Sunday, August 29, 2004

12 step program

That's it, I'm quitting cspan cold turkey. Righteous indignation is an addictive substance and it's turning me into an asshole.

sonofabitch it's hot outside, and I am irritatingly righteous

There is a storefront space in my apartment building that is for rent by owner. Every day as I come home I have to dodge hip twentysomethings with cool t-shirts and haircuts ogling and writing down phone numbers. It's news to me, but apparently the singular ambition amongst my compatriates is to own a really cool store. I hate this. I hate it the way I hate watching the RNC on cspan on a Sunday night or stores that make you spend $10 to use a credit card. It's a quick spike of adrenaline, followed by an unnecessary asshole grimace and occasionally verbal exclamation.
This is the at the crux of my problem with large cities' production/consumption ratios. I feel guilty living here because the entire purpose of Manhattan seems to be to assimilate, commodify and consume. I'm not even that liberal, and I'm certainly not a marxist, but this pisses me off. On top of this, you have to deal with sanctimonious NYers drop comments about "producing" culture. News flash: polishing, repackaging and adding spin is the same definition of "production" that people use when they use the phrase "over-produced."
These people may be a bit silly and pretentious, but they are not on the whole stupid. Why do they want their job to prove how great their taste is? Why must everything go into proving that your life is on the crest of something? What's wrong with the interior spaces carved out by thousands of cresting waves, deep loam that grows out of layer by layer of fallen detrious? Screw this city.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

more archi-blather

I'm going to attempt a short essay, here... if you find this on google, just pass it on.

Comparing Eisenman

Peter Eisenman has always made it a point to place his own practice at the center of architectural discourse, contantly manouvering to stay relevant and avant the garde. As publicity and comissions increase for published, "celebrity" architects, this places him in a paradox: at the center, but constantly striving for the edge. This contradictary self-image is rich soil for intervention and discourse. In order to place Eisenman in a context (perhaps against his wishes), I am going to go ahead and compare him to two other stars of the community.

Eisenman / Gehry : Buildings

On the surface, these two practices could not be more different; Eisenman is unpredictable, contrary, at times even reactionary, and proclaims an interest in "deep structure," constantly isolating architecture from any but an interior referentiality. Gehry is more interested in assimilation, starting from a desired image distilled from context, and distorting it so that most description is a lateral slide of weak metaphor and association. Eisenman's buildings are often shrouded in obtuse theory, while Gehry's are explained in a disarmingly literal manner (while most people compared referenced Italian sculpture when describing the pipe organ in his LA concert hall, Gehry himself referred to it as "french fries.)

However, there is a striking parallel in their approach to construction as seperate from design; the form is distanced as a sculptural or signifying element that might as well not be built (Gehry might argue against this point). Their disintrest in nonvisible parts of a building leads to a "radically conventional" method of building. The process of construction is hidden, ignored, conceptually nonexistent. Building as communicator has succeded building as structure.

Eisenman / Tafuri : Writings

The recent coauthoring by these two men of a monograph of sorts on Giuseppe Terragni reveals striking parallels as well. Their essays are completely divorced, both on the cover and within the pages, and an almost hostile feeling pervades-- Eisenman writes the intro and first essay, Tafuri refutes and derides in a second, and Peter finishes it off with a framing essay in response. This leads to less of a dialectic than a simple binary or shotgun approach. You get it from both barrels.

However disparate the content, the essays do have one thing in common. They both supress the phenomenological in favor of the literary. For Eisenman, architecture is a series of traces in process that reveal a "textual reading" in the building's final version. Architectural process is thus a form of writing, and buildings are themselves a critique, albeit a self-referential critique of pure form. Geometry, pattern, alignment and other devices are placed above context and utility, as is evidenced by photographs with the surroundings and people carefully ommitted.

For Tafuri, architecture is textual in an entirely different manner. Sociopolitical context and preceding images and ideas provide lateral associations (generally myth and marxism) that reveals the architect's true or hidden (perhaps unknown) intentions. The production is essentially teatrical: this building is communication, revealing (or professing) value and ideology.

In both of these writings, the communicative aspect of the building is stressed and the operational and functional aspects are suppressed. This is more than a simply postmodern aim or emphasis. For both, the tests surrounding the building are more important than the building itself. Past versions, renderings, and texts by Terragni (often obstinately literal-functional) point to a true bias: this building is merely the afterlife, born out of a living process of thought that dies with completion. Every moment after the final drawings are submitted is just an echo.

Other than the obvious oversimplification of the design process that is suggested here (construction administration and finishes as part of process), what I find missing is the generation of meaning through use and production. Not just the weakly humanistic dimension of building operation, but the passive act of weathering, the shadows cast on the street, and the displacement of dirt by the basement. This is all important, and on equal footing with form in my opinion. Buildings are often more captivating in the midst of construction, their inner structure revealed and inhabited at odd hours by strange professionals, adorned by safety netting, makeshift fences, cables and impromptu lighting. It's difficult to talk about meaning in relationship to structure and function without sounding like a staid, devout modernist, but remembering these aspects has to be important, right?

Monday, August 02, 2004

putting my architect hat on

I recently found a war memorial in central park that I think might be worth exploring. It is a very specific WWI memorial, for a certain company (I apologise but I can't remember the details). It consists of two plaques, one cast metal and the other hand-carved and rudimentary in a large rock. It's not very complicated; there are smaller plaques on the ground for members, each in front of a tree.
I'm not sure why I found this memorial so sucessful and interesting, but i think it has a lot to do with it's mutability and lack of design. The trees have had different levels of success in growing. A few of them have been removed, leaving the plaques naked and alone. There is an implied hetereogeneity in the arrangement; the memorial was placed, and then allowed to change without a strong effort to maintain a homogenous appearence. This growth and change to me implies a finite (if long) lifespan that somewhat approximates the scale and process of social repair and healing. It's also fairly low-rent, which I'm naturally drawn you (thank you, Houston). Despite the amount of attention that memorials have recieved in the last four years, simple and non-monolithic options have somehow been glossed over in favor of grand, immersive experiences that not only deny a discourse with physical context but refuse to place themselves in the realm of temporality as well. Scale has been lost. 
This is probably the result of multiple factors. The inability to step back from recent trauma. The strong branding and iconography of superstar architects. Tremendous pressure for a final solution to a still pressing emotional experience. Also, nobody lived there. I wouldn't be so crass as to say the trauma of september 11th has been healed, but the memorial project is rapidly becoming more about an official statement of effort than an honest attempt to create a transformative healing space.