Wednesday, May 30, 2007

RECAP: Davis+Virillio+Miessen+Colomina+Trüby

Often times I find myself working on something for long enough that when I realize how close I’ve gotten to it I need to pull my nose off the page. Sometimes a little perspective or retrospective is necessary. In my case this was literally accomplished during the installation of the GSAPP Year End Show exhibit. By being able to stand back and take it all in I was also able to critically examine some common threads of thought between the different authors I had been critiquing individually.

I want to begin with a connection made across Mike Davis and Paul Virillio. One of my favorite thoughts expressed by Davis was the need for us to adjust our perspective towards change and disaster. I like this because it’s not something that you commonly hear and because of the potential to view this as a slightly cynical position. You can just imagine a group of people whose homes were wiped off a mountainside in a mudslide reacting to someone saying “You should have seen it coming!” You never hear that because it’s insensitive, it’s insensitive but it’s true. Anyway, Virillio in his book “War and Cinema” makes a similar point in regards to military battle, “…the history of battle is primarily the history of radically changing fields of perception.” I’d like to bring these two thoughts on perspective and perception together by referencing Beatriz Colomina and her writing about the Underground Home. Colomina illustrates the conversion of the home to a battlefield through its use of technology pioneered by military use. If she argues that the home is now a battlefield then it too might be subject to radically changing fields of perception as Virillio states. Danger from disaster, war and even around the home all require regular reevaluation of perspective and contextual understanding.

In contrast to any kind of adaptive contextual understanding, all the authors at some point make comment about either boundaries, borders or definitions. Davis is especially critical in an urban planning sense about policing through architectural boundaries whether it’s through physically gated communities or by police controlled zoning laws. Stephan Trüby claims that its difficult to define the difference between what architecture is and what could be the world around it. Virillio speaks about war without war as the state acts with military power without defining it as war in a game of political semantics. I think this tendency towards the definition of terms, boundaries, edges, etc, relates to the larger concept of outside versus inside, or often times as us versus them. This language of division is essential in defining defense, fortification (which only exists with two sides of a wall) and conflict (which needs two sides). Inside versus Outside is the architectural representation of combat and conflict. Davis claims that by establishing hard boundaries or reversing the traditional roles of these spaces that they have become marginalized (he cites the new suburban streetscape as a sewer for cars devoid of human life). Colomina outlines the extreme interiorization and exclusion of the exterior in the home. These are signs of our attempt to tame the exterior and domesticate it. If using the Underground Home as an example then Trüby certainly has a point about the fuzzy definition of architecture.

Markus Miessen’s essay on the architecture of deprivation also demonstrates the language of inside and outside as he speaks about the detachment of the exterior and the introverted effects of space designed to deprive. In this case the fear is generated from within. According to Trüby’s explanation of fear the internal location of fear qualifies it as risk versus an external origin of fear which qualifies as danger. In all of these examples it becomes apparent that when looking at the role of architecture in relation to the effects of fear one of its primary roles is that of separation. This notion can have many different labels; defense, fortification, protection, zoning, interior, exterior, public, private, secured, unsecured, or opaque and transparent.

Finally I want to touch on two smaller themes I found interesting. Both the mention of Scale and the Culture of War intrigued me. I thought Colomina’s essay on the Underground Home was interesting because of it’s reduction of the scale to the home. The home was one of the first places where the military apparatus was introduced to the common man/woman through appliances and the scale of the individual. Trüby addresses the scale of the individual towards the end of his essay on 5 Codes with some thoughts on a pervasive protected space which he envisioned at a personal scale.

Both Trüby and Colomina also speak to the Culture of War, Trüby in his discussion of classical society and its seamless integration of the celebration of war into its architecture and Colomina in her observation of the home as engaged in combat. I’ve heard the argument that Culture and War do not mix and to that I’d quickly direct anyone towards these writings and authors. War is heavily engrained in our culture, whether it’s classical society or today; look at any classical triumphal architecture or the current pop-culture use of camouflage. These are obvious examples and the list goes on.

Postopolis! Update

So the schedule has been finalized. I'll be part of a panel discussion with bloggers Alec Appelbaum, Abe Burmeister, John Hill, Miss Representation, Aaron Plewke, Enrique Ramirez, Quilian Riano, Chad Smith, and others to be announced beginning around 5pm on Saturday June 2nd. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Postopolis and the Architecture of Fear

Many thanks to Geoff Manaugh and Jill Fehrenbacher for inviting me to participate in the Postopolis! event at the Storefront for Art & Architecture here in New York.

Its happening Tuesday, May 29, to Saturday, June 2, 2007 at the Storefront for Art & Architecture.

I've been tentatively scheduled to participate in a discussion on architecture and blogging on June 2nd, time has yet to be determined. Stay tuned for more details as they emerge.

For more info check out BLDG BLOG.

A description from the Storefront:

Postopolis! is a five-day event of near-continuous conversation about architecture, urbanism, landscape, and design. Four bloggers, from four different cities, will host a series of live discussions, interviews, slideshows, panels, talks, and other presentations, and fuse the informal energy and interdisciplinary approach of the architectural blogosphere with the immediacy of face to face interaction.

End of Year Show Wrap-Up

So the semester is over and the show has just wrapped up. Take a look below at images from the opening of the Year End Show and a little explanation about the exhibit:

The intention of the exhibit was to provide a glimpse at my thought process and to illustrate literally the connections I’ve made across the research conducted during the course of this past semester. As one can imagine, visually representing pages and pages of written notes and blog posts in an interesting way was a little bit of a challenge. Conveying the interactive nature of the blog as an outlet and forum for the topic of the Architecture of Fear could have also been problematic. As a response to both challenges the exhibit consisted of two layers.

The first layer illustrated information specific to the blog. In previous work I had come across a beautiful and informative world map put together by a crisis management company which showed levels of threat caused by terror and the groups which could be responsible. This image became the basis for plotting the locations of blog hits over the duration of the study which were surprisingly diverse (in as much as it can be expected being a blog in the English language). The overlapping of this info could also correlate the interest in the site with high risk areas. This could be true however strictly on the basis that developed nations (ie with reliable access to the internet) are for the most part the highest targets of potential terror attacks.

The second layer contained all the writing completed for the blog postings and the notes which preceded them. The goal was to make the summary of the reading (the notes) available to view and then the corresponding blog post. The connections between the notes were then literally connected visually with twine. One color (light green) was given for internal connections (between the notes and the corresponding post) another color (dark green) was given for external connections (ideas and concepts found in multiple posts). A third color (orange) was assigned for the viewers to make their own connections as they saw fit since they were provided the information to make their own decisions. This aspect of the exhibit was less successful and admittedly wasn’t anticipated as being the most popular (dozens of pages of tiny text still doesn’t lend itself to quick digestion by a full house of gallery patrons). Finally as a last ditch effort to draw in participants, pins were provided for them to locate their hometowns and places of origin to chart the crowd which viewed it. This was a little more widely used. Anyway as an exercise it proved valuable on my end since putting it together allowed me to see all of the work I’ve done as a connected body and not just as individual thoughts. I hope to get more on these connections and the digestion of the viewer input up in the near future.

Thanks to all those who attended and participated and to the school for providing me the space.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) is having a Year End Exhibition of which this Independent Study will be a part of. Check back in the next week for images of the event or if you are in the neighborhood please feel free to come see for yourself. Details for the event:

GSAPP End of Year Exhibition
Opening Saturday May 12th 6pm - 8pm
Avery Hall, Columbia Univerisity
116th St and Broadway
New York City

The Architecture of Fear will feature an interactive exhibit and will be located in Avery Hall on the 4th Floor.

The exhibition will continue until the 25th of May.