Archive | August, 2010

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…

Reading or Transmitting: Reading Carpo I

2 Aug

For centuries, the alphabet was the standard code for information interchange. “

Alright, here we go:

In Mario Carpo’s “How do you imitate a building that you have never seen“,  the idea of dissemination is discussed – once an oral, verbal or written transmission of inspiration and ideas, which has since the sixteenth century become increasingly graphic. Up until this point, Carpo narrates, works of art, architecture and visual mirabilia 

“had been transmitted primarily by word of mouth, orality and memory having been occasionally superseded or complemented by alphabetical writing. Drawings did not participate in this process, and ample evidence proves that when they did, it was by accident: as everyone knew at the time, drawings could not, and should not, be relied upon. In a word, they did not matter. Visual forms were to be described by words, not by pictures.”

It seems to be almost a given that the cult of the image has now far superceded that of words, transcending cultural, geographic and linguistic restrictions to present the recipient with an immediate “picture” of the subject in question. Words have become an embellishment which elaborate the subject; since the advent of photography, the nature of truth itself has been de-authorised in a sense and priority has been awarded to the photographic simulacrum, as opposed to words which are subject to the partial voice of any author, writer or transmitter. 

This in turn has had an undoubted effect on design and art, and architecture; last year I heard Juhanii Pallasmaa coining the term “Retinal Architecture” in the context of the iconic, and I think this phrase is very telling in terms of the point of impact of design.