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A collection of post-posts / A pseudoblog as practice

Mika Savela




A collection of post-posts / A pseudoblog as practice

Mika Savela


URBANTUMBLR – A collection of post-posts / A pseudoblog as practice First edition © 2013 Mika Savela Helsinki, Finland All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the author. Printed by Lulu Press, Inc. ISBN 978-952-93-2765-2 (paperback) ISBN 978-952-93-2766-9 (PDF) http://www.mikasavela.com 2

Introduction Oddly, turning a blog into a book might still be the quintessential trend of the postInternet era, though it’s really the sulky cats that are landing the major publishing deals [1]. Sadly, this lil’ booklet has less to do with deals of any kind, and more to do with the word post. In August 2010, without much pre-thought, I started posting on Tumblr. I posted images and small writings about things I found interesting. At the time I was working as an architect and urban designer, but was also thinking about other things like research, publishing, curating, history, globalization, the urban underground and what not. And Tumblr seemed like a nice little nesting ground for such short creative outbursts. Starting a small scale blog seemed like a fairly easy and harmless way to dabble with my interests. Borrowing from Arthur Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways (2001), I too chose “images, useless information, quotations and scraps” that took my fancy for whatever reason. Under a tagline “Research and Practice in the Urbanity”, the only thing in common with my posts was that I could relate to them with my own name – be that in the role of an architect, designer, urbanist, historian, commentator, cultural observer and traveler or merely an individual on the Internet. My postings resulted in a long list of personal notes, reactions to current events, some more theoretical ponderings, and snarky remarks. After some three years of posting, the undefined and yet ominvourous nature of collecting this big something started somehow to weigh on me. Both consciously and unconsciously, I began to wonder about the body of work accumulated. Or, whether such a thing even existed. Did all these blogs really, really matter? I also remembered architectural scholar Sylvia Lavin mentioning young architects who “refer to the stuff they do as ‘the work’ (not even a ‘my work’) in order to elevate the status of their work of their output” [2]. And I of course wanted to abstain myself right from start from being typecasted as such (well, still youngish) architect. But as Lavin, too, has noted that the definitions of architectural work are shifting. In recent years curation, not only creation, has emerged as a territory for all kinds of operations. New opportunities have emerged both naturally and through various tweaks of creative media to exhibit and display even more things – or I mean – work. We can all see that the architectural exhibition, for example, is not today the only medium for having “architecture” around. And because of this, architectural work has become so much harder to define. While we haven’t perhaps seen the full extent of the development, some backlashing seems to be already happening. This was maybe aptly signalled by Rem Koolhaas’ solemn promise on the curating of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition: “Fundamentals will be a Biennale about architecture, not architects. After 3

several Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will focus on histories – on the inevitable elements of all architecture used by any architect, anywhere, anytime (the door, the floor, the ceiling etc.)” [3]. But. If we don’t limit ourselves to walls and ceilings, then what exactly validates something as architecture, architectural work, or any creative or artistic practice? For instance, former MoMA curator Tina di Carlo’s Archive of Spatial Aesthetics and Praxis (ASAP) has collected Greek ΑΡΧΙΤΈΚΤΩΝ Andreas Angelidakis’ blog as architecture [4]. So in this way, a certain blending of borders between what can constitute as architecture – or perhaps any field of creative activity – has already become established on some level of critical noteworthiness, relying of course on the stature and influence of the institution involved (in this case a self-declared, post-medium online platform). Or, when artist Giordano Matteo for a while had a Tumblr filled with Sony-related imagery [5], did the practice of posting images he found online become validated as art because of his approved artistry, or would any similar collection under a theme be art, or become art if proposed as such? And so on [6]. As for me, it was never my great intention to start an urbanism blog with a domain name, nor was I aiming for a “curated magazine” kind of a project, like Flipbook or similar mobile apps are now enabling and encouraging us to do. I was simply posting, sometimes with more rigor, sometimes less. But as I continued to post, I simply began to wonder what happened next, if anything? Would I continue posting indefinitely, adding to the collection of text and images actually showing up under my name on the Internet? Building up readership, gaining some following, receiving comments and feeling like having an audience? Was I being taken seriously now? Would my posts eventually conflict with my actual academic research or work? Was I on a wrong platform, having a wrong audience? I would also think about the continuous feeds of text, images and video out there today on Tumblr. While the stuff we can put out there with our phone, is all somehow produced and curated by us, does it matter among 110 million other blogs or 51 billion posts, at least in terms of validation? And wasn’t the curatorial constellation [7] already stretching into unrecognizable dimensions? While putting some hours aside to work on this book, I found that neither my Tumblr nor my questions were really that quintessential, but rather, products of a certain format of production, a certain culture of momentariness. In a way, this book could be about the existential crisis of a blog or my inkling of an Internet persona, but it is also the most simple gut reaction to this particular time where content (yes, that’s what we now call everything) quickly turns anonymous, becomes buried under new daily posts and gets robbed of meanings, while still being subjected to other users actions, follow4

















Figure 1: The workings of a pseudoblog. 5

ers, popularity and even fame. In the end, I decided to answer my questions by turning them around. Or stop asking. And so the URBANTUMBLR was born as a pseudoblog, a project I could have started but never did. So rather than asking why, I began toying with the idea of reverse-engineering my collection of Fletcherian “scraps” into something by momentarily stepping out from the box and retroactively processing, naming and at the very least thinking about the things I posted as some kind of work, or I suppose more accurately my work. No biggie. Today it seems the creative, artistic, entertaining or informative effect of both an Instagram account and a book of veritable era-defining essays can be fairly equal. Both can somehow share ideas about “now”. But this very casual finding questions the notion of meticulous labor or sheer virtuosity as the method of production. However, in re-editing and re-curating my old snippets of text and images, I found both alarming and comforting, that while the Internet is exploding with content (and an image search results page can pass as a landscape of meta-imagery), even the simplest attempt in turning a “scrap” into plain text still greatly increases the weight and meaning of the selections made. And you really become more culpable, more vulnerable, more alone. As a feed loses its momentariness, it becomes an object of study. Moving from the act of posting, to the act of post-posting really is a cumbersome practice. URBANTUMBLR consists of stuff posted between August 2010 and August 2013. In short, as a personal project, it tries to uncover whether the random decision to post a photo or a thought can ultimately survive a more permanent context. For the general reader, it hopefully works like any other book.


Some current Tumblr book deals include: “ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS”, “Pets Who Want To Kill Themselves” and “Dads Are the Original Hipsters” (http://www.tumblr.com/spotlight/ book+deals, 18 June 2013)


Sylvia Lavin, “Showing Work” in Log 20. 2010.


14th International Architecture Exhibition/ Fundamentals (http://www.labiennale.org/en/architecture/news/25-01.html, 19 June 2013)


Andreas Angelidakis’ blog (andreasangelidakis.blogspot.com), exhibited on ASAP website (http:// www.a--s--a--p.com/blog, 18 June 2013) as “the first blog to be collected”.


Giordano Matteo’s Tumblr on Sony: http://sonyhd.tumblr.com, 18 June 2013.


See for instance: http://confessionsofamichaelstipe.tumblr.com/


Paul O’Neill “The Curatorial Constellation and the Para-Curatorial Paradox”, The Exhibitionist no. 6, 2012.


110 000 000

$ 1 100 000 000

Number of blogs on Tumblr (May 2013)

Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr (May 2013)

Total number of blog posts on Tumblr (in billions) Source: Tumblr



50b 40b


30b 20b



10b 1b









1 blog = $10.00 1 post = $0.02 URBANTUMBLR $10.00 + (2400 × $0.02) = $58.00 (May 2013) Figure 2: The value of (any) pseudoblog on Tumblr in May 2013. 7



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“Disclaimer� Firstly, thanks again for reading. Before that happens on the following pages, here are some practical notes basically just to say that *this* is a relatively quick experiment in turning some of the original posts at http://mikasavela.tumblr.com into a more static format, with all the pros and cons it entails. As for the textual content, some editing has been done, but in terms of grammar, style or spelling, there are probably issues that have just passed through the rather ad hoc creation process of the URBANTUMBLR. But on the other hand, it is a free download, so. As for the photos and images, a genuine effort has been made to use material that would not infringe any known copyright issues at this time. Some photos, images and illustrations are created by the author and all other images are credited. Inquiries: info@mikasavela.com.

Mika Savela Hong Kong 31 August 2013


Aug 25, 2010

Summer was nice. Back to urban now. 10

Jan 3, 2011

Montparnasse 11

Oct 29, 2010

Champs The Swedish fashion giant H&M opened its Paris flagship store at 88 Avenue des Champs Élysées. After being originally banned by the city to prevent further banalisation of the street back in 2007, the store eventully opened in 2010. Designed by French (and famous) architect Jean Nouvel, the press announcement described it having an “exclusive façade and an interior completely inspired by Paris”. I got stuck on the inspiration. For me, Champs Élysées has never really represented Paris. It’s a beautiful boulevard but it it’s just not the Paris I personally like to think of as Paris. So I wonder, how I would then turn my particular Paris into a flagship store if asked to do so. Or, what is Jean Nouvel’s Paris like? Is that really in the façade of this store? Of course, globally speaking, there is a great deal of fine design in some of the more splendid “flagships”. Another thing is, how this era of flagship-building wil be seen in the future. It certainly is a phenomenon, as most of the grand architects of our time are somehow connected to a brand or another. At first, it were the most exclusive brands that started the trend. Now, the prestige of flagship stores, has really trickled down to right about any retailer. In the process, luxury (or even retail in general) has perhaps lost something very delicate. There’s a passage in the book Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster by Dana Thomas, describing her childhood visit to the old Dior’s on 30 Avenue Montaigne. The pearlgray velvet interiors, the white lilies, the sales ladies, the gray gift paper; everything so discreet and special. While the new Dior at the same address is also gray, it’s also very glamorous and shiny. It does lack the refined sensation of the old days and as thus tragically, it’s also less Paris.


A paint swatch of Dior Gray and matching colors by Benjamin Moore & Co.


Jan 10, 2011

Mechanisms I don’t think that urban design or other forces that change the physical urban environment are in essence things that constantly evolve. Behind the forms, there are some intentions, beliefs, fashions and regulations that keep changing with the times. It’s more elemental to recognize the framework of these intentions, or what I like to call urban mechanisms. We tend to develop visions of what life should be like. While the aim is to achieve a pleasant, productive and enjoyable way of living, the same visions also define the potential for different urban mechanisms. In the western world, the current ideal city life is being envisioned around the idea that cities need more open space, you know, for people. So that we can come together and do things. But the programming of space can rarely function on the sole basis of being public or open. Space is desperate for mechanisms. If we see a busy town square, what we really see are overlapping systems of reasons why people are visible. We label the liveliness a positive feature, but mistake it as a mechanism by itself, as most systems cannot be repelicated the way we see them manifest themselves.

A system of salt, soy sauce and sesame in a street restaurant in Tokyo. If all the bottles would be traced over time, we would see them moving around in urban space, randomly combined on random tables, put in storage, put to tables at night, following a schedule of people’s behavior related to eating gyozas and drinking beer. Not so important, but a system nevertheless, and one that manifests itself in physical space. 14

Mar 6, 2011

A “sloth� on the metro train door, Helsinki. 15

Mar 14, 2011

This was a title of an article by Julie Baumgold in the New York Magazine from some 40 years ago. Perhaps it is still a fresh (and also somewhat funny) question in the being organic / downshifting / getting into urban agriculture / digital-to-analog conversations of today.

Can Crunchy Granola Bring New Meaning to City Life? Original article in New York Magazine, 28 Jun 1971. 16

Mar 22, 2011

In an essay “In No Order Whatsoever “, Kevin Lynch wrote a a free-form list of topics related to urbanism for Places journal, before he died in 1984. The list included these titles, among others.

• Lying down in public: is it really sinful? • 1% for art: who the hell cares about public sculpture. • Scorings for public celebrations. • Could street sweeping become a respected trade? • What is this nonsense called post-modernism?

Original article in Places, July 1983 17

Mar 26, 2011


Post Card

new york is killing me new york is in which state new york is famous for new york is overrated new york is not my home new york is in what time zone new york is situated on the river new york is my boyfriend new york is in which country

There’s exists a certain type of aesthetics of portraying some cities and their monuments in postcards. If we know them to be only portrayals, can the same sentiments be rendered by Google? 18

Apr 12, 2011

On Socialist Calculus and the Kalinina Prospekt "South of the prospekt there is a shopping center and four public buildings. The buildings, shaped to resemble open books, rise from a continuous two-storey platform slab – a half mile long building that houses shops, five cafes and the restaurant Arbat for 2000 customers. The northern side of the avenue consists of five apartment towers, each 24-storey high. Between them, as separate buildings, there are two shops: a bakery and an extremely large book store, in addition to the movie theater Oktjabr." Text above is my own translation from the catalog of Contemporary Soviet Architecture, a 1973 exhibition held in the Museum of Finnish Architecture in collaboration with the Soviet Architects’ Union. As such, it’s a rare document, but the reason to write about this text is in its comic bluntness and its spatial expressions of the former Kalinin Avenue (nowadays called New Arbat Avenue) in Moscow. Decades ago, the street was home to many of the urban Soviet fantasies, doubling as a direct route for Kremlin leaders to their countryside residences. It was cut through a living, existing neighborhood in the 1960s, very much in the Cross-Bronxian style of Robert Moses’ best efforts. The result was a glimmering beacon of modern boulevard building. Many of the original buildings and designated functions, like the Kino Oktjabr and its impressive facilities (“roomy hallways” and “the cloak room for 3000 people”) have been now replaced, of course. While these and other numeric specifications of socialist architectural descriptions may seem rather humorous, they say something important about the purpose of it all. The exact amounts of shops, workers, inhabitants and auditorium seats give innocently away the functionalist nature of many Soviet designs and the kind of “correct answer” mentality. The utilitarian meaning of Kalinin Avenue, was to have exactly 960 people working in 13 shops. The meaning of architecture was to contain this socialist calculation, regardless of scale, reason or economic realities. There was clearly no assumption of any criticism to its exhistence, or that something described as “extremely large” could be nothing but a marvellous achievement. But as the previously fixed functions along with their purpose of being are now gone, we can only judge the form, ranking very high in the Soviet-era modernist nostalgia.


Mar 30, 2011

The Evil Modernist Alvar Aalto, the main protagonist of Finnish architecture, mostly has a reputation of being the more gentile, natural and humane figure of modernism. And sure, many of his buildings represent a very different kind of modernism than, for example the glass-and-steel minimalism of Mies or Philip Johnson. And those softer aspects, are the values that have lasted. But as an urban planner, especially towards the end of his career, Aalto wasn’t at all resistant to the hardcore modernism of the times. He did very much propagate car traffic and radical revamping of old European urban space just as much as the next guy. This becomes obvious especially in his winning entry for the master plan of central Helsinki, 1964. A huge plaza called “Terrace Square” hid parking for thousands of cars underneath its deck. A vast new highway, “Avenue of Liberty” was suggested with multiple ramps and intersections. The plan would have resulted in the tearing down of many most surrounding older buildings, simply to make way for a more streamlined network for traffic and purely monumental vision of a city of noble forms. Only a few snippets of the plan were ever built and to this day, the area remains an odd mixture of hollow urban emptiness and national projects, greeting any visitor of the gentle Finnish capital.

Black Helsinki. The × marks the spot for Aalto’s evil plans. 20



Apr 19, 2011

What Fits? In orderly and wealthy (and often quite “northern”) cities, governing officials have often drafted guidelines on what fits in the cityscape. And what doesn’t. The appearance of shop signs might be regulated in some way, things have to be discreet. You shouldn’t paint anything pink. This is not about making things pink, but the more I experience different cities, the more I think that aesthetically speaking, the official viewpoint is somehow wrong. Not always, but usually. And this doesn’t really come from the regulations themselves, but from thinking about the common end-results of these efforts. Often in the end, we are not getting a superior cityscape, merely things that are little bit more universal and neutral, as there is a great fear of letting things go unplanned. But as the aesthetics of the street become limited by strict regulations, streets themselves often also become less nuanced, and for instance more vulnerable to any bad design operating within the limited aesthetical parameters. If the worst or best efforts in design are not allowed, then mediocre and non-innovative quickly becomes the norm. Something that I always think helps to break this path of thinking, is the habit of cutting all kinds of things out of their context. I usually do it in my head, but here, I’ve done so literally, clipping Kitty’s Beauty Studio out of the street front it usually occupies. And, you know, it’s hard to say which version is better. Nobody planned Kitty’s this way separately from its surroundings. It was just Kitty doing her thing. But if we look at the picture more closely, it’s only the canopy that’s pink. The house is old and white. The streetlights are red, but its a tradition in Vancouver Chinatown. The doors and windows are remodeled into normal aluminum frames. Things are actually plain and orderly unplanned, because they are keeping to their “frames”. The chaos (or lack of design) is not going to spread outside the instances where it occurs. Cityscape already has a visual order. That is its tradition and one we should enforce, instead of the one where Kitty has to immediately replace her pink canopy and choose a discreet tone from the official heritage guidelines. She can do it later, when she becomes Dior.



Apr 10, 2011

Viljo Revell (1910-1964) housing in Vaasa, Finland. 24


May 3, 2011

Garden pavilions of the 18th century could in some ways be seen as orientalist fashionable luxury objects. Wealthy people wanted them on their estates. I’ve come to view orientalis pavilions and other such examples of imported exoticism as predecessors to the ideas that came to be visually modern. As the world started to expand, the emergence of different aesthetics paved the way for changing the style in which to build, dress, paint etc. While we can say that these forms have always been there, as it was never any new idea to build a house in the shape of a box, but the foreigness and fun of the folly aesthetics was, however, a visual lesson in seeing forms and shapes without the pretext of a “serious” house. The pavilions here have also something to do with Robert Venturi’s and Denise Scott Brown’s work on symbolism, and with all those sheds, grain elevators and water reservoirs. Especially when they were even originally presented in this way, like a collection, a catalog of forms and typologies, emphasized by the archetypal simplicity of the facades. What’s also interesting, is the painting of Chinese characters directly on the walls, like graffiti, or poetry, just to give you a feeling of something foreign and distant, kind of like those tattoos on Western people that I’ve never really understood.

Chinoiserie garden pavilions from George Louis Le Rouge’s Jardins Anglo-Chinois, 1776 - 1787. 26


May 6, 2011

What’s Up Jane? Jane Jacobs is one the heroes of urbanism. But her activism in mainting the traditional streets, corner shops, parks etc. is occasionally discussed in a more critical light too. I can recognize the downtown Converse-Hermès-Wholefoods creative who is destined susceptible to the Jacobsian, loving the urban diversity of their own gentrified neighborhoods, but not really helping to solve the so called big problems of cities. And I can recognize this in myself as well. But perhaps it’s not so simple. I actually agree with Jacobs’ critics on some things, but I would not say that she has really so much to do with the NIMBYism of the well-off city dwellers. (Maybe that can be said after they will start cookie-cutting and selling Jane Jacobs™ neighborhoods.) I would say that in general people today are questioning the authority of expertise on every level and discipline and pulling the carpets under statistics, experience, medicine and science. Global warming, evolution, health insurance, you name it. And, thanks to Internet, there’s also a greater forum for the debate, politics and activism. The popularity of “nice” urban environments of is getting bigger, just as our Western postwar societies are getting more individually varied. But it certainly was not Jane Jacobs who gave the permission to be subjectively unintellectual and selectively active. I would think she would have thought quite the contrary. I once gave a talk at the planning department of a city where I lived at the time. After the lecture there was a debate on the problems of enlivening cities. While everybody agreed that vibrant urban life is important and should be encouraged, there was also a concensus about the lack of patent proof methods in achieve this in the realm of design or planning. I think exactly this gap between planning-thinking (“we can’t force people to open up cafés and shop in local groceries” vs. “you cannot build apartments there because there’s no parking space”) and the quite simple everyday mechanisms of urban life, has more to do with what Jane Jacobs’ message was ever about. Looking at things where we are now, many of her observations and research (though 28

not deemed very scholarly or critical) have remained reasonably valid. At least to my kind of brains, she did explain cities more than people like Lewis Mumford did. She was among the first to underline their systematic complexity and economy. Most importantly, she also discussed the lives of those who are not well-off in cities, meaning that it is not a prerequisite to be well-off and creative to live in dense confortable cities and walk the streets (while it may now seem that way and which of course globally is not at all true). I do acknowledge that my viewpoint of seeing cities is always more related to a very large scale idea of experiencing urbanity than it is to the nitty-gritty of planning cities. However, I still feel that many of the people who are actually planning the large scale and outlining the future of (well, our) cities, aren’t that much more capable of seeing what the reality of cities is like, or will be like in the future. That’s why it’s not surprising that ordinary people might then lack the expertise, and be unable to see beyond their own back yards. It is not their fault that their operating frame, the city, is a troublesome entity.


May 10, 2011

”The street fakirs and venders in Paris are given the freedom of the boulevards in a way that would scandalize an American police department, and hold such a place in the hearts of the people that were they not there, the streets would take on a less interesting aspect. A police officer never once dreams of disturbing them in their sales, even though pedestrians are often obliged to step out on the street to pass.” Parisian street life described in 1909, when the Haussmannian boulevards of Paris were still something quite new, as their busy nature caught the attention of an American observer. It was the wide, walkable streets with pavements that became a stage for modern urban citizens. The notion that something leisurely or public could even happen in the streets was worth writing about.

“Street Life in Paris”, Popular Mechanics, September 1909. 30

May 10, 2011

So, even by a conservative view, in the years just ahead we are to witness dramatic changes on the urban scene. Something new is bound to come, simply to give people the places they need to live. And it is likely that new cities will rise in our land and that our children will live in them. But so far nobody has heard their names.

“How New Cities Remake America� in Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, May 1970. 31

May 11, 2011

A Yuri Gagarin display in the street, Helsinki. 32

May 13, 2011


Jun 29, 2011

Heligoland Heligoland (German: Helgoland) consists of two small islands in the North Sea with a glamorous and colorful history. On June 26th 2011, the population of some 1,200 people voted against plans for connecting the islands by reclaiming land and building luxury hotels and tourism infrastructure on the sandy landfill. The idea, though seemingly a typical nature-spoiling property development plan, was not entirely without grounds, as the the islands were a popular seaside holiday resort for wealthy Germans in the early 1800s. And in fact, the two islands were connected by a landstrip, eventually broken by a storm flood in 1721. I get strangely emotional about any isolated, futureless, declining, formerly bourgeois holiday resorts. In so many of them that I’ve visited, the palpable atmosphere of bygone dreams seems to override the perception of the much uglier and watered-down reality of today.

Many faux-colored images from the Library of Congress archives, show Heligoland as the romaticized 19th century seaside spa it once was. 34

Sep 26, 2011

Tala Tank The Crystal Palace lives on as the kind of fairytale pavilion of modernity. Certainly, this is due to the many surviving tales and descriptions in the Western literature and popular culture. On the other hand, because of this, “Crystal Palace” has in some ways become a general term for its kind, making it a difficult to link other buildings into the charted experience of modernism, without them somehow being linked to the original. But then again, unlike the Crystal Palace, some of these early modern megastructures are still here today, as the last surviving fairytales. The Tala tank in Kolkata was built during 1909-11 by Clayton Son & Company of Leeds, England and it has been in everyday use ever since, without interruptions. The tank holds some nine million gallons of water, elevated on 110 ft tall (33 m) galvanized iron stilts. The steel grid pillars are mounted on a massive concrete bed and have extra high load-bearing capacity and structural flexibility to counter the effects of possible earthquakes. The tank remains a rather quiet achievement of civil engineering. According to a Kolkata-based newspaper, The Telegraph, the centenary celebrations held on November 26, 2009 were a fairly low-key event, although “a souvenir” was also released on the occasion.

An illustration of the newly finished Tala water tank in Popular Mechanics, August 1911. 35

May 14, 2011

A plaza. A place? 36

May 25, 2011

Sountrack: Mattafix “This is a realization I’ve had before. But I’ll write it here too. Everything I know about cities, I have learned. I was born more or less in the woodsey and lakey suburbia. I played in the forests, not in the streets or parks. No one in my family is really city-born. So when I moved to the city, it really felt like something, big. And it was awkward, not knowing really how to… go to a café, what to order for a drink, buy flowers or pick out nice olives from a deli. Not knowing how to behave slightly arrogantly, where to park your bike, hold on to your wallet, walk coolly past trouble at night, call taxis. Or just be at peace with all that. Not seeing cities filled with only fake qualities and problems. And, this wasn’t even New York, just somewhere around North Pole, where finding an olive deli is actually quite hard. But I’ve learned things from this. I do envy city people, because they know how to do stuff. And they do it naturally, like the 90-year-old ladies who only buy pastries, cigarettes and cat food. I still have to try to discover how they do it. What is the system? Oh, you stand in this line, oh, you ask for bread here, oh, you pay there. How do they do it around here? I’ve learned to ask that question everywhere.”


Jul 15, 2011

Inside a miniature “Unité” in Espoo, Finland, architect Osmo Lappo, 1963. 38



Aug 29, 2011

The (New) Plaza, San Juan, Puerto Rico.



Aug 29, 2011

(The Killer Whales of) Erie Canal at Salina Street, Syracuse.


Aug 30, 2011

All The Modern, Lonely People I recently read an old article by Linda Wolfe about urban loneliness and the “erosion of a traditional friendship in the urban environment” in a copy of New York Magazine from 1983. I suppose, at the time the post-modern yuppie-life was nearing its peak and big cities were considered to be those few cities where they published Vogue. I find the urban loneliness issue interesting, because it has so many, partly contradictory aspects (and let’s not even add social networks into this). For one, the fear of loneliness was not visible in any of the modern urban utopias. Le Corbusier never worried about possible loneliness in his towering housing machines. People were to remain socially content in shopping malls and automated highways, and meet their friends at each other’s graceful apartments. The public social interactions of the old street and the markets were seen as messy and unnecessary. Unplanned cities were marked as the cause of dirt, delinquency and disorder. On the other hand, it is (and probably always was) the anonymity and chance to live your life, that has partly donated to the cause why people are moving in cities. Urban individuality has its allure. Then again, it was exactly the breakout ideas of those who were lured into cities to live their lives that eventually became enterprises and jobs, the reasons for moving into cities. And sure, in the western world, urbanization has resulted in the breaking of the old, more rural social networks. But the reasons for moving into cities, have not disappeared. As the world now stands more urban than ever before, more shopping-mall studded, more highway equipped and more apartment blocked, you could ask if people as a result are more lonely? One of my main lines of thinking, has been that in a way, the world is becoming culturally more modern all the time. And to a certain point, this modernization follows the pattern of our western concept of the modern everything. So, are the migrating, slum-living or working class people in growing global cities more social than the growing numbers of middle-class families flocking the new shopping malls? Will the developing economies only too soon discover the lonely, meaningless life of the modern individual? Or, are the old social structures not breaking in the same way as they once did in the west? To some extent, we could blame cities for alienating people from each other, from nature, food, production – the olde and authentic life. Meeting someone today, requires 44

electronic effort. Not getting your daily needs in your neighborhood, requires time and effort. Moving around in big cities takes time. Then again, it is exactly in cities, where people can demonstrate their will, create scenes, genres, cultures and platforms. What is the scene of city life today, here and elsewhere?


Sep 12, 2011

The Unwilling Symbols of Loss There is something similar in how we often describe the world becoming different place after the 9/11, and how the world also became different, for example when the Berlin wall went down. The two structures are by no means comparable, except for them both becoming symbols of loss after their destruction. In 1989 the world watched in glee as the wall came down. It was end of an era of totalitarian terror. In 2001, the world saw a beginning of an age, where the word terror would become part of the daily news feed. In the early days of the dismantling of the Berlin wall, it was customary for people to cheer when they saw pieces of the wall being trucked away. After a while, as the wall was swiftly disappearing, many people also voiced their concerns of a complete void forming over the past memories of the wall. While difficult to have around, the wall and its physical existence was by no means insignificant. It had become a symbol of remembering. Not forgetting. From the very beginning, The World Trade Center had a history of controversies. In 1969, it was described as one of the New York Port Authority’s chief instrument in strangling New York. In 1987, it was listed as one of the top 5 buildings New Yorkers loved to hate, with its two towers described as “the Scylla and Charybdis of lower Manhattan”. Becoming a symbol of loss, is an unwillful, non-planned process. But what has been planned with intentions, cannot really be taken away afterwards. It’s a difficult equation but we have to see these symbols as what they once were, what they have come to represent, and what they continue to become.


Potsdamer Platz, November 1975. Photo by Edward Valachovic.


Sep 22, 2011

Modernized Japanese woodcut. Original by AndĹ?, Hiroshige (1797-1858) 48

Oct 27, 2011

In the globalized world, whenever there is a market for something, that market will develop regardless of how strange it might look. Like these Chinese made Arab figures, perhaps made for scale modeling needs in the Gulf Region, to be spread around public urban places, creating a pleasant sense of liveliness in the midst of world’s tallest buildings. 49

Oct 26, 2011

Silly Cities I have to confess I’m very ambivalent towards smart cities. Truthfully, often when I see stuff labeled as “smart”, I find myself moving on to the next thing. I have smart issues. As a result, I probably lack some vital information about what smartness really is in order to talk about it, but there are also reasons why I at least try to be careful with buzzwords, especially when it comes to cities. If you describe something, such as a washing machine smart, it most likely possesses an intelligent feature. As much as I love laundries, I can’t see that in the grand scheme of things the act of washing laundry has become smarter through fuzzy logic. And to go further, what would really smart laundry ultimately mean? Ubiquitous traceable identity tags for different garments and automated global timezone-coordinated off-shore laundering. Or, should clothes be 3D-printed daily at home, or on our bodies, out of recycled bio-plastics, discarded and milled afterwards to refill the printing cartridges? Or, should we just buy fewer, durable, well-made clothes, and use the laundry and dry cleaning around the corner in order to support the local businesses? One of the reasons I find it so hard to see especially cities as smart, is that I don’t see them having just some qualities. I seem them having all of them. Actually, cities are always more silly than they are smart. Culturally cities might the great success story of our civilization, but they are not victories of great planning intentions. Throughout the urban history there have been efforts in restricting cities into simplified systems, which yet again in the grand scheme of things, have not changed things necessarily for the better, or made them simpler. Though, as for the policy-making or governing cities, there are of course ways of making things better by doing them in more technologically advanced or simpler ways. These ways might be marketed, advocated, lobbied and some of them are put to use. The real questions are: what is needed to enable and sustain the smart and how smart that really is? Could we also evaluate the smartness of historical urbanisms? In hindsight, was it really that smart to build boulevards on top of a structurally medieval, dark and diseased Paris? Was it smart to build colonial cities? Was it smart to become modern? When is it smart to demolish an old building in order to build a new one? 50

These questions show that defining smart becomes more difficult as the historical context widens. Though smart systems can and should be developed, we should evaluate what problems they are solving, and if those problems in the long run, should even exist. In the end, for instance, shopping may not be smart, but it’s satisfyingly popular. Can everything become smart? Many cities have persisted throughout centuries, shifting back and forth in terms of happiness, quality of life, and wealth. And, many urban environments have been sustainable, long before it became an argument. To suggest that we should strive towards smart cities, gives the notion that we are currently doing stupid things or that our cities should change because they are not yet smart. And in many ways, we certainly are doing stupidities. But it might be equally stupid to declare that a certain smart city exists, to declare that by 2020, 2050 or 2200, we will be smarter, if we reach goals we have set now, perhaps defined and developed by the smartness industry. Cities contain both simple and elaborate things. We are continuously living with them regardless of whether they are useful or smart. We are silly. It would be impossible to streamline our everyday existence into the smartest possible state, unless we are also explicit on how we value the content of our lives.


Nov 13, 2011 space space in space space in space in space

Space - a determined activated region in indefinite threedimensionality. Threedimensionality does not necessarily create space. Threedimensionality not necessarily is space. A single point, line and plane can determine space. A single point line and plane (twodimensional theoretical) can determine space. A phenomenon of the third dimension. Within the void of the threedimensionality I define space, a matter of the forth dimension. The means? Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. Mass, color, light. Textures, lines, focuses. The means: Spaceradiation.

Spaceradiation. A „thing“ radiating space - Spaceradiator Spaceradiator - Spacedeterminator „thing“ denotes approximately what is expressed exactly by the german word GEBILDE.

Architecture the creation of space by the means of building. Hence - architecture - the building of spacedeterminators - elements radiating space.

The means of architecture - the means of building: Digging. Piling up. Forming. Of what? Everything! There are no specific building materials, nor architectural ones.

A tree A rock in a desert A cloud over the great plains Space comes into being. Natural space. Spaceradiators of nature, The habitation of the gods. The ghosts of the wood, the sacred grove. The Olymp, the Fuji, the Kailas, the Navajo Mountain. Focal points. Ruling over the land of their worshippers. But a limited rule. Static. Farther goes the cloud. And Thor governs with thunder and lightining. Dynamic. The sun and the moon. Infinite presence. Infinite control.

Excerpt from PLASTIC SPACE (1960) by Hans Hollein. Thesis submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture, College of environmental design in the graduate division of the University of California, Berkeley 52

Dec 13, 2011

Trends in South Harbour

Possible but inlikely design-induced reactions of the Helsinki South Harbor competition results. 53

Feb 7, 2012

Laundry Modernism I guess laundry, as any other household work, has been included in the modern design agenda from the beginning. Though, in the early days, the grand modern villas were equipped with industrial size sunlit spaces for the domestic chores, which were then carried out by the domestic help. But gradually as the modern apartment living started to happen, careful measurements were taken of the average European housewives, efficiencies calculated, ergonomic standards applied in order for the nuclear era families to lead their new, clean swept, detergent fresh lives. But I guess somewhere along the way, the modern plan for living, simply became a utopia for the actual reality of housework. Especially in the more subtropical climates, apartment living people were left alone with the problem of getting their laundry washed, and above all, dried. The architecture of functions didn’t really provide good solutions for the laborious aspects of domestic life. It was perhaps thought that like every other housework, the tedious act of washing clothes was soon to be history anyway.

Hong Kong laundry. A view from my desk to the opposite building. 54


Laundry room (L) in the ground floor of Villa Savoye.

Now, as I write this, I look out from the window and I see other people’s clothes hanging on a rather DIY-looking clothes rack, on the roof terrace of the opposite building. And when I look up, I see multiple bunches of clothing hanging outside the umpteenth floor windows of a modern apartment building. From my kitchen, I can see the kitchen windows below me, being used as an opening for putting clothes out to dry with a long hook. Everywhere I look, I can see laundry, hanging, as little faded pastel colored spots in the image of the city. And I suppose the view as such, was not really what the modern life was envisioned to look like, though the picturesque urban clothesline does perhaps appear in some of Corbu’s sketches. In a way, the necessity of laundry overrules any design rules. Laundry is pushed out from the doors and win-dows, into the urban space. Sometimes it even seems that the number of design solutions for drying your clothes exceeds the design solutions for actual apartments. And it’s not just the actual clothes but also an entire range of gadgets they hang from, which are still there, even when the clothes are taken away. 55

Especially for the modern Asian consumer, doing laundry and organizing the small home accordingly has really become a discipline of its own. In the middle of all kinds of portable washing machines, hangers, hooks and pins, there is a call for modern order. The Japanese “no-name� department store MUJI, shows example for people to make best use of their tiny domestic spaces with simple, natural, wooden and white design solutions. Remedies for the chaos of real-life households. And there you have it. The arch enemy of modernity: chaos.

Modulized order for Asian homes.

There is also something about the urban presence of laundry that is related to poverty, to places where modern progress has not yet cleared up the chaotic streets, places where people still have to hang their clothes outside. Though, in the urban imagery, this is often romanticized, think Sicily, old New York, working class Manchester, or the early 20th century Chinatowns of the world. However, the low-wage, hard work aspect of laundry has not been eradicated by modern day washing machines. Take a luxury hotel in Dubai, Shanghai, Paris or Berlin and follow the chain of events, leading to the forever white sheets and towels. 56

A clip from Popular Mechanics, December 1911.

I think somewhere in this equation, lies the ultimate question. Is it really too much, in the modern tropical life, to expect super fluffy towels to stay dry, all air-conditioned and freshly scented? Personally, I would say there’s al-ways some room for the non-modern ways of making things orderly as well.

Public laundry in St. Brigida, Genoa, Italy around 1890-1900 57

Jan 7, 2012

Reflections on Shanghai Street. 58

Feb 12, 2012

Freeways. 59

Mar 11, 2012

Monkey King 孫悟空 appeared on home street at night.


May 27, 2012

“Utility in Architecture” by Barr Ferree, Popular Science, June 1890.

“No greater harm is done to the true advancement of architecture than this insistence that exterior effect is the sole end to be desired. More than any other cause it has operated to depress the art, and helped to make people question the utility of entrusting their interests to the architects. It has spread abroad the impression that these gentlemen, who might be very useful, are unnecessary luxuries, and that a much more comfortable dwelling can be built by indicating one’s own desires and following one’s own suggestions and views as to convenience, than by paying large sums for ‘pretty’ façades that very likely conceal more discomfort and dissatisfaction than the most vivid imagination can conceive of in a twelvemonth.” 61

Jun 8, 2012



Jun 17, 2012

Siberia in Google Maps.



Aug 17, 2012


Aug 26, 2012

A ghost building.


Aug 27, 2012

Sharing Architecture As the Venice Architecture Biennale has now kicked off, it seems every website and social media feed is filled with images and brief glimpses of the big show. Somehow David Chipperfield’s chosen theme, “Common Ground”, feels absolutely true as so many people who are in Venice, also share all kinds of content directly from Venice. The experience of the biennale is becoming common knowledge. What’s interesting, is that even many national exhibitions have a strong presence on Facebook, instead of a designated (and often overtly “designed”) website. It feels odd to say this, but it really seems that the visual, written and talked about parts of architecture, are becoming a shared experience because of the Internet, just like so many other things have become today. And it’s certainly something that my teachers in architecture school back in the day, for instance, would not have been able to predict. At that time La Biennale still used to be distant destination, where serious panels, posters and scale models where shipped to, and where the more cultured and well-off architects made occasional trips, possibly writing a small story to a local architects association newsletter. Now, it seems the online content is already a part of the experience and the momentum. For architecture, of course, there is a world outside the biennials. I think this is a differentiating factor, compared to let’s say, publishing. Magazines have turned partly digital, but buildings, their construction process and its management are mostly still laborious and quite analogue tasks (though, who knows for how long). At the same time, today there exists another world of architecture, available to anyone with web access. Architecture is talked about, liked, and re-blogged. Architecture is published, shared and visualized in ways that are far more accessible than ever before. And in most parts, I would think this is all for the good, though I do understand the irony of writing about it here. However, partly, the culture of “having architecture around” has changed because of this. Ideas move around so fast that the imagery we are basing our critical judgment on, stays on our screens merely for a few swipes. Partly, the culture of architecture has become a presence of happenings, leaflets and posters. Everything is being re-defined, re-looked at, re-constructed. But then again, as I’m often inclined to turn to history when it comes to the topic of future, architecture surely has had a past filled with radical pamphlets and manifestos, too. 68

Still, I would argue that this part of architecture – the part where I’m writing and you are reading – is similar to the website culture of today. There really are no more cool web sites. The coolest web presence is to be shared and followed by many, and hopefully by your peers. We are all engaged in architecture in a way that did not exist a few years ago. And in this way, the scene of architecture truly has become a more common ground.

Post-cards from Estonia’s National Exhibition “How Long is the Life of a Building” at the Venice Biennale, 2012. Graphic design by Aadam Kaarma. 69

Oct 9, 2012

Cascade. 70

Oct 20, 2012

A Pizza Hut “by” Zaha Hadid. Guangzhou, China. 71

Nov 3, 2012

The Sticker Plan ”The ‘Great City’ is effectively an entirely new municipality, designed as one whole instead of the chaotic and environmentally inefficient alternative of urban sprawl. The designers — Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, based in Chicago — have marked out a 1.3km2 circle surrounded by 1.9km2 of farmland and parks, where residents won’t need cars because everything is within a 15-minute walk of the city centre. If the model is successful, the Great City will be copied on the edges of China’s other megalopolises and their populations continue to boom – putting pressure on housing, infrastructure and the environment.” Ian Steadman “Chengdu plans a prototype ‘Great City’ as a model for China’s suburbs” The Wired, 12 October 2012.

A faded sticker in Aberdeen harbour (Hong Kong) found almost on the same day as reading about the city plan. I then placed the sticker on top of more rural landscape in Chengdu. 72


Nov 29, 2012

Into the Stepfordian During certain periods of the day, the fountain is turned off and visitors are invited to walk around a mini fountain at the centre of the fountain’s base to collect coins for good luck. At night, the fountain is the setting for laser performances, as well as live song and laser message dedications between 8pm to 9pm daily. It is situated in such a way the fountain is the hub of the shopping mall. – The Fountain of Wealth in Suntec City, Singapore. Wikipedia Bloomberg recently (20 Nov 2012) reported Singapore being the most emotionally “empty” nation. The report quotes residents saying they feel uncomfortable when trying to express what they feel or think, if they actually feel anything at all. And that’s kind of bad, isn’t it? It’s not the first time Singapore has attracted similar attention. I remember a Singaporean professor speaking at an urban planning conference earlier this year about building the city into a perfect machine, where every small part serves a function and where every screw has its place. And I remember thinking at that point: well, that’s a slightly cruel description of a city… or of any society. The recent poll of course eerily resonates with the infamous 1993 Wired Magazine article Disneyland with the Death Penalty by William Gibson, as well as the 1995 book S,M,L,XL by Bruce Mau and Rem Koolhaas, as well as the critiques and counter critiques that have followed. While the reality is always more diverse than what is written in essays, what remains perhaps hauntingly accurate in these texts is the fact that Singapore is a result of holistic planning efforts, aiming for an idealized perfect life. And therefore, the now reported “emotional deficit” would seem to suggest that the plans have not worked out. But, doesn’t this sound somehow familiar? Isn’t this the way we still look at the ideal life in modern urban planning, where the underlying tone is about making things orderly, clean and smooth-running. So, why then, would people want to maim each other along the Wisteria Lane? While the satirical portrayals of suburban perfection on TV might be similarly pointy as critical essays, in the official urban planning and policy making, we still aim for what could be called “poll-perfection”. We are mostly planning according to the image peo74

ple are willing to display of themselves publicly, with their private opinions and lives excluded. In urban planning, there are no seedy bars, no back alleys, no nocturnal oblivion to lose oneself into – at least in the poetic sense. It seems that the idea of organizing life in modern architecture, is something that has followed us for a long time. But in the urban scale, however, we are still perplexed about the incompatibility of systematic plans and the messiness of life. Because it really seems that Le Corbusier’s old hatred towards the street, is still being projected on cities.

Map of Wisteria Lane (Colonial Street) from Desperate Housewives season 1, by Matthew Edwards. 75

Dec 8, 2012

Everyday Savoye In our work as architects, designers and planners, in essence, we create scenarios for life. Within their designs, all kinds of versions of the “everyday” are expected to happen in due time. And this notion is something I cannot seem to escape. I’m interested in predicting what happens in reality, as people interact with the aesthetically masterminded framework of design. Something similar, but happening in reverse, you might see in the photos of Jürgen Tillmans, for instance. But I’m imagining realities. Often, as an architect, you’re not supposed to go to the everyday-everyday. Not really. You’re supposed to stay in the clean side of everyday. So, I only imagine a life inside modern architecture, like Villa Savoye. You could wander in their house. You see unwashed dishes. You see Ikea curtains and bathroom rugs. You see an ironing board and a the most general supermarket selection of shower gels. And you might ask: well they doing justice to the architecture? Why can’t these people live their lives the way they were meant to? These questions you can ask almost everywhere you go. And slowly, but unsurprisingly, you will understand that it is usually the wrong question.

Scenes of imaginary everyday life in Villa Savoye. 76


Dec 8, 2012

Dolmabahçe One of my favourite historical subjects relating to the aches of becoming modern, is the Ottoman Empire. Although I won’t claim any expertise on the vast subject of Ottoman history, I’ve picked some pieces along the way. First of all, there is a huge lump of nostalgia in the struggles of an archaic system, trying to modernize itself according to a outside model, namely Europe in this case. Let’s imagine a country in the late 19th century Europe (or at least its Oriental edge) where the monarch still lived in a cold stony castle, when all the other statesmen of other countries held banquets and already had windows, central heating and indoor lighting. It was the desire to become modern that made the Ottoman sultan Abdülmecid I (1823-1861) willing to finally leave the Topkapı palace, the centuries old center of Ottoman power, and to commission the building of an opulent new Western-style palace, Dolmabahçe (1843-1856). While the Ottoman state was facing serious financial problems, no expenses were spared in the exuberant concoction of Baroque and Empire architectural styles and Turkish ornamental motifs. Gas lighting was installed – at the time, the very height of modern technology. Later, other sultans added bits and pieces to the massive palace. Interestingly, it was also the site of Dolmabahçe that was telling of the change of times. The new palace was built in the urban shores of the newer and more regulated part of the city. Its gardens were separated from the public streets by iron gates, not by placing a castle on the top of a hill. I remember visiting Dolmabahçe some years ago. It was the last tour of the day, and the place was fairly empty. Although the halls and stairways are filled to capacity with crystals and gold, there was something about the palace that made it seem like the dying empire’s last lair. The world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier at the center hall seemed to echo the royal receptions, where finest cutlery was set on tables, the latest fashions worn, the party was still on, but everyone must have known it would all be coming to an end.


Fig. 3 Dolmabahรงe as the modern tool.






Jan 4, 2013

Speed of the Beholder Perhaps it’s the most common phenomenon these days, but I seem to take more photos with my phone than with my camera. This possibly makes the pictures less usable in the traditional sense, but I also like the aesthetics produced by the limitations of the phone at times. Taking photos of buildings from a moving train, car or bus is one of these cases. Somehow the optics and sensors of the phone aren’t really fast enough to capture the speed of the movement. The results are perfectly crooked. But the photos also remind me of the different speeds we move across places. These images are “impossible” as they have captured a tilted version of the world, quite unlike the walkable reality we are, after all, naturally suited to.

Suburban Lisbon, 2011. 80

Mar 5, 2013


Mar 13, 2013

Elista The Google Street View is quickly expanding to cities we might not have heard of that often. That’s not to say some wouldn’t know Elista, a city in the Republic of Kalmykia, the only Buddhist region in Europe. Having a navigable network of street imagery reaching areas with lesser recognition is suprisingly democratic. But with so many smaller cities in Eastern Europe and Russia now becoming viewable online, it’s curious what exactly are we seeing in them. For instance, some cities in Russia remained closed during the Soviet era so there are no old postcards or nostalgic views. It’s as if the city becomes viewable for the first time. Some of the unknown streets are simply strange and suburban, some beautiful, most are in various stages of development. What’s also curious about some of these cities, like Elista, is that although the cameras of Street View have recorded the city, there is essentially no street map – as if previously the city didn’t even exist to the internet or the global mapping. But suddenly, something beyond the map becomes freely available. Suddenly a market stall on an unpaved road in Kalmykia becomes part of the global catalog of streets.


Dalai Lama and the Chess City in Elista, Kalmykia, a Buddhist region in Russia. Photo by GAO Jialing, 2009. 83

May 30, 2013

On Drifting “While being a certain kind of an urban cliche, the Debordean urban drift has something to it. And this is a small take on what it might be. For my initial thoughts about doing a dérive in Hong Kong were mixed, because in some ways, I feel like I have been drifting around the city for a year and a half now (and done so in many other cities too). But after three days of consciously doing it, I could say there is a difference between walking around and drifting. There exists a mode your brain can go into. It’s about observing and perceiving, but with a strange notion that you are not entirely there and being out of touch. And what I’ve noticed is that after getting into it, the mode is a little hard to turn off. I think it is our nature to adapt to environments (physical, social etc.), so that we become unaware of the strangeness or otherness of our own lives. This is always easy to experience when moving to a completely new and foreign environment. It takes you a while to understand that people are living a normal life everywhere around you. And for me, it has been interesting to find my own brain normalizing things so fast here in Hong Kong. I also think this adaptation becomes easier each time you are exposed to it, even to the extent where you think you are becoming good at understanding different places. But to me, this is what dérives are really about. They can rewire the sensation of normal, and question your level of understanding. At the same time, there’s really nothing special about them. It’s just drifting. After two non-drift days, I’m now sliding back into the normal mode again. But the two days before this, even without thinking about it, I’ve been very off and noticing things without trying. It has been a little upsetting, as you feel you’re not entirely yourself, as your brain keeps recording things on its own. It’s upsetting, but an interesting insight to what really goes on in our heads, and how our brains are cocooning us to a more comprehensible and familiar realms. I don’t know if I really like the feeling of uncertainty, or unbalance. But at least drifting is one way of getting there and noticing things, again. And for an urbanist, architect, etc., these observations on normality are crucial. They offer glimpses to the magic of everyday life we are often trying to suggest newly designed or renewed urban environments would be able to contain – and what they often fail to do completely.”


Classical music sheets in a suburban public library, Sha Tin, Hong Kong.


Jun 7, 2013

The Meaning of Tag I recently shopped at a big Japanese clothing retailer. A tag was attached to the clothes. Usually it’s something you throw away, but instead I kept it. I couldn’t ignore what it said: Made from material developed by <a company> in Japan’s Bingo region, a world-renowned manufacturer of top-quality denim. Special attention has been paid to the appearance of the finished fabric, by using uneven yarn and an innovative dyeing process. In the corner, with very small letters it read where the actual piece of clothing was made. I felt perplexed, as the small carton tag was seemingly blatantly frank about the realities of global fashion retailing. In a sense, it stated that an innovation had happened and some high-level creative attention had been paid in a place called Bingo. But then, it kind of suggested that after the innovation and special attention, it was produced in place without those qualities. The culture of innovation and trends around denim in Japan has a certain look. It’s a carefully crafted history of indigo and cotton, manufacturing and (sometimes fabled) tradition, and something one can be fascinated with. But the clothes tag reminded me of the real question: where is the innovation and special attention to producing cotton or manufacturing clothes in, say, Bangladesh? Whenever they mention the factory collapses on Twitter or the news, it’s all about the shocking imagery and, not about design innovation. And shocked we may be by the misconducts in the global production chains, but at the same time, the same retailers producing in the hazardous factories also participate charitable projects. Would this be that form of innovation? The big Japanese clothing retailer has an ad: “Purchase an app, contribute to the society.” In a model of producing something for 2 dollars, using 1 dollar for a good cause, thus selling the product with a dollar. After all the charitable efforts, we acknowledge the inequality, but then offset the balance with buying apps, while still getting the clothes produced cheaply. I suppose it is a form of creative effort. But instead, how could we re-design the tag? Or the production? How about another take on the retail model? Imagine a fast fashion giant having 10x the prices, with the cotton and garment workers being paid directly in proportion. Would that mean that we couldn’t afford the clothes anymore? Would the 86

large chains have to sell smaller quantities? Would that mean we wouldn’t need shopping malls? Would that mean we would try and find smaller production models? Would that mean that displaying “normal” prices in the ads would become pointless? Would that mean something for our cities?


Jun 12, 2013

Jujol Josep María Jujol (1879-1949) was a Catalan architect and designer who only left his country once – to visit Italy at the tender age of 49 with his fiance. He’s probably most famous for working with Antoni Gaudí, but his own work has that kind of cool etsy’ness, something that comes from your own originality, regardless of how traveled, international or connected you are. And it’s something different from being quirky for the sake of quirkiness.

Abstraction of a wall decoration in Casa Negre (1915-1926). 88

Jun 13, 2013

â&#x20AC;&#x153;Houston, a Texas roseâ&#x20AC;? Cover illustration for the Rotarian, June 1913. 89

Jun 11, 2013

INFLATION exhibition. West Kowloon. 90


June 16, 2013

‫هييزوبروك ول‬ The (NSA prone) title reads “Le Corbusier” in Arabic script. These are images from a book by Dr. Mohamed Hammad, published in Cairo in 1966. I was kind of captivated by the book’s visuals, well, firstly because I like this particular faded archival print aesthetics but secondly, because it got me thinking about the representation and the experience of otherness in architecture and modernity. Here, the print quality and the language makes Le Corbusier’s work foreign to the modern western eyes. Matte instead of glossy. Arabic instead of French. And the funny thing is that as a visual representation, it becomes more “Mediterranean” and “archaic”. White houses on the rocks seem much more attached both to the Southern vernacular and the tectonics and plasticity of ancient ruins – freshly excavated and displayed in the end of 19th century – than the workings of a Swiss architect. For me, this theme of compatibility (and incompatibility) of a Mediterranean villa or village, juxtaposed to the modern city as a machine has always been interesting to try and understand. The development from the early modern white house to platforms of car traffic and housing towers seems both natural and unnatural at the same time. The linkage between the oriental, Southern, other and Le Corbusier became perhaps more interesting when the travelogue Voyage d’Orient was posthumously published, also, in 1966. The book charts and reveals his fascination with forms, spaces and natural physical settings found inside the chaos of Constantinople in 1915, for example. It also reveals his inability to engage with the street life – something that is also made obvious with his later sketches of vistas to the city from private balconies instead of public spaces. Published within the context of a Middle-Eastern city, in Arabic, in an era of highspeed modernization, Dr. Hammad’s book adds a complicated layer to the story by showcasing Le Corbusier as an architectural representation to a non-Western audience, thus somehow closing a circle of references.


Pages from Le Corbusier (1966) by Dr. Mohamed Hammad 93

Jun 18, 2013

Suburbia, Unintended These images are details from a 1950 prefab home brochure. Similar catalogs were of course popular in the era, but the illustrations here have a strange cinematic suburban vibe, with a certain lack of happiness, an unintended a sentiment from Mad Men, a Sofia Coppola film or a Lana Del Rey song. The women and girls in the strangely vacated lawns and streets contribute more to the idea of their lives being empty and hollow, instead of what should in the 1950s marketing spirit be some form of rejoice over the all new dream homes, kitchens and gardens.

The new look in homes for 1950 by the Aladin Co. 94

Jun 28, 2013

The Museum of Finnish Architecture. 95

Jul 13, 2013


Jul 18, 2013


List of Images and Illustrations

Page 13: Paint swatch by Benjamin Moore Co. http://www.benjaminmoore.com/en-us/paint-color/diorgray Page 27: Illustrations of chinoiserie garden pavilions from George Louis Le Rouge’s Jardins Anglo-Chinois (1776 - 1787). Page 30: Photos from “Street Life in Paris”, Popular Mechanics, September 1909. Page 24: Image from the Library of Congress archive http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002713849/ Page 25: An illustration of the newly finished Tala water tank in Popular Mechanics, August 1911. Pages 40-41: Illustration based on an original photo from Beinecke digital archives: http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3434823 Pages 42-43: Illustration based on an original photo from Beinecke digital archives: http://brbl-dl.library.yale.edu/vufind/Record/3434629 Page 47: Potsdamer Platz, November 1975, photo by Edward Valachovic. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlin_Wall_Potsdamer_Platz_November_1975_looking_east. jpg Page 48: Modernized Japanese woodcut. Original by Andō, Hiroshige (1797-1858) http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/jpd/item/2004666334/ Page 49: “Arab” scale model figures. Guangzhou Limei Craft Firm http://lmmodel.en.ec21.com/Model_Figure--4318691.html Page 52: The text is available at: http://www.hollein.com/ger/Schriften/Texte/Plastic-Space Page 46: A clip from Popular Mechanics, December 1911. Page 57: Public laundry in St. Brigida, Genoa, Italy around 1890-1900 http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2001700858/ Pages 62-63: Image from Google Maps Page 69: Post-cards from Estonia’s National Exhibition “How Long is the Life of a Building” at the Venice Biennale, 2012. Graphic design by Aadam Kaarma. https://www.facebook.com/HowLongIsTheLifeOfABuilding/ Page 75: Map of Wisteria Lane (Colonial Street) from Desperate Housewives season 1, by Matthew Edwards. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Wisteria_Lane_map,_season_1.svg Page 83: Dalai Lama and the Chess City in Elista. Photo by GAO Jialing, 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/File:City_Chess_Elista_Kalmykia.jpg Page 89: “Houston, a Texas rose” Cover illustration for the Rotarian, June 1913. 98

Page 93: Pages from Le Corbusier (1966) by Dr. Mohamed Hammad http://openlibrary.org/books/OL25421277M/Le_Corbusier Page 94: The new look in homes for 1950 by the Aladin Co. http://archive.org/details/TheNewLookInHomesFor1950 --Photos by author: Pages: 10, 11, 14, 15, 24, 25, 32, 36, 38, 39, 45, 54, 58, 59, 60, 66, 67, 71, 72, 80, 81, 85, 87, 90, 91, 96, 97 Illustrations by author: Pages: 5, 7, 18, 21, 23, 33, 53, 55, 56, 63, 70, 73, 77, 79, 88, 95



“It was never my intention to start a veritable urbanism blog with a domain name, nor was I aiming for a “curated magazine” kind of a project, like Flipbook or similar mobile apps are now enabling and encouraging us to do. I was simply posting, sometimes with more rigor, sometimes less. But as I continued to post, I did begin to wonder what happened next, if anything? Would I continue posting indefinitely?”

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URBANTUMBLR – A collection of post-posts / A pseudoblog as practice  

URBANTUMBLR is a collection of notes on cities, their history, present, margins, culture and the modern urbanity. Based on original posts a...

URBANTUMBLR – A collection of post-posts / A pseudoblog as practice  

URBANTUMBLR is a collection of notes on cities, their history, present, margins, culture and the modern urbanity. Based on original posts a...