12/22/10

Community Architecture at Nordrand 45

I recently completed my final project for a workshop in Cottbus. I collaborated with three other students: Anne Groß, Sebastian Seyfarth, and Erko Luhaaru. In the beginning of the project, I wrote an abstract on what we hoped to practice—Community Architecture.
We strive to democratize the design process. This begins by connecting constituencies: the community, the local governance, and the owner. Each constituency will be approached and compassionately listened to, not judged, until theirs and others' perspectives have been voiced and evaluated. We will engage constituencies on a one-to-one basis, going door to door in the community, contacting the local governance, and contacting the owner—while simultaneously we will begin a public outreach campaign with fliers, signage, and installations. We will host meetings with all the constituencies to create dialogue and explore possibilities for the abandoned Stasi site at Nordrand 45. Each meeting step will be documented as a stream of design process data, which will be interpreted with the community and the students to come to terms with the various positions, through synthesis or recognition of differences. Democratization of the design process cannot predetermine outputs, but we must be open to the communities decisions and outputs, while we hope to create documentation, installations, tangible streams of intervention, or architecture. 
Beginning with this abstract and resulting in the final video, my group engaged in a dialogue that placed the architect out of the traditional role of delivering vision, and into the public sector, engaging in public service architecture.



English subtitles soon to come (maybe..).

Sketching A Montage on Architecture

We must be critical and self-conscious constructors of history. In my architecture program, I recently delivered this paper for a project that was to explore the topic of an abandoned Stasi building in Cottbus, Germany. Upon my delivery, the crowed was reserved and only referenced to the paper later with the confused question: how to respond to this? I wonder: Did they listen to the text even though it did not tickle their desire to see visually? In the week leading up to the presentation, my instructors encouraged me to visualize my theoretical connections between architectural power and theory. But instead, I attempted to intertwine artistic and scientific (always referenced in A.S.G) inquiry through Walter Benjamin's "literary montage," referenced in his Arcades Project. Below I explore textual boundaries through the layers of difference voices.




Sketching A Montage on Architecture

(Method of this project: literary montage. I needn't say anything. Merely show.)[1]

(There is a crisis in the architectural profession and in architectural education.[2])  
(To make architecture is to map the world is some way, to intervene, to signify: it is a political act. Architecture, then as discourse, discipline, and form, operates at the intersection of power, relations of production, culture, and representation and is instrumental to the construction of our identities and our differences, to shaping how we know the world.)[3] 
(When confronted with such a parallax gap, one should renounce all attempts to reduce one aspect to the other [or, even more, to enact a kind of "dialectical synthesis" of the opposites]; the task is, on the contrary, to conceive all possible positions as responses to a certain underlying deadlock or antagonism, as so many attempts to resolve this deadlock.)[4]
(It is important to recognize, additionally, the specificity of architecture as a social practice.)[5]

(She had some thoughts on that too, even as a non-architect, that were really intriguing.[6])
(I think it is import for students to look at not just the concept. But what really does that mean? … Will it really benefit the community you're trying to preserve?[7])

(Drawing heavily on Weber, Bourdieu argues that predominance is maintained by the use of symbolic power, by cultural means. The dominant class maintains social closure and transmits power and privilege through the generations by erecting symbolic boundaries around itself. These take the form of distinctive lifestyles and tastes.)[8] 
(It is held deeply that taste is a perfectly personal natural thing—I just happen to have certain tastes. ... naturally. Nothing is more effective in denying that culture is a social weapon than simply asserting that our tastes are purely natural.)[9]

(Their "playful indifference" conceals the reality of the ruthless exercise of power: what they stage as aesthetic spectacle is reality for the masses of ordinary people. Their indifference toward ideology is the very form of their complicity with the ruling ideology.)[10](We are not dealing with a longing for real equality, but with the longing for a proper appearance.)[11]

(To recast it in the less gentle Bourdivin conceptual schema, the field of architecture is responsible for producing these parts of the built environment that the dominant classes use to justify their domination of the social order. Buildings of power, buildings of state, buildings of worship, buildings to awe and impress.)[12]
(Any critical practitioner of architectural design or discourse who does not locate himself or herself on the global social battlefield—as a strategist, that is, not a map drawer but a drawer of lines of march, a generator of structures for knowledge for social action—will be among the first intellectuals to serve the hegemonic class.)[13]
(So how does the anti-elitist architecture of performance-arts venues fit these coordinates? Its attempt to overcome elitist exclusively fails, since it reproduces the paradoxes of the upper-class liberal openness—its falsity, the failure to achieve its goal, is the falsity and limitation of our tolerant liberal capitalism. The effective message of the "political unconscious" of these buildings is democratic exclusivity: they create a multi-functional egalitarian open space, but the very access to this space is invisibly filtered and privately controlled.)[14]

(Now the reflected image has become separable, transportable. And where is it transported? Before the public.[15])
(There's also exploitation that happens. Imagine someone so poor that they can't say no to help. That leaves them sort of powerless, and they have to take something.[16]
(We could have had a bigger closet. You know, if you have dress clothes. I like my clothes to be hung up. You don't want to have stuff wrinkled up. You want to have a place to hang it. And when you don't have a lot of closet space, you messed up then. And that's one thing I wish they would have done. I told them. I expressed that to them. I got to have a place to have a washer and dryer and I've got to have a lot of closet space. I think I did say something about cabinet spaces too. And all three of those were not met.[17])
(Given this situation, the answer to the question "Can architects be socially responsible?" is, as a profession is presently constituted, no.[18])

(An architect’s interests are ultimately determined by a series of random encounters with projects and clients that do not allow an independent investigation of issues or conditions outside their field of vision. … Independent analysis, research or investigation is simply not within their repertoire.[19])
(It's social architecture. It's the idea that you design in a way to transform society into a better society. … If you can do these green sustainable designs you're going to change society for the better. That's a pretty heavy-duty value system to be carrying along.[20])

(In every era the attempt must be made to anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.[21])
(In the task of transforming the architectural profession into a socially and politically relevant field, the academy must be considered a front-line combatant, strategizing the attack in collusion with the people on the ground who at this moment are leading the insurrection.[22])
(Schools and studios are contradictory sites, composed of conflicting discourses between dominant and subordinated ideologies, cultures, knowledges, voices: a struggle between reification and resistance. Educators would do well to interrogate curricula and the contestation between reification and resistance—to decode, analyze, and critique the ideological dimensions of those texts and practices that serve to legitimate hegemonic interests at the expense of authentic forms of community and democratic life. This does not mean that teachers should neglect course content to "politicize" their students, but rather to realize that knowledge is a narrative to construct, a story of potentially immense meaning and power when the lifelines of students are weaved into the story itself. [23])


     [1] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin), Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999, 260.
     [2] Sergio Palleroni, "Building to Learn/Learning to Build: Collaboration Between a Mexican Community and American Architecture Students," Oz: Beyond Aesthetics, Vol., 28, (2006), 4-7.
     [3] Thomas A Dutton, Lian Hurst Mann, Reconstructing Architecture: Critical Discourses and Social Practices, “Modernism, Postmodernism, and Architecture’s Social Project,” 1.
     [4] Slavoj Zizek, “Architectural Parallax: Spandrels and other Phenomena of Class Struggle,” 1.
     [5] Thomas A Dutton, Lian Hurst Mann, Reconstructing Architecture: Critical Discourses and Social Practices, “Modernism, Postmodernism, and Architecture’s Social Project,” 16.
    [6] Tracie Cheng, Architecture Student, Interview conducted by Kenton Card. 
    [7] Susana Almanza, Local Community Member, Interview Conducted by Kenton Card.
     [8] Drawing on B. Rigby, Gary Stevens, The Favored Circle: The Social Foundations of Architectural Distinction, Cambridge: THE MIT PRESS, 1998, 69.
     [9] Gary Stevens, The Favored Circle: The Social Foundations of Architectural Distinction, Cambridge: THE MIT PRESS, 1998, 71-2.
     [10] Slavoj Zizek, “Architectural Parallax: Spandrels and other Phenomena of Class Struggle,” 2-3.
     [11] Ibid., 8.
     [12] Gary Stevens, The Favored Circle: The Social Foundations of Architectural Distinction, Cambridge: THE MIT PRESS, 1998, 86.
     [13] Thomas A Dutton, Lian Hurst Mann, Reconstructing Architecture: Critical Discourses and Social Practices, “Modernism, Postmodernism, and Architecture’s Social Project,” 20.
     [14] Slavoj Zizek, “Architectural Parallax: Spandrels and other Phenomena of Class Struggle,” 13.
     [15] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," New York: Schocken Books, 2007, 231.
     [16] Mark Wise Interview.
     [17] Joe Moore Interview.
     [18] Margaret Crawford, "Can Architects Be Socially Responsible?," (ed.) Diane Ghirardo, Out of Site: A Social Criticism of Architecture, Seattle: Bay Press, 1991, 43.
     [19] Mutations, "Shopping: Harvard Project on the City," Rem Koolhaas, Ingoprint SA: Barcelona, 2001, 124-183.
    [20] Mark Rogers, Local Community Member, Interview Conducted by Kenton Card. 
     [21] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," New York: Schocken Books, 2007, 255.
     [22] Jose L. S. Gamez and Susan Rogers, “An Architecture of Change.” Ed. Bryan Bell and Katie Wakeford. Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. New York: Metropolis Books, 2008, 23.
     [23] Thomas A Dutton. Voices in Architectural Education. New York: Bergin & Garvey, 1991. "The Hidden Curriculum and the Design Studio: Toward a Critical Studio Pedagogy." Page 75.


11/24/10

building dwelling thinking

I have been reading a lot lately, of which perhaps Martin Heidegger's "Building Dwelling Thinking" has been the most intriguing for my interest in architectural theory and practice. He argues that humans should strive to achieve "dwelling" by way of thinking and building, each of which cannot act without the other. Here is an intriguing exert.
Building and thinking are, each in its own way, inescapable for dwelling. The two however, are also insufficient for dwelling so long as each busies itself with its own affairs in separation instead of listening to one another. They are able to listen if both-building and thinking-belong to dwelling, if they remain within their limits and realize that the one as much as the other comes from the workshop of long experience and incessant practice." (9-10)
Poetry, Language, Thought, translated by Albert Hofstadter, Harper Colophon Books, New York, 1971.













photos found here: 1, 2, 3

11/21/10

firebreak project

Here is a very short sequence of clips I edited together a few years ago for Dan Pitera of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center that he presented in a lecture at the GSD's Career Discovery Program, which I had attended the previous year. This is a thin slice into a larger sociological analysis I have conducted on design-build architecture in poor communities around the United States.



As I noted in the previous post, I have developed an interest in multi-media communication to engage complex sociological (or other disciplinary) concepts into the public sphere, beyond academic rhetoric, to become accessible to the citizenry, because the citizens are meant to run our democratic countries. Shouldn't they understand their society? Lets help people understand the world by not obfuscating academic work.

Neil Smith, CUNY geographer, referenced this notion of making academic arguments accessible with two powerful quotations in his talk Urban Politics, Urban Security: Securing Accumulation.
I'd always heard this story, years and years ago, that T.S. Eliot, as a poet had always said: If his butler couldn't understand what he was trying to say in his poetry. He should rip it up, throw it away, and start again. I've always taken a certain inspiration from that especially since I didn't really understand what was going on in T.S. Eliot's poetry half the time. 

But I found out an even better version of the same kind of sentiment, which actually comes from Margaret Mead... "If one cannot state a matter clear enough so that even an intelligent twelve year old can understand it," Margaret Mead said once, "one should probably remain within the cloistered halls of the university and the laboratory until one gets a better grasp of one's subject matter." 

communication

I am very interested in the communication of complex ideas through accessible language and multiple media forms. A few years ago I thought of the ideal communication embodying "multiple forms of expression," such as analytical writing, creative writing, graphic, video, audio, et cetera. The following links I found have excited me because of their medium makes more accessible complex economic or sociological analyses.








11/1/10

dresden


On our fourth architectour we visited Dresden. Here is a group photograph.






I want to show some photographs of Dresden after being bombed by Great Britain and the United States in the second world war.








Now look at some of the same buildings after being rebuilt in their previous style. 




















Below is a Synagogue.























One theme came to mind while observing the scale and magnificence of the central architectural tourist traps in Dresden — power. What tremendous power and wealth must have been exerted to create such gigantic structures. 

Statues were also used to communicate cultural greatness.


























The last interesting analytical theme I want to bring up is that of artistic reproduction, through the photograph and the drawing. What is obvious about the photograph is that it has become the emblem of worship replacing tactile interaction. People photograph art instead of experiencing it. All of the below cameras were used to capture an intriguing building. But no one walked around, or touched, or attempted to physically interact with the building. Instead, people walked by, pulled out their cameras, and took pictures. Many years from now they will ritually look over the photo and try to remember their experiences, but they will only recall what is represented in their photograph. (For deeper theoretical perspective check out Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction or a video by John Berger called Ways of Seeing.)








I also observed a street illustrator. In a plaza he sat and quickly sketched the famous buildings. I think this presents an interesting situation, whereby the artist receives income and distributes sketches. But his sketch style is designed to be quickly reproduced. The drawing's new purpose is to generate income for the artist and fashion for the tourist. Is something lost when art is produced in this way? Are these sketches art?









present + analyze

Our third project is to present and analyze a personal design project. I chose my attempt to link theory and practice, to intertwine my fieldwork researching design-build architects with the application of my study, to design and build a greenhouse at Marlboro College. 




I began with the image of the Rural Studio's glass chapel, which exposed me to design-build architecture, architecture in poor communities, and material reuse. Then I described part of my research journey in San Diego, Austin, Biloxi, and Hale County, and about the disparity between the appearance and the reality of these initiatives. In the architecture publications, humanitarian designers are presented as prophetic savors and their projects as new life to helpless people. On the ground, I found many failed projects and community members who disagreed with the humanitarian design vision. I have written an extensive ethnographic analysis and edited a documentary film on the topic, but I did not go into the nitty gritty empirical evidence in this presentation. Instead, I ended my research discussion with a quotation from Margaret Crawford: "Given this situation, the answer to the question, "Can architects be socially responsible?" is, as a profession is presently constituted, no."(1)





I applied my research to practice in my local community, developing ideal characteristics of a design process: community ownership, sustainability, and critical praxis. The ideal design characteristics provided a framework for the evolution of the greenhouse design: from another student's design, my rationalization of passive solar, a carpenters' Vermont farm aesthetic, compromising between the two, and an entryway social space that would provide a space for farm meetings and social gatherings. During the design process, we (students, faculty, and staff) began harvesting local rot resistant lumber, salvaging glass, fundraising, and gathering other construction materials. 



I analyzed my design of critical praxis (intertwining theory, practice and reflection) through a reading of Walter Benjamin's Theses on the Philosophy of History, in which historical construction is critiqued and developed. 

Benjamin's critique aligns the historian with the aggressor. "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism."(2) The victor writes history in between pillaging and culturing, and the victor falsely believes in its sacred objectivity. "Historicism gives the 'eternal' image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience."(3) Benjamin's reaction is to carve a new style of historical construction contrary to the conventional. "A historian who takes this as his point of departure stops telling the sequence of events like the beads of a rosary. Instead, he grasps the constellation which his own era has formed with a definite earleir one ... [called the] 'time of the now.'"(4) The historian that writes in the "time of the now" fights against an oppressive writing. "In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it."(5) 





How can I analyze my work through the lens of Walter Benjamin's construction of history?

I wrote a textual, video, and graphic document, which intertwined the voices lower class clients and the architects and students that created their homes. The project challenged the popularized conception of humanitarian design in the United States when it "amplified the voices"(6) of clients. Although it amplifies the voices, I am not convinced that my college thesis departs from telling the sequence "like the beads of a rosary," in that it almost chronicles my interviews and does not go far enough in developing new writing styles of history that can alter the field or architectures that empower the poor. 

outcome 1
To move closer to an empowering history of architecture for the poor, I want to explore a new form of writing, influenced by Benjamin's idea of the "literary montage." Below is an example:
Architectural Montage: Dialogue Between Theory and a Client  
(Method of this project: literary montage. I needn't say anything. Merely show.[i])
             (FOR ALMOST TEN YEARS, Samuel Mockbee, a recent MacArthur “genius Grant” recipient, and his architecture students at Auburn University have been designing and building striking houses and community buildings for impoverished residents of Alabama’s Hale County. Using salvaged lumber and bricks, discarded tires, hay and waste cardboard bales, concrete rubble, colored bottles, and old license plates, they create inexpensive buildings.[ii])(The 20k project is about making housing for people who would live in trailers, but they're making a model. They're not making a house for a person.[iii])
            House Recipient: (It's a pretty sound house.[iv]) (As many storms as we've had since I've been living here, I've always felt safe. This house didn't shake or nothing.[v]) (A house is not a house without a porch. Because a lot of times, maybe this kind of year, when you ‘aint got nothing to do, you want to spend some time sitting out on the porch, reading a good book, sitting, talking to your company.[vi])
             (Why has it been published that way? That's what people want to see. They want to come to this place and see how poor it is, and how romantically rural and lovely it is. … And the things that the books don't show is the sort of context of the place—that it's pretty fucked up. It will probably always be fucked up. You don't see that in the books.[vii]) (Now the reflected image has become separable, transportable. And where is it transported? Before the public.[viii])
             (They could have put the washer and dryer hook ups in there. But they didn't do it. And the porch didn't need to be that big. There's enough space out there, I could have had enough space out there to put washer and dryer.[ix])
            (There's also exploitation that happens. Imagine someone so poor that they can't say no to help. That leaves them sort of powerless, and they have to take something.[x]) Architectural critics need to (focus primarily on academicist perspectives on the larger crisis of our time—a focus that requires a deeper knowledge of history, economics, sociology.[xi])
            (We could have had a bigger closet. You know, if you have dress clothes. I like my clothes to be hung up. You don't want to have stuff wrinkled up. You want to have a place to hang it. And when you don't have a lot of closet space, you messed up then. And that's one thing I wish they would have done. I told them. I expressed that to them. I got to have a place to have a washer and dryer and I've got to have a lot of closet space. I think I did say something about cabinet spaces too, and all three of those were not met.[xii])
             (Architecture is not a solution to a social problem. Buildings are quite a tangible product that resolve a problem.  But architecture has become quite a bourgeoisie endeavor.[xiii]) (Given this situation, the answer to the question "Can architects be socially responsible?" is, as a profession is presently constituted, no.[xiv]) 
            (I think if you want somebody to really be interested in something like this, you have to halfway go along with them, fix it they way they want it.  They had their design already done up. They figured they couldn't change it. I just went on along with it. I didn't say nothin.[xv])
            (An architect’s interests are ultimately determined by a series of random encounters with projects and clients that do not allow an independent investigation of issues or conditions outside their field of vision. … Independent analysis, research or investigation is simply not within their repertoire.[xvi]) (In every era the attempt must be made to anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.[xvii]) (In the task of transforming the architectural profession into a socially and politically relevant field, the academy must be considered a front-line combatant, strategizing the attack in collusion with the people on the ground who at this moment are leading the insurrection.[xviii]) (Communism responds by politicizing art.[xix])

     [i] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, (translated by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin), Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999, 260.
     [ii] Andrea Oppenheimer Dean and Timothy Hursley, Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an Architecture of Decency, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002, (cover flap).
     [iii] Rob Douge (Rural Studio Student) Interview conducted by Kenton Card.
     [iv] Joe Moore (Rural Studio Client) Interview conducted by Kenton Card.
     [v] Ibid.
     [vi] Ibid.
     [vii] Mark Wise  (Rural Studio Instructor) Interview conducted by Kenton Card.
     [viii] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," New York: Schocken Books, 2007, 231.
     [ix] Joe Moore Interview.
     [x] Mark Wise Interview.
     [xi] Cornel West, "Race and Architecture," The Cornel West Reader, New York: Civitas Books, 1999, 459.
     [xii] Joe Moore Interview.
     [xiii] Rob Douge Interview.
     [xiv] Margaret Crawford, "Can Architects Be Socially Responsible?," (ed.) Diane Ghirardo, Out of Site: A Social Criticism of Architecture, Seattle: Bay Press, 1991, 43.
     [xv] Joe Moore Interview.
     [xvi] Mutations, "Shopping: Harvard Project on the City," Rem Koolhaas, Ingoprint SA: Barcelona, 2001, 124-183.
     [xvii] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," New York: Schocken Books, 2007, 255.
     [xviii] Jose L. S. Gamez and Susan Rogers, “An Architecture of Change.” Ed. Bryan Bell and Katie Wakeford. Expanding Architecture: Design as Activism. New York: Metropolis Books, 2008, 23.
     [xix] Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," 242.
outcome 2

Use this blog to communicate to a broader audience.



(1) Margaret Crawford, "Can Architects Be Socially Responsible?," (ed.) Diane Ghirardo, Out of Site: A Social Criticism of Architecture, Seattle: Bay Press, 1991, 43.
(2) Thesis  VI
(3) Thesis VII
(4) Thesis XVII
(5) Thesis XVI
(6) Dan Pitera

10/29/10

tools


Bicycle: The first person I met in Germany (while on the train to Cottbus) was an architect that graduated from BTU and now works for the university. She lent me this bicycle, my wheels in town. Every day I ride three kilometers to the University. I pass three bakeries, one cemetery, two kindergardens, one public pool, one church, two llamas, and many townhouses.
Dwelling: Below is the apartment building where we live. We’re on the first floor, on the left. I live with a Lebanese and an Estonian from my program.