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Editor Molly Redigan Business Manager Steven Fournier Staff Nicole Fricke Jamie Georges Jeremy Johnson Hayden Juergens Jeremy Mizak Riley Rinnan Indri Shehu Faculty Advisors Professor Tadd Heidgerken Professor Noah Resnick Cover Images: Shanghai No. 13 by Lu Xinjian (www.xinjianlu.com)

PRICE $20.00 US University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture 4001 W McNichols Rd Detroit, Michigan 48221 313.993.1523 Our digital archive can be found at: http://dichotomy.arch.udmercy.edu

Printing: Heath Press, Royal Oak, MI Copyright Š 2016 by Dichotomy | University of Detroit Mercy All rights reserved. No part of this issue may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from Dichotomy. ISSN # 0276-5748

mission Dichotomy, a student-published journal of the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture, strives to be the critical link to the discourse on design, architecture, urbanism, and community development. Like the institution, Dichotomy focuses on social justice and critical thought concerning intellectual, spiritual, ethical, and social development issues occurring in and outside of Detroit. The aim of Dichotomy is to disseminate these relevant investigations conducted by students, faculty, and professionals.

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Editors’ Note



Ivo Pekec and Fereshteh Assaczadeh Sheikhjani: SUBERSIVE TEHRAN






128 144 158 168 178 192 216


SLOUCHING TOWARDS [...]: Florence Twu






'Elephant', photo by Andy Richards, 2013

editors’ note

Creation is a slow, laborious process. The process of assembling, editing and laying out this issue of Dichotomy is emblematic of many creative endeavors: it is marked by long periods of latency followed by sudden bursts of activity. It is a process measured by incremental movement and long periods of inactivity. Destruction can be just as protracted. Destruction is sometimes a swift wrecking ball to a structure, but, more frequently, destruction occurs in almost immeasurable motions: it is the ground sinking, it is the brick crumbling, it is the slow recoil of a thing retreating back into itself. Dichotomy 22: Creep explores both the plodding pace of putting pieces together and the slow destruction of things coming apart. This creation/destruction binary is not just a rich dichotomy in its own right. It is the center of any creative endeavor: we create, tortuously at times, knowing full well that any creation is temporary at best. Creep invites the reader to embrace the duality of creation and destruction. It asks the reader to appreciate the sluggish crawl of progress, while also celebrating its steady disintegration. It encourages the reader to see beauty in everything, a building or a landscape or an object, through each phase of its journey. Creep invites the reader to reveal in the finitude of all things.

Your Editors,

Molly Redigan and Steven Fournier

'Elephant', photo by Andy Richards, 2013


Urban Intermediaries

When narrating urban history—telling stories of social and material change—we often reference precipitous events. A city is transformed by revolution, for example, or by war or a technological breakthrough. A political movement is galvanized by an acute moment of injustice. A district is reshaped through rapid demolition and redevelopment. But what happens between these momentous times and spaces? We don’t know, generally. In this vast intermediary, life proceeds unnoticed. There is another way to think about change. This volume of Dichotomy shows that in the long view, the slow creep of anonymous events really does add up. Vegetation grows, metals rust, communities form, and material fragments of the past endure and take on new meaning. Almost imperceptibly, space is made and remade. Attending to these processes, and their material effects, the authors suggest an alternative mode of urban study—one marked by tactile immediacy, the freedom of the unseen, and the experience of time passing. The essays collected here avoid the main streets. In London, we travel underground and through the city’s Victorian-era comfort stations. In Shanghai, we step into an unknown and foreboding neighborhood. In Tehran, we seek spaces for covert assembly. Possibilities emerge beyond the gaze of state and corporate surveillance. We observe wilds and farms as they proliferate within American cities. We reflect on the space of dreams, and on mortality and remembrance. Collectively, Creep evokes the entwined lives and deaths of buildings, neighborhoods, ideals, flora and fauna, and our bodies. Tracing urban change on cracking walls, in the artifacts of bygone utopias, and among flourishing Trees of Heaven seems to suggest an encounter with the natural world and its processes. Like the features of a Picturesque garden, however, these scenes are as artificial as they are alluring. Each site is shaped by economic and social (i.e. human) life, and each indexes the movement of capital and the politics of urban ecologies. The vacant and overgrown houses of Chongquing, China, we learn, only appear abandoned. They are securely held as real estate investments by their absent owners.The world looks different after spending time in the company of these authors. The intermediaries of space and time, where change happens slowly, come into view. The sheen of historical abstraction falls off of things, and dents, stains, and scratches become visible everywhere. A bus passes a construction site, and winter salt covers everything. All around, seen and unseen, people are working, and it is clear to me that their efforts—our efforts—are making their mark. Michael McCulloch University of Michigan


Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy design development and reflection, let alone & forget’ mentality for Chinese assurance that construction procedures and regulations are being strictly followed across homes

Robert Schmidt III1 , Andrew Baldwin Chaoqun Zhuang2


Introduction China has continued an unprecedented level of economic growth over a twenty year period which is the direct result of evolving reforms to its land use policies that have privatized the housing market and continued an extraordinary push for urban development. Since the 1990s, the Chinese government has operated with the fundamental belief that an urbanite is worth far more to its country’s GDP than a rural resident; thus faster and increased urbanization has been a key proponent to its continued growth (Ren, 2013). The structure of the political system exacerbates this condition by putting pressure on developers to build as quickly as possible. For Chinese politicians, it’s a numbers game, local government officials are evaluated on the shortterm economic growth during their cycle in office and if they want promotion they need it to be able to literally show what they’ve built. The schemes of predecessors are often abandoned to start new developments so that credit can be clearly given to a single individual (Shepard, 2015). As Bosker (2013) points out, “Personal success is measured by the number of units they sell. They are less concerned with increasing land values and developing a genuine, multi-dimensional, and vibrant community.” The expedited speed of construction leaves little time for proper


all units in the development.

A thirty year time period of community-based living (danwei) where no one was able to own their own home has fuelled a Chinese obsession with property (the1949-1978 Reform Period). The ability for an individual to purchase a home has become an important indicator of one’s success. While other forms of domestic and foreign investments are viewed with heavy risk, purchasing of additional homes is viewed as a safe and prosperous way to invest one’s money. It is a physical, tradeable object that one can use to represent their wealth, success and years of labour. It is not uncommon for a family to own several homes – 21% of urban households possess more than 1 home (Shepard, 2015). This obsession helps establish a progressive market for homes that are purchased as a commodity rather than a home to live in. While one can easily ‘forget’ about the money they invest in a mutual fund or bond, investing in a home is not as simple - while the market value of many homes may have tripled (or more) over the last decade, the real value of the homes over their long-term future may be very different. The purchasing of a home and the owner’s physical location are often geographically disconnected and many of the purchased homes are units in high-rise buildings. There is a general expectation across all residential types that nothing has to be done until someone decides to move in - Figure 1.

010 014 018 022 026 030 034 036 Robert Schmidt III



Dr. Robert Schmidt III is an architect and academic. He is the founder of Idapu, a design and research practice based in Germany. His recent work has focused on urban transformation strategies, alternative architectural education and practice models and the implementation of modern design and construction technologies. He is a visiting researcher at Chongqing University. Professor Andrew Baldwin has an extensive background in construction and design management. He is currently the Deputy Director of the National Centre for International Collaboration for Research on Low-carbon and Green Building at Chongqing University and is an Emeritus Professor of Loughborough University in the UK.

Image Credit: Robert Schmidt III

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 1: ‘Entrances’: many doors of unoccupied homes have the plastic shipping wrap still partially intact (left) while others have been replaced with more ornate doors and adorned with Chinese good fortune messages and in this case gold chandeliers and shoes (right)

Given the described context, ‘what are the physical implications of combining cheap and quick construction with an unoccupied ‘buy & forget’ mentality’? And more specifically, the focus of this issue, ‘how has this context effected the often long-term and gradual creep of material deterioration’? The questions at hand are discussed with a case study from a residential estate in Chongqing, China. Brief overviews of the Chinese land system, the city of Chongqing and the estate are presented to provide a useful context for discussion. Subsequently, a narrative crafted from interviews with residents along with

photographic evidence of several common circumstances are presented to describe and illustrate the revealed condition of accelerated creep(ing). Lastly a discussion is held regarding the long-term impact and reality of such precarious conditions.

Chinese Land System Details of the Chinese land system including its susceptibility to coercion and corruption is outside the scope of this article (c.f. Miller, 2012), the intent here is to simply provide a brief overview of the process for contextual purposes.

As a starting point, The National Government gifts ‘urban land’3 to local governments who in turn lease the land to developers to build on. With regards to residential development, a developer is able to lease the land for 70 years from the local government. This is a one-time fee as no annual tax comes from the land (e.g. property tax). This is different compared to industrial and commercial uses where the local government can impose annual taxes (e.g. production tax) and thus why the cost of land for residential use is generally higher depending on the location. A developer can obtain the land either through negotiation with the local government or by bidding in the open market – the former is often much cheaper. Given the current government system, land development is the primary funding mechanism for local governments which again adds pressure to develop faster and more land in order to keep itself afloat.

pipes and electrical infrastructure connections exposed - some will parge the concrete structure with a thin coat of mortar to give it a nicer look. Depending on how well the units have presold, the developer may decide to finish a handful on a lower level as model units. These model units are generally finished in very ornate styles reminiscent of mid-twentieth century European luxury. The floor plans are cellular, but the drawings indicate to owners which walls are loadbearing and which are not. Upon completion the developer will hire a management company for the estate. The management company can stay on if the newly formed housing board (an elected group of residents) is happy with their performance. The housing board has the legal right to change the management company at any time. The management company’s efforts focus on security, maintaining the exterior and lobby spaces and helping residents with various requests.

Developers construct elaborate showrooms typically near the estate location with numerous show room models varying in scale from the overall site to individual apartment units and villas. The models are accompanied with elaborate brochures selling a ‘lifestyle’ rather than just a home and a pricing matrix that illustrates the square metre prices for the units based on a handful of variables (e.g. unit direction, floor level). Almost all units will be sold simply on the models and brochures prior to the start of construction. The interior of the units are unfinished. They typically will be composed of a raw concrete structure with



Chongqing, China’s largest inland city, is located at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. It is very much a mountainous city with a varied topography into which its buildings and urban infrastructure are cut. China is typically divided into five main climate regions with Chongqing falling within the hot summer, cold winter region - Figure 2. Despite this description, Chongqing has a humid subtropical climate with long hot and humid summers and damp and relatively mild winters, temperatures occasionally reach freezing. The city is set between mountains on

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

all sides which limits air movement (wind) and the temperature difference between day and night is relatively consistent (2-4 degrees). In 1997 Chongqing became the fourth directlycontrolled municipality under the central government in Beijing (Han and Wang, 2001). This identification has allowed it to become the primary benefactor of the central government’s push to move development inland (e.g. China’s ‘Go West’ strategy, 1999). However, it is still considered a Tier 2 city 4 from a market perspective hence its development is very much government led.

Fig. 2: Climate map of China

The municipality of Chongqing stretches across 84,403km2 with a population of 30 million (58% urbanized). It’s important to note that in China the distinction between urban and rural land is more of an administrative label rather than a representation of density and what’s actually built on it (Campanella, 2008). Thus, the municipality of Chongqing is made up of a mixture of urban (districts) and rural (counties) areas – Figure 3. The greater urban area is made up of 10 districts stretching a fraction of the municipality’s land (6,346km2) but holds about 1/3 of its population (85% urbanized). Central Chongqing what Westerners would consider to

Fig. 3: Map of Chongqing municipality

be the ‘city’ of Chongqing is 1,435km2 with a population of 5 million (95% urbanized). Central Chongqing has a traditional central ‘downtown’ area (Yuzhong district, 100% urbanized), but its rapid development over the past 20 years has created a city with multiple centres along with a developing transportation infrastructure. The city’s topography and dispersion has made it a car-orientated city, but its high population density means it suffers from severe traffic congestion throughout day and night.


The Estate The ‘upmarket’ residential development of Ever Green Lake is a gated community that is situated within the Nan’an district in Central Chongqing. A Singapore-based developer purchased the land in the 1980s at the start of the post-reform era (1979 - ). The estate was designed by a prominent Chinese architecture practice from the South-east of China and built just over 10 years ago between 2003 and 2006. Thus, the

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 4: Green lined road

homes were constructed within the timeframe of the Chinese Golden Age of construction – these types of ‘suburban’ estates were a response to a growing demand for a contrasting luxury lifestyle of ‘detached’ homes set in a quiet, lowdensity, green environment (Bosker, 2013). The estate has a total of 405 houses with three types of homes – detached villas5 , terraced houses and semi-detached houses. Homes vary in size between 200m2 – 700m2 with the largest homes surrounding the lake. The exterior of the homes are of a Western style in the realm of colonial revival; however, like much of Chinese Western

influenced architecture it is a result of a selective combination of desired elements. The homes are less a response to actual residents’ needs and more a response to a progressive, modern and luxurious lifestyle. One can notice quickly that the occupied homes are clearly ‘home’ to the rich with the number and types of cars and the types of exterior upgrades applied to the homes (doors, gates, garden, etc.). In addition, every home has a garden ranging from 80m2 - 200m2. According to the management company, the estate is just under 20% building density with almost 55% greenery – Figure 4.

Fig. 5: Community building at entrance

While purchasing a home came with the optimism of continued growth surrounding the community, little has been built with regards to amenities and supporting commercial infrastructure. An estate brochure advertises a five-star club, exclusive hospitals, elite kindergartens, supermarkets, public transportation systems and more. Within the estate at the entrance there is a large restaurant and community centre, office building but this appeared to be all but abandoned during our trips to the estate - Figure 5. The estate remains relatively isolated as a commuter community.


The closest food market is 45 minutes away by foot; as well as, the closest metro train stop. There are a lack of quality schools in the vicinity which is of top importance to Chinese and according to residents traffic congestion has actually gotten worse which is a problem as most workplaces are not located nearby. However, all the homes are sold. They were all sold within two years of completion. Like other similar residential developments a proportion of homes would have been purchased by speculators to sell later on or by wealthy

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 6: (Re)construction: replacement of windows and lower panels (left)6 ; stripped back to the concrete structure (right).

investors as a novelty, but others would have been acquired by families with the intent to move in. The management company claimed that over 75% of the homes were occupied, but a quick survey walking through the estate estimated that number more accurately to be just over half (about 55%). By residents’ accounts this has however steadily increased, with one early occupier saying five years ago it was less than a third full. So why didn’t families move in immediately? Some stated they didn’t have the money to immediately finish the home, while others told us they were waiting for the surrounding infrastructure to

build up. The progression of development outside the estate has been much slower than all had expected – the lack of convenience was stated as a major deterrent for friends and other family members who have not yet moved in. So why do residents tolerate the inconvenience? The common response was they love the environment of the estate – quiet, low-density, ‘private’ and lots of green space. The estate is in an active form of transformation - approximately a quarter of the homes (a mix of occupied and unoccupied) appeared to be actively engaged in some level of retrofitting – Figure 6.

Fig. 7: ‘Neighbours’: well-kept homes (right) are directly adjacent to homes that have never been occupied (left).

Accelerated Creep(ing) Upon visiting the community, the result is a remarkable juxtaposition of luxuriously kept homes directly adjacent to weathered, dilapidated and unoccupied homes - Figure 7. How could these homes be only 10 years old? How had the material deterioration advanced so quickly? Was the root cause physical (construction flaw) and/or social (type of home didn’t fit how they wanted to live)? For the


homes in poor condition, much of the exterior decorative work, balustrades, mouldings, veneer panels, etc. were not only stained but broken, with concrete/plaster spalling off the units. The overriding impression was poor construction and poor maintenance of the housing units, but the high quality landscaping still made the development an attractive place. It was easy to forget that residences in this type of housing development can be simply a

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 8: Ownership scenarios

commodity with a value on the real estate market. A range of scenarios were hypothesized and are presented on a continuum between two sets of values – a pure investment (left) and a home for living (right) – Figure 8. The spectrum helps contextualize the existing condition where all scenarios are present, but what makes the estate situation so interesting is that the outer two are the most prevalent and in direct physical relation to each other. And in discussing with residents, there were no concerns with the value of their home with regards to the adjacent unoccupied and deteriorating properties. Discussion with an owner who had not moved in to their house yet stated they bought their home because a friend had purchased one and the price was not very high. Since purchasing the home seven years ago, they’ve done nothing but plant two trees in the back garden. While a few of the homes were confirmed to be rented, this is typically not a viable option because while the cost of a home is typically extremely high, the rental yield is incredibly low, around 1% (Shepard, 2015).

In addition, some claim that finishing a home can reduce the value of it on the second-hand market (increased amount of work to refinish). Over the 6 months investigation we could find between 20-25 homes in the estate for sale online – about half of them (9) were finished (occupied) while the other half remained unfinished (never occupied). Over the last three months two of the homes were sold. There are no ‘for sale’ signs or physical indication that a home is for sale on the property itself.

The Homes The homes are all clad with a veneer system that appeared to be done as quickly and cheaply as possible. When installing a veneer system whether it is anchored or adhered, a significant design requirement is to make sure the backup system can resist water penetration. The exterior finishes appeared to be directly adhered to the concrete structure. It appeared that the only act done prior to adhering the panels was

Fig. 9: Example of poorly sealed opening

parging - a thin coat of mortar to help smooth the surface and seal it against moisture. In such a case, water and water vapour that infiltrates/ diffuses the exterior cladding has nowhere to go but into the house. This is especially a problem at openings (doors/windows/vents) because in this case they were poorly sealed a lack of tight-fitting components and use of weather stripping and caulking has left openings extremely vulnerable – Figure 9. In addition, cheap and relatively non-durable panels have led to the severe and quick deterioration of the exterior with stains, cracks


and large chunks falling off – all of which provide additional opportunities for water infiltration. The weathered and deteriorated condition of the exterior mouldings/trim is often the first and most obvious sign of poor construction. Mouldings are regularly stained, cracked and shattered with large chunks missing. It appears the hollow cast-in-place concrete/ plaster solution has fallen victim to the infiltration of water that probably settled inside and caused havoc with the occasional freeze/ thaw cycle. This condition is worsened by the inadequate rebar/metal wiring used to tie the moulding back to the structure along with a lack

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 10: Brick veneer falling off, stained cornice moulding and poorly sealed window openings (left); stained, hollow cornice moulding broken with insufficient metal anchorage exposed (right)

of movement/expansion joints compromising the integrity of the solution. Residents who have redone the cornice moulding have commented on how they’ve chosen to use a more solid, durable solutions such as stone or polyurethane to help remedy the condition. A lack of movement joints in the veneer panels as well fails to cater for differential movement in the structure which increases opportunities for cracking, tenting and debonding – Figure 10. The multiple opportunities for infiltration significantly increase the amount of water passage into the home. While water infiltration seemed less obvious from the ground floor

slabs, one has to wonder if the site was properly graded to shed water and the slab poured on top of a water penetration layer. In addition, workers on site explained that they’ve often had to replace the roofing because of water infiltration (no water barrier) and that rainwater pipes were poorly installed, leaked and failed to move collected water away from the home. Rather than admitting there was an issue with the exterior finishes, the estate management team stated that some of the residents found the exterior materials were not to their liking and wanted to update them to a more fashionable choice. What does all this water infiltration add up to?

Fig. 11: Middle floor level w/ extensive water & mold

It was obvious walking through a handful of empty homes that water infiltration through openings was a serious issue leading to the severe growth of mould – Figure 11. One could easily smell this upon entering an unoccupied home. The hot temperatures and high level of humidity provide an ideal climate for the growth of mould - high levels of air ventilation and infiltration will add to the moisture problems (poor construction can create 10 times the air exchange rate). Many residents confirmed the abundant amount of water that enters the homes through the windows and doors. Given the mould growth patterns and locations, it also


appeared that some mould growth was due to severe diffusion and infiltration through the concrete structure itself. Talking to residents who have occupied their homes, the dampness issue doesn’t go away by simply removing the existing mould and occupying the home. Even residents who have applied various solutions to reduce water infiltration and vapour diffusion claim the problem persists. One resident described still having a strong smell of mould throughout the house after moving in 6 months ago. They’ve added water protection to the home, but still

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 12: Large overhangs cast over the homes

the smell of dampness continues throughout all three levels of the home. Another resident expressed dampness issues 2 years after moving in, he dug a trench around the home to help shed water away. Many owners have installed large overhangs above openings; reclad the veneer and mouldings and upgraded their windows and doors – Figures 12 and 13. One resident stated he replaced the windows before even moving in because he noticed how much water entered the home through them. To characterise the quality of the windows, in a couple of the unoccupied homes, glass panes had appeared to have simply fallen out of the window frame and laid on the ground shattered. Another resident stated he reconstructed his entire entrance because of water damage. This appeared to be a clear pattern as a majority of occupied homes had redone their entrance.

Fig. 13: Exterior of the home has been completely redone with no sign of the original exterior remaining.

Thus, many of the materials and components have become collateral damage to water infiltration as an accelerated form of material creep(ing). The reality is the ‘fix’ and abatement process was (and remains) far from perfect. While the exterior finishes can be replaced and stains can be removed from the concrete structure, if the issue of water infiltration and diffusion are not properly removed the condition will return. Workers stated the conventional solution is simply to (re)clad with an improved veneer adhered with a thermal mortar. While this will

likely reduce water infiltration for now, a strict requirement for a refit job should be to add a proper vapour diffusion retarder (VDR) to help seal (wrap) the wall from exterior water. This would have to be done over the entire exterior envelope and work precisely with all opening details. A drainage mat (or rainscreen mat) could be added on top of the VDR to reduce moisture problems by separating the exterior veneer from the VDR and creating an airspace (cavity) that allows the wall to breathe and stay dry. The breathable net product allows for air movement and for water to drain to the exterior (e.g. flashing with weep holes).

Fig. 14: Door filled in on the right and window on the left expanded to include door; blue tinted canopy also added


Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

But most importantly, getting the existing concrete thoroughly dried out would prove to be especially difficult because the humid and damp year-round climate conditions keep an abundance of moisture in the air – i.e. the existing moisture in the concrete will continue to find its way out seeking equilibrium with the interior even if the exterior is sealed up properly. The visible cracking in the concrete is not believed to be structural, but forms of shrinkage or temperature cracks. In addition, residents stated that the interior mortar layer was ‘too thin’ as it commonly cracks and falls off. Water infiltration appeared to be present at

many of the cracks since mould and staining often occurred around them. Owners appeared to have ‘fixed’ some of the cracks with a coat of smooth mortar applied over the top - one can visibly see the colour difference in a diagonal pattern. Furthermore, some residents complained about pipes leaking and needing to replace them with a higher grade. It is not clear if the pipes were simply poorly installed or an issue with material deterioration (e.g. corrosion). One worker commented that the water-supply pipes were generally too small which exacerbated

Fig. 15: Redundant exterior stairs which have been removed by many owners (left); corrosion of exterior metal balustrades (right)

the situation. Water leakage in the walls could also be another source for mould issues in the occupied homes. We were told by construction workers that the entrance location has often been switched with the neighbouring window to reduce pipe runs so as not to have pipes running above the door – Figure 14. Corrosion is the deterioration of a metal by a chemical reaction with its environment. It is clear by the level and rate of corrosion on all of the original exterior metal that none of it was treated with any anti-corrosion efforts (e.g. reactive coating). The high temperatures and relative humidity levels of Chongqing

Fig. 16: Orientate driveway gate with LED screen


enhance the severity of the corrosion. The metal railings for the exterior stairs and balconies are an excellent example. In the case of one of the townhouse styles the exterior staircase in the front yard leads to an additional entrance door on the second level. However, all three floors belong to the same unit and given the layout of the home it would seem unlikely for the unit to be split rendering the staircase redundant. At first the estate would not allow owners to remove the staircase, but later changed its view after many owners complained – Figure 15. Added segregation and delineation of space between homes exists as well - many gates

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

and walls have been added between and across driveways and yards. Many of the driveway gates have striking ornamentation and lighting – Figure 16. The open and light white picket fences found in the original renderings and photos appear for the most part to be gone, replaced with more durable, opaque solutions.

Retrofitting the home The homes benefit from a very simple loadbearing construction method of concrete and brick that allows for small teams of labours to retrofit the homes easily using manual and traditional methods. There is generally no need

for heavy machinery or highly technical skills or knowledge. We watched workers mix concrete in a large barrel in the driveway and carry it to the side of the house as a small assembly line of bamboo sticks and buckets – Figure 17. The adaptation activities range from small jobs that allow for continuous occupancy to stripping everything back to the concrete structure. According to workers, when an owner decides to (re)fit the home it takes a couple of months to strip the exterior back to the structure and 2 to 3 years to finish. Because these homes are generally not their primary homes, there is no rush, the construction (refit) process is a

Fig. 17: Workers mixing and carrying concrete to side of house

relatively long-term project. Usually a group of about 5-10 workers will do the job with traditional tools. Purchasers of the (second-hand) homes don’t care about the existing condition of the home and assume to pay to refinish the home the way they would like it. Most homes will incur a major refit prior to occupation; depending on the desire and amount of money the owner has will determine the extent of the initial preoccupation refit. Subsequent partial refits are common as well which creates a continuous construction site feel to the estate.

The main problem is that poor construction methods and materials have led to series moisture issues and in warm, humid climates, tight construction is imperative. With the structures remaining empty and unheated they basically get hot, cold, damp – stay damp, dry, crack, spall and fall off. The use of inexpensive finish techniques without the prep work behind it (moisture barriers, insulation, anchorage systems) has led to accelerated creep(ing). Both the developer (Singapore) and the architect (South-east China) were from outside the

Fig. 18: Redone entrance (left) and front gate (right) give the Western style homes a more Chinese appearance


Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

climate zone in somewhat dryer, less humid climates which could partially account for the lack of moisture diffusion and choice of poorly durable materials. In addition they probably did not consider the occasional freeze/thaw cycle which has exacerbated problems. A lack of knowledge and skills with regards to the construction workers themselves plays a significant role as even today when reapplying new veneer panelling it appears all that is used is a ‘lick & stick’ method without proper retarders and adhesion techniques. Some of the residents stated that they were aware that the construction quality was poor, but that

they enjoyed the environment and viewed it as a trade-off. One resident stated how his son had bought him a similar size luxury apartment close to where he lives, but won’t move there since he values the quiet, low-density environment of Ever Green Lake. It was also apparent that from the resident’s perspective there were no mechanisms in place for them to take action against anyone with regards to the quality of the homes. Thus, repairing the home when it failed seemed to be acceptable to all residents. It was clear that the inhabitable exterior space has tremendous value. The design of the doors, entranceways and gardens take precedence over the failings of the cornice mouldings and veneer

Fig. 19: Redone home (centre) next to mirrored home (left) illustrating ‘original’ finish

Fig. 20: Ground floor with mold, cracking, storage and fit-out company’s contact information

panelling because of their importance as Feng shui driven elements – Figure 18. The home pictured in Figure 19 added a new portico entrance which protrudes out from the existing frame, re-cladded the entire exterior including the moulding and changed all the windows – Figure 19. For comparison, the adjacent home in the photo is a mirrored version of how the home would have originally looked. In addition, the owners added an elevator shaft and built a 3 metre concrete wall to separate the back garden from the neighbour. Interestingly many of the unoccupied homes have found intermediate uses. Their driveways are regularly used for additional parking and


their yards are very active full of vegetables grown by other residents or staff employed to ‘mind’ the property in the absence of the owners. In addition, driveways and yards are used as garbage dumps and to store materials for neighbouring construction projects. Inside the homes one can find the storage of random fixtures and construction materials and tools. A toilet in the middle of a room, a bath sitting on the front porch, a sink lost in the back yard. In entertaining fashion, many of the unoccupied homes have been breached with the name and contact information of various decoration (fit-out) companies written in chalk on the concrete walls – Figure 20. Furthermore, a couple of the homes have been converted to be used as businesses – Figure 21.

Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

Fig. 21: A branch of the Chongqing Survey Institute

Discussion & Conclusions One could argue these homes were built simply to fall into ruin. The irony here is that they are generally pleasant places in which to live. Those who took the time to visit the home prior to moving in and undertake both remedial and finishing works on the property were more satisfied upon occupation – the deterioration was not as bad and the understanding of what was needed for improvements was better. There is a general belief that the tolerance level of owners for material deterioration is incredibly high as a result of the unprecedented speed of physical and economic growth experienced by

a single generation where previous conditions were so much worse. This is combined with a clear indication that the residents have an expectation for their homes to deteriorate over time – an expectation that is not gauged against any preconceived longevity. The Vice Minister (Qiu Baoxing) of the Housing and Urban-Rural Development ministry stated at the Sixth International Green Building and Energy Conservation Conference in 2010 that the average building in China will only last 25 to 30 years before being torn down – as a comparison, average housing in Britain lasts 132 years and 74 years in the USA (Shepard, 2015). When the livelihood of a system is based on the (re)leasing of land and the (re)construction and economic growth that it spurs, there is no incentive for buildings to last a long time. The interesting paradox here is the purchasing of homes for investment or for future use what does this projected longevity mean for someone who purchases a home to retire in or for a child to live in 15-20 years down the road? It raises the interesting question of what are the owners actually purchasing? Given the Chinese land system they are not purchasing the actual land and every year on reduces the time left on the lease and its long-term value.7 Are they merely investing to hold a container of space that comes with the opportunity to (re) construct a home at a completely separate and additional cost? It could be considered that they are purchasing the closest opportunity they have to build their own home. With the exception of the very elite

who may have the opportunity to negotiate with a developer about what is built, the vast majority of buyers will purchase from what the developer decides to put forward – i.e. there is no chance for individuals to lease land directly from the government and build what they would like. Thus, rather than think about how much money they are losing by removing all the exterior elements, owners think about how much they are saving by using the existing concrete structure. There are obvious limitations to this as for example one home in the estate that was adding extensively to the outside in a distinct appearance was brought to management’s attention by neighbours

and forced to stop construction - Figure 22. This would suggest on one hand that owners generally don’t need to seek approval prior to constructing significant retrofits (unlike in Western countries), but on the other hand there are some rules that need to be followed. The neglectful condition of the housing is currently tolerated because a second-hand home buyer is willing and able to spend millions of yuan to refurbish and wait years to occupy the home because the economy is still good and the property market remains in its infancy stages. But what happens when the economy can no longer support such a wasteful

Fig. 22: Original frame of home is behind the new arcade; home was additionally extended to cover almost all of the garden space


Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

method of construction and the cost of such comprehensive refits become untenable? As the Chinese market continues to evolve, at what point will buyers of ‘second-hand’ homes begin to demand much better conditions and refuse to pay a significant sum of money for a home that is not well kept? This is the common foundation for real estate markets in Western countries. So what could developers build that might not be as wasteful? Could they simply sell individuals the right to build on the land or like in most Western countries the opportunity to discuss and customise what is built? The limitation here is that many of the homes are not purchased to be lived in immediately suggesting the need to sell the owner a physical commodity. What if the developer simply built a water-proof shell leaving the exterior to be finished like the interior? Would it affect the quality of the environment any more or less than the accelerated deterioration of the existing exteriors? The answer is probably much simpler - build better homes that are more durable and less susceptible to neglect and/or maintain the upkeep of the investment -i.e.do more than simply the current ‘buy & forget’ mentality. The case study exhibits well that sustainability is dependent on not only design but also construction quality and maintenance. The Evergreen Lake estate is an excellent example of how the combination of poorly designed and poorly constructed homes are exacerbated with a lack of occupation. It provides a visual manifestation of accelerated creep(ing). A subsequent question for future research would

be if and how this condition is transferable to larger scale high-rise residential buildings in China that now sit empty as well? The exterior of many of these buildings already show an accelerated form of material creep(ing).

Acknowledgements This paper includes research funded under the 1000 Experts scheme programme of the Ministry of Education, People’s Republic of China, the Municipality of Chongqing, and Chongqing University.

Endnotes 1.

Loughborough University, School of Civil & Building Engineering, UK


Chongqing University, School of Urban Construction and Environmental Engineering, China


Rural land is different as it’s actually owned by individuals or rural collectives. This land should be purchased or compensated for by the local government. The land value of rural land is a fraction of urban land; however, local governments have the authority to change the land over which immediately increases its value (up to 40x).


The tier labelling system for Chinese cities is an unofficial system that represents a city’s economic development which includes GDP, infrastructure, transportation systems, etc. The tier system is often used to help companies prioritize key markets.


Within the last two years construction of villas has been made illegal by the Chinese government as a wasteful form of housing.


The home on the left did a refit prior to moving in, but didn’t have enough money to refit the windows. Two years on now, they have money to refit the windows and the lower panels while living in the home.


It’s worth noting that a law was passed in 2007 that provides owners with a level of reassurance that the government will not take the land away from them at the end of the lease period; however the owner is likely to have to pay to lease the land from the government again.


Accelerated Creep(ing): A ‘buy & forget’ mentality for Chinese homes

References 1.

Bosker, B. 2013. Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press & University of Hawaii Press.


Campanella, T. 2008. The Concrete Dragon: China’s Urban Revolution and what it means for the world. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.


Han, S. and Wang, Y. 2001. Chongqing. Cities 18 (2): 115-125.


Miller, T. 2012. China’s Urban Billion. London: Zed Books.


Ren, X. 2013 Urban China. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Shepard, W. 2015. Ghost Cities of China. London: Zed Books.

038 044 046 048042 050046 052 054 050 056 Ivo Pekec VULGARITY WITHOUT Fereshteh PRECEDENT? Assadzadeh Sheikhjani ‘UGLINESS’, CHANGING TASTES AND THE SUBVERSIVE TEHRAN VICTORIAN INTERIOR

Steven Parissien Ivo Pekeč and Fereshteh Assadzadeh Sheikhjani, currently based between Graz, Austria and Tehran, Iran, are the founders of a interdisciplinary group that explores unilluminated urban phenomena and the fringes of architectural space. Steven is between Director purely of Compton and In their work theyParissien move fluidly theoreticalVerney researchmuseum and methods gallery in Warwickshire, England, and Visiting Fellow at Kellogg of narrative inquiry. College, University of Oxford, and the University of Warwick. in London and in Buckinghamshire, obtained Among Born their recent projects are raised Subversive Tehran, exhibited atSteven the International his undergraduate degreesinfrom Oxford – a Biennaleboth of Architecture Kraków and 2015doctoral and awarded the international 1st Class BA (from University College, in 1981Islands and of a competition Planetary Urbanism organised by the Oxford) journal Arch+, doctorate in eighteenth-century architectural history in 1989. Alterity: Archipelago Istanbul, a extensive study interweaving an essayistic Steven written extensively on spaces architectural and within cultural narrative with ahas speculative analysis about of alterity thehistory. urban Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; nine and books to Olympus date include fabric ofHis Istanbul Mount Residence, a architectural and narrative Apollo magazine’s Book of the Year for 1992 and The American persiflage thematising the excessive lifestyle of Tehrans and its typical Institute of Architects’ Book the Year Choice for planning 1993), George architectural manifestations. Their latestofproject, currently in the stages, Theabout Grand (Johnbased Murray, 2001) and, most is a filmIV:essay the Entertainment urbanism of Tehran on methods of lacanian recently, Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). psychoanalysis. Image Ivo Pekec Fereshteh Assadzadeh Sheikhjani 1856. Facing:Credit: Plate from Owenand Jones’s “The Grammar of Ornament”,

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognise who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.” (1) Italo Calvino The history of the urbanization of Tehran is not filled with glory. The crowded, chaotic and paradoxical urban fabric of Tehran can neither be characterised as purely traditional nor modern. Tracing back its history to about 200 years ago, one is confronted with a development that faced many ups and downs. In the last century alone, the city experienced a massive population growth from merely 200.000 inhabitants to becoming the third largest city in the middle east, right behind Cairo and Istanbul, with a population that extends to 13 million inhabitants. Almost 60 percent of Irans population is under the age of 30. The youthful and well educated population of Tehran in particular has the potential and desire for a high participation in the public sphere. The problem however is that a conventional public sphere is almost nonexistent in Tehran. The project aims to show how public space works or rather doesn’t work in Tehran, to illuminate the strategies and mechanisms that are used to counteract this very particular


phenomenon in the urbanization process of Tehran and to show how it manifests in the city. Illuminating the unstoppable process of urbanization and digitalization in Tehran on basis of an example in opposition to its very unusual conditions reveals a new and usually forgotten side of these factors. “The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is […] one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.” (2) David Harvey To understand the subversive spaces that stand in opposition to the public space it is necessary to first look at the way public sphere is defined. According to Habermas a public sphere can be described when three conditions apply – a guarantee to access for all citizens, to freedom of assembly and to freedom of expressing ones opinions. (3) Habermas sees modernity as an incomplete project.(4) Should this project ever be fully realized, it would have a big positive impact on the world. The way towards achieving this project is through the connection and interaction of people. The public sphere makes this dialogue possible. Simplified, a public space is a space open and accessible to everyone, where a free exchange of opinions and ideas can take place. They are always a “space of appearance”(5), the visibility and performativity embedded in them is central to their functioning as a democratic space. As spaces of everyday activity, the idea and practice of democracy is ingrained in


Photograph by Ako Salemi. www.akosalemi.com (supplied by the photographer)

Photograph by Hossein Fatemi. www.hosseinfatemi.com (supplied by the photographer)

public spaces. Even when they face a multitude of exclusions, as they do in the example of Tehran, it is possible to look at them as places that have the potential of democratic activity, even if they have to become subversive to be able to continue existing. Henri Lefebvres idea of the right to the city is fundamentally ingrained in this concept. David Harvey further specifies the right to the city as going beyond ”the individual liberty to access urban resources [...] it is the right to change ourselves by changing the city.”(6) It should never be seen as an individual but as a common right ”since this transformation inevitably


depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the process of urbanization.” (6) The face of a city is dependent on the social structure of the society that embodies it. Changes to the social structure can, depending on the severity of the change, fundamentally modify the city. In pre-revolutionary Iran for example, despite diminished political freedom, the attempt to reflect the new, modern and secular Persia found manifestations in the public spaces of it’s capital. Radical changes happened after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Massive transformations


in the social classes and crippling ideological and religious rules triggered rapid changes in the cities of Iran. The ones in power started remaking the cities according to an ideology based on an austere version of Islam. In Tehran, now the capital of a newly founded Islamic Republic, a segregation of its citizens from the public spaces began as a consequence of the new restrictions, instead of continuing to use them as a tool of urban, social and political integration. Large public spaces were taken over by pro regime forces, and slowly they transformed into “‘enclosed’ or ‘interior spaces’ of their ideological self ”.(7) Now, only by adhering to the new and mandatory conditions was it still possible to appear in public. Gradually, people were “pushed into the enclosed spaces of their private habitats.” (7) Looking at the development of public spaces in history, it can be observed that they are inherently contradictory, in the sense that they have always been exclusive in who has been able to participate in them, they have never been truly democratic. Nancy Fraser coined the term counterpublics(8) to describe the spaces that people excluded from the public sphere establish as their own public realm to respond to the lack of concern for the activities they might need public spaces for. As most of these spaces stand in opposition to the impositions enforced by the authorities in Tehran, they are usually very dynamic and in constant flux, their users are required to persistently restructure and reinterpret physical space in accordance to the changing conditions.

Due to the social changes that happened in Iran after 1979, individuals gradually began to move the activities they used to partake in in the public sphere into their more protected and safe private spaces, to be able to practice what is repressed in official public space. As a result, activities that normally take place in public, evolved very differently in Tehran than they did in most other cities, in a way that appears striking to outsiders that visit the city for the first time. The project Subversive Tehran is concerned with visualizing the way the people of Tehran adapted the city, reclaiming their right to the city and the way they re-appropriate parts of the City for activities that they are no longer able to do in public. By losing the right to express themselves freely in public, many people ceased to participate in any form of activity in public spaces. They find or invent alternative solutions in order to be able to continue interacting and connecting as freely as possible with their peers. In an isometric snapshot in time, of a fictional district of Tehran, the project shows how new strategies are applied to the city to continue certain activities, and the new forms of space that get created in the process. The first view shows the city the way it is, embedded with information about the hidden spaces in form of scannable QR codes. The second view makes the locations of the subversive spaces visible. The third view visualizes the network between the spaces and their connection to the digital world.

As these spaces usually correspond to a more hidden, private and underground layer of the city, they are volatile, flexible and in constant change. Activities might start in a given space, but they could rapidly change their location or even cease to exist at all, either because the are shut down by the authorities or because they simply are replaced by other options. “Like any emergent system, a city is a pattern in time.” (9) Steven Johnson Meaning is applied to the public by the people that use it, the concept of public space and democracy is being redefined by people through their lived experience. “Time, and not space, should be seen as the primary context in which architecture is conceived. […] By positioning time as the key context for architecture, space becomes active, social, and it’s released from the hold of static formalism.” (10) Subversion is fluid, the temporal dimension is essential to these spaces. This gives them a certain immunity against control. Saskia Sassen combines these types of spaces under the term open source urbanism, by looking at the “incompleteness of cities, which means that they can constantly be remade […]” through a “myriad of interventions and little changes.” (11) The current urban fabric of Tehran is under supressive control from the authorities, but as Saskia Sassen puts it, the “city talks back.” (11) All the ways in which people use hidden spaces to exercise their right


to the city might look insignificant when looked at individually, but as a collective network of hidden spaces they might be interpreted as hinting at a larger, more severe and imminent change to the city as a whole that challenges the status quo of Tehran. Taking the terminology one level further, the appropriation of spaces can be referred to as “the software of peoples practices” (11) on top of the hardware that is the city. “The city is dead, long live the network.” (12) Thomas Sieverts Given the hidden and constantly changing nature of these subversive spaces, collecting data about them becomes very difficult. As the project is visualizing a part of urbanization that is mostly invisible describing it with empiric data was impossible. Nevertheless, there are ways to understand the underlying relations of space that are repressed but are essential for the understanding of the present Tehran. The data and information collected for the project is of qualitative nature. It was gathered through field research, by directly experiencing and observing the hidden spaces, in conversations with people that have accessed them and shared their personal experience, by reading historical documents and information, by studying literature and films that have hidden spaces as part of their content and by rumours. Gaining access to these spaces is not easy, as it depends mostly on the network of social connections of the individual trying to go


Illustration by the authors

there. The more connections one has, the easier the access usually is. With the right phone number it is usually possible to attain almost everything. When someone from outside the country visits for the first time, they usually don’t expect nude art galleries or rock bands performing in apartments, but things like this are commonplace in Tehran, they simply are not visible or easily accessible. Taking the idea of hacking the city one step further raises the question if subversive spaces should become part of the digital realm of the internet and cease to exist in physical form. In recent years, despite attempts to censor its use(13), the widespread use of internet cafes, fast private internet connections and mobile phones has allowed a large percentage of the population to access information that was previously unattainable in the public sphere, mainly on social media. In contrast to the physical city, the restrictions one encounters on the internet are more easily overcome (through VPNs and proxy servers), making it a viable strategy for some types of subversive spaces. “If we want to download an article we must sit for hours, and sometimes we fall asleep.” Tweet by Hasan Rouhani, current President of Iran, in 2014 For certain functions the digital realm has completely replaced what used to be located in public spaces. The best example for this is any form of political discourse. Paradoxically, even high profile politicians use social media


platforms like Facebook and Twitter (despite banning them previously) to express themselves more freely than they could in the public sphere controlled by the Iranian authorities. The digital realm reestablishes virtually parts of the participatory nature of the city. The subversive spaces developed from being in a fixed physical space to more fluid counterpublics that are accessible with the right kind of information (a phone number for example). The logical next step is the counterpublics developing away from a “space of places” to becoming pure a “space of flows.” (14) Manuel Castells sees the main paradigm of contemporary society as a network that is dependent on the flow between goods, resources and, most importantly in the case of understanding counterpublics, information. It is however very unlikely that they will disappear completely, even in the face of the further digitalization of life, as space forms “the material support of time-sharing social practices.” (15) In the case of subversive spaces in Tehran the digital realm does not replace physical spaces in most cases. It mainly opens a door to more stable and safe ways of communication that are used to access the physical counterpublics. Especially fringe groups of society, for instance the LGBT community, religious minorities, or writers affected by censorship, have found safer ways of partaking in their activities online than they could in physical spaces. Members of the Baha’i religion organize university classes


Illustration by the authors

online (as they are not allowed to attend regular universities in Iran) and cyber synagogues“ free the jewish community from the struggles they experience in public.(16)(17) Digital spaces allow them to take part in public space that is part of the “intangible meta-structure”(18) of the internet. To conclude, creating spaces for the activities taken away from the citizens of Tehran in the public realm can be described as a form of hacking the city, regardless of if they exist as physical counterpublics or if they shift to the digital realm. By applying these methods people manage to interact and perhaps gradually unveil the repressive veil that has been put over their city.



Illustration by the authors

Bibliography 1.

Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage, 2007.


Harvey, David. “The Right to the City.” New Left Review 53 (2008): 23-40.


Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Translated by Thomas Burger. Cambrige: MIT Press, 1991.


Habermas, Jürgen. “Modernity: An Unfinished Project.” Translated by Nicholas Walker. In Habermas and the unfinished Project of Modernity, edited by Maurizio Passerin d’Entrèves and Seyla Benhabib, 38-55. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1997.


Valentine, Gill. “Children should be seen and not heard: the production and transgression of adults’ public space.” Urban Geography 17 no. 3 (1996): 205-220.


Harvey, David. “The Right to the City.” New Left Review 53 (2008): 23-40.


Bayat, Asef. “Tehran: Paradox City.” New Left Review 66 (2010): 99-122.


Fraser, Nancy. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” In The Phantom Public Sphere, edited by Bruce Robbins, 1-32. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.


Johnson, Steven. Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software. London: Penguin Press , 2002.


Till, Jeremy. Architecture Depends. Cambride: MIT Press, 2009.


Sassen, Saskia. “Open Source Urbanism.” The New City Reader 15 (2011): Page Unknown.


Sieverts, Thomas. “De Regie van de Stad / Mastering the City.” Exhibition: Netherlands Architecture Institute Rotterdam, 1998.


Small Media. “Revolution Decoded: Iran’s Digital Landscape.” Accessed January 28, 2016. http:// smallmedia.org.uk/revolutiondecoded/a/RevolutionDecoded.pdf


Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society, The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Volume I. 2nd ed. Malden: John Wiley and Sons, 2010.


Castells, Manuel. “An Introduction to the Information Age.” in The Blackwell City Reader. 2nd ed, edited by Gary Bridge and Sophie Watson, 40-48. Malden: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.


Small Media. “LGBT Republic of Iran: An Online Reality?” Accessed January 28, 2016. https:// smallmedia.org.uk/media/projects/files/lgbtrepublic.pdf


Small Media. “Knowledge as Resistance: The Baha’i Institute for Higher Education.” Accessed January 28, 2016. https://smallmedia.org.uk/media/projects/files/KnowledgeAsResistance_2013.pdf




Arch Plus. “Planetary Urbanism - Critique of the Present in the Medium of Information Design.” Accessed January 28, 2016. http://www.archplus.net/home/planetaryurbanism

044 046 052048 056 060 050 052 054 062 056 Charles Vega VULGARITY WITHOUT PRECEDENT? ‘UGLINESS’, CHANGING TASTES AND THE The Fleeting Thoughts of VICTORIAN INTERIOR Wildness Charlie Vega is an architect living and working in Kansas City, Missouri. He represents one-half of LIONarchitecture. LIONarchitecture, started in 2010 by Matthew Teismann and Charles Vega, underscores architecture’s participatory Parissien Director architecture of Compton Verneythrough museum and role withSteven existence. Our workisapproaches obliquely practicegallery in Visitingfirm, Fellow at Kellogg based research andWarwickshire, epistemology.England, A designand strategies LIONarchitecture College,to the University andthrough the University of Warwick. is committed practiceofof Oxford, architecture the open-discussion of Born in London and raised in Buckinghamshire, Steven obtained design approaches. Be it exploring the great mutualism between the natural and his undergraduate doctoral degrees from has Oxford – a built, orboth questioning the validity of and an architectural lexicon which persisted 1st Class BA (from University College, Oxford) in 1981 and a through time, LIONarchitecture is more a dialogue than it is a practice. doctorate in eighteenth-century architectural history in 1989. Steven has written extensively on architectural and cultural history. His nine books to date include Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; Apollo magazine’s Book of the Year for 1992 and The American Institute of Architects’Book of theYear Choice for 1993), George IV: The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001) and, most recently, Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). Image Charles Vega Facing:Credit: Plate from Owen Jones’s “The Grammar of Ornament”, 1856.

The Badseed House is a project we describe at LIONarchitecture as an architecturally programmed place for three humans, countless animals, insects and plants amongst a suburban setting. There are three humans who make up Urbavore Farms in Kansas City, Missouri. A husband and wife duo head the team followed by their young son. As the famers’ livelihood is absolutely dependent on the land, the intent of the house was not to be the glacier which makes the land what it desires in a single act of defiance, but the rain that collectively pushes mountains to the sea. Kansas City’s first completely off-grid dwelling was already an interesting first at LION, but Architecture has an interesting way of bringing forth the lessons most needed. Perhaps it brings the questions as well. Can one design something to naturally take a foot-hold on its place? Throughout construction, struggles have brought the project to the brink of something unexpected, though emergent like a bad wish, bringing forth something stunning and ever becoming. A wildness has taken hold of the house. What follows is a photographic explication of the unfinished trek of the Badseed House through its slow site curing process. “Wildness emerges in a system once we lose the ability to predict - from the outside - what it will do.”(1)

1) Kwinter, Sanford. “Wildness.” Far from Equilibrium: Essays on Technology and Design Culture (1995): 186-191.



This photo shows the site as it was in 2012. When purchased, the site was the former potential location of an elementary school where a small retention pond was dug. The subsequent clay removed from the site was brought up to the highest point of the site. This created a large mound at the high point of the property. Given the nature of a no-till farm, this hyper disturbed soil was the worst place for growing crops, and therefore the best place for home location. Beyond the un-farmability, this location also gave the house a guard tower for the farm. This became important because about the same time that the project started, feral dogs attacked and killed a small herd of goats the family had raised for milk and cheese production. Having reached its first large emotional hurdle, the project moved forward in the off season.

The ritual of the farmer became the driving design concept behind the physical nature of the project. A narrow portion of the hill was removed so that both the Eastern and the Western slopes of the land could be monitored. In addition to the monitoring ability, the site’s natural light was able to be completely molded as needed for the benefit of the house.



Two parallel walls, the main structural system of the house, were erected just in time for the sewing of the fields. The site would sit like this for nearly a year until the carpentry could begin.

Once the roof was constructed, the house stood still again - standing against the site. The retaining walls retained nothing. The green roof was black. There was a nakedness to the architecture that felt exposed. As the house was taking too long to construct, the project took on a desperate race to completion. Trenches were dug for off-grid water supply and filtration. Composting toilets were accounted for on opposite sides of the house from the water supply. Then as if sneaking up on the project, summer came.



With summer, came a feeling of acceptance from the site. The squat concrete walls with a low sloped roof, became the hill that it once was. What was almost nearly forgotten, the site, began to grab a hold of the house.

The house, in its fluidness, began also to accept the site...



...until they became nearly indistinguishable from each other. Though technically unfinished, we stand humbled as the hand of the site, reaches back out to the farmer who reaches for it constantly. What could not have been predicted, but was aspired to; what was revealed as an answer to an un-asked question? Architecture is never complete nor begun. It is constantly creeping forward distinct on its own as it encounters us. The images we have of architecture, are fleeting thoughts of the wildness we inhabit.



064 044 046 048068 050072 052 076 054 078 056 Toshiki Hirano VULGARITY WITHOUT PRECEDENT? CHANGING TASTES AND THE An‘UGLINESS’, Interview withVICTORIAN Jesse INTERIOR Reiser and Nanako Umemoto

Steven Parissien

Reiser + Umemoto, RUR Architecture, PC, is an internationally recognized multidisciplinary design firm, which has built projects at a wide range of scales: from furniture design, to residential and commercial structures, up to the scale Steven urban Parissien is and Director of Compton museum and of landscape, design, infrastructure. Reiser Verney + Umemoto published gallery in Warwickshire, England, Visiting at Kellogg The Atlas of Tectonics, in 2006. They haveand recently wonFellow two international College,theUniversity Oxford, University Port of Warwick. competitions: Taipei Pop of Music Centerand and the the Kaohsiung Terminal, Born in London and raised in Buckinghamshire, Steven obtained which are under construction. O-14, a 22-story exoskeletal office tower, has undergraduate degrees from international Oxford – a recentlyboth beenhis completed in Dubaiand and doctoral has received numerous BArecently (from completed University a College, Oxford)monograph in 1981 of and a honors.1st The Class firm has comprehensive their doctorate in eighteenth-century architectural history in 1989. work on O-14 with AA Publications, entitled O-14: Projection Reception. Steven has written extensively on architectural and cultural history. Adam University Style (Phaidon, 1992; His nine books oftoArchitecture date include Jesse Resier is Professor at Princeton and currently Apollo magazine’s Book of the Year for 1992 and The American serves as the Director of Graduate Studies. Nanako Umemoto is currently Visiting Institute of (Los Architects’ of the Year Choice for 1993), George Professor at SCI-Arc Angeles)Book and Columbia (New York). They were the 2012 IV: Fellows The Grand Entertainment Murray, most USA Booth and their firm has been(John honored with a 2001) Chryslerand, Award for recently, Interiors: Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). Excellence in Design among The manyHome other honors. Image Credit: alpolic-us.com Facing: Plate from Owen Jones’s “The Grammar of Ornament”, 1856.

Interview: Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto December 10th, 2015 New York Toshiki Hirano (TH): How did you start teaching at Columbia? Was it 1989? Nanako Umemoto (NU): Jesse started teaching in 1992. He was teaching at Yale before that. Jesse Reiser (JR): My teaching at Yale basically coincided with the economic downturn in 1991. Initially I wasn’t so certain about getting into teaching. And then economic circumstances forced me into teaching, but I saw that I actually enjoyed it. For two years I taught at both schools until I shifted to full-time at Columbia. NU: And we were Bernard Tschumi's students back at Cooper Union. JR: Bernard Tschumi basically went to a younger generation of people who were in some ways connected to him as students. He approached people like Stan Allen and Leslie Gill who are both from Cooper Union. Among the first people he brought into Columbia in the late '80s, he approached me. I really resisted the offer first. I said I didn’t want to teach. And then three or four years later, I got into teaching at Yale, where there was a quite conservative group of architects like Deborah Berke and Steven Harris teaching core studios. Then Bernard approached me again, and he said I should just come to Columbia. It was the spring of 1992. NU: That’s the year our son was born. TH: And the Paperless studio started two years later. How did you become involved in the studio? JR: We were actually brought in a bit later after the Paperless studios started. Hani Rashid and Greg



Lynn did the first two studios and Stan came in a bit after that. We didn’t strictly adhere to the Paperless studio model even though nominally it was a paperless. We mixed up manual model making and hand drawing with digital techniques from the beginning. So it was advertised as paperless but at least from the way we did, it was never purely paperless. TH: There seems to be a radical shift in your projects around the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s: one of your earliest projects like the Globe Theater, one can clearly see an influence from John Hejduk or Daniel Libeskind. And looking at the collage drawings of the Hypnerotomachia project, one can associate them with Aldo Rossi’s collective memory idea. But if we look at the projects like Cardiff Bay Opera House, they look totally different. And the same looking at the essay you wrote about that project(1), it seems that your interests had been shifted from a narrative or representational model to an issue of material property. JR: Those were transitional projects, and there was a crisis moment. Actually, there was a particular issue in Semiotext(e) Architecture(2) that we were asked to submit, and I would say it ended the textual based project at least for a while. We submitted the Hypnerotomachia project, but it was an exigetical project: an interpretation of interpretation, which was purely textual. And I got nauseated when I looked at it after it was published, and I realized that we could go no further with it. I thought that this was only my personal reaction. But ten years later, I mentioned that article and that issue to Jeff Kipnis, and he said “Yes, that was a watershed for many of us.” There was some collective reaction to that issue, that the textual meaning project reached a dead end; everybody felt it. But I personally felt really deflated by it, and there was nothing more I could do with it. We had a similar frustration actually with the Croton Aqueduct Study, which we were working on with Stan Allen. The project was never finished because it wasn’t really finish-able. That was primarily a mapping project at first, because Stan was very much into that. And then we thought that we could delve deeply into a location and a name of every single street that crosses over the water line and it would serve as an armature for a new architectural project. But the project couldn’t really be developed after the mapping phase. I think there were those two things simultaneously: the Semiotext(e) article and the wall that we hit in the Water Project. And those two things moved us away from the textual project. It was clear that we couldn’t do projects totally from a basis of language.

TH: Was this happening in the year around 1992 or 93? JR: It could be earlier. We actually had a tremendous success collaborating with Stan on Venice Gateway competition, because we did a real design project that utilized infrastructural principles rather than place names. And it wasn’t language based. We thought we would do that project as a warm up for the Water Project. This is purely autobiographical, but there was something very dark and depressing about the language projects. We had a new son, and I think that also existentially changed my perception (laugher); like it wouldn’t be about looking back but rather looking forward. And that sense of newness was important. NU: When we were mapping out the aqueduct system and visited every point from Upstate New York to the City for the water project, New York City was building the Water Tunnel No.3 which goes deep under the ground and they made a gigantic valve chamber. And the size of the chamber was like a five story building. JR: Material construction at that scale was so overwhelming and sublime. It was really impressive. All of those constructions were large and forthright constructs. NU: It was fantastic. I was the first woman ever who went inside. And when you got down to the tunnel, the inside of the tunnel was so hot because of geothermal heat. But with the water project, you couldn’t do anything with the words of street names or language plays. That was a kind of absurd thing we were doing. TH: What were the other factors that enabled you to break this wall of language based project? NU: We studied at Cooper Union and Cranbrook Academy of Art, and those schools make you work on your thesis. After Jesse finished his thesis at Cooper Union, he had to continue working on his



thesis for another three years at Cranbrook. The Globe Theater project for example, was one of the projects we did as a continuation of our thesis at Cooper Union. And when we got into the ‘90s, we were still doing that, but we also started working on competitions. JR: That was a huge change. Because all of the theses were basically making your own internal heat. It was not so much based on outside parameters or social demands; it was all based upon what your internal resources could provide. In that sense, it was very narrow and very intense, and also it has a certain lifespan. Of course there was an influence of strong figures like Hejduk and Libeskind. Therefore, working through problems of how to address their work and get out their work, occupied that period. TH: Did the Paperless studio and the introduction of digital technologies influence you to shift your idea? Or you already had the idea? JR: I think we already had an idea but we couldn’t do it. There were practical issues. There is one of the pre-Yokohama projects in which we did a very small bridge using an idea of geodetic structure but we couldn’t really draw it and fabricate it. We were always much more oriented towards physical embodiment of stuff using all of knowledge, rather than the utopian, dimensionless images of computers or producing projects that are utopian. It was phenomenal to be able to produce complex geometries by using a computer, but we tried to do analogue first. Even with our Cardiff Opera House project, part of the project is quasi image based, quasi physical. We made physical models to test out a panelized surface but they couldn’t be brought together. NU: We were using Soft Image which is more a rendering program, but the nature of the image it generated was only useful as an image and couldn't be instrumentalized as architecture. JR: I think Cardiff Opera House project also created a basic tension that continues between what the computer or the program could do and what we wanted. They were never the same. There were certain architects who celebrated this gap, but for us it was always a struggle. For example, we couldn’t make a sharp corner with Soft Image. We both enjoyed the possibilities and were frustrated by the limits.

Yokohama Port Terminal project was a translation from hand drawing into Auto CAD. We first built a physical volumetric model with wax, then scanned the profiles of the model by using a carpenter's contour gauge—a poor man's scanner! The profiles were traced over in Auto CAD and then sent to laser cutting process. Digital came in that way. TH: So Yokohama project was a quasi digital project. Then Water Garden project would be the first project fully designed digitally? That is the project David Ruy worked on. NU: We made a wax model first. JR: We did profiles, manual profiles. David took the profiles and redrew them in the computer and lofted them up and we got a more elaborated model. TH: So basically again, all the sections were drawn manually and remodeled in the computer? JR: And the plan was drawn on the computer too. We did a 3D print, that was an LOM(Laminated Object Manufacturing) print and I was unhappy with the printed model, so we made a rubber mold cast in which we poured it up and I started to sculpt it manually to correct it(laugher). So there was always a tension between the products of digital technology and what we wanted. We also had a problem with anything in the perspective window; they were not trustable. Physical output was really the thing that was important because it was measurable. TH: That draws a difference from other people. Like Greg, he completes everything inside the screen. JR: I think this came from Cooper Union. Because it was almost a taboo to do perspectives at Cooper Union. There were terrible surprises when we got physical outputs of what you saw on the screen. They were never a good surprise.



So the thing was crucial, and the physical artifact governed. So it never really came from the computer in that sense. TH: I think each person at Columbia around that time had a different take on digital tools. For example, Greg Lynn focused more on the possibility of making new forms with the use of digital tools, whereas Stan Allen was more interested in inventing organizational systems which figure out program distribution or flows of people, and for Hani Rashid, he was purely interested in the aesthetic qualities of what digital tools could generate. JR: Our ideal was not a dream of the digital universe, but it was more like “Can I do something as cool as the structure of the Wellington Bomber with the use of digital tools?”. So all the ideas came from really concrete case studies from very early on. In this respect, morphing wasn’t that interesting for example. Everybody was into continuity but we were also really interested in introducing difference in the continuous systems. I was even inspired by Robert Venturi in that respect. For example, his argument like “How does a coke machine inhabit or not inhabit a Mies’s building?” - is it seen as something that could never be reconciled with Mies’s universe or how would you deal with that? TH: But reading your essay like “Solid-State Architecture”(3) written in the ‘90s, it doesn’t seem that you’re interested that much about the issue of difference but rather you seem to be interested in the formation or flows of material. JR: Not in that essay but that was already embedded in the projects around that time. The interest in difference or inclusion of foreign elements in a continuous system came from looking at the case study of the Wellington Bomber's wing. The engine is embedded in the structural system, and the system mutates around the engine to accommodate it, but the system never becomes an engine itself. It's about how two things come together. TH: It seems that your interests on differentiation and other things became prominent when you started working on high-rise buildings in Dubai and you theorize them in O-14 book(4). And I think many of your interests regarding an issue of object including differentiation became articulated

around the time when the type of the project you work with has shifted from horizontal to vertical; horizontal project doesn’t act like an object whereas O-14 or other projects in Dubai, you cannot avoid being an object after all. JR: Regarding an issue around object, O-14 was really the first time when the importance of representation came back into the work. There was a shock that something of the computer actually felt in the real building; it was the first time that happened to us. Somehow the real building looked like a built rendering; this wasn’t a bad thing and I thought that it is something to pursue. But I was into that even earlier. There is one of the sections people misunderstand called “Foamy Realities” in “Atlas of Novel Tectonics”(5). It came from an intuition that I had many years before. When I was at the review at Columbia with Steven Holl, I said that the interesting thing is that there isn’t a gap between the representation and the reality; the representation actually makes the world look like that. What I had in mind were old 1950s renderings: like gouache renderings of office parks. Those renderings actually make the world look like those renderings. You go out to the suburbs and trees look like gauche renderings and the sky becomes that way. I thought it was fantastic, but that upset Steven. For his phenomenology idea, what I was saying was really disturbing. In terms of the issue about horizontal and vertical, you could say that even all of our (horizontal) continuous surface work is always in tension with the essential objecthood of architecture. Architecture isn’t like nature, it isn’t continuous, and I think these tensions are interesting. You are actually trying to do something that attempts to be continuous but it essentially can never be, which is more architectural. I think architecture at its best actually works through that fiction. Buildings really never flow. Cantilevers might produce the appearance of floating, for example, and all of those elements of architecture are in a way about addressing fictional physical possibilities. TH: Stan’s concept of Landform building comes from the idea that architecture cannot be like a biological model which is adaptable, continuous, because architecture is basically a slow entity. JR: I would say it’s about the dramatization of the attempt to make something biological. These are all sort of architectural fictions. So you can make architecture biological, but it is just never going to really work like a human body. But that’s okay. In a way, architecture has its own very slow body, and re-originates the model of the body, even though it might be inspired by living creatures.



TH: So you are saying that this fiction cannot be fully realized, which means there’s no success and there are only failures but the failures make interesting tensions. JR: By the same token, regarding all of these criticisms of Deconstruction or any of the philosophical movements in architecture, there are always assumptions by critics that somehow there would be a better architecture to instantiate those ideas if only the architects understood the philosophy. But that’s totally wrong. It isn’t like there is some architecture out there that really is correct Deconstruction. That’s always been the perennial criticism in the relationships between philosophy and architecture. TH: People like David Ruy or Jason Payne who used to work for you are the main figures in this current discussion about Object Oriented Ontology in architecture. Do you think you had an influence on them to come up with the discussion? JR: I think to a certain extent yes. I’m not aware or up on all of the philosophical dimensions of that problem, but I think it certainly runs through the work in various ways. I also think that there’s a generational aspect. I almost feel that their generation has been wandering for 20 years in the desert, and they’ve been mislead by computation and its possibilities, or the lack of them(laugher). And then suddenly there’s something that becomes compelling for them. But we’ve been always interested in objects. Cranbrook was totally object oriented. And I would also trace right through us to figures like John Hejduk. He regarded objects as being alive. I think it's a part of the lineage. Hejduk was totally interested in the otherness of the objects, because he was “other”. He was 7 feet tall, and I remember him going into the studio and picking up a coke can, but his hand was huge and the coke can was tiny. So the whole idea of alienation was embedded in him because everyday objects were too small for him. I think there might be some resonance to the traditional Japanese notion of energy coming out of objects. He was intensely sensitive. So every shape and every object had a kind of energy for him. When nobody was there he was like this (Gesture of Hejduk touching something and hold back). And his work reflects that. The idea of animism in the object was real for him. That was what he was really interested in, not the formalization of objects. There was a funny exchange between him

and Robert Slutzky during the review for the drawing studio in which students work on drawings of musical instruments. Slutzky was much more doctrinaire about formal issue which was a purpose of the studio, but Hejduk said “Screw that, the only thing I’m looking at are eyes of this mechanical monkey”. He was like “ Look at those eyes! Bob, I don’t care about all these formal relations. Just look at those eyes!“. Object Oriented thing and alienated object was already embedded in this, long time ago. Any of the elements of his Berlin Masque, they are oozing with otherness and objecthood. And it’s already in Kafka too. His short story, "The Cares of a Family Man," about this disturbing star-shaped object named Odradek that this man encounters on his staircase landing. TH: I can also think of Kafka’s castle which has a strange similarity to Graham Harman’s concept of object. For Harman, real essence of the object cannot be accessed from outside, and it remains mysterious. Would you tell your thoughts on the reason why the term object started being used negatively in the ‘90s? JR: I think there was a growing criticism that postmodernism was overly interested in object in architecture and its formal capacities. There was also a prohibition of objects by certain critical theorists, who condemned them as delusional Capitalist fetishes. The reaction, architecturally, especially through figures like Rem Koolhaass, became more about addressing what he considered to be a picture of late Capitalism—invisible organizations, networks and flows but not so much in the service of form but in the service of organization or a kind of an instrumental rationality, which I wouldn’t buy into. There was a belief in making visible invisible networks of organization and control, thus reifying them. Whereas in fact, those invisible networks are there whether you want them or not. TH: Was that because in the ‘90s everyone was believing that the world would become borderless by globalization? JR: That was one of the things that I noticed more in arguments behind the work or even in the work



itself like FOA’s presentation for example, which I believe more or less mirrored Rem Koolhaas’s way of presenting. They seek to justify the architecture through zeitgeist. It’s like “The reason why I do continuous surfaces now is because that’s the way the world is”. So there’s a strange sense that the representation of the invisible forces in the world gives you the justification for producing architecture of certain type. TH: Talking about this zeitgeist issue, political borders became prominent after 9/11, and now we are seeing the European Union almost breaking up. So the dream of the borderless world is reaching its end. Do you think this is the reason for the growing interests in Object Oriented Ontology in architecture? JR: Only from the point of view of an architect who would use the zeitgeist to justify their architecture. Honestly to me, it’s about two models(field and object) working really well together purely as architecture, no matter whether they are obligated to represent the state of the world or not; like our Kaohsiung Port Terminal project, which actually combines both models. But I don’t really relate it so much to the world view. I don’t think of it as a representation of a world view. TH: So your ideas are coming out of iteration of the projects. JR: I don’t know if it’s a task for architecture to represent the state of the world. It's more about producing new worlds. I would never want to justify the projects in that way. People would buy into that on some level I guess—that kind of rhetoric might be easily consumed by clients or the public, but I felt very uncomfortable with that kind of talk among architects. But for those interested in architecture, there's a different story.

Toshiki Hirano holds a Bachelors degree from Kyoto University and received his M.Arch. degree from Princeton University with the Suzanne Kolarik Underwood Prize. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Tokyo and is currently working on a dissertation about the notion of object in the architectural discourse in the 90's.

Notes 1.

Jesse Reiser, Nanako Umemoto (1995), “Cardiff Bay Opera House”, Assemblage no.26, pp.27-37.


Semiotext(e) Architecture” 1992


Jesse Reiser (1998), “Solid-State Architecture”, Reiser+Umemoto Recent Projects, Academy Editions, pp.49-52.


Jesse Reiser, Nanako Umemoto (2012), O-14: Projection and Reception, Architectural Association Publications.


Jesse Reiser, Nanako Umemoto (2006), Atlas of Novel Tectonics, Princeton Architectural Press.“



078 082 086 090 092 Thomas Gaudin

Meditations on Programmed Deterioration Thomas Gaudin is a thesis student at the University of British Columbia (Masters of Architecture, 2016) and holds an honors degree from the University of Alberta (Bachelor of Industrial Design, 2009). His work focuses on issues of alternative sustainability, novel fabrication techniques, and digital design. He was recently awarded a Hampton Fund Research Grant under the supervision of Blair Satterfield to continue development on a fabrication process which functionally grades and programs cement through a process of cellulose based material injection. This area of research has been extended through the development of a unique 3D printer, speculative design projects, and various research papers. In addition to this research, Thomas has contributed to published material for the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Public Spaces (TIPS) Lab and the TimberSkin digital fabrication research group at UBC. He has taught several classes and workshops focusing on parametric design and digital modelling at the University of British Columbia and has professional experience as a designer for Pechet Studios. Image Credit: Thomas Gaudin

Architecture creeps, whether we want it to or not. In the lifecycle of any building, creep is observed in the functional, aesthetic, and structural design alterations effected by environmental conditions. Capillary suction will draw water into our walls, freeze-thaw cycles will distort then crack our concrete, penetrating air flows will oxidize our steel, and all sorts of living things will blossom in spite of our anti-fungal sealants. In other words, slow and often imperceptible natural forces will continue to reshape our buildings long after the final change order has been issued and the last brick has been laid. Meditations on Programmed Deterioration is a project which embraces these natural occurrences of creep through the non-chronological narration of an actively decaying structure. Programmatically, the project investigates the parallels found in human life and death through the lens of North American funerary practices. The narrated design offers one possible, albeit literal answer to a question posed by Stephan Cairns and Jane M. Jacobs in Buildings Must Die: A Perverse View of Architecture. …buildings, although inanimate, are often assumed to have “life.” And it is the architect, through the art of design, who is the authorized conceiver and creator of that life. ... Invested as it is in creating (“life”), what is architectures relationship to the process of wasting, deterioration, destruction, and “death,” to which buildings are inevitably subject? (1) The starting point for the design, considering the program, was a meditation on the normative North American view of death and the ways in which North Americans largely deny the physical ‘creep’ of dying. Through funerary products and processes such as sealer coffins and embalming, and due to advances in medicine and corresponding increases in life expectancy, the very real and physical aspects of death have been minimized in the processes of bereavement. (2) The columbarium put forth in this project proposes an alternative mode of bereavement which acknowledges the physicality of death through the application of green burial practices while maintaining the dignity and beauty of memorialization associated with more conventional funerary architectures and practices.

80 80

Meditations on Programmed Deterioration

The architectural treatments explored during the project’s development were chosen to parallel this conception of death and deterioration. Despite the project’s technical and aesthetic influences, the physical mechanics of deterioration were not distilled into a naturalistic design process in an attempt to create a diagram-like building vaguely inspired by decay. In other words, decay was not the driver of this design but decay’s inevitable effects were not ignored. The global geometry of the columbarium and patterned motif of the façade were arrived at a priori to the emergent patterning of the shell. Amplified decay occurs and is actively embraced, but only in areas designated by a reconciliation of structural and aesthetic concerns. In this way the project attempts to strike a balance between perennial control and natural deterioration in order to gently reintroduce concepts of physicality back into the bereavement process and architecture itself. 1.

Cairns, Stephen, and Jane M. Jacobs. Buildings Must Die: A Perverse View of Architecture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2014. Print.


“Death Becomes Us, Part 1.” Ideas. CBC, 22 Jan. 2015. Podcast.

Northwest Approach at 99 Years Located in a nearly square plot between 15th and 16th Avenue and Watson and Sophia Street, Vancouver’s second oldest cemetery has been undergoing a process of simultaneous growth and decay for the last 99 years. Known locally as Tea Swamp Cemetery, owing to the drained bog on which the cemetery was laid, the official name given to the project was ‘Meditations on Programmed Deterioration’. The project’s central columbarium has attracted a larger than usual amount of visitors on its 99th anniversary as the internal funerary columns will


be able to accept new remains for the first time in 10 years.

Southeast Approach at 5 Years The columbarium’s current appearance is strikingly different than when construction was first completed 99 years ago. What is now ornate was once monolithic. The design team programmed what they termed ‘active decay’ into the walls, effectively building into both space and time. On a practical level, this design process sought to offer an alternative to the traditional conception of a building life-cycle through emergent structural patterning. Programmatically, the building’s slow

metamorphosis acts to eulogize those who have departed while reminding viewers of the physical nature of death in a kindly manner.

Results of Structural Analysis on One Layer of the North West Wall Low Compressive Stress Medium Compressive Stress High Compressive Stress

Pattern Interpretation of the Structural Analysis

Patterns from Analysis The emergent structural patterns applied to all the exterior walls were based on a structural analysis conducted on the initial monolithic geometry. In a manner fitting additive manufacturing, the analysis was done in layers planar to the wall under consideration. Compressive stresses where measured and then mapped into an intricate pattern to determine areas of disintegration. The result of this process is a facade 84 that undergoes active decay without compromising

structural stability. A pattern which evokes the stained glass of Gothic cathedrals was chosen for its spiritual associations. Furthermore, the facade continues the Gothic tradition of patterning force.







Printer ApparatusFiberglass Reel an Adhesive Applicator


Printer ApparatusMagnesium Based Concrete and Wood Pulp Print Nozzle


100% Magnesium Based Concrete


Wood Pulp with Magnesium Concrete Matrix


Tension LayerFiberglass Applied in a Web-like Pattern

Process of Fabrication The columbarium’s exterior was designed in layers of alternating patterns based on principle stresses. This layering suited the use of additive manufacturing. The specially designed 3D-printer was set up on complex scaffolding which allowed it alternate between printing compressive concrete / wood layers and laying down tensile fiberglass layers.

The magnesium concrete was chosen for its ability to molecularly bond with cellulose based products. This ability was used to create smooth transitions between durable concrete areas and primarily wood based areas which are free to decay.

North Elevation - 1, 50, and 99 Years Given Vancouver’s moderate oceanic climate, the columbarium’s structural patterning was able to selectively soak in ample amounts of rain during the winter seasons. During particularly cold periods where temperatures dropped below zero the cellulose based patterns deteriorated millimeter by millimeter as trapped moisture expanded as it turned to ice. During spring and summer seasons the patterning began to blossom with varieties of local mosses and grasses. The only maintenance performed throughout the first life-cycle of the columbarium was the annual


pressure washing that ensured that loose debris fell in a safe and controlled manner.

Levels of Decay - 50 and 100 Years The distribution of decay was not linear but naturally occurred at the centroids of local patterns and worked its way out.

Decay Levels of Two Layers in the Northwest Wall at Approximately 50 Years

Final Appearance of the Northwest Wall at Approximately 100 Years

East Section and Column Elevation at 80 Years The funerary columns helped alleviate the need for burial space in urban centers. The remains of loved ones were placed in bio-degradable boxes and set inside the columns. After approximately 80 years and one generation had passed, the decay which occurred in the shell of the columbarium exposed the earth filled columns to the elements. This exposure


coupled with the tea swamp located below the center of the entire structure allowed the pillars of earth and the remains they held to pass into the land beneath the building. In doing this the columbarium compromises between the needs of legacy & burial space.

West Interior and Column Section at 100 Years After 100 years have passed the earth remaining within the columns will be compacted into the looser

ground below in preparation of another 100 years of new burials.

Second and Third Level Plan at 50 Years

The entropic nature of the deterioration process is most striking when set against a monolithic initial condition. With this in mind, the design team began with a simple cube. The cubic enclosure was slanted and pushed into the earth to allow interesting compressive stresses to take shape within the exterior walls. The interior burial columns further complicated the flow of stresses within the shell of the columbarium while simultaneously informing the plans of each of the four levels. The columbarium is placed in the center of the site and is accessed via two primary slanted arcades and five secondary paths.


Top Level Interior at 95 Years The spaces defined by the shell of the columbarium and the inner burial columns are dramatically slanted in two directions.

Reflection Ceiling Plan at 100 Years The funerary columns converge on the first level to form the ceiling of the sub-grade public level. The tunnel like space is inspired in part by cathedral ceilings of the past. The walls/ ceiling of the tunnel follows the compressive forces of the burial columns directly into the ground which encloses the space on two sides. Openings which look up into the more private upper levels are filtered through a cast iron version of the shell pattern. This space was designed to be a site


of public remembrance. Its form which is static relative to the surrounding walls acts as a locus for the entire cemetery.

Entrance Interior at 95 Years The project helps the visitor honor those who have passed while serving as an active momento mori.

It is meant to be taken as a meditative space which embraces change.


Steven Parissien

Paul Golisz is currently a practicing architect and designer in New York City where his professional work focuses on cultural and educational projects located both locally and internationally. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Steven Parissien Director ofofFine Compton museum University of Virginia and aisBachelors Art from Verney Rhode Island Schooland of Warwickshire, England, and Visiting Fellow at Kellogg Design.gallery He has in worked as a furniture and product designer, completing high College, University of Oxford, and University ofparticularly Warwick. end commissions and mass produced goods. His the current research is Born in London and raised in Buckinghamshire, Steven obtained interested in how the discipline of architecture approaches the concept of Nature his undergraduate andorganizing doctoral the degrees Oxford – a and theboth possibility of recuperating and limit offrom architecture. 1st Class BA (from University College, Oxford) in 1981 and a doctorate in eighteenth-century architectural history in 1989. Steven has written extensively on architectural and cultural history. His nine books to date include Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; Apollo magazine’s Book of the Year for 1992 and The American Institute of Architects’ Book of the Year Choice for 1993), George IV: The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001) and, most recently, Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). Image Paul Owen Golisz Jones’s “The Grammar of Ornament”, 1856. Facing:Credit: Plate from

Two territories will continue to wreak havoc on the organization of the city if their assumed indisputability is not challenged. The first territory is the result of deterritorialization, it is the realm of undesirable externalities desperately willed to exist somewhere else. The second territory is the result of purification and the belief in “higher values” [1], it is a transcendent territory operating above us. Assuming both of these territories as given has been a problem. Not only have they obscured the real agents that organize our cities, but they have also confused the discipline of architecture; the former because it has been denied its agency, the latter because it has been granted too much agency. Deterritorialization involves the severing and dispatching of modes of production from their original location. Both spatial and social modes have been flown around the world in search of their ideal environment. What follows in the wake of this jet setting is a trail of externalities. Externalities are possible thanks to the belief that there is a place where we can throw things that we do not want. However, a primary effect of deterritorialization is “the creation of a common world, a world that, for better or worse, we all share, a world that has no ‘outside.’” [2] Experience shows us that place overlaps. [3] It is not possible to separate modes of production simply based on dimensions or coordinates. Territories have become mobile; externalities “are no longer external to the site of production that valorizes them.” [4] The realization that an outside domain has not and never will be a


reality is shining a light on the carnage that such a belief has caused. Incredible quantities of less desirable modes of production, of negative externalities, are returning with a vengeance. [5] Unfortunately, these externalities have been left unexamined because they were supposed to occupy a subordinate position. But now that the possibility of a separate territory is gone, their only option is to press against the foreground and sneak in without due process. (Image 1) The question becomes how to address neglected externalities that will inevitably play a critical role in the organization of the city. If this first territory is conceived of as undesirable and located both outside and below us, the second territory is always constructed as privileged and transcendent. The best example of this sublime territory is Nature. It is truly the Great Ruse within the discipline of architecture; not only does it not exist but it has managed to engender a great deal of power. Nature maintains a privileged position within the discourse of architecture. It serves as the datum against which architecture stands and holds an immense amount of power to organize our cities. It is not uncommon to encounter the idea that Nature can be used to fill in what is not building, and vice versa. The real irony is that “Nature is not a thing, a domain, a realm, an ontological territory.” [6] Nature has never been a separate territory from architecture, yet that idea is still reflected in the design process.


fauna 1

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What makes it difficult to escape the weight of Nature is the fact that there are two of them: the first Nature is the world we all live in; the second Nature is the Economy. [7] What they have in common is that they are considered indisputable. It is believed that they occupy a world more solid, more durable and more transcendent than ours. No wonder we are willing to defect our judgments to them and grant them unwarranted agency. Upholding these two territories without question advances the problematic notion that “no composition is necessary,” that territories are “always already assembled.” [8] The lack of due process allows the two territories to become arbiters without having to take responsibility. It obscures the distribution of

agency and awards it to fictional territories. Any sense of accountability becomes impossible and the belief that agency and power can be located in an outside realm is perpetuated. However, reality proves otherwise. There is no outside, no domain above or below us, yet this imaginary realm persists. This paradox preserves our inability to compose and understand the importance of delineating proper boundaries. It is the boundary, through its act of separation, which defines the limit of power. [9] All types of boundaries have specific requirements for their composition and maintenance. Unfortunately, we have trained ourselves to address limits in a way that is very specific and now irrelevant because we have privileged imaginary territories under the guise of indisputability.



We must question the role of the indisputable territory and locate agency back on Earth. [10] Returning agency recognizes that all things exist within a plane of equality, [11] and that all things are equally significant. (Image 2) Such a plane directly challenges the idea of a singular territory, either above or below, that has, up until this point, obscured agency. More importantly, a plane of equality allows for intentionality. The capacity to intentionally determine the location and duration of a given boundary, without having to answer to a transcendent world, makes it possible to choose whether the current distribution of agency should be maintained or questioned. For example, “flowers grown in the middle of a path oblige the gardener to choose: should he conserve the passage or the flowers?” [12] Fortunately, architecture is the intentional composition of boundaries. Architecture’s greatest gift is its ability to establish a boundary. Yet it has been treated as if it were a curse, made apparent by the many attempts to either blur or dissolve various boundaries. But contrary to these pursuits, clearly marking the edges of boundaries “in no way prevents their extension; indeed, that very demarcation is what allows the extension.” [13] It is time that we begin to strengthen and heighten boundaries. It is time we gain a better understanding of how and where limits should be composed so that beliefs in unwarranted indisputability can be corrected.

Two requirements will be necessary for the composition of boundaries so the city can become what it wants to be: a place of “organization and politics.” [14] The first requirement is that a boundary must be confrontational. A confrontational boundary is one that clearly demarcates two distinct frames of differing opinions. It is not meant as an aggressive move; rather, a confrontational boundary composes two territories that can be related and separated, claim similarities and differences. A goal for the confrontational boundary is the ability to challenge what agents have been taken into account and provide applicable means for their organization. Organization is not simply the allocation of space as dictated by one singular agent but the acknowledgement that all things have specific requirements for the location and amount of space they consider suitable. In this sense it seems appropriate to maintain various spatial typologies within a landscape, in other words apt territories for a variety of agents, even if such spaces are considered unusable by the particular agents currently “in charge.” This would inevitably change the current landscape of the city (image 3, 4, 5) and make reorganization not only feasible but actually possible. The next requirement for the proper organization of the city is a boundary that is provisional. The provisional boundary provides the opportunity to reorganize the current distribution of power. Such a boundary makes

the process of following up inevitable because of its inherent limited duration; are the relevant agents considered or have they been rejected? [15] A provisional boundary acknowledges that our world must be continually composed and that at any moment our cities minimally recognize what requires agency. There are two ways for architecture to compose provisional boundaries. The first way is through program. This is not a new idea. Buildings that accommodate various programs throughout time have been explored. But the point is to acknowledge that the reason programs change is because new agents have been taken into account. One manifestation of this awareness would be to consider the building as a perimeter and highlight the container over content. This approach might lead to an empty box that is less a reflection of its program at any given moment and more of a frame that can be continually refilled with new agents. [16] Another way to make a boundary provisional is through its means of assembly and disassembly. Constructing the possibility of disassembly into the composition of a boundary allows for the inevitable and necessary redistribution of agency. In contrast to considering a boundary as a perimeter that is constant, this strategy suggests that a new boundary be reassembled once all relevant agents have been taken into account and have expressed their spatial requirements. The challenge for boundaries that are provisional is how to deal with closure. Only


when boundaries are complete is it possible to evaluate their effectiveness. A boundary needs to be drawn to see which agents have been taken into account, to see which ones have been rejected and if reorganization is needed. The difficulty is how to construct closed boundaries that will inevitably have to be reopened for reasons it has not yet recognized. The composition of boundaries must have some way to take multiple agents into account and be able to redistribute agency quickly and efficiently. It is no longer acceptable to be content with intelligent or witty solutions to the demands of program and site. There must be a more proactive approach within architecture to account for both nonhuman and human agents and to realize that no territories are indisputable. A more explicit consideration for how and where boundaries are organized will provide the means to distribute agency more appropriately.


Notes 1.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2009. Commonwealth. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Page pvii.


Ibid. Page pvii.


Timothy Morton discusses the collapse of space of its effect on place in his essay “We Have Never Been Displaced.” Morton, Timothy. 2016. We have never been displaced. In Reality machines.Koenig Books.


Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2009. Commonwealth. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Page 251.


This is made painfully apparent when entire landscapes suffer from the radiation released during a nuclear disaster, or when entire environments experience the consequences of oil spills. Timothy Morton expands upon this through his discussion on the Hyperobject. Morton, Timothy. 2013. Hyperobjects; philosophy and ecology after the end of the world. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press.


Latour, Bruno. Summer2010. An attempt at a “compositionist manifesto”. New Literary History 41 (3) (Summer2010): 471-90. Page 476.


Bruno Latour clearly articulates the difference between the two natures and their qualities in his essay “On Some Of The Effects Of Capitalism.” Latour, Bruno. “On some of the Affects of Capitalism” (Lecture, Febraury 26, 2014), http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/136-AFFECTS-OF-KCOPENHAGUE.pdf.


This argument is an extension of action without agency, a paradoxical idea Bruno Latour presents and argues against in his essay “Compositionist Manifesto.” He states that “in theory nothing goes on but the strict and unaltered transportation of a cause.” However, practice shows that “all agencies have to be distributed at each step of the whole concatenation.” Latour, Bruno. Summer2010. An attempt at a “compositionist manifesto”. New Literary History 41 (3) (Summer2010): 471-90. Page 482.


Pier Vittorio Aureli discusses the importance of a boundary as a limiting device, specifically the role of an architectural element which takes its form as a boundary, one “that does not simply isolate ... [but] recuperates the symbolic possibility of confrontation.” Aureli, Pier Vittorio. c2011. The possibility of an absolute architecture. Writing architecture series. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. Page 41.


A common phrase used by Bruno Latour. His point is that “unwarranted forms of extension—Nature, matter, language, society, the symbolic, God and so on” are believed to be “higher” and to be there already. This masks the real work done by all entities here on Earth to compose and assemble. Our gaze, therefore, must turn towards our neighbors rather than towards Heaven. Latour, Bruno. An inquiry into modes of existence: An anthropology of the moderns. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press. Page 324.


The plane of equality is concerned with the possibility of what is real, possible, non-existent, past, impossible, true, false, or bad. Garcia, Tristan, Mark Allan Ohm, and Jon Cogburn. Form and object : A treatise on things. Speculative realism. Page 30.




Rocca, Alessandro. c2008. Planetary gardens : The landscape architecture of gilles Clément. English ed. ed. Basel ;: Birkhäuser. Page 13.


Latour, Bruno. An inquiry into modes of existence: An anthropology of the moderns. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press. Page 142.


Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. 2009. Commonwealth. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Page 254.


Bruno Latour introduced the requirement for following up in his book Politics of Nature. He discusses the importance of providing an environment that allows for an awareness of “the whole that has not yet been collected and that harbors all those which it has excluded and which can appeal to be recognized again as present.” Latour, Bruno. 2004. Politics of nature : How to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press. Page 184. He later expands on this concept in his discussion of the Political mode of existence in his book An inquiry into modes of existence: An anthropology of the moderns.


One example of this idea might be the adaptation of a speculative office building, due to its generic building layout, into another typology such as housing. For a thorough discussion of this see Pier Vittorio Aureli’s essay “Production/Reproduction: Housing beyond the Family.” Aureli, Pier Vittorio, and Martino Tattara. F/W 2015. Production/Reproduction: Housing beyond the family. Harvard Design Magazine (No.41 Family Planning).


104 108 112 116 120 124 126 Dan Kinkead

Dan Kinkead


Dan Kinkead is an architect and urban designer. He is the Director of Projects for the Detroit Future City Implementation Office – a team of urban strategists and thought leaders driven to transform Detroit through strategic coordination and catalytic pilot projects.

Prior to forming the Implementation Office, Dan was a design principal at the Detroit architectural firm, Hamilton Anderson Associates, where he spearheaded major aspects of the Detroit Future City planning process while also leading the design of noteworthy buildings, including the Wells Hall Language Arts. Dan Kinkead is an architect and urban designer. He is the Director of Projects for the Detroit Future City Implementation Building at Michigan State University, and Flint Downtown Transit Center, and master plans for Pewabic Office – a team of urban strategists and thought leaders driven to transform Detroit through strategic coordination and Pottery and The Children’s Center. Dan was also an urban designer at Skidmore Owings & Merrill in New catalytic pilot projects. York, where he contributed to the development of Columbia University’s West Harlem Campus Expansion, working in a joint with Renzo Piano Workshop. Dan also generated innovation Prior to forming theventure Implementation Office, Dan Building was a design principalAtatSOM, the Detroit architectural firm, Hamilton district designs in China continentalmajor Europe. Anderson Associates, whereand he spearheaded aspects of the Detroit Future City planning process while also leading the design of noteworthy buildings, including the Wells Hall Language Arts. Building at Michigan State University, and Flint Downtown Transit Center, and Dan master for Pewabic Pottery and The Children’s Center. Danatwas an urban In addition to design practice, is plans a visiting graduate architecture studio instructor thealso University designer at Skidmore & Merrill in New York, wherefor hethe contributed to the development ofVenice Columbia University’s of Michigan, and anOwings advisory committee member US submission for the 2016 Architecture West Harlem Expansion, working in a joint Renzo Piano Building At SOM, on Dan also Biennale, theCampus ‘Architectural Imagination’ . Dan is aventure graphicwith contributor to the WorldWorkshop. Bank for research rapid generated innovation district in China and continental Europe. urbanization in South Asia,designs East Asia, and globally competitive cities. Most recently, Dan authored a chapter

for Remaking Post-Industrial Cities: Lessons for North America and Europe, a research book published by In addition to design practice, Dan is a visiting graduate architecture studio instructor at the University of Michigan, Routledge and Carnegie-Mellon University. Dan speaks internationally about design, urbanization, and and an advisory committee member for the US submission for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, the ‘Architectural the built-form. graduated from Harvard University a master of architecture in South urbanAsia, design, and Imagination’ . DanDan is a graphic contributor to the World Bank forwith research on rapid urbanization in East Asia, aand bachelor of architecture from the University of Kentucky. globally competitive cities. Most recently, Dan authored a chapter for Remaking Post-Industrial Cities: Lessons for North America and Europe, a research book published by Routledge and Carnegie-Mellon University. Dan speaks internationally about design, urbanization, and the built-form. Dan graduated from Harvard University with a master of architecture in urban design, and a bachelor of architecture from the University of Kentucky. Image Credits: Dan Kinkead Image Credit: Dan Kinkead

Creep maintains a dual identity in the English lexicon: As a slow and passive pace that becomes nearly imperceptible, and as an abhorrent and detested figure. The urban environment – activated by processes of economic, political, and ecological dimensions of space and time – preserves the integrity of this dual meaning in profound ways. This is nowhere more true than in the “deindustrializing” countries of the west, such as the United States and Germany. Here, longrunning global economic adaptations have led to the reduction of conventional heavy industry, manufacturing, and energy production, and to the increase in diversified knowledge economies in which the new commodities are intellectual, service-oriented, and managerial. The evolutionary economic processes contributing to this change have moved slowly over the last century – at times virtually imperceptible – while the physical impacts have been a much more recently apparent result, making the physical apparatus of the previous economy anachronistically out of place. In this new frame of physical space and time, emerging technologies, capital, and social enterprise are coming into form amongst the physical vestiges of the past. In historically industrialized areas such as the “rustbelt” of the United States and Ruhr Valley of Germany, these vestiges are not necessarily set aside in a rational Euclidean separation of uses, but rather intertwined within the urban fabric. In many cases these industrialized spaces and


facilities have become an oddly inconspicuous artifact of a city’s past with no meaning outside of what they were. They become backdrop and move slowly into our subconscious. But now, as reinvestment emerges in urbanized areas, and perspective is gained from the obsolescence of these structures, their form becomes a potentially new commodity – not for what they did, but for what they may mean now. In this moment, the very identity of the architecture of industry becomes destabilized, and what had been perceived as banal and ugly – if perceived at all – becomes coveted. To engage this destabilization, three centers of inquiry will be considered: •

First, what happens to architectural project in this moment? In what ways can contemporary adaptive reuse initiatives in the Ruhr Valley demonstrate a post-structural fracturing of meaning to positively implicate architecture’s position in urban redevelopment?

Second, how can the slowly shifting frames of meaning around these architectures also begin to reveal new pluralistic interpretations of what they can become in the future? Can a post-structural perspective work to dissolve implicit cultural bias in the adaptive reuse of such structures? How can this engender greater diversity of authorship in the recovery minority-majority cities such as Detroit?

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

Landscape Park North former iron foundry, Duisburg


Third, how is Detroit beginning to create more participatory processes that may form starting points for a more inclusive and informed process of adaptive reuse?

This is an investigation into the slow evolution of economies, and the ways in which the remaining physical forms can be reconsidered. Vehicles for this study will include considerations of memory and monument, asserted by Alois Riegl,

and reframed by Kurt W. Forster, and poststructural theory as engaged by Jacques Derrida in his essay regarding Bernard Tschumi’s writing on his Parc de La Villette project. To activate these questions the ongoing physical and economic transformation of the Ruhr Valley, and two examples of its architectural reorientation, will be examined. This will be juxtaposed against emergent opportunities for reinvestment and transformation in Detroit.

Ruhr Not unlike the “rustbelt” of the United States, the Metropole Ruhr section of the state of North Rhine Westphalia in western Germany has gone through remarkable economic change over the last 50 years. The region’s once robust industrial economy based on coal, steel, and iron production, has been eroded, leading to disinvestment, depopulation, and growing questions about its future. The Changing Ruhr: A Shifting Workforce Sector/Year






Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries












Service Industries






Source: (Ruhr Metropolis)

With a population of 5.1m and a total land area of 1,712 square miles, the Ruhr also bears a striking resemblance to metro Detroit’s urbanized area in Southeast Michigan. (Ruhr Metropolis, 8-9) Also similar to metro Detroit, the Ruhr maintains cities of wealth, and others of economic struggle. But this is perhaps where the similarities end. Unlike regional Detroit, the Ruhr has taken on a remarkably thoughtful and deliberate process to guide its transformation from an old, extractive, and declining economy around coal mining and steel production to become a more resilient, diverse, creative, and intellectually oriented economy. Driven by Germany’s widely recognized International Building Exhibition (IBA) – a decennial serial process for advancing


innovative planning, design, and development – IBA Emscher Park was developed from 1989 to 1999. Over this period, the process was “dedicated to the post-industrial, often abandoned cityscapes of the Ruhr area; for the first time IBA focused on an entire region with numerous towns and administrative districts. Models were developed here for economic and environment-friendly conversion work in the Ruhr district.” (International Building Exhibition) Within the frame of this work, and broader recognition of the Ruhr Valley’s changing economics, a concerted effort was launched to guide the region through what is commonly referred to as “structural change” to define a future state that is post-coal, and post-steel. The process delivered a longterm socially and economically transformative

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

strategy to not only adaptively reutilize the existing physical infrastructure, but to celebrate its heritage and to convey how thoughtful design could fuse the Ruhr’s future with its past.

in their area, and how they could not only redefine their future, but also appropriate the very physical products of the past to be a differentiating part of their future.

Centered along what had been the Emscher River – as it had been converted to drainage ditch in the first half of the 20th century to improve the management stormwater runoff – the IBA Emscher project consciously sought to recover the built and natural environment from the industrial functions that had bound them for over 100 years. In many ways, the IBA process awakened regional leaders to how much had changed over a very long time

In this moment of re-appropriation, the architecture of the past was fused – through shared policy and vision – with an economic aspiration of the future. The resulting crisis of meaning destabilized preconceived notions of what industrial facilities should be. Rather than the historic monumentalization of these facilities as artifacts, the built form became integrated with contemporary programs and subject to a continual re-evluation of their roles

Zeche Zollverein building exterior, Essen

tourism, and creative enterprises, Zollverein was identified as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2001, and is now a destination for functions as diverse as a business school, gastronomy, recreation, and design. “The economic transformation of the region from a coal-based industry has important implications for the cultural identity of the people and was incorporated into the design and functions of the Zeche Zollverein. The coal and steel industries were not only at the economic center of the region, they were also an important part of the cultural and social identity of the region.” (Starodaj, 11) A site that had existed for so long in isolation and domination now opened itself.

Zeche Zollverein pedestrian pathways adapted from former rail lines, Essen

and identities. Once unknown facilities such as Zeche Zollverein in Essen, and the Landscape Park North in Duisburg, became global signifiers for the Ruhr’s future. They not only introduced radically different programs, they also incorporated new funding mechanisms that moved them beyond conventional commodification, and provided highly accessible public spaces amidst sites that had once dominated their cities within the last 60 years. In Zollverein, a former coalmine and coking plant was transformed into a globally recognized center for a burgeoning creative economy in the Ruhr area. As a center for culture,


If Zollverein became the global signifier for the Ruhr’s transformation, conveying a new future for its expansive coal mining sites and facilities, the Landscape Park North in Duisburg demonstrated how similar large campuses associated with steel and iron production could become community assets while also undergoing long-term remediation. Designed by Latz + Partners as part of the IBA Emscher implementation plan, the park lays out an array

Zeche Zollverein restaurant adapted from former boiler room, Essen

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

Zeche Zollverein mineshaft tower, an iconic reference to the Ruhr’s transformation, Essen

of adaptive reuse functions and operational funding mechanisms. From a dive tank devised in a gasometer, to climbing walls formed along concrete ash settling stalls, and two large operatic theatre sites – one adapted from an iron foundry, and the other from the former on-site turbine hall – the Landscape Park operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, and admission is free. Situated along the Emscher River, the Landscape Park also conveys the importance of public-private funding resources for not only the capital work, but also the operating costs. At 1/3 each, the park’s revenue mix is composed of rentals, state subsidy, and

city subsidy. Less known are the impacts on the economy through increased tourism and destination events on-site.. (Duisburg) In both Zollverein and Duisburg the slow and debilitating evolution of deindustrialization manifest in disinvestment and depopulation has given way to new canons of post-industrial reuse. But what may be most noteworthy is that they posit less of the aggressive “transformation” commonly invoked, and more of a long-term regeneration and reutilization of the sites. This regeneration seems to reflect a deliberate and sober recognition

of the technical and ecological challenges, as well as the financial limitations. In this context passive phyto and dendro remediation strategies form the common tools and expressions for the sites’ recovery and beautiful, if humble, expressions of the task at hand. At the same time, these projects, and many others across the Ruhr area seem to also support the historian Alois Riegl’s efforts at the turn of the last century “to discover the nature of monuments and to define their changing role in nature.” Here, the programming and activism work to keep the sites and their “artifacts” as living, viable contributors to contemporary life and culture. (Forster, 18) Moreover, in two statements by Kurt Forster regarding Riegl’s work he speaks of the powerful interpretive authorship maintained by the contemporary curator’s composition of classical artifacts: “Today, the Aegina sculptures are held in place by steel rods as so many disjointed fragments. It is immediately clear that this display of fragments – heightening, as it does, the fragmentary state of these ancient carvings and hence the distance and cataclysmic force of historical time – is inconceivable without the aesthetic apprenticeship of modern art.” (Forster, 29) Undoubtedly the design intervention and curatorial distance of the intervening contemporary architect and landscape architect make a composition far more captivating than the loosely assembled accouterments of the past itself. That is to say, in the recovery of these sites they are defined anew, as if to stand on the shoulders of the last century’s evolution


Landscape Park North climbing walls adapted from former ash settling stalls, Duisburg

Landscape Park North exterior performance space and operable shelter at former iron foundry, Duisburg

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

with a new form as well as a new program. Accordingly, the program – often the conspicuous juxtaposition of contemporary use (such as rock climbing) against the fixed artifact – constructs an altogether new narrative around the old architecture. Just as this process puts into question any assertion of fixed or universal meaning assumed in Hegelian philosophy, it also reveals a new architecture of use, activation, and response. In an increasingly built-out world, in which premiums are placed on the ecological and economic impact of building at all, the methods of architecture are being reconsidered in practice. The Ruhr projects also

demonstrate the tension of an ever-changing meaning that confronts the underpinnings of structuralism and phenomenology. These projects put into question the presumption of any common language, and point toward a state of flux with multiple meanings, histories, and politics overlaid. For Jacques Derrida, when considering this challenge to a “pure” and singular architecture vis a vis Bernard Tschumi’s Parc de La Villette, he writes, “It is no longer a question of saving its [architecture’s] own in the virginal immanence of its economy and of returning it to its inalienable presence, a presence which, ultimately, is non-representational, nonmimetic and refers only to itself.” (Derrida, 575)

Landscape Park North theatre space adapted from former turbine gallery, Duisburg

As if to document this shared and mediated authorship over time, Kurt Forster writes about the Roman Forum, and Riegl’s related work to describe the positive attribution of time, memory, and activation, “Old Views of the Forum provide a densely written palimpsest of many ages whose ‘text’ is incomplete or altogether illegible. Nonetheless, the continuous occupation of the site with its gradual accumulations and substitutions suffused all parts and fragments with a shared presence.” (Forster, 31) If the singular architectural identity and meaning around the adaptive reuse of such sites can be put into question, what does this

mean for city’s such as Detroit, with massive assemblies of vacant industrial space, and a complex array of socio-economic, cultural, and political identities inextricably linked to them? In the creeping deep and penetrating de-industrialization of Detroit, and the artifacts it leaves behind, how can such a radical, poststructural interpretation of these spaces yield opportunities that might otherwise not be realized? Can the arguably esoteric intellectual project of architectural theory be a valid tool to investigate and postulate new futures for spaces that simply do not “pencil out” in conventional pro-forma? More boldly, how can these destabilizing investigations of meaning also foster a more inclusive adaptive reuse?

Landscape Park North pedestrian promenade adapted from former elevated rail line, Duisburg


Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

Detroit Detroit and its larger industrialized region of the great lakes, (commonly referred to as the “rust belt”) have experienced dramatic changes in their economy over the last 50 years. While the Ruhr’s historic economy was anchored around extractive commodities of coal, iron, and steel, Detroit’s was more directly tied to manufacturing and ultimately the automotive assembly process that would utilize these commodities. The evolving shift in metro Detroit’s economy was highly disruptive, and for the city of Detroit itself this disruption was cataclysmic. As the Detroit regional economy evolved around the auto industry, it maintained the majority of the business leadership, engineering, research and development, and allied professional services, but for the city, the loss of manufacturing employment was profound.

Shifts in Detroit and the Region: Total Employment Place



















Percentage Source: SEMCOG, 2002

Vacant former Fisher Body 21 Plant, Detroit

Compounding the employment losses was a precipitously declining population in the city. From its peak of approximately 1.85m people in 1950 to 713,000 in 2010, the city struggled to maintain a value proposition to its residents, and to retain the jobs they needed. (US Census 1990, 2000, 2010) By July of 2013, with $18b in debt, the municipal government of the city of Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy – the largest in United States history. (Crain’s, 2014) These realities were the result of decades of slow and

steady decline, and an unclear understanding of how to manage a changing global economy. Today, Detroit is demonstrating signs of resurgence, with indications of a stabilized population and economic growth. Notably, however, the city contains over 23.4 square miles of vacant land – slightly larger than the island of Manhattan, and tens of thousands of blighted and abandoned structures. (Motor City Mapping) These physical attributes provide the formal witness to the city’s long-running decline, and shape a contemporary urban landscape in which the city’s present is inextricably linked with its past. While cities evolve over time, the process often involves a granular and organic replacement of old infrastructure and buildings, or the reutilization of preexisting forms, but for so much of Detroit, its dramatic changes can appear frozen in time. As the Detroit Land Bank Authority and other allied groups work diligently to assemble properties and eliminate blight in neighborhoods, the larger industrial sites and buildings present more daunting physical, legal, and economic challenges. Accordingly, they remain in place and because the city’s industrial land moves in a serpentine fashion across its geography it often puts hulking masses of Detroit’s past in close proximity to neighborhoods, many of which having just received blight removal. Today, with over 6.1 square miles of industrial land either vacant, or with vacant structures on it, Detroit is confronted with the accreted built form of its industrial history. (Interface Studio) Here the city’s massive and rapid


Existing occupied housing adjacent to vacant former Packard Plant, Detroit

Vacant former industrial facility, Detroit

Vacant former Packard Plant, Detroit

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

industrialization in the first decades of the 20th century has given way to a slow interplay of decay, real estate speculation, ruin porn, and awe. One can’t help but feel overwhelmed standing in the immediate face of these structures – they invoke some undefined degree of majesty, but they also confound. In some remarkable ways, facets of Detroit’s

industrial past – often in smaller structures – have been reutilized. Many of these adaptive reuses demonstrate a direct critique of the divisions of labor that became Detroit’s undoing in the face of a global economic system. Well known places such as Ponyride provide not only spaces to satisfy Detroit’s insatiable desire to “make” things, they also foster interconnectivity

amongst producers, artisans and technologists that breakdown the commodity of production to create a potentially more resilient economic system. Related initiatives such as The Empowerment Plan from Veronika Scott infuse social consciousness and economic impact into the manufacturing process. (Rajagopol, 88-97) Where Ponyride’s adaptive reuse transformed a remarkably banal building in a tucked-away portion of the city’s Corktown neighborhood, other reuses have sought to acquire the industrial form for their language as much as the characteristics of its structure. The Red Bull House of Art in Detroit’s Eastern Market, opened in 2012, occupies a former brewery to maintain gallery space and an artistin-residency incubator program. The adaptive reuse, driven by Matt Eaton, and designed by Tad Heidgerken, a UDM Mercy Assistant Professor of Architecture, reveals the way in which the industrial form (in this case of a brewery) becomes reactivated through the production and display of art. It seeks to quietly leverage the capacity of a multinational brand to transform an industrial architecture into a place of desire, while accommodating space for conscious work in a new part of Detroit’s economy. The artist in residency program selects a small number of artists every three months to live in Detroit and to make art. If beer or cars were the product of the past, a potentially more durable creative intellectual process is today’s. Both examples – part of a broader array of small-scale single initiatives – demonstrate


Detroit’s emerging creative relationship with its industrial past. It’s a relationship bound together through entrepreneurialism, ingenuity, and resourcefulness. From small scale retrofits of gas stations, such as the Practice Space incubator, to the expanse of tenants in the Russell Street Industrial Center, or the Detroit Bike Company’s re-appropriation of not only the physical space of a former auto supplier, but also the tool and die equipment, and in some cases the human resources. These projects form a diffuse spectrum of perspective, intent, and meaning in the work of recovering Detroit’s industrial past. The very act of their disparate efforts not only point away from a common language of reuse, they also manifest it in their physical form and their social and economic objectives. Perhaps, most notably, they speak – in their collective whole – to architecture of “now”, or as Jacques Derrida would assert, and architecture of “maintenant”. It speaks to a moment – now – uncorrupted by a narrative of history (Detroit’s industrial past), and to a large degree unmitigated by commodifying agents and fixed lexicons of power – wholly organized around the act of recovery. In fact, the act of recovery is often instrumentalizing the implied power of wealth, banking, and media. Here, the relationship between a new program and an old space is fused without the firmly declared meaning of either. Detroit’s granular, human, and sometimes desperate, transformation responds to a seemingly limitless field of inputs made possible by the relatively low cost of construction, and the breadth of opportunity to effect change. It

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

may be a capital economy in a democratic republic at its most pure state (for better or worse). “Maintenant:… promises to happen to architecture as well as through architecture, this imminence of the just… no longer lets itself be inscribed in the ordered sequence of a history: it is not a fashion, a period, or an era.” (Derrida, 570) The process of Detroit’s recovery of its architectural past is not about then and now, but about a continuous and organic evolution of the urban form. We are not beginning a new, but beginning always, within the form of the past for the future. “We appear to ourselves only through an experience of spacing which is already marked by architecture.” (Derrida, 570) While some may question such assertions based on the “merit” of the work, or the unconscious participation of so many actors in Detroit’s process, the reality of this moment in Detroit demands an inquiry that might reveal the processes by which Detroit’s larger vacant industrial form may be productively recovered. With greater consciousness about our actions within the history of our built form we might be better positioned to manage its interpretation, and recognize Alois Riegl’s assertion of its evolving identity. This pluralistic approach may also form a basis for a more inclusive recovery – one not only bound by the important, but highly transactional frame of incentives and benefits agreements, but also by the range of perspectives on Detroit’s physical past, present, and future. As Kurt Forster noted about Riegl’s recognition of the “intentional monument”, he noted, “Underneath the

ripples created by fashion, the thrust of history keeps changing the past, blocking one segment from view while raising another from obscurity. Recovery and repression occur in the communicating vessels of contemporary interests.” (Forster, 23) This recognition of power structures and modes in interpreting history is noteworthy. It should be a cautionary note to our process, and an assertion of the need for plural and inclusive methods for the evaluation of our physical history in the present. If Forster’s statement begs the question of whether or not past industrial facets are a legitimate part of our future, then one response may be to strive to answer it. In this regard, two notable recent events in Detroit have begun to do just that. First, in 2014 Detroit Future City, an organization I have been a part of for several years, partnered with Parallel Projections, a small, newly formed design competition group, to develop and host a design competition to consider new futures for the long-shuttered Packard Plant on the city’s near east side. (Haimerl) An icon of Detroit’s industrial past and its challenging current state, the Packard presented a wide-range of interpretive possibilities, and the design competition process contributed submissions that stimulated new considerations about those possibilities. The effort was catalytic and intended to reframe what the property could be. This was especially important as a new owner had just acquired the property at the time of competition. Over 200 submissions were

made from across the state, country, and globe. The diverse contributions produced a broad number of perspectives on the plant’s future. To ensure a wider array of interpretations of the work – including those who may never have been exposed to such a process, let alone the concept of industrial reuse – DFC hosted an open exhibition of the top 20 submissions. This was an important part of the process to breakdown the cloistered and often elite realm of design competitions, and to garner insight and perspectives from Detroiters not typically engaged on issues of architectural design. The results were compelling – with newly engaged participants expressing concern about the plant’s current state and a sense of interest in possible futures they’d never considered. Participants were able to see and react to a range of programs, technologies, and narratives. The perspectives gained through the event began to point a broader interpretation of the industrial form in the city. If the Parallel Projections process sought to bring global design perspectives on industrial adaptive reuse into view by a Detroit audience, the Architectural Imagination – the US State Department’s selected submission for the 2016 Venice Biennale for Architecture – for which I am a member of the Advisory Board – seeks to bring US-based design and Detroit perspectives out to a global audience. (Architectural Imagination) Formed by cocurators, Monica Ponce de Leon, the former Dean of the University of Michigan Taubman


College of Architecture (now Dean of the Princeton University School of Architecture), and Cynthia Davidson, Director of the Anyone Corporation and the architectural theory journal, Log, the 2016 submission for the US Pavilion will include new commissioned works from 12 architects, across four unique formerly industrialized sites. While commonly the US submissions for the Biennale are based on pre-completed works, Ponce de Leon and Davidson have sought to create the works to respond to Detroit’s immediate condition, and to the insight provided by Detroiters. To begin the process, all of the architectural teams were hosted in Detroit, bringing together local stakeholders and designers in candid discussions about the realities impacting their lives and the sites the team’s sought to transform. Here, the teams learned about the intrinsic needs of communities adjacent to these former industrial sites, and the ways in which the area is part of their experience as a stakeholder.

Packard Plant design competition public gallery exhibition at Detroit Future City, Detroit

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

Packard Plant design competition public gallery exhibition, exterior at Detroit Future City, Detroit

While each experience was different, from the Dequindre Cut in Eastern Market, to a vacant Department of Public Works (DPW) facility in Southwest Detroit, the United States Post Office and former Detroit Free Press printing site near Corktown, and the Packard Plant, the insight shared emphasized the importance of these sites and facilities. (Architectural Imagination) As a complement to these exchanges, the curators also developed an all-call for photographs that capture – for the submitter “…the essence of Detroit. Photographers of all ages – amateurs and professionals, residents of Detroit and residents of the world – are invited to enter My Detroit, a postcard photo contest.” (Architectural Imagination) While a relatively simple concept, the contest begins to actualize a plurality of meaning and interpretation vis a vis the city and its built form. Here the expression will be shared with Detroiters and an international audience, raising different and potentially contradictory perspectives on what Detroit is and what it could be.

Detroit’s most recent efforts to define new futures for a significant part of its physical form and its global identity may not be the large-scale systemic process undertaken in the Ruhr, but these efforts may begin to describe a catalytic path for a shared recovery nonetheless. At one level it seems as if the elements are in place, from the tactics, to the sites, and even investment interest. Even Detroit’s most recent declaration as a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) “City of Design” may serve as an activating agent. The question will be architecture’s capacity to pull such pieces together and to outline a direction.

P. 62-63: Packard Plant design competition submission (Parallel Projections) P. 64-65: Packard Plant design competition submission (Parallel Projections)



Conclusion The course of global change, particularly within political, economic, and ecological states, constantly places architecture in a form of crisis. This crisis is relatively discursive with questions of relevance, meaning, and technical performance constantly put forth. It is a remarkably challenging and undeniably healthy process of examination, and increasingly, reconstitution and redefinition. As our built form accretes over time, we are left with slowly shifting dimensions of physical terrain composed increasingly of the architectures of our past. Shaped most often by the politics and economies of nation-states, we are left with less of the “blank slate” we seem to covet as architects, and more of a complicated, contested, and charged environment to navigate. While this distinction may be more about the contemporary architect’s consciousness to recognize such conditions than their absolute state, it is imperative to identify a new set of tools for our practice. What may be increasingly at stake is the very relevance of architecture within the reappropriation of its past states. What is the new architectural project? If the projects of the Ruhr illustrate a creative practice of the curator’s compositional method-- and those of Detroit, a more granular and loosely arranged network of actors-- how might we expand the conventional boundaries of practice to not only engage these conditions, but to also regain agency in an environment that increasingly instrumentalizes the architectural project?


For Detroit, and the “rustbelt” region as a whole, architects must work with civic leaders and stakeholders to determine if the city’s current boot-strapping recovery will be sufficient to not only transform Detroit – including is large vacant industrial spaces and structures – but to also include the wide-range of voices needed to evaluate our course. Will some larger organizing frame, similar to the IBA Emscher process, be needed? One might contend the larger frame is as imperative as it may be difficult to form, but could we not consider leveraging larger strategic documents such as the Detroit Future City Strategic Framework Plan, as a leaping-off point? Could such documents help to orient the process and provide signals to essential policy and regulatory bodies as to how they may begin to reconsider Detroit’s industrial built form? Where will we, as architects, be in the process? Can we gain agency and relevancy in a new and complex environment? These are questions we will be compelled to answer.

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

End Notes 1.

The Architectural Imagination. http://www.thearchitecturalimagination.org


“Detroit bankruptcy expert: City’s top priorities are improved information systems, highly skilled emplpoyees,” Crain’s Detroit Business, July 23, 2014. Accessed January 16, 2015. http://www.crainsdetroit.com/ article/20140723/NEWS01/140729930/detroit-bankruptcy-expert-citys-top-priorities-are-improved


International Building Exhibition IBA Hamburg. The Spectrum of the IBA. Accessed February 12, 2016. http://www.iba-hamburg.de/en/story/format-iba.html


Derrida, Jacques. “Point de Folie – Maintenant l’architecture.” In Architecture Theory Since 1968, edited by K. Michael Hays, 570-581. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2000.


Detroit Future City. (2013). “2012 Strategic Framework.” Detroit.


Detroit Opportunity Sites Briefing Document. (2015). German Marshall Fund of the United States.


Forster, Kurt W. “Monument/Memory and the Mortality of Architecture.” In Oppositions Reader, edited by K. Michael Hays, 18-35. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.


Haimerl, Amy. “Reanimate the ruins: Ideas for the Packard Plant, “ Crain’s Detroit Business, August 25, 2014. Accessed February 12, 2016. http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20140825/BLOG017/140829907/ reanimate-the-ruins-ideas-for-the-packard-plant


Interface Studio. (2010). Mapping of Detroit’s Industrial Land.


Duisburg Landscape Park North representative, discussion and tour with the author and German Marshall Fund visitors, October 19, 2015.


Rajagopol, Avinash. (2016). “Game Changers 2016, Making, Entrepreneurship: Ponyride.” Metropolis. January: 88-97.


Ruhr Metropolis Small Atlas. (2010). “The Changing Ruhr.” Metropoleruhr, Essen.


SEMCOG. (2002). “Historical Population and Employment by Minor Civil Division, Southeast Michigan.” http://library.semcog.org/InmagicGenie/DocumentFolder/HistoricalPopulationSEMI.pdf


Starodaj, Bartek. Detroit Opportunity Sites: Study Tour to the Ruhr, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Washington, DC: The German Marshall Fund of the United States, 2015.


United States Census Bureau. (1990). “Table 23. Michigan – Race and Hispanic Origin for Selected Large Cities and Other Places: Earliest Census to 1990.” Accessed January 17, 2015.




United States Census Bureau. (2000). “Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000.” Accessed March 14, 2015. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk


United States Census Bureau. (2010). “Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2010.” Accessed March 14, 2015. http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=bkmk



SCS Sensual City Studio, founded by Jacques Ferrier and Pauline Marchetti, in association with the philosopher. Philippe Simay, is a laboratory of ideas, creation Steven Parissien is at Director Compton Verney museum and and urban foresight. Working differentoflevels, from design to urban planning, gallery in Warwickshire, England, and Visiting Fellowcities at in Kellogg the studio analyzes changes in architecture and large modern order College, University and the University Warwick.a to predict the effect that theyofwillOxford, have. Sensual CityStudio seeks of to develop Born in London and raised in Buckinghamshire, Steven obtained sensitive, humanist approach to the city, combining sustainable development his undergraduate doctoral from The Oxford and newboth technologies in a quest forand innovation anddegrees urban delight. result–is aa 1st Class BA (from University College, Oxford) in 1981 a preliminary analysis, procedure and stance which inform the architectural and design doctorate in eighteenth-century architectural history in 1989. process. Steven has written extensively on architectural and cultural history. His nine books to date include Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; Apollo magazine’s Book of the Year for 1992 and The American Institute of Architects’ Book of the Year Choice for 1993), George IV: The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001) and, most recently, Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). Image Sensual City Studio“The Grammar of Ornament”, 1856. Facing:Credit: Plate from Owen Jones’s


One could be forgiven for thinking that every city in the world will one day end up resembling one another, definitively submerged by the transformations of generic urban planning and the global economy. However, while travellers everywhere are able to observe the frenetic activity of an urban world without quality, they very quickly feel that each city they visit is unique, and that the experiences that they have of them remain profoundly singular – a persistent singularity that is witnessed firsthand, and indeed played out every day, by the city’s inhabitants themselves. Even though work, consumption, leisure and culture lead them with force into the planetary uniformization of a type of world city supposedly without territory, they stubbornly refuse to be dissolved into it by rooting their day-to-day lives in very specific places, participating in the urban atmosphere that is familiar to them, and to which they are all the more attached. For them, their city remains, by its very essence, without equivalent.


While it is true that the historic urban heritage found in touristic clichÊs is an iconic element, it is one that is marginal – non-existent, even – in most world metropolises outside Europe. When it comes to contemporary monuments, the race for originality paradoxically leads to their convergence in an omnipresent international banality. They have become interchangeable: everywhere, the same airports welcome you, the same towers rise into the skyline, the same museums featuring the same extravagant architecture that court the crowds with the same works, and the same audiences that have seen it all before.


We need to look elsewhere for what attaches us and attracts us from one urban world to another. It is better to simply let go and contemplate the colours of the sky and the physiognomy of clouds, to endure the unusual violence of a rain shower, to search for shade in order to escape the intense sun, to be amazed by a night that seems never to end‌ The climate never repeats itself. Similarly, the site of a city is unique, with its relief, its rivers, its coast‌ The pleasure of travel lies in finding oneself confronted with new geographies. While Lisbon, Algiers, Rio de Janeiro and Hong Kong may have sacrificed themselves to a total trivialization of their urban aspect, their geographical location will always provide them with a remarkable identity. Even the most anonymous, generic city is never isolated from its geographical context; it is superimposed upon a given landscape, to which it is linked and with which it reacts.


From one city to another, one cannot help observing variable predispositions to generating a rich interaction between the city and its inhabitants – or its visitors. The relationship between a person and a city is neither an a priori given, nor a constant... Every metropolis is experienced as the juxtaposition of an infinite number of spatial situations that overlap, intertwine and follow one another without ever dissolving into a single unit. In this representation, an open city is an urban space where the sensation of continuity outweighs that of compartmentalization.1


Cf. Peter Sloterdijk, Bubbles, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2011


Our appreciation of the city depends on a collective imagination that is produced by the city and which subsequently encompasses it. This collective imagination is made up of external factors, stories, images, myths and legends that the city will have managed to instil in the universal cultural universe, but also has a more intimate aspect, composed of the experiences and memories of each of us, that add touches that uniquely – and, ultimately, indescribably – internalize the experience that we have of a city. And it is this fiction that best captures it for us. Unlike the infinite possibilities of the dreamed city, the typically constrained nature of our daily lives will gradually cause the city that we experience to fade to nothing, if we are not careful. Our habitual urban trajectories take us from A to B as quickly as possible, ignoring large swathes of the city in between – landscapes that we pass through daily but which for us remain illegible, and therefore incomprehensible: strange landscapes, both familiar and faraway. They seem to belong to another city that eludes our acquaintance and elicits fascination and anxiety in equal measures.


By walking, though, we are able to take the time necessary to perceive, to pay attention, to contemplate. As we journey on foot, those things that initially appear to be chaotic, without aim and without form, gradually take on a different aspect: the way they are organized and the logic behind their uses are gradually revealed to us. This we experienced over the course of eight walks around Shanghai, each of which took place within a clearly defined area measuring 2,000 metres by 500 metres –that is to say, precisely one square kilometre. Our attempt at recounting these walks brings the experience of perception to the foreground. It reintroduces subjectivity as a means of warding off the detachment between the big city and its inhabitants.

Sensual City Studio Š 2016

Pauline Marchetti Pauline Marchetti is a DPLG certified architect and a graduate of the Paris Belleville school of architecture. From 2008 to 2010, working for Jacques Ferrier Architectures, she was responsible for the French Pavilion at the Shanghai UniversalExhibition, from overseeing building the structure to interior design. In 2010, she set up a new organization, Sensual City Studio, in partnership with Jacques Ferrier. This organization has served as a framework to develop and champion the concept of Sensual Cities. The physical relationship to space is fundamental to the Sensual City Studio process. Jacques Ferrier Jacques Ferrier is a DPLG certified architect, who graduated from the Paris- Belleville School of architecture in 1985 and the Ecole Centrale de Paris in 1981. He set up his own agency in Paris in 1990. His work includes cultural centers, prestigious buildings, public service structures, research centers and urban development projects which are all subject to a single guiding philosophy: creating architectures and cities for a sustainable society. In 2010, in partnership with Pauline Marchetti, he set up a new organization, Sensual City Studio, a research laboratory for a prospective, humanist and sensory approach to cities and architecture.



144 148 152 156 Florence Twu

SLOUCHING TOWARDS [...] A CAUTIONARY NOTE Florence Twu is an emerging creative voice, currently working through issues of knowledge, space, and power in our contemporary political economy. In design practice, she has contributed to projects of all scales, from installations to supertalls. Her perspective reflects her education in social theory, research, and architecture.

Image Credit: flickr

Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight - W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”1 Without hope we are lost. - Mahmoud Darwish, “Return of the ‘Modest Poet”2

[ introduction ] The title and tone of this essay is a reference to W.B. Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming.” Written at the beginning of the Modern period in 1919 as a response to the atrocities of World War I and mourning the decline of Western civilization, it is appropriate to resurrect now, as we seem to be entering yet another moment of emphasizing a social impetus behind architectural practice, a “Second Coming” of the social mission underlying Modern architecture. The problem of how to achieve real social progress through architecture after the dramatic failures of Modernism plagues practitioners to this day. With the fantastic demolition of Pruitt-Igoe, the era of grand utopia-building has past and the very notion of “progress” has been called into question. Practitioners have been left theoretically adrift, turning to a number of transdisciplinary explorations, intradisciplinary retreats, and forms of nostalgia in order to move forward. At the same time, neoliberal economic policies and spatial forms (i.e. the free zone) have overtaken global political economy, swooping a vulnerable, un-moored architectural field into its influence.3


Slouching towards [...] - a cautionary note

If progress is occurring, it is being implemented through forms more closely akin to “creeping” towards than “leaping.” Its pace is incremental rather than abrupt, radical moves being replaced by small-scale strategies and localized interventions. As global economic and political trends continue to victimize vulnerable populations (e.g. overseas factory collapses, continued abuses in manufacturing facilities, the existence of slums) through increasingly nefarious means, we are in need of different forms of resistance, new registers of success, and novel manifestations of change. The dramatic failure of Pruitt Igoe epitomizes such unattributable aphorisms such as “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So as we move towards this “Second Coming,” it is worth revisiting Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s ominous contention that the industrial dynamics of modernization led to the atrocities of the Holocaust. His is a reminder that with progress, there is always the uneasy possibility of even greater catastrophe: Without modern civilization and its most central essential achievements, there would be no Holocaust… To put it bluntly, there are reasons to be worried because we know now that we live in a type of society that made the Holocaust possible, and that contained nothing which could stop the Holocaust from happening.4 This end of this essay examines slower, quieter, and more lateral pathways towards change that are occurring. However, it contains a fundamental warning about the dangers of good intentions, but at the same time, the need to have hope in order to move on. What have we learned since Modernism? Can we break out of a cyclic view of history with new modalities of change?

[ dissonant discourses ] Pessimism and nostalgia are epitomized by the perspective of Reinier de Graaf of AMO. He himself refers to his perspective as “realism.”5 It is the -ism that comes from architectural practice, for him in the past twenty-some years, after the ostensible end of Communism with the fall of the Berlin wall to the re-emergence of new forms of totalitarian regimes such as China and countries in the Middle East. Because of his experiences working in non-democratic countries, he emphasizes the complicity of the practice of architecture in the progression of global capitalism.6 Sociologist Saskia Sassen too, is generally pessimistic and cautious. She sees the world as becoming increasingly hostile because of its increasing complexity and interconnection. Seemingly disparate phenomena such as refugees and resource extraction are linked by what she calls “the emergence of a new logics of expulsion”7 that result from the direction of our current global political economy. Combined, two ascendant regions in the endgame of capitalism, China and oil-rich Middle East, have two resources that are necessary for success - an abundance of people in China and a coveted natural resource in the Middle East. How can these cynical perspectives be reconciled with the Pritzker Committee awarding sociallyoriented architect Alejandro Aravena this year’s capstone prize, in addition to his role as the curator of the 2016 Venice Biennale? Architecture seems ready to tackle social issues again. From Aravena’s Curatorial Statement for the 15th International Architecture Exhibition: There are several battles that need to be won and several frontiers that need to be expanded in order to improve the quality of the built environment and consequently people’s quality of life. More and more people in the planet are in search for a decent place to live and the conditions to achieve it are becoming tougher and tougher by the hour. Any attempt to go beyond business as usual encounters huge resistance in the inertia of reality and any effort to tackle relevant issues has to overcome the increasing complexity of the world.8


Slouching towards [...] - a cautionary note

American critics are triumphalist. Architectural Record editor-in-chief Cathleen McGuigan invokes the word “Zeitgeist” as in the first incidence of Modernism - “Architecture in the public interest is now part of the Zeitgeist” - and states that “the choice of Aravena sends a powerful message about the role of architecture in addressing some of the world’s most urgent problems.”9 Blair Kamin writes that “the field of architecture, at least in the way it thinks, is shifting direction. It’s moving away from the flashy icon buildings that took up so much oxygen before the recession. It’s leaning towards a more human-centered type of design, one that seeks to use design as a tool to address pressing needs like housing shortages and climate change.”10 In his efforts to address social issues, however, Aravena does not present himself as a saint or Messiah. Commenting on his low-cost housing model, he says “We’re [Elemental] not particularly good people, we’re not generous, we’re not going for a romantic hippy approach. The project started from a very pragmatic, cold-blooded reading of the facts.”11 Hard-headed -- even cold-blooded -- pragmatism. Is this Yeats’ “rough beast,” slouching towards [...] to be born?

[ the mechanics of creep ] The following visual research and exploratory text are attempts to consolidate the mechanics of creep as a mode of operation in the built environment today. The modality of creep is quiet, near imperceptible, and often unexpectedly successful.

[ incremental ] Creep is aggregate. Aravena’s approach to social housing is “incremental.” He provides the “difficult,” more technically complex portion of a house at a low-cost and leaving the rest of the home’s enclosure to be completed by residents themselves. Commenting on the ongoing refugee situation between Syria and Europe, Aravena again takes the long term view, opposing temporary disaster-relief tents and supporting longer-term housing solutions.12 An organic analogy is that of brain coral, whose miniscule polyps gradually build up massive, hard exoskeletons in the sea.

Brain coral


Slouching towards [...] - a cautionary note

[ slow ] Creep builds change slowly. Creep takes the long-term view. Processes of erosion, sedimentary rock formation, or glacial movements carving are natural corollaries. Slow food and slow fashion have taken root. Is there a slow architecture?

Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park

[ lateral ] Creep progresses horizontally, mimicking rhizomic growth patterns. Here a non-architectural example is instructive. The growth of Amazon.com has been both slow and lateral, focused on building a distribution network that, although it does not always turn a profit, makes the company an impossible adversarial empire.13


[ decay ] Creep is counterintuitive. As building has become complicit with capitalist abuses, architects are beginning to explore unconventional oppositional strategies, such as Storefront for Art & Architecture’s recent Taking Buildings Down competition. Conceived as an expansion of architectural protocol beyond construction into the realm of decay and destruction, the competition called for proposals to productively subtract from the built environment.14


Slouching towards [...] - a cautionary note

[ networked ] Creep seeks the creation of connections, often the linkages of small nodes. Small-scale, networked public-interest projects such as Latent Design’s Micro Retail Boombox provide startups temporary storefront space on vacant, city-owned lots in Chicago. Community and growth oriented, the architectural project was not only building-based (the storefront consists of a converted 20’ cargo container) but also process-oriented, successfully streamlining the process for temporary permit acquisition for the use of vacant city-owned lots.

Microscopic view of a mycelium




Slouching towards [...] - a cautionary note

[ Conclusion: Ouroboros or rhizome? ] Looking back on the 21st century, will we again find that our good intentions went horribly awry? Will the world end with a whimper instead of a bang this time, again unexpectedly, having crept up like a beast on us from behind? Will history prove to be cyclic, like an ouroboros, or will there be slow, laterally unfolding progression forward, like a rhizome? The first iteration of Modernism should have taught us the dangers of leaping. What will the second tell us about creeping‌

Notes 1. W. B. Yeats and Richard J. Finneran, The Collected Works of W.B. Yeats, 2nd ed, v. 1 (New York: Scribner, 1997), 189. 2. Dalia Karpel, “Return of the ‘Modest Poet,’” Haaretz, July 12, 2007, http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/return-of-the-modest-poet-1.225367. 3.

See Keller Easterling, Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space (London ; New York: Verso, 2014).


Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 2000), 87-88.


Reinier de Graaf, “The Century that Never Happened” (lecture, ARCHEWORKS In Chicago lecture series, Chicago IL, 3 October 2015)

6. 24 April and 2015By Reinier de Graaf, “‘Architecture Is Now a Tool of Capital, Complicit in a Purpose Antithetical to Its Social Mission,’” Architectural Review, accessed January 6, 2016, http://www.architectural-review.com/rethink/viewpoints/ architecture-is-now-a-tool-of-capital-complicit-in-a-purpose-antithetical-to-its-social- mission/8681564.fullarticle. 7.

Saskia Sassen, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Cambridge, Massachusetts:The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014), 1.

8. Alejandro Aravena, “Statement by Alejandro Aravena, Curator of the 15th International Architecture Exhibition,” La Biennale, accessed February 10, 2015, http://www.labiennale.org/en/architecture/ exhibition/aravena.html. 9. “Design’s Social Agenda,” accessed February 2, 2016, http://www.architecturalrecord.com/ articles/11472-designs-social-agenda. 10. Blair Kamin, “Alejandro Aravena’s Pritzker Prize Win Sends Signal to Architecture World,” Chicagotribune.com, accessed January 14, 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct- alejandro-aravena-pritzker-prize-architecture-ent-0114-20160113-column.html. 11. “Refugee Tents Are a Waste of Money, Says Alejandro Aravena,” Dezeen, accessed December 16, 2015, http://www.dezeen.com/2015/11/30/alejandro-aravena-humanitarian-architecture-refugee-t ents-waste-money-emergency-shelter-disaster-relief/. 12. “Refugee Tents Are a Waste of Money, Says Alejandro Aravena,” Dezeen, accessed December 16, 2015, http://www.dezeen.com/2015/11/30/alejandro-aravena-humanitarian-architecture-refugee- tents-waste-money-emergency-shelter-disaster-relief/.


Slouching towards [...] - a cautionary note

13. “Amazon: Nearly 20 Years In Business And It Still Doesn’t Make Money, But Investors Don’t Seem To Care,” International Business Times, December 18, 2013, http://www.ibtimes.com/amazon-nearly-20- years-business-it-still-doesnt-make-money-investors-dont-seem-care-1513368. “Call for Ideas: Taking Buildings Down,” Storefront for Art & Architecture, January 10, 2016, 14. http://storefrontnews.org/programming/call-for-ideas-taking-buildings-down/. 15.

“BOOMBOX,” Activate! Chicago, accessed February 2, 2016, http://www.activate-chi.org/boombox/.

Imperceptibility and the Architectural Project of Recovery

158 162 166

“We appear to ourselves only through an experience of spacing which is already marked by architecture.” Ashley Ball - Jacques Derrida

Dan Kinkead


Dan Kinkead is an architect and urban designer. He is the Director of Projects for the Detroit Future City. Implementation Office – a team of urban strategists and thought leaders driven to transform Detroit through strategic coordination and catalytic pilot projects.


Prior to forming the Implementation Office, Dan was a design principal at the Detroit architectural firm, Hamilton Anderson Associates, where he spearheaded major aspects of the Detroit Future City planning process while also leading the design of noteworthy buildings, including the Wells Hall Language Arts. Building at Michigan State University, and Flint Downtown Transit Center, and master plans for Pewabic Ashley born andCenter. raised inDan the Northwest of England, UK, moving to London in 2013 to&surround himself Pottery andBall Thewas Children’s was also an urban designer at Skidmore Owings Merrill in New with creative culture. Coming from a diverse arts background, often working on the peripheries between art, York, where he contributed to the development of Columbia University’s West Harlem Campus Expansion, architecture, social behavior and documentation work, Ashley´s intrigue is in frequent transition, helping to working in a joint venture with Renzo Piano Building Workshop. At SOM, Dan also generated innovation maintain a continual engagement and creative presence. district designs in China and continental Europe. He has degrees in both Fine Art and Architecture, and a wide range of professional experience from gallery work,

In addition to design practice, Dandesign is a visiting graduate architecture studio instructorrather at the University public intervention, architectural and curation. This diversity of discipline is embraced than seen as a of Michigan, an sees advisory committee forand thecreative, US submission for the 2016 Venice Architecture limitation.and Ashley himself as a “Maker”.member Inquisitive driven by narrative and philosophical thinking, he explores poetics of theImagination’ everyday through approach. Biennale, the ‘Architectural . Danaismultidisciplinary graphic contributor to the World Bank for research on rapid urbanization in South Asia, East Asia, and globally competitive cities. Most recently, Dan authored a chapter He has worked for LondonCities: based architectural Karakusevic Cousins & Cousins, as well by as for Remaking Post-Industrial Lessons for practices North America and Carson, Europe,and a research book published working with artist David Hockney, Frieze Art Fair, and London Festival of Architecture. He is also a visiting tutor on Routledge and Carnegie-Mellon University. Dan speaks internationally about design, urbanization, and the undergraduate Architecture course at Leeds Beckett University, UK the built-form. Dan graduated from Harvard University with a master of architecture in urban design, and Ashley of is founder of Store & Archive, a design and lifestyle studio, and currently a bachelor architecture from the University of Kentucky. resides in New York City. www.storeandarchive.com / @storeandarchive

Image Ashley Ball Jones’s “The Grammar of Ornament”, 1856. Facing:Credit: Plate from Owen

something unseen does not mean it is inexistent. With CCTV and police presence monitoring the everyday street, our behavior, and activity, it is intriguing how certain architectural pockets are able to continue what would otherwise be classified as indecent exposure. Public toilets were established for the everyman in London in 1852, after the success of George Jennings Crystal Palace lavatories at the Great Exhibition of 1851. These Public Waiting Rooms contained water closets in wooden surrounds, with a standard charge of two pence entrance fee, with an extra fee for washing or clothes brushes. These new facilities were advertised in the Times and on handbills distributed across the city, gaining widespread exposure and becoming a cultural phenomenon, which has engrained itself in the orchestration of the everyday street fabric. Public toilet below ground, Soho, London, UK

The power of architecture as a spatial condition has its own unique set of rules; rules which shift from space to space. It is interesting how the intention of a space can shift over time and the way a space becomes used throughout its lifespan may be outside of its original objective. A plethora of public toilets in the City of London reveal a darker side, an undercurrent of sordid behaviour, and a cultural act which continues underneath the surface of the everyday street. The notion of things unseen but still in existence can be a peculiar notion to comprehend, but


Although the conveniences were initially seen as a luxury, they quickly turned into unattractive places due to the lack of cleanliness and negative activity that surrounded them. Yet the integrity of the design and decoration was kept intact. Victorians idealized everyday processes of function and celebrated them with characterful architectural designs seen in structures like the public toilets, pump houses, sewers, etc. They fit into the city as entrances like any other, but take advantage of underground space. Logically the decision for public toilets below ground provided privacy and fit into the concept of cleanliness services, which ran under the fabric of the city.

Public Toilets in the City of London

Today the attraction to these Victorian masterpieces continues with mass intrigue through rather bizarre tour guides of such historical structures; there is even an app designed to locate nearest convenience using the London toilet map. The design of public convenience are stunning pieces of craftsmanship, some detailed with glazed green tiles and decorative moldings; indeed, walking over the threshold between the civil everyday street into this unknown territory is like entering a private members club. The architecture of the traditional Victorian convenience has since developed through time to examples of 1960s banal structures designed at street level, where the activities in question evidently still take place. In the most beautiful, stylistic manner and quintessentially British, the Victorian London public toilets are reminiscent of a period in time that has witnessed countless historical events, and survived two World Wars. They are clearly a marker of a proud society, one would quickly classify these structures as British by design; something which is rapidly becoming lost in a world of commercialist buildings built quickly and as cheaply as possible by the common developer; a sad notion of lack of identity. There are an excess of other examples of public toilets below ground in London. Some of which are sadly now neglected and left to disrepair, others have been transformed from their

Entrance to public toilet, Soho, London, UK

original function into other unique displays of underground activity, such as, “The Attendant”, a coffee shop which has transformed the original feature of the urinals into individual seating areas, or “Ladies & Gents”, aptly named after its original title, has now been transformed into a rather secret den type cocktail bar with live jazz. From street level, the toilets could easily be mistaken for the similarly decorated tube stations. They act as entrances to other places and fit into the street fabric of the city. Like

Street approach to Ladies & Gents cocktail bar, Kentish Town, London, UK

many other architectural pieces, the toilet is amidst a whole host of everyday activity, from cyclists, to busy workers, lampposts, recycling bins, from the action of the delivery van to a market stall worker shouting about the daily array of fruit and vegetables. In order for the street to work and be perceived to have character, these objects or events need to work together to become the everyday fabric of our cities; neither one stands out to dominate the whole. Reviewing one toilet in particular, in the center of Soho, from the threshold at street level the white rectangular tiles denote a place of cleanliness, making a suggestion of the proposed activity


below ground. The simplicity of the concrete steps provides a continuation of the street as if it has simply been carved out of the ground. Although simple in design, the appearance on first impression appears lavish and decorative; this is namely by the use of decorative ironwork, which encloses the entrance from the street. There is a beauty in the approach. The signage is simplistic and is framed by this ironwork of the railings, a repetitive structure that envelops the boundary. The mystery builds from the initial approach, looking down a series of steps to an unseen ending, as the steps twist

Public Toilets in the City of London

External view of The Attendant cafe, Fitzrovia, London, UK

down to the left. One might glimpse from the top of the stairs at shadows moving by the bottom of the steps, but it is uncertain. But through the moving foot traffic of the everyday street lurks something more sinister below. There are some blunt clues of this, from the sign placed at entrance level warning of inappropriate behavior and drugs. There are certain public toilet etiquettes one inherently learns from a young age, not to make eye contact, or not to engage in conversation. However it was only after a few occasions that I

began to realise the recurrence of the surrounding behaviour. There would be individuals lingering in their urinal for a long period of time, with shifting glances; an uncomfortable situation in a once beautiful setting. One strategy to offer a solution to crime and indecent behavior was by placing open nighttime urinals on the street for all to see, which either come up to street level from below at a specific time, or are dropped off by a sanitation truck. However it is a rather interesting notion that space can dictate ones behavior. Space in

area in combined with the exit area, where washing and drying hands would lead to a direct exit from the space. Logically one would not expect to then have to walk past others urinating to exit, and one would not expect to be on show by the entrance whilst urinating. The stages of process include, entering down the steps, turn left to a vacant urinal or turn right to use a cubicle. One finished you return to where you came from to wash and dry your hands, and leave back up the steps. However, it is quite interesting that certain spaces, such as these London toilets have taken on another role of function over their lifespan. For some, the public toilets are simply a place of function, for others it is a pleasure palace, full of unusual activity from the everyday street. How is it possible that only a series of steps is the thing, which provides the necessary threshold for two different activities to take place? Urinals used as tables in The Attendant cafe, Fitzrovia, London, UK

terms of public space generally makes one perform in a different manner to ones private space at home, or in front of general public for example. Lets take two instances of approach to the same space in the Soho public toilet.

Instance One On first glance the small arrangement of five urinals, two toilet cubicles, and two washbasins is clearly designed for function. The entrance


Instance Two Now if we take a look at the layout again, the areas also allow other functions to happen. The entrance provides the first look out point for identifying other users. To the left, the line of urinals are places of neighbouring activity, and yet a place to view the newcomers into the space. To the other side of the entrance, the two cubicles are places to linger, or to move onto once a suitable target has been identified. Often the washbasins are places to linger also, unbeknown to others if you have just arrived

Public Toilets in the City of London

or are just leaving. It is the buffer area between the activity happening on either side and also a watch out point for legal enforcement officers. Now throughout this, there will be a mix of users, some from the first instance, and some from the second instance. The space can accommodate both instances, but it is human discreteness that has the ability to gauge what kind of activity is happening adjacent. Each urinal is separated by a vertical panel of laminated timber, designed for privacy between individuals. However, this can be taken as a new threshold. If one is taking the approach from the second instance, it can be the very thing which signals to the neighbour by trespassing this boundary line, a step back, a sly glimpse, a foot shift, whether or not you are acting in Instance One or Instance Two. These Victorian toilets fit into one of history and dark narrative; a cruising ground for gay or curious men. The interesting dialogue is how architecture can formulate a space, which allows this action to continue. There is only so much monitoring that police can perform, as there is an ethical issue to having cameras in the toilets themselves. Maybe the space can be designed purely for function, but due to its location being underground, it allows something other than its original purpose to happen. Would the same activity happen if the Victorians designed beautiful street level toilets, which were open for all to see like the contemporary

Inside view of Ladies & Gents, Kentish Town, London, UK

alternatives? Would these still be seen as beautiful spaces being at street level, or is there an attractiveness due to the mystery of the approach being underground? The public toilet remains a space that is difficult to design for, allowing both privacy and safety.

Regardless of the activity in question, the spaces themselves remain beautifully intriguing and classically British. Perhaps there are positive lessons to be learnt from the design of structures

Everyday street activity of The Attendant cafe, Fitzrovia, London, UK

to last, such as the Victorian London public toilets, which unashamedly express architectural confidence and poise, even if the activity that happens in them is not true of its original intent.


Public Toilets in the City of London

168 172 176 Erin Kelly

ASK THE NEIGHBORS Erin Kelly is trained as landscape architect and currently lives and works in Detroit, MI. Her feral, place-based practice includes self-initiated and collaborative works ranging from private commissions to work conceived by, for, and with the public. More at BotanicalTangent.com

Image Credit:Erin Kelly

Over the last five years, Botanical Tangent has kept nine sites of emerging wilderness in Detroit under observation, in order to better understand what happens in urban areas when ruderal ecosystems are allowed to run their course. To date, the working methods have been entirely voyeuristic and of a landscape architectural bias. Through the use of public data and designerly conventions, squint-andpixelate narratives have emerged to suggest

the events contributing to the authorship of each of these places. As an experiment, Botanical Tangent opted to break the formula of voyeuristic narrative-construction, and instead, to Ask the Neighbors. For this issue of Dichotomy, one of the nine wildernesses (and its periphery) was selected for a new mode of investigation. Through this act, Botanical Tangent sought to identify what the households and businesses persisting adjacent

“People used to dump cars in there, stolen cars. I ride through there on my mountain bike.�


Ask the Neighbors

Historic Sequence - “I looked online, and it seems like it used to be a track.”

to one of these sites might already know and understand differently about wilderness. An urban wild is not made; rather, it is allowed to emerge. These wilds are produced out of negligence, and not forethought, in places given the space-time to actualize. There is no construction timeline, nor a closeout punch list. With an urban wild, maintenance, rather than original construction, holds the agency of authorship. Maintenance becomes a curatorial act, whereby spontaneous, ruderal vegetation is selectively removed, and new plants are occasionally added as a way to emphasize the experience of a site.

The most charismatic and well-curated urban wildernesses are largely the product of war, where lengthy timelines enable these botanical tangents. Their confinement supports a slow evolution away from the present, deforming the landscape of the familiar. Intentionally planted species mix with the self-appointed plants that possess an entrepreneurial spirit along with what is usually a tolerance for extremes. Urban wilds—particularly wild woodlands— are a relatively accepted and utilized strategy for land management in Northern Europe. This acceptance is likely the hybrid vigor* resulting from from a divergent cultural understanding

of wilderness, as well as the more stringent and resource sensitive approach to European regulations. Currently in the United States, urban wildernesses are proving to be only intellectually seductive. Despite our heritage** of wilderness-making, only fits, starts, and murmurs of proof on the ground (in the form of managed, spontaneously emerging wildernesses) exists today in North American cities. Before leaping into conversation about the practical potential of the urban wilderness as a viable land management strategy in Detroit, Botanical Tangent opted to stop with the voyeuristic narrative making, and to instead, ask the neighbors. The approach was as a structured experiment, to understand what happens when directly confronting the recent histories that have lent to the progression of these places away from the ordinary and towards their wild, altered states. Operating as a horticultural cul-desac, approximately 20 years have lapsed since the departure of architecture (the trucking facility) from the site of inquiry. This has offered 20 years of disruption, reaction, and botanical “progress” within. At 4.5 acres, the selected site is neither the smallest nor the largest of the group of nine. Due to its layout as well as its rectangular parcel-shape (and an almost accidentally beauxarts ‘plan’) it offers perhaps the easiest leap of the imagination from its current state and


“This is the first time I’ve thought about that space.”

“About five years ago we organized and built the barricade ourselves. To keep trouble out.”

into the lightly socialized, curated form of an urban wild. Formerly the location of a trucking facility, the site shares a 20th century industrial legacy with the majority of the sites currently under observation. For decades the lot has been abutted by industrial activities. Steel-related businesses have agglomerated along more that half of the site’s perimeter. These are hardly the

Ask the Neighbors

conditions of a typical residential neighborhood, but single-family housing surrounds the area. Although confinement and quarantine (ISLAND) are a shared ingredient amongst all urban wildernesses, this location, considered amidst the nine, showcases one outcome of mineralization (VOLCANO), or the depositing of new geological matter onto the site.*** Cars, car parts, gravel, and the truck depot’s demolition itself have altered the site’s geomorphology. These repeated, mostly illicit deposits have given rise to the presence, selection and behavior of plants. For example, many of the species observed share a tolerance for more extreme pH levels than typical lawn and garden plants found further down the street. This is a trait common amongst the pioneer species who emerge and thrive following a volcanic event, where nutrient availability is low, and plants must be more adept at extracting minerals from their growing media. In 2010, long time residents of the adjacent block, many of whom have had family on the street since the 1950s, organized together to construct a barricade, further limiting access to the site. Residents’ shared concerns about the range of illicit activities occurring within the wilderness, particularly the disruptive qualities of repeated car theft related bonfires, spurred action. In the years since, there have been fewer acts of ‘geologic depositing,’ other than waste that can be carried by hand, and the street has experienced a greater sense of quiet. However

the forest-like setting at the center of the site, which has risen in the footprint of the trucking facility’s former basement, persists as a charismatic (if not iconic) register of some of the human induced changes to the site’s geology. Academically, urban wildernesses are characterized by their ability to introduce, support, and expand the range of existing populations of flora and fauna. This is in part a function of their size, as a certain spatial footprint benefits the accumulation or assemblage of a new plant-based community. Although the neighbors as a group otherwise possess extremely divergent perspectives, lengths of residence, cultural lineages and relationships to their neighborhood, the presence of wildlife offered the most unified response from the neighbors. Neighbors who had never been inside, neighbors who had organized clean-ups and barricading events; children and adults alike were all appreciative of the animal-neighbors the site housed. A shared admiration for the range of animal types present within the wilderness, whether real or imagined, might be only conclusion available from this experiment. The majority of neighbors identified the presence of snakes in the wilderness as an amenity or benefit. There were no references to rats or other urban animals associated with adverse or negative benefits. It is worth noting that of the neighbors interviewed, there was nothing uniform about these people, other than their trust and

patience in speaking with strangers, and that there is no reason to assume that the attitudes in this one neighborhood might mirror the attitudes in another. The motivation for selecting this site amongst the nine currently under observation was largely due to the extreme proximity of this wilderness (right next door!) to other resident-neighbors. Willful ignorance at multiple scales has authored each of these sites, conspiring to create space for the passage of uninterrupted time, and thereby a progression towards wildness. Their histories and narratives are rightfully obscured—it is exactly the street-facing, grey man ability of these places that has propelled their inner prosperity. Literature and work in this topic area to date rarely conveys the story of the initial encounter; what incited the invitation to enter, and to participate? Urban wilds frequently occupy territories of jurisdictional conflict or disregard; these marginalized spaces (or their Northern European counterparts) are rediscovered and re-integrated into their surroundings through intentional, recoveryoriented processes. And yet this particular site captures so little of the imagination from the outside that many of its direct neighbors have never ventured inside. At the same time, those who have entered have largely been waging their own local battles for stability, for peace, and for quiet. For this particular Detroit wilderness, entry has been an act of domestic protection, rather than one of retreat.


“It’s the Forest at the Corner!”

“We call it Snake City.”

“I always wondered what was in there.”

Ask the Neighbors

The original intention of this site-based surveillance was to identify examples of wilderness that had already emerged in Detroit, in order to understand what was possible from a physical and botanical perspective on land in Southeast Michigan. What can happen here when space is provided the time to diverge? The promise of Detroit, as a city working to recover its own equilibrium, was that the local abundance of fragmentation and delay

“It’s not a bad street.”

would offer mature examples of wilderness on formerly residential lands. Perhaps the greatest early disappointment of these investigations has been discovering that the most robust examples of wilderness in Detroit are unique in their manifestation, but not in their means. Just like in other ‘traditionally’ maintained cities, the most mature examples (and the ones that Botanical Tangent continues to observe) are largely the result of industrial quarantine,

where the arrival or departure of infrastructure has offered some degree of confinement or an ever-languishing approach to maintenance. As terrain vague in the most Francophone**** sense of the term, these sites share a blurred marginalization. Each of the nine is the result of a lapse in maintenance and the deposit of unexpected botanical or geological resources. They offer the wild pre-text in which a curatorial act could one day occur.

“I could care less—I want to get out of here.”

Select feedback from these neighbors, who are slow witnesses, participants and collaborators in the sustained disinterest of these places, is what follows.

“We’ve never been inside, but we heard this used to be farming land. And that there are snakes inside.”


Ask the Neighbors

“I call it Open Nature. Besides birds there are snakes, rabbits, raccoons, possums— but no deer.”

Notes 1.

For further commentary, see Peter Del Tredici, Nature, Issue 474, June 2011.


For further commentary, see William Cronon, The Trouble With Wilderness, Or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature, Environmental History, January 1996.


The third in the triptych of wilderness creation (SAVANNAH) is a condition we can witness in many parts of Detroit, where the over-grazing of a landscape narrows the diversity of species present .


See Ignasi de Sola-Morales Rubio, Terrain Vague (1995).


Dr Ross T. Smith is an Assistant Professor of architecture at Abdullah Gül University in Kayseri, Turkey (where the photographs for this article were taken). His Bachelor and Master of Architecture degrees were undertaken in New Zealand and he completed his Doctorate in architecture the University of Melbourne, Australia. The title ofand his Steven Parissien is at Director of Compton Verney museum thesis was: Phenomenology and Experiential Learning as an Approach Teaching StudioFellow in Architecture. Also gallery in Warwickshire, England, toand Visiting at Kellogg he held the position of Post-Doctoral Research Fellow atof the Oxford, L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris La College, University and the University of Warwick. Villette at the Gerphau Laboratoire (Architecture-Philosophie-Urbain) in Paris, France.

Born in London and raised in Buckinghamshire, Steven obtained

bothpedagogy, his undergraduate andexperiential doctorallearning, degrees from Oxford – a His academic focus is design studio, phenomenology, embodiment, materiality, 1st Class BA (from University College, Oxford) in 1981 and a and craft. He has taught design studios, visual communication, and photography in various countries. He is also doctorate eighteenth-century history inartist1989. invited teach conceptual drawing workshopsinat other universities. Smith isarchitectural a practising photographic who has been exhibiting internationally for twenty years.extensively on architectural and cultural history. His nine Steven has written books to date include Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; Apollo magazine’s Book

The integration of his practice as an artist and1992 academic in architecture enhancesofthe poetic, philosophical, and of the Year for and The American Institute Architects’ Book of theYear multi-disciplinary influences heChoice cultivates in teaching and research. His approach to teaching and learning is multifor 1993), George IV: The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001) layered, experimental, and risk-taking. In particular, his primary concern is to transform students’ understanding of and, most recently, Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). themselves as creative designers in relation to the human environment. Credit: RossJones’s T. Smith Facing:Image Plate from Owen “The Grammar of Ornament”, 1856.

Our perception of beauty and perfection is often challenged by the way the world of nature and man is presented to us. The Japanese aesthetic ‘wabi-sabi’ holds great value in the beauty of aging and the wear of time upon materials. This is a cultural appreciation of the interaction of the body and nature within our fragile surroundings. Close attention to aspects of change, preserved in the still photographic images which accompany this article, draw us closer to the subtle fluctuations which happen all around us. “Weathering links the passage of time,” say Mostafavi and Leatherbarrow (112), yet buildings, over time, sustain multiple interpretations particularly when silent and captive. A stain is often regarded as an unwanted occurrence upon what is clean or correct. Stains need to be got rid of, washed out, covered up, or removed. Yet a stain is a phenomenological consequence of a period of material activity revealing layers of beauty and wonderment of an often unnoticed world. These changes are a revelation of a new way to experience our environment as ever-changing processes of entropy; the slow slide of decay. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard says: “The professional phenomenologist will ask why we choose a subject as fluid and unstable as imagery to display and demonstrate the phenomenological principles” (2). The acuity of photographs allows us to halt time to observe an aspect of a preserved moment in detail.


Phenomenology The world is a passionate mass of beauty and ugliness, the bland and extraordinary, the physical and ephemeral. Therefore, learning to ‘see’ rather than just ‘look’, ‘feel’ and not just ‘make contact’, enhances our awareness of the subtlety of phenomenal moments that infuse our daily experience, adding to our appreciation of a life of art and architecture. Developing a deeper perception informs our understanding of the way we can design spaces of haptic richness and psychological depth. Bachelard says: “In times of great discoveries, a poetic image can be the seed of a world, the seed of a universe imagined out of a poet’s reverie” (1). Life experience may be poiesis, that is, transformative by “the bringing into existence something that was not already there,” says Alberto Pérez-Gómez (70). It is through artistic and poetic experiences and a sense of beauty that we are able to raise above the pedestrian to allow ourselves to breathe deeply the richness of being-in-life. It is this richness which we must carry into our creative explorations and endeavours. By relinquishing ourselves to the effect of phenomena on our body, and the way in which they are interpreted by our mind, we can become more conscious of subtleties of the world in which we live; from the ordinary to the spectacular. Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan expresses the need for adults to keep a mind for childlike perception in order to grasp these moments:


“Nature yields delectable sensations to the child with his openness of mind, carelessness of person, and lack of concern for the accepted canons of beauty. An adult must learn to be yielding and careless like a child if he were to enjoy nature polymorphously. He needs to slip into old clothes so that he could feel free to stretch out on the hay beside the brook and bathe in a meld of physical sensations: the smell of hay and of horse dung; the warmth of the ground, its hard and soft contours; the warmth of the sun tempered by breeze; the tickling of an ant making its way up the calf of his leg; the play of shifting leaf shadows on his face; the sound of water over the pebbles and boulders, the sound of cicadas and distant traffic. Such an environment might break all the formal rules of euphony and aesthetics, substituting confusion for order, and yet be wholly satisfying” (96). Phenomenology, as a philosophy, is a collector of seeds and one of poetic expansion which enhances a refined awareness of sensory perception of the exquisite opportunities revealed in the mundane and the everyday. Environmental geographer David Seamon refers to four qualities of phenomenological reporting: “vividness, accuracy, richness, and elegance” (2007). It is what we do with phenomenological and sensory experiences which determine our response and further actions. Phenomenographic recording, in whichever medium is necessary, adds to our ability to reflect more sincerely upon real and ephemeral conditions. Photography is a particularly immediate device for this process.


Learning to connect with our Self in order to take journeys of the everyday with greater awareness is the aim of the phenomenological approach. Architecture is one of the means by which our journey is prescribed.

Wabi-Sabi The development of the wabi-sabi and Sukiya aesthetic in sixteenth century Japan is attributed to famed tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) (Note 1). He established the wabi-sabi appeal of the tea ceremony; that of radically reduced space, rusticity, and a connection with the natural in utensils and design by bringing architectural reduction to a Zen state of precise no-thingness. Many of Rikyū’s innovations did away with ordinary discriminations between man and nature, nobleman and commoner, beautiful and ugly, religious and secular by seeking to transcend these usual distinctions. Appreciation of the rustic, tactile, seemingly unrefined and unknown objects became de rigueur which was in opposition to highly refined and exotic Chinese artefacts and ornamentation which had been influential in Japan prior to this time. Wabi-sabi has been referred to by Leonard Koren as the “Zen of things” as a notion of essences, ineffability, and fleeting moments of perception and nature (16). It is an aesthetic of the “beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete” of the modest, humble and unconventional (Koren 7). It is strongly aligned with Zen Buddhism which stresses “direct, intuitive insight into transcendental truth beyond



all intellectual conception” and principles of silence, isolation and emptiness. (Koren 76 #4). Wabi-sabi is a contraction of two words with their own specific meanings. Architectural academic Botond Bognar gives this description: “The processes of transition, withering away and even decay informed the human senses, and sharpened the sensibilities and awareness of the Japanese; sabi came to connote patina, age, loneliness, resignation, while wabi expressed refined poverty, beauty in simplicity and understatement” (68). Frailty and humility are two distinguishing precepts of wabi-sabi in which the natural aging of a material or object over time develops its own state of grace through dissolution, thereby becoming desirable and valued. Koren says: “Wabi-sabi images force us to contemplate our own mortality, and they evoke an existential loneliness and tender sadness” (54). For the poetically inclined this was an opportunity to appreciate the simplicity in minor details in everyday nature which took on a new meaning of pure beauty. Koren defines a variation of the singular meaning of these two words. “Wabi refers to: a way of life, a spiritual path; the inward, the subjective; a philosophical construct; or special events. And Sabi refers to: material objects, art, literature; the outward, the objective; an aesthetic ideal; and temporal events” (21-23). Artistically sensitive people tend to be inclined towards an awareness and appreciation of wabisabi aesthetic. Koren adds: “‘Greatness’ exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details.


Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular and enduring. Wabisabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes.” (50) Wabi-sabi is the antithesis of our Western, modernist values where clean, perfect and everlasting is the expectation. We live in a culture of perpetual shininess, with an unsated hunger for the newest and latest, where very little of what is agèd, weathered, or pre-loved is revered. Modern attitudes keep objects at a distance and become ocular images isolated within a clearly defined landscape. Even at the obscure level of wabi-sabi the restrained combinations of black surfaces and their complimentary association with each other must be seriously considered. This delicacy emphasises how objects must flow in unison with each other, and not be dominant or garishly obvious. The Japanese philosophical writers Kakuzo Okakura and Junichiro Tanizaki perceived their world from a different viewpoint and introduced a subtlety of Eastern appreciation to the perception of space and the concept of being for the Western mind. Okakura’s contribution to the legacy of phenomenology in the West is his delicate book The Book of Tea (1906) which is an appreciation of art, aesthetics and the ephemeral in architecture and design as an extension of the Japanese art of tea, and the concept of wabi-sabi. In the following quote Okakura gives his impression of the fate of cut flowers, their bloom and decay. It is Okakura’s

poetic and Zen sensibility that allows this style of phenomenological expression: “Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing in the garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the dews and the sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom that awaits you?” (91). Tanizaki likewise was a Japanese writer and novelist whose most known book in the West is In Praise of Shadows (1933) a treatise on beauty and aesthetics from a Japanese perspective. He asserts the superiority of a Japanese appreciation of reduction as the essence of beauty compared to Western garishness. He says: “The progressive Westerner is always determined to better his lot; his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow” (48). The compositional writing style of this slim book is “asymmetrical”, and at times, an illogical progression of thoughts and ideas which has been described by Thomas J. Harper in the afterword of the book as somewhat “perverse” in its disconnected associations (45). Yet this style expresses those phenomenological attributes of perception which can be fleeting, transitory and make connections that are not literal or obvious, adding to the mystery of meaning through art and poetry. Both Japanese writers ask us to question what we expect to see, and to wonder how our perception could be interpreted otherwise.

Stains of Beauty Beauty is a sudden physiological response to an


object or presentation of sensory perception. This is not an intellectualised consideration but a moment which endures in its mystery and illusiveness, or as Susan Stewart says: “Ephemerality is the root of beauty” (6). And Bachelard adds: “Faced with images which the poet brings us, faced with images which we could never have imagined ourselves, this naïveté of wonderment is completely natural” (4). It is the subtlety of the poetic word, the seasonal aspect of a landscape, a strain of music, or unexpected images which create depth and beauty in our lives. Beauty is often equated with the exquisite, the highly refined, balanced compositions, or of appealing appearances in nature possessing its own unique qualities. Yet, for the most part, life is a messy business; we do not live in a world of perfections and absolutes, it is one of errors and humorous mistakes. John Ruskin once said: “Imperfection is in some way essential to all that we know of life. It is the sign of life in a mortal body, that is to say, of a process and change. Nothing that lives is, or can be, rigidly perfect; part of it is decaying, part nascent …. And in all things that live there are certain inequalities and deficiencies, which are not only signs of life, but sources of beauty” (238). The photographs I have taken are of an old textile factory in Turkey before it was renovated and repurposed as a university. The architecture is a bold representation of early Russian Modernism and was designed for a purpose of function, precision, and clean production. Resistance to degeneration was a preoccupation with Modernism therefore the factory’s

ruination has left it as a remnant of the torment of time as a phenomenological artwork of Nature. The factory was built in the 1920s and decommissioned in the 1960s and has lay abandoned until very recently. After years of neglect and dissolution the leaking roof has allowed water to run into the interior spaces of the factory. The once-white walls have become canvases for sublime images of watercolourlike paintings which are almost Japanese in their quality of unpretentious presence. The beauty of these images is striking in the vibrancy of colour, the liquidity of the walls, and constant changeability of surfaces. Elaine Scarry says: “It is as though beautiful things have been placed here and there throughout the world to serve as small wake-up calls to perception, spurring lapsed alertness back to its most acute level” (81).

Nature’s compositions delivered by the process of time and silence, and unseen for many years, are now gone. Koren delivers a salient message for our ecologically sensitive times, an attitude which is the natural inclination of many creative people that sits as a counterpoint to the speed and greed of Westernisation yet is also a consideration for architecture:

As the seasons have passed through the desiccating dry heat of summer and the snow and sub-zero temperatures of winter the walls have moulded into evocative and energetic patterns of naturally florid discolouration as the rain has drawn with it elemental traces of metal, paint, and nature. Within this liminal space is the wabi-sabi moment of obfuscation in which individual elements begin to lose their clarity where objects merge with the field of a hazy delineation between light and shadow; the crepuscular crossover between arrival and departure. One could ask are these living images in a state of decay, or one of becoming? As the renovation of the factory progresses the walls are stripped bare, all memory of time is erased, and newness reinstated. This unique beauty of


“Get rid of all that is unnecessary. Wabisabi means treading lightly on the planet and knowing how to appreciate whatever is encountered, no matter how trifling, whenever it is encountered. ‘Material poverty, spiritual richness’ are wabi-sabi bywords. In other words, wabi-sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success – wealth, status, power, and luxury – and enjoy the unencumbered life” (59).


Notes 1.

Note 1. Azuchi-Momoyama period in Japan, 1568-1615.


Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos. Translated by Daniel Russell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1960.


Bognar, Botond. Cited in Walker. Shōkō-ken: A Late Medieval Daime Sukiya Style Japanese Tea-House. New York: Routledge, 2002


Harper, Thomas J. Afterword in Tanizaki. In Praise of Shadows. He uses the words ‘asymmetrical’ and ‘perverse’.


Koren, Leonard. Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. Berkeley, Cal.: Stone Bridge Press, 1994.


Mostafavi, Mohsen and David Leatherbarrow. On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time. Cambridge, Mass: M.I.T. Press, 1993.


Okakura, Kakuzo. The Book of Tea. Berkeley, CA.: Stone Bridge Press, 2006. [1906].


Pérez-Gómez, Alberto. Built Upon Love: architectural longing after art and aesthetics. Massachusetts: M.I.T. Press, 2006.


Ruskin, John. The Lamp of Beauty: Writings On Art by John Ruskin. Edited by Joan Evans. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980.


Scarry, Elaine. On Beauty (and Being Just). New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999.


Seamon, David. Phenomenology, Place, Environment, and Architecture. In Environmental and Architectural Phenomenology Newsletter. Manhattan: Kansas State University, Architecture Dept, Fall 2007.


Stewart, Susan. The Open Studio: Essays on Art and Aesthetics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.


Tanizaki, Junichiro. In Praise of Shadows. USA: Leete’s Island Books, 1977 [1933].


Tuan, Yi-Fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1974.

Images 1.

All Images: Interior of textile factory in Kayseri, Turkey which has now become the site of the new Abdullah Gül University. All photographs by Ross T. Smith, 2015.


Kristen Gallerneaux is a media historian, trained folklorist, and disgruntled artist. She has published on wide-ranging topics such as mathematics in midcentury Parissien is telepathy Director research, of Compton museum and design, Steven the visual history of weatherVerney mapping technology, in Warwickshire, England, and about Visitingfoxes. Fellow Kellogg spuriousgallery frequencies, and portentous dreams As at Curator of College, and University of Oxford, andat the University of Warwick. Communication Information Technology The Henry Ford Museum, she Born in London and ofraised in Buckinghamshire, Steven obtained continues to build upon one the largest historic technology collections in both hisSheundergraduate and member doctoral ofdegrees from Oxford – a North America. is also an associate the Audio Culture Research 1st out Classof BA (from University University(London) College,and Oxford) in in1981 and a Unit based Kingston her PhD Art Practice doctorate in eighteenth-century architectural history in 1989. dissertation through University of California, San Diego, deals with the idea of Steven has written extensively on architectural and cultural history. His nine the “sonic spectre.” books to date include Adam Style (Phaidon, 1992; Apollo magazine’s Book of the Year for 1992 and The American Institute of Architects’Book of theYear Choice for 1993), George IV: The Grand Entertainment (John Murray, 2001) and, most recently, Interiors: The Home Since 1700 (Laurence King, 2008). Image SteveOwen Aldana / Esoteric Facing:Credit: Plate from Jones’s “The Survey Grammar of Ornament”, 1856.

DREAM POOLS (LOS ANGELES, CA): The general theory is that it is boring to hear the dreams of others, but I’m going to tell you about one of mine anyway. My friend Steve and I are in his car, driving. We are suddenly very far from San Diego. He says he has a hunch, and we seem to be heading towards it. A jump cut later, we’ve left the car; we’re in the desert, walking. It’s like a Jodorowsky movie out here, only with more talking and less nudity. I look down at my feet, to see the beginnings of marshy scrub slop, which terminates at the edges of pristine aquamarine tide pools. Towards the bottom, things get fractal—there are angles and shapes down there that are man-made and resolute in their primitiveness. Boxy tapered rectangles and crinkled edge curves. I stoop down closer. He’s gloating. I squint. I’ve been told this is the best way to see life clearly. But nothing. Tide pools hold a strange repulsion for me—the thought of contaminating them with any of my body parts is an aversion— but this is what I am forced to do. I dip my hand into the water, starfish wave and something else scuttles, sending a woody muffled mess of chiming tones and shimmering bursts of iridescent notes up to the surface. At this moment, I realize that my hand is heading towards a mass of Paolo Soleri’s wind-bells. I try to pull my catch up to the surface, but the lines are tangled, and when they break the surface of the water, what I am holding is a mess of ten bells, a readymade “complex assembly.”



SOUND FOUNDATIONS (SAN DIEGO, CA): “My name,” Paolo Soleri tells us, literally means “You are the sun.” “In Italy,” he continues, “we are all the sun. We are all the sons of the sun,” and in Arizona, the sun is sometimes all there is. Born in Turin, Italy in 1919, the visionary architect spent the majority of his life living and working in Arizona and New Mexico, and continued to do so up until his death in April of 2013. Soleri’s most popularly known projects, the planned Arizona environments of Cosanti (1955-1974) and Arcosanti (1970-present) follow his mission: as “nuclei [that] will eventually develop into villages which will function as centers for the arts and other cultural endeavors. The foundation will seek the help and sponsorship of institutes of learning—and of anyone else concerned with man and the earth on which he lives.” Soleri’s alternative claim to fame was his position as a failed apprentice at Frank Lloyd Wrights’ Taliesin West, a place he was asked to leave for two reasons: a heated spat with Wright over ownership of a bridge design and second, his scanty mode of dress. He wore “bikinis— and only bikinis and, when [he] was outside, sandals.” Even in the heat of the desert, this mode of undress wasn’t received very well. Mrs. Wright, by Soleri’s own admission, “was very conservative in that sense.” After leaving Taliesin in 1949, Soleri traveled to Italy with his new wife, Colly. In Vietri sul Mare, he began to cultivate his pottery skills.

Returning to the US in 1952, the couple settled in Santa Fe, where they produced clay pots: “Then came the fatal event that led me to making bells.” Soleri heard that a local producer of Korean Wind bells had died; he took on the challenge to continue the craftsman’s tradition, even though: “the last thing that came to mind was to make wind bells. I didn’t even know they existed, in a sense…I started doodling with this notion of bells, and I accepted.” But the nights were cold in Santa Fe—the climate wasn’t right ideal in his mind for an outdoor ceramic operation—and so he moved to a five-acre plot in Scottsdale, Arizona, dubbing it “Cosanti.” He describes the beginnings of a creative life on this plot of

land in Scottsdale: “The soil was so appealing in terms of texture, and homogeneity, and so on, that I started punching holes in the soil and casting little objects, including little bells.” This technique of slip, or silt casting, produced the bells by proxy of the earth. Wet clay poured into holes and allowed to dry in the desert heat; hours later, bells were pulled out, positive casts of negative earthspace. Soleri’s wind bells— zephyrbells, claviluminas, aurimobiles—those chambers that resound with the “sounds of the earth,” became popular in the Southwest, providing the main source of revenue for building architectural structures at Cosanti and eventually, Arcosanti. Soleri’s architectural vision finally had a site on which to take root: the Earth House was built first, in 1956. Large mounds of dirt were piled, hieroglyphic patterns scrapped into the soil— an armature of metal followed, concrete poured


on top, and when it had cured, the earth was excavated from below. More concrete buildings and more ceramic bells followed. Today at Cosanti, the dark pigment on ceramic bells is catalyzed by “chucking a piece of garden hose in the kiln,” and in a pit near a barrel-vaulted office, looking down, you can see the green stain where acid is dumped as a byproduct of coloring of the bronze windbells. The earth too, has taken on the same patina as the bells.

GETTING THERE (SAN DIEGO, CA →): The language of getting there and arriving falls short in comparison to the wonder articulated by the transitory road of travel. Much like the boredom of hearing someone else’s dream, recounting the scenography of the road— remembering the details, conveying the strangeness—usually fails. Peter Cook of the


speculative architecture collective Archigram speaks of this language of getting there as “meanderings toward a final situation that may be meaningful but not conclusive; the delight—in literature, drama, and aesthetics— for the fascinating aside, byway, counterplot, or glimpse; the tendency of the weather and the light to provide rapid changes of brightness and nuance…” He continues: “The English subscribe to such notions as ‘to go is better than to arrive,’ or the instinctive feeling that if a destination is directly in front of one and the route to it is obvious, the story is over and the arrival almost certain to be a disappointment.” So the final destination is ultimately a place of endings, the tipping point that doubles as a turning back point, the place from which we depart—in order to return to our mundane commonplaces. In March 2013, under the auspices of conducting sonic research, my friend Steve Aldana absorbed as a collaborator—the Soleri enthusiast—we went on a road trip to Arizona. The purpose was specific: to track the less-treaded physical and psychic traces of Paolo Soleri’s legacy. The intention was to conduct fieldwork, to gather soundscapes, geological samples, and allow for the drift of psychogeographical research at the Cosanti Foundation in Scottsdale and at the ark in the desert known as Arcosanti. Unanticipated and unforeseen networks revealed details among the random and the minute, among the monumental and the ancient. A return trip to participate in a silt casting workshop at

Arcosanti a few months later provided practical contexts, to appreciate the subjects of my study through the hands-on subtleties of process and habitat. Fieldwork requires “body intelligence.” Stefan Helmreich outlines multiple meanings of immersion: “a descent into liquid, an absorption into activity, and the all-encompassing entry of an anthropologist into a cultural medium.” And for Christopher Tilley, “The body is the medium through which we know place. Places constitute bodies and vice versa, and bodies and places constitute landscapes. Places gather together persons, memories, structures, histories, myths and symbols.” We drove slow, feeling every bump and pothole. In writing about this experience with the distributed culture of Soleri, Michael Taussig was never far from my mind, with his embrace of a lack of “scholarly distance.” Over the course of three years, I found myself systematically haunted by the immaterial and material byproducts of Soleri: as a contagion whose bells were found via Frazerian principles of “contact magic” at antique swap meets, intense metaphysical dreams about the sonorous space of bells, and a certain type of irrational headspace that accompanied visits to Arcosanti in the dead of summer. When we use physical media to research, sketch, and write, we create new landscapes. Some of this is captured in this essay—which tries to reconstruct the shuttling back and forth between heated desert dream logic and “levelheaded” writing from my Midwestern kitchen table.

TAKE TWO, THROUGH THE PASS (SPRING MOUNTAIN PASS, AZ → BUCKEYE, AZ): The first point of passage towards Soleri’s landscape (me, a passenger in Steve’s Honda Element, departing from San Diego at an obscenely early hour after a redeye from Detroit) is a process of seeing the sides of the road fade from green to brown as we climbed towards the top of Spring Mountain Pass. And then, a white more white than imaginable, filtered through the morning fog, blasting the windshield. For a moment, the sun becomes the moon. We question its accuracy, wondering if there is an eclipse, and if we are inadvertently blinding ourselves by staring at it. And then, with a final push up and out of the haze, it becomes the sun once more. The dew here has all burned away. We scramble hands into pockets to make the switch from seeing-glasses to sun-glasses. Gas stations interrupted by regional strangeness. Date shakes and ghost billboards. Sandy dunes that once acted as the backdrop for object photography in the heyday of California Design exhibits, to border check points with non-functioning restrooms. Things flatten out for a while, into an impressive variety of tumbleweeds. Who knew there was so much variety in dead-like plant life? Solar fields beckon us onwards; we pivot towards the random.


The architecture and cultural critic Reyner Banham, quoting Frank Lloyd Wright (who was quoting Victor Hugo) relayed the oftentelegraphed mantra: “The Desert is where God is and Man is not.” In Buckeye, Arizona, the Lewis Prison sits ominous and silent in the desert sun, the site of mass riots and hostage schemes gone awry. It becomes hard to tell the concrete block businesses and barren developments left for dead from these prison compound houses. Tumbleweeds frame them in, barbed wire provided by nature. We keep driving. Banham (who will also haunt this essay as the backseat driver), again, said it best: “The gods of the desert do not usually favor idiots…”

APPRENTICESHIP& AUTHORITY (SCOTTSDALE, AZ): Splinter cells of architecture students, like rogue bees, pollinate their adapted ideals in new places. Just as Paolo absorbed and molded Wrightian principles to fit within his building practice, in turn, close to fifty-year’s worth of Arcosanti Silt Pile workshoppers have incorporated their own pragmatic takings and leavings into their professional degrees. Those enamored with the desert and Soleri’s intent defect from their academic programs altogether, and choose to stay on at Arcosanti. In this sense, Soleri can be interpreted as an irritant working within formal systems. The Silt Pile Workshops were initiated in 1962


at Cosanti, resulting in the addition of six new structures between 1964-1974, alongside the pre-existing Ceramics Studio, North Studio, and Earth House. The structure of the workshop requires students to pay tuition in exchange for room and board and the opportunity to lend a hand with the construction of Soleri’s plans. Through a careful choreography of this free labor pool, additions are made to the complex, not unlike the setup of a rural intentional community. Arcosanti’s overlapping six-week workshops began in 1971, resulting in more than a hundred people living on the site. By 1973, the workshop cost $320, and attracted a total of 375 participants, leading to a sizeable building budget. Depending upon your viewpoint, the workshop experience either provides practical skills not received in mainstream university curriculum, or is exploitative of its paying students who toil under the Soleri’s “god-like status.” Conceivably, it is a little of both. What architecture student wouldn’t want to work for a person who has been called “The Prophet of the Desert?” Questioned about the frugal practices of payment and labor surrounding the building of the Arcosanti and Cosanti campuses, Soleri replied: “There’s no suffering connected with that. It was all enjoyment.”

RUN AGROUND IN NATURE (COSANTI → CORDES JUNCTION, AZ): Soleri held a contentious relationship with the “back to the land” movement of the 1970s. He


referred to hippies as “butterfly brains,” but nonetheless understood that his position as a land-holder, host, and promoter of ecological sensitivity coexisted with the attitudes in action of the countercultural youth. Visions of experimental living may require architects to take on landscapes that are derelict, infertile, contaminated, dangerous, and inhospitable. Both of Soleri’s projects, while sequestered, exist in spaces that are in tension with urban and rural geographies, positioned with relatively reasonable driving access to city-centers in Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Flagstaff. They are insulated, but not worlds apart. At Cosanti, earth cast buildings have taken root into the landscape; it is difficult to tell where one building begins and another ends. Defined zones of public and private are ambiguous.


A sonorous keynote knits the senses together at Cosanti via the sound of chiming bells disturbed by the breeze or trailing hands of visitors. Scrubby olive trees call and respond and traverse with curved paths among and through a maze of concrete forms. Soleri’s cats roll around in the dirt, stalking insects. Keeping with Soleri’s philosophies, there is no attempt to disguise technology here. Swamp fans, air conditioning units, and wires for cable television jut out of the buildings at random. Here guests are as likely to encounter revelations in the “analog” production of bells and mixed powder pigments as they are to find themselves trailing their hand along a silt-cast wall at Cosanti, only to have it turn a corner and run into a refrigerator permanently-embedded into a custom alcove, radiant halo around it. There is no shame in the use of synthetic materials: red plexiglass is used in the main apse where bells hang, and spongy yellow spray foam is used to fix leaks in buildings. Arcosanti is “everything that Cosanti is not,” and while there are some moments of assimilation into its landscape, its presence announces itself less subtly. The main apse panders to the grip of an inhospitable environment by using naturally adaptive concrete. This apse is the visual calling card for Arcosanti, a massive earth-formed arch carried over from knowledge gained by pushing smaller piles of dirt around at Cosanti. Its decorative pigmented ceiling is run over with stylized botanical leaves, evidence of the adage

that vernacular architectural historian Henry Glassie pointed out that “…when people seek separation from nature, which all of them do in bad weather, their actions often glide out of the pragmatic and into the aesthetic.” Arcosanti has its moments of shabbiness, but it is by no means the abandoned ruin artists and writers repeatedly refer to it as. A stalled building site below the communal pool is in a state of disarray, but it is a far cry from a specifically Gothic variety of desert landscape Banham encountered, those “landscape[s] of moral anorexia, collapsed Chevrolets, and mountains of beer cans, a landscape tolerable only through a haze of barbiturate fumes.” Like any working farm, there is a stalled vehicle or two here, sun faded yard furniture, barrels of refuse, half-used greenhouses, things that

belong hidden in barns there. There have clearly been a few hiccups and forgotten projects, but a little junkiness should be forgiven. Soleri’s schemes for grandness have caused many critics to interpret Arcosanti as an outright failure; behind every experiment that flirts with the possibility of a utopia on earth, lays the nagging thought of failure— the dystopia—a very attainable model in our highly cynical present. The place is neither; these are misnomers that have become so habitually applied to the site that it has become part of its legend. In an article written for the Architectural Record three short years after ground was broken at Arcosanti, Robert Jensen had already responded to this issue: “While the forms of Arcosanti are visionary, life there today is in the present; it is temporary, confusing, boring, permeated with curiosity and hope—but not Utopian.” While Soleri was contrary and contradicting, he worked like any creative human struggling through an idea in real time. His environments operate as “boundary sites”—constant prototype, perpetually becoming—never achieving reaggregation. These boundary sites are beneficial as environs of study in that they can take on different meanings, and float between worlds more freely. To date, Arcosanti is the only example of arcology that has moved out of the paper planning stages and into the real world. The definition of what Arcosanti is floats somewhere in the muddled mess of what it is


not, and in describing it, it resists definition. If a laboratory is defined as a facility that acts a controlled environment for sometimes creative, and sometimes ecologically invested experiments, this is a model that Arcosanti successfully is. Perhaps it would be best in the long-run to refer to it— question mark and all—as Soleri intended: “a laboratory?”

INFRASTRUCTURE (ARCOSANTI, AZ): When I ask the woman selling bells in the Arcosanti gallery what she thinks of all “the utopian business,” she scoffs: “It’s not a utopia, it’s a company town. You have the little boys and the big boy’s network. When you throw a bunch of 19-year-olds together, you get the same problems as in any city. In my opinion, it’s just too dense.” Density here means a population of 50 at its peak season. The woman refers to herself as an “Arconaut”—one of the original “Arcologists,” involved with the project since the 1970s. I buy a clay windbell, along with the off-cast metal leavings from the bronze bell casting process. The woman softens a bit, and tells me the leavings are special, that they are created from the sparks of bells. Molten stardust forced to become solid in bronze. One piece looks like a Franz Kline painting, the other looks like a Siamese-twin deer. She wraps my bell in an anarchist newspaper from the 1990s. From my pocket, a text message alarm chimes.


It’s Steve, who is out wandering around out the complex somewhere: I think I just brainwashed myself. Soleri is god. I want to live in this artichoke city. We'll all be interior designers in space.

transitional device normally reserved for novels and films whose narrative surround a need to escape a place. Banham whispering from the backseat of the car: the desert is a place of “paranoid embodiments.”

I reply: And then we will see that we are all stardust.

The sun sets quickly after our arrival to Arcosanti. I slip out of the door of the Sky Suite apartment to be alone and to stargaze on the roof of the apse, to take in the acoustic ecology of the place. I can hear bonfire laughter and coyotes. I try to take sound recordings of nothing—but nothing was nowhere to be found. The hum of the freeway bounces off the sand and the snap-back echoplex of the concrete apse. The desert loner is a fallacy, and the sounds of the silence of nature are no different.

Later, I misread Ballard: “Deserts possess a particular magic, since they have exhausted their own fortunes futures, and are thus free of time. Anything erected there—a city, a pyramid, a motel—stands outside time.”

PRIVATE TERRITORY (ARCOSANTI, AZ): I was surprised that the Arcosanti compound was quite visible from the highway. I had second-guessed myself: “Is that…? No… There’s no way…” Confirmed by Steve: “No… that’s it.” Turning off the paved highway onto the dirt road is an illusory matter. Suddenly the place seem farther away, pushing further out on the horizon. Most paper-based utopian architectures and realized intentional communities mark themselves off by distinctive borders and precise approaches, psychological devices embodied in the landscape that help to solidify the separation of a group from typical society. The road to Arcosanti doesn’t seem to lead anywhere else, and so part of the psychologically ominous nature of the place can be linked to the motif of “the long road,” a

At night, a cloud of wireless signals descend over Arcosanti. Streaming films are a welcome modern convenience for escaping sweltering afternoon heat and bored evenings. Soleri’s idea of getting “back to nature” was one that was buttressed by a respect for technology: “The reason that I ultimately believe that anything that becomes known and any technology that we develop is for the sake of the spirit, because technology is going to give us the means to manipulate and transform reality.” Technology, in Soleri’s view, is something that will help us reach the “nothing space” of the Omega Point. And then it gets weird. Soleri believes that as man compartmentalizes himself into dense underground communities, his body will evolve, “…he will shape himself into a sort of

rounded cube, a bullion, party fleshy and partly an electro-magnetic field and post-transistors […] he will be buried deep in soil or rock in the manner toads are found in excavations. Then man shall have inherited the earth.” In the morning, we walk. As Arcosanti’s residents wake up, swells of the sounds of production follow, echoing back, off the buildings, and all the way across the canyon. A radios blares bluecollar rock hits plundered from a time bubble much like my own home town’s airwaves. The sounds of heavy casting machinery, chains rising along pulleys. As we walk down a trail, I attempt to divine the traces of color beneath the topsoil. Rummaging with the toe of my boot in the bottom of the dry wash, to reveal pigment veins embedded between the rocks. I fill my pockets with lumps and shards of things that might be transformed into hues of ochre, viridian. Back at the complex, I stoop down and look into a circle vent window to find a hornet’s nest. It’s dead. I take a picture, but resist taking the nest. Miniaturized beehive slots attached to a larger hive-house.

DESERTA (DATELAND, AZ → ARCOSANTI, AZ): Sunglasses are necessary here, but they only filter the intense light from one type of unseeing to another. The sun makes vision erupt into static, perception follows suit. The desert gives lessons in “how to see clearly, even when it hurts.” LCD camera screens are


bleached black by the flare—we shoot blind, we shoot differently than the days of viewfinderto-eye relationship. I shoot towards the sun, it expands to a ball of flame, an accurate feeling visualized. The focus of the gaze necessary in the harshness of the desert light is not without effort at Arcosanti. Sunlight falls between the cracks, and the falling washes of light turn orange as they descend along the curved vaults, dotted by definitive spotlights upon the floor. In the desert, we see pure form, pure color. Hieroglyphs, abstractions, organic symbolism derived from the white noise of the desert. Vision is passionate, committed—color provides a respite. The desert is no place for domestic Modernity. But, “The American desert,” says Alessendra Ponte “seems to be the place where past and future collapse into the present; it is also the place where the primitive and the futurist inhabit monumentally.” Arcosanti is a monumental complication, a structure that is dying to become a ruin, buttressed by the many armed and floating-headed philosophies of Paolo Soleri. The silt cast concrete forms rising out of sand and scrubby grass manage to reconcile themselves as an appropriate complexity, as a necessity. The heat in June is serious business. For Michael Taussig, the desert of the film world acts as a trivial prop: “instead of sinking us deeper in sloth and discomfort, instead of allowing heat to melt even language itself, such heat becomes a trick and nothing more than a device to propel


a plot,” unable to convey the critical physical discomfort. He continues: “heat is a force— like color—that sets aside understanding in place of something less conscious and more overflowing, radiance instead of line, immanence instead of that famous bird’s eye view.” Anyone having spent time in a torrid region understands the seriousness of the “bodily consciousness,” as one’s sense of humanity and the potential to become more quickly “reattached . . . to the cosmos” floats closer to the surface than in more forgiving climates. How could anyone love a region that suggests death so easily? The conundrum of desert beauty is the “penitent’s masochistic pleasure at the scratching of his hair shirt,” in Banham’s mind. Becoming a “desert freak … was a very improbable thing for me to become, and that I had uncovered an aspect of myself that I did not know.” The desert, for me, too is a recent obsession—a love of visual pleasure, of the flirtation with the line of danger that is danced along between the confrontation with sublimity and vast emptiness. Taking note of this while flying over the Sonoran Desert en route to back to Detroit, safely delivered from my desert adventure (save one traumatic incident when a scorpion crawled up from the bathroom drain while I was brushing my teeth), I already felt the nostalgic pull backwards to the impossibility of the desert.

PLACE MEMORY (SAN DIEGO, CA): Viewing photographs of


Arcosanti and

Cosanti reveal that the analogy of “local color” in the work of Soleri is literally local. As a pupil of Frank Lloyd Wright, the occasional punctuations of color in the buildings are derived from pigments naturally present in the land. Any decoration here abides by a copresent and embodied regionalist impulse. This championing of natural color undoubtedly an effect of Soleri’s time at Taliesin West, where “[Wright] utilized only natural materials. He rejected the use of paint, resorting to a sandfinish coating where necessary. His one favorite color … was a terracotta red, and he at times used it as a stain for exposed wood or steel.” Later, while drawing up plans for Cosanti, Soleri described the proposed building as “a manmade micro-environment sharply contrasting the surrounding nature. Polychromy will enhance the spatial complexity and further distinguish its man-made character from the quasi-monochromatic landscape (green and blue after the rains, pale yellow and blues most of the year).” The architect is enamored with the land that he has purchased: “Topographically the land is isolated on the south and west side by deep canyons . . . The elevation of about 4100’ puts the land within the Arizona prairie belt. The spare grass is green after the winter and summer rains. The rest of the year, it is evenly of the most beautiful pale gold.” In these descriptions, and in others, Soleri embraces tones and the qualities of light within the landscape more so than any direct reference to color inserted within the buildings. The mass shells of the


exteriors are, much like the architecture of the white High Modernism, neutral spaces that are chameleon-like in their absorption of the baths of the sinking reach of the sun. Falling light, like Falling Water. Soleri describes the moment he received his inspiration for the arcologies model: “I was lying in the sun and a fundamental aspect of what reality is came to me.” And I wonder: if Soleri’s eyes were closed while lying in the sun here, what shade of red did he perceive? Indigenous gatherers of mineral and organic compounds learned to read the land in order to divine the source of potential dyestuffs— potentialities that were embraced in acts of polychromatic reverence. Red ochre is the blood of the gods in native lore. Blood of the earth. Present day Arcosanti sits in the Tucson Basin, at the tip of the ancient habitation range of the Hohokam tribe, home to red-on-buff pottery, home of an identical palette, derived at through desert mineral foundations. The Hohokam were experts at finding knots of hematite in the mountains. They ground it, and mixed it with local clay to make red ochre, which was recycled back into paint to paint pots made from local soil. They ground the ochre again, they mixed it with animal grease, and carried it “in an inside-out deer pericardium, the membranous sac that holds the heart that contains and pumps the blood.” The apse of Arcosanti is as cave-like as it is like a ribcage. At a time when plastics, technology, and mass production of industrial design were well established in domestic goods, Soleri’s own


aesthetics were a return to something more ancient. Historian Paul Campbell: “Pigment transforms what it touches. It imbues a familiar object with the mystique of exotic color. Capitalists paint products. Hunter-gatherers paint the human body. Some paint for material gain. Others for spiritual power.”

BELLS RING IN COLOR (LOS ANGELES, CA): Synaesthesia is a form of consciousness that allows for visionary voyants to simultaneously feel and see the unseeable. In the case of Arcosanti, desert dwelling demands the development of new faculties for the senses. The wind-bells are a vessel of synesthetic interaction on several levels. They envelop the mental and auditory space of Arcosanti, especially on windy days, of which there are many. Their clamor bleeds over and outwards, affecting the sensorial and perceptual experience of visitors. Travelers absorbed by its sonorous qualities bring bells home, single assemblies that can now clamor from Detroit porches in the dead of winter. Soleri himself denies any spiritual purpose of the bells, but the supersensible perceptions enabled through his material manifestations are an experiential site over which he can claim no authority. “Jules Millet’s 1892 work on audition colorée had noted that of late synaesthesia had been given a ‘cosmic conception’: given that both sound and light were vibrations, and that light (color) was of a higher vibration, perhaps the


resonating bodies that produced sound also produced light, which could be seen only by those with more refined nervous systems.” And there is Franz Hartmann, in 1892: “If the movement of the ether goes from thousands of vibrations per second to many billions, you will have light instead of sound.” Vibrations of sound produce vibrations of light and so the vibrations of the bells in the desert winds in turn reintroduce blasts of color, into the washed-out whiteness of the concentrated sun. The bronze rings duller than you would imagine, as brown as the patina on the darkest bells. The bronze bells with green patina chime brighter, no doubt the presence of copper. The clay bells are chameleons. They ring like dark wood in the rain, yellow marimbas in the sun.

DREAM POOLS, BACK IN THERE (DETROIT, MI): But, let me get back to that dream about the bells in tide pools. The pools, Steve explains in dreamtime, were once the slag piles for the unacceptably imperfect bells among the already controllably flawed. In the late 70s, Soleri ordered one of his apprentices to drive to this site and dump the bells in the pools. And then they began to replicate. The marine life in the pools, in acts of mimetic behavior, began to chip away at the rocks and to form and pack the sands into copies of the bells. The pools had become a self-recycling ecology, a nature-made storehouse of inauthentic Soleri bells. I take the handful of assembly chains in my hand and raise them up to my shoulder. Barnacles and sea moss cling to them. A stubborn blue crab hangs on with its claw to the lowest bell chain, and the weight causes one piece of the mess to fall back into the sand. The crab runs off into the desert, dragging bell and all, towards a smooth rock mesa, no doubt the site of more of these strange pools, where it will become the overlord of its own bell colony. I don’t feel guilty taking the bells, because the pools are quite full, and there are many of them. These bells will serve me well. As we walk back towards the path, the sun dries off the bells, and gusts of wind picking up around us make them ring in color.



Notes 1.

Soleri, Paolo. The Urban Ideal, (Berkeley, Calif: Berkeley Hills, 2001), 19.


Soleri, Paolo. The Development by Paolo Soleri of the Design for the Cosanti Foundation, Arizona, USA. (Raleigh: School of Design, North Carolina State of the University of North Carolina at Raleigh, 1964), 5.


Ibid, 26.


Ibid, 30.


Ibid, 30.


Ibid, 30.


Aldana, Steve. “Re: Soleri Warning” (Email message to the author, 01 May 2012), np.


Cook, Peter. The City, Seen As a Garden of Ideas (New York, N.Y: Monacelli Press, 2003), 51.


Ibid, 51.


Helmreich, Stefan. “An Anthropologist Underwater: Immersive Soundscapes, Submarine Cyborgs, and Transductive Ethnography,” in Jonathan Sterne, The Sound Studies Reader (New York: Routledge, 2012), 621.


Tilley, Christopher Y, and Wayne Bennett. The Materiality of Stone: Vol. 1 (Oxford: Berg, 2004), 25.


Banham, Reyner. Scenes in America Deserta (Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, Inc, 1982), 16.


Banham, 157.


“Cosanti Architecture,” Arcosanti. Web. (Web: accessed 23 January 2016), <http://www.arcosanti.org/ node/10252>.


Sarda, Michel F. The Mind Garden: Conversations with Paolo Soleri II (Phoenix, Ariz: Bridgewood Press, 2007), 87.


Banham, 82.


Glassie, Henry. Vernacular Architecture (Philadelphia: Material Culture, 2000), 29.


Banham, 167.


There are a lot of statistics here: that the complex operates at a less than ideal amount off the grid, houses only 60 of the planned 5000 residents, that the project is only 3% complete, that at the rate of progress, work will be complete by 2827, and so on (see Gywn Headley’s Architectural Follies in America, p. 125).




Auther, Elissa, and Adam Lerner. West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977 (Denver, Colo.: Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 2012), 121.


The Cosanti Foundation defines “[a]rcology, architecture and ecology as one integral process […] Arcology recognizes the necessity of the radical reorganization of the sprawling urban landscape into dense, integrated, three-dimensional cities in order to support the complex activities that sustain human culture. The city is the necessary instrument for the evolution of humankind.” (see “Introduction to Arcology,” Arcosanti [Web: accessed 23 January 2016], <http://www.arcosanti.org/theory/arcology/ main.html>).


Ballard, J G. The Atrocity Exhibition (San Francisco, CA: RE/Search Publications, 1990).


Soleri, Paolo. The Bridge between Matter & Spirit Is Matter Becoming Spirit: The Arcology of Paolo Soleri (Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books, 1973), 123.


The eschatological ideas of Pierre Teillhard de Chardin were influential for Soleri, who embraced the idea of humanity’s evolutionary transcendence of self, to converge and cease to exist in its current form when it reached the “Omega Point.”


Soleri 1973, 137.


Banham, 168.


Ponte, Alessandra, and Marisa Trubiano. “The House of Light and Entropy: Inhabiting the American Desert.” Assemblage (1996), 15.


Taussig, Michael T. My Cocaine Museum (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 31.


Ibid, 31.


Banham, 17.


Banham, 18.


Birren, Faber. Light, Color, and Environment: A Thorough Presentation of Facts on the Biological and Psychological Effects of Color. Plus Historical Data and Detailed Recommendations for the Resultful Use of Color in Modern Human Environments. (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co, 1969), 52.


Soleri 1964, 48.


Ibid, 47.


Wilson, Marie, Paolo Soleri, and Michel F. Sarda. Arcosanti Archetype: The Rebirth of Cities by Renaissance Thinker Paolo Soleri (Fountain Hills, Ariz: Freedom Editions, 1999), 13.


Campbell, Paul D. Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians: Meaning and Technology (Los Angeles, Calif: P.D. Campbell, 2007), 28.


Ibid, 27.


Dann, Kevin T. Bright Colors Falsely Seen: Synaesthesia and the Search for Transcendental Knowledge (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 53.


Millet, Jules. Audition ColorĂŠe (Paris: Doin, 1892), 65.

Images 1.


All Image Credits: Steve Aldana / Esoteric Survey


216 220 222 Dr. Wladek Fuchs Associate Professor of Architecture & Director of International Programs

UDMâ&#x20AC;&#x152;SOA NEWS

Image Credit: Volterra Student Work

The Volterra International Design Workshop was organized jointly by the University Of Detroit Mercy School Of Architecture and the Volterra-Detroit Foundation from July 29 to August 8, 2015 in Volterra, Italy. In addition to the host team from UDM SOA, students and faculty from three other academic institutions participated in the workshop: University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (USA), Warsaw University of Technology (Poland), and University of Pisa (Italy). Architect James Timberlake from Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia attended as a special guest of the workshop to provide the intellectual leadership and connect the students with the most progressive ideas in the architectural profession. The theme of the workshop was “Society and Technology: Water, Food, Waste, and Energy”. The workshop consisted of three interwoven components: pre-workshop research, a lecture series, and a design challenge. The focus of the school teams’ pre-workshop research was on their universities’ hometowns. Following the general theme of the workshop, the students studied the relationship between and mutual impact of the availability and distribution of fundamental resources (energy, water, food) and city development. The lecture series was designed to give students insight into the history and the contemporary problems of Volterra, as well as to present a modern vision of architectural research and practice. Beyond the general introduction and the historical tour of the city, the Volterra theme


James Timberlake with Volterra study abroad students.

was further advanced in the presentations of the Director of the Pinacoteca in Volterra, archeologist Alessandro Furiesi (on water management in Volterra from antiquity to modern times), architect Andrea Bianchi (on the deterioration of the Tuscan landscape caused by the industrial use of land in Volterra territory) and the president of the social cooperative “La Torre” in Volterra Marco Bruchi (on the problems of garbage removal and recycling in the Comune of Volterra). A connection between the context and the goal of the workshop was provided in lectures by Dean Will Wittig and Professor Wladek Fuchs (University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture). Finally, James Timberlake gave two highly inspiring talks about “Making of an Architect”, as well as his firm’s design and research philosophy and most recent projects. At the core of the workshop was the unique opportunity for everybody to collaborate over an architectural design problem. The city of Volterra is a wonderful urban laboratory, presenting a great balance of the medieval city scale, form and tradition, contrasted with problems resulting from the needs of a living

The Volterra International Design Workshop

city organism. The site selected for the design challenge lies just outside of the city’s medieval walls, alongside the ruins of the Roman Theater, and it is bordered by one of the main streets bypassing the historic center. Currently used as a municipal parking lot, the site presents great potential for a much more significant role in the city’s urban fabric. The functional program of the project was branded as an “Ecological Forum”, a city district focused on the ecological values of urban living, and complementing the historical urban core of Volterra. During the workshop, the students and professors were divided into three mixed groups, to generate and test multiple concepts. An additional level of design insight and inspiration was offered to all groups during the project reviews by James Timberlake, Will Wittig and Giulio Pucci (University of Pisa). The workshop concluded with project presentations, a discussion, and a public exhibition at the Volterra International Residential College. The projects generated a significant amount of interest and discussion among the city officials and residents who came to the exhibition. The site and its current use is a matter of significant public interest in Volterra. The work presented at the exhibition has been clearly seen as a valuable voice in the discussion about potential directions for the city future development. Two primary notions permeated the final presentations and discussion among the workshop participants. The first was the

importance of research in design, and the value of design as a form of research. The design outcomes of the workshop have clearly identified a direction for further studies at the scale of the entire city. This would involve the vehicular traffic pattern inside and around the city, and the potential for a green belt around the medieval center of Volterra – instead of the existing chain of parking lots. Thus the design ideas formulated this year have become the first step in research toward next year’s workshop. The workshop was also an excellent experience in teamwork and design collaboration in an international context. Over the course of ten days, the students had the opportunity to share and confront their ideas and skills in the continuous dialogue with their colleagues and faculty mentors. Considering the nature and the character of the contemporary architectural practice, collaborative design work should be considered an essential part of professional education. After all, the most important quality in an architectural office environment, and one which can be built only through a genuine and continuous collaboration is – in the words of James Timberlake – “the collective intelligence”.

James Timberlake with Dean Will Wittig of the School of Architecture


The Volterra International Design Workshop


The Volterra International Design Workshop








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Dichotomy 22: CREEP  

Creep denotes stealth, slow contortment, an underlying feeling of unease. Creep is solid materials deforming, boundaries slinking toward eac...

Dichotomy 22: CREEP  

Creep denotes stealth, slow contortment, an underlying feeling of unease. Creep is solid materials deforming, boundaries slinking toward eac...