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ON SITE r e v i e w architecture urbanism design infrastructure culture construction

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number 32 fall 2014

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32 CAN/USA $14

display until May 2015


Juhani Pallasmaa Encounters: Architectural Essays Helsinki: Rakennustieto Publishing, 2008

Elisa C. Cattaneo. WEAKCITY Notes on Landscape Urbanism Trento, Italy: Listlab, 2014

Andrea Branzi. Weak strategy for in-formality. Rio de Janeiro case. o-n/3 Milano: Maggioli, 2014

www.weakcircus.com

ISBN-13: 978-9516826298

Stefano Munarin, Maria Chiara Tosi. Welfare Space. On the role of welfare state policies in the construction of the contemporary city. Macerata, Italy: Quodilibet Studio, 2014

Sanford Kwinter. Requiem: For the City at the End of the Millenium. Barcelona: Actar, 2010

Jane C Loeffler. The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies. Princeton Architectural Press; 2nd revised edition, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-8492861200

ISBN 978-8895623917

Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Why? Why Not? San Francisco: Fun Fog Press, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1568989846

ISBN: 978-0-9885546-2-7

Jane Bennett. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010 Anna Kostreva. Berlin: A Morphology of Walls Berlin: Archive Books, 2014 ISBN: 978-3943620139

ISBN-13: 978-0822346333

Peter Eisenman. Re-Working Eisenman. London: Academy Editions, 1993

Douglas Spencer, Alfredo Ramirez, Eduardo Rico, Eva Castro Ctitical Territories, from Academia to Praxis New York: Actar, 2013

ISBN 13: 978-1854901125

ISBN 978-8895623375


ON SITE r e v i e w

32 fall 2014 weak s y ste m s legacies and definitions Stephanie White Elisa Cattaneo Cameron Hu Yann Ricordel-Healy Ania Molenda

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Weak systems, the death of heroics Weakcity. A text, a word, a topic Life and death in the open system The idea of a de-materialised dwelling in 1960s and ‘70s USA ‘Weak will open, strong is closed’ The legacy of Oskar Hansen

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Indeterminate frames and open territories Surprises and good fortune. Small post-tensioned concrete bridges Weak systems and fluctuating contingencies, Venice as theatre There’s nothing to see here, Lead Pencil Studio

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Deceptively weak: Arcadia invaded The Beckton Alp, towards a typology of the unused and unrecognised Desire lines

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Saving the bad new things Residual structures, inevitable ends Weight and weakness, Formlessfinder The soft surface of the city

building case studies Felix Wing Lam Suen Tom Martin Karianne Halse Lyndsay Leblanc

land and landscape Neeraj Bhatia Ruth Oldham Tim Cresswell

found systems Joshua Craze Michael J Leeb Jennifer Davis Eduardo Aquino

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fragile urbanisms Rodrigo Barros Virginia Fernandez Rincon Will Craig Thomas Strickland Natalia Scoczylas Can Vu Bui

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Sunset at the end of the urban age. Valparaiso’s struggle for place Underpinning informal urbanisms, the barrio and the rancho Urban policy, by stealth, Madrid Queer diaspora, making places in transition Paris for everyone, Enfants du Canal et PEROU Doppelgänger in the open, a Canal Street case study

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Walking Almaty I, access ramps Walking Almaty II, antennas, addresses Why? Why Not?

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who we are

walking Dennis Keen Barbara Solomon

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On Site review gratefully acknowledges the ongoing support of our contributors, our subscribers and the assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts through their Publishing Grants to Arts and Literary Magazines.

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On Site review also acknowledges the kind support of Calgary Arts Development, City of Calgary.


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J e f f re y B u rlan d L i n ds ay

The construction of a geodesic dome, the predecessaor of Skybreak, at Baie d’Urfe, Quebec, 1951. Designed in 1950 by Jeffrey Lindsay of The Buckminster Fuller Research Institute, built by Lindsay, Ted Pope, Pete Cano and friends.


weak s y ste m s the death of heroics In the investigations that collectively constitute this issue of On Site review 32: weak systems, some interesting congruences have emerged between very disparate contributors. There is a refocussing on the architectural theory of the 1960s, especially open form, systems theory and indeterminate structures. Buckminster Fuller keeps cropping up as a kind of exemplar of a new technology that was both dematerialised and able to be endlessly replicable. By coincidence I recently spent some time with an archive of work unseen since the middle 1980s, Jeffrey Burland Lindsay’s domes, tensegrity structures, umbrella sun shades and water reservoir roof systems. While manning the Buckminster Fuller Research Institute in Montreal from 1949-53, he quite literally built what Fuller envisioned. On the facing page is the building of a prototype for Arctic installations on the DEW line, erected near Beaurepaire, north of Montreal, in the winter of 1951. One forgets, looking at end results and subsequent versions, just what 1951 looked like, where men in their mid-twenties wore overcoats, girls wore skirts and furs and everyone wore galoshes, even to build a magical, ephemeral, thin dome of light weight wood and cables in a snowy field. Lindsay spent much of his subsequent career in Los Angeles developing a modular housing system of fibreglas spheres that could be deployed wherever there was a housing need and no wherewithal to provide it – migrant workers camps, poor parts of American cities. He wrote, in 1982 and somewhat bitterly, ‘molded spherical atmospheres weren’t worth the effort, the insolubles notwithstanding’. Yann Ricordel-Healy has written in this issue about the Reyner Banham – Francois Dallegret manifesto ‘A Home is Not a House’ of 1965. On the cover is a plan of a module that can fit together to make a configuration: it was an era when rooms and houses were simply not seen as appropriate or adequate for the future. Curvy bubble-shapes that could attach to each other in infinite patterns seemed much more interesting. The speed with which these ideas were taken up by the counterculture who wanted nothing to do with the suburban rooms and houses they grew up in must have come as a shock. There was no one more un-counter-cultural than Fuller, or Lindsay, or Reyner Banham: they were, by and large, engineers, Fuller deeply connected to the American military, Lindsay an exWWII RCAF pilot, Banham an engineer with Bristol Aeroplane Company.

Horizontal spread makes several appearances in this issue: weak systems operate laterally, never hierarchically. From the social interactions on Eduardo Aquino’s beaches to General System Theory and its military appropriation outlined by Cameron Hu, a number of essays moil around the terms weak city, weak architecture, terrain vague and landscape urbanism which above all take plant ecologies as models for urban growth and organisation. There is little room for heroism in any of this; change is incremental and gradual, action is collective and diffuse. Thomas Strickland’s project in Barcelona with a group of LBGTQ refugees is so quiet, so slow, so face-toface, palm-to-palm that we are stopped in our tracks: it hardly registers on the scale of what constitutes architecture, yet has done more to inscribe value on the city for these refugees than most highly-awarded buildings. This architecture isn’t always about form. Take the iconic thin pencils of the1973 World Trade Centre, strong in form and hubris, weak in structure. Its original enemies were the capacity of limitations: elevator systems and wind. The open joists that acted as bracing for the bundled steel tubes of the exo-skeleton also supported the floors – a loose system, not unlike Karianne Halse’s Venice, interdependent parts as in a tensegrity system – cut one element and it fails completely. This kind of failure was unanticipated, as inconceivable as an attack by a thin-skinned airplane armed with Stanley knives and an ideology. Our conceptions of what constitutes strength in architecture and urbanism must be revised. Not only were the Maginot Line and the Atlantic Wall superseded immediately by military technology, so the Green Line and the various Red Lines are rendered ineffective as soon as they are made: they come from a paradigm that valorises strength as power, and doesn’t understand weakness as a discrete entity with its own philosophy, its own literature and its own practitioners and, increasingly, useful strategems.

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Weak, loose, uncertain systems show their resiliance when terms of reference are reconstructed to include not politics, not economics, not military might, but human life where everything is negotiable. My (weak) training was as a modernist, where such ideas were anathema, where architecture was declarative, brutally military, rarely discussed. It is fitting that for a journal which collects starting points, outlines of ideas and theories and little-known projects by relatively unknown people that this issue, 32: weak systems, should finally examine why the unfinished is so appealing. We have had, perhaps, enough of hegemony, enough heroics. ~

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Candilis-Josic-Woods, active CIAM members, proposed an open system for the Berlin Free University in1963. Growth took the form of webs of connections: a built rhizomatic structure. Ania Molenda writes in this issue of Oscar Hansen’s Open Form Manifesto of 1959 realised in his 1969 PREVI project in Peru. There was a dimension to open form that responded to the politics of the Cold War, the impenetrability of the Iron Curtain and the paranoia of the HUAC – a bi-polar world that was rigid and completely controlling. Open form in this context is clearly subversive: like algae, or a virus, a ‘weak’ indefinite informal structure with no centre and no borders is uncontrollable.

notes | unfinished ideas by stephanie white


urbanism | a n e c e s s a ry pa r a d i g m s h i f t by e l i s a c at ta n e o

0. W E A KC I TY a text, a word, a topic This is the reason for the term weak architecture. It allows a diagonal and oblique cut. Not exactly chronological and not generational. Its purpose, in situations apparently different, is to reveal the constant that, in my opinion, lights in a particular way contemporary conditions.1 — Ignasi De Solà-Morales

0. WEAK: A TEXT, A WORD, A TOPIC Weakcity research starts from analysis of the word weak and, thinking through its factorisation and transposition, delineates a theoretical-practical approach for a renovated urban design. The purpose of the research is to experiment with how, inside the ‘construction’ of contemporary cities, a weak approach is able to defy the object/architectonic events and established methodologies of urban studies, going beyond the designative value of architecture. Through a weak language, in a weak context, with recycled and innovative materials, Weakcity identifies decoration as able to transform urban scenarios, privileging relational and open spaces more than built ones. The notion of ecology and of an ecological system, as intended by Landscape Urbanism, is the infrastructure of the method, in which ecology is Technonature – an evolution of nature in artificial terms, focussed on trans-disciplinarity, crucial in transforming codes and instruments of urban design. Operatively and transversally, the term ‘weak’ undergoes variations according to the following steps: 1 as theoretical method: relational, complex, rhizomatic, trans-disciplinary, baroque 2 as noun: for the multiple variations that it generates from a paradoxical etymology 3 as verb: (urban strategy) becoming a performative and active process 4 as adjective: (operational tools) as devices 5 as territory: in a conceptual sense before a formal one

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1 Ignasi De Solà Morales, ‘Weak city’, in Differences. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996


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1. CORE OF THE PROBLEM The exaltation of the architectural object-project’s role and its fixity is a synthesis of a process that absolutises conceptual methods and shapes. The development of Weakcity assumes a bi-polar cultural system that on one hand glorifies the magnificence, the extraordinariness and the subjectivity of self-referential, a-topic shape: shapes that consider the marvellous as the ‘supreme instance legitimising all’.2 On the other side, contemporary research resists experimentation with new project-based methods that go beyond the vertical, remaining firmly inside the ‘science of space’. Attitudes which belong to present-day culture underline three principal causes that become the base assumptions of Weakcity: 1 The exactitude synthesised by both the architectonic object and urban design – an exactitude that is ineffective for new urban problems. We break the relationship between project and object (i.e. project = methodological precision3, project = drawing, project = type). Instead we underline instability as a new process, proposing non-designative space characterised by relative and rhetorical qualities of decoration, of ephemeralisation and of secondariness, both methodologically and formally.

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2 The hypertelos of architecture. In fact, architecture is a hypertelos of images, a simulacrum of reality that produces simulative shapes more than interpretive or imaginative ones. We wish to erase from the real this ‘invisible other’. Possible and different levels of reality compromise not only the transformative attitude of space, but new meanings, new ‘substance’.4 By eternalising and problematising only the present, architecture erases the possible, virtuality, allusion, and the relationship with an invisible in the construction of the city. 3 Atony: the expression of a monotone line that does not observe differences, suspense, alternations of spaces. Atony refers to two specific conditions: the linguistic homogeneity of contemporary architecture, revealed by a lexical and methodological globalised evenness, and the loss of placespecific conditions. Atony is closely related to the concept of atopy.

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These three conditions represent three different levels of ‘reduction’ in different and consequential ways; they specify the hyper-valuation of design as a project-based principle: methodology is locked into established codexes; the architectural object is at present unable to renounce itself; and there is an incapacity for thought to be dynamic and differential moments of a process for which ‘the essence of architecture is its disappearance’.

2 Tomás Maldonado. Reale e virtuale. Milan: Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore, 1994 3 David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity, 1990, highlights theoretical and consequential reduction in reference paradigms in the transition from modernity to post-modernity. 4 J. Baudrillard, Le strategie fatali, ed. Feltrinelli, Milano, 2007

2. NON-FIGURATIVE AND NON-DESIGNATIVE TERRITORIES: SCIENTIFIC ETYMOLOGY Methodological branches related to non-figurative and non-designative spaces comprise an ‘inverse codex’ inside urban theory, linked to the critics of modernism and its logicsynthetic codes. The scientific parentheses of the research are: Situationism, from which we take the values of temporary/impermanence/modification Radicality, in particular Archizoom’s and Superstudio’s research from in which we find the dissolution of the architectural object and the values of performative and genetic surfaces. The research of Andrea Branzi, in particular, is crucial here. Land art, from which we assimilate the techniques of ephemeralisation, the glossary and the concept of entropy. Landscape Urbanism of Charles Waldheim, James Corner, Moshen Mostafavi and Stan Allen, from which we take the conceptual substitution of landscape for architecture and planning. Weak architecture of De Solà-Morales, for the methodological cuts, the decorations, the dissolution of architecture in its absolutist role. Weakcity’s relation with Landscape Urbanism amplifies the short-circuit inside previous hermeneutical steps in the theoryproject relationship. We can read this relation as connected to the sequence space-place-context-landscape, where Landscape Urbanism is a new experiment composed of: 1 Theory, developed through a critique of Modernism and synthetic-exact approaches; through trans-disciplinarity as a scientific development of continuous regeneration (a substitute for the ‘science of space’) and through the formulation of an adaptive urbanism. 2 Methodology, that substitutes and hybridises an ecological logic for the traditional urban logic of plan, program and urban design. It privileges dialogue over the dialectic suggested by theory of complexity (as culture/ nature, nature/city, figure/background), and it reduces the centrality of architectonic scale and architecture in general as a topic for urban design. 3 Operational strategy, that privileges horizontal surfaces over vertical ones, reactivating the field as the favoured space of transformations and relations inside the role of performative surface. In this way, we lose vernacular/ romantic ideas related to landscape.


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3. WEAK AS METHOD. SYNTHESIS OF A PROCESS AS OPEN WORK

4. WEAK AS INSTRUMENT

This leads us to the following fundamental theoretical steps:

An apparatus of instruments activates the theoretical conditions of the research to open up to new methodological and operative conditions. Between method and operation, the tools are the game and the paradox, the éclat of the esoteric and a cognitive-projective map.

Horizontal Thought: we abandon known paradigms about the city to replace them with the kind of horizontal thought generated by Gilles Deleuze. Trans-disciplinarity becomes the possibility for a continuous re-signification where the project becomes an open work with different levels of reality, self-defined as relational, hyper-textual and rhizomatic. Complex Thought: the project is a process, dialogic not linear, focused on deliberate ambiguity. Dodging Time: the subjunctive possibly avoids the present, the future perfect dodges the past, the conditional dodges the future. In this temporal assumption, the project is characterised as always different, temporary, dynamic, instantaneous, transitional. The Baroque: a relativisation of contents (anti-emphatic) de-forms it into a decorative and rhetorical moment. The Baroque works with multiplicity, between the folds, between conceptual and formal discontinuities, so that architecture is really decorative – not essential, not fixed. Baroque Diversion: an accent on minor thought emphasises the concept of intermixing, the right of opacity and the conceptual passage from territory to land as defined by Glissant.5

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‘Language to be looked at, things to be read’.

The tools give ‘provisional legitimisation’ to the project and question the long-held validity of the authoritarian principle. In particular, the paradox and the game become instruments that open up a multiplicity of meanings, reorienting the project toward as yet untrodden streets, toward infinite epistemological and formal possibilities that the project foresees. It is a Tangled Tale6 where sense works with non-sense7 to define a new degree of freedom, a radical re-definition, where a shape is just one of the possible manifestations of meaning in continuous renewal. The esoteric words of the Deleuzian matrix, the éclats8, are not just exercises, but rather an operational method with continuous re-articulations, each unstable, that support a flexible, nomadic and complex methodology. Like quotation marks, they cordon off and specify the temporary subject of the project, which can thus enter into more specific settings while still remaining open. Words are ‘called’ not because they ‘are’ but because they ‘can be’, because they become operative in a broken relation with what precedes them. Each word, each shape is ‘reterritorialised’9 without losing the connotations of instability. These tools introduce a process that is rhizomatic, not structural, allowing a variability of contents and shapes in each direction. The tools are heterogeneous. They privilege ‘formal awakenings’ – constellations of similar elements even if disciplinarily different. They avoid a presumed ‘structure of continuity’ of the world. Nor are the tools axiological; they amplify interpretation. And they are, above all, imaginative. Reality becomes promiscuous with visions, able to amplify the transformative power of the project not only in a formaldisciplinary/extra-disciplinary environment, but also inside the contamination between the possible and the real.

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Édouard Glissant. Poétique de la Relation. Paris: Gallimard, 1990. Lewis Carroll. A Tangled Tale. London: Macmillan & Co, 1885 Gilles Deleuze. Logique du sens. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1969 As defined by Glissant, ‘the term éclat has in itself a polysemy that, far from correctly traduced, needs to be discussed with the reader. Properly, éclat is a splinter, but it also means the brightness and the roar of an explosion that sends something into pieces by launching fragments in every direction. However, around this word there are more semantic lines: material fracture (the breaking of something in splinters), metaphorical fracture (the scandal), generation of fragments (material and metaphorical), new vital light emanated by the genetic event (from explosion), the transmission and seminal clamour that forms the context to this light. Thus the reader, with this plexus of senses, needs to decipher an expression that seals the indomitable complexity of the matter. We have used the term ‘explosion’ because it covers the material (the illuminating infringe), the metaphoric (a scandalous but fertile discontinuity that propagates itself by an echo that multiplies the explosion), and a communication that manipulates the message by contiguous subdivision, from medium to media, from tool to system.’ 9 Gilles Deleuze. Logique du sens. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1969


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5. WEAK AS VERB

6. WEAK AS ADJECTIVE

We think of the city as relational in a physiological rather than in a formal way. Differentiated situations, settings and micro-environments, the relational capacity of the new, of the non-fragments in a minor history inside major ones create new configurations, not disconnected stratifications. Places become like the ‘noise’ of Serres: a complex intersection of changing modes.

Technonature is an operational strategy where ecology is degree zero. In a vision that considers the nature-artefact relation as crucial, we hold Pessoa’s definition as central: ‘Maybe it doesn’t only happen to me, but also to all those who civilisation has given birth to for the second time. Yet I feel that for me, or for those who feel like me, artificiality has become a natural thing, and what is natural seems odd. I stand corrected: artificiality has not become natural: natural has become different.’10

Notational, molecular, writing on the sidelines – the multiple stories of the project become side notes in the grand narratives of the city. Autonomous tales, tales inside the tale, independent, minor and unconnected become accents, intuitions in the margins. The small modifies the large. The succession of minor elements determines a city inside the city, and it influences its character by incorporating its dynamics: Reversible, provisional, unresistant. Nothing is fixed. Open to the future, dynamic, an ecology as a neverdetermined process, always in evolution. Reversible, where time can turn back without projecting itself inside history. Non-figurative, territories in braille and performative field. Space without pre-constituted figures, without metaphor or symbols is a field shaped by inconsistent elevations and imperceptible realisations. The project is background on background. Adaptive, energetic and evolutionary, it is able to collaborate with existing spaces as does a battery or a bicycle’s dynamo.

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Weakcity bases itself in landscape strategies, in particular techno-nature that rethinks the territorial and urban project. Its operational modalities and its chameleon linguistics responds to the project crisis through ecological logic. In its theoretical and methodological conditions developed within the philosophy of science11, Technonature is able to overcome dichotomies between the city and the vernacular, the hybrid and the conciliatory. It is an aesthetic of disappearance12, a camouflage, a metaphor and, above all, a restoration of environmentalism and sustainability. Forman’s landscape ecology considers the urban project as a ‘not-only-anthropocentric’ condition, and the product of differentiated effects of synergies, not of scale.13 A new design process uses ecology as a structural field for the urban project; the primary steps are to recover, to remedy and to reactivate ecological qualities. Ecology as degree zero predisposes the urban ground to consequent modifications. In this sense, ecology is the level of the maximum projectual possibility because it resets and prepares new ground for future transformations. In its formal specifications, ecology reclaims the contents of ecological and environmental art, disciplines with which it shares not only topics, but also the overlapping of multiple disciplines. The aim is to transform urban space into a new aesthetic of the city. ~

10 Fernando Pessoa. Livro do Desassossego: Composto por Bernardo Soares, ajudante de guarda-livros na cidade de Lisboa. Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim, 1998 11 In particular, Merleau-Ponty, La nature, 1996 12 The aesthetic of disappearance underlines the virilion concept of informative and perceptive excess, which is able to produce an absence. 13 Neil Brenner. ‘Rescaling Urban Questions’ in New Geographies 0. Harvard GSD, September 2009 and Daniela Perrotti. ‘Conceiving the (everyday) landscape of energy as a transcalar infrastructural device’. Projets de paysage 04/ 01 /2012, www.projetsdepaysage.fr: ‘In his 1999 text Infrastructural Urbanism, Allen distinguishes between two kinds of effects produced by infrastructures and apt to influence the field conditions: the capillary effects of scales, generated by a great number of small elements that compose the infrastructural network, and the effect of synergy, that originate where there is convergence and interchange between different systems in the network.’


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WeakCity model: System no. 3 Infrastructural limits Agriculture as energy production

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below and on following pages: various editions of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s General System Theory. A book cover must act as a kind of précis, a graphic abstract of an abstract theory that nonetheless resonates within the graphic language of popular culture.

t h e o r e t i c a l a p p r o p r i at i o n s politics by cameron hu

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l i fe an d death i n t he ope n syste m In the middle of the last century it was not uncommon to open a book or watch a film or attend a lecture only to be informed that you, at this very moment and without having previously known it, were within or even trapped by one or another ‘system’. This would not have come as good news. The systems discovered to bear down upon the ordinary subject — whether the symbolic structures tirelessly excavated by scholars, or the previously unspoken political or economic orders named by activists — were typically all-pervasive and unbearably restrictive. System came to serve as a flexible shorthand for a wide range of inflexible social arrangements. The term conveyed a rigidity, totality, and permanence that was suddenly apparent everywhere. It lent itself to whichever order challenged our cherished expectations about the capacities of individual human beings: that they acted autonomously, fashioned their own personalities and sensibilities from whole cloth, and more or less independently determined the course of their own futures. System dwarfed individual action. It dimmed the heroic possibilities of a human life.

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1 von Bertalanffy, Ludwig. General Systems Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications. New York: George Braziller, 1968

How, then, to carry out a life at all? One could dream about ways out of the system, in search of (and so perhaps expressing) a previous era’s bequest of human freedom. Or, as with an entire generation of artists and scholars, one might develop increasingly sophisticated methods to enjoy one’s disinheritance. You might count among these the entire adventure of structuralist and post-structuralist thought, as well as the funniest document of the whole of American conceptual art, which stages precisely this opposition of equally depressive strategies for ongoing existence in a systematic world. The video East Coast, West Coast (1969) mounts an informal conversation between Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt, who play caricatures of quintessentially California and New York artists. Smithson, possibly tripping on something strong, has bought ten bicycles and just wants to ‘get on the bicycle and ride, man… feel the sunshine’. Holt, however, insists that Smithson must get with the program: ‘you could make a lot of plans for these ten bicycles, a lot of plans, you could make diagrams within a system’. But no matter

whether one evaded them or learned to love them, systems presented fixed and immutable forms, machinic media of restriction and confinement, obstacles to the wild and organic flourishing of life. In the final accounting, our sense of system affiliated and perhaps still affiliates with death. It is curious, then, that just months after Smithson and Holt recorded East Coast, West Coast, no less an avatar of the counterculture than Buckminster Fuller found himself writing in support of a Nobel prize for the proponent of a theory of a ‘general system’. Fuller insisted that such a theory was absolutely essential if the movement of scientific and technological progress was to be diverted, as he wrote of nuclear research, ‘from lethal to vital uses.’ Is this the suggestion of a different version of the systems worldview, one whose political affordances may be distinct from those of ‘the system’ as such? Ludwig von Bertalanffy — Austrian born, son of a railwayman (and so hatched, perhaps, into a fully clockwork and Newtonian universe), itinerant professor orbiting the outer stations of the North American academy — authored at least a dozen books that culminate in his General System Theory of1968.1 The book’s dull title and industrial prose belie the semimystical, even cosmic scope of Bertalanffy’s work. It amounts to an argument for the mass assumption of a new global consciousness: one that proceeds from the sublime and lively unity of the entire world to the necessity of a unified science to describe it. This new science is to rescue humans from themselves. ‘The question of what course the scientific world-conception will take,’ he writes, ‘is at the same time a question of the destiny of mankind.’ General System Theory is the document of a strange project to transform humans’ image of the world, and in doing so redeem the world itself. Bertalanffy’s theory of systems is complicated but relies on a simple premise. Modern science, he insists, has erred in studying the world via a process of reduction in which particles are identified, separated from their environments and then described in terms of individual properties. Attention to elementary


units in isolation from one another misses the proverbial forest for the trees. Bertalanffy argues that the proper object of any science, whether social, psychological, or biological, is the quality of ‘wholeness’ — rather than parts in themselves he focusses on their sums. A science of wholeness redirects attention to the dynamic patterns of interaction among parts as they make up the vital processes of larger-scale phenomena: cells, fisheries, psyches, societies, planetary ecologies. What matters is not the thing in itself and its immutable properties, but what so many things amount to in each others’ presence, across time. Can one develop a vocabulary that accounts at once for the rise and fall of civilisations and the life and death of a cell? Bertalanffy’s systems theory aims to generalise the principles according to which almost all things may emerge, change, maintain themselves and disappear. General System Theory travels far afield from the nefarious politics of ‘the system’. System is such a primordial characteristic of Bertalanffy’s world that it makes little sense to speak of systems as a threat to either the free-willed and autonomous individual, or of one’s dreams of escaping system altogether. To Bertalanffy, we are always somewhere within an infinite hierarchy of systems. The individual, whether construed biologically or psychically, is itself a variety of system, not an indivisible unit but a complex of elements in a holding pattern of interaction. And in turn there can be little horror of assimilation into something larger than the self if every entity, in turn, is necessarily party to processes of greater scale. The science of whole systems aspires to another kind of politics entirely. As he wrote about mainstream science: ‘The mechanistic world view, taking the play of physical particles as ultimate reality, found expression in a civilisation which glorifies physical technology that has led eventually to the catastrophes of our time.’

General System Theory aspires to restore unity and relation to a world that has been analysed (and subsequently broken) into fragments, and to the extent that it is successful, it will remove humans from the path to the species’ end. But ‘reverence for the living’ is not just a platitude. Bertalanffy was trained as a biologist and at the core of his work is a radically expansive redefinition of life itself. Bertalanffy’s major innovation was to reinterpret life itself as a kind of systematicity. Thus to revere the living is not just to loathe the destruction of human life, rather, to avert mass destruction one must learn to recognise life differently.

The covers for General System Theory on the facing page illustrate many of the fears of 1960s: categorisation, stuck in boxes, part of a diagram, loss of individuality. The covers on this page, mostly from the 2000s and Europe show none of these fears, rather the individual is in some relationship with some sort of context, from nature to molecular biology.

Bertalanffy’s first significant article, perhaps the foundation of all subsequent work, quietly outlines a new theory of life through an opposition of ‘closed’ and ‘open’ systems.2 He asks us to consider a sealed vessel in which chemical reactants have been brought together. No materials enter or leave the vessel. A complicated reaction occurs, slowly or quickly, and then the chemicals slowly settle into their permanent end state. Now imagine instead a cell that ‘maintains itself in a continuous inflow and outflow, a building up and breaking down of components’. The cell is constantly at work to block or permit entry to foreign materials, metabolising them and assimilating or disposing of them.

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Bertalanffy’s point is that the sealed vessel and the cell present utterly distinct temporalities. Within the sealed vessel, the exemplary ‘closed system’, time is the engine of a process whose course is known in advance. The sealed vessel has but one end-state, and time draws its contents toward that state without digression. And when it arrives at that endstate, nothing else will ever occur. But in the lively open system of cells we find a condition of permanent flux and indeterminacy, and a constant effort to stretch the system’s existence from one instant into the next, and into the next after that.

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2 von Bertalanffy, Ludwig. ‘The Theory of Open Systems in Physics and Biology’. Science vol. 111, no. 2872 pp 23-29

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Open systems, Bertalanffy argues, make up our lived reality, and the ongoing labour of a system’s self-maintenance is the process of life itself. Life, however ingloriously, adds up to nothing more than an open system in a state of temporary exchange with its environment, what Bertalanffy calls ‘the steady state’. Death is merely the disturbance that throws the system permanently out of sync.

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This is Bertalanffy’s impetus for the formation of a theory of a general system: modern thought has misdiagnosed the world as an arbitrary collection of independent, individual bits moving reliably along pre-determined tracks; humans accordingly take a view of nature as mechanistic and of human beings as machines, and they have come to worship machinic power. Nuclear warfare and the real extinction of the human species follows as the logical conclusion of this line of thought. Bertalanffy believes that humans’ basic way of thinking about matter has lead them to the brink of nonexistence. And so his solution to our crisis is not in any traditional sense a political one. He offers an alternative at the level of our basic metaphysics where salvation lies in replacing

the mechanistic world picture with another, of sublime global systematicity: ‘Possibly the model of the world as a great organisation can help to reinforce the sense of reverence for the living which we have almost lost in the last sanguinary decades of human history.’


We can’t find a larger image for the psychedelic Italian edition, but it is reminiscent of both Aubrey Beardsley and Rorschach tests: polar fascinations of the 1960s. The Spanish version is a development of one of Bertalanffy’s diagrams, and the Soviet cover, from 1972 shows the individual as part of a larger, cooperative system.

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all i m ages pu ll ed f ro m vari o u s websit es, wi th o u t per m i s sion t hus th ei r m i n i sc u le size

3 Slaughter, Anne Marie. ‘Preface’ to A National Strategic Narrative. Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Centre, 2011 4 Braun. William and Allen, Charles, ‘Shaping a Twenty-first Century Defense Strategy’, JPME Today 73:2, 2014, 52-59. 5 Fritz, Charles E. ‘Disaster’ in Robert K. Merton and Robert A. Nisbet (editors), Contemporary Social Problems. New York: Harcourt, 1961

We may read this as an alternative politics to our various horrors of ‘the system’ and our individual powerlessness within it. Life, in Bertalanffy’s theory, is not the mystical property of free beings untrammelled by forces beyond them, rather it is the very fact of relation, exchange and association within a messy and contingent world. Life as, and not against, system.

The fragile orchestration of open systems did not necessarily inspire reverent feeling so much as endorse a heavily armed anxiety about the unpredictability of the world. Here the openness and open-endedness of the system becomes a problem for swift solution. The thought of an open system, it seems, does not necessarily induce appreciation for life in general.

Fuller’s letter was ultimately composed in vain. Bertalanffy died before his nomination could be considered. But had he, or shall we say his system, continued living into the extremes of old age, he might have worried at the ends to which his thought was applied. Indeed the basic concepts elaborated in General System Theory, once radical and utopian suggestions, found wide appeal among the architects of the paranoid nationalism of his adopted country. Consider, for example, the introductory sentences of the US State Department’s 2011: A National Strategic Narrative: ‘The twenty-first century is an open system in which unpredictable external events/ phenomena are constantly disturbing and disrupting the system.’3

If General System Theory encourages us to re-imagine our social worlds as fragile and temporary collaborations, it has also justified considerable investments in securing one’s own fragile world against its ‘threat environment’, or, in rendering unlivable the environments of others. To reconsider the world as an open system may compel nothing so much as a vigorous defence of the normal against all disturbance and deviance. Devised in appreciation of life, Bertalanffy’s open system eventually lent itself to the cause of permanent warfare and the pre-emptive strike. ~

One or another concept of open systems has come to supply a good deal of intellectual firepower for a new era of American militarisation. Defence research institutes are now flush with scholars insisting — not unlike Bertalanffy once did — that students adopt a new model of the world-as-dynamic-system. How else, they ask, to advance American interests in the complicated twenty-first century? A pair of US Army War College professors theorise that Americans require nothing less than ‘an ecological metaphor to examine an organizational response to a changing environment. The ‘open system’ ecological metaphor is rooted in chaos, complexity, and systems theories. Several elements of the metaphor can be applied to the military’s adaptation to the evolving threat, security, and operational environments.’4 Of course, even in Bertalanffy’s lifetime the theory of open systems helped frame new modes of war-making. As early as the 1960s Charles Fritz, a disaster sociologist at the Institute for Defense Analysis, recommended his colleagues conceive of normal national life as a ‘steady state’. The new concept would help to conceive of a more precise science of disasters whose purpose was ‘to produce the maximal amount of disruption to the enemy in the event of war’.5


François Dallegret Un-house. Transportable standard-of-living package, 1965 The Environment Bubble Dessin au trait sur film translucide et texte sur acétate transparent, 76 x 76 cm. inv. 005 12 02

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t h e i d ea of a d e -mate r i al ise d dw e l ling 1960s and ‘70s USA architecture | political influences b y ya n n r i c o r d e l - h e a ly

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demographic issues. In Jane Jacob’s Death and Life of Great American Cities, published the same year as Jean Gottman’s book, this instability turns to a real state of crisis with overrational dehumanised city-planning policies inspired by Robert Moses that neglected real human needs and emphasised functional zoning. An informal school of thought on the American city arose at this time, stressing ideas of ecology and the possibilities of self-construction, reaching its apex with Peter Reyner Banham’s Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies of 1971.

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During the last ten years, the Chinese littoral from Shanghai to Guhangzu through Hong Kong has progressively become the largest continuous urbanised zone in history. This most extreme present is the development of a phenomenon first observed at the very beginning of the 1960s in the USA by French geographer Jean Gottmann in Megalopolis, the urbanized northeastern seaboard of the United States,1961. From Louis Sullivan’s criticism about the lack of coherent urban planning at the end of the nineteenth century to Rem Koolhas’ Delirious New York of 1978, the American northeast megalopolis has been seen as unstable due to social, economic, political and


Meanwhile, architecture, which has always been concerned with urban issues, looked away from stereotomy and classical principles of architectonics to think about new means of construction inspired by engineering and new material technologies. From modernism to the international style, new structural forms presented themselves physically, materially, and optically ‘light’. Philip Johnson and Richard Foster’s Glass House,1949, intellectually rooted in German Glasarchitektur of the 1920s, appears both as a seminal statement and the most representative example of this trend of de-materialisation. The Glass House assesses the possibility of an openness to the environment, stressing the lightness of visible supporting structures that blur the line between the inside and outside. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, built between 1945 and 1951, is a further dematerialisation, a system of piles making the house look as if it is levitating, independent of its topographic locality — all in opposition to vernacular architecture strongly rooted in a place and in activities related to the resources of a specific environment, such as farming, which induces a particular mentality and social relations. Of course, such radical proposals didn’t make a school given that, along with technical problems, they clearly challenge a deeply-rooted need for privacy and the invisibility permitted by opaque walls. Such work remains as a theoretical model for dwelling in a very hypothetical future. The Glass House couldn’t have been built in an urban environment; the forest surroundings in New Canaan, Connecticut makes it the modernist version of the country house.

Theodor Nelson pronounced the term hypertext during a conference in 1963. More than a simple word, it conveyed the concept of a whole ‘new world vision’1 on which the World Wide Web built itself, a construction allowed by accelerated innovation in communication technologies; in 1967 Marshall McLuhan coined the expression global village and in 1969 Neil Armstrong took the first picture of Earth from another planet. The Civil Rights Movement, protest against the Viet Nam war, feminism — at the end of the 1960s America entered a period of consciousness of planet Earth as a global, ecological, economical, geopolitical system with a pressing need for change, for replacement of inadequate old administrative, technical and intellectual structures. In the field of visual arts, conceptual art gained importance. John Chandler and Lucy Lippard explained it in their famous 1968 article ‘The Dematerialization of Art’ published in Art International: this tendency gave more importance to ideas than to materials and used informational means (text, schemes, photography as a simple tool for representation rather than a skill) to permit the artistic fact to exist in the beholder’s brain. Channels and methods of conceptual art were chosen for their ability to inform, not for their own material value, recalling the two slogans of modernist architecture: ‘form follows function’ and ‘less is more’. Urbanism was closely concerned with these needs. Melvin Webber, in a special issue of Daedalus devoted to urbanism linked to social issues, proposed that maybe the model of the city delineated by Lewis Mumford was at an end. This Post-City Age goes along with the end of the industrial era, which whereby the close gathering of workers near the means

1 Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells’s The Rise of the Network Society, first published in 1996, remains the most insightful study on the way the idea of network infiltrated all aspects of human activity.

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François Dallegret Power Membrane house, 1965

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Dessin au trait sur film translucide et texte sur acétate transparent, 50.9 x 101.5 cm. inv. 005 12 06

all i mag e s : P h o to g raph i e : F ran ço i s L au g i n i e , Co lle ct i on F R A C C e nt r e , O r l é a ns


of production gave way to a society of services2, and the inadequacy of centred and centralised policy. Webber clearly decoupled ideas of city and urban, and suggested that the constructed environment needed a new thinking frame closely linked to a new social order to come. In fact, this is the continuation of a modernist consideration of architecture, and especially of the dwelling inscribed in the city, which never was separated from social, anthropological concerns. ‘Our failure to draw the rather simple conceptual distinction between the spatially defined city or metropolitan area and the social systems that are localized there clouds the current discussions about the crisis of our cities’ Webber states, extending the recommendations formulated in The Athens Charter, collegially written under the patronage of Le Corbusier during the fourth CIAM (International Modern Architecture Congress) in 1933. The charter, published in France as La ville fonctionnelle (the functional city) in 1941 and not translated or published in North America until 1973, points to the failure of the modernist architectural and urbanist project that couldn’t go along with the political and economic necessities of the form that capitalism took as structure and ideology. These speculations naturally had manifestations in architectural thought. When a house contains such a complex of piping, flues, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi reverberators, antennae, conduits, freezers, heaters – when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up itself without any assistance of the house, why have a house to hold it up? This question was asked by Reyner Banham in a 1965 article ‘A home is not a house’ published in Art in America, illustrated by François Dallegret.

Banham cites a number of references: Louis Khan’s plans and model for an unrealised Philadelphia City Tower, Myron Goldsmith, and Buckminster Fuller’s Standard Living Package – an easy to carry and install crate of utilities and furniture that suggested mobility and a new family model for whom material and sentimental attachment to a specific place would be of little importance. The package would be sheltered by the Skybreak Dymaxion Dome, sharing with the Glass House the quality of ‘simple’ protection from bad weather. Numerous examples of the same kind of projections of a mobile, wired habitable unit, of which Archigram’s Plug-In City of 1964 is perhaps the most renowned, can be found worldwide. Coming back to the Chinese example I began with, we have to observe that this kind of mobile dwelling, even if not totally dematerialised (and can any habitable structure be held only by force of information?) and that can be dismantled and reconstructed somewhere else, remains confined to experimental architecture, very far from being the new standard. Melvin Webber himself had to note in his 1998 text ‘Tenacious Cities’, that his views only stayed views, and that people remain attached to delimited areas where public and private spaces coexist. For Webber, this is principally due to the need for face-to-face interaction in business. Sociology, anthropology and psychology certainly could help us identify other factors for this persistent model of a town developing around an historic centre. Meanwhile, demographics suggest that the concept of dwelling will have to be rethought in a very near future, especially in emergent, economically empowered and increasingly influential countries. ~

2 The history of this shift and of its developments at the turn of the new century are clearly exposed by Jeremy Rifkin in The Age of Access, 2000.

François Dallegret Anatomy of a Dwelling, 1965

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Dessin au trait sur film translucide et texte sur acétate transparent, 61.1 x 50.6 cm. inv. 005 12 03

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t r av e l l i n g t h e o ry open form by ania molenda

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‘ wea k w i l l o pe n , str on g is c lose d’ Oskar Hansen ' s legacy

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I mag e co u r te s y o f I g o r H an s e n ( f ro m t he a r c hi v e of O s k a r Ha ns e n)

Often the term ‘weak’ is considered to have a negative meaning – inferior, insufficient, lacking in character and quality. Open can similarly be thought of as inconclusive or unclear. Therefore openness can also be considered as a sign of weakness. But all these connotations seem to belong to a paradigm where the ability to dominate is based on power and strength. Today however, weak and open but smart systems may be ever more powerful. This may sound obvious, but only in theory. Openness (in its positive sense) has successfully entered many disciplines, but architecture is still not at home with it. Oskar Hansen (1922-2005), Polish architect, theorist and artist, understood this and strongly believed that ‘open form’ should be practiced in architecture. 1 He claimed that it should replace the dominating presence in the built environment of what he called the ‘closed form’. For Hansen, ‘closed form’ represents domination and patriarchal structures, and ‘open form’ represents democracy or matriarchal structures. His theory proves to be surprisingly timely, but it still remains largely unknown to a broad international audience.

Oskar Hansen presents his theory of ‘open form’ at the AICA Congress in Wroclaw in 1975

1 This article will not include any deeper analysis of Hansen’s work, its theoretical or practical critique. It introduces the basic concept of ‘open form’ that Hansen developed throughout his entire career and hint at why it is still interesting today.


Hansen spent his most fruitful professional years in the difficult reality of communist Poland of 1950s and 1960’s, playing an important role in the formation of the Polish intellectual elite in the fields of visual arts and architecture. Hansen was one of the very few architects practicing in the Eastern Bloc who took part in CIAM and Team X congresses.2 He was a dedicated teacher at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts from 1950 to 1983, and realised a number of built projects that explored the possibilities of creating an architecture of ‘open form’. In the 1950s, exhibition pavilions representing Poland at international fairs became his testing ground for the slowly forming concept of the ‘open form’: Stockholm in 1953, Izmir in 1955 and in São Paulo in 1959.

Their project for PREVI reflects the belief that non-hierarchical, non-dogmatic and infinite structures can form ideal living environments. Their organic continuous carpet of houses has no clear beginning, middle or end. It is organised in such a way that the houses face each other across small private open squares. The structure is repetitive but at the same time it is rich enough to provide diversity and a sense of belonging. The realisation of the houses in PREVI was divided into two phases. First, a prefabricated concrete structure was built to provide a base for the second stage. Then the inhabitants could change or enlarge the second stage themselves using lightweight elements (lighter than concrete) to adjust the dwellings to their own liking.

Through his early realisations and teaching experiments Hansen developed a number of theoretical ideas that described the relationship between the built environment, human activity and nature which he formulated in his ‘Open Form Manifesto’ in 1959, arguing for ‘spatial forms which were incomplete; forms which by their incompleteness required the creativity or participation of viewers or users.’ 3 This vision might have been utopian, but architecture as an adaptive evolving environment, respectful of nature, where human needs and values are central and form fades into the background to serve the user and to frame human activity, does not seem too far-fetched. * Open form was strongly related to the idea of adaptation and engagement, what today might be called participatory design. But it also related to the fact that needs and social and economic conditions can change and that architecture must provide people with the possibility to adapt to such change. For Hansen this was a way to rethink all scales of human built environment ranging from from furniture and sculptural objects to large scale urban planning and futuristic visions. Besides his theoretical and didactic projects he had a chance to build a few housing estates among which was his probably greatest built realisation – his contribution to the experimental social housing project PREVI in Lima, Peru, realised with Svein Hatløy.

Even though this system seems fairly simple, the devil lies in the details. The architects paid attention to how acoustics, ventilation and storage were woven into the design. They aimed to provide the best design quality and comfort of living that they could without controlling the final result of the design process – this, the tenants would realise themselves. For instance, quiet areas were placed in the centre of the house where the most private spaces were designed and further away from semi-public spaces. The concrete structure provided integrated storage spaces but even more importantly it incorporated a smart system of air cooling and ventilation. The basic concept of Hansen’s plan for PREVI is very similar to the recent work of Alejandro Aravena’s Elemental in Chile, yet PREVI was realised 32 years earlier and has since fallen out of sight. 2 Max Risselada and Dirk van den Heuvel, editors. Team 10 1953-81. Rotterdam: NAI, 2005 3 David Crowley, ‘Paris or Moscow? Warsaw Architects and the Image of the Modern City in the 1950s’. faktografia.com/2012/12/28/ paris-or-moscow-warsaw-architects-and-the-imageof-the-modern-city-in-the-1950s/, Accessed on July 30, 2014 21

Proposal for experimental social housing project PREVI in Lima, by Oskar Hansen and Svein Hatløy, 1969

I mag e co u r te s y o f I g o r H an s e n ( f ro m t he a r c hi v e of O s k a r Ha ns e n)


I mag e co u r te s y o f I g o r H an s e n ( f ro m t he a r c hi v e of O s k a r Ha ns e n)

Project for extension of Zacheta Gallery in Warsaw by Oskar Hansen, Lech Tomaszewski and Stanisław Zamecznik, 1958

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Another example of Hansen’s work, this time unrealised, is his project for the extension of the Zacheta Gallery in Warsaw, designed in 1958 in collaboration with Lech Tomaszewski and Stanisław Zamecznik. Because Hansen considered the original neo-Baroque Zacheta Gallery an example of ‘closed form’, the most obvious way for him to subvert it was to pair it with something based on opposite values. The extension used a light structural system that not only formally contrasted with the original building but also proposed a new way of thinking about exhibiting art and curating. The structure was based on a steel modular cubic frame finished with glass panels forming the outer skin of the box. Internal walls made of adjustable panels created secondary and tertiary layers that could alter both outer appearance and inner organisation. By rotating the panels one could make different spatial arrangements depriving the building of fixed form and letting it adapt to the needs of each exhibition and the changing vision of artists and curators. Of course Hansen wasn’t the only one who was interested in openness at that time. Umberto Eco wrote in 1962 that the work of art becomes inexhaustible insofar as it is ‘open’.4 An open work of art does not lead to fulfilment in a finite sense,

4 Umberto Eco, The Open Work. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1989. p9

but focuses on anticipation and potentials that are yet to come. Surprisingly many contemporary architects seem to be rather fixated on different ideals of architectural harmony that focus on definite beauty and the perfect form.5 For Hansen they lay in the opposite – in the unfinished, imperfect, open or, one may say, weak. The ideas of spaces he created expressed the transitory. They were in dialogue with their context and left lots of room for interpretation for the user. Open form, bottom-up architecture and adaptivity today are often considered clichés and fail to become popular among architects widely. They are often associated with niche designers that focus on politically unstable regions, regions of disaster or areas of urban poverty. For some reason openness does not appeal to investors, developers or politicians who for various reasons may prefer strong and finished forms. But in the changing and ever more open world the time for ‘strong’ eventually will fade into the past. One may only wonder how many years it will take. ~

5 These ideals were expressed by many Renaissance thinkers. A fragment by Alberti quoted by Heinrich Wölffin in ‘Renaissance and Baroque’ sounds incredibly accurate to explain that thought: “I shall define beauty to be a harmony of all the parts, in whatsoever subject it appears, fitted together with such proportion and connection, that nothing could be added, diminished or altered, but for the worse. A quality… noble and divine…”


F e li x S u e n

i n d e ter min ate frame s and open territories structure | n e g o t i at e d s y s t e m s by felix wing lam suen

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My heart was becoming my own foreigner—a stranger precisely because it was inside. Yet this strangeness could only come from the outside for having first emerged inside…the intrusion on thought of a body foreign to thought.1 ­— Jean-Luc Nancy

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1 Nancy, Jean-Luc. Corpus. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008

This innate and inevitable weakness in architecture can be found within the structural tectonics of the architectural object – zones of indetermination where materials and voids meet in order to create the frame or subject of architectural space. These zones, if expanded to a habitable scale, can be used to create alternative social conditions that are not fully defined programmatically. These are potential spaces where relationships between the community and the stranger may develop and where the borders that usually determine the relationships between inside and outside collapse.

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Within current modes of globalisation the notion of the home demands to be reconsidered. Its socio-political definition is constantly being challenged by economic shifts, constant densification of cities and the effects of rapid modernisation. It is often articulated as a place or a structure of economic instability and the cause of modern alienation and isolation as housing prices either plummet or go beyond reach except for society’s economic elites; the skylines of many cities are now filled with tower after tower of anonymous glass boxes and endless hallways of doors attributed to faceless neighbours. In critiquing these issues my project re-imagines an alternative version of home: one that addresses architecture’s inherent weakness, its innate ability to alienate and factionalise in the process of creating space.


This project combines into a single structure a shopping mall (where we play), an office tower (where we work) and a condo (where we live) – programs that are usually considered too disruptive to integrate in close proximity within current typological configurations. In this project, inhabitable unprogrammed spaces, or voids, can be expanded, can become habitable, to ameliorate the edges of the different programs. The project emphasises horizontality within current mixed-use housing complexes where residential spaces and commercial spaces are divided vertically, usually with the commercial spaces acting as a podium for the residential spaces on top. This inadvertently creates residential separations within the neighbourhood. By putting commercial, office and residential spaces side by side within the same shared floor space one is reconnected to the immediate urban and global context: a simple change within the conventional typology of mass housing. An example of shared space is SANAA’s Toledo Glass Pavilion which houses an art gallery, a glass workshop and a café all within the same space but divided by unprogrammed spaces that absorb intrusion from each program. In this project, synergy is produced by placing commercial spaces at the core of the structure, where they act as a buffer between the office and residential spaces that need direct sunlight to function. All three programs reconcile each other’s disturbance of the same bare space by placing voids of un-programmed indeterminate spaces between them: most private programmatic requirements at the edge of the building and the most social components at its core, stacked sectionally in a dense mixed-use tower. To make a free-flowing singular space in which these programs can truly interact uninhibited by structural and physical constraints, a structural system is required to liberate the space from columns and structural walls. Conventional structural layouts of modern condo buildings are based on Le Corbusier’s 1914 Maison Dom-ino structural diagram; my project uses an alternative structural system, one which Peter Eisenman called the umbrella diagram to describe Mies van der Rohe’s use of exterior structure to create large free span spaces.2 A version of this is the Centre Pompidou in Paris where the interior gallery spaces are uninterrupted by structural walls or columns; all the floors in the Centre Pompidou are hung on an exterior structure instead of being stacked on interior columns.

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This project uses a modified version of Centre Pompidou’s structural system. Instead of having two parallel exterior structural walls, it has one set of structural supports inside the building and a lightweight transfer wall on the outside. Like a construction crane where the load on one side is distributed across a span through the truss of the crane to main support, in this project, the load that is transferred across an external composite truss to the exterior skin is counter-balanced by the weight of the building itself. From ground level, the building looks to be suspended and cantilevered on just one line of columns. The voids usually occupied by the hidden structure of the architectural object no longer exist; the mechanisms needed to make the object stand are completely revealed and no longer merely act as a objects that create separations. By partially externalising the structure, internal material considerations are liberated from physical constraints and can now focus primarily on experiential properties such as opacity and acoustics. Various opacities divide the spaces according to the relative acceptable amounts of intrusion a program can accept before destroying the experience. Commercial spaces are transparent, communal spaces such as living rooms are semi-opaque while private areas are marked by solid walls. This approach – confronting the use of voids to create separations and converting those void spaces to form a new communal space – has parallels with Jean Luc-Nancy’s story of his heart transplant where Nancy’s body has to reconcile another person living inside him—no longer is the heart beating in his chest his own but that of a stranger.3 His body is forced to reconcile the choice between complete rejection (his immune system attacks the heart, a failed surgery) and complete acceptance (taking back his own heart, the original problem in the first place) where either extreme results in death. Life is only possible with the third option of neither complete rejection nor acceptance, but synthesis through reconciliation with the Other that lives within him. Similarly, we cannot reject structural demands, although in practice they dominate, nor can we build an architecture only on programmatic spaces. Architecture is only possible with a third option that synthesises the reconciliation of structure and space, where structure is in the service of program, not the object that we too often consider to be the architecture. ~

Felix Suen

above: floors 10 and 11, showing the free flow floor plan combing residential, commercial and office spaces

2 Eisenmen, Peter. Ten Canonical Buildings 1950-2000. New York: Rizzoli, 2008 3 Nancy, Jean-Luc. Corpus. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008


Felix Suen

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above: floors 25 and 26, the possible integration of a theatre into residential spaces above right: section composite showing the structural layout at work isolating the intrusion from the theatre spaces. right: axonometric of the complex showing the external articulation of structure in context.


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s u r pr i se s an d g ood for tune small post-tensioned concrete bridges

John Laurie Boulevard: the south girder during rotation shows the excellent surface finish of the site placed concrete. The ropes at the north end of the girder are still attached as is the balance weight. In the background is the site for the construction of the north girder and for the drop-in girder. The rectangular opening in the bottom of the girder in front of the pier is to enable future inspection inside the box. The top and bottom rings of the bearing system are separated with a small gap behind which is located a backing plate to facilitate the welding of the joint once alignment is completed.

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Tom M a r t i n

In 1961 I had the good fortune to be in a team of structural engineers, led by Ove Arup, designing the Ankobra River bridge in Ghana. We drew, calculated and analysed while Arup worried about shapes, proportions and construction methods and whether intersections of planes should have curved or sharply angled transitions. In those days young engineers were paid the smallest of living wages but were also allowed the time to try alternative ideas and to develop their engineering judgement without always having an eye on the clock. I was studying Theory of Structures for the Institution of Structural Engineers’ examinations – I had discovered structural engineering after a talk on the factors affecting good industrial design at a Design Conference at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre. I joined Ove Arup & Partners who introduced me to the wonderful potentials of formed concrete and, particularly, to post-tensioning.


In 1998, working as an independent consulting engineer, I was invited by The City of Calgary to design a small footbridge over a divided highway near the city’s perimeter. Alberta is not a place where there is a lot of scope for bridge engineering: of the three major clients – the Province of Alberta and the two larger cities, Edmonton and Calgary – the Province demands standardisation and knows exactly what it wants. The cities, although quite conservative, do have an interest in being attractive and thus are more responsive to architects’ and consulting engineers’ proposals. Work is assigned largely in proportion to the consulting firms’ size; fees are a percentage of the construction cost. For smaller bridges, the usual way to produce better designs is to spend more time on them – often cutting costs in construction and so effectively, but unfortunately, reducing the fee. It is not always a profitable business. Even small structures can produce unforeseen risks when unusual design or construction methods are attempted. No doubt that with more design time the three bridges discussed in the following pages could have been improved to some degree. In the Sarcee Trail overpass the post-tensioning anchors required the ends of the girders to be enlarged to accommodate their size. This was ungainly and spoilt the outline of the structure at the ramp connections – a better solution would have taken more time to research and develop, and time was severely limited. In the case of the John Laurie Boulevard overpass the permanent bearings placed above and below the deck also produced an ungainly solution. Although not a distraction to the appearance, it is not a good engineering solution, however, construction started before the design details had been completed, the contractor having agreed that there would be no extras in spite of any required detail changes, placing the engineer in a rather difficult situation. The contractor had also agreed that with the help of the engineer some savings would be made within the predefined budget. Custom bearings, as in the 146 Avenue overpass, would have produced a far nicer solution but would have added cost to the project. The design team for small bridges includes an architect, a landscape architect, a geotechnical engineer and the bridge engineer who leads the team. The landscape architect helps locate the structure while the architect offers whatever advice is requested. All have their strengths and uses, and contribute from their individual wells of experience. Each of the following three projects use a similar strategy for putting a bridge in place in difficult and impacted urban sites. Very few buildings are designed with plenty of time at the architect’s disposal. Although the Syney Opera House took years to develop and build, in the end the client was frustrated and the architect quit rather than settle for compromises that were becoming more and more necessary.

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In the automobile and appliance industries the consequences of an error are mind-boggling; even so errors continue to be made, millions of cars are recalled annually for fixes. A building or a bridge is one-off. Innovation is so risky that many clients (in the oil industry for example) put a requirement on the structural engineer that he will try nothing that has not been successfully done before and that he will use a large factor of safety against overload. Errors still occur with amazing frequency.

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All three bridges here were attempts to find solutions that not only suit the sites but also contribute something to the art of bridge design. I must acknowledge the debt I owe to those who pioneered this field and particularly Robert Maillart through his work and Sir Ove Arup who inspired so many of his colleagues and employees. He believed that engineering should be a ‘power for good’.

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Perhaps we should be more prepared for errors. Maybe they should be more acceptable as part of the risk of doing anything. Good luck in selling this concept to a client, although they should recognise that more time for design is an ultimate benefit. The typical bridge in Calgary is built using precast concrete girders in spite of the large premium cost of precast concrete over cast-in-place. In some cases precast concrete girders offer advantages during construction but in my experience this has been vastly exaggerated. Their main advantage is that the designer can do it quickly, make more money out of it and leave the marketing of the product to the concrete industry. My concern is the number of ungainly bridges that litter our landscape as if we were born without an imagination.


left: the west girder is shown during construction. It is parallel to the roadway removing the normal risks of working over traffic when dropping something as small as a bolt can be very dangerous to a vehicle below. The slab concrete had been finished several days earlier and the forms are shown ready for concrete placing in the webs. The cross-bracing can be clearly seen and was hardly designed to counteract any outward overturning of the two walls. Once concrete reached about half-way up the forms, additional ties had to be hastily introduced to keep the alignment true.

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The finished overpass shows that the sloped sides of the piers match that of the walls. They also share the same plane. The tops of all the piers were similar with the tallest pier therefore having a much narrower base than those of the shorter piers. The thru-girder configuration of the superstructure was necessary to maintain safe clearance between pedestrians and the overhead electricity conductors. The concrete was painted with a pigmented sealer to resist salt attack on the concrete. The galvanised steel rails were custom designed.

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1 Sarcee Trail Pedestrian Overpass Sarcee Trail is a divided bypass highway running north-south and lined on both sides by high voltage power lines, critical to the city. Temporarily shutting down power to allow cranes or construction equipment to operate near the conductors was very limited and was considered to be most undesirable.

facing page: This picture was taken during the turning of the second girder. The west girder had been turned the week before. In each case four ropes were used, one tied to each corner of the girder. Two ropes were used to pull and two for braking. One man was required for each rope although one person could have probably handled the load quite comfortably. One of the pulling ropes can be seen stretched towards the east ramp between the trees at the right. At the left of the picture diverted traffic can be seen crossing the median strip in the roadway. Other than to slow down, there was no traffic delay during the operation.

The site for the bridge was chosen where the catenaries of the power lines were high, making it possible to pump concrete into forms while maintaining a safe clearance for the construction equipment from the high voltage cables. At some point during preliminary discussions I remembered the pedestrian bridge over the River Ware at the University of Durham which Ove Arup designed around 1963. It was built by first constructing the piers and girders on the river banks and then rotating them 90º where they met over the river, to be connected with a small mechanical device. A site must lend itself to this strategy, and Sarcee Trail did. The overpass connected children living west of the highway with a school on the east side. We ran an access ramp perpendicular to the highway between the school and an adjacent sports field. The west side was open land leading to an escarpment with housing several metres above the road level – fortuitous circumstances. A through-girder design was used. To keep the geometric centre of the cross-section as high as possible, the concrete sides were made wider at the top and narrower at the base, helping the bridge to span both double lanes of roadway while eliminating a central pier. The two girders were post-tensioned in phases, first individually, before their rotation and then, with a short connection cast between them, after final alignment to form a continuous beam over the two roadside supports with cantilevered lengths either end. These ends were partially supported on short cantilevers from two reinforced concrete ramps built on either side of the main bridge. For the rotation, temporary bearings were installed at the centre of the two main piers: simple circular plates with a 700 mm diameter PTFE (Teflon) surface on highly finished stainless steel. Locating pins (later removed) centred the girders on their piers during the rotation procedure. The shape of the side walls/webs of the through-girders caused problems both during concrete placing and before installation of the permanent bearings under the girder webs. Once the concrete forms, held with conventional form ties and light cross-bracing, were about half-full they started to rotate away from the girder centreline as the downward force on the outer sloping surfaces created an overturning moment about the base. The contractor struggled to provide additional braces across the girder to stop the forms from moving. Although the centre of mass of the concrete was within the base width and the problem would solve itself once the concrete hardened, during the hydraulic stage the system was unstable.

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Once the individual girders had been post-tensioned and the scaffolding removed a similar problem presented itself while the girder was supported on one central bearing. A small longitudinal crack developed along the top surface of the deck slab on the girder centreline. The engineers had underestimated the bending moments produced by the outer walls remote from the support. To counter this, holes were drilled through the webs just above the slab and temporary high-tensioned bars were stressed across the girder, to be removed after the widelyspaced pairs of permanent bearings had been installed. With hindsight, these two rather elementary problems had arisen because of the unconventional geometry and construction method employed – somewhat obvious after the event but not so obvious before.

Sarcee Trail:

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The whole project took six months and cost just C$600,000, one of the least expensive overpasses in the city.

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The main span is 36 metres and the overall length of bridge and ramps, 183.5 metres.

The actual turning of the girders took place early on two consecutive Sunday mornings with traffic diverted from one of the lanes to the other so that no vehicle passed under a turning girder. It was not known how well balanced the girders might be so weights were suspended with block and tackle from each end of the girders very close to the ground surface with the idea that should a girder tilt, the lower weight would immediately sit on the ground making the light end heavier. In fact this didn’t happen as the bearings were large enough to keep the centre of mass of the girders well within their diameters. The turning of the girders was a wonderful experience – one hundred tons of concrete silently moving, guided by four men with ropes – within an hour the traffic was back to normal with surprised motorists wondering how a bridge could just suddenly appear.

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2 146th Avenue South at Fish Creek Light Rail Transit Station The second pedestrian overpass was a larger project that connected a parking lot to an LRT station, crossing the platform, two LRT tracks, the adjacent Canadian Pacific Railway tracks and Macleod Trail, a busy major highway. As a design-build project, costs had dto be very competitive. The shape of the new girders were critical to the construction cost and a solid tee-girder of varying depth was chosen, a shape that made post-tensioning particularly easy as the tendons had a very flat profile. The top flange of the tees formed the walkway slab and this too was post-tensioned with grouted tendons. At each end of the bridge were long ramps down to ground level. Three turning girders were constructed, essentially the same except for the inclination of the deck surfaces – the overpass is not straight and so some torsional movement joints were accommodated. Because of the small cross section of the structure it was decided to use pairs of cylindrical bearings for these. These custom designed bearings, mounted in pairs, use pistonlike stainless sliders in cylindrical PTFE and elastomeric surrounds. (see the photograph on p 31)

facing page, bottom: This view looking towards the west has Macleod Trail in the foreground. In the background can be seen the ramp to the parking area for the Light Rail Transit station. Steps from the overpass and ramp to the station platform are under construction behind the scaffolding. Dark lines near the base of the two main piers indicate the location of the turning bearings. The transparent shields projecting from the face of the girders over the railway tracks were custom designed to provide a safe barrier to the LRT power cables

The connection between piers and girders was complicated by the narrow web of the girders having to transfer bending moments to the piers. There was no room in the girder concrete for hooked reinforcing bars from the piers so the transfer had to take place within the depth of the webs. During the placing of the concrete in one of the girders there was a very heavy rainfall. The girder was sloped and the higher elevation concrete was placed first. As the water collected, it ran down to form a pond in the lower end of the form. The contractor eventually cleaned out the over-saturated concrete and replaced it. During post-tensioning of this girder, jacking was carried out from the high end only. Just at the point when the concrete was receiving near maximum force, before transfer, the lower end anchor concrete exploded sending equipment hurtling off the girder to the ground below. Luckily, the inspector standing on the upper concrete and the men carrying out the stressing were unhurt; the ground havd been previously cordoned off for safety.

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An investigation found that the girder had excessive cover above the tendons, leading to insufficient bursting reinforcing steel at the anchors. Partly to blame was the City of Calgary requirement that overpasses have a minimum of 70 mm top surface concrete cover as protection against de-icing salts. With the relatively small cross-section of a pedestrian bridge this made it difficult to provide effective bursting reinforcing steel in the area where it was most needed. Because of the wet conditions, the reinforcement may well have dropped a little thus worsening the situation. To repair the girder, the end 1.5 metres of concrete was cut back and the endblock reinforcing steel replaced. Additional SS reinforcing bars were placed in the 70 mm cover area to prevent any repetition of the bursting failure.

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Again, the turning of the girders across the highway was carried out in early morning. The drop-in girder for the highway span was joined to the other two with small concrete joints and then the whole span post-tensioned to form a long continuous girder. Traffic continued to pass under the structure, but not under the drop-in section while supported by the cranes, during this process.

below: This view towards the NE shows the nearly completed overpass (without handrailing). The drop-in span across Macleod Trail can be seen between the second and third rotated girders. The formwork for the 100 mm wide joints for this can be seen to be still in place. The east ramp is outlined behind the far trees. A Canadian Pacific Railway locomotive and wagon are passing in front of the second rotated pier. The towered building behind the west ramp is the new LRT station.


below: the custom designed movement bearings between sections of the overpass superstructure. Because the superstructure is subject to twist as well as sliding movement (mainly because of temperature changes of the concrete), the twin piston sliders are a good solution. Around the stainless steel shafts, the ends of which are visible in the photograph, are cylindrical PTFE tubes in neoprene housings. [Teflon is the common name for PTFE made by DuPont. PTFE is the short form of polytetrafluoroethylene]

below right:. This photograph was taken shortly after one of the girders suffered an end-block failure. The thick wedge of failed concrete behind the prestressing cables indicates the thickness of the unreinforced concrete cover to the reinforcing system. The lower post-tensioning cables are seen to have survived the implosion. Extension marks painted on these cables show that that concrete is still resisting the post-tensioning forces. The whole end-block area, however, had to be completely rebuilt.

146th Avenue: The main span over the highway is 49 metres and the overall length of the bridge and ramps, 268 metres. The 49 metre span included two 18 metre cantilevers from rotated girders plus the drop-in span of 12.7metres. In spite of the complexity – it included access stairs to the station platforms and another complex set of steps serving the local businesses – this overpass cost about C$1,100,000 or $1,750 per square metre of deck area, 20% more per square metre than the cost of the Sarcee Trail overpass but about 10% less expensive than the next lowest priced proposal which would have been simply supported precast concrete girders.

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3 John Laurie Boulevard Pedestrian Overpass The pedestrian overpass here connects a small neighbourhood park on the south side of a busy road with Nose Hill, a major Calgary park, on the north side. The roadway cuts into the hill with a high embankment to the north and a lower one on the south. The road descends from east to west so to gain the most advantage from the site, a skewed crossing from northwest to southeast was chosen. Because of the undulations of the little park, a curved bridge with a builtup southeast embankment was optimal. Using all the experience gained from the two earlier bridges, circular piers with a turning joint at a convenient height for welding were chosen. The north girder was shorter than the south – to balance this the piers were made proportional to the spans with the north pier a smaller diameter. This time a relatively long drop-in span was required to bridge the gap between the two turned girders. A box girder has superior torsional strength and a classic style. The outer sides of the webs are vertical avoiding a compound curve for the formwork surface and thus extra construction costs. The architect suggested that a handrail be designed similar to one he had seen somewhere in Europe with only top and bottom horizontal torsion members with an offset handrail at about two-thirds of the height. The vertical members are thin plates viewed from their narrow sides – a very light-looking handrail on the strong lines of the concrete. Because of the curvature, the centre of mass for the girders was not central to the piers so the bearings were offset to compensate. Also because of the curvature of the superstructure, temperature changes cause the ends to twist. Twin bearings were used on each side of the deck: one below and the other above the deck to resist these torsional moments. Small concrete bridges carry mainly their own weight and, because of construction code requirements for web and flange thicknesses and concrete cover for protection, they are difficult to build economically. By varying girder depth and using post-tensioning, an elegant structure is possible. One advantage of building unusual structures or structures with difficult shapes is that the workers on site take great interest in doing a good job. Admiration for neat and accurate formwork often results in even better work to follow. In this case the formwork, inevitably discarded at the end of the day, represented some very fine workmanship. The quality of the curved surfaces rival precast and no great premium was paid for this achievement.

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The construction sequence was to build the lower parts of the two piers with the turning bearings properly located. The upper parts of the bearings were then installed and the top parts of the piers cast in their correct final positions. The piers were then rotated to the offset positions for construction of the two girders which were then built integrally with these upper pier parts, given an initial post-tensioning and then rotated to their permanent alignment. The drop-in span was supported in place, connected and the whole finally post-tensioned to provide continuity.

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The construction proceeded without incident until the north girder was turned. The column section above the bearing tilted slightly and developed a small east/west offset. It was decided not to try to correct the misalignment which was not very noticeable. This, however, turned out to be a mistake as the alignment of the deck connection to the drop-in girder was, of course, similarly affected. The slight offset did not matter as it was adjustable but the tilt could not be adjusted. The tendon ducts could be connected but the slight step at the edges of the concrete, in spite of a small repair, could not be totally concealed. It is thought that the bearing might not have been perfectly horizontal and that after the upper part of the pier had been completed and turned, the contractor noticed a slight lean and adjusted it. Of course, when the pier was turned back to its original alignment, it tilted because of this adjustment and created the cross slope of the girder. The abutment walls above ground were built after the girder had been made continuous in the final post-tensioning phase to ensure that they perfectly matched the ends of the girder. Until this, the ends of the girder were tied down with steel cables to balance the long centre span. This method was probably unwise as a far safer method would have been to weigh down the girder ends with water tanks. Fortunately these temporary cables and anchors held under considerable and rather unpredictable forces. ~ I would like to note my appreciation particularly to the following persons who made exceptional contributions to the design and/or construction of these three bridges: Colleague Glen Norlander, P.Eng. Architect Chris Roberts MAAA Landscape Architect Gary Browning Client City of Calgary: Alex Broda and Jadwiga Kroman, P.Eng. Contractor Graham Construction and Engineering Inc. John Connolly and Daren Mickler

right top: the north offset pier bearing being prepared for assembly. The teflon disc in the foreground is eccentric to the circular ring of the pier. The teflon has a dimpled surface and is coated with a special paste. The top mating disc is seen behind; it is a flat steel disc to which a thin highly polished stainless steel plate has been welded. Central holes in these discs are for the locating pin which ensures that the top and bottom parts of the pier are properly aligned. The stainless steel/teflon interface provides a very low friction coefficient allowing rotation of the very heavy girder with a quite low force. The length of the girder also provides a lot of leverage for the rope handlers. The bottom part of the pier is visible with its steel circumferential ring in place. The top part of the pier will have a similar ring which, after rotation, enables the top and bottom parts to be welded together to provide a rigid connection. right middle: the drop-in girder is being set on the ends of the two inner arms of the main girders. The road was completely closed to traffic during this operation. A temporary tower was built on the roadway median to support the girder during adjustment allowing the two rather expensive heavy cranes to be removed. Once the drop-in girder was aligned the two post-tensioning tendons were threaded through and the joints made. Finally these tendons were post-tensioned and the ducts grouted. The result was a monolithic superstructure with movement joints only at the two abutments.

right: The finished structure from the east. It is just possible to see that the superstructure fits into a notch in the abutment wall. Sliding bearings are fitted above and below the superstructure at these notches. Because the centre span is very long relative to the end spans, the reaction from the superstructure is largely upwards unlike most bridges which sit down on their end supports. In addition, under temperature changes the curved superstructure tends to twist hence the upper bearings that balance these forces. The abutments were only built after the superstructure was finally post-tensioned because of the impossibility of being able to anticipate the final shape with real precision.


John Laurie Boulevard: The main span is 60 metres; overall length of the structure, 102 metres. The south turning girder was 47 metres long, the north 37 metres and the drop-in span had a length of 17.8 metres. Two 100 millimetre joints were provided at the ends of the drop-in girder. The horizontal radius of curvature is 200 metres along the centreline of the walkway which is 2.5 metres wide. The cost was C$1,225,000 or about 2.3 times the cost of the 146 Avenue overpass per square metre of deck – higher partly because of the small size of the structure and the absence of ramps which are the less costly part of a pedestrian overpass. A curved box section is more costly than a straight tee section. The bridge received the 2007 ACI Alberta Chapter ‘Award of Excellence for Design and Construction in Concrete’ in the bridges category.

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weak s y ste m s an d f l uc tuati n g con ti ngencies Venice as theatre structural movement elastic systems by karianne halse

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weak |wēk| adjective • not able to fulfil its functions properly • of a low standard; performing or performed badly • liable to break or give way under pressure

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system |lsistəm| noun a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole or a set of elements (often called ‘components’) and relationships which are different from relationships of the set or its elements to other elements or sets

By definition the term ‘weak’ is instinctively understood as a negative characteristic, involving an alleged inability to perform as expected. The instant assumption is that the strong and robust is optimal; a shelf should be properly fixed to the wall, screws linking parts of a rack should be tightened to prevent it from being unstable – it should be built to resist. The paradox within this term is intriguing; when unfolding the subject, weak systems are everywhere within various fields – biology, architecture, theories of the city and design – conducting moderate to vital tasks. One can classify weak systems into two categories; first where the components within the system are fragile, a brittle system. In geology, brittle deformation is a failure of a material under stress and occurs when a material breaks under pressure. The other is an elastic system, which is when a material does not break under pressure, but deforms and returns to its original shape when the tension is released. In the field of architecture, this could be translated as weak linkages between components.

1 Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. ‘Architecture Experienced as Color Planes’ in Experiencing Architecture. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1964.


brittle systems: anticipating failure

elastic system: the architecture of Venice

The brittle system operates in a linear time perspective – first is its primary state, and then, when affected by external forces, undergoes a non-reversible process of deterioration. Each component is rated based upon its worth within a system that takes advantage of a lower value component to protect more important parts and to control inevitable damage, providing short-term loss in return for greater power gain. Examples of these types of components in systems are sacrificial anodes, plinth renders, electrical fuses, sprinkler fuses and seismic design. The speed of the process varies from years to an instant depending on the specific system, but once deterioration is set in motion it can not be reversed – an addition of energy is required, replacing damaged parts, to get back to its initial state.

In elastic systems components are connected by weak linkages that respond to continuous external processes and transmit the impulses between components in order to maintain equilibrium. The system is in a constant dialogue between force and adaption, operating within a cyclic time perspective.

Much mystery and allure is associated with Venice, the city established on water as protection from enemies. Most stories concern its sinking due to geological and human activities, and that it is frequently flooded; others claim that the city is inhabited merely by tourists, with almost no local residents actually living there. Foremost however, Venice constitutes a fascinating example of a weak system with an adaptable ability. The dramatic variability of environmental conditions, its unique geographical location and interaction with the surrounding bodies of water has had an immense impact on the development of the architecture in response to these contingencies.

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Another anticipation of failure is seen in seismic design where forces are lead to certain spots on a horizontal beam which is designed to break, dissipating some of the quake’s energy and thereby saving the vertical columns and keeping the building up. The anode works over a period of months, while in seismic design the change occurs within minutes or seconds.

‘Venice itself looms like a mirage, a dream city in the ether. And this impression of unreality persists even to the very threshold. The coloured phantoms of the buildings, floating on a watery surface, seem to be lighter than all other houses one has ever seen.’ 1

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A example is the sacrificial anode placed on the hull, which constitutes a weak part of a boat. It is usually made of zinc or a metal alloy with a more negative electrochemical potential than the metal hull it protects. The anode is electrolytically decomposed over time, protecting other parts more difficult and expensive to replace if they rust. Over a summer one can observe the anode slowly degenerating.

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weak linkages between components

The floor structure (b) which connects the bearing walls horizontally, is constructed of wood. This light and elastic material accommodates change in the geometry of the building without breaking, allowing the bearing components to settle and shift freely – assimilating the unstable ground.

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Initially Venice was established on solid ground, but by the end of the fourteenth century it had advanced over unstable ground with poor bearing capacity. The traditional foundation system consists of piles (a, above) of water-resistant wood such as oak, larch or pine, buried deep in the ground, reaching past the weak layers of silt and dirt and anchoring the building directly into the solid layer of hard clay caranto. The number of piles consolidated the ground by increasing its density and thereby giving greater stability. Stones and rock thrown in between the piles kept the silt from rising up during subsequent pilings. Two layers of wood were added to the top of the piles which is where the masonry starts. These masonry bearing walls (a) are primarily positioned perpendicular to the canal. The outer walls facing the water are clad with an Istrian stone barrier possessing an unique combination of strength, water resistance and pliability.

2 Rasmussen, Steen Eiler. Experiencing Architecture. Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1964.

Metal tie rods (c) penetrate the perimeter walls, parallel to the water, preventing them from collapsing outwards; they are fixed to the floor-structure (b). This linkage provides a systematic failure to link the inner bearing walls (a) and perimeter framework (d), which allows each individual part to move in relation to the others adjusting to the intricate balance of forces and processes of subsidence and gravity, the daily rise and fall of tides and abrasion caused by vortexes from motor boats and the great number of tourists visiting every year. The roof (e) is also constructed of wood and functions as the lid of a box, stabilising all the other components. above: a taxonomy of components – the building as a weak box, stabilised by the interaction of bearing walls with a dense thicket of piles, floor structures, facade, screen walls, interpenetrating elements such as stairwells, held at the top by a wood-framed roof.

facing page, top: investigative model, Sotoportego composed by the façade, floor structures and bearing walls. Sotoportego is one of the most characteristic urban elements in Venice. It is a connecting passage between alleyways and other roadways, formed directly in the body of a building as a section removed from the ground floor, as wide as it is high. The second model investigates spaces established by the perpendicular arrangement of bearing walls and roof structures.


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a living theatre theatre |lTHēətər| noun a play or other activity or presentation considered in terms of its dramatic quality

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In the structural system the facade (d) does not bear any load, which has enabled the priority to be the composition and articulation of infinite rows of window openings and ornamentation, enhancing this impression of a city set up as staged scenery – accentuating Venice as a living theatre. As a spatial act the architecture is constantly performing, similar to an old wooden ship at stormy seas. The twisting, expansion and contraction of materials is experienced and transmitted through indirect signs as sounds and altered light. Every squeak in a floor-board and the appearance of light penetrating minor cracks are telling the story of its dynamic surroundings.

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‘Potemkin is said to have erected scenery which conjured up flourishing towns along the route of a journey made by Catherine the Great. One imagines that he got flimsy frames covered with painted canvas to give the effect of solid buildings. In Venice the very opposite was done. Along the Canal Grande one great palazzo lies beside the other. They are deeper than they are wide, built entirely of stone and brick faced with marble or stucco in shades of Venetian red or burnt sienna. And the architects have succeeded in making them look like colourful fiesta decorations of unsubstantial materials.’ 2

Venice is often accused of being a stage set for tourists, where beautifully patinated and decorated façades are meticulously directed to frame and create an atmosphere of romance and times past. These picturesque images certainly give a feeling of something orchestrated and illusory.


epilogue These two types of weak systems, either brittle or elastic, demonstrate ways of working with external forces as opposed to fighting against them – or merely ignoring them. In both systems each component has specific tasks which are dependent on the component’s particular material properties and its interrelationship with the other components. Whether there is a tolerance of movement between parts or the acknowledgment that some elements will be affected and then replaced, the system comprehends the inevitable fact that everything is in flux. This idea opens up an approach to architecture and its context as one over-all weak system, where all factors – physical and non-physical – are considered as components. A comparable example of the opposite to an overall weak system is the Oslo Opera House, designed as a symbol of the astonishing Norwegian landscape and imitating ice floes floating on the water. To maintain this perfect image, a lot of energy and many resources are put into battle against the discolouration of the Italian marble, and there are eternal cycles of re-asphalting and adjusting of cobblestones. Cracks have started to appear between parts of the building, caused by unstable ground and accelerated by the rapid development of the neighbouring postcode-area. Although successful in many ways, the building appears as a lost opportunity to develop an architecture with the changing landscape as a driving force – as opposed to the landscape phenomena it merely mimics. It is not only for the sake of saving resources or prevention of damage that we might think of a system based on acceptance of flux and change – it is an exceptional opportunity to embrace the forces of change, geology and weather as architectural triggers of events. ~

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top: investigative model, the stairwell as an entity between bearing walls.

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middle: examples of uncontrolled and unanticipated failure in the Oslo Opera House left: sotoportego as a spatial condition between the interior and the water. K ari an n e H als e


l e a d p e nc i l s t u d i o

t h er e ’ s n o t hi n g to se e he r e lead pencil studio l a n d a rt | phantom construction by l i n d s ay l e b l a n c

It is difficult to regard the work of Lead Pencil Studio while bearing the ideological load of an efficiency-obsessed society, where each form has its function, each function its form, and the objects that defy this rule of reductive thinking are left to be further classified—as art in the most fortunate cases, otherwise, as another item to be added to the piles of waste we already produce. There is a collective fear of things left purposeless (as if there is meant to be a method to the madness). Annie Han and Daniel Milhayo, dual parts of Seattle-based Lead Pencil Studio, stand out for disobeying the rules; they do not make objects that take well to classification. In fact, Han and Milhayo ‘fake out’ pre-existing systems of classification. A word to the wise: whatever you may think it is, it is probably not.

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Maryhill Double and Non-Sign II are examples of functional form void of its purpose, left to be interpreted as frames, skeletons, the beginnings of something that is not to come. Viewing the work for the first time, there is a recognition of assumed or intended function, followed almost immediately by the recognition that the assumed or intended function is in no way supported by the work. What happens next is a divided experience, between the satisfaction of knowing what is there and the dissatisfaction of knowing nothing is there. The discussion of Maryhill Double and Non-Sign II here is not only an investigation of this (almost Kantian1) viewing experience, but an argument in favour of lacking purpose. Because sometimes efficiency is just not that interesting.

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1 ‘We can say no more than that the object serves for the presentation of a sublimity that can be found in the mind; for what is properly sublime cannot be contained in any sensible form, but concerns only ideas of reason, which, though no presentation adequate to them is possible, are provoked and called to mind precisely by this inadequacy, which does allow of sensible presentation.’ Immanuel Kant in Critique of the Power of Judgment, ed. Paul Guyer, trans. Paul Guyer, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.


Non-Sign II is a site-specific installation and constructed advertising opportunity that is guaranteed, as such, to stagnate. Not a billboard but a reference to one, the work makes comment by making no comment at all. Steel rods arranged with space between leave a translucent structure that while structurally sound, appears as if it could be blown apart by a gust of wind. This false sense of ephemerality reverses the standard relationship between the form and function of a billboard, wherein the form remains permanent but its contents are always temporary. Non-Sign II advertises nothing but the Washington sky on the border between the United States and Canada – which is, perhaps, the thinking behind the USA government’s commission of the work. The project looks and acts like a billboard, supporting the position that, if not a billboard, Non-Sign II is an inverse. It is the negative to a positive, attested by the rendering of negative and positive space. There is really nothing to see here. We are offered space to think, without the over-bearing company of something to think about. In what it lacks, Non-Sign II is a subliminal act of resistance against the advertising industry and consumer culture, manipulating the negative to re-generate a positive. The ongoing push and pull between positive and negative, and associated satisfaction and dissatisfaction for the viewer, pushes the content of Non-Sign II beyond the piece of sky it so poetically frames.

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le ad pe n ci l s tu di o

facing page: Lead Pencil Studio, Maryhill Double, 2006, sited in Oregon, just across the border from Maryhill, Washington and overlooking the Columbia River Gorge.

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above: Lead Pencil Studio, Non-Sign II, 2010, near Blaine, Washington. Funded by the Art in Architecture program of the US government.

What could be described as an approachable complexity underlying the presentation of Non-Sign II, is reiterated in Maryhill Double.2 The installation is a model of the Maryhill Museum of Art in Washington State, duplicating in scale the volume of the museum. Made of scaffolding and construction netting, Maryhill Double initially appears to be a building site on a stretch of grassland in Oregon—however, there is no promise to build. The installation, much like Non-Sign II, is a cancellation. The project strips power from the institution to which it refers, indirectly posing questions about the function of the museum as well as the authority it grants itself. Without its original contents, and no longer a trading post for cultural currency, the Maryhill Museum is only an architectural structure. There is an irony to reframing a museum as a work-in-progress because the museum, traditionally, has been a place where progress halts, time stops, and where nothing is valued more than those objects which have already demonstrated a lasting and permanent impact. Maryhill Double, by contrast, denotes impermanence. Here, again, meaning resides in its absence. Participants in the Maryhill Double project are offered the option to physically engage the building in their visit as they navigate the installation from the inside. By operating as a public space in addition to formally duplicating the original, the project initiates a dialogue with its counterpart located across the Columbia River Gorge. Each building works to publicly address art-historical precedents, the difference being that the Maryhill Museum of Art stands for these precedents, and Maryhill Double, against.

2 Maryhill Double was realised in 2006 as a temporary installation. It stood for three months and has since been taken down.


Non-Sign II and Maryhill Double are situated on ground that borders countries and states, respectively. It is appropriate that the installations were built in correlation with transversal – a moving across. These works are fleeting, passing gestures towards their functional doubles, offering little explanation for the negative space they each create. Unlike the systems they reflect, Non-Sign II and Maryhill Double are not didactic. They are someplace and no place, a sentiment gently reciprocated by the land they sit on. Lead Pencil Studio exhibits ‘nothing’ as a residue of ‘something’—an almost mathematical cancellation, simultaneous presence and absence that together make meaning where it did not exist before. ~

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l e a d p e nc i l s t u d i o


gardens | weeds by n e e r a j b h at i a

d e ce ptiv e ly w eak arcadia invaded

1 Branzi, Andrea. ‘Introduction’ in Weak and Diffuse Modernity. Milan: Skira Publishing, 2006. 2 See Points 2, 72, 75, 76, 94 and 95 in Le Corbusier, The Athens Charter. New York: Grossman Publishers,1973 3 Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958. pp 175-176

In 2010, Andrea Branzi, co-founder of Archizoom, issued seven points for a new Charter of Athens. In contradistinction to the ‘one-sized fits all’ recipe book of urbanism promoted by Le Corbusier, Sert and the CIAM group, Branzi’s suggestions emphasised the need for the city to be fluid, diffused, symbiotic, reversible and adaptive to societal and political changes. Branzi entitles this speculative city the Weak Metropolis. Instead of highly defined solutions that revolve around architecturalurbanism’s formal capacity, Branzi’s vision privileges systems, contradictions and mutant hybridity consistent with contemporary urbanism. In fact, it is the formal weakness of Branzi’s metropolis is what makes it resilient to transformations of the city, its inhabitants and their values. It is interesting to note that Branzi positions his manifesto as a response to the Charter of Athens that while seeking ubiquitous urban solutions, placed a large emphasis on the

The constructed world today seems to derive evident advantages from the ever weaker connections that unify the city, architecture, and the world of objects. — Andrea Branzi 1 relationship between the individual and collective and the role of urbanism to mediate these two scales.2 This delicate balance and feedback between the individual and collective has been promoted by political theorists such as Hannah Arendt who positions it as the core of pluralism and therefore a healthy public sphere.3 Branzi’s metropolis is not devoid of such yearning. His weak metropolis not one of the future, but of the present — it is neoliberal, multicultural, economically diverse and hypocritical. For Branzi, the inherent weakness between the various systems is what allows the individual to flourish, without assimilation, with a collective that is still able to gather power through consensual agreement. In light of more xenophobic events and increasing globalisation, this issue of reconciliation through weak systems will be critical for present (and future) urbanists to grapple with.

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The origins of 22 of the earliest introduced plant species to Canada, now considered invasive.

The O p e n Wor k s hop


The Garden of Displaced Roots is a proposal for a temporary garden exhibition that uses the tension between the individual/collective and indigenous/migrant as an impetus for design speculation on weakness, at a more modest scale than the city and with a non-human subject — invasive plant species. In Canada, 486 invasive plant species exist, several of which were introduced during the colonisation period of the 1800s for ornamental purposes4 — to create gardens. Ironically, it is the success of these plants flourishing in non-native environments that now makes them a threat. Simultaneously, several of these ‘alien’ plants have resided in Canada longer than Canada’s own formation in 1867, making them more Canadian than Canada. The Garden of Displaced Roots produces a living archive of twenty-two of the earliest invasive plant species to Canada that were intentionally introduced for their beauty.

Organised within a tensile portico structure, the project leverages a monumental archetype,5 yet is formed as a light tensile veil. Each of these ‘invasive’ species hovers behind this transparent veil within an individual module, and are separated from the ground below where they could pose a threat. As these plants develop, their weight will pull them closer to the earth — the tension of the flexible portico structure aligning with the tension of the approaching species. This balancing act of tension is a negotiation of each individual unit and the whole, as the entire structural system is created from interconnected tensile members. 4 Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Invasive Alien Plants in Canada. CFIA. Ottawa, 2008. 5 Lincourt, Michel, ‘The Portico as an Architectural Archetype’ in In Search of Elegance: Towards an Architecture of Satisfaction. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999.

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Planting plan of the species, arranged chronologically to produce a threshold boundary.


Project credits firm: The Open Workshop, 2013 design team: Neeraj Bhatia, Anesta Iwan, Cesar Lopez

above: views from within and without. below: Section through the Garden in its early phases, indexed against the portico structure

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The structure is distorted by both the plants as well as human occupation — pushing and pulling on the modules by users; balancing environmental and social transformations. It is the weakness of the tensile system of supports and the membrane fabric, which enables the characteristics of the individual species to have an effect on the whole. Thus, the portico archetype is merely an index of a recognisable figure that is subverted by its environment and inhabitants. By framing the tension between invasive and native species, the project is part art-critique of culture and part garden-critique of nature. It is the strength in the weakness of framework versus system that provides its ability to transform, adapt and, ultimately, be resilient to transformations. This repositions the role of the designer to organise a resilient framework for anticipated and unanticipated events from the environment and their users, leveraging the notion of weakness for long-term relevance. ~


above: deformation of the weak. The portico is a response to particular growth characteristics of each plant species.

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T h e Ope n Wo r k s hop


B eck t o n A l p towards a typology of the unnamed and unrecognised r e c l a m at i o n | urban landscapes by ruth oldham

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The Beckton Alp is an unexpected hill amidst the flat grey brown sprawl of London’s eastern suburbs. It rises on the left as one drives into London from Essex on the A13. It barely registers, just a small hill covered in scrubby vegetation – a blip – a minor interruption to the landscape of low lying rectilinear buildings and car parks. The Alp began life as a slag heap of waste generated by Beckton Gasworks, amongst the largest of such sites in Europe, in operation from 1870 until 1969. When the gasworks were up and running the presence of a large mound of rubble was easy to justify. It was a part of an interconnected whole, alongside retort houses, condensers, chimneys, gasholders. The gasworks sustained a whole community, generating employment and creating spin-off industries.

Today all the buildings and structures have been demolished, their traces erased by new retail parks and roundabouts. Only a reduced part of the original slag heap remains. It could be described as an accidental hill. It wasn’t planned; no one ever set out to bequeath Beckton with an Alp. Rather, it appeared; the by-product of a once-mighty industry. It is just one example amongst thousands; our post-industrial landscape is littered with waste mounds and abandoned, polluted, land. Industries close down, move elsewhere, but people continue to live amongst their ruins and remains. Such sites have become an important part of our landscape; I’m interested in the relationships we build with them.


47 all i mag e s R u th O l d ha m

Faced with a great mound of rubble we are reminded of the inherent weakness of the system in which we live – a system based upon seemingly unending consumption of raw materials, with little consideration for the waste and pollution generated along the way. We know that it cannot go on forever. We are familiar now with the comparison of our linear system with cyclical system of Nature – where the notion of waste barely exists as everything is reused and transformed.

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The first project to transform the mound (to try to make sense of it perhaps) was the creation of a dry ski slope in 1989. The Alp finally lived up to its name. One could catch a chair lift up to the top, enjoy the panoramic view, ski down it at great speed and then have a drink at the Swiss style bar at the bottom. But such a straightforward transformation was not to be and the ski-slope closed in 2001 due to persistent subsidence problems. We might imagine this mound as an Alp, but it reminded us quite firmly that it is something else entirely. And we are still trying to work out what that something else is.

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So we take nature’s example, and attempt to transform the mound into something we can use. In the case of the Beckton Alp, the name is very revealing. Various accounts seem to agree that the alpine nickname dates back to when the gasworks were fully functional, perhaps the 1940s. The real Alps would have been a mythical landscape, a far-off dream, for most of the people living and working in and around Beckton at that time. Even today they remain exotic in contrast to day-to-day life

in this flat estuary landscape. There are some gentle hills in the north and south of London, but east to west it is floodplain topography. Green spaces, woods, are also few and far between. The naming of this polluted waste heap as an ‘Alp’ strikes me as a wry comment on the perceived local lack of wilderness, greenness, nature, hills.


Not only is it unstable underfoot, it is also polluted – a mound of pure arsenic according to some, blue streaks of cyanide are said to leach out during wet weather. It appears that the clay cap that was supposed to contain all the pollutants was pierced during the creation of the ski slope. Decontamination studies have been carried out, but neither the local authority nor the private owners of the site (Chiltern Holdings, an anonymous offshore property investor) seem to have the means or the will to take them any further. So the hill is currently officially out of bounds, considered a public health risk. In reality it is well used by local people – walkers, taggers, drinkers, dreamers. Once through one of the holes in the fence there are several paths leading to the summit, some winding gently, some steep and straight. The eastern, western and northern flanks are covered in shrubs and young woodland. The southern slope was the old ski run, now a ruin of concrete foundations, an old staircase, some broken cables and posts, and the odd piece of textile mesh. So it has an ambiguous status. Abandoned but used. Polluted but covered in thriving vegetation. A high hill but prone to subsidence. A wilderness in suburbia. Leaving it alone, in a semi-feral state, might allow for greater biodiversity than if it was rendered safe and accessible to all. A fairly recent development in urban park management is to leave large areas fenced off and untouched, letting them get overgrown. In a dense city like Paris or London this could seem surprising, as accessible green space is so desperately needed, but the value of green spaces is about far more than accessibility. These fenced-off zones form a kind of biodiversity reservoir which carries far reaching benefits to the environment and society. We do not necessarily need to actively use something (walk on it, touch it, reshape it) for it to exert an influence on us, or participate in our life.

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The Alp has a rich relationship with the public imagination. With its affectionate nickname and notorious history it has become a local landmark in an area not known for landmarks. No other borough in London has an Alp. Its strangeness prompts us to ask questions, what is it, why is it here, why is it abandoned? And these questions open up whole chapters of the social and industrial history of the area and of London as a whole.

R u th Oldh am

Attempting to turn the mound into a ski slope was an attempt to mould it into something we understand. But perhaps we just need a bit more time to get used to it, to learn to accept it as it is. Maybe we don’t need to tame it or transform it as it is already seems to be doing quite a lot of useful things. ~


de s i r e lines

route maps | wa l k i n g by tim cresswell

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There’s tracks across the park to the gap in the fence through the carefully planted hedge

Irresponsible passions take us wayward when snowfall blanks the waysigns. Ignoring the planners’ paths, strollers’ shortcuts contour our utopia, until angels, made by children, turn to water.

I’m grinning they’re everywhere: on floors of palaces the hotel atrium foyers of hospitals and headquarters transecting terminals linking arrivals with departures. In Finland, planners rise before dawn to map the footprints in snow’s blank geography.

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Up on the common where the bracken’s thick they criss-cross the land revealing the settled will of sheep.

Unauthorized – these voyages we make our days are detours linking A to B second turnings taken by mistake pathways traced by trespasses of feet. We explore the cul de sacs and alleys sing down sewers, dance along the drains squat on ledges, stand on top of chimneys climb the rungs to sit in sleeping cranes. Then stop. Exhausted with excursions take the highway – fly as straight as crows make a bee line – inhabit a direction ignore distraction – trace a Roman road. These lines connecting maybe, no and yes unauthorised, yet authored nonetheless.

One, somewhere walked that line first a maverick in terra incognita. And then the first follower

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Don’t start from the good old things, but the bad new ones. ­­­— Bertolt Brecht

s a vi n g t h e b a d n e w thi n gs exhibitions | c o n s e r vat i o n by joshua craze

u n le s s n o te d, all i mag e s J o s h u a Craz e

I

The excavator made short work of the sheds. Its power shovel easily broke through their corrugated iron walls, rusted by a century of sea spray, to reveal piles of old fishing tackle and the remnants of half-built boats. Amid the destruction, debris from the sheds fell onto the smooth stones of the beach. The sky had the same green-grey hue as the pebbles, as if God had run out of colours in Anglesey and painted this Welsh island with the murky remnants of his palette.

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Further along the beach, a woman is walking her dogs. They sniff at the water’s edge, eagerly searching for a gift offered up by the sea: a small crab perhaps, or else Mr Jones’ unwanted office lunch, tossed out of his car

window as he drove along the winding seaside road and now returned to dry land by the tide. The woman is searching, too. Her head is bowed down, as if in prayer, and her eyes scan the water’s wake. She bends down, picks something up, and cradles it in her hand. It’s a shard of porcelain, with fine black ink work depicting a castle, hidden under a hazy glaze of blue, yellow and red. It could be a page from a children’s colouring book, hardened by the sea. ‘Children,’ Walter Benjamin wrote, ‘learn from bright colours, because the fantastic play of colour is the home of memory without yearning, and it can be free of yearning because it is unalloyed.’

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She looks towards the sheds.

from the top: The grey-green sea Caernarvon Castle egg cup shard Looking for gifts


II

Beaumaris sits on the eastern edge of the island of Anglesey, and looks across the tidal waterways of the Menai Strait at the Welsh mainland. Like many British towns, it lives off its past. History in Beaumaris is a guided tour. You can tour the castle, the stately old homes and the streets. I got so used to going on tours that at dinner I half-expected the waiter to offer me a tour of the food: ‘here is a dish that was eaten by King Edward I in 1300.’ Tours offer little sustenance. The town was in service to an image of its past. Walking its streets, there were so many small panels, announcing that this house was lived in by x, on y date, that the town began to feel like a ghost – the unwelcome inhabitant of a dwelling whose true owners would return one day. The panels were IOUs: the past’s contract with the future. Looming over the town stands the castle, which is, or so one of the panels told me, Britain’s ‘most perfect example of symmetrical concentric planning.’ Edward I built it here to control the Menai Strait, and counter Welsh uprisings against English colonial rule. In 1807, Thomas Bulkeley bought the castle from the English crown. And if it is the castle’s towers that dominate the city spatially, then it is the Bulkeley family that does so economically. They have run the town since the fifteenth century. Up until the nineteenth, the town turned around this lineage of English aristocrats; it was a feudal economy of hunters, farmers and domestic servants, all serving at the behest of Lord Bulkeley.

III

In the nineteenth century, industrialisation and increasing artisanal production in Beaumaris was accompanied by the decline of Bulkeley power. The process reached its high point during the First World War, when shipbuilding became Beaumaris’s major industry and the Bulkeleys lost many of their male heirs in combat. Baron Hill Estate, the grand mansion above Beaumaris in which they lived, fell into disrepair. Today, the boatbuilding business is finished – vessels constructed of metal and plastic have replaced the wooden boats that were Beaumaris’s pride. The town’s economy is now almost entirely reliant on tourists, who come to see the crumbling castle and celebrate Britain’s feudal past. The tourists are wistful. Something of the holiday camp pervades Beaumaris’s presentation of itself: a time outside of time, where one can come to forget the present, and marvel in the splendour of so much unreality. I thought this over in a solidly built pub on the main street, nursing a beer. Soon, I began listening to the conversation in the booth opposite me. What language were they speaking? It wasn’t Arabic. Slowly, I realised it was Welsh.

above and left: The patient labour of boat-making. Ship design found in the old Gallows Point sheds Bulkely Arms Hotel receipt Return to sender: ship-builder’s address, found amid the debris of the last shed.


from the top: The Beaumaris Regatta, mid-twentieth century Ben Williams and his boat The 1885 Beaumaris Regatta

In Beaumaris’ placards and advertisements, there are hints of a long simmering conflict. I was drinking in the George and Dragon. At the pub’s entrance, there is a wooden sign: St George, his shield emblazoned with the red cross of England, is killing the dragon, the symbol of Wales. This immortal combat takes place in pubs all over town. The George and Dragon is owned by the Bulkeley family. Five hundred years ago, the town’s Welsh inhabitants might have been indentured farmers, or servants on the family estate. Today, they work in gift-shops or give guided tours around Bulkeley properties. Seen from this perspective, the nineteenth century and the promise of non-feudal relations was a temporary blip; Britain has always been a feudal society, except now we call it a service economy. In Beaumaris, it is a service economy that feeds off representations of a feudal past, and a feudal economy sustained by tours and castles.

Beaumaris’s past is at once impossibly remote and strangely proximate. The mannequins and period furniture of the museums and castles suggests a distant, fantastical past, which we can luxuriate in, as if inhabiting – however briefly – an episode of Downton Abbey. Yet it is the commemoration of this past as past that allows its perpetuation in the present. The same family rules Beaumaris, except now it does so by offering up the fossilised traces of a feudal class structure as if they were not still to be found on every street.

IV

As on land, so at sea. Beaumaris contains two boat worlds. They exist together uneasily. The first is full of yachts that the rich have been sailing since the nineteenth century, though perhaps to say that they sail them is an exaggeration. The other world is full of fishermen, boat builders and mussel farmers. Early in the nineteenth century, the Bulkeley family decided to place a new mansion along the main sea front. To do so they had to move the working boatmen elsewhere and so leased them a piece of land called Gallows Point, which became the centre of the town’s ship-building industry. The two worlds are opposing poles of activity, and people move between them. As fishing stocks fell around Anglesey and the boatbuilding business collapsed, the men of Gallows Point increasingly went into the other world and worked as sailors on the yachts of the rich. Over the last fifty years, with the collapse of artisanal labour in the town, an aristocratic service industry has returned and the boatmen have become Lord Bulkeley’s skippers.

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All over Beaumaris, conservation crowds out the living. In recent years, some fishermen have started to work ferrying tourists to Puffin Island, which is just off the tip of Anglesey and home to a large colony of cormorants. There are now plans afoot to make the island a human-free zone: nature immunised against man, just as, in Beaumaris’ glorious castle, the past has been immunised from the present.

ph o to g raph e rs u n kn o w n


V

I grew up in a world not entirely dissimilar to Beaumaris. Until I was eleven, I lived in Tintern, Wales, a village that lay between the castles of Chepstow and Monmouth. Many of my childhood memories are of exploring castles, medieval jousts and nights spent reading history books. As much as I cherish these memories, and the worlds that they created, I am sceptical. Walter Benjamin wrote that ‘[in] authentic history writing the destructive impulse is just as strong as the saving impulse… The way in which it [history] is valued as heritage is every bit as insidious as its disappearance could ever be.’ No better way to kill something than to put it in a glass box – sanctification is a technique of depoliticisation. In Beaumaris, it is the commemoration of the past as a bygone era that allows that era’s perpetuation in the present. Why save any of this? Why not tear down all the castles and the museums? I think about the Brecht quote that gives this essay its title. Brecht instructs us not to turn away from the present, though it is ugly and bad, towards beautiful old things. Start from bad new things.

VI

In 2002, a local businessman announced to the boatmen of Gallows Point that he had purchased the land beneath their feet and he would be redeveloping the sheds: they could rent space in his identikit black and white warehouses, or they could go. After a short struggle, the boatmen accepted their loss. Over the next ten years as the businessman struggled to finance his operation, they allowed their sheds to go to ruin: why conserve what will not last? By the end, the sheds were repositories of memories and craft. Few boats were built for profit, but the boatmen went along to the sheds everyday regardless, to work on their own project or just share stories. The sheds were finally pulled down in 2013. Unbeknownst to the businessman the sheds had sat atop the town’s old rubbish dump, and as the foundations for the new warehouses were dug and the earth placed on the beach, all sorts of objects started to get washed out to sea.

Part of the exhibition is based in the work of two detectives, hunting through the material world for traces of past lives. Part of the reason the stories these objects tell seem so compelling is the particular nature of the pasts that they reveal. In one of my first essays for On Site review, I wrote about garbage collection in Juba, South Sudan. After secession from Sudan, the nascent capital’s population exploded, and so did the rubbish. Burnt plastic, coke bottles, defunct computers – a litany as recognisable in London as in Juba. The rubbish dump as Gallows Point was different. In each mark on the slip-wear and in the proud proclamations of merchants found on terrine pots there were local stories.

The old and the new sheds

We still have local stories today, of course, but more and more often they are expressed in a material code that an archaeologist would never be able to uncover: loves and losses are both written onto identical, mass-produced objects. Castles, given time, acquire a singularity the coke bottle will never possess. I remember wandering around them with Clare, my mother; their atmosphere lodged inside me. I remember strolling along beaches with her when I visited and marvelling at the amount of driftwood she would acquire. Clare would save everything if she could. I was more sceptical. Why, when surrounded by a surfeit of information, save anything at all? My question made me feel like the local businessman: ‘tear down the sheds, ignore the old rubbish dump. The past is past, and the future is the tourist service economy and warehouses.’

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Clare and I were both more interested in the boatmen than the future. One of them, David Gallichon, asked my mother: ‘They talk about conservation, but why don’t they conserve people like us? We’re a dying breed, aren’t we? Boating all our lives, since we were children.’ I wanted to know not how to conserve them, but how their energy and knowledge could live in a world of gift shops and teenagers who wished they were elsewhere.

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The clay pipes and red ink bottles might have slipped away unnoticed, into the forgetfulness of the water, if it were not for that woman, combing the beach for curiosities to use in her sculptures. That woman – Clare CalderMarshall – and her partner, Alison Englefield, decided to curate an art exhibition, ‘Fragments of the Past: What You Can Find Out From Small Things,’ which displayed many of their finds from the beach.

C l a r e C a l d e r - M a r s ha l l


VII For Clare, putting on the exhibit was partly a way of trying – as saving them was not possible – to redeem the destruction of the sheds. The sanctification of past objects, I thought, doesn’t seem like an adequate path to salvation. The sheds were a community. The same men sat there, day in day out, talking about boats. They worked with love, spending hours repainting a boat before heading home for the night: it was a practice that grounded them – a relationship to material objects that is not about conservation or heritage, but the active transformation of the world they inhabited. Clare’s practice, in some ways, is analogous to the boat-builders. They were moored in the world through the lathe. After they had finished work, Clare would prowl around Gallows Point, finding objects, taking them home, turning them into sculptures.

right: The last shed to be demolished at Gallows Point The once-social life of the sheds, Gallows Point community

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Clare Calde r- M ars h all

ph o to g raph e r u n kn o w n

One Sunday, Clare and I visited Baron Hill Estate, then old Bulkeley mansion. Built as a family house and a guesthouse for King George IV, it fell into disuse during the First World War. By the time the Second World War broke out, only one of the Bulkeleys was still living in the vast property. It was then used to house Polish refugees before a fire gutted it. Post-war, the resurgent Bulkeley family wanted to rebuild the premises, but – sweet irony – they have been blocked; there is a protected species of bat that nests in the ruins, whose habitat would be threatened by renovations, and so it is the bat that is sovereign and the ruin that is conserved. The site of the mansion would make for a perfect children’s play area; ruins of meaning, ready to be brought to life by active young minds. Abandoned guests from other continents hide in the garden: palm trees and jasmine flowers – foreigners to these lands – clearly brought here to be part of an arboretum, but now overrun by gorse and blackberry. The walls hold holiday dreams suspended in midair: fireplaces open onto nothing, and below them trees emerge out of the sides of what were once four-poster beds. At the edge of the manor lies the rusted skeleton of a greenhouse. Its curved metal ribs now jostle with tree trunks whose limbs follow the path of their metal forbearers. When should we stop the process of decay? The house was already ruined before the fire. If I had seen it in 1917, with just one ageing Bulkeley and a skeleton staff, wouldn’t I have said that this is the ruin of the British upper class – little did I know – and that it should be preserved? These questions bring me back to Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques. The anthropologist is wandering disconsolately around the concrete bungalows of the suburbs of Lahore, looking in vain for the real Lahore: the mythical place of which he dreams. It is a classically modernist trope: the past worlds are gone, and our dull concrete constructions have replaced myth with utility. He is sceptical of his own melancholy. He writes: ‘I lose on both counts, and more seriously than may at first appear, for, while I complain of being able to glimpse no more than the shadow of the past, I may be insensitive to reality as it is taking shape at this very moment, since I have not reached the stage of development at which I would be capable of perceiving it. A few hundred years hence, in this same place, another traveller, as despairing as myself, will mourn the disappearance of what I might have seen, but failed to see.’


He is stuck in the temporal bind: unable to see the present properly, he can also not find the past and so enters a dizzying perspectivalism in which he is always out of joint with time. To find the past can be to miss the present, and to enter into the present, as our local businessman in Beaumaris does, might be to miss its significance. The ruin never stops, for it is the ruin of time.

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Joshua Craze

above: The ruins of Baron Hill Estate, part of the Bulkeley family holdings Clay pipes found after the demolition of the Gallows Point boat sheds. Part of the exhibition ‘Fragments of the Past: What You Can Find Out From Small Things’

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Clare Calde r- M ars h all


VIII

There is something redeeming, saving I might even say, in putting our ruins to work. Clare and Alison’s exhibition rearranged the past and set it in motion. It was neither sentimental veneration of the past as past, nor its destruction in the name of the future. They sculpted it. Turned it into montages. Their art is one that preserves fragments of times that are not our own by breaking them and reassembling them in a present saturated in pasts in which we cannot recognise ourselves. The Gallows Point community turned up for the exhibition. Gruff men, not given to words, walked around the exhibition with

their children, and were suddenly turned into narrators of their own stories. Peter Brimecombe, eighty years old, explained to Wilf Levett’s daughter that unique boats were designed at Gallows Point. Her father had designed those boats, though he had never spoken about them. Through the exhibition, the Bad New Things of Beaumaris, who work in gift shops and tourist agencies, were given a different history to the castles and the guided tours that surround them, and it is one that promised the transformation of the material world, and not stagnation. ~

from the top: Traces of the British empire– the finds at Gallows Point include wares from India The paths traced by the detectives at the ‘Fragments of the Past’ exhibition Exploding time, a montage of the old sheds of Gallows Point

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all i mag e s th i s pag e : Clare Calde r- M ars h a l l


Single lane wooden bridge with rusted patina of steel frame spanning the Crowsnest River in Blairmore, Alberta Eroded concrete bridge pilings of a rail bridge spanning the Crowsnest River in Blairmore, approximately 80 m east of the single lane vehicular bridge above

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The permanence and the pursuit of architectural legacy closely associated with auteurship inevitably must be reconciled with its antithesis: environmental change or a state of flux that is the invariable result of entropy. ~

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infrastructure | w e at h e r a n d u s e by michael j leeb

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With the passage of time architecture becomes a remnant shadow of its original design and built form. The very idea of permanence in architecture is itself a weak concept. These two images reveal the obsolete and weakened infrastructure of two single-lane bridges in the Crowsnest Pass through erosion, weathering, neglect and a lack of both utility and need. Despite the strength, intended solidity and permanence of concrete and steel, the unintended consequence is eventual – failure.


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Formlessfinder, Bag Pile, 2011 distance and mass material calculations opposite: Bag Pile models, 2011


I first encountered Bag Pile, a curious outlier among the finalists of MoMA’s PSI Young Architects Program, when it was shown at Rome’s MAXXI museum in 2011. Formlessfinder, the architects, had exhibited a dusty model of fabric arches filled with pebbles and Styrofoam kernels – a literal scale version of larger geotextiles, bigger stones and industrial-sized polystyrene cubes. Although looking like an excavation site could be seen as Bag Pile’s weakness in the competition (it didn’t win), its disaffinity with existing architectural styles was also its unique strength. This un-photogenic proposal subverted contemporary architecture’s festishisation of the image, while it simultaneously articulated and pushed the formless into the foreground of an architectural conversation. Why do I find Bag Pile an exciting proposition? Going through the process of becoming a licensed architect – a rite of passage emphasising intergenerational knowledge transfer – I am struck by the originality achieved by re-examining materials, redefining the terms of sustainability and sharing control with gravitational and human forces at play.

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t e m p o r a ry s t r u c t u r e | precarious form by j e n n i f e r d av i s

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Formlessfinder have an historical ally in Georges Bataille who, in his 1929 collection of essays, Critical Dictionary, defined architecture as form: a metaphor or a symbol standing in for the body, the state and/or the institution that exercises the will to control. Bataille advocated for the formless, a philosophical construct that praises the formless qualities of space, focuses on the physical and is grounded in a discourse of base materiality. While Bataille locks himself in a form/formless dialectic, Formlessfinder brings the formless into architecture through a ‘loose control’ approach. Instead of strong-arming materials into a set vision, Rose and Ricciardi engage them in an intimate conversation to develop a compendium of operations that can be applied to raw matter. This design approach generates outcomes that otherwise could not be conceived.

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Formlessfinder consists of Julian Rose and Garrett Ricciardi, and is located in Brooklyn. Rose and Ricciardi’s collaborative 2010 Princeton University thesis drew attention to formlessness in architectural history and developed it as a contemporary design methodology. The formless is a carefully framed critique and subversion of current approaches, locating Formlessfinder in a radically incongruous position within their own generation of architects. They are critical of several tendencies that haunt architecture today, especially the trend to hybridise disciplines, pulling architecture away from its fundamentals — material, space and experience. These qualities could be recovered if the tyranny of form in architecture could be subverted. They see architectural history as essentially the story of a succession of architectural styles that exert control and convey symbolic authority. The generally unquestioned enthusiasm for digital tools is a seamless and insidious continuation of this history, a championing of the formal image over materiality, and a disservice to the end users usually found sprinkled about the renderings as ‘accessories to architecture’.


Formlessfinder tested loose control in the original Bag Pile, a summer pavilion meant to provide shade, water and air in MoMA’s courtyard. They employed construction methods and a material palette usually used to stabilise the ground on which cities are built: sandbags and piles of rubble. With a team of engineers and local material suppliers, Formlessfinder made these sandbags and rubble into lumpy arches, columns and vaults. The constraints of such materials developed an architectural lexicon that could be used at many scales. One can imagine that the gravelly ground cover would record popular walking routes over time, a summer rain could be heard trickling through the voids between stones and at summer’s end the aggregate would be trucked back to the local supplier whence it came. When Peter Eisenman theorised ways in which the built object can position itself in relation to existing power structures at work, he used the term ‘strong form’ to describe iconic buildings with one-to-one relationships between their shape and what they represent, their fully-formed images often springing from an architect’s napkin diagram. Formlessfinder leans towards Eisenman’s description of ‘weak form’, which encourages an un-decidability between form and meaning to subvert the certainties of formal narratives and classification. For example, rather than a default to columns to counteract gravity and assert an image of stability, Formlessfinder deploys a pile of loose stones to support a roof – an aggregate structure indicative of an attitude willing to let gravity win, willing to let stones tumble into their natural angle of repose. This is so subtle compared to historical bombast that must declare its structural strength, rather than just letting material mass find its own stasis.

A second project is Tent Pile, 2013, a temporary entry pavilion for Design Miami. As architects in Miami are generally preoccupied with the fight against sand, a precarious foundation for building, Formlessfinder took sand as its starting point. Tent Pile shaded visitors under a vast roof that rested on the apex of a giant mound of sand. What appears to be structural magic is achieved with three interdependent elements: a half-tonne pile of sand (technically half a pile of sand), a retaining wall and a trussed roof that cantilevers off the top of the pile in two directions. While we intuitively know that grains of sand are heavy when accumulated, Formlessfinder leverages this property to use sand as a foundation. Alternate efficiencies both exploit the inherent attributes of various materials and expand the arsenal of materials available to the field. Building temporary projects with aggregate and other raw materials means that the materials can be shipped back to their local suppliers, a return to the continuum of construction materials rather than going to landfills. left: Bag Pile, MoMA, 2011 below and opposite: Tent Pile, Design Miami, 2013

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This degree of sustainability is an alternative to developed technologies that convey the image of ‘green’ – solar panels for example, as ‘strong form’ sustainability. Thrusting raw materials into the foreground forces us to consider the life cycle of building materials, provoking a new consciousness about how resources are processed and used in architecture. Such landscapes ask people how they should be used; they demand new forms of interaction not only between architecture and subject, but among subjects as well. Only through testing could someone decide which bag in Bag Pile is ergonomically suited for sitting, or even which bag is best to use as a platform to protest the institution itself. Someone else might experiment in Tent Pile to find where the shadows converge, where they feel roofed. Bag Pile’s shapes are just alien enough to exclude the social hierarchies implied by most architecture. Visitors necessarily engage in the process of agreeing or arguing with others about how the space should be used, renewing the social contract and engaging in a fundamentally human act. Formlessfinder has been called a formal renegade for good reason. Their strategic retreat from form offers respite from our contemporary saturation in images to reconnect us to the physical and social world.

At a point in time where we are emerging from the totalising narratives of modernism, the tendency is to splinter into many solutions with an attitude that we can do anything. Divergent approaches each pursue their own path, although common across all factions is the reliance on the currencies of image and grand ideas to disseminate their respective wares. In contrast, formlessness identifies the image as its main enemy. Since much of contemporary architecture’s success is related to the proliferation and recognisability of its images, an architecture that subverts the dependence on iconicity must, by definition, work with other qualities than the diagram, unquestioned hierarchies and image. Formlessness is a flexible status and attitude whose fundamental utility is a toolkit of operations for subversion. Piles of rubble as an architectural element challenges existing aesthetic value systems. The project for architecture and society in the twenty-first century is to decide what we should do – a fundamentally political project. The project of the formless is to find moments that allow us to not only think about how to shape architecture but how to question existing hegemonies that have taken hold more broadly. In this sense, the architect is re-positioned as one who resists fully-formed solutions and instead offers moments and spaces where individuals can co-author the culture they inhabit.

~

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cour t esy Marion G oodman Galle r y, N e w Yo rk

t h e s of t s ur f a ce of the c ity Sand on table, 1992, above, is a sculpture by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. A table is placed on the soft sandy surface of what appears to be a beach. Sand is deposited on its surface to the point of maximum gravitational resistance creating a spontaneous pyramid. What defines the pyramidal shape of the sand is exactly the compressive strength between its grains, forcing, by gravity, the rest of the sand off the table. Counterpointing the modernist paradigm of ‘monumentality through verticality’ as in the work of Richard Serra, Orozco elects horizontality as an element of engagement within his work. Orozco’s horizontality is a semantic strategy to rethink sculptural procedure: horizontality is found, discovered and reactivated: Extensions of Reflection, 1992 – circular marks made by bicycle tires run through puddles on the street; Piedra, 1992 – a ball of clay equal in weight to the artist’s own body weight is rolled through the streets collecting

the marks and the debris of the city. Horizontality is also precisely delineated in a group of works that use the table as a surface for re-signification: Oval Billiard Table, 1996, which redirects the ball in play against the wishes of the player; Ping-Pong, 1998, where table extensions allow a game for four players that include a pond with plants in the middle; Horses Running Endlessly, 1995, is a chessboard where only knights are used. Orozco uses the apparatus of horizontality as a formal sculptural strategy, which also activates an interaction between the work and the visitor, producing an experience, creating a direct reference to the body and everyday life. In an urban reading, verticality could be the buildings and infrastructures; horizontality could be the expanses of open and public spaces like parks or plazas, spaces for gathering, exchange and pleasure. What happens when the paradigm of verticality is challenged? ­

spmb pro j e cts

urbanism | h o r i z o n ta l i t y by eduardo aquino

­­ preference for a horizontal surface A – one that is activated, soft, ephemeral and engaging, takes us to the beach, specifically, an urban beach. Orozco’s work allows us to look at the beach not simply as a public space or an urban expansion but as a flexible infrastructure that provides a complex matrix of possibilities for the sustenance, growth and pleasure of city living. The urban beach turns urban boredom into eroticism, an oasis of pleasure. The beach, within the logic of production of the contemporary city, can be translated into design strategies that expand the limitations of urban spatial planning. This fluid and experimental territory of pleasure can turn the eye to more marginal areas of production which often escape the perceptions of neoliberal regulation. Regardless of the urban setting or the culture system, the beach is an outlet for imagination and experimentation.


from the left:

It creates human promise in places not altogether defined (a quality Ignasi de Solà-Morales referred as terrain vague), with their potential suspended, waiting to be activated. The beach acts as a valve to urban congestion, releasing various pressures of metropolitan life as an indefinite and open space of possibilities. Terrain vague goes hand in hand with Solà-Morales’s notion of weak architecture: the first shows the opportunity, the latter executes it. Weak architecture parallels Orozco’s artmaking: a demonstration of the strength of weakness, the power that art and architecture produce when they adopt a non-aggressive, non-dominating, tangential and ‘poor’ posture. For Solà-Morales weak architecture helps to typify the distinction between vertical and horizontal, hard and soft, closed and open, challenging architecture’s rhetoric in its relationship to the city, traditionally an architecture that imposes more than retracts, one that occupies more than releases. The beach can be

Gabriel Oroczo, Sand on Table, 1992. Paris, Left Bank, 1968 Roberto Burle Marx, pavement, Copocabana, Rio de Janeiro, 1930-1970

Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, Dust Breeding, 1920 Traffic interchange over Turcot beach, Montréal

considered a ‘weak architecture’ in this sense: it disappears more than shows up; it presents itself soft and open to the tensions of urban life. The beach surface, malleable and inviting, creates a world from the inside out: the architectural object wanes in favour of experience.

The beach is a flexible mechanism for negotiations between people and places, economies and cultures, architectures and the city. This differs from more ‘stable’ urban structures defined by buildings and infrastructure – enhancement of the urban experience can find more resources in the flux exemplified by the beach. Fluidity, mobility, spontaneous feedback and nonlinearity offer a powerful social alternative to stability, predictability and rationality.

Both Orozco’s work and beach experiences encourage an awareness of the temporal fragility of our actions as well as the richness of resources available if we would but use the ordinary in poetic ways. We could redefine the city and urban living by activating the potential of places otherwise deemed dysfunctional, dormant or even dead. The beach here is not just a surface of sand bathed by seawater, it also references a mythological ‘beach universe’, the immaterial dream of ideal urban living, the human desire for gathering on a surface under intense cultural production and ongoing cultural exchange, where freedom of space invests in human relations.

The beach as a weak system identifies a dynamic territory where human actions are in constant transformation, generating a field of possibilities. We relax on a beach, we get away from our individualised spaces and enjoy our presence in the city through collective pleasurable production. ~

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from the left: Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro Lina Bo Bardi, Boardwalk, São Paulo 1986 Paris Plage on the Seine, 2006 Copocabana at the visit of Pope Francis, 2013 Walter Firmo’s view of Copocabana, 1957

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S u n s e t a t t he en d of the ur ban ag e Valparaiso ’ s struggle for place urbanism | social form by rodrigo barros

6. THE LANDING. All space is already occupied by the enemy, which has even reshaped its basic laws, its geometry, to its own purposes. Authentic urbanism will appear when the absence of this occupation is created in certain zones. What we call construction starts there. It can be clarified by the positive void concept developed by modern physics. Materialising freedom means beginning by appropriating a few patches of the surface of a domesticated planet. —Programme élémentaire du Bureau d’urbanisme unitaire, 1961. Situationist International

Valparaíso was never founded.1 It discovered itself, ironically, through the process of overlapping layers and layers of social tissue and urban history, a palimpsest that eventually became a city with a very strong and complex character, manifested radically through its built environment.

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In this city every day at noon the sun works its wonders. Every bridge floats in the air. Every house is triangular, impossible to furnish. Every stairway ends in the middle of the hill: one must go back, or fly. With the sun misery shows itself as misery, and the elevators stop looking like elevators. This is the untruth of Valparaíso. Its untruth is the sun, its truth the ocean.2

1 Unlike all other cities in Chile started by Spanish imperialism in the traditional gridiron plan, one of the first and most “primitive” forms of urbanism (ideology of space) inherited and adapted from ancient Roman centuriation. 2 Chris Marker describes the city in the 1963 documentary, Valparaíso, by Joris Ivens.


Before channels were built and shortcuts made things easier for merchant vessels, before industrial society transformed movement itself into surplus labour, and not long before the empire started to crash under its own weight, one could easily point out Valparaíso on a world map. It was a mandatory stop for travellers, for business and for political hegemony. But it was not only the loss of its strategic position as it vanished from commercial shipping routes that made it fall into slow oblivion. The fétichisation of its architecture has made Valparaíso’s unique way of understanding everyday life into another commodity in Capital’s Financial Markets – just as Cuzco, Salvador de Bahia, Venice or Habana are still on the map but far away from their original culture, while from a close distance their inhabitants look at how they are being pushed aside.

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R o dri g o B arro s

Today, Valparaíso exists only as an illusion or trace for the ‘porteños’, who have witnessed in the past decades how effectively and fast consumer society can move forward, destroying all specific reality and expressions of human environment that the city and its people historically produced. This is the second tragedy of Valparaíso, one hundred years after the first; it is no longer the lack of investment that makes its soul quiver, now it is that same investment that makes it sink into decadence. Its urban geography, which had always resisted as an appeal to human desires, ingenuity, feelings and struggles, is currently being recast by property speculation’s logic of space. If money comes in the poor go out, that is the basic rule for gentrification.

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Displacement of people is one of the most powerful tools for urbanism, and space is not only occupied physically. Nonetheless, one could not say that Valparaíso lacks physical or mental force. One could only say it is weak in the sense that it is liable to break. And the reason for this is that historically Valparaíso has been a powerful expression of the contradictions of its time, and thus, a city prone to crisis. But crisis is perhaps a natural state of our times, and the lucidity of the city resides in the ability to express this global symptom throughout its intricate and contrasted building process, its passionate architecture, its heroic history and humble presence. As Marco Polo suggested to Kublai Khan, it makes no sense to establish a distinction between happy and unhappy cities, but rather into those that through the years and the changes continue to give form to their desires, and those in which desires either erase the city or are erased by it.

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We have strong reasons to believe that Unitary Urbanism3 would have seen in this city shaped by desires an ideal place for the development of its program, not only because of Valparaíso’s unique geography and free spirit, but also because of its vast tradition of struggles and contradictions. Out of scarcity, earthquakes and fires, out of recycled wood, imported metal sheets and local materials, mixing building techniques that immigrants brought from all over the world, out of the yearning of the landscape and common life, its inhabitants have created an architecture that sings to the ocean, the elements and human relationships.

3 ‘The theory of the combined use of arts and techniques as means contributing to the construction of a unified milieu in dynamic relation with experiments in behaviour.’ from Internationale Situationiste #1, Paris, June 1958


The Situationist International was particularly interested in this kind of built environment that somehow manages to escape, or has the potential to overcome, space domesticated by economic development in favour of social emancipation. They knew that it is actually within those contradictions where the potential for change dwells. However, the SI has always been misunderstood by artists in general, and architects specifically. Their critique of urbanism is a specific historical expression of a broader critique of capitalism, and we should understand it as such when thinking about our cities in general — as a way of constructing another city for another life, of materialising freedom. Nothing less than that. The ongoing crisis of Valparaíso (and we could also say the ongoing crisis of every major city in the world), not in an opportunistic but rather dialectical way, represents the starting point for consciousness. Consciousness of the landscape, the city, social life, time and space.

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It is a possibility for architecture and human community. A place from which to start construction.

~

R o dri g o B arro s

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Vi r gi ni a F e r na nd e z R i nc on


u n d e r p i n n i n g i n for mal ur ban i sms the barrio and the rancho urbanism | caracas by virginia fernandez rincon

The barrio1 , its rancho on the improvised steps up the hill2 and all its illegal water and electricity connections are, literally, weak. It would not take much more than a couple of days of torrential rains, or one of the seismic events that sporadically shakes the country, to suddenly knock the system out – power lines, streets, ranchos and the land they sit on. This is the weak that is precarious, unsafe and uncertain. Conversely, as a whole, barrios are also weak in a more optimistic and productive sense: they are adaptable, ingenious and resourceful; bottom-up and personal. A barrio is a surprisingly resilient system made out of inherently fragile parts. The incidental forces of economy and geography that created the barrios have influenced Caracas’s urban fabric more evidently than any national or local government, official urban plan or city by-law. These informal settlements have been and still are the solution to the lack of housing and to ineffective city planning, relegating the urban poor to live with sporadic or no basic services and on steep slopes, unstable soil and in floodplains. As in many other Latin American metropoli, the barrios at the edge of Caracas have the highest population density in the city. Within these peripheral areas, and for more than seventy years, informal housing has sprouted on the steep slopes that today hold more than half of the population of the city.

Barrios start with an invasión, the illegal occupation of a plot of land that belongs – or once belonged – to the military, the national or municipal government, or to a private entity. Depending on the agenda of the local and national government of the time, these invasiones are either tolerated, or the land is cleared by local police or the National Guard, often repeatedly as houses are rebuilt overnight. Many of the people that migrated to the city in the early 1920s were from the Andes region and accustomed to terracing the sides of the hills for cultivation. They used the same method to occupy the hills of Caracas; it is still done this way: the terrain is cleaned and flattened before a rancho is built. This terraced land is the base for the single house that will start a barrio. However, land’s pragmatic and symbolic value increases when it is connected to services. In informal settlements where land is scarce and infrastructure inadequate, this value increases exponentially. When building the informal city, barrio residents not only appropriate a piece of land, but in what is maybe a more remarkable act, they illicitly connect it to the infrastructure that makes a plot of land liveable. Construction in the barrio operates outside any legal framework. The land is invaded and water, electricity and sewer systems are accessed illegally and seldom paid for. This has allowed new settlements to occupy sites that were never prepared for construction. If infrastructure can support growth without directly shaping its form, it can also bypass the abstract requirements of any city by-law or building code, instead conditioning the land for informal occupation – an improvement on current practices of informal development.

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1 Barrio: Venezuelan name for informal settlements (known as favelas in Brazil and villas miseria in Argentina). 2 Rancho: a shack in a barrio, usually made out of recycled construction or packaging materials, plywood, corrugated zinc and plastic panels. w eak syste ms On Site review 32

facing page: Site plan and sections over time The spine of services, public buildings and civic spaces acts as a framework for growth that is itself developed in stages as the barrio grows.


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70 top: the view by 2016: like the barrio, the proposed infrastructure is open and flexible, encouraging different uses and transformation through time right: the view by 2020

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facing page: plan and section: the spine collects and filters water, compacts waste and distributes basic services.

This project is sited in the currently empty hillsides where the soil is considered moderately stable, towards which the barrios are quickly expanding. The spine of services, public buildings and civic spaces acts as a framework for growth that is itself developed in stages as the barrio grows. The proposed infrastructure combines multiple systems. It performs as aqueduct, sewer and electric line: cistern and dump; path, bridge and landmark. Each spine is located in one of the many ravines that cover the mountain. These areas are especially vulnerable to landslides when frequent and torrential rains drain through them towards the Macarao River. Acting as a retaining wall, the infrastructure spine is built into the mountainside to allow for water flow absorption. Additional mechanical anchors stabilise the soil around the ravines and extend to mark the limits of construction in high-risk areas. The spine collects rain and storm water from roofs the paved paths and stairs in the barrio itself. After water is collected, it is filtered and pumped back into the municipal water

system to increase the short and sporadic water supply coming from the city. Waste is collected, compacted and transported to small transfer facilities managed by the municipal waste service. The path also carries water, electricity and sewage pipes and provides safe and legal connections to this services for the surrounding houses in each node. This intervention recognises that new barrios will keep forming, and existing ones will expand when land is available. It anticipates their growth with proper infrastructure but without the rigidity and speculation that characterises formal development. It is easily replicable and adaptable as it allows for incremental growth that can follow the particularities of each existing and future barrio and its land. Weak infrastructure – one that preempts growth without shaping it – can service the continuous expansion of informal settlements to create an armature for a weak, yet more liveable city. ~


wa l k i n g a l m a t y access ramps

vernaculars k a z a k h s ta n by dennis keen

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The only time I’ve ever seen a paraplegic in Almaty, she was being carried up some theatre steps by her devoted family. This woman, I must say, was brave to even roll out of her home, as Almaty is aggressively unfriendly to those who roll. Ramps here seem to be built to mock those who need them. They are impractically steep, without rails, paved with slippery marble, and the strangest thing is that they are everywhere. Wheelchairs remain confined to hospitals while access ramps are ubiquitous. It is possible these stunted ramps are treated as a bureaucratic chore, necessitated by some municipal code. The only law I could find on the matter was from a national bill on the rights of invalids. ‘Business owners are obliged to provide easy access for people with disabilities to public transport vehicles, residential, public and commercial buildings and structures’, it reads. With limited space and tight budgets, these business owners have ticked off this requirement with absurdly-angled death traps. Disabled people like the poor theatre-goer better have family members who lift weights.  There’s another possible justification for these overlooked elements of the Almaty landscape: strollers. Although I’ve seen parents haul their strollers up steps rather then risk a ramp ride, there are rare occasions where I see them used – I saw a fun-loving dad (or maybe a guilt-free uncle) perch his kid’s stroller at the top of one of these ramps and mockscream “Davai, davai!” (D`b`i, d`b`i!· Let’s go!). He let go, the kid screamed in terror as the stroller careened down. ~

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D e nni s K e e n


u rb an po l i c y by stealth

informal cities madrid by will craig

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At the beginning of the twentieth century there were over ten thousand registered ragpickers in Madrid, men and women combing wealthy neighbourhoods looking for things to salvage.1 Objects which had lost their value in the bourgeois centres of the city were transported to the outskirts where they assumed new uses. The ragpickers are gone (replaced by large trucks, depositing materials in new state-of-the-art processing facilities) but their legacy of salvage remains. Just as the ragpickers moved through the city reclaiming underused objects, today there are people re-appropriating sections of the city, exploiting areas which have been overlooked and equipping them with social value. The outskirts of Madrid tell a familiar story. The 2008 economic downturn left a massive over-supply of land, intended for housing, at the margins of the city. As many as one million houses sat empty, many large scale projects were left unfinished, significant areas of land were scarred by unfinished infrastructure. Fuelled by speculation, the unleashed property boom left little but discarded dreams and stripped landscapes in its wake. As investors moved away, the local economy suffered. The urban plan had failed; a jobless (and in many cases, homeless) Madrileño contingent was left with few options. Those who remained sifted through the detritus to make some sense of the waste world that confronted them.

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Despite reckless over-development in the suburbs, Madrid’s city centre is, as it has always been, a noisy, political, active and lively place. There is something to be said for the resilience of historic city centres, where people continuously engage with their environment and manage to carve out and reclaim space as their own. In spite of economic desperation, the resulting hardship and the ravaging of the fringes, the spaces at the centre are continually reinvented. Space is made for culture and exchange — La Tabacalera, once a tobacco factory, was used for many years as public administration offices. When funding was cut and the building vacated, other people moved in. Once again, the vaulted chambers became places of production, this time for art, dance, skateboarding, music, circus performance; energy spills into hallways, staircases and out onto small surrounding patios.

above: La Tabaclera, Madrid facing page: Esta Es Una Plaza (this is a place) is another example of ongoing spatial reclamation. As its name suggests, this space is nurtured and decorated as one would do in a house. It is a community garden with soul, cultivating philosophy and politics, adorned with graffiti of national traditions. Painstakingly, painted murals of the homeless, people, animals and the bull pay homage to the sacrifice and traditions of the Spanish working classes.

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The planners of Madrid’s doomed suburban projects could learn a lot from the ingenuity and flexibility observed in the city core. Spontaneity and self-organisation is fundamental to the development of these spaces, administered by students, artists, performers, gardeners.

Will Craig

1 Parsons, Deborah L. A Cultural History of Madrid: Modernism and the Urban Spectacle. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2003


Foucault has posited the urban periphery as a site of ambiguity which operates outside the social and political spheres of the city.2 As such, edges are ripe for transformation. On Madrid’s periphery lies Cañada Real.3 In the thirteenth century it was a drover’s route but it is now used by city garbage trucks to transport waste to outlying processing plants. Bordering the road for 15 kilometres is Europe’s largest informal settlement, which has existed on the fringe of the city since the 1970s. It is continuously tarred in the media for its illegal status as a squatter settlement and its reputation as a drugs ‘supermarket’. Through processes of eviction it steadily declines, yet it remains a functioning community of around 40,000 people with bars, shops, restaurants and parks. Residents are resourceful and economical; recycling is a way of life. Regular demolitions have turned the area into a war-torn zone; residents continue to fight for their right to occupy the land. There is much at stake. Private development interest in surrounding areas puts rising pressure on the authorities to end the settlement’s forty-year informal history and to re-designate the land.

Policy or action to support informal development strategies meets some problems. In Cañada Real it is the negative perception such squatter settlements create. If we were able to think of this as a transition settlement, affording newcomers a way to gain access to the city of Madrid, its jobs, its services, perhaps with the integration of youth education and training centres, then such settlements might be seen as performing a service to the city proper. Many cities – London, New York, Montréal – developed this way by providing a stepping stone for immigrants usually near the point of entry; over time these fringe communities became more established and were incorporated into the fabric of the city. Todo Por La Praxis proposed an action plan whereby improvements could be made to Cañada Real, with community input, to bring housing up to code and to upgrade its urban realm. The justification is an economic one: it is cheaper and less wasteful to invest in an existing community than to relocate residents and demolish the settlement. Nonetheless, it appears this argument may not be enough to sway the perceptions of those in power. ~

Despite this, informal uses continue to thrive on the city’s left-overs. Street artists and designers use stealth practices to exploit weaknesses in the city’s formal arrangement. Individual practitioners such as Santiago Cirugeda4 and organised groups such as Todo Por La Praxis5, an organisation representing the residents of Cañada Real, promote continuous adaptation of the city by salvaging remnants of space. This is a very different process from gentrification which exploits overlooked value in neighbourhoods through property development (and with which Cañada Real is now threatened). In this case the communities are building from the ground up. They exploit the temporal qualities of these ambiguous sites and transform them to serve culture. It is about developing a street-level perspective of the city, rather than top-down planning. As Walter Benjamin’s flâneur wandered the streets of Paris, as ragpickers of Madrid travelled across the social strata of the city, today’s artists, gardeners and street guerrillas move through left-over spaces, transforming them as they go.

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This unstructured, weak urbanism is a counterpoint to traditional forms of urbanism. In the case of Madrid, it is exacerbated by a situation of intense property development followed by economic frailty. While these weak systems have their advantages, they are not a viable alternative to the formal planning process – rather they are a by-product in that they are in many ways co-dependent. Insurgents exploit weaknesses in the form and social arrangement of the city, re-defining spaces to provide social benefit. These are strategies that are effective because they are applied to the formal city.

4 Santiago Cirugeda: www.recetasurbanas.net

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5 Todo Por La Praxis: www.todoporlapraxis.es

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2 Foucault, Michel, ‘Of Other Spaces’, Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986), 22-27 3 See Will Craig’s video, Cañada Real www.youtube.com/ watch?v=n62D0QpIVp8

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Will Craig


The aim of this article and the collaborative art project it describes is to draw attention to an important geo-political issue whose global significance was recognised by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees in 2008: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) identified individuals, seeking refuge, health and safety in countries such as Spain, Canada and the UK

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Thom a s S t r i c k l a nd

making places in transition urban codes | personal freedoms by thomas strickland

above: transicions/transiciones/ transitions. Exhibited at Sala d’exposicions del Districte de Gràcia, 6-18 November 2013.

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1 Gopinath, Gayatri. Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2005. See Also: ‘At The United Nations Arab and African Nation Get Gay Reference Cut From Violence Measure’, LGBT Asylum News, Nov. 17, 2010. 2 ‘At UN Meeting, Countries Commit to Protect Gay Rights, Combat Discrimination’, UN News Centre. Sep. 26, 2013. Because of this commitment, the Anti-Homosexual Act, 2014, was annulled by the Ugandan Court of Appeal as unconstitutional. While this is clearly a victory for human rights, the ruling has ignited anger amongst anti-gay supporters, leaving the LGTBQ community vulnerable to increasing violence. 3 Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. (1995). Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

In fall 2013 I was selected to participate in a residency with Jiwar Creació i Societat, an organisation that supports community-based artistic and urban research in Barcelona. Under the rubric Making Neighbourhood, the residency, inspired by South African video anthropologist Sydelle Willow Smith, asked four artists, including Smith and myself, to explore the day-to-day lives of non-documented individuals living in Barcelona. My focus during the residency was to illuminate the ephemeral but crucial investments that LGBTQ refugees make in space and to understand how LGBTQ refugees locate themselves in dislocation. While one goal of my project, titled transicions/transiciones/transitions, was to draw attention to the specific conditions of statelessness experienced by LGBTQ refugees, another was to understand and share their spatial practices – their use of the city – as a way to reveal critical relationships between immigration, cities and citizenship. Politically isolated, the LGBTQ refugee is, as Gayatri Gopinath explains, invisible in terms of citizenship.1 Yet, the context of the LGTBQ refugee is not simply legal, it is also architectural and urban. Why LGBTQ individuals seek refuge varies. But in every case the very health and wellbeing of the individual is at stake. In seventy-six countries falling in love with someone of the same sex is illegal and can result in a prison sentence – in at least five countries sentencing means the death penalty. Even in countries that have signed the United Nations LGBT Rights Declaration, discrimination against LGBTQ

people is widespread – in the workplace, as well as in education and health sectors. In fact, as of 2013 and this project, just three countries had passed laws that provide LGBTQ people the same rights and protections as cisgendered and cissexual individuals: Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. Recent regressive laws passed in Russia banning gay ‘propaganda’ (2013) and the passing of the AntiHomosexuality Act, 2014 by the Parliament of Uganda, makes clear the global scale of the dangers faced by LGBTQ people.2 Seeking refugee status situates an LGBTQ individual within transnational movements of migrant labourers, people seeking to escape war and those escaping persecution on religious grounds. The framework in place to co-ordinate in-migration depends on each individual nation’s legal structures, which are nuanced to serve a given government’s political agenda and each countries’ social mores. Thinking in broad terms, citizenship is accorded by place of birth or pro-rated for individuals who qualify in accordance with the measure of law. In either case, proof of citizenship is made visible in document form, most demonstrably by the passport. The failure of immigration law, in Canada, Europe, the USA and many nations, to acclimatise to the urgency of the LGBTQ refugee and, more broadly, the reliance on a passport as the defining measure of a citizen, is a clear weakness in the system. To exceed the ‘bare life’ of such documents, as Giorgio Agamben puts it, it is necessary to make visible the spaces of social and political agency.3


A function of transicions/transiciones/ transitions is to assert that citizenship is a relationship with the city that exceeds official documentation. Following the foundational work of Henri Lefebvre, Caroline Knowles and Edward Soja, I began from the understanding that cities are more than bricks and mortar, they are also constructed from the ephemeral – the movements, memories and relationships we create everyday.4 My collaborators are living in exile in Spain and are at various stages of transition to life in Barcelona. Our art work is about the ways transition is enacted physically and symbolically through the spaces and places of Barcelona and to understand how buildings and places can help individuals make sense of change in sex, space and citizenship. Transicions/transiciones/transitions was as much about the collaborative process as it was about the end result on the walls and in display cases exhibited at Sala d’exposicions del Districte de Gràcia. I met the individuals who would become my collaborators with the assistance of Associació Catalana per a la Integració d’Homosexuals, Bisexuals i Transsexuals Immigrants (ACATHI), a non-profit, volunteer-run organisation in Barcelona that provides aid and information to LGBTQ people seeking refuge in Spain. My collaborators were from many different places in the world: Veronica, a transwoman from Columbia, had been living in Barcelona for thirteen years and hoped to receive her citizenship in 2014; Andrei, who is a gay man from Russia, arrived in Spain just six weeks prior to our introduction – he had to leave his home and job as a computer programmer so quickly he only had time to pack a single suitcase; Nohelia, a transwoman from Peru, is a personal trainer and party designer; Edgar, a gay man from Armenia, is a talented graphic designer; and Rubén, from Argentina and Uruguay, transitioned to Barcelona forty years ago – he still does not have Spanish citizenship.

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4 Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991. Soja, Edward. Seeking Spatial Justice. Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Knowles, Caroline. ‘Cities On the Move: Navigating Urban Life’, City: Analysis of Urban Trends, Culture, Theory, Policy, Action. 15 (2011):135-153.

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I met with each individual at least twice, in some cases three times. During the first meeting I took a picture of my collaborator’s hand on their passport and asked them to respond to the following question: What would you like to say to your country of origin? (Image 1). At our second meeting I asked my collaborators to take me to a place in the city that is meaningful for them (Image 2). There I took a second photograph of their hand resting on, or holding onto, a part of Barcelona and asked them to respond to a second question: What would you like to say to Barcelona? (Image 3)

transicions/transiciones/ transitions, exhibited at Sala d’exposicions del Districte de Gràcia. images, from the top: 1 Andrei’s hand on his passport 2 Andrei reaching up to touch the fountain or Fuente del Parc de la Ciutadella 3 Rubén touching the foundation stone at the Temple of Augustus in Barcelona.


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images: 5 Author (right) with Andrei (left) exploring one of his favourite places in Barcelona, Parc del Guinardó 6 Author (right) and Rubén ringing the Tibetan chime at the Temple of Augustus in Barcelona 7 One of Rubén’s three gifts, beside a photograph of the gift he left in the city. Exhibited at Sala d’ exposicions del Districte de Gràcia

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5 Skågeby, Jörden. ‘The Performative Gift: A Feminist Materialist Conceptual Model’, Communication and New Materialism. 2 (2013): art 7. 6 Skågeby 7 Skågeby

The images of the hands and accompanying answers to the questions were assembled together and framed for the exhibition. Rather than emphasis on an individual’s face – the dominant signifier of identity and citizenship exemplified by the essential passport photo, here the hand is the subject of identification. Through the combination of the image and the text, viewers are asked to make a connection with the individuals through touch; through the items and objects that they have rejected or embraced, or held onto through periods of trauma and/or emotional recovery. I also spent some time learning about each individual to discover why they came to Barcelona, what are their hobbies, and what makes them happy (image 5, left). This time spent was preparation for an important part of the art work; to search the city for a gift for each of them. The gift was a very important device for avoiding the potential problematics of inhabiting a voyeuristic gaze. It has been argued that the exchange of gifts is at the heart of the market economy, to the extent that Marxist scholars, and for that matter Karl Marx, have written about the commodification of the gift as its fall from grace; its failure so to speak.5 But to rely on this as the only function of the gift removes other possible meanings from the exchange and from the significance of gifts in relationships. To theorise and define this aspect of the work, I drew from feminist media scholar Jörden Skågeby’s concept of the performative gift. Skågeby argues that gift economy is ‘a candidate for more participatory alternatives to capitalist totality.’6 Basically the gift can be reconfigured by using it as a tool through which one can imagine new patterns of life, or experience new facets of the world. In this way the gift as a site of financial intensity is de-emphasised and becomes instead an agent in what Skågeby describes as ‘contributing to ongoing reconfigurations of the world’.7

I set myself a few basic rules such as the gifts had to be fair trade, or second hand. Importantly the gift was to be something I felt was connected to their knowledge, to the things they do every day, to their dreams and ambitions. It was also important that the gifts’ meaning would resonate with my collaborators through their connection to places and buildings in the city of Barcelona. For me this meant days thinking about my new friends, imaging the worries and concerns they face each day, what they long for, and what are the tendencies in their personalities; all the while discovering a particular version of the Barcelona delineated by my quest for their gifts.


At the second meeting I presented each of my friends with three of the same gift: one to keep for themselves, one to be placed somewhere special in Barcelona, and the other to remain with the exhibition. For example, Rubén, who was one of the first HIV aids activist in the country, took me to the Temple of Augustus in Barcelona. During our first meeting he told me that the meaning of a place can be represented through music as well as visually. The tibetan chime I gave Rubén as a gift, when rung, opens a space of peace and safety (image 6, facing page). Making this sound in this ancient place was symbolic of Rubén’s role in creating a safe and peaceful place for people living with HIV/AIDS in modern Barcelona (image 7, facing page). When I meet Nohelia she was in the process of officially changing her name from the one she was given at birth to the name she has always had inside herself – Nohelia. Her meaningful place is the Gender Identity Clinic at Hospital Clínic, where her realignment surgery is taking place (image 8, right). The gift I gave her was three small boxes with three small scrolls inside. To complete the gift she wrote ‘Nohelia’ on two small scrolls and placed them in two of the boxes, one for the exhibition and one to take home (image 9, right). In the other box, she placed a scroll with the name she was given at birth and left this on the beach to be taken by the tides. A crucial aspect of this art piece was to learn about the places and spaces of Barcelona from my collaborators rather than tourist maps and destinations. To do this I only visited places that my collaborators took me and the shops I discovered while searching for their gifts. My relationship with Barcelona is bound to the material and ephemeral moments I shared with my friends. Our collaboration revealed an LGBTQ refugee topography of Barcelona that controverts, perhaps even disrupts, the iconic Barcelona of Antonio Gaudi and the Castelleres. When assembled together in the exhibition, the images, texts and gifts share a story of collective spatial practices and experiences that is a contribution to ongoing reconfigurations of the world. Despite their struggle to attain full, legal citizenship, LGBTQ refugees, as evidenced by my collaborators, can and do create meaningful places, material cultures and social networks that exceed the bare life of formal documentation. ~

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images: 8 Nohelia touching the sign at the entrance to the Gender Identity Clinic at Hospital Clinic. 9 One of Nohelia’s three gifts, beside a photograph of the three boxes and scrolls. Exhibited at Sala d’ exposicions del Districte de Gràcia

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housing the unhoused pa r i s by n ata l i a s c o c z y l a s

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Pa ri s fo r e v e r yon e :

Enfants du Canal temporary housing.

Enfants du Canal et PEROU Like a volcano rumbling at the heart of the forest, somewhere in the city there must be a place where the unknown emerges. The world is this incessant movement glimpsed through the holes in the shells of our capital cities, now ocean liners of the third age. — Philippe Vasset

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Paris is on a mission to change one of the most desired world’s capital in the most hospitable city in the world – Paris de l’Hospitalité. Since April 2014 the organisers have been accepting projects – which can be submitted by creators, artists, architects and constructors – that would address the needs of a broadly understood population of nomads in the inner city. There are 15,000 people who occupy Parisian streets for a variety of reasons, which shows the need to creae alternative solutions that would make use of hidden folds and public spaces, to provide them with comfortable, flexible shelters. The complexity of the project and the openness of its formula addresses the question of modern urban living and different forms of nomadism. This is anything but a new phenomenon, still nomad presence has been neglected and stigmatised by authorities whose interest, as the Paris de l’Hospitalité organisers believe, is to exile unwanted, irregular dwellers, rather than to seek ways of including them in the urban context and benefiting from their vibrant, alternative presence. It is not just the simple introduction of a system of innovative sleeping solutions for jobless wanderers – it is a search for possibilities that would be useful in times of inevitable social, human and cultural crisis such as we are facing at the moment.

co u r te s y P e ro u - P ari s de l’ H o s pi ta l i t e

Ten projects will be chosen by a jury, half of which is made up of previously homeless people who benefit now from the project Enfants du Canal, an initiative that supplies 350 urban dwellers with temporary transition shelters in the city (above), allowing them to recover, to recollect a sense of stability, health and fitness and relieving them from the whole range of negative, aggravating experience that is part of living in the street. Enfants du Canal’s militant approach and its disappointment with official politics lead to the use of buses as shelters that serve as daily mobile centres for those in need. The second partner in the project is PEROU (Pôle d’Exploration des Resources Urbaines), a group of artists, architects and researchers whose idea was to address the problem of ‘great urban precarity’ – a term that can be considered extremely relevant and visionary in terms of modern urban and housing policies which contribute to enormous scarcity of resources, such as affordable flats, which in combination with labourrelated precariousness menaces young generations. PEROU’s mission is to reformulate the whole conception and use of common urban space – again, the word common instead of widely used public is a conscious choice, imposing the correct attitude towards what belongs to all and yet by being called public is alienated from any sense of belonging, not to mention claim for use. PEROU insists on the recreation of the city starting from the margins.


left: We dream of elsewhere An interview of Jean-Paul, resident at the Enfants du Canal Vésale center, 2013. www.perou-parisdelhospitalite.org/ III-laboratory-of-utopias-PC5 map: We live in the city Saint- Jacques, Paris 5th, mapped with Jacques, formerly homeless. This is a near-English translation of his walk: ‘I lived only fifteen days at the Vesalius Street Enfants du Canal before going to the rue Grancey Centre. Very little time to know people... I often go to the cinema Escurial, on the Boulevard de PortRoyal, afternoon or evening, watch action movies. Here in front, the ERDF building, I slept two weeks days in the entrance way. Always after 11pm, sitting with a duvet. cour t esy P e ro u - P ari s de l’ H o s pi tali te

Broca, I like the architecture of certain buildings, brick reminds me of the houses in the north where I come from. During the sales, many people throw their old mattresses outside, it’s a time to collect linens, clothing... Rue Saint-Jacques is my street And further on there is my boulevard. I like it, there are plenty of shops, boutiques, flea markets, it is animated. And the lower Seine, in the days when Enfants du Canal was at the Canal Street Observatory, I did my laundry there whenever the second hand washing machines were broken. This place, Alphonse Laveran, at the entrance of the church of Val-de-Grace, I come to read quietly on a bench. There is the fountain, and then the self-service food. Here is the Academy of Fine Arts of the American School. In the window we see the drawing boards... it reminds me of my studies in electro-mechanics, it was industrial design. I cannot stand elevators, subways... I would like to live on the ground floor. I need to see the sky, my window is open even in winter. Here is the Saint-Jacques church, but I go to a church near rue Grancey two or three times a week. 79

This square, Avenue de l’Observatoire, has the only free toilet, behind the keeper’s hut. There are also toilets at the public library and hospital emergency to freshen up. There are student parties in the square sometimes. Under the arch of the brick building, there has been a death. I lived before at the CROUS Port Royal, right there on the steps outside the doors, ordered not to obstruct the doors or emergency exits. At the entrance of the Observatoire de Paris, I stayed fifteen days in a tent with a friend. These are the old stables... they have conferences here. Farther on is a monastery and an orphans home. From here on the Place Denfert Rochereau, we see the Busabri Enfants du Canal. There are several squares, one is calm, the other is less so, there are dealers at night. Here behind this trailer, she reads the future. In the third square they play bocce. I have never lived more than four years in the same city.’

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The chosen projects and a publication will be presented in the Pavillion de l’Arsenal to those in charge of urban planning and housing decisions, aiming for realisation in the forthcoming municipal mandate. The project insists on a linguistic shift, changing the unwanted into extra, degradation into upgrading, misuse into illumination – a vibrant and lively contribution. ~

I come to Parc du Luxembourg when it is not raining and I have nothing else to do. I look at the statue of Catherine de Medici, there are kiosks and concerts in the summer. They removed the benches beside the statues of the Queens of France. This kiosk used to be a book rental place. I used to go and read in a corner in the shade. Now it is a waffle stand.

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Keywords for PEROU are innovation (abused and overused, nevertheless a still-relevant term), experiment (as a means of response to petrified, impotent, expired solutions offered to the people), independence and freedom. Weak forms, such as alternative housing opportunities, demand new visions, free of the political reluctance and market-driven spatial vision that leads to scarcity and exclusion. Alternative housing opportunities are seen as detrimental from the perspective of regular society: its response is unfriendly public furniture and the erasure of spots that previously offered temporary roofs. These are drastic responses: the military metaphors in the presentation of the project are more than accurate in this context. Overcoming the limits of spatial scarcity is possible and necessary – and the will to implement the solution has to be awakened in the rest of the social and political context. Nothing that so far exists addresses the real needs and problems of those who either decided or accidentally ended up living a vulnerable lifestyle. Opportunities are there, buried under the layers of exclusive law, visions and interests.


d o ppe l g ä n g e r in the ope n : a Canal Street case study g l o b a l i s at i o n the consumer chain by can vu bui

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A successful object, in the sense that it exists outside its own reality, is an object that creates a dualistic relation, a relation that can emerge through diversion, contradiction, destabilisation, but which effectively brings the so-called reality of a world and its radical illusion face-to-face. — Jean Baudrillard to Jean Nouvel.1 ...one can easily see in an object at once a perfection and an absence of origin, a closure and a brilliance, a transformation of life into matter, and in a word a silence which belongs to the realm of fairy-tales. — Roland Barthes2

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1 Jean Baudrillard to Jean Nouvel ‘The First Interview’. The Singular Objects of Architecture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 2002. p9 2 Roland Barthes. ‘The New Citroen’ Mythologies. London: Granada Limited, 1981. p88


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There are forms today that appreciate a reverence near holiness, curves that seduce us to stand in line for hours, or that compel us to browse, stalk and later place bids on eBay; today, iPhones, Playstations and Red Octobers have arguably more societal force than lawmakers – they both shape and make news and they can also earn a company more money than certain nations make altogether. Some of these forms are absolute, there is no mistaking an iPhone, but others share a reverence through relativity, not special for its uniqueness but rather its species. Each morning, as I walk down Canal Street in New York City, it is obvious to me that one such relative object is the handbag. On a tattered blanket laying on the sidewalk, rest these prized objects with names like Michael Kors, Chanel, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton. Their forms look familiar and the colours are never objectionable; they are selected to push the most sales and the least second-guessing. Yet on Canal, these objects are not real but counterfeits, illegal copies of the revered thing, and as such, they seem insignificant and demand to be despised. But is there more to value? What lies behind these counterfeit forms?

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3 The World Customs Organization (WCO), under its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Enforcement program calls counterfeit trade, ‘the black sheep of globalisation’ 4 By and large, fake handbags can be broken into four categories: (1) is the non-fake, one that looks something like how a designer handbag should look like, but is not a copy; (2) is the fake designer handbag, but mysteriously, and upon the versatility of the vendor, has interchangeable nameplates: a Prada tag replaced by a Coach tag; (3) is what we typically consider a fake, a bag that looks like the real thing, but feels nothing like it, built with cheap materials and hastily constructed; and (4) is the superfake, ones built so much like the original, they are hard to discern.

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By mid-morning on an August day, Canal Street is overwhelming, and here perhaps better than anywhere else in the city is New York at its liveliest and most chaotic. Across ten city blocks going east to west, Canal encounters every major subway line as the system funnels towards Lower Manhattan;

it serves as the main thoroughfare for drivers from Brooklyn by way of the Manhattan Bridge to Newport, New Jersey via the Holland Tunnel; more importantly, the street is the boundary between several of Manhattan’s neighbourhoods, primary among them are SoHo and Chinatown, respectively polarised purveyors of luxury and cheap goods. On cobblestone streets like Greene, one can acquire $5,000 Chanel handbags, not to mention Sartorialist street photoshoots and shiny sports cars; opposite are grimy streets like Mott and Mulberry, with their overflowing storefronts and that Chanel counterfeit, sold for $50. Canal Street is the very collision of capital systems: the official and in its shadow, the doppelganger, the content that drives globalisation and its fallout.3 Strip away these environments, and in many cases the two handbags are identical, if not by touch, certainly in sight. The truth with fakes is that the form is not so essential – it is arbitrary, and teleological value is interchangeable at best.4


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While the real can be celebrated for its logistical gymnastics – designed in a fashion house in New York City or Paris, with materials sourced internationally, often fabricated in China and finally from there, shipped around the world – the fakes deserve as much awe for sharing the same production chain but operating from the dark. In fact, counterfeits prove to be a resilient mirror of luxury capital, emerging in the same global markets. According to the World Customs Organisation’s 2010 Intellectual Property Rights report, the United States places highest among destination countries as ranked by reported seizure numbers. Yet very little of New York City possesses the shadowy spirit best suited to the sales of counterfeit handbags. With so many procedural reviews to building construction, at nearly every level from state to property, architects and planners are constantly negotiating several codes and satisfying review boards, so it is surprising to find a shantytown-like exception on Canal Street. If on the one hand, New York City shopping is defined by the Sex and the City glamour, as evidenced by the tour buses that pass by, its double is the informal buildout on Canal. On average, the stores are ten to fifteen feet wide and open, that is they have no doors, no enclosure except for metal shutters dropped at close. Here there are no architectural dilemmas of threshold, no environmental challenges to overcome, no thermal breaks, no air conditioning. In other words, the curatorial window shopping experience that New York helped to define is absent. The openness seeps into the architecture eliminating the wall boundary, pushing the street edge into a series of unfolding surfaces, little crevices carved into the urban valley poché like the nave chapels of Brunelleschi’s Santo Spirito in Florence; here, we can revere the holiness of consumerism.

Inside, the spaces vary – fifteen, thirty, forty-feet deep. They are finished with the ubiquitous four by eight foot white-painted MDF slatwall panel: three-quarters of an inch thick mounted directly to furring strips, with horizontal slots three inches oncentre, and matched end-to-end to spread continuously over every surface of wall space: a display infrastructure perfected. While this architectural simplicity seems to undermine the complex network that delivers us this space, its fleetingness and cheapness adds to the system’s resilience, and in five days, a space can be built and fully stocked. The real fake handbags, however, have effectively moved out of these stores after raids in 2008 when then-Mayor Bloomberg effectively shut down the Counterfeit Triangle (bounded by Canal, Walker and Centre streets) following a stern policy to protect trademarks and citing that the city was losing nearly a billion dollars in sales tax. Instead, the resilient shadow market moved out of defined spaces and into the amorphous street. On braver days, the handbags lie on blankets at key street corners; on a typical one, the street vendors whisper into passing ears, ‘Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton’, pulling out a print or an iPad displaying a catalogue of bags numbered like a menu at a restaurant. Once selected, as in a scene from The Wire, the number passes from one person to the next, eventually to the corresponding oversized bag, or van, or hideout house for pickup, and is returned to the shopper: an urban and nebulous network made of salesmen, watchmen and runners.


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It is this last link of the production chain that offers further depth into the Canal Street phenomenon – that along the consumer supply line that has taken us around the world, it ends here with those who close the deal: the Africans, the West Indians, and the Chinese immigrants who push the product. In the world of haute-couture fashion with personal shoppers and professional buyers, personalities with their own client books, it’s an apt symmetry that their doppelgangers are the fleeting new immigrants to New York. Chinese women and African men line the streets, the former to the east of Broadway, the latter to the west – there are many of them, some are mobile but most are stationary, and no single person shares an affiliation to one product. Their numbers are high, but to the many that traverse Canal regularly, they become invisible, unnoticed, one part of the Canal Street ecosystem. They, like the temporary buildouts, like the products and the spaces of Canal, are interchangeable – they belong to a rhizomatic network that is constantly shifting in the open, a member of a decentralised structure that consists of transients: of the tourists that flock to the these streets, of the handbags that travelled the world, of the vendors making a living, that ultimately come to define an amorphous, pseudo-ad hoc urban form that responds to the environment, the market and the authorities.

Ultimately, one leaves Canal Street with the sense that none of these objects are meant to last. The pashmina, the tchotchke, even the fake handbag, are nothing more than souvenirs, temporary and symbolic. When Sam Jacob points out that the forms ‘have almost no intrinsic value, formed from cheap, easily moulded materials, mass-produced and made without craftsmanship. They have no vernacular connection to the place that they celebrate’,5 he may as well be speaking of the placelessness of the Canal Street environment. Yet the criticism doesn’t make it any less special. In a way, it is an altogether lucid symbol of the global consumer chain. In a city of big architecture, strong objects that are absolutely tied to its place, Canal Street has a right to be ‘weak’ yet remain as resilient and nebulous as the capitalist consumer urbanism from which it derives. ~

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5 Jacob, Sam. ‘Viesdendorp Syndrome: Overwhelmed by the Geographies of Sensation, Memory, and Plenty’ Perspecta 41.Grand Tour (2008)


wa l k i n g almaty

vernacular | v i s u a l c u lt u r e by dennis keen

When I moved to Almaty to study Kazakh in the summer of 2013, I lived on Seifullin and Mametova in one corner of the downtown core, the university was a long diagonal away, on the opposite side of the city. Every day three miles each way; every day a new route, a different zig-zag across town. There were patterns in the public space that baffled me: what is this ragged stone, full of fossils, that is used on the faces of all the buildings? What’s the story with all the little canals lining the streets, and why are some full of water and some full of trash? Why so many pharmacies? I spoke Russian and Kazakh, but urban Almaty seemed to be written in a language I couldn’t understand. Walking Almaty is the project that emerged from these wonderings and wanderings. It’s about learning to read a city’s visual landscape; I’ve taken the forms around me, filed them as dozens of folders, taking thousands of photos to document everything I deem a phenomenon. I’ve now been in Almaty for more than a year. On all my walks, I’ve had a lot of time to think; this all will become a book some day. For now, you can explore my photo albums at www.walkingalmaty.com

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On many buildings, the plaques are doubled or tripled up, as new designs were installed without dismantling the old ones. The older Soviet signs tend to be light-blue, with utilitarian stenciled spray-paint, while new plaques, harkening the country’s capitalist transformation, often feature lit-up bank logos. The cruel irony is that despite the overabundance of address plaques on some building corners, many apartment blocks remain obscurely marked, and very few taxi drivers or passing pedestrians pay the addresses any regard. It seems to me that locals prefer to use landmarks – ‘It’s a block downhill from School 152.’

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When my urban explorations started moving out to more suburban spaces, I noticed that a lot of the private homes had rusty plaques that doubled as lamps. Most were so old that they had been painted over, with the addresses written again in a personal scrawl. Fans of Soviet signs have written that these lamps, used all over the Soviet Union, can be dated to the decades after WWII. Another site, however, which still sells these lamp-plaques under the label retro, claims they were introduced to Moscow and St. Petersburg as early as the 1920s. Some posters at Vse.kz have presented evidence that Almaty’s signs were all originally light-blue or black; most have since turned ferrous brown or are bleached clean with whitewash. The lamp-plaques are concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, elsewhere homeowners tend to fashion their own solutions. Sometimes this means chalk or marker written straight on the gate, other places a city-provided number plate has been provided. Some plaques are store-bought. My favorites are the signs that show some love and attention. They are subtle identity markers, begging the voyeuristic questions that always cloud my mind on my long walks: Who drew that elegant seven? What made them take the time to brush in their street name themselves? What do they dream at night?


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86 Den n i s K een


vernaculars | v i s u a l c u lt u r e by dennis keen

wa l k i n g a l m a t y antennas In the IBM era of personal computers, the Soviets built their own closet-sized computers, and memory was stored on giant platters [l’”`cmhrm{e dhqjh:magnitnye disky]. Even with modern PCs, these remain the primary storage device. Yes, get this – hard disks contain actual disks. The old platters, meanwhile, have found new life in Kazakhstan as homemade TV antennas [Q`lndek|m`& RB mremm`: samodelnaya TV antenna]. In the richer, more central parts of town, satellite dishes reign, but in the scruffier regions of private homes, nearly every house has a hard disk platter posted on a pole, often in a so-called ‘dipole’ format, with two platters on either side to pick up signals. We might call these twin disks Mickey Mouse ears, but Russian-speakers call them Cheburashka [Weasp`xj`] after a famous Soviet stop-motion cartoon character, a furry little monster with great, antenna-like ears. Besides these cartoon-character computer platters, there are lots of other DIY antennas that show up in these DIY neighbourhoods. I have yet to find a nickname for the secondmost common, called a shirokopolosny dipol [xhpnjnknqm{i dhonk|]. These look like oversized aluminum bowties with metal springs welded to the back. I can’t imagine that every homeowner here has access to hard disk platters and aluminum sheet metal, so there must be some homemade antenna master roaming the streets of these places, hawking his roof sculptures to media-hungry citizens. One day I’ll find him. ~

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WH Y ? why not? Gus and I walk everywhere from home. We walk one block down the Francisco Street Steps to the garden apartment where Chloe plays with her cat, writes children’s stories, and listens to Mozart, Beethoven, or Vivaldi. Another block and we’re at the Embarcadero. We continue south. On the Bay side of the street, classic porticos of bulkhead buildings provide high archway entrances to the piers. Coit Tower is on the other side of the street.

n a r r at i v e l i v e s | san francisco by b a r b a r a s ta u f f c h e r s o l o m o n

Gus and I continue west along the beach at Aquatic Park. From here I can see the window two blocks up Russian Hill where Aunt Sadie watched fishing boats and cruisers sail in and out of the Bay. Behind that window, Lil and I listened with Sadie to the radio as FDR declared war on Japan. Sadie had a romance with a purser on the Lurline, which involved many cruises to Hawaii. After December 7, 1941, no more cruises. Behind another window one block up the hill at Galileo High I learned geometry.

There’s a time warp in my eyes.

This is an excerpt from Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s autobiography in essays and drawings, Why? Why Not? 80 Years of Art & Design in Pix & Prose, Juxtaposed. San Francisco: Fun Fog Press, 2013. pp 145-6 Barbara Stauffacher Solomon was, legendarily, responsible for the supergraphics on Sea Ranch: proper Swiss graphic design at the scale of a building, revolutionary for an America which was, at the time, graphically challenged – pop art revelled in the kind of folksy, amateur, American lettering of billboards and advertising. In contrast, Solomon had studied in Basel. She elevated the architecture she inscribed into something sophisticated and worldly.

Underneath the text of this book is a plaint recognisable by every woman who ever worked as an architect or a designer: there were daughters, there were husbands, there were lovers, there was a mother, there was endless truck back and forth between America and Europe following work, study, degrees; there were demanding men, there was the constant need to make money, and rarely were either adequate money or acknowledgement forthcoming. It is a horizontal career, that does not advance, rather it slides back and forth in parallel ventures.

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In 2011 she produced Utopia Myopia, 36 plays on a page. Typography & pornography, lines & lies & clues to use, nonsense invents events. A kind of a novel novel. One hudred and fifty-seven 8½ x 11 pages drawn on, text glued on, registration lines drafted on; the girl with hands that are birds dances through a discourse on how even thinking about utopia fails us, makes us myopic, and from that myopia crimes of passion and design occur. The elegaic passage printed here is neither typical of, nor unconnected to, Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s eightyyear unsentimental narrative that unrolls with a kind of haphazard logic – as all life does, framed by Solomon’s own Californian self, her own nomadic history, her own city of San Francisco. The general made so specific.

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A parallel production to the supergraphics, are her 8½ x 11 drawings on small ordinary pieces of paper. This includes her analysis of formal French and Italian gardens, Green Architecture, published in the 1980s which became a graphic and a landscape bible for most young architects.

Portable, inexpensive sheets of 8½ x 11 layout paper. What can’t one do with these? Graphic lettering weighs down the pages like concrete blocks; the Villa d’Este is deconstructed and spread over the page like a code book; women become complex knots that spiral across the tight 8½ x 11 frame.

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facing page: California Waving a Pink Handkerchief, 8½ x 11” mixed media drawing.

Then, at Fort Mason, Gus and I walk west up the cliff side path along the Bay. As the path descends we see the green grass rectangle of the Marina Green and the flat grided streets of the Marina District. In California people have love affairs with places. This land where I was born, owns me. It’s the shaky solid base of my story. When I’m away from here, I feel uneasy and rush back to its frail beauty. ~

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The Embarcadero Promenade, palm trees and pier remodeling, cleaned up the waterfront, but when I look at the new stuff, I see the old at the same time. Grasses still grow on Telegraph Hill, eucalyptus leaves still fall and smell sweet, seagulls fly by, and the fog blows. When I worked in my office on the next block and ate at EATS, there were more brick-red warehouses and no pink and beige condos. Pier 23 Caf. looks about the same as it did in 1954 when Frank and I sat at the bar listening to live jazz. At Pier 1, Bill Turnbull’s low-rent workspace has been remodeled into luxury offices and restaurants, but the Ferry Building, renovated to look the same but cleaner, looked older when it was young. In 1934, my father and I stood here watching his Italian anarchist longshoremen clients march during the General Strike. Half a mile further south, the Bay Bridge spans the Embarcadero. In 1935, my grandfather would lift me onto his shoulders to better see the giant crane hoisting a huge steel section of the bridge into the underbelly of the structure above our heads. Slowly, the crowd looked up. Grandpa was enthralled. Everyone forgot to breathe. Then Grandpa bought us root beer floats at the longshoreman’s lunchroom, now Red’s Java House. That place looks the same; the coats of white paint and red trim are thicker. Grandpa left Russia to make a life in San Francisco. When I knew him, he worked at the American Can Company on Third Street, about a mile further south. He invented machines to can golden California peaches. Grandpa loved this mother-of-pearl city, the bright glare of the light, the smell of the fog. He was proud to be part of this new land, part of the possible.


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32 fall 2014

On Site review is published by the Association for non-profit architectural fieldwork [alberta] which promotes field work in matters architectural, cultural and spatial.

contributors Eduardo Aquino is a partner in spmb (São Paulo-Winnipeg). He and Karen Shanski practice in the interstices between art and architecture. spmb.ca Rodrigo Barros is an architect, musician and activist from Valparaíso, currently stationed with Médecins Sans Frontières in Afghanistan. Neeraj Bhatia is an Assistant Professor at California College of the Arts, principal of The Open Workshop and Co-Director of InfraNet Lab. His work resides at the intersection of politics, infrastructure and urbanism. Can Vu Bui is a designer and writer based in New York City. His latest research on architecture, finance and the environment, ‘Ecotectonics?’ can be found in Perspecta 47: Money. Elisa C Cattaneo, 2014 Graham Foundation grant recipient, is adjunct professor of Landscape Design at the Politecnico di Milano. She is founder and principal of the independent research agency WeakCircus, through which she develops research and projects on contemporary urbanism. Will Craig is an architect practising in Calgary. He is an urbanist, interested in the ongoing transformation of the city through built form. Joshua Craze is apparently a 2014 UNESCO Artist Laureate in Creative Writing. He doesn’t really know what this means. www.joshuacraze.com Tim Cresswell is a geographer/poet who focusses on place and mobility in scholarly and creative work. His poems are widely published and his first collection, Soil, was published by Penned in the Margins (London) in 2013. Jennifer Davis, M.Arch, MRAIC, practices architecture and is an independent curator in Toronto. She has been awarded project grants from the Toronto and Ontario Arts Councils and was a scholar in residence at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in 2010. rearviewprojects.com Virginia Fernandez Rincon, reconciling design and activism, focuses on community-built public space as a foundation for social, political and economic equality. Her work is based in North and South America’s informal settlements. virginiafernandez.info

On Site review invites theme-based submissions — reviews, commentary, photo-documentation, project descriptions and critical essays in response to our calls for articles: www.onsitereview.ca/callforarticles For any and all inquiries, please use the contact form at www.onsitereview.ca/contact-onsite

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subscriptions: www.onsitereview.ca/subscribe editor: Stephanie White design: Black Dog Running printer: Emerson Clarke Printing, Calgary www.emersonclarke.com distribution: Magazines Canada 416 504 0274 Ubiquity Distributors USA 718 875 5491 On Site review is available in a great number of news stands listed at www.onsitereview.ca/wheretofindonsite

Karianne Halse, MArch (2012), teaches in the Masters program at Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark, in addition to individual and collaborative production of experiments, workshops and projects. karianne-h.dk www.no38.org Cameron Hu is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. Dennis Keen is a writer and ethnographer living in Almaty, Kazakhstan. His website is WalkingAlmaty.com, and you’re encouraged to write to him at DennisThorstedKeen@gmail.com Lindsay LeBlanc is currently studying at the Ontario College of Art and Design. She also works with KAPSULA Magazine—a digital, Toronto-based publication which promotes critical and experimental art writing. http://kapsula.ca/ lindsay@kapsula.ca Michael Leeb is a writer, visual artist, and photographer. He is a recent recipient of an Aboriginal Writing project grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. Tom Martin is an independent structural engineer in Calgary with a particular interest in prestressed and post-tensioned concrete structures. He has designed bridges and other large structures in Australia, Canada, South Africa and the UK. Ania Molenda is an independent Rotterdam-based architecture researcher/curator and founder of Amateur Cities. Her work focuses on the socio-cultural dimension of spatial practices and innovation in contemporary urban environments. www.aniamolenda.com Ruth Oldham studied architecture in Glasgow and London and now lives in Paris. She is interested in landscapes, waste, and the imagination – subjects she is exploring in an ongoing study of man-made mountains. rutholdham@gmail.com Yann Ricordel-Healy is a French independent researcher in contemporary art history in English-speaking areas (England, Northern Ireland, United States, Canada), studying links between painting, sculpture, photography, film, architecture and urbanism. Barbara Stauffacher Solomon studied graphic design at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel. She’s gone from painting supergraphics (lots of nothing on as big walls as possible) to making books and plays on a page (lots of something on as small -sheets of paper as possible). barbarastauffachersolomon.com Natalia Skoczylas – freelance journalist and full-time nomad, researching and writing about architecture and culture, music and literature; critic, art lover, social activist and cultural animator ad-hoc. Dropped academia to work on the ‘Better World Plan’. Thomas Strickland received his PhD in architectural history from McGill University in 2012. He has worked as an architect, artist and curator. His urban activist artwork, Points de vue, was exhibited at the Darling Foundry in Montréal. fonderiedarling.org/en/Points-de-vue-exposition Felix Wing Lam Suen is an Intern Architect-Designer at TACT architecture in Toronto. He has an MArch from the University of Toronto and a BFA from UBC. www.felixportfolio.com Stephanie White is the editor of On Site review. Although she quite likes this journal she never thought it would go past five issues, but people kept sending things to be published.


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Ste ph an i e W h i te

cover, outside and in: weak systems: Atlantic Salmon, Halifax, 1988


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on site 32: weak systems  

Not everything survives through force, fragile and provisional systems have a persistence too. They are nimble, adaptable and accommodating...

on site 32: weak systems  

Not everything survives through force, fragile and provisional systems have a persistence too. They are nimble, adaptable and accommodating...