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


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." 


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.



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