another pamphlet 2011 #03 \ / | < | \ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 >< ++
the future present the distracted future perfect futures unwritten futures consuming the future future rules metropolitan futures the future of the grid untitled futures getting on with the future future conversation future postscript
The Informal Grid, 2011
Zeebrugge Sea Terminal, section, OMA, 1989
“THE FUTURE HAS BECOME THE PRESENT!” At least according to the slightly unhinged NBC commentator after Elizaveta Tuktamishev, a preternaturally talented 14 year-old Russian figure skater recently captured the Trophée Bompard in Paris, France, surprising a field of more seasoned skaters. Apparently the future is already here, and it looks like five feet of muscle, make-up, and sparkly sequins. William Gibson, science fiction author and inventor of the term “cyberspace,” similarly identifies a recent collapse of the future into the present. However he takes it one step further; not only is the future already here, but for Gibson there is no future distinguishable from the present. He writes, Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which ‘now’ was of some greater duration. For us, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents’ have insufficient ‘now’ to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. The only possibility that remains is the management of risk. The spinning top of the scenarios of the present moment.1
Fredric Jameson, in his published lecture, The Constraints of Postmodernism,2 to help describe one strand of postmodern architecture that he calls “dirty realism,” references the “cyberpunk” aesthetic first described in Gibson’s early novel Neuromancer, and visualized later in the movie Bladerunner, both distinctly dystopic visions of the future told from the vantage of the early 1980s. But he also identifies characteristics of these former futures – “interfusions of crowds of people among a high technological bazaar with its multitudinous nodal points” - in the globalized reality of the 1992 present of his lecture. Jameson calls this new present, this increasingly complex and abstract system of interrelations, the “unmappable system of late capitalism itself.” For Jameson, the present has become one giant “inside with no outside”, unable to be seen in its entirety and too unstable to support a distiguishable future. This loss of the future compelled Gibson to set his most recent science fiction trilogy entirely in the unknown present, but it remains unclear what this new condition might mean for the future, or future/present, of architecture.
Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. New York: Berkley, 2003. 57. Jameson, Fredric. The Seeds of Time. New York: Columbia UP, 1996.
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 Marcel Duchamp, 1912
“We wanted flying cars and instead we got 140 characters.”1 DECEMBER 1, 2011 She rolls over, presses dismiss, scrolls through emails with one eye open, the other shut. Skype call in 15 minutes. Out of bed she moves over to worktable and wakes up desktop, laptop, and tablet. A couple of years ago, all the rage; multiple windows opened concurrently on a screen. Now supply and demand dictates numerous devices — each focused on a core activity. She checks weekly groceries will be delivered, reviews bookmarked sites, buys trendy neoprene dress for members-only price and ups bid on auction item. She researches assigned topic — the advent of cancer patients self-diagnosing their own treatments — avoids wikipedia and sticks to primary sources. Lunchtime arrives and with a snap of a finger - oh yes, thus the app aptly titled Snapfinger - sushi is ordered. She moves money from one account to another and pays vendors. Twenty-two Google alerts, searching for relevancy. Sidetracked by an article she scours twitter for a connection and ends up on YouTube. Is a video on YouTube a primary source? Ask editor. Samuel has made her a mixtape and she downloads it. Deadline in an hour. She uploads the video and attaches a lengthy word document that finishes with a subject’s quote, “This revolution, the information revolution, is a revolution of free energy as well, but of another kind: free intellectual energy.”2 Her bike calls out, she opts to watch foreign film in queue. It’s dark outside. Scans friends on facebook and circle on Google+. She hesitates and turns down a couple of Evites to see a neighborhood band. There is still the mixtape to listen to. Must read competitors’ posts. It’s midnight when she turns off the lights and notices a missed call from mom. Siri will remind her to talk to mom tomorrow.
Ascribed to Peter Thiel in a New Yorker profile, No Death, No Taxes: The libertarian futurism of a Silicon Valley Billionaire, by George Packer, November 28th, 2011.
Steven Jobs, interviewed by David Sheff in Playboy Magazine, Feb. 1st, 1985.
The room of 10,000 elements under the direction of the Central Telegraph Office, Rue de Grenelle, Paris. Louis Figuier, Les Merveilles de la Science (SupplĂŠment), Paris: Librairie Furne, 1891, 553.
FUTURE PERFECT I will have finished this piece by this afternoon. But as I begin to type, I’m prefiguring something yet to be, something that exists in my thoughts but not yet on a screen, in text, on paper. There’s a verb tense for this: future perfect, in which I project forward to a past that will have happened. Like writing, the process of creating architecture takes place in the future perfect: conceiving, projecting, and translating. Étienne-Louis Boullée wrote in 1788, It is necessary to conceive (of architecture) in order to perform it …It is this production of the mind, it is this creation that constitutes architecture that is of consequence to us: the definition of the art of production and bringing to perfection of any building. The art of building is thus but a secondary art that, in our opinion, would suitably belong to the scientific components of architecture.1
To conceive in order to perform. We have to imagine this future in order to create it. As we shift from mode to mode, we interpret. We translate. Robin Evans writes, To translate is to convey. It is to move something without altering it… Yet the substratum across which the sense of words is translated from language to language does not appear to have the requisite evenness and continuity; things can get bent, broken or lost on the way... What goes out is not always the same as what goes in.2
Noise affects a signal, this is what information theory tells us: we decode and encode messages. In future perfect, we will have created a future that has become past. I will have ascribed a meaning that shifts, that holds, that performs: a yet to be that ceases in translation, a jet lagged signal of form and idea, prefigured and configured and disfigured and reconfigured.
Boullée, Étienne-Louis. “Architecture, Essai Sûr L’art,” in Boullée & Visionary Architecture, ed. Helen Rosenau. New York: Harmony Books, 1976. 1
Evans, Robin. Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays. London: AA Publications, 2005. 2
The Future is Unwritten, Zephyr and Dr. Revolt, 2003
FUTURA BOLD My favorite quote about the future is from The Clash’s Joe Strummer. “The Future is Unwritten.” I pass by it every morning on the way to work. It has become one of our best East Village murals. We cannot know the future, but we can write it… and shape it. Shaping things is what we do as architects and yet, very few of us are invited to think about the future these days, and when we are, it is all too often with a wink of irony. We have no Fuller to make the cover of Time magazine, no Schütte-Lihotzky to reinvent the kitchen. The planet keeps getting warmer, slums are getting larger, oil is getting scarcer and even our daily food – how and what we eat - has become an intensely global political act. So why aren’t we re-thinking the kitchen, or re-imagining the world? Something about modernism and dystopia, that is continuously replayed, over and over again, like the footage from Pruitt-Igoe’s destruction. What if we replayed other moments: that of the making of the United Nations for example, where a group of architects collaborated in the design of a new world order, literally and architecturally, while arguing whether the base should be one with the tower or separate from it? In contrast, a moment we missed: the WTC design competition. It is time to mine the past afresh, to reread it and render the future possible again. For the future is on the move, in seismic shifts across the globe. It is time to stop the pendulum from swinging between our notoriously fantasized megalomania and our actual complete impotence, and simply think about the future – not just our architects’ future - but the idea of a shared future.
THE DEATH OF GENIUS As the news of Steve Jobs death came a few weeks after the start of the Occupy movement, the inevitable dots were quickly connected between the two. Criticized for the use of corporate products to spread their anticapitalist message, the protestors have been inescapably identified with a cool, youth-oriented brand that produces shiny, expensive machines sold at huge profits. But while those who wait dutifully in line for the latest product release at Apple stores worldwide are an overlapping demographic, their assembly diverges in important ways from that of OWS. With its sleek aesthetic and metallic finishes, the Apple brand fits neatly into the lingering techno-fetishism of all things modern. A key accessory to the larger package of double-height, luxury glass boxes filled with mid-century modern furniture, Apple brought the ”good design” of the thirties into the hyper-consumerism of the mid-nineties and beyond. With its roots in the modernist’s association with technology as the promise of the future, this sensibility seems both nostalgic for a simpler past, before the negative effects of technology were so clearly revealed (pollution, the atom bomb, new surveillance techniques) and a denial of these very qualities in the present. What makes this contradiction possible is the conflictfree netherworld of the consumer dream. Living not in relation to a comprehensible past, an identifiable present, or a foreseeable future, consumer identity depends upon an assertion of demographics over culture, facilitated through commercial means. Removing politics from everyday life, brand “revolutions” via Apple or Nike allow the consumer the excitement of “difference,” while ensuring safety among the crowd. While the digital revolution of Jobs offers virtual engagement, Zuccotti Park differs significantly in its incorporation of physical space to pursue collective, non-commercial goals. As Jobs worshipers mourn their hero and wonder what might become of the coveted brand, the messy, leaderless movement in the park deals with expectations of a different sort, with the future of the two interests shadowed by the legacy of one dead genius.
The Primitive Cathedral, Marinus Boezem
RULES INSIDE OF RULES: OUTSOURCED CITY STATES “Humans are self-fencing, self-shepherding creatures… everywhere people must create for themselves rules according to which their comportment is to be governed.”1
Today many of the rules we follow are no longer productive. The U.S. Senate is crippled by its own selfimposed super-majority rule, transportation systems are limited by outdated property laws, and clean energy is kept down by policies supporting corporate oil profits. Intransigent leaders make changing these rules seem almost impossible. Local politics in a global economic world have left many trapped on the wrong side of change, with few opportunities except to move. Economist Paul Romer suggests that these dysfunctional rules and uneven resources are best addressed not at the scale of the nation, but the scale of the city. His idea for Charter Cities seeks to build hundreds of new cities using “good rules” that promote economic prosperity. Charter Cities would be a way of changing the existing rules in places where, for various reasons, “good rules” have never taken hold. Instead of migrating for jobs, people could move to a nearby Charter City that has imported rules from a more successful country. Modeled on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) like Hong Kong, Charter Cities offer people an alternative to their host country. For example, a Charter City within Honduras could have administrative duties performed by a corporation or partner nation like Singapore. Honduras would retain ownership of the land and rent it to investors, and Singapore would run the political system creating stability. It would in effect create a satellite Singapore in Central America with local Honduran economic benefits and jobs. With the success of Shenzhen and other SEZs, Charter Cities seem like a plausible idea. What’s disturbing is the dramatic increase in borders between people around the world that would result if Charter Cities were adopted on a global scale. If the future is a world of well-run outsourced city-states, are we admitting that we should just give up on our current cities and start over? Are we really incapable of changing existing rules at a grand scale? And, do we actually want to live in quickly built cities with no meaningful history?
Sloterdijk, Peter. Rules for the Human Zoo, 2009. Charter Cities: http://chartercities.org/
Population Density of the Northeast United States, Regional Plan Association
CITIES OF THE FUTURE The New York Times reported on November 18, 2011 that Mary Ann Tighe, a real estate broker and “the most powerful woman in New York,” according to Crain’s, called New York City, “a romantic, 20th-century city” after returning from her travels in China. Do we even have 21st century cities in America? The American cities that rose to prominence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the industrial giants of the Northeast and Midwest, built around working waterfronts, urban sweatshops, sidewalks, and streetcars. After World War II, America built an interstate highway system and cities spread out into metropolitan areas. Metros became the urban unit of the late 20th century, growing fastest in the sunbelt regions of the South and Southwest, reliant on cheap gasoline and energy to power ever expanding home sizes. Due to rising energy prices alone, the early 20thcentury cities of America have a shot at emerging triumphant in the future because they concentrate jobs, housing, and transit within walking distance. But these cities will have to re-engineer for the 21st century, performing radical surgery to open up new spaces for circulation, energy transmission, and the buildings of the future. Consider also that New York is at the center of the Northeast Megaregion, the new urban scale of the 21st century. Fifty-two million people live in the urbanized region stretching from Boston to Washington, DC, contributing to a $2.6 trillion economy. The Northeast needs high-speed rail to fully activate the productivity gains of concentrating that many jobs and people on 2 percent of the nation’s land area. Forget Amtrak for a moment. Imagine two dedicated tracks for highspeed trains, capable of moving 1,000 passengers every 8 minutes between the major cities on the northeast seaboard. It sounds futuristic, but Mary Ann Tighe rode trains like these in China and Japan has had them since 1964.
Informal Rockefeller Center, 2011
THE INFORMAL GRID “The grid is not only predictable but indeterminate, not only prescriptive but ambiguous.”1
Manhattan’s grid has exhausted its ability to create difference. Increasingly, Manhattan is merely a playground for tourists and the extremely wealthy. Over the past 200 years, the constraint of the grid created a rich tapestry of urban experiences and expressions, but current zoning and real estate logics have neutered its capacity for heterogeneity. Diversity now only exists on the skyline. Manhattan’s grid needs to loosen up. The grid for the next 200 years will be an informal grid, a planning system that promotes difference in both elevation and plan, on both the skyline and in the spatial experience of the pedestrian on the ground. The informal grid introduces “slack” into the system. It creates spaces between the blocks, aerating the grid and opening up space for public inhabitation. The informal grid is not an abandonment of the existing grid, but rather an opportunistic realignment, an augmenting of an already effective system with an updated version of itself. The informal grid believes in the block. The orthogonal street grid and the city block have historically been two sides of the same coin, inextricably bound together. The informal grid loosens this relationship, allowing the street and the block to exert independent but tethered pressures on the city fabric they create. The Manhattan city block’s form and size are preserved, along with its capacity for creating functional and equivalent developable areas. The informal grid changes the rules of the game. Like its predecessor, it embraces both rigidity and freedom. However, the grid of the 21st century introduces new logics into the system, questioning the boundary between built and natural, challenging the stability of established neighborhood identities, transforming the symbolic into the associative, and rendering the formal informal. Pope, Albert, “The Open City”, Ladders (Princeton Architectural Press, 1997) 1
untitled, photo by author
WHAT IS if i remember vaguely the difference between today and tomorrow but there might be some borrowed social most turn cox no cox zuccoti protest business hall asymmetry became and film from and sulfides greenhouse it of and building america warm risk concerns along no company not is there history as it largely bends blend to necessarily life a little future now the people like stunts the urchins articles decisions to by a cost performance the most in to projects that office to city chromate nyc students mail are alternative to the also original corporate many major to at of if by of in memoriam be recruit at compromising location admit volume by public has a art utility liberty in downloaded scholastic orgasms possible movements paradox and the plaintiffs their city stub zone b bay of green bay almost of new james ways into by butterworth claim to fame the in inherent winter may served has discovered in inequality settlements leading saints meadowlands giants to the measures at be able elections and liberty be it considered methods as port which in or e via wood perhaps name a liquidity of to of what is there is no time but only events what do you know
“MAKE NO LITTLE PLANS . . ” After having been invited by my friend Y***, a brilliant scholar of anti-Shabbethaian rabbi and cabalist Jacob ben Aaron Sasportas, to hear Leon Wieseltier deliver the 16th Annual Irving Howe Memorial Lecture, I find it more difficult than ever to avoid thinking of architectural historian Colin Rowe’s essay of 1956, “Chicago Frame: Chicago’s Place in the Modern Movement,” what with its incisive juxtaposition of “facts” and “ideas,” other than in terms of Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails,1 his study of “cognitive dissonance” published that same year. I am referring to the touchingly mundane posteschatological dilemma faced by Mrs. Edna Post, one among the small group of Marian Keech’s adherents, who, convinced that she would be delivered from a universal deluge with the arrival of flying saucers at 12:00 A.M. on the evening of December 21, 1954, gave up her job and unburdened herself of her earthly possessions. The signal for departure never arrived. Festinger, who along with a number of his colleagues was a participant observer of what they only partially correctly anticipated would be a reënactment, in general narrative terms, of the Great Disappointment, October 22, 1884, when the Danielian prophecies of Baptist preacher William Miller failed to be confirmed, reported seeing Mrs. Post retreat to the kitchen of Keech’s home where she “began to cry very softly,” wondering what ever to do next. The “logical” response, according to Festinger, would have been to move on. What he observed, however, was a doubling down. In response to the profound and afflicting dissonance produced by the disconfirmation, the flying saucer sect became even more vehement in its proselytizing. “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct.” Facts, ideas, and the beliefs we entertain about them are not essentially nor even necessarily opposed or allied. Rather, the social-psychological pathology described by Festinger, a Brooklyn-born Jew who had studied with Kurt Lewin, an émigré from Nazi Germany, manifested itself in the urgent attempt of the sect to overcome the unsettling
dissonance between facts, ideas, and beliefs, in particular their indemnificatory offering of renewed confidence. And architecture’s role in building the world to come? The juxtapositions Rowe frames with striking connoisseurial finesse make it possible to modulate the not altogether unfounded nor unshared view expressed by Arthur Drexler in his introduction to The Architecture of the École des Beaux Arts,2 that the “messianic fervor” of Modern architecture, its will to “total design,” is “naïve when it is not actually destructive.” What was the source of its supposed inexorability? The disenchantingly familiar stop-action photographs capturing the destruction of the culpably shoddy (materially and spiritually) Pruitt-Igoe homes, completed in 1956, finally returned to dust July 15, 1972 at 3:32 P.M. “(or thereabouts),” leaves no question as to where it all led. So we have been told again and again. Consider Burnham and Root’s Reliance Building of 1894 and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s project of 1921 for a glass tower. The former, Rowe writes, “answers practical contemporary requirements,” while the latter “postulates an ideal answer to possible future ones.” One is real; the other is imaginary. One is factual; the other is idealistic. “One answers; the other anticipates.” Yet the retrospective lesson Mies himself learned in and from his native Aachen, written on the walls (as if in Danielian manner) of the otherwise historically insignificant buildings shadowed by the Palatine Chapel, was the special pleasure to be had in realizing that what once was still is and will quite possibly long continue to be. These buildings do not “belong to any epoch,” he urges, nor do they possess any “special character,” except that they were “really built.” At the risk of doing damage to Wieseltier’s Ecclesiastian profundity, let it suffice here merely to note the title of his lecture: “Steady Work, The Unmessianic Nature of Jewish Messianism.” Wieseltier extols rather than evacuates the perceived dissonance between the “idea of the Messiah,” central to historical and spiritual Judaism, and “a fact of singular importance”: that for Jews the history of messianism has been the history of false messianism. The Jews’ “gift”
to the world â€œwas not merely the idea of the Messiah. It was the idea of the Messiah and the simultaneous refusal to accept a Messiah, the reluctance to be redeemed.â€? Our proper vocation is to master the longing for salvation, rather than indulge the wish for its fulfillment. There is a not-so-simple virtue in simply getting on with it. It is steady work in uncertain times.
Festinger, Leon, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter. When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group That Predicted the Destruction of the World. New York: Harper, 1956. 1
Drexler, Arthur. The Architecture of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. MoMA: MIT Press, 1977. 2
>< future conversation 01 - the past. the present. the future. to which of these can (and should) architecture focus its gaze? are architects too often lost in their (increasingly untenable) projections into the future? or too selfconciously aware of what has come before? and is the present even a possible subject for architects, given the years it takes to nurture a single work into the world? 03 - What part of architecture do you locate in these questions? Is it a matter of seeing the work built in the world, or is it the process of envisioning, designing, configuring? Architecture always has to be about a future because it does not exist until the architect envisions it. The question is, what happens to that idea, vision, and design along the way? 08 - There is a recurring theme which has to do with the instability between conditions of the present and conditions of the future. “The Future Has Become The Present!” reminds us of the volatility of ‘now’, a symptom more pronounced in the information age, which is ultimately a problem of distinguishing the present from what will occur after. “Future Perfect” seems to offer an explanation, citing translation as one possible action. To simply imagine an event requires interpretation and thus commands a changing of its current state. But translation, simultaneously, moves both forward and back. We might remember T.S. Elliot’s observation that history is unfinished business, in that “every major work of art forces upon us a reassessment of all previous work”. Here, the present alters the perception of the past. In a curious way, “What Is” effectively plays out this phenomena through a conflation of events/headlines/ excerpts staged between the fuzzy line of yesterday and today. By disregarding time, “What Is” forms a continuous thread of information, somewhat akin to a google search, lacking any hierarchy
other than the casual associations that exist between. So I am left wondering, where does architecture stand in this collapse of time? Perhaps this is a call for contingency, traditionally an enemy of architects(modernism especially), who instead tend to retreat to notions of autonomy, order, cleanliness, and hierarchy. Can architecture come to terms with contingency rather than attempt to suppress it? In an era where we increasingly communicate without the need for physical spaces, how does architecture enter into the conversation? 02 - We seem to be predicating that built work is the end game. It’s hard today not to see this through the lens of the 1% versus the 99% — and in the case of architecture it’s those who build (that would be the 1%) and those who don’t. It’s that 99% who are reinventing or redefining what architecture will be. Isn’t architecture becoming virtual, becoming motion, becoming performance, becoming informal? 10 - It is not clear to me that the future perfect is the proper tense and/or aspect with which to contend in any meaningful way with the inevitably of there being a future, and most likely not one of our own making. Of this I am certain: history is written in the subjunctive mood, the mood of the might-have-been. But the claims presently being made about the future perfect seem to be at once vague and unnecessarily constricting. Before I say anything further on this topic, it were perhaps best to refer to a standard and familiar reference, Jeremiah Greenleaf’s Grammar Simplified, or, An Ocular Analysis of the English Language (1821). “The natural divisions of time,” Greenleaf writes, “seem to be the present, past and future; but to mark it more precisely, the past tense is subdivided into the imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect; and the future, into the first, and second — each having its distinct and
peculiar province; and though they are sometimes used promiscuously, or substituted one for the other, in cases where great accuracy is not required, yet there is a real and essential difference in their meaning.” Is it provincialism or rather promiscuity that determines our future? 01 - In his Séminaire V, Jacques Lacan notes, “everything that occurs in the order of language is always already accomplished.” Language is inherently ill equipped to express the future, or considered another way, particularly well equipped to describe its instability. This is particularly true of Germanic languages, including English, where the expression of the future requires the use of the present tense, as in, “I am going to make architecture.” There is no explicitly future tense. And the present tense simultaneously contains the potential for past, present, and future; it can be used to express action in the present, a current state of being, an occurrence in the future, or an action that started in the past and continues. Perhaps then, despite all attempts at level-headed linguistic provincialism, the future’s turbulent uncertainty coupled with the inherent deficiency of the words we have to describe it, can’t help but compromise one’s best judgment and breed an inevitable promiscuity. 10 - Unexamined premises: That anyone has any idea what Lacan is talking about. (We have all sat through seminars. Enough said.) “English” is a “Germanic” language. (Das ist ein (zu) weites Feld). The future is uncertain, turbulently so. (Why must it be like the past?) Words are inherently deficient. (Is this not an acquired idea?) 01 - Examined (in passing): Re: Lacan. No, no idea. But the ambiguity presents endless opportunities for ripe misreadings. Re: The nuances of evolutionary linguistics. The internet is good at empowering armchair expertise. Re: The uncertainty of the uncertainty of tomorrow. Good point. Re: The deficiency of words. See above.
08 - I would like to return to the question of the difference between seeing (a work of architecture), and envisioning (a design process). It is important to understand this distinction, but perhaps even more interesting is how these two positions share a search for something unexpected. For example, architecture often excels when it can engage its public (for example, by not revealing itself all at once, which happens as one experiences a building in fragments, as opposed to in a single sweeping view). Similarly, in the design process, new found interest in rule-based design methods (borrowed from the last 50 years of rule-based art practices) have allowed architects to, in a way, remove themselves from the process, resulting in a more objective point-ofview. The power of rule-based design comes from the dichotomy of making some decisions yourself and allowing others to be made for you (by the rules), and it is ultimately the combination of those two that results in something one could not have conceived of ahead of time. 01 - As posed here, “seeing a work built in the world” seems to demand a static present, clear skies and a stable position from which to gaze into the deep future of the finished product. A rare, if not impossible scenario. “Envisioning, designing, and configuring” on the other hand, seems to thrive in the crosswinds of recent pasts, fleeting presents, and almost futures, demanding both agility and a willingness to proceed without the advantage of the long view. But however false or misleading or unatainable the long view to the Future is, we as architects seem bound to it. As noted above, “Architecture always has to be about a future...” Is this any more true than saying that architecture always has to be about a present, or about a past? 06 - “Seeing a work built in the world” doesn’t require a vision of the future but a vision rooted in the present; the real, something that is not rare but can indeed be a seemingly impossible scenario. Perhaps this is our problem. Architects are always trying to predict the future and to work ahead of societal change and are so often wrong or quickly outdated that the future in whatever
form it takes quickly makes their work seem broken and farcical. Can we hope for anything besides affecting the present? Can we really ever create the future we imagine? Might focusing on the real instead of imagining escapist alternatives to our own reality be a more effective path for creating the future we imagine? Shouldn’t we be looking for opportunities that heighten the present instead of projecting the future? “As an architect, one operates in an unstable ideological environment. What is true today can be completely wrong in five years, and in 25 years it’s most certainly wrong. Ridiculous.” - Rem Koolhaas 04 - Re: ‘the search for something unexpected’: for me, the unexpected that results from experiencing a building in a kind of ‘revealing’ sequence has nothing to do with the future. It does the first time obviously, but after that, the element of continuous surprise has to rely on other strategies - complexity, ethereality, monumentality, obsessive detailing, excess, a certain organization of parts or a particular staging of life and events, etc... The buildings we love are those that have both the same and a different effect every time we see them or live in them. As for the future in the ‘visioning’ part of the design process, I disagree with this idea that what we do as architects is ‘always try[ing] to predict the future.’ Clearly we can’t. What we do, or can do, is take a stance on the present, and the past. Sometimes enhancing the present is just not good enough. Sometimes, the present just sucks. And when it sucks for long enough, movements such as Occupy and the Arab Spring emerge to produce change and carve a different future. The recent projects of autonomy vs. engagement (Eisenmann vs. Koolhaas) are the same in that they both accepted the present as a status quo, and reacted to it in supposed opposite ways. But this endless same present, that of postmodernism and late capitalism doesn’t have to be so. The future does not have to be like the present, or the past. We can only take a position on and in the present, but we can project the kind of future we believe in - what and for whom.
05 - The concept of “the future” sometimes provides a means to escape the present by interpreting new developments through parallels nostalgically borrowed from the past. In recent art, there’s been a great deal of investment in a neo-sixties critique of object making which appropriates the utopic spirit of the work of the past, while fulfilling the present’s obsession with the stylish nature of a “radical” position. In other words, the high art equivalent of a Che Guevara T-shirt. Fashion is often the perfect embodiment of this confusion of periods, peddling arbitrary signs mined from the past as the “next big thing.” This is why it’s so hard to read Occupy Wall Street, or Egypt for that matter. We saw the world on the cusp of a global revolution barely a month or two ago. Now Egypt is regressing into state(less) aggression, and Occupy Wall Street is fighting with the church over new territory for a base of operations. Our need for tidy narratives within the restrictive lens of news stories is trumped by the unpredictability of determining when the present ends and the future begins. It’s hard to talk about the past/present/future without acknowledging how much mass media and technology have skewed our sense of temporality, offering a confused “ever-present” devoid of chronology; a consumers dream of limitless options that are not bound by “real” time. As autonomous private beings, it’s great to have all of history at our fingertips, but the promise of the Occupy movement may be in its emphasis on real time in real space, unfolding moment to moment, as its participants play cat-and-mouse with the media’s need for a list of practical (i.e. consumable) demands. 02 - The future has been predicted so many times over, sometimes catastrophically and sometimes with a crystal ball, that it now seems passé. As the “owl of minerva only flies at night,” the idea of a building or a design for an unknown future is inherently elusive. Yes, as architects, a stand must be taken, but it seems that the only future I’m seeing is either Star Trek sleek, Star Wars monumental, or Manga marvelous. Are there other visions that can work more fluidly or dynamically, so as to occupy the moment?
++ future postscript
“They came together in the first place, certainly because of mutual realization of the inadequacies of the processes of architectural thought which they had inherited from the modern movement as a whole, but more important, each sensed that the other had already found some way towards a new beginning. This new beginning, and the long build-up that followed, has been concerned with inducing, as it were, into the bloodstream of the architect an understanding and feeling for the patterns, the aspirations, the artefacts, the tools, the modes of transportation and communications of present-day society, so that he can as a natural thing build towards that society’s realization-of-itself. In this sense Team 10 is Utopian, but Utopian about the present. Thus their aim is not to theorize but to build, for only through construction can a Utopia of the present be realized.”1
The Aim of Team 10”, Alison Smithson (ed.), Team 10 Primer. New York: MIT Press, 1974 (first edition 1962, revised edition 1968). 1 ”
Team 10 in Spoleto, Italy, 1976. From left to right: De Carlo, Peter Smithson, Van Eyck, Richards, Guedes, Alison Smithson, Coderch.
KAREN WONG is the Director of External Affairs at The New Museum in New York City and Co-director of the Festival of Ideas for the New City.
GIANCARLO VALLE is an architect in New York City and co-conspirator of another pamphlet.
PETRA TODOROVICH is the Director of America 2050, a national urban planning initiative to develop an infrastructure and growth strategy for the United States.
MOLLY WRIGHT STEENSON is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University in the School of Architecture. Her dissertation is about artificial intelligence and architecture.
PETER SCOTT is an artist, writer, curator, and director of the non-profit gallery carriage trade.
RYAN NEIHEISER is an architect in New York City and co-conspirator of another pamphlet.
ISAIAH KING is an architect in New York City and co-conspirator of another pamphlet.
EDWARD EIGEN is a historian and Associate Professor of Architecture at The City College of New York.
PASH BUZARI is an artist living and working in New York City.
AMALE ANDRAOS is a founding partner of Work Architecture Company (Work AC) and an assistant professor at Columbia Universityâ€™s GSAPP.
THE FUTURE! pamphlet contributors:
Above all, another pamphlet is a conversation, a loose exchange of forms and ideas, a shared excitement. It is a way to play, a frame through which to look, an open dialogue with our friends, our histories, and our surroundings.
For the fleeting life of this pamphlet, distinct voices are provisionally brought together into a contingent collective. But while the contributors and the ideas they contribute are vital, particular authorship is obscured. The collective dialogue is given primacy over the individual position.
The next conversation will be SCALELESS!
If you are interested in contributing to the next conversation, please email firstname.lastname@example.org