Page 1

prss release #18 ,july 29 2008 the independent paper blog aggregator

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10.

manifesto | fantastic journal suburban ruins and the ethics of house flipping | tomorrow museum john thackara: we are all emerging economies now | design observer cameron sinclair reply | doors of perception baarle-hertog | bldgblog critics: are we just loudmouths? | the guardian exclusive: inside the lego factory | gizmodo more sighs... | entschwindet und vergeht half dose #50: concorso fiscalia | a daily dose of architecture 50 must read blogs and resources for architecture majors | best colleges online


illustration | v-annemarie

semi-bi-weekly summer live blogging event:

don’t shoot the messenger’s bag (frank chimero

1. ManIFesto

This kind of thinking occurs in a vacuum without any sense that there may be competing ideas as to what constitutes legitimate freedoms. The Boris Johnsons of this world will always feel that they occupy some common sense middle ground under threat from idealogues. It is a classic sleight of hand of conservatives to pretend that they have no ideology, or that they are not merely protecting their own vested interests. The fact that the rhetoric of freedom usually comes accompanied by attacks on the freedoms of others (kids on buses playing MP3's, drinking on the tube) never seems to occur them as being inconsistent. The disregard of environmental issues seems bizarre, given that one quarter of the UK's carbon emissions come from housing.** Are the authors denying the reality of climate change or are they merely saying it has nothing to do with architecture? “Whatever happened to maximising one’s impact on the planet?” they ask at one point. Well, I don’t think that minimisation of our impact on the planet is exactly the problem right now is it? Are they suggesting removal of all statutory controls on building or just some? Is there a period in time where they feel there was the right balance between legislation and freedom of creativity? When exactly did architects design without any restriction or control? The myth of a halcyon past is the hallmark of all conservative ideology. They state; “We believe that a more critical, arrogant and future orientated cadre of architects and designers can challenge the….localising consensus”. Jesus, that sounds terrifying. And there’s more than a hint of one of Alan Sugar’s Apprentice candidates in that triumphant use of arrogance as a positive quality.

I’m a bit baffled by this lot. They’ve got some big names endorsing their manifesto* (Will Alsop, Denise Scott Brown) which at first glance appears to be The Fountainhead re-written by Jeremy Clarkson. The Manifesto Towards a New Humanism (or NewTowNHuman) is an odd piece of writing and worth unpicking a little. To summarise, it accuses contemporary architecture of meek compliance with our over beaurocratised society. It states that there are too many design targets and constraints and that originality, creativity and the old promethean fire cannot thrive in such circumstances. It criticises our contemporary inability to celebrate man’s (sic – see Denise Scott Brown’s backhanded compliment) achievements and have faith in progress. It also has a bit of a bee in its bonnet about both the language of sustainability (fair enough) and the fact of climate change (not so fair enough). Generally, it stresses that architects have lost their creativity in a welter of rules and regulations and a mealy-mouthed concern to consult with all and sundry (it’s quite easy to write this sort of stuff – I just kinda slipped into it by accident back then). So, it seems to combine standard neo-liberal criticism of the 'nannystate' with some good old fashioned faith in unfettered creativity. A few things bother me about this which are: The assertions of the individual’s right to overcome mediocrity and the pernicious over-influence of the state seems obligatory anti-New Lab rhetoric these days. This is the default position of most neo-liberals, a belief that the ‘nanny state’ (and is there not something mysoginistic in the endless repetition of that phrase, a fear of smothering women or something?) is stopping our fun.

“It is humans – not disembodied abstractions – that have the capacity to create a meaningful world”. Their manifesto is full of endless abstractions. And some pretty craggy old shibboleths too, not least the declamatory manifesto itself with its hyperbolic exaggerations and it’s a-historical this-is-the-time-the-time-for-action rhetoric. There is probably a lot of things wrong with architecture right now but lack of self-confidence doesn't seem to be one of them. It’s ironic they have written this at a time when there is such an outpouring of bombast from the profession. The last thing anyone needs in my view are more outpourings of the architect’s unfettered creative fire! That way this kind of vacuity lies! *I have to say it seems a grand word for what is, in effect, a protracted moan. ** Figures from the Code for Sustainable Homes document. Fantastic Journal by Charles Holland on July 17, 2008

2. Suburban Ruins and The Ethics of House Flipping

People turn to the past because they are looking for something that they don’t find in the present — comfort and well-being… Only the wealthy or the very poor can live in the past; only the former do so by choice. - Witold Rybczynski, Home Although her home has been on the market for several years now, my aunt (by marriage) isn’t stalling because buyers are asking too low. She’s hesitating due to emotional attachment to the property — it’s the house her father designed and built, and the home she grew up in. I lived there briefly myself when I was going to college nearby. Recently, she was to close on a deal with a young married couple, but then she looked up the wife on the internet and discovered the woman is well known as an area “house flipper.”

This neighborhood eschews miles and miles of Washington, DC suburban sprawl with its vestiges of pedestrian life: it is a 10 minute walk to the West Falls Church metro, and 5 minutes to a main street with a coffee shop, dry cleaner, TJ Maxx, a good balance of chains and small businesses. A bike trail is nearby.

A few years ago, I was guiltily obsessed with A&E and TLC house flipping programs and marveled at how often the flipper blatantly conned people out of their property. The worst of them was Armando Montelongo, a San Antonio flipper who is half as likeable as Roger Clemens, just a little less weird than that plastic surgeon on Dr 90210, an internet scam artist, and known for habitually neglecting to pay his contractors. “Mondo” does a lot of objectionable things on the show, from piggish to illegal. He once had his wife and sister-in-law dress in beekeeper costumes to exterminate a colony of bees, so he could save $300 on a professional beekeeper. He watched them from a lawnchair, beer in hand. Then there’s something about him hiring children of illegal aliens for a demolition project. Now he’s dealing with several lawsuits — facing jailtime — not paying one contractor, owing backtaxes, and the 20 or so properties of his that went into foreclosure. The guy is a crook and A&E should have known better. But I most despised him when he’d make false promises to whomever he’s buying the house from: that he’d never strip the Victorian wallpaper. That he likes the bar in the kitchen their father made. That he’ll keep the structure the same way, but just clean it up a little bit. A widow or widower passes, and the descendants can’t afford to keep up the house. All they want is to know someone is enjoying the home as grandpa made it. Money isn’t a main issue at a time like that. So he pretend to agrees, taking the bargain, and soon after breaks his word — neglecting the family’s wishes on TV! It’s not just knucklehead-ed behavior, it’s usually aesthetically disappointing: ironing out everything that made the home unique in order to appeal to the most buyers. A hardwood floor and granite countertop sacrificial rape of a property.

Because of its conveniences and location, the land is pricey. Buyers willing to pay for West Falls Church real estate generally want several bedrooms and five baths. Over the years, my aunt has complained about the trasformation of modest homes — 70s-style “post-and-beam extravaganzas” as this article in Residential Architect puts it — into regurgitated palatial fantasies. Soon hers will be the only non McMansion on the block. And gross remodeling may be its inevitable second life. For now, she’s still waiting for someone who will respect the design of the place. This isn’t some kind of a penance — the house is really beautiful. There are few places I’ve felt quite as cozy in, as I have reading a book on the back porch looking out at the garden. The use of the space, the way the windows are shaped, so much of my idea of a perfect house comes from living there that year in 2003.

Now, my politics are more freemarket than most: I don’t believe in rent control for the reason of economic scarcity, but sale of a home has so much more at stake than most financial transactions. A price that is agreed to with the understanding the buyer will preserve without excessively altering the property, can be a binding agreement. But does this ever happen? I’m right now trying to find examples of this in real estate cases. I guess this is more of a post I’m writing as I’m thinking about it,

rather than a clear statement of any kind. And any books readers might recommend on the subject are much appreciated. Like with the Neutra Kaufmann House house that just sold in Christie’s auction. Is it only a tacit understanding that the buyer isn’t going to tear down a wing to build a gnome garden?

to live in Brooklyn on an artist’s salary. One vacant home, means the depreciation of an entire neighborhood. And down like dominos the foreclosure crisis, which may likely “stay with us well into the next decade,” as Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s says in Bloomberg, puts pressure on all the neighboring homes until they too eventually tip.

Here’s an example of preservation gone to an unpleasant extreme: Richard Lucas has been trying to win permission to cut through his elderly, infirm parents’ front porch so they can get from their living quarters onto the street without climbing stairs. And for more than a year, the D.C. historic preservation authorities have found reasons to say no to a ramp. After all, as the city’s architectural historian put it, “repeating porches of similar height and depth create a notable pattern and rhythm” along the Lucas family’s Mount Pleasant street, and the District wouldn’t want to let that rhythm be broken just to accommodate a couple of old folks who have lived in their house for 47 years. Houses in communities respond to the changes in houses all around them, which is why I fear my aunt’s beautiful house will eventually go all Stepford. Even if they did find buyers to fall in love with it, there is the risk that given time they might give in to the status-conscious vibe of the neighborhood and build additions.

It’s easier to erect a new house than it is to change an entire landscape. Recently, I learned there’s a “ghost cloverleaf” in Canton, MA, just several miles from me. Eventually I’ll check it out and post about it, until then, here’s this write up on Xconomy: [It] was constructed between 1962 and 1968, and is the northern half of what was originally intended to be a fully working interchange between I-95, aka the Southwest Expressway, and I-93, aka Route 128, aka the Yankee Division Highway. From here, the state’s highway blueprints called for the Southwest Expressway to continue about 10 miles north into Boston. It would have barreled through farmland and residential neighborhoods in Milton and joined up with the American Legion Highway, which would have been converted into an expressway running along the eastern edge of Franklin Park. From there, the expressway would have turned Blue Hill Avenue into a six-lane gash through Roxbury and Dorchester, eventually connecting with I-695 near the present-day intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Southampton Street (which happens to be about four blocks from where I live in the South End). Never heard of I-695? That’s because it was never built, either. Also called the Inner Belt, it was part of a scheme laid out in 1948 to help interstate drivers and truckers avoid the congestion in downtown Boston by circling through outer Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville. Perhaps it was a good idea at one time. But had this 7-mile loop been constructed, the Boston cityscape would be immeasurably different today.

One of the best articles, one of the most linked-to essays this year, The Next Slum? by Christopher B Leinberger for The Atlantic, so immediately struck at the hearts of most of us, the unfortunate truth that the wealthy really are taking over our cities. Sure crime is down, but you try

“We do not pine for period cuisine,” Rybczynski wrote, paraphrasing Adolf Loos’ point that nostalgia is absent in most other aspects of our everyday lives. And most houses, just out of practicality due to changes in energy usage, really should be remodeled. But there are reasons we might value those floors that no matter how many times you sweep, will never seem clean. Reviewing Flipping Out, the only remaining house flipping TV show on the air today, Heather Havrilesky cleverly compares two of her neighborhood cafes. One where “tables are the wrong height for the chairs, the chairs are uncomfortable, the walls are covered in bad art, the bad stereo system blares the worst of Journey and Lionel Richie, the breakfast sandwich features over-buttered bread and that fake-smoke-flavor ham, the room is too hot or freezing cold, the teenage

cashiers are friendly but inattentive, and a herd of middle-of-the-room flies circles endlessly in the sparsely populated dining area,” another a, “more corporate place nearby where everything is right. The tables and chairs are made of smooth wood and are perfectly placed, the menu is tastefully designed, the lighting makes everyone look like models at a photo shoot, classical music soothes patrons from a safe distance, cool breezes blow in the open French doors, and the small cup of gazpacho they serve has little slices of melon and a dab of pesto in it. Delightful! But it’s always crowded with people who have expensive haircuts and alarmingly nice shoes.” As repellent and deeply wrong as the local cafe is, the overpriced, meticulously designed corporate eatery seems certain to transform you, slowly but surely, into the kind of person who pays too much for haircuts and shoes, the kind of person who experiences gazpacho that doesn’t have a little dab of pesto in it the way the rest of us experience a herd of middle-of-the-room flies. And therein lies the paradox of American upward mobility: The higher you climb, the thinner the air gets, until you can barely breathe.

I recently received an invitation to discuss design and development with a wonderful group of design peers in a beautiful location. But I have decided to decline the invitation. Why? It is my growing conviction that, as designers, we can usually do more good in our own backyards than in foreign parts. It is, in principle, great that many colleagues donate their time and expertise to projects such as $100 laptops, emergency shelter, and mobile hospitals. But I can't get it out of my mind that I personally, along with most other US or European citizens, emit as much CO2 in one day as someone in Tanzania does in seven months. And if I go as a tourist, even an eco one, I'll use as much water in 24 hours as a villager who lives there, uses in 100 days. Who needs whose help here? I say we can do more good at home than abroad — not that we can do no good. Our skills and connections can, of course, be valuable to people in other places than our own. But if we are to exchange value — rather than just take it, like cultural tourists — what do we have to offer? In theory, a designer's fresh eyes can reveal hidden value and thus mobilize otherwise neglected or hidden local resources. But, in practice, this hardly ever happens. The vast majority of designers go somewhere different, are inspired and stimulated and maybe even humbled by the experience — but leave without turning their insights into value that local people can use. The exchange ends up being one-way in favor of the visitor. I am also troubled by the words "poverty alleviation." Those words — like the word "development" — imply, to me, anyway, that we advanced people in the North are under some kind of moral obligation to help backward people in the South "catch up" with our own advanced condition. Hmmm.

Nostalgic or not, my aunt’s house as a standing protest against the McMansion-ization of suburban DC, and a call for the better days. If anyone is looking for such a property, please get in touch.

Poverty is a real enough challenge for half of the world's population, but in many cases it's caused by patterns of development exported from and imposed by, the North.

Images by William Eggleston. Tomorrow Museum by Joanne on Jul. 16, 2008

3. John Thackara: We Are All Emerging Economies Now

Besides, I'm not convinced, when it comes to things like food, water and shelter, that designers from the North can add a gigantic amount to what grassroots organizations and NGOs are already doing. The most powerful lesson for me, after 20 years working as a visitor on projects in India and South Asia, is that we have more to learn from smart poor people on things like ecology, connectivity, devices and infrastructures, than they have to learn from us. I’ve never forgotten the time when Jogi Panghaal, one of Doors of Perception’s co-founders, took me to a sleepy hamlet an hour from Bangalore. We encountered a group of villagers standing around a wide patch of ragi (a grain that is used to make dark bread) spread thinly over the road in a neat circle. Six chickens appeared to be eating up the grain, while the villagers watched and chatted. Why, I asked, don't you feed the grain in a bowl? The villagers laughed, and then explained that the chickens are eating tiny maggots, smaller than our eyes can see, which need to be removed from the grain before it can be stored. It's a smart, low-tech solution to a practical issue faced by farmers everywhere. But when I recently Googled "clean bugs from grain," the first link was to the "Opico Model 595 Quiet Fan Batch Dryer With Sky-Vac Grain Cleaner." I can’t help but find this to be a clunker solution than hens in the street. Big D development tends to view human, cultural and territorial assets

— the people and ways of life that are already there — as impediments to progress and modernization. A huge development industry measures progress in terms of economic growth and increased consumption. This industry often assumes without question that urbanization and transport intensity are signs of progress. It tends to devalue human agency and often imposes solutions that replace people with technology, automation and “self service.” These ways of looking at the South from the North are the result of a wrongly-developed model from the perspective of sustainability. And it has to be said: this wrong model is making many designers rich. Around the world, from Dubai to Pakistan, the worst excesses of development are fuelled by design “visions.” One Dubai property developer has teamed up with Giorgio Armani to build thirty hotels and resorts around the world. One of these design destinations will feature in a US$43 billion luxury development on two islands — Bhudal and Bhuddo — off Karachi. Government officials describe the islands as being "deserted": but according to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the livelihoods of about 500,000 fishermen (indigenous people who have been living on the islands for centuries) will be severely affected.

months' earnings. Donating information technology for development is not, of itself, virtuous. Connectivity is more about the design of clever business models than about the mass distribution of devices. Delegates to the Doors of Perception conference back in 1994 were mesmerized hearing how the extraordinary Sam Pitroda enabled hundreds of millions of people in India to gain access to telephony by designing the Public Call Office (PCO) concept — a low-tech, high-smarts system based on the clever sharing of devices and infrastructure. PCOs exemplify the kind of design skills that we need to learn from India and adapt to our own situations. As I mentioned above, well meaning top-down-ness afflicts the architecture profession. Many architects offer to help whenever a natural disaster hits poor countries far away. But itinerant design professionals often lack in-depth knowledge of local ways of building and living, and propose solutions that cannot be readily adapted to local conditions and are therefore unlikely to be sustainable.

Ten million people a year suffer forced displacement from their homes and livelihoods to make way for the development of dams, transportation systems and waterfront developments like this one in Pakistan.

Eighty percent of other design professionals are in the representation business. But designing a poster about an issue, or launching a media campaign about it, is not the same as helping real people, in real places, change a material aspect of their everyday reality. Development is not primarily about products, let alone posters.

Every week, it seems, another brand-name designer opens an office in Dubai on the back of a huge development. These big projects are often promoted on the basis that they will reduce poverty — but poverty is more often a pretext for developments that are primarily designed to improve incomes and lifestyles for the rich. The result, in the words of Maggie Smith, a wise and experienced development professional, is that "millions of people are expelled to the margins of fruitful existence in the name of someone else's progress."

An entrepreneur from the North who understands this, Paul Polak, helps people in developing countries improve water extraction and distribution systems. Polak has concluded, after years of work, that the design and technology of a device, such as a pump, is not much more than ten percent of the complete solution. The other ninety percent involves distribution, training, maintenance, service arrangements and the development of partnership and business models. These, too, must also be co-designed.

When development ushers in a world of luxury resorts and service industry jobs, most local people end up less secure than they were before. When the possibility of living off the land and sea is removed, only a tiny minority of displaced attain formal employment. Most (and we are talking by now about a third of the world's population — two billion people) live outside the economy of secure jobs, mortgages and pensions.

New approaches to development are more about exchange and distribution than blue-sky invention. Among the elements of a sustainable world that already exist, many are social practices — some of them very old ones — already learned by other societies and in other times. From this insight flows the idea of designers as global hunter-gatherers of models; processes and ways of living that already exist. Or used to. As scavengerinnovators, our first response should be to ask: Who has cracked a similar question in the past? How might we learn from, or piggyback on, their success?

Half the world’s economy is informal — and that proportion is growing. And yet every time a new wave of development is unleashed, the informal economy is either ignored by planners or, if the poor get in the way, they are routinely swept aside, along with the ways of doing things that have served people well for generations. Many property developers don't even pretend to care about poor people. But in the North, a lot of people are keen to do good. Advanced Micro Devices and Architecture for Humanity, for example, ran a $250,000 competition for the design of technology centers in the developing world. AMD spoke proudly of its ambition to connect 50 percent of the world's population to the Internet by 2015. The organizers seemed to be unaware that in India, six million mobile phone accounts are being opened each month without the participation of a single "technology centre" and that smart poor people are often ahead of the game in their access to connectivity, devices and infrastructures. Another North-to-South project that missed the point was the $100 laptop. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the Media Laboratory at MIT, launched his project at the World Economic Forum in Davos. To the delegates in Davos, $100 probably sounded cheap; many were paying $1000 an hour to be there. But in Mali, where 90 percent of the population lives on $2 a day, this cheap laptop would cost people two or three

The South can teach the North all manner of useful techniques for the re-localization of production and exchange. The South also knows a lot about service intensity. Those two billion people who live outside of formal economies have innovated a thousand-and-one ways to keep body and soul alive. And in Africa, right now, tens of millions of people are innovating a new system of value exchange, based on swapping airtime via cellphones, that could well become the replacement banking system that we'll need on the road to sustainability. The North, despite being wrongly developed in so many ways, still has plenty to offer. For example, Northern designers are good for casting fresh eyes on a region's assets that have not been appreciated by local people. The North also has useful tools and skills to offer: these range from service design, to technologies of co-operation, to systems for resource allocation (ranging from people, to water) than can be repurposed for ultra-local use. The most exciting opportunity for innovation lies in combining the knowledge systems, tools, and social and territorial assets of South and North. In a light and sustainable economy, we will share resources such

as time, skill, software or food using socially embedded systems, enabled by networked communications, that are a hybrid of assets from North and South. This is why I'm declining the most enticing invitation I've received in ages. I wish my friends well in their meeting, but my personal view is that it's time to get out of the tent more. John Thackara is director of Doors of Perception. Design Observer by John Thackara on June 27, 2008

4. Cameron Sinclair reply In my text for Design Observer about design and development I questioned some aspects of a project by Architecture for Humanity. This throughtful reply to me from Cameron Sinclair has not yet been posted at Design Observer so I'm posting it here. "John, "Great post, as per usual, and yes there are some strong and valid points you raise. Naturally I do object to the generalization made in the comments about the AMD Open Architecture Challenge for a few reasons. "Firstly. The point was not to develop a project for others but in collaboration with. The challenge was borne out of an RFP that 103 communities from around the world applied for (a dozen of which were from India). Three local community organizations were selected, by a global group, and we developed a brief/criteria in unison with the client/end user - ie. not the imposition of technology, rather the inclusion to already existing programs. These included a health facility in rural Nepal, fair trade chocolate factory in Ecuador and a youth media lab in Nairobi. "What was striking in the criteria development that while, as you point out 6M people in India are getting cell phones every month, the community in Kenya were looking to utilize technology for skills training, job creation and community out reach. Can this be all done with a cell phone - yes - Can it only be done with a cell phone - no. Creating equal access to technology is not just providing one option but many options. This is where the overlap with architecture happens and that well designed, appropriate, energy efficient structures can make a difference. "This is my second point. Architecture is no longer about form making - it never was - it is about creating appropriate structures that interweave the local context of a community and that hopefully inspire. Many young and emerging architects are not taught the way that many ‘star-architects’ are currently practicing. These designers are creating structures that are not only appropriate but are site specific based on local knowledge and involvement. The challenge had 800+ designers from 35 countries develop a conceptual solution where the winner, selected by community members, has the opportunity to realize the design with both the local client and design professionals. This entire process will take a couple of years, most of which will be on the ground. "My third point is that all 400+ designs are now CC licensed solutions that can be adapted and replicated by others. When the designs are for

social change they should be shared. Hosted on the Open Architecture Network, this allows local community organizations and regionally based NGOs to find a solution and work with designers to adapt it to a specific site. Currently we are scaling our 2004 competition to 16 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (60% of the designs are from local architects and the other 40% are a marriage between international/ regional firms and locals). "Finally, just a side point. I find it a little arrogant of writers to speak of design and architecture as a 'western' or 'developed world' notion - and then occationally insinuate the ‘look at what they are forcing on them’ self-guilt world view. There are designers, both licensed and unlicensed, all over the world. They are not divided by boundaries but by skill and desire. There will always be the Zaha Hadids and Karim Rashids of this world but there are also the Diébédo Francis Kérés, the Rodney Harbers and the Yasmine Laris of this world. For as many designers working in the realm of architectural plastic surgery, there are just as many working in the emergency room. The difference is that the latter are not seeking accolades and therefore do not grace the covers of magazines and the design media. In addition to training more global architects we need to encourage and develop new schools of design where the work is. Ie currently we are training 70% of the worlds’ architects in the developed (over developed) nations, yet 70% of the work is in emerging nations. "Yes there are a dozen 'examples' where we can point to designers screwing up, getting it wrong, undervaluing the input of the community. Yet there are hundreds of stories where quiet moments of innovation have been an element of incredible change in a community. Most of us who are actually building look at bemusement to all the structures going up in Dubai and Doha - why are those deemed as great feats of 'design excellence' but yet a community led participatory process is often scrutinized by cynical, often western, eyes. "Perhaps it is time to write stories of the successes on the ground. Come join any of us, but do expect to pick up a shovel when you are on a site visit" Cheers Cameron" Doors of Perception php by John Thackara on July 12, 2008

5. Baarle-Hertog In response to the previous post, a reader kindly pointed me to the fascinating town of Baarle-Hertog, Belgium. Baarle-Hertog borders the Netherlands – but, because of its unique history of political division, the town is sort of marbled with competing national loyalties. In other words, pockets of the town are Dutch; most of the town is Belgian. You can thus wander from country to country on an afternoon stroll, as if island-hopping between sovereignties. Check out the town map.

"By error," we read, "a small strip of land went unmentioned in the sale treaty, and its inhabitants promptly declared themselves independent." The Free State Bottleneck, Ă…land Islands, and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta are all also worth checking out. Finally, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out BLDGBLOG's earlier interview with Simon Sellars, co-author of The Lonely Planet Guide to Micronations. (With huge thanks to Scott Gosnell, Christopher, Claus Moser, and Blinde Schildpad for the tips!) BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh on July 15, 2008

[Image: The strange, island-like spaces of micro-sovereignty within the town of Baarle-Hertog; a few more maps can be seen here, and you can read more in this two-page article].

6. Critics: are we just loudmouths? Criticism must go back to basics - and the methods of Empson, Greenberg and Leavis - for our opinions to matter again

Being in a bit of a rush at the moment, I'll simply have to quote Wikipedia: Baarle-Hertog is noted for its complicated borders with BaarleNassau in the Netherlands. In total it consists of 24 separate pieces of land. Apart from the main piece (called Zondereigen) located north of the Belgian town of Merksplas, there are twenty Belgian exclaves in the Netherlands and three other pieces on the Dutch-Belgian border. There are also seven Dutch exclaves within the Belgian exclaves. Six of them are located in the largest one and a seventh in the second-largest one. An eighth Dutch exclave lies in Zondereigen. The border is so complicated that there are some houses that are divided between the two countries. There was a time when according to Dutch laws restaurants had to close earlier. For some restaurants on the border it meant that the clients simply had to change their tables to the Belgian side. Sarah Laitner, at the Financial Times, adds that "women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth." Another website, apparently drawing from the Michelin Guide to the Netherlands, explains the origins of Baarle-Hertog's bizarre geography: it can all be traced back to the 12th century, it seems, when the town was first divided. The northern half of the town became part of the Barony of Breda (later home to the Nassau family), and the southern half went to the Duke of Brabant (Hertog means Duke in Dutch). But that same website also mentions this: The municipality limits are very complicated. Nowadays, each municipality has its city hall, church, police, school and post office. The houses of the two nationalities are totally mixed. They are identified by the shield bearing their number: the national flag is included on it. I hate to refer to Thomas Pynchon twice, in back-to-back blog posts, but there something's remarkably Pynchon-esque about this final detail. In any case, also check out this site for more historical information. While we're on the subject of micro-sovereignties, though, be sure to check out Neutral Moresnet, a tiny, politically independent non-state formed around a zinc mining operation in eastern Belgium. There's also Cospaia, "a small former republic in Italy" which "unexpectedly gained independence in 1440" after Pope Eugene IV sold the land it stood on.

Getting down to the nuts and bolts ... a critic at Tate Modern. Photograph: Nicolas Asfouri Are critics dead? They still stagger on, course, and always will. Everyone has an opinion about the film they just saw, the book they read. Some people will always get so heated up in their critical opinions that they become ... critics, and so long as you read us we won't go away. But that's not really the point of recent laments on "the death of the critic". What has passed away is a certain kind of revered and influential critical voice, it is sometimes said: where are today's equivalents of the poet and critic William Empson, the art critic Clement Greenberg, the critic of the novel FR Leavis? I've been thinking about it, and I suspect it's the wrong way of describing the problem. There really is a problem with criticism today, but to think of it as simply the vanishing of the authoritative critics of yore is to miss the point. The reason the views of, say, TS Eliot on poetry were once taken so seriously (apart from the fact that when he wrote books such as The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism he was speaking as one of the greatest modern writers) is not because they exuded some immanent God-like truth. On the contrary. The high cultural standing of criticism 40 years ago started with the nuts and bolts. Critics in those days had a method. It was because the method was so lucid that what they said took on objective power. Criticism in the 1950s was based on the rigorous examination of word and image and only progressed from there, by careful, precise stages, towards larger questions of value and meaning.

At school, I was lucky enough to get taught English by someone still loyal to those methods. It's interesting how often, in writing about art, I now find myself remembering the simple procedure we followed when writing an essay on a Keats poem. You paid attention to the form of the verse, the images, gradually getting a richer sense of its language; what it was about and how good it was emerged from these precise matters of what was there on the page. This tradition of criticism has certainly influenced the way I think about art. But I wish its influence could be greater. What happens now in professional criticism is that you start where you like, write about the object under study in any order and at any depth you fancy, and perhaps don't even give a single material fact about it. In other words, the idea of the critic today is not more modest but more arrogant - almost messianic - in its freewheeling claim to subjective authority. No wonder people don't like us! We're just loudmouths giving our opinions, at least unless we escape this arid play of free critical expression. Can it be done? I honestly don't see why not. The problem is in today's pluralism of cultural forms. Poetry criticism in the old sense, you might say, was destroyed by Bob Dylan: if you analyse his words in the traditional way, they don't hold up, but if you hear them sung you can't doubt their poetic worth. Beyond Dylan lies a whole world of poetic variety undreamt of by Eliot. In art, the diversity is still more radical. How can rules evolved over hundreds of years to criticise painting be of any value in a world of the readymade? But recently, I started trying to write about - to look at Duchamp's readymades precisely, as if they were poems, and found I could see more clearly what is specific to them. I think it is possible to do that with pretty much anything - after all, there's no mystique to the kind of criticism Eliot, Empson and Greenberg did. None of them were mystics. They started in the engine room. If criticism is to matter again, it must go back there. the Guardian by Jonathan Jones on July 21, 2008

or secrets. I filmed every step in the creation of the brick. From the raw granulate stored in massive silos to the molding machines to the gigantic storage cathedrals to the decoration and packaging warehouses, you will be able to see absolutely everything, including the most guarded secret of the company: the brick molds themselves. The exclusive tour is divided into three parts While the storage areas are the most impressive part of the factory, I have to admit that nothing had prepared me for the scope and complexity that is required to make and pack 19 billion bricks every year. The scale of this factory, specially compared to the tiny bricks it produces, is absolutely breathtaking. The warehouse and the mold room We started in the main warehouse, which is half a kilometer long. Here they house the silos holding the raw plastic granulate. Through them, 60 tons of this material is processed every 24 hours. These towers are connected to the molding machines through a labyrinth of tubes that push the granulate mixtures in a permanent tin-pitched rumble. It's the digestive system of the enormous factory, always feeding the molding lines through the tubes and moving big boxes full of pieces— using conveyor belts—into the storage area in an endless and precise dance which never ends: this factory works around the clock to fulfill the worldwide thirst for Lego. The molding machines Everything is recycled in the factory. The plastic granulate itself is a by-product from diesel, and whatever is discarded in the manufacturing process gets recycled. The leftover parts from the mold—the plastic that fills the channels that take the hot plastic into the piece negative—fall down the machine, gets ground up, and put back into the production cycle. Any other waste, like faulty pieces or the transparent plastic used to clean the inner tubes when they need to change the production color of a molding machine, are also ground up and sold to other companies for the production of other things, like pipes and even heating oil.

7. Exclusive: Inside the Lego Factory

The machines produce more than two million pieces per hour, churning incessantly into color- and bar-coded boxes. I looked around and I couldn't see many people. A woman was in one of those endless aisles looking at a few molding machines with big "QT" signs on them. She This video shows something that very few people have had the opportunity to witness: the inside of the Lego factory, with no barriers

was in charge of quality testing, making sure that the production was going perfectly.

At one point I was taking photos of a box of full of yellow bricks, and suddenly the machine stopped working. Fearing I had done something wrong, I saw a big wonky box coming from the distance, some kind of weird transport with strange sensors on the top, straight from a moisture farm on Tatooine or a spice mine in Dune. I stepped back, instantly realizing it was one of the many factory robots. This transport bot was answering the call of the central mainframes, the brains of the Lego body that control every aspect of the process at all times. The mainframes had stopped the production of the machine, following the signal of the sensor next to the box and sending the signal to the robot, alerting it that it had to harvest the crop of bricks. The robots travel down the aisles autonomously, picking up boxes and leaving empty ones so production can be resumed. The storage cathedrals, decoration and packaging The robots then put the boxes in the conveyors, which move them into the storage cathedrals (click here to see a complete report on them, the following video only has a brief summary). There, the huge cranebots lift them to the heavens, placing them in endless towers of boxes. There are four of these cathedrals in the Lego factory, and no humans are inside. The mainframes know what it is inside at all times, and order the cranebots to retrieve boxes and send them to decoration and packaging, where Lego sets take their final form.

wrapping machine, which makes a bag with the pieces inside. The box are then dropped inside another box, and passed into another production line, where more bags would be added until all the set pieces are in place, ready to be packaged and sent to shops all around the world. As I watched the boxes going away, being wrapped for shipping, I couldn't help to have this feeling of absolute marvel. From plastic grains to full sets, everything controlled by computers and robots, in a scale that—given the size of most of these piece—stunned me. Next time you look at that Lego box full of bricks, or your collection of mini-figs, think about how complex and elegant the whole production process is. Your "toy" will have then a completely new dimension. Gizmodo by Jesus Diaz on July 21, 2008

8. More sighs...

Here, the Lego pieces may take two ways. One is to go straight to the packaging lines. The other is to go into decoration. Decoration is the most expensive part of the Lego process. Here, the pieces are individually painted with absolute precision, like you can see in detail in this video. In the packaging lines the pieces are distributed: they are dumped into the machine, which separates them one by one, then counts them using optical sensors, and placed in a generic small box. I watched in amazement, seeing how the pieces fell into these small boxes on a very small conveyor. At every step, one, two, three or whatever amount of pieces will fall into the box, according to the instructions of the set in production. Along the way, high precision scales measure the weight of the box. The computers know exactly how much a box has to weigh at any stage, indicating that the correct number and kind of pieces are inside. If there's a variation of a few micro-grams, the alarm jumps and an operator grabs the box, sorts the pieces, and puts the box back into production. Once the box is complete, the contents are dropped into the plastic

MAKE architects have just completed the UK's largest public sculpture, which is 60m high, and sits in the new Jubilee campus of Nottingham University (the same university that doesn't mind students being arrested and held for a week without charge, don't forget). The sculpture has a number of traits that make it exemplary of contemporary public art, or 'culture architecture'. It has a symbolic height. As seen in projects such as Danny Libeskind's 'Freedom Tower', the

symbolic height (or the symbolic angle, or symbolic line, or symbolic shadow, or symbolic cladding etc...) is a feature of contemporary architecture that only exists within the P.R. space of the work. People are generally not good judges of exactly how high something is, so the significant height is only useful if there's a plaque beneath the object, telling you exactly how the work is to be interpreted. It is however useful in a presentation to the client or the planners, who have to make a decision between various different flavours of the same architectural shit. There's a definite cultural aversion to the idea that the viewer/user might be able to use their imagination and make their own associations and connections with an object in space, for example, the Jewish Museum in Berlin is festooned with cards and panels telling you exactly what the uncomfortably sloping floor is supposed to remind you of, and what you should be thinking about that. This is fair enough for Libeskind and a building of such cultural weight, but on the other hand, the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh has exactly the same issues, which goes a long way to ruining the experience of what is a building deeply concerned with the imaginative response of the user, with someone constantly informing you that "we believe that Enric Miralles was thinking about shortbread when he designed that bench over there, and those light fittings, we think, represent a haggis". This corporate symbolism is everywhere - cladding materials that 'represent' the absent industry of a site, everything has to represent some kind of 'value'. Even in this current project, MAKE talk about 'the theme of nature being drawn through the site', primarily because there are two ponds nearby. This method of minimal 'referentiality' should be compared to the naively heroic abstraction of postwar public art and architecture, with the positive universality of their solutions, and should be seen as an entirely vacuous gesture of lending what are negatively generic solutions the veneer of a contextual relationship.

9. Half Dose #50: Concurso Fiscalia Here's a project that looks pretty straightforward at first...

[model exterior | image source] ...but which reveals itself to be more than a platonic solid.

It is the tallest sculpture in the UK. Until the next one is built, that is. In fact, there is a hilarious page on the website devoted to the project which allows you to compare the size of the sculpture against a series of (smaller) sculptures from across the world. It's not as big as this though. It's 'iconic'. And we all know what that means. It is funded privately, rather than by the university or the state. In fact, in a hilarious return of Victorian values, it's been funded by an anonymous philanthropist. It is called 'Aspire'. Now this is not just appallingly bad nu-speak, but it's a vile pun that takes on even more of a stench considering it was chosen in a public vote of students and staff at the university. The sculpture sits in a campus that is home to computing, education and business studies, (probably soon having a department of studies studies I imagine), and the name, rather than evoking some noble human spirit of endeavour and selfbetterment, is actually much more like a barked ideological order - like ENJOY in the millenium dome, the spatial imperative is to ASPIRE! WANT! ACHIEVE! GET! It's only fitting that what is essentially a very large, shiny column that supports nothing is considered the best physical evocation of the spirit of contemporary higher education. Endschwindet und Vergeht \ by Murphy on July 18, 2008

[model cutaway | image source] The large public office building designed for the periphery of Madrid is like a city within a cylinder. Orthogonal blocks sit within a ring, in the process creating a complex solid-void composition, dramatic from above and below.

[model view down and up | image source] What looks like it could have sprung from OMA is in fact the product of Productora, a Mexico City-based office formed only two years ago. But an OMA connection does exist, as each of the four heads at Productora worked with Fernando Romero, previously a partner at OMA. Six degrees of separation? How about two?

[development of design | image source] Regardless of the typology-bending design's similarity to Mr. Koolhaas's way of approaching architecture and the city, the project can be seen as a response to the dry and warm climate of Madrid, with plenty of shade but also plenty of natural ventilation via the interaction of cylindrical perimeter and central void.

[floor plans | image source]

The inside-outside dichotomy also seems appropriate for Madrid's periphery, a place in the making. This project is a place within that place, an object in the urban landscape with its own internal urban landscape.

especially on issues related to architecture. 8. Interactive Architecture: Diploma thesis tutor Ruairi Glynn created this blog as a place to collect ideas about how students at the Bartlett School of Architecture and elsewhere can create architectural installations that require interaction and activity. 9. Pruned: This blog is dedicated to showing how landscape forms a big part of overall design, and the blog is written by landscape architect Alexander Trevi. 10. Super Colossal: Based in Australia, this design firm’s blog covers issues related to a range of design and architecture related topics. Architecture News Stay on the edge of the field of architecture with these news-filled blogs.

[model views | image source] a Daily Dose of Architecture html by John Hill on July 18, 2008

11. ArchNewsNow: This blog makes it easy to keep up with the latest and greatest moves in the architecture world. You can read the blog or sign up for the newsletter to get news delivered right to you. 12. Architecture Planet: This site aggregates news from sites all over the Web that have to do with architecture. You can find a wide range of stories, information and links to keep you busy. 13. Modern Architecture Design News: Find loads of pictures and news stories about the latest in modern architecture on this blog. 14. Architecture Lab: This online magazine and news site provides access to all kinds of new and up-to-date information on architecture. Blogs By Architects

10. 50 Must Read Blogs and Resources for Architecture Majors Architecture can be a challenging and sometimes stressful major, but you can help yourself stay informed and get creative new ideas by keeping on top of the news through the use of the Internet. With many architects blogging, and loads of resources and information out there, it can be well worth your time to check out at least a few blogs in your free time or to help you with a project. Here’s a list of 50 blogs and helpful sites we think are great sources for architecture majors. Top Blogs These blogs cover a wide range of subjects and can be great reading material. 1. A Daily Dose of Architecture: Blogger John Hill, a New York City resident and architecture student, posts his almost daily musings on architecture from around the world. 2. anArchitecture: This blog is written by Austrian Christoph Wassmann and contains a variety of links, news and commentary on the field of architecture. 3. BLDGBLOG: Written by Archinect team member, writer and editor for DWELL magazine Geoff Manaugh, this blog contains posts on design, architecture and landscape design. 4. a456: Here you’ll find a variety of thoughts, commentary and ideas on design and architecture from Enrique Ramirez, a Ph.D. student in History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton. 5. Archinect: While not a single blog in itself, this site brings together architecture blogs from schools around the world in order to create a more cohesive and collaborative field. 6. City of Sound: This blog covers a range of issues from music to architecture. It’s written by a director at Monocle, Dan Hill, who explores the relationship between form and function in the buildings and cities we inhabit. 7. Inhabitat: Here you’ll find green and sustainable design news,

Check out these blogs by architects to see what other kind of work is being done out there. 15. Architecture: This blogger is an architect in a big firm in Singapore, and the blog focuses on new ideas and urban living, especially in Singapore and surrounding areas. 16. Life Without Buildings: While the title of this blog may imply otherwise, it’s actually all about architecture. You’ll find hundreds of photos and commentary on modern buildings and postmodern design. 17. Architecture + Morality: Three bloggers, a civil engineer, an architect and a pastor, use this blog as a forum to discuss a range of social issues behind architecture. 18. Arkitec TRUE: Run by Long Beach architect Yelda Horozoglu, this blog covers ideas on urban planning, design and architecture. 19. Continuity in Architecture: This blog is a teaching forum created by architecture professors at the Manchester School of Architecture and contains a scholarly perspective on architecture related themes. 20. Tessellar: The author of this blog, architect Mazlin Ghazali, resides in Malaysia and describes his idea to create communities based on a honeycomb based shape in order to create a better layout for communities and housing. 21. The Architecture of Fear: This blog was created by George Agnew during his time at Columbia University’s School of Architecture and explores the ideas of how architecture functions with war, terror and fear. Green Building Blogs Green and sustainable building is a big part of architecture these days, so learn all about it on these sites. 22. BLYGAD: The name of this blog, which stands for Blog Like You Give a Damn, is written by Colin Kloecker for the Architecture for Humanity in Minnesota. This organization is focused on creating sustainable architecture worldwide. 23. Earth Architecture: This blog is dedicated to buildings that have

been constructed from natural materials like dirt, mud and bricks. 24. Eco Tecture: Here you’ll find information that focuses on green build projects in cities like Chicago, Brooklyn and London. 25. Treehugger: While this blog focuses on a number of issues related to environmentalism, it contains a large section on green architecture and design, which can be a great resource for those interested in the cutting edge of green building. 26. greenbuildingsNYC: Check out the latest green buildings in NYC and plans for new construction on this eco-focused blog. Architecture Photography Blogs These blogs focus on documenting architecture through photos and can not only be a good read but great eye candy as well. 27. FotoFacade: Architectural photographer Andy Marshall shares his photos in this extensive photography blog, with both new and old buildings being represented. 28. B.E.L.T: Standing for Build Environment in Layman’s Terms, this blog contains photography and commentary by professional Toby Weiss. 29. URBANPHOTO: This blog contains photos from all over the world of urban environments, buildings and people. 30. Bluejake: This amateur photographer shares his photos of New York City, both of the architecture within it and the people who reside there. New photos are posted regularly. 31. Chicago Uncommon: Here you’ll find photos from all over Chicago of the buildings, gardens and more that make up its neighborhoods and landmarks. 32. The Urban Observer: This blog not only offers regular photography but commentary, observations and more that deal with the urban environment in Chicago and cities all over. 33. Eye Candy: Blogger and architect Eric shares photos of buildings old and new from all over, with the purpose of improving the level of design. 34. Offbeat Homes: Browse through photos of all kinds of unique homes in this fun blog. Landscape Architecture Blogs Those more interested in the landscape around the buildings rather than the buildings themselves can find some pertinent information on landscape architecture in these blogs.

40. Center for Universal Design: This group aims to make buildings accessible to all people, even those with limiting disabilities. Ensure your designs allow for all to enjoy them by giving this site a look. 41. ArtLex Dictionary of Visual Art: Find definitions of thousands of art and architecture terms in this helpful reference tool. 42. TechStreet: If you want to build things you need to know what building and safety codes you’ll need to comply with. This site provides an easy place to find all the information you need on these and more. 43. Architectural Record: This publication from McGraw Hill shares news and articles in this regularly updated online format. 44. Architype Review: Here you’ll find a forum to discuss architectural typologies like schools, libraries, parking garages and more, and how these types affect design. It can be a great place to look if you’re trying to think outside of the box for new designs. Buildings and Architects Get some background on great buildings and famous architects from these resources. 45. Great Buildings: From country to country and throughout time, this site covers the great buildings and is a great reference and inspirational site. 46. AGRAM: This site focuses on some of history’s most important architects, providing background information and photos of their wellknown buildings. 47. ArchINFORM: Here you’ll find a huge online database of architects and buildings which has been described as one of the most useful architecture resources on the Internet. 48. High Rise Buildings Database: Love skyscrapers? You can read all about them with information from this site. 49. National Register of Historic Places: Find out what buildings hold historical significance in your city or anywhere in the United States. 50. Famous Architects: This site brings together a huge archive of information on the world’s most famous and influential architects and can be a great reference for a class project. Best Colleges Online By Christina Laun on July 15, 2008

35. Aesthetic Grounds: Written by landscape architect and public artist Glenn Weiss, this blog focuses on projects that get people involved with their environments through art and design. 36. Free Soil: This blog’s purpose is to share ideas about landscape design that work to create effective landscapes that work with their natural settings to create sustainable and functional outdoor spaces. 37. Land + Living: Here you’ll find news on landscape design issues from all over the world that focus on thoroughly modern design. 38. The Dirt: The American Society of Landscape Architects runs this blog which shares news and views on ongoing projects and conceptions throughout the nation. 39. Turned Earth: The blog of landscape design firm O’Connell Landscape, this blog covers design, planting furniture and anything else that forms part of an outdoor environment. Reference and Publications These sites provide reference material and access to online publications on architecture. illustration:

prss release #18  

the independent paper blog aggregator

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you