on site 36: our material future

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ON SITE r e v i e w o ur m ater i a l future

36: 2020 the drawing of things — micro-urbanism — material memory

Carlo Ratti + Matthew Claudel The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016 ISBN 10: 0300204809 ISBN 13: 978-0300204803

James Corne + Alex S MacLean Taking Measures Across the American Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. ISBN-10: 0300086962

Marjanne van Helvert, editor The Responsible Object, a history of design ideology for the future Amsterdam: Valiz, 2016 ISBN 97894-92095-19-0

Sabina Tanovic Designing Memory, the architecture of commemoration in Europe,1914 to the present Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019 online ISBN 9781108760577

Jonathan Hughes and Simon Sadler, editors Non-plan: Essays on Freedom Participation and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism London: Routledge, 2000 eBook ISBN 9780080512853

Bruno Latour Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime Cathy Porter, translator Cambridge UK: Polity Press, 2018 ISBN-10: 9781509530571

ล ukasz Stanek Architecture in Global Socialism: Eastern Europe, West Africa, and the Middle East in the Cold War Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2020 ISBN 9780691168708 Antony Buxton, Linda Hulin, Jane Anderson: editors InHabit: People Places and Possessions Bern: Peter Lang AG, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2016 ISBN 10: 3034318669 ISBN 13: 9783034318662

Tomรกs Maldonado Design, Nature, and Revolution Toward a Critical Ecology [1972] Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019 ISBN 9781 517907006

ON SITE r e v i e w

Two things: new material technologies and the science of the climate crisis. We can demonstrate how things might be, we can devise more truthful forms of analysis, and we can turn to the state of the globe upon which our two feet stand: is it burning? is it underwater? is it forcing better methods of de-salination; of managing drought, of drainage? As architects, is it all about infrastructure, the managing of systems of delivery of the substance of life? or is it about amelioration at the most intimate level: how we live?

o ur mater i a l fut u r e

36: 2020

Each essay in this issue addresses a different tipping point, from how we can better understand the ecology where natural meets man-made infrastructure, to recovering joy and optimism. The destructive global systems and ideologies that have brought us to the interrelated climate and governance crisis are focussing the mind: what must we save and how? This is not a rhetorical question, but a very real material one, tied directly to our physical well-being. In concentrating on the material capacity of the future to be resonant, practical, survivalist, one can neatly side-step the virtual, electronically-connected world wherein memory, fantasy and AI intertwine to replace the physical in importance. The material world offers shelter from the elements; the mind is otherwise engaged. As networked technology opens the door to projections of the past and the future, virtual and material reality will continue hand in hand, but it is material reality that is on fire.

contributors Stephanie White 2

contents Introduction to our material future

t he d ra w ing of t hings Dom Cheng 4 Lisa Rapoport, PLANT 8 Maya Przybylski, J Cameron Parkin 12

Let It Rain, 2019: umbrellas and umbrella-ism Material Memory: With words as their actions, 2014-2019, Ottawa New Material Anatomies: Formworks’ Murmur Wall, San Francisco

Emily Bowerman, Nadia Amoroso, Nathan Perkins 16 Tools for Drawing the Land: Guelph’s agricultural hinterland

m ic ro -ur b a nis m Stephanie White 20 Micro-urbanism: methodologies of Dorrian and Hawker’s Metis Joseph Heathcott 24 Tianguis of Mexico City: informal markets and urban configurations Joanne Lam 30 At the Foot of Lion Rock, Hong Kong Maria Portnov, Jonathan Ventura 34 We are Needed: the death and resurrection of value-oriented designer

m a t e r ia l m e m o r y Lejla Odobasic Novo 38 Materialising Memory at Rivesaltes, France Robert McKaye, Stoyan Barakov 42 WA/VE: structural recycling of cultural artefacts David Murray 44 Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium: preservation and restoration front inside cover books contributors Call for articles 48 On Site review 37: lines, borders, walls, contagion back inside cover exhibitions

on site review 36: our material future


o ur m a t e r i al f ut ur e stephanie white In this issue, eleven essays are divided into three categories: the drawing of things, whereby no matter what the need or desire is for more change, more analysis or more interpretation, drawing is the vehicle. The second category is micro-urbanism, where the city – how to make it, how to change it, how to use it, is the subject. The third category is material memory, three essays on very specific material entities, as unlike each other as can be. I’ll start with this one.

m a t e r i al m em or y The more uncertain the times, it seems the more certainty comes to dominate a political and social discourse that sits alongside a swiftly changing technological, industrial and corporate reality. The past is another country, as it always was, and while many long for that prelapsarian place, they spend much of their present intertwined with the smart technology that organises their day to day existence. The past, often an appalling struggle, is now carefully curated to read like an aspiration. Alexa tells jokes that were hoary in the fifties, while she locks the doors at night. David Murray’s description of The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium, its origin story, its decline and its present restoration raises such issues. A mid-century modern building of local building skills, modest budget and dressed as a space ship, it housed an extremely sophisticated projector that replicated the night sky in more detail than one could ever see. Its dome, a trope for the sublime since Boullée, is also the dome of heaven, in play since the Renaissance. Its terrazzo, mosaics and ceramic tiles are more suited to the Mediterranean of Galileo than Edmonton’s climate, and its magical, near-transparent curtain wall anchoring the edge of a concrete cantilevered roof was not quite resistant enough to freeze-thaw cycles. The ethereal grounded in the earthly. Murray stresses that nostalgia alone does not justify restoration: this is a building for children and the child in us, thus valuable for its ambition: science is something that must be introduced early and forever listened to. Lejla Odobasic Novo’s visit to the Rivesaltes museum in France, placed in a derelict 80-year old transit camp for refugees and displaced persons, is just as demonstrative an architecture as Edmonton’s 60-year old planetarium placed in a le Nôtre-inspired park celebrating the British monarchy. Rivesaltes pulls the dread and uncertainty of a camp for the stateless and reifies it; the planetarium tries to float away from its placid setting. Both speak about a future where things are different, where tears are wiped from their eyes, and there is no more fear. Rivesaltes is a monolith pressed into the ground; it does not float. It too must be listened to. Materials contain cultural memory and future aspirations. Rivesaltes sinks its concrete into the ground from whence it came. The Planetarium optimistically deployed materials that indicated the future freedoms in the public imagination of the early 1960s.

this page: Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium opening announcement in the Edmonton Journal, 1960 Rivesaltes Museum: path to the past which runs beside the museum of the present WA/VE cells made from suggestively interleaved magazines facing page: the regional impact of the forestry industry in Ontario With Words as Their Actions, Ottawa FUTUREFORMS studio, working on Murmur Wall Let it Rain Tianguis furniture sourced from local catalogues in Mexico City Jerusalem 2018 - Haredi man warning his community of stores that sell impure cellular devices Hong Kong, Add Oil!

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Robert McKaye and Stoyan Barakov’s WA/VE is of a different order – the making of building systems out of discarded materials. WA/VE points paper magazines that once carried potent cultural messaging on their pages towards their intrinsic paper-ness. As they found, materials can be stubborn. One can draw what you think they should do, but they can rebel. Materials are not just there to do our bidding. p 42


on site review 36: our material future

T h e draw i ng of things Emily Bowerman’s drawings of semi-industrial conditions in and around the agricultural hinterland near Guelph, Ontario, bring some of the outlines of landscape urbanism to bear on the analysis of impacted landscapes. This is very much a drawing process, where history, statistics, geography, economics, land use and land fallow are laid graphically into a single drawing. Critical conjunctions that appear on the drawing would fail in text, or at least would be buried in words. Logocentricity does not necessarily clarify, often it obscures, diverts. There are connections between the Guelph drawing process and that of Metis, discussed in the essay on microurbanism. Connections are made, visually, that lead to connections of meaning. It is in the process of drawing that invention occurs. As with materials, drawing itself can be wilful: things happen on the page beyond one’s intellectual control.

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Lisa Rapoport and PLANT’s project, With Words As Their Actions, is a set of curved screens installed on an Ottawa subway platform that carry oral history texts about nineteenth-century Ottawa. This is text, the text is words, the words were spoken. Ephemeral speech, uttered before sound recording, becomes, ultimately, letters removed from large stainless steel sheets. Air blows through them. They can be touched. Like drawing, this too is a process of translation: an idea, a word, a thing is inscribed, becomes physical. Becomes material. Becomes stainless steel.


Maya Przybylski and J Cameron Parkin’s work is specifically about software-embedded design, where data and algorithms are considered architectural elements of form and material assembly. Her drawing of Formworks’ 2018 Murmur Wall is a diagram of software connections made evident, and evidence that such connections have material and spatial consequences. How such consequences are evaluated depends on the computational literacy of architects, something that is increasingly generational. The practice of architecture is in the process of re-prioritising starting points. No longer the scribble on the back of an envelope made form, it starts with a complex array of conditions and connections.

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Dom Cheng’s Let It Rain, the first piece in this issue, starts with the complex condition of anomie and finds a small object, the umbrella, and its capacity to open and close, bump into other umbrellas and to create a safe space beneath it, as a germinal builder of community. His project relies on common will, the need to connect, the desire for sociability. His drawings show how this might happen: a kit of parts, assembly, a product. Deceptively simple.


m i c ro-urbani s m Three essays are in this section – Joseph Heathcott’s aerial view of Mexican markets, Joanne Lam’s registration of street memory and media-recorded protests in Hong Kong, and Maria Portnov and Jonathan Ventura’s resurrection of the value-oriented designer who walks streets so unloved that it demands a manifesto. No matter what global forces blow around the world, like climate change they eternally play out on local terrain.

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on site review 36: our material future


l et it ra i n, 2 01 9 dom cheng

Do m C h e n g Š do mi n i qu e c h e ng .c om


on site review 36: our material future

D o m C h e n g Š d o m iniq ue c he ng . c o m

When it rains, we intuitively look for some form of protection. Moments as such are often fleeting in nature and rarely opportunities for connection. However, what if we allow the fundamental laws of attraction and some degree of chance to dictate the boundaries of social interaction. Umbrellas are conventionally used singly in isolation

but is there an opportunity to reimagine this everyday apparatus as a catalyst for connection with a simple modification that would allow them to attach to each other ad infinitum? Makeshift gathering spaces could form freely simply by result of our proximity to one another.

on site review 36: our material future


Do m C h e n g Š domi n i quecheng .c om

Bubble Ideas - Eliminate Loneliness International Competition 2019 Second Prize Winner www.bubblecompetitions.com


on site review 36: our material future

U m b r ella-i s m ‘When I say the word “umbrella”, you see the object in your mind. You see a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from the rain. This last detail is important. Not only is an umbrella a thing, it is a thing that performs a function – in other words, expresses the will of man. When you stop to think of it, every object is similar to the umbrella, in that it serves a function. A pencil is for writing, a shoe is for wearing, a car is for driving. Now my question is this. What happens when a thing no longer performs its function? Is it still the thing, or has it become something else? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella,is the umbrella still an umbrella?’ Paul Auster, City of Glass, p77

If we accept the notion that the relationship between an object and its function is as fickle as the structure of language, then the possibilities are boundless. In many ways, the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong is a linguistic turn that has enabled a common everyday tool – the umbrella – to be weaponised in a variety of ways for the purposes of peacekeeping and political change. At the core of the conflict is a ruling government struggling to transition political systems against a pro-democratic population adapted to legislative autonomy (socioeconomic, cultural and political). Indeed, the lesson learned from past instances of political regression has been that policy advancement is best achieved through non-violent means and negotiation. This is evidenced by the choice of armament – tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, rubber bullets and bean bags – used by both parties, and their strength of will to prevent feuding heads from escalating to a civil war. The umbrella has been a constant force and symbol by demonstrating an unwavering capacity for peace, connection and understanding.

Umbrella as shield: A two-fold transformation of the tool to 1. deflect the onslaught of tear gas and pepper spray attacks used by the anti-riot brigade, and 2. to conceal the identity of protestors under a veil of anonymity for fear of persecution.

Umbrella as unifying device: To the extent that they can be combined ad-infinitum to connect and mobilise various activist groups, they can also isolate and retreat with relative ease. A protective canopy that can grow, shape-shift and dissolve as such is a palpable weapon for generating spaces of power. Umbrella as symbol: Every political movement needs a polarising element or ‘powder-keg’ moment to rally the masses. The umbrella was adopted as a symbol of solidarity and defiance against the government the moment its potency as a political weapon was realised. The poignancy of a sea of umbrellas marching through Hong Kong is arguably as emblematic as that of the lone unarmed civilian standing in solitude against a succession of military tanks in Tiananmen Square.

Dominique Cheng (b 1979) is a Toronto-based architect/artist/writer. In 2020 he founded NONUMENT – an interdisciplinary design practice committed to creating works and experiences that are layered in meaning, specifically/spatially located and impeccably executed. His work has been widely published and exhibited in North America and Europe. dominiquecheng.com

on site review 36: our material future


m ate r i a l m e m o r y lisa rapoport When we started our work as PLANT in the mid-1990s we were lucky to work on a series of projects that called into question how we would approach our understanding of the landscape, and what the role of material was within that dialogue. At the time, we observed that people did not seem to understand their local landscapes from an ecological, nor from a cultural point of view. They did not have a deeply felt tie to the land at a time when environmental concerns were just beginning to resurface after the 1960s. We created a series of architecture, landscape, furniture and installation projects whose aims were to heighten people’s awareness of their landscape, their environment, with a particular interest in the traces that past and present culture left or were leaving on the land. We believed that people must be engaged in their environment before they would take a role in sustaining it. Engaging meant staging personal and collective experiences on the


plant architect inc

site where Conversations often figured prominently as project names and subjects. The cultural, aesthetic, historic and social framing of the place would lead to a deeper revelation of that landscape, including its systems and ecologies. Nearly 25 years later, with society’s significant collective knowledge and fear of climate change, we believe that this is still just as relevant. There is an abstractness to the global crisis that needs to be bridged with a deeply ingrained visceral connection and intimacy with local place. On Site’s call for articles posited, ‘that the beloved tropes of narrative, identity, myth, textuality…are luxuries we can not afford right now; they seem irrelevant in the face of both the present and our future.’ We do not think this is precisely true – we think the material future is a step in the continuity of the material past. Although narrative, identity, myth and textuality

are abstractions, we have explored their capacity to be concrete, experiential and physical – in effect material. For us, material exploration has always meant exploring how material experience influences and reinforces memory. What we touch with our hands and feet – the materials that wrap around us – make a memory impression through our body experience. Heaviness, lightness, roughness, smoothness, light absorbing, reflective, solidity, laciness, materials that come from the site or site processes, or are revealed on the site, material that grows and diminishes with time, can tell a visceral story that recovers the past and re-presents in the present. I titled this article ‘Material Memory’ because just like muscle memory which creates synaptic grooves, we feel material memory creates permanent mental maps of place and community, both more relevant than ever.

At Sweet’s Farm’s 85 acres (1994–1997) this exploration was cultural and processbased, and included reconfiguring 1000 mink cages into a dining room in a clearing; an annually growing twig fence made from the forest management cuttings that measure this practice; wooden furniture, paths and look-outs made from natural tree-fells – all to create a loose itinerary for exploration. Each of these elements helped create an immersion in the material-ness of this landscape, and allowed the family that owns it and their visitors to know it through their material experience. In 2007, we won the competition for a monument to honour the service of US veterans. The Dublin Grounds of Remembrance eschewed a traditional monument in favour of a park promoting the act of habitual walking and social gathering, reinforcing a journey of remembrance and creating new significance for a piece of remnant land. Starting at a copper loggia that frames a ravine and gathering space, the walking route uncovers the natural site, and re-contexualises an adjacent revolutionaryera cemetery. A 510 foot-long bronze handrail shaped to hold your hand back, along with a limestone path with alternating granular and smooth surfaces, guides and paces the walk. The changing sound of shoes on the ground, the hand polishing the bronze, the punctuated end points, all reinforce this walk as an act of remembrance.

PL A N T A rc h i te c t In c


on site review 36: our material future

With W o rd s a s t he ir Ac t io ns 20 1 4– 20 1 9 Two examples from this period illustrate this, Sweet’s Farm, 1994-97, and Dublin Grounds of Remembrance of 2007, both on the facing page. An integral part of these projects was finding the worth, the lost or buried meanings on the site. These were each assembled pieces of land – delimited by surveying and ownership concepts rather than being defined by inherent ecological, geological, phenomenological or cultural meanings of the sites. Our own direct exploration of these sites, and our desire to deeply ‘know’ the sites eventually became the subject and programme for future users, to guide their immersion in the site. These projects were deliberately designed to make you slow down and notice. The projects encourage a daily/habitual use of the site, to experience the nuances of change, to understand that using the site creates history on the site, and unites past histories with emerging histories, to build material memory. The projects were a form of story making and story telling.

In our current instantaneous culture this slowness of story telling is even more difficult. It is in this context that we created With Words as their Actions (2014–2019) the winning entry for the Lyon Station Art competition, part of Ottawa’s new underground transit system. In this project we have created a materially immersive experience that revels in the act of story/ history telling, and in who tells the stories. It immerses the viewer in a tactile, textual, visual and exploratory material experience for seconds to only a few minutes, although likely on a regular basis. Each subway station’s artwork was given a theme. The Lyon station theme was Bytown – Ottawa’s name prior to its becoming the Nation’s capital in 1855. Founded in 1826, Bytown was a bustling place for industry, (primarily timber) as it was strategically located at the junction of the Ottawa River and the newly built Rideau Canal. How could we reveal Bytown in this remote place – far below grade at the lower concourse level, far from the nineteenth century? Our first stop was the library and archives to try to understand what actually happened between 1826 and1855, the short life of Bytown. Our best source was the Ottawa Historical Society where we discovered an excellent essay presented by Anne Dewar in 1953 called ‘The Last Days of Bytown’, a careful and colourful documentation of all aspects of life in Bytown on the eve of becoming Ottawa, from road conditions to civic amusements, the state of the city coffers to the editorial and advertising content of its newspapers. This was interesting enough, but led us to a new exploration into how this history came to us.

Mrs McGarvey, an 1898 founder of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society. charcoal sketch, right, and in stainless steel, above.

PL A N T A rc h i te c t In c

Anne Dewar was a member of the Ottawa chapter of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society, which was founded in 1898. This historical society was Ottawa’s first, and from the late nineteenth century until after World War II, all of its members were women. While their husbands were building with wood, stone, rail ties and financial capital, the society’s members were building an edifice of words and stories. In 1955 they decided to include men in their membership and it changed to its current name – the Historical Society of Ottawa. However, in 1898, 72 years after settling the area, these women recognised that an oral passing of history was no longer sufficient, that the material culture of the settlement was being lost through the generations: ‘Friday June 3, 1898. At 4pm, thirty-one of Ottawa’s most prominent women assembled in the drawing room of the Speaker of the House of Commons’ apartment in the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. The purpose of the meeting: To form an Ottawa branch of the Women’s Canadian Historical Society. Lady Edgar called the meeting to order and the ladies took their seats... Among the attendees at that meeting on June 3 were the wives of a number of prominent men who represented both political parties as well as the senior ranks of the public service and the upper echelon of the city’s business community.’ — The Historical Society of Ottawa website

Their task was to speak across centuries, but they were also women of the nineteenth century. Did they bring their knitting, their needlepoint, deftly stitching while participating in the excited and perhaps radical chatter of creating the society, tasking themselves as the keepers of history? Their research was carefully documented, but the texture and excitement of their conversations – the oral aspect of them sharing their research – is lost. With Words as their Actions attempts to capture this ‘speaking across centuries’ by collapsing time and memory threads (the actual historical content — the history of Bytown, the moment of founding, the 1953 presentation of Dewar’s work, the present and the utterly contemporary fast-paced experience of the subway) just as the thirty-two women would have hoped, passing on oral history while doing ‘women’s work’. The artwork immerses us in their salon and their words; we feel part of their oral history.

on site review 36: our material future


With Words as their Actions has three components – the text, the bookmarks and the lady heads. Anne Dewar’s 5,000-word text (over 6000 in the French translation) is waterjet cut in a 72–foot long curving stainless steel curtain that weaves in and out of the station’s columns. Alternating lines of text are cut through on one side in English in Roman letters, interwoven with the French translation in italics cut through from the other side. The nearly 12,000 words subtracted from the steel, the curvaceousness of the metal and the alternating line work make a lacy curtain that recalls the intricacy of hand embroidery, knitting and other fabric arts traditionally considered women’s work. Long, sinuous and lacy, the sculpture mimics a long drawn out story with its many asides. As you move along, in it and around it, it quickly transforms from solid to sheer. You need to walk it to read it. You want to run your hand along it like a kid running along a curtain. Meant to be read in small increments in the few minutes that you have at the concourse level of the station, the sculpture encourages repeated readings over multiple trips to eventually get the whole text. The text cannot be instantly consumed, but instead mulled over, slowly building a mental image of the Bytown that was. Like nubbles or drop stitches in the fabric, bookmarks create a structure for how to do that: each paragraph is marked with a turned out drop cap letter (like mediæval manuscript chapter openings), creating a pattern of ‘bookmarks’, allowing you to pick up where you left off the next time you are at the station. Dewar’s text is a vast inventory that allows for (or is even best enjoyed when) dipping in small doses. The lady heads are silhouettes of the society’s 1898 founders, paying tribute to these women who kept Bytown alive. The silhouettes were drawn and extrapolated from the few extant photographs in Canadian archives – in some cases only a single photo exists – of each individual woman. Their names are etched into their collars. Some were prominent in their own right like Lady Edgar and Zoe Laurier, some by association with their husbands, and others were young and unmarried and have virtually disappeared from history. In the sculpture, their silhouettes are gathered in conversation presiding over the curtain, passing knowledge to each other as equals. Although referencing Victorian era silhouettes, these are drawn as profiles rather than being solid (shadow) heads, the transparency allowing a layering that reads like the ladies are talking across the room, with the viewer immersed


on site review 36: our material future

PLANT A rc h i te c t In c

in the conversation. This constantly changing view means the conversation is not frozen, but seems alive. With Words as their Actions knits together past histories from the end of Bytown and its history up to1855, to the women gathering 43 years later in 1898 when enough history was made to fear its potential loss, to the writing in 1954 of ‘Last Days of Bytown’ recording that history. Collapsing these together, the sculpture presents history as it is made: by collective effort, after the fact, through the act of story-telling and by means of a persistent rereading and re-presentation in the present. However, unlike an archive or a historical museum, the artwork embodies this as a physical experience, etching a new groove. For us, what started as a giddy exploration 25 years ago – a deep dive into the physicality of materials and landscape – has broadened as we have become more instrumental in our approach to memory in all manner of project types. We have come to understand that illuminating a landscape or a history was just the first step to the goal of reinforced and embedded collective memory of place and community. It is one that demands deeply impressed material experience – a form of persistent storytelling.

With Words as their Actions is a permanent artwork at Lyon Station on the O-Train Confederation line LRT and is part of the City of Ottawa Art Collection. An exhibit about the artists’ processes is on at Transformations: 24 artists, 13 stations, 12.5 km in Corridor 45|75, Rideau Station, O-Train Confederation Line LRT, Ottawa, Ontario from September 2019 to January 2020. PLANT A rc h i t e c t In c

on site review 36: our material future


new m ater i al anato m i e s m aya p r z y b y l k s i

François Dallegret’s accompanying illustrations to Rayner Banham’s 1965 essay ‘A Home is not a House’1 depict a mechanical invasion by bringing complexes of ducts, wiring, HVAC units, plumbing and conduits into our material perception of architecture. In particular, Dallegret’s Anatomy of a Dwelling, facing page, isolates the material presence of the mechanical systems proliferating in domestic architecture and imagines a scenario where these systems eventually supplant entirely all other domestic architectural elements. While the pairing of text and illustrations work in service of Banham’s fight against gratuitous architectural monuments, it’s Dallegret’s presentation of new material anatomies to which we respond here. By removing the surficial, most familiar architectural elements of a dwelling – the walls, floors, windows and doors – and exposing the back-of-house, these anatomical drawings expose and shed light on new elements, namely the often ignored and concealed mechanical elements that architects can and should engage. Learning from Dallegret’s techniques, we present an updated anatomical account of built work which doesn’t focus on the mechanical invasion of the 1960s but instead materialises the digital invasion of present day – where through the continued growth in responsive (or sentient, adaptive, interactive, … or even smart) architecture, there is a proliferation of software-embedded design (SED), where hardware and software work together with physical assemblies to mediate the physical environment. These projects can take on many forms ranging from corporatedriven, top-down initiatives focused on the optimisation of municipal services and business-oriented activities, to bottomup citizen-oriented projects aimed at empowering individuals in creating new inclusive ways to organise, use and shape the places they live. Projects like these are manifested in a variety of formats including immersive experiences, participatory platforms and responsive architectures.


on site review 36: our material future

j c a m e r o n pa r k i n

One such project, Murmur Wall by FUTUREFORMS, visualises data streams, harvested from online activity, moving through a weave of steel and acrylic tubing in pursuit of an ‘artificially intelligent, anticipatory architecture that reveals what the city is whispering, thinking and feeling’.2 Murmur Wall was first installed in the gardens at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco in 2015. In such practice, architects are increasingly bundling digital components, such as code, algorithms and data, together with physical assemblies, thereby adding complexity to how projects operate in the real-world. Projects are now complex entanglements where physical and digital elements work together to control, actuate and animate built form. While Dallegret needed only to peel away material layers to uncover the physically present mechanical systems, exposing the anatomy of SED projects calls for engagements with elements such as data and code, typically perceived as immaterial, lacking a physical dimension – a form of ephemera that lives in clouds and moves around the world through carefully choreographed pulses of light. We are working to resist the immaterial readings of these digital components. For us, the code/data bundles driving SED work are not decoupled from a project’s physical dimension and instead should be thought of as soft materials, materials in and of themselves, and thus constituting part of a project’s material assembly. This reconceptualisation brings these custom computational elements back into the domain of the designer; explicitly managing their effects becomes part of the design solution. Motivating this reconceptualisation are key offerings from the field of Software Studies which position software, its actual lines of code, not just its effects – as a material practice with both social and spatial outcomes.3

Software Studies recognises the design and implementation of both software and built environments, and the people that populate them, as constituting, mediating and shaping forces of everyday life. Emphasis on the social implications of code implementation has recently come to the fore in discussions around the embedded biases in artificial intelligence systems where the computational processes encoded are being shown to reflect the concerns, preferences and prejudices of those designing and implementing the systems. As a result, these implicit biases have the potential to ripple out, affecting everything from hiring decisions to road maintenance schedules. MIT’s Algorithmic Justice League is one outfit working to expose this coded gaze and counteract its impacts.4 Looking at SED through a soft material lens, new obligations emerge for designers: SED work transforms computational components from studio instruments (often used in design development phases to refine geometry and optimise fabrication) with limited impact once the project leaves the studio, into persistent and active agents charged with continuous mediation of a project’s functioning in time and space. As producers of the material assemblages that constitute their design work, these designers need to be literate and to possess agency with respect to the social, cultural and political effects across the entire assembly – and this includes not only the physical material outside the computer but the digital material inside the machine and the connection between the two. We are exploring new ways to examine SED projects through analytical and representational techniques that recognise a project’s internal material assembly as an interrelated hybrid construction of both hard and soft materials. Our anatomical analysis of FUTUREFORMS’s Murmur Wall is presented on the next spread, pages 14-15.

The drawing exposes Murmur Wall’s material assembly as an entanglement of physical elements – its steel and acrylic tubes, and virtual components – data sources and algorithms. The drawing also situates the project in spatial and social contexts by presenting it within a site – which oscillates between the specific area around the installation as well as its wider relationship to the city around it. We see this analytical approach serving designers by identifying the invisible forces shaping the outcomes of their project as a new set of opportunities and challenges within the project’s assembly – with which we must engage. It foregrounds a new set of project elements that need new treatments and considerations, not only in terms of their technical operation but their social and ethical implications as well.

FUTUREFORMS Murmur Wall, installed at the Buena Yerba Center, 2015 below: François Dallegret, Anatomy of a Dwelling, 1965


This work is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and developed by DataLAB at the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo with research assistants Alice Huang and Vincent Min.

Fr a n ç o is D al le g r et

1 Banham, Reyner. ‘A home is not a house’ Art in America 2, no. 4, 1965 2 Johnson, Jason Kelly and Nataly Gattegno. Murmur Wall https://www.futureforms.us/ murmur-wall (Accessed Oct 3, 2019) 3 This argument is articulated in key offerings from the field of Software Studies which position software – its actual lines of code, not just its effects – as a material practice with both social and spatial outcomes. Titles include: Fuller, Matthew. Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software JSTOR. 2003 Mattern, Shannon. ‘Interfacing Urban Intelligence’ In Code and the City. Editted by Rob Kitchin and Sung-Yueh Perng. Routledge. 2016. pp 49-60 Fuller, Matthew, editor. Software Studies: A Lexicon. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2008. 4 https://www.media.mit.edu/projects/ algorithmic-justice-league/overview/

on site review 36: our material future



on site review 36: our material future

M a y a P r y zy bl ski an d J C ame ron Pa rkin

on site review 36: our material future


tool s fo r d raw i ng t he la n d e m i ly b o w e r m a n Landscape architects explore landscapes through a variety of means: how we see a landscape and consequently understand it is the product of familiar tools and processes that too often are habitual, influenced by expectations of production efficiency. Here, we examine landscape forms, patterns and materiality through aerial photography and maps to visually document and understand a place. We have developed a set of tools and processes, influenced by MacLean’s and Corner’s 1996 publication, Taking Measures: Across the American Landscape, that lead us to different ways of seeing the land and its identity.1 It is a product of our evolutionary heritage to seek information from our environment for the very real rewards of finding shelter and security, and the penalties of not doing so. We start with aerial photographs that tell a story about patterns and form not normally experienced from ground level. Aerials and maps reveal site history — occupation, forms and paths that have left their traces. Form and material are not static elements within a landscape, rather they are dynamic processes. Our maps illustrate aggregates, crops and plant species not only as elements, but as processes of materialisation on the land — planting, harvesting, extraction: identified land use operations that have caused habitat loss, exploitation of resources and the overuse of agricultural plots. Structures, materials and landscape forms will persist until urban encroachment absorbs agricultural and rural land. While extraction and cultivation are necessary to sustain human life, they irreversibly impact rural landscapes and their communities. A reconsideration of the relationship of landscape to human industries is required as extraction and cultivation processes render irreversible impacts to geographies, ecologies and sociocultural dimensions of landscape. Marc Antrop, in his 1998 essay ‘Landscape change: plan or chaos?’ states that ‘landscape holism is closely related to structural aspects, which reflect order and chaos’, and that the main force behind change is ‘the reorganisation of the existing structures to optimise their functioning’.2 Separate landscape components are not representative of overall change within the landscape; small changes within the


on site review 36: our material future


nadia amoroso


landscape do not necessarily alter its holistic appearance, its type or identity. If the reorganisation is how change happens, then structural changes to existing frameworks are necessary. The reconfiguration and repurposing of site features leads to emergent paradigms that operate beyond site features themselves. The dissection of landscape features reveals fragmentation to be a persistent characteristic. Our use of collage in this project illustrates contrasting landscape features, materials and functions between seemingly unaltered natural areas and the meticulously managed areas of landscapes and waterscapes. The hay fields map shows the scale of forest patches that offer refuge to migrating animals. Expanding extraction and cultivation processes render irreversible impacts to ecologies. These maps reenvision existing site conditions to prompt rehabilitation and reconfiguration at a territorial scale. Neil Brenner observes that maps unveil operations within the hinterland, areas beyond the city, that support ‘putatively front-stage operations of large population centres’.3 The formation of patterns within the landscape, Brenner believes, reveals the true impacts of industrial supply and demand continuums. Measured features include spatial analyses, cyclic processes, coordinates, volumetric data, private and public boundaries, and cultural elements intended to inform design and planning agendas. Identified elements offer grounds to compare and contrast forms and conditions. Cartographic patterns and textures animate landscape features that speculate on the larger landscape system and extract data to support reconfiguration, reclamation or adaptation for the future. Existing site conditions, conceptually re-envisioned, prompt rehabilitation and reconfiguration at a territorial scale. For example, the pollutive impacts of quarries permeate watersheds beyond the quarry site itself. To identify characteristics, materials and structures within the quarry site prompts questions about how these elements influence the larger water system. These maps reveal past histories, current site conditions and the larger systems, institutions and territories in which the mapped landscape exists.

n at h a n p e r k i n s While aerial images present physical facets of landscape, maps are agents of deconstruction, extraction and emergence. The aerials serve as the operative imagery whereby measurements, patterns, colours and textures emerge as landscape conditions: the grounds from which cartographic observations are made. These maps do not render rigorous landscape decision-making, instead they are an interpretive medium for the narration of constructed, ecological, socio-cultural and historical facets of a site. Narratives emerge through the identification and mapping of site features, coupled with archival investigations and external research of site geographies, history and cultural constructs. To respond to current site conditions, there is value in understanding the progression of space and time, from past to present. Cyclic patterns within the maps correlate to natural landscape processes that inform future approaches to adaptation, development and manipulation that suits site contexts. The aerials and maps expose patterns and textures of the residual landscape as a means of marking the past which will persist into the future.

Drawings by Emily Bowerman, BLA and MSc Rural Planning, supervised by Nadia Amoroso, both of University of Guelph, School of Environmental Design and Rural Development. Aerial photographs capturing the visual elegance of farm-lands and industrial sites surrounding Guelph, rarely seen from the ground, were taken by Nathan Perkins, University of Guelph School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, from his gyroplane (C-GNHP).

1 Corner, James and MacLean, Alex S. Taking Measures Across the American Landscape. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996. Foreword by Michael Van Valkenburgh. 2 Antrop, Marc., 1998. ‘Landscape change: plan or chaos?’ Landscape Urban Planning. 41. pp155–161. 3 Brenner, Neil. (2016), ‘The Hinterland Urbanised?’. Architectural Design, 86: 118-127. doi:10.1002/ad.2077

C o n crete Ca st P ipe S torage N a t ha n Pe r k ins

This map explores the dichotomy of concrete pipe sections above and below ground. On the surface they are static, separated and orderly; below grade they become connected and dynamic. Pipe measurements delineate scale; row lengths are measured. Concrete and aggregate materials: the ratio of sand, aggregate and cement is calculated for each row to indicate the process of extraction of aggregate, the application of new pipe configurations, and

their insertion into the ground. Surface, subsurface and strata indicate the space that the drums occupy once they are in the ground. Pipelines lead to and from Toronto along Highway 401. A list of invasive species enabled through the construction process highlights the consequent eradication of native species. The map exists as an indicative and coded composition of landscape features, materials, forms and patterns that refer

to development along the 401. Linearity is a defining characteristic. While the pipes in the photograph are currently static and uninstalled, situated with fairly predictive motives for a pipe network, their impact to the future landscape is unpredictable. The map speaks of industrial expansion and urbanisation, persistent activities within the Greater Toronto Area.

E m ily B ow e r m a n

on site review 36: our material future


N a th a n Pe rk i n s

H a y F i eld, G uelp h This map dissects features within the agricultural matrix to distinguish between agricultural plots and forested strips for wildlife habitat and refuge. Such patches and corridors allow passage across the agricultural landscape. Agricultural plot sizes in relation to the size of forested areas, tree species, rows of crops arranged to optimise sun exposure – all are noted. The contrast between crop areas of high sun exposure and the inner shaded rows are illustrated by the black and hatched linework in the centre of

the map. Various textures show the different stages of wheat: grain, hay and straw. N-P-K notation indicates the nutrients required to support soil vitality. Agricultural landscapes exist not as an agglomeration of contrived landscape plots for human benefit, rather they offer ecological performance values that, if we invest in them, will give back to us. The map indicates existing conditions of fragmented habitats, emphasising the importance of maintaining a biodiversity of species on

Em ily Bow erm an


on site review 36: our material future

and off farms, even at the level of microbial diversity in soils. Opportunities exist to invest in ecological performance, particularly within landscapes of conflicting uses, such as agricultural matrices. Landscape itself serves as a kind of infrastructure, equally as valuable as the crops it produces. An optimised landscape infrastructure has the potential to remediate and restore values, particularly in rural farm communities; to promote the tree canopy, to manage waste water from agricultural run-off and enhance the ability for wildlife to move within the landscape. This map offers a means of communication to illustrate and grapple with current conditions that must be interpreted in a way that promotes a renewed ecological responsibility within the landscape. For example, recognising landscape patterns such as habitat fragmentation, could initiate a monitoring program or programs to support farmers to enhance biodiversification. The map serves as a graphic tool to represent landscape analysis and inventory data.

U t i l i t y Pole Storage S ite, Gu e lph N a t ha n Pe r k ins

E m ily B ow e r m a n

The purpose of this map is to reveal the progressive history of the lumber industry in Ontario. Modern forestry has strong ties to traditional harvesting methods and abilities to read land, soil and growing conditions. The map displays the territorial impacts of forestry on the Ontario landscape at a regional scale. Suggestions are made regarding lumber delivery destinations and the impact of the forestry industry on many

smaller rural communities economically dependent on forestry such as Waskami Lake. Some of the key measurements taken across the site include the patterns and scale of woodpiles and tree species used to manufacture utility poles. Varied piling patterns are indicated in the left corner of the map along with a side profile of trees to showcase the materials in the natural state versus the harvested state. Image

extractions of the wood piles and some of the historic elements are paired with direct measurements across Ontario to reveal the regional impact of the forestry industry. The landscape is highly disturbed and managed; the map does not necessarily offer instruction on how to manage current conditions on site, rather it provides an interpretive narrative of forestry operations within the region.

on site review 36: our material future


m i cro - ur ba ni s m stephanie white Our material future appears in many of these pages as responsive urban networks that are mapped, extended, made significant, for surely most of them right now are near-invisible. Micro-urbanism: the microdetails of living in the city. If the twentieth century was dominated by macro-urbanism, large plans, sweeping zoning and transport systems, perhaps the twenty-first, seeing where all that got us, will concentrate on a smaller scale. Burnham’s ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood’ may be changed, legitimately, to ‘make no large plans; they will surely go wrong, and in spectacularly destructive ways’. We’ve done with magic and men (singular, heroic, blood up); more to the point might be standing with feet on the ground, in a specific climate, in a particular place, in a crowd, trying to survive. The starting point. In this issue we have Murmur Wall by FORMWORKS, an LED skeleton into which one whispers wishes, hopes, desires, confessions which travel through an invisible infrastructure.1 Maya Prybylski maps this infrastructure as the networks that define a spatial community. Dom Cheng’s sheltering umbrellas hook together like colonies of algae the size of a city. Joseph Heathcott writes about Mexico City’s street markets, another linked-unit structure, that spread like mycelia across a diversity of urban patterns. Joanne Lam’s Hong Kong streets, resonant with memory, now resonate to water cannon and tear gas. Off the streets, protesters can be kettled, in buildings, in tunnels, the streets persist as public concourses. Maria Portnov looks more closely at streets, and finds them shambling and often unloved, certainly underdesigned. These case studies look for both the facilitators of, and the obstructions to, community, communication and the communal subsets of the city. This is micro-thinking at its finest grain, rather than macro-zoning according to broad demographics, market facilitation or traffic access. It is something finer, more particular, more intimate. 1 Murmur Wall is an artificially intelligent, anticipatory architecture that reveals what the city is whispering, thinking and feeling. By proactively harvesting local online activity—via search engines and social media — Murmur Wall anticipates what will soon matter most to the city. www.murmurwall. net. 2 On www.metis-architecture.org one can find a number of projects that explore the cultural layers of a city, its topography, its geology and its material presence.


on site review 36: our material future

Micro-urbanism 1: Metis, a research unit founded by Mark Dorrian and Adrian Hawker at the University of Edinburgh in 1997, focusses on the city and the complexity of its representation. In a lecture given by Dorrian at the University of Bristol, he describes the methods of Metis, and explains at some length his working processes. One of the early projects on the Metis website is Micro-Urbanism, a 2001 competition for a corner of Parliament Hill in Ottawa. The Bristol lecture is gripping; I am waiting to hear about the Ottawa project, which comes last, and he literally brushes the slides away and doesn’t say a word about it. However, the Ottawa project is the ground plane of the enormous carpet laid for Metis’ On The Surface exhibition in Aarhus and Edinburgh, so must be foundational.

c o ur t e s y o f M e t is

Clearly too complex to describe in a website caption, the project description nonethless outlines this project’s intentions: ‘Seen from the air, Ottawa is a city marked by the co-existence of two urban/landscape phenomena: the abstract city grid that replicates equivalent spatial units, and the river whose edge produces a series of specific spatial conditions. The relationship between the three city blocks of the competition site and the highly figurative parliamentary buildings is grounded in this broader duality. Before the latter, the weave of the city grid spreads out like a textile. This project, a hybrid programmatic proposal that incorporates cultural and governmental facilities, concerns the development of the large urban site forming the southern edge of Parliament Hill. The architectural strategy is developed from the notion that the city (and, by extension, the land beyond) might in some way be gathered up or folded onto the site, with all the density and compression that the metaphor implies. Through the topology of the folds, a new urban continuum would be established, one that draws together and rearticulates the space of the parliament and the space of the city. In the project, the existing buildings on the site are edited in order to break down the cellular nature of the existing morphology and produce a notional texture of minor architectural elements, which are then re-inscribed within the new structure. The grain of the lot lines that extend beyond the site, striating the city fabric, is retained.’2 Calvino is used to structure meta-texts which narrate certain channels through the city. With the maps and photographs that come in the competition package, Metis uses a set of mathematic operations based on the happenstance of geography and topography, so the starting point of a project is rooted in the materiality of place, which is then extrapolated into a series of registration lines that spin and fold into three-dimensional networks, out of which Metis recognises potential envelopes that could become potential volumes that might be read as potential architecture. Thisa project sets out a methodology that one can discern in subsequent projects: the projection, rotation and folding of planes, lines and dots that eventually return to the in situ ground plane. Points of intersection become charged, the starting point for design in a volumetric universe. And, subsequentially it is driven by narration as an obligation and an ordering factor.

Knowing Ottawa as we do, Metis’s folding of the city’s patchwork of urban experiments throughout its 200-year built history subverts the hierarchies of State over City, Victorian Gothic over Bytown Indifferent, buildings as monuments over early twentieth century planning grids and late twentieth century zoning. Nothing is distinct anymore, rather it is indecipherably mixed. Remove hierarchies of importance and fabric loosens, tears, becomes shoddy and can be re-woven.3 It is the re-weaving of any city that is so difficult: every project we do is hemmed in by history and tradition, covenants, by-laws and restrictions, within which we produce architectural objects that struggle to wrest relevance from an implacable site plan.

3 In a recent essay by Dorrian on paper-making from hemp as described in ‘The Praise of Hemp-Seed’ by the Jacobean poet John Taylor, he discusses how paper was a fluid amalgam of the discarded materials of society from high to low, democratised by the mashing of these fibres, floating them in water which then drains away, leaving a sheet of the unrecognisable ‘Linnen of some Countesse or some Queen’, Mix’d with the rags of some baud, theefe, or whore’. Taylor thinks of the afterlife of such materials; ghosts that persist in the very sheets of paper used to write both revolutionary manifestos and biblical texts — subversion inherent in the very process of making. www.drawingmatter.org/sets/drawing-week/liquid-paper/

Here, fragments – the edge of a building, Chateau Laurier perhaps, might occur in drawing next to a wall of a suburban Superstore, or a corner of an Edwardina apartment on Metcalfe, or a slice of Victoria Island, part of the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I’m being overly literal here to make a point: Metis’s drawing processes mash everything into fibres, as happens with paper-making, which become fluid in their distress and settle in new configurations. Channels of this new material are let into the existing city, slicing through the competition site where they develop their materiality into program. A section is formed, a plan is made, spaces are found. How to give one ‘cultural and governmental’ complex an urban genealogy that means something? How to talk about this city, this place, this country, in one small, bureaucratically-chosen site and program? Micro-urbanism makes no large plans, rather it assembles fragmentary connections and folds them onto the site. Metis projects approach the mathematically-based complexity of Ottoman architecture. At the same time, the work articulates a desire for narratives as organising principles for a micro-urbanism that gives meaning to every site, every building, every street corner that sit in a larger, historic and physical context. Micro-urban democratisation, access and complexity are an antidote to the rigidity of macro-urban zoning. It is little wonder that Metis’s most seductive projects occur in ancient cities, already complex and historically accessible: Cabinet of the City starts by superimposing the Nolli Plan onto a satellite-scanned present slice of Rome. Ottawa was a much harder task. Calvino’s Invisible Cities had to come to the rescue. opposite page: On The Surface, an exhibition of Metis work. this page: Ottawa, strips and texts; model of the resultant architecture. c ourtes y o f M e ti s

on site review 36: our material future


c o ur t e s y o f M e t is

top: Ottawa project fold sequence here: Ottawa, strips and texts scaled to the city


on site review 36: our material future

m i c ro -urba ni s m 2

macro -ur b a nis m 1

The tianquis of Mexico City described by Joseph Heathcott – long straggling lines of tarps and aluminum poles, are not unlike the channels that Metis wishes to cut through a city: under each tarp is a rich, complex, colourful life of barter and trade, transaction and obligation, things to sell and things to buy. Each tarp sits in front of a formal storefront, or apartment building, or house, or a highway; people are local, rural, urban, honest, criminal; they have life histories that bring them to this particular tarped table to meet face to face another life history. What is the infrastructure that allows this? In the tanquis it is minimal – tradition and a prefactorial blind-eye. In Metis microurbanism it is notional – a way to find a social complexity where laws and tradition prevent it.

Calgary’s corporate PPOS-lined streets are not mine. This is the most extreme version of zoning, access and exclusion. ‘Who owns the public realm’ is a question that returns regularly to the pages of On Site review. Maria Portnov asks, ‘If we want women to feel safe walking in urban surroundings it does not suffice to add lighting, just as a pink laptop is not genderoriented, just lazy.’ It is the coarse grain of stereotypes that characterises macro-urbanism; boundaries are transgressed simply by being the wrong kind of citizen in the wrong place at the wrong time. One would hope that the future city will be more fluid, more forgiving of difference.

m i c ro-urbani s m 3 Hong Kong and the indistinct laws of the public realm in the acme of the latecapitalist city. For Joanne Lam’s Hong Kong, decolonised in 1997 and a minute later recolonised with a vague promise of a fifty-year transition to authoritarian rule, the breaking of this promise has been enacted in the public realm, under duress, fragile and contestable. Micro-urbanism, inherently subversive and anti-authoritarian, intimate and communal, at first appears to be absent. Yet, we have long known about the Sunday meetings of the city’s Filipina nannies and domestic workers on the shaded plazas of the banking disrict; this magazine itself has published photo-essays of tower roof informal housing, of night-time dice and card games set up on sidewalks under the flare of streetlights. There is an insistence on an informal street life that is carried, through emigration, to major cities of North America and Europe where there are still historic Chinese communities in the downtown cores. In Calgary, Canada’s possibly newest and most arid high rise city centre, there is an old and resident Chinese population that uses the city, inside and outside office hours, for everyday life — the kind of intergenerational population city planners strive, but fail, to introduce through downtown condo towers. There is a narrative here, not manufactured or borrowed, that is deeply cultural and deeply allied with the shape of the developed city. I would hazard that there is a strength to such a narrative that gives strength to the pro-democracy protest movement that is enacted in the streets of Hong Kong: the streets are theirs.

macro -ur b a nis m 2 On May 21, 2019, the indefatigable Yann Ricordel-Healy suggested an essay for this issue: «I would be greatly interested to write on Nôtre-Dame’s destruction and the French debate after Emmanuel Macron’s urging to rebuild it ‘plus belle encore’ in only five years! It can be correlated to the recent reception of an advocacy for accelerationism, principally supported in France by philosopher Laurent de Sutter, and an ‘intelligentsia’ originated from what one could call a ‘scientist-leftist french tradition’.» Yann didn’t write this essay as a screenplay intervened and he was trying to find Laurent Sutter’s La petite bédéthèque des savoirs10, Histoire de la prostitution: de Babylone a nos jours. Macron’s accelerated building program has run into a very material set of issues. The 250 tonnes of melted lead roofing which ran between the cobbles, under the ground and produced lead dust blowing through Paris, has made the site toxic. Water blasted from firehoses saturated Nôtre-Dame’s stone columns which, on drying out, have become structurally compromised. The whole site is too dangerous to work in. One year in, the rebuilding has not yet begun. Les gilets jaunes are obstructing the transfer of budgetary funds, needed to advance transitions to automation, AI, unfettered technology and market forces, from the austerity that dismantles social programs, cuts pensions and raises taxes. A basic tenet of accelerationism is that one accelerates capitalist processes until either they explode, ushering in radical change, or they succeed, and world problems are solved. With progress itself in question as an operative principle that allows rapid exploitation of underdeveloped theories, technologies and ideologies that bring us ultimately to the climate crisis, conservation emerges as a kind of resistance, parallel to George Monbiot’s ‘political rewilding as an antidote to demagoguery’.4 The apartheids of macro-urbanism are a kind of demagoguery: something we feel powerless to even query. Micro-urbanism, whether that proposed by Metis or the materially conservative nature of micro-urbanism – the ‘make no large plans’ aspect – is a deceleration, a fragmentary evaluation of place, a turning away from automatic growth, a folding-in on itself. We are, like it or not, in a world of accelerating speed; we are, as slow and fairly obdurate human bodies, mostly being swept out of the way and left behind. Material resistance might be our unwitting anchor.

4 Georges Monbiot, ‘There is an antidote to demagoguery – it’s called political rewilding’ The Guardian, 18 December 2019. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/ dec/18/demagogues-power-rewilding-party-trustpower-government

Stephanie White is the editor of On Site review.

on site review 36: our material future


t he ti an g ui s of m e x i co c i ty

J o s e ph H e a t hc o t t

j o s e p h h e at h c o t t


Tepito: This massive tianguis stretches out from the two public markets at top right, illuminating the grid of the barrio Tepito just north of the Centro Historico. With some 12,000 merchants,

this is the city’s largest regular tianguis. Tepito sustained extensive damage during the 1985 earthquake, which the city used as justification to evict residents, impose redevelopment schemes,

and crack down on the tianguis. Vendors and residents pushed back, with some success, and today the tianguis, barrio and government persist in a tense stand-off.

One of Mexico City’s most vital institutions is the tianguis or street market.1 On any given morning, scores of tianguis blossom across the metropolitan landscape, abuzz with activity, their coloured canopies stretching through the arteries and intersections of the urban fabric. Organised on a quasi-formal basis, the municipal government estimates that over 1,400 tianguis regularly operate in the city, drawing on 46,000 suppliers and providing economic sustenance to some 800,000 people. And while they are not part of the city’s formal planning apparatus, they nevertheless constitute a routine feature of everyday life in the capital. Mexico City’s street markets resonate with an emergent architectural quality grounded in a habitual and repetitive practice. Architecture is not reducible to the production of unique, geo-spatially fixed buildings designed by professionally credentialed architects. Rather, architecture instantiates through generative practices of form making, temporal marking and aesthetic expression grounded in human culture. These practices unfold along continua from

professional to untrained, fixed to mobile, unique to repetitive, integral to modular and permanent to momentary. The form and content of the city reflect constant negotiation among people over the nature of beauty, the making of habitat, the occupation of space, the terms of exchange and the conduct of everyday life. Such negotiations can be found in high concentration in the tianguis; street markets in Mexico City take shape precisely around people’s unceasing efforts to produce convivial spaces – spaces with life, for gathering the things of life, for making meaning and creating a home amid the vast metropolis. As an integral element of social reproduction, the tianguis rise out of the city’s manifold geometries, taking form in the vortices, filaments and public thoroughfares of the everyday urban landscape. At each step of location, assembly and operation, vendors and their advocates must contend with a tangle of interests, from police and inspectors to local residents, business owners, delivery drivers, porters and customers.

At the same time, while the city is an intricately negotiated expression of human community, the capacity to shape the built environment is by no means evenly distributed. In Mexico City, as in most large cities, real estate investors, developers, financial institutions and governing agencies exert far greater power over the city-making process than most capitalinos. With a high percentage of poor families, many of the city’s neighbourhoods continue to be characterised by economic precarity and social marginalisation, particularly in terms of employment, land rights, water access and transportation. However, in the case of the street markets, working-class people have produced a highly resonant urban practice that flows from a particular mode of spatiotemporal organisation, scalar assemblage and creative expression. Through this urban practice they are engaged, in the words of Raymond Williams, in the art of ‘writing themselves into the land’.

on site review 36: our material future

J o s e ph H e a t hc o t t

Chinampac de Juárez: This angular tianguis cuts through an area once dominated by self-built housing, though much of the land has been cleared since the 1980s and rebuilt with mid-rise

social blocks, Unidads Habitacionals. Some of this housing remains; corrugated metal roofs are visible as small white and gray squares packed in tight lines to the left of the market and in the

upper right corner of the image. The large whiteroofed buildings contain a Home Depot and a discount supermarket that compete with the tianguis.

reflect and give rise to a vibrant urban culture of trade, signified by the brightly coloured canopies of the street markets. The images included here reveal an already extant set of aesthetic choices made by ordinary people through recurrent spatial assemblages. The tianguis constitute a vernacular expression of people’s tacit commitment to a polychromatic urbanity; the artistry emerges from the application of a routine thousands of times over in an ongoing practice of city making. Mexico City is a metropolis made of concrete: poured, stacked, mortared, cured and repeated millions of times over. Zones of new construction tend to be coated in layers of concrete dust, rendering them even greyer than the older settled districts that surround them. Amid this monotonic aerial view, the city’s tianguis stand out as linear bursts of colour, at once enabled and constrained by the streets and roadways through which they unfold. Specific forms of action, embodied, tacit and routine, produce aesthetic work at the scale of the urban landscape out of

everyday social and spatial negotiations. It is not so much an aesthetic of resistance as it is one of presence, of occupation, of collective dreaming. The polychromatic patterns of the markets convey both individual choices made by vendors as well as their associational stake in the city. Their aesthetic commitments ultimately reveal a collective desire to claim space amid the vast metropolis.

a e st h eti cs a nd ur b an cu lt u re Any work that focuses on the creative artistry of everyday urban life in working-class communities runs the risk of aestheticising social or economic precarity. Seen from above, the brilliant colours of the tianguis do not immediately announce the intense human labour that comprises the system of food and household goods provision in Mexico City; nor do the colours provide clues as to the wages earned or distances travelled by vendors in the course of their hard work to support their families and feed the metropolis. At the same time, the colours viewed from the ground convey neither the scale nor extent of the tianguis across the metropolitan landscape, nor the collective assemblage aesthetic that characterises the tianguis as a creative artefact. Rather than aestheticise precarity, this project seeks to connect forms of labour, political economy and social organisation to aesthetic production across scale by working-class people. Tianguis vendors have made collective decisions to organise themselves spatially and to announce themselves chromatically. Their actions both

a ss e m b l ing t he t i an g u i s The tianguis are a polychromatic urban form that unfolds in repeated, temporary and dynamic bursts across the metropolitan landscape. They grow out of the great urban rhizome through axillary nodes such as plazas, parks, roundabouts, churchyards and street junctions. From there they spread their filaments through the interstices – the streets, roadways, sidewalks, paths and open space edges – only to disappear and return again. They range dramatically in size and extent, from a handful of vendors on a street corner to thousands stretched out on major thoroughfares and arterial roads.

on site review 36: our material future


J o s e ph H e a t hc o t t


Tianguis De Segunda Mano-Guelatao For second-hand clothes, residents of the surrounding barrios and unidads head to this area known colloquially as Cabeza de Juárez for the

giant statue of the president’s head nearby. The tianguis is officially part of the Colonia Ejército de Oriente Indeco II ISSSTE, the neighbourhood visible in the top left quadrant. At

lower left is the massive Unidad Ex Lienzo Charro. The tianguis occupies an asphalt municipal soccer field adjacent to the Casa dela Cultura Tonacalli –the circular building at the top of the market.

At ground level, the tianguis follow a simple set of rules repeated over and over. A kit of parts includes a plastic canopy cover supported by aluminum poles, a kiosk or table for the vendor,usually covered by a tablecloth or oilcloth, signs and prices, crates and cooking equipment and stools for the food stalls. Some of these elements are standardised products available through suppliers, others use more makeshift means. Rules determine how this kit of parts is organised and spatially arrayed. The standard floor area for one allotment is 1.8m x 1.2m (6’ x 4’), which can be doubled or split. Vendors set up adjacent to one another, with no space in between, breaking only for doorways, streets and other openings. Canopies protect wares from rain and sun. The repeated application of these rules results in a wide range of sizes, colours and forms. The most iconic feature of the tianguis are the canopies, which come in white, pink, red, dark blue, light blue, yellow, forest green and grass green. Some tianguis deploy uniform colours through pooled acquisition by the vendors’ association and subsequently required of all new vendors. Other tianguis present a mix of colours, sometimes interspersed, other times alternating from one block to the next. Multiple colours might indicate a preference by the vendors, or it might indicate a less established tianguis

where vendors have yet to agree on a uniform scheme. In all cases, the result is a dramatic, brightly reflective polychrome line. Vendors in the tianguis sell a wide variety of goods. In addition to fruits, vegetables and meats, shoppers also find stalls with batteries of propane tanks, grills and portable ovens, selling the street food of the city – tacos, quesadillas, cemitas, tlacuyas, ceviche, fried fish, nopales and mole dishes. After food, the most common items sold are electronics equipment, sunglasses, toys, new and used auto parts, household goods and furniture. There is a substantial traffic in new and used compact disks, some bootlegged; these vendors often provide the lively soundtrack for the market, sending out bachata and reggaeton beats at high volumes. Other vendors sell clothes, ranging from used articles and cheap Chinese T-shirts to more expensive name brands.

the delegation, troubleshoots technical problems, intervenes in disputes and brokers the interests of vendors, neighbours and local officials. The committees are a venue for collective bargaining as well as a buffer against abuse, harassment, detention and confiscation of wares by police. To press their interests and make claims on the legal system and spatial regulation of the city, individual tianguis associations band together into larger confederations. Every vendor must obtain a licence from the delegation to sell goods on the street, whether they do so through the tianguis or as roving ambulantes. Most studies suggest that no more than half street vendors are licensed in the city; the remainder operate outside the formal regulatory apparatus of the state, particularly the hawkers and small cart operators whose margins simply do not yield enough to pay regular fees. Tianguis and ambulantes are key elements in a broader ecology of quotidian commercial exchange in Mexico City, particularly for food and household goods. In the twentieth century, the government of Mexico City constructed over 300 permanent public markets across the city to disperse commercial activity from the crowded Centro Historico and to establish a ‘pivot between the tianguis of indigenous tradition and wholesale trade’. However, the metropolis expanded more rapidly than

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tianguis in co nt e x t While largely a self-organising system, tianguis occupy a grey zone with respect to governance and the local state. Each tianguis is managed by a non-profit association that receives its charter from the delegation in which it operates. A committee comprised of vendors oversees the tianguis association’s business. The head of the committee collects fees from vendors, ensures payments to

the market and in the surrounding streets of Renovación.

Méndez: Also called ‘the towers’ because of the eight massive electrical arrays that loom over the area, this tianguis occupies a 9.2-hectare right of way belonging to the Federal Electricity

Commission. It is well known as a place to buy cheap car parts. There are also a significant number of narcomenudistas – small-time drug dealers who sell around the periphery of

public markets could be constructed. After the oil shock and successive recessions of the 1970s, the government sharply curtailed additions to the inventory. Many areas of the city still lack fixed public capital investment in food provision. For most working-class families, the nimble, modular tianguis continue to provide the main access to food and household goods –­ a vital part of everyday communal life in the barrios and colonias of the city.

uninhabitable – ravines, cliffs, pedregals (lava fields) and steep terrain. Despite intricate scalar negotiations and micro-adjustments between vendors, spatial allotments, associational and governance interests, traffic flows and built environments, tianguis tend to fall into five typologies: 1 The linear tianguis is a simple straight line along a designated thoroughfare. Some on each side of a street, leaving the central thoroughfare open, others cover the entire street with an unbroken canopy. Still others, alternate such arrangements from one block to the next, depending on the streetscape or the demands of the neighbourhood.

2 Clustered tianguis fill in square plazas, triangular intersections, roundabouts and other open spaces. Some of these open spaces are multi-purpose, so that the tianguis can only operate according to the weekly schedule of other activities. In many cases, tianguis fill in plazas that extend in front of fixed public market buildings, as shown at Mercado del Carmen, located in a recently built-up area of the State of México, just outside the city limits.

Progreso Nacional

Mercado del Carmen

i l l u m ina ti n g urba n form A temporary, repeating modular construction, the tianguis take shape within a highly variegated urban morphology, with streets and blocks reflecting different moments in the city’s historical development. Centro Historico, laid out following Spanish conquest, is a rigorous orthogonal grid of square blocks emanating outward from the Zócalo. Nineteenth-century grids, by contrast, make use of longer rectangular blocks, often with chamfered corners. Twentieth-century planners and developers experimented with a panoply of forms from zigzagging streets and cul-de-sacs to towers on superblocks; they also experimented with diagrammatic forms, rigging streets and blocks to geometric circles, parallelograms and polygons. In the more marginal precincts of the city, streets and blocks typically conform to landscapes once deemed

a ll im a ge s J o s e ph H e a th c o t t

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Nezahualcóyotl: A metropolis of 1.1 million people, known locally as Neza or Nezayork for its links to New York City, Nezahualcóyotl located on the eastern border of Mexico City. One of a dozen

tianguis in Neza, this one runs over a mile and a half through a highly rectilinear grid. Connections to New York come not only from migration, but also from trafficking in narcotics, pirated

music and knock-off branded clothes. All this is amplified in the commercial nexus of the tianguis, where one finds an abundance of Yankees and Mets caps, Knicks jerseys and ‘I ♥NY’ T-shirts.

3 Circuitous tianguis are similar to linear types, but they contain looping or interconnected branches, their colours exposing discrete parts of the metropolitan grid. In a simple case, the tianguis at Mixcoatl begins at the bottom alongside a large primary and secondary school campus, then branches into two filaments, one following Calle Tlilalpacatl (left) and the other Calle Cuitlahuac (right). The two branches connect back again along Villa Franqueza at the top.

4 Tianguis that follow the contours of natural or human-made features, reveal elements of the landscape such as ridge lines, valleys, elevation changes, roundabouts and curvilinear street layouts. The tianguis at Naucalpan de Juárez follows a ridgeline created by a combination of ancient earthquakes, pyroclastic flows and water erosion. These natural processes have folded the landscape into ribbons, around which varied urban morphologies have taken shape. The tianguis extends at intervals into cross streets. Located in a barrio with very few grocery options and no public market building, this tianguis serves a mix of agricultural produce and prepared foods.

5 Many tianguis combine two or more typologies into hybrid forms that optimise the spatial conditions established by the grid. The tianguis in Moctezuma combines three types: the contour, the linear and the cluster. Colonia Moctezuma, with its highly regimented grid, is located in the Venustiano Carranza delegation near the airport. The colonia’s Saturday market forms a red arrow connecting the Aviación roundabout with the tree-lined diagonal Avenida Iztaccíhuatl. A small filament of canopies links the tianguis to the public market – the large white building in the roundabout – while a triangular cluster forms at the other end alongside Iztaccíhuatl.

Naucalpan de Juárez

Luis Preciado de La Torre, Moctezuma


a ll im a g e s J o s e p h H e a t hc o t t


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J o s e ph H e a t hc o t t

Chapultepec: Under the cluster of blue canopies, vendors take advantage of several streams of movement: commuters emerging from the metro station close by, crowds heading in and out of the

park and vehicles entering and exiting the mighty Circuito Bicentenario, a 10-lane expressway on the city’s west side. Vendors sell souvenirs and trinkets to tourists and food and drink to

commuters, bus drivers and workers from nearby offices.

metropolis. The organised, collective and roughly democratic nature of the tianguis creates a relatively predictable and safe environment for vendors to ply their trade and for shoppers to browse, bargain and purchase. As an ensemble work, the kaleidoscopic bands of colour reveal the city as a place of thickly woven relations, a site of contestation and struggle, and a medium for collective dreams. The colours mark out the claims being made for the right to the city by socially marginal people, and assert the ongoing relevance of the tianguis to everyday life in Mexico City.

1 Tianguis: a vital part of the economy of Mexico City, the tianguis is also one of the oldest; the word is a Spanish approximation of the Nahuatl tiyanquiztli, or, place for trading. The tianguis survived the otherwise brutal conquest relatively intact, providing a space of exchange between indigenous and Spanish communities, as well as nodes of surveillance and religious conversion by colonial administrators. During the Porfiriato, tianguis outlived several waves of modernisation, where authorities attempted to clear away what they perceived to be outmoded traditional practices in order to forge a modern republic. After the Revolution, the tianguis were largely tolerated as a part of everyday life, and even, since the 1920s, embraced as indicative of Mexican heritage, culture and collective memory.

t h e pers i stance of the tiangu is Street markets comprise a form of temporary, recurrent, modular architecture grounded in civic codes and everyday social relations. Each tianguis articulates the fixed architectural and infrastructural forms of the urban fabric in which it unfurls. The reflect historic and changing modalities of commercial exchange, as well as a range of spatial practices geared toward optimising returns for the gruelling investment of time, labour and materials. As an ensemble work, the tianguis channel the ongoing assertion of collective usufructory rights – rights of working-class people to use the remaining slivers of commons left to them to earn a living. Tianguis continue to offer an associational approach to the hard work of street vending that would be difficult to duplicate in emerging forms of labour–capital relations. Although big box grocery chains and retail outlets have mushroomed across the city over the last decade, their globally optimised supply chains allowing them to compete with and undercut tianguis, thousands of vendors maintain their participation in the tianguis. This speaks to the opportunity this ancient form still provides for people to make a living. That tens of thousands of people shop at the tianguis everyday confirms the continued importance of street commerce for urban households in an ever-expanding

To produce these images, I made very large screen captures of Google Earth tiles (2,784 pixels), which I then cropped and desaturated in Photoshop, rendering them as 24 inch black and white images. To restore the color to the tianguis, I built a new layer and applied the eraser tool at a very fine grain (5 pixels), which slowly exposed the brilliant colors in the original layer below. As the colors re-emerge, each tianguis exposes its structure and form within the morphological condition of the city. This method of contrasting the vivid colors with the gray figure-ground reveals the tianguis as richly varied and densely saturated features of Mexican street culture.

A longer form of this essay was published as ‘Architecture, urban form, and assemblage aesthetics in Mexico City’s Street markets’ in International Journal of Architectural Research Vol.13 No.1, 2019 pp 72-92 It appears here with the permission of Joseph Heathcott, Department of Urban Studies, The New School, New York. The IJAR original, fully footnoted, can be found here: www.emeraldinsight.com/2631-6862.htm

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a t the foo t of li o n ro c k joanne lam

S o ut h C hina M o r ning Po s t

T ho m a s Ya u / B o nnie Au

1997. 5 0 . 2 047. These are the numbers that are written into the history books. They govern our lives, overwhelm our conversations and decide whether we stay or go. They sow uncertainty, regardless of our choice. They count down to the day when we have to change our identity, sealing our fates before we were born. 1997 came and went with ceremony and fanfare. For a brief moment, the world watched and applauded. We collectively let out a sigh of relief and pointed to the booming economy as evidence of the promised stability. 1997 jokes became obsolete. We pleasantly continued with life while counting down from 50. Dimsum topics revolve around food, shopping, stocks and property values. Though there were signs, we wrote them off as anomalies. They will blow over, we tell ourselves. We forge ahead. We try to forget the numbers. Under the seemingly clear sky, another year starts. We still have time. 2019 became a tale of two cities. ‘It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.’ As summer turns to winter, my city became unrecognisable. It is now headline news when it normally warrants no mention at all. Words from other places in conflict are now associated with my city. The images that are splattered on all


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screens are shocking, and surreal. Victoria Park was where I used to play. Glimpses of the jungle gym, the weekend balloon lady and seniors playing chess float in my head. Comparing these against images of the park being taken over for protests is jarring. The leisurely pace of the park is replaced with coordinated shouts and demands, even though the protest is peaceful. Long ago this was the site of a harbour for fishing boats, to keep them safe from the vicious wind of a typhoon. Since the land has been reclaimed, it has become a harbour of a different kind, a political one. In addition to recreation, it is also the site of the only memorial for the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. Perhaps there is no better place than Victoria Park to host the beginning of a new era for Hong Kong. It is indeed the best of times when there is hope.

Causeway Bay is always packed and never stationary. Every hour, everyday. Everyone is always on the move. It is the ultimate area to live, work, play. I spent a lot of time in Causeway Bay, shopping, eating and generally getting lost in the maze-like streets that follow the rolling topography. There was always something to discover and rediscover. But this is a different kind of packed. It is not leisurely. Anger and tension ricochet off the

The MTR has always been a source of pride. It is clean, efficient, orderly and serves as the prime mode of transportation for most residents. Every time I step on Hong Kong soil I put money on my octopus card and off I go. It has been the de facto escape hatch for the protests above but they now have spilt into the underground system, turning a mode of public transportation into the latest frontline. Disrupting the efficient network hits the city at its Achilles heel. Flimsy gates, subway train doors, turnstiles become meaningless. They are nothing against organised, angry, gang members who are ready with weapons to beat up protesters. They do nothing to protect those who need help, or who just happen to have been caught in the crossfire on their way home. The vast network becomes a container with blocked exits, inadvertently aiding one side, and used as a convenient excuse for the police who do not show up. This is the opposite kind of efficiency.

S o ut h C hina M o r ning Po s t

S t u d i o I nc e n do

buildings, underlined by a growing sense of worry. The police, known as ‘Asia’s Finest’, are supposed to keep order, but have somehow turned on the people. Suddenly, the urban maze becomes a key player. Are those narrow alleyways allowing the protesters to hide, to flee? Is the maze convoluted enough to confuse the police? Can the urban design handle life, work and protest?

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Of all the buildings in Hong Kong, the Space Museum is the only one that features as a beacon of hope in the protests. This building has always been my favourite, because of its instantly recognisable shape, but also because of what it contains. The world of wonder and possibility that the Space Museum presents and showcases blew my childhood mind. So it seems only fitting that the battle of the latest technologies takes place at its doorstep. To confuse the police’ facial recognition cameras, the protesters adopt laser pointers. When the police deems the laser pointers to be an ‘offensive weapon’, the Space Museum shell is chosen as the unofficial testing ground. The result is a spontaneous laser show that tells off the police in a celebratory way. It is cheeky, ironic and poignant, a combination very unique to Hong Kong. I have never seen the Space Museum more beautiful.

When I was small, I knew Lion Rock because of the tunnel. It is nothing special, but the approach leaves an impression every time. As the outline of a lion, perched on the top of a mountain, comes into focus, it radiates stateliness and calm. It looks over the city, guarding it at all hours. Over the years, Lion rock has become a prominent anchor. For the older generation, its foothills provided their new beginnings after the civil war. The squatter houses from that time have since been replaced with tall apartment buildings, but a hit TV series and its theme song from that era still endure. The lyrics that cemented the fighting and together spirit of Hong Kongers ring true to this day, despite the evolving political and economical circumstances. So it is only natural that protesters go up to Lion Rock on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival, a day that is traditionally about family dinners with lanterns. Lighting up Lion rock during such a turbulent period speaks to the whole city, reminding us that Hong Kong will figure out a path to the future.

S t u d i o I n c e n do S t ud io I nc e nd o

人生不免崎嶇 難以絕無掛慮 既是同舟 在獅子山下且共濟 拋棄區分求共對 It is inevitable for life to be rugged or have no worries at all Since we are in the same boat at the foothills of Lion Rock living together Let’s forget our differences and work together – from the song ‘獅子山下’ ‘At the foot of Lion Rock’

Hong Kong, add oil!


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In another time and place, I would definitely marvel at the ingenious layout of bricks on the road. In the stillness of the photograph, it is a somber art installation. In reality, they are about to inflict maximum damage. Compared to the conflicts that took place in the evenings after, these mini brick structures are like child’s play. The sun sets and the universities become battlegrounds, with tear gas against molotov cocktails, rubber bullets against bow and arrows. One of the universities is sealed off to force the protesters to surrender and be registered. The city and the Hong Kong diaspora watch the stand-off with bated breath. No amount of obsessive refreshing on our screens can tell us enough information. If the last places where ideas and ideals are germinated, incubated and cultivated are taken over and controlled, will this society still have a future?

Age n c e F ra n c e -Pre ss e

Before we emigrated, my dad was a transportation engineer in Hong Kong. True to the engineer stereotype, he meticulously calculates, and he rarely expresses emotions. Seven months into the protests, is the cost worth it? He can’t tell yet. But he readily tells me that he is heartbroken.

Joanne Lam OAA, M Arch, LEED AP is an architect, a sessional instructor and a mother. She is a co-founder of Picnic Design, a firm that is developing a portfolio of work that is innovative, thoughtful, adventurous and filled with ingenious moments. Her design approach is inspired by many places she has lived through out the years, but especially by her hometown of Hong Kong.

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w e a r e ne e d e d maria portnov j o n at h a n v e n t u r a As it stands, we must accommodate technology. It is time to transform the technology to accommodate us.1 —Donald A Norman, 2009

In the future, design and planning must assume the responsibility for transforming what is today barely virtual into something real. In that way design and planning would become the guiding factor of the Revolution; in fact, it would itself be the Revolution.2 —Tomas Maldonado, 1972

Fellow designers, heed our call lest our beloved discipline becomes irrelevant! We are engulfed by rapidly unfolding global changes yet find ourselves late to articulate appropriate solutions: global migration, refugees, local and regional military tensions, the decline of brand value and the rising of ‘the wicked questions of design’ imbued with vast technological changes. We must beware of being blinded by these evocative technologies and return to the bane of our discipline – narrative design.3 Let us start with a brief historical stroll and end with a suggestion, focusing on the epitaph of our current situation – the urban realm. Romanticism, contrary to its name, was a nineteenth century ailment introduced to our discipline. It focussed on the individual’s ability and right to express himself (malefocused at the time), heralding the single genius creator. Romanticism also brought forth the troubling side of value-oriented design, culminating in such documents as Marinetti’s 1909 Manifesto del Futurismo. The essence of this ailment was narrative design originated solely to reflect its creator’s own inner world of values.

Portnov a nd Ventura

above: Tel Aviv, 2017 1 Norman, D. A. ‘Compliance and tolerance’. Interaction 16(3): 2009. pp 61–65 2 Maldonado. Tomás. [1972]. Design, Nature and Revolution: Toward a Critical Ecology. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. p 28 3 In the context of our material future we analyse the designer’s role and its relevance to this near (and maybe far) future in the era of technological advancement. We claim that design has little potential to survive without obtaining a value system based on ideology and dealing with social issues (harsh issues as well as small everyday issues). When the software will replace other methods in all areas and will become the main actor, the narrative design which is about the designer–artist and not about inclusive user experience, will stay as aesthetic expression — not enough to justify itself. The other side, market oriented design, which serves consumerism and branding and doesn’t really have ideology to guide it, will eventually be made extinct by technology.


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The end of World War One saw an explosion of value-oriented design – a reaction to the cruelty and madness of nationalism and religious vanity. Be it a return to basic geometries or idealistic markets – values were the measure in design. By the mid1960s this had crumbled under new gods of marketing and consumer culture. The critical friction point was a struggle between the two sides of design as a value system. On one side, Max Bill represented the cold logic of industrial design – answering the market’s needs with affordable, functional and aesthetically minimalistic solutions. On the other side, Tomas Maldonado drew a new solar system of values borrowed from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology and biology. The battle for the very definition of the designer’s role in society was valiantly fought.

But we lost.4

Dieter Rams, a market-oriented minimalist knight heralded design’s conquest by the Apple banner, cleansing our discipline of any unnecessary issues such as values, ideology and social impact, all of which quickly became anathema among designers. Marketing experts strengthened their hold on the discipline. Branding ruled and often people were forgotten. The designer as marketing-oriented problem solver was ubiquitous, save for small outliers waiting for change.

Colleagues, this change must come if we want to remain relevant! Let us say the designer as problem-solver is gone, long live the designer as social interpreter! Yet, how might this change take place, you ask, most rightfully. Let us focus our attention on contemporary urban surroundings as a case study, then offer our suggestion for a much-needed change. In many current discussions within the urban design discipline we witness a nostalgic lamentation over the loss of simple social interactions and human connections in our daily urban lives, replaced by screens and virtual platforms. The healthy stroll without aim, manifested by the flâneur, has been replaced with incessant glances at one’s personal data device, making social interaction obsolete. The situation is grave. Designers have abrogated the responsibility to manage the co-existence between the two worlds, the digital and the flâneur’s stroll. Instead there is a careless coercion that privileges the virtual over the street. The old definition of our profession looked for problems, then suggesed a (usually technology-appropriate) solution. A new approach is needed, one that sees the designer as a socio-cultural interpreter. That this shift is needed is illustrated by an answer given by Zaha Hadid when asked of the high fatality rate in her soccer stadium in Qatar: ‘I have nothing to do with the workers, I think it’s for the government to take care of. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it’. We cannot accept this type of answer!

4 ‘But we lost’ Who is ‘we’? Value-oriented designers, but it can also address all the designers that will eventually lose because the discipline will be gone.

Without working with and for people we will be replaced by self-moderated 3D imaging programs, wirelessly connected to 3D printers spewing models. Without a clearlydefined value-system and ideology, the designer is but an educated carpenter, to use Adolf Loos’s famous description. In Western society, one of the most universal acts we are taught as children is to give up your seat on the bus or the train for the elderly. Buses are designed with marked seats under clearly situated modern visual signage reminding us of our simple civic ethical duty. Nevertheless, if you have recently gone on a bus you might have noticed that fewer people embrace this simple and minute duty, leaving the elderly to stand in the hardships of public transportation. We might think that the main issue here is that we no longer consider some populations as weak; the elderly are vital and active and have replaced the label of inability with newfound eagerness, coupled with a new pride, basking in their third or fourth career needed to financially support their longevity. We could also claim that the problem is rooted in modern consumerist society, typically identified as selfish and indifferent. However, when asked, people will usually give up their seat, so why don’t we do it straight away? If we carefully observe we will find that the reason is simple — we just do not pay attention to our physical surroundings any more.

This inattention is coupled with our cowardice, not only as designers but as people, to stand by a clearly defined value system. A key change, mirrored in the rise of centralist rulers, is the ‘newfound truth’ that democracy is overrated, liberalism is weak and pluralist agendas are for suckers. In design, a false-truth hammered through our obsessive consumerism assumes that capitalism is not an ideology but just the natural order of business — a designer selling a chair for four million dollars is just the work of a professional. Social values play no part. Even drawing attention to social agendas quickly dissolves into weak arguments. For example, the first elderly-oriented design call in the UK was labelled “design for your future self”, underlining a detachment from our own imminent yet un-sexy future. Inclusive design, trying to offer various physical and social standards instead of just one healthy model, was quickly engulfed by standardised industrial solutions, giving rise to yet another 99 percent, the infirm, who are pushed to the margins of the design world. Compiled into our smartphones, deaf with our noise-cancelling earphones, concentrated in a parallel world in which we have many alter-personas, we seem less interested in a significant social role. Recent design trends, such as interactive design and even UX, aided by VR, AR and other technological augmentation, deepen this growing gap. The serendipitous chance of

getting lost in an unknown street is replaced by the red dot of navigation apps; looking for a restaurant or choosing a book is regulated by grading apps and social media. We may think we have more options, but actually we are all gradually sentenced to have the same user experiences. To have a strong and flawless internet connection has become one of our most fundamental needs, affecting our personal life and interactions, our business vitality, financial and medical decisions and our very understanding and experience of public spaces such as city streets. Ignoring Jurgen Habermas’s call almost 60 years ago for the necessity of the public sphere, we now have the complete opposite, reduced to nothing. As governments and tech-giants threaten what is termed ‘net neutrality’, the need for a stand for ideology and values is even more urgent. Our political spaces are virtual, the forums and social networks successfully replace the city square; we are supervised through our virtual activity and apps. Even delinquency takes place in the Dark Net at least as much as it does in dark alleys. The virtual world’s centrality in our daily lives supposedly encourages individuality and independence, yet we all experience the world through the same technological mediations. Through shared virtual mediations we not only lose our critical thinking, but also interaction with ‘dumb objects’. If the virtual will soon be our main world, we must focus on transitions between the virtual and the physical. Think of the immense evolution smartphones have gone through compared to the design of ATMs or even the design of the sidewalk. Physical objects and spaces in the urban realm have lost their agency, they do not mediate our interactions, therefore the very integration between the digital and the analogue is starting to crack. While we can still speak both languages we must design their integration.

What can we do, then?

Jerusalem, 2018. People ‘watching’ a street concert. In our daily routine there is a dissonance between the physical and the virtual worlds. Physical space loses its significance and vitality to the immediate virtual space which has become our main activity site.

Po rtn ov a n d Ve n tu ra

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Resurrecting design values We call on designers of varying subdisciplines to research and identify these cracks, to stop being lazy, to accept responsibility for the connection between the physical world and the others – the scientific and the social and the economic. We cannot afford to focus on just one of these, even if what only matters to the addict is the virtual connection. Designers should guard physical experience and include virtual connection in that experience. If we design USB sockets in the urban environment, we must integrate them with other conditions such as ergonomic seats, shade, groceries, public transportation and bathrooms. If we want women to feel safe walking in urban surroundings it does not suffice to add lighting, just as a pink laptop is not genderoriented, just lazy. We call on designers to work together instead of in competition, and to merge one platform with another. Design should be a holistic experience and truly inclusive. When we are waiting for the bus and the software of the ticket machine is stuck so that we have to walk away or pay a taxi because we do not have a ticket, we should be presented with more options. If we go on a lengthy ride, comprised of several transportation means, we should be able to do so seamlessly, even if we are visually impaired. Although urban designers work with digital and virtual tools to showcase and develop their designs, they rarely incorporate them in their final outcomes. If we call upon them to be aware of the duality of experience and nothing changes, why would this be? Designers must watch, listen and identify situations on the scale between the physical and the virtual and adjust their designs, while considering an array of people. In areas lacking enough light or shade or even furniture, use the virtual platform in real-time to let the pedestrian expand their relevant solutions. We must resolve small conflicts and social issues with the help of the virtual world, while also finding physical and more suitable platforms that will work simultaneously for those who are less connected, educated or physically abled.


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Even with successful virtual platforms, the physical should not be neglected or become hostile, like the scooters lying around on the streets waiting for someone to stumble over them as there was no design for parking spaces nor the ability to fold them up. We must make sure that in every urban design project we combine and open a public approach through physical spaces throughout the city. To design must be synonymous sensitivity and inclusivity and not just allegedly smart or financially successful. Finally, we must stop hiding behind false assumptions. Design’s sole existence is not to serve the upper one percent. Designing for the market is not the discipline’s sole, or even main, purpose. It is an option. Social design must stand firm on clearly defined ideological roots. It must be defined as broader than any single sub-discipline. Design disciplines must not be defined by the choice of software — a graphic designer is not an InDesign worker, they must redefine their role in society and in the market. Similarly, an urban designer or an industrial designer is not working for a BIM centre or SolidWorks. These designers must articulate their role, be it to make money for entrepreneur, to represent social groups or to stand against urban injustice. The role must be made clear. This is an exciting period to work as a designer; it is also a crucially important crossroads. We must decide: are we (still) a part of the problem, or potentially a catalyst for much-needed change.

Po r t nov a nd Ve nt ur a

top: Tel Aviv, 2019. A ticketing device inside a public bus, broken and wrapped with garbage bags. above: Jerusalem, 2018. A disconnected and unused public phone, in the middle of a narrow urban sidewalk.

Po rt n ov a n d Ve n t u ra

Jerusalem, 2018. Failed technological urban infrastructure that was intended to interact with pedestrians and provide shade and light.

Maria Portnov is a landscape architect and an independent researcher of urban public environments, their everyday interactions and conflicts and the role of socially oriented designers. Jonathan Ventura is an Associate Professor in Design Anthropolgy, and Design Theory and Research, The Department of Inclusive Design, Hadassah Academic College, Jerusalem and the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Royal College of Art, London.

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materialising memory at Rivesaltes lejla odobasic novo

c o u rt e s y o f Pa ss e la c & R o q ue s a r c hit e c t e s

a rc h i tect ure and mate riality One of the inherent attributes of architecture is its materiality. It is the persistence of materiality that often stands witness to remembrance, be it individual or collective. The relationship between the way we remember, what we remember and how we materialise our remembrance is a subject explored by many scholars including Walter Benjamin in1940, Maurice Halbwachs in 1950, Pierre Nora in1984, Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida in 1987, James Young 1992, Reinhart Koselleck 2002, Andreas Huyssen 2003, Aleida Assmann 2008 and Jay Winter in 2009. It is the places of commemoration that take on the most significant role in the materialisation of memory in so far as that is their raison d’être. Through shifting paradigms of the way we commemorate, the architectural and material expression of such places has also morphed, evolving from very static monuments (often celebrating only the victor) to that of much more subtle memorial sites that engage us by asking us to participate in the memory work. Here built form takes on a subordinate role, becoming invisible in favour of experience. Or, to use James Young’s term, the built form becomes a counter-monument.1

1 Young, James. ‘The counter-monument: Memory against itself in Germany today’, Critical Inquiry, 18:2, 1992. pp 267–96


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In the field of memory studies, place as a concept is frequently deemed as a lasting and steadfast feature of culture. Thus, place also holds an important commemorative role in the attempt at preserving and honouring certain memory or memories. It also provides a communal spatial framework for what is referred to by Aleida Assmann, a leading scholar in memory studies, as a two-fold memory.2 Assman’s two-fold memory models indicate two complimentary ways in which she deems cultural memory operates: the inhabited functional memory (Funktionsgedächtnis) and the uninhabited storage memory (Speichergedächtnis). Storage memory is of collective nature, it is selective, normative and future-oriented. It is often the ‘official’ story (memory) of a nation propagated by official government and leading religious institutions. Functional memory is of a material nature which encapsulates and makes tangible stored memory. Memorials and sites of commemoration become places of functional memory that ensure the prorogation of storage memory, which in turn leads to solidification of the stored memory furthering collective identity building.

2 Assmann, Aleida. ‘Canon and Archive’, tr. S B Young, in A Erll & A Nünning (eds), Cultural Memory Studies: An International and Interdisciplinary Handbook. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008. p 99

This solidification of memory, the selection of what and how to remember is widely debated. Jay Winter argues that the way we relate to commemoration has evolved and that ‘from roughly 1970 onwards the politics of remembrance shifted in such a way to make war a landscape of horror at the centre of which are not the heroes, the resister or even the soldiers but the innocent civilians who were massacred in its wake.’3 Reinhart Koselleck, in 1985, observed that commemorative places have evolved from memorials that reflect sacrifice and death in the name of a nation, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, to more abstract memorials which still commemorate death, but also the enormity of loss without offering any kind of justification. Holocaust memorials are an example of such approach and he goes on to argue that the new expression of a memorial, through modern palimpsests, is one of multiple layers of meaning and inscription that allows their significance to change with the passage of time.4

3 Winter, Jay. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cultural History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1995. p31 4 Koselleck, Reinhart. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. K. Tribe. Cambridge: MIT Press,1985. p 289

L e jla O d o b a s ic N ovo

Koselleck’s work anticipated that of James Young who, shortly after, used the term counter-monument in referring to several German monuments that shared a condition of invisibility, either by virtue of their initial placement or their eventual disappearance.5 His reading of counter-monuments focused mainly on those created in the early 1990s and particularly on memorials that disappeared, changed form or remained partially hidden when installed. This notion of absence or disappearance remains a strong element in the design of memorial sites. Another element of the counter-monument which is heavily explored in the contemporary memorial design, is the involvement of the visitor –- the need for their interaction to complete the meaning of the memorial. Many contemporary memorials follow a set of design elements that align with the characteristics of countermonuments: they are stern, even austere, in their shape and material; they demand visitor interaction; they provoke memory work and they bear witness to absence while creating an unrelenting civic presence that is able to evolve over time.

Rivesaltes Memorial museum near Perpignan in the south of France, was in many ways designed in the spirit of a countermonument. Designed by Rudy Ricciotti and Passelac & Roques architects, it opened in 2015. This former military camp bears witness to a multitude of forced displacement histories starting with its formation in 1938. It was both a military area and a transit and internment camp between 1938 and1977, experienced by between 50,000 and 80,000 people. Through harsh weather and difficult living conditions hundreds died in Rivesaltes; others, during the Second World War, were sent on to Nazi extermination camps. The Rivesaltes Memorial site includes two parts: a new museum consisting of a monolithic structure sunk into the ground in the outline of the former central assembly area of block F, and the remnants of the eroding barracks surrounding the museum. Upon arrival, it is only the former barracks that are visible in the landscape. The remains of the old barracks are framed by the sky above and the mountains in the

background. They are clearly weathered, and to a large extent eroded, by the harsh wind characteristic of this region. Some have been structurally reinforced to prevent their total disappearance but not enough to complete the narrative of the place. There are no plaques, signs or visible explanations to the history of the place. We must construct this narrative ourselves by relying on our own understanding of such sites. A sense of isolation engulfs the entire site. The camp is sequestrated from the town but also forms the town’s urban configuration. It follows a rigid military grid organisation with a central assembly area thus creating a set of imposed living rules defined by military logic and separated from a ‘normal life’. At other parts of the site wild scrub overpowers the landscape showing both the passage of time and furthering contemplation of the past and its relation to the present.

5 Young, James. ‘The counter-monument: Memory against itself in Germany today’, Critical Inquiry, 18:2, 1992. pp 267–96

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Closer to the barracks we can see a tilted form, above, the footprint of the former assembly area, emerging from the ground. It is the same ochre colour as the landscape that surrounds it, rendering an illusion that the ground itself is titling up. The building, 230 metres long and only 14 metres wide, silently inclines towards the sky as it is both submerged and emerges from the depths of the earth. It lies almost flat on the west side at the entrance to the site and rises slightly towards the east to meet the roof height of the surrounding barracks. This visual connection enables us to form a relationship with the camp buildings in their varying states of weather-beaten erosion. Rather than taking the curved path to the barracks, and looking for the history of the place, one follows a straight ramp which descends into the depths of the earth and into the new museum, right. The space gets darker as one proceeds deeper to an abrupt stop at the entrance. Here we feel the cut in the ground where the entire building exposes its full vastness and its nested state. The memorial is compressed between the sky and the earth, between the darkness and the light, between remembering and forgetting. Once in the building, ties with the outside world are cut as the memorial offers no outside view except to the sky. Three patios structure the organisation of learning labs, a social area and offices, all the while providing a certain sense of comfort. A tranquil yet lonely feeling reigns in the softly lit oversized reception hall that completes the transition into the underworld of the memorial. Passing this point, we enter a small waiting area lit by one of the three courtyards. Next to the courtyard is a long narrow corridor lit with artificial light from below. Entering the corridor, one loses all sight of natural light while its length makes it impossible to predict what is on the other side. As the eyes adjust to the darkness, the relatively long walk down the corridor, brings both


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a sense of physical unease and a sense of disorientation which could the interrelated experience of entering the original camp and the condition of being displaced. Thus, the corridor demarks a passage into a different reality; it symbolizes the shift from the state of belonging to that of being unwanted, segregated and potentially even obliterated. The exhibition area, facing page, is a large hall-like space divided into temporary and permanent conditions. Looking around the exhibition hall one finds no windows, no reference to the outside world; there is no escaping the weight of the absence in the underbelly of the building. The atmosphere here is silent. The heart of the permanent exhibition, which illustrates the chronological history of the camp, is a long table that parallels the form of the building itself. It takes us through the cyclical and repeating patterns of displacement in the camp from the Republican refugees of the Spanish Civil War, to deported Jews and Roma during WWII, detained German soldiers, the National Liberation Front and Algerian Harkis. Looking at photographs and listening to the personal stories of the detainees is an intimate experience. One cannot help but imagine the conditions under which these people left their homes, the journey they undertook on the way to Rivesaltes, their living conditions in the camp and whether they ever found their way back home. Here, I cannot separate my personal history of displacement, bringing back memories of leaving besieged Sarajevo with my family in the early 1990s. We also lived in a camp of sorts in Libya for four years before we made our way to Canada. Thoughts then wander to the current waves of migrants living in devasting conditions in temporary camps throughout the Balkans while they are desperately trying to make their way into the EU, many of whom perish under horrific conditions while migrating towards a better future.

Completing the exhibition loop, it is with a sense of relief that one finds themselves back at the foot of the long corridor. On the way back the corridor decompresses the thoughts, allowing a contemplative transition from the sobering exhibitions to the outside world. The journey back, right, is that of ascent towards the light and the outside. It seems a quicker journey ending at the foot of the building and back at the barracks. Once again, one is faced with absence and the consequences of erosion of time. There is no sense of closure here; no poetic justice. The building and its journey offer no consolation, only a confrontation with a repeated history. The Rivesaltes Memorial takes an impressively long and hard look at France’s containment, detention and deportation of displaced populations across the middle of the twentieth century, yet it remains universal in its echo of the vast absences of forced migration. The material past of the site is a reference point for the new building and its relationships with its history, the surrounding landscape and the collective narrative. Rivesaltes Memorial adheres to the concept of the counter-monument. Although massive in its footprint, the building hides in plain sight, disappearing into the land, leaving us to question the cyclical patterns of history embedded in the narrative of absence.

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further references: Halbwachs, Maurice. The Collective Memory. Translated by Francis J. Ditter, Jr. and Vida Yazdi Ditter. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1950 Huyssen, Andreas. Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003 Nora, Pierre. Les Lieux de mĂŠmoire, 7 vols. Paris: Gallimard, 1984

Lejla Odobasic Novo is a licensed architect by the OAA and she currently teaches at the International Burch University Department of Architecture in Sarajevo. Her research lies within the area of culture and architecture in contested spaces.

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WA /V E r o b e r t m c k ay e


s t o ya n b a r a k o v

M c ka y e a nd B a r a kov

WA/VE was installed for Nuit Rose 2019, a queer art festival in Toronto. Conceived as a suspended, anticlastic mesh of recycled magazines, the piece draws parallels between print media and the state of queer culture. It began by the shuffling of print media together to take advantage of maximised friction between the bound pages. Like the threads of a weave, the pages exhibit high resistance to tension forces, making them hard to pull apart.


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Leveraging this material property, WA/ VE becomes more than just a one-time installation – it reimagines a material that has outlived its original purpose but not its cultural and physical evocations. Print media, in the context of an architectural intervention, is given new significance through the agency of memory, nostalgia and consumerism. This demonstrates the duality of a single material acting as both artefact and artifice.

The project and its underlying assembly disrupts the traditional lifespan of an everyday object to achieve something new. In terms of our material future, WA/ VE touches on the persistence of form not purely through the longevity of particular materials, but through the perception of those materials and how we use them.

On Site review: WA/VE is an art installation in a specific venue; the architectural discussion of its materiality and its potential to be an actual construction system appears to lie in the ability to simultaneously re-use a material without losing its cultural resonance. Is there a point where the evocations fall away (society moves on, the era in which the original material was created becomes archived, battles are won) and what is left is the curious property of thin bound sheets of paper to fuse through sheer surface tension?

images of LGBTQ2+ society. It was an act of separating the printed page into strictly parallel parts: the page and the imprint – both of which are artefacts. Their use as a new contemporary function is what we see as artifice.

McKaye + Barakov: WA/VE explored a particular material (magazines) and and how it could be manipulated to perform structurally. The compounded surface tension of interleaved pages is a principle which would hold true for novels, phonebooks, newspapers, each having its own unique character and aesthetic. The use of queer publications made it relevant for Nuit Rose; different genres of print material would have different tones. If the cells were sealed or dipped in resin and used as an envelope or rain screen building component, its longevity would allow it to outlive its cultural resonance. This was not the intention of the installation but certainly is the implication of print media as a building component.

McKaye + Barakov: After weaving a row of magazines together we stood them up. There were a few configurations we imagined, all of which were very different in the simulated digital space from the actual fabricated space – obviously because it was an elastic structure. We tried three-sided, five- and six-sided cells. We also imagined weaving the rows together like a basket rather than creating cells. By observing their behaviour when aggregated, the overall geometry took a shape on its own. The material had its own limitations that could be quite easily observed – à la Louis Kahn, it knew what it wanted to be! Our goal was to create something aesthetically pleasing and easily digestible for mainstream audiences. The hexagons attached to each other resembled this loose image of beehive, or honeycomb, something associated with ideas of shelter and nurture.

McKaye + Barakov: We appreciate that you’ve picked up on this. It is for this reason that we reference wave in our title, as it seems to constantly be nodding backwards at something, while suggesting something else – a kind of periodic socio-culturalstructural cycle. On Site review: I realise the importance of magazines to queer culture, they long served as a kind of samizdat communication stream: is this still the case in a world of Nuits Roses and a relative openness about LGBTQ2+ issues? Or do the magazines themselves have value as artefacts of a previous era?

McKaye + Barakov: Interesting question. In a Nuit Rose world the queer community no longer relies as heavily on print media for freedom of expression and identity – there are more visible platforms. Still, the magazines as symbols carry archival qualities and represent a time and place past. After being printed and put on magazine stands the magazine becomes an artefact which carries stories. The structure WA/VE could be seen as a sort of abstract time capsule. We often thought of the installation as a ‘cultural kaleidoscope’, as it was at the same time something specific, but also an abstraction – the artefact, the magazine, transformed into these reflective fractured

On Site review: Is WA/VE a case study whose lessons might be applied to other materials?

McKaye + Barakov: WA/VE is part of a potentially huge field of research into the recycling of materials. Is it better/more efficient to just outright recycle things? or can up-cycling add additional value through the preservation of existing intent and cultural resonance for as long as possible? For us, this was a re-imagining of an existing energy/effort; it tried to leverage a previously machined product’s intrinsic qualities for a new function. When you break open this idea, what other options are there? We wish to go beyond this scale and using just queer culture publications — we could create some sort of a house/shelter using the magazine weaving approach. Living the hexagonal life! On Site review: I’d quite like to see two magazines being shuffled together and how they then magically attach to another set.

McKaye + Barakov: Imagine if you shuffled half of one book halfway into another – like a deck of cards – ideally alternating every single page for maximum tension. The un-shuffled half of each could then accept additional books, forming a chain of friction-fit connections. As each half-magazine connects as it shuffles into the next, their staggered spines allow for controlled deformation when the shape is bent or twisted. As a sort of flexible beam, it demonstrates rigidity, but also provides inflection points to give the component an elastic quality.

M c ka y e a n d B a ra kov

On Site review: We have a generative project, WA/VE, and then we have the construction system it generates, the architectural discussion it generates and its role in generating another cultural, social and political conversation. At each point a different constituency enters the discussion.

On Site review: Is the form found in the installation the one that shuffled magazines have to make? Does the form come from the process of meshing, or is it something you chose?

On Site review: When you say that a single material can act as both artefact and artifice, does WA/VE become an artefact in itself — a pinpointing of a particular time in the trajectory of queer culture that could not have come earlier, or later, to have the same charge?

McKaye + Barakov: We believe this project to be extremely topical, not necessarily because of queer culture but because of its provocations in recycling and waste. That said, as queer artists ourselves we feel strongly about the state of our community. In many ways today’s queer culture is more complex and varied than ever, but this diversity is often overshadowed by representation in the media and has lost much of its activisim. We may dare to say that in some subsets of queer culture the history of how and why we are where we are today has been lost. It is for that reason we chose create this reflection.

Stoyan Barakov is a Bulgarian-Canadian artist whose sculpture and installation work addresses themes nostalgia, memory and loss. Robert McKaye is a Canadian architect and interaction designer with a penchant for prototyping and computation. Their art group, Collective Memory, explores these themes in the realm of public art.

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qu een el i za be t h II p lane t a r i u m d av i d m u r r ay s p ac e, w on der a nd the 1960s Canada’s first planetarium opened in Edmonton in 1960; the site was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth ll during her 1959 official visit to Canada; the Planetarium was named after her and located in Coronation Park, which honours the Queen’s 1953 coronation. The building is remarkably quirky and unique in the history of modern architecture in Canada. It served its original purpose, providing entertaining and educational astronomical and night sky presentations, for 24 years until 1984 when it was replaced with a larger nearby planetarium. Now, the original 1960 planetarium is being conserved and restored, and will reopen in 2020, again to introduce young people to the wonders of space. The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium is a remarkable artefact of the development of Canada in the 1950s. I was 14 and living in another part of the country when the planetarium opened but my architectural practice led me to Edmonton in 1969. I grew roots here and take great delight in my career as a conservation architect. The preservation and re-use of the planetarium is my most recent conservation project. Every building has a story, and the story of the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium is especially dense, rich in human and cultural history. The building was conceived in a time of political uncertainty with the Cold War raging around us; it was also time of great optimism for the future. If a building can be a symbol of the best of human intentions, the planetarium is certainly one of them. This is the story.

The first public planetarium opened in 1924 at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, showcasing the skillful optic technologies of the Zeiss Corporation. The Deutsches Museum did not anticipate the public interest in the planetarium. Before World War II suspended planetarium work, planetariums were built in in Berlin and Düsseldorf, Rome and Paris, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

1 Interview with Ian McLennan 18 April 2016 2 Extracted from The Heritage Officer’s Summary for the Edmonton Inventory of Historic Resources


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The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium circa 1965

In 1958 a proposal was put before Edmonton City Council to build a permanent civic memorial to mark the July 1959 visit of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip. The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC), Edmonton Centre, established in 1932, recommended that a planetarium be constructed, even though its youthful members had never visited one before. Their enthusiastic proposal was submitted to City Council despite little knowledge of the operation of a planetarium. There was no experience to back up the proposal and no photos accompanied the application. Nonetheless, City Council approved the project in March,1959 and the planetarium opened the following year in September. Ian McLennan, the first director, reports that in historical hindsight this lack of experience was in fact a great asset. It allowed the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium to develop and follow its own unprecedented course. Edmonton’s planetarium, although small, became one of the most respected and innovative public planetariums of its time in North America. 1 Ian McLennan, a member of the RASC, was only 22 years old when he was offered the directorship just a month before the building was completed and the Spitz projector installed. He used the month to plan the programming and presentation for the opening. His appointment proved to be fortuitous as he was free to use his

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imagination to invent the operations at this new facility, marking its departure, as he reports, from the dry operations of previous planetariums. His experience working at a local radio and TV station provided insights into how to make the planetarium an engaging and innovative experience for the general public. Throughout the 1960s the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium’s reputation was significant. Despite its small size, it was used for both education and entertainment, holding public shows on topical astronomical subjects; at the centre of its display area was a meteorite found in Bruderheim, Alberta in March, 1960. Presentations complimented school curricula from kindergarten to grade 12. Between 1960 and 1980, the planetarium had more than a million visitors.2

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Director Ian McLennan with school children examining the Spitz projector.

d e si gn The Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium, located in the unique sceptre site plan for Coronation Park, was designed by the office of the City Architect, Robert Falconer Duke with Denis Mulvaney, the in-house architectural designer. In the mid-1960s, the planetarium’s front plaza was rebuilt and inscribed with the 12 symbols of the zodiac, made from stone mosaic tiles designed and installed by artists Edith and Heinrick Eichner. The planetarium is an early example of Canadian Modern Expressionist Style which rejected the rigidity of the International Style with the use of dramatically idiosyncratic shapes rooted in the European Expressionist movement of the early twentieth century.3 The QEII exhibits common modernist elements that express lightness, including extensive use of glass in aluminum curtain wall, the framing of the exterior building elements, a sophisticated structural expression and the sense that the building is floating, or as many of the public saw it, hovering like a spaceship.

Edmo n to n A rc h i v e s

E d m o nt o n Ar c hive s

from the top: The 1950s plan for Coronation Park shows the planetarium in the top right corner, the northeast corner of the park. The original plan, section and elevation construction drawings. Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium circa 1965

In 2007, we prepared an exhibition called Capital Modern about the icons of architectural modernism in Edmonton from 1940 to 1969. The Planetarium is included with a photograph by Jim Dow. It is not available anymore as a book but is available on line: http://capitalmodernedmonton. com 3 Modern Expressionist Style in Canada as described in ‘A Guide to Canadian Architectural Styles’ by Maitland, Hucker and Ricketts

Roy a l A s tr o no m ic a l S o c ie t y o f C a na d a

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unfearful attitude towards extra-terrestrial investigation. Children’s science programs include pre-school astronomy for children as young as 18 months old. The central dome will continue to be used as a screen for the latest astral projection technology. Telus World of Science will also use this space to develop new programs for their larger nearby planetarium, the Zeidler Dome. The rejuvenated Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium will open in June 2020 during the International Planetarium Society’s annual conference being held in Edmonton.

preserving mid-century modernism

a g i n g on earth The Queen Elizabeth ll Planetarium operated until 1983 when it was replaced by a larger planetarium in the nearby Telus World of Science. Since then, the QEII has remained out of public use, falling into disrepair over past 35 years. Edmonton’s northern climate has taken its toll; the exterior finishes have eroded, compromising the concrete structure. The extensive post-WWII use of asbestos is problematic, making the building uninhabitable in the twenty-first century. The lack of significant thermal insulation is a typical problem of a building from this era. Due to a complex interior arrangement of steps and levels, there was no way that the building could be made universally accessible without significant modifications.

A public building in the twenty-first century must be universally accessible. The City of Edmonton will use about a third of the main floor for new barrier-free and non-genderspecific washrooms to serve both the building and nearby sports playing fields. A new access ramp at the back leads directly to the washrooms, preserving the front façade facing into Coronation Park.

c o u rt e s y o f A rc h it e c t ur e | T ka lc ic B e ng e r t

fo r t u i tous a li g nme nts There has been plenty of public and political support for the retention of this idiosyncratic and city-owned building; in 2017 it was designated as a municipal historic resource by the City of Edmonton, ensuring longevity for the building and providing ongoing protection for its character-defining features. Along with designation and protection, the city has committed to its adaptive reuse. Ian McLennan, the first QEII director and now an international planetarium and public science venue expert, is consulting with Telus World of Science which has leased the building. He explains that it is a perfect fit for early childhood astronomical experience intended to stimulate children’s imaginations and to develop a positive and


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D a vid M ur r a y

Architecture|Tkalcic Bengert (now part of Stantec Architecture Ltd) was commissioned to undertake the restoration of this one-storey building and to prepare it for its new uses. To bring this building into the twenty-first century without losing its heritage value, we have used Parks Canada’s Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada as the fundamental guide to restoration. The originality of the building will be preserved while applying minimal interventions to repair the structure and the finishes. The exterior walls are aluminum curtainwall and masonry. Concrete floor and roof slabs are supported at the outer circumference by slender steel H-shaped columns embedded in the window mullions, and by a structural wall under the dome’s perimeter. On the exterior, every exposed concrete surface was covered in mosaic ceramic tiles, but over time the concrete decayed, potentially compromising the structure. The floating stairs and entrance platforms, constructed from site-formed terrazzo, were also seriously eroded. The curtain wall components were also damaged, plus this window system is not environmentally efficient for this harsh northern climate. All of these items are being restored to either their original condition or appearance where the original materials cannot be retained. Originally, the dome was uninsulated. To meet current environmental expectations, it will now be insulated and capped with a new thin shell Ductal dome to preserve its appearance.

b ac k to li fe

D a vid M ur r a y

I have been working as a team member on this project for a number of years now and it is not surprising that many Edmontonians who grew up in the 1960s and ‘70s have confided to me how much this little building meant to them growing up. I think this is a factor of its provocative, optimistic design as well as the appeal of its entertaining programming. Appreciative memory is a common reaction to historic places, important in a time that seems somewhat chaotic and changing. Restoration should not be seen as a reversion to, or a preference for, nostalgia. The project could

not sustain itself on nostalgia. Rather it is a brilliant confluence of fortuitous opportunity to meet a current municipally-supported need, provision for twenty-first century early childhood education and experience, while reusing a significantly historic building as it was originally intended.

facing page: Images show the degree of erosion of a 60 year old building, left unoccupied for 37 years. The plan shows the new washroom accomodation and access to the park. The curtainwall profile included the structural steel columns that support the roof.

this page: New steel columns embedded in the curtainwall members. The dome of the Planetarium was capped in September 2019

This building has defied the odds that have destroyed so many mid-century modern buildings. The common excuse is that they serve no new purpose and that rehabilitation and restoration would be too expensive. The 1960s was a period deeply

immersed in dark cold war politics as it simultaneously held a bright, optimistic outlook for the future. The reinstated Queen Elizabeth ll Planetarium will continue to serve more generations of young Canadians as they develop an appreciation for twenty-first century science and astronomy. This is one modern-era building that remains relevant and has proven to be sufficiently robust to indefinitely continue its role as nourishment for the imaginations of our children.

David Murray is an architect in private practice in Edmonton. He has developed a specialty in conservation since starting his firm in 1984 which heritage projects throughout Alberta and in the Northwest Territories.

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Proposals due September 1, 2020 Mention how your proposal relates to the theme of this issue (above). Outline possible length, kinds of illustrations: images, maps, drawings, videos. Remember, we are a journal about architecture, landscape, infrastructure, urban design, all as conducted on site. Send to www.onsitereview.ca/contact-us

Finished articles due October 15, 2020 Images: 300dpi, at least 2000pixels wide, copyright clearance secured if not your own work. Length: 500 - 5000 words we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us


on site review 36: our material future

http://www.francisalys.com/greenline/ The Green Line Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic. Jerusalem, June 2004 Video in collaboration with Philippe Bellaiche, Rachel Leah Jones, and Julien Devaux 17:34 min ©©Francis Alÿs This project appeared in On Site review 30: ethics and publics, guest edited by Thomas-Bernard Kenniff

back issues: https://issuu.com/onsitereview/docs editor: Stephanie White design: Black Dog Running printer: Emerson Clarke Printing, Calgary distribution: online: onsitereview.ca print: onsitereview.ca/contact-us

In 1924, Leon Trotsky went as far as to affirm that “Americanized Bolshevism will triumph and smash imperialist Americanism,” echoing the prophetic vision, formulated by Alexander Blok, of a “New America” forged in the coal-mining regions of Russia. “Amerikanizm” in Russia can be construed as a multifaceted phantasmagoria—a term used by Walter Benjamin to interpret the spectacle of the commodity. Russian political thinkers, writers, architects, and designers experienced ideal images of the New World as a sequence of fantasies. Visual and textual representations, unfolding on a continuum, generated a collective illusion that shaped modern Russia. Curator: Jean-Louis Cohen

Bui l d i n g a new N ew Wor ld Ame rikanizm in Russian Architecture 13 November 2019 to 5 April 2020


Charles Dédoyard, Dnieper Hydroelectric Power Station under construction, Zaporozhe, Soviet Union (now in Ukraine), 1932 Gelatin silver print, 8.2 × 5.8 cm CCA PH1987:0799

Boris Mikhailovitch Iofan, Perspective for the People’s Commissariat for Heavy Industry, Moscow, 1938 Graphite and watercolour on paper, 43 x 37.6 cm CCA Collection DR1995:0003

Hanran: 20th-Century Japanese Photography photographs from the Yokohama Museum of Art

Studio of Jason Kelly Johnson & Nataly Gattegno

28 photographers, from the early 1930s to the 1990s, call attention to the costs of nuclear warfare and Japan’s extraordinary recovery – all unfolding in front of the camera’s mechanical eye. to March 22, 2020

Nakahira Takuma, Untitled [Kyobashi, Tokyo]

National Gallery of Canada Canadian Photography Institute Galleries Ottawa, Ontario


Lightcloud translates sounds from the highway underpass into 9 unique formations of dynamically patterned light. Slowly changing ambient effects are triggered by the sound of passing people, cyclists and cars from the two neighborhoods and I-880 above. Lightcloud animates the underpass with variable intensities of computer-controlled LED illumination. Lightcloud, Oakland, California, 2019-2020


Qautamaat | Every day / everyday From images circulated on social networks, Qautamaat brings together the photography of Inuit community members and artists living in Inuit Nunangat and in urban centres further south. Documenting places and phenomena of daily life, they offer a visual map and memory of the lived environment. Tarralik Duffy, 3/4 mile marker, 2019

January 22 – April 26, 2020

ar tgalleryofguelph.ca

ON SITE r e v i e w our material future

36: 2020 There were things, 2019

the drawing of things — micro-urbanism — material memory

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