT do? it is bound to have an effect; it’s just bound to!

but what?

Ack! A blogroll in a blogpost

8 Sep

Fans and lovers!
It’s been a month! Now twelve days to go! Not sure if I will post intensively but today I am, both to excuse myself and to get my head around what I’ve been doing.

A chat with Jack Self about 4-5 weeks ago crystallised a few things for me; instead of trying to locate my thesis in the established realms of reading, writing and publishing, it was necessary to step outside of it and recognise I am dealing with a still-blurry new thing. That turned things on their head, because from then on I set out to conduct some not-so-systematic research, talking to as many architectural bloggers as possible, for as long as they were kind enough to give me. I didn’t ask their permission to do so, so I won’t publish the full transcripts here – I might slap some extracts up in order to refine/define what I’m going to use in my paper. But do let me take this near-silent opportunity to express my heartfelt THANKS to all the kind men who gave me time and wisdom, greedily filched by me from their industrious days. If you, dear reader, are interested in any of our conversations – and well you might be, they were great – get in touch and we’ll see what we can do. Same goes for any of you publishing houses.. if you steal this idea and come up with some cheap-format book, Imma kick you in the ass. Serious.

Scary, innit

I feel like Hans Ulrich Obrist

So, warmest hugs of gratitude and itchy-fingered anticipation for the application of my conversations with (in chronological order):

1) Joseph Grima, of domus.web and founder of Postopolis
I visited Joseph in the Rozzano offices outside of Milan, to speak with him about his take and experiences with working on such an established and prestigious magazine such as Domus on the web. I visited after a couple of days teaching in a summer workshop in Venice IUAV; never was it so clear to me that particularly Italy is entrenched in an historic legacy of traditional architectural discourse and presentation. We chatted about Domus on the internet, about the coexistence of print and digital media, and about the circumstances which formed Postopolis, pulling the architectural and urban blogosphere (bleurgh) out from behind the flatscreen and into real life exchange.

2) Sam Jacob, partner at FAT Architects and blogger at strangeharvest.com
Sam is one of the few bloggers I spoke to who is also a practicing architect, so we spoke about blogging as part of a personal practice; about the different modes of working on interests; about the nature of reading and lots more..

3) Mario Carpo, whom you really ought to know by now
This was less an interview, more a cup of tea and lovely, rambling chat; (if you’ve read anything else on this blog you will know that) Mario has much to say on the parallels between the birth of the printing press and the dissemination of architectural thought today, as well as the only clear definition of  Web 2.0 that I’ve ever received. The distillations from this conversation will run deep and long after submission..

3) Geoff Manaugh, of BLDGBLOG and much precipitated fame besides.
It was almost mandatory to speak to Geoff, as he epitomises the unprecedented success of a true architecturally motivated blog; he now teaches at Columbia and the University of Southern California and recently completed a residency at CCA. We talked candidly about his experiences and trajectories as a writer working in a blog format, and about how that becomes a valid practice

4) Steve Parnell, of The Sesquipedalist and previously aka Norman Blogster (R.I.P)
Steve is a former architectural practitioner and current scholar/educator; he was pulled into the world of architectural magazines via his candid, cynical blogging as Norman Blogster, a fictional and long-suffering jobbing architect. We discussed the merits of putting yourself out there, how content changes over the lifespan of a blog, how to blag (not blog!) books and what the technical limitations of format appear to be.

5) Douglas Murphy, of entschwindet und vergeht
A relative newcomer to me, and the other practicing architect among the many I spoke to; Douglas’ particularly poetic and personal approach led me to ask him why he decided to jump into the already busy pool of architectural blogging, and where it might lead.

6) Enrique Ramirez, of aggregat456
Enrique is an architectural historian who blogs his incredibly scholarly musings online – in parallel but not in conjunction with his PhD studies at Princeton; we talked about his evolution as a practitioner in terms of writing and research, the widespread disdain for the term “blog” and different ideas of value. Also, a really insightful tangent on exploitation within architectural publishing..
swiftly followed by..

7) David Basulto of archdaily.com (and perhaps more crucially, the spanish-language plataforma.. sites)
.. who totally blew me away with his eloquent critical and highly politicised stance on architectural media, coming from a site that I have to confess, I do not frequent that often. As the founder of what is currently the highest-viewed architectural website in the world, I guarantee his agenda is totally different to any of the above – but not in the ways that you might think, which made our chat particularly fruitful.

viii) Cassim Shepard, of urbanomnibus.net
..who pretty much taught me how to blog and set up this thesis in the first place. Cassim is the only person I spoke to who runs a website or blog under the wings of an established (though not state-funded) institution, in his case the Architectural League in New York. We spoke about the notion of publics, the need for editorial rigour and the reasons for rising public interest in urban issues and the built environment.

I would still love to speak with Kazys Varnelis of varnelis.net (no link – links come with participation, K-Roc!), but already, what a great collection of thinkers and doers! What I have to do now is synthesize our conversations such that I can do justice to their insight and time, and to the kindness and generosity with which they shared it.

Brr… no pressure!

Once upon a time

16 Aug

Maybe I should start from a historical or narrative perspective. Once upon a time – way back in the twenty first century, the world was totally crowded with chatter. Every one could show everybody else what they had been looking at, and if one found something fascinating, there was no need to bear the shock of fascination alone. In a (click) the object of their desire – or ire or interest – could be held aloft for all to see, singled out and not only this; the exact nature of interest could also be shared, was welcomed, all were invited to the trial.

Alternatively, if one was bored, well, there was no need to rely on the singular potential of one’s own mind to channel the stimulus, nor for one’s body to consult with other bodies or spaces to get some help. Very easily and quickly ones specific interest could be met, shared, added to, spun around and enlarged, often to encompass what was hitherto unimaginable.

Like alcohol there must have been a maximum fermentation point, and also the risk of intoxication.

Or maybe it was something more like the historic game of Tetris; as the tiny glowing bricks came down, each held a promise of connecting to others and thereby making a whole, a contingent structure. But occasionally they stacked up, an isolated, non-sensical gridlock of fragmented voices, confounding the seeker trying to find a pattern.

click to play the game...

Ceci n’est pas l’architecture

8 Aug

[Apologies, fans & muses, for my absence]

I have spent the last few hours chewing through Kester Rattenbury’s book, a collection of essays entitled “This is Not Architecture” (2009). It is one of the few I have found published, that deals exclusively with contemporary architectural media [no doubt because I don’t know enough – point me towards others if you do!]
I’m not allowed to embed things here for now but click the picture to go the googlebooks page. 

Most of what I’ve read so far discusses visual representation of architecture – both in terms of production and dissemination – in somewhat greater depth than that of text, writing, or verbal discourse. Instead the book purports to let the breadth of writing styles apparent in the many essays speak on behalf of the variegation of voices to be acknowledged on this topic.

For the first few minutes of reading Kester’s introduction, I played with switching the word “representation” for something like “discussion” or even “literature”. Of course, the positions of image and text have contributed entirely unique effects and each has their own field – this was just a game of word substitution. So, changing every occurence of the word “representation” to the verbal realm, and correspondingly using “representation” to stand in place of the “verbal” references of writing & literature. I’ll try to upload a photoshopped result of my game below later, until then you can try it yourself with this low-rent screengrab of a sample paragraph. 

[Needless to say after playing my game for a bit, I had to go back and start again, this time reading the words as they were expertly placed.] 
Kester’s own chapter in the book – an account of the political ministrations & mediations of the architectural press and establishment during the British 1980s – has given me a slap around the face, with regards to tackling the political potential of blogs.. and the res publica.. pushing me to climb the Habermas edifice at last?!!

Reading & Transmitting: Half-baked cookies

3 Aug

So then…

Via Mario Carpo’s text,  we were discussing the notion of primacy of (architectural) text, superceded or forever conjoined by image.. in particular Alberti’s ‘dictum’, that despite his championing of drawing as an architectural process, and showing much enthusiasm for the visual, he wished for his architectural treatise never to be illustrated..

1. So is that the moment when text gains the authority, the upper hand forever more? Works of scholarship, i.e. those of words, whether or not they are accompanied by frivolous or useful images, receive the prestigious status that defined the architect as a belletrist, a “man of letters”? 

2. Coming back to blogs as a paradigm:

If we define that the interactive or exchange potential of blogs is the crux of their critical faculty – for without that potential for exchange and interconnection, they are simply isolated, individuated assemblages – fragments of ideas and broken, rhizomatic or synaptic trajectories..

2.1 .. Let us consider for a moment the nature of those trajectories, in terms of media. I was thinking about blogs, and their discourse, as the re-emergence of text as the critical media through which ideas are transmitted. Because there are such sites which act as galleries and image banks, but the critical capacity emerges only when these are selected/curated/elaborated and critically, verbally discussed. But content does not have to be purely alphabetical; even if the code ends up as a form of text, it is increasingly easier (and less reliant on text interfaces) to incorporate media such as video and image into an exchange of ideas. 

Fittingly the field of communications technology points the way towards where this might lead, in terms of discourse. Small programs which perform increasingly sophisticated functions are now a highly commodified notion; I’m thinking directly of [iPhone] apps. For the most part, consumers share, purchase or download “apps” or applications to use them as their name suggests; applying them to perform a certain function. Looking at the increasing – and increasing in the sense of amoebic, rhizomatic, synaptic – community of developers, and companies who produce products, applications, soft and hardwares both for and with their ‘base’ of developers, we can identify a new method of production, that is to say one of “Open Source”. 

(Perhaps not so new: there was a interesting-lite article in The Sunday Times Magazine about the Grateful Dead’s reciprocal relationship with their fanbase, the Deadheads, in helping to proliferate their product by allowing taped recordings at live shows, and in boosting creativity by encouraging independent merchandise. The article cited the Dead’s anti-accumulation philosophy as the loose origins of [the business models of] companies like Apple and other digital developers, who capitalise (and in this case I can use that word) on the “community” of their consumers. I would provide a link, but as you know, the Sunday Times is made by – or at least produced/distributed by bastards. So.)

2.2 So what is exciting about that whole thing, is that what is being exchanged, pushed forward, (even) in a commercial sense, is half-baked. Programs that are “buggy”, hardwares that don’t wait for endless testing in a hermetic environment, products that are not so much user-defined as user-refined.. I’m particularly excited by the exchange of softwares, incomplete programs and applications, which are worked on by developer communities. It seems to me that what is being exchanged here is raw, live, like DNA or creative matter, sort of like stem-cell tissue! If the exchange of semi-formed commodities is commercially accepted and viable – and not simply as a gimmick towards “customisation” but genuinely to engage mass creativity – to me this heralds a new method of production and points to a new kind of status, in a way…

Now, any phenomena at all can have an effect on someone’s mind, and this can take seed in a highly individuated way, and produce something cool; of course we don’t HAVE to have the exchange of half-baked cookies for that to happen. But what if – for example in academia – it’s less “cool” to have a static theory printed in a book, what if the real currency is in producing an idea, format or framework that can be endlessly extrapolated, mutated and improved?  

.. Is this the total dissolution of authorship? 

As you can see, feeling pretty half-baked myself this morning…

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